Let Them Grow: How Bugs Can Teach Toddlers Kindness & Tolerance

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Bugs of Summer

Toddlers love bugs and insects or they are terrified of them! Either way the curiosity that bugs and insects evoke in young children is endless. I am a true believer that a child that is exposed to the natural world around will have a heightened respect and a deep regard for that world. Insect’s can be scary, they are foreign, and they don’t speak, ride bikes, or eat crackers. They come in thousands of shapes and sizes. Some are safe to touch and some are not. Some are a nuisance and some are allies. How can we teach our toddlers to be kind and safe around bugs and set aside our own deep-seated opinions on bugs? How can we show them the world wouldn’t be the same without bugs? A great book for this is the 1967 classic  Be Nice to Spiders by Margret Bloy Graham. This books looks at a zoo over run with flies without the help of spiders. It is a fun read and a great topic of discussion.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Ripple: A Vision of Our Future

River People: A Vision of Our Future

From the Hudson of New York, the Thames of London, the Tiber of Rome, the Nile of Cairo and the Ganges of Varanasi, all the great old cities of the world are sited next to the rivers that gave them food, water, and a port. These cities, slowly flooding as the icecaps melt, are where the essence of the cultures we identify as Eastern and Western distilled themselves, on the riparian edge between forest and brackish (or fresh) water. Imagine the long course of evolution that took our species out of the trees of Northeastern Africa, led us on the great tribal migrations that dispersed us across the globe, and left us to settle on the banks of these rivers. Imagine, also, how this riparian habitat provided the nourishment and stimulation, and gave us the slow swirls of time and leisure that became the centers from which our cultures emerged. Even if we live high in the mountains, out on the plains, or in Las Vegas, we are river people. Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Meditating and Parenting

Peace, Happiness and Fried Eggs

The object of my meditation.

Fried egg. Toast.

Brown flecks on pure white. Whiter than my t-shirt. I need a new white t-shirt. This one probably isn’t nice enough for work. What’s that stain? Marker? Blueberry? Can I tuck it in or do I need to change before my 1:15? What else is clean? I wonder if the washer is done.

Oh. The egg. The toast. Sunflower yellow yolk. Sunflowers didn’t grow this year. Too dry? Chipmunks eating the sprouts? Chipmunk darting through the garden now. Naturally still one moment and then scurrying someplace new.

Like my mind.

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Let Them Grow: Art Abandonment Supports Acts of Kindness Through Creative-Free Play

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Abandoned Art

Recently my brother got into painting rocks and leaving them for strangers to find. Art abandonment he calls it. I hadn’t heard of it, but now that I have, I thought this is a perfect way for a toddler to spread love, gain empathy and become more generous.  Not to mention a great way to brighten up the landscapes around town.

Toddlers have very little sense that they do not own the world; that every does NOT belong to them. Preschoolers are relinquishing this concept, but it’s never too early to start giving.  The concept is simple; paint rocks and leave them in areas where you know members of your child’s community can find them.  You can attach a little note or write on the back:

  • “You found free art, share it”
  • “Love is colorful”
  • “Generosity is learned”
  • “Share”
  • “Spread art, spread joy”

Or just put them out there as is. My brother chooses the dot pointillism approach. This is a great technique for the older toddler or preschooler to learn. By adding a single-color at a time in the form of a single dot can help a child experience art with extreme intention. They can focus on one color or a series of colors.

One child will group like colors together and others may create an image from multiple colors.  Some may choose to paint the rocks a solid color and that’s fine. You don’t have to restrict your child into a particular technique, instead encourage them to be as creative as they would like. Offer several different colors of paint and a bunch of different shape and size of rocks.

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The Ripple: Lessons of Drought

The Lessons of Drought

In the one hundred and twenty years that flow records have been kept for the Westfield River, never has it been as low as it is today. Drought is a phenomena we are going to experience more now and in the future because our climate is warming. How we learn about and deal with this planetary change will mean everything: the success or failure of our own species’ evolution-by-natural-selection depends on learning lessons that are taught only by our biome, which is to say by the great life our own is nested in.

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The Ripple: The Language of Rivers

When Rivers Talk, They Speak River, Not English

Last summer a great non-profit that spends all its time and resources trying to keep our rivers and streams healthy, the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance (MRA), put out a short and illuminating educational video called “If Rivers Could Talk.” It features scientists, activists and recreationalists from around the state sharing their tales of how they love their rivers, and what they are doing to care for them.

