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Written by Mama Monday

Blog posts written by mamas on cloth diapering, green living, natural parenting.

Today in America, we honor the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. Because it’s a national holiday, this allows many of us to enjoy a day off. But, many don’t realize that, beyond being a means of celebrating the peaceful fight that Dr. King and the many others who fought to win African Americans their equal rights in America, it’s also a day of service in his memory.

When I’m not on maternity leave, I teach in a school library. I usually discuss Dr. King and the others who have helped for the fight for equality from now through February for Black History Month. Through media, plays, role play, and, of course, great books, I’ve found that you can actually open up the topics of fairness, diversity, equality, and service to a wide range of ages. Most children are able to understand not only these concepts but the fact that American history isn’t always a gleaming display of perfection and righteousness, but rather lessons from which we can learn.

Here are some of my favorite books and lessons to help broach the topics of inequality and injustice and to help your children understand more about the day, the man, and the cause.

Courtesy the National Archives

Image Courtesy the National Archives

 

Preschool and Early Elementary (pre-K – 2nd grade) – While this age may be difficult to open up the topic of his assassination and even racism in general, introducing children to Dr. King and his cause(s) is appropriate.

The concept of fairness is a very understandable one at this age, so helping it hit home with a little social experiment always gets the children thinking. You can do this in simplified or more complex ways, but here’s an example: I might tell students that anyone with dark hair may get books in the usual sections, but those with light hair may pick books from the discard box (consisting of old, worn books) and have a chat about how each group felt and discuss empathy.

Dr. Seuss’ The Sneetches is also a wonderful, subtle way to teach the idea of racism and equality.   

Elementary Age (2nd grade – 5th grade) – This is a good age to introduce Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Also, many of the incredible books that have been written about King’s life are perfect for this age, in which the conversation about his tragic death can be started (using great sensitivity with the earlier ages). Here are my favorites, but feel free to use them at whatever age you feel your child is ready:

Martin’s Big Words – My all-time favorite Dr. King book, this is a boiled-down biography that talks about the “big words” that shaped King’s outlook on life and the big words that he shared with the world.
My Uncle Martin’s Big Heart – It’s always special to hear about a famous person from someone who knew them personally; in this case, Dr. King’s niece. It’s also from the perspective of a child, as she was when she knew her great uncle.   
– Ruby Bridges – Anything regarding this brave girl’s story of integration at a young age really hits home for students of the same age. Younger readers can try The Story of Ruby Bridges while Through My Eyes is great for the older readers.  
Henry’s Freedom Box is a stirring story of a slave who mails himself to freedom that resonates deeply with readers.

Older Kids (middle/high school) – One of my favorite ways to teach any topic are to bridge different forms of media. So, I’ll hand kids the lyrics and crank up U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love)”. It’s an incredible conversation starter to discuss not only the poetry behind the lyrics but the dignity and, well, pride that Dr. King embodied. After teaching this with students, I can’t help but cry hearing the song now.

Upper elementary and middle school grades are also good to introduce books about slavery, the Jim Crow south, and racism. There are a plethora of classic historical fiction and autobiographical books, such as The Watsons Go to Birmingham, Brown Girl Dreaming, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, All American Boys, A Picture of Freedom: The Diary of Clotee, a Slave Girl and many more that offer various perspective on race and injustice.          

Any Age – Since the date is a day of service, it’s a great opportunity to discuss the idea of giving back to one’s community, and why it’s a fantastic way to commemorate King’s life of service. Brainstorm ways that your family can take some time out to serve your own community. Some ideas include:

– Donating books to shelters, after-school groups, hospitals, and nursing homes;
– Writing an article for the school newspaper about volunteer opportunities in your area;
– Reading favorite stories aloud for a story-time event at a local library;
– Helping adult language learners at a community center;
– Sending letters to American troops stationed overseas;
– Becoming a reading buddy to a younger student at your school;  
– Interviewing elders in your community to create a book of oral histories  

…among many others!

