It’s like striking gold! One day in the yard Leo and Lily were digging and discovered clay – lot’s of it! We did a little research and found out our little New England town was once known for making bricks a long time ago. So, it’s no surprise that clay is naturally plentiful. It has been a wonderful discovery and the kids continue to take full advantage of it! They usually fill a gallon bucket and get to work making some unique and beautiful creations. For Mother’s Day, Leo made me about 10 pinch pots! Yes, 10, because we all know, you can never have enough pinch pots!
The kids sometimes mix the clay with sand or straw to give it more strength. There are so many fun things you can make with clay. Leo made his own bricks and we cooked them on high heat over the grill. They now surround his corn bed out in the garden.
Lily has also used the clay on her potter’s wheel and made some bowls. We usually let the clay air dry. It isn’t water safe and some pieces are more delicate than others, but surprisingly once hardened, the clay is quite durable.
Once dry, you can try painting your nature clay, but it is pretty dark and grainy, so the paint doesn’t always show up that great. We have found that if you mix a powdered tempura paint into the clay – it can hold the color nice.
Recently the kids were inspired by a video we watched about making your own primitive outdoor clay oven and went outside to give it a try! First they collected their clay. Then mixed it with some sand and hay and then stomped all over it mixing it with their feet! It reminded me of the I Love Lucy episode when she stomps on the grapes in Italy! Some good old-fashioned messy fun!
Next the kids gathered an old table and some bricks to form a base for their oven. They decided this would be a mini version of the real thing to test out the process. Then they piled on the sand to form an oven shape and covered it with wet strips of newspaper. After that dried, they piled on the clay. The final product – a little small to bake a loaf of bread, but Leo said we could at least toast a slice of bread in it!
I you’re interested in making your own outdoor clay oven, this youtube video from the Townsend family is great https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0foHjPVbP4 . The Townsends family site is also fantastic if you are interested in exploring anything from the 18th and early 19th century with your kids or for your own personal interest. Here’s a link to their site https://www.townsends.us. My kids love watching these informational videos and it has inspired us to make many new creations from the early settlers. Especially appropriate in our slower pace, down time at home!
If you’d like to try digging up some of your own clay from the earth, searching near the banks of local creeks is one place that often has lots of clay. You could also research local clay in your area online. We also love working with store bought air dry clay.
If your kids are really young, you may find play-dough a better medium to sink their hands into. Although, my one year old very much enjoyed covering herself in clay and helping pat it down onto the clay oven- we just had to keep her from removing the clay and taking the oven apart!
This is a favorite and full proof play-dough recipe we have made over the years and like it the best because it’s easy to make and lasts long.
1 Cup Flour
1/2 Cup Salt
1 Cup Water
1 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil
2 Teaspoons Cream of Tarter
Mix all ingredients together in a medium size pan. Cook over low heat on stove top, mixing with a wooden spoon the entire time, until a ball forms. If you’d like to add food coloring, do this once play-dough has cooled a bit and mix into dough with your hands. Store the play-dough in and airtight container for a month. If it starts to get sticky, put it back in a pan on low heat to dry it out a little more.
*Since having kids, my motto has not only become “Embrace the Pace,” But Also – “Embrace the Mess!” It keeps them busy, it’s therapeutic and it makes for great memories!
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed- Let it be that great strong land of love / Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme / That any man be crushed by one above. – Langston Hughes
On this anniversary of our great Nations’ Independence we wish you all freedom and happiness. Thankful for the life, liberty and path to all that we hold dear. Take the day as yours and reflect on the joys that make life worth living. Let’s all pledge to pursue them together for a better tomorrow. Peace, Love and Joy be yours today and always.
Eat pops, Play games, blow bubbles, splash in the sprinkler, have a bar-b-cue, roast marshmallows – Have some good old-fashioned fun and spread the LOVE!
From our Home to Yours – Have a Wonderful Weekend!
The garden keeps on growing! Each day we walk through the garden weeding, watering, and pruning the suckers off the tomatoes, we are amazed by the growth that seems to happen overnight. Gardening is truly a labor of love. If you’ve ever weeded a carrot bed, I’m sure you’d very much agree! Weeding aside, tending to a garden is therapeutic for me and I think it’s contagious! The kids along with Mike are always out there checking on their plants, pulling weeds, picking bugs off the bok choy and the eggplant, making sure the ground isn’t too dry, counting tomatoes and flowers in the pumpkin patch and dreaming of what the next couple months will bring like tomato sandwiches and homemade pickles!
Leo has been my right hand man in the garden this year. He seems to be pretty much in charge of the whole production, but like any good boss, he is always asking questions and learning himself! He is always out there first thing in the morning to check on things, especially his two bean plants that he sprouted from seeds in a jar and then transplanted into the garden. He is a seed saver. Everything he eats, he usually asks where is the seed and how did this grow on a plant and can he grow it in the garden. We are both learning something new everyday. We have researched corn, how many ears one stalk can grow, how to help your pumpkins grow bigger, where are banana seeds and why flowers turn into plants. We also have been studying bees; how they survive and thrive and how they pollinate plants.
People who love to eat are always the best people.
