It’s official. My daughter, age 5, now has a digital device of her very own. Granted, it’s just an old hand-me-down iPod Touch with a few games on it. But still, there’s a part of me that feels weird about dedicating a device to her use with all the talk in parenting circles about limiting screen time. Not to mention the fact that we’re a tech-oriented family already. I’m not sure I’m ready to add another generation in the digital mix.
There are about a million lists of do’s and don’t's for families navigating screen time issues, but I’m more inclined to look to books for advice. I think you might be surprised at what you can learn from picture books, even if you’re a not a kid. Like Matthew Cordell’s Hello! Hello!, for example. In this picture book, everyone is too busy with whatever gadget to say anything but a distracted hello to the little girl who is restless and sick of her own electronic options.
Until the girl is beckoned outside by a little leaf
From there the book explodes with color and imagination as the girl and her family say hello to what they’ve been missing. It may sound a bit over the top or message-y, but the story is wry enough to transcend what might have been preachy. Instead of rolling my eyes at yet another guilt-inducing admonishment to put down my smartphone, I was smiling, nodding, and looking around. Asking myself, what have I been missing while glued to my device?
Maybe it’s just me, but I’d say a book like this is more effective than a list of the ways that screen time is bad for families any day of the week. There’s only one rule on my list of do’s and don’t's: Read picture books.
Okay, two rules: Read picture books and take their advice.
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“We make cool stuff. We make people too. How has that affected you? Along the way we try to stay creative types at the end of the day.” –The Pratfalls of Parenting theme song
I recently discovered the Pratfalls of Parenting podcast about life as a parent in the arts, and I’ve become a bit obsessed with the show. I am far from being a working artist myself–that isn’t even on my map really–but that doesn’t matter. The sense of camaraderie in the casual conversations between the artists in the podcast extends to the listener, and turns people whose names I see on advertisements for gallery shows or theater performances into real people whose struggles are not far off from mine.
All the interviews that I’ve listened to so far seem to circle back to the idea that you have to be you to be a good parent. You might be able to put parts of you in the background at times, like when your kids are quite young, but you have to keep making things or whatever it is you are into. For me that means writing and making zines. For my husband, it means making music. We’ve made these things priorities in our house, and it’s nice to know that there are other families out there who are making the same kinds of priorities we are.
But I don’t think you have to be some sort of artist to know the tension between keeping your pre-parent self alive and being a good parent, and I don’t think you have to be an artist to appreciate the Pratfalls of Parenting podcast. For one thing, it’s a fascinating angle on the Twin Cities arts scene. I’ve discovered so many artists and arts organizations in the few weeks I’ve been listening. :)
Here are some of the highlights I’ve found so far:
- Seniz Lennes (improvisor/actor/photographer) talks about parenting as part of her creative practice and the way that her work as an improvisor informs her parenting. She blogs about this at Yes And Parenting.
- Carolyn Swiszcz (painter/video maker) references children’s books as a great inspiration, and she mentions several illustrators in particular that she likes. While I’m on the subject of books, I’ll also point out that Susannah Schouweiler mentions that having free reign of the library as a kid influenced her decision to become a writer and William Alexander (children’s book author) talks about writing, the book industry, and all sorts of other things kidlitgeeks like me love hearing about.
- Jena Young (comic/theater producer) brings up the topic of humor in that what is funny to kids is often not the same as what is funny to adults. I wonder what she and host Levi Weinhagen (of all-ages theater company Comedy Suitcase) would think of my assessment of Kid Humor in picture books. ;)
I highly recommend the podcast to parents of all sorts, but especially to those who make stuff and make that a priority.
I have a five year-old girl in my life, and it follows seemingly inevitably that princesses are also a part of my life. This is hardly the first time I’ve brought up princesses on this blog, and among parents of girls, the topic has been covered again and again. Still we can never seem to resist a chance to talk princess with other parents, whether we love them or hate them. So I listened eagerly (and added my two cents) to the MPR segment which had two dads giving their take on princess culture.
As an aside, does it seem like more dads are talking about parenting these days? I hope so. Parenting doesn’t have to be such a girls club.
