Friday, January 31, 2014

Our 10 Favorite Picture Books

We have a LOT of books in our house.  Tony and I both came into our marriage with boxes and boxes of books of our own.  Add to that 15 years worth of children's books plus 10 years worth of homeschool books, plus the just-because-I-want-to-read-it books, and....well, yes, we have a lot.

I really believe that a love of reading begins early on, and so we have always read to our little ones from the time they were old enough to prop up in the crook of our arms and be read to.

I wanted to share with you some of our very favorite picture books for the 0 -3 crowd.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar
by Eric Carle
Little ones love the colorful illustrations and turning the different sized pages to see what the caterpillar ate each day.  A classic that is still loved at our house!

The Babies on the Bus
by Karen Katz
This adorable little board book by Karen Katz (of Where is Baby's Belly Button? fame) is bright and cheery.  You can't help but sing the song as you read it, joining along with the babies on the bus as they bounce bumpity-bump, cry waah waah waah, and fall fast asleep.

Big Red Barn
by Margaret Wise Brown
illustrated by Felicia Bond
"In the big red barn by the great green field/There was a pink pig who was learning to squeal."
This sweet and simple book by the beloved Margaret Wise Brown starts out sunny and progresses throughout the day on the farm until the last few pages are darker and quieter.  A great bedtime book as the tone of the book calms down page by page.

Storm is Coming
by Heather Tekavec
illustrated by Margaret Spengler
Farmer tells Dog to round up the animals in the barn because "storm is coming."   As Dog gathers all the others up inside the barn, they shiver and shake and speculate about who this "Storm" could he scary?  Mean?  The sounds of the rain and thunder and lightning will surely scare him away!  Adorable illustrations and a sense of excitement (ending with a phew!  everything is OK) make this a favorite everyone needs!

The Pumpkin Patch Parable
by Liz Curtis Higgs
illustrated by Nancy Munger
This sweet and colorful book takes you on a journey from seed to jack-o-lantern with a Christian twist.  The old farmer obviously represents God and the pumpkins that he cares for and cleans out and makes happy represent us!  We ready this every year when October rolls around.

Silly Little Goose
by Nancy Tafuri
This simple book was never one we meant to buy!  Years ago when we belonged to a children's book of the month club, this was their monthly selection one time when we forgot to pick our books!  But it has become a well-loved classic at our house!  That silly goose is looking for a place to build a nest, but she just can't seem to find a good spot...she tries the cat's bed, the chicken coop, the pig pen...finally she finds JUST the right spot and...well, you'll see!

Silly Sally
by Audrey Wood
"Silly Sally went to town, walking backwards upside down."  Silly Sally is super silly and wonderfully funny as she makes her trek into town to get things done.  A short book great for keeping toddlers' attention.

Bunny's Noisy Book
by Margaret Wise Brown
illustrated by Lisa McCue
If every there was a picture book that could be called sweet and quaint, this is it.  Margaret Wise Brown does it again with a simple and endearing story, and the illustrations by Lisa McCue give you a warm and fuzzy feeling.  Join Bunny as he goes through the day hearing noises (and making some!) all around him, from the first flutters of the birds up in the trees to the thump of Mama Rabbit's foot on the ground signalling it's time to come home.
***As I was looking for images of this book to use, Andrew walked up and said, "That's my book!  Want to read it," and went to the bookshelf to find it!

The Very Busy Spider
by Eric Carle
Eric Carle does it again with his very busy spider, who spends all day spinning her web on a fence in a farmyard.  The other animals try to get her to come and play but she's just too busy, and in the end it pays off when she catches that pesky fly!  The "web" is made of tactile material (I'm guessing glue) that little ones love to run their hands over as it gets bigger and bigger with each page.

Down by the Station
by Will Hillenbrand
With a new twist on the classic children's song, this little train travels through a zoo early in the morning, picking up baby animals along the way to the children's zoo (but watch out for the alligators!).  Each animal adds it's own sound to the verses - "Puff puff, toot toot, thrump thrump, mew mew...."  Follow the red balloon floating away through the sky on each page for extra fun!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Flour on the Counters

They crowd around me, under my feet and in the way every time I turn around.

The questions begin...

Can I help?

I want to cook!

Can I stir?

I want to break the eggs!

Can I have a bite?

By two years old they know what the sound of the oven beeping means and they know where the oven mitts are (not that I actually let them get hot things from the oven at two years old).  

They like to push down the lever on the toaster and pour the milk into the bowl and the bigger ones stand at the stove and make sure things don't burn.

The baby is under foot pulling pots and pans out of the cabinets and the toddler is sitting on the counter with a wooden spoon just waiting for his turn to do something, anything.

There's flour spilled somewhere and I keep checking to make sure all the pan handles are turned in toward the back of the stove so little hands (or big hips) don't bump them.

There are days when I really just want everyone out of the kitchen so I can do what needs to be done and get it over with.  I actually love to cook but sometimes in the chaos of timers and boiling water and someone eating chocolate chips out of the bag, I long for a quiet kitchen all to myself.

But oh, these little people.  They're underfoot and inconvenient and everything takes longer and is messier with them there to help.  But they WANT to help.  They want to be there, in the kitchen, because that is where I am and they like to be close to me.  

The babies banging on pots and pans grow into the toddlers who stir the batter.

The toddlers who stir the batter grow into the children who flip the grilled cheese sandwiches and stir the soup.

The children who flip the sandwiches and stir the soup grow into the teenagers you can call when errands take longer than planned and ask to make lunch for the whole brood.

And someday...the teenagers who can whip up muffins or mac and cheese without a second thought turn into the mommies and daddies who will provide for their own little ones.

