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Beyond Thanksgiving: 9 Ways to Cultivate Gratitude in our Families

Thanksgiving presents families with wonderful opportunities to express gratitude. The traditional Thanksgiving meal offers a pause from the everyday and a rare chance to gather with the express purpose of giving thanks. But what happens when Thanksgiving is over? In the U.S., the holiday season officially begins, and with it often comes a great deal of pressure and stress. We mean well, of course. We yearn to create the perfect holiday for our families, complete with a plethora of gifts. But at what price? Gratitude? Meaning? Joy? Much of that is forgotten soon after the turkey has cooled.

How do we cultivate a spirit of gratitude in our families, during the holidays and year-round, and ensure that it is not just something we proclaim during Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving_grace_1942

What is Gratitude and How Does it Benefit Us?

It might help to take a step back to explore gratitude and its benefits. The Greater Good Science Center defines gratitude as having two components. The first is an affirmation of the gifts and benefits we have received. The second is an acknowledgement that the sources of those gifts exist outside of ourselves, that we have benefited from other people—or even higher powers, if that fits your belief system.

That second part is key, say the folks at Greater Good, because its social component heightens meaningful connections with others and stimulates our circuits for pleasure and reward. It also helps with entitlement issues by reinforcing to kids that happiness is a gift from others, rather than an inherent birthright.

People of all ages who practice gratitude consistently report a range of physical, psychological and social benefits, from stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure to more joy, optimism and compassion, and less loneliness. Cultivating gratitude, and the happiness that results, is a skill we can teach our children.

9 Ways to Cultivate Gratitude

Keep a gratitude journal

The simple act of recording our gratitude in writing has been linked to benefits such as better sleep, fewer symptoms of illness, and more happiness for both adults and children. Have family members keep individual gratitude journals, or keep a list as a family. Write 3-5 short items weekly, naming the things you are grateful for. One exercise is to imagine what life would be like without those components. According to the Greater Good Science Center, journaling 1-2 times a week is actually more powerful than journaling daily. Focusing gratitude on people is more effective than focusing it on things. You may want to start journals on New Year’s Day and try to write in them throughout the year.

Practice expressing gratitude

Journaling won’t work for your family? Take time before or during meals to share things you are grateful for. The items can be profound or trivial. As with journaling, sharing needn’t occur every day. The important thing is that kids get into the habit of expressing gratitude regularly. Parents can model gratitude by letting other family members know that they are grateful for them and their specific actions.

Mornings and bedtimes also present abundant opportunities to express gratitude. Have young children greet the day by thanking the sun for rising, the air we breathe, the beautiful trees, and their family members, teachers or neighbors. You may wish to sing a thankful “Good Morning” song (see below). Many parents use bedtime as a quiet time for cuddling and asking children to name three things they’re grateful for.

Seeking another way to help kids express gratitude for others? See below for a fun gratitude craft.

Slow down and create family time

Studies show that play time, down time and family time are vital to kids’ and families’ well-being, benefiting every area of physical, psychological and emotional health.  Children who have unstructured time and play are more creative, collaborative, flexible, self-aware and calm. Families who have unstructured time and play are joyful and close. Slowing allows families to savor the positive feelings and events that are a hallmark of gratitude.

At holiday time and throughout the year, try to leave some down time in the schedule. That might mean reducing the number of activities each family member participates in, or turning down the occasional invitation.  It may take practice to put the same value on “down time” that we do on organized, goal-oriented activity. It may be uncomfortable at first to be idle. If you have to schedule this time in a calendar, do so.

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Be a tourist in your town

Have you ever noticed how tourists are usually delighted? Granted, they’re on vacation together and they have come to their destination to have fun. But they also see everything with fresh eyes. Even if you’ve lived somewhere your whole life, there may be new things to see or do if you decide to do so like a tourist. This is a particularly wonderful activity and mindset for school breaks, when kids are home. As a bonus, there are often special holiday events and activities, like decorated store windows and homes, skating rinks, free music performances, and other things that are joyful, without impacting the family budget.

