Big Ideas

Kindness & Moving with Children

moving withe kids

moving withe kids

Sometimes showing compassion for my own family members is the only act of kindness I get accomplished.  Guiding children through big transitions - through fear or sadness or even uncontrollable excitement - can be all consuming.

Have I mentioned my family of 3 kids, 4 chickens, and 1  cat is moving?

For the most part, we're still keeping up with our regular habits of kindness, including Garbage Walks, collecting coins for the animal shelter, and participating in the One Book at a Time Program.

But most of my emotional energy has been funneled into smoothing these next few weeks for the kids and their sweet friends. It's no surprise that moving is tough for children. Psychology Today reports that frequent moves, or long drawn out moves, can have a long term impact on a child's happiness and ability to build stable relationships.

The good news is, parents can help limit the stress of a move with some targeted acts of love and kindness.

The book Moving with Kids: 25 Ways to Ease Your Family's Transition to a New Home by Lori Collins Burgan was full of helpful ideas. Here are tools I've used to make the move emotionally easier for my kids and their friends:

  • Throw your own going away party. Initially, I was a bit embarrassed by this one, but it really is a must. After months of prepping our house for sale, searching for a new one, and endless packing, we needed a party. Each kid was given a stack of invitations to hand out at school and around the neighborhood. We held a simple open house in the back yard, just popcorn and a bounce house. Between neighbors, teachers, and friends old and new, well wishers filled our yard and our hearts for a very memorable afternoon.
  • Pen Pal Kits: Label a few envelops with the new address, bundle them with stationary, and let the kids pass them out to favorite friends. Hopefully, the kids can look forward to a summer of letters and pictures to and from their special people.
  • A Traveling Journal: For that favorite friend, keep a traveling journal to mail stories and secrets to one another throughout the summer. We haven't implemented this one just yet, our the eight-year-old girls who are about to be moved apart mention it nearly every day. I'll let you know how it goes.

The wonderful world of technology offers so many other helpful solutions. Video chatting and e-mail will make the separation easier on everyone.

Have you moved with children? How have you made the transition easier for your family?

Big-Hearted Families Book Club: Rabbit & Squirrel

Transform  family night into a creative, fun, book-centered kindness practice!April 2013 The book for May 2013 is Rabbit & Squirrel: A Tale of War and Peas by Libba Moore Gray.

Peace is a state of mind as well as a state of the world. This entertaining book demonstrates how jumping to conclusions, misunderstandings and revenge can lead to can lead to all out war. 

This book is a great springboard for conversations about how we can each create peace in our own lives. You'll even create a family work of art to remind yourselves of your commitment to peace.

Plus, enjoy your veggies - the one good example Rabbit & Squirrel offer - with a great recipe from The Kids Cook Monday.

If you are a subscriber, you have already received your beautiful book, the following materials, plus a shopping list, book suggestions for older readers, and a fun BHF book mark right in the mail.

Thank you for supporting our nonprofit work! If you would like to subscribe, head on over to our SHOP to get started.

If you already own the book or would rather use your library, we invite you to download these materials for your own big-hearted family night! When you’re done, join us back here and share your stories. Or join the discussion on our Facebook page!

rabbit and squirrel and tale of war and peas

 

The Book Discussion: Conversation Starters for Rabbit & Squirrel.

 

 

 

 

Veggie-ful Croissants

 

The Recipe: Veggie-full Croissants provided by our friends at The Kids Cook Monday and created by Michelle of The Kids Cook MondayVisit  The Kids Cook Monday for more great recipes for your young chefs.

 

 

 

peace quilt

 

The Kindness Activity:  Family Peace Quilt.  Spend time with your family creating a visual pledge to build peas - er  - peace.

Top 5 Big-Hearted Books about Death

This tender subject is too often avoided in my house. Or maybe it comes up too often. As with everything else, there are times when we focus and talk about this a lot, and times when it nearly disappears from our thoughts. Obviously, death is a natural part of life. It is a painful part of life, and love, and empathy. When the children have questions about this heavy subject, I do my very best to answer them earnestly, honestly, and bravely.

Our calico kitty suddenly passed away last week, only a year after we adopted her, bringing the topic of death and dying back to the forefront of our minds. Here are a few beautiful books to help your family begin a conversation about death, and life too.