Spending time in the garden has always brought me great joy and I feel so honored to be able to share this gift with my family. I have so many beautiful childhood memories of my Italian grandparents garden in New Jersey. My Nonno and Nonna taught me so much about working the earth and making good food. They were the original “organic” farmers growing up in a little mountain village in Italy. They valued everything they put on the table because it truly was in every word, “the fruits of their labor.” So much of what I know about gardening I learned watching and helping them. They taught me at an early age to respect the earth and to take care of it because our existence depends on it. They weren’t environmental activists, they were Italian farmers who knew the importance of respecting the earth that feeds you. They taught me where food comes from, how to compost and create healthy dirt, how to save seeds for next year, how to can and cook what you grow and best of all, they taught me the great joy of sitting down to a meal together with those you love.
Gardening and food have a way of connecting us all
Planting a garden isn’t just about experimentation, it is about hope. It is about believing in the magic and beauty of the earth and the gift of tomorrow. When planting a garden there are so many things that are out of our control that can effect our plants. To believe in a garden is to have hope. Hope that the tiny little seed you planted will be nourished by the earth and weather the storms and be resilient. It is having trust in the unknown, which is something I hold very near to my heart during these uncertain times. Hope is something that like a garden needs to be nurtured and encouraged to grow. There is no time better than the present to harvest hope. To believe in tomorrow. So I encourage you to dig deep into the earth and plant some seeds of hope. Your garden will do more than grow plants, it will give you a harvest of plenty; one that will nourish the mind, body and soul.
Having a garden and believing in new beginnings is a Victory for us all!
“Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing. And gave it up. And took my old body and went out into the morning, and sang.” —I Worried, Mary Oliver
I think the world on a global scale is asking us all to pause and reset; to let go of worry, to have faith and to believe that a change is going to come. What else is there to make of this pandemic that has caused countries, economies and people to come to a complete stop. The earth needs a reset on many levels. We as humans need it too. It is a time to look inward and reassess not only who we are, but who we want to be and what we want our future to look like. This time is an opportunity to ask ourselves to think about what we truly consider essential; is it food, jobs, financial stability, our environment, our families our lives? This time, can be a time of great transformation – for us as individuals, for our children, for our earth and climate, for corporations, for humanity as a whole.
We have been asked to slow down our pace and with it, Change is happening. It’s no surprise that during this time of shut down that scientists have shown pollution on a global scale has decreased. As individuals and as citizens of the world, how can we maintain this and maybe change the way we do things to continue with this momentum? Families are spending more time together, people are making their own meals, Americans are looking at their finances and having to make honest decisions about how they spend their time and money.
“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, it’s unlikely you will step up and take responsibility for making it so. If you assume that there’s no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, there are opportunities to change things, there’s a chance you may contribute to making a better world. The choice is yours.” ― Noam Chomsky
In this time of great transformation Americans are taking to the streets demanding equal rights and justice for all. They are possibly less distracted with the daily grind and moving beyond the role of active spectators and becoming participants in action. They are asking that we take a look at ourselves and take part in redefining our culture and our world. It is a movement that has sparked peaceful protests all over the world. I have a renewed faith in my fellow Americans seeing more people get involved in upholding the words in the Declaration of Independence that claim “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all.” We all have a role to play in our future. Often we are bogged down by the everyday happenings of life and maybe we feel we can’t get involved and actually make our voices heard. Change starts from within and each and every action you take is a political one, from the food you eat to how you raise your children, to the choices you make everyday in how you carry yourself and your actions as an individual. What we do each day has a larger global impact.
We are all in this together. We are going through trying times, but these times are going to make us all stronger as individuals, as families and as a global world. Human beings are resilient. We have stood the test of time and evolved with the changes that have shaped who we are today. We continue to strive for a better world on many levels. A world that will make us all a little stronger. During these challenging times, remember your own resilience, your power to create change and joy in this world. We all have a role to play that is immeasurable.
Baking bread from home has been growing in popularity around the globe during this time of great pause. It is an age old tradition that aside from growing your own grain and using rocks to grind it, hasn’t changed all that much over the years. The ingredients are simple, healthy and inexpensive. Nothing quite compares to the smell of fresh bread baking in the oven. If you haven’t yet given bread baking a try, it’s easier than it looks and the taste of homemade bread is well worth the experiment and the wait!
Baking bread has become the new normal in our house. We have even created quite the routine. Ava helps me in the evening prepare the sourdough starter and mix our sandwich bread to sit overnight. Lily has become the official ‘artisan crusty bread’ maker. We have done plenty of experimenting with a variety of recipes from books and online. Not all our bread making has been a success. We’ve made some beautiful looking sandwich breads that have unfortunately crumbled into pieces when we cut them! We also made some pretty hideous looking bagels, but fortunately they didn’t taste as bad as they looked! It truly has been trial and error, but thankfully we have found some wonderful bread recipes that we are sticking too and thought we’d share with those who are tempted to give it a try!
Our favorite and easiest artisan style crusty bread recipe comes from a website I stumbled upon in my bread making searches. This recipe is from a site called Jenny Can Cook. She has a lot of easy recipes and videos that are helpful. For the 3 Cups flour we usually use 2 cups all purpose flour and 1 cup whole wheat. Also, just a note about the water tempature – don’t get scared off if you don’t have a thermometer to test your water temp. We don’t have one, but we have been just fine with a water temp that is warmer than luke warm and just under boiling.