Find adventure in your daily rounds

At any time of year, you can cultivate gratitude and stimulate positive social emotions by helping your kids see daily life as an adventure. Get up early one day and visit local businesses – watch produce and eggs get delivered to markets and restaurants, see bakers bake bagels and decorate cakes. Or take a walk and stop and say hello to neighbors, shopkeepers, mail carriers and others who are on their own daily rounds. Feeling a part of the neighborhood and community are very important to children’s senses of security and feelings of gratitude.

Along with thanks .. giving

Service is a tremendously enriching act, for ourselves and for others. Studies show that people who engage in “pro-social spending” are measurably happier than those who do not.  It’s not difficult to find an agency, event or individual in your area who would welcome your help, whether for one time or on an ongoing basis. Many people especially need our help over the holidays with meal preparation and delivery, toy and book drives, companionship, and other needs. Jewish Family and Children’s Services offers many volunteer opportunities for individuals and families.

Create a culture of giving in your family

Instead of giving traditional gifts, consider gifting in a recipient’s name to a non-profit or other organization. Research organizations as a family and involve your kids in choosing the most worthy and meaningful to them. Have your kids cull their rooms regularly for toys and clothing that can be donated to someone less fortunate, or have kids request that birthday party guests bring new or used toys or books for donation to the charity of his/her choice, and then deliver those items together. Consider setting aside a portion of your children’s allowances or gift money and having them choose a recipient for a donation.

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Get outdoors

At any time of year, and especially in winter, outdoor time tends to be low on many family’s priority lists. It shouldn’t be. Research shows that nature play has been linked to improved imagination, cooperation, academic achievement, and numerous aspects of physical and psychological health. Nature also provides a terrific setting in which to slow our paces and have new and meaningful experiences that can enhance family bonds, as well as the feelings of awe and wonder that lead to increased gratitude and inner peace.

Celebrate the winter solstice

The winter solstice (December 21 this year) provides a special opportunity to slow down, count our blessings, and experience the turning of the seasons during the hectic holiday time. Mark the year’s longest night by taking a walk, preparing a special meal or having a family game night. Celebrate the sun’s return by eating oranges or hollowing out the center of an orange and placing a tealight or candle inside. If you have leftover Hanukkah gelt or other chocolate coins, place them in bags and surprise children with them. Take a family walk on December 22 to greet the return of longer days.

Crafts and Songs

Appreciation “recipe” for a special person

This craft helps kids convey a special relationship and feelings in a fun, creative way. Help your child create a recipe for a “marvelous mom” or a “delightful dad” or a “fabulous friend” or any other combination using an adjective and the person’s name or role.

You’ll need:
• Piece of construction paper or poster board
• Markers and crayons or colored pencils
• Ruler

Think about the attributes of the recipient that make him or her special.

Write a heading on the paper: Recipe for a (fabulous friend or other).

Using a ruler, draw six or more lines on which to write your various ingredients.

Write the “ingredients” for the person, in recipe terms, such as “6 cups kindness,” “5 tablespoons love,” or whatever else you can think of.

Leave space at the bottom to write out your instructions, also using recipe terms, like mix, add, fold, blend, and so on.

Decorate the rest of the paper, as desired.

My daughter did this wonderful project with her fourth grade class. Here is her “recipe”:

Good Morning song (traditional Waldorf verse and movements)

Good morning dear Earth (lower hands toward floor)

Good morning dear Sun (raise arms into the air)

Good morning dear stones (place hands one atop the other)

And the plants, every one (open out hands, as if blossoming)

Good morning dear bees (move hand around in flying motion)

And the birds in the trees (move fingers like fluttering wings)

Good morning to you (hands out to others)

And good morning to me! (hands across own chest)

Susan Sachs Lipman (Suz) is the author of Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which grew out of her blog, Slow Family Online. Slow Parenting and the book were named a 2012 Top 10 Parenting Trend by TIME Magazine. Suz has written for the New York Times’ Motherlode blog, the Christian Science Monitor’s Modern Parenthood blog, and many other outlets. She is the Social Media Director for Parents Place, as well as the Children & Nature Network and Bookboard digital children’s library.


