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Navigating Kid Stuff: A Chat with Amy Mockbee and Emily Boucher of Work and Play

by & filed under Portraiture.

Portrait of Amy Mockbee and Emily Boucher by Mac Hartshorn

As the shape of education has changed dramatically over the last year parents are looking for solutions for educating children of all ages. For parents with very young children the issues of how much time should be spent on traditional educating and play and socialization can be amazingly challenging. I reached out to a client, Amy Mockbee who specializes in early childhood education through her company Work and Play along with partner Emily Boucher.

Amy is a resident of Westfield NJ and grew (mostly in NJ), got her Masters in early childhood education and taught preschool there for over twelve years while raising 3 children and lending her expertise within the community through her church and local nursery school. With a shared passion for early childhood education, Amy and Emily founded Work & Play to provide individualized support to parents of young children. Emily is also from New Jersey and is currently a preschool teacher in Connecticut. The two met in New York City as beginning teachers where they taught together, both earning their Masters in early childhood education, and remain the closest of friends and business partners.

We’re so grateful Amy was able to speak with us about this challenging time in a child’s life. Amy- thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me today! Sending your little one to school for the first time is already a huge event in a parent’s life- now, with so much taking place at home, or virtually or delayed, there are even more challenges for parents of young children- what are you seeing in your practice?

Thank you for speaking with us, Jennifer. Emily and I are happy to share more about what we do. Parenting in general has never been more complicated. Parents have so many choices, decisions and options that it can feel really overwhelming. When it comes to parenting young children, families are looking to us for guidance on how to structure time at home so that their children are engaged and parents can do what they need to do – whether supporting older children’s learning, working from home or the myriad of ways families may need to structure their day. It seems like so many of us are looking for new ways to balance our days within whatever scenario is going on at home. When it comes to parenting young children, we are finding we can offer new options and ideas that are individualized and truly work.

It can be very difficult to know the line between “educating” and play and when there is too much of each. Any tips?

This is a topic we cover a lot with families. In our classrooms, play and learning intertwine seamlessly. Play is how young children truly learn the best. In the home, children are accustomed to playing differently. Every child is unique and will play meaningfully in a variety of ways. We encourage parents to get to know what their child enjoys by observing them (or the mess they leave behind!) to determine what kind of play gets them truly engaged and build on that. Emily and I help parents choose the best toys and materials to encourage independent, rich play at home that easily lends itself to learning. Once you are doing that, it becomes second-nature to build in authentic learning opportunities that stimulate and engage children at home in new ways.

Especially with little ones who have had no experience with any kind of formal education- where to start?

At Work & Play we often say, “Young children are wired to learn.” Even when they have never been in a classroom setting, they are learning and consolidating knowledge every day. Emily and I often start by helping families set-up areas at home that inspire play and learning side-by-side. There are many open-ended materials and toys that foster authentic learning in an engaging, effective way. Setting up a “workroom” or “studio” at home doesn’t take much space (even a small corner or shelf works) to allow for play, creative expression, sensory exploration, problem-solving, skill acquisition and critical thinking. The great news is, families often have much of what they need already! We are not talking about expensive, pristine set-ups. Every family can access this kind of learning through play right at home. With a little tweaking and guidance, we help families realize what it can look like in their home.

We are all looking for ways to deal with adding the role of home-educator to our list of responsibilities- any advice for parents who are trying to balance it all?

We love the concept of balance! We are so often talking to families about creating a balance that works – and that will look different depending on each individual family. Teaching is an art. Emily and I know that firsthand. We have been teaching young children for over 20 years while raising our own families. Do we expect parents to suddenly become early childhood educators? Absolutely not! Parents need to parent. However, they can facilitate learning by creating routines and structures at home that cater to how young children naturally learn. We completely understand that what, for us, is second nature can feel overwhelming and burdensome to many parents. We can relate to the very real struggle of teaching your own children – it is often not an ideal situation. Through Work & Play we have fine-tuned what it takes to meet families right where they are, often with simple materials and resources. We know young children and we know families. We help to not only create structures that work but also help families keep the pace and reassess to allow for a truly sustainable situation for all. We collaborate to make plans but also, when needed, hold parents accountable. More than ever, parents need to love being home and enjoy being with our children. Families need connection. We are determined to help families find the sweet spot that keeps children happy and thriving no matter the circumstance.

Being a working mum to how do you balance the workload yourself?

This is one of the hardest parts even for us! We truly believe that striving for balance and listening to your gut can help manage the workload. The longer we parent, the easier it is to trust our instincts and do things in a way that makes sense for our individual families. With the ever-changing dynamics in a family, we all have to make concessions, and not everybody can have it their way. That is not always easy to allow and accept. For us, talking it through with each other or our sisters and doing something that clears our mind, makes us better equipped to navigate parenthood in the moment. In this new normal, it is really hard to be certain about a decision, get it all done and take care of yourself. We’ve learned to take one thing at a time and pace ourselves as we move through the day. Learning that skill earlier than later is critical to a balanced life; we tell our kids the same when they are overwhelmed!

