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.
B-I-N-G-O
?-I-N-G-O
?-?-N-G-O
?-?-?-G-O
?-?-?-?-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.

Weekend Links: November 20th

cornucopia

Photo by billaday

It is less than one week until readers in the U.S. celebrate Thanksgiving, so your weekend reading links will reflect this theme.

I know many of you are creating all kinds of wonderful holiday crafts, recipes, and traditions at this time of the year.  If you have a spare minute, won’t you send me a note about what your family is up to this holiday season?  I would love to feature your ideas in our weekly Showcase!

Simply Practical

Crunchy Domestic Goddess: Reducing Holiday Stress for Your Kids
Simple Mom: How to Host a Memorable Holiday Cookie Swap (column from Aimee of Under the High Chair)
Imagination Soup: Free online learning games for kids

Simply Delicious

Family Fun: Sunrise Pre-K Fruit Turkey
Mixing Bowl Kids: Ham Sandwiches on Sweet Potato Biscuits
Make and Takes: Homemade Roasted Pumpkin Puree
A Field Journal: Apple Cider

Inspired Projects

Alpha Mom: Thanksgiving Crafts for the Kids’ Table
Two looks at a thankful tree – Playful Learning: This Year’s Grateful Tree and A Soft Place to Land: A Thankful Tree
Mother Nature Network: Thanksgiving crafts for teens and tweens
Pink and Green Mama: Bubble Wrap Printmaking: Thanksgiving Corn
Cluck and Tweet: Addicted to Freezer Paper

What We’re Reading: Catherine Gilbert Murdoch’s Dairy Queen (and more!)

Three beautiful books await your discovery today, thanks to our SK Book Review Team!

Preschool

from Amy (Girlfriends Get Real, Unforgettable Childhood)

deepintheswampA couple of weeks ago my daughter had a book fair at her preschool. She found a few books that grabbed her attention. As we were browsing I saw the book Deep in the Swamp by Donna M. Bateman. At first glance, I thought that it would be a good addition to our home library. On the cover was an alligator. My daughter has been intrigued by alligators since our trip to Hilton Head Island. We saw them sitting in the backyards of people as we were on a bike ride through town and they have become a favorite in our house.

I did not read through the book at the school so I was pleasantly surprised by the rhyming story that also focused on counting. As you explore Okefenokee Swamp in the story you see a variety of animals in their swamp habitat. The beautiful illustrations show an animal with their babies surrounded by swamp plants like water lilies and cattails.

My daughters favorite page turned out to be the Marsh Rabbits. Here is an excerpt from this page:

Deep in the swamp, in a thicket on the shore,
Lived a mother marsh rabbit and her little bunnies Four.
“Snooze!” said the mother. “We snooze,” said the Four.
So they snoozed all day long in their thicket on the shore.

A wonderful addition to the book comes at the end. There is a glossary with each animal and water loving plant with facts. My three year old even wants me to read this section. Living in the Midwest on the prairie it is fun for all of us to learn more about the animals in the Okefenokee Swamp.

Early Elementary

from MJ (turnitupmom)

Fly Away HomeAs we approach Thanksgiving, I thought it fitting to share a story that prompts me to count my blessings every time I read it. Fly Away Home, by Eve Bunting, is the story of a homeless boy and his father who live in an airport, ducking in and out of different terminals to avoid being sent out on the streets. Ronald Himler’s blurred watercolor illustrations nicely compliment this father and son’s life of anonymity.

I love that this story is told from the boy’s perspective. We learn that a typical day includes wearing blue, sleeping sitting up, washing in the restroom, and eating in the cafeteria. No matter what he’s doing, the goal is always to blend in and go unnoticed. And naturally, the boy experiences a range of emotions, including fear, sadness, and anger.

While this may seem like a heavy plot line, it is also a story of hope. One day a wounded bird is caught in the main terminal and the little boy encourages it to fly free: “Don’t stop trying . . .Don’t! You can get out!” Bunting revisits the bird motif on the final page: “And when the bird left, when it flew free, I know it was singing.”

This story is a must-read for every child. It increases awareness about the plight of the homeless and dispels the commonly held belief that if you’re working, you can pay rent. We are all worthy of a place to call home. May you have a healthy, safe, and warm Thanksgiving!

Upper Elementary

from Diana (Holes in my Shiny Veneer)

dairyqueenMy pick for this month is a bit older than some of my previous recommendations:  Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock was named an ALA 2006 Best Book for Young Adults.  Perhaps I’m recommending it because it’s another seasonal pick because Dairy Queen is, at first glance, about high school football.  You’ll know that this isn’t your typical book about high school football, though, as soon as you realize that the protagonist, D.J. Schwenk is a girl.

D.J. is a farm girl in small town Wisconsin.  In this first novel from Murdock, we find D.J.  in the summer before her junior year working to save the family farm.  Her older football-star brothers are away on college scholarships and her younger brother is on a championship Little League team, so the farm chores have been laid on her shoulders after her father’s hip injury.  D.J. has sacrificed a lot for her family, but given that her family has more than the usual amount of trouble communicating, she doesn’t exactly feel appreciated.

Things get complicated when she finds herself using her football knowledge to train Brian Nelson, the quarterback of the rival high school.  Things get even more complicated when D.J. finds herself becoming friends with Brian and realizes that she can’t talk at all to her best friend, Amber.  And yes, D.J. eventually decides to go out for the football team herself, meaning that her new friend, Brian, is now even more of a rival than before.

Murdock’s creation of the character of D.J. is truly unforgettable.  D.J. pushes herself to her limits over and over and teaches Brian what it means to do your best.  She comes to grips with her dreams and pursues them, willing to overcome the odds to reach them.  I can’t think of any character I’ve ever met with such a work ethic who still comes across as a flesh and blood teenager.  I’m looking forward to encountering D.J. again in the rest of Murdock’s trilogy in The Off Season and Front and Center.

(Please bear in mind that this is a young adult novel and deals with some more mature themes such as homosexuality and teenage drinking.)