As a pediatric speech-language pathologist, I find that parents of children who are having trouble learning to talk and parents of children who are talking up a storm are both very interested in what they can “do” to help their child learn language, expand their play, grow and develop in the best way possible. They write to me, they google, and they search Pinterest for language “activities”. When I get a parent’s ear for a moment, they are ever so eager to hear the speech therapists magic tricks, the quick fixes, the sure fire learning techniques, and the best “activities”.
Then they’re often disappointed with my response. What I’m often encouraging them to do is back off, get out of their own way, stop asking questions, listen, be present, take a moment and observe.
Just because I’m an early intervention advocate, doesn’t mean I ever want to be part of the “More Academics Earlier” push or the “Be This Way Or Your Child Will Suffer” movement. Instead, I’ve seen first hand that we all benefit when we encourage REAL interactions. If you can find a way to end the nervous chatter and the teaching and to tune-in to your child during everyday activities, you will find a connection that sets the stage for true learning. If you can share these real moments, in snippets throughout the day, that’s really all your child needs to learn language- not flash cards, noisy toys, study time, or lavished language. No special toys, fancy projects, perfect activities, or early reading programs required.
I touched on this in my 10 Ways to Practice Waiting post, but really, the best kept secrets of speech-language pathologists are all about being quiet and more present. The keys to interaction lie mostly with waiting and giving space for children to communicate. While it’s great to use these concepts when playing with your child, they work wonderfully when you are just engaged in your everyday routines. Times like brushing teeth, getting dressed, and having meals are engagement and communication goldmines! Because those routines are so familiar, children are more sure of what they are doing and have more of their concentration available to focus on learning language. Also, YOU can really focus on your child.
So, today (and hopefully tomorrow), instead of rushing through those routines to get to the important stuff, take time. Self care, home care, and daily routines ARE the important stuff. That’s life and it’s a wonderful time to bond with your child. As you move through the routines of tidying toys, sorting laundry, prepping meals, washing hands, or feeding pets, pause, watch your child, make eye contact, smile, and just be available.
Here’s to putting on shoes, having snack time, and brushing teeth!
Kim Rowe, MA, CCC-SLP, is a licensed and certified speech-language pathologist who is dedicated to giving parents the knowledge they need to feel confident as their child’s BEST communication partner. She works in private practice in Savannah, GA, and blogs at Little Stories in order to assist even more parents with her work. In addition to her work as a speech-language pathologist, Kim enjoys life as a wife and mother, and volunteering with her therapy dog.
Special thanks for today’s guest post from David Sewell McCann of Sparkle Stories. He is also sharing free downloadable Halloween stories, which you’ll find at the bottom of this post. We hope you enjoy them!
The end of October and the beginning of November are unique in the year. Think of the world festivals during that span of three days: Halloween, All Souls Day, All Saints Day, Diwalli, Samhain, Day of the Dead. How do you imagine them? Many of us see them at night. We see them in the darkness with lights above in the form of stars or fireworks – or lights below in the form of flickering candles.
The common images from these holidays celebrate both darkness and light, but with a mood very different from that of Advent, Chanukah and Christmas. Rather than a feeling of joyous anticipation, we feel wide-eyed and watchful – as if we are about to be surprised.
Though the festivals of late October and early November are all very different, there is a thread that winds its way through them all. This thread is also present during the changes of the season: the descending nature of autumn in the northern hemisphere and the rising nature of spring in the southern. This thread is wonder.
We are in a state of wonder as we light the candles in remembrance of the dead, witness fire ‘crackers’ overhead, dress up in wild costumes and parade through the streets. Wonder is all around us as the leaves change color and fall, as well as when the fruit trees break out in flower.
Most of the festivals during this time of year have held onto that wonder and kept it in focus. But there is one that feels a little confused. And that is Halloween.
Now, the wonder has not vanished from contemporary Halloween celebrations. In fact, I think it has never been stronger. The commercialization and intensification of the festival, however, has added a layer of stress that has transformed the wonder into something else. Wonder plus stress can become scared. Wonder plus sugar can become frenzied. This, I believe, is why children actually want to dress in gory costumes of monsters, the undead and the maimed. They are still looking for wonder; their aim, I believe, is true. But what they are getting is not unlike the sugary treats. They are getting high-octane wonder in the form of surprise and fear. Instead of the complex sweetness of an apple, they are getting the distilled and intensified sweetness of Skittles. Instead of the wonder of a flickering candle, they are getting the intensified wonder of a sudden scare.
