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12 Fun Family Activities for Screen-Free Week

When I speak to families about slowing down and enjoying family time, one of the things that comes up over and over is screen time. Screens dominate many of our lives, often to a greater degree than we wish. While many of us parents can attest to the addictive nature of technology, we struggle with ways to reduce it in our children’s lives.

2014poster

It is perhaps a bonus, then, that the wonderful Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has proclaimed May 5-11 to be Screen-Free Week. Sometimes this kind of added incentive is all we need to inspire us to action. More than once, parents have told me that their children’s favorite memories include episodes of family game nights by fire- or candlelight during power outages. You can create your own “power outage” by participating in Screen-Free Week. And, even if you don’t go completely screen-free, you might want to pledge an hour or so a day or night to have some good screen-free fun. Who knows? That fun might just become a habit or your own favorite family memory.

Here are 12 ways to celebrate Screen Free Week:

Make a Paper Boat and sail it in a creek, pond or bathtub.

Make a Bird Feeder. Our local birds have gone nuts for ours and we plan to make more.

Make easy Wreaths, Crowns and Baskets to celebrate May Day and spring.

Enjoy Loom and Finger Weaving. You can do this anywhere!

Keep a Moon Diary as a way of observing the night sky.

Slow your pace and have a Cloud Race.

Get a jump on summer by making S’Mores. Camp under the stars if it’s warm enough.

Start a Backyard Garden.

Bake your own Soft Pretzels. These are really easy and fun.

Play a different fun board game every night. We like Boggle, Sorry, Taboo, Pictionary, Scrabble, Mancala, Masterpiece, Monopoly and Hi-Ho Cherry O.

Discover The Joy of Quiet.

And, if you’re really missing your screen? Make your own Shoebox TV!

You’ll need:

Shoebox or a square-shaped box and lid
Cardboard tubes, from paper towels, foil or plastic wrap, or wooden dowels
4-10 pieces of printer paper (8 ½ x 11”)
Drawing materials
Scissors, craft knife and tape

Cut a large opening for the TV screen into the bottom of the box, leaving an even border of 1” or more all around.

Holding the box horizontally, cut two holes on the top, each about 2” the side and 2” back from the cut-out section. Your dowels or cardboard tubes should fit into the holes.

Cut two bottom holes that line up with the top ones.

Cut the cardboard tubes, if necessary, so that about ½ “ sticks out on the bottom and 1-2” on top.

Decide on a story you want to tell that primarily uses pictures.

Place the paper horizontally (cutting, if necessary, to fit the tube length) and draw one picture on each page, adding words, if desired. Leave at least 1” on each paper edge and at least 2” on the left edge of the first picture and the right edge of the last picture.

Lay the pictures out, left to right, in the order they will appear. Turn them over and, keeping the order, run a piece of tape down each back seam where two pictures come together.

Tape each end of the paper story scroll around a tube or dowel and roll on the back sides of the scroll, so that the paper image is at the front of the tubes and the paper is tight and sized to the box.

Place the tubes into the holes and place the lid on the back. Decorate the front of the TV, if desired.

Gently turn the tubes to make the pictures move.

Slow Tip: You can also use images from magazines or comic-books to create your story.

You can make multiple story scrolls and change them through the back of the box. In doing so, you’ll join nearly every ancient civilization in telling stories using scrolls, starting with the Egyptians, who created them on papyrus.

The Shoebox TV craft is adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ more ways to enjoy screen-free family fun.

You might enjoy these related posts from Slow Family Online:

Eight Fun Things to Do While It’s Still Summer

Six Fun Family Activities to Enjoy This Weekend

Hooray for Low-Tech Toys

Graphic: Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

Back to School: 9 Tips for Taming Fall Frenzy

The flood of school-related papers seems to come earlier each year – the “first day” packets, the emergency and permission forms, the sports and other schedules. The start of school seems earlier, too — it’s up to mid-August in my neck of the woods.

A peruse around the internet shows that I’m not alone in feeling dismay at the loss of the long and leisurely summer. Parents in Chicago and Newburyport, MA, successfully lobbied their school districts to start school after Labor Day.  Legislators in many states hotly debate back-to-school dates each year.

