Posts tagged ‘parenting’

December 9, 2013

Calm, wintry nights

After seeing the chaos of Black Friday reflected in the news, I pulled my children close and reminded them that we don’t have to be like that. My oldest (who just turned eighteen) said, “Isn’t it ironic that the day after we give thanks, we trample people to death to get a better deal on something we probably could have afforded anyway?”

But it’s easy to get caught up in the hype of Christmas—stores start piping in the music shortly after Halloween. This year a few stores snuck Christmas ornaments on shelves next to cornucopias and Indian corn. I bet they sold more than a couple, too, because Christmas is like pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving—yes, you just stuffed yourself and probably should wait, but why? There’s the pie right there…

But there is a certain joy in waiting.

Of quieting your heart in expectation of what is to come.

To me, that’s what the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas is, quiet expectation. Expectation reflected in the manger scene by our front door—Mary and Joseph near an empty cradle, waiting.

That expectation is also reflected by the pile of books under our Christmas tree. It waits for dinner to be done, dishes to be cleared, hot cocoa to be marshmallowed, and the fire to be crackling. Then the children gather around Daddy and he reads one story each night between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

My favorites are the calm, quiet stories. Here are a few on the top of the pile:

Quiet Christmas coverTitle: The Quiet Christmas Book (New this year!)
Author: Deborah Underwood
Illustrator: Renata Liwska
Genre: picture book
Ages: Listening 3 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up

If you haven’t yet discovered Deborah Underwood, you’re in for a treat.

Her characters are gentle natured woodland animals getting ready for Christmas, but without the hustle and bustle of other books.

Check out the book trailer below!

onewintrynightTitle:  One Wintry Night
Author: Ruth Bell Graham
Illustrator: Richard Jesse Watson
Genre: picture book
Ages: Listening 3 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up

Gorgeously illustrated story about a boy hearing the Christmas story for the first time.

littlefirtreeTitle:  The Little Fir Tree
Author: Margaret Wise Brown
Illustrator: Jim LaMarche
Genre: picture book
Ages: Listening 3 yrs and up; Independent 8 and up

Another sweet book. A little tree wishes to be part of something—anything—and winds up being part of something he never could have imagined.

Image

How about you? Which Christmas books make your family’s must-read list?

July 19, 2013

The Journey

Kathy Higgs-Coultard, Director of Michiana Writers' Center

Kathy Higgs-Coultard, Director of Michiana Writers’ Center

By Kathy Higgs-Coulthard*

When my son, Christopher, was little we used to take frequent walks. Or, more accurately, I would take walks and Christopher would ride along—first in a snuggly (think papoose), then stroller, then wagon. I chose the destination, the route, and the purpose of the trip. Often, our trip was designed to be educational in some way: To the pond to capture tadpoles or to the weeping willow to picnic and read. But eventually Christopher grew less and less content in the role of passenger, until the day came when he insisted on walking.

At first that seemed like a win-win. He could walk and I wouldn’t have to pull the wagon. I decided one of our first excursions would be to the park about a block from our house. The excursion would fit perfectly in the after lunch, before nap slot—five minutes there, about a half hour of playtime, five minutes back. No agenda, just playtime. We sunscreened up and trotted out the door.

Christopher was so excited to be in the lead that he made up a song about going to the park. Wish I’d had a video camera with me (partly so I could share it with you, but mostly so I could use it to blackmail him if the need arises later in life). So, he’s singing “Park, park, PARK, park, PARK!” and  then he stops at the end of our yard and climbs on a big rock, jumps off, climbs back up, repeat. I lure him off the rock, remind him of our destination, and we’re off again, singing.

Until we get across the street. The frogs are thrumming up a storm. Christopher’s eyes light up and he bolts for the cattail forest. Twenty minutes later we emerge, mud-crusted and carrying a new (temporary) travel companion named Ribbit. I look at my watch—naptime is quickly approaching, but it’s okay. We’re really truckin’ now, singing “Park, PARK, park.”

Until two houses from the park. The neighbor’s yard is covered with sweet gum pods. If you’ve ever seen one, you’ll understand Christopher’s fascination—the spiky seed pods look like creatures from another planet. Christopher nearly drops Ribbit as he scrambles to fill his pockets (and mine) with pods. Of course the neighbor comes out laughing. She provides a bucket and Christopher completely fills it. We’re so close to the park I can hear a child squealing “Higher, higher!” presumably as someone pushes him in a swing. I thank the neighbor for her bucket and lure Christopher back to the road, singing “Park, park, park.”

Until we reach the park gate. The squealing child and his daddy are leaving and Christopher has to show them his treasures—his “sweet gummies” and his froggy. The little boy says he wants some and before I can say a word, Christopher is leading them down the street away from the park. Both children are singing “Gummy, gummy, GUMMY.”

