Over the years, my husband and I have found that both of us and both of our children find great serenity while immersed in nature.  It is the thing that centers us and renews us.  And, to that end, we decided that it is of greatest importance that we spend some time in nature every weekend.  The daily stresses and sensory overload that we encounter during the school/work week dissolve as we step into nature.

Last weekend, we used our nature escape to say goodbye to summer and to welcome autumn. It was a very warm day for the end of September, but the breeze was delicious and the morning sun was beautiful filtering through the treetops.


Our plan was to hike all morning and stop at 10:49am to say goodbye to summer and to welcome autumn.  This wasn’t my idea.  This wasn’t my husband’s idea.  The two kids.  It was all them.

But as we hiked, we encountered some very cool wildlife and sights.  The first was an eastern box turtle, quickly identified by my fabulous husband.  He loves all things reptilian.


When we stopped hiking at 10:47am to say goodbye to summer, we were in a dried creek bed, exploring what might be found in such a spot.  Here we came upon a little frog.  If you look closely at the back end of the frog (is it a pickerel frog?), there is a small orange-red protrusion.  We assumed it was an egg sac, but as we were unsure, please feel free to comment the correct answer, if you know!  WE would love to know.  Another amazing hiking find.

At this moment, our children each took a turn saying a tearful goodbye to summer, one blowing a kiss and one giving an air-hug.  It’s always said that we can learn so much from our children.  Living in the moment is one of the greatest of these lessons.  And there it was again as they cheered a welcome to fall.

And we continued on our hike.  My favorite nature find that day, although kind of gross, was this owl pellet.  For anyone who doesn’t already know, when an owl eats, it digests what it can of the creature it has eaten and then throws up the bones, fur and whatever else it cannot digest.  These are known as owl pellets.  We had never discovered one on our own, so this was pretty exciting for us!


It was an amazing day.  One I won’t soon forget.  We hiked for TWO HOURS with a nine-year old and a six-year old!!  I witnessed my children’s intense sentimentality, and we all came away from it centered, contented and ready to face the week.  What an amazing escape.



Here we are.  Summer is over and school has begun.

But I am not happy about it.  Sure, the cooler weather is refreshing and I love those crisply blue autumn skies that greet us most days.  And who can’t deny the joy of crunching toasty brown leaves beneath her feet?  You would think I’d be ecstatic.

The truth of the matter is that I’m devastated.  We sent our youngest daughter to kindergarten this year.  Yes, I know it’s “only a half-day” and I hear those who echo “think of all you’ll get done”.  But all of that is irrelevant to me.  This is the year that begins the hurtling through childhood.  Because, one day my house will be spotless.  Everything done in a timely manner.  But those relaxed, laid-back days of early childhood are saying goodbye, never to return.  Those days of picking up and heading to a playground at our leisure…gone.  Or picking strawberries or apples mid-week to avoid the weekend rush…gone.  Upon us are the days of rushing here and there….to school to drop off….to school to pick up….to ballet….to the dentist.  And I hate that.

But the one thing of it all is that I am grateful that I stayed home with both of my children through this early part of their childhood.  Grateful that I didn’t miss all of their firsts.  Grateful that mine were the arms that picked them up when they fell and hugged them tightly.  Grateful that I was the one who sat with them to enjoy breakfast and lunch.  Grateful that my husband and I have always shared the same vision of our children growing up with a parent at home.  Grateful to that same amazing husband who made it happen.  It was a tough road for many years but well worth the struggles.

And so as we send our daughters off to the same school for the first time ever, my heart alternatively aches and soars.  Aches for the end of one era and soars for the littlest, as she finds her way to the next.

I love reading.  Loved it as a kid, love it today.  And as a parent, I’ve always hoped that my love of reading would be something my children would inherit.  Little did I know that hope might one day become a battle.

My seven-year old LOVES reading.  It is, perhaps, her favorite activity.  Every night it’s a struggle to get her to put down her book and turn out the light.  “Five more minutes…please?”  The plea of five more minutes turns into ten which turns into fifteen and then twenty.  It would quickly become three hours if I let it.  Fortunately, she’s not quite gotten to the devious stage, where one might grab a flashlight and read under the covers (as though reading could ever be a devious undertaking!).

