What I’ve Been Reading

Thomas the train at Botanical Gardens

It’s Thomas!

Since the election, I’ve drowned myself in post-Trump think pieces, but I’m sure everyone has seen more than enough of those. So I have included exactly zero of them here. Instead, there’s a lot on education, child psychology, and treating kids with respect.

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A Very Merry Set of Trains: Season’s Greenings at the U.S. Botanic Gardens

A Very Merry Set of Trains_ Season's Greenings at the U.S. Botanical Gardens.png

“There’s James – he’s coming around the corner!” my son exclaimed, pointing to a tiny tunnel constructed of pebbles and twigs. At the U.S Botanical Gardens’ Seasons Greenings, the trains held obvious interest for the kids, but there was no shortage of wonder for the adults either.

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Teaching Kids How to Serve Others at Christmas Time

Text: "Teaching Kids How to Serve Others at Christmas Time / We'll Eat You Up, We Love You So" Picture of a Christmas tree

“Did they have a home?” Sprout asked me. I had just finished telling him the Christmas story.

“Yes, they did have a home after that,” I said, skipping the whole “escaping into Egypt” bit.

While his question surprised me, it wasn’t totally out of nowhere. We’ve been talking about how not everyone has the same privileges we do, including homes. As both a Christian and someone who’s concerned about our society’s most vulnerable people, I want Christmas to be about a lot more than Santa and presents. In fact, I want to teach my kids how to serve others during the this time of year.

Here are some ways to turn away from consumerism and towards others at Christmas:

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Green Kids: Building a Lasagna Garden


Most people aren’t thinking about prepping their garden at Thanksgiving. But due to a delay known as “having small children,” that’s what we were doing on Sunday, prepping the layers of our inedible lasagna garden. Lasagna gardening, also called sheet mulching or sheet composting, is a permaculture method of gardening that’s easy, cheap, and fun to do with kids.

Lasagna gardening mimics the natural process of leaf litter and other organic matter building up on the forest floor. In the forest, the dead leaves and other plants slowly accumulate and then decompose into soil. Lasagna gardening speeds up this process. Because the organic matter you layer is largely cheap or free, you save quite a bit of money. This technique also doesn’t leave any disturbed soil for weeds to root in. Even though it takes some serious prep time in the fall, it makes for a nearly maintenance-free garden in the spring and summer.

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The “But Why?” Phase


I have to be the only parent in history looking forward to my kid’s “Why?” stage. I imagined a whole universe of learning lying ahead of us. I’d answer questions until I ran out of answers and then we’d look it up together, snuggled up in the light of the computer screen. When we didn’t have time, we’d write them down to investigate later. When I’d ask him what he thought, he’d come up with a brilliant but age-appropriate answer, showing equal parts creativity and insight.

Like any parenting fantasy, it didn’t work out that way.

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Sharing Values with Family Stories


sharing-values-with-family-storiesSitting around the Thanksgiving table, letting the food settle before dessert, was prime storytelling time in my family. At my aunt’s house in New Jersey, we’d cram as many chairs as we could around the table. Instead of focusing on the vastly different places family members ended up, we looked to the past. Even outside of holidays, my family often shared stories, of struggles and triumphs, of funny incidents and serious ones.

As an adult, I now see that these stories influenced my values so much more than any amount of lecturing would have. In fact, children who hear family stories about both good and bad times have more resilience in the face of difficult circumstances than those who don’t. Here are a few of my family’s stories and the values they passed on to me.

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A Holiday Gift Guide for Outdoor Families

Text: "Holiday Gift Guide for Outdoor Families, We'll Eat You Up, We Love You So" Photos of a plastic watering can for children, a board book called Hello, National Parks, a rain jacket, and a blue headlamp.
Getting kids outside has a whole host of benefits, from stronger immune systems to the sheer joy of play. While sometimes all that’s needed is a stick and a bit of imagination, having certain gear can help bringing kids outside easier, safer and more fun. Whether you’re in the mountains or your own backyard, this gift guide – which is mainly focused on kids in preschool and elementary school – should provide a few helpful suggestions. (Note – none of these are affiliate or sponsored links, just products and/or companies I personally like.)

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