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The Truth About Nature: Book Review

TAN-screenshot-cover

How much do you know about nature? Fans of Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer’s wonderful Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book: 448 Great Things To Do In Nature Before You Grow Up, reviewed here last year, will be thrilled that the pair has returned with another charming and informative book that illuminates nature, The Truth About Nature: A Family’s Guide to 144 Common Myths about the Great Outdoors. Like their first book, this one also contains extremely charming illustrations by Rachel Riordan.

So, how much do you know about nature? This book will challenge your assumptions, as well as commonly held superstitions, in a fun way, using a “myth scale” that is easy to understand. Did you think that rabbits love carrots, tornadoes spin clockwise, only male animals grow antlers, and you lose most of your body heat through your head? Me, too! These are all myths, to varying degrees. Learning about these cleverly chosen myths is not only fascinating; some of Keffer and Tornio’s myth busting promotes health, such as the knowledge that you can indeed get a sunburn on a cloudy day, dogs’ mouths aren’t really cleaner than ours, and clear water isn’t always safe to drink.

The Truth About Nature also contains wonderful hands-on activities and experiments, like making slime or creating a cloud in a jar, so kids can experience some of nature’s wonders for themselves. Learning about myths, cleverly divided by season, one can’t help but become more engaged with and curious about nature. Like many of the best nature books, this one will have readers looking and listening a little more carefully outdoors, perhaps on a hunt for a mushroom fairy ring, a rare songless bird, a river that seems to flow upstream, or, yes, a female animal with antlers.

The authors are also running a cool contest:

Win a School Visit and free copies of The Truth About Nature. Enter a video or photo that features a common outdoor myth between September 22 and November 23, 2014.

Here’s that giveaway page. And be sure to check out the authors’ website, Destination Nature.

Got any nature myths or surprises you’d like to share? Let me know in the Comments.

How to Raise Readers in the Digital Age

A lot of us parents worry that the expansion of digital technology into our children’s lives will result in them reading less than kids of previous generations. It turns out that we needn’t worry at all. Children today are reading more than ever, in both digital and print forms, says a Scholastic Kids and Family Reading Report.

What steps can parents take to ensure their kids become enthusiastic lifelong readers?

Embrace the e-Book

Half of children ages 9-17 say they would read more books for fun if they had greater access to e-books, according to the Scholastic report. E-books, in particular, are motivating boys and reluctant readers, who are reading e-books for fun in record numbers. E-books needn’t replace the printed book – 80 percent of kids who read e-books still read print books for fun. Having multiple options simply means more reading opportunities in many children’s lives.

Take your Reading with You

Tablets and e-readers make it easier than ever to take your reading along wherever you go – in the car and during other travel, in waiting rooms and local parks. And there are increasingly more great devices for reading e-books. The digital subscription service Bookboard provides access to a library of children’s books (audio and non) for the tablet, in a playful system that harnesses the natural interest kids have for technology and helps motivate them to read by rewarding them with books appropriate for their age, reading level and interests. Audio books, in particular, have proven a very effective tool for kids who have difficulty reading.

Use your Public Library

Libraries are still extremely popular, says a Pew Report on Library Services in the Digital Age. As many as 91 percent of people say that libraries are important to their communities and families. Libraries provide early literacy programming to support parents’ role as their children’s first teachers. They serve as community hubs and help bring families together. They invite hands-on experiential learning that prepares kids for reading and school. They provide access to technology and support digital learning in a way that may not be available to families at home. All this makes libraries a great place for readers and pre-readers alike to enjoy the array of services and foster a lifelong love of reading.

Look for “Readable” Moments

Books aren’t the only places kids learn to read. Reading opportunities are all around us. When you’re walking with your child, point out letters and read signs out loud. Make a game of this by searching for certain letters and words (or have children search while they’re in the car). When your baby or toddler is playing or when you’re performing chores at home, narrate what you or they are doing. “You’re building with blocks.” “I’m washing the dishes.” It might seem silly at first, but children initially learn the skills that lead to speaking and reading by listening to you.

In addition, kids often enjoy making lists. Even if the “words” consist of scribbles and lines, that’s the way they begin to read and write. Lists can be used to make menus for playing restaurant or receipts for playing store. Older children can help read recipes and make shopping lists and then help read the items in the store.

