Thursday, August 18, 2016

Bigs And Littles Together

A few terms to understand before reading this:

Bigs = kids 4+
Littles = kids 1 - 3
Babies = under 1

It's that time of year when I get reflective and emotional about the impending changes. The bigs are even bigger than they were at the start of the summer and will be heading back to school in a matter of days. The littles are bigger and have actually changed more than the bigs, but they're still my littles. The house will be quieter, there will undoubtedly be fewer of the words "my feelings are hurt!" and less to do. The littles will go through a big transition period of their big friends being gone.

While I can now appreciate a quiet house (something I couldn't do a year ago. You can read about that here), I still feel sad when I think of the littles without their big friends. You see, something that's spectacular and heart filling to watch happens between the various age groups of kids.

Our activities go something like this: I give the directions, I give specific directions to the bigs, and then let the kids dive in. The bigs go for it. Chances are they've done (nearly) every activity a few dozen times. The littles watch. They watch every move the bigs make. How they play, what they're playing with, what they're saying. Then the littles dive in. Often times they mimic the bigs, but eventually everyone is playing equally and having fun.

I love this. It's not always common to find a one year old and an eight year old playing happily together; with the eight year old not only helping the one year old but also playing with each other. It's a very interesting relationship between these bigs and littles.

I've seen hundreds of kids get upset that their tower gets knocked down or a doll gets taken away repeatedly by an unknowing little kid. Rarely do the bigs get upset when this happens. Instead they (usually) smile and say "oh do you want the doll? Here, you play with this doll and I'll play with this one," as they help them play. The bigs have a chance to be leaders and the littles have the opportunity to learn soooo much from the bigs.

Not to mislead anyone, it's not all roses. All Barbie shoes, little hair ties, and small figurines had to be put away due to crawling babies and small toddlers who could choke on them. The big girls weren't exactly thrilled with the new rules. There were a few pouts, a few time outs for not listening to the new rules, but by the end of an eight hour day, the bigs were fine with it and the littles knew to hand me whatever they found (yes, we still pulled a few Barbie shoes out of the couch cushions). There was also that time at the beginning of the summer when the bigs taught the littles the phrase "butt head." Also, a two year old can pick up some fantastic tantrum moves from watching big kid meltdowns....

However, I've also found that the littles who are around the bigs from a young age are more socially and behaviorally advanced than others. I strongly feel it's not necessarily because of the activities that I do but more so because the littles try to do everything the bigs do. They learn quickly how to wash their hands by themselves because they've watched the bigs do it. It's not uncommon to find a 10 month old painting because the bigs feel the need to make sure everyone gets a chance to do the activities (including the babies). They pick up EVERYTHING any older kid does.

I don't want it to seem like the littles are doing all of the learning and growing. The bigs are in a unique position. Yes they're still kids and they get to do a lot of fun activities most of the day. Yet this summer I've put them in charge of certain things: they're in charge of clean up times (making sure everything gets cleaned, toys are put back properly, everyone is cleaning, etc.), they've been helping get quite a few activities together, and they've been in charge of story times. They've been given a leadership role and it's been intriguing to see how they handle each responsibility. This summer has really been a great lesson on how to treat everyone, even the littles, with kindness and respect and how to speak to someone when you want something done. Even through the struggles, I have loved watching their leadership skills develop.

Just like every fall, there will be a lot of adjusting without the bigs around each day. And just like every year, just as the littles are settling into the daily routine....break time for the bigs comes and they're back.