Anyway, I think it was a caller who brought up the idea of redirecting the princess obsession with a little reality. Princesses don’t just wear pretty dresses and go to balls, and your young daughter might not have quite the same view of royal life after learning more about real princess life. For the parents who decide to go that route (more power to you!), here are a couple of picture books you might want to slip into your bedtime story rotation:
A peek inside Princess in Training
The Princess and the Peas by Caryl Hart – When Lili-Rose May won’t eat her peas the doctor declares that she must be a princess, so they send her off to the castle. She’s very excited until she learns all the work that comes along with being a princess, and eating peas back home with her family doesn’t seem so bad after all. (This might also be a good choice for picky eaters.)
Princess in Training by Tammi Sauer – Princess Viola just wants to be the darling of her kingdom, but she is no good at princess stuff like waving and dancing. Her parents send her to Camp Princess to learn everything she needs to know. Only she ends up saving the day with her non-princess skills and becoming the darling of her kingdom anyway. (This one is a favorite in my house.)
Maybe one of these will change the perception of princesses in your house or at least vary the story up a bit. Either way good luck to you.
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I have been reading parenting books for much longer than I’ve been a parent. I guess I’ve always been a bit of a child development geek. I probably should have majored in education or something similar, but when I was in college, there was no convincing me that I was not destined to be the next great novelist/poet on the literary scene. I think every English major I knew had the same aspiration.
After college, I realized that I’d probably need a job while I waited for the writing dreams to materialize. That’s where library school entered the picture, and that’s where I discovered children’s literature, which has since become my life’s passion. So it all worked out, I’d say. :)
I still read a lot of parenting/child development books. Now that I am a parent, I have a more practical reason for choosing them, but I’m still just generally interested in how kids think and how we as parents, educators, and random people might best interact with them.
On that note, check out the Best Parenting Books of 2012 from Momma Data (one of my favorite parenting related blogs) for some great suggestions that get behind the headlines and dig into the facts.
My parenting book pick for 2012 isn’t even a parenting book. It’s a self help book that I’d recommend to just about anyone regardless of whether they have children, but don’t let that deter you from reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown as a parenting book. You can skip to the chapter on Whole Hearted Parenting if you want or read a version of her words to parents published on the Huffington Post.
If nothing else, this:
“Who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting.”
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Mindful Motherhood by Cassandra Vieten
Planting Seeds by Thich Nhat Hanh
I’ve written before of my discovery of mindfulness in a Library Journal review assignment of the book Mindful Motherhood. Before I read that book, I never thought about my tendency to daydream or worry as anything I could (or should) change. It was just me. The idea that my thoughts and tendencies were not me–that I merely contain them–was revolutionary (to put it mildly), and I am always looking for ways to share that with my daughter. Enter Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Frankly, I waited forever on a library list for this book, and now that I’ve seen it, I just may have to purchase a copy for our family library. I did the “Mind in a Jar” exercise with Ladybug as a way of illustrating that we contain our thoughts and feelings.
We started with a jar of water. What do you think about when you wake up in the morning? Sprinkle in a bit of rice.
Soon the jar was full of the thoughts and feelings of the day, which we stirred up. When we stopped stirring, the water slowed and eventually stopped. As the rice settled, we talked about our thoughts settling with our breath. Ladybug was attentive to the activity, but she seemed to know where I was going already. It wasn’t revolutionary to think about being in charge of your thoughts or using deep cleansing breaths to keep calm or clear your mind. There was a teeny-tiny part of me that was disappointed. I wanted to blow her mind with this news that was so huge for me. But I think it’s probably a good thing that this wasn’t news to my four-year-old.
I think it’s time to take it to the next level. Next up: Pebble Meditation.
You can read more about the book in this review from First the Egg.
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I know I’ve been accused of turning everything into a Learning Experience, and some people think that means sucking the fun out of everything. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on that because I think we had a great Halloween, thank you very much.
We traipsed up and down the streets of our neighborhood with the “park friends” and their parents. We had a dinosaur, a fairy princess, a ballerina and my little witch all excitedly carrying around their bags of candy and doing what they are rarely allowed to do: be out walking around after dark.
But that isn’t all there is to it. Wait for it…. Halloween is also an opportunity to build social skills. For the shy kids, this means meeting new people in a safe space. For all kids, you can talk about (& model) the ways we are good neighbors–respecting property, being friendly, not littering, etc. In our group, we also addressed not asking for more candy, not ringing a door bell more than once, and staying on the sidewalk. We also discussed whether it was polite to ask if there were treat alternatives for kids with food allergies. We weren’t sure on that one.
It was a learning experience for us too. Next year we may try to go with a smaller group. I will definitely wear better walking shoes, and I’ll at least throw a witch’s hat on or something. Everyone ought to get in the spirit of things, including me. Even if I do suck the fun out of everything. :)
More about the Hidden Lessons of Halloween from Parent Further.