But reframing Halloween isn’t enough for many of us, as we long for a simpler, more pure experience of wonder for our children. As someone who has put a lot of effort into this particular festival, I can say that the children want it too. They want to slow it all down and savor the wonder rather than gulping it like a handful of M&Ms. They want to walk slowly, eyes watchful, as they brush through fallen leaves and spot little lights in the windows of houses nearby. They want to tense up as they approach the door – a door that looks so different at night – and then knock, oh so carefully. They want to wait – imagining who will answer; what will they say, what will happen?
And then smiles and treats and happy conversation follows – providing a rest, an outbreath, before doing it all over again.
The key, I think, is paying attention. Whether you enjoy the tradition of neighborhood trick-or-treating, or you create your own magical Halloween experience: pay attention to the details. Pay attention to the costumes, the treats, the walk, the candles, the decorations, the happy faces. Paying attention to all the aspects of a festival naturally slows it down and simplifies it. Paying attention welcomes in delight and gratitude as well – and they are friends for any celebration.
If you can pay attention but still make room for inspiration, transformation and surprise, then you can offer an experience of wonder to your children, while feeling the wonder yourself. And truly, this is what we all want anyway.
David Sewell McCann fell in love with spinning stories in first grade – the day a storyteller came to his class and captured his mind and imagination. He has been engaged in storytelling all of his adult life through art, film-making, teaching and performing. Out of his experience as a Waldorf class teacher and parent, he has developed a method of intuitive storytelling, which he now shares through workshops and through www.sparklestories.com.
Lisabeth Sewell McCann loves to bring words to life. A playwright and director, she has worked with people of all ages on and off the stage. Lisabeth and David live in Charlotte, Vermont with their 2 sons.
Sparkle Stories is offering a special gift to all Simplicity Parenting readers today – FREE Halloween stories – all full of wonder!
Simply click on the links below to download the stories and enjoy them with your children. They are wonderful to listen to during quiet time. Many children love to draw or build images from the stories as they listen, too – gather round the kitchen table and you may be amazed at what they take from the stories and what they create! We hope these stories will bless you and bring a sense of wonder to the celebrations your family will have.
Click the link below to find two free Halloween Stories from Sparkle Stories on iTunes. (Short descriptions beneath the link)
1. “Jack O’ Lantern” from the So Many Fairies Original Audio Series – Have you ever wondered how the first Jack-O-Lantern was created? Here is a tale of baker’s son named Garrith, who — with the help of a magic seed and an enterprising fire sprite named Jack — transformed a simple orange squash into a sparkling, magical lantern that charmed an entire town. It’s a delightful tale about a seed, and the magic that grew from it.
2. “Halloween Magic” from the Junkyard Tales Original Audio Series - There’s a Halloween mystery afoot in the Junkyard. Spectacular jack-o-lanterns are appearing at each animal’s door. But who is creating them? And how? You can also download this story from the Sparkle Story homepage.
If you like what you hear, Sparkle Stories also has longer Halloween Audio Books:
Find it on the Martin & Sylvia Audio Books Page
We took our oldest son on his first big road trip this summer to go tent camping in the Rocky Mountains. Before we’d reach that place of waterfalls and aspen trees, of adventurous hikes and peaceful naps under mountain rain showers….there would be about 16 hours spent together in the car.
I posed a question to the Simplicity Parenting facebook group and asked you to share your favorite car games, and took several others from a book I got at the library (and very much enjoyed) – Old Fashioned Children’s Games, by Sharon O’Brien. We also took along our copies of “Sparkle Car”, created by Sparkle Stories especially for road trips (audio stories, classic children’s poems, and car games for the family.)
Those 16 hours to and from Colorado turned out to be really, really fun. These games really do work in some great thinking skills (for everyone!) and helped my husband and me see some new (sometimes very funny!) sides of our little traveling companion. Some of my favorite stories from vacation actually did happen…surprise...on the way there.
Most of these games will work well with kids ages 4 and up, but are fun for all ages and easily made more difficult or simple, depending on who you have in your back seat. Have fun!
Animal, Vegetable, Mineral – One player secretly thinks of an animal, a plant, or a mineral. (We often change this third category to “Places” or “People we know”, since our knowledge of minerals seems to be a bit lacking.) That player announces if it is an Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, and other players may ask questions with “yes/no” answers, like “Does it live in the arctic?”, “Does it have four legs?”, “Does it eat meat?”, “Can I see it at the zoo?” …. Until someone guesses correctly. That person gets to start the next round.
