At Mighty Bambinis, we believe children are competent, curious, resourceful learners. Our approach is inspired by the philosophies of Reggio Emilia (read more below) and Magda Gerber's RIE approach. We respect children by allowing them to develop at their own pace rather than expecting them to meet developmental milestones on our timetable. We show this through caring individualized support, positive encouragement, affection, frequent eye contact, and communicating at the child’s level. Children are encouraged to respect others and to care for one another.
Our curriculum provides firm limits and predictable routines, but within that framework children are entrusted with freedom to explore, make choices, play, and build autonomy. Our thoughtful and intentionally designed environment fosters children’s interests, relationships, and opportunities work cooperatively. Materials and projects are selected based on children’s interests and provoke a spirit of experimentation and inquiry.
Do you have any resources (websites, blogs) that you would recommend that focus on a death in the family for preschoolers/toddlers. I'm at a loss for how to communicate it to her, if we do at all given she is so young , how to explain why everyone is so sad, etc. if you have any ideas of sites to direct us to, I'd appreciate it.
I'm not sure whether to even bring her to the hospital or not. What to tell her after? How to answer all of her questions so trying to get ahead of it? Any suggestions you have are really appreciated.
I am so sorry to hear that you are likely going to lose your father. Losing a parent is one the of biggest losses that we all unfortunately have to experience. I lost my dad somewhat unexpectedly from a heart attack when I was in grad school and it was certainly a huge moment for me. I didn’t have a perfect relationship with him and I was devastated that we had drifted apart and we would never be able to have the opportunity to repair the relationship, that he’d never see me get married, and he’d never meet his future grandkids. Sometimes I still get sad about not being able to hear is long winded lectures and have a heated debate about politics with him. And we had a strained relationship. I know the depth of your sadness and grief will be palpable now and when he eventually passes.
I think that there is no way for your child to be kept in the dark. I think she will feel all of your pain, experience confusion of all the different experiences, and I think she is old enough and has enough sense at her age to be told in simple words what is happening. I think the best approach is to be honest about what is happening both about your own feelings as well as what is happening. You could say something like, “Grandpa is very sick and weak, and he isn’t going to live much longer. He won’t get better because he is old and his heart is damaged. We are all very sad and we are going to miss him very very much. Grandpa is my dad and I love him like you love your daddy. I will cry a lot because it’s very hard for me to not have my daddy anymore.”
Children are very perceptive and being honest will help your children feel less confused about what is happening. You can probably spare her the blow by blow updates because those are such a roller coaster and she won’t understand all the information and doctor lingo. It would be good to listen to her questions and responses and answer them directly and simply.
She may feel “inappropriately” or say things that don’t make sense or even seem wrong (like sometimes people are angry when someone dies and don’t know what to , but I think that it’s best to answer comments like that by saying something like “I see you are feeling a lot of things. We all are. I am here for you if you need me.”
Perhaps if you are really emotional and falling apart, that may be overwhelming for her, or get stressed and snappy. So perhaps if that’s happening your spouse can explain how you (or someone else) are feeling or you can later in a calm moment let her know that you were snappy because you are very sad and feeling hurt. You didn’t mean to get upset and you’re sorry. We’re all only human and the more important part is to just awknowledge our mistakes or weak moments and apologize to clear the air and make sure she knows she is loved and nothing is her fault.
From Janet Lansbury's blog:
Here are six guidelines from John W. James’ book When Children Grieve: For Adults to Help Children Deal with Death, Divorce, Pet Loss, Moving, and Other Losses. I can’t recommend this book highly enough…
Listen with your heart, not your head. Allow all emotions to be expressed, without judgment, criticism, or analysis.
Recognize that grief is emotional, not intellectual. Avoid the trap of asking your child what is wrong, for he or she will automatically say, “Nothing.”
Adults – go first. Telling the truth about your own grief will make your child feel safe in opening up about his or her own feelings.
Remember that each of your children is unique and has a unique relationship to the loss event.
Be patient. Don’t force your child to talk.
Never say “Don’t feel sad” or “Don’t feel scared.” Sadness and fear, the two most common feelings attached to loss of any kind, are essential to being human.
About going to the hospital to see him, maybe you can give her a choice. Since so many things are new to her, I actually don’t think she will know to be scared. Adults are more scared of hospitals and death because they know more about it. She may want to see him and say good bye and he may want to see her. But if she doesn’t want to go, maybe that’s better too. Unlike an adult she won’t spend her life regretting that she made the choice not to go. I think if Paul’s dad or mom were ill, I would take Noelle because I think it takes some of the mystery out. But I like the idea of a choice. However, I’d probably bring someone with who could leave with her when she needed so that she didn’t become stressful. Hospitals are the best environments for kids to hang out in for a long time.
My heart is with you and your family! I know that this will be a difficult time. However, in death there is an opportunity to come together as a family, to celebrate the wonderful life and memories you had together and to reflect on the many gifts we have been given by being part of each other’s lives. Let me know if I can do anything to help. I don’t have any death books here, but I would be more than happy to amazon prime some to you if you send me your address there.
Some book recommendations - I can go through them and pick some I think are best, but most of these should be appropriate for ages 3 and up.
I’ll Always Love You, a tear-jerker (as if you needed one) about a boy dealing with the death of the family dog.