No Knead Crusty Bread
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour (aerate flour before measuring)
1/4 teaspoon yeast, active dry or instant (1 g)
1 teaspoon salt (6 g)
1 1/2 cups hot water, not boiling (354 mL) – I use hot tap water – about 125-130° F
(about 2 Tablespoons extra flour for shaping)
Combine flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Stir in water until it’s well combined.
Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 3 hours.
After 3 hours dough will become puffy and dotted with bubbles. Transfer it to a well-floured surface and sprinkle dough with a little flour. Using a scraper fold dough over 10-12 times & shape into a rough ball.
Place in a parchment paper-lined bowl (not wax paper) and cover with a towel. Let stand on counter top for about 35 minutes.
Meantime place Dutch oven with lid in a cold oven and preheat to 450° F. My oven takes 35 minutes to reach 450°.
When oven reaches 450° carefully, using oven gloves, lift the parchment paper and dough from the bowl and place gently into the hot pot. (parchment paper goes in the pot too) Cover and bake for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, remove lid and parchment paper. Return, uncovered, to oven and bake 10 – 15 more minutes. Let it cool at least 15 minutes before slicing.
Kid Chef Bakes, has been a true gift during the slower pace we now have at home. Nanna’s seem to know just what to send when you’re dealing with a pandemic! The kids and I have baked a lot of recipes from this book and they have all turned out great! The recipes are easy to follow and most ingredients seem to be things you’d have in your pantry. Our favorite bread recipe from this book is the focaccia bread. We make it at least once a week and it’s eaten right up.
For the Bread:
1 Cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 (1/4 ounce) envelope active dry yeast
3 1/2 to 4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon table salt
For the Topping
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 small red onion, very thinly sliced
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary or dried Italian herb mix
Stir together the warm water, sugar and yeast, then let it sit for about 5 minutes
Add 3 cups of flour, 1/4 cup of olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt to the bowl. Mix until well blended. (We do this by hand). Add more flour as needed, a little at a time, until a dough forms. Continue kneading for about 4 to 6 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Grease a large bowl with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the dough, turn to coat, cover with a dish towel and place in a warm, dark, draft-free place to double in size, about 2 hour.
Generously grease the baking sheet with 1 or 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
Transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet. Spread the dough out into a long oblong shape about 1/2 inch thick. Cover loosely with a dampened dish towel or plastic wrap and return to a warm, dark, draft-free place for 15 to 20 minutes to rest and rise slightly.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and place the oven rack at the lowest level.
Remove the towel from dough and using your fingertips, gently push down on the dough to leave slight dimples. Brush 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the top of the dough. Lay the onion slices on top. Sprinkle the cheese, garlic 1/2 teaspoon of salt (we love course salt), black pepper and the rosemary and/or Italian seasoning.
Bake on the lowest oven rack for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
Another great bread recipe from the Kid Chef Bakes book is the pizza dough. Very basic, easy pizza dough recipe that rolls out well and tastes great. Leo has been very excited about making pizza often and is a big help in the kitchen these days. I think it takes a great man to learn his way around the kitchen – so I’m very proud of my little guy and his interest in learning to cook and bake! If you haven’t ever made pizza dough from scratch, this recipe is for you! Buon Appetite!
Homemade Pizza Dough
2 1/4 to 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 (1/4-ounce) envelope active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
1 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided flour for dusting the work surface
In a large bowl, add 2 3/4 cups of flour and the yeast, sugar and salt.
Add the water and 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the bowl. Mix until the dough forms a soft ball. Mix in additional flour as needed.
Place the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic 6 to 8 minutes.
Grease a large bowl with the remaining tablespoon of oil, add the dough, turn to coat, cover with plastic wrap of a dish towel and place in a warm, draft-free place to double in size, about 1 hour.
To transform the crust into a pizza, roll out the crust thinly on a floured surface, transfer to a greased baking sheet, then top with desired toppings. Bake at 400 degrees until the cheese is melted and the crust is golden brown, about 10 minutes. (I usually put my pizza crust in the oven for about 5 minutes while it is warming up to start to bake the dough. I then take it out and add the toppings and put it back in for another 5 plus minutes until crust looks a little golden and cheese has melted).
We also continue to make sourdough sandwich bread every other night from a very basic no knead bread recipe. We use a sourdough starter for this one. If you haven’t yet explored making and maintaining your own sourdough starter it is actually less intimidating than it sounds once you get the hang of it. Our original starter developed a pretty funky smell, so I tossed it out and started a new one. I read more about maintaining your starter and so far so good.
Basic No Knead Sandwich Bread: (Do this before bed)
Mix 3c flour (I use 1c WW and 2c Bread flour), 1tsp salt, 1.5c water and 1/4c starter (which I stir into the water first). Cover the bowl and leave in a warm spot overnight.
