Being an effective mentor means becoming a co-conspirator, a fellow explorer, a chaser of clues.
This week is all about my kids. I’m pretty crazy about them (weird, right?) and Squish turned six months old yesterday, so I figured this week was the perfect one to highlight what I’m personally doing to be a better parent and what they’re reading to give some ideas for those with kiddos.
Before I dive in, look at the book theme part of my little girl’s six month photos. I am so in love with how they turned out! A friend of mine took them and her talent is very evident.
Did you know that the average American child only spends four to seven minutes playing outside each day? According to research, that’s 90% less than we as their parents did. Further research indicates that experiences in nature are essential for healthy growth by helping relieve stress, depression, and attention deficits. It’s also shown to reduce bullying, combat illness, and boost academic scores. (What?? You mean by letting kids play they do better than if we make them do mounds of homework and study all the time??) Sufficient time spent in nature appears to yield long-term benefits in cognitive, emotional, and social development. So why aren’t our kids getting outside anymore? According to this book, written by the paleontologist Dr Scott from Dinosaur Train, there are multiple reasons why. Changes in the way we school, the massive absorption of new technology, the busier lives we lead, fear mongering by the media about the new and present dangers, and the deforestation of our world. There also is a lack of basic understanding of how to nurture a meaningful and lasting connection between our kids and the natural world. This book helps teach you how to be a mentor (whether as a parent, teacher, or caregiver) to kids from toddler to teenager, enlisting technology as an ally, not enemy, taking advantage of “urban nature” (parks and tamed down walking trails), and instilling a sense of belonging in the natural world.
I highly enjoyed this book. I checked it out at the library but I’m going to buy it because it does stretch from toddlers to teenagers and I would like to be able to pick it up again and again to reference as my kids grow. We joined a Wild + Free group for Bean late last year when a friend suggested it to us and it’s quite possibly the best thing I’ve done for him all year. And it didn’t cost a dime! He’s learned to get muddy (he hated to before), listen to birds, dig for worms, hold a roly-poly, wield a stick as both a sword and a walking tool, jump in puddles, and generally be what a little kid looked like if we were to go back thirty years. I remember very fondly being shooshed outside by my parents to play, usually mid-morning and very rarely coming back in for the day until dinnertime. In the summer, we’d each be given a lunch and 75 cents (the cost of a pool admission) and take off on our bikes to swim, play at the park, ride our bikes around, and generally entertain ourselves until it got dark out. I understand that’s not possible now with the increase in crime, but a part of me mourns that my children will never know a childhood like mine and part of me is determined to give them the closest approximation that I can. So we have been putting down the tablets and phones and going outside. We hike, we go on nature field trips with Wild + Free, we play in our own backyard, and we go for walks around our neighborhood. I’ve also downloaded both a plant identification app and a bird identification app to help us when we are out and about. Bean likes to bring me every flower he sees so it’s helped to identify the ones he brings and he is super sharp at hearing even the faintest bird call so when I can see them, we try to narrow down our choices of what it is by what it looks like and sounds like according the app. It’s actually a lot more fun than I ever thought it would be. The book says one of the most crucial steps to fostering a love of nature in your children is to foster in yourself as well. Another important step is to not directly answer their questions about nature. Rather, ask a question that will get them on the right track. For example “What kind of bird is that?” and you would reply with “What kind of bird does it look like? Look at the markings and listen to its call. Have you seen or heard a bird like that before?” Even if you know the answer, it’s best to let the kids attempt to figure it out themselves first because it will “stick” better in their brains and when you ask the questions, it opens the floor for discussion. Merely answering their questions closes the door to the imagination.
Honestly I could talk about this book all day, so I will just recommend you either check it out or buy it. If I gave stars to books, this book would be 15 out of 10. *wink*
Now for the books my kids are currently “reading” (AKA being read):
A Child of Books by Sam Winston (illustrated by Oliver Jeffers)
I am a child of books.
I come from a world of stories.
A little girl sails her raft across a sea of words, arriving at the house of a small boy. She invites him to go away with her on an adventure into the world of stories… where, with only a little imagination, anything at all can happen.
There is very minimal actual words to this book, which is a great selling point at this point in my son’s life. His imagination has really expanded over the past six months and most of his play is now pretend play or imagination based. So while I’m spending less time actually reading out loud, we spend more time than ever on this book because all I have to ask is “What do you think is happening on this page” and he will dive into a lengthy discussion of the who, what, wheres, and why’s of what’s happening. It’s something magical to see the way his mind works.
South by Patrick McDonnell
This book has NO words, but the story is so clear that even the first time we perused it, Bean picked up what the story was. So when we grab this to look at, his story may change a little from retelling to retelling but they all follow the basic concept that this little bird is left behind when it’s time to migrate and his furry friend helps him on his quest to find his family.
Day Dreamers by Emily Winfield Martin
They say there are no dragons left
and that’s the way it seems
To find them you must visit
The land of waking dreams
This book is by the same author as the book pictured above in Squish’s photo shoot, Dream Animals. That’s her absolute favorite book and I’m not surprised. The words read like lyrics and the artwork is fantastic. This book is no different as it delves into the imagination.
Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney (illustrated by Anita Jeram)
“Guess how much I love you,” he said.
“Oh, I don’t think I could guess that,” said Big Nutbrown Hare.
Yes, this tried and true classic is one of my nightly reads. Bean has gotten to the age where everything is a comparison, but affection especially. “You’re my best friend” and “I love you the mostest and infinity” are mantras heard in my house several times a day. This book is cute because it frequently gets interjected with “I love you more than that Mommy!” and the imagery is enough to keep Squish entertained as well.
While we do switch up books almost nightly, one of these four is always in rotation with the other three or four that gets requested of me currently. I love that bedtime story time is such a sacred tradition that is both loved and anticipated at the end of each day. Don’t get me wrong, we read throughout the day (so much so that sometimes I wonder if I should enter the kids’ books on my own reading challenge on goodreads, ha) but there’s a certain magic about a dim lamp at the end of the day, pjs and freshly brushed teeth with sleepy eyes and listening ears. It just can’t be beat.