Hopefully, you were fortunate to have had some leisurely family time this summer. Or, at the very least, some time free from homework, schedules, transportation, meetings, appointments, a busy calendar and a frazzled household. No matter when Back-to-School hits for you, it can be a challenge to keep the pace and spirit of summer in your family. Here are a couple of ideas for taming Fall frenzy.

Create Unstructured Family Time

Consider turning down the occasional invitation or activity to ensure that your family has some time by itself. Then devote to that time by not answering the phone and emails, and putting away the electronics and the to-do list. Families need to regroup and simply have unstructured time together – to play, to talk, to inadvertently create the small instances that go into the family memory bank. It is the little things that tend to bond families, and these often occur during unstructured time. This can be time to explore a craft or make music, just for the fun of it – in contrast to being in “achievement mode”. It can be a time to have a family game night or be outside in nature, to tell stories that meander as you do, or to merely observe the world. In earlier cultures, it was more common for people to take a break from the everyday. Today, in our 24/7 world, we sometimes have to create that time for ourselves and our families, in order to refresh, as well as re-engage with one another. If need be, schedule a family night on the calendar.

Eat As Many Meals As Possible Together

You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating. Mealtimes are often the only times families have together. It can be incredibly grounding to just sit down all together at the end of the day and share triumphs and thoughts. It can take some planning to find the time between activities and work for everyone to come together, as well as the time to plan and prepare meals. If you enjoy cooking, doing so as a family can provide fun bonding time. If not, aim to keep weeknight meals simple and buy what you need for a few meals at once, to keep cooking and shopping times down, as well as costs. You can also make double batches of food, and then have the leftovers the next night. Or pick up take-out food on your way back into the house. While home-cooked meals are great, the time spent together is even more vital.

Spend Time in Nature Together

Nature’s schedule is so much broader than our busy one, that one can’t help but gain a little perspective simply by being outside. And, chances are that when you’re outside as a family, you’re getting some fresh air, physical beauty and exercise, which enliven the spirit as well as help create healthy habits for everyone. For some children, nature is where they feel happiest, and there are plenty of ways to enhance their experience of nature, whether through creating poetry or art out of what is observed, collecting items to display at home, playing games like Tag and Hide ‘n Seek, building forts, watching the stars, or telling stories and playing word games together while on walks. Other families might enjoy biking, rollerblading or water sports as a way to be active together and do something a bit special. Chances are, even if you live in a city, there’s a bit of nature nearby. Looking for ideas? Check out the Children & Nature Network.

Cultivate Friendships With All Different People

Have people in your life who are different ages than you, or whom you don’t know through your child. Sometimes what gets lost as a parent is a sense of who we are as people, and others – with whom me might share non-parenting interests – can help us reconnect with that part of ourselves and with a broader range of interests and ideas than may be prevalent in the immediate circle of school. People who don’t have school-age children may be less harried themselves, so that you can’t help but slow down in their presence. Perhaps there is a neighbor or friend with whom your family would enjoy taking a walk or doing a craft. Especially if there are no grandparents nearby, a relationship with someone older can be a wonderful, life-enlarging experience for a child. Many senior facilities welcome young visitors with a parent. Performing a service, such as visiting a shut-in, is an excellent way to slow down, gain perspective and make a friend.

Say “No” to More Things

We parents don’t have to volunteer to take on more at work, or to serve on every school committee that needs us. Periodically assess your needs and your output and, if something is out of balance, readjust. Likewise, children don’t have to sign up for a lot of activities. Often, children are over-scheduled to the point of creating stress for the whole family. Perhaps explore one or two activities at a time, and carefully consider costs and benefits before adding any new ones. It may help to assure yourself that it is usually not the last opportunity for your child to enjoy ballet or soccer. More pleasure may come from devotion to one thing at a time.

Evaluate Your Own Desires

Are you signing your child up for activities you would have liked for yourself? While exposure to many things is delightful and, indeed, a luxury, too much of a good thing can backfire. Try to be clear about whether your own needs or anxieties about your child’s achievement are fueling a desire to over-schedule activities. Often what children want, when asked, is simply more unstructured time with their siblings, friends or parents.

