Your guide to parenting in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts

Moving through this year, I am making a more conscious effort to connect with earth and nature on a daily basis. Even a short walk around the yard or to the mailbox on a cold day has given me enough time to breathe deeply and notice the world around me. This is a grounding practice. It gets me out of my head for a bit and back in tune with something larger than myself. It replenishes my patience and my sense of gratitude. And, as I notice little changes on the landscape each day, I am coming to know this place that I now call home.

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So, perhaps this transition from winter to spring has been my favorite so far.  I love all the signs of life emerging from beneath winter’s snowy cloak.  Everything is so very ripe with possibility at this time of year!

For that reason, it’s a great time to check in with ourselves about the direction we’re headed for the year ahead.  The holiday rush and new year’s frenzy is well behind us, and a quiet time to reflect on our hopes and dreams for the year now present itself.

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For parents seeking more rhythm and ease this spring, Allison is offering a 7-week Simplicity Parenting course at the Meadowbrook Waldorf School in Richmond, RI beginning on March 20, 2013.

I’ve been thinking a lot about new beginnings lately. Maybe it’s all of the change that Fall brings, or the way the cooler, darker weather invites introspection, but I’ve been thinking about what families need in order to have a fresh start.Whenever I bring together a new Simplicity Parenting Group as I did recently at Meadowbrook Waldorf School, the first conversation we have is always about Values.  I ask the group to fast forward ten or twenty years and picture their children grown.  You can try this, too…

Imagine meeting your adult children for lunch, sitting down with them and having a wonderful conversation.  What do you hope they will be like?  What do you hope they will care about?  What kind of people do you hope they will turn out to be?

Very naturally, a list of values begins to form.  Values that represent your family’s moral compass, but also the way you want to be in the world.  I encourage families to capture all of these values on a big poster.  This is where the conversation starts.

inspirational wall messages from dali decals

For spouses who feel they’re no longer on the same page, for single parents feeling overwhelmed, for families with older children starting to drift, reconnecting to values is where the conversation starts.  Your family’s own unique values will be the touchstone to get back to when you feel lost, and–this is the really cool part–they will also hold the key to “fixing” whatever you think is wrong with your family life.  But first, you must start the conversation.

Let’s inspire each other and share our values in the comments below!!

During a recent visit with their grandparents, my daughters had a blast running, jumping, crawling, and splashing their way through a backyard obstacle course.  It was so simple to create, and it kept children and adults playing- and laughing- together for hours.

We created the course with things we had around the house, and set up toys as challenges along the course.

There was a Stump Challenge.

We used an old board for a balance beam.

My mom had kid-sized hurdles!

Through the tunnel, almost done.

Our course ended with bubble-blowing and a splash in the kiddie pool.  My kids ran this course over and over again.  Sometimes I ran too, silly and goofy and totally lighting them up inside.  They’d go to sleep at night, and wake up in the morning ready to do it all again in their pajamas.

Most kids have about a month left of summer vacation. There is still so much time to play together. There is still time to create those golden moments that your children will remember throughout their lives. You don’t need to schedule anything, or buy anything, or go anywhere. Just find an old board, or turn on the hose or kick a ball, and enjoy your very own Summer Games.

We are in an interesting phase of family life right now. Lest my blog readers think that everything is smiles and matching dresses over here, I wanted to share a glimpse into another corner of our daily life – power struggles.

My daughters are 4 and nearly 3, and it feels as though we are in the thick of a new phase in which both girls test authority on a regular basis. It sort of crept up on us. Seemingly overnight, our easy-going 2 year old nudged closer to 3, and developed some very strong opinions of her own. Mix in the strong will of her older sister, and you’ve got the makings of some intense days!

But I have decided to take a huge step away from all of the intensity, to observe what is actually happening and to think clearly about what is needed right now. Some basic truths:

Easier said than done? Perhaps! But it is the challenge before us, whether we feel ready for it, or not. There is no changing child development, and it does no good to resist or retreat back into old-school discipline methods.