 

10 Ways to Preserve the Spirit of Summer in Your Family Year-Round

It was the apex of my childhood, over and over
––  inscription in a beach house guest book

For most families, summer is a season lasting approximately 12 weeks. Into it, we pack most of our relaxation for the year, along with our memories, our entertaining, and our sensual experiences –– whether they involve digging our toes into wet sand at the ocean’s edge or biting into a stack of mozzarella, tomato and basil, drizzled with olive oil, and swearing we can taste the Mediterranean.

It’s the season when the sun kisses our faces and causes our children’s height to spurt. It’s the season of wearing less clothing; spending more time with family and friends; eating fresh, tree-ripened fruit; and spending nights playing games or gazing at stars. In summer, time moves just a little more slowly.

When asked to name a childhood memory, most adults will remember an incident or a feeling from summer. While we can’t actually experience the golden season in December, there are a few fun and meaningful ways to harness the spirit of summer for our families to enjoy year-round.

Make Summer Food and Drinks

Many people associate the foods of summer with spots around the globe that bask in warm climates for much of the year. Think Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, African, Southeast Asian, South American, Mexican, Caribbean, Hawaiian, and regional U.S. dishes that use fresh fish, meats, cheese, vegetables, and herbs, and combine ingredients simply for results that are sensuous and robustly flavored. Cooking from warm climates is not only delicious, but can put you in a summer frame of mind any time of year. Try making Chicken Mole, Ratatouille, Easy Weeknight Fish Tacos, All Season Slaw or Pineapple Upside Down Cake. Recreate your favorite barbecue recipes that can be made in an oven or broiler. Roast marshmallows in a fireplace or over a stove flame for s’mores.

Or make the yummy Mango Lassi (instructions at the bottom of this post.)

Camp in Your Living Room

Camping in sleeping bags is fun any time of year, indoors or out. Rustle up some s’mores in a fireplace or over an oven flame. Sing your favorite campfire songs. Tell stories. Make Hand Shadow Puppets by having someone project a flashlight onto a wall, a practice that goes back 2,000 years to Han Dynasty China! (Instructions at the end of this post.)

Have a Summer Movie Marathon

A dead-of winter double feature or an all-out film festival can put your family back in a summer frame of mind. Make s’mores and watch a rustic- or camp-themed movie like The Parent Trap (original and remake), The Great Outdoors, Camp Nowhere, Meatballs or Cheaper by the Dozen 2. Show a classic summer beach or surf movie (and try to explain to your kids that bathing suits really looked like that):  Beach Blanket and Gidget series, Blue Hawaii or The Endless Summer. Enjoy popcorn and a fun road-trip movie, such as It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, Are We There Yet? and National Lampoon’s Vacation. Have pre-teens or teens? Show Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, One Crazy Summer, Stand by Me or The Flamingo Kid.

Garden for Wildlife Year-Round

Some of the best moments for enjoying birds and butterflies occur during the fall, winter, and spring, even in cold climate zones. This can be when animals most need food and shelter. Watching animal activity, outside or even out a window, can brighten a gloomy day and encourage us to be better in tune with the cycles of nature, especially when we know we’re helping animals find food just when it can be hardest for them to do so. Plant a simple habitat garden with plants that attract birds and butterflies. Make and hang an easy bird feeder and watch the birds enjoy the eatery!

Grow Your Favorite Herbs

Take a page from French gardeners and employ your own potager –– a simple, accessible kitchen garden –– all year. Many herbs do very well in small indoor containers or on a kitchen windowsill. These include basil, chives, cilantro, scented geranium, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, and edible flowers. You can also grow lettuce indoors. Enjoy the simple act of growing and snipping a sprig of your herbs to add to a soup, a salad or a meal.

