“What do you think freedom is?”

I asked a preschooler, “What do you think freedom is?” He replied, “My dad tells my mom to go have some freedom when she goes shopping. My dad thinks shopping is dumb, but getting things free is good”

Every parade can be a reason to celebrate our freedom.

Every parade can be a reason to celebrate our freedom.

Freedom in the United States is often taken for granted since we have so much of it. We have free enterprise, and free trade and a free market economy. However, all our freedoms in this country do have a price. There have been so many people in our past that have given their lives in the name of the freedom we have today.

There are also current military families that are sacrificing daily in order for the general population to live in a free country. On this day that we celebrate the beginning of our country with fireworks, parades and picnics with family and friends, let us all take a moment to also be thankful. We have a lot of wonderful things available to us in the stores all over the nation. People from other countries are amazed that anything you need is available here.

However, just for a moment, maybe it is good to think of shopping as dumb yet getting to live in the land of the free is good…..

  • What is the last thing you remember getting for free?
  • What things do we get free in this country that we are apt to take for granted?
  • Will you take a moment today and thank someone for their service? Whether it is a military person, a police officer, a clerk in a store or a neighbor who keeps their yard looking nice, everyone enjoys a word of encouragement for their acts of service. 

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”
Abraham Lincoln

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”
Ronald Reagan

 

Do you want a box?

I was recently at a restaurant and the wait staff came and asked, “Do you want a box?” A preschooler quickly said, “I want a new toy, not a box!”

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Preschoolers often know what they want and are not afraid to ask for it. They think outside the box and are not kept to standard answers. As the wait staff brought back the food in the box, she asked, “Can I get you anything else?” That preschooler again jumped in to add, “I sure hope that toy is in the box because I still don’t want a box! ”

  • What was something you received in a box that you really enjoyed?
  • When was the last time you thought you knew what you were getting but was completely surprised?
  • Is there something this month that you could do for someone that would be an outside of the box moment?

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“Are you celebrating the 4th of July?”

I asked a preschooler, “Are you celebrating the 4th of July?” He exclaimed, ” Of course I am! I am 4 years old and I like to have a party every month that has  a 4 in it!”

Do you celebrate with Fireworks?

Do you celebrate with Fireworks?

Independence Day is celebrated each year in the United States on July 4th to commemorate our breaking free from Great Britain. Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to his wife Abigail wrote, “It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.” It seems that is one part of our American history we have gotten good at remembering. Each year the United States is left with the decision of how to best celebrate our holiday.  The fourth of July link here will show some beautiful pictures from our country’s previous celebration. Our country is full of beautiful fireworks, parades and picnics.

The 4th of July only comes once a year. However, my preschool friend is right. There are more months with the number 4 in them. We can choose to celebrate more often if we desire. Fireworks and parades may not be practical each month. However, Thomas Jefferson did have another sentence to his wife before he shared his big party vision. He said, “It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.”

A solemn act of devotion to God Almighty is something we just may be able to pull off each month. It does not have to cost anything. It can be an individual choice what that looks like to each individual. If our country could remain grateful as we think of others, that could be a true celebration. It could be a celebration that lasts from this time forward forever more.

  •  How are you celebrating the 4th of July?
  • Who are you dependant on?
  • What acts of devotion could you do the other 4ths of the months?
  • For those who do not believe in the God Almighty that Thomas Jefferson spoke of, what ways could you still see a need for remaining grateful as you think of others from this time forward forever more?

Independence? That’s middle class blasphemy. We are all dependant on one another, every soul of us on earth.”  George Bernard Shaw.

The power of a preschooler can change your life…if you let it.

“Time to show your knees”

It has been a long, cold winter at my preschool. On our first warmer day, one mother thought her son would be so excited now that he could finally put on a pair of shorts and show off his knees. He put on the shorts and said, “HEY! Where are the rest of my pants!”

Sometimes knees are happy even if they aren't spelled correctly.

Sometimes knees are happy even if they aren’t spelled correctly.

We get used to things a certain way. We get used to needing things we always have. Sometimes we mourn the loss of things we no longer need. However, we need to get good at embracing the shorts in our closet. New seasons mean new expectations. New seasons can mean shedding things from old seasons that we no longer find helpful.

Getting rid of things can be exciting. Shedding the extra foot of material on our legs can be freeing. What we need in the winter is different from what we need in the late spring and summer. Both items of clothing are essential for comfort but only when the circumstances around us meet our goals. It just may now be the time for your knees to see some sunlight.

  • When you move into a new season in your life, are you most likely to want to hold onto the past or jump into the future with its new expectations?
  • Can you think of a time when you held onto something you really did not need?
  • When we really love our pants (our activities and our abilities and comforts) from the past season, what things can we do to help keep them in the closet while embracing our new summer clothes (our new adventures)? 