Virtual Hide and Seek – One player announces a place for everyone to imagine they are (Maybe back at home, maybe at the vacation destination if it is a familiar one. For older players, the challenge can be increased by only telling what city or region is to be searched.) Other players can ask questions with “yes/no” answers, like, “Are you indoors?”, “Are you in the kitchen?”, “Are you under the couch?” – until someone “finds” the person hiding. That person gets to hide next!
Math Stories – These can be created and adjusted for any level and are a fun way for kids to build confidence about mathematical thinking. We usually make up stories as we go along, including animals we see along the journey. Perhaps there are 5 cows grazing in a field. …What would happen if 2 of them ran into the woods for a secret cow meeting? How many would be left in the field? What if, at the secret cow meeting, they planned a party and invited 10 other cows? Now how many are in the field? There are many examples of math stories online which incorporate more advanced skills like multiplication or fractions. It’s especially fun when children turn these around on adults…our son loves to try to stump us with his “very, very, VERY hard” questions.
I Spy with a Twist – For kids who are learning to rhyme or find starting sounds to letters, adding these concepts in creates a fun twist on “I Spy.” “I spy….something that rhymes with fountain.” (mountain!), or “I spy….something that begins with a “w” sound…” (windmill!) Kids especially love creating their own for parents to solve.
20 Questions – This game is similar to Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, but is open to any category, and those guessing are limited to asking exactly 20 “yes/no” questions to find their answer. With older kids, it is also fun to create a list of things to be guessed before the game starts…allowing everyone to submit ideas written on slips of paper (which will be drawn during the game). We’ve played the “extreme” version of this game with high schoolers who add some good comedy to the game by writing in super-specific or abstract ideas for others to guess, such as “George Bush’s left hand.”, or “The state of contempt.” This one is truly adaptable for every crowd and always lots of fun.
…and, finally…a bonus game for ALL ages (this one requires slower driving but it’s a definite favorite of ours!):
“HEY COW!!” ….Each side of the car is on a team together. If you pass a field of cows on your side of the car, you roll down the window, and yell “Hey Cow!!” to your new bovine buddies. Your team scores a point for every cow who looks your way. The cows MUST look, or no points are tallied! You can keep a running score for long journeys.
That upcoming Birthday party is still weeks away…but you can already hear the march, march, marching of an ominous army of beeping, flashing, plastic toys – headed directly towards your house. You’ve worked hard to simplify your child’s environment, and don’t want to lose your recent success…But you also know that everyone who offers your child gifts does it out of love. How can you win the support of friends and family around your chosen path of simplicity – in a way that honors these friends and family members who simply want to shower your child with their love?
One way we’ve cut back on excess at our house (and hopefully increased the fun at our kid’s parties) is to to include a line on the invitation, “Your presence is your gift” – so that no one feels a gift is expected, and everyone can come and enjoy the fun, regardless of their budget or time constraints. There are still certainly gift-giving occasions, and relatives sometimes have questions about what types of gifts are appropriate.
One of our Simplicity Parenting Group Leaders, Paula Hamma of California, recently shared these ideas about gift-giving and receiving. I think they are so helpful for those wanting to set some boundaries, but who are intent on strengthening, not damaging, valued relationships with family members.
Paula offers these suggestions:
Have a Conversation
One of the hardest things for some parents is to discuss this with others, but if it is possible, it often brings a positive outcome – It grows the relationship and is such a good way to practice conversation skills.
- Explain that the child loves them because of who they are and the time they spent together, not because of the gifts they give. They do not need to buy the love of the child, the child loves them already. Children truly want us to give of ourselves.
- Share that you want your child to learn to be grateful for the simple things in life, because they are most wonderful.
- If the person has given you something you remember that was a simple gift or outing or special time together, share the story of it with them.
- Some parents prefer to provide catalogs containing simple, open-ended toys, (such as Nova Natural or For Small Hands – which contain many simple and sturdy toy ideas for children.) This can be helpful, but it is nice to explain that the catalog toys are just ideas, because some of those items are pretty pricey. Many items can be made from items already in the home.
