Archive for the ‘Toddler Life’ Category

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Simmer Starters – March 25, 2016

March 25, 2016

I’m sorry for not blogging in the last couple of weeks!  I’ve been busy writing – hurray!  Hopefully I will have a post up next week, but in the meantime here are some Simmer Starters. 🙂

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Laurie Isn’t a Good Guy; He’s a Nice Guy™ (Maddie Rodriguez) – Haha, this is pretty eye-opening!  Although it reads some modern sensibilities into Little Women, which was written in a very different era, it’s still a great set of observations on why Laurie was not the right guy for Jo.

The Reason Every Kid Should Talk Back To Their Parents (Dr. Kelly Flanagan) – Even if you’re horrified at the name of this post, or don’t agree with the worldview behind it, it’s worth a read.

God’s Banquet in Your Desert (Bryce Young) – “Three days out from the pinnacle of the most supernatural display of sovereign election since Noah, and Israel’s most immediate consideration amounts to, ‘Wait, there’s no food?’ … It strikes us — or ought to strike us — with a certain horror only because in it, we read our ordinary disbelief with the skin and tissue pulled back. If our own distrust doesn’t appear so shockingly absurd, it’s only because we’ve stretched over it a tawdry flesh of reasons and explanations to prove we have real grounds to believe God hung us out to dry.”

Boosting Your Prose (A Checklist) – (David Farland) – A great, extensive list of ways to check your book to make sure all the elements of it are strong.

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Simmer Starters – March 4, 2016

March 4, 2016

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7 Ways to Be More Creative (Jessica Knap) – This is a great roundup of ways to kickstart creativity!

Complaining is Terrible For You, According to Science (Jessica Stillman) – How negativity or positivity literally rewire our brains.  “Synapses that fire together wire together.”

Porn: The Quiet Anesthesia (Ethan Renoe) – Speaking of rewiring brains, here is a sobering and thought-provoking post about addiction and how it numbs us to reality.  “When I look at the person of Jesus, I see the polar opposite of numbness. I see someone who was entirely alive to His emotions, the full spectrum.”

The Four Things You Need to Sell a Book (Rachel Bach/Aaron) – All the important stuff to grab readers who are shopping for new reads.  “Cover, title, blurb, first pages, in that order.”

Naked Love (Mom Life Now) – Beautiful post about motherhood, on how Christ said, “I was naked, and you clothed me,” and mothers do this for their little children every day. As a weary mom of four under five, I choked up a little reading this. 🙂

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Great Books for Teaching Little Ones About God

January 25, 2016

A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest. ― C.S. Lewis

I am rather persnickety in choosing Christian literature to share with my kids – a 4 year old, 3 year old, almost 2 year old, and a baby.  It is of utmost importance to me that the books are theologically sound according to our family’s understanding (we are Reformed Presbyterian) and contain the true gospel, not moralism.  I want Bible stories to be direct, either straight from the Scriptures or retold elegantly without embellishment.  It’s also important to me that such books respect children as intelligent human beings, handle the reality of sin honestly, and aren’t trite or cartoonish.  Needless to say, sometimes these kinds of books are hard to find.

So when I do find one, I’m thrilled and excited about it!  I love to share about resources I use, so here are some of my favorite books I’ve used for teaching my little ones about God.

ESV Illustrated Family Bible

I love this kids’ Bible because the stories are lifted straight from the ESV translation as short excerpts.  The illustrations are beautiful paintings instead of cartoonish ones, which is very important to me and gives kids something lovely to look at while you read actual Scripture to them.  My kids have all but destroyed our copy because they like to leaf through it on their own, even the littler babies and toddlers (who tend to tear pages)!

Possible negatives: it’s out of print and can be hard to find inexpensively.  As you can see from the cover, there are pictures of Jesus in the book, so this will make it unacceptable to families with a stricture view of the 2nd commandment.  Also, sometimes the illustration doesn’t quite tell the whole story – for example, we see Noah’s ark in the water but we aren’t shown the animals disembarking or Noah’s family offering sacrifices.  And of course there is the negative of it being actual Scripture…sometimes it is not very understandable to children even when the story is abridged.

