Tag Archives: Slowing

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, Susan Sachs Lipman, Let the 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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