Tonight we battled again, although a bit less of a struggle than usual.  I gave her fifteen more minutes and told her exactly what time she needed to put down the book, press play on her alarm clock for music and turn out the light.  Seriously, I know her M.O. and still placed the responsibility of putting the book down into her hands?  Have I not learned anything?  Thirty minutes later, I walked past her door and found the light still on.  Should I have been surprised?  Uh, no.  I feigned it anyway. “Why on earth are you still reading?”  I asked.  “Mom, I was just so engrossed in the book, I completely forgot to look at the clock,” she told me.  “Well, it’s time, honey ” I told her as I pulled up her covers and tucked her in.  For once, when I went to take the book from her, she did not resist.  And after she used the word “engrossed”, I could do nothing but squeeze her to bits.  How cute is that?

And guess what?  She chose to listen to stories rather than music as Jim Weiss’ enchanting voice whisked her away to a Tropical Island in Good Night.  I am not surprised at all.  That’s how I got my bookworm to sleep.

Everyone I talk to seems to concede that America’s children are spending too much time with media.  But how much exactly is that?  There finally are some answers.

The daily use of media among children and teens Kaiser Family Foundation recently released information about a study it conducted on the daily media use among children and teens.  According to the study, “most youth say they have no rules about how much time they can spend with TV, video games, or computers”.

The results of the study stunned me.  Who could have imagined that our children consume so much media in one day?  I suspected the number was rather high, but I never guessed 7 hours and 38 minutes.  A day.  ONE DAY.  The study was conducted among children ages 8-18 and included all types of media: tv, computer, music/audio, print, video games and movies.
TIME TO UNPLUG.  At least for a few hours a day.

Previously published on Practically Unplugged Kids in January 2010.

So, in our house, we have eliminated television for the kids.  Well, practically.  We started in the beginning of the summer, when its curtailment would be easy and go relatively unnoticed by our children.  With many days spent at the pool, there simply was no time for tv.  By summer’s end, they had all but forgotten about it.

Once school started, I anticipated many requests, denials and arguments with the kids.  But they haven’t happened.  Occasionally, one of them will ask, but they can usually find something else fun to do.

But I’m realistic.  I enjoy tv and don’t want to completely deny them that indulgence.  Once a week, we have something called “Movie Friday” at home.  For fun, the kids get to choose a movie to watch to end the week. We do it up with popcorn and candy or some other fun snack.  Like maybe milkshakes.

It isn’t really that television is all that terrible.  I mean, some of it is, but there is programming out there that has redeeming qualities.  It’s more that television (and computers and video games…even scheduled activities) has taken over so much of the time that kids used to spend playing unstructured….nurturing their imaginations and entertaining themselves.

Minimizing the amount of television the kids watch has been phenomenal for them.  My husband and I are constantly marveling at their imaginations.  And they are, simply put, happier kids.

For an interesting article on tv and its impact on childhood, I like this link:  <a href=”http://www.commercialfreechildhood.org/pdf/susanexchange.pdf”>http://www.commercialfreechildhood.org/pdf/susanexchange.pdf</a&gt;

Previously published on Practically Unplugged Kids in January 2010.

What IS wrong with batteries? Aside from the very obvious environmental hazard. Well, it isn’t the batteries themselves I find problematic. It’s the very toys we power with them.
When my now six year-old daughter was an infant, we went out and bought one of those “educational” Fisher Price play tables. I have no idea what it was called, but it drove me nuts. She’d press a button and lights would flash or sounds would emanate from it. She wasn’t particularly crazy about it, and I frankly despised it. What in the world were we thinking? Clearly we weren’t. Did we really think she’d learn her ABCs from it? Does an infant even need to know her ABCs? No. And, no. Although we’d paid upwards of $40 for it, I longed for the day when it didn’t work quite properly and I could justify disposing of it. The day eventually came and I put it to the curb with relish….it was removed by a shadow figure before BFI even arrived the next morning.
As time passed, we began to avoid any toys that required batteries. Yes, batteries became costly, but more than that, the purpose of the toys seemed more to entertain than educate. Certainly there’s a place for entertainment, but under the guise of education? What would that teach our kids? That in order to learn they must be entertained? That the “good” “educational” toys require batteries? But we shouldn’t have been looking for toys to educate in the first place. We should have been looking for toys to inspire creative thinking and problem solving…toys that let kids BE kids. Toys like blocks and Lincoln Logs, baby dolls and play kitchens. Games like pickup sticks and checkers. Arts and crafts supplies. ANYTHING to inspire imaginative play.
I can’t say we completely eschew any type of “modern” toy, but we have eliminated those that require batteries. On any given afternoon, our children can be found playing with their Littlest Pet Shop pets or creating a grand adventure with kitchen stools, books and a plethora of playsilks….today it was a trip to “old Mexico with Skippyjon Jones”.
For them, the Leapster will be what Atari was for me. Something I thought I wanted and needed, but I did well without.

Previously published on Practically Unplugged Kids.