Preserve Food

The best preserved food is made from ingredients that are picked and canned or bottled at their peak of ripeness  –– To open a jar and eat a spoonful of blueberry jam in mid-winter is to taste the summer in which it was made. Even Napoleon, not known for being the world’s most sensuous guy, seemed to understand this on a gut level. After all, it was he who offered an award for the person who could invent a way of preserving food for his armies. That, in turn, led to the modern practice of “canning”, making and preserving jams and other foods to eat all year long. If you still have berries, make my favorite triple berry jam. Berries gone? Then it’s time for yummy apple butter.

Jars of homemade jam make great gifts that recipients know are from your kitchen and your heart. Decorate the jars by tying on a custom gift card with a pretty ribbon. Or make a simple jar topper, which finishes a jar of jam in an especially old-fashioned and pleasing way. Instructions at the bottom of this post.

Preserve Memories with Your Family and in Your Home

Small items can have a lot of power. Did you collect sea shells, rocks, beach glass, trip souvenirs or other items? Have fun creating a display of them that you can enjoy all year long. Or make a mobile of your sea shells by poking holes into them with needles, stringing them on fishing line, and attaching the fishing line to sticks. Frame and hang a map from one of your favorite summer locales. Frame or make an album of vacation or summer photos and view them as a family on a winter’s day. Have family members share their favorite summer memories with one another. You may be surprised at everyone’s picks!

Gaze at the Stars

Even though summer’s Perseid meteor shower tends to get all the glory, fall and winter offer some of the best star shows of the year. If conditions are right, you’ll want to bundle up, make some hot chocolate, pull up a comfortable chair, and look through binoculars, a telescope, or the good ol’ naked eye at the Geminids, or the Leonids, or enjoy the marvelous constellations year-round.

Play Games

My summer memories often involve playing games. There seems to be more time in summer for family play, both indoors and out. Try to keep the lightness in your family and your schedule that allows for play. Play is vital for children’s development and family bonding, and is downright fun! Try these fun playground games.

Indoors? Have a family game night and play one of our favorite card games, Slapjack (instructions at the end of the post.)

Foster a Summer Mindset

In addition to warm weather, summer is often special because families approach the season with mindfulness and joy. Try unplugging or continuing to unplug earlier in the day and more often to create family time. Take walks in nature and play indoor and outdoor games, no matter the season. Keep the calendar as light as possible, even if it means saying “no” to some things or scheduling in family time. Treasure the small moments, which just may become big memories.

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. 

–– Albert Camus

Mango Lassi

People in India and around Southeast Asia have been drinking lassis (pronounced “luh-sees”), sweet or spicy yogurt-based drinks, for thousands of years. And, with colorful lassi stands on streets all over the subcontinent, their popularity shows no sign of letting up. For good reason. This cooling drink is great after a spicy meal or on a hot day. It works as a breakfast or a dessert. The yogurt base (traditionally a dahi, which is closer to a curd) is said to enhance digestion. And the offering of a lassi is a gesture of friendship. Yes, all this from a drink.

1 c. plain yogurt

½ c. milk

1 c. frozen mango cubes, slightly thawed

1 Tbsp. sugar

¼ tsp. ground cardamom

dash of nutmeg, if desired

Note: the yogurt and milk can be full-fat, no-fat, or anything in between.

You can make this drink with one medium fresh mango and add ½ c. of crushed ice, if desired. You can also make a berry lassi by substituting frozen berries for the mango, or season the drink with cumin or mint.

Place all ingredients except nutmeg in a blender and puree for two minutes or until the mixture is smooth and any chunks of frozen mango are fairly small.

Pour into tall glass.

Shake nutmeg on top, if desired.

Serves 1

Hand Shadow Puppets

Rabbit – Make a fist with one hand. Place the other palm over it and make a peace sign (for ears) with two fingers.

Hawk – Link your thumbs together, with hands facing away from you. Stretch your fingers and hands and flutter them like wings.

Spider – Cross your hands at the wrist. Press your thumbs together to form the spider’s head. Wiggle your fingers in a climbing motion.

