March 12, 2010

May This Food Nourish Us...

One Family's Mealtime Prayer

We give thanks for these gifts
from the earth, the sky and much hard work

May we live in a way worthy of this food
May this food nourish us on the path of love and understanding

Paraphrased by Paul Ely Smith from Thich Nhat Hanh

How do you honor the moments before you eat a meal?

Learning About Food

From the Bright Horizons Newsletter

Where Does Our Food Come From?

Ty, age 4, stared with wonder at the long orange vegetable with the big green leaves coming out of the top. “What is this?” he asked his Dad. His Dad replied, “That’s a carrot.” “That’s a carrot??” asked Ty. “I thought carrots were those little orange things that come in plastic bags.”

Recent marketing data has shown that there has been an upsurge this year in families planting vegetable gardens. Hard economic times have been leading more of us back to the backyard garden. In tough times, backyard gardens make a lot of sense, but they make sense for more than financial reasons. Many children have never had experience with where food comes from.

A by-product of less and less time outdoors, a trend for many U.S. families, is that fewer children get first-hand experience with food sources. In days past, more of us had backyard gardens or visited a farm of family members or friends. We may have gotten to pick apples from the tree or ground, collect eggs from the hen house, or harvest beans off the plants. Today, many children only experience food coming from a grocery store.

Reconnecting our children to food’s origins can build their conceptual understanding of food sources, while also providing an opportunity to talk about healthy eating and learn about the environmental implications of growing organically or transporting food long distances. Here are a few suggestions to introduce these ideas to your children:

Plant your own garden which can be as small or large as you would like. Even having one cherry tomato plant in a container on your porch or patio gives your child a chance to experience the growing and harvesting cycle. Some regions sponsor community or urban gardens where several families who don’t have gardening space can farm a small plot together.

Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group. Many farms now offer locally grown, often organic, foods by subscription. A family purchases a “share” of a local farm and receives a bag or box of fresh fruits and veggies that they pick up each week. Purchasing shares help guarantee the farmer’s subsistence and the food is seasonal and fresh off the farm. The pick-up place for the vegetables is often the farm itself. This can become a fun and educational experience for your children. The foods each week may include some you or your children have never seen before like turnips, kale, or red beets; but learning more about these foods can become a family educational adventure. Some CSAs also offer opportunities to work on the farm.

Visit the local farmers' market with your children. While your children probably won’t get to see where the actual food is grown, they will typically see unpackaged foods and some foods they are unfamiliar with. They may even get to talk to the farmer.

Consider eating one “seasonal” meal each week. This would mean only using fruits and vegetables that are in season, not grown in different climates and not shipped from far away. If you shop at farmers' markets or join a CSA, this is easy, because they only carry seasonal items. Older children might enjoy making a chart of when their favorite fruits and vegetables are available locally and can look forward to their purchase.

Go to for a listing of CSAs and farmers' markets in your area as well as for additional information about organic food and related topics.

For more fun ideas on making the trip to the farmers' market or to pick up your CSA share interesting for your child(ren), read more below:

Encourage conversations between your child and the farmer. Older children can keep a market journal. Questions to ask:

- Where is your farm located?
- What kind of tomato/lettuce/etc. is this?
- When was this vegetable/fruit picked?
- What produce will you have next week?

Engage young children using their senses:
- What does the vegetable/fruit feel like? Is it bumpy or smooth? Is it hard or soft?
- What does the vegetable/fruit look like? What color is it? What shape?
- What does the vegetable/fruit sound like when you tap it? Is it hollow? Does it sound like a drum?
- What does the vegetable/fruit smell like? Does it have a strong smell or no smell?
- What does the vegetable/fruit taste like? Do you think it will be juicy or dry? Sweet or salty? Let’s go home and give it a taste.

Create a Market Scavenger Hunt:
- Create a grocery list before going to the market.
- Have your child help locate the items on the list.
- Use check marks or stickers to show the item as complete.
- Consider a “freebie” square for an item that the child can pick.

Allow children to experience many different markets:
- Talk about the differences and similarities between each.
- Older children can add this to their farmers' market journal.
- Find markets with children’s entertainment or educational events.
- Meet friends for a play date or picnic at the market.

