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Of Walking and Wonder

There are always particular moments that stand out in the early years of our children that fill one with wonder, amazement and joy all combined. One such moment is those first tentative steps of the toddler, maybe around a year or a little more. You watch, eyes wide open, mouth dropping open in astonishment, as you see your little one letting go its hold of something, looking at you with eyes also wide open and sparkling, as if to say, ‘Here goes! I can do it!’

I still remember a remark in a physics textbook back in college days, in a section which analysed the mechanics of muscle movements. The writer had it all explained, adding a cynical comment on the illogic and ineffectiveness of the human upright design that it takes a whole year to stand. The implication: we should have  stayed on all fours. I suppose he wanted to sound cleverer than the forces that created us. I felt like saying, ‘I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to stay crawling!’ But he must not have had children, experiencing the awe and joy of such moments for the child, taking its first steps in front of you… Continue reading Of Walking and Wonder

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Enjoying Summer

Here in the American South, summer is settling in all around us. Eighty-five degrees is considered a cool day, there is forever and always a 50% chance of scattered showers/storms. I strive to get my run in before 9am or after 8pm, else it will feel like running in a sauna. It is during this season that I find spending time outdoors with my son to be a bit more challenging. The woods we love romping through are suddenly filled with critters that fly, slither, or crawl out from every corner and even spending a few hours in the garden can leave us feeling spent due to the often high humidity.

Still, I know time outdoors is so important, regardless of the season. And I strongly believe that seasonal adaptation to climate requires spending time enjoying the outdoors in order to adjust/adapt to temperature changes. It’s certainly better than what often becomes the alternative for many children – watching television and/or playing video games.  According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology, “Children in the United States watch an average of three to four hours of television a day. By the time of high school graduation, they will have spent more time watching television than they have in the classroom.” I find these statistics unbelievable but notice that the higher our temperatures rise, I see fewer children and/or adults enjoying outside time. In our neighborhood, the hum of air conditioners replaces the sound of children running and playing outdoors each evening. It’s suddenly still and quiet. My son asks, “Where is everyone?” 

“Indoors,” I respond. 

The changing seasons are part of the cycle of nature and not something I believe we should shield ourselves from. There are simply too many benefits to spending time outdoors to avoid it for the entire summer! Some of the health benefits include, but are not limited to –  improved concentration; greater levels of happiness and feelings of mental wellbeing; improved overall health through exercise and outdoor play;  creativity (my son created an entire ‘house’ using found objects in our woods last year, a project he worked on for the entire summer!);  a love and appreciation of – as well as knowledge about – the flora and fauna in one’s environment; and according to Harvard Health Publications (via www.health.harvard.edu) with exposure to natural light, you may even heal faster! And that’s just a very brief compilation of the benefits of spending time outdoors.

While summer is upon the Northern Hemisphere and in many places people are flocking to lakes, pools and beaches, in warmer climates like mine the tendency can be to turn up the AC and spend three months avoiding the outdoors as much as possible. However, I have found that the more time my son and I spend outdoors in summer, the easier we adapt to the temperatures as they rise. Our time outside is not always about being physically active or going to some ‘wild’ local. Our time outdoors often consists of simply:

– Taking a long walk in our woods or neighborhood

– Dining outdoors

– Enjoying time on our patio, where we often  just sit and talk

– Working in the garden

– Going to a local park

– Bird-watching at the edge of the pond

– Reading outdoors

There are so many other ways to enjoy all the benefits of being outdoors, even in summer!  Be creative, protect your skin from the sun, and remember to have plenty of water on hand, and get out there!

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©photo by James Young is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Me

Amy L. Alley is mother to one son, works full-time as an educator and is also a freelance writer. Her blog, www.panpanstudios.com, focuses on maintaining a healthy, balanced, holistic lifestyle through embracing simple living; love of the handmade and homemade; quality time with loved ones and quality time just with ourselves; finding everyday adventures; time in nature; making our homes into sacred spaces; trying new recipes and knitting patterns; and finding beauty and joy in the moments that make up our daily lives. She loves to hear from her readers at amialley@hotmail.com, and you can find her on Ravelry.com under Zenmamaknits.