In some regards the afternoon was a wash. We never did reach the park. Naptime was very late and only accomplished by allowing Ribbit to sleep in a bowl by Christopher’s bed. But when I really think about it, this trip was the most worthwhile one we’d taken so far. So what if we didn’t swing at the park? Christopher had changed the purpose of our trip, and in so doing, had gained a pet, a new friend, and several dozen spiky seed pods. But the real treasure was the sparkle in Christopher’s eyes the next day as he asked me if we could go on another walk.

A few of my favorite books about the discovery nature of child-directed play:

itsrainingitspouringTitle: It’s Raining! It’s Pouring! We’re Exploring!

Author: Polly Peters

Illustrator: Jess Stockham

Genre: Picture book

Ages: 3-7 years

Celebrates the joy of imaginative play as three bored children face a rainy day. Fun rhyming text, playful pictures. Love that Dad and Mom work together making lunch!

notaboxnotastickTitle: Not a Box (And the companion book, Not a Stick)

Author: Antoinette Portis

Genre: Picture book

Ages: 1-6 years

What child doesn’t like to play with an empty box? Especially if the box is big enough to climb in! Inspired by the author’s memories of sitting in a box as a child, this book explores the power of imagination as a child transforms his ordinary box into a spaceship and flies to another planet.

preschoolersbusybooktoddlersbusybookTitle: The Preschooler’s Busy Book and The Toddler’s Busy Book

Author: Tish Kuffner

Genre: Nonfiction

Ages: Adult

Although the point of my blog post is that kids need times to direct their own play, a parent can only take hearing “I’m bored” so many times before they cave in. Instead of turning on the TV, try some of the activities in these books.

*You can read more about Kathy here. Kathy normally blogs on the second Monday of the month. Except when the months go by so quickly that I accidentally schedule her post for August instead of July and don’t notice until she politely asks where the post might have gone. In case you were wondering.

October 22, 2012

Did you notice it’s an election year?

Are you going to be yelling at your TV tonight and want your kids to understand why? Here are my picks for some great election and political books to start talking to your kids about what it means to live in a democracy. (And no, you don’t have to start with negative campaigning, although it appears that’s a big part of it now…)

Check out my book list and activity ideas over at ParentMap.

February 10, 2012

learn to spell and read, happily

The Wizard of Why is loving the reading right now. It’s so cute. He gets so excited when he sees a word on the street that he knows. He loves asking me “why does that say —-” and then getting my crazy reaction of “WHAT!? You can read that?!” He’s a long way from reading his own books, but the process is so amazingly fun to watch. And just thinking about the whole world that opens up when you start to be able to read…I’m just so excited for him!

Title: Happy Endings: A Story About Suffixes
Author: Robin Pulver
Illustrator: Lynn Rowe Reed
Genre: Picture Book
Ages: 4 – 8

I found this book at the library recently and we loved it. It’s definitely for a slightly older crowd (I believe it was written with spelling, not reading in mind), but since he’s into looking at words right now it was perfect for him. It emphasizes suffixes, word endings, which you wouldn’t think made for a fun book, but it does. The story is fun: a class of kids are about to go for summer vacation but first they need to complete the last lesson of the year on suffixes. This proves more difficult when the suffixes hear the teacher say the class is going to “tackle” them after lunch and they go into hiding.

The illustrations are bright and fun and the whole book is written with the suffixes bolded and colored:

He pointed at the board The he stared. “Good grief,” he said. “This is the craziest year of my teaching life! No summer vacation until the words endings are found! Seriously!”

I highly recommend this book for kids learning to read and older kids learning to spell!

February 9, 2012

Meet my family

Everyone else has WAY cooler blog names for their family than I do. Ironic Mom Leanne Shirtliffe calls her twins Thing 1 and Thing 2. Kathryn Apel, children’s writer and author of This is the Mud, interviews a young writer named Squashed Cupcake. And Chase McFadden blogs at Some Species Eat Their Young while referring to his four children as Slim, Perpetual Motion, The Hellcat, and Tax Break #4.

After a lot of brainstorming with my husband, I’d like to introduce my family. Although it’s only fair to note that my husband did NOT agree to his own nickname. Tough luck on that one.

Middle School Crush: My husband, whom I met in seventh grade, likes to fuel my enthusiasm for my own writing with comments such as “what was your book about again?” And a personal favorite, said not too long ago as I was plotting out my chapters on sticky notes all over the walls, “Is that really helpful, or is it like rearranging deck chairs?”

