Wednesday, July 19, 2017

That Day Last September When I Saved the Summer

In many ways I felt like last summer was a bust.  I was somewhat distracted with my recently re-opened Etsy shop.  We had just enough camps and activities on the books that it made it tricky to just hop in the car and go to the park for a day of roaming and exploring.  We usually go to the creek several times every summer, but last year a friend's son got a leech in the water and I could never bring myself to go back there.  We even skipped our long-standing tradition of going to the opening day of the county fair because it was 95 degrees and just, nope.

It was sort of a blah summer - reflected in both our lack of really enjoyable family time and my mood.

In early September we went on a field trip with other families from the study center to see the tall, historic sailing ships in port in Erie, Pennsylvania, a two hour ride from our home.  I'm not naturally spontaneous or fun-loving but I knew this was an opportunity to do something for my kids to "redeem" the humdrum summer we had had.  I told everyone to bring an extra set of clothes (because you might get wet while touring the ships...??)  I packed up lunches and water and snacks and we left early the next morning to meet up with our group in Erie for the tour.  

It was awesome!  We loved the ships and hearing about their sailing from the crew.  I think Aaron especially enjoyed it since he and I had recently watched a few episodes of  Horatio Hornblower :) We enjoyed our lunches with our friends and were finished with the last tour around 1 in the afternoon. It had been a blistering hot day - lots of sweating and re-hydrating while waiting on long lines in full sun.  We were all sticky and uncomfortable and couldn't wait to get in the air conditioned van. The kids thought we were headed home but I surprised them with a spontaneous trip to the beach at Presque Isle.  

I can't tell you how much enjoyment I received from their surprise and delight.  Mom, are you really taking us to a beach??  You're going to let us take our shoes off??  Can we walk in the water???  We know you'll probably say no, but can we swim??  They about fell over when I said yes.  I wasn't acting like myself at all.  They could hardly believe that I would  let them swim and get sandy in their clothes.  Oh!!!!  This is why you told us to bring extra clothes!!!!   I hadn't even brought towels.  They just swam and jumped and ran and splashed until everyone really was getting tired (it had been a really long day).  Even then, it was hard to convince them to get out and dry in the sun.  They were water logged.  And you can imagine the amount of sand in their underwear ;) Everyone changed into their dry clothes in the back of the van - sand and dirt flying everywhere - me trying to remain calm and in my happy-go-lucky-summer-state-of-mind.  We even hit up the ice cream stand before leaving the peninsula.  I taught my kids about ordering extra sprinkles for when the you've licked the first layer of sprinkles off your cone.  We pulled up back at home well into the evening and stayed up late telling Dad about the day and eating pizza in the driveway as the sun set.  

The kids still talk about that day.  I still think about it regularly.  It was the day that made last summer amazing.  For me, at least.  I intentionally let go of so much of my uptight, plan-everything-to-a-T ways, and we had an unforgettable day.  It meant so much to me to be able to give that to my kids, it's hard to really convey how important it was to me in words.  But I've always wanted to share some photos from that day.  They're a souvenir of one of my favorite days ever.  And they're a reminder of the sheer joy it was to make my children so very happy with a few simple "spontaneous" changes to the plan :)

Monday, July 17, 2017

How We Do #wildandfree In Our Urban Backyard

When my husband and I daydream about the things we want for our children, it often comes back to experiences that we associate with living in the country.  We want them to have free and open play spaces, we want them to climb trees, observe wildlife, tend to plants, raise chickens and gather fresh eggs, blaze bike trails through the woods, and build tree forts out of scraps.  We appreciate the positive affect that a "free range" childhood can have on the development of children.  (Lots of great studies have been done on the benefits!)  For a while we were actively looking at properties that were a bit more rural, had more than a couple acres of land with mature trees and grassy areas that didn't need to be manicured.  And hey, a little creek would have been the bonus that would have made all our house-hunting dreams come true.  

