Books that Help Kids Think (Outside the Box)

When we talk about rearing children who live a creative life, one filled with thinking skills, problem solving, and self-expression that almost always includes lives filled with models of creativity. Those models come in all shapes, sizes and forms, not the least of which is the model of a great book.

When choosing and reading good books, help your child “think outside the box” by considering and engaging in the following:
Wonder aloud about the book. As you read through a book with your child, share outloud your own thinking and what you might be wondering about the story. Tell about what the book reminds you of: past experiences, people you have known, situations you have found yourself in, or other books or stories that have similar plots or characteristics. When you wonder about a book, you are then modeling how to thoughtfully and critically engage a story.

Question the story line. And when you are reading a book and you find yourself not necessarily agreeing with what a character chooses, how the author words something, or perhaps you just find the story not aligning with your belief system, use it as an opportunity to engage your child in thinking critically about the world. Ask questions like why do you think the author said that? Or make statements like do you think that character is being a good friend? Soon you’ll notice your child asking similar questions and making statements in a similar manner.

Don't feel like you have to stick to the words all the time. Many wonderful picture books are written much more wordy than many preschools can physically sit for. As you are reading, feel free to take creative license with the author’s words. Give some of the more silent characters their own voice or just shorten a long paragraph to make it more accessible to your child’s listening abilities.

Try a wordless picture book. Even if your child can already read (and perhaps especially if they can), wordless picture books are a true wonder in their ability to get children thinking and imagining a storyline and words of their own. A few of my favorite wordless picture books are: Tuesday by David Wiesner, The Snowman by Raymond Briggs, and The Sidewalk Circus by Paul Fleischman.

Choose books with interesting and unique plots, characters, and ways of looking at the world. It may seem obvious that to live a creative life we must surround ourselves with models of creativity. Unfortunately, the children’s book market is saturated with books that are less than creative so it can be difficult to wade through. From a few classics to some brand new titles, some of my favorite books that encourage creative living are:

And To Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street by Dr. Seuss
For every Seuss-lover out there, this, his first book, is not to be missed or overlooked for some of his more mainstream and popular titles. This is the story of Marco as he walks home from school True to Seuss-ism, Mulberry Street is filled with rhyme, rhythm, and refrain that will have your kids imagining themselves right down your own streets. A wonderful book for modeling creative thinking in an ordinary, everyday situation.

The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater
As the story goes a seagull drops a can of orange paint (none knows why) right onto Mr. Plumbean’s house. The neighbors are aghast when Plumbean doesn’t fix it right away, disturbing their “neat street”. But one by one, they each go to speak with him, and uncover their own creative selves along the way. This old favorite is a fun and glorious story about self-expression, individuality, and believing in your dreams. I highly recommend this book for all ages!

The Dot and Ish by Peter Reynolds
Dare I say that anything by Peter Reynolds is a safe bet when it comes to choosing a book that honors and models a creative life? Well, his two books The Dot and Ish are certainly good starting points. Both offer a thoughtful glimpse into a moment in young artists’ life and process, while encouraging a view of the world that is all your own.

Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran
In an age where children are over-planned and over-stimulated we find that they often miss out on opportunities to play with natural materials in a truly creative and open-ended way. Roxaboxen is an excellent model of children who make their play themselves in a seemingly “boring” setting: an empty lot. Using only rocks, boxes, and imagination, the children engage in an elaborate simulation in the town and environment that comes from the pure delight of having time, space, and a few simple things to work with. This is a great read for a child who might be ready to sit for a longer story. It is also a wonderful way to introduce stories from Mommy and Daddy’s childhood play.

These are only a few of the wonderful choices out there that encourage a more creative, thoughtful mindset. When we turn to books to help model and enhance the creative life, we find that with the many wonderful titles available to our little ones and a few good reading strategies, they will do just that, think outside the box!

finding inspiration:: poem by a native american healer

I have shared this poem many a time in a workshop, but it seems that it is high time I share it once again,this time in this space.