The Next Place

The Next Place

The Next Place by Warren Hanson  

(Waldenhouse Press, 1997) 

This simple non-denominational poem beautiful expresses the release, relief, and freedom death might bring. My children have returned to this book many times over the years. It certainly is more abstract and artful than instructional, but it has brought us peace many times.

water bugs and dragon flies
water bugs and dragon flies

Water Bugs and Dragonflies: Explaining Death to Young Children by Doris Stickney (Pilgrim Press, 2012).

Stickney adapted a graceful fable about a water bug that changed into a dragonfly in order to explain death to a five-year-old. This book is more traditionally religious than The Next Place.My family was most interested in the metaphor of the dragonfly larva, who live below the surface of the water, and the adult dragonflies, to illustrate the notion of someone going beyond our sight, to a marvelous place.

the fall of freddie the leaf
the fall of freddie the leaf

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: a story of Life for all Ages by Leo Buscaglia (Slack Incorporated, 1982).

This classic story  is perfect, both simple and comforting. A little leaf named Freddie and his companion leaves change with the passing seasons, finally falling to the ground with winter's snow. As an avid gardener, I use nature often to teach kids about the circle of life and death. This book makes that analogy come alive.

lifetimes
lifetimes

Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Childrenby Bryon Mellonie (Bantam, 1983).

"All around us, everywhere, beginnings and endings are going on all the time. With living in between." This is a book to fall in love with, a book to read even when death is not a major topic around the house.

tenth good thing about barney
tenth good thing about barney

The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1987).

This book is on the secular end of the spectrum. The writing is beautiful, the story is simple, and my children found it extremely comforting. They've been preparing their lists of good things about their own cat for our own kitty memorial service.

Please share your recommendations. I realize the topic of death is deeply entwined with personal spiritual beliefs, so feel free to share whatever speaks to you and your family. There are likely many others just like you who will be grateful for an additional resource.

5 Big-Hearted Books about Hunger & Poverty in the USA

As America faces record poverty rates and increasing income disparities, it becomes more and more important that we take action in whatever ways we can. Big-Hearted Families has an impressive and diverse list of project ideas to Fight Poverty with your family. Nothing inspires action quite as much as a good story, which is why we've assembled this short list of our favorite books on the subect.

These 5 picture books about hunger and poverty will help you bring up this difficult subject in a thoughtful way. Plus, they are each excellent stories.

Here are some conversation starters to make the most of your experience:

  • How would you feel if you had to rely on a stranger to provide your lunch every day?
  • How does it feel when you are hungry and you have to wait to eat?
  • What are ways we could help those who are hungry?
  • What do you think would be the hardest part of not having a home?
  • If you did not have a place to live, what things would be most important to you? Where would you sleep? How would you stay clean?
  • What things are you grateful for? Are these things you need to live or things that are simply nice to have?

Older readers (8 to 12) may enjoy Along Came a Dog by Meindert DeJong, illustrated by Maurice Sendak, about the unlikely friendship between a little red hen and a homeless dog.

Here are some of my favorite picture books that will start a big-hearted conversation about hunger and poverty:

 

Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen by DyAnn DiSalvo-Ryan (Morrow.

A young boy who is afraid of homeless people gains a new perspective when he helps his uncle work at the soup kitchen.

 

 

Dear Mr. Rosenwald, by Carole Boston Weatherford (Scholastic).

This book is based on actual events in the 1920s, when a philanthropist - the founder of Sears - offered money to African American communities to build schools—but only after they raised money themselves. For an impoverished community, this was a difficult task. This story of how they achieved it is very inspiring.

 

 

The Lady in the Boxby Ann McGovern (Turtle Books).

It is wintertime in the city and freezing cold, but not everyone is inside and warm. Ben and his sister Lizzie know that there is a lady who lives outside in a box over a warm air vent. The children worry about the kind-looking lady, and begin sneaking food and clothes out of their apartment for her. Gently told and powerfully illustrated in rich hues, The Lady in the Box deals candidly with the issue of homelessness.

 

 

Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting (Clarion Books).

