There’s something immensely special about old photos. I ran across this one yesterday and just had to share it. While I don’t ever remembering seeing this photo before, or having it taken, I know it was taken at Grassroots Garden (I’d know those dalhias anywhere), where our family volunteered for five years together.
I’m so grateful for all the flowers we have planted, nurtured, smelled, picked and enjoyed in our few short years we’ve spent together so far. And it is just makes me smile so broadly at the site of Zeal’s old rainbow hat! With all the wear, it’s amazing that thing still has a stitch left in it.
I am sooo excited about the nearly completed manuscript for my next book, Thinking Outside the Recipe: Cooking Activities to Nurture and Nourish the Creative Child. It is filled with so many fun activities, recipes, and ideas, some of which Zeal and I have shared here. But now I want to share the just completed introduction letter with you, because I couldn’t feel stronger about the shared meal and what cooking has the potential of giving our children. My wish for the world is that we will all be able to sit around a table and share a plate of cookies and conversation and solve our issues in a sweet, happy way. Until then, there is always the best way to come about any change, and that is to begin with our beautiful children. Enjoy!
Gathering, Growing and Learning with the Shared Meal
“Many hands make light work.” -old English proverb
The table is set, actively adorned with big and little plates, cups, utensils, and a nourishing pot of soup made from a combination of last night’s leftovers, root vegetable stores from last summer’s garden, and little helping hands. A candle is lit. Hands are clasped. Bwess dis food, chirps one small voice just in time with the bigger voices guiding her, and the family meal begins with a start. The meal consists of laughter, shared struggles, pride, and connection. The circle is strong, complete, and rooted in love and the joy of nurturing each other.
Feeding the family is a focus in the lives of parents. Unfortunately, with the rising use of canned and fast food, coupled with busy lives, more and more families with young children have strayed from cooking and eating together. But what we know is this: families who cook and eat together, and show appreciation for the ritual of mealtime, feel more connected and grounded. Children who understand where food comes from and engage in the preparation of their food are more adventurous in their food choices, and eat a wider variety of fresh, natural, and nourishing foods.
We also know that cooking is a creative outlet and great source of joy and personal expression for millions of adults all over the world. Cooking and sharing meals, celebrating food and all the exciting ways we can combine it, is a fabulous way to nurture the creative child, our families, and community connection in a way that is almost unparalleled. We gather at the table after a long day. We connect with our physical and emotional presence. We solve problems and listen to each other. We break bread and share.
Just as toys, puzzles, games, outdoor play, stories, and varied other learning tools are vital to a growing child, so we can say is food. And because food is what keeps children’s brains and bodies able to keep up with all that growing and going, perhaps it can be said that it is their most important tool.
But to nourish a growing child’s mind, bodies, and creative development is not always easy. Young children need diets that are varied, but they often eat limited types of food, and just stick to their favorites. Growing children need diets rich in a myriad of vitamins, protein, good fats, iron, and phyto-nutrients. For whatever reason, only 10% of children are actually getting those nutrients and a large percentage of children are subsisting on a diet of mainly carbohydrates.
When children enter the kitchen and actively participate in food preparation, they are learning valuable skills. The development of their creativity, problem solving abilities, skills in mathematics and science, understanding processes and change, cultural appreciation, self-esteem, and fine motor development are all boosted by spending time in the kitchen. They learn more about the people with whom they share their food with as well as any number of ways they can create and express their own uniqueness through the art of food.
In my first book, Child of Wonder, we looked at all the ways a child can express and develop their creativity, curiosity, and a love of learning. Here, in Thinking Outside the Recipe, we go a bit deeper and explore that very special room we call the kitchen, where we can gather and gain nourishment in a variety of ways.
Thank you for joining me on the journey towards rearing children who think outside the recipe, a wonderful way to nourish and nurture ourselves, our families, and children who think, wonder and love to learn! Please feel free to contact me through my website and share your stories and innovations in the kitchen and in your creative lives.
I always feel so lucky to be able to speak and learn alongside parents and teachers. Nothing short of great enthusiasm and love for children is always clearly evident in a roomful of people who’ve come to learn about and explore creativity.
I recently received a cd in the mail, sent to me from a person in the back of the room who took these photos during one of my workshops. What a gift! Thank you Leah for so kindly sharing them, and most of all for having the presence of mind to take them!
I am so pleased to be able to announce that I will soon be spending a bit of time working with students and parents and teachers and lovers of learning and creativity in the country of Kazakhstan! What a special treat for me and my whole family! With the promise of learning to play the dombra, Zeal is especially excited!
We are busy learning about the country, its rich heritage, and all about the culture of children there! So exciting! Who knows, perhaps I will even be able to see Child of Wonder translated into Russian! Wouldn’t that be amazing? With any luck, (and my trusty sidekick and learning partner named Zeal) I’ll even be able to read it!