Make Time for Yourself and Your Spouse

This is often the first thing that gets bumped off the list of priorities. Adults who are burned out have no resources left for their children. Perhaps, having cleared more time for family time, some self and couple time can emerge as well. If need be, schedule time to spend alone, as a couple, or with friends from other parts of your life, even if you can only do so once a month. Consider doing more family activities that, while age-appropriate, are not necessarily child-focused. Sometimes children come along on our activities more readily than we expect them to, and the results can be rewarding for everyone.

Get Enough Sleep

Missing out on sleep puts everyone in a bad mood, which can add to daily stress. Try to have a regular bedtime for children and for yourself. If work remains to be done into the night, tell yourself it can wait until tomorrow. If there’s time, a nice routine before bed, such as reading out loud (to children of any age) can be calming and put a nice cap on the day, which helps everyone get to sleep better.

Let Children be Children

Sometimes, in our rush toward achievement, we forget what it is like to be a child. Childhood still lasts about 18 years, which leaves plenty of time for  structured activities. Some unstructured time for children (to be alone, as well as with the family) is desirable. Don’t be afraid to let your child have down time, to daydream or explore on his or her own. To even — be bored. Every activity doesn’t have to lead to a future goal. And every moment doesn’t have to provide outside entertainment. In fact, our tendency to over-schedule and over-stimulate children can create undue stress for them, as well as the inability to simply entertain themselves, play freely, tolerate stillness, or discover their own inner compasses — who they are and what they like to do.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

These tips were adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ fun family activities and slowing techniques. This post also appeared in Frugal Mama.

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!

 

 

12 Fun Family Activities for Screen Free Week

When I speak to families about slowing down and enjoying family time, one of the things that comes up over and over is screen time. Screens dominate many of our lives, often to a greater degree than we wish. While many of us parents can attest to the addictive nature of technology, we struggle with ways to reduce it in our children’s lives.

It is perhaps a bonus, then, that the wonderful Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has proclaimed April 29 – May 5 to be Screen-Free Week. Sometimes this kind of added incentive is all we need to inspire us to action. More than once, parents have told me that their children’s favorite memories include episodes of family game nights by fire- or candlelight during power outages. You can create your own “power outage” by participating in Screen-Free Week. And, even if you don’t go completely screen-free, you might want to pledge an hour or so a day or night to have some good screen-free fun. Who knows? That fun might just become a habit or your own favorite family memory.

Here are 12 ways to celebrate Screen Free Week:

Make a Paper Boat and sail it in a creek, pond or bathtub.

Make a Bird Feeder. Our local birds have gone nuts for ours and we plan to make more.

Make easy Wreaths, Crowns and Baskets to celebrate May Day.

Enjoy Loom and Finger Weaving. You can do this anywhere!

Keep a Moon Diary as a way of observing the night sky.

Slow your pace and have a Cloud Race.

Get a jump on summer by making S’Mores. Camp under the stars if it’s warm enough.

Start a Backyard Garden.

Bake your own Soft Pretzels. These are really easy and fun.

Play a different fun board game every night. We like Boggle, Sorry, Taboo, Pictionary, Scrabble, Mancala, Masterpiece, Monopoly and Hi-Ho Cherry O.

Discover The Joy of Quiet.

And, if you’re really missing your screen? Make your own Shoebox TV!

You’ll need:

Shoebox or a square-shaped box and lid
Cardboard tubes, from paper towels, foil or plastic wrap, or wooden dowels
4-10 pieces of printer paper (8 ½ x 11”)
Drawing materials
Scissors, craft knife and tape

Cut a large opening for the TV screen into the bottom of the box, leaving an even border of 1” or more all around.

Holding the box horizontally, cut two holes on the top, each about 2” the side and 2” back from the cut-out section. Your dowels or cardboard tubes should fit into the holes.

Cut two bottom holes that line up with the top ones.

Cut the cardboard tubes, if necessary, so that about ½ “ sticks out on the bottom and 1-2” on top.

Decide on a story you want to tell that primarily uses pictures.

Place the paper horizontally (cutting, if necessary, to fit the tube length) and draw one picture on each page, adding words, if desired. Leave at least 1” on each paper edge and at least 2” on the left edge of the first picture and the right edge of the last picture.

Lay the pictures out, left to right, in the order they will appear. Turn them over and, keeping the order, run a piece of tape down each back seam where two pictures come together.

Tape each end of the paper story scroll around a tube or dowel and roll  on the back sides of the scroll, so that the paper image is at the front of the tubes and the paper is tight and sized to the box.