In my house, I am declaring this the Summer of Love. It’s a little reminder that our children’s needs come first. As we navigate this awkward, testy phase I’m prepared to stick close to home, minimize activities, follow a pretty firm daily rhythm, and stop whatever I’m doing when my children’s behavior tells me they’re off-course (I know, this part doesn’t sound like a lot of fun…but it actually IS full of play and stories and hanging out together and it really is quite nice).

But the greatest thing about the Summer of Love is that it’s also a time to give some extra lovin’ to these kids of ours, no matter what else is going on in our lives. We’ll be carving out one-on-one time with me or my husband. We’ll be remembering that humor and good music are always waiting in the wings to cheer people up. And we’ll always, always be showing our children that our love and affection are unconditional. Freely flowing and totally groovy!

 

Parenting Simply: Carefree Summer Days? Yes, please. When you think of “carefree summer days” what images come to mind? I immediately begin thinking of my childhood yard, full of wildflowers and hiding spots and a swing in a tree. I remember my mom’s big thermos full of cold juice, and all of the long leisurely evenings spent under the setting sun and with the twinkling fireflies. Those were carefree days, indeed.

Now, as a mother myself, I’m cued into the fact that there’s actually a lot of transition happening as we move into summer. The warm, sunny days seem to feed the kids’ souls- filling them up with so much energy and calling them out to be wild and free! Luckily for them, school will soon be done, but that brings about huge changes to the daily rhythm. For parents working through the summer, the summertime juggle of childcare and summer camps and sports teams and weekend parties will soon begin. How do we keep all these balls in the air? And how do we hold onto those carefree summer days of our youth?

By saying “No, thank you” more often than you’d think.

Summer can sort of epitomize what’s become so challenging about the times we live in–there are just so many options. Good options. Fun options. And we want to give our children the best experiences. But if your childhood memories are anything like mine, you already know that what children remember most are vast stretches of carefree time. They remember the amazing freedom to play and explore and create on their own.

Of course, we adults do have real commitments and obligations, even in the summer. But if we carefully plan how we accomplish these things, and carve out plenty of time for uninterrupted, unstructured play for our kids, we will be ensuring that they get all the benefits of carefree summer days to balance out the stress of going, going, going.

Looking at the summer ahead, can you say “No, thank you” to one camp or activity and stay home together instead?; can you choose one weekend each month, or one day each week to say “No, thank you” to invitations to barbecues or trips or team sports, and replace it with a relaxing day for your own family?

Say “Yes, please” to carefree, connecting, relaxing, recharging and you will have the makings of the greatest summer memories for your children!

I used to watch the morning news.  Every day would start with a strange, sensational mix of horror stories interspersed with complete fluff, repeated over and over again until I felt nothing but disgust.  Child abductions, pop stars, spousal abuse, fashion trends…ugh. If the morning news was any indicator, the times we live in seem pretty grim.

So one day I turned it off.  Click.  And I haven’t watched television news in about five years.

I actually don’t need to be up on the latest gruesome violent crime or the political fallout of x, y or z decision.  Instead, my morning can be about the simple tasks before me- wake up, welcome the day, nourish my body, and prepare for what’s to come.  From this space, the times we live in seem peaceful and centered on family.

The way we feel about our society and this time in our lives has a lot to do with our perception, or the lens we choose to look through.

In a recent Simplicity Parenting workshop, I asked parents to talk about the things they find difficult about the times we live in.  Their list included the pressures to participate in activities; worries about money; the constant barrage of information; the pressure to be perfect; and on and on.  Making the list of complaints was easy.  The challenge was to find the silver lining.

For example, concerns about money can provide greater clarity about what is truly necessary and can lead us to be more resourceful; access to information can help expand our minds, expose us to other viewpoints and help us find community.

Each difficult experience can be shaken up and turned upside-down to reveal a positive lesson hidden within.  Try it the next time you’re feeling disappointed or dismayed.  This little shift in your thinking is actually a huge gift to your children.