In the morning, knock it back and let it rise for 60min, then knock it back again, shape and put in greased loaf pan. Cover and let rise to almost cresting the pan, but not quite…about 20-30min depending on how warm the space is. I do it in the oven with the light on.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 425F, flour the top of the loaf and snip to score (I go lengthwise, but you can do a few short diagonal ones, too) and put pan in over COVERED! You can use another loaf pan (I do this) or make a foil tent, but give the bread room to grow. Bake 20min, then uncover for 10min. That’s it.
Here’s to Making Some Memories – Nourishing the Heart & Soul – Enjoy!
Americans spend most of their waking hours with media; watching, reading, listening or simply interacting with media. Most adults spend 12 hours a day outside of work with screens. Children, tweens and teens are also spending record amounts of time multi-tasking with media. They are on their smartphones, watching tv, listening to music, and playing games. According to research, teens spend an average of nine hours a day online, children between the ages of eight to 12 spend more than six hours a day online and kids between 0 and eight spend more than an hour a day with a screen.
Research has proven that a heavy media diet is linked to numerous unhealthy side affects both in children and adults. The more time spent with screens the more likely a person is to suffer from depression, anxiety, fear, stress, sleep problems, low self-esteem, loneliness, aggression, attention problems, obesity, precocious sexuality and social isolation. Even suicide in teens has been linked to time spent on social networking sites contributing to lowered self-esteem and exposure to cyber bullying.
During this time of social distancing kids and adults are encouraged to be on their electronic devices even more for work and school activities. Many families are reporting that even though they are all in the same home, they aren’t spending time together because they are on their smartphones or other media devices.
The harmful effects of media exposure on children’s health is an issue I hold very close to my heart. Before I became a mom, I worked for the Media Education Foundation and produced Consuming Kids, a documentary film that exposes the harmful effects of media on children. The work I did researching and producing this film was an eye opening experience for me and probably the best parenting education class I could take before having my own kids.
Children are like sponges. They absorb everything they see around them and unfortunately they have no protected place in the media. The stories they get from the media are the media producers’ stories and they are often stories that leave us feeling unhappy with ourselves. Kids along with adults are being told that their value is in things; In the products they own, the money they have and how many friends or likes they have online. These values are extrinsic and it’s just what the owners of the media want to sell us so that we continue to feel the need to buy more to make ourselves happy or liked better by others. In truth, we all know that happiness doesn’t come from buying things and it doesn’t come from spending time with media. True happiness comes from within and from our relationships with others. It comes from living our lives instead of living vicariously through others. Yet, children are being sold these messages from a very early age and are hearing them repeatedly the more they engage with media.
As a parent, you have the greatest influence on your children from an early age. You can lead by example. Media is addictive. Ask yourself what is your own relationship to media? Do you look at your phone more than your family? Are you staring at your phone every minute or jumping up the second your phone dings? Are you teaching your children to do the same? Do you spend more time with a screen than you do with your kids? Does your idea of spending time together always involve media? Do you use television as a babysitter?
Our children will model our behaviors. If we spend our time with a screen, they will want to as well. Taking time to unplug and curb your media diet –especially during these uncertain times– is not only good for you, but good for your family. Research also shows that spending time face to face is therapeutic. We are social beings and find happiness in human interactions. Children’s behavior improves with more positive interactions with their parents and siblings. Research shows that people are happier the less time they spend with media!
Unplugging from our media habits isn’t easy, but the rewards far outweigh the sacrifices.
Here are 5 Helpful Suggestions to encourage healthy ways to be media free:
Set Limits: Set a limit on your media and your children’s media diet. Work together to create a realistic time for media each day or week (this includes time on your phone). Also, set limits on where children and teens use media. Putting a computer in a public space in your home is helpful for parent’s to be a part of what media their children are using or set up parental restrictions on the computer or the cellphone. Creating a space for media use is important. Discourage your children from spending time on their phone, computer or television alone in their room for hours on end because it can be harmful to their health and can be dangerous. It is important for you to be aware of what your child is doing online, who they are talking to, what games they are playing or what sites they visit. Give your children their privacy to have phone conversations, but searching the web or talking on social media alone in their room for hours on end can affect their wellbeing.
Media Literacy: Talk to your kids about media and the harmful effects it can have on their wellbeing. Media literacy is something you can teach your child at a very early age. You can start by talking to your child about how media is created, who is telling the stories, who owns the media and how can their stories influence the messages we hear? Watch and look at what your children are watching and talk about the messages they are being told.
ScheduleMedia Free Time: Have a Media Free Day during the Week and then maybe a media free week once a month. Plan some fun family activities for that time together. These can be: make a favorite meal or baked treat, have a family game night or find an outdoor activity you can do together like a hike, bike ride, or outdoor game in the yard. Once you give it a try, you’ll find so many creative ways you can get along together without a screen involved. Soon the family will be coming up with all kinds of interesting things to do together. Many families who try this have said that they can’t believe how much time they spent with media and how much time they feel they now have in their day.
Explore Something New: Spend your media free time doing something new. Think of a new thing you’d like to learn: maybe playing an instrument or learning a new craft. Before the pandemic, we picked up a piano for free from a family in our town. I played years ago and the kids were asking to learn to play for a while now. So, now I’ve been teaching them some beginner songs and scales and they are also teaching each other! I taught Ava and Lily how to play Happy Birthday. Lily then taught Leo, and Ava taught Mike! Some other ideas for something new: learn to sew, knit, write a story or a play, create your own game, learn a new language, build something, learn to cook or bake! There’s always something new to learn!