Our lives can feel messy and chaotic – our kitchen counters might be covered with debris, dinner needs to be made, homework focused on and work responsibilities need to be met – all in a given day. It can feel like you are buried. Throw in a dog barking, a few looming emails and a birthday cake to make, and you’ve got the recipe for some pretty scary stuff! We’ve learned that it’s imperative to check yourself by thinking about what is best for your children and family when weighing options and decisions. We take a breath, call someone we love, drink some wine, walk the dog, squeeze in with the kids on the couch for a minute and then get back to work. The things that need to get done, will. The rest will get done eventually. Our core philosophies are: do what what works for you and your family, know when you need to say no (to work, to your child, to that email asking for volunteers), keep an open mind, know that we all have our days of triumphs and our days of struggle, find ways to connect with others and yourself. It truly does take a village. We are dedicated to helping families find their village, find their way as parents and enjoy this time with their young children.

At what point is it best to connect with professionals like you and Emily? Before school begins? When choosing programs? When meltdowns are a daily occurrence?

Anytime is the best time to connect with us! Our hope is that parents know, truly, that reaching out is a natural step in parenthood. Parenting was never meant to be done in isolation. We NEED one another and our children thrive when they see us connected, supported and empowered. Of course, if you are facing a parenting challenge with your young child (like we have), reach out! We promise you that we have seen and heard a lot over these years as preschool teachers and parents. We have been where you are and talking to someone truly can make all the difference.

Amy thanks so much for being there for parents and your community! How can parents reach out if they would like to speak with you directly?

Emily and I are available by email anytime at hello@workandplayecc.com
We welcome phone calls as well at: 917.282.1522
You can find us on Instagram @workandplayecc – where you can see some of the work we have done with families while also finding accessible ideas, real-life humor and genuine camaraderie!

Squash: A Primer for the Holidays

by & filed under Portraiture.

Left to right: Butternut, Delicata, Buttercup and Spaghetti Squash

Winter squash is here in array and abundance. Great for any time, especially Thanksgiving, it actually beats sweet potatoes with fewer calories per serving and lower carb and sugar counts, as well. Quick to prepare, these squash can be served as a side or as a main course vegetarian dinner! Here are some ideas by variety, that we love.

Butternut- firm orange flesh, great steamed and pureed for a silky soup with vegetable stock and plant creamer or chicken stock and cream. To eat as-is halve, seed and bake at 425F cut side down for 30 minutes, turn, brush with butter or olive oil, salt, pepper and a drizzle of maple syrup, roast 20 minutes more- serve.

Delicata – also orange-fleshed, a bit less dense than butternut and usually smaller (one squash generally serves 2 people as a main course, stuffed or as a side) These are wonderful as a vegetarian side dish with a filling or vegetable sautee. Use a rice mixture, bread stuffing or a grain like farro or fonio. Halve the delicata, bake cut side down at 425F for 30 minutes (until soft) then flip,season with salt and pepper, stuff and serve.

Buttercup- This adorable round squash is about the size of a softball and would make a lovely holder for a pumpkin hummus or squash soup. To use as a container carefully remove the stem  and seeds insert a ball of foil (to help keep its shape) and cook the squash at 425 until just tender. This is also a perfect squash (halved or whole) for stuffing with any of the suggestions above. You can also halve, steam and scoop this squash and serve mashed with butter or olive oil, sauteed onions, garlic and thyme.

Spaghetti- Usually bright yellow or light orange thus squash has a wonderful cappellini-like texture that makes a perfect base for any pasta sauce from pesto to ragu or even chili. Cut and seed the squash and bake at 400F cut-side down for 30-40 minutes- the squash is done when the interior “shreds” easily with a fork and is crisp-tender. The skin becomes rigid with cooking and makes an excellent container for presenting your dish!

 

 

Holiday 2020: Shop Differently

by & filed under Portraiture.

The days of Black Friday deals and strolling stores will likely be shelved for 2020 to keep us safe from crowded situations. Now is the perfect time to draft a plan for getting holiday shopping done safely. We have a few thoughts:

1- Shop local! Small businesses are struggling, especially restaurants. Consider the gift of “Dinner on Me” with a gift certificate. Salons are also challenged- the gift of a treatment is always welcome. Most businesses will send a certificate digitally and you can make your own card announcing the gift.

2- Bigger means sooner- If you are buying this year’s hot toy or device from Amazon, Target or any big box store, now is the time to buy. With stores like Target, Walmart or Kohls avoid the shipping costs and uncertainty of delivery by arranging curbside pickup

3- The gift of giving- many of us are blessed with more than we need. As fundraising has also been challenging for charities unable to host events consider giving a donation to a meaningful charity in lieu of a gift.

4- Go door to door- Creating and delivering gifts throughout the holiday season (not just at Christmas or Chanukah) add a bit of light to a neighbor’s day as sunshine is in shorter supply.
5- Give yourself- we will likely be sheltering indoors as the weather turns colder. Send a craft or activity kit that can be done via Zoom with the recipient. Last Spring was made a lot more bearable by friends sharing sourdough starter, plant cuttings and other items that offered productive ways to spend time inside.

November 29th is Small Business Saturday and many local main street shops will be creating special offers. Choose one of our local downtowns in Hoboken or Jersey City to support!

How will you shop differently this year?