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“What is decluttering?”

A  mother shared with her preschooler that she was going to a meeting about decluttering.  The child asked, “What is decluttering?” The mother explained she was going to learn about how to get rid of things she did not need anymore. The preschooler quickly went to the dad and said, “Dad, I need to stick with you because I think mom is going to a meeting to learn how to get rid of us!”

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At the decluttering meeting this week sponsored by Lifetree Cafe, we learned that clutter is anything we don’t love, don’t need or don’t use. Our minds were on physical items and how to clear new spaces for the new year. However, these same concepts can be applied to people. We want to tell children we will love them forever, and we will never leave them, but sometimes things do change. Divorces happen. Deaths occur. We move across the country and leave good friends or family.

Sometimes it is right to let people leave from our lives. Abuse and neglect are not things to tolerate in a healthy life. We need to be strong and look at every physical thing and every breathing person and evaluate where they belong in our lives and how much of our heart they will occupy. Children and adults thrive on being loved, and the biggest gift you can give someone is a large place in your heart far from the clutter of anything to distract you.

Clutter is distracting. It takes us away from what we really value. It takes up space so that other things cannot fit. Less stuff can mean less to organize, less to clean and less to store which can give you more room to breathe. Less just may be the way to more. The trick is to calculate what are the right things to declutter from your life.

  • What are three things you truly value?
  • What can you do to show your loved ones that they will not be a casualty of you decluttering your life?
  • What are some things you really do need to let go of so that your loved ones have more room in your life?

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What does our school need for Christmas?

I asked a preschooler, “What does our school need for Christmas?” He replied, “I really want to ask Santa for a new faucet, but he really only has a toy shop. I think I will have to ask Mrs. Claus to go shopping.”

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On this last day before Christmas, there are many things we are getting ready for. We may be baking cookies, preparing food, assembling presents, wrapping presents, writing special Christmas cards, cleaning our homes and decorating that last area we forgot about. Many of us are wishing we had a Santa and a Mrs. Claus and a supply of elves to magically get all things done.

Maybe this is a Christmas where you can take time to not worry about every little thing. The big thing is the way you treat the people who will enter into your world. The Jesus that came for the first Christmas came into a stable with hay and no presents until he was a toddler. The king did not even have one gift on his birthday, no special foods prepared, no decorations on trees and houses, no playlists carefully structured, no cards made out and no gift receipts to keep track of. All that was present for that first Christmas was love in a human form. It was a love that was so great it could wash away all our sins with no faucet required.

  • What preparations did you do for this Christmas? 
  • Are the things you do all motivated with showing others love, or are some of them motivated by relieving guilt and not being judged?
  • Realizing that even Santa cannot do everything, what could you do to make this Christmas a time of bringing love in human form as your gift?

“What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.” St. Augustine

What costume do you wear?

Some of the preschoolers from my school went to a local nursing home dressed in their Halloween costumes and ready to get some treats. When they came back to school, one child asked, “What costume did the people wear?” Another child said, “They all had the same costume. They were old people with old faces and old clothes who loved us.”

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For Halloween I got to see a lot of Frozen characters. The joke for the day was that the reason it snowed in our area in October was that there were so many Frozen characters walking around. I also got to see lots of super heroes. Heroes with muscles, heroes with masks, heroes with capes, gloves and boots all were ready to protect us at a moment’s notice. There were bees, butterflies and caterpillars, cats both domestic and wild in both their looks and their personalities and of course some dinosaurs both friendly and scary. There was a boy dressed like Noah with a bag full of ziplock baggies of animals all segregated two by two. There were no commingling issues with that Noah! There was a boy with a red cape, wearing whiskers with paint on his hand and when he was asked what costume he was wearing he proudly said, “I am pretend.”

Preschoolers are delightful in their costumes, up until it is bathroom time and then tails and skirts and zippers and boots become not as delightful. However, the preschoolers and their costumes are still endearing. The older they get and the more they go out on their own the less efforts they often make. An older child can pawn off hair gel or a colorful shirt as the only thing needed for an adequate costume.

Each person I saw yesterday was trying to be something. Some were easy to identify and some needed a lot of creative license. That is also how I see people today and will see them tomorrow. Some people are easy to understand and very transparent with who they are. Others wear so much make-up or accessories and layers of clothes that you can never be certain who they really are.

Life would just be so much easier if we could look at everyone and know they are people with faces and clothes who love us.

  • If someone would look at you today, what would they think of you?
  • What do you like to hide from people?
  • How can you tell if someone is wearing love?
  • Will you try to put more love into your wardrobe choice today?

