My decision to stay-at-home with my son was the most difficult and easiest decision I ever made. I had never pictured myself as a mom who spent all day, every day, with my kids and I worked hard to earn two college degrees. I loved my career, my co-workers and my busy life. I was excited to go back to work a few months after the birth of my son and had no qualms about leaving him in a well-recommended daycare facility. Or so I thought.
It wasn’t that I couldn’t stand being away from my son. I just realized that these first few years were so instrumental in his social, emotional and intellectual development and I wanted to be the best teacher I could. I considered being able to stay-at-home a great privilege and despite some adjustments with the family budget, I never considered it a sacrifice. It was an opportunity I intended to take full advantage of in those few precious years before his education was largely shaped by other people.
I quickly realized that household demands on top of the challenges of motherhood could quickly become overwhelming. So I made the decision that laundry could wait, scrubbing could be done while my son was sleeping and cooking could be accomplished later in the day. I didn’t want to actually stay-at-home during the day. I wanted to show my son the front yard, the neighborhood park, the local stores and all the great landmarks and attractions in the whole state of Colorado.
So we started exploring. We started social play classes at the local recreation center before his first birthday and joined up with other mothers to form our own playgroup. Our original playgroup is still going strong 2 years later and we meet at least once a week at parks, indoor play places, field trips to farms, factory tours, museums, the circus and wherever else our children get a chance to play, exercise and learn about cooperation and communication.
While it is not financially feasible to be paying admission for every museum, zoo or amusement park within 100 miles of our home, it is possible to take advantage of many budget-friendly activities each and every day. We are fortunate enough that our zoo, children’s museum, railroad museum, art museum, nature & science museum and botanic gardens all offer free admission days throughout the year. Many local libraries offer wonderful Story Times or craft times that don’t cost a thing. Even a trip to the grocery store can be a fun learning experience. I give my son a stack of coupons and encourage him to study the coupons and find the matching products on the shelves as we go down the aisles. Not only is he making connections with the world around him and asking questions, but it saves me a lot of grocery store meltdowns as well.
These connections and learning opportunities can pop up in situations where you least expect them. On a recent trip to the Butterfly Pavilion, my son had asked why the humid and pungent butterfly enclosure was so different from our yard (cold mountain air). I explained to him that butterflies liked the tropical environment to keep them warm and there were plenty of bugs and fruit for them to eat.
Several months later, he made his first trip into a Port-A-Potty and when immediately greeted with the oppressive, heavy stench, loudly exclaimed “Wow, it sure is tropical in here!”
He is probably not destined to be the next Albert Einstein, but he is making connections, learning about how he fits into this world and how the world also operates around him. He knows about sharing, has respect for all living things and knows how different machines work. Education doesn’t always have to be about flash cards, counting and the ABCs. Learning can be about mud pies, pinecone hunts and a drive through the automated car wash. The dishes can wait, before we know it our kids will be all grown-up and we certainly won’t look back and wish we spent more time ironing.
So when asked what it is that I do for a living, I proudly explain “ I am an Explore-the-World-Mom”. It might not be the most lucrative of career choices, but it certainly is valuable nonetheless.
Tips for Being an “Explore-the-World Mom”
· Check with your local science and cultural facilities for free days or discount admission opportunities.
· Check out programs offered by your local libraries.
· Pick up a guide for your local rec center- many offer several different classes for younger children, including gymnastics, music classes, play classes, etc.
· Talk with your children about things that happen outside of their world- outside of the house, outside of the car while you are driving, even outside of the state or country.
· Bring the world home by collecting leaves from different trees or taking and printing out pictures of different buildings or vehicles they see.
· Encourage them to play with other children, trade babysitting with neighbors or friends (just because you don’t work outside of the home, doesn’t mean you don’t deserve some time for yourself!) or plan a playdate at the park.
· Embrace the neverending “why?why?why?” questions. It can be tiresome, but there may be a day when they don’t consult you about anything at all- so cherish those moments!