De-commercializing the Child by tout est des roses

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Tout est des roses profileBlog to Inspire finalist tout-est-des-roses is Sara Sophia, who blogs to share her joy, her everyday adventures and happy findings, things she loves and things that move her.

Eight years ago our first child was born,
a wee little man who came into the world
all shiny and new on the eve of Christmas.
I sat in the hospital bed nursing him, eating fruitcake,
and thinking about all the things I wanted for his life.

Happiness,
Joy,
Peace….

and, of course, The Perfect Childhood.
Free of insecurity, fear, and full of love-love-love.

“It will be so simple,” I remember thinking, picking a pecan out of my cake,
“It will be clean and white and summer breezes every day all the time.
Just me and this little one–-reading books in the rocking chair,
and taking walks in the woods.”

Close up face

But of course, how could I have known then
that modern parenthood meant inheriting an instantaneous army.
An army of robotic teddy bears, zoo creatures, farm creatures, swamp creatures.
Of Thomas the Tank Engine, Bob the Builder, Legos
and bright shiny race cars that made our peaceful home
sound like a Nascar track.
There were logo’s and emblems on everything and suddenly my child
was completely commercialized.
My child was a walking billboard.
An overstimulated, never-satisfied, LOUD billboard.
It happened so fast, so overnight…..
that we never knew what hit us.

Child playing with blocks

We saw our quiet little boy, especially amidst the holiday kerfuffle,
actually forget how to play. He would sit, staring about him
at the massive plastic extravagance,
and not even know where to begin.

Where DOES one begin in the midst of a small toy army that plays FOR you?

Well, from my experience from years of working with children—
they either smash it,
or look at it boredly, and watch it do its thing.
The dilemma of the modern child in a nutshell.

I would love to say that my husband and I immediately
put a halt to the retail nonsense
(we have a BIG family)…but, I must admit it took a little longer than that.
After all, this was just the way it WAS.
There was nothing we could do, right?

Child playing with wood

It wasn’t until I was expecting our second son
that I found something that made sense.

I just happened to pick up a book on Waldorf teaching from our library, and it was as though a light bulb had been turned on inside my head. I was introduced to the concept of “play with a purpose” and thereafter read everything I could gather on the subject. I realized that encouraging my child’s life skills through natural, imaginative play was such an important part of his upbringing.
That keeping my child from mainstream toys
wasn’t simply a difficult way of making myself feel like a better parent
….(which was one take I heard early on)….
but a way to teach him care in every area of his life.

Siblings chat

We began slowly, waiting patiently until the shiny playthings would inevitably break, and then replacing them with a sensory toy. A set of maple blocks, a stack of folded playsilks, paints and an easel….and working with our little ones to teach them new ways of play. Before we knew it, we didn’t have children wildly crashing about in their bedrooms, but children who were working intently:
each game becoming a lesson they were teaching themselves.
YES, there is still a heavy dosing of whoops and hollers when the “pirate ship” is docked outside in the yard—and I wouldn’t have it any other way:)
But the point is I have seen children go from squabbles and frustration
to hours of beautiful sharing and insight–
whether they are storming the castle together, or playing chess.

Siblings play

It hasn’t always been as easy as it is now,
and there are still struggles to keep the air filled with peace.
It is hard to explain to extended family such “hippie” viewpoints sometimes.
But, we know we are doing our very best
to provide a learning lifestyle for our children.
One that will facilitate what they need,
rather than what would be easiest to give them.

This holiday season, I encourage you to give careful thought
where the purchasing of toys is concerned.

Will this toy help him embrace creativity?
Will it stimulate his imagination?
Will it help him learn to be generous?
For this is the beauty-filled youth I know we all want to give our little ones…
the childhood that will teach them
to think beyond themselves and make a difference.

The childhood that will help them see farther—through natural play.
Play outside

Read about the Blog to Inspire contest and read posts by the rest of the finalists.