Place the tubes into the holes and place the lid on the back. Decorate the front of the TV, if desired.

Gently turn the tubes to make the pictures move.

Slow Tip: You can also use images from magazines or comic-books to create your story.

You can make multiple story scrolls and change them through the back of the box. In doing so, you’ll join nearly every ancient civilization in telling stories using scrolls, starting with the Egyptians, who created them on papyrus.

The Shoebox TV craft is adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ more ways to enjoy screen-free family fun.

 Related posts from Slow Family Online:

Eight Fun Things to Do While It’s Still Summer

Six Fun Family Activities to Enjoy This Weekend

Hooray for Low-Tech Toys

Graphic: Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

Beyond Differences: Pledge Now to End Bullying and Social Isolation

Bullying is defined as aggressive or unwanted behavior. Most school-aged children find themselves on one end of a bullying relationship at some point in their lives. Bullying can take many forms. Abuse can be physical or verbal. It can take place in person or online. It often takes the form of social isolation.

Beyond Differences is a teen-led grassroots organization that was formed in Marin County, CA, specifically to combat social isolation, which is often a precursor to more aggressive bullying behaviors. The group leads powerful peer assemblies in middle and high schools. I’ve had the privilege of seeing the very impactful work that the Beyond Differences leadership accomplishes. Social acceptance can make the difference between a pleasant school experience and a torturous one. Here’s one message on the Beyond Differences site from parent Sheri Mowbray:

Their message of inclusion and care helped bring my daughter out of a serious depression and allowed her not only to feel less socially isolated, but empowered her to want to take a leadership role to help others in the same circumstances.

A cornerstone of Beyond Differences’ work is the No One Eats Alone program, which encourages students to include others who might be experiencing social isolation. The educational and psychological benefits of the program go far beyond the week in which it typically occurs. Schools report more compassion and inclusiveness among students year-round. Using tool kits on the Beyond Differences web site, the program can be replicated anywhere in the world.

Here are tips for parents with adolescents who suffer from social isolation from Amy Wilner, PsyD.

You can take a stand against bullying by learning more about Beyond Differences and similar groups. Please join me in taking this pledge from Take Part to add your name to the growing list of people who pledge to end bullying and social isolation.

This post is sponsored by Take Part. The opinions expressed are my own.

 

How to Prepare Kids for Kindergarten? Let them Play

When German Frederick Froebel created kindergarten in the 1800s, little could he have envisioned what it would become. Those first kindergarten students, indeed the first children to experience early childhood education, learned through play, music, movement, paper-folding and games. Froebel recognized that early childhood was a a period of dramatic brain development during which children thrived when they learned holistically. His work influenced Maria Montessori, Rudolf Steiner (whose work led to Waldorf Schools), and the Reggio Emilia approach to education, all of which are popular and well regarded today.

Kindergarten, as recently as many of our own childhoods, was a laboratory of discovery and wonder, social skills and play. It was not viewed solely as preparation for grade school.

Fast-forward 150+ years since Froebel to arrive at a time in which not only is kindergarten regarded as preparation for grade school, but preschool is considered preparation for kindergarten. Online parent message boards are crammed with questions from anxious parents, asking, “Is my child ready for kindergarten?” Kindergarten readiness tests and commercial kits denote and teach multiple precise skills children should know before starting kindergarten, including the abilities to count from 1 to 10, identify colors, cut with scissors, create rhyming sounds, and skip.

Yes, skip. This piece of information includes the especially ridiculous coda that pre-school children around the U.S. are being taught to skip, in order to prepare them for kindergarten. Sadly, many children do not have enough outdoor play and free time to develop this skill on their own and are now taught it, not as a joyous life skill, but as part of the readiness curriculum.

But what if “readiness curriculum” emphasizes the wrong things? Perhaps our anxieties about “kindergarten readiness” and our rush toward academics for our kids are fueled by our own desires and fears, rather than by education and early childhood theory. We are taught early that there is tremendous competition for college spots and for jobs. Because we’re often busy ourselves, we view time as something to be used efficiently, even and perhaps especially in regard to our children and their childhoods.