Oh, it appears spring has actually arrived. The crocuses are peeking their heads out of the ground, the sun is smiling down on us, and the snow is *almost* all gone. Even the birds are singing!
But even though that outdoor water play seems ever closer, it isn't quite here yet. Still, there are many opportunities for water play that don't involve being outside in the cold.
The Wonder of Water Play
Water is a tremendous and abundant element of the earth. It provides a sensory experience, connection to nature, and insight into the mysteries our world holds. Water play offers opportunity to develop emotionally, cognitively, and physically. On top of all that, it is one of the easiest sources for our children to tap into their creativity and thinking skills. And here we are; spring is just about upon us and outdoor water play seems near. But it isn't quite here yet. Still, keep in mind all of the wonderful ways you can keep the magic and creative wonder of water play alive in your home even if it still is winter.
Rub a Dub Dub; Creativity in the Tub.
Playing in the bath is a complete sensory experience and is a wonderful opportunity to develop understanding of the world and creativity to its fullest, whatever the age.As children bathe, there are plenty of opportunities to turn this everyday task into an exploration of science, art, and just pure creative fun. From empty shampoo bottles and favorite toys to a slew of found objects throughout the house, keep a bag or basket in the tub and guide your child in making predictions about what will float and what will sink.Change the items regularly to keep the experiments fresh and exciting.In addition, the bathtub is a great place to let artistic summer energy live on while making cleanup easy.Try mixing equal parts dishwashing liquid with tempera paint for wonderful, easy-to-wash-off tub paint.Or use shaving cream and a few drops of color, sponges, brushes, bath mitts, or squeegees on the tub walls.
Bubbles are perpetually intriguing for people of all ages.Whether in the tub or outdoors while the weather lasts, take bubble creativity further by offering the challenge of creating your own unique bubble blowers.Use wire hangers, pipe cleaners, string, or pieces of aluminum foil or plastic wrap.Experiment with how to make extra large or small bubbles.Can you make bubbles inside of bubbles? How about square, triangular, or heart shape bubbles? How about colored bubbles? For strong, long lasting bubbles, try this recipe:
Cup of water
Cup of liquid dishwashing soap
3 teaspoons glycerin
Combine the glycerin and water. Pour in the dishwashing soap. If you do not have glycerin, use 1/8 cup of corn syrup instead.If you use corn syrup, let it sit for a few hours before using it.
The Ways Water Moves
One continually intriguing aspect of beach play is the way the water naturally moves in the sand, how it snakes its way up the beach, fills the ravines you have created, and slips through your fingers, only to find its way back out to sea.Well, just because you may be about to leave the beach, doesn't mean you must relinquish the joy of moving water. One of our favorite ways to explore the many properties of water, is to move it through tubes.Use simple plastic pipe (available at home improvement stores) for added creativity and problem solving. Provide your children with an array of shapes and configurations to make waterways with. Because they easily snap and unsnap, there is a different configuration each time, and the possibilities for exploration can seem endless.
But for the Kitchen Sink
Young children are forever interested in the items we use everyday.Allow them moments to experiment with the whisk, egg beater, squeegee, measuring cups, funnel, or turkey baster.If you are uncomfortable with giving up your own precious kitchen tools for such explorations, check garage sales and dollar stores for inexpensive household items.And don't be afraid to let your child stand at the sink and wash the dishes.Filling the same cups over and over again is a wonderful way for them to learn concepts such as volume and capacity.Luckily, water is one of the easiest things to clean up so ongoing sink play and wonder can be had with very little effort.
Water exploration is not just a simple endeavor for the summer. In fact, water is an anytime must-play activity, one that provides children with experiences they get through few other materials.So let the wave of creativity wash over you and your children.Explore, learn, and create with our world's most abundant resource: water.
As you may well know, I am a serious student of yoga. A friend sent me this photo, and I'm finding great truth and inspiration in it this morning, this moment. So I'd like to share it with you.
I'm inspired by:
The strength. The strength to hold and be held. As parents we often take on just one of the roles, that of the holder. But it takes a lot of strength to be held as well, to find the things that support and fulfill you, so you can be the best, strongest holder you can be when that is your role.
The flexibility. To be flexible in the mind is what I strive for in this life and the everyday. To take our days as they come, to believe that anything is possible, to believe that there are many ways of being and that they can all be right...and as Rumi said, to truly believe that "There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground."
The grace. She's using all her will, all her strength and power, and this isn't an easy pose. Still, she smiles. And breathes. Beauty.
The determination. Sometimes we twist and hold ourselves into positions that aren't thought possible, and by sheer determination, we are able to do it!
The balance. Oh, the balance. To balance it all: the many things we juggle each day, whether it be work, play, dinner preparation, care for children, and any other number of activities we balance on any given day. To find the balance in the stretching and holding and breathing. Aaaah.