What Happens When A Loved One Dies? Our First Talk About Death
When Children Grieve and The Grief Recovery Handbook (for adults), both by John James and Russell P. Friedman, provide excellent roadmaps for understanding grief and processing it in the healthiest, most productive manner possible. Their recommendations reflect all I’ve learned about healthy social emotional development through infant specialist Magda Gerber. The gist of their message: We not only all have unique responses to loss — we respond to each loss uniquely. Allow yourself to feel your feelings, share them with your child, and give her the freedom and the time to process her unique feelings, too. Unfinished grief creates problems that can have a profound effect on our life.
I couldn't agree more with this quote: “Babies thrive out-of-doors. They sleep better, eat better, look better, play better, and learn better. Fresh air both soothes and stimulates. I always tell parents how much more easily they could raise healthy, “happy” children if they would make outdoor living a regular habit for their babies.” – Magda Gerber, Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect
I just read an article by one of my favorite child development thought leaders, Janet Lansbury, and I thought I should share about our outdoor classroom. You can totally make an awesome outdoor play space in a small (San Francisco-sized) yard.
Since our program is inspired by Reggio and RIE, we integrated the ideas of Reggio's loose parts and a safe "yes" space from RIE.
My goal is to have a "yes space" where the kids can really do what they want in the yard with few limits other than hurting each other. I wanted it be changeable, safe yet challenging, and allow for experimentation and dramatic play. We recreated some of the elements that they love from inside such as a mud kitchen, our magnetic wall, and also use outside friendly inside toys and materials.
Set it up so you can say "yes"
Our yard has two parts. One side is a cement patio and the other side is a grassy open space yard. We divided the two spaces with a low 3 foot fence which essentially turns them into "kiddie corrals" that Janet wrote about. Since we have mixed ages, we can keep the bigger toddlers away from the little babies when we need to.
We covered the cement patio with rubber tiles so soften falls from our early walkers which gives the kids a sense of security to explore their bodies more on the ride on toys and the slide.
On the grassy side, we put some small hills in, because it adds a little challenge. The hills alone are hours of endless fun and confidence building for an early crawler or walker. We love our "me do it" toddlers. They can move everything (ladders, tubs, crates, etc.) around to change the landscape and put on their own shoes and smocks.
A few of our inexpensive (or free) favorites of the children are: 1) the teeter totter which invites social play, as well as can serve as a great balance board, 2) yoga balls, 3) the milk crates which make create obstacle course steps or can be easily turned into train cars with the spark of a toddler's imagination, 4) our easy DIY ladders and balance beam, and 5) plastic kiddie pools.
The plastic kiddie pools are really my favorite. They are fun to climb in and out of, make large water/sand/sensory "table" and can be a wonderful protective "space bubble" for a very young infant to spend time outside.
We also have lots of the same things (a ride on toy for each for example) because we have younger toddlers who don't share and like to do parallel play. It really reduces conflict if you develop the space and have appropriate expectations of how they will play.
Bring the inside, outdoors
Who said baby dolls, dinos, kitchen dramatic play, lunch, and pretty much any other inside type of activity can't be done outside.
Baby Dolls and Dinos - The kids love washing their baby dolls, doing car washes, and having elaborate dramatic play worlds with the dinos. They are easy to wash up and bring back inside when we're done, so why not!
Playing house outside - We bring real pots, pans, and cooking utensils out when the kids are into making "soup" and cooking. We set out out kid sized picnic tables, and bring out plates and utensils if they want to cook and serve meals. And we have a mud kitchen that has lots of utensils, pots, pans and containers to "cook" with. The kids gather twigs, gravel, lemons, pinecones, flowers and whatever else they want to cook with.
Magnet STEM wall - Using a oil pan, we made a really easy magnet wall and used PVC pike and gutters to have loose parts for the kids to do experiments with. They can run water, ping pong balls, rocks or whatever else they want down it. All the parts live in a crate near the wall so they can choose how they want to set it up. We don't show them what to do, but it's amazing how fast they figure out what they can do with all the components.
Change it up without spending $ - Art, Sensory Play & Loose Parts
Loose Parts Theory quotes
‘In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it.’ ~ Simon Nicholson, Architect
‘Children learn most readily and easily in a laboratory-type environment where they can experiment, enjoy and find out things for themselves.’ - Malaguzzi
To create this loose parts, creativity laboratory we have to look no further than the ground, in the trees/bushes and our own recycling bins.
Loose parts may be manufactured or natural materials (Frost 1997) or recycled objects (Drew and Rankin 2004).
Manufactured items could include the following: ■ boxes ■ buckets ■ blocks ■ trucks ■ cloth ■ baskets ■ tools ■ dramatic play props ■ balls
Natural items could include such items as: ■ bark ■ sand ■ seeds ■ mud ■ stones ■ vines ■ leaves ■ tree stumps ■ twigs ■ straw bales
Recycled items could include: ■ cardboard boxes ■ building materials ■ packing pellets ■ old pots and pans ■ tires ■ milk crates ■ ribbon, rope, string ■ polystyrene ■ plastic bottles and ■ felt containers
Since children learn so much through their senses and by doing, we set up sensory and art materials on a daily basis that often hold their interest for long stretches of time and lead to many fascinating discoveries.
I love reading and learning more about child development and early education approaches. If you'd like to learn more too, here are some helpful links.
Your Self-Confident Baby by Magda Gerber