Children are experiencing the world for the first time, taking it all in and gathering so much information from our words, our actions and our feelings.  When we believe the morning news version of the world, we can’t help but feel jaded, fearful, distrustful, and those emotions are felt throughout the entire family.  Choosing instead to believe that the world is full of beauty gives your family the gifts of hope and gratitude and happiness.  And as adults living in the “real world,” we know that these are indeed the gifts the world needs more of right now.

My daughters are two and four, and even at these young ages I see how much they welcome some responsibility around the house, and how proud they are when they can accomplish “grown up” tasks.  Household chores provide a wonderful way for little ones to learn and practice new skills.  Parents may also find that they come to appreciate the task in a new way, as you start to view it as a learning tool.

In my home, I’ve noticed how much smoother mealtimes are when I invite the children to help with some preparation and some clean up afterward.  In the morning, as I put their breakfasts on the table, I fill the sink with warm soapy water and set up a sturdy stool.  We eat together, and then I ask each child to take a turn washing her own cup, bowl and spoon at the sink.  Usually, at least one of the girls will enjoy this so much she will continue to help me wash other dishes, pots and the table.

I’ve also designated one kitchen drawer, “The Kid Drawer” where the child-sized utensils, place settings and napkins are kept.  They’ve each begun to pick their items and set the table for lunch and dinner.  This gives them a useful task to focus on during those hungry moments before the meal is ready, and it keeps them from fussing with each other too much.

Because they’re young, I’m not a stickler about chores.  If they’re playing quietly or engrossed in an art project before mealtime, I won’t interrupt them.  But if they’re looking for something to do, while I’m busy in the kitchen, it’s been fun to have their help, and I do believe we are setting the stage for continued participation as they grow.

Inviting young children to help with chores does mean that the grown-ups need to slow down and relax a little.  We need to view their involvement as an opportunity to connect, to share an experience and to help the child practice a new skill.  They are learning about life during these moments in the kitchen or dusting or making beds, and that is just as important as the housework that needs to get done (or more important!).

Who’s helping in your house?  Do your children have chores?

For parents of young children, here are some additional articles that go much more in-depth into the how’s and why’s of inviting children to help with household tasks.  Enjoy!

Joyful Toddlers: Young Kids and Chores

Simple Kids:  Kids in the Kitchen

For Small Hands is a wonderful resource for child-sized kitchen utensils and tools for yard work.

In the busy-ness of life, we often move, move, move forward without noticing the time or the space or the feelings that we’re moving through.  But what happens when we stand still?  When we relax for a moment, and breathe, and notice what is happening around us while we stand still?  Everything changes.

One simple ritual that helps me is pausing in my day to express gratitude.  It can be as easy as pausing while I’m washing the dishes to look out the window and feel gratitude for the sky and the trees.  I breathe deeply, feel gratitude and then return to my chore.  But I am calmer and happier as I finish those dishes.

This ritual has become such an amazing part of my life with my children, too.  It has been transformative to sit together as a family and name all that we are grateful for.  During dinner, we each take a turn sharing our favorite part of the day.  These can be short and sweet, sometimes silly, but they always leave us with a smile and a shared reminder that each day is special.

Sometimes we change this ritual up a little bit- especially when the day has seen a lot of bickering or frustration (from kids or adults!).  On those nights, we choose one family member to start with (we always know the one who really needs to hear it the most) and we go around the table, each of us telling something we love about that person.

Hearing these words, spoken aloud, changes the energy in my home every time.

Tension melts away, and is replaced by love.  My children’s small voices remind me of the absolute beauty waiting in every moment, if we just stand still and notice it.

The start of a new year carries with it so many possibilities!  I love the notion of a fresh start, or just creating a little more space in the New Year for things that are important to me and to my family.

In 2012, I want to create more space for connection to the people in my life–especially my children.  I thought about the activities that we’ve enjoyed together this past year- painting, simple crafts, baking, playing games- and then I wondered "what would make it easier to connect in these ways?"