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A Minimalist Approach to Toys

The words minimalism and toys are rarely put together, instead, when we think of our children’s playthings some more appropriate words may be clutter, spreading, jumbled, vast, or even just “AAAGH, they’re everywhere!”

We live in a world that prizes possessions and puts huge value on the giving and receiving of material goods. Toys are considered educational, stimulating and above all necessary, and as such most children have an ever growing collection of their own.

We certainly have our fair share of toys in our home too, and I definitely do see the benefits they can bring to a child’s world, but in this article I want to talk about the benefits of de-cluttering and taking a minimalist approach to the toys you keep in your home.

 

A Calmer Environment

Fewer toys equals less clutter and leads to a calmer environment, both for the parent and the child. This in turn leads to less stress, fewer disagreements over mess and tidying up, fewer lost parts and an increased feeling of serenity. And who doesn’t want more of that?

More Engaged and Focused Play

When there is a mountain of toys to choose from, children can become totally overwhelmed and this can lead to unfocused play. Pulling out box after box, tipping the contents out aimlessly without stopping to explore the resource, and flitting from one thing to the next with no real sense of purpose. When you cut down the “stuff” there is so much more opportunity for focused and engaged play, and this is where learning and development really come in to their own.

More Quality Resources

When you are making a choice to have fewer toys, you will likely put far more thought into which ones you decide to keep. Toys which are going to last longer and that your child is going to get the most out of are likely to be those which make the cut. Open ended resources made with quality natural materials are a great way to get endless hours of play from one item. And when you buy less overall, you can pool your funds and put them towards something that little bit more special.

 Fewer Disputes Between Children

You may think that fewer toys will lead to more arguments between siblings, but the reality is that the opposite is actually true. With fewer objects to argue over, along with the resulting calmer environment, children have less reason to fall out with each other and play becomes far more harmonious and cooperative.

Greater Levels of Imaginative Play

When a child is presented with a simple resource, such as a basket of wooden pegs or a cardboard box, they are challenged to use their imagination to create their own play experience. They have to decide what the peg will become and create a story around it, which is just what children do best! When they are given a toy which does it all for them at the push of a button, their imagination is not triggered to quite the same extent. Instead they fall into passive play which is far less enriching and valuable. Imaginative play feeds the mind, enables children to explore their world safely, play out frustrations and fears, work though strong emotions, test boundaries and be in control of their own world. A simple, uncluttered environment is perfect for encouraging imaginative play.

To a child, everything has the potential to become a toy. It doesn’t have to be complicated, noisy, flashy or brightly coloured in order to capture their interest and engage them in play. They don’t need endless boxes of different toys to play with. Sometimes it really is the simple things that are the most well used and loved. Our favourites are good old wooden blocks, a bowl of rice or lentils with a selection of jars and spoons for scooping, a stick and some mud and of course the unlimited environment of the great outdoors – Surely the greatest playground of all?

 

©photo by James Young is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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Sam Vickery is the author of Trust Me I’m a Toddler a guide to parenting gently and peacefully through the toddler stage. Follow her blog at Love Parenting to get her latest articles on Natural Parenting straight to your inbox and start creating a family life you adore!

 

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Whatever it Takes – 4 steps to stay connected to your partner through parenthood

Let’s face it, romance and intimacy can quickly take a back seat when we become parents. We give lovingly and endlessly to our children, but if little energy is saved for ourselves or our partners, a large wedge can unknowingly sneak in between the relationship.

Here are 4 steps to help ensure your relationship not only endures, but strengthens in the journey of parenthood.

ALONE TIME

First rule, you cannot give what you do not have. Take time out for yourself first and do something you love. Nurture that part of you that remains to be all you, then you must allow your partner to do the same. When we reconnect with ourselves, we ground ourselves and create space for others. If it means taking turns with your partner, finding a sitter, calling the in-laws, going to the gym and using their childcare center, finding a mom’s morning out program, finding other mom’s in your local networks to take turns watching the kids, whatever it takes, go for it.