Parenting can be a tightrope walk.
We’re always in search of a middle ground. We want our kids to eat healthy, but we don’t want to deny them sweets. We want to guide them to good decisions, but we don’t want to make decisions for them. It isn’t always clear at first where the middle is, so we are always readjusting our sense of balance. At least, I am.
I think that the most delicate and debated issue that requires nearly constant readjustment is that of religion–or in my case, lack thereof. I’ve written of my desire to let my daughter make her own choices about her beliefs as she gets older. But that’s easy to type. In practice, it gets a bit murky. How do you answer your child’s questions about the world without indoctrinating them? Is that even possible?! Sometimes I wonder. Writer Wendy Thomas Russell delves into the murkiness of the non-religious parenting on her blog Relax, It’s Just God.
All that never far from my mind, I was eager to read the teen novel Everything You Need to Survive the Apocalypse by Lucas Klauss. Yes, it’s a novel published for teens. But I am recommending it to parents. Non-religious parents, in particular, may relate to the father, described as an “enthusiastic atheist,” as they read the teen’s story of exploring religion.
I couldn’t help but wonder if my daughter would feel like she needed to hide her interest in beliefs that differ from mine like Phillip does. Or if I would forbid her from it like Phillip’s dad does. I don’t think that I would, but sometimes we act more emotionally than rationally, especially when it is about the people we love the most. The book isn’t about religion being true or not true or good or bad. It’s about the way religion affects people and the choices we make as we decide how we will let it affect us. It’s about family.
Recommended to parents of all sorts, but especially those wondering how to approach the balancing act that is allowing our kids to explore beliefs that are different from our own.
For more about secular family life, see my Secular Thursday page or check out the Books for Secular Families Amazon Book Shop. A portion of purchases made from Amazon.com links on this site benefit Proper Noun Blog. Thanks for your support! (Book was reviewed from a library copy.)
I never read Maud Hart Lovelace’s books as a kid, but I couldn’t not read them with my daughter. After all, Maud lived in our neighborhood. Before it was Mueller Park, it was where Maud lived with her husband.
We’ve passed by the rock with its plaque many times as a reluctant-to-leave-the-park last stop, and since Betsy and Tacy are four-years-old at the beginning of the first book, it seemed appropriate to introduce my daughter to Minnesota of the past with Betsy-Tacy.
I’m excited for Ladybug to meet the heroines of my youth–Anne Shirley, Laura Ingalls, and Ramona Quimby. But I’m happy that we are meeting Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy and Tacy together.
What childhood heroes are you excited to revisit as an adult (with kids or just for fun)?
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For most of my life Saturdays were spent in service. It was part of my family’s values to give our time to our church whenever we could. As kids, this meant that Saturday mornings weren’t for sleeping in and watching cartoons. They were for the volunteer ministry.
It seems that old habits find a way. My religious beliefs have changed, but I still value service, volunteering, and generosity. Without noticing I was doing it, I started a new Saturday morning routine that involves a walk or bike ride with my daughter down to one or more Little Free Libraries to leave a book or two. Sometimes we take a book, but we always leave at least one.
It’s a simple way of giving back that suits our current values and situation. Not to mention, it speaks to the librarian in me. :)
I love Ladybug’s excitement about sharing her own books even though there are rarely children’s books for her to take home.
How do you engage your kids in service/volunteering?
For more about secular family life, see my Secular Thursday page or check out the Books for Secular Families Amazon Book Shop. A portion of purchases made from Amazon.com links on this site benefit Proper Noun Blog. Thanks for your support!
Today I dropped my daughter off at her new preschool classroom. I hovered in the door way along with several other parents until a teacher shooed us away. ”They’re going to be fine. Go!” she smiled at us, but she spoke firmly enough that we all scattered.
My daughter, of course, was already making friends. She waved at me with a nonchalance that made me sad and proud at the same time. It seems too cliche to say that I can’t believe she’s going to school, but honestly, a lot of parenting seems a bit cliche. It’s all been done before. My reluctance to leave my daughter in a big, scary (to me) public school when she seems way too little to be there without me? I’m not the first to feel like this, and I won’t be the last.
Despite any hesitation on my part, I know my kiddo will be fine. She’s ready.
Speaking of back-to-school, here are some inspiring words on the value of public education from John Green because we should be less stupid together.