And I’ve been enjoying lots of quality time with my kids and my handsome man [who now works from home!] since I withdrew from grad school [a story for another day]…
So, I’ve been staying busy and not posting, but now I’m ready to update you on my monthly goals.
Starting in January of this year, I chose a new health goal to focus on for each month.
January = no added sugar
February = a salad every day
March = practice more yoga
April = no alcohol
May = no more cheat days
June = drink more water
July = start meditating
I skipped August altogether because I was so stressed over school and so this month I decided to refocus on ALL of the goals. Yep, that’s right, no added sugar, no alcohol, no cheating, more salad, more yoga, more water, and more meditation. And, honestly, it’s been a great month so far. I feel great. I have lots of energy. I’ve been training for a marathon [not sure which marathon at this point]. I’ve been making strength gains. I finally feel like I’m getting back to my old self [the self before I had two surgeries…and almost back to my old self before I had four babies].
So, anyway, I’m not adding any more new goals, but I am taking suggestions for later this year. Anyone making mid-year health resolutions?? Lemme know!
“Suppose you read about a pill that you could take once a day to reduce anxiety and increase your contentment. Would you take it? Suppose further that the pill has a great variety of side effects, all of them good: increased self-esteem, empathy, and trust; it even improves memory. Suppose finally, that the pill is all natural and costs nothing. Now would you take it?
The pill exists. It is meditation.”
Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis
Did anyone think my daily pill was going to be a multivitamin??? Nope! This month, I’m focusing on developing a mindfulness meditation practice.
In the past year, I’ve ready many books that encourage regular meditation. These are my favorites:
10% Happier by Dan Harris
The Book of Joy by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the late Desmond Tutu
Raising Good Humans by Hunter Clarke-Fields
and now I am in the middle of The Happiness Hypothesis by my absolute favorite social psychologist [and quickly becoming my favorite author], Jonathan Haidt.
The titles of these books give hints as to why I want to meditate regularly, but I also just wrote a paper for my General Psychology course about the health benefits of meditation and there are SO MANY reasons to meditate. Meditation can improve your mental and physical health! It can lower blood pressure, improve sleep, reduce stress and anxiety, help with mental cognition such as retaining memory, alleviate chronic or clinical pain, and help treat addictions! Meditation is powerful stuff.
Of course, when I call it “the happiness pill,” I’m not insinuating that it makes you immediately happy in that sort of superficial, smiley, “today’s a great day!” kind of way. Meditation works in a more subtle and much deeper way to cultivate a sense of contentment and inner happiness. A better word for it might be “joy” such as the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu describe in The Book of Joy.
Meditation works because our lives are dependent upon our perceptions. I don’t want to get overly philosophical [or overly scientific], but everything we experience and feel and even remember is filtered through our brains. This has never been so apparent to me as it was while I was studying anatomy this past semester. Our brain interprets everything and that interpretation is based on what is already inside our minds and that interpretation affects future interpretations. Everything is filtered through a lens [or schema, if you want the psychology term] and what most people don’t realize is that we can change the lens through meditation.
“What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of our mind.”
I don’t know if I explained that right or if it made any sense. If you’re curious about meditation, here’s a New York Times article by David Gelles [who also wrote the book Mindful Work] about why and how to meditate: “How to Meditate”.
My goal is to spend 10 minutes in mindful meditation four days a week. I actually started a few weeks ago, with just five minutes of meditation in the morning before the kids get up. It is harder than I anticipated — especially at 5am, where my brain doesn’t want to wander so much as fall back asleep! But I am determined to keep at it.
In other news, we are half-way through 2022 and real talk ya’ll—these monthly health goals are CHANGING MY LIFE! I am not kidding. If you’ve ever wanted to make some changes, I HIGHLY recommend this monthly approach. It is just enough time to solidify new habits and by tackling them one at a time, I never get overwhelmed. So far this year, I’ve kicked the late-night snacking habit, cut back on alcohol, gotten back to my daily yoga practice, increased my water intake, and started serving a salad at [nearly] every dinner! I am so excited about the second half of the year!