This heart-wrenching yet hopeful book follows a boy and his father through their daily routines as they shelter in an airport, obviously before airline security become so strict. This is book especially fostered a lot of conversation in my house. It perfectly presents the heartbreak of being a homeless child in a non-threatening, non-frightening way.

 

 

One Potato, Two Potato by Cynthia DeFelice (Farrar).

For a more whimsical approach to the issues of hunger and sharing, this folktale while entertain and edify any audience. It's a variation on the theme of a magic pot, featuring a community pulling together. It's a new favorite.

5 Stories to Inspire Gratitude

Gratitude book list
Gratitude book list

Gratitude... 'tis the season, right? I do think it's helpful to have a holiday devoted to giving thanks, even though I aspire to a year-round practice of gratitude.Expressing gratitude, even out of obligation, helps me clearly see the abundance of love, of comforts, and of freedoms that surround me. Research shows that people who regularly express gratitude are happier and healthier than their counterparts, regardless of measurable wealth.

To that end, here are a few books to inspire a gratitude conversation with our children. They also happen to be wonderful stories. Don't forget to scroll down for a few additional recommendations for older readers, plus discussion questions to get you started.

Please share your recommendations in the comments! 

quiltmakers gift
quiltmakers gift

The Quiltmaker's Gift by Jeff Brumbeau (Pfeifer-Hamilton).

A very talented seamstress makes beautiful quilts for the poor and the homeless When the king who has everything decides he must have one of her creations, she tells him he must give away everything; then she will give him a quilt. In the process of shedding his many possessions, the king finds true happiness. No summary can do justice to the mesmerizing, fairy-tale quality of this beautiful tale.

the table where rich people sit
the table where rich people sit

The Table Where Rich People Sit by Bryd Baylor ( Aladdin Picture Books).

As her family attempts to calculate the value of the desert hills, the colors of blooming cactus, and the calls of eagles and great horned owls, a young girl discovers that her impoverished family is rich in things that matter in life, especially being outdoors and experiencing nature.

too much noise
too much noise

Too Much Noise by Ann McGovern (Sandpiper Books).

Gratitude versus "I want more" is simply a matter of perspective. This exceptionally simple story makes that clear. When the old man searching for silence is told to bring home a variety of barnyard animals, even the youngest child can see the folly in his quest

Greedy triangle
Greedy triangle

The Greedy Triangle by Marilyn Burns (Scholastic Bookshelf).

Follow the greedy triangle to learn how wanting more and more  and more can change your life in ways you might never expect. And reinforce those basic geometry skills along the way.

money tree
money tree

The Money Tree by  Sarah Stewart (Live Oak Media).

Miss McGillicuddy's simple country routine continues through-out the year in spite of a very unusual tree growing in her yard.

As you read, I invite you to use our discussion questions to help your children consider a sense of gratitude, its importance, and why it can be so evasive:

  • Why is it so easy to forget the many things we are grateful for when we discover something new that we desperately want?
  • How can we remind ourselves to be satisfied with the good things already in our lives?
  • What if we woke up tomorrow and only had the things we expressed gratitude for today?
  • What is the difference between what you need and what you want?
  • Is it wrong to want something more when you have so much?
  • What would you do with a money tree if one appeared on your doorstep?

If you have a little extra time, try one of our related activities. Consider creating a Gratitude Garland or take time to write thank yous to people who have inspired your gratitude.

where the mountain meets the moon
where the mountain meets the moon

Independent readers, their parents, and even young ones willing to sit still for chapter books, will fall in love with Where the Mountain Meets the Moon  by Grace Lin.

Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF... Goes Bust

I have to fess up. My intention to Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF with the kids this year was a failure. Actually that implies I tried it without success. In fact, the lovely UNICEF boxes remain in the folder near my kitchen radio under a pile of other half-finished kid crafts.

Why does this sort of thing happen?

I thought this sounded like a wonderful project. I signed up. I fully intended, even as of noon yesterday, to follow through. I talked to the kids about how we'd do it....

Then I didn't give it another thought. Between feeding and dressing three little monsters up in their costumes, then doing my best to keep up with them as they wandered the neighborhood, I didn't have 30 seconds of thought to give to anything else.

Bummer.

Maybe this just isn't the project for us. I always get a little queasy when preparing to ask others for money, even when the cause is admirable. The kids are pretty reluctant fundraisers too.