Overall it’s a solid option if you want to read to your kids directly from Scripture, but want them to have nice pictures to look at while you do so.  I’m torn between buying another one to replace our shredded one, or upgrading to the ESV Children’s Bible, which is illustrated but includes the whole Bible.  (Also out of print – gah! Whyyyyyy?)

The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung

I can’t decide what is more awesome about this book – the fact that the illustrations are some of the most gorgeous, rich, mesmerizing Bible art I’ve ever seen…or the fact that this story summarizes the whole Bible in a short, 10-chapter book that can even be read in one (long) sitting if you want to!  It doesn’t stand alone as an introduction to the Bible, but as supplementary material to kids who already know the Gospel and many Bible stories, it’s fabulous.

It tells the story of man’s sin and Christ’s salvation, from Genesis to Revelation, with a strong emphasis on God’s relentless grace.  It was originally written as a Christmas Eve sermon, but translates perfectly to a story that can be appreciated for all ages.  See my Amazon review here.

The pictures are heavily symbolic, so if you avoid pictures of Jesus this may be a good fit for you.

The Donkey Who Carried a King by R.C. Sproul

We were given this book as a gift, and I wasn’t sure what to expect because I usually find these kinds of books shallow or contrived – but I was pleasantly surprised!  I very much enjoy reading this one to my children and knowing their minds are being sparked by it.

It’s a fictional story about a little boy who is having friend trouble.  His grandfather comforts him by telling him the story of Davey, a little donkey who was given a big task (carrying Jesus into Jerusalem).

The illustrations are lovely (Jesus is not shown), and although I’m not a huge fan of the on-the-nose application style, I do love the point of the book and the way it gives a new perspective on Christ’s death that children can relate to and ponder.  I definitely want to check out more of Dr. Sproul’s works of kids’ fiction!

My ABC Bible Verses from the Psalms by Susan Hunt and Richie Hunt

This is another one given to us as a gift.  My kids loved it.  They eagerly asked for it every morning at breakfast (when we do our devotions or Bible lesson every day).  The teaching is sound, and it’s rare to find a kids’ book that teaches from the Psalms.  There are 26 lessons, one Psalm verse featured for each letter of the alphabet.

Personally, I’m not a fan of the format – each lesson is a simple story about a group of kids who are learning to apply the verses to their lives, with lots of exposition from authority figures and some scenarios that seemed contrived to me.  But many kids truly benefit from these kinds of real-life applications they can relate to, and because my kids loved it so much it’s one of my favorites too.  I wish there were more story collections by the same authors, so I could get some more!

The Creation Story illustrated by Norman Messenger

I have to include this one, because it’s so drop-dead gorgeous.  These illustrations are rich and full of beauty, teeming with life.  The text is essentially taken straight from the Bible (I’m not sure what translation…it is very closely paraphrased).  It’s just the story of the seven days of creation, but it’s a beauty and definitely worth adding to your library.  Kids love to pore over these illustrations!

Note that the Amazon listing the photo links to is not the big hardcover version (which is what I have, and which seems like a better fit for enjoying the art).

Everything a Child Should Know About God by Kenneth N. Taylor

This is a good theology primer for very young toddlers or preschoolers who are very unfamiliar with Christian doctrine.  Each lesson is only a few sentences long, very simple, with a couple of application or comprehension questions or a prayer suggestion at the end.

The illustrations are rather cartoonish, but adorable and pleasant to look at (those who avoid illustrations of Jesus should not get this one).  I do wish that the book had been more direct about the gospel, sin, and judgement – too many kids’ books shy away from that hard content, and this one unfortunately tends to do that too.  But for what it contains, this is a good way to introduce your child to concepts like, “God is everywhere,” “Jesus loves you,” “What is the Bible?” and other basic introductions to the faith.  I liked it so much that I bought a couple of extra copies to give away to other families with toddlers.

