Tag Archives: Parenting

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.

Slow News: Slow Family Movement Featured in USA Today

Slow Parenting is in the news again, as more and more parents are discovering that dialing back the amount of organized and scheduled activities for kids can lead to more family time and the sense of fun and calm that accompany it.

USA Today just featured the slow family movement, in an article that originally appeared in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, and features my compatriots at Slow Family Living, Bernadette Noll and Carrie Contey, whose workshops, workbooks and wisdom have been helping families slow down.

The article shares the ways in which some families have chosen to slow down and their creative solutions for making family time fun, meaningful and a source of memories and bonding.

Much current research backs up the need for the kinds of free play and family togetherness that doesn’t happen when children are constantly engaged in organized activities. Some of this thinking comes from Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, author of Building Resilience in Children and Teens, who assures us, “There are no more valuable means of promoting success and happiness in children than the tried, trusted, and traditional methods of play and family togetherness.”

Perhaps that’s something to think about as we enter the busy holiday season.

You might also be interested in:

Back to School: How to Tame Fall Frenzy
Coming Next Spring: Fed Up With Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World
Slow News: Movement to Restore Free Play Gains Momentum

A great source of research is:

The Children & Nature Network

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

Coming Next Summer from Slow Family: “Fed Up With Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World”

Just announced! My book, based on the ideas in Slow Family Online, will be out next Summer from Sourcebooks. Titled Fed Up With Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, it will contain resources for many of the craft, cooking, nature, seasonal, and other fun family activities you’ve enjoyed here, as well as tons of new ones. I hope to create a compendium of ideas and projects to help you have fun and make memories by slowing down, rediscovering lost arts from a simpler time, and re-connecting with yourselves and each another in the process.

Please come along as I continue to write about ways to slow down, find joy and reconnect. Please keep sharing your own ideas and thoughts as we continue to journey down the Slow Lane together!

This is the announcement that was in Publisher’s Marketplace. Thanks, everyone, for all your support. I’ll keep you posted on the book’s progress.

May 24, 2011
Non-fiction:
Parenting
Susan Sachs Lipman’s FED UP WITH FRENZY: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, a practical guide full of projects, activities, and games that will strengthen the parent-child bond, and help families reconnect, to Shana Drehs at Sourcebooks, by Andrea Somberg at Harvey Klinger.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

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. Although 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.

(As an aside, my daughter always picked marigolds, as 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 most 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. This can be a hiding place that you create with trellises or plantings; a tree stump that can serve as a table for tea parties; or an area that is decorated with whimsical objects you make or find. For instance, pipe cleaners and beads can be used to make simple butterflies, mushrooms and flowers — they can be placed among the plants and can get wet and still last a long time.

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. This goes back to ownership, plus it’s just so much fun to put seeds into the ground and then watch them come up. 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. You may also want to look for seeds that will sprout and mature relatively quickly.

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.

Look for future articles here with more specifics about how to get your garden started and some fun ideas for kids’ garden projects.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Slow Parenting Gaining Steam: It’s About Time

As people, especially parents, become busier than ever — perhaps driven by increasing economic and social pressures — we’re hearing about the counter movement of “Slow” more than ever, too.

ABC News recently ran a piece on Slow Parenting, which featured, among others, the wonderful Slow Family Living folks, who I have featured on my blog.

Most children are over-scheduled — psychologists, teachers and parents in the piece agreed. And that’s resulting in a generation of stressed-out kids, and parents. Said Bernadette Noll, Slow Family Living co-founder:

I think there’s the feeling of being frazzled. Kind of high anxiety on both the parents’ part and the kids’ part.

Slow Family Living co-founder and parenting coach Carrie Contey, and others in the piece, advocate clearing the schedules, adding more free time and play time, and letting go of the notion that, as parents, we have to be perfect.

Perfectionism truly can be the enemy of freedom and play. Writer Anne Lamott addresses this in a wonderful, funny and wise piece that appears in Sunset magazine.

We all hunger for creative expression in some form, Anne Lamott writes:

Creative expression, whether that means writing, dancing, bird-watching, or cooking, can give a person almost everything that he or she has been searching for: enlivenment, peace, meaning, and the incalculable wealth of time spent quietly in beauty.

