Archives for November 2009

An Uncomplicated Holiday: Mission Impossible?

gift Photo by kevindooley

I don’t know about you, but my mailbox and email inbox are both quickly filling up with sale ads, catalogs, and invitations to buy more! more! more!

As you know, our mission at Simple Kids is to celebrate, promote, and encourage an uncomplicated approach to raising children.  Though I am a passionate advocate for a simple, slowed-down parenting philosophy, I find that as we enter into the holiday season, my vision for simplicity becomes blurred.

As we experience this month together, I hope to share inspiring thoughts and practical applications on how to create an intentional holiday season as a family. As always, I would love to share the collective wisdom of this amazing community.

Would you be willing to share your thoughts with me on this topic today?

  • Is your family’s approach to the holiday season more simple or more elaborate?  Does this depart from or complement your family’s status quo?
  • What are some practical steps you have taken in the past to create an intentional holiday experience for your family?  What do you hope to do this year to create holiday harmony?
  • When it comes to gift-giving, how do you know when enough is enough?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

What We’re Reading: Ivy + Bean and The Empty Pot

Two lovely Early Elementary books are reviewed this week for your What We’re Reading Wednesday:

Early Elementary

from Jean-Marie Maier

ivyandbeanWhen Bean’s mother suggests to Bean that she play with Ivy, the new girl across the street, Bean answers with a big fat “no thanks.”  Ivy and Bean are both seven years old, but to Bean that’s where the similarities end.

Ivy always has her nose in a book.  Reading makes Bean jumpy.  Ivy wears dresses and accessorizes with a sparkly headband.  Bean only wears a dress when her mother makes her.  Ivy’s good girl status equaled BORING in Bean’s mind.  No doubt about it.  Bean was sure Ivy didn’t know the first thing about having fun.

But as the old adage goes: never judge a book (or in this case a bookworm) by its cover.

Everything changed when Bean decided to play a clever little trick on her bossy, 11-year-old sister Nancy.  Just as Bean was sure she was going to get in big trouble for multiple counts of mischief, Ivy came to her rescue.

The girls quickly bonded over a collaborative plan to put a spell on Nancy that would make her dance for the rest of her life.  (Yes, the plan is as entertaining as it sounds.)  The spell wouldn’t get Bean out of trouble, but she sure thought it would be funny.

Turns out Ivy wasn’t as good or as boring as Bean had thought.  She was actually pretty interesting with her really cool sectioned-off room and her witch spells and potions.

But like children sometimes do when left to their own devices, Ivy and Bean create quite a bit of mischief.  To some parents their antics could be cringeworthy, but to me and my 6-year-old daughter it served as fodder for lots of laughs and animated conversations.

When Nancy’s nasty teasing very nearly brings Ivy to tears, Bean is furious with her sister and throws a handful of worms at her face.  This type of behavior shouldn’t be celebrated, but Bean’s loyalty to Ivy should.  In fact, Ivy and Bean’s escalating high jinks are often a result of their allegiance to their newfound friendship.  With mean girls and cliques so often the topics du jour, it has been refreshing to read a series about an uncompromised friendship between two young girls.

Ivy + Bean by Annie Barrows is a great chapter book (and series) for the young female reader.  It features many topics and complex feelings for parents to discuss with their daughters.  And Ivy and Bean’s sense of adventure and fearless ability to tackle problems on their own is something to be admired.

Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the quirky illustrations by Sophie Blackall that perfectly complement Barrow’s writing.  With an illustration on every page, readers won’t be able to stop themselves from thumbing through the entire book even before reading the first word.  And after that illustrative preview, you won’t want to put the book down until you’re finished reading it.

from Emily (The Pilot’s Wife)

The Empty Pot CoverThe Empty Pot by Demi is an incredibly beautiful tale about a young boy from China whose special talent is making plants grow.  So when the Emperor declares that he will have a contest to see who can grow the most beautiful plant from his seeds, Ping hurries to join.  The Emperor also declares that the winner of the contest will be the next to rule the kingdom.

Ping takes his seeds home and carefully plants them in rich soil, watering and tending the seeds with the utmost care.  But for all his attention, the seeds produce nothing.  Not even a single bud.

On the day the contest is to be judged, Ping takes his empty pot to the palace.  On his way he passes the other contestants, all with beautiful flowering plants, and Ping knows he will not win.

Surprisingly, when all the children are gathered with their lovely plants (and Ping with his empty pot) the Emperor announces that it is Ping who has won.  Why?  Because all the seeds that the Emperor distributed were boiled and thus would not produce plants of any kind.  Ping was the only one who was honest and brought exactly what he had grown from the Emperor’s seeds: an empty pot.

This story is a favorite of mine for several reasons.  It is a lovely example of Chinese folk art and culture, and the story line rings true and non-preachy about the importance of honesty.  It could also tie in with a science lesson on seeds and plants, and the teacher in me just loves a good cross-curricular book!