- If the person is crafty, ask if they can make an item for the child. Knitting a cap or scarf, sewing a dress for a dolly, building a wooden & wire mesh bug catcher,
- If the person enjoys nature, they can gather treasures – stumps/cut branches from the trees in the back yard, a ribbon-tied bunch of fresh flowers, a cutting from a favorite plant, a basket full of acorns/shells/pinecones etc. …It’s even better when the gift is an invitation to gather the items together.
- Ask for a treasured toy form their childhood.
Create a Collection
- Classic book collection – a favorite book from their childhood, or a fairy tale collection, mother goose collection, animal fable collection.
- Toy kitchen collection – real items found in their own home – shot glasses, tea cups, small spoons, linen cocktail napkins, small plates, old teapot, small pots and pans, etc.
- Marble collection
- Share a wishlist from the child of items you will not mind if the child plays with occasionally.
- Create a family memory book – provide paper and ask them to write a memory of when they were the child’s age, when the parent was the child’s age, what they love to do right now, what they loved to do when they were a child, their favorite place on earth, memory of a family vacation, etc.
- For both of these ideas, if the person is artistic, ask them to draw pictures to go with the stories.
- Create family pictures books – ask for pictures of when they were the same age of the child or favorite pictures they have of them with the child.
If your child is very interested in something or in doing a sport or activity that is expensive, ask for others to donate items or contribute towards the fees for the activity. This might include special clothes or shoes for a child very interested in fashion, sports/activity equipment or team fees. This way your child does get the “treat” of something special that you may not be able to afford.
Create a culture amongst your friends that birthday parties are to be enjoyable children’s events. We set the tone for this with the first birthday we plan for our child. Ask parents to have their child make something – children love baking for friends, or mixing up a batch of finger paints or aromatic play dough. You may also ask that children share a treasure (a beautiful stone, acorn, flower from the garden, etc.) rather than purchasing a present.
…And finally, the only one that really ever works 100% of the time:
Give up! Stop trying to change everyone else and just set the boundaries for your family.
Realize that the giver gives a gift out of love and wanting to give you enjoyment.
Accept the gift with love and gratitude.
Be sure you are honoring the giver – if the gift does not bring you happiness and instead gives you a sense of dread or obligation then focus on honoring the intent of the giver.
1) If the intent was to give the giver happiness and you accepted it gratefully, then the intent has been fulfilled
and the item is no longer necessary – pass it on.
2) If the intent was to bring you happiness, then do whatever makes you happy with the gift!
Things want to be useful, so make the item happy by becoming useful rather than shoved in the back of your already too full shelf! Give it to someone who will use it and you’ll also bring happiness to the other person which also honors the intent of the giver!
If your child gets an inappropriate toy and your boundaries are pretty clear, your child will know immediately it will not be a toy that is going to be around your home for long and sometimes, children do not even want the toy.
We teach our son to be grateful and express gratitude for the gift…even if he does not like it. Then., later, we either say, “play with it all you want for the next week and then we are going to pass it on (although I kind of feel bad giving toys we don’t want to others to deal with!), or we give him an opportunity to donate/sell back the toy and get money to put in his bank account for it, or we offer an opportunity for him to exchange the item at the store for something he really wants.
Paula is the mother of two charming little boys. She is a Simplicity Parenting group leader, and for the past few years has also led mother-to-mother support groups as a volunteer for an international non-profit organization. Paula feels deeply fortunate to have embraced Simplicity Parenting because of the profound impact it has made on her family life.
One day when I was younger, my parents had to reschedule our piano lessons. My mother asked for a certain day (not sure which anymore – doesn’t quite matter), and the reply was, “Oh, no. Sorry. That’s our shopping day.”
In our great family tradition of then repeating what we deem “quotables” at random times for the next twenty years, we would say, “Oh, no. That’s our shopping day,” – often in a lilting British accent, although that may have just been my father who is not British, but is quite prone to saying fun phrases in a lilting tone.
All kidding aside, Mr. Hall’s little quip reminds us that not so very long ago, households kept certain days for certain chores. There was errands day, laundry day, a day for ironing, baking day, et cetera.
How much easier would it make things if we were to carry on that old tradition and dedicate one day of each week to detail cleaning the house! A home needs more than daily maintenance (sweeping, sorting mail, sweeping the kitchen, picking up toys, making the beds, throwing in a load of laundry) to really be lovely. It’s daunting, to be sure, but it’s true.
Time-consuming, yes, but it’s good for body and soul, saving you time at the gym and (maybe) at the talk therapist’s.