Get Outdoors and Read: Another great thing about unplugging is your kids become more creative and stay creative. Sometimes kids, like adults, get into an unhealthy media habit only because they don’t know how to fill their time. Kids don’t always have to be kept busy with scheduled activities, boredom and frustration are good. Let your kids figure out other ways to fill their time and it will encourage them to be more creative. Free play is so important for healthy development. Whenever we have a couple days or extended periods of time without tv, the kids play better together. It is amazing.
Get outdoors more. Being outside is therapeutic and renewing. Once you or the kids step outside you have entered a whole new world and if you leave your screens behind you will be surprised by how much there is to see and do without your screens. Plant a garden, go for a walk, sit outside and read a book or eat a meal!
Encourage a love of reading or at least reading in place of screens. If your kids like watching movies, encourage them to read or listen to the books first. If there is a certain show they like to watch, have them write their own rendition of the story – maybe from the perspective of a different character or a different setting or change the ending or write the next book! The beautiful thing about reading stories is you imagine the settings and the people and create the images in your head. Have your young children create their own illustrations to a story they like. Ask them to tell you the story as they draw it. Have your older children turn their favorite books or shows into a play that they write, create the scenes and costumes and act out for the family on your media free night!
We don’t spend a lot of time with media in our house. The kids don’t go on the computer often, only to listen to audio books or an occasional zoom gathering right now, but aside from that we let them watch some tv shows or films on Amazon prime- so their advertising exposure and media is limited. My kids do not have their own phones, tablets or kindles and probably won’t until they can afford them. We do enjoy watching a show or movie together as a family, and I do think that this is special downtime that is needed. Finding a balance isn’t easy. Habits are hard to change, especially ones that may not be that good for us. But like ditching any bad habit, the rewards far outweigh the sacrifices.
I think the quantitative evidence can’t be denied- less time with media, more time together makes for happier, healthier families!
Here’s to raising our children with our own stories and not somebody else’s.
“Be the Change you Wish to see in the World.”
For more Research and Resources – Check Out:
The Media Education Foundation (Their main markets are Colleges, Universities and broadcasting rights, but if you are looking to purchase a film for personal use, call the front office to find out about an individual price) https://www.mediaed.org
Frustration is good. Some of the worlds best inventions and discoveries come from frustrations, boredom and nothing to do. We don’t need to constantly entertain our children. We don’t need to guide their play or explain everything they see or are doing – in many ways it is a disservice to kids. It takes away from their own curiosity and learning experience. Kids learn through figuring things out, through trial and error, through exploring their interests. Not from someone telling them how to do things. Telling and teaching are two totally different things.
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”.
Over the past fifty years “parenting” -especially in the United States- has shifted from a very hands off approach to a new kind of parent controlled direct explaining of the child to the child of their own life experiences from the parents point of view. For example, we observe a parent at the playground: “Ok Sally, go up the slide. Down this way, whee! Wasn’t that fun? Didn’t you love that! No Sally, not the see-saw, you go ow. Danger!” There seems to be a renewed focus on telling a child how to think and how to feel –in a sense– pre-filtering and pre-digesting the child’s reality. This spoon-feeding denies children the creative learning experience that is so important for growth and development.
Parents have the best intentions and yes, it is important to guide your child up the ladder to slide down the slide, but you show them once, step back and observe next or a couple times and then back away and let them enjoy their new found freedom and their autonomy. This builds a self-confidence that becomes a model throughout life. If you don’t show your children that you trust them in early on experiences, then you are setting them up for your approval and needing you to do so much more for them through-out life because they lack self-confidence and are afraid they will fail. They won’t be able to go to the food store or college without mom and dad. It’s true and it’s really happening. Just ask your friends who have college age students.
Author Janet Hibbs, calls this a mental health epidemic stating in her book, The Stressed Years of Their Lives, that what we are seeing is very smart kids, which some researchers call brainiacs, that suffer from “destructive perfectionism; they cannot tolerate not excelling at everything. And no one typically excels at everything. We all have times when we both make mistakes or fail. And kids don’t have as much practice at that today, because they’re protected from having those experiences, and also it freaks their parents out, which makes then the kids feel more responsible.”
This is a very new phenomenon over the past 30 or 40 years and it’s something we have the ability to change for the better of our children; for their self confidence and encouraging resilience for life. Ask some earlier generation parents what they did as a kid. If they were born in the USA during the 60’s and earlier they say things like: work on the farm, tend to the animals, cook meals for the family, take care of their siblings (and most grew up in a household where only one parent was working). They did things like mowing the lawn, took their siblings to the local lake or pool to swim or ice skate (unsupervised by adults). They probably played outside a lot more than you and your own children, they may have walked to school (by themselves or with their friends or siblings), they may have had a job at the young age of 12…they may have ridden public transit by themselves. My mom often tells me the story of how she would, at the ripe old age of 12, take the public transit bus from her suburb town in New Jersey into New York City to meet her dad at work for lunch. Most of you reading this can probably remember your own freedoms as a child. It was an independence that helped teach you great skills like problem-solving, self-reliance and confidence.
