Hello Dear Simplifying Families!
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But only those who see take off their shoes.”
-Elizabeth Barrett Browning
One of the best perks to our new simplified schedule is that the boys have plenty of time to dig and explore. I love to watch the older one get lost in his own world whenever mud, dirt, and bugs are available for his play. A kid who you might say is borderline hyperactive indoors becomes so focused, so quiet, so in touch with creation – in a way that makes a big difference for the rest of the day. It’s cleansing for him, and sanity for me.
So I love seeing him dig…but it gets better. I read some fascinating brain research this week (in a free e-book from the Parenting Passageway) which concluded immersing kids in the quiet of nature actually builds the type of brain that is more open to spiritual depth later in life. Scientists are finding that, with the introduction of screen media, the structure of our brains is actually changing, now unable to perceive more subtle sensory experiences, but demanding greater and greater stimulation. The “new brain” which is emerging is less able to meditate, to enjoy quiet, or to listen for subtle sounds such as those found in nature or in classical music. One suggestion here is that dulling our senses to the quiet experiences in life closes us down to meditation or a deepening spiritual life.
The positive part of this story (and a great plug for digging!) was that early connections with nature do the opposite for growing brains – the subtle textures and sounds of nature all build the type of brain which can sense deeply even the most subtle of experiences – so the ability for prayer, deep thought, and meditation is strengthened.
So it seems to me that a good dig in the dirt has great benefits, not just for today, but for a lifetime of growing spiritually. Truly, the greatest spiritual growth comes not in the noise and lights but in the quiet searching – something I know I have less patience for than I would like.
When I think of teaching my kids to dig into nature (as if that requires teaching), I love the simplicity of Matthew Sleeth’s words in Serve God, Save the Planet:
If the boys can remember that, they will have a lifelong gift of simplicity, of health, and spiritual depth. Just a few more great reasons to go out and dig!
Wouldn’t it be great to have a snack that you feel good about giving to your children for breakfast on those mornings tummies aren’t quite full or afterschool on the ride home when blood sugar is low?
This recipe for the Playgroup Granola Bar is getting rave reviews and I’m looking forward to trying it out on my own two small critics this week.
If you have a stand-by nourishing breakfast or snack, do share in the comments below or on our Facebook Fan Page!
It is the goal of Simplicity Parenting to encourage families to envision and apply one small change at a time. Often we look around the clutter of our homes and reflect on the busy-ness of our lives and immediately become overwhelmed with what we want to create but feel we don’t have the time or energy to pursue.
There are 4 layers of simplicity: environment, rhythm, scheduling, and filtering. Kim Payne addresses each simplicity layer in detail in his book.
When you think about simplifying your home environment or creating a needed, predictable daily/weekly routine, or cutting back on the schedule to include more downtime, or limiting media…what are you most interested or inspired to tackle right now?
Choose the layer and think about one small thing that could be tweaked to bring more ease, comfort, or connection for your family this week. To keep yourself accountable to your desired small change, post about it on your blog and send us the link in the comments below or if you don’t have your own blog, tell us more about the change you’ve chosen for this week in the comments so we can encourage you to stay true to your plan.
This is the beginning of a new tradition here at The Power of Less Blog! Each Monday we will invite you to make a small change. This week it is your choice of the area you want to tweak. In the weeks following we will invite you to make a change in a specific simplicity layer.
Summer of ’76, Rita (on left), her two little sisters, her father, and her favorite truck
I was going through some of my parent’s photos of my childhood and it really gave me pause about parenting in today’s world. I am also reading a book that has encouraged me to start a little series on my experiences as a 70’s kid growing up and being a woman and raising my family in today’s world.
I know everyone makes a big deal about how childhood was at its best in the 50’s, but I will argue that the 70’s was pretty darn perfect. You can see, in my photo above, our family living the 70’s lifestyle (Mom was behind the camera). Yes, my stay-at-home Mom cut our hair and those patches on my jeans (Tuff-Skins???) were actually covering holes and not just for decoration. And I loved those shoes.
We were poor by today’s standards. But I didn’t realize it until I was an adult. I remember shopping for clothes at the resale shop and getting big boxes of worn clothing from relatives in Germany. My poor little sister had it the worst, her clothes had been through at least three kids before she got them. Sorry Heather! And I remember my mother clipping coupons and watching how much she spent on groceries. I suppose as kids we knew money was tight, but we didn’t worry about it. Free-range play is free (and priceless).
My Mom, a nurse, stayed at home for 13 years to raise us full-time and my Dad was a business man. We didn’t eat out, never went to any movies other than an occasional dollar movie, and only took vacations to places where we could stay free at friend’s or relative’s homes. Thank goodness that my Dad was able to get frequent flyer miles (from work) so we could all fly to Germany to see the relatives.