The field environmental philosophy school I run, Biocitizen, was asked by MRA to participate in this educational project, in part because of the “citizen science” Rapid Biotic Assessments we do with Hilltown Families every year in the late Summer, and in part because we are always using the Westfield River as an outdoor classroom. It was an honor and joy to express our love for the Westfield, which is one of cleanest and wildest rivers in southern New England.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Love Makes Heroes

Love Makes Heroes

I didn’t tell him about Newtown.  Turned off the radio. Hid the news home page. Still, awareness seeped in. Days later, he dreamt that his preschool playground suddenly wasn’t safe. In his dream, he was the hero, the helper. He told everybody to get inside before the bad people took pictures. Took pictures? Shoot pictures. My boy in his innocent preschool bubble associated shooting with cameras, not guns.

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The Good Life: Reaching Makes a Bridge

The Good Life: A Year of Thoughtful Seasons by Sarah Mattison Buhl

Reaching Makes a Bridge

With the end of the academic year, I’ve been thinking a lot about groups.  Classrooms, mom’s groups, political organizations, workplaces, committees…. (to name a few).  Some groups work well.  There is a positive, respectful dynamic between individuals, which allows space for everyone to have a voice.  They reach out, they include, they embrace.  They seek input and value learning from others experiences.  I work with some fellow teachers who are masterful at creating equitable classroom environments.    Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Garden Herbs

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Garden Growth and Gifts

Our garden herbs are growing and it’s time to start reaping the rewards! Young children love to harvest, allowing them to connect to the land and have a sense satisfaction from the work they have put into growing their garden. This early summer we are using garden herbs as gifts for Father’s Day, teacher appreciation and birthdays. Here are a few recipes of the garden-based gifts we’ve made so far…  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Honest Questions About Honesty

Honest Questions

A missed call from school. Voicemail reveals the principal’s words: playground altercation.

I reach her 10 minutes before dismissal, so time is limited. The swing-set scuffle was typical and the other child thankfully is fine. “I’m less concerned about the shoving,” she shares in a carefully modulated voice, “than his insisting on a false story.”

When I concur, yes, we’re seeing this at home lately, we’re working on it, her voice relaxes. This was not news to a parent she barely knows. We talk strategy and messaging, educator to parent and mom to mom.

Honesty. Why is it so hard?! Read the rest of this entry »

Under the Hat: Mindful of Your Audience

Music in Motion

The immediate and primal power of music to illicit emotional response is hard-wired into us as humans. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, we listen to music for many different reasons. Some music makes us feel happy, while some music makes us feel melancholy. Some makes makes us feel like taking a nap, while others make us feel like jumping up and down.  Read the rest of this entry »

Hindsight Parenting: Crossing the Stage of Life

Crossings: To My Son on Your College Graduation

“Mommy, why did parents cry when their children crossed the stage at my brother’s college graduation? Why did you cry?”

“That’s a good question, my darling. It is difficult to put that emotion into words, but I will try.

For over two decades your brother has been crossing and I have lovingly watched him.

When he was one, he took his first steps crossing the living room headed right for my outstretched and safe arms.

The first time he crossed a busy Manhattan Street was in a stroller that I pushed. He hated it there and threw up on the side of a building and so we crossed right back over that same street to our awaiting car to take him home.  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Spring Craft Idea

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Painting With Nature

We have talked a lot about engaging children in nature-based art. It is a fun and easy way to get outside, have fun and expose your child to the process of art. We love taking the children out and collecting bits and pieces that can be used in the process. Spring is a great time for it. But, lately in the Valley and Hilltowns the weather has been unpredictable- making it tough to plan a full day outside. It has been cold and windy in the morning and warm and sunny in the afternoon. For toddlers, it can be tough to spend a long time outdoors, so we have found that we can break projects up into two parts: Collecting and then Doing, to make it more toddler friendly. Read the rest of this entry »

The Ripple: Streamcrawling

Streamcrawling

When I started writing this column in 2011, I did so hoping to inspire readers to “make the world of rivers bigger than the world of pavement inside of you!” Rivers are all around us, but they don’t form as much a part of ourselves as roads do. Close your eyes again: can you see a river? How far can you follow it? Does it lead anywhere?

If we close our eyes, we can see roads. Try it yourself— for just a moment, close your eyes and visualize the way to Northampton, Pittsfield, Greenfield or Springfield from your front door. It’s not hard to see mental images of roads, is it? They just appear because they are engraved into our neural systems.