Tracking Your New Year’s Goals

Sticky Note goalsAre you ready to write your resolutions? The New Year provides a good time for us to take stock, as so many of us do. Despite psychologists’ claims that New Year’s resolutions are doomed, I think we can beat the trend. Rather than putting myself in the 78% that blow off or otherwise fail to achieve their goals, I am sure I can learn from the lessons of the 22%.

I don’t really make resolutions in the sense that I usually think of them, resolving to rid myself of bad habits (since I, of course, have no bad habits). I tend to look at what I’ve done in the past year and what I want to do in the coming year. I check in on progress and set new goals.

Rather than suggest green resolutions you might want to make in the coming year (since that is such a personal choice and even the U.S. govt says most people make the same resolutions), I want to suggest that planning, tracking, and reminding yourself electronically is a way to save. For me, at least, this means saving on post-it notes. As much as I love a big pile of colorful post-it notes, I really don’t like tossing a stack of barely used paper away, even into the recycling bin.

I’m always looking for the better electronic project planner, calendar, life balancer, and sticky note pad. I use Life Balance from Llamagraphics as my calendar, but I try out new ways to track projects and goals. It doesn’t quite steer clear of obsession for me. For the past several years, I’ve tried a variety of ways to track goals. This is part of my New Year’s ritual: what new tool will I try this year?

So, whatever your goals may be, how will you track them? I have divided the following tools into Web – Social, Web – Individual, Phone / Multi-platform Apps, and Simple Tools.


Web – Social Sites

Social sites encourage you to be inspired by and accountable to others. Since these often aren’t people whose opinions matter to you (family and friends), you still have to make the effort yourself to reach out to make these sites a useful community for you.

  • 43 Things
    Social network but connections are superficial. East to set and forget (my sad experience). There is a Facebook application to pull your goals into your Facebook profile.
  • SuperViva
    Similar to 43 Things, though much smaller. Create a life list, work toward the goals. Nice privacy settings.
  • GoalMigo
    Also similar to 43 Things though more tracking and reminders. Join groups for support.
  • elifeList
    Another goal community. Includes challenges to friends.
  • LifeTango
    Yet another goal community.

I want to leave some of these above and below off the list, but I can never tell which one will speak to others even if it doesn’t speak to me.

  • Best Year Yet
    Interesting model for personal change. You pay $99.95 to $299.95 for a coaching program—less for self-coaching with their tools and more for live coach through monthly review webinars with other participants. It’s a step short of a life coach and considerably less expensive.
  • Comotivate
    Buddies or teams join together at Comotivate to reach goals together.
  • Amiglowz
    A goal support site by and for women. All about the goals.
  • Mecanbe
    Cool online goal site that is still in beta. Free open platform.
  • Goal for It
    A social site that emphasizes making goals habits. One thing I didn’t see elsewhere: bright, bubbly chore charts to help develop “good habits” in kids.


Web – Individual

On these sites, you are on your own—often with great tools and resources, but you will have to make the effort. No one is going to beat you into change. No one but yourself, that is.

  • Joe’s Goals
    The simple and seemingly most common tool. Set the goal and give it a green check or a red X. I used it and loved the look but didn’t get the motivation I wanted. I need more interaction—with myself even if not with others.
  • My Life Changes
    Nice approach that starts with vision and values before setting the goals. Subscription includes choices, reminders, reports.
  • Disciplanner
    If your goals are about time spent or building habits, this tracker might work for you.
  • Goal Enforcer
    This is a visual organizer that breaks down goals into smaller bubbles, all connected to a center bubble. Not quite mind mappish.
  • Google Calendar
    For the clever and organized among you, using a simple tool like Google Calendar in a new way can result in the ultimate goal or task tracker.


