As the holidays are now upon us, how many of us sit and wonder how we can teach our children the meaning of the old adage, “It’s better to give than to receive”?
In December 2013, when our first son was 21 months old, we were gifted the ever popular “Elf on the Shelf”. A gift of great fun that encourages a sense of magic and wonder for our children.
In keeping with what we said we always wanted for our children, to be happy and kind, we came up with a a twist on that tradition in our home. In our world full of entitlement and “I want”, we look for every opportunity to send our children a positive message emphasizing kindness, sharing, and gratitude. And so evolved, “Dot”, our Kindness Elf.
Dot arrives in our home each year on the first of December with an empty cradle, straw, and a note for the kids to find and read. Each act of kindness earns them a piece of straw to lay in the baby’s manger, preparing for His arrival at Christmas.
Many are simple, everyday gestures such as smiling at those we pass, saying please and thank you, holding the door open, or playing with a new friend at school.
Many of our ideas are for celebrating and thanking those in our local community who serve us, such as leaving a box of coffee for our DPW workers, fresh baked cookies for our postal worker, fire and police departments, and sending Christmas cards and socks to the men and women serving our country.
There are also grander gestures of good will, such as filling a box with unwanted stuffed animals and blankets for our friends in the local animal shelter, delivering groceries to the food bank and holiday shopping for a family we sponsor, who is in a less fortunate situation than our own.
Some mornings they may wake up to find their elf has put away their shoes or fixed a broken toy, modeling direct ways to be kind and helpful.
Of course, kindness is not just for Christmas and I love the open ended way our little friend has left us each year to continue our celebration with a weekly “Thoughtful Thursday”. Every Thursday for the entire year, we choose something kind to do for someone else.
The Kindness Elf has been a very valuable tool in helping our children learn and focus on the positive attributes that we try and teach them in everyday life…”love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
Why try to explain miracles to kids when you can just have them hatch their own duckling?
Providing children with opportunities to interact with mother nature in a safe way is one of the best ways to spark a love and concern for the natural world. As we embrace longer days, sunshine, and new life, spring is the perfect opportunity to connect children to their local environment and their interaction with it. Incubating duck eggs is a great place to start!
Attempting to nurture eggs into ducklings can stir the same excitement in your children as Christmas morning! And it offers learning opportunities that no written curriculum can match. This, is authentic education. I know this because I am the proud mother of a five-year-old, a two-year-old, and 4 ducklings.
For the project I picked up 6 duck eggs and an incubator from our treasured, Abma’s Farm.http://abmasfarm.com/egg-incubators/
This is an educational process that brings life into the world, and they encourage hatching them responsibly.
Here is what we learned.
1. Life is a beautiful, precious miracle. Each and every little one.
Because of the supply and demand dynamic in nature, and because eggs often simply never hatch, we’ve set an expectation that we might expect to eventually see one duckling swimming in our baby pool this summer. We’ve told our kids, some eggs hatch, and some don’t. We will love, protect, and care for these eggs as much as we can, and pray that mother nature will take its course and provide us with a duckling.
The ducklings hatch at around 28 days. We put the hatch day on our calendar so that we wouldn’t miss the big event. I filled the wait by reading stories and educating my little ones through play all about ducks. We read “Dear Children of the Earth” and “ The Golden Egg Book” . We made duck crafts and letter D pancakes. We talked a lot about what we would name them, and what they might look like. The 28-day incubation is not the only wait time. Even when we saw the first chip in the egg we still had to wait a few hours for the duckling to fully hatch. My son sweetly cheered the tired little ones on as they mustered their strength for the next big crack. “C’mon nature!” “You got this, nature!”
My heart swells and my eyes fill as I recount this.
The water in the incubator needed to be monitored daily to ensure there was enough humidification for the eggs to be able to hatch. Both my boys helped me check and fill this every day. We also needed to monitor the internal temperature of the incubator. It needed to remain around 100 degrees. This was a good lesson in number recognition as well as understanding that when the incubator opened, the temperature dropped. When the incubator remained closed, it kept the internal temperature at a safe 100 degrees. My oldest son got very protective of this and made sure no one unnecessarily opened the incubator! As we checked on the safety and incubation process we engaged in valuable discussions.
Once the ducklings arrived, and they fluffed up, they were placed in a box where their water and food needed to be filled daily. Whether they offered the ducklings food from their little hands, or filled their dish, these boys made sure their ducklings were well fed. They had fun coming up with treats for them and laughed watching them devour watermelon!
Getting small children to wash their hands regularly and to cover their sneezes can be a chore. But our rule was that you could not handle the eggs or the ducklings unless you washed your hands before and after. You’ve never seen children run so fast to the bathroom sink!