Are there any ways that your family honors this day (or any day!) with an act of service? If so, what do you do?  

This time of year is rife with resolutions. Some hope to get organized. Others want to get their finances in order. But, what’s the #1 resolution in the country, year after year? To lose weight and get fit.

So, now that 2016 is a couple of weeks old, maybe the gym is getting old. Maybe you don’t want to spend the money on a membership. Still yet, maybe you simply don’t have the time to steal away to the gym. In my case, I don’t focus on the weight, but rather the health. I’m hoping to get my body used to being non-pregnant again and grab some extra energy wherever possible. It’s not a resolution here; just happens to be that my doctor gave me the okay to exercise again.

Whatever your reason for wanting to be healthy, I thought it’d be fun to share five ideas for getting a little physical activity into your life without having to hit up the gym.

non-gym


1. Dance party!!! This is my favorite! Whether alone or with the whole family, try turning up your favorite upbeat music and dancing out that stress. Heck, we’ll put on the Sesame Street station on Pandora Radio and shimmy around the dining room table; it clearly doesn’t have to be your FAVORITE, as long as it gets you moving. Or, if you’re doing laundry or dishes, crank the tunes and get your feet moving while your hands do the work. After awhile, you’ll forget the goal was to exercise.  

2. Get outside. Okay, this one’s tied for my favorite. I often feel like a walk around the block does more for me, mentally, than would a trip to the gym. So, whether you run outside solo or take your family for a walk on a nature trail, our bodies seem to reap additional benefits when we spend time with nature. Even in winter, things like snowshoeing, skiing, sledding, and more will help keep those seasonal blues at bay while getting your heart rate going. And remember that walks can be taken in almost any weather; if you’ve never walked through the peaceful calm of a snowstorm, you don’t know what an uplifting experience it can be. (Just be careful out there.)

3. Use technology. There are so many resources, paid or free, available online to get you moving. YouTube is full of channels that offer the services of trained professionals and personal trainers that can give you your favorite exercises to do in your very own home. Whether you like yoga (do this during naptime or after the kids are down for bed; it’s tough to meditate with kids around) and Pilates or challenging cardio workouts, just search and ye shall find. Also, use your smartphone to download your favorite songs or a workout app, or choose a wearable device that will help keep you accountable, if that’s what you prefer.

4. Play games. Okay, sitting playing Monopoly won’t get your heart rate going, but get your family to put down their devices (you, too, unless you’re doing #3 *wink, wink*) and try some games, whether dorky or not. There was a time that families made their own fun by playing charades or going bowling together. Find a board game that challenges players to get up and do goofy skits or run around. (Our latest favorite is “The Cat in the Hat Can Do That!”) Try some touch football in the yard, grab a frisbee to toss around, or set up a lawn game. By making it a team effort, you’ll not only be getting some exercise; you’ll be making connections and memories with your family, another top-ten New Year’s resolution.

5. Be a kid again. The thing that always gets me is that many of us were in the best shape of our lives when we were kids. Sure, when spring hit and we ran outside for the first time since autumn, we were a little winded, but did we care? Did we focus on how many minutes we ran around the playground or how many “reps” we biked around the block? Not a bit. So, much like #4, try having some fun the good, old-fashioned way. Chase after your little one, go on a hike with your teenager, or go camping and try rowing the canoe. If you go for a run, focus on the music you’re listening to rather than how far you’ve gone. The ideas are endless and help make exercising less of a dread.

6. Fast is better than none at all. Even if you only have 10-15 minutes to get up and exercise – be it like warm-up in our old gym class days with jumping jacks, stretches, arm rolls, and running in place – a little, quick activity is better than none at all. There are tons of quick exercises available on the Internet, like simple, fast workouts, exercises to do with your baby, and even exercise ideas for you to try while doing chores (although vacuuming IS the exercise for me).

 


What are your favorite non-gym tips to get yourself moving?

I mentioned last week that our family resolution for 2016 is positivity (among other things). Another “word of the year” is also going to be “cloth” – with an accent on keeping it low-stress. Because, life.