We carry the “environment” inside ourselves. The “environment” is part mental construction, part everything else.

This truth is self-evident, but—after studying the ways we comprehend and fit into the designs of nature for over thirty years—I have yet to read much, or participate in many discussions, about it. True: the concept of “nature deficit disorder” has gained currency, which is good; but, the larger issue of getting more than individuals over the disorder—and getting vast populations over it—can’t even be imagined yet. Individuals can take a long hike every couple of days, or garden, and get over it. But how do the people of NYC, or any other urban inhabitation on earth, get over it? Do these populations even want to get over it? Is there a candidate for public office anywhere running on a platform of ensuring that all citizens get over nature-deficit disorder? Is getting over it “good for the economy?” Can it be considered a “market-based solution?” Is there anyway that Wall St. investors can “financialize” the process, or corporations turn it into a product, or universities turn it into a hot new major? Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Water as Self-Care

Prime the Well

We climbed Mt. Tom on a recent Sunday that was hotter than forecast by 10 degrees. No leaves meant no shade. We brought enough snacks, but ran short on water. Thirst, headache, and grumpies served as solid reminders of the importance of hydration. The importance of reserves.

I’m attempting to drink more water lately. When successful, I have fewer aches and more energy. I stop at the sink, fill up a glass and sip and – lo and behold – realize I’m thirsty! Water tastes good. I’m reminded of what I’ve been missing.

“How much am I supposed to drink?” clients commonly ask as I make the link between pain relief and hydration. Online medical consensus now gives a formula to replace the old “8 glasses a day” advice from last century: Take your body weight in pounds, divide in half and drink that number of ounces each day.  I’m not sure who first proffered this formula, but mainline medical, fitness, and alternate health sites use it.

What to drink? That’s where the disagreements begin. Recommendations vary widely from “food counts as water” to “any drink counts” to “no caffeine or sugar” to “only unadulterated water – not even herbal tea.”

Then comes conflicting advice on how to drink. One liter before noon. Nope, mostly at night. With meals but not after meals. Only hot. Actually, cold is ok. Sip, don’t gulp. Filtered water. Bottled water. Enhanced water. We’ve taken one of the most basic elements of life on earth and made it complex, even controversial.  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Spring Craft Idea

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Spring Craft Idea

Contact paper is a dream tool of mine. I find that children love tactical experiences and using contact paper is an easy way to offer this experience without getting messy.  Springtime is a fun time to create beautiful masterpieces that can hang in the window and catch the early light of the summer on the horizon.

My favorite thing to do is collect early spring flower pedals and let them dry for use on the contact paper. Daffodils, crocuses, dandelions, daffodils, early mint leaves are all out now and ready for picking. Dry your pedals out so they stick well. Make this a learning experience, identify the flowers and prepare them flat to make you sun catcher, place mat or art piece with contact paper. Read the rest of this entry »

The Ripple: The River Knows the Way

Sustainability: the River Knows the Way

Biology tells us that water is life. Religion tells us that life is sacred. Biology does not want to admit that life is sacred (because that would not be “objective,” but it would not exist without water.  Think of any biologist and name one not totally dependent upon water for life. Einstein’s brain was 75% water, and so are ours. Think of how you are reading this now—to some actual extent, water is reading this too. As a hard science, biology is a means for water to get to know itself—for water is life and life/bios is what biology studies.

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Off the Mat: Take a Breather and Reconnect

Secure Your Own

“Secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” The plane safety video shows neat and calm children obediently letting the nearest masked grown-up mask them. The real-life first grade boy next to me fidgets, tugging at the silly band bracelet on his wrist. I smile in a way I hope will reassure him I’d help him with his mask. Then crack open my new novel. He glances across the aisle to his mother. He’s not mine.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Good Life: Optimism is a Gift, But Resilience is Home Grown

The Good Life: A Year of Thoughtful Seasons by Sarah Mattison Buhl

Growing Resilience

My son is 15. He will likely move away to attend college in three short years. I stayed home to watch him grow for 12 years before returning to work. I hope I told him I loved him every day. At five he was the kind of boy who sprang out of bed in the morning saying, “It’s my lucky day!” Today he is the kind of guy who considers everyone a friend and is a perennial optimist. It turns out every day really is his lucky day. Many things will go right for him in life, but some things will go wrong. What then? Optimism will certainly help, but resilience is what he will need when simple optimism isn’t enough.  Read the rest of this entry »

Under the Hat: School of Rock

School of Rock

In the 30+ years that I’ve been playing music professionally, I’ve been lucky to have many incredible experiences performing all around the world. There are lots of variables that go into creating a great show: the venue, the crowd, the sound, and of course, the rapport with other musicians. It’s a rare occasion when everything comes together, but when those magical moments happen it’s powerful for everyone fortunate enough to be in the band or in the audience.