Today, parent’s are nervous to leave their kids unattended in their own backyards to play. What has happened to us over the past 50 years as a society, that we now have more anxiety and fear about raising our kids and we have more children filled with fear and anxiety. In her book”i Gen: Why Today’s Super Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – And Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, author Jean Twenge explains that most teens today aren’t even interested in getting their license to drive, a privilege that most youth would be counting down the days until. It used to be a symbol of true freedom. Yet, todays youth are too anxious to get behind the wheel and are waiting longer and longer to learn to drive and get their licenses. This generation of youth is the first to spend their entire adolescence in the age of the smartphone. With social media and texting replacing other activities. They spend less time with their friends in person and are experiencing unprecedented levels of anxiety, depression, and loneliness.
In the book Free Range Kids: Giving Children the Freedom we had without going nuts with worry, a fantastic read for any parent with kids of any age, the author, Lenore Skenazy, decides to let her 9 year old son ride the subway alone. She builds her son up to this, first riding with him for years and then riding with him from their home to the desired subway stop to be sure he knows what to do. When she decided to write a column about her child’s adventure and new found independence, she was chastised by the media and parent’s for being called careless and “the worst mom ever.” I do understand parents’ concern. It is so outside the box for us to feel comfortable with actions like this, but Skenazy knew her child. She knew his capabilities and maturity; she set safe guards to make sure he would be ok.
I have struggled with giving my children these same types of freedoms because we don’t live in a society that totally supports it. Instead, people attack the parent as being negligent. Children have fewer and fewer spaces to grow, to explore, to be trusted to their own activities. They need space to build confidence and competence. I firmly believe that it is safer to allow your child to walk around the block in your neighborhood or up the street to the playground with a friend than it is to leave them unsupervised in their rooms all day on an electronic device! Here they are alone and engaging in material and media that may be more of a threat to their well being. This isolated media diet can be more harmful than a walk around the block without mom and dad. Yet, today, many parents believe that their children are safer on the couch in their home, safer at scheduled organized activities, playdates or even in their bedrooms– than in their own backyard! How sad is that?
It isn’t easy to give your children the freedom and space they need to foster their wellbeing. Showing them you believe they are ready to do things on their own encourages confidence and responsibility. It is the best lesson for children. When you don’t allow them to cross the street on their own and tell them it is because you don’t trust the drivers of the cars, all your child hears is that you don’t trust them. Instead, find a common ground that makes you feel comfortable and also allows them some freedom while being safe. We live on a very busy street where cars drive over 40mph. I haven’t felt comfortable with the kids crossing the street by themselves, but when Ava turned 9, she kept asking me why I didn’t trust her to cross the street on her own? I realized that this was the message she was getting and that I wasn’t giving her the autonomy she needed as she was growing. So, we made an agreement that she could cross the road and bike down the quiet dead-end street across from us during the less busy hours of the day. I have always taught the kids from an early age to look both ways before they cross – so, our next step was for them to tell me when it was safe to cross and to cross me across the street (this is what I started doing with the kids from an early age, maybe 4 or 5). So, the natural thing to do, was to now let Ava cross on her own. I watched her from the window as she looked both ways, looked again, waited, waited more and then finally she and her bike were off! The smile on her face and confidence that shined through her is a picture I have in my mind that I will hold onto forever – it was a gift to give her that independence and show her that I trust her.
So, what are the next steps when we live in a society that reports parent’s to the police if their kids are in the yard alone or walking their dogs around the neighborhood by themselves. Well, we couldn’t stop there – what I did next was try and think of a space or place that the kids and I both knew well and felt safe in and could let them go to by themselves. We visit the local library often and we know all the librarians that work there, so naturally, I started to let Ava and Lily at the age of 6 and 4 go into the library to check-out books on their own while Leo and I waited in the car outside. I first checked with the librarians to make sure they were okay with this and told them why I wanted the girls to have this type of opportunity and they were very encouraging. Ava and Lily both felt so responsible to go into the library, pick out their books (we always agreed on a number before they went in) and walk back out to meet me at the car. When Leo turned 4, I let him join them. I told Ava and Lily that they were in charge and told Leo that this was a privilege that would be taken away if he didn’t behave the way I expected him to and listen to his sisters. He was very excited for this freedom and now I even send him in alone (age 6) to pick up books. So many parent’s say, “oh I could never let my child do that,” but have they ever let their child do anything? If this idea sounds so foreign to you, take baby steps and build both you and your child up to it. There are so many ways to give your child freedoms that will instill confidence for their lifetime.
When I go food shopping with the kids, I give them each a list of things they need to get for me. They sometimes do this together or individually. I never send them off in a large packed store, only in the local food store that we know and the grocers have gotten to know them over the years. Ava always orders our meat and cheese at the deli counter – long before she could see over it! I have sent Ava and Lily into our local mom and pop farm store to buy milk or ice cream, especially helpful when Vivi was very young and napping in the car. I have always told the kids that if an adult questions you as to where you parent is, you can let them know that I am right outside waiting for you and if they don’t approve then they can come and get me. I have also taught my children that it is ok to respond and say hello to “strangers,” but you never, ever go anywhere with a stranger. I want my children to know that if they were ever in trouble that they could go to someone they didn’t know for help and to not be afraid of strangers. I think there is a difference that is important for them to understand.