Anyway, what I advise (and what works for me) is this weekly outline:
Wednesdays: laundry room
Fridays: living rooms
Saturday: dining room
If this idea appeals to you, you will of course want to tailor it to your specific needs. If you have a very large house, you might have to stretch it to a week and a half or two weeks. You can also base your schedule on what else is going on in life, or on your energy level.
For example, I work outside the home Mondays and Wednesdays. Those are full days, and so I’ve saved the smallest rooms of our home for those evenings.
I hope you have luck with this system, or that at the very least it sets some housekeeping wheels in motion. We Simplicity Parenting folks appreciate that choosing “less” allows us to “do” more – a welcome paradox.
Good luck, and Happy Cleaning.
Rayna St. Pierre is a wife, mother, language enthusiast (speaks fluent Spanish!), and writer. She is passionate about her pursuit of a simple life with and for her children. You can follow more of her writing at Bright Copper Kettles, her blog dedicated to celebrating days of simplicity, economy, elegance, and ease.
This time of year, all of us are looking for a little inspiration for ways to connect as a family. We want to deepen family relationships and offer that wonder-filled experience that our children will always carry with them. Perhaps you are looking for some fresh ideas? Simplicity Parenting readers share here some of their own favorite family traditions!
Betsy (Texas), shares, “This school year has brought about a change in routine for us, since all three kids are now in elementary school. We’ve been deliberate about still continuing to eat breakfast together, dinner together every night around the table, read books together, pray together, but we have really missed the amount of time we were spending together doing things.
So my husband and I set out to gather ideas that we thought would be fun to do as a family, and then create an Advent Family challenge calendar. Our rules are that we do them as a family each day, everyone has to participate, and no one can lose it as a part of a consequence. Every morning one of the kids pulls out the card from the day’s pocket and reads aloud what we’ll do. It might be create an ornament to give away, decorate your bedroom door, make homemade pizza and watch a movie, make ice cream snowman sundaes.
We’ve really enjoyed it. It is an intentional way for us to make sure we are connecting, spending time together & having a ton of fun along the way!”
Samantha (UK), shares, “Our favourite family tradition at this time of year relates to celebrating Advent. My son has a beautiful wooden Advent lorry that we bought him in France when he was a baby, with a drawer for each day of Advent, and my daughter has an Advent angel/doll, with a pocket for every day of Advent. So each day, I put either a couple of raisins or a small piece of licorice inside the relevant drawer/pocket, together with a small picture of something or someone that relates to the day. This is always really simple and does not involve spending much money or having big outings; it may be a picture of mince pies, to show that we are going to either eat or make some, or a photo of ducks that we often feed at a nearby pond, or of a Christmas tree, to show that we are going to decorate it today, or a photo of a close friend or relative who we will be seeing that day, and so on. Occasionally I splurge on a Christmassy story book or a theatre show as a treat for them, and put a photo of that in there. It is really fun to do, costs very little and brings so much joy – they both rush downstairs every morning to see what is in their Advent lorry/dolly today.”
Danielle (Cape Cod, MA) says, “Our favorite [holiday ritual] is our traditional advent reading. My husband is a commuter, so he usually gets home late. We always put on all the lights inside and out for him. We light our dozens of candles and try to have something warm to eat for him. The house smells good and just feels really cozy with everyone in their jammies waiting for PaPa to get home. After hugs and kisses, he settles in with us all around him to read the book we have chosen this year. With the candles and Christmas lights it’s pure magic to listen to him reading the chapters. The kids get sleepy and are ready for prayers. It’s a magical way for a day to end.”
This is the time of year, isn’t it, when all of our intentions to stay slow and mindful are put to the test? I admit to playing my Christmas music from time to time for a couple of weeks now…okay, 3 weeks, but how can I not fill the house with wintry and festive fiddle music? I do get, though, that for many people hearing carols the day after Halloween is just too much and despite my love of Celtic carols, I agree. There are lots of reasons that the seasons are pushed, mainly to encourage people to buy, buy, buy, and through that we lose the sacredness of what we’re actually celebrating. It’s too bad, but totally understandable, that the holidays are stressful for so many people. Simplicity gets so lost under the weight of it all- decorating, gifting, cooking, buying, preparing, rushing.