A few times we found properties that a-l-m-o-s-t made us pull the trigger... but we didn't.  And quite frankly, we're not unhappy to be staying in our current home within the city limits. Its space is sufficient and we've adopted an attitude toward our property and location that have allowed us to give our kids as "free range" a child-hood as possible in our present circumstances.

In fact, I've come to appreciate, that "free range" can happen anywhere, and doesn't require rambling rural fields and cool shady woods to be a reality for our kids.  In short, "free range" doesn't mean you have to have a home on the range.  It means giving your children unstructured free time, materials to inspire creativity and imagination, and the freedom to explore, create, and "do their own thing," as it were.  

We have a .16 acre lot and here's what we do to give our kids some "free range" experiences in our very own urban backyard...

(1)  First and foremost, I long ago abandoned all illusions of a yard worthy of Better Homes and Gardens.

Seriously.  I packed them away and stashed them in the dank, dark basement, and only think about getting them out after my children have gone away to college.  No, even then they'll probably bring their friends home for mud football games in the yard, so I'm just leaving my illusions packed...
I had always thought that once I was a home owner I would also have a beautiful yard with gorgeous flowers and a bubbling fountain.  Alas, how wrong I was.  I have a yard littered with scraps of projects and experiments, pieces of imaginative games, and holes that kids have dug.  It took a few years, but I'm finally OK with the state of the yard!

(2) We give our children tools and the freedom to use them.

Hammers, nails, screws and screwdrivers, rope or twine, a heavy duty bucket...  Our older boys have a couple power drills and have permission to use a saw when Dad is nearby.  Common sense safety rules apply, and they're not allowed to damage any structures (house, garage, playset) or trees, but otherwise we tend to let them use the tools how they want.  They've built some pretty awesome things ;)

(3) We give them supplies.  Or better yet, we let them collect their own.

Once you give your kids tools, they'll need some stuff to build with.  When we moved into our house there were a few saw horses and piles and piles of 2x4's and other scrap wood in our garage.  Those pieces of wood have come in and out of the garage more times that I could ever count.  Play houses, makeshift basketball nets, mini golf courses, American Ninja Warrior courses, and more have been crafted from that scrap wood.  Our garage it also filled with old, unused landscaping stones.  The kids get to do whatever they want with them. Some years they've used them to surround a garden.  Another year they used them to build a castle wall, and another time they were part of a frontier fort visited by Lewis and Clark.

You don't have to buy "supplies."  Our kids actually get lots of supplies from garbage hunting :)  (This is another aspect of their "free range" childhood that I had to grow to appreciate with my husband's encouragement ;) )  Recently they went out with a wagon during Big Trash Week and came home with lots of great stuff, including two 8 ft long bamboo poles and a large set of pvc-type pipes and various connectors.  You can always find scrap wood in garbage piles.  One of my sons also looks for old furniture that he can use for "harvesting" screws, etc...  The great thing about acquiring supplies this way is that once the items break or the kids are done with them, there's no guilt about taking the stuff right back out to the curb :)

(4) We let our kids climb things.

Don't have woods on your property full of beautiful climbing trees?  Sometimes you just gotta let your kids climb what you do have.  My little kids are actually light enough to climb our small Japanese maple in the front and the big kids can shimmy up the huge silver maple in the back, but they're not really great climbing trees.  So the kids also climb up to the top of the play set, the deck railing, and the wood fence to get up to the mulberry tree.  I confess I think climbing is important, but I hate to watch it, so my husband is usually around when they're defying gravity ;)  

(5) We encourage our kids to keep critters.

We can't go out to the yard to collect fresh chicken eggs or milk goats, but we can still give our kids some up-close encounters with city nature.  Last summer it felt like we had a menagerie on our deck.  It was a bit annoying to me (again... Better Homes and Gardens yards are never littered with makeshift plastic and mesh habitats...) but the kids had the chance to witness tadpoles turn into frogs, and fat green caterpillars turn into polyphemus moths, and snails slime about in a tupperware.  And it actually was pretty darn fascinating to get a front-row seat to the show :)

(6) We allow our kids to take a portion of the garden and give the freedom to do whatever they want with it.