Multi-platform / Phone Apps

  • Remember the Milk
    Very simple list. If you can organize your own goals and break them down without prompting, you could make this work. On the big plus side, there is an app for phones, blackberries, gmail, firefox, Google calendar, Twitter, and so on. AND, there are third-party extensions. This one is big enough that you can rely on improvements over time.
  • Lifetick
    Get email reminders. Include life page to show how goals reflect your core values. Based on SMART goals. Can have multiple tasks per goal. Browser based with iPhone / Android app for tracking. This looks really fun, but I know for sure I have more than 4 goals, which costs money, and I’m way cheap.
  • Goal Tracker
    Enter goals and measurements. The measurements are the important part when you really want to make the goals work. Then, update measurements.
  • Limeade Well-being
    From the makers of Goal Tracker. Take a well-being assessment and set goals online, then track everything from your iPhone.
  • FCMobileLife Goals
    If you are following the Franklin Covey system, this is the app for you.
  • Touch Goal
    Tap to track your habits, single to add to score and double to remove from score. If your goal involves a new habit you are trying to develop or a habit you are trying to break, this could help you without taking too much time.
  • Awesome Note
    Cool sticky note graphics. You have to already have a good plan, since this app won’t organize your goals for you.


Simpler Tools (including Revert to Paper)

Getting Things Done
David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) is such a simple and useful system that people use it. It’s everywhere in name and practice. Honestly, I think it works best on paper, but this is a huge and helpful list of GTD tools for Mac & PC.

Notebook
I do it. I like to carry paper with me. What writer wouldn’t. Yes, I know that defeats the purpose of avoiding the wasted paper, but it’s not much paper and it takes no electricity. If you go with paper, how about a basic moleskine notebook or a D*I*Y Planner? Moleskine is the greatest plain notebook by reputation. It’s what I use. D*I*Y is a community of people creating and sharing tools. There is a great daily refocus page for the D*I*Y. If you are developing habits, there is a Franklin Virtue chart.


Or Imitate Paper Electronically

Since I begin and end with the idea of sticky notes, I’ll also tell you about Posti.ca. I love this site because it’s the closest I’ve found (so far) that gives me the real sticky note feel I want. I’ve used this site to take and arrange notes during presentations. It’s real time, so I was able to share the notes with a friend as I went. It’s a little clunky to do the kind of affinity diagramming that I find helps me focus. Still, it looks like sticky notes, and that’s all right with me.


Here’s a Secret

None of these applications will do it for you. As disappointing as I find this, these are just tools for us to use. Cool tools, true, but we apply the muscle and willpower.


6 Tips to Help You Keep Your Resolutions and Reach Your Goals

Just to make sure that you really accomplish what you want to accomplish in the coming year, I have a few suggestions.

  1. Make sure you are ready. No wishes. Just plans.
  2. Focus on one thing. Make a list if you need to, but file it. Just accomplish one big thing, make it a habit or get it done. Then pull out your list and do the next big thing.
  3. Set the milestones. What are the big pieces of this plan? And, how will you reward yourself when you reach those milestones?
  4. Break it down into steps, then into smaller tasks. Then, figure out what the next action is. That is: make an action plan. Don’t let yourself get blocked by just not figuring out what comes next.
  5. Make it a habit. The 21-days-to-a-new-habit approach has become conventional self-help wisdom because it works. Whatever you want to do, do it every day for at least 15 minutes a day. Yes, every day. Don’t break the chain.
  6. Share your plan. This step is essential. Tell others what you are doing and how you intend to accomplish your goal. Whether you are looking for a buddy to do it with you, a cheerleader, or just a rotten friend to poke you when you go wrong, it really helps to know that you AND someone else will keep you accountable.

    Social sites can create some level of accountability and support, but if you want a wicked group of people after you about what you are doing, post about your goal on Twitter or Facebook. You could even create your own hashtag—maybe you will share it with others who have the same idea, a built-in support group. You are the best reality show for your friends, I assure you.

One more resource: The Happiness Project
This is a book just out this month. I mention it because the author, Gretchen Rubin, has an archive of several years of really good articles on deciding what will make you happy, setting goals, and getting what you want from life. Great approach. If you need a guide, this is a place to start. The Happiness Project Toolbox is a membership site to put the approach into action.