Our third duckling, Old McDonald was definitely the runt-of-the-litter and struggled greatly with his hatch. It took him almost 3 days to finally arrive and when he did he was weak and lethargic. I literally felt pain for my little feathered friend that very first night and set my alarm every two hours so that I could hand feed him food and water and give him every chance to survive. I felt sad in those moments that he didn’t have his own mother and hoped I was doing as well a job as she would have. Old McDonald perked right up the next day and joined his buddies Donny and Joe, and later, Baby Boots. One duckling never quite made it out of his shell. We monitored the water and temperature, and made sure no one opened the incubator during this time. My five year old wanted desperately to help chip him out, but I explained to him that sometimes help isn’t actually helpful and that this was all part of Mother Nature. Alas nature ran its course, despite our feeble human attempts to alter its plan.
After about 2 weeks our ducklings were big enough to bring outside to roam for a bit. I reminded the children that while it may seem unfair, other animals need to eat to survive too and that perhaps there is a mother raccoon or hawk that may also be caring for her spring family. So we needed to protect Donny, Joe, Old McDonald and Baby Boots as best we could but that nature provides a necessary cycle for a reason and while it might seem unfair, it is necessary too and there is often a bigger picture.
It is time for us now to find them a lifetime home. Our friends are moving to a new property in August with a private pond for our boys to splash and swim. Until then, we will keep watching, learning, loving, protecting and appreciating these beautiful life lessons from our ducklings. We feel honored to have had our home chosen as a safe haven for these little fellas, and take seriously the gift that life is.
Megan Jolin of Mother Earth Mama is a board certified Holistic Pediatric Nurse Practitioner whose passion is to bring health and wellness to the whole child. Megan provides evidenced-based, family centered care in:
-prenatal health and wellness
-nutritional analysis and counseling
-toxin free home environment
-self care for parents and children
-natural/integrative approach to common childhood illnesses
Disclaimer: Content on this site is for reference purposes and is not a substitute for advice from your health care professional. You should not rely solely on this content, and Mother Earth Mama assumes no liability for inaccuracies. These products and recommendations are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition.
I am the mother of two, a pediatric nurse practitioner, and yogi. I am passionate about taking care of children and the Mother Earth, as I know ultimately we can not do one without the other.
My clients have asked me about resources they can access quickly and while on the go. So I decided to add a monthly blog feature. If you can’t join me locally for workshops and consultation, then I hope I can help you from wherever you may be finding me.
When did you get started working with children?
Honestly, I don’t remember a time in my life where I didn’t feel the passion for taking care of children. When I was very young, I played with dolls. Not Barbies or small figures in doll houses, real life-like baby dolls. I used to daydream about having children…A LOT of them. I would think about how I would care for them and what kind of mom I would be. I remember fantasizing about taking up a full pew in church, rocking my youngest in my arms, while quietly hushing the rest of my brood to pay attention. This continued for many years, into middle school, when my best friend and I started a summer “Kids Kamp” for neighborhood children. This led to babysitting, a volunteer respite assignment for children with chronic illness, raising money for childhood cancer, Villanova University Nursing School, and ultimately traveling the world with Operation Smile.
Do you have any advice for the working mom?
My understanding of how to be a working mom has changed over the years. I used to think I had to do it all: be present for my children all day long and then try to balance “me time” and “spouse time” only when – and if – the kids were sleeping. But that proved to be impossible, and my personal time quickly went by the wayside.
I realized the time I spent with my children was more harmonious when I was well rested. So I had to let go of being “everything to everyone” and trust and be grateful for my community tribe, which consists of an incredible set of grandparents and our beloved babysitter. I cherish absolutely every ounce of time I have with my children. So now my goal is to be as present as possible when I am with them, and above all be kind to myself when that balance isn’t perfect…a continual work in progress.
What is the most common advice you give to parents?
It is the same advice I give them for the care of their child: Empower yourself with tools you need to heal. Optimize your well being with food, sleep, exercise, and spiritual and emotional practices, remembering that you can recover from conditions when you nurture your mind-body connection (even the ones that traditional medicine has thought to be chronic and permanently fixed).
What are some practices that you believe all parents can engage in for the overall well-being of their children?
It would be difficult to answer in a simple mantra, as boiling it down doesn’t seem to do it justice. So I will take this opportunity to discuss ways to encourage your child’s well-being in this space over the course of this year. But if I had to make it a mantra, I would say:
Have predictable rhythms and rituals, decrease sensory overload, let food be thy medicine, get good sleep, be a model of self-care, and spend quality, intentional time together.
Megan Jolin of Mother Earth Mama is a board certified Holistic Pediatric Nurse Practitioner whose passion is to bring health and wellness to the whole child. Megan provides evidenced-based, family centered care:
- Prenatal health and wellness
- Lactation counseling
- Newborn care
- Infant feeding
- Infant massage
- Vaccine consultation
- Nutritional analysis and counseling
- Toxin free home environment
- Self care for parents and children
- Natural/integrative approach to common childhood illnesses
Mother Earth Mama offers workshops and one-on-one consultation, including phone consultation.
For more information please contact: 201-838-9100 or firstname.lastname@example.org