I’ve Moved! & a Delicious Basil & Carrot Risotto

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Hi all. Just two quick things.

1. Silly Bug has moved to www.rebekahgriffingamble.com . All the same great kid’s stuff-art, books, recipes, fun activities, and mom talk…combined with a ton more awesome stuff like MORE great recipes, updates and info on my small farm project, and great ways to get involved and help your community.

2. I’m featuring this amazingly delish recipe for Basil and Carrot Risotto later tonite over at the new blog address.

Oh, and one more thing…if you follow my blog here, I would love, love, love you to follow me at the new spot!

See you soon!
xo,
Rebekah

DIY Felt Story Board

felt board 4

Today’s post features this super cute felt story board that I created with some really simple {and cheap!} materials in an effort to save my son and myself from mind-numbing winter boredom. YUP, it’s that time of year again…February. Is it just me, or are February and March the LONGEST months of the year? Aside from absolutely sweltering August, that is. Not to be a weather curmudgeon, but these outdoor-unfriendly days can be excruciatingly long when you are in the house all day with a {cranky, teething} toddler.

So the other day I took a trip to ye old AC Moore, picked up some supplies {I think this  project cost me about $15 total} and decided to make this adorable felt story board.

felt board 1

felt board 2

felt board 3

felt board 4

To get play started I placed some of the felt shapes on the board and some on the ground in front of the board. I also gathered a few animals and some story books that had photos of nature, which matched the board’s theme.

felt board 5

These boards, as well as the type of play, can be adjusted as kids get older and can ‘act out’ more advanced stories. In the beginning, having small children act out the story in a book with these physical objects is a great way to get started. Then, when they are a bit older, have them make up their own stories, or even create a storyline that  alternates between yourself and the child, or whoever else they are playing with.

So the next time you think you are going to pull all of your hair out because you cannot think of one more activity to do on these super long winter days, don’t do it! Keep your beautiful hair and make this fun felt story board instead.

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P.S. Sorry for the few typos on the instruction boards. These boards where created for you by a woman with a toddler attached to her leg. Sometimes multi-tasking isn’t all it’s cracked up to be :P

Second Sunday Book Review: 10 Mindful Minutes, Pt 1.

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Hello all, and welcome to Second Sunday book review. I’m sure you’ve noticed that Mommy Brainer is now affectionately named, Silly Bug (while we get things changed over, our web address will remain “mommy brainer”) Bug is my son’s nickname and I’ve been wanting to make the name change for a while. I think the name better reflects the feeling of this blog…I hope you like it as much as I do :) Now on to the review!

This weeks book is 10 Mindful Minutes by Goldie Hawn, with Wendy Holden. As I started reading this book I found a wealth of great information for parents and children that I wanted to share. So in order to avoid a novella sized blog post, I’m breaking this book review into 3 parts. I’ll post one a week (I won’t make you wait until next months Second Sunday Review!)

The begining of this book begins with a lovely introduction and reflections about the benefits of being mindful in general and how we can take control of our actions in very simple ways and become more mindful people and parents. Being present as a parent makes for happier children and happier parents. MIndfullness also contributes to better general mental health.

The ability to skillfully regulate one’s internal emotional expereince in the present moment may translate into good mental health in the long run

One of the most powerful points Hawn makes right of the bat is that we need to stop thinking of stress as something that just happens to us. If we take control of ourselves and be calm, we reduce the stress in a situation. Mindfulness is key to this:

The conscious awareness of ou current thoughts, feelings, and surroundings – and accepting this awareness with openess andcuriousity in a non-judgemental way. It means focusing our attention on non-doing, a crucial skill in these distracted times…by discovering the onders of such techniques as mindful breathing, which helps create a balanced neuroligical system, we cn provide the perfect climate for healthy brain function

The non- judgmental acceptance of emotions mentioned above is key for parents. We need to remember that even as we try to rewire ourselves to be more mindful, we will make mistakes. and thats ok. learning to be mindful is in many ways like parenting itself-every day is a new learning experience with ts own challenges and rewards. But by trying to center ourselves when we are confronted with a difficult situation, if only for a few seconds before we act, we can break the cycle of negative reactive behavior.