Reinforce the learning at home:
- Have children compare produce from the grocery store with produce from the farmers’ market. Do they look the same? Feel the same? Smell the same? Taste the same?
- Create a “food map.” Using a world or U.S. map, highlight regions by category. Have children mark on the map where the produce they eat in a week comes from. (NOTE: By law, all stores need to label the Country of Origin for all produce).

Green: nearby region/state
Yellow: surrounding area/region
Blue: inside U.S.
Red: outside U.S

- For younger children, read books about planting and farming.
- Help children plant and care for their own vegetable plant.

Cook together.
Older children can help select recipes and help prepare a salad or larger meal from fruits and vegetables they helped select at the farmers' market or from your own garden or CSA.

November 30, 2009

Write Your Own Story

Thank You For Helping Me Be Me by ashleycooper, thomasart on Storybird

I love this new website, Storybird, where you can pick from some wonderful and inspiring artwork and then create your own story.

Here are a few more that I've found or that friends have shared with me. If you write one, please do let me know so I can read it. And check back at the website as they seem to be adding new artwork regularly.

October 08, 2009

Bake Cookies for your Neighbor!

When is the last time you baked cookies for a neighbor or cooked some extra dinner and took it to a friend who is struggling to find time to cook? Did you know that doing such activities for others is actually a way to increase the health and well-being of your own children and family? I read an inspiring newsletter this morning on social capital and the value of reaching out to our neighbors. While the newsletter was not intended strictly for parents, it reminded me of the 5 Protective Factors that parents need in order to parent effectively, even under stress, and to diminish the likelihood of child abuse and neglect. This is according to extensive research conducted by Strengthening Families. One of the protective factors is Social Connections. Parents need “friends, family members, neighbors and other members of a community who provide emotional support and concrete assistance to” them.
“Social connections build parents’ “social capital,” their network of others in the community—family, friends, neighbors, churches, etc.—whom they can call on for help solving problems. Friendships lead to mutual assistance in obtaining resources that all families need from time to time, including transportation, respite child care, and other tangible assistance as well as emotional support. Helping parents build constructive friendships and other positive connections can reduce their isolation, which is a consistent risk factor in child abuse and neglect. Isolation is a problem in particular for family members who are in crisis or need intensive help, such as victims of domestic violence.” (source)
With that in mind, below are some ideas from the newsletter: Engage in Dough Diplomacy - Bake Cookies for a Neighbor from Center for a New American Dream
Taking action by supporting legislation or greening your home is important, but don't forget that we can also take action in our social lives. New Dream has always believed that change begins with our everyday choices: investing in relationships builds happier people and a stronger community--and may be good for your health. Which is why we're asking you to bring a neighbor some cookies.

Between the mid 1980's and the 1990's, Americans' openness to making new friends declined by about a third. A 2000 Harvard study found that one-third of Americans no longer participate in social activities like inviting people to their home or visiting relatives. Reaching out to others doesn't just add meaning to our lives--it's part of what makes up social capital, the shared values and trust that keep a society together and running smoothly.

Luckily, it doesn't take a lot of your own capital to simply bake some cookies (or any other treat) and share them with a neighbor you don't know. Think of it as the most fun and delicious way to make the world into what you want it to be: an open, trusting place full of people who will wave to you on the sidewalk. As a family activity, making and sharing homemade goodies is a way to have more face-to-face time and less screen time. So go ahead--knock on that door and then tell us what happened and how it made you feel.
cookies photo by emilybean

This post originally appeared at Community of Mindful Parents.

September 13, 2009

Sharing the Gifts of Our Stories

As a Social-Emotional teacher, I often explore the concept of giving with my students. We discuss that everyone has things that they can share and give to others. When young children are invited to explore this idea and think about what they can give to others, while they certainly name material objects, they quickly begin to name non-material gifts that can be shared such as love, friendship, respect and ideas.

As adults, do we sometimes forget about the gifts that we have to share with one another? The ones that we never run out of because they are a part of our inner world and are always available?