Christmas is my favourite time of year. I love it for its beauty in the bringing together and celebrating of those we love in our lives. And the celebrating of something greater than all of us, whatever that may be for each person. That’s the magic, right? What makes it special is the very part we can’t quite put into words and explain.
Though I have a lot of Christmas decorations that have been handed down to me and acquired over the years, I’ve decided that this year I’ll be very choosy about what comes out in an effort to help capture that magic. Our house is already full enough, and I don’t want the decorations to make it feel overwhelming. Some garland, a nativity set, the tree, of course. It will be enough. And through that we can focus on the true meaning of the holidays. For us, we’ll turn toward the ritual and tradition that fills this season- Advent, St. Nicholas’ Day, Christmas. In many ways, the it’s the addition of these added celebrations that help in slowing down to take in the moment. Knowing, too, that how we choose to celebrate is also choosing what kind of experience Coco will have. Will it be lots of in and out of the car, gifts upon gifts to tear open Christmas morning, and other busyness? Or will it be reverence, stepping slowly through the festivities, taking it all in like a deep breath; enjoying and creating the space for her to fall in love with the season.
I had this chance as a child. The magic of all of it lives deep in my heart. We always had a tree, the special Christmas books were brought out each year, and the same friends visited us every Christmas Eve for a moonlit walk through the woods in search of a yule log to burn. It was the same every year, and looking back I’m grateful to my parents for nurturing the magic in these very simple ways. As we approach a very big season, celebrated in very different ways across the globe, I look for inspiration in how best to create magic for Coco, and for myself and Sean, and I turn toward our values and family intention in bringing that magic to life.
Yesterday was the first day of Advent, and it feels to me like a lovely quiet hush that falls over us and transforms the days and weeks before Christmas into a time of inner warmth and ritual; days spent telling stories, lighting candles, and inviting the peace of the holidays to settle in. Wishing you much of the same as you bring the magic of the holidays to life!
Gwen Elliott is inspired by family feasts, celebrations and rituals, and the magic of everyday, simple living. She lives in North Vancouver with her husband, daughter and faithful black dog, Scout. Her inspiration to build family foundations and traditions is chronicled on her blog, barn raising.
“Meaning hides in repetition: We do this every day or every week because it matters. We are connected by this thing we do together. We matter to one another. In the tapestry of childhood, what stands out is not the splashy, blow-out trip to Disneyland but the common threads that run throughout and repeat: the family dinners, nature walks, reading together at bedtime, Saturday morning pancakes.” – Kim John Payne
The message in this chapter is that we can help our children and our families thrive by providing elements of rhythm or predictability. Kim describes these rhythmic family rituals as “islands of consistency and security” that can give our children a chance to take a breath, to re-center, and to stay balanced. Learning is increased and tantrums are kept to a minimum. Our routines need not be complex — It may be one or two simple family rituals that connect your family. You will be amazed at how everyone benefits, and how you will look forward to these times just as much as your little ones!
If your family is busy, rhythm is still achievable, and is even more important. If both parents work, if hours are unpredictable, little rituals can work wonders to ground your family and give your children a sense of security.
Many of our parent bloggers have written beautiful posts about their own family rhythms:
- Gwen recently posted about a night-time ritual of milk and honey (a great sedative snack!) with story time before bed.
- Sommer wrote about her family’s habit of discussing “favorite things” or “highs and lows” at bedtime or at dinner. It is a chance for children to express something that was really great about the day, or something that was difficult for them.
- Laura shared her family’s “food rhythm.” The meals of the day give predictability, with Tuesday pasta, Thursday soup, etc. This reminds me of the predictability of summer camp, and seems a great way to envelop children in routine.
- Carrie wrote about a simple bedtime routine that has helped her little one with going to sleep at night.
- Kim wrote in this chapter about the importance of the family dinner, and of involving children in the preparation of it. Even if it is a simple task like washing lettuce or setting the table, involving children will ease their transition to the table. Other meaningful rituals may be added to dinner time, like a moment of silence, a verse, or a prayer.
- I wrote about a routine of cooking together that my boys enjoy. We like to have a “baking day” each week when we make our granola bars, bread, muffins, etc. Kids love to be involved in this!
You may find some of these inspiring, or you may have your own unique ways of connecting as a family.
For our discussion this week, let’s spur one another on by sharing what we have begun in our own homes, or what sort of rhythms we plan to implement in our families. (Discussion is in the comments below.)