Recently, in New York City, I played a concert that immediately found a spot high on the list of my all-time favorite gigs. The sold-out show was at a great theater (Symphony Space) on Broadway and my backing band was a group of phenomenal children. The kids who played with me are the stars of the hit Broadway musical “School of Rock.”

In many ways, working with Brandon, Evie, Dante and Ethan was similar to rehearsing and performing with grown-up pros. I sent them mp3’s and chord charts of the songs before we met, and they showed up prepared having done their homework. We had one short rehearsal and then played the show.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Ripple: Synchronization of the Watershed Flora & Fauna

A River Is Always In Synch

Like tiny submariners bursting up and out of the bottom of the brook, breaking into wings and soaring for a short time above the world they once knew, the stoneflies are here, molting from crab-shells they lived in. On the back of my neck, computer keyboard, every boulder around me: they multiply, skitter all directions, avoiding the rushing water they recently called home. The frenzy begins.  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Creative-Free Play with Kitchen Scrapes

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Compost to Good Use

Spring in western MA!  Now is a time where I always like to move toward more nature-based art.  Using natural object as a medium allows us to make the connection between the land and art.  I have many favorite nature-based art projects, but my all time favorite is vegetable stamping. It’s an engaging and simple activity for even the youngest artist to participate in. All children love doing this activity, most will even eat vegetables during it! This idea is simple; use vegetables to create beautiful prints that will be worth saving and worth doing again.  Read the rest of this entry »

Let’s Play: Being Creative With Your Old Books

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Playing with Books

Books support literacy and learning. And when you have too many books in duplicate and falling part, they can even support creative-free play!

We might have a book problem at our house. Some are read over and over. Some are just collected such as the various printings of Moby Dick. Some gather dust. I am not sure where that yellowed copy of How to Use a Microscope came from but we have never opened it. Books are everywhere. All of my art history, theory, design and teaching manuals line one wall of the bedroom. The fiction and garden books are packed into the bookcase turned headboard. Sewing, knitting and books on art for kids fill the shelf under the bench. Current reads by both of us are scattered about the living room. Cookbooks belong to the pantry. And my daughter has arranged her library by subject and book series. She is a series reader and collector. How many versions of Harry Potter does one need? We might be book hoarders. Or maybe we aren’t because we recognize a problem developing.

Books just find their way into our house. We love to browse the local book shop and our neighborhood used bookstore. Book fundraisers are always good for a bargain. We often check the book share-and-take corner in the school lobby. Grandma feeds the addiction. Books are everywhere and hard to pass by without at least a peek.

Brainstorming here on what to do with the extras. There are the ones we start and a chapter or two in realize there is no interest. And there are old ones aged and crumbling. Those 20 year old copies of college textbooks are not needed. There must be some way to use these for play purposes. So here are some ideas! Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Playing Sick

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Playing Sick

This has been the worst season for sickness. Well for me anyway, a first time mom with a toddler in daycare! It seems toddlers are the best and worst patients. They can ride out colds for months, in a steady stream of mucus. Or they can go under in a hail of fevers and vomit. Either way it is no fun for anyone.

After experiencing my own sick toddler, I began to think about how to smooth out the rivers of sickness that flood though our kids and find was to play sick.  Here are a few fun ways to pass the sick days away… Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: How Much Do You Love Me?

How much do you love me? This is a test.

First grade, declares my six-year-old, is all about learning to sit at a desk. Kindergarten block center, dramatic play, and extra recess have been replaced by dictation, handwriting, and tests. Yes, I’m surprised to learn. Tests in first grade. I was ready to get worked up about the diagnostic tests in the fall – my boy spending the good part of two school days filling in small circles with a number two pencil – until he came home. Excited.  My nerdy little boy LOVED filling in small circles with a number two pencil!