One precious gift that we have the opportunity to offer one another is our stories and experiences. I imagine you know this, but just in case you have forgotten I would love to remind you that sharing your personal experiences of what it’s like to be a parent and what it’s like to be you gives others a rare opportunity to see into your inner world. Opening up and sharing life experiences with one another can be a powerful offering that provides immeasurable support, encouragement, resources, opportunities to grow and new understanding for one another. I have learned so much from families who have graciously allowed me to peek into the windows of their interior worlds, sharing what it’s like to be a parent, the joys and challenges they face, the funny stories that emerge, the despair and frustration that always seems to rise up and so much more. And I know I’m not the only one who values this. 59% of the participants in my past parenting groups said that one of the most valuable parts of the group was hearing the stories and experiences of other parents.
“Sharing real-life experiences with other parents was the most meaningful moment for me in the group. I realized that I’m not so bad after all! Others have many of the same issues I have.”
“A valuable way to learn from other’s experiences as well as to understand that many others, who seem perfect on the surface, are facing similar issues.”
“I found it valuable to know that as parents, we all have hopes, dreams, areas of challenge and areas of expertise. We all want what is best for our kids because we love them so deeply.”
Next time you're in a conversation with someone and there seems to be an opening, experiment with sharing a story from your life or revealing something about you that they might not know from the outside. How does it impact the quality of your connection?

September 01, 2009


An inspiring story from a father looking for a win-win outcome and noticing what he can do in addition to what he can invite from his child. I love the creativity that emerged! This originally appeared at Mindful Parenting.

A little preparation before bedtime confrontation

M was not interested in bed this evening. At 8:30 she was screaming for her brother to be returned from a sleep over. I let her call our neighbors house to get that out of her system. Naturally her brother refused to come home.

While she spoke to him I gathered myself and prepared for a difficult bedtime. I had no goals, and nowhere to go and nothing to do. All that mattered was that I was compassionate to my daughter and had a win-win outcome for bedtime.

She crumpled down on the floor and dug in her heels:
"I am not going to bed no matter what you say."
"M, you are going to bed. You can go walking or I can carry you. I can carry you like a baby or I can carry you by your heels."
"You mean I can walk on my hands all the way to bed?"
"If you can make it. It would be a new family record, I said."
We laughed our way all the way to bed and read a book and M drifted off to sleep, happy as a clam.

photo by 10secondburn

March 22, 2009

Children Keeping it Simple, Teaching Simplicity

A few inspiring comments from my teachers in simplicity, children.
  • I was participating in Seattle’s Martin Luther King, Jr., March and Rally this year with some of the faculty, students and parents from the school I work at. During the march one of our first graders looked up at me and said, “Oh, I know why you’re here today, Ashley.” “Why?” I asked. “Because this is all about friendship… and you’re the friendship teacher.”

    (fyi: I host Friendship Groups, a class that all the students in the class participate in just like math or reading. The aim is to help students deepen their ability to connect with and understand themselves and others. It's all about friendship... with ourselves, others and the world around us!)

  • During Obama's presidential inauguration Rev. Joseph Lowery was talking about love,
    "And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance."

    I looked in front of me as a Kindergartner was staring down at his little hands, shaping them into a heart. That image summed up where my hope for our future lies... in love.

  • After the inauguration we hosted an Open Space with the 3rd graders. One child's closing remarks, "I learned that when everyone pitches in just a little bit, it can make a giant difference."

  • Words of wisdom that a 2nd grader told me over lunch one day that I am practicing and trying to better embody, "Just listen until your mind gets deeper and then you'll understand."
I am so grateful for all the gifts that are bestowed upon me by these wise humans who are so willing to share their world.

heart photo by samantha celera

March 21, 2009

Keep Your Brain Entertained

An interesting npr segment on how active our brain gets when we are bored. Daydreams can suck us into an ever-interesting world of distraction. According to this article, if you want to stay engaged with the content at hand, keep your body engaged on something such as doodling. Don't let the mental activity get the best of you if you want to continue focusing, give your hands something else to do.
When the brain lacks sufficient stimulation, it essentially goes on the prowl and scavenges for something to think about. Typically what happens in this situation is that the brain ends up manufacturing its own material.

In other words, the brain turns to daydreams, fantasies of Oscar acceptance speeches and million-dollar lottery wins. But those daydreams take up an enormous amount of energy.