Set a Great Example

One of the most effective tools for encouraging kids to read is to be readers ourselves. Try to set aside time for your own reading where your children can see you (and read side-by-side with them when they’re older). Read a variety of media. Make a habit of reading to your kids as often as possible. Some of my family’s fondest memories involve bonding over childhood books. Bedtime is a natural time for winding down and cuddling through reading, but some kids enjoy bath time so much that that can be an ideal time to share a book. Young children treasure time with their parents and when you spend some of that time reading, they’ll associate it with your presence and physical closeness and the sound of your voice.

Enjoy fostering your child’s lifelong interest in reading.

This post originally appeared in Dot Complicated.

Fed Up with Frenzy Book Celebrates One Year!

Speaking at the elementary school my daughter attended

 

What a year for Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, my book that grew out of this blog in an attempt to share some of the techniques I used with my family to slow our increasingly busy and out-of-balanced lives, as well as outline 300+ affordable and delightful games, crafts and activities that I enjoyed with my family, friends and Girl Scout troop to help us slow down, reconnect and spend more joyful and distraction-free time together.

I relished recounting the playground and jump-rope games I learned from my own mom; the paper boats my family made and sailed down a local creek; the awe we experienced observing natural phenomena, like tidepools and meteor showers; and the simple fun we had making batches of bubble solution or picking berries to make jam and fruit desserts. It is my firm belief that you don’t have to spend a lot of money or prep time to enjoy activities with children that will create lifelong memories and perhaps result in a new skill, or one that was forgotten as we entered an increasingly busy and technologically oriented adulthood.

 

 

Slow Down.

Reconnect.

It’s Easier than You Think.

 

 

 

 

It turned out that a lot of people, in the media and in everyday life, related to the message.

TIME Healthland named Fed Up with Frenzy and Slow Parenting a 2012 Top 10 Parenting Trend. The book was reviewed in the Washington Post.

I got to fly to New York to talk about Slow Parenting on national TV, on Fox & Friends Weekend. You can watch the interview here.

I was interviewed by Randi Zuckerberg at Dot Complicated.

I got to speak about Slow Parenting at my childhood hometown bookstore and my current local bookstore and have dear friends and family enliven the discussions that ensued. I shared Fed Up with Frenzy in libraries, community rooms and school auditoriums. Most recently, I shared tips for enjoying a slow family summer in nature with guests at the Bay Area Discovery Museum, a place where my younger family had enjoyed many discoveries of our own. Hear the talk and watch the slide show. Read about other Fed Up with Frenzy talks.

Attempting to look serious with CA Writers Club members

I also had a lot of generous people write very nice things about my book in the press and on my Fed Up with Frenzy blog tour, including Vicki Larson in my local paper, the Marin Independent Journal, which featured my daughter and me, and Jessica Hahn-Taylor of SF Hill Babies, who ran an extremely beautiful and thoughtful piece just last weekend.

Anna and me photographed making soap

From the moment the carton of books arrived in our house, the year of “Frenzy” has indeed been a busy, albeit very exciting, one. I’m thrilled to have met so many wonderful people and gained new insights from the parents of today’s young children, whose lives are even busier, more distracted and more technological than mine was in those years (and who are very grateful to hear that making dried-bean mosaics constitutes a fine Saturday morning and to offer the epiphany, as one mom at a preschool talk did, that brushing teeth is easier and more enjoyable if viewed as an activity, rather than a chore.)

Thank you so much for coming along on this Slow journey with me. I look forward to seeing what Year 2 brings!

 

 

Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book Makes You Want to Go Out and Play

“Nature is a destination,” write Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer, the authors of The Kids Outdoor Adventure Book: 448 Things to Do in Nature Before You Grow Up. “But you don’t have to travel anywhere to find it. Just open the door and step outside.” That idea of fun and adventure in “nearby nature” infuses their entire delightful new book. This is an especially important concept at a time when kids are spending much more time with electronics than they are in the natural world. The Kids Outdoor Adventure Book offers a perfect counter-balance to indoor time, with activities that are easy for even the busiest families to enjoy.

The book is wonderfully, and helpfully, arranged by seasons (each of which is declared “the best season”.) Each season features an array of fun outdoor activities, so that a reader might be inspired to tap a maple tree or find a turtle in spring, catch a firefly or find fossils in summer, go owling or conquer a corn maze in fall, or go ice fishing or whittle a branch in winter. In addition to all the activities, which are presented in a fun check-list fashion and have guidelines as to the “adventure scale” of each one, there are plenty of larger-scale projects, outdoor games, destinations, and foods to make, so that families and others can be kept very busy doing the book’s activities over many years.