As our little newborn girl (at what point do they switch from “newborn” to “infant” or even “baby”?) continues to beef up and lessen her – shall we say – messier diapers, we’re looking to finally take the cloth diaper plunge. You can read about our experiences/failures with our son in this blog post, but this time we’re dedicated to making it work without stressing ourselves out about the whole thing.

So far, we’ve prepped a plethora of diaper styles and done a handful of days with the little one to stick our toes in (again). I was hoping to make January 1st our official “daytime diaper switch” day, but since we have a limited amount of newborn/appropriately sized dipes and are currently under a boil water advisory, we’re trying not to make too much dirty laundry. Ahhh, the best laid plans…

Regardless, that’s the plan! We’re so cross-eyed with exhausted delirium during our nighttime changes, I figured that starting out with cloth during the daylight hours would be a nice jumping off point. Plus, we’re lucky (knock on wood) that our Harper sleeps a solid 5+ hours at night between feedings, so throwing a wrench into that sleep cycle with additional changes or analysis of which style of diaper and soaker solution will work is beyond my mental capacity right now.

Sleeeeeeep goooooood. (Monster voice.)

On the days that we’ve tried, I’ve preferred the newborn AIOs, big-time. Not to mention – SO CUTE! Out of sheer surplus, though, we used plenty of prefolds with our adorable Thirsties covers. They worked well, but I just didn’t like how they fit her tiny little frame. However, with a growth spurt lately, I’m going to give them another shot. At this point, I’m keeping an open mind to figure out what works best for us by literally keeping a variety of styles at hand.

I’d like to be 100% cloth 100% of the time, and hopefully we’ll get to that point. But, as with all things in the world of mommyhood, the guilt is strong; if we don’t go “all the way” with cloth, I definitely feel the weight of that decision.  

But, the thing is this: we do the best we can with all things in life. Our best HAS to be good enough, even if it’s not what others deem to be THEIR best.

right_way_CD


We all have reasons for choosing cloth.
The financial savings. The environmental friendliness. The lack of chemicals. The sheer adorableness. So, every time we choose cloth, it’s a win. One less box of disposables purchased. One less diaper in landfill. One more adorable tushy in the world. We should pat ourselves on the back every single time we choose to use a cloth diaper. If we only use them 50% of the time, that’s 50% less diaper landfill waste, 50% less continual cost, 50% less chemicals OTB, and 50% more cuteness. If we decide not to use them when we travel or visit family or when our little one is sick, we should be proud of the vast majority of the time that we do choose cloth.

There is no “cloth competition” to be won. We’re all awesome for making this choice for our families, no matter how frequently we make it.

That said, I am chomping at the bit to make it our new norm. This little girl’s too cute not to be sporting Alice Brights and Poppy as much as possible.

What about you guys? Are you “all in” or are you a part-time CDer? Did you jump into cloth diapering head-first or one toe at a time?

new year thirsties

Now that the fun and frantic Christmas holiday has come and gone, it’s time to turn our attention toward the coming of a fresh year. Some see it as an opportunity to set new goals, others consider it to be just like any other time of the year — I have always fallen somewhere in the middle. Some years I make a resolution (or two) while other years I just try to pull myself out of the post-Christmas funk with some purging and organizing, both of my home and my soul. I’m not against resolutions, though. A new year is a great opportunity to remind oneself to reflect and make changes.

But, ever since starting a family, I find myself thinking not of what my own goals are, but more of what we, as a family, can do to improve or embrace life. Sure, my husband can feel free to make his own resolution and, if my three-year-old son (or, for that matter, 6-week-old daughter) understood the idea of self-reflection more, he’d be welcome to, as well. But, much like a family mission statement, family New Year’s resolutions can help us to focus a bit.

