December 4th: SK Showcase and Weekend Links

We have had some wonderful discussions this week on how to have an uncomplicated holiday season.  As usual, the SK community shared some wonderful insights in both the Mission Impossible? and Three Most Important Things articles.  Make sure you have read through the comments on those!

For this week”s Showcase, Lola from maxylola shares some ideas on turning old paintbrush handles into a very cool DIY fishing game.  To find out how to go from this:


to this:


read Lola”s tutorial here.  This would be such a fun and easy handmade gift for some little fishing fans in your life!

I don”t know about you, but my blog reader is full to overflowing with a plethora of holiday treats.  There are so many wonderful recipes, crafts, and activities being shared on blogs this month, I know I could never feature them all here.  Here is just a sampling of some of what I have found:

Simply Practical

Simple Mom: 20 Ways to Stay Healthy (and Happy) this Winter Season

Simply Delicious

My Kitchen Cafe: White Bean Chicken (or Turkey) Chili
Picky Palate: Broccoli Cheddar, Chicken and Tater Tot Casserole
The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Monkey Muffins

Inspired Projects

Childhood 101: 12 Days of Christmas Garland
Skip To My Lou: Christmas Crafts
thelongthread: 10 Minute Santa Ornament
Learning Vicariously: Shrink Plastic

Inspired Images

Angie Warren Photography: three girls & their horse
SouleMama: Postcard No. 9

Inspired Words

FIMBY: preparing for a perfectly wonderful un-perfect Christmas

I”d love to know – what did you read or write this week that you would like to share with us?

What We’re Reading: A Wish To Be a Christmas Tree (plus online literature resources)

Did you know that the idea for featuring weekly book reviews came from SK reader Emily (The Pilot’s Wife)?  I had the pleasure of meeting Emily at a blogging event last spring (that’s us pictured below!), and I have so enjoyed getting to know her.  She has a true passion for great children’s literature, and today she is featuring a Christmas book as well as some helpful online children’s literature resources for the SK community:

This week I want to share with you a new-to-me Christmas story, and I also want to pass along some of my favorite online resources for children’s literature.

I found A Wish to Be a Christmas Tree by Colleen Monroe this week and found it to be a completely charming book.   It is the story of a old, tall tree on a Christmas tree farm that has never been chosen to be someone’s special tree.

He has watched his children and grandchildren be chosen, and he knows that he is too large now to be a suitable Christmas tree.  As the old tree weeps, he woodland friends make a plan to boost their friend’s feelings and make his Christmas special.

This is a beautifully illustrated book that combines a message of Christmas and friendship in a rhyming text.  I think you’ll really enjoy this one!

Something I discovered while researching this book is that YouTube has children’s stories! Am I the last person to figure this out?

You can watch (and listen) to A Wish to Be a Christmas Tree here:

A Wish to Be a Christmas Tree on YouTube

I also found ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas read by Perry Como:

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas on YouTube

And a few more (non-Christmasy, yet still great): The Very Hungry Caterpiller and Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me

I already knew YouTube was great; now I have a reason to love it even more!  I found these stories by searching “children’s books read aloud”.  There are many more available.

While I’m sharing my finds, I want to pass along a few of my other go to spots for children’s literature.

1) Speakaboos – This is a website that allows children to read along with celebrity readers and even record themselves reading.  This site requires you to register, but it’s free.

2) Another celebrity reading site is Storyline Online. This site is supported by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation, and unlike Speakaboos, you actually watch a video of the actor reading the book, but you can still read along with the words.  There are only about 20 books on this site, but they’re all high quality books.

3) The last thing I want to share is not a site that has stories, but a site that provides wonderful support for children’s literature.  Making Learning Fun is a site that is geared towards Pre-K to 2nd grade, and it has so many wonderful, printable activities that go beautifully with such classics as Brown Bear, Brown Bear, The Very Hungry Caterpiller, Chicka-Chicka Boom Boom, and many more.

Alright Simple Kids readers, what are your favorite websites to encourage reading and literacy?

An Uncomplicated Holiday: Three Most Important Things

makealist1 Photo by BLW Photography

Yesterday, we began a conversation about whether or not it is feasible to enjoy an uncomplicated holiday season. If you haven’t already, make sure to read through (and add to!) the comments. There are some great insights from the SK community there.

Throughout December, I want to continue this conversation so that as a community, we can come together and inspire and encourage one another in the pursuit of simple, meaningful celebrations.

I think one of the most challenging aspects of the holiday season is that if we aren’t careful, we can become oppressed by the tyranny of choices offered to our families. Holiday parties and cookie exchanges and Christmas caroling excursions can all be lots of fun and provide for many fond memories.  Yet families who are committed to intentional participation in the holiday season have to be thoughtful in choosing what to say yes to as the invitations begin to roll in.

In writing about her Home Management Notebook at Simple Mom, Tsh underscores the importance of choosing three Most Important Tasks for each day.  Let’s borrow from that idea to create a list of Most Important Things for the Holiday Season 2009.

In describing the MITs for the day, Tsh notes that “if nothing else gets done, I’d say my day was a success if those three things happen.”  We can apply that concept to our Most Important Things for the holidays.  How would you go about creating your Holiday MITs?  Here are some thoughts to begin:

1) Carve out some time with your spouse or partner to discuss what is essential for your family. If you have older children, you may consider inviting them to this discussion as well.  Over mugs of hot cocoa or spiced cider, draw up a list of everything to which you have been invited and everything that you think might be fun to do.

2) Ask the question, if we can only get to three things on this list, what would be most meaningful for our family?

3) Stay flexible and open to all perspectives as you negotiate and decide on the three MITs for the season. Remember, just because an activity or idea didn’t make the MIT list doesn’t mean it won’t get done!  The goal here is to identify the three things which take priority for your family’s time and energy this year.

Here we are at December 1st, so the sooner your family can create the holiday MIT list, the more clarity you will have as you consider your calendar for this month.  I would invite you to work up your list and come back to share it with others here in the comments.

My own family’s MIT list for Christmas 2009 is

1) Create a Jesse Tree.
2) Spend one evening driving through our community’s Christmas light display.
3) Spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Morning in our own home.

What are the three Most Important Things for your family this year?

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!