In contrast, everyone in my house is all excited about our new match in the Family-to-Family book program, so I'll use that enthusiasm to ensure success in that project!

Did anyone else have better luck or find an easier way to turn Halloween chaos into a force for good?

Operation Paperback

Here is an excellent project to inspire your young readers, support our troops, and talk about citizenship and patriotism during this election season. I'm re-posting this from last fall, assuming that if I needed a reminder of this outstanding family volunteer opportunity, you might too. Also check out the Guest Post from Andrea Hoshmand McAfee, Vice President of Operation Paperback, Check out Operation Paperback for a great project that doesn't take long and is energizing for a young, enthusiastic reader. 

Miss First-Grader is consuming simple chapter books at a pace that puts me in the mood for a good Nancy Drew. Her new-found love of reading (especially the Pony Crazy Princess and My Weird School series) has her so excited that Operation Paperback seemed like the perfect way to spend a little bit of our MEA weekend.

This girl already looks forward to her time spent reading before bed, so she had no trouble imagining that soldiers, far from home and family, would enjoy the distraction and comfort of a good book.

This project was so easy.

First, we asked our friends and neighbors to contribute any good paperbacks they could.  We also picked a few off of our own bookshelves. We had a big box full in no time! My little reader loved this part, checking out titles, putting a couple of books aside to read when she's older (Anne of Green Gables, Wicked). Beware, though, I did have to censor a few back covers on the more thrilling murder mysteries.

Next, we signed up on the Operation Paperback site. Once you are a registered volunteer, this can be an easy, on-going project. In fact, we haven't mailed all of the books we collected yet - we ran out of the right sized box. As we get more, we'll send more. When you have a few books and a little time, just pop on the site, let them know what genre of book you have, and get the name and address of your recipient. Oh, and they offer easily printable labels for the books and a cover letter.

Then, we packed our boxes. We sent two, adding four mystery and crime novels in one and four history and memoir in the other. We also added the Operation Paperback cover-letter and a drawing from Miss First-Grader.

She actually struggled a bit as she wrote her thank you letter to the soldiers. She asked an important question.

"Mom, war is a bad thing, right? Then why are we helping the soldiers do war?" What a conversation starter. This was a great opportunity to talk about supporting our troops for their brave service even as we advocate for peace. It is such an important distinction. We talked while she drew a lovely, peaceful landscape. When she stopped asking questions, I let the subject drop, and she wrote a sweet thank you note.

Then, because it is Halloween season, she insisted on adding a few chocolates.

Finally, of course, we mailed the packages. Each box required a customs form, which took an extra couple of minutes. Thankfully, sending them as media mail meant that each package only cost about $3 to send.

Let's hope our soldiers like the books and the chocolate. I know my daughter and I enjoyed spending our time together sending a little kindness and some good stories into the world.

Gratitude: Practice becomes Abundance

The psychology of happiness is getting a lot of attention these days. Check out the book Raising Happiness by Christine Carter if you want the details. Essentially, we can all adopt healthy psychological habits that promote happiness, just as a habit of exercise promotes physical fitness.

Practicing gratitude is one of those simple paths to happiness. What an exceptional gift to give our children, teaching them to want and love what they already have in their lives.

Such a practice miraculously turns a sense of "wanting more" into a sense of abundance, a sentiment that is both healthier and more accurate.

Usually, our family takes time at the end of each day to reflect on what we're grateful for, but that habit has lapsed recently.

I'll blame the chaos of the back-to-school schedule.

To reinstate this our effort, I turned to the Gratitude Garden project at Big-Hearted Families.

Of course, this being fall, we chose to do a fall-themed version. We covered leaves gathered during a recent walk with contact paper, essentially laminating them. Using a hole-punch and garden twine, me made a lovely vine to decorate the dining room. Each night, we take turns reflecting on at least one specific thing we are grateful for, adding it to the vine with a dry erase marker.

Well, the goal is to add a gratitude nightly.

Last week it happened  three times. Still, it's an improvement over the zero gratitude reflected on during the previous week.