The trick, though, she notes, is making the time to have this in our lives.

That’s really what’s been at the heart of the Slow Movement for me and many others — finding the time, making the time, to connect with family and friends and that part of ourselves that yearns for beauty, peace and community, in whatever form it takes for us personally. We only get 24 hours each day. Deciding what we really want and then what to let go of is a huge step off the treadmill and onto a different path for many of us.

The great news is that more individuals and even groups are embracing this philosophy. No-Homework policies are popping up in school districts. The documentary film Race to Nowhere, which stemmed from director Vicki Abeles’ own parenting experiences, may be behind some of this. The film, which has been playing to sold-out audiences of parents and others across America, attempts to illuminate “the unintended consequences of the achievement-obsessed way of life that permeates American education and culture.”

There is a Race to Nowhere Facebook page, where people are sharing ideas. Slow Parenting is gaining steam, and, in more ways than one, it’s about time.

I hope that this blog will continue to provide inspiration about slowing down with your family; appreciating beauty, nature, and seasons; and fun things to do with all that new-found free time. :) My Slow Family Resources page highlights lots of other great people, resources and ideas.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Children Opt for the Box Over the Toy

First came word from Lenore Skenazy, the wonderful keeper-of-the-calm-flame over at Free Range Kids, that the era of the passive toy was over. It seems she had done a sweep of the recent Toy Fair, where next Christmas’ gewgaws were revealed to the trade, and found, to her delight, that largely gone were loud, electronic, performing toys like Tickle Me Elmo, and in their place were toys that called on children’s imaginations to build with them and do things with them. Imagine that!

Then I ran across this story that should be required reading for anyone who is in any way feeling inferior or stressed out because their children do not have the latest wonderful toy that will help them get into a good college, or at least goose their fine-motor development:

When the Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose, CA, found itself with empty exhibit space between shows, clever exhibit designer Ronnie Bogle tossed a few giant boxes, which had contained the museum’s new recycling bins, into the area. Almost immediately, children were crawling in and around them, drawing on them, role-playing in them, and creating skyscrapers, houses and forts. New boxes were added and the exhibit was christened Box City. It became one of the most popular exhibits in the museum.

You can read the complete story of Box City here.

Said Ronnie Bogle, “One of my fondest childhood memories is when we got a new refrigerator and my dad gave me the box. For two weeks that thing went from being a house to a rocket ship to a train to a car.”

This is another nice reminiscence about playing with refrigerator boxes, from the GagaSisterhood site, which is geared to grandparents.

Children’s Museum marketing manager Autumn Gutierrez echoed the idea that children can have fun without fancy toys.

“The kids really love our high-tech exhibits,” she said. “But then the window washer comes along, and they are just as excited by that.”

Worth remembering!

Photo: Melissa Gutierrez

Related posts:

Gopnick: Babies Learn by Playing

Time Magazine: Can These Parents be Saved?

New British Study about Nature Disconnect

A new study from Great Britain bodes poorly for children and their outdoor lives. According to researchers at Hertfordshire University, while most children are open to outdoor play, their parents are not, and a lack of confidence is often the reason.

Parents are overly fearful, the survey said. They fear cars, injury, abduction, ending up on private property, children running away, and .. dirt. From the study:

There seems to be an obsession about cleanliness. Perhaps because children are in expensive clothes, mud seems to be abhorrent.

What happened to play clothes? Are children showpieces? It makes sense to use inexpensive or used clothing precisely for play, to be dirtied and stained. Play is the job of children! Dress them appropriately and let them explore.

Another issue? Lack of map-reading skills. Said senior lecturer Debbie Pearlman Hogue:

None of the mothers I spoke to could read a map.

This is downright pitiful. As a result of skewed priorities and an extreme lack of skills, a whole generation is being deprived of outdoor play and experiences which, in turn, is going to render each successive generation increasingly bereft of experiences and abilities until we all just stay huddled inside our homes.

Poul Christensen, chairman of Natural England, says:

Children are being denied the fundamental sense of independence and freedom in nature that their parents enjoyed.