The Wizard of Why: My 3-year-old makes me realize how much I don’t know about the world with all the questions he asks. Things we’ve talked about in the past 24 hours:

  • whether or not robots live in outer space
  • why robots don’t “live”
  • why some robots don’t have faces
  • why trains don’t need steering wheels (this was upsetting)
  • why large cats with sharp teeth eat meat and what exactly meat is (also upsetting, but not as much as not steering trains, partially because he doesn’t believe me about the meat)
  • why a T. Rex eats “real meat” and why that may or may not be made from animals (this was a heated discussion)
  • why an hour is 60 minutes and why a minute is 60 seconds and how long that all takes exactly
  • why the dashboard of my car tells me how much gas we are using
  • why some cars use a lot of gas
  • why using too much gas is bad for the planets like Earth
  • why Gyroscope’s birthday comes before his, even though Gyroscope is younger

Well, I think there was more, but you get the picture. Plus, to say we are obsessed with the Wizard of Oz is a huge understatement. We are coming up on the one year anniversary of that obsession, so that will be a good 25% of his life. So that’s the reasoning behind that one.

Gyroscope: Gyroscope, who is almost one, hasn’t stopped moving since he entered our lives, which he did as quickly as he does everything else (a mere 3 hours after announcing his intentions and a short 30 minutes after we crawled (he and I, that is) into the hospital). Favorite activities include: playing with anything the The Wizard of Why is currently playing with, crawling on the dining room table, standing on his head in a downward dog position.

So–even if you don’t have a blog, what would be your blog names for your family?

February 6, 2012

Procrastinate much?

I remember the first time procrastination caught up with me in a big way. 7th grade. Native American Indian paper. A late night. Two not very happy and tired parents.

I remember this night, and give you some advice in case you see this tendency in your own children, in an article published in Northstate Parent.

If you want to read other articles I’ve published, check out this page.

January 7, 2012

A fix-it kit so your own Polka-dot can fix kindergarten, too

I don’t remember my first day of kindergarten. I remember second grade, when I met the principal for the first time and I wrote my age (7) backwards. I had to ask for an eraser because my pencil didn’t have one and I was mortified, but he didn’t strike me dead with a lightening bolt so everything turned out okay. This book is about the first day of kindergarten, but it’s a great read for any kid at almost any point in the school year.

Title: Polka-Dot Fixes Kindergarten
Author: Catherine Urdahl
Illustrator: Mai S. Kemble
Genre: Picture Book
Ages: Perfect for 3 and up, or anyone going to preschool, kindergarten, summer camp, or anything else!

Why I loved it and how to use it with kids:

There are a lot of reasons to love this book. Here are some:

  • Her name is Polka-Dot, which is the best nickname for Dorothy I’ve ever heard
  • She lives with her grandfather, and I think books with non-traditional family structures are really important to show kids.
  • She’s spunky and wonderful and afraid of her first day at school.
  • Her grandfather fixes everything with duct tape, polka-dot bandages, and runny soap.
  • He gives her a mini fix-it kit with all three of these things to take to kindergarten and she uses all of them. The runny soap doesn’t fix the mess she makes with the paints, and the bandages don’t help when she’s really sad, but the duct tape does help an enemy turn into a friend, and it saves the day, as duct tape always should.

Not only does this book have wonderful characters and absolutely gorgeous illustrations that would help any kid visualize school, but it gives parents and kids a really good idea. For those children who are too old for a binky or stufftie, or too practical for either, making them a small fix-it kit to take on their first day of a new activity might be just the thing to help them feel in control. Giving kids a sense of ownership and power is often all they need to feel a little less anxious. Maybe this is just what you need for that first day back from winter vacation! Here are some of my own ideas of things you could include in your kit:

  • duct tape of course
  • stickers, if you have that kind of kid (that likes to put stickers on everything to brighten up his/her world)
  • small rocks or shells or feathers if you have that kind of kid (that likes to feel them in their hands to calm down)
  • a small card that says how much you love them
  • a photo of family
  • a card with phone numbers on it

What about you? Any memories, good or bad, from your early school days? And any ideas for a back-to-school kit?

December 8, 2011

cook-it-up-and-eat-it-up

If the holidays aren’t a time for cooking, I don’t know what they are for! And my 3-year-old seems to have sensed the vibe, because he’s been spending an average of 30 minutes a day in his play kitchen recently.

He loves to cook, and I love cooking in my own kitchen while he putters away in his mini-version right next to me. As I simmer away the tomatoes and onions, he chops his velcro and wood fruit, mixes them in his mini pans and sticks them in the oven. Then he brings it over to me for a taste or insists that I sit down for a more formal meal.

And it’s even more fun when he gets up on his “learning tower” to cook along with me. So when we got this cookbook to review from OwlKids, we were both really excited. My son was very proud to show his dad that he has his very own cookbook, and it’s provided us with fun, great times together, and some really good food.