***Editing to say this poem was NOT written by Anonymous as I have always thought. This inspiring piece was penned by Oriah Mountain Dreamer , and appears in Dreams of Desire. Thank you to the readers who emailed and commented to let me know. I am so excited to finally know who authored this piece which has so been a source of true inspiration for me over the years. Blessed be!****

Here it is:

The Invitation
by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It doesn't interest me what you do for a living
I want to know what you ache for
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.

It doesn't interest me how old you are
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool
for love
for your dreams
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn't interest me what planets are squaring your moon...
I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow
if you have been opened by life's betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your
fingers and toes
without cautioning us to
be careful
be realistic
to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn't interest me if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand on the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,

It doesn't interest me
to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after a night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn't interest me who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the center of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like the company you keep
in the empty moments.

Child of Wonder anew... can you help?

Hello Dear Readers!

This year, I am working on a new, revised edition of my book Child of Wonder. One of the additions to the book will be a chapter on Encouraging and Working with Special Needs Children. As you know, I like to include stories from real, creative families in each chapter. If you have a special needs child, please send me any anecdotes, tips, or questions you might have about encouraging your child's creative nature. Do you have a special tool that helps your child deal with Sensory Processing Disorder still explore with messy substances? Have you developed a Parent's Support Group? Perhaps your child is in a wheelchair... or experienced trauma early in life... or is deaf... or has Down Syndrome. I want to hear from you. Please contact me and let me know your stories so that I may possibly include them in the latest edition of Child of Wonder.
Thank you, and Happy Wondering!


grasping wonder with slippery fingers

Do you know that feeling when you are in the shower and you reach down to pick up the soap, and it just slips out of your fingers? So you try again, this time using both hands, and plop!...there goes the soap flying across the shower floor. And on and on, until finally you grasp the little sucker with your finger nails so it can’t get away. It will do its job for you. When it is done doing its job, and only then, will it be able slip back into its comfortable nook on the shower wall, only to slide off again at your feet, at which point you just leave it there, sitting over the grate letting the rest of your shower water begin to assist in its slow disintegration. You sigh and just let it be. After all, it did what you asked it to do, and you are clean now, so there is no need to go through that whole rigmarole again.

As adults, we often go through our own processes trying to hold onto our own individual creative soaps. We are searching for our voice, learning to create again, or developing a particular style with art, cooking, music, or any number of ways we wish to express ourselves. Oftentimes, we are working to take off layers of upbringing, possibly even addictions or other roads that may have lead us astray from our creative paths. We do it because creativity and being able to uniquely express ourselves is our birthright, but it is often hard work. So how do we rear thoughtful creative children, the kind of children who grow up to be thoughtful creative adults, who are somehow able to continue to nimbly grasp their own true creative, yet slippery, wonder?

Luckily, there’s more than one way to do so, and this little journey we call parenting is as unique as our kids are. Still, if we can release for a moment the urge to control; if we can allow true expression; if we can honor the creative impulses that arise, and do so early and often, then we encourage the creative life we want and strive for ourselves.

So it is later in the afternoon and you walk into the bathroom. The shower curtain is still pulled back and you see that the soap is still guarding the grate, just as you left it. You reach down again and easily pluck the soap up and place it back on the shelf. It stays put. A second later your out-loud, expressive, energetic, creative kid goes running down the hallway dressed as the super-human master of the underworld, flaming red scarves trailing behind. The energy settles on your whole being, and you smile, because maybe, just maybe, when he grows up he won’t have such a hard time holding onto his soap.

do you doodle?

Looking for an alternative to the tired old coloring book? You might have seen the Anti-Coloring books series in the past, and those were certainly revolutionary addition to the coloring book world when they came out, but these new Doodle books might just be the next step. The titles currently in print are Do You Doodle?, The Boys Doodle Book, The Girls Doodle Book, and during the Holiday season there was a Christmas Doodle book. Coming soon is the Boy's Doodle book 2, which Zeal is anxiously awaiting the arrival of. These books give kids a jumping off point for their drawings and allow for a deep well of creativity to bubble. I highly recommend them.

come together, right now: building a community that cares for our children

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed. It is the only thing that ever has."
~ Margaret Mead

We live in a unique time in history. It is one rich with strife and angst, but also opportunity, joy, and creativity. It is what we choose to focus on and nurture that will carry our children through their lives. It is in the act of building and nurturing a community, or "common unity" as it were, that children (and adults) will learn and internalize that people are not isolated from one another, but rather that we are all interconnected. So what can we do about it?