In addition, parents today are led to believe that we have to choose between academic preschools and play-based preschools. But what if the play-based schools actually fed children’s academic, social and physical needs and success?  According to studies, that’s exactly what they do.

Professor Jeffrey Trawick-Smith of The Center for Early Childhood Education writes that “Play is necessary for success in school” and that play enhances language and literacy, counting and math, symbolic thought, cooperation, self-awareness and self-control. Longitudinal studies show that even the gains achieved by some academic preschools are largely lost by third or fourth grade.

If that weren’t enough, recent studies also show that today’s preschoolers spend only 2-3% of their time doing vigorous activity. In our rush toward what many of us think of as academic achievement and readiness, we’re actually robbing many young children of the ability to learn the way they do best — through play.

Alison Gopnik, psychology professor and author of The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life, refers to “guided discovery”, the notion that small children learn best through exploration and interaction, wonder and play. Schools teach mastery, which is wonderful, writes Gopnick, but mastery should follow discovery. She uses an example from baseball:

Routinized learning is not an end in itself. A good coach may well make his players throw the ball to first base 50 times or swing again and again in the batting cage. That will help, but by itself it won’t make a strong player. The game itself — reacting to different pitches, strategizing about base running — requires thought, flexibility and inventiveness.

How do we encourage qualities like thought, flexibility and inventiveness in our young people, the very qualities that underlie later academic and other success? Let them play when they’re young, when their brains are elastic and they learn best through exploration. Encourage various social, physical and other experiences that enhance children’s natural senses of curiosity and wonder. Allow them to move their bodies more, especially in nature when possible, and not be unnecessarily (and unnaturally) sedentary. Studies show that even older elementary students need recess and play and that physical activity helps them perform better academically.

It seems that letting preschoolers be preschoolers is the least — and the most –  we can do for them.

Photos: Let the Children Play, Creative Child, Let Children Play, Academic Advancement

For more information see:

Resources about Play and Slowing
News about Play and Slowing

You might also be interested in:

Slow News: Let the Kids Play
Pre-school and Kindergarten Graduations: Too Much Too Fast?
Movement to Restore Free Play Gains Momentum
Children Opt for the Box Over the Toy
Babies Learn By Playing
New Childrens Book Reminds Us to Play

 

Earth Day and Every Day: 11 Ways to Make Gardening Extra Fun for Kids

With Earth Day upon us, not to mention the warmer and longer spring days, many of us have been heading into our gardens. Around much of the Northern Hemisphere, this is the peak time to sow some seeds into the ground, as well as plant a lifelong gardening habit into the children in our lives.

Gardening helps families spend time together outdoors, take pride in growing our own food, and connect to others who have lived on the land before us. Even though gardening offers a bounty of simple wonder, beauty and fun for even the smallest children, it doesn’t hurt to employ a few methods for getting and keeping them especially engaged.

Here are some simple ways to maximize your child’s interest in the garden.

Let children select some plants they want to grow. Something magical happens when one has ownership of a project from its initial stages. When choosing plants, check that you have the right growing conditions for them to help ensure a successful experience. Planting information is available on seed packets and through garden-supply store folks, who are generally very helpful. You can choose seeds, young seedlings, or a combination of the two. Seeds are more cost-effective and can be especially rewarding and wondrous. Bedding plants of course give your garden instant color.

Some plants that come up quickly, and are easy to plant and grow, include nasturtiums, peas, sunflowers and beans.

(As an aside, my daughter always chose marigolds to plant, just like I did I when I was a kid. They’re so colorful and cheery and happen to be easy to grow from seedlings or seeds. Perhaps many children are drawn to bright marigolds.)

Chop chores into small blocks. Kids can lose interest if the project seems daunting. Try to break up the tasks into doable chunks and over more than one session if necessary.

Make a sign that identifies the garden, area, or container as the child’s. The sign can be as simple as a painted rock or as ambitious as a mosaic-tile kit from an art-supply store. If other people are sharing the garden, you can still identify different children’s plantings by putting each name on a wooden stick (available in bags at garden-supply stores) in permanent ink.

Create a fun space in the garden. Create a hiding place with trellises or plantings, or plant a sunflower house by planting sunflowers in the shape of a large playhouse that you can later go inside. (Leave room for your door!) Designate a tree stump to serve as a table for tea parties, or decorate an area with whimsical objects you make or find. For instance, use pipe cleaners and beads to make simple butterflies, ladybugs, mushrooms and flowers, and then place them among the plants. Or plant a pizza garden! Grow tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, basil and more in the shape of a pizza. At harvest time, add dough and cheese and bake your creation.