The children generally enjoy this opportunity to share their thoughts. So far, they've added their new cousin-to-be, school friends, and macaroni and cheese to their leaves. I'm looking forward to a fall full of colorful gratitude.

Get more ideas for a gratitude practice, including some really beautiful gratitude trees, over at our Pinterest board.

How does your family practice gratitude?

Food Waste & Family Dinners: Share your Insights!

Did your last family meal conclude with extras being scraped into the compost or garbage can?  Mine did. Now I'm haunted by last week's Science Friday, "Waste Not: The Ugly Truth about Food Waste in America?

It haunts me. They estimate half a hamburger wastes as much water as an hour long shower!

With young kids in the house, waste is practically unavoidable.

Learning to eat a well-balanced diet is a process - parents are told to try, try again when kids resist healthy foods.

And my little ones are truly poor eaters in between growth spurts. When they're growing, give them (almost) anything and it disappears. Between times, even much-loved dishes sit barely touched at the end of the meal.

I'm not a fan of waste, of course, so I save what I can for the next meal.

Often, those saved bits get tossed.

If this issues haunts you as well, check out Rethink Recycling and their article "How to Keep Food Waste out of the Garbage."

Most helpful was their List of Companies that offer food recovery services in the metro area. Given the vast impact of institutional food waste, I'm choosing to worry less about the small scale waste of my own learning eaters.

Instead, I'm going to check out the institutions around me. If I can help an organization or two redirect unserved portions to a local shelter, the impact on waste, and on the community will be significantly greater.

And by talking about this issue with my children, perhaps they will be more aware about what they leave on their plate at the end of a meal.

 

Talk about Bullying with 5 Great Children's Books

We've seen the horrible impact of bullying in the headlines. We all know how hurtful mean kids can be. Worse yet, we've all seen the capacity for mean-spirited play peek in our kids or ourselves from time to time. It's not pretty, and most of the time I'd like to blame it on a bad night's sleep, but it's there just the same.

For a reminder on the many roles we all play in bullying, as the unhelpful bystanders, the victims, or the perpetrators, check out Dear Bully: 70 Authors Share Their Story by Jeannine Garsee. These popular young adult authors beautifully bring this issue to life.

Many schools, nonprofits, and parent groups are working hard to teach kindness and the golden rule early, with the hope and expectation that this we can keep this problem from escalating.

At Doing Good Together, we've shared many tips for teaching kindness in a way that empowers our children to be part of the solution.

I'm eager to keep this discussion open in my own home. Because books are my preferred starting point for big conversations with my little ones, I've put together this list of our family favorites.

Here are 5 wonderful picture books that will get my family (and yours!) talking about bullying and taking action to prevent it

1. The Juice Box Bully: Empowering Kids to Stand up for Others by Rob Sornson and Maria Dismondy

Teach your kids how not to be a bystander with this story. One classroom has pledged to stand up for one another and to earnestly live by the golden rule. When the new kid starts to cause trouble, these classmates challenge one another to stay true to their pledge, ultimately teaching their new classmate what it means to be part of their community.

2. Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McLoud

I know this book pops up on every list. If you are wondering why, then perhaps you haven't read it in a while. The message in this book is so clear and so motivating, that even the youngest children will set at once to fill buckets. Perhaps even more remarkable, even the oldest readers find it inspiring too! Thinking of bullies as people with empty buckets is perhaps oversimplifying the issue, but it does help us all empathize with them.

3.  The Recess Queen by Alexis O'Neil

I'm a big fan of this book, because my instinct has always been to turn to humor in tight situations. It's fun, it rhyms, and best of all, this book gives you ample opportunity to discuss how bullying begins and how to shut it down.

4. The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

What's in a name, Shakespeare asked. For a child whose whole world is changing, the continuity of her own name may mean an awful lot. And friends who are willing to take the time to learn her name may mean even more. This is a great book about acceptance, friendship, and change.

5. Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by David Catrow

Teach your children (and remind yourself) to be true to their own idiosyncrasies, in spite of teasing. This book will have your whole family cheering one another on for much-loved quirks.

And if you'd like to take your discussion even further, take a few minutes to do this simple Crumpled Paper activity. Even the youngest of children will respond to this powerful metaphor. Mean words last long after an apology, just as the creases in the paper remain visible after it is smoothed out.