Wolf or Dog – Place your palms together, fingers facing away from you. Put your thumbs up to form ears. Let your pinky drop to form a mouth. Bend your index fingers to create a forehead.

Camel – Lift one arm. Hold your hand in a loosely curved position. Hold the pinky and ring finger together. Hold the other two fingers together, thumb pressed in. Curve both sets of fingers and hold them wide apart to form a mouth. Your arm, from the elbow up, will be the camel’s neck.

Jam Jar Topper

You’ll need:

Fabric pieces (fat quarters used for quilting work well)
Pinking shears or scissors
Rubber band
Ribbon (enough for the circumference of the lid, plus approx. 8”)
Glue, optional

Cut a circle of fabric, approx. ¾” larger all-around than the jar band.

If desired, place a dot of glue onto the top of the lid, and place the fabric onto it.

Secure the fabric with a rubber band.

Tie the ribbon around the rubber band to cover, and tie it into a bow.

Attach a gift card or jar label, if desired.

Slapjack

The Deal: Cards are all dealt, one at a time, to all players. It doesn’t matter if some players have more cards than others.

Object: To win all the cards, by being first to slap each jack as it is played to the center.

Players take turns lifting one card from his or her pile and placing it face up in a common pile at the center of the table. Players must be careful not to see their own cards first. Whenever a jack is turned, the first player to slap it takes all the cards in the common pile and places them in his or her own pile.

When more than one player slaps at a jack, the one whose hand is directly on top of the jack wins the pile. If a player slaps at any card in the center that is not a jack, he must give one card, face down, to the player of that card. When a player has no more cards left, he remains in the game until the next jack is turned. He may slap at the jack in an effort to get a new pile. If he fails to win that next pile, he is out of the game. Play continues until one player has won all the cards.

 

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

Back to School: 9 Tips for Taming Fall Frenzy

Seven Ways to Make Summer Last Longer

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.

Seven Ways to Make Summer Last Longer

While many of us are preparing our kids to go back to school, the calendar and weather still signal summer. The days are longer, our to-do lists are less crowded. Even if you never let go of frenzy for summer, or you’re feeling it now as you gear up for fall, there are a few small shifts that can really help you lighten up to match the remaining summer season, while also helping squeeze more true pleasure from this joyous time of year.

Make a Summer Bucket List

For many, summer conjures beach days, county fairs, gazing at the stars, planting flowers, playing flashlight tag, or making simple crafts. What else would you and your family really like to have done by the time Labor Day comes around? Make a summer bucket list of ideas and hang it where you can see it, or write each idea on a piece of paper or a popsicle stick and place those in a bucket. Have one family member choose an activity once or more per week for the rest of summer. Don’t feel like you have to do everything on the list – you can do many of your favorites another time.

Watch the Sun Rise or Set

The day naturally slows when we take the time to witness a dramatic and beautiful sunrise or sunset. Get comfortable, pay attention to the changing colors and light, and make a point to either greet or say goodbye to the day. This small act can be very grounding and gratifying to people of all ages, as it truly takes us out of the artificial time of clocks, calendars, emails and to-do lists, and into the rhythms of nature and the comforting, yet awe-inspiring, turning of the Earth.

Make Time for Down Time

Many of us are uncomfortable with empty spaces on the calendar. As difficult as it may be, and as enriching as many choices are, try to resist the urge to schedule every moment of summer. Kids actually need play time, down time and family time in order not only to recharge, but also to fully thrive. In addition, they don’t need to be constantly entertained. Free time, and even boredom, has produced wonderful innovations and insights. It is often during quiet time that many children make unique discoveries, including the directions of their own inner compasses. If down time doesn’t come naturally to you, schedule some into your calendar. This can be especially important as everyone gears up for a busier season.

Be Present and Do One Thing at a Time

Have you ever noticed that kids are usually not doing and thinking about multiple things at once? This is one area in which we can probably learn from them. Many of us parents would be surprised by how much our kids just want to be with us, and how our multitasking makes them feel. In studies of hundreds of kids over five years, Dr. Sherry Turkle, director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, unearthed countless stories of children feeling neglected by their parents for media.