This month, I’m focusing on water intake. A few months ago, when I gave up alcohol for a month, I began drinking water every morning before my coffee or tea. Now, I want to up my water intake to at least 64 ounces a day.
I used to be really good about drinking a lot of water, especially back when I worked at an office and sat at a desk. I would just keep a 16oz bottle of water filled at my desk and drink constantly – usually refilling at least six times in a work day. But now that I am literally never sitting still, I have found that I drink a lot less than I should.
This month, I’m making it a priority to focus on drinking at least 64 ounces of water by draining my 32 ounce reusable water bottle twice. I’ll be even happier if I get about half way through a second refill before bed.
I’m the past, I made it a goal to drink 102 ounces of water a day [an arbitrary number I got from an online quiz no doubt], but I actually have to be more careful about not drinking toomuch water now that I only have one kidney. I also drink coffee or tea every morning, eat lots of vegetables, and have a cup of tea at night before bed…so I get water in other ways as well.
How much water should I drink?
How much water the body needs is kind of hard to pin down exactly, but most sources agree that eight glasses [or 64 ounces] is a good place to start. Another common way to determine how much you should be drinking is to take your body weight [in pounds] and divide in half. This would be on the lower end of a healthy range. One ounce per pound of body weight would be the top of the range.
So I’m looking at 70-140 ounces of water a day. And don’t forget that this includes all sources of water [including fruits, vegetables, soups, etc]. Because I typically drink at least 19 ounces of coffee of tea in the morning and 8 more ounces of tea at night, I think 64 ounces of plain water is a good goal.
Who know. Maybe, if all goes well, I’ll up it to 96 ounces in the future.
How to know if I’m getting enough?
The color of your urine is the easiest way to determine your hydration level.
This is a handy chart by healthdirect.gov.au to use as a guide.
Unrelated Family News Update
In an unrelated side note, my kids threw me a unicorn party for my 35th birthday two weeks ago, complete with a Pinky Pie piñata.
Yes, it was wasteful…that’s what happens when four children between ages 2 and 7 get to plan your birthday party. And I’m certainly not complaining.
And then this past week my little baby turned 3!!!! 😭😭😭
And next month my oldest turns 8!!!! What is happening?!? STOP GROWING UP ALREADY!!
Alrighty then. I’m off to have a drink…of water, I mean.
The concept of a “cheat day” is pretty common in the health and fitness world. As a personal trainer, I would typically recommend that clients follow an 80/20 rule [eating clean 80% of the time and loosening up the other 20%], which basically allowed some wiggle room in the diet for weekends or nights out or their kid’s birthday party. For many people, knowing they can have a “cheat meal” really helps them to maintain a healthier diet the rest of the week.
Not so for me.
Unfortunately, a cheat meal for me turns into a cheat day, then to cheat weekend, then a cheat week…and so on. Just when I get into a good system of not snacking after dinner, only having one drink a week, and no sugary candy, cheat day shows up and throws me off my game. So frustrating!
My food weaknesses are: sour gummy worms, spicy garlic wings, McDonald’s French fries, chips with queso, and ice cream [any kind or flavor will do]. For some reason, when “cheat day” rolls around, I convince myself that I must eat ALL of these things in one day. You would think it was my last meal on earth….
[Of course, I am doing this to myself.]
So, I have decided to get rid of the whole idea of “cheating.”
Last year I read the book, Four Pack Revolution, and in it Chael Sonnen talks about having a “reset meal” once a week [instead of a “cheat meal”]. The difference is really just in the name, but it helps psychologically. I’m not “cheating” on my diet and throwing all of my health goals out the window, but instead I’m “resetting” so I can re-focus on my goals.
We’ll see if this mind trick works.
Oh, but I WILL be having a small dessert on Mother’s Day [a mini chocolate raspberry tart that I intend to make for myself] and a slice of cake for my birthday [which I will also make because I love baking cakes, so happy birthday to me].
Oh wait, there’s more!