Stop at Every Lemonade Stand. In our home, we have a motto we do our best to live by: Stop at every lemonade stand. We make a concerted effort to support the efforts of the children we see working towards a goal. Sometimes that means we are literally stopping at lemonade stands, sometimes we are purchasing arts and crafts a child might be selling at the market, or sharing our spare change with a child practicing his violin at the farmer's market. Sometimes it just means taking an interest in what our neighbor's children are reading. If we are going to create a culture and community that cares for our children, it has to begin with them. And we have to show them that we support their interests.

Join together. As Gandhi suggested, we must "be the change we wish to see in the world". As parents seeking to offer our kids a model of community building and active engagement with our community, we must then find ways in which to come together. If the first step to create community starts with our own community in our homes, then as a family we can do simple things, such as garden together, dine together, and share what we learn each day. From there, we can take our community out of the home. Greet and talk to your mailman each day. Try sitting on your front porch instead of playing in the backyard and see who you meet and can offer a smile to. The next time you bake cookies, bake a few extra and deliver them with your children. Find other ways to connect with the people you live close to (but may not often spend time with or know well): plan a neighborhood potluck or progressive dinner (where appetizers are served at one house, salad at the next, and so on until you get to dessert). Help to organize a block party or a multi-neighbor yard sale. The possibilities for connecting with your neighbors and other people in your community are endless.

Get Involved. Many communities are rich with outreach programs that help children feel more connected to the many different people they live amongst.

Some of the things our family has done to help connect with others in our community have included playing games with elders at a senior center and helping out at the community garden that grows and harvests food for the local soup kitchens. If you are unsure what kinds of opportunities exist in your community for such things, ask for resources at your local library or chamber of commerce. The more you can help connect your children to the needs of her local community, the more you will help to nurture a community that cares for your children.

Connect with All the Faces of Your Community. More and more these days, we are hearing about people wanting to connect with "like-minded" people, and attempting to create community that way. But it seems that in many ways, the opposite can happen, and that when we are only connecting with people we consider to be like ourselves, we are causing separation and divide from the others in our community. Herein lies the real challenge: to connect with all the faces of our community, to learn to understand each other and our multi-facetted perspectives, and appreciate each of our unique journeys so that we may travel the road together for the greater good of humanity.

I feel especially fortunate to be living in this time: one that is rich with wonder, learning, and opportunity for connection in a myriad of ways. From our home communities reaching outward, it is with conscious and deliberate effort that I believe we can create a world that is more commonly united. And nothing feels like it could be more important.

welcoming winter

Today we were out in the snow having a picnic and just loving winter. We weren't expecting to be in a place with so much snow, but here we are and we couldn't feel we are in a more right place.

Here's a little piece I wrote for the Savvy Source recently:

Welcoming Winter

December 21st , the first day of winter, is the shortest day of the year. It marks the return of the light leading towards longer, warmer days, and is one of the most wonderful times to celebrate the natural rhythms of the earth with children. And there are numerous fun ways to welcome winter into your lives while connecting deeply with your family and friends:

Warming Your Tummy

One of our favorite and most treasured ways to celebrate this season is to retreat into the kitchen for the kind of play that results in yummy treats. We have always tried to capture winter with a gingerbread house, adding all the embellishments of winter: snow, evergreens, and forest animals sneaking out of their usual hiding places in search of food. This year, we are working on a medieval castle scene, and are contemplating what winter might have meant to those who lived during years past. The possibilities are endless.

Here's what they came up with (completely and 100% kid made):

Read the rest of this piece on The Savvy Source.