The benefits of mindful breathing are impressive. Mindful breathing:
*Calms the stress response
*Strengthens attention
*Promotes Brain integration
*Fosters better sleep
*Strengthens self-awareness

Another area of discussion early on in the book is a basic discussion about how the brain works. Using simple terms and analogies for extremely complex concepts allows readers to gain a better understanding of how mindfulness increases our brain’s capabilities to perform at it’s highest level. like the fact that stress acts as a roadblock to learning and information absorption.

I personally learned something very interesting about my own learning process in this section of the book. Let’s just say I’m not good at math. Now, I can do all kinds of business math, like balance check books, percentages, stuff you do in daily life. BUT, when you show me an algebra problem my blood pressure starts to rise and I all of a sudden just go, well, kind of dumb. I always chalked this up to a myriad of things-boredom, bad teachers, my opinion on the uselessness of turning A into a number…until I read this:

When the brain senses danger from a perceived stress, it releases stress hormones and the flow of information to the pre-frontal cortex, where rational thinking and emotional regulation take place is impaired…If children go to school stressed, they won;t be able to engage, absorb, or retain information. In fact, research has shown that chronic stress can shrink th hippocampus, the part of the brain that holds memory.

One of the most inspiring points in this book is about teaching old dogs new tricks- turns out, it i possible. And that’s great news. The shaping of the brain, or neurogenesis occurs well into our 70′s. Another interesting fact? Learning enhances neurogenesis and stress inhibits it.

We can change the structure of our adult brains and even our behavior at whatever age we are just by intentionally focusing our attention. just as an injured brain adapts by mapping out new neural pathways, so brain circuits for the regulation of emotion and attention are “malleable by the environment and are potential targets of training” (Davidson, Richard). it is so empowering to know that we can create whole new pathways to better choices and happier feelings at almost any age. We don’t have to be victims of unhealthy mental habits from the past, especially not when we are teaching ourselves and our children new tricks

This information and the way that it is discusses is one of the reasons I really love this book. It’s like Cliff’s notes for the usually epic novel referred to as”How to not repeat the unhealthy mental health and negative, reactive behavior cycle.”

A few of the other fine nuggets of discussion in the beginning of this book address technology -mainly working to turn it off more, go outside, and explore- as well as its addictive properties, and how to help your children deal with, respect, and process their emotions.

Until next week’ review I leave you with this…

A peaceful, happy child is the first step to a peaceful, happy world

Lil’ First Friday: 5 Creative Ways to Make & Display Children’s Art

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Hi There! Welcome to Lil’ First Friday! Over the past month I’ve been finding some really inspiring projects for kids to create, as well as some really unique ways to use and display art that children have created. Soooo, I’ve decided to switch things up from the normal single featured artist post and showcase some of these creative project ideas. let’s get started!

Heather Montgomery art

Heather Montgomery art

I spotted this awesome wall art on Etsy and I think it would make an amazingly fun art project for children…and some awesome wall art as well.

Framed Children's art scans from Kiki's List.Blogspot

Framed Children’s art scans from Kiki’s List.Blogspot

I think this is one of the coolest ways I’ve seen to display children’s art. What a great project to do together… would also make a great Mother’s or Father’s day gift for kid’s to put together with a parent. Simply scan in children’s art then print it out at a smaller scale, place prints behind a cut-out photo mat and frame. Viola!