KINDNESS AND COMPASSION

By honoring our time and our partner’s time, we naturally tend to be more thoughtful, patient, and willing to give to each other. We have more energy to put forth into the relationship. Little notes, unexpected hugs, instant messages, simple, tiny acts that show how much we care. In our house, it’s making each other’s coffee, planning a dinner out together, cleaning the litter box, helping with workrelated tasks, filling the gas tank. Everything counts because it means somehow we’ve made life easier for each other. It means that we have taken the time, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential, to think and do something for our partner.

RESENTMENT

There is nothing more damaging to self and to a relationship than unresolved resentments. Hint #1: If you are snapping or nagging at your partner, and feeling angry when they are around, you have resentment. Figure out clearly why you are upset first, and understand that you may have a part in the problem (I usually do). Take time to talk openly, and if you don’t have time, write a note or email saying you must talk face to face. Make a lunch date, wait until the kids are sleeping, whatever it takes to talk your resentments over. The longer you wait, the harder this will become. Resentments do not disappear, they only get saved for the next blowout. Hint #2: An attack approach won’t resolve anything. If the rift between you and your partner feels too big to deal with, maybe it’s time to get some help. Consider how far you are willing to go to fix your relationship.

COUPLE TIME

It’s crucial to have quality alone time with your partner. A 30minute walk, a short night or weekend away, a 2hour dinner date, whatever it takes. This one-on-one time helps remind couples of who they are outside of their roles as parents and partners in home/life management. It helps you reflect back to what you’ve created, and remember that you chose to be on this amazing journey together. Life moves fast, gets busy, the kids take our attention away, yes all of these things are true, but without the foundation of being a strong, intimate couple, things only get harder, not easier. By giving ourselves the time, giving our partner the time, and taking time together, we are showing our children how to respect ourselves and each other.

 

©photo by Dr. Wendy Longo is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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MJ writes at Wander Wonder Discover where she continues to unwrap the joys and heartaches of living, learning, relationships and parenting. A soul seeker to the core, when MJ isn’t volunteering at the kids’ school, she is dancing, reading, bird-watching, playing the banjo and recording her human observations and wanderings in one too many journals. She lives in Boulder, CO with her energetic, fun-loving boy, dragon riding, fairy girl, her best friend and husband of 16 years, and Alfie the cat.

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10 Ways to Help Your Daughter Honour Her Body

We are with our bodies from the moment of our miraculous conception to the moment of our final breath.  How we treat them influences how we feel about ourselves, and thus, how we experience the world.  What more impactful gift could we offer our beloved daughters than to guide them into a loving and respectful lifelong relationship with their bodies?  Every day, through our words, actions, and example we can do just that.

Here are 10 suggestions to get us started:

  1. Respect her body cues around food. When she says she is hungry or full, respect the cues of her body, regardless of how much has or has not been eaten.  Offer her yummy, healthy foods, and model how eating is both pleasurable and nourishing.
  2. Support her Boundaries. Like us, children have their own intuition about what feels good and safe. When our daughters set a physical boundary, whether we understand their decision or not, offering our support communicates that her instincts are important, and that her body is her own.
  3. Accept her Feelings. Forcing her to smile for pictures when she is in a bad mood, banishing her to her room for displays of anger, or telling her to ‘stop crying’ when she is upset, sends the message that happiness is the only acceptable emotion.  We allow her to honor her body by giving space to all of her emotions, and guiding her in their healthy expression.
  4.  Protect her from the Media.  It is difficult to accept your body just as it is while flipping through fashion magazines offering “495 Ways to Get Pretty By Summer.”  Make a choice to not subject your daughter to ideals and images that will likely make her feel worse about herself, and ban fashion magazines from the home.
  5. Move Together.  Exercise is a celebration of the body.  While engaging in physical activity with your girl, focus on how great it feels to move and stretch, how invigorating it feels to breathe with fervor, and the calming affect exercise offers the mind.
  6. Dress for comfort.  Many girls today are restricted by their clothing and footwear.  Apparel that fits well and offers her body full range of movement with ease will allow her to honor her desires for activity.
  7. Teach her about her body.  It is empowering to know the anatomical names for all of your body parts, how they work, and how to care for them.  Let us offer this factual knowledge to our daughters without taboo.
  8. Embrace Female Body Functions. Menstruation and lactation are unique to women, and we honor our feminine temples by embracing and celebrating these distinctive experiences.  Share with your girl the magic of being a woman.
  9. Value Her Genetic Blueprint.  Our bodies are designed to survive and thrive. Our ancestors needed their unique body structure to complete the tasks of their time, and now, many generations later, she bares the proof.  Researching her ancestors together could be a powerful step in honoring the body she inherited.
  10. Honor Your Body.  Our daughters absorb how we regard our bodies, listen with vigor to comments made about others’ bodies, and dissect our behavior to determine what we value.  It is wise to take any body issues we may have seriously and address them, getting support if necessary.
©photo by AdrianaAkrap is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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Melia Keeton-Digby, M.Ed is a 30-something writer, speech-language pathologist, and founder of The Mother-Daughter Nest.  A native Arkansan, she and her husband and their three fantastic children now call Athens, Georgia home.  Her life is dedicated to children- understanding them, loving them, guiding them, and most of all- learning from them.

