Browsing articles by " Traci McGrath"

5 Great Adventures in a Cardboard Box

Aug 30, 2012   //   by Traci McGrath   //   Uncategorized  //  6 Comments

…I’m cooking dinner and eavesdropping on two jungle explorers who are fending off tigers on my back porch, based out of a big cardboard box which is their “explorer camp”. One is in a big blue hard hat, shooting arrows…and one is in a fireman hat, wearing gold medals he won this morning for flying to outer space…in the same cardboard box.  Both of them are dead serious.


At one point, the elder explorer comes in, out of breath, saying there were SO many tigers, they would need more help.  He says, (gesturing towards my husband, in the other room), “Please fetch that gentleman over there to help us wrestle this flock of tigers.” …Oh my.


The Cardboard box…is there a more open-ended toy to be a found?  The most ingenious ideas for box use will invariably come from simply leaving a child alone with the box (I’ve had to learn some humility in our house, as the best creations always come with no nudging from mama) but if you need some inspiration to keep that next cumbersome, corrugated friend that comes your way – these are just a few of the possibilities:

1.  A Toy House.  If you have boys, never fear, they love this, too.  My sons started one of these a few weeks ago, adding all sorts of things like food storage areas, garages, and pipes to carry water to the little bathroom they built upstairs.  For an artistic twist on this idea, check out Artful Parent’s cardboard dollhouse project.


2.  Pirate Ship (I saw one of these earlier this summer, but was disappointed that I was continually being taken hostage.  Go ahead and avoid this one if you can 🙂


3.  Go the the Moon!  (Sketching the planets and control system is big fun)



4.  Fort or Castle (a little scissor work helps here)




5.  Have a PARTY.  Amanda Grace Weldon of Free Range Learning suggests a “Bring Your Own Box” party.  Invite neighbors to bring a box and supply all the paints and tape necessary outside for everyone to create their own box masterpiece.  What a brilliant way to build community and inspire creativity.  More on the box party can be found here.


A little boredom plus a little cardboard can create childhood memories like those in this beautiful little film (from the Nokia Short Contest, 2011) — Enjoy!

The Adventures of a Cardboard Box from Studiocanoe on Vimeo.


Traci lives in the Austin, TX area with her husband and two little boys.  You can visit her blog, Educated for Love, or see the visual daily rhythm charts she makes at A Kid’s Day.

Turn, Turn, Turn

Aug 22, 2012   //   by Traci McGrath   //   Uncategorized  //  1 Comment

The current under-current of cool air has me thinking of Fall. And though I still have batches of salsa to make and green beans to freeze, I am feeling little waves of excitement when I think about the changes that September will bring. My oldest will be heading back to nursery school for a few mornings a week, and her little sister and I will be enjoying more one-on-one time (a rarity around here).

Now is the time to prepare for the transition back to school. As parents, there is so much that we can do to make that transition easier for the whole family. There are many wonderful resources to help you find the best backpack and prepare for that first day, and today I want to share a few tips for staying close when schedules start to take family members in different directions.

Draft a rhythm. First, think about what you need to pull off to get everyone out of the door on time. What can happen the night before to take the pressure off in the mornings? And, where can you build in some family time in the midst of getting ready for the day?

  • Family Pig Pile – everyone can pile into your bed to say good morning and talk about what’s coming up.
  • Breakfast Together – simple weekday breakfasts make it easier to sit down together to share your morning meal and talk about the day ahead.
  • Clean Up Game – make getting ready fun (and fast) with little touches you can all enjoy. Sing some silly songs or play their favorite music; say “yes” to more of their choices so they can feel excited about getting ready; celebrate with a quick game or the next chapter of a beloved book before you head out the door.

Be realistic. Decide now how you would like your afternoons to flow. How many after-school activities will be manageable? Don’t forget the incredible value of downtime for children. This is when they can rest, or just play and be free to use their imaginations. If its helpful, ask older children to create a list of both structured and unstructured after-school fun, and then choose 1-2 structured activities and several more unstructured that they will enjoy at home or in the neighborhood. This way, everyone decides together what will suit the entire family.

Make time to connect. Our children are finding their own way in this great big world, and as you may remember, that’s not always easy. The more time you all spend “hanging out” at home after school or on the weekends, the more opportunities your children will have to come to you when something is bothering them. A mom in one of my workshops remembered that her own mother always gave the kids a snack after school and then sat down to knit or read a book. She didn’t pester them for details of their day, but she was open and available to her children if they needed her. What daily rituals can you use to show your kids that “your door is always open?” If you need some help, check out these clever conversation starters.