So, what’s 2016 going to be about? POSITIVITY. That’s the word of the year for us. We definitely need to embrace the positive in the coming year. :-) Here’s how, in some actual, tangible ways:

– Kinder words and thoughts with our son. I won’t lie: 2015 has brought with it some ugliness. The threenager phase isn’t a myth, and his words have been biting and downright horrific at times. But, our response hasn’t been much better. The tail end of the year, however, we’ve found more of a comfortable balance in our response – finding a way to let the rude words or behavior roll off our backs (training for the teen years, I’m sure) and redirecting him to find the right behavior. We’re also cutting him more slack since we’ve realized that our expectations, at times, are way too lofty for a kid of his age.

Let’s just say that I’m super happy that Santa brought me The Danish Way of Parenting. I’m excited to dive in and see what methods will help with our situation.

– Find small joys by being more present. Don’t get me wrong; part of my husband and my jobs involve lots of social media use and a practical necessity of smartphones. But, we’re far too attached. It’s time for us to admit it to ourselves and give ourselves some limitations, for our kids’ sake. The same goes for our son’s TV viewing — we always hoped to limit it from the beginning, but he watches so much daily between his grandmother’s (I’m not blaming her in the slightest) and our reliance upon it when he gets home at night.

We’ve already put this into effect. (Who says you have to wait until Jan. 1st?) With the abundance of new toys and games from Christmas, there’s lots of opportunity to turn off the TV, put down our phones, and reconnect over Candyland or some pretend grocery shopping. Plus, since we’re not cutting out our use of electronics completely, but cutting back on their use, it will feel more like a treat when we do indulge ourselves in a movie or some Instagram time.

Presence is a wonderful gift, isn’t it? (Corny pun alert!)

– Surround ourselves with the happiest of things. This actually coincides with another book that Santa brought me – The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. No, the house will not be impeccable; part of happiness is accepting what is. But, I know that one of the points in this book is to keep that which sparks joy in your life. While we continue with our ongoing purge and embracing simplicity, this will be a huge help.

This also gives us a focus in our house hunting. We’re determined to find a new home in 2016 since we’ve outgrown our sweet little bungalow. Since we were just two adults moving in and are now two adults, two small kids, and three cats, our priorities have changed (making it more challenging to find something). So, we’re making a list of the things that would make us happiest in a house, plus a list of “wouldn’t it be nice to have?” items that can be overlooked if we find a home that fulfills most of our “happy” list. Our biggest thing would be more space; we think our son would benefit greatly from both outdoor and indoor space since he’s a naturally energetic individual. We’re choosing not to compromise the one item that would give him such joy and, ultimately, give us less stress (since he sleeps better, has better behavior choices, and is generally more at peace when he’s had some freedom to roam and run).

– Letting go of the small things. It’s true: don’t sweat the small stuff. Picking a fight when your husband put the dishes back in the wrong place or folded the clothes wrong is a surefire way to live a miserable life, and I’ll admit that there are times that I get frustrated about this stuff. But, I’ve recently learned to look at the positive behind the action: at least he DID the laundry and dishes (without being asked)!

This can easily apply to out little guy, too. Sure, he put his toys back in the wrong place (and it needed to be completely re-done), but at least he’s learning to put things away without an argument. The gingerbread cookies he made with me looked pretty rough, but the joy with which he stood beside me using those cookie cutters and dripping frosting was infectious; it would break my heart to stamp that spark out.

– Planning joyful activities, big and small. Being pregnant, I didn’t have a ton of energy for lots of family trips this past year. Our one “big” family vacation was 100% for our son to “Sesame Place,” celebrating our last summer with him as an only child. This year, I’m hoping to take at least one of our “there’s something for everyone” trips. Plus, he’s still of the age where a random side trip to a new playground is enough to make his week.

But, I’m also hoping to turn our sights on the fun that can be found in our own backyard. We have one of the largest national park areas in the country that we simply don’t utilize enough. From family-friendly hikes to beaches to campsites, I’m looking forward to getting out there to have fun and recharge this summer. Toss in some classes (probably kindermusik and maybe swim or dance classes), utilizing some local walking trails, and hopefully play dates…the possibilities for joy are endless.

