More babies are born in August than in any other month—but you don’t have to be a mom to enjoy the benefits a child can deliver. Here, Melanie Notkin details the wonders and wonderfulness of being an aunt—and she would know all about it, too. She’s the creator of SavvyAuntie.com, an online community and resource guide for aunts, and the author of the best-selling SAVVY AUNTIE: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers and All Women Who Love Kids (Morrow).
A is for Auntie
I can remember my first day of kindergarten. There were lots of kids I didn’t know, a teacher who seemed pretty and nice, and a peanut butter sandwich with the crusts cut off waiting for me in my new red lunch box, care of mom. Within days, I had come to enjoy the rhythm of the morning, often ending with story time seated in a circle with my new friends. Miss Scarf read aloud and in one memorable moment, came to a word I’d never heard before. “Do you know what a design is?” she asked the kids. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone in being stumped. Nor was I alone in realizing that there were a whole lot of words out there I didn’t know, and I couldn’t wait for the day when I would know all the words in the whole wide world (I estimated that would be at third grade.)
Inspired by that moment in kindergarten, I’m not unabashed about teaching my nieces and nephew new words as often as possible. Some of the words the preschoolers have learned this year are: haberdashery, despondent and entrepreneur. We also count together whenever possible, from how many crayons are spread around the table, to how many bumble bees are flying on the page of the storybook.
“Aunts are not teachers,” Dr. Rosemarie Truglio, Vice President, Research and Education at Sesame Workshop was quick to point out when I met with her last year while doing research for my book, eager to learn how aunts can help teach a child. “An aunt is all about quality time… play time.” (I’ve since dubbed this “QualAuntie Time.”)
She explained to me that the time an aunt spends with a niece or nephew is uninterrupted by parental obligations. Childless aunts have a wonderful opportunity to teach kids as we play that really helps them prepare for school and life. “We think most of the learning is done in school,” Rosemarie said over lunch earlier this summer, “But really, kids are learning all year round and it’s up to the grownups in a child’s life to increase their development skills outside of school, and before school even starts.
I liken it to sun damage. We all think that the sun will do its worst damage as we lay at the beach, so we sloth on the SPF. And while it’s true that the sun is intense at the beach, there is more long term sun damage occurring from every day sun exposure. Learning is similar. Yes there is intense learning at school, but it’s through every day life that children really pick up cognitive, social and emotional development skills that support future academic successes.
Zero to Three, a nonprofit organization that fosters early childhood education, recommends an hour of unstructured play for babies and toddlers daily. We all know that reading to a child can help develop their language skills. Try to add descriptive terms to the pictures on the page, like: “This is a big, yellow sun.” Or let toddlers tell their own story through a little puppet show. Turn on the music to watch them wiggle, helping them develop coordination, balance, and rhythm. Even bath time can help them understand cause and effect by seeing what sinks and what floats.
Our nieces and nephews may be going back to school but don’t underestimate your influence to teach them powerful skills. And the best part? They’ll never even detect it’s all by design.
Melanie Notkin (a.k.a Savvy Auntie) is the founder of SavvyAuntie.com, author of the national best-seller: SAVVY AUNTIE: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers and All Women Who Love Kids (Morrow) and the creator of the popular Savvy Auntie lifestyle brand – the phenomenon heralded by fabulous kid-friendly women everywhere as a celebration of modern, cosmopolitan aunthood. These PANKs (Professional Aunts No Kids) aren’t childless – they’re childfull! And their love is a gift.
Photo: Ana Schechter