Title: Eat it Up!
Author: Elisabeth de Mariaffi
Genre: Nonfiction, Cookbook
Age: 3 and up!

What to do with the kids:

These are simple, easy, and yummy recipes. Let your kid pick one out: the pictures will allow even kids who are too young to read to choose for themselves. Then take them to the store (or a farmer’s market if it’s summertime!) and let them help buy the ingredients.

The first recipe my son chose, much to my surprise, was the meat pie. I don’t eat red meat, and I don’t usually cook with it at home, so we used Field Roast Apple Sage sausages (which are meat-free, soy-free, and dairy-free and absolutely great). It was delicious! It was even better smothered with some Apple Butter. Hey, it’s the holidays, right?

November 2, 2011

where’s the girl stuff at the science museum?

Writing about girls and science and stereotypes and all that is wrong with the world at ParentMap.

November 1, 2011

natural parenting if it kills me, aided by THE RHYTHM OF THE FAMILY

“Look, look at that one!” my son screams from the back seat. “And that one. It’s Very, Very, Very beautiful!” There is nothing my son loves more than the fall colors on the trees, and nothing could make me smile more than to hear him wax on about their beauty. Introducing my children to the world they live in is something truly important to me, and it’s something that can be too often overlooked.

In addition to instilling an appreciation for nature in my children, it’s also important for me to bring nature into the home. Right now, I’m on somewhat of a crusade to buy natural items. I consider it an important part of creating a healthy home. Alway in the back of my mind are two things: a responsibility for the planet that seems to have been ingrained in me since growing up in the 90s (when people cared about such things) and the memory of my mother dying way too young from a disease about which we know way too little. I remember the oncologist telling her she couldn’t have conventional strawberries anymore and she should try to eat organic as much as possible. I think about that conversation almost every time I’m at the grocery store, wondering if the $3/pound apples are really worth spending the entire paycheck on. These two thoughts are always with me and since having kids they’ve been percolating, growing, until my desire to buy natural has become somewhat of an obsession.

For example, my kids don’t have a lunch box without at least an hour on the internet trying to find the safest material to transport food. Those plastic cups he used to like to drink from? Sorry, they had BPA; they are gone. And the other ones, without BPA? I’m just going to stay a step ahead of the research this time and get rid of them, too…what are the odds that there is a kind of plastic that is actually healthy for us?

No new purchase is safe from scrutiny: I recently spent probably no less than five hours researching puppet houses and puppets as a present for the kids from their great grandmother. It’s frustrating to me that I can’t find out exactly what things are made of. I finally chose one theatre because I saw a reference to “environmentally-friendly wood” and “non-toxic” paint, although I have no idea what either of those things mean. I found some wool and felt puppets to go with it.

As I take my role of nurturer more and more seriously, I find myself going further and further back to nature. Today, it’s a stainless steel lunch container. Tomorrow, it’s chicken-farming in the backyard. (My husband is really excited about that one.)

Which is why I loved finding this book at a country store in Mazama, Washington. I grabbed it immediately and flipped through it, but I knew I was going to buy it before I even opened the pages. I’ve already read it more than once. I’ve made the strawberry muffin recipe and purchased the ingredients to make my own lotion. The book is a great reminder that you don’t need to buy all the stuff you think you need. There are so many alternatives for making better, simpler, and cheaper options at home.

Chemicals, be damned. I will be a natural mom if it kills all of us.

And my husband thinks it might.

Title: The Rhythm of Family
Author: Amanda Blake Soule with Stephen Soule
Genre: Parenting
Age: Adults

Summary and Review: This book is part how-to guide, part story of a family, part annotated calendar of a wonderful year. Co-written by the mother and father of a family with four (now five if you read their blog) children, they talk about the beautifully natural ways in which they celebrate the seasons, living outdoors and in concert with nature as much as they can. The book itself is a wonderful celebration of the importance of family and the world in which we raise our families. While there are specific recipes and craft ideas, I found it to be more inspiration than resource.

Follow up with your family:

After reading this book, I’ve been inspired to cook more with alternative ingredients–coconut oil instead of butter, brown rice syrup instead of sugar. I bought BPA-free canning jars and am about to start canning my own food. I now make my own face wash and shampoo, and even though those recipes aren’t in this book, it’s the beauty and persuasion of this book that started me on that path. (And the face wash, let me tell you, is amazing! Here’s a link to another blog that describes a make-at-home oil wash if you are interested.)

I have no doubt that if you read this book you may get something entirely different out of it. Maybe it will inspire you to sew or knit. Or maybe it will just make you smile and appreciate how good the simplicity of life with children can be.

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