“Every day each of us wakes up, reaches into drawers and closets, pulls out a costume for the day and proceeds to dress in a style that can only be called preposterous.”

Mary Schmich

“Would you like to use the vacuum to clean up your crumbs?”

I asked a preschooler, “Would you like to use the vacuum to clean up your crumbs?” He looked at the crumbs and said, “Those are really not MY crumbs. They are from the cracker, and you gave me the cracker. Would YOU like to use the vacuum cleaner to clean up your crumbs?”

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Some children are great at getting out of work. Some children fight over who gets to use the vacuum cleaner.  Children, like adults, are all over the vacuum cleaner spectrum.

Earlier in the week I had been asked to take a picture of something that I thought was beautiful as part of a women’s ministry retreat. The people in my group all left their conference room and headed to the hallway. Three of the women asked a custodian if he knew how to get outside. He politely stopped his work to answer each one. I looked at that man who was doing a great job keeping so much clean for the conference attendees, and I decided to take his picture. I stopped him and thanked him for his good work. He said it was nice to be noticed. We exchanged some other nice words and I thought that was the end of my vacuum story, but sometimes there is more than our eye knows.

I had the pleasure of meeting a three year old the next day who was just adorable. (He’s three, of course he is adorable!) He is being adopted into a family this month, and his new parents truly love him and respect his uniqueness. As I saw him in the hotel lobby, I got to see him and his four year old brother climb on the furniture, jump on the table and run to attempt climbing on the escalator. Luckily his new dad is quite quick and can catch him. I tried engaging him with a little toy or a book and  a song and nothing was really catching his fancy.

His mother shared that what he really likes are vacuum cleaners. I could not believe that I actually had a vacuum cleaner picture on my phone from the day before. I got out the picture and instantly we were bonded and talking his language. I saw a spark turn on, and I had to text him the picture to his mother’s phone to make leaving easier.

I never knew when I stopped that man with the vacuum cleaner in the hallway the day before that it would make such a difference to a little boy. Much of life is like that. We do not know the full impacts into the future. We live our days and don’t always see how they connect with the others. This precious boy reminded me that we really do not live in a vacuum. We are connected in much deeper ways across a long spectrum.

  • What do you like or dislike about vacuuming?
  • Do you have an opinion which makes the strongest waves, positive or negative ripples?
  • Will you take the chance to go out of your way to engage with someone positively today and be patient enough to see if you see any effect?

“Nothing happens in a vacuum in life: every action has a series of consequences, and sometimes it takes a long time to fully understand the consequences of our actions.”

Khaled Hosseini

“Teenagers who are never required to vacuum are living in one.”
Fred G. Gosman

P.S. If you are an adoptive parent or a biological parent, it is officially impossible to live in a vacuum. Thank you for all you do to make a difference because if it is not you, than who, and if not now then when?………

 

 

 

What do you really need to know about KidMin 2014?

3490_586489708066258_203801147_nI and about 1999 others are going to KidMin 2014. I am teaching a workshop called Nursery Ministry that Matters and a double workshop about Creating a Quality Preschool. I am excited to share material with children’s ministry workers from all over the country that will then benefit young children. When you go to any conference, it is important to know what you should expect to get out of it. So today, I went to the best source I know. I went to some preschoolers and asked them what people should expect to get out of KidMin 2014. 

What should I pack?

  • If this place is a good place, you don’t have to pack a lot of snacks because they will have a lot for you. My grandpa Larry always has good snacks. Your place should be as fun as Grandpa Larry’s.

What should I learn about 3-4 year olds?

  • You should learn that people start out as babies. Babies have really soft cheeks. Their heads smell good. Sometimes 4 year olds don’t smell good, but that is ok.

Should I bring anything back from Ohio?

  • When you come back from a place called Ohio, you should stop saying, “Oh, Hi, Oh” and then say, “Oh Goodbye, Oh.”
  • If you see a toy that looks like the one I lost, you should bring it back. I keep looking, but I have not looked in Ohio.

Do you think God will be at KidMin?

  • God is real busy, and he should really take some time to talk to my daddy. I think the people in Ohio can let God do some talking to my dad. He really needs it right now.

I am going to talk to Thom and Joani when I get to KidMin. What should I tell them? (Thom and Joani are the people behind the entire conference.)

  • Tell Tom and Jerry that I love their show on Nickelodeon. My mommy and I laugh when Tom chases Jerry. If you want some real fun, you can try and chase Jerry too.