Attract animals to your garden. Certain plants and flowers are known to attract various butterflies and birds. This can add another level of delight for children. The National Wildlife Federation has information about how to turn any garden into a habitat for wildlife. Even if you don’t get your garden “wildlife” certified, there are a lot of fun, helpful tips for bringing creatures into your yard.

Let your child plant. In addition to helping children feel ownership of the garden, the act of putting seeds into the ground and then watching them come up is great fun. Large seeds like nasturtium, peas, beans, sunflowers, and gourds can be especially easy for children to handle and poke into holes. Smaller seeds can be mixed with coffee grounds for scattering. You can usually tell the relative size of a seed by shaking the seed packet.

Let your child water. Most children love to water. Teach them to check the soil by poking a finger down a couple of inches. If they feel moistness, there’s no need to water. If it’s dry, the plant is thirsty. It’s also best to water early or late in the day, so that the water doesn’t dry out in the sun before getting to the roots of the plants. Water fairly deeply and try to get the water into the dirt instead of right on the plants, where it can damage leaves and stems.

Let your child harvest. Children also love to harvest what they’ve grown. Be sure to have them experience picking their own vegetables or flowers (with you helping to cut stems, as necessary.) Cooking or baking with the food you’ve grown is, of course, a delight. Strawberries are really fun to grow and eat right in the garden — I’ve had the best luck with young plants rather than seeds. Catnip is fun to grow if you have an appreciative cat. And flowers are fun to give others on Earth Day, May Day or anytime.

Avoid the use of pesticides in any garden that you’ll be eating from, or even spending time in. If your garden does develop an unwanted species, take an affected piece of the plant to your local garden-supply store and ask for advice on how to treat it organically.

Let the diggers dig. Some children prove especially interested in what’s under the ground. For them, an area in which to dig and look at worms and other creatures may be ideal.

(Relatedly, when my daughter’s wonderful pre-school learned they were going to have new-home construction occur next door, they cut a hole in the fence and covered it with plexiglass. A whole group of kids regularly watched the bulldozers and other tools of construction with fascination. In other words, it’s good to remember that kids aren’t necessarily interested in the same things we are.)

Allow for mistakes and experimentation. Children can learn early that things don’t always grow as planned. Likewise, gardens can be wonderful places to explore, experiment, and observe. Try planting the same plant in different conditions, or grow something you’ve never grown, just to see what happens.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

You might also be interested in: Earth Day and Every Day: Beginners Guide to Getting Your Garden Growing

Forget Tiger Mom and French Mom: Meet Hunter-Gatherer Mom

Last year, Amy Chua managed to push a whole set of collective parenting buttons when she asserted in her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, why Chinese mothers are superior — apparently to us Western parents who let our kids attend slumber parties and take lowly “villager” parts in school plays.

Now, almost exactly a year later, there is news of a new book about another group of superior parents halfway around the world, who have successfully spawned submissive, docile, vegetable-eating children to rival the Chinese –  Voila! The French. At first glance, Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting (which bears the wonderfully succinct UK title, French Children Don’t Throw Food) seems to be getting about the same derisive response as the Tiger Mom tome.

As well it should. While there may be some fine advice in both books, which seem a pendulum-swing antidote to the culture of helicopter parenting, it’s always a bit difficult to swallow the notion that a whole culture has this parenting thing down, while ours does not. And, of course, these types of books play on the anxiety any thinking parent drags around from playground to play group — am I doing this right? Is something wrong with me or my kids?!

Druckerman’s book, in particular, appears to have some valuable insight about  life skills like delayed gratification and the ability to entertain oneself, good tools for children worldwide. Part of the problem, of course, is in the incendiary messaging and packaging of these books — but then books that don’t generalize and pit nations and groups against one another probably don’t sell as well or garner as much media attention.

In the midst of this madness, a new style of parenting has come to my attention which actually makes the most sense of all. And talk about “Back to Basics”: The time has come for the Hunter-Gatherer Parent. Hunter-gatherer children, which have been studied as recently as the 1990s in Africa, are, according to researcher Elizabeth Marshall Thomas:

Sunny and cooperative, the children were every parent’s dream. No culture can ever have raised better, more intelligent, more likable, more confident children.