Kids love to plant stuff and watch it grown.  For many years now we've had a family vegetable garden, but we've also let the kids take pieces of the yard for themselves to grow pretty much whatever they want.  They often try flowers, but with little success.  Of course they love eating the snap peas and beans they've grown themselves, or they'll run out to pick a quick leaf of lettuce from their garden to put on their sandwich.  We let them plant what and how they want.  They care for the garden how they want.  And even though I probably bought the seeds they used they can pretty much do whatever they want with their harvest.  Carrot chive soup is a favorite...... among the kids, at least.

(7) We let them use the garden hose.

  It's a sacrifice, but we actually will let them make mud :)  We let them build dams and bridges with spare bricks and and sticks and mud.  Our kids love to flood the driveway and then send little sticks and leaves and homemade boats floating down into the street and down to the sewers.  (Sometimes playing with the hose inspires them to wash the car, so bonus!)

(8) We allow them "import" nature.

This sort of goes along with the "we let them bring other people's garbage into our yard."  If my kids want to build a lean-to or teepee, they scour the neighborhood for fallen branches after a storm and drag them back to our house.  I mentioned we have a big maple tree, but it loses its leaves very late in fall and no one wants to wait that long to rake and jump in piles.  My kids bring our three wagons around the neighborhood, rake other people's lawns and bring the leaves back to our yard.  We're the only people I know who import leaves into their yard each fall, but I let them do it because, childhood :)
(ps - my kids get money and cookies from neighbors all the time for this leaf-raking service they provide every year!)

(8) I just leave them alone :)

This is sort of the heart and soul of "free range."  Kids' creativity shines when they're free from the rigorous schedules of structured activities and the order and limits often imposed by adults on their "play time."  My children are usually much more creative and cooperative amongst each other when I don't try to steer the activity or moderate every little dispute.  With a few tools, a patch of garden, and the freedom to be creative, my kids can do an awful lot of wild and free things in our own small urban backyard :)  

(9) We DO get out when we can.

Please don't assume we lock our kids in the backyard!  We let them out and about the neighborhood too, but I just used the word "backyard" for continuity's sake!  ALSO, We make it a point to get our city kids out of the city frequently, too!  It's good for the body and soul to get out and hike in the woods, spot deer and wild turkeys, splash in the creek, and swing from hanging vines.  But I'm grateful that I don't labor under the false pretense that a happy, playful, and creative childhood can only happen in the country.  I can say confidently from experience, parents can give their children the benefits of a free range childhood right from their own small patch of urban backyard!  

How about you?  What are your tips and thoughts on "free range childhood" for kids in traditional urban (and even suburban) environments?  

Monday, July 10, 2017

5 Reasons to Try Audible This Summer (and 40% off if you sign up!!)

(This post contains affiliate links.  If you sign up for Audible through your Amazon 
Prime account, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.  Thank you!)

We obviously do a a decent amount of reading physical books around here, but we're big audio book fans as well.  I still get the occasional book-on-CD from the library, but in the past year or so we've gravitated more and more toward Audible.  It's by far, my favorite resource for quality audio lit.  

I'm so grateful that my mom clued me in to this amazing library.  I believe it's a must-have for book lovers, literary families, and homeschooling families.  In case you're not familiar with Amazon's Audible feature, I'd like to give you five great reasons why you should sign up now!  

(1) New Audible users (existing Amazon Prime members) 
get their first 6 months at 40% off!!!!
Click here for the discount on a new Audible gold account :) 

What exactly is Audible?  It's a monthly subscription to audio books.  Your monthly payment (see above link for discount!!) buys you credits to use towards any audio book in the audio library.  You also have the option of buying titles outright (it makes sense to do this for books that cost less than the monthly subscription.  See my link to a great list at the end of this post.)  Once you buy a title, it is yours for good.  You can listen to it on your phone or other device.  When you're done listening, you can remove it from the device to conserve storage space, but it remains in your library for the next time you want to use it!   

