Monday, April 25, 2011

Options, Shining Opportunities, Opening Worlds...


Options, Opportunities, Opening Worlds...That's what learning should be about.

Regardless of our kids' strengths, weaknesses and affinities - as teachers and parents it is our obligation to teach our kids to seek options in life - choices; to look at problems from multiple perspectives in the hope of finding optimal solutions; of allowing them to see a big, open world full of hope and opportunities. A mighty big order, but not intangible.

Some suggestions how:
  • Look at the problem or the opportunity from multiple angles.  Brainstorm options.

We moved a lot when my kids were young and each stop they made decisions about schools to go to, activities to participate in, books to read, etc.  Don't get me wrong, my husband and I would 'stack the deck' so to speak - only offering choices we were comfortable with, but the choice between (acceptable) options was theirs.


In the Sesame Street video, cookie monster gets to chose between two bags of cookies.  It is the same amount of "cookie" - either many small cookies or one large one.  Even giving your child these types of options is empowering.

Knowing there are options, opens worlds and doors.  Knowing how to make decisions is a learned, acquired skill that requires practice and patience.  The more opportunities they have to observe you making choices and to practice their own, the more confident they will be and the better their decision making skills will be.

  • Talk decisions out.

When making decisions - big or small - for yourself, you family, or your child - talk it out.  be they school options or dinner options, discuss them.
    • visit schools, 
    • visit potential vacation spots online what would they like to do (IF your comfortable with their involvement in this decision - you may just want to ask them which sites they would want to visit IF you go there)
    • when shopping discuss options 
      • organic vs. farmed vs. regular, pasturized vs. ultrapasturized, etc. 
Talk about the strengths and weaknesses of each option.  LISTEN to your child.  What does she like/not like?  Are these valid likes or dislike? If they are, acknowledge them.  If they aren't, figure out what isn't valid, explain it and discuss options.

There should always be options in life.  Help your children  comfortably discover and evaluate options.

  • Read books and comic books, watch movies and videos that present various perspectives.  Here are a few suggestions:
    •  Goodnight moon (by Margaret Wise Brown) and Goodnight Opus (by Berkeley Breathed)
    • The Sons of Liberty comic book and Esther Forbe's Johnny Tremain
    • Laika (graphic novel by Nick Abadzis) and October Sky  (by Homer Hickam)
    • The Scarlet Pimpernel (by Emmuska Orczy), Les Miserable(by Victor Hugo),  and A Tale of Two Cities (by Charles Dickens)
    • D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths and George O'Connors Olympians series (graphic novels). 
When you read different books on the same topic, or read a book and watch a movie on the same topic, talk about the different ways the same story was told.  Talk about the authors' options. 
  • Network to find the best options and opportunities.  This is getting both easier and harder.  It is easier because things and people are so much more connected with the web, cellphone, etc.  It is harder because there are SO many options.  Always get references from people you know.
  • Don't Overwhelm with options.  As I noted above, especially with young kids - stack the options.  Give them limited choices you are comfortable with.  First, you don't want to overwhelm them, you want to empower them, helping them to strengthen their problem solving skills.  Second, you don't want arguments, so if you can live with all the choices you are way ahead of the game. 
IF your kids do get overwhelmed with options:  Help break them down.  Help eliminate the poor options,  and tackle the better options together.  
    One final IMPORTANT point:  Kids shouldn't make all the decisions.  They need structure and adults to model and help contain their world around them.  Pick and chose the opportunities and the options they have a voice in- at least when they're young. 

    Options provide opportunities...seize them, guide them, shape them!  What are some of the options you provide your kids?  Please let us all know in the comments.

    33 comments:

    1. Parenting is long in the past and grand-parenting is a beautiful turn off state that us oldies enjoy more that we care to admit. I was particularly interested in choice. I do remember choice as a child a thousand years ago! I hated it. There was that awful fear you would make the wrong decision. Even if you hadn't, you still had that lingering doubt afterward. In my case had my brother got the better "one"? It was a great educator of course to be extremely wary of choice. If only adults would apply that same caution themselves and not always choose the big bright shiny option!

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    2. You are so right about our job as parents being to teach our children to see options. Without options people end up in despair and depression. Very important post!

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    3. Dear Old Egg - I am so sorry you look at decisions this way. It is because decisions can be so frightening that kids need experience with them. And mistakes, as I wrote in my last post ("NO) are not always bad. We learn from them as well. Without risk and options, the world is much smaller! I hope they come easier for you as an adult.

      And, Dear Shanae, thank you for your support!