The function of doodling, according to Andrade, who recently published a study on doodling in Applied Cognitive Psychology, is to provide just enough cognitive stimulation during an otherwise boring task to prevent the mind from taking the more radical step of totally opting out of the situation and running off into a fantasy world.
When I host small Friendship Groups with students, I often put a bowl of rocks, shells, stick, cones into the middle of the circle in case anyone needs something to fiddle with. A group the other day began building with the objects while we were discussing some of their problems and concerns. Their sculptures were beautiful and inspiring and a nice example for this article! One child preferred the erasers!

February 17, 2009

Patience, Understanding, Love, Acceptance

by Kim Hix

Patience, understanding, love, acceptance are gifts we all need from each other but they are specially important for children with disabilities, of any kind. It is difficult to ignore rude, hurtful comments, to be left out and laughed at. Unfortunately this is a common childhood occurrence, however on a more frequent and constant basis for children who are different. Children who are already fragile due to any kind of illness, disability or impairment are easy targets for those who are stronger and more confidant. Self esteem is something we all have whether it be high or low, and how we perceive ourselves, abilities and worth are all too often dependant on others. My wish is that we teach our children and ourselves to accept differences and embrace the individuality that we all have, to see beyond any physical, mental or emotional challenges. If you are a parent of a "high spirited, intense child" as I am, academically, socially and emotionally challenged; you have most likely heard some of the same accusations I have from parents of "perfect " children who do no wrong, who respond to their parents every command on queue, perfectly behaved and well mannered, who excel in sports and academics. I do not harbor resentment because there child may be everything mine is not, they are simply different, with gifts that may be harder to find to others, but not to me. My hope and prayer is that the people in general open their minds and come to realize that children like mine, and millions more ,who suffer with these illnesses, are not bad kids, not evil or purposefully oppositional, but are lovable, kind, funny, smart and full of promise as is every other child. Yes,they may do things differently, loudly, extremely,and outrageously. They need to be given understanding, reassurance, patience, acceptance and compassion. My wish is that other children who feel different for any reason find hope, promise, acceptance and the gift that is within them and realize they are not alone. Mental illness is not a choice, it is not contagious, it does not make you "less than". I hope our story will open the lines of communication for parents and children, friends and neighbors to discuss and explore behavior they may not understand. My biggest hope is that children who are seeking acceptance,understanding and answers be able to find that from parents, peers, teachers and siblings and to know they are not alone in their challenges.

Kim Hix is participating in the WOW! Women on Writing Blog Tour, promoting her book No One is Perfect and YOU Are a Great Kid.

February 09, 2009

Next Blog Tour Guest, Kim Hix

The next WOW! Women on Writing author that will visit Educating for Wholeness is Kim Hix promoting her book, No One is Perfect and YOU Are a Great Kid, winner of Best Children's Book for ages 6 and under, Reader Views Award for 2007 Annual Literary Awards. She will write an entry on February 17th. For now I'll tease you with a bit about Kim and her book.

No One is Perfect and YOU are a Great Kid is a lovely book written about Zack, a young boy who struggles daily with ever changing moods. He tries to understand why he gets very sad, upset, discouraged and angry in response to what most would consider insignificant events. Zack often feels different, left out, and isolated due to his moods. He poses thought provoking questions to his audience that can spur some meaningful conversation.

This book will touch your heart and anyone who has a special child in their life who struggles with any degree of emotional, behavorial, or psychiatric disorder.

"My name is Kim Hix and I am the mother of a very special young boy who struggles with emotional difficulties. He has experienced an array of moods from an early age, which include rages, depression, anxiety, and drastic mood shifts. In our journey to find help, we've encountered many specialists and interesting people. During this time, my son dealt with feeling different from his peers, isolated, and at times, rejected. My son would express to me that he felt no one understood him and that he was the only kid in the world with these problems. What started out as a project to help my son, cultivated a desire to let other kids and parents know that they are NOT alone. In fact, millions of children are suffering with mental illness, neuropsychiatric disorders, and behavior disorders. They long to be accepted, to be normal, and just fit in. They suffer, and we, the parents, suffer all the while our hearts are breaking.

"This is why I wrote a book for Zack and kids like him, who struggle with feelings of being different. It is my hope that this story will offer some measure of comfort and belonging to the children who read it."