Archives for September 2009

What We’re Reading Wednesday: September 30th

It’s What We’re Reading Wednesday again, and each of our selections this week have a wonderful connection to our Free-Range Kids Week theme.

mooseinmaineI’m going to steal the microphone for a moment to introduce you to a new book from Simple Kids’ newest sponsor – Shankman and O’Neil children’s books. Just over a week ago, we added Ed Shankman and Dave O’Neil’s I Met a Moose in Maine One Day to our home library, and I can honestly say I nearly have it memorized because the girls have requested that I read it so much!

This funny tale that just bursts with incredible rhyme and meter begins when the narrator tells us

“I met a moose in Maine One Day.  Just how it happened, I can’t say.  I brushed my teeth, I combed my hair and all at once, the moose was there!”

He goes on to tell about the adventures he and the moose undertake together.  Set against the backdrop of the state of Maine, this unlikely duo takes us from sampling maple syrup in the village general store to river rafting and log rolling in Bangor and all sorts of places in between.

Ed Shankman’s way with words make reading this story out loud a stimulating adventure in itself.  My favorite passage is when

“In Camden a lot of us got on a yacht, and we docked before dark in a beautiful spot.  We saw fish having fun.  We watched seals eating meals.  We met lobsters and otters and eagles and eels.”

Dave O’Neil’s illustrations masterfully match the whimsical text.  I think our four year old could study the pictures for hours!  The big old loveable moose brilliantly captures what every child must imagine to be the perfect animal companion – silly, adventurous, imaginative, and great manners, too!

The adventures of the boy and his friend the moose are sure to spark a desire for adventure in your children.  I can only imagine that families who love the state of Maine would be delighted by the details which honor that fair state, but I can also say that this charming story has been fully appreciated by my little family in the southern plains of the USA!

(Get to know Ed Shankman and Dave O’Neil by following them on twitter and becoming a fan on Facebook!)

And now I’ll step aside to make way for the wonderful selections from our book review team:


from Trisha (okioOLIO)

apple pieIn the spirit of free-range parenting, thinking outside the house, and embracing childhood independence, I’d like to offer a review of How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman, which celebrates early freedoms in an often uncharted territory: the kitchen.

In the same way parents may initially feel nervous about releasing their child into the city or even the neighborhood , some parents may balk at introducing their kids to “dangerous” things, like knives, stoves, and ovens. But even in the home, exposing kids to potentially hazardous situations rather than sheltering them actually serves to protect the young’uns: if they are prepared to act with caution, and familiar enough to understand the dangers, they are less likely to accidentally discover something that could hurt them.

In the “cool-inary” kids classes that I help teach with a local chef, we begin teaching knife skills as early as age six, and make sure the kiddos learn a healthy respect for the sharpness of kitchen tools, the power of electric appliances, and the heat of cooking appliances.* This book is a delightful tribute to encouraging resourceful and creative thinking in children, and a philosophy that allows you as a parent to comfortably let out the reigns on your child’s independent ambitions.

In Priceman’s picture book, a young girl instructs the reader how to bake and apple pie – which is “really very easy” – as long as the market is open. When she finds the store closed, this ambitious little baker embarks on a world-wide shopping journey to collect the necessary ingredients. After retrieving wheat in Italy, cinnamon in Sri Lanka, sugar cane in Jamaica, and apples in Vermont, she returns home to make her pie.

While the rosy-cheeked girl in a green pinafore certainly displays free range independence as she travels by boat, train, bus, bike, and parachute, the solo globe-trotting and subsequent cow milking, butter-churning, wheat-milling activity is not something preschool or grade school kids will likely try to imitate. But the adventurous and purposeful attitude that is conveyed is refreshing and inspiring, and a realistic application can be found as she makes her grocery list, confidently strolls down the street to the market, and later slices apples, boils water, and shows skilled use of the oven.

The fanciful, brightly-colored watercolor illustrations feature cheerful, hard-working people all over the globe, and the front and back of the book offer facts and activities as well as world maps and a recipe for apple pie. This lighthearted tale contains great potential to lead to enriching lessons on the world, culture, adventure, goals, the origin of grocery items, and of course, cooking!