OK. Go out and set your resolutions. Accomplish your goals. Then come back and tell me how you track it all. That’s the part I find endlessly fascinating.

This post is for the Green Moms Carnival on Green Resolutions, hosted in January by Non-Toxic Kids.

Image © Marek Uliasz | Dreamstime.com

Battling the Toy Catalogues by Strocel

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Strocel profile
Blog to Inspire finalist Strocel is Amber, an all around crunchy granola mom to 4-year-old Hannah and 1-year-old Jacob. She is an engineer-turned-at home mom and an aspiring freelance writer.

The holiday season is approaching fast. Much faster than I like or would care to admit, frankly. You would think that one of these years I would be prepared for it, since it’s not exactly unpredictable. Christmas comes at the same time every year, with its glitter and glamour and toy catalogues in the mail.

My 4-year-old, Hannah, loves the toy catalogues. Sometimes I try to recycle them before she can see them, but she has this sixth sense that foils my efforts every time. If a major toy company or toy store has distributed promotional materials to our area, she can sniff them out. And as soon as she does, the asking starts. “Mama! Mama! Mama! I want this one, and this one! And, of course, this one! Mama! Did you hear me? I have to tell you something! I want this one!”

I am not a fan of the toy catalogues, not one bit. And why not?

  • The toys are almost all plastic, and I am trying to reduce our consumption of plastic. Plastics persist in our environment and contain potentially harmful chemicals. I want to avoid bringing that into my home.
  • Most of the toys come packed in huge boxes with hundreds of twist ties. And it all just ends up in the garbage or recycling bin. It’s pretty wasteful when a doll comes with twice its weight and 10 times its volume in packaging.
  • Many of the toys are noisy. I’m sure that the noise isn’t harmful, but it is definitely annoying for me.
  • The catalogues are teaching my child to be a consumer, a lesson I don’t think she needs to learn at 4 years old. They are trying to sell things to my kid, who will then whine to me, making me buy more. This sort of consumerism isn’t good for us or the planet.
  • Most mass-produced toys are not built to last. They are inexpensive, to be sure, but the inexpensiveness comes with its own price. They’re often broken or worn out before the Christmas tree even comes down.

Toddler on swing

I’m sure I sound like a total grinch. But I’m really not. I enjoy finding toys for my kids to play with, and I buy a lot of them. I just prefer to stick to more basic toys made with natural materials as much as I can. I choose handmade items, created with love and attention by committed craftspeople. Toys that can be used in many ways, by many age groups, and that stand the test of time. When I buy toys like that, I know where they’ve come from and what they contain. I know what it is that my kids are putting in their mouths and cuddling up to at night.

I’m sure that sometimes I come across as the mean mom, or the overboard control freak. My kid wants a special doll, so why not let her have a special doll? How bad is one doll?

When the doll arrives in my home, I don’t throw it out. But I also have the choice to not be the one who buys the doll in the first place, and I exercise that option. I believe that in doing so, I am making a difference. I am supporting an ethic that I care about, I am working to protect the planet, and I am communicating a message to my children about consumerism. Because one doll might not be all that bad, but millions of dolls purchased by millions of people because ‘just one can’t hurt’ add up really fast.

Cheap plastic toys are easy to find, and they are marketed aggressively to both us and our children. But we don’t have to buy into that message. And we aren’t ruining our children if we don’t. We are protecting their childhoods, and teaching them what really matters.

What about you? Is there a toy that your kid is in love with that drives you up the wall? Please share!

Read about the Blog to Inspire contest and read posts by the rest of the finalists.

Give of Yourself in Community Service

Serving in a shelterThe week between Christmas and New Year tends to be family time without the frantic preparations of the week before. If parents are off work and looking for meaningful activities for the whole family, this is a great time for service projects and service learning.