While you’re enjoying these last weeks of summer, take some time to talk about these topics with your spouse or a friend. Imagine the best school year, with the perfect balance of independence and family time, then work strategically to make it a reality!


Allison Abramson is a wife, mother of two little girls and a Simplicity Parenting Group Leader, honored to support Rhode Island families seeking deeper connections to their loved ones and more fun everyday. Come along on the journey toward a simpler, more peaceful life!  You can enjoy more posts from Allison at her blog.

5 Great Games for Road Trips with Children

Jul 13, 2012   //   by Traci McGrath   //   Simple Education, Simple Parenting, Simple Rituals  //  2 Comments

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.


Parenting Simply: Carefree Summer Days

Jun 12, 2012   //   by Traci McGrath   //   Moving Toward the Power of Less, Simple Rhythm, Simple Seasons  //  3 Comments

Special thanks to one of our Group Leaders, Allison Abramson, for sharing this article with us today:

Parenting Simply: Carefree Summer Days? Yes, please. When you think of “carefree summer days” what images come to mind?  I immediately begin thinking of my childhood yard, full of wildflowers and hiding spots and a swing in a tree. I remember my mom’s big thermos full of cold juice, and all of the long leisurely evenings spent under the setting sun and with the twinkling fireflies. Those were carefree days, indeed.

Now, as a mother myself, I’m cued into the fact that there’s actually a lot of transition happening as we move into summer. The warm, sunny days seem to feed the kids’ souls- filling them up with so much energy and calling them out to be wild and free! Luckily for them, school will soon be done, but that brings about huge changes to the daily rhythm. For parents working through the summer, the summertime juggle of childcare and summer camps and sports teams and weekend parties will soon begin. How do we keep all these balls in the air? And how do we hold onto those carefree summer days of our youth?

By saying “No, thank you” more often than you’d think.

Summer can sort of epitomize what’s become so challenging about the times we live in—there are just so many options. Good options. Fun options. And we want to give our children the best experiences. But if your childhood memories are anything like mine, you already know that what children remember most are vast stretches of carefree time. They remember the amazing freedom to play and explore and create on their own.

Of course, we adults do have real commitments and obligations, even in the summer. But if we carefully plan how we accomplish these things, and carve out plenty of time for uninterrupted, unstructured play for our kids, we will be ensuring that they get all the benefits of carefree summer days to balance out the stress of going, going, going.

Looking at the summer ahead, can you say “No, thank you” to one camp or activity and stay home together instead?; can you choose one weekend each month, or one day each week to say “No, thank you” to invitations to barbecues or trips or team sports, and replace it with a relaxing day for your own family?

Say “Yes, please” to carefree, connecting, relaxing, recharging and you will have the makings of the greatest summer memories for your children!


As a Simplicity Parenting© Group Leader, Allison Abramson is helping Rhode Island families slow down and make space for the simple joys of childhood. Her workshops give parents the tools they need to make small, do-able changes at home that will deepen family connections and create more time for fun! She lives in Providence with her husband and two little girls, where she blogs about their journey toward a Peaceful Life at

The Surprise Plot Twist in our Screen Free Week – Why eliminating screens made life easier

May 9, 2012   //   by Traci McGrath   //   Simple Environment, Simplicity Stories, Uncategorized  //  11 Comments

Screen Free Week at our house….didn’t go the way I expected.

I was excited to participate in it.  I love the idea of a digital detox….But, since our kids usually see just one show each day, I didn’t expect it to make a huge difference in our home.  I expected to have calmer, more peaceful kids (which I got), but I also expected to get way behind on all those not-kid-friendly tasks I usually try (quite hurriedly!) to knock out during my 30 minutes of “kid-free” time each day.  I have to admit, I was dreading the week after Screen Free Week, when I’d have to catch up on all those chores, un-made phone calls and un-answered emails!

But something miraculous happened in the middle of all that screenless fun.  The week ended, and you know what?  I’m not behind on my weekly chores or jobs.  Laundry isn’t piled up in some room waiting to be put away.  Mold didn’t take over the kitchen sink and I didn’t get fired for my terrible work ethic.   Somehow, I had more time and got more accomplished than I normally do, and felt much less stress about getting it done.  I still played with the kids, and we had great fun….