*If you decide to introduce your child to the wonders of the kitchen, you’ll of course want to set precautions and rules The children in our classes always understand that they must never try to cook in the kitchen without telling a parent – who can determine the level of supervision needed depending on experience and age. For helpful resources on pint-sized cooking utensils and more, visit

Upper Elementary

from Katie (This Natural Life)

seven-wonders-of-SassafrasThe Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty G. Birney is most perfectly summarized as “sweet,” in the best sense of the word.  I decided to read this book after seeing that it was recommended by a reader in the Simple Kids post about “Children’s Literature We Love.” I had no preconceived ideas and wasn’t sure what to expect, since I had never heard of the book before I checked it out from the library.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover the small-town adventure that awaited me.

The book is set in 1923, in a tiny town in Missouri called Sassafras Springs.  Eben, our chief explorer, is eleven years old and has just read a book about the Seven Wonders of the World.  He is captivated, and longs for adventure and travel and excitement.  Sassafras Springs begins to seem incredibly mundane and boring by comparison, and one evening as he is moping and complaining, his dad offers him a challenge: he has seven days to discover seven wonders, right there in his own town.  If he succeeds, his dad will send him on a train, all by himself, to stay with relatives in Colorado.  And so the journey begins!

What follows is an interesting and delightful story about Eben’s various encounters with his friends and neighbors while on his quest for wonders.  He learns to listen, to think, to draw his own conclusions, and to see with new eyes.  He discovers that beneath the seemingly mundane, there is often beauty and mystery waiting to be revealed.  And in the end, he realizes that there is wonder all around, every day, if we only have eyes to see.

This book is written in a charming, folksy voice, and is accompanied by endearing black and white illustrations, skillfully drawn by Matt Phelan.  While the officially recommended age level inside the book is 8-12 years, it could easily be enjoyed by younger children, especially as a read-aloud.  Although it took me a couple of chapters to really be drawn in, I eventually found myself turning pages quickly, intrigued and inspired.  The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs is, indeed, a sweet book that invites each of us to seek adventure, but reminds us that sometimes the best adventures are right before our eyes.

5 Positive Character Traits Encouraged by Free-Range Parenting

kayakerphoto by woodleywonderworks

I hope yesterday’s conversation inspired those who haven’t yet read Free-Range Kids to find a way to get your hands on a copy.  The book speaks to something far beyond allowing our children to walk down the mailbox by themselves.  In fact, the reason I chose this book as our first book talk selection is because in it’s entirety, the Free-Range Kids philosophy echoes the underlying premise of our community: uncomplicated parenting.

When we can free ourselves from the bondage of fear and shake off the shackles of consumerism-driven parenting products, we will have the freedom to raise children who are confident, educated, and equipped to thrive in the life that awaits them when enter into adulthood.

Parents who adopt a more free-range approach to parenting will most likely find that their children possess:

1. A sense of adventure

Not every parent is ready to allow her child to ride the NYC subway home unattended, but free-range parents know that going on adventure sparks imagination and cultivates a joie de vivre that can’t be recreated by Wii.  These are parents who intentionally and thoughtfully plan adventures – large and small – and either enjoy them together as a family or gradually allow more and more of the adventure to be experienced by children as individuals who are growing and maturing into greater capacity for trustworthiness.

A child who is raised in a home where adventure is celebrated is a child who will have the confidence and desire to seek it out on his own as an adult.

2. High-level problem solving skills

The absolute antithesis of free-range parenting is “helicopter parenting” – so named for the parents who hover over their child’s every activity, circumstance, and situation.  Free-range parents aren’t afraid to allow a child to try something and fail; they resist that universal parental urge to step in, intercede, and create a positive outcome.  In doing so, free-range parents allow their children to become resourceful.

When there is no parent hovering close by, a child must figure out the solution to a problem on her own.  Higher-level problem solving skills can only be developed through experiential trial-and-error.  We want our children to become adults who utilize the resources of any given situation to come up with workable (and even unexpected) solutions.  Our children can never learn this until we are willing to loosen our grasp of them.

3. An appreciation for simplicity

One of my favorite chapters in Free-Range Kids is entitled, “Boycott Baby Knee Pads.”  In this chapter, Skenazy examines the amusing (if not a little outrageous) products and services marketed to parents – all in the name of good parenting.  Free-range parents reject the idea that we have to have lots of stuff in our homes to successfully raise our children.  Many educational and safety products are rendered unnecessary when we place a higher premium on common sense, interaction, and experience than we place on buying stuff.

When children are raised in a home that is uncluttered and unaffected by our culture’s ongoing encouragement to buy! buy! buy!, they grow into adults who are not so easily swayed by the latest gadgets and gizmos.