The Kids Outdoor Adventure Book  is very rich. It features a range of activities, from those that are simple to do, but might have escaped notice, such as “Roll down a hill like a log” (something my daughter loved to do) to more exotic ideas like “Go spelunking” in a cave. Rachel Riordan’s extremely cute illustrations complement the breadth of ideas in this  jam-packed, fun-filled book. Tornio and Keffer, who are judges in the 3rd annual ClifKID Backyard Game of the Year Contest, have captured the joy of being alive and the rhythm of the seasons and the natural world. Readers of this book will surely be inspired to open the door to their own outdoor adventures.

Want to get your own autographed copy of the Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book? Enter to win the CLIFKid ZBar and book giveaway.

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

Join Project Feeder Watch and Other Fun Citizen Science Activities
8 Fun Things to Do While It’s Still Summer
Have a Cloud Race
Keep a Moon Diary
American Academy of Pediatrics Advocates Recess for Kids

Enter the “First Peas to the Table” Pea Growing Contest

Each Spring, in the colonial U.S., founding father and extraordinary gardener Thomas Jefferson held a friendly contest with his neighbors to see who could grow the most peas. The first person to grow a bowl of peas was declared the contest’s winner and hosted a dinner for the other neighbors.

Now a children’s book and a school contest celebrates this tradition. First Peas to the Table: How Thomas Jefferson Inspired a School Garden, by Susan Grigsby and Nicole Tadgell, illustrates the life cycle of peas, while taking readers through a friendly modern-day competition modeled on Jefferson’s.

There is also an accompanying pea growing contest that encourages children in grades 1-4, growing individually or in teams, to be the first in their USDA Hardiness Zone to harvest 2 or more cups of peas. The contest opens March 1, with different end dates, based on Hardiness Zone. The First Peas Contest web site has all the contest rules, as well as links to lots of growing tips and information. Winners in each gardening zone will receive a set of four garden-themed books and will be featured on the Albert Whitman Publishers web site.

Since my foggy Bay Area, CA, climate is uniquely suited for peas, and we’ve grown more than our share of them, we’re eager to grow along with the contest and see how we do. (We usually grow peas in the Summer or Fall, so March planting is new for us.)

Before planting, we soaked our pea seeds in warm water for 24 hours, which should give them a good start on sprouting. (This works especially well with large, soft seeds like pea.) We planted both soaked and dry seeds, alternating every other one, to see if the soaking really makes a difference. We marked the two different types with stakes. We figured that, by planting every other seed rather than in bunches, we would account for any differences in sun or soil. You can see that the soaked seeds are much plumper than the others.

Let me know if you’re growing, too, and we’ll enjoy the contest, the tradition, and our spring pea harvests.

Until then, wishful thinking from a previous year’s pea yield:

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

New Childrens Book Reminds us to Play

Ernestine Buckmeister, the heroine of a delightful new children’s book, written by Linda Ravin Lodding and illustrated by Suzanne Beaky, doesn’t have time for childhood. This is so “…because her busy, well-meaning parents had packed her after-school schedule.” Mondays are for clay sculpting, Tuesdays for water ballet, Wednesdays for knitting and Thursdays for tuba playing. The week is rounded out with yodeling, karate and yoga.

Sound familiar? Though slightly exaggerated, Ernestine’s schedule gently acts as a mirror of over-scheduled children whose anxious parents are afraid that childhood is limited and convinced that children are in need of efficient delivery of experiences and skills.

But something happens to Ernestine. She discovers the joy of unstructured play and friends to play with, and influences her parents (and nanny, in a nice touch) to seek a little balance in the process.

The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister is completely charming. Its message is delivered in a gentle, funny way, with cute plays on words and illustrations that are cheerful, colorful and winning. The repetition and order of words and of Ernestine’s routine would appeal to young children. It’s quite easy to imagine this book becoming a favorite of children and parents as well as a wonderful, sly reminder of the importance of slowing down for childhood and for play.

You might also like:

Movement to Restore Free Play Gains Momentum
Enjoy the Ancient Art of Cloud Watching
Babies Learn by Playing
How to Tame Fall Frenzy
Children Opt for the Box Over the Toy

Make Stuff Together: A Book to Inspire Family Crafting and a Giveaway

I was drawn to Bernadette Noll, co-author with Kathie Sever of Make Stuff Together, 24 Simple Projects to Create as a Family, the first time I saw her online. Now, it could be that she co-produces Slow Family Living, and here I am at Slow Family Online. Or that she was so friendly when we initially chatted about supporting each other’s efforts. It could also just be — and I suspect this is true for people who know her in person, too — that she exudes creativity and deep connection in everything she does, whether it’s sharing a tutorial on her Future Craft Collective blog, which she created with her Make Stuff Together co-author, the equally compelling Kathie Sever, or candidly revealing lessons learned along her and her family’s journey on her more personal blog, Just a Minute.