But they also began to play without me…peacefully…for hours on end.

Several times during the week, I was astonished to look at a clock and realize I had not heard from either of my children in a couple of hours.  I could see them playing right outside the window, but they were so engrossed in what they were doing, and really getting along – getting along so well they didn’t need a mama hovering nearby to help diffuse arguments.

They also didn’t need anyone to give them ideas about how to play.

I try to make it a habit not to ‘entertain’ the kids all the time.  I believe in giving them lots of opportunities to solve their own boredom with creativity – but during Screen Free Week, I hardly had the opportunity to push this little soap box of mine at all.  They were so tapped into their own creativity, they were no longer coming to me to ask me what they could do, and they completely forgot to ask if they could “watch a show” (a question I’m used to fielding 2 or 3 times a day.)

We still made a point to play together, but it was almost always the case that I was simply invited in to join a game they had invented or go on a scavenger hunt they had created.

There were strings tied to sticks with magnets, a fishing game for metal objects under the bed.  There were index cards set strategically around the house with arrows pointing me to a hidden treasure.  There were mud pies….Oh, there were mud pies!  It’s not that these things aren’t normal at our house, they are.  But this week, that they happened with such ease.  There were none of those moments when I had to explain that we would not be watching a show and it was time to think of something else to do.

I was right about one thing with regards to the week – I knew my kids’ well-being (and therefore their behavior) would improve…

But I was completely surprised that the week also might make life easier for me.

Did anyone else experience this? Did you find the week to be more or less stressful?  I’d love to hear your stories.

Thanks very much to our friends at Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood for sponsoring this great event.

Traci lives in the Austin, TX area with her husband and two little boys.  Traci enjoys teaching a small part-time homeschool group, and working with Simplicity Parenting as coordinator for outreach.  Her family loves time in nature, tent camping and hiking, and making music.





Getting Ready to Unplug

Apr 18, 2012   //   by Traci McGrath   //   Filtering Out the Adult World  //  2 Comments

This week, we prepare with our friends at Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood for their upcoming Screen Free Week (April 30-May 6).  We will be sharing many wonderful articles and blog posts that hopefully will serve as inspiration for many of you to join in unplugging for the week with the support of this online community!  Today, we are delighted to share a post from Allison Abramson, a Simplicity Parenting Group Leader in Rhode Island:


My family will be going Screen-Free from April 30-May 6 and we want you to join us!

What is Screen Free Week?

Screen-Free Week is a national celebration where children, families, schools and communities spend seven days turning off entertainment screen media and turning on life. It’s a time to unplug and play, read, daydream, create, explore and spend time with family and friends.
– Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood

Most of us grew up with televisions in our homes and their presence in our living rooms feels completely normal.
But times have certainly changed since we were young, and children’s media usage is at an all-time high.  According to The Nielsen Company’s research, the average preschooler spends 32 hours in front of screens each week.

The number sounds astonishing, but let’s imagine what it might actually look like in our own homes. We’re talking about an average of 4 ½ hours each day. Maybe the average family turns on 2 shows in the morning as everyone is just waking up. Then they go about their day. Perhaps they turn on the television again in the afternoon, say another 2 shows after nap. Maybe there is 1 more show or a game while parents are making dinner. Before you know it, your preschooler has watched 32 hours of television throughout the week- the equivalent of a part-time job.

But I think preschoolers have a much more important job to do– that of being a child.  Of playing, running, climbing, imagining and adventuring.  Of hearing stories read aloud and painting pictures.  Of helping in the kitchen or outside in a garden.  Of feeling loved and important, connected with no distractions.

Whether your kids are racking up the hours, or not even close to average, Screen Free Week gives us all a chance to look at our own families and our own viewing habits.

So just for fun today, count ‘em up! How many hours are your children entertained by something on a screen each day? How many hours do you spend in front of a screen? Write it down, notice the patterns and the times of day you use screens the most. Then tally it up for the week. How do you feel about the number? Do you think you could swap an hour or two for a different kind of family connection?

I’ll be back in this space throughout the days leading up to Screen Free Week, with more about my own family’s media experiment and tips to help you embrace seven days, unplugged! Stay tuned…

Allison Abramson is a wife, a mother of two little girls and a Simplicity Parenting Group Leader, honored to support Rhode Island families seeking deeper connections to their loved ones and more fun everyday. You can read more by joining her at her personal blog,

The Compassionate Response – What I Learned from a Boy and his Giraffe

Apr 9, 2012   //   by Traci McGrath   //   Simple Discipline, Simplicity Stories, Soul Fever  //  1 Comment

A giraffe threw a temper tantrum on my kitchen floor last week.