Do you know of any excellent, Reformed resources for teaching children about God?  Please spill in the comment section!

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5 Best TV Shows on Netflix for Toddlers and Preschoolers

August 28, 2015

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My two oldest children are 4 and 3, and have sampled many of the children’s TV shows on Netflix.  Here are my five favorites of the shows currently available (as of August 2015).

1. Octonauts

This is hands-down my favorite kids show on Netflix right now.  It reminds me of an undersea children’s Star Trek – a team of cute animated animals live together in an underwater station/submarine, and travel around helping marine creatures.  There are two stories in each half-hour episode, and each story features a new sea creature or fish.

I love that the show is NOT centered around interpersonal conflict.  The characters care about each other, help each other, and rescue each other.  Each has a distinct role and personality, too, such as Peso – a Mexican penguin medic who is fearful of everything, but always summons up his courage once he realizes that someone needs help.  There are some moments of (very tame) peril, but even scary sea creatures like sharks are animated in a cute, harmless way and their voracious hunger is played for humor rather than fright.

And at the end of every episode is an adorable, fun theme song called the “Creature Report” which recaps everything they learned about the featured sea creature (along with a photo or video clip of the real-life animal).  My son, especially, has retained a lot of what he’s learned from this show.

Potential cons for some parents may be: occasional use of burps for humor’s sake, and some talk of “ghosts” and “monsters” (which of course always turn out to be perfectly normal sea creatures).

2. The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That

This is essentially The Magic School Bus for the toddler set!  In each story, two neighbor kids named Sally and Mick find a new conundrum to solve, and the Cat in the Hat shows up to whisk them away in his “Thing-A-Ma-Wigger,” a contraption that – like the Magic School Bus – can transform itself in all kinds of ways.  (They always get their mothers’ permission before leaving, too, which is a nice change from the Dr. Seuss books where things are done behind the mom’s back.)  They learn about animals, habitats, insects, and sometimes processes like how chocolate is made.  At the end of each episode is a random collection of animal facts and songs.

Potential cons: I can’t even think of any, except for the extreme catchiness of the theme song, which can be a bit annoying at times! 😛

3. Curious George

The Curious George show is very different from the books.  I have a major beef with the books – he always disobeys and makes all kinds of trouble, but never gets any consequences and is portrayed as a hero by the end!  But the TV show is NOT like this.  George still gets into mischief, but we see him try to right his mistakes and get reprimanded for them, and he always realizes that what he did comes with consequences to the other people around him.  By the end of each story things are made right again, and rather than learning he can get away scot-free, George has actually learned the importance of listening and staying out of trouble.  The result is that the show is a just a sweet, cute romp through an adventuresome monkey’s life as he learns new facts about the world around him.  It’s all about learning and exploration.

Potential cons: sometimes George imagines people crying in response to whatever trouble he made.  These “thought bubble” scenes (and other scenes where George or side characters are afraid) are disturbing to my son, who is rather sensitive to characters’ emotions.  I doubt most children would have a problem with it, but it’s a con for me.

4. Stella and Sam

This show wins the prize for “sweetest!”  It’s about a big sister who leads her brother in fun imaginary adventures, using ordinary, everyday things like leaf piles, sweaters, chairs, and rainbows.  It’s a very gentle, happy show that portrays and models kindness and affection toward your siblings, which I greatly appreciate.

Potential cons: unless you are opposed to discussion of imagination and pretend “magic,” I really can’t think of any!

5. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood

There is a lot to like in this show.  It’s modeled after Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, except it’s about an animated tiger and his family and friends.  It’s like Mr. Rogers meets Blue’s Clues (which is not on Netflix – but it is free for streaming on Amazon Prime, if you’re looking for another great kids’ show and you are a Prime member!).