Try to compartmentalize your work and other tasks, so that they don’t invade precious time with your family. Because of the allure of electronics, we often have to turn our devices off as well, so that we can devote our attention to the people we’re with and the activities we’re doing without being distracted by alerts and the occasional itchy-fingered desire to check in with the electronic world.

Give Your Electronics the Day Off

Electronic media is so incredibly seductive for people of all ages that sometimes we need to take things a step further and formally unplug for a period of time in order to experience our families, selves and time. Follow the direction of most of the world’s religions and cultures and call a scheduled day of rest each week, for a day, a night, or a few hours. If you’re constantly plugged in, it can be very enlightening to see what happens when you get quiet, and also when you do get back to media. It is usually emergency-free and easier to get back into the flow of work and communication than we envision.

In addition, many TV shows contain anxiety-provoking images and messages. Try cutting out one or more TV shows per week and substituting them with a family walk or game.

Be a Tourist in Your Town

We often think we have to engage in awesome (read expensive) summer vacation travel, when sometimes the simplest experiences can prove the most delightful, especially for younger children. Get up early one day and watch the stores and businesses in your town receive their deliveries and come alive. Visit your nearest large city and partake in a true tourist activity that you’ve never done before. Walk or ride bikes as a family in a new neighborhood. You may be surprised by just how much fun everyone has, trying new things and seeing local surroundings with fresh eyes. If you have younger ones and do have time when others go back to school, that can be a great time to explore a city without the summer tourists.

Enjoy Your Family

Summer often means extended time with your family and with that inevitably comes some days that are more trying than others. Try to keep in mind that this phase will pass, summer only comes once a year, and the kids will only be this age once. If having other parents around helps, participate in group activities, either with a buddy or through a structured program. Relish the good times and the memories you’re forming now. Chances are that summer’s smallest moments will be the ones you regard with the most fondness later.

A version of this post originally appeared in Dot Complicated.

These tips were adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ tips and fun family activities.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

You might also like:

8 Fun Things to Do While it’s Still Summer
Summer Family Fun: Make and Experiment with Giant Homemade Bubbles
Tidepooling with Kids: Explore Undersea Creatures
Stir Up Some Triple Berry Jam

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!

 

 

Tech/Life Balance? It’s Dot Complicated!

For all the ease and wonder that technology has granted us, how many times have you lamented that it’s also made life more complicated? We deal with tremendous amounts of email clutter to rival our closet clutter. We wonder if our kids are experiencing too much technology too soon, and at what expense. We find ourselves bleary-eyed and twitchy-fingered as we check various online news outlets and events one more time, for fear of missing something important. We reveal a little too much to our co-workers and about ourselves and our significant others.

For fleeting moments, the life of a few decades ago appears so much simpler. People had time to compose long letters at writing desks; to visit with friends, make lovely meals, and play simple games by a lake or a hearth. Of course, it’s easy to romanticize such a life as well. When so much of the world is literally at our fingertips, it can be tricky to choose which aspects of technology and modernity to embrace and which to let go of to make room for that which is simple, personal, tactile and ultimately leads to a fulfilling and connected life.

This is the spirit with which Randi Zuckerberg launched Dot Complicated, an online community that aims to help us explore and untangle our modern, wired lives — together. I had the great fortune of meeting Randi and a few like-minded fellow bloggers at a lovely luncheon, and then I got to return to the Zuckerberg Media Studios, to chat with Randi, Beth Blecherman of TechMamas, video blogger Lizzie Bermudez and Veena Goel Crownholm of Tiaras to Babies, The conversation was wonderful and warm, ranging from our attempts to unclutter and manage our lives and households to the ways in which we find happiness and take care of ourselves.

Beth, Me, Randi, Lizzie, Veena

You can see our four video segments.