 

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Helpful Tips for Frazzled Mothers

Spilled milk, a clinging toddler, one missing shoe, and a clock that seems to mock you as it ticks past the absolute last point when you needed to leave the house. Sometimes motherhood seems to pull at every single one of our frayed ends. Sometimes the joys of mothering are lost deep beneath our heavy exhaustion and weariness.

How can we nurture our mothering heart when we feel utterly frazzled?

Sleep: When it comes to motherhood, getting enough sleep is easier said than done. Sometimes, we have no choice but to function on our last reserves. I heard somewhere that when we feel at our absolute physical limits, we have actually only used up about a third of our body’s reserves. I try to remember this when I am sleep challenged. Surprisingly, this simple change of focus is a wonderfully effective method of energising my day.

Healthy Food: Good fats, whole foods and fresh produce are all necessary for keeping our energy up. I try to limit sugar and processed food when I start to feel drained and ‘try’ to increase healthy food in my diet.

Iron and Magnesium: I take a natural iron supplement and use a natural magnesium spray. It always amazes me how quickly my body responds to this little bit of attention. Mothers are easily drained of important vitamins and minerals. A simple boost can make a world of difference.

Flower Remedies: I keep the Bach Flower Remedies: Rescue Remedy, Olive, and Impatiens in the house and use them often. I use Rescue Remedy for those moments of complete madness or for days when everything is topsy-turvy. I use Olive for exhaustion following a demanding day and Impatiens for days when I feel especially irritable.

Herbal Teas: Drinking a cup of herbal tea can definitely calm a hectic mind and sooth a restless spirit. Simply taking the time to make and drink a cup of tea is medicinal all on its own. I love a cup of Rosemary tea (crush a fresh rosemary sprig and infuse in hot water) it is refreshing and brightening. I also love Limeflower, Chamomile, or Fennel.

Hot Bath: A hot bath is of course always a frazzle diffuser. I love to use a few drops of Neroli, Geranium, Chamomile and Lavender essential oils in my bath. These oils are also lovely in an oil diffuser. I also love herbal baths. Sometimes, I infuse herbs into hot water then pour that water into the bath or alternatively I place my herbs in an empty tea bag and drop it directly into my bath water. Dried Chamomile, Lavender, and Rose are wonderful in a hot bath.

Prayerful Meditation: I find meditation to be somewhat of a paradox. I rarely seem to find time to meditate and grow frustrated with myself for my lack of discipline. Some time ago it occurred to me that prayerful meditation can happen anytime and anywhere. We can meditate when we do housework or when we nurse our babies. Even the busiest day is filled with quiet little moments, sometimes simply taking notice of such a moment can ease our stress and relax our minds.

The Colour Green: I Love this! The colour green is immensely relaxing and calming. It is always worth looking for a reason to bring a little bit of green in-doors. A lovely sage coloured pillow or handmade throw make lovely additions to most rooms. Houseplants, artwork, bottles of coloured water sitting in a window sill can each reflect peaceful green thoughout our homes.