Children's art mobile from Warmhotchocolate.com

Children’s art mobile from Warmhotchocolate.com

How beautiful is this??? A mobile made from children’s art. This would be a wonderful project for a child to create with a parent for the arrival of a new sibling, cousin, or friend’s baby.

children's art candle covers by Herz-allerliebst.de

children’s art candle covers by Herz-allerliebst.de

Now, I ask you: how excited would a little critter be if you made his or her art work glow??? Kids love when grown-ups show appreciation for their creativity in sincere ways that help them know you really like and value what they have created. These are made by drawing on parchment paper and then wrapping the drawing around simple glass votives. (For grown-up use when lit, obviously)

Family Portrait wall from Spearmintbaby.com

Family Portrait wall from Spearmintbaby.com

Finally, we have this super cool project and display idea. Have your children create individual portraits of family members and then hang them all together to create a totally unique family portrait wall. LOVE!

I hope you guys found some inspiration here for creating and displaying children’s artwork. I know I did, and I can’t wait to get started…I have a little while to wait as my little bud has just started holding crayons…and still kinda thinks they are a snack. But as soon as he stops trying to eat the art supplies, I’m totally making all of these!

P.S. Stop by next Sunday for Second Sunday book review where I’ll be sharing the first of a three part review on 10 Mindful Minutes. See you then!

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The Great Homeschooling Debate: Pros and Cons in Today’s Society

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To homeschool or not, that is the question I’ve been pondering lately. Since my son was born I’ve casually gone back and forth on the subject of homeschooling. Recently, my husband and I have started doing our research and making homeschooling a serious possibility for our son’s education.

One of the greatest concerns my husband and I have with homeschooling is socialization. We want to ensure that he will have a solid network of fellow homeschooled kids to socialize with. The last thing we would want would be to rob him of rich and important relationships with his peers. While homeschool socialization may prove to be a challenge, is the alternative, the socialization kids get in schools today, really that great or productive? As adults, When we get into an annoying adult situation how often do we say, “this crap is ridiculous. I feel like I’m in high school!” Touché!

Personally, I hated school. Even though I was a so-called ‘popular’ kid I never liked it, did poorly with grades, was picked in a lot, and never felt like I fit in. A fat lot of good that cheerleading uniform did me (I know, barf. Didn’t see that one coming, did you?) A low self esteem developed at home carried over into my school experience, and I can tell you that school all but destroyed the little bit of self esteem I did have, and also gave me plenty of outlets to express my insecurities in negative ways. Bad boys, parties, uninspired teachers and dated lesson plans that could lul a colicky baby to sleep, a school system that pushed failing students through to the next grade to keep their scores higher, and ill equipped school counselors that suggested I may have a mental illness because I dyed my hair a lot in my junior year of high school (yeah, that’s the problem genius), all combined to make mine a really great school experience.

Now, I do attribute much of my unhappy school years to my home environment, which for sparing you the details was, to say the least, dysfunctional and unsettled. Because of this factor I often think that my son’s experience in school would be a happier one. Friends or classmates I had whose home lives seemed relatively ‘normal’ or let me say, functional, seemed to always have the best school experiences.

So… by choosing to homeschool my son, am I simply projecting my past experiences onto him? Or am I responding to an actual lack in the education system.

Another concern is safety. Increased gun violence and the threat of sexual predators, along with the militia-style protective elements that are being put in to place to prevent these threats, do not provide the safe, or relaxed environment that is needed to foster learning.

So…as far as safety goes, I question if I am simply being over protective, or if I am responding and adjusting the plan to respond to a very real safety issue in schools.

Our other major concern about sending our son to school is curriculum. The biggest problem I’ve seen goes something like this: HIghest rated schools are rated so because of their standardized test results. The higher the score the more funding they receive. Therefore, their top priority is grooming students to test well on these cookie cutter test, (read: massive lack of any type of creative or individualized education). The schools that are ranked lower, have poorer test scores, and receive less funding. Therefore, they have less resources with which to improve. The only light at the end of the tunnel I’ve seen, aside from straight up private schools, are Montessori or creative and performing art schools.