I also had a short session with Randi, in which I shared How to Make a Paper Boat, one of the 300+ projects in Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World which are designed to give families ideas and instructions for simple activities, many of which can be done spontaneously and with little equipment on a free afternoon or during a low-key gathering. The paper boat was one of our favorite things to make as a family and sail, either in a local creek or a bathtub. I recently got to share origami boat making with a younger generation of boat-makers, which was delightful, and which I recounted for Randi.

Watch the video here:

Often us parents think we have to plan unusual, elaborate or expensive activities for our kids. Many of us would be surprised at the simple activities and small moments that instead become our children’s fondest memories. Sailing paper boats is one such example for us. Others include picking fruit on long summer days and coming home and making jam, mixing a bucket of bubble solution and enjoying giant bubbles for days, playing tag in the park, making and eating homemade soft pretzels, keeping a moon diary, and watching the night sky for meteors.

I believe that the more technological our lives become, the more we yearn for tactile activities like crafts and cooking, as well as activities that help us gather in families and communities to experience the wonder of the seasons and the natural world and to bond through important play time, down time and family time.

For more simple, fun and memorable things to do with your kids this summer (and a couple of attitudinal changes that might help make summer go more smoothly and joyfully) see my Dot Complicated blog, 7 Secrets to Make Summer Last Longer.

Looking for still more simple, even retro, family fun? See 8 Fun Things to Do While it’s Still Summer.

Thanks again to Randi and everyone at Dot Complicated for being such an important voice for simplifying our lives and for bringing together so many wise and passionate people who desire the same thing.

Beth Blecherman, Hillary Frank and Veena Crownholm on the set

Lovely fellow bloggers and Dot Complicated staff

 

 

June is the New December: 10 Ways to Calm End-of-School-Year Frenzy

As a parent, I’ve always found the end of the school year to be a mixed bag. It can be an exciting time to look forward to summer plans and the relaxation, fun and family time they portend. It can offer meaningful rituals and warm celebrations with family and friends. It can also be ridiculously busy and packed with obligations and graduations (from pre-school on up), not to mention parties and ceremonies for every classroom, team and group.

This time of year definitely got easier for me with the passing years. There seem to be less scheduled events now that my daughter is a little older, and the events themselves seem to be more relaxed — I always thought all-day picnics at rented pools, with transportation and activities and awards and lots of necessary parent-volunteer help were too much for smaller kids anyway. Likewise, endless award ceremonies and graduations for tiny children who would rather be playing. And, for that matter, a too-busy calendar.

One special year (over objections from some parents – is that who these parties are for?) the kids in my daughter’s class all walked to a teacher’s house because they had wanted to play with her dogs. They had picnic lunches and played games in a park and walked back to school for the end of the day. It was probably one of the simplest, most memorable year-end parties of all, because it came from the hearts of the teacher and the kids, and not from another adult’s idea of what a year-end party should be.

So, how can you keep year-end frenzy at bay, for yourself, your family, and possibly a class or group?

Check in with yourself and others. Ask yourself and your family members if you’d prefer some down-time to attending one more activity, or taking part in just one segment of a multi-part event.

Give yourself permission to sit some events out. You probably know if an event is too much for your child or your family. Try to honor everyone’s limits. There will be ample opportunity for more celebrations in the future. Also, look at each event practically. If younger siblings can attend, if everyone is fed — these things might make an event more palatable, workable and fun.

As a parent, You don’t have to volunteer for every task. It’s nice to do your part, and volunteering can be a lot of fun. It can also allow you to make the most of each activity and not feel as if they are flying by. However, do listen to your gut if it tells you you’re taking on too much or the wrong thing. Sometimes well-meaning parents create very complicated activities and projects that ultimately don’t have a lot of meaning for the kids (or for you). I wish I would have extricated myself from a couple of those.

Create some unstructured family time. It will take some extra effort when things are especially hectic, but that’s just when you need some unstructured time the most. As counter-intuitive as this may sound, if you need to write it in your calendar, do so. Take an afternoon to lie on the grass and watch the clouds, or take a family walk in your neighborhood. Pull a chair outside at twilight and watch the first stars come out. Eat a simple dinner as a family. Let yourself get so bored that time actually seems to slow down, or keep a free day open to do whatever you really feel like that morning.