So, in the midst of the noise and the mess and the children learning to wait their turn to stir or pour or oh-goody-I-get-to-bang-the-eggs, I will try my best.  I will hand out samples and let them lick the beaters.  I will help them clean up their spills with patience, I will guide them as they measure out the flour, the sugar, the milk.  I will teach them to put things away as they use them and wash their dishes as soon as they're finished.  I will show them the proper way to use a knife.  I will stand watch as they use the stove and make sure they remember to read the directions.  I will give them just the right amount of independence, slowly and surely, until they don't need my help at all anymore.

Lord, help me on the days that I want to hurry them along or push them all out so I can just get it done.  Because motherhood is not about just getting things done, it's about slowing down and enjoying, about teaching and guiding, and in this simple, every day task of providing food, we are together, learning, talking, laughing.

 Some day my kitchen will be clean, quiet...and empty.  Some day they'll all be gone, moved on to their own homes with their own new families to take care of.  And the counters will be free of flour and sticky fingers, but also free of laughter and sweet chocolatey faces to kiss.

So for today, for now, in this moment, I'll enjoy it all together, the messes and the noise and the "help" that really means more work for me.  Because in the end it's worth it.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What I Believe About Children

I've been a mom for fifteen plus years now.  A stay at home mom for nearly eleven.  A homeschooling mom for a little over nine.  Before I came home to stay with my own children I taught other people's young children in an early childhood center.

I don't claim to know it all when it comes to kids, but there are things I know without a doubt, believe in so strongly it gives me goosebumps, and will defend until the day I die.  Here are some of those things.

I believe....

...that babies should be picked up when they cry, that Cry It Out is an abomination on the face of good parenting, that a tiny helpless little person needs more than anything to know that whenever he or she needs something -whether it be food, drink, clean diaper, warm blanket, new toy, friendly face, or warm arms to hold them - his need will be taken care of.  And yes, the desire to be held close and made to feel safe is a very real NEED.

...that babies and very young children belong at home with their mommies.  That no daycare or early childhood center in the world can possibly equal the love, attention, and teaching that can happen at home with mama.  That even being left with grandma or Aunt Sue every weekend has it's effects.  Very young children need that special bond with one primary caregiver and ideally it should be their mama.  Now...I know that we don't live in an ideal world and sometimes situations demand that children go into a daycare program.  I know it has to happen sometimes.  I know many women struggle with this, having to leave their littles and wanting nothing more than to be home with them instead of going to work.  It happens, and your child isn't doomed because of it.  It can work, but just because it "can work" doesn't mean it's best.  Best is home with mama.  I am very thankful to have been able to be home with three of my kids from birth on.  I regret the time I lost with my oldest two while I was working.  Little ones and mamas belong together.

...that young children should be given boundaries to keep them safe but otherwise allowed to roam and explore.  Let them open things, look into things, take things out and put them back in.  The world is new to them and when you tell them NO about everything you stifle their curiosity and their hunger for learning.

...that kids of all ages need to be outside as much as possible.  That fresh air and dirt are good for body, mind, and soul.  That little ones should be allowed to dig in the dirt, play in the mud, throw rocks, break sticks, splash in puddles.  Let them get good and dirty and love every minute of it.

...that children should be allowed to do real things.  Let them help with cleaning, cooking, making things, building.  Encourage their interest when they're young and watch what happens.  Just because they're small doesn't mean they aren't capable.

...that children should be brought up with traditions, meaningful and rich, family traditions, holiday traditions, special little moments that bring continuity to the long years of their lives and that root them firmly in the love of their family.  Special meals, special outings, special customs of decorating the tree or visiting the pumpkin patch or going out for ice cream on the first day of summer.

...that children should be surrounded by people who treat them kindly even when they don't act so kindly themselves.  A child acting out is generally a child with a need.  I am NOT against spanking, but it has a very narrow time and place in which it is truly the best option.  Most times there are far better ways to deal with a child's disobedience or bad attitude (and they work).

...that children deserve respect.  They deserve to be allowed to speak, to have their questions answered, their thoughts listened to, their opinions respected.  Older kids and teens deserve to have a huge part in planning things which will involve them and in having their input valued.

...that kids and teens should be allowed their emotions.  It's OK to be mad, or sad, or happy.  It's OK if you are having a down day and don't want to play and just want to be by yourself.  It's OK if something has made you angry and you have to cry to let it all out. It's OK if something that other people think is silly makes you deliriously happy.

...that children deserve an apology. Being an adult does not make you automatically right all the time.  People screw up.  Parents screw up.  Sometimes we do wrong by our children and they deserve parents who are humble enough to admit that and apologize.

...that children deserve a good education and to have a hand in that education.  Homes should be filled with great books and art supplies and good music.  Kids should have trips to museums and gardens and parks and science centers and libraries.  They should have easy access always to new knowledge, thoughts and ideas.

...that the older they get, the less they act like they need parents, which is exactly the opposite of the truth, they need us now more than ever, to help guide them as they seek out their own path in life.  Even if they are moody teenagers (although...I believe children raised in a loving and respectful home will nearly always turn out to be quite pleasant teenagers).

...that young people deserve to see a happy and healthy relationship between their parents.  Parents as a united front in raising children is the best thing that could ever happen.  Parents who support each other and love each other while loving and raising their kids show those kids how to act in their own adult lives someday.

...that every child should be allowed to get dirty, do messy projects, dream big, create, learn, love, cry, speak their mind, and feel safe in their own home and in the knowledge that their parents will always be there for them.

Am I perfect?  Do I always abide by my own beliefs?  Absolutely not.  Sometimes I mess up, in the heat of the moment on an exhausting day when my nerves are shot, yes I do.  I won't even pretend that I don't.  But then I apologize.  Or I resolve to keep on trying to be better.  To love my children with all that is in me and to make sure they know it!  Because that's what they need most.  That's what I believe about children.


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