Now, this wasn’t just any giraffe.  This giraffe is “Baby.”   My two year-old’s baby, to be specific.  My son loves to give Baby rides in his wagon or on his tricycle.  He sleeps with it, runs to help it when he sees it endangered, and carries it tucked in the crook of his neck, sweetly rubbing its back and telling it what a “cute baby” it is.  This giraffe-boy relationship is easily one of the sweetest things I’ve ever witnessed as his mom.

I was cooking dinner when my little one came in and pointed out the place where his Baby was sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor.
  “He’s MAD, mama.  He’s yelling LOUD.  He’s very mad.”  I could see my son was distressed by his little giraffe’s fit of anger.  I asked what he thought he could do for Baby.  He stared at the giraffe for a few moments, then a gentle smile spread across his face.  He went to “Baby”, picked it up, and then hugged it tightly and rocked it until saying, “Baby’s all bettah now.”


…Since reading Simplicity Parenting, I’ve tried more and more to use “the Compassionate Response” with the similar emotional outbursts that happen with my boys.  I’m trying to focus less on punishment or guilt and more on what deep needs they are trying to express, and how we can meet that need.  Often I realize that lack of sleep or an out-of-the-ordinary busy schedule has brought on some soul fever or quirky behavior.  More often, I see a little guy who really just wants his mama’s attention!

But here’s the thing – I don’t always get it right.  In fact, often I don’t.  Sometimes I really don’t know what need is driving my son’s behavior, and sometimes I can’t think of the best way to guide him.  Sometimes my compassion runs a little thin.  And I wonder if I’m really doing such a wonderful job at all.  But, like all of us, I try.

My two year old’s response to his giraffe’s little “tantrum” encouraged me, and, I think, should encourage us all.  There are no perfect parents.  We may not have the right response every time.  But as we move towards a position of compassion with our kids, our little ones tune in to that.  They see what’s at the heart of our actions.  Perfect or not, the intention comes through loudly and clearly.

Maybe the most encouraging idea of all is to picture the compassion-filled adults these little ones will one day be.  I can only imagine my two year old one day as a daddy, as a husband, as a friend to someone who needs his help.  Let us all be encouraged to continue sharing compassion, knowing our kids see through our imperfections, straight to our hearts.  Every time we model compassion to them, we can be sure we are building a strong sense of empathy in them that will bless them and many others.

Gift Giving and Receiving with Simplicity (and relationships!) in Mind

Mar 20, 2012   //   by Traci McGrath   //   Simple Environment, Simple Rituals  //  10 Comments

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.

Give Direction

  • 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 Memories

  • 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.

Get Practical

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.

Children’s Parties

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.

Overcoming Obstacles to Rhythm

Feb 21, 2012   //   by Traci McGrath   //   Simple Rhythm  //  1 Comment

Have you found creating a healthy routine to be an uphill battle? Or do you find yourself completely repelled by the idea of routine? Many families struggle with this concept at first, or feel it won’t fit their personalities to add some predictability to life. Kim John Payne wrote more on this topic recently and offers a new perspective for families who know the value of rhythm but simply struggle to implement it. I wanted to share his words today as an encouragement to you!

Kim writes, “Many parents understandably have four main concerns around routine. Firstly, we can resist introducing routines with our own families as it can push our old biographical buttons about our own upbringing. Secondly, routine can be associated with being boring. Routines can be the cause if a lot of family friction. And lastly, routine can risk squashing our families freedoms and spontaneity. So here is my response…

If we shift our conversation from thinking about it as “routine” and instead see it “rhythm” we right away change the game. Routine can be boring, rigid, cold and enforced. Rhythm, on the other hand, can build relationships, be flexible and warm. The difference? When we apply rhythm we stay close to our children rather than send them off to do their chores. We start by making the time together where we do something at the same time each day fun, a little lighthearted and something to look forward to. We are firm but warm. It builds relationships and closeness. But most of all applying rhythm to the predictably difficult moments of each day, the flash points around transitions are a good example, we help the kids get into a slip stream of rhythm rather than resisting and fighting us. If transitioning out of the house in the mornings to get to day care or school is a problem then introduce warm, calm and firm rhythms where you do it the same way, at the same time every day. Sure, it requires you to find more form within yourself, but the pay off is amazing.