I’m also going to save movie candy for the movies ONLY. I have a real problem with eating family size bags of chewy, sugary, preferably sour candy. This started a decade ago when I was running 45 miles a week and putting in six hours of cardio at the gym on top of that…and gosh darn it, my body needed those carbs! [Well, truthfully, it needed healthy carbs, but back then I was nutritionally illiterate.] So today I am still struggling with that same bad habit I developed all those years ago.
That habit has got to go! 👋 Bub-bye!
So, I’ll save my bag of candy for when I go to the movie theater [which is very rare now that I have to drive 45 MINUTES TO THE NEAREST THEATER!!].
You may recall that I recently donated one of my kidneys, so for the month of April, I’m going to give my remaining kidney a break by cutting out alcohol and increasing my water intake.
First of all, I’m not a big drinker. I enjoy an occasional glass of wine in the evenings or a cocktail when I go out to eat, but I haven’t done any heavy drinking since before I had kids. That being said, I find it really easy to allow a one-drink-a-week lifestyle to slowly devolve into a one-drink-a-night lifestyle—which, for me, is unhealthy and kinda makes me feel like crap. So, I like to occasionally scale back my alcohol consumption. For April, my healthy goal will be to cut out alcohol AND to start each day with 8oz of water [before my cup of coffee or tea].
Last year, I went ten months without drinking anything other than water and it was a really great experience. I felt really hydrated and, quite frankly, just better in general. I felt less tired, had fewer headaches, basically no stomach issues at all, less bloating, and better skin. So, geez….why did I ever start drinking normal drinks again???
Well, just like food, drinking—whether it be a chai tea latte at a cafe with a friend, or a wine flight at a vineyard on date night, or tea at a friend’s house after dinner—is a social activity. And I’m a social person. Brett and I love putting the kids together and having a drink while playing video games or catching up on a tv show. And while I didn’t miss alcohol per se, I definitely missed the sense of community that sharing a drink provided.
On the flip side, drinking [especially late at night] always makes me want to eat junk food and typically makes me feel exhausted and puffy when I wake up the next morning [mercifully, I do not get hangovers]. And, now that I only have one kidney, I have to be much more careful about my alcohol intake.
Alcohol is hard on the body. Besides the carb intake, it puts an extra strain on the internal organs and my poor little kidney is already doing the job of two. So, I’m going to her a little break. [I should probably give her a name, and write a series of children’s books about my lone kidney, don’t you think?]
So, a month with less alcohol and more water will do me some good. And since Brett and I have an agreement to only drink together, then it will reduce both of our alcohol intake and save us some money to boot.
As a personal trainer, I always love sharing the surprising fact that a person’s overall fitness is dependent on their flexibility. The vast majority of my clients over the years would have described themselves as “not very flexible,” so most did not appreciate this bit of news. But the most important thing about improving your fitness is working on your weaknesses. And, unfortunately, your weakness usually correlates with your least favorite part of the fitness triad.
What is the fitness triad, you ask?
Fitness is measured by three important elements: cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength/endurance, and flexibility [which I have personally entitled “the fitness triad”]. In my experience everyone has a preference for one of these three. Some people love cardio and can spend hours on a bike or a treadmill. Other people prefer lifting weights and building strength. And I’ve known many, many yogis who swear that the only thing they need is a mat. Even my fellow personal trainers over the years have had definite favorites [just like I do] BUT trainers know fitness is very much like a three-legged stool. You really need to have a balance of all three elements if you want to reach peak fitness.
[Common Fitness Myth: It is a common misconception that cardio is for weight loss and strength training is for body building and stretching is just to cool down at the end of a workout. Actually, cardio is for heart health – which is super important since more people die from heart disease (in the US) than any other cause. Weight training is important for strengthen muscles, increasing their size and endurance, but also to increase bone density. If you’re worried about osteoporosis, you could cut back on the milk and start lifting weights. And stretching is about keeping optimal range of motion in all of your joints so that you’ll always be able to bed over and tie your shoes. Exercise is less about looking good, and more about feeling good. It’s about having a body that is fully functional for as long as possible.]
So, to find your weakness, just ask yourself which of the three elements you like the least – and there you have it.