The secret of hunter-gatherer families? The play a lot. They tolerate appropriate risks. They value, encourage and teach independence and interdependence, rather than strict obedience. And they seem to do it through caring and trust, rather than carrying on and punishment. In addition, they are at home in nature and can navigate their own environments.

The changing world will certainly need more hunter-gatherers, who are resourceful, quick-thinking, creative and flexible. I, for one, will stake my lot with the hunter-gatherers. The Chinese and French methods weren’t working out so well anyway.

Photo: Hadza archery by Woodlouse

 

Slow News Day: Hooray for Low-Tech Toys

Last January Wired Magazine ran a story on the Five Best Toys of All Time. Which toys did the high-tech, gadget-and-gizmo friendly magazine (or at least the Geek Dad section) name as the best? The stick, the box, string, the cardboard tube, and dirt. Not an electronic toy in the bunch. And, even more, all of these are simple, available (if not free), and provide open-ended play. Two are found in nature.

The internet went nuts with this story, as person after person — parents, teachers, nature advocates, play experts, and people who simply sense that today’s children grow up too quickly — passed this story around. With all the holiday advertising and shopping, and all the craze for the flashiest and the latest, a writer was advocating that kids go play in the dirt.

When Anna was small, I noticed that she was happy for hours with simple things — dirt, water, grass, a tire swing, paper, scissors, glue. She spent about a year being fascinated with adhesive tape — pulling, cutting and laying it down on paper, creating cardboard box-and-tube cameras and “candy machines”.  She didn’t seem to need or want anything more expensive, complicated or “educational” than that. I’ve found this is often the case if we slow down, adjust our ideas about what is normal or expected, and let our children and our own instincts guide us.

On the heels of the Wired story came another one: The Center for Early Childhood Education at Eastern Connecticut State University released the results of its 2011 TIMPANI (Toy to Inspire Mindful Play and Nurture Imagination) study. Each year they name a “best toy” based on three categories: thinking and learning; cooperation and social interaction; and self-expression and imagination.

This year’s winner? The nearly 10o-year-old Tinkertoy Construction Set. Said the study’s principal researcher, “Basic, open-ended toys tend to be more beneficial to children’s play and learning than some of the more elaborate and commercial toys that are on the market.” The Tinkertoy designers, after all, created their toy after seeing children play imaginatively with pencils and empty spools of thread.

The article goes on to point out that open-ended toys foster cooperation and communication, with peers as well as with parents:

Through play, you can provide your child with the support needed to learn and grow, to learn how to learn, and to get needs met in safe, appropriate ways.

I’ve often bonded through play and creating with my family, and I’ve seen scores of children be happier and more engaged when playing with open-ended toys.

You may also be interested in:
Children Opt for the Box Over the Toy
Movement to Restore Free Play Gains Momentum

Photo: Melissa Gutierrez

Seeing at Child-Scale Helps us Slow Down, Appreciate More, and Play

What does it mean to be a child in a city, or anywhere? How does a child see things? Quite differently from adults, as it happens. This perspective might help many of us to slow down, appreciate more, and be more playful, as we orient to a child’s experience of scale.

The Hand-Made Play Collaborative in Tokyo (one of the busiest cities in the world) investigated how children enjoy and learn from non-commercial play, by telling  “one story of the everyday treasures of a rainy day walk“.

This is their map of a child’s experience of a city.

Children experience a great deal from the time within the pauses of activity, the research tells us. They like routine –  a small ritual within a routine walk can have great meaning. They learn by experiencing and experimenting, by noticing similarities and differences and moving things around. Adults tend to hurry kids, to grow impatient with their observations and not honor the way they experience time.

The main message from Hand-Made Play:

Slow Down. Stop and listen.

It can be a challenge to get out of our adult mindsets and concerns to do this. The rewards, however, are rich for both children and adults. Paying attention to child-scale could impact our actions and even our city planning. As usual, it is beneficial to try to see through the eyes of a child.

Images: Hand-Made Play

Thank you, Kerala Taylor of Kaboom, who first wrote about Hand-Made Play.

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