That same spirit I initially saw is evident on every page of Make Stuff Together. Bernadette and Kathie put much of themselves into this book, which is as much about creating a joyous and expressive family life as it is about creating objects — though of course the objects are delightful, too. It was on Future Craft Collective that I first read about “upcycling”, and many of the projects in Make Stuff Together feature clever re-use of such items as bird-seed bags, inner tubes, billboards, neoprene and fabric samples, as well as ideas about where to find such things. Fittingly, the authors note that their sense of community deepened during their search for materials — they met and befriended people they wouldn’t have otherwise, and their kids benefited from that experience.

Make Stuff Together also has wonderful information about working with kids on sewing and other crafting projects. I find these deeply helpful and comradely. Among the suggestions, which the authors expand upon:

Let go of expectations
Honor process over project
Decide what your boundaries are, in terms of space, chaos, and materials
It’s okay to help when necessary
Not everything is sacred — sometimes re-doing, un-doing, or starting over is just the right act
Slow down, connect, and enjoy!

Of course, the meat of the book is its projects, and each is delightful, with colorful, inspiring photography and easy-to-follow instructions and patterns. My family and I are especially drawn to the Family Flags and Appreciation Banners the Game Board and Caddy, and the Napkins and Napkin Rings, which are shown in vintage fabrics and buttons.

Many of the projects are as useful as they are lovely, such as the Water-Bottle Holster, Tool Roll and Nature Pouch, Armchair Caddy, and Birthday Crown. There are games to make, items to grace a table, and fun, quick projects that would make wonderful gifts or keepsakes.

Make Stuff Together makes me want to grab my daughter, dust off the sewing machine, dig out our scrap fabric and start creating together.

To celebrate Make Stuff Together I am giving away a copy to a lucky reader. To enter to win, simply leave a comment below by Midnight, U.S. Eastern, Friday, July 1 and tell me your favorite thing to craft or something you’d like to make this summer.

Photos courtesy of Bernadette Noll.

Rip the Page! Adventures in Creative Writing


When my daughter was in 3rd grade, she had the most marvelous poetry teacher, who visited the school through a terrific program called California Poets in the Schools, which has been bringing professional poets into K-8 classrooms for 46  years.  The poet, Karen Benke, was extremely special. She had a way of coaxing whimsical language and deep, unconscious connections from children, sometimes with the aid of “word” tickets that would appear from a velvet pouch she carried. When in doubt, the muse could usually be summoned with the help of a word ticket.


Now Karen has published a book, Rip the Page! Adventures in Creative Writing, to help poets young and old summon their muses, with a full range of completely fun poetry exercises and triggers that will work when you’re stuck, or just want to stretch out and have fun. She and a host of well-known poets contribute notes and ideas in a very warm, encouraging and easy-to-read format.

Closer to games than assignments, a lot of the exercises offer ways to slow down and ask oneself questions like, What does that color feel like? What was my favorite age? What’s it really like to be a stone? There are ways to loosen up, such as making lists, creating recipes, using gross-out words, and trying not to make sense. There are encouragements to go deep and write about what hurts, or what you’re grateful for, or something you’ve never told anyone before.

Different forms are played with, such as odes and haiku. Karen shows that words can be visual — They can be piled on top of one another. They can form the shape of an object. They can reach to infinity. Exercises let poets write just for sound, and explore repetition of language. There are illustrations of concepts like similes, spoonerisms, alliteration, juxtaposition, point of view, going beyond cliches, calling on all the senses, and all kinds of tools that poets can use to make their writing more alive and the act of writing more fun.

Rip the Page is definitely fun. It’s about stretching and expressing ones uniqueness with games, prompts and tons of ideas that would encourage even the most reticent writer. Karen’s joy and enthusiasm for writing, children and life are completely contagious. The book unfolds like a series of magic tickets. You could open it anywhere and summon the imagination and courage to do something out of the ordinary like catching a whisper or letting the moon speak.

Karen will be leading a Rip the Page: Poetry Workshop for Kids Saturday, Sept. 25 at Book Passage in Corte Madera, CA.