What's inspiring you lately?
There is a saying that goes: When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
So it goes with parenting, perhaps the greatest exercise in humility, patience, and love.
Even the most competent and confident of people, in all walks of life, in all fields of work, find themselves challenged as never before once they add children to their lives. It is clear that most people who choose to have children want to be good parents. They have many questions about what would be best for their children. So they research, and they read, and they learn, and they discern. However, they often look outside themselves and outside their children for the answers, and the appropriate answers for their particular child are not always out there.
As anyone who has ever asked a question knows, there is an expert for everything. For every aspect of parenting, educating, and even breathing you can find an expert on it. In the sea of child-rearing books and resources available, the stories and ways of being are vast, to say the least. And at some point in the journey, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by all of the different methods, instructions, and choices we have. But one thing is clear, for any choice we make or method we follow, we are doing it for one reason and one reason alone, for the good of our beloved child. For love.
So who do we listen to? Who's advice do we follow? Who really knows best?
Look to Your Child for the Answer.
For all the experts out there who have an opinion, as educated as it may be, it is the children themselves who can help us unlock the answers to our questions about what is right for them and what they need.
To follow a child's lead is to observe their ways of being, understand their response to the world, and to learn about their uniqueness. If we take the time and energy to carefully and clearly observe our children as they move through their days, we can better understand their strengths and challenges, likes and dislikes, personality traits, preferences and the intimate details of their learning styles; then we hold the key which unlocks their innate ability to thrive. It is only from this place of really knowing our children that we will be able to offer the guidance they seek, when they seek it.
As parents, the more we are able to observe our children and how they react to situations, the more we will be able to support them in their interactions with the world.
Question Your Agenda and Honor Sovereignty.
Questioning our agendas as parents, that is, why we feel something must happen in a certain way or on a certain timeline, can be the first step in learning from our little masters. It is certainly an extended exercise in being a mindful parent.
Getting past reflexively saying "Because I said so," or a knee-jerk "No" can be what it takes to create an environment in which we can say affirm our children and strengthen our relationships. If we are imposing our agendas that only trains our children to look to others, rather than themselves, for direction. And if the goal in life is to eventually gain authority over oneself, then we must honor children's opinions and help them learn to express those opinions in a way that is both respectful and articulate.
If children live in a world in which they can be confident- one that recognizes their ideas and desires and that these ideas are not "childish", but as the real experts they are, valuable and valued - then they will become the confident beings we hope for. Children are entitled, like all human beings, to be loved and to find strength in that love. One way we can give them that entitlement is to let them have control over their situations.
Listen and Learn.
Children really are experts on many things: they are experts of asking questions, experts of using their imaginations, experts of discovery of this big wide world. Perhaps you have an expert on dinosaurs, trains, or fairies. Perhaps you have an expert pot banger, bug collector, or mud pie baker. When we consciously choose to listen to our children and their expert opinions, we are provided with the precious opportunity to stay connected with one another. If your child explains that a mouse lives in every clock turning the clock hands and getting his tail stuck each time it moves (causing the ‘tick'), consider it an opportunity to gain insight into your child's exploration of the world and how she solves problems rather than correcting her observation (which can often be very difficult for parents who are trying to ‘seize the teachable moments'.) From that place, where there is much to be learned, children are provided a model that values a life of listening and questioning.
It is not uncommon to hear a parent say their children have been their greatest teacher. Your children are experts at being exactly who they are, experts of their very own childhood. Listen to them. Follow their lead. They have much to teach us.
Oh the joy of a simple deck of cards! Since we've been on the road, they have been one of Zeal's most faithful and trusted tools. He's built card houses, worked on his memory with games on concentration, given old favorites like "War" new life calling it "Roar" and saying one card eats the other (dinosaurs roar before they eat, you know), and practiced his share of magic tricks!
Here we are playing his new favorite game, Two Player Solitaire. I swear this is the best card game for kids! As a cooperative effort, the object of the game is to collectively clear all your cards into the foundation piles on top. It's a real puzzle to figure how to do it, and you have to work together, and so far it works every time (with a bit of problem solving and studious thinking).
And oh what a feeling when Dad asks, "who won?" and we can respond "We did!"
Now that's my kind of game!
We're on the road (again), and found ourselves at the Reno Art Museum last week for an impromptu viewing of la Velata, Raphael's "Woman in the Veil". It was like our cherry on top as we have been all enraptured with talk of the Renaissance and a trip to Florence so we can do a bit of waltzing in Leonardo da Vinci's footsteps.
Outside the museum, we played a bit while waiting our turn. Zeal made this little stone piece on the sidewalk for passersby. There a five different figures to see in this arrangement of stones. Can you find them?
Hint: try looking from new angles.