One parent commented on our Simplicity Parenting Face Book page, “Before making my home predicable and rhythmical everything was a fight, everything was hard, now even when there is some difficulty it is so easy to keep moving forward into a well grooved rhythm rather than getting stuck in my son’s resistance. Yes it took some doing but it is so worth it.”

Our Top 3 Favorite Simple Toys

Feb 13, 2012   //   by Traci McGrath   //   Simple Environment  //  1 Comment

There has been a lot of talk on our facebook page recently about simplifying our playrooms and toy collections.  It is exciting to share this journey with other parents who are asking many of the same questions.  Which toys to toss?  Which to keep?  Which toys really inspire creative play?

The most valuable suggestion I took from the chapter regarding toys is this:  The best toys are open-ended.  Open-ended toys are not locked into any one role (i.e., “dinosaur” or “police car”), but they can become many different things.  Open-ended toys allow the child’s imagination to take their play in any direction they dream up.  After focusing on this (with regards to our toy collection in the house) over the last couple of years, I can testify that this really has revolutionized the way my kids play.

There are many examples of great open-ended toys, but these are a few of the favorites in our house:


All kinds of blocks!  I ordered our first set of unit blocks three years ago and I can say confidently that this is the best toy purchase we’ve ever made.  Blocks grow with the children, so they are not tossed out in a year when they become boring.  My two year old loves stacking them, and my 4 year old loves creating with them….castles, pirate ships, restaurants, car washes, marble runs, zoos…you name it, these blocks have played the part!  These are used daily in our house, and I don’t see them losing the boys’ interest any time soon.

We found some tree blocks on etsy to add to our block bin last year — these are what you think, literally just sanded down pieces of fallen trees.  They add some great natural texture and interest to the kids’ creations.  These, too, have been everything from pirate’s cannons to kings and queens.

One other type of block (which pairs well with unit blocks) is a montessori-style rainbow block we found recently – the boys love building with these translucent blocks in the window light and mixing the colors they cast.


Again, we’ve found that the “open-ended” rule definitely applies here!  We have some costumes that are pretty specific (i.e., “policeman”), and those are nice, but almost invariably, when my son goes to dress up, he comes out in a nondescript scrap of fabric I have in his dress-up bin, as a character he’s created all on his own.  See, it’s fun to be a policeman, but a simple navy play silk allows him to be “Midnight Worm” – or whatever else he imagines that day. Dress up clothes don’t need to be expensive!  Large scraps of fabric, play silks, wigs, bandanas, second-hand clothes from the thrift store – all excellent choices to inspire open-ended play.



You don’t have to be a DIY queen (or king) to make these happen.  A homemade batch of play dough has hours and hours of fun to offer – and truly can become whatever your child imagines!

My son recently needed some little men for a castle he was building, and he drew his own on index cards and we made little cardboard stands for them.  That might seem silly, but they have had prominent roles in his last three creations, as knights, kings, pirates, and restaurant workers.  They’re starting to look a little beat up now, but he cherishes them as much as any store-bought toy we have.

More and more, I’m encouraging my little guys to create their own toys – When they need a boat, they know they can fold one out of paper.  When they need a parachute, they reach for the coffee filters and yarn, and they know they have all they need to create one.  I hope this will nurture an inventive spirit in them and a can-do attitude that will benefit them all their lives.

Open-ended toys give children freedom that other toys don’t.  With this freedom and possibility, play becomes a sacred time, a meditative time, something your child can truly be lost in as they create things that no Disney movie or toy store could ever dream up!  Open-ended toys allow the child’s unique ideas to shine through – and provide an opportunity for you to witness your children’s own unique brilliance each time they sit down to create.

Perhaps you have some other favorites in your home – please share what your favorites are, especially those of you who have older children!

Here are some other articles on simple toys you may enjoy!

Toys that Encourage Creative Play – Written by Jennifer Donohue of the Parentmap

Old Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills – Written by Alex Spiegel of NPR

Creative Play Makes for Kids in Control – Written by Alex Speigel of NPR

Smartest Toys Can be the Simplest – Written by Liz Szabo of USA Today


Traci lives near Austin, Texas with her husband and two little boys.  You can visit her blog, Educated for Love, or see the visual daily rhythm charts she makes at A Kid’s Day.



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