She also recently hosted a poetry, music and performance event as a collection drive for Operation Backpack!, a charity she created to send backpacks to children in Colima, Mexico, a mining town in the mountains south of Puerto Vallarta, where her aunt, Barbara Rounds, volunteers and where children cannot afford backpacks for school. Look for a future post about the Operation Backpack! event, which was, like Karen and Rip the Page, warm, inspiring and fun.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Slow News Day: The Slow Reading Movement

A University of New Hampshire English professor, a Canadian technology expert, and an Executive Editor at the Harvard University Press are all making the case for slowing down the act of reading, something people are doing more frequently in skims, quick gulps and hyper-linked transgressions.

The professor, Thomas Newkirk, encourages elementary through college students to utilize such techniques as memorizing and reading out loud to allow them to slow down and “taste” the words. John Miedema, a technology specialist at IBM in Ottawa, Ontario, whose book Slow Reading explores the movement, notes that slow reading can foster a closer connection between readers and their information.

Lindsay Waters, Executive Humanities Editor at Harvard University Press has called for no less than a “revolution in reading.” She wrote:

Instead of rushing by works so fast that we don’t even muss up our hair, we should tarry, attend to the sensuousness of reading, allow ourselves to enter the experience of words.

This all sounds right to me. Reading for pleasure involves true and deep immersion in the world of a book, and, for many of us, that requires slowing down. We may need to retrain ourselves and our children to go slowly, savor, and get lost in the written word once in a while.

Read more (slowly) about Slow Reading in this overview. ADDED: Slow Reading, in Depth, with quotes from Tracy Seeley, who blogs about the Slow Movement.

12 Days of Green Holiday Gifts: Books for Adults

The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother’s Memoir, by Katrina Kenison, is a refreshingly honest book in which Kenison re-counts finding herself, at roughly middle age, as her children grow older and gain independence, and the author’s family transitions from an urban to a more rural, and slower, lifestyle. The book’s intimate (but not overly revealing) anecdotes and observations unfold in a way that creates the feeling that one is reading letters from a good friend.

Liza Dalby’s East Wind Melts the Ice: A Memoir Through the Seasons is an extremely special book that I find myself dipping into throughout the year. Dalby, who has spent a great deal of time in Japan and is the author of Geisha and other books, as well as a passionate gardener, weaves together observations about various topics — gardening and the natural world, poetry, eastern and western cultures, gender identity, life with small children — and she does so by structuring the book according to the 72 seasonal units of the ancient Chinese almanac. Each piece is beautiful in itself and delightful to read, as well as often quite insightful, funny or deep. Perhaps, as with the Kenison book, the best memoirs (and this is one, although it’s so quirky and brightly observed that “memoir” doesn’t quite do it justice) make you yearn to be the author’s friend or over-the-fence neighbor, or at least sit down for some tea.

Earth to Table: Seasonal Recipes from an Organic Farm, by Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann, stands out among this year’s crop of farm-to-table cookbooks. This is a stunningly photographed book that focuses on eating locally and in tune with the seasons. The recipes feel as fresh as the food pictured. Crump is a Canadian Slow Food pioneer and chef, and Schormann is a pastry chef, and the resulting book is enriched with their experiences in restaurants and in organic farming.

Every project in Betz White and John Gruen’s Sewing Green: 25 Projects Made With Repurposed and Organic Materials is adorable, colorful, and fun, and contains simple step-by-step instructions that a novice fabric crafter can follow. Best is the inspiration that comes from seeing all these ideas for repurposing and recreating with materials you may already have on hand or could easily locate. The book also contains a very thorough resource list. It’s a guaranteed winner for someone who’s interested in fabric crafting, especially one on the hunt for easy, do-able ideas.

You could do no wrong with any title by Rachel Carson, the pioneering environmental writer whose work managed to infuse the modern environmental movement, as well as educate and inspire wonder about all aspects of the natural world.  Her 1951 classic, The Sea Around Us, is a fine place to introduce a reader to Carson, or to simply experience her lustrous prose as she describes the awe-inspiring, continually mysterious world of the oceans, their history, their habitat, and the special place where water and land meet. The new edition contains added material by marine biologists about the deterioration of the oceans and their life, as well as some prescriptive ideas for its greater care.

My criteria for a green holiday gift? Items meet all or most of the following: Promotes nature play or care of the earth, Uses all or mostly natural ingredients, Fosters hours of open-ended creative play,  Doesn’t use extraneous plastic or other wrapping, Doesn’t break the bank to buy it.

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