My Fitness Weakness
As for me, I’m a total cardio junkie. I have been since I first started working out eleven years ago. But, on my journey toward my own fitness, I learned that I had to also strengthen my body through weight training AND stretch my body to improve [or at least maintain] my flexibility. Over the years, I’ve grown to appreciate all three; however, if I’m running short on time, or have an extra busy day, the one thing I will skip is stretching.
This is NO BUENO.
Check out my planner from a typical week…
On the right page, I put a list of “daily tasks” – things that I want to accomplish every day. As you can see, I’m pretty terrible at getting yoga in. Last year at this time I was doing 20-30 minutes of yoga every night before bed…and it was AMAZING! Besides the benefit to all my tight muscles, doing yoga in the evening prevented me from snacking on junk food or just sitting in front of the television. I miss it. But I am also [obviously] not working up the willpower to get it done in the evenings.
So, for March, I’m going to focus on re-cultivating my yoga habit. And I’m going to use some tips I got from Atomic Habits by James Clear [a great book and a quick read that I recommend if you need some practical help with making your goals happen].
One of my favorite tips that Clear shares in this book is that if I want to change my behavior, I must first change my beliefs – particularly, about myself. So, for instance, instead of thinking of myself as an inflexible, cardio-addict who wants to try to squeeze in yoga several times a week, I am going to think of myself as a yogi and do yoga because that’s what yogis do. [That’s why I titled this post “Be a Yogi” and not “Practice Yoga.” I really do want to BE a person who makes yoga a regular practice, so I that is my goal. It is not just the simple change of an action, it is the change of my identity.]
“The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this.”
James Clear, Atomic Habits
Here are the four tips Clear provides for changing habits and how I am using them to get my yoga habit back on track:
Make it obvious. Clear recommends “habit stacking,” which is to add the new habit to a habit that you already have. So, I have been stacking my yoga habit on top of my exercise habit. I never miss a workout, so if I add yoga to my workout, then I should [theoretically] not miss yoga either.
Make it attractive. I haven’t found a way to reward myself for a consistent yoga practice. Truthfully, I know how great regular yoga makes me feel and how good it is for my body, and that is reward enough. And I guess, in a way, my reward for getting yoga done is that I get go relax – my workouts are done for the day! [I love working out, but it is still hard work, and I am always relieved when I’m done.]
Make it easy. I have moved my yoga mat and yoga blocks into the television room, so that they are very close by and a constant reminder that I need to do yoga. I have also changed my commitment from 20-30 minutes of yoga to “any amount will do” – so sometimes I only do 5 minutes, which is the shortest yoga workout available on the Peloton app.
Make it satisfying. Every day when I practice yoga, I check it off my daily habit list and that is quite satisfying for my obsessive list-making inner organizer.
I recommend Atomic Habits if you haven’t read it – especially if there are habits you wish were part of your life: getting up early, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, eating more fruit and vegetables, reading more books, learning a new skill or improving a current skill, being more successful in your career, or in general, improving discipline.
There are always ways for me to improve myself. I, personally, want to be a flexible person, but I won’t get there without changing my habits.
Today is laundry day in my home. Years ago, laundry was ruling my life. There was always some laundry bin somewhere full of clothes that needed attention—either washing or sorting or folding or putting away. I got so sick of doing laundry every day that I decided I would only do laundry one day a week. Now, I take one day and focus only on laundry. I do all the washing, drying, sorting, folding and putting away once a week. It is heavenly. [I actually quite look forward to laundry day because it is the one household chore I can multitask while watching tv and I don’t have to do any other cleaning that day. Can I get an amen!?]
Recently, my laundry routine got an extra zero waste boost when I switched over to a more environmentally friendly alternative to the plastic jug of liquid laundry detergent.
Introducing: the laundry detergent sheet!
I absolutely LOVE these things. I just take half a sheet [or a full sheet for really dirty loads] and toss it in the drum and start the wash. They are better than traditional detergent in a lot of ways. First of all, they remove the need for plastic jugs, which I would guess are rarely cleaned and recycled. Secondly, they don’t contain unnecessary, unhealthy, or dangerous chemicals, which harm our health and the health of aquatic life and our shared water sources. And the rest of the reasons are for convenience: they don’t take up a whole shelf of the laundry room, they travel easily, they don’t spill or drip and get blue goo everywhere, they require no “guesstimation” regarding how much to use and prevent over usage.