We lived out in the woods in a small neighborhood on a dirt road with tons of pets (cats, dogs, birds, mice, rats, chickens, ducks, etc.) and what seemed to be unlimited free outdoor playtime. We had the real world outside our door (and not on a computer screen or cell phone).
In the 70’s life was so different for middle-class kids in Texas. Technology was sparse (remember Pong?), television was limited (cartoons only on Saturday mornings), not as many toys were available, and homework was almost nonexistent (it wasn’t until the mid-80’s that our public schools started giving students backaches and brainaches with excess homework). Not to mention that most women in our area were stay-at-home moms.
Back then the neighborhoods were filled with kids playing out in their yards and in the streets. No adult supervision, sunscreen, helmets or antibacterial soap. 😉 Sure, there were the same dangers our children face these days, but our parents were not living in fear because they didn’t have 24 hour news scaring them. Kids would get hurt of course (I broke my arm falling off a horse), but parents just fixed you up and let you climb right back on (that horse). We had to be tough back then.
When school let out I took the bus home and Mom was there and I was told to go outside and play and make sure to come home before dark. I spent my afternoons, weekends, and summers exploring the woods, bike riding, fishing, playing baseball, building tree forts, chasing snakes, swimming in the creek, playing with my pets and reading books. At times I would hang out with the neighborhood kids and my sisters, and other times I would take off alone with a good book and my fishing pole. I didn’t even wear shoes during the summer if I could avoid it. And yes, I did step on a few snakes.
Those were the days… No one scheduled our playtime EVER. Pretty days we were told to go outside (so our moms could get some things done), and on ugly days we were supposed to play with each other in our rooms or read a good book. Our parent’s lives did not revolve around entertaining us and we had to be creative and entertain ourselves.
My free-range childhood was magical. And I want my kids to experience our own version of my 70’s childhood. And so far so good.
Yes, it might be difficult at times for me to fight being a SoccerMom or TaxiMom or SuperMom or NeverSayNoMom, but I am taking it day by day and enjoying the ride.
Back to my vintage 70’s photo above. You can see our old truck had a camper top on the back. Whenever I see that photo I am brought back to the times our family and two mutts would go on car trips in the hot summers. Yes, my sisters and I were stuck in the covered back with no a/c. We would be half-deaf and the spit from the dog tongues would drip in dusty dirty tracks on our bare legs and I can still smell the reek of dogs and sweat. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I want to thank Helen Ready for inspiring my new blog series title, “I am Woman, Hear Me Purr”.
My name is Rita and I live in the great state of Texas. I am a stay-home homeschooling mom to two small boys (Duke, 5 and Imp, 3) and am married to my best friend and high school sweetheart. When I have free time I blog all about photography, photo-editing and life as a stay-at-home Mom on my blog The CoffeeShop Blog, but most of my days are happily spent hanging out with my family free ranging.
The book, Simplicity Parenting, is a wonderful guide that has shown me how to adapt educational principles to parenting. A main idea of this book is to question whether we are building our families on the four pillars of “too much”: too much stuff, too many choices, too much information, and too fast. For now, using those four pillars of “too much” as an outline, I’ll share one idea for each, about what has worked, and what I’d do differently.
Too much stuff:
What works for us- Birthday parties used to be the biggest source of stuff for us. For birthdays, the past few years, I’ve offered my kids the option of taking one special friend on a get away, or having a party with several friends at home. They usually choose the get away. One year, when my son did have a birthday party with several friends, we did a book exchange in lieu of gifts. Another year, I threw a “Valentine’s Day party” for my daughter and her friends, instead of a birthday party. That way, she still got to celebrate with her friends, but the focus wasn’t on gifts.
What I’d do differently: I would trust my kids more. They are bright, creative, imaginative kids. They do not need all the toys that I thought they needed to keep them entertained. Given the space, time, and yes, even the gift of boredom; they will eventually come up with far more inventive games, of their own making, than what those toys, that are designed to be played with in only one way, will allow.
Too many choices:
What works for us- Mealtime is one example. My kids can reliably expect that we will eat dinner together each night, as a family, around the table, and that they are expected to at least sit with us, even if they don’t want to eat. If they don’t like what’s offered, the most I’m going to do, to go out of my way to accommodate them, is to make a PB&J sandwich. The choices about the what, when, and where of mealtime have been all but been eliminated, simplifying life for all of us and eliminating stress.
What I’d do differently- I need to be better about setting up appropriate choices for my kids. An example, last week I took my six year old to Target to pick out a birthday present for his cousin. He wandered around the toy aisles, unable to make a decision, and got a bad case of the *“I wants” for himself. Nothing I suggested met his approval and we both became increasingly frustrated. Clearly, he had too many choices. I could have set us both up for better success had we narrowed down the choices ahead of time, to a manageable set of choices for him. For instance, instead of saying, “Let’s pick out a toy”. I could have said, “Let’s pick out a water toy for the back yard”. We could have gone to one aisle only, and left quickly.