I am even more excited to go to KidMin 2014 than before I spoke to these preschoolers! When I pack for KidMIn, I need to remember that so much fun will already be in store for me that I can pack light. I will be reminded that we all start out as similar babies, and we just all take on our own odors as we get bigger. I can keep my eyes open for something that will bless someone on my return as well as say a fond farewell to a beautiful city. I know God is present in all the preschooler’s families lives, and I want to make sure I take the time to make my own divine appointment with him during this time.

As for those “Tom and Jerry” characters…… I read that the Tom and Jerry films have won 7 Academy Awards for Animated Short film. I also read that Thom and Joani just produced a documentary called, “When God Left the Building.” I can only imagine what awards that film will make. I am very excited that the film will not only be shown at KidMIn, but it will be shown right in my hometown of Crystal Lake at the Raue Theater on October 7th. Thom and Joani will be  attending in person to show the documentary and also engage personally afterwards with the audience. If you want to see the real Thom and Joani who can be just as endearing as Tom and Jerry, tickets can be purchased here. (Click here for screening times)

 

Can you smile?

This week I was traveling and enjoying watching the young children trying to entertain themselves before their flights. I asked a preschooler at the airport, “What is your name?” He just stared at me. I smiled at him. He then just smiled back. He then asked me a question with sounds and words I was not able to understand. I am not sure what language he was speaking. I just stared back at him. He smiled at me. I just smiled back. It was better communication than I had with many people that day.

Boy trying to understand the airport announcement.

Boy trying to understand the airport announcement.

Communication is tricky. Words are not universally understood by people. Words are something that must be learned. A smile, on the other hand, is first formed intentionally around 6 weeks of age and does not appear to have to be taught. A smile uses approximately 15 muscles that all have to work together to allow an infant to spontaneously offer us a smile. Mothers intuitively smile back at their infant’s first attempts, and the cycle of communication begins.

Smiles lead to cooing sounds which lead to combining sounds and whole words and eventually entire sentence structures used to communicate wants and needs in an effective manner.  All that complication starts out as a smile that needs to communicate.

As the boy and I smiled together at the airport, it didn’t matter what our names were or that we could not talk to each other. We could embrace our moment and know that we were both not a threat to each other. I wish I had taken a picture of him smiling to share with you, but we were too busy smiling to ruin the moment with a camera.

As I was sitting in my airplane seat mentally marveling at how we can communicate without words, the woman sitting next to me shared she had three sons. Her 12-year-old does not speak due to a syndrome that was not officially diagnosed until a few years ago. She shared he uses an iPad for communication. As she shared his challenges, she also shared the joy he has. He smiles and is happy.

We talked about his future, and she said her main hope is that he remains happy. He will never speak words or walk unassisted or live on his own. He will never be on the track to be a doctor like his older brother. However, he can remain on the track of happiness and smiles.

My mother-in-law just got out of the hospital today, and one of the first things she told me was, “The doctor had such a nice smile for me.” As much as words are so important to me, today was definitely a great reminder that smiles are the best words we can put in our vocabulary.

  • What is something that made you smile today?
  • Do you remember exchanging smiles with anyone else today?
  • Will you try today to use your own smile to see to make someone else smile? It just may be the best game you can play.

“A smile is a curve that sets everything straight.” Phyllis Diller

“There are a hundred languages in the world, but a smile speaks them all.” Anonymous (Maybe instead of “anonymous” it really should be quoted as from “All Of Us!” 🙂 )

 

“What does a caterpillar change into?”

A teacher asked a class of preschoolers, “What does a caterpillar change into?” One child quickly answered, “A raccoon!!”

Caterpillars ready to change into.....

Caterpillars ready to change into…..

The metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly is an amazing concept.The DNA stays the same, but all of the characteristics of the caterpillar change. What was one day one thing can now be a completely different entity.

With people, we often get frustrated when they do not change. We expect spouses to become more patient as they get older. They often don’t. We expect relatives to become more giving as they see your needs. They often don’t. We expect friends to get over their quirks, addictions and mental states. They often don’t.

There certainly are people who have heart changes and transform into creatures beyond what our imaginations could anticipate. Change is possible. Change is also hard. When a caterpillar goes inside the chrysalis or cocoon, it must digest itself to release enzymes to dissolve all of its tissues. Once it has changed into a soupy mess, cells rapidly divide to form wings, antennae, legs, eyes and all the parts that make a butterfly so beautiful.

Change is something we really can’t predict in people. It is up to each individual to change according to its will. We all get to decide how much of a soupy mess we can handle in the name of change. We can hope to wait for a beautiful creature only to end up with a rabid raccoon.

  • What is something you have tried to change about yourself in the past and never could?
  • Have you witnessed an incredible change in a person in your life? How do you think they did that?
  • What can you do to make a change in your life or for someone you care about?

“There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.”

R. Buckminster Fuller