Service projects encourage children to connect with people and learn that giving can mean giving of yourself just because you want to or just because someone else really needs you.

Spending our time serving others and modeling this service for our children is an important way to help them learn about real problems close to home. In the case of longer term projects, they might see problems solved. Even with one-time volunteering, they will see problems addressed. Either way, service learning gives children in particular a safe way to learn about their own community and actively contribute by serving others.


Where Can You Volunteer?

Winter can be an especially difficult time for those facing economic hardship. Even after the first big rush of Thanksgiving and Christmas, food banks and shelters still need your help. Families can collect, sort, and distribute food. Nursing homes will continue to welcome volunteer families as the residents’ own families finish their holiday visits. Goodwill and Salvation Army often need help sorting and preparing donations.

Smaller local charities need help as well. This week in particular, the last week of the year, charities are looking for your financial donations as they close out the year. This week is your last chance to get a tax deduction this year for your donation to a charitable nonprofit.


Service Learning

I find the movement that has grown up around service learning very intriguing. Service learning brings together experiential learning with community service. Because of the focus on education, a lot of the resources and support within the movement are focused on schools. Still, there are a lot of resources parents can use with their own children, particularly if they are homeschooling.

The Canadian Alliance for Community Service-Learning primarily supports and networks serving learning programs in colleges and universities. They focus on research, best practices, and making community service learning (CSL) more effective. It is also their goal to develop a uniquely Canadian model of CSL.

In the U.S., Learn and Serve America’s National Service-Learning Clearinghouse (NSLC) provides referrals, resources, and assistance for service-learning projects. Learn and Service America is a project of the Corporation for National and Community Service, a U.S. federal agency. They focus on integrating service-learning into curriculum. Though most of what they offer is for classroom learning they have a service learning guide for parents, and they also provide a listing of local opportunities at Serve.gov.

There are a lot of smaller organizations providing service learning opportunities for children. I just want to mention one of them. Roots and Shoots, a project of The Jane Goodall Institute, is an international organization providing youth with a structure through which to identify and address community issues. Service-learning is their focus. For young people who want to build relationships with others interested in similar kinds of service, an organization like this can be a great way to build on their desire to serve.

Like Roots and Shoots, a lot of service learning organizations and projects that work with K-12 students emphasize youth voice and youth-led projects, encouraging young people to work together to determine the Why, What, and How of the projects they work on. They learn through every stage of the project.


Quick Volunteer Opportunities

If you are looking for a short-term volunteer opportunity rather than an ongoing project, try Volunteer Canada’s list of volunteer centres or Serve.gov’s search for local volunteer opportunities by zip code.

Image © Bob Denelzen | Dreamstime.com

Pooh Sticks

Bridge over flowing riverIn my husband’s family, in rural England, Christmas Day must involve playing Pooh Sticks after Christmas lunch. This is the game Winnie-the-Pooh devised in The House at Pooh Corner (the game that author A. A. Milne created for his son Christopher Robin Milne).

The game of Pooh Sticks involves dropping sticks off a bridge into a flowing river, then seeing whose stick reaches the other side of the bridge first. It is, very loosely, a race. It is, almost certainly, a game of chance rather than skill.

  • First step: get yourselves to a bridge over a flowing river.
  • Everyone get a stick. Some say it should be willow, but my husband played by the rules that everyone chooses what they think will work best. Winnie-the-Pooh used a pine cone. What you find near the river is the right thing to use. Just make each stick different enough that it’s easy to tell the difference between them as they tumble down the stream.
  • At the prearranged signal (“One, two, three, DROP!”), each person drop their stick off the up upstream side of the bridge—NO throwing allowed—and run to the downstream side of the bridge.
  • First stick under the bridge wins.
  • Repeat, switching spots to make sure the same person doesn’t get the advantage of the current each time.
  • Final step: go home. Drink wassail or hot chocolate. (UK option: listen to the Queen’s speech.)

Image © Anthony Hall | Dreamstime.com