Every episode follows Daniel through a new experience, situation, or adventure…picking strawberries, going to the doctor, first day of school, trying new foods, first sleepover, etc.  One of my favorite things is that each episode teaches a short, simple song to help kids remember things like saying please, keeping your temper, or what to do when you’re afraid.  These are simple, helpful ditties that might actually help kids cope with new situations or unpleasant emotions.  There are also frequent interludes about using your imagination, in which Daniel imagines inanimate objects coming alive to sing with him.  At the end of every segment is a live-action portion with a child experiencing whatever Daniel did during the story.

Potential cons: again, unless you are opposed to the hefty use of imagination, there’s not much to critique here.  There are some episodes about fear, which might be something to consider if you have a sensitive child like my son.

A few short reviews of other shows you might check out:

Chuggington – This show follows a team of anthropomorphic trains who are “trainees” (get it?) learning to do their jobs.  There are lots of episode themes like responsibility, following directions, including others, and so forth.  Recommended!

 

Magic School Bus – This show is great, but it’s better for the older set, who will get more out of it.  There are also a few episodes I prefer to skip at this point because they focus on haunted houses or I’m concerned about other aspects of the content.  When my kids are a little older I’ll love it for them!  If you have a more advanced or older preschooler, this is still a great show to check out for them.

Mighty Machines – This is a cool show that just uses live footage of construction vehicles and adds voice-over vocals to make them talk about what they do.  A new type of machine is featured in each episode.  I’ve found my son adores this show but my daughters are disinterested.

Thomas the Tank Engine – I suppose most of us are familiar with Thomas.  It’s not a bad show!  Aside from some grumpy or ill-tempered characters, and the occasional supposed “ghost” (which isn’t real) I don’t know of many cons for it, but my kids don’t find it incredibly engaging.  They rarely ask for it.  Worth checking out especially for a younger toddler boy who loves trains.

Kipper – This animated show about a dog and his friends is very, very tame and quiet.  It’s visually minimalist, with quiet British voices.  I would like it more if it were not for the strange obsession with aliens…  For some reason every other episode is about Kipper encountering something that came from space, with spooky music.  Also, I’m pretty sure there are some episodes with a ghost.  I’m not a huge fan.  (Also, Netflix lumps the episodes into hour-long collections, rather than bite-size episodes by themselves.)

Clifford – My daughter asks to watch this occasionally. The characters can be so catty, and all the lessons it teaches are about doing the right thing – which, of course, means that they show the characters doing the wrong thing first, a concept that can be great for older viewers but for toddlers just seems like a great way to teach them bad behavior.  It’s not my favorite show.

Sofia the First – I saw a few episodes of this at a car dealership once.  They’re cute stories, but like Clifford, characters can be very catty and mean to each other (no need for my kids to learn that sort of behavior), and there was also an evil magician who was portrayed in a way I wasn’t comfortable with.

Trotro – The first time I saw an episode of this, the donkey was hiding his food under his napkin so he could go outside to play faster. Thanks for teaching my kids that cool new trick, Trotro!  Bye forever. *clicks back to main menu* 😛 There are so many cute shows for kids – I don’t want to spend time on TV that teaches my children new ways to misbehave.

Bob the Builder – Cute animated show about an architect/builder and his team of anthropomorphic construction vehicles.  Some shows have live-action segments with real builders, explaining how they construct homes, train tracks, or other structures.  Most of these on Netflix are “collections” of episodes, so they are over an hour long each, but definitely worth checking out, especially if your child is into construction vehicles.

LeapFrog educational videos – There are several of these short movies on Netflix, so it’s kind of like a short TV show season and worth including here.  They teach skills like counting, math, letters, and phonics.  The older ones are a bit annoying (terribly corny dialogue and music), but the newer ones with the digital animation style are much better.

Do you know of any other good shows for toddlers and preschoolers that can be streamed online?  Let us know in the comments!

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Of Books and Babies

August 4, 2015

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As a writer, I know the importance of beginnings.