Children and adults alike will be delighted by the unexpected turn of events, rich cultural background, and beautiful artwork.

This one is a keeper!

Storytelling Day: The True Story of B-I-N-G-O (yes, Bingo was his name-o)

BINGOPhoto by Weaselmcfee

Has your family adjusted to the shorter days and longer evenings of this season? Dark and chilly evenings serve as perfect backdrops for family storytelling time.  Today, Robin inspires all of us with the true story of B-I-N-G-O:

There was a farmer who had a dog
And Bingo was his name-o.
Yes, Bingo was his name-o.

The farm where everybody in town went to pick strawberries and asparagus in the spring and pumpkins and apples in the fall also had activities that were open all year long. There were hay piles to climb and tractor rides to enjoy and corn mazes once the grains grew tall enough. But everybody’s favorite part of the farm was none of those things: it was the petting zoo.

One day the farmer posted a large sign on the old tractor: New Puppy At The Petting Zoo! Contest! Name Our Puppy!

Immediately, groups of kids began gathering around the fence by the new puppy and his mama. For days, kids came to see the puppy and think about his ideal name.  Weeks passed. The puppy grew and the name contest deadline approached. The puppy grew stronger and bigger and didn’t always stay right near his mama anymore. He began to approach the fence, listening to all the kids and their ideas. It was almost as if he could understand them.  Of course, dogs don’t talk. He couldn’t really understand, could he?

The day came that the farmer stood in the front of the dog yard to collect the kids’ contest entries for the new puppy’s name. A group of boys stood on the right side of the fence and a group of girls stood on the left side of the fence and they all shouted names at the farmer. Several names stood out, and as kids sometimes do, they began narrowing down their own favorites. The boys had one idea and the girls had another idea. The farmer listened to the two groups of kids yell at each other. So did the puppy.

Then the arguing got even worse. The boys couldn’t decide how to spell their name and the girls kept changing their minds about which name they liked best. The farmer stood in the middle of the dog yard, frustrated and unsure of what to do next. He had wanted the contest to be fun for the kids who loved his farm. He wanted the arguing and yelling to stop.

So did the little dog. He ran back and forth on his tiny legs between the two groups, growing more and more distressed.

The girls were yelling names and the boys were yelling letters as they worked out spellings and the little dog ran back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. The farmer tried several times to get the kids’ attention. He couldn’t, and he stood there, angry and unsure of what to do.

The little dog took charge. With every shout from a child, he yapped. The girls began to yell a name and he yapped. The boys yelled a letter and he yapped. He yapped with each sound they spoke until they realized they couldn’t hear themselves, they could only hear the little dog. And finally, the kids grew quiet.

The dog looked at them.

The kids looked at the dog.

And then one boy tried again. “How about B- ?” The dog yapped. Nobody heard what he said.

The girls tried to use the quiet to push one of their choices forward. “We think it should be P- .” The little dog yapped loudly.  He didn’t let the kids speak again until they began speaking to each other.

“He won’t let us talk! Farmer, the doggie won’t let us talk! He’s too loud!”

The farmer looked at the puppy and half-smiling, he shrugged. “Maybe he wants you to work together.”

After a little bit of grumbling and arguing, the boys and the girls moved together into one group to talk. As long as they were working agreeably, the puppy stayed quiet. But as soon as any arguing began, the puppy yapped so loudly that the kids could only hear him and not themselves. Certainly the puppy didn’t like their arguing, but it almost seemed as if he wanted to speak himself, like he wanted to help them.

As the kids worked out their choice of name, the dog yapped encouragingly. As they made their decisions, each letter moving forward, each argument erased, the little dog yapped in support. The kids finally realized they had all agreed on a name and a spelling, and that according to the rhythmic ‘yap! yap! yap-yap-yap!’ of the puppy, he liked it, too.

They realized how he had helped them, and what he had taught them.

“The dog and the other animals – they can’t even talk! We should use our ability to talk to work together, not to argue.”

The puppy didn’t move. He waited.

“Letters have strength. They form and fly and make our words, tell our stories.”

The puppy stared at them encouragingly.

“Words have even more strength. They can go anywhere, say anything.”

A very relieved farmer opened the gate to the yard. The small dog ran to the line of children and nuzzled each of their legs.

One of the taller boys asked out loud: “So do we all agree? His name will be Bingo?” Quietly, happily, the kids nodded and murmured yes.

“So let’s try it out. Spell it with me! B! I! N! G! O!” The kids chanted and cheered and the little dog ran circles around them, drawing them tightly into a cluster.  They fell quiet, looking at each other and at the little dog with the big ideas.

Without words, the kids and the puppy locked eyes. They understood each other. They knew they had learned what the puppy wanted them to realize; they knew that he was happy with them and with their choice.

The kids grew excited again. They cheered and high-fived and hugged. “So it’s Bingo! Your name will be Bingo!”

Bingo yapped approvingly.

Robin blogs about satisfying the curiosities of her inquisitive family at Not-Ever-Still Life with Girls.