Maybe homeschooling is the new answer to these problems that are developing in society, specifically an increasingly violent culture and a disgusting lack of funding and respect for education. In some ways I feel that I need to play more roles as a parent because I see these roles faltering when played by others in the public sphere.

This is not to say that there are not amazing teachers and counselors, I know there are. But I also know they are over worked, underpaid, and in the minority. If I could be assured that my son would be taught by one of these teachers and be in a relatively safe and relaxed school environment, than I probably would not consider homeschooling.

The good news is my family still has three years to make our decision. The even better news is that educational decisions do not have to be forever. You can make the decision to homeschool or not on a year to year basis, which is what we will most likely do. The most important thing we will do is allow our son a say in what type of education he receives when he is able to do so. As our son takes part in the discussion about his education, he will hopefully be able to look at learning in a more wholistic way, which will foster a lifetime love of learning.

He will also most likely think he has the weirdest parents on the planet and say under his breath, “why can’t they just send me to school somewhere and be done with it like all of the other normal parents?”

Sorry kid, normal parents is the one thing you just didn’t get!

Are any of you currently homeschooling or considering it? Anyone totally against it? I’d love to hear from you guys!

Why Does Cookie Monster Have to Eat Vegetables? Relying on Media to teach Important Messages

I know that Sesame Street’s loveable blue furry critter, Cookie Monster, has been a vegetable convert for a while. Gone are the days of day- long cookie benders ( I wish someone would have told me that yesterday while I chipped away at a massive piece of chocolate cake all day in the grips of PMS…). The fact that cookies are a “sometimes food” should have had time to sink in by now. But you know what? I don’t think he’s really comfortable with it. And you know what else? Neither am I.

When I first heard that this switch was happening it was years ago, and I hadn’t even begun to think about becoming a parent yet. But it really annoyed me. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the late ‘70’s, early ‘80’s and cookie monster was such a big part of my childhood (I was just as annoyed, if not more, when everyone on Sesame Street could see Snuffleupagus as of 1985. Way to kill the excitement Sesame Street…)

My son has just started to watch Sesame Street in the morning, so I was reminded of Cookie’s change all over again. I asked myself why I was so annoyed. The answer has a few parts to it:

First, as a society we constantly tell parents not to let children watch too much T.V.. Yet, often times it seems we rely on television and media alone to convey important messages, like eating healthy, to our children. Many experts will tell you that the problem is not television itself; it is the vapid, blank, non-interactive-ness that children get after staring at it all day. If you watch a show with your children, and help them understand the messages they are seeing, it becomes an interactive activity that can actually be educational.

Here’s where Cookie Monster comes in: I don’t believe it is PBS’s responsibility to teach my child healthy eating. That is my responsibility. As a society, we have fallen into a trap of ‘yes-ing’ our children to a point of detriment. Why are we afraid to tell our children ‘no?’ Not only do children need parents to discipline them, they actually want it. Now, I realize that when a toddler is screaming in your face it doesn’t seem like he or she wants to be told no.

But he actually does want and need direction and guidance in order to create boundaries, learn how to make choices, and make sense of the world around him. This is why I need Cookie to be a cookie monster who over-indulges. Why? Because this fictional character becomes a learning tool that I can use. Imaginary creatures who do all kinds of crazy things are not there to set examples for children for every little thing. They are there as a tool to help parents explain things to children and to give parents an opportunity to teach their children the difference between fantasy and reality. Classic fairytales are often not examples of what children should do, quite the opposite. Most  provide examples of what not to do.

Now here comes the second part of the answer to the question I asked myself: Research shows that many young children are having an increasingly difficult time telling the difference between fantasy and reality. This comes down to interaction again. The age appropriate media we expose our children to is only damaging (for the most part) if we plop them in front of it and they are left to interpret it completely on their own. The more media children are exposed to, the more time parents have to take to explain everything they are seeing. I don’t know about you but I’m not looking for any extra work here in this department.

Don’t get