[Buy them for yourself here, and read about the zero waste packaging, ingredient list, and FAQs.]
Seems like a no-brainer. Friendly for the planet, better for our health, and convenient to boot!
I buy them from Well Earth Goods [which is also where I buy my toothpaste tabs, stain sticks, dishwashing blocks, and a bunch of other zero waste goods]; however, you can find these detergent sheets lost of places now—even Amazon. BUT please don’t. I love Well Earth Goods because it is a small family run business located in Oregon and it’s the kind of business I like to support.
Please, please, PLEASE don’t just buy the cheapest option you can find [this advice goes for every single purchase]. There are many, many things to consider before buying. While it’s great to buy zero waste products, it is also now possible to support unethical and environmentally damaging companies who sell green products. The best choice is to support the companies that actuallycare about environmental issues – not those that are just jumping on the latest trend to make a buck.
That’s my two cents.
Anyway, back to the detergent sheets.
You can buy scented detergent sheets, but I think that clean clothes should be void of any smell…not smell like they’ve been doused in Aunt Bonnie’s floral perfume. Plus I’ve been using unscented laundry detergent since I had babies because the chemicals that create that overpowering “spring rain” scent can lead to skin irritations and there is some concern about carcinogens.
To make things even more earth-friendly, I use a stain stick [which I once posted about at length here],
…and wool dryer balls, which were the first zero waste gift I ever received after starting this journey [Thanks, Michelle!]
I just keep these balls permanently in my dryer, so that every load comes out nice and fluffy.
[Side note: I’ve heard complaints about static with the dryer balls as opposed to dryer sheets, but static is more about the materials you are drying. Synthetic fibers cause more static in the dryer. My family and I don’t have that problem because we avoid synthetic fibers – which I also recommend everyone do for the sake of Mother Earth and personal health. But that’s a post for another day. 😁]
So, there you have it! A totally zero waste laundry routine.
This year, I’m considering setting a health-related goal for each month. I haven’t totally committed myself to this yet because…well, it would be tough. But I’ve been trying to tackle my COVID-induced bad habits for the past year with very little success. So I think having one new habit to focus on each month will be helpful.
Starting in January [or right now], I’m doing a month of no added sugar. I’ve actually done this before, many years ago, after reading Year of No Sugar by Eve O. Schaub.
Last time, I was astounded by two things:
1. Sugar is in everything. I found it hiding everywhere – even the most savory of foods like breads, sauces, frozen dinners, peanut butter, chips, snacks, and nearly every other processed food.
“There are many shortcuts in life, but perhaps none that come free of consequences. Sugar is one of those things we have manipulated into giving us lots of shortcuts: to better taste, to more convenience, to ever-higher food industry profits. But at what costs? As the old saying goes, if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.”
Eve O. Schaub, Year Of No Sugar
2. Going without added sugar for a period of time allowed me to really taste and enjoy the natural sugar found in produce like carrots and peppers.
So I’m doing it again. In particular, I’m hoping that this will help me break my late night candy-consumption habit.
I’ll let you know how it goes.
I didn’t start the first of January because my family took a vacation to Florida where we stayed in a private rented home with my parents and sister’s family. We enjoyed the sunshine, went to the park, walked through the zoo, and took our kids on the obligatory visit to Disney World.
Brett and I also had a really fun evening to ourselves in Orlando where we went to the Museum of Illusions, rode the Ferris wheel at ICON park, had dinner at the Sugar Factory, and then rode the world’s [almost] tallest swings.
Anyway, my classes started for the spring semester the day after we got back home, so it’s right back to reality.
I hope you enjoy the long weekend and the MLK holiday [for those in the US]. I haven’t decided yet how we will celebrate it in my home, but it’s more than just a day off work/school. It’s a day to reflect on the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and the continuing struggle for justice and equality for people of color. I’ll probably get some good books from the library and spend time talking to my kids about our responsibilities to ensure the fair and equal treatment of all people.