♦♦♦

Testing. We’ve seen a good deal of testing behavior this year. Will I actually be in trouble if I play in the basement like I’ve been told not to? What happens when I freeze OJ, olive oil, and blueberries in a cup? What happens when my friend and I get into the spray paint? Will Mama follow through on the consequence she said is coming? This is the kind of testing that belongs in first grade, in my oh-so-humble opinion.  Read the rest of this entry »

Hindsight Parenting: Knowing Your Worth

I Can’t Fix Everything and Maybe I Don’t Want to

Break ups, breakdowns, breakthroughs, soul-breaks, deal-breaks and break-a-ways. When my children’s hearts break, it’s enough stress for this mom to break out into a sweat.

Ok…Ok. I’ll take a break…from the word, break. (See what I did there?) But really…in all seriousness…when will this urgent need to fix all that ails my children finally pass? Let me ask you. When your kids are sad, broken, beside themselves, do you agonize over how to make it better? Or am I alone in that?

This past week was a doozy for this fix-it-all-mama. Both boys, Son1 and Son2, experienced their own particular heartaches and, well, it was as if those things happened to me. Their sadness, their losses, their disappointments became mine. Honestly, the fact that they were hurting was pure unadulterated agony.

But luckily, just in the nick of time, my husband said something that got me thinking. In the midst of a full on mope, he looked me in the eye and said, “Son1 isn’t alone in this experience. What did we do when we were young and this happened to us?”

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The Ripple: Life in the Riparian Zone

The Life Riparian

“Land is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants, and animals.” – Aldo Leopold

Riparian is a strange sounding word that denotes “river bank”: the meeting point of river and land. We enter the “riparian zone” when we get close to a river. It is a place we want to be, because it brims with exuberant sounds and smells, and because it often harbors wild plant populations that flower and fruit, attracting pollinators and all sorts of other hungry creatures. In fact, when I think “riparian” I think of food. The riparian zone is where the food is, and where the food is, life is. It is possible to trace this living landform from where it almost touches the sky all the way down to the sea.

A few weeks ago, two miles high in the Chilean Andes with my friends at Superfun, I became dangerously dehydrated. Careful to avoid water that might have bad bacteria in it, I found what I thought was a perfect source. Beneath a melting ice field I filled my canteen and drank until I gasped in pain. So cold, the water sang in my skull; so pure it tasted like breath. For half an hour I sat on a rock, loving the fact that this straight-from-the-glacier water was as perfect as water can be. The purest of the pure, cleanest of the clean, the supreme goal of bottled water drinkers achieved. Woo!

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Off the Mat: When My 1st Grader Asks About Sex

Consenting to Questions

It starts simply enough. These conversations do. We pull onto I-91, skirt Northampton afternoon traffic to the edge of town to get my allergy shots.

Mama, why do they throw away the needles? Why don’t they use them again?

My practice is to answer my child’s questions when he asks. The trick is answering only the question he has asked. Questions beget questions.

I explain about contamination, how my blood is on the needle and could share germs with somebody else if the allergy nurse used it again. I can’t recall now whether he asked what germs or whether I volunteered information, but within a quarter mile I was explaining HIV.  How scientists haven’t figured out how to fix the disease from those germs so the best thing is to not get it.

How do you get it? Of course he asks.

Not through sneezes or spit like colds, but from blood and …. take a deep breath as silently as possible so he doesn’t notice the pause before I answer honestly… from the liquids from your penis or vagina. (Yes, I know, not from pee. But I was improvising at 65 mph!)

Which of course begs the question how those liquids get shared. And suddenly I‘m talking about sex with my first grader. Again. Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Making Snow in the Kitchen

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Making Snow Where There is None

Looking for ways to “make” snow at home? Check the kitchen pantry! Shredded coconut. Potato flakes. Flour. All are great for inspiring creative-free play during a snowless winter!

Winter is here. But without snow in New England it feels a little different. I am not complaining, because it is nice to take the children out without the gamut of snow gear, however it does feeling like something is missing; SNOW!

Often winter indoor activities are quiet, clean and predictable. I have found that by creating toddler friendly sensory activities help these cold winter days just melt by. Here are a few fun snow related activities that can be adjusted for even the littlest toddler.

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The Ripple: Rivers Near and Far

In Chile

Rivers are everywhere, and one of the joys of paying attention to them is—if you let them, they bring you places far from what you have left behind. Sometimes that new space, that new place to wander, is exactly what is needed, for there the unexpected can find you, and in finding you, can awaken you to the multiplicity (and miracles) of worlds there are on our small, living planet. In this post, I am taking you to a river new to me, far from those who are my friends and teachers in Western Massachusetts… Read the rest of this entry »

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