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    4. Thoughtful & practical articles. I too have written few articles dealing with parenting.

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    5. Hi, Meryl. It's been an eye-opening journey raising my three daughters in the context of U.S. culture. The contrasts are stark when I remember how I was raised in the Philippines. Options? The earliest I remember being offered one was at age 15: Did I want to spend a couple of weeks in the summer with a cousin's family, my mom wanted to know. It was so monumentally significant to be asked to decide for myself! In my parents' eyes, their job was to tell me what was right and what was wrong—explaining why was optional.

      Determined not to subject my children to the same restrictions (because I floundered here as a 21-year-old immigrant 'fresh off the boat'), I devoured parenting articles and deliberately went against how I thought my mother would've handled things. It wasn't until I was 40 that I even got up the courage to tell her, "You're not always right, you know."

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    6. Thanks for another thought provoking post. One of my children struggles with making any kind of decision. It is frustrating to watch but it is so necessary to provide her with lots of opportunities to choose from various options - good practice for now and her future!

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    7. Guess I had more options and choices in my hands than I could handle. I was an only child. The situation didn't do me a whole lot of good. I had a hard time adjusting when I was sent to boarding school and later when I began work. Have you got something similar but applied to only children? It will be a good read.

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    8. Meryl,
      Great post, as usual! It is a fine line to offer just enough choice without overwhelming with infinite possibility. I like your idea about the "stacked deck". That absolutely works best for us. Here are your options...there may only be three...but you have a choice. It is such an important skill to learn, and you offer inspiration to learn it well!

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    9. Meagan, you are absolutely correct. Especially with young kids, the options should most definitely be limited and sacked. This should be a relatively comfortable cognitive exercise, and not something overwhelming (as oldegg notes). If it is overwhelmning - help them break segments down into manageable parts.

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    10. Every week, my 7 y.o daughter has to write sentences for her homework using the spelling words of the week. I always want her to generate her own sentences, but we talk about the word and its different meanings. (This week, one word is 'light', a word with LOTS of possibilities.)

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    11. Interesting article and comments. Enjoyed both.

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    12. Very well thought out post about the importance of options for children.

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    13. When they don't want to do a chore immediately we give our kids the options of doing one chore now, or two later when they feel like it. It's fun to see them jump up and do the chore requested. But seriously, your article is very informative, and loved Pinky and Brain intro as well.

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    14. I LOVE your idea! I would enjoy seeing my kids jump too. Just wish I had thought of this! Thanks.

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    15. What a great post! We gave our kids options, definitely helped in many situations.

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    16. My daughter had my granddaughter choosing what to wear before she could walk, and here I still can't decide my self sometimes.

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    17. Whenever our kids want to buy something, we tell their options: you can buy that now with your money or save your money to get the item you really want. Most of the time they go with the save option.

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    18. We gave our kids similar options. My daughters saved, my son spent. Go figure!

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    19. I read our post with great interest, although now our grandchildren are all grown and most of them married, - now we are great grandparents what we have to offer is mainly love and 'squishes', but I do agree with what you have to said here.

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    20. This is such an informative post --thank you!

      Whenever possible, we let our children make their own choices (within reason). We feel that giving them choices helps them start to form an understanding about consequences, too.

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    21. Ohlalala, what a terrific post Meryl.

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    22. Options, opportunities and opening worlds are things some children (and adults) are not blessed with. Here's hoping more of those come their way.

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    23. I am getting addicted with this blogging hobby, I get to see beautiful places and learn interesting things. Very nice O you have here..

      Mind lOOking at my O entry?, have a nice day!

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    24. I get people staring at me when I'm talking to my 2 year old at the store about which apple to buy and why; or why we are getting whole grain not white. Never too young to start getting them involved with making decisions and WHY they are made.

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    25. To teach kids to weigh up the pros and cons of choice will help them in life, but also to give them confidence to take a chance when opportunities come along, jump in and enjoy. Pinky and the Brain was very funny.

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    26. Thanks for the advice! I try to do the same with my 6 children. Doesn't always work, but I try!

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    27. Very interesting post! You have shared a lot of wisdom here. Thanks!

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    28. What a great post and lots of info!

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    29. this is very informative...thanks for sharing!

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    30. Very helpful post! Options = Ownership.

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    31. Decision-making can never be undertaken too early and guards against indecision in later life, I think. It's all to do with confidence.

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    32. Great advice! And I adore that you shared the Pinky and the Brain video. I still listen to the Animaniacs soundtracks and I don't have kids. ;D

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