Nature: Time spent in nature calms and relieves even the most agitated nerves. If I feel the day starting to fall apart I drag all of us out the door for a walk. We all feel better in minutes. Fresh air, bright light, life all around us, lifts our spirits and helps tame those wild frayed ends.

Please consult with your chosen health care professional before choosing to use herbs, oils or foods, or taking part in any activities you find unfamiliar or questionable. 

©photo by Kara Harms is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0 

 

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Starr Meneely is the owner and editor of The Mother Magazine and the author of the children’s picture book “What A Lovely Sound!” (illustrated by Susan Merrick). She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Piano Performance from the University of Alaska where she studied under Dr. Timothy Smith. She has been a regular writer for The Mother Magazine for several years. Starr edits and writes in a little village in Surrey, UK where she lives with her husband and four children.

 

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Teaching Children Gratitude

In our busy lives it is so easy to forget to be thankful. It is certainly easy to forget to demonstrate thankfulness. As we come out of a heavy winter and welcome each and every sign of sunshine and warmth, springtime is an excellent time to reconnect with this value and remind ourselves and our children how important it is to be grateful.

Send ‘Thank You’ Cards

This is the most obvious way to teach children gratitude despite it being slightly out of fashion. It is much more convenient to drop someone a text or a Facebook message to say ‘thank you’ instead of sitting down with our children to create and post a ‘thank you’ note. It is for this very reason though, that ‘thank you’ notes are so valuable and that going through the process of creating (and mailing) them helps to teach our children to be consciously grateful. Take time to write ‘thank you’ notes for gifts or when someone has been thoughtful. Such notes can also be a simple follow up after friends have come to visit; “…it was so lovely to spend the day with you and your family, thank you for coming around!”

Say ‘Thank You’ at Home

Do we really need to say ‘Thank You’ at home? Is it necessary to thank each other when we just meander through each day together ~ behaving normally? Of course it is. Expressing thankfulness is, in many ways, just a habit – a good habit – and like any habit it needs repetition to stick. Thank each other for simple things. Practice naturally tacking the words ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ on to all questions and requests;

“Can someone please turn on the hall light? Thank you!”

“Will you please pass the salt? Thank you!”

“Thank you for putting your shoes in the basket”

If gratitude comes easily at home it will come easier in all of life.

 Model Gratitude

As in all things, children learn through observation and role play. If they see us modelling gratitude they will learn to be grateful also. We can model gratitude by thanking each other and demonstrating kindness. Let our children believe that gratitude is an important element in all of our relationships

Bless Each Meal

If we were thankful for nothing else, being thankful for food and the fact we are able to share meal times together must be the most important thing on our gratitude lists. Taking time to eat together and can be celebrated with a simple blessing such as this Waldorf blessing:

Blessings on the blossoms

Blessings on the roots

Blessings on the leaves and stems and blessings on the fruits

And blessings on the meal.

Care and Respect Belongings

We learn to be thankful when we begin to realise the value of things. We can encourage our children to treat things with care – not because they cost a certain amount but because we are thankful for the things we own. We can do this by taking time to tidy and care for even our smallest belongings

Encourage Children to Say ‘Thank You’

Words are powerful. When something is said out loud it takes on meaning, it effects change. This is true for negative language but it also true for positive language. Just as words can hurt, they can also heal. Positive words strengthen relationships, they build confidence, and they create joy. Saying ‘thank you’ is one of the simplest ways to use words positively. ‘Thank you’ represents humility, respect and gratitude; even if it is said just out of habit. Quietly and gently remind children  to say ‘thank you’. Practice it together until it comes easily and automatically.

©photo by D. Sharon Pruitt is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

 

starr pic black and whiteStarr Meneely is the owner and editor of The Mother Magazine and the author of the children’s picture book “What A Lovely Sound!” (illustrated by Susan Merrick). She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Piano Performance from the University of Alaska where she studied under Dr. Timothy Smith. She has been a regular writer for The Mother Magazine for several years. Starr edits and writes in a little village in Surrey, UK where she lives with her husband and four children

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