Several years ago, we got these excellent books from the library to read about Dr. King and the civil rights movement. I highly recommend them for anyone with kids.
In 2018, I read a story in my local paper about a man who needed a living kidney donor, and that’s when I knew I wanted to donate my kidney someday. I decided to wait until after I gave birth to my last baby, which I did in June of 2019, so in January of 2020, I volunteered to donate my kidney, naming the local man as my recipient.
After a lengthy delay thanks to COVID, I finally got all the testing done and was approved to donate in November 2020. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a match for the man from the newspaper, but I agreed to donate to anyone.
Then, just last month, a full year after I was approved to donate, I received a call that they had found me a match and wanted to have the procedure right away. So I got busy organizing childcare, pet care, and my own post-op care.
It turned out that I would be the start of a chain of donations that would allow several people [at least three at the time] to receive new kidneys.
The surgery ended up being pushed back once, but then on 11/30/2021, I underwent a nephrectomy and my left kidney was implanted into the recipient.
It is a privilege to be healthy enough to do this for someone and I’m grateful to the excellent transplant center nurses, surgeons, and medical team who took such great care of me.
If you have any questions about living kidney donation, please feel free to ask! I will be posting with more detail about the process of donating and the recovery from donating in the future.
Last year, I read SimplicityParenting by Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross, which is an excellent resource for parents who want to rid their family of all the excess so they can focus on what is really important for childhood.
“Children need time to become themselves – through play and social interaction. If you overwhelm a child with stuff – with choices and pseudochoices – before they are ready, they will only know one emotional gesture: More!”
Kim John Payne, Simplicity Parenting
It is a common misconception that kids need a lot of toys, social activities, educational programs, and scheduled time in order to become caring, productive, functioning adults. But in reality, kids need less structure and less “stuff” so that they have the space and freedom to become themselves. Instead of filling their rooms with toys and their lives with activities, we should be creating a space that gives kids freedom to discover, to imagine, to create and to rest.
Freedom to Discover
Instead of handing our kids tablets, videos, and phone apps that are supposed to encourage kids to learn, all we have to do is plop them outside. They will do plenty of discovering on their own.
[It’s ironic to me that there is a children’s television program called Nature Cat by PBS, which teaches kids about nature…while they are sitting inside on the couch.]
One of our favorite ways to pass the time is to be outside. It’s great for grumpy babies, tantrum-throwing toddlers, “bored” kids, and even me. My kids have no trouble at all finding something to do outside. Of course, we do provide them with tools like bikes, sidewalk chalk, bubbles, tire swing, etc. But truthfully, most of their time is spent chasing butterflies, examining bugs, smelling flowers, climbing trees, and playing imaginary games that they created.
My childhood was filled with lots of time outside. I was apparently from one of the last generations whose parents kicked us out of the house when we were annoying rather than sitting us in front of a screen. [Of course, my parents didn’t have the screen option available…or they might have.]
Rain or shine, we go outside. Another great book about time outdoors is There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather by Linda Åkeson McGurk.
I highly recommend this book for parents because in America we are often afraid to let kids play outside. Afraid of the weather. “It’s raining,” “Its too cold,” “Don’t get dirty!” – These have become our excuses that keep kids from jumping puddles, building snowmen, and making mud pies [which are some hallmarks of childhood]. Afraid of strangers. Afraid they will get hurt. Afraid of what trouble they might get into. While it’s important to keep kids safe, they don’t need stifling and they don’t need overly fearful parents keeping them from exploring their world. The benefits outweigh the risks [which are minimal].
“As a parent, a great way to support them is simply to spend a lot of time outside, ask open-ended questions, and encourage your child’s innate curiosity and willingness to investigate.”
Linda Åkeson McGurk
Being outside also ignites my children’s imaginations. They spend hours pretending to be superheroes or animals or monsters. The great outdoors gives them space to let their imaginations run wild.