It always comes back to space.

This feels like a good time to recommit to holding the space in my weekly schedule for these activities with my children.  Leaving some blocks of unscheduled time each day will give us the opportunity to bake cookies or paint with watercolors or play with trains.  This also feels like the perfect time to look at the physical space in my little house.  As I find a place for each new Christmas gift, I’m also choosing some toys and other items to move out of our living spaces altogether (some to donate, some to store in the basement).

Space is opening up for the activities that we enjoy the most as a family.  The art supplies and paper we need are easily accessible, favorite wintertime stories are at the children’s fingertips, and a few favorite toys and games are stored on low shelves so the girls can share in taking out and cleaning up.

As I look at the rearranged shelves, baskets and drawers I feel lighter.  I continue to remove the things we aren’t using, to create space for what we do want to do together.  Each time I walk past one of the transformed spaces, I am reminded of my goal to create more connection, and that little reminder keeps me grounded when I’m making decisions about how we’ll spend our days, where we’ll go, and what we’ll do.

How about you?  What do you want to create space for in the New Year?

Today I welcome Allison Abramson as a new contributing write to Kidoinfo. A certified Simplicity Parenting© Group Leader, Allison is helping Rhode Island families slow down, and make space for the simple joys of childhood.  In her monthly column, Allison will share ways we can reduce the chaos in our daily lives by making small, do-able changes at home that will strengthen family connections and create more time for fun!  She lives in Providence with her husband and two little girls, where she blogs about their journey toward a Peaceful Life.

Today We Will signFamily life moves FAST!!!  In my house, we are two adults and two little kids, and already I feel our life cruising, so I know that those of you with older kids, in school with homework and activities are feeling it, too. We’re all feeling that rush of life.

One thing that has helped keep everyone in my family moving in the same direction, is a consistent, gentle rhythm underlying our days.   Each day, we move through some of the same activities, not because we’re super rigid, but because that rhythm provides such comfort to all of us (especially the smallest ones among us).

If you feel like you’re scrambling day-to-day, a new rhythm can relieve a lot of pressure. Taking some time to think about what will work best for your family, will put you back in control of that rush of life.

Start by identifying the basic things you can count on everyday- meals, getting dressed, homework, bedtimes. Look for the places where there are rough edges and figure out how to smooth them. For my family, I’ve tried to add more fun into some of our transitions. When I noticed my girls were clinging to my husband as he tried to get ready for work, we started eating breakfast earlier as a family and we added a silly good-bye ritual at the front door; and when I noticed that they were consistently crabby before lunch, I became more consistent with meal prep time and got the girls more involved.  In no time at all, kids pick up a new rhythm and begin looking forward to the little ways we move from one part of the day to the next.

Weekly Rhythm Chart

Once the basics of a daily rhythm are feeling pretty smooth, you can expand to think about all those other things that need to get done over the course of a typical week.  This can include the chores (laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping), appointments (a weekly meeting, class, or practice), as well as the fun things you’re hoping to do together (art time with the kids, a family walk in the neighborhood). To create your weekly rhythm, assign a place for each activity that feels most natural and do-able.  In our house, for example, Mondays are quiet days, great for art projects and laundry; and Fridays are our days for a fun outings (nature hike, apple picking, that sort of thing).

Once you have it all mapped out, have fun posting your new rhythm in a place where everyone can see it.  (We keep this subtle reminder on a pantry door in the kitchen.)

Your family’s rhythm need not be a hard and fast schedule with set times, but a more general overview of the ins and outs of your days. As you begin to recognize this rhythm, and start moving with it, you’ll see how it can actually inform the decisions you make about your schedules and where everyone has to be. When your family feels out of rhythm, you can revisit what you hoped your days would feel like, and then pinpoint the problem areas and stress points.  See what you can rearrange and readjust to get everyone moving to the same beat again.

Need a little inspiration?  Check out these beautiful- and functional- designs on the following blogs.

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