What are your plans for 2016? Are you making any resolutions (whether personal or family-related)?   

You remember the excited energy of Christmastime that you experienced as a child, right? Maybe you still even feel it – the buzz of activity, the anticipation of Santa, the burst of sheer joy enjoying the time with family and friends. It’s no wonder little ones can hardly contain their energy! And we all know what happens when children overflow with energy, don’t we? It’s a breeding ground for outbursts and poor behavior choices, which can definitely put a damper on your attempts at celebrating. (Or is that just at our house? *wink, wink*)

I find that the act of creating – whether it be crafts, cooking, music, art – can be a great calming effect on kids as well as adults.

Whether you have a young toddler or older kiddo at home, between the excitement and time off from school, try out one of these ideas for celebrating the holiday season with creativity. Even if it doesn’t temper the high energy levels, it will create fun memories and give your child a positive outlet for that energy.

christmas_tree_art

– A festive art project. This one’s super simple and fun. Just cut out strips of construction paper in several colors and various sizes, a star and a “stump” and have your child use a glue stick to make a Christmas tree. As you can see, ours didn’t come out perfectly (not even close), but our 3-year-old was so engaged by picking out the colored strips and independently using the glue stick to create his picture, it doesn’t matter.

We talked about “horizontal” lines, and he actually seemed to catch on to that part of the project. I figure we’ll try again next year and see how he does. You can also use this as a bit of a math project for older kids, creating a pattern with the rows of colors. Or, just let them be creative and go nuts – like our kiddo!

– Have kids personalize the gifts. You can do this a couple of ways. Grab a roll of plain brown or white paper for wrap gifts. Your child can use this as their canvas to share the Christmas spirit with friends and family. They can stamp, finger paint, write messages, or use any number of art supplies. Have your youngin’ personalize further with ribbon, twine, string, greenery, stickers, or whatever they come up with.

You can also do the same project with super inexpensive paper bags!

– “Here we come a-caroling…” You can only get away with singing Christmas songs one time each year – so, embrace it! Practice some songs (especially calm ones like “Silent Night”) at home, and if anyone in your family plays an instrument, have them work on the same carol(s) that you can perform as a family. Use them at your family get-together or start a good old-fashioned caroling session around the neighborhood. You may even get a treat out of your travels!

My family was musical. I still fondly remember practicing our Christmas songs on our respective instruments; we all played piano, but my oboe and my sister’s french horn were perfectly paired for the festive time of year. While I’m out of practice now, my sister and I always try to find a piano to do two-part Christmas songs while everyone else sings or socializes (or, more often than not, laughs at my rusty playing; I don’t mind, it’s fun!).

– Bake some cookies – and decorate them! For a lot of people, baking can be therapeutic. The focus of precisely measuring and going through the steps can take your mind off the hustle and bustle of the season, and you’ll have treats to share with Santa!

But, the really fun part? The decorating. Even if your child doesn’t feel like baking, it’s almost guaranteed that they’ll enjoy smearing frosting and messy decorations all over them. Or, go ahead and try a gingerbread house. Neatness doesn’t matter – creativity does!

– Make a simple craft and deliver it to someone. Take a jar and paint or decoupage it with pictures or little holiday-colored pieces of paper; pop in a tealight. Or make a cheery card. Or create a simple ornament. Or fill a clean, recycled jar with cocoa mix. Or take some of the aforementioned cookies and a hand-decorated paper bag.

Now, here’s the best part: Think of someone who could use a little cheer. A neighbor who lives alone. The residents at a nearby elderly facility. A relative you don’t visit nearly enough. Have your child deliver it and chat for a few minutes (or longer). Make sure you discuss the meaning behind what you’re doing, too.

So, this year, put an emphasis on the “peace” as much as you do the “joy” with some fun, creative, calming activities.

Do you have any activities that help your little ones calm down around this crazy time of year? Or do you embrace the excitement (or is your family naturally chill)? Be sure to share with us in the comments!