(2) Audible is tops for convenient, on-the-go literary entertainment.

One of the first things I do before we leave on a car trip (long road trip, or short day trip) is stock up on audio books.  I know from experience that it's asking for trouble to bring library books-on-CD on vacations out of state or on day trips to the local park or beach.  Audible to the rescue!  There's no losing CD's in the bowels of the van, no changing discs while trying to drive, no worry that gritty sand will ruin library property.  With Audible, just plug in to your car's audio system, and go!

Related - Even though library CD's are "free," they were not-so-free when my kids have inadvertently scratched or broken a couple.  It really stinks to buy a brand new copy of Prince Caspian and Little House in the Big Woods and then just hand it over to the librarian with a sheepish apology.....   In hindsight, I wish I would have just spent that money on an Audible edition in the first place.

(3) Listening to audio books in the car significantly reduces sibling squabbling.

I have conducted many scientific experiments and this is a proven fact - listening to audio books in the car nearly wipes out sibling car-ride squabbling.  Everyone is too wrapped up in the story to worry about who's breathing on them or who's eyes glanced in their direction.

(4) Audio books can occasionally free up the usually enthusiastic Read-Aloud mom.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm in favor of Mom (or Dad, or Grandma, or older sibling, or babysitter... you get the idea) sitting down with a book in hand and a bunch of kids on her lap and reading out loud.  I do this a lot.  And I love it.  Having a service like Audible does not replace read aloud time in our home.  However, of you're like me and want to expose your kids to lots of great stories and a variety of authors and genres, and if your kids are like my kids and they looooove to listen to stories....  sometimes a tired out mom just can't keep up.  Audible provides a healthy and much needed break for me when my read-aloud mojo is waning.  You'll appreciate the break too!  

Additionally, when I listen to an audio book along side my family, I feel like more like a fellow consumer of entertainment (as opposed to the provider ;) )  It's fun to belly laugh or gasp in anticipation along with the rest of the listening crowd.  It's enjoyable to let someone else do the voices for a change.  It's a different kind of "reading" experience.  And I like it :) 

(5) Audio books can help reduce screen time.

This is big for us, especially as we're having a daytime TV free summer.  I had been in the habit of putting on Netflix for a rainy afternoon or for when a couple kids were sick.  But we've broken out of that habit and most everyone chooses audio books during a lull in the day.  We definitely do the old-fashion family gathered around the radio thing.  I keep a bin of quiet activities (puzzles, coloring, arranging activities, etc...) in the living room and they're available for the kids to use while listening to stories.  This summer we've been listening to Swallows and Amazons,  Mr. Midshipman Hornblower (just my big boys), and  The Cottage at Bantry Bay.  And I've got plenty more lined up for when those are done because Audible recently had a great sale on titles for kids and I stocked up :)  

So are you convinced yet?  How about a trial?  Don't forget - click here to sign up!

Wondering what you should order first??  There are two things that stand out to me because we all agree listening to them is better than reading aloud.  The first is A Bear Called Paddington because Stephen Fry reading it is just *perfection.*  He nails the dry humor of ridiculous situations.  But he's British, so...   And the second is the series The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place.   Katherine Kellgren does the best voices and howling and it's infinitely more enjoyable to listen to her do those things than attempt them myself!  

Looking for more ideas??  Here are two posts from the archives you can check out --

(I checked the old links -- nearly all the prices are still the same, and some are cheaper now!)

This is an old list.  I still recommend everything on it, but we sure have added A LOT more to our list since then :)


Our Summer Author/Illustrator Binges:

     Sarah Stewart and David Small
     Brian Wildsmith
     Jim Arnosky 
     Dahlov Ipcar 


(Listening to A Little Princess)

(listening to Mr. Midshipman Hornblower)

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