*I’ve found that wandering through toy stores or leaving toy catalogs laying about for perusal, is a sure way to cause a bad case of the “I wants”. We generally avoid those.
Too Much Information:
What worked for us- Limiting screen time has contributed to a more positive environment for our whole family. We did this gradually. First we stopped watching the news in front of the kids. Currently, we don’t have a television. The kids use Netflix, on the computer, to watch movies. They don’t have to watch commercials this way either, a big plus. My husband and I watch the things we like on Hulu or Netflix after the kids have gone to bed.
What I’d do differently: Avoid adult conversations, such as talk about finances, problems from the news, or negative issues with other people, when around the kids. I try to adhere to this rule, but I still slip more often than I care to. As Kim John Payne says, “Children need to know that they have a place in a good world, and a future of promise.” I also like his three part filter for conversation- Is it true? Kind? Necessary?
What worked for us- Listening to our kids; they let us know when life is too busy and too stressful, although it’s not usually with words. Stomach problems, whining, insomnia, stalling…those are some of the ways my kids communicate to me that we need to slow down.
What I’d do differently- In order for me to slow down, I had to quit comparing myself to other people. I would finally get my activities whittled down to a comfortable level for my family, and then I would look around at other people in my life, see how much more they were doing, feel lazy, and involve myself in things out of guilt. I did this with the kids and their activities as well.
Blogger Dawn Klinge is a thirty-something mama of two who loves to be creative. Writing, photography, drawing, cooking, crafts, fashion, home design, gardening…..she likes to try it all, and she writes about it. She’s also a little crunchy and quite interested in healthy/natural/simple living. Visit her at her blog renaissancemama.squarespace.com
Our new baby is due in early December, and we’ve been making lots of preparations already. Some people look at me like I’m crazy when they learn his room has basically been ready since August. I readily admit to being a type-A person, but on top of my own desire to ‘nest’, this preparation time has been intrinsic to my three year old’s positive outlook on the coming transition.
As Payne suggests during a case study in the last chapter of Simplicity Parenting, We’ve been working on ‘dreaming our baby into existence’. This special family-only time has been a great way to get extra Mama-and-me (and Daddy-and-me) time for Alex. She has helped pick out the paint color for the baby’s room (her room also got a new coat). We’ve planned special trips to the store for painting and shelving supplies. Daddy and Alex assembled the crib in July, so she would have plenty of time to get used to the idea of a baby in the once-empty room. Besides helping me design and make soft sculptures for the walls, Alex has also sketched ‘designs’ for soft handmade animals. She enjoys picking through my boxes of scraps to find the ‘perfect pieces’ of fabric to use when we sew them together. She’s been involved in the entire process of making a permanent space for Baby Justin in our lives and home. Throughout these last few months, as we have unpacked old baby ‘equipment’, Dave and I have become expert storytellers, reliving Alex’s first few days home from the hospital, her favorite baby toys and foods, and first signs/words. She has started ‘retelling’ these precious stories, and making up new ones about Baby Justin.
Believe me, I know that the transition won’t be completely smooth, but I’m hoping that the extra legwork we’re doing now will pay off. Our family has already felt so many positive ripples from the Simplicity Parenting work we’ve done– it makes our home a much calmer, consistent and healthier place to be– for all of us! The more rhythmic our days, the more reassuring our home life becomes and (hopefully) the less chaotic a major transition will be.
Amy Marotz holds her B.A. Degrees in English and Studio Art from St. Olaf College and her M.A. in Education from Bethel University. After teaching middle school English and Art for several years, she is now enjoying life as a stay-at-home teacher of one. In February of 2010 she discovered Simplicity Parenting while taking a Waldorf parent-toddler class, and has been hooked ever since. Visit her blog at What’s Happening In Alex’s World.
What we do not nourish
cannot exist in the world around us
because we are its microcosm.
We cannot moan the loss
of quality in our world
and not ourselves
seed the beautiful in our wake.
We cannot decry the loss of the spiritual
and continue ourselves to function
only on the level of the vulgar.
We cannot hope for fullness of life
without nurturing fullness of soul.
We must seek beauty, study beauty
surround ourselves with beauty.
To be contemplative
we must remove the clutter of our lives,
surround ourselves with beauty,
and consciously, relentlessly,
persistently give it away
until the tiny world
for which we are responsible
begins to reflect
the raw beauty that is God.
–from Illuminated Life by Joan Chittister (Orbis)
Special “thank you” to Andrea Danneker, Simplicity Parenting Group Leader & Coach for sharing this poem with us.
You know you’ve reached a milestone when you have reached paperback status! Now include a copy of Simplicity Parenting in paperback as a treasure when you buy a gift for a new mom. What a wonderful way to help a new family along their journey – providing them with an amazing blueprint for true connection.
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