4. Self-confidence

In examining how parents often operate under the illusion of Total Control (complete control of our children, their choices, and their circumstances), Skenazy writes

There is an idea in the air that somehow, if we just involve ourselves enough in our children’s lives and think ahead and make a lot of plans and decisions, our children will be able to sail through their days, happy and successful.

Of course, we all know there is no such thing as Total Control over our children.  But when we act out of that mindset, we cripple their ability to see themselves as separate, independent, and capable beings.  How will they develop confidence in their ability to function as an individual if they have never been given the freedom to be an individual?

Free-range parents realize that part of growing up is growing into an acceptance and confidence in who you are as a person and are willing to step back a little (or even a lot) to create space for a healthy sense of confidence to mature.

5. Independence

As Ms. Skenazy concludes the book, she makes a plea for parents to foster a sense of independence in our children as they grow.

On page 193, she writes

Childhood is supposed to be about discovering the world, not being held captive.  It’s not about having that world pointed out to you by a DVD or a video game or by your mom as you drive by.  “See honey?  That’s called a ‘forest’.  Can you spell forest?”

We want our children to have a childhood that’s magical and enriched, but I’ll bet that your best childhood memories involve something you were thrilled to do by yourself.  These are childhood’s magical words: “I did it by myself!”

A wonderful thing happens when we start to trust ourselves rather than parenting experts or the evening news – we begin to see our children’s growing up years through the lens of all we want them to experience, rather than all we want to protect them from.

When my children leave childhood behind and walk forward into adulthood, I hope and pray they will go forth with a firm sense of independence and assuredness that won’t be easily swayed.  When challenges arise, I hope their first instinct won’t be to look around and wonder, “Where’s Mom?  Can Dad fix this for me?” Instead, I want to create a childhood that fills them with all the tools and knowledge and confidence they need to enjoy an adulthood that is happily and healthily independent from me.

Two exciting opportunities I want to make you aware of:
1) Tonight at 8 PM EST, Summit Series for Families will be interviewing Lenore Skenazy. Phone lines will be open for live calls, so if there is a question or comment you have for this author, tonight is the night to connect with her live!
2) Tomorrow at 10 AM EST, @SimpleKids and @FreeRangeKids will be tweeting-up!  We invite you to join us on Twitter to talk about all things Free-Range Parenting.  This is another chance to have Ms. Skenazy weigh in on your questions and respond to your feedback.  I hope to see you there!

Free Range Kids Week: Recalling the Freedom We Had

boytreckphoto by chefranden

Welcome to Free Range Kids Week at Simple Kids!

I am so excited about the upcoming book talk that will take place on Thursday.  This is such a diverse, intelligent, and helpful community – I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on Lenore Skenazy’s Free-Range Kids.

The subtitle of this book is Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry.

As I read the book, I couldn’t help but to be reminded of all of the freedoms I had as a child, and how the thought of extending those freedoms to my own children causes me to tense up with worry.

For example, when we lived in Texas, we lived on a very quiet cul-de-sac in a lovely, older neighborhood. At the end of the cul-de-sac was this wonderful spot of nature tucked away at the bottom of a steep hill.  It was an old, dried-up creek bed with tons of trees and a little hill perfect for a child’s first hike.  It was so unexpected and inspiring.

When we first moved there, my mother-in-law and I went for a walk with my oldest daughter to explore our new neighborhood.  We we came across the old creek bed, I sighed and said, “Oh, I would have spent so much time in a place like this as a child.  It’s perfect for hide-and-seek and scavenger hunts and leaf collecting.  Of course, I wouldn’t dream of letting my children play here by themselves now.”

So many of my fondest childhood memories are of exploring the outdoors with my siblings and friends.  We weren’t allowed to leave our neighborhood, but we had plenty of room in those parameters to run free and imagine.  In an era long before cell phones, I only had to stay within my ear-shot of my mother’s voice calling me home. Forts were built, reading nooks were created, mud pies were made and delivered . . . all without my mother standing on the front porch wringing her hands with worry.

On the Free Range Kids website, there is a link to this article titled “How children lost the right to roam in four generations.” I highly encourage reading it for a deeper look at the way the children’s freedom has eroded so quickly.

What do you recall about the freedoms you enjoyed as a child?  Were you allowed room to roam?  Did you enjoy activities or privileges that you are hesitant to allow your own children to engage in?