Everything hangs on the first few pages of your novel.  If readers don’t enjoy those, they probably won’t move on.  There are lots of books in the world, so unless someone else told them it was a good story, why should they spend time on a book that confused them, bored them, or offended them right off the bat?

You have to foreshadow everything right.  You have to lay the foundation for the story and its themes, introduce your main characters and setting (in an interesting way!), and put your plot in motion.

Beginnings are HARD!  I can get so fixated on how my book starts that I don’t move forward, perpetually rewriting and revising my opening scene.

I tend to carry this attitude over to my mothering.

These little years are all-important.  I’m forming human beings!  It’s my job (I think to myself) to make sure they don’t grow up malformed, like a tree that was bent into an awkward shape while it was a sapling, and keeps growing crookedly.  It’s my responsibility (so I fear) to dot every “i,” and cross every “t,” so they have the best possible, perfect, ideal foundation for life.  Sometimes I feel like someone is standing over me, putting negative tally marks for every time I do something that is less than ideal for my children’s foundational years.

Oop, too much TV today. Bad mom.  She lost her temper again.  Bad mom.  What, no veggie with dinner today?  Bad mom.

Some people brush off worries about the little years with thoughts like, “Eh, they’re little.  They won’t remember this stuff anyway.”

But! But! I splutter inside.  They might not remember, but they’ll be irrevocably shaped!

They are shaped by my words, attitudes, and fears.  They are shaped when they see me crying over a poop mess, and when I yell about spilled milk on the carpet.

It can’t be done again.  I can’t rewind time, erase my progress, and start over with a stronger opening – my kids’ life, 2.0.  Their childhood thus far is set in stone.  And that’s a scary thought.

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In the world of fiction, there is a writing rule called “Chekov’s gun.”  It states that if there’s a rifle hanging over the fireplace in the first scene, it needs to go off by the end of the novel.  There should be no loose ends, no details that are not relevant, because all details tie into the plot.

Sometimes I wonder what kind of guns I’m hanging here, over my children’s heads.

(Is that…is that a nuclear missile???)

What part do I play in this opening scene of their lives?  Am I a loving mom?  A sweet mom?  A mom who languishes on a sickbed and weakly entreats her child to “have courage and be kind?”

A lot of the time I worry that I’m more like the wicked stepmother.

You had a potty accident on the couch AGAIN??

But I tell myself these things:

God is the ultimate Author of their stories, not me, and God’s stories always have perfect endings, no matter how messy their beginnings.

However I shape my children, His hands are around them (and me), far more powerful and purposeful than my clumsy little fists.

God’s stories are simultaneously first drafts and finished products, full of crazy, unexpected twists and concluded with every plot thread in place.  All His guns go off, and they all go off at the right moment – even if the characters were only fooling around and fired them by accident and hit somebody in the eye.

And my children are shaped by far more than my flaws!

They are shaped by our Bible lessons, even when I think they’re not listening because they’re busy giggling and smearing cinnamon toast on their faces.

They are shaped when my hubby kisses me in front of the kitchen sink.

They are shaped when I play Christian music on Pandora.

They are shaped by my hugs and kisses, that cup of water I bring them at 2 A.M., those many hours reading Beatrix Potter.

It just isn’t as simple as, “You’re either doing everything perfectly or YOU ARE FAILING AT LIFE.”

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We are all a crashing, colliding, crazy, messy crowd, mixing our good acts with bad attitudes and our worst mistakes with our best intentions.  We are saved in Christ, yet struggling sinners.  We aren’t perfect, but we rest in Perfection.  We are flawed and fallen, and yet He does His good works through us, and appoints us as His representatives in the world and His members in the church.

He didn’t just put me on the earth to make my children grow up well.  He also put them here to make ME grow up well.

So I can’t be paralyzed by these first pages.  I have to keep moving forward, working out my part in my own story and in theirs.  For praise be to God! – I pen imperfect novels, though I may write the beginnings a million times, but He never needs revisions, and He is creating a masterpiece.