Children now want more opportunities to play outdoors. Whether through pond dipping or tree climbing, nature-based activities can play an important role in the educational and social development of children.

England’s Royal Society for the Arts points to a “risk averse” culture in which “youngsters were being deprived of the freedom to develop, to manage and take risks – and, ultimately, to grow up.” Of course, this phenomenon is not unique to England – It’s prevalent in the U.S. and in much of the industrialized world.

How can we reverse this unhealthy trend? A few ideas:

Make outdoor play a public priority by designing parks and safe, green play spaces.

Make outdoor play a personal priority by getting outdoors as a family or joining a nature club.

Educate parents about legitimate and unfounded fears.

Learn to enjoy wild spaces and trails as much as mediated, organized playgrounds and parks.

Dress kids appropriately for play and weather.

Walk instead of driving when possible.

Make friends with your neighbors.

Learn to read a map and kindle a sense of adventure about going somewhere new.

This site explains map reading and also offers some exercises and games for beginning map readers.

As an aside, I’ve always loved maps and atlases. I appreciate knowing the “lay of the land”, getting the big picture. For that reason, I don’t rely on GPS devices in cars. They remind me of driving through a tunnel, being told only what I need to know. I’d rather be armed with information and perspective. I fear that devices like GPS, while helpful, also tend to do the work for you, and that their prominence will only render people less capable of navigating their own, not to mention other, neighborhoods.

If kids and adults merely go out their doors and explore, and engage in simple map use and games, like treasure hunts, they’ll find themselves empowered to use maps and they’ll have a lot of fun. Look for treasure hunt tips in a future post.

Kings Norton Park in Birmingham, England: benkid77, Map of Twickenham, England: Creative Commons

Time Magazine Cover Story: Can These Parents be Saved?

Just out today, it’s already making the rounds as Time magazine’s most e-mailed story, its new cover piece: Can These Parents be Saved?

” … We just wanted what was best for our kids”, Nancy Gibbs’ piece begins, before detailing the ways in which extreme, fear-based safety practices, and efficiency models best left at the corporation door began infecting childhood. She writes:

We were so obsessed with our kids’ success that parenting turned into a form of product development.

The backlash against overparenting has come, she says, in part driven by changes in the economy:

…  a third of parents have cut their kids’ extracurricular activities. They downsized, downshifted and simplified because they had to — and often found, much to their surprise, that they liked it.

The article is a fascinating snapshot of the conundrums many parents face. We want to protect our children and give them opportunities, yet for some this has come with the dawning realization that many children are overcoddled, over-directed, and robbed of down time, free play, exploration, and the confidence and mastery that can come with making ones own discoveries and mistakes. In short, it’s the realization that, for all the attention, we are not doing our kids any favors.

Gibbs quotes Slow Movement pioneers Carl Honore and the Slow Family Living workshop folks, whom I have blogged about at length, as well as Lenore Skenazy, whose book, Free-Range Kids, is a tome of common-sense parenting in an often hysterical age.

Last weekend, I attended a lecture by Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, author of A Parent’s Guide to Building Resilience in Children and Teens, which I highly recommend, as it walks parents through the set of tools children need to grow and prosper. Ginsburg cautioned against the perfectionistic streak in many parents who unwittingly add stress to their children’s lives by trying to professionalize their activities, and by being involved in harmful, rather than fruitful, guiding ways — including attempting to eliminate stress, rather than teach children ways to cope with inevitable stress.

I was struck, too, when Ginsburg said that creativity was a component many young adults now lacked. This was exhibiting itself in an inflexibility in the workplace and in relationships, no matter the field. How to foster creativity in the young? Play with them, encourage them to play on their own or direct the play (if you’re involved). In short, have fun and get out of the way.

For more Slow Family Online pieces about children, slow (joyful) parenting and play, see:

Gopnick: Babies Learn by Playing

Why Can’t She Walk to School?

An End to Overparenting?

Huffington Post Book Club Pick: In Praise of Slowness

About Slow Family Online

Photos: Miika Silfverberg, Susan Sachs Lipman

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