There is nothing quite like creating special and magical moments of love and warmth for a little one. The fall is my favorite season for that, I think. Before Coco was born, when the leaves began to turn, I already felt the “nesting” that comes with preparing for a change in season and rhythm. Now that I have Coco I feel that immensely more so. As the days grow mistier and the smell of earth and woodsmoke fills the air, I love clothing her in her woolens to ward off the damp chill. Our kitchen is seeing more stews and soups these days, and our snacks have turned from berries and homemade popsicles to cooked apples and nut butters.
We’re bringing some new rituals into autumn this year and I think my favorite is Coco’s bedtime treat of warmed milk and honey. She loves to watch me pour it from the pan into her little cup, and she holds it tight between sips as she listens to her bedtime story (or stories…sometimes that milk takes a while to cool).
These are precious and sweet little moments. The gift of warmth, both emotional and physical, is a profound and fundamental intention in our home, and simple comforts like this feel almost ancestral in my wish to provide them. This time of year, as the season darkens and we draw more inward, the joy in surrounding, drawing near, and warming my little one seems innate to my role as mama and my heart and soul combined. Children remember these sweet moments too, and the longer I’m a mama the more I understand that powerful childhood memories don’t only involve celebrations and family outings; they are made just as dear through these simple expressions of love and warmth.
Gwen Elliott is inspired by family feasts, celebrations and rituals, and the magic of everyday, simple living. She lives in North Vancouver with her husband, daughter, and faithful black dog. Her inspiration to build family foundations and traditions is chronicled on her blog, barn raising.
As my daughter’s 4th birthday approached, I struggled with what kind of party to plan and what sort of gift to give her. We’ve done a lot of work over the past year to simplify, and I know I still have a long way to go. With that in mind, I asked myself, “What does she really enjoy doing? How does she spend most of her time?” Well, the answer to that was easy – singing (usually VERY loudly!), and dancing. We have a raised stone hearth around our fireplace that usually serves as the stage for her many performances. Then I asked myself how I could encourage her singing and dancing, and I came up with the idea to make curtains for our “stage”. For the curtains, I splurged (with a coupon) and got real silk. I added a gold decorative stitch to make it feel a bit more “theater” like and hung it with some tension rods.
We also gave her a puppet and some play silks. For the silks, I bought (again with a coupon) a couple yards of fabric & then surged the ends. I am grateful that the curtains, puppet and silks have inspired many creative adventures.
I wanted a party that was a celebration of being 4 years old, so this is what we came up with:
I planned to start off with games outside before it got too hot. None of the games lasted as long as I planned, but the kids had a good time. (Unplugged Play by Bobbi Conner is a great resource.) Red light/Green light was the biggest hit.
After they were all hot and sweaty, we came back in for snacks– cheese, crackers, & pear slices. (I planned on apples, but pears were on sale! I’d also planned to make all of the crackers, but sometimes you just can’t do it all.)
Then it was time for a craft – making felt party hats. I wanted to find something to give as a party favor that would actually be useful and something the kids would enjoy having for a long time. I came up with the idea of making felt party hats with Velcro numbers so that kids can use them every year for their birthday. I hoped that they would find a nice home with the kid’s dress-up clothes so that it could be used every time they played “birthday party”, or maybe they would be treasured and come out only for birthdays. But hopefully they wouldn’t be seen as trash & thrown away. After days of cutting out circles & numbers (Thanks mom for the help!!!), they were ready for the kids to assemble!
I LOVE that some of the numbers are glued on backwards, and I’m actually quite impressed that any of them are on correctly!
After the party hats were made, it was time for the most important part of any birthday party – CAKE! Alyssa helped me make yellow cupcakes using freshly ground whole wheat flour with chocolate frosting & sprinkles. I’m not really sure what’s in sprinkles, but I’m willing to ignore that because it’s such a small amount & it’s for her birthday. Besides, that’s Alyssa’s favorite job – sprinkling the cupcakes after I frost them. Nobody complained that they tasted “whole-wheaty”, so I hope that means that everyone enjoyed them.
A couple of years ago, we asked our guests not to bring presents, but everyone brought something anyway. So, we decided to ask them to bring something for a charity. Earlier this summer, Alyssa helped me make dinner for the interns at Project Transformation, so we asked our guests to bring school supplies for their after school program.
A few weeks after her birthday, Alyssa got to come with me to the end of summer Celebration Banquet and deliver the supplies she collected. It was a beautiful culmination to her fourth birthday.
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