I also let my kids walk trails that we all have walked together and that they know well. My girls have walked the sidewalk to the library with friends on their own. My husband had many freedoms growing up and so did I, we both rode our bikes far from home and were left at a young age to babysit our younger siblings. My husband even had a paper route throughout his town and biked many busy roads. I don’t know entirely why or how we have shifted to this model of fear and over concern for allowing our children to have similar freedoms. Some argue that the world is less safe yet, all news reports and honest statistics point differently. Is it because most of us don’t even know our neighbors? My father-in-law said he couldn’t get down to the end of his street without saying hello to most of his neighbors and having at least one of them call his mom to let her know if he was up to no good. Maybe that’s something we don’t have today in our communities. My own father grew up in a small mountain village in Italy and at the age of 5 was in charge of the garden, planting and watering the plants that were grown in a plot of land a 1/4 mile from his home. He also had to collect the beans in the summer and bring them to the market to sell (all of this was unsupervised and to help his family survive).
It takes a Village to Raise a Child – an entire community of people must interact with children for those children to experience and grow in a safe and healthy environment.
I write about this topic because I see in my own children how they get along better and have less frustrations when I give them more responsibilities and trust. Finding balance isn’t easy for ourselves or our children. Yes, there are dangers out there in our world. Yes, there are things fully out of our control, but we have options – we can shelter our children out of fear and pass on that fear and anxiety to our children from a very early age OR you can choose to empower your child. To foster independence, self confidence and encourage unsupervised moments that allow them to grow, build skills that prepare them for the adventures of adult life. These are the tools that they will truly need to grow into a healthy well balanced individual that is able to handle life’s ups and downs with a resilience that can only be taught through life experience. Don’t be afraid – the rewards far out way the dangers.
We’re all in this together,
I know right now this concept of giving your child more freedom and independence to grow outside your home might not work as most of us are social distancing – but like all change, it starts from within. Encouraging independence starts in the home. There are ways you can begin to create this change in yourself, in your daily routines with your child at home and in your relationship with your child. Have your child think of something they have never done before that they can do without your assistance. It’s a great assignment and encourages a little independence.
If you’re interested in doing any more reading or research on this topic check out these resources:
Puppetry is a very ancient form of theatre that is believed to have its roots in many different cultures. Some forms of puppetry are more than 3000 years old! Puppetry has been used through the ages for ritual and religious presentations as well as education and entertainment. Puppet theater appeared all over the world long before human beings could even write and has always shared in a common thread of using inanimate objects to tell powerful animated stories. It’s no wonder children love puppetry! It is one of the best outlets for using their creativity and imagination to tell their own stories!
Making puppets and putting on shows has been a common occurrence in our house over the years. We have experimented with sock puppets, marionettes, paper mâché puppets, finger puppets and hand puppets. Lily has even tried her knack as a ventriloquist putting on a puppet show and using Leo as her “dummy!” Exploring puppetry is not only a great way to get involved with arts and crafts, but also history, culture, music and geography. It is something you can do with kids at any age and take in so many directions depending on their interests.
Puppetry is a powerful medium for pretend play, self-exploration and self-expression.
Some puppet ideas for different ages:
Sock Puppets for all ages:
Making sock puppets is an easy one for kids of all ages. Take an old sock or one that is missing a match and use a glue gun to glue on google eyes or sew on buttons for the eyes or nose and use yarn for hair. Leo also used seashells for his sock puppet’s face in the picture above. Fabric markers could also be used to draw on faces. We make sock puppets often and have a collection of different characters, animals and even dragons with felt wings!
Finger puppets are also another fun one for all ages. Lily was getting creative and decided to make a fun finger puppet show for her one year old sister Vivienne and painted a fun finger family on her hand using face paint and “thinking putty” for the hair. We’ve also had lots of fun making felt finger puppets that fit over our fingers and using knit finger puppets that we bought. If your children are very young, create some finger puppets to go with songs they like – maybe “Old MacDonald had a farm” and create the characters for the song. Or create finger puppets for a story they enjoy, like the “Three Little Pigs,” or “Little Red Riding Hood.”
Popsicle Stick Puppets:
This is another great puppet project for all ages. We have made these a number of different ways. One creative way is to have your child draw their own characters on cardstock, cut them out and then glue them to the popsicle stick. You can also have them cut out animals, scenery or characters from a magazine and then glue them to the popsicle sticks. To make the paper more sturdy we usually Modge Podge the paper, let it dry and then glue it onto the popsicle stick. A nice thing about this idea is that you can create more than just characters. You can also create all types of objects that can be used in the story, like a boat, a truck or a treasure chest.