Which brings us to the next important part of childhood…
Freedom to Imagine
In Simplicity Parenting, they recommend giving kids toys that encourage imagination and avoiding toys that already have the stories written. For instance, why give your child a doll that is already a Disney Princess when you can give him or her a doll that they can imagine to be anything? Open-ended toys are great for encouraging kids to use their imaginations.
My children love imaginative play. When they were younger, I actively participated with them, but now as they are older, they play together for hours. Though we haven’t exactly taken the advice of Simplicity Parenting [though, I wish we had, but o read the book after our home was already filled with Little People, Paw Patrol pups, and action figures], our children still love creating worlds and characters and stories around the toys they have.
[Simplifying kids’ toys will be my next post in the series, since – though I’m not an expert at much – I am an expert at paring down the toys in our home.]
Even my youngest, who just turned two and is just starting to talk, can sit for hours engaged in imaginative play.
But my favorite way to cultivate my kids’ imagination is through reading books. I’ve been reading out loud to my kids since my oldest was 3-months-old. Even my youngest gets a story or two before bed – though she can barely sit still through Goodnight Moon.
For children, books are all about imagination. They allow them to imagine talking animals, magical fairies, unicorns and dragons. Books provide source material for children’s imaginations. It gives them the tools to see possibilities beyond their own limited experiences.
As minimalists, we don’t keep a lot of books, just the most cherished ones. For our reading, we go to the library once a week [sometimes more] and swap out books. I swear the library is the most underutilized resource in any community. We LOVE the library. Every week we have a whole new collection of books to read together. It’s like getting one of those subscription book boxes except free and we get at least thirty new books at each visit.
Please, use your library!
Since they were babies, I have been reading aloud to my kids before bed. As time has passed I have read increasingly more complex books to them – even some of my own childhood favorites like Mr. Poppers Penguins, Heidi, and The Chronicles of Narnia. My older kids are only 3, 5, and 6, but they are enthralled by these stories.
Don’t be afraid to read chapter books to your kids, even when they are very young. They will love it, and hopefully, a love of stories will translate into a love of reading – which it has for my 6-year-old daughter who reads 10+ chapter books a week.
We love reading so much, we’ve dedicated an entire room in our house to it – our “reading room.”
“We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”
Freedom to Create
As I read recently in Brené Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, creativity is so important – for us as adults, and for our children.
“There’s no such thing as creative people and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and those who don’t.
What we create is how we share ourselves with the world, and how we leave a mark on the world.
In our home, I cultivate creativity by giving the kids space to create without judgment. I provide different mediums [clay, paint, crayons, paper, tape, kids scissors – and also legos, magnet blocks, Knex, and other building tools] and no direction in order to create [We also likes structured crafts and building legos from the instructions – or “map” as my kids call it.] I also encourage them to write, act, sing and dance. It is truly remarkable what they come up with. My son made me a stand for my phone out of legos. My daughter made me a flower crown out of paper to wear.
I’ve noticed with my kids that the more screen time they have, the less they are interested in engaging in these types of creative and imaginative activities. They are bored more easily and they are much more fussy.
Which brings me to another part of childhood that I try to protect in my home: rest.
Freedom to Rest
As a fitness professional, I know the importance of rest for the human body – but I’m not only talking about sleep at night. We all need regular down time. Time to relax and take it easy. Time to be alone. Time to have nothing to do and no where to be.
For my kids this translates into not over-scheduling them with activities, extracurriculars, and play dates. I start to stress out when we have something going on every day of the week, and that’s when I know that something needs to go. We simply can’t do it all. Even if other families do, we can’t. I cherish our time to sit down together at dinner and go for walks around our neighborhood and relax together with nothing to do. So I protect those times.
This is getting harder and harder to do as my kids grow up and have school sports and music lessons and other extracurriculars all pulling at their time and attention. I don’t know what it will look like in the future, but I do know that I want my kids to have the downtime that they need to recuperate and to discover themselves, without the pressure to always be a part of something else.
What I’ve found to be true for my kids is that the more stuff, the more screens, the more busy time, the less room there is for these important parts of childhood – curiosity, imagination, creativity, and rest. In our family, we intentionally keep our toys to a manageable quantity and our activities to a bare minimum – so that our kids have more time to “become themselves.”