Spend time in nature. Nature truly does have a way of relaxing and rejuvenating both body and spirit. It can be just the antidote to a hectic schedule. Children and adults can experience awe in nature in a deep, profound way. It’s also often a great place to run around and let off steam, or, conversely, to be contemplative and quiet in the midst of a busy season. Nature also provides a wonderful perspective and a place of fresh wonder that has little to do with the busy-ness of modern life.

Let children be children. Consider which events have the most meaning for your children and prioritize those. Try not to feel pressured to participate in an event or a schedule that doesn’t feel right for your family. If you are in any position to help plan the activities, try to keep the playful, and the age-appropriate meaningfulness, in mind. Perhaps others will follow your lead.

Discuss your child’s feelings. Despite the celebratory nature of the events, some children will feel a tremendous amount of confusion or dismay about the passage of time or the possible change that it brings. Others may be overwhelmed by any celebration or attention. Try to allow some time and space for children to express themselves and their needs.

Get enough sleep. Force yourself and your children to go to bed at a reasonable hour (possibly even unwinding a bit before bed). Save some tasks for another day — they’ll still be there. Getting enough rest, eating well, and treating yourself well are fundamental tools in warding off the stress of a busy schedule.

Let go of perfection. The end of the year can mean houseguests or the hosting of meals. So, to our busy schedules, we add the task of making our homes appear perfect. Clean what you reasonably can and let the rest go. If people have come to celebrate you and yours, that includes your home in its glorious imperfection. Besides, most people don’t look at our houses with the same critical eye we do.

Charge up the camera batteries, bring some Kleenex, and Enjoy the rituals. If you are attending a full-fledged graduation or similar rite of passage or achievement, delight in the moment and the celebrant and enjoy the blessings of family and well-wishers.

And, if all this still doesn’t help, remember that things will be relatively quiet soon.

 

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.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

 

New Book Helps Families Slow Down

Many of us want more joy and connection in our family and daily lives. We often don’t quite know how to achieve those things, and the process of even beginning to do so can seem daunting. Enter Slow Family Living: 75 Simple Ways to Slow Down, Connect, and Create More Joy, the beautiful new book from Slow Family Living co-founder Bernadette Noll.

Just reading Bernadette’s book makes me feel calm and confident that I can make the small changes necessary to have a more fulfilling family life. Her voice is reasoned and experienced, and her suggestions are each presented in short chapters that describe an activity or practice that can result in greater family closeness. The first step, according to Bernadette? Ask yourself and your family:

Is this working for us?

So often, in family life, we do things because they’ve been declared a “tradition” (Bernadette offers a funny tale about this), or because we feel obligated to take on an activity or do something the standard way. Once you’ve determined whether something is working or not, you can set about changing what needs to be changed.

The activities in the book range from practices like pausing, expressing appreciation, active listening, and letting weekends be half-full, to ideas for keeping family life fun like spontaneous game nights, family journals and billboards, lemonade stands, and making stuff together, which is the title and topic of Bernadette’s fantastic first book about art as a means of expression, fun and family and community bonding.

Community bonds also figure in this book, and I love the ideas for slowing as a community by having dinners together and playing sports together, as alternatives to every-family-for-themselves, on one hand, and over-organized league sports, on the other. In both cases, Bernadette illustrates how her community came together to provide something richer, and more fun, than the traditional offerings did. The community dinners involved various children and families in a novel way. The family “sports league” alleviated excess driving to various sports events for different members of the family and provided space for everyone to play together, adults included.

You will get a lot of ideas from Slow Family Living, both big-picture and everyday, that will make you pause and reflect, and will help you lead a more connected and joyful family life.

You might also be interested in:

Make Stuff Together, 24 Simple Projects to Create as a Family
The Blessings of a Slow Family
Playborhood: Turn Your Neighborhood into a Place for Play
Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World

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

 

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

 

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