Paper Mâché Puppets:
We created these puppets maybe four years ago and they have held up amazingly well through a lot of creative play and story telling. This project is more suitable for 5 years and up. You’ll need newspaper, masking tape, toilet paper roll, egg carton (depending on what you decide to make), a soda pop bottle with a long neck, Elmers glue/modge podge or flour to make your paper mâché concoction. To create the puppets, First place the toilet paper roll on the neck of a soda pop bottle. Then make a ball out of newspaper and stick part of it into the neck of your soda pop bottle. This ball will be the head of your puppet. To make our pig we used parts of an egg carton to create the ears and nose and masking taped them on. Once your design is finished you can paper mâché all over it to create a more solid puppet head and secure the neck to the head. After is dries (usually a day in the sun or warm space), paint your puppet head and add hair or other accessories to make your puppet. We then cut out fabric for the body and glued it around the neck of the puppet to use as a place to put your hand when playing. You can sew the fabric together or glue gun it. This is definitely a little more time intensive, but it is something the kids can do with the help of an adult or on their own and they make some really fantastic puppets!
If you’re interested in watching some live puppetry to give you some ideas and inspirations check out the Puppet Show Place Theater. They are offering free online (donations welcome) family friendly puppet shows with some great puppeteers. The Cactushead Puppets are a puppeteer group from our area whose shows the kids and I have enjoyed at the local theater. They are performing The Pied Piper of Hamelin live online on May 31st, 3pm. https://www.puppetshowplace.org/show-and-tell
If you have never before seen a marionette show, I highly recommend the National Marionette Theatre out of Erie, Pennsylvania. The National Marionette Theatre is one of the oldest touring marionette theaters in the country. Currently celebrating their 50th season! We were fortunate to see them perform Beauty and The Beast a couple years ago and it was something the kids and I found amazing. It is a family business and they make all the marionettes and scenery by hand. We were able to meet the puppeteers and get a behind the scenes look at how they do what they do – it was inspiring for us all and a beautiful story of how the family business has been passed down for generations. Here’s a link to the trailer for it, but it seems like they don’t have any virtual online shows. So, when social distancing is over and the theaters open back up – keep an eye out for the National Marionette Theatre in your area – their shows are definitely worth seeing! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHUOdklKxj8
Have a Great Time crafting and creating your own Beautiful Stories!
I’ve made homemade granola bars a couple times before, but this recipe we found in Jean Van’t Hul’s The Artful Year is the best yet! If you aren’t familiar with Jean Van’t Hul she has published two fantastic books on making art with kids and has a great website full of art activities and projects. https://artfulparent.com Her recipe for old fashioned granola bars is simple, easy to follow and has many ingredients you may already have on hand. It’s a great recipe to make with your kids and one the whole family will enjoy!
2 Cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 Cup almond meal
1/2 Cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 Cup dried cranberries
1/3 Cup mini chocolate chips (we just cut up bakers chocolate because that’s what we had)
1/2 Cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 Cup honey
2 teaspoons vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Oil a 9 x 13 in. baking pan
Mix the oats, almond meal, flour, cinnamon, salt, cranberries and chocolate chips in a large bowl.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Whisk in the honey, then the egg and vanilla. Pour the butter mixture into the oat mixture and combine throughly.
Press the dough into the pan and bake for 20-25 minutes.
Cool the baked dough partially, then cut it into bars. The bars can be stored in the fridge or freezer, but ours didn’t last that long!
We have all been hard at work creating our new 2020 Victory Garden expansion. Mike has been working harder than anyone using his time off from his business during this ‘Great Pause’ to expand our garden. He is a true Pioneer Great Outdoorsman – He cut down the trees with his trusty chain saw, he milled the trees into lumber for our raised beds, a garden bench, the split rail fence and a picnic table (coming soon), he and the kids shoveled all the compost we had delivered from a local dairy farm, he pulled weeds and lots and lots of poison ivy to make the space ready for our new garden! With all this homesteading that has been happening Mike and I are feeling a little more like Charles and Caroline Ingalls every day!
Mike has worked incredibly hard (although he has a way of not making it Look like it) putting together the beautiful split rail fence from the trees he cut down. He even had the kids working on scraping the bark off the trees. I usually have to turn away when I look out back and see the kids hard at work with sharp tools! I only ask that they are safe and have a clear understanding of what they need to do and then I take comfort and great pride in seeing them shine and feel proud of their contribution and hard work.
The kids and I started some kale, swiss chard, mesclun salad mix, tomatoes and eggplant seeds in our cold frame and transplanted some to the new garden. We also purchased plants from our local garden center and got some extra’s from my father-in-law as he needed to thin out his new plants.
It is so exciting to see it all come together and to think of the fruits of our labor that we’ll be enjoying this summer! The beds are full of cucumbers, golden beets, carrots, peppers, eggplant, bok choy, lettuce, beans, squash, zucchini, garlic, onions, sunflowers, corn, kale, swiss chard, basil, parsley and tomatoes – lots and lots of tomatoes!
Leo planted his own garden space with sugar baby watermelons, magic lantern pumpkins, corn, sunflowers and gourd pumpkins! He loves collecting seeds from all the fruit and vegetables we eat, drying them out and then putting them into his garden!
If you’re looking for a great gardening book for kids – Sharon Love Joy has two wonderful books: Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots
If you’re a grandparent and would love to put together some garden delights for your grandchildren or with your grandchildren – Sunflower Houses is a Beautiful book:
Here’s to a summer full of Good Health – and a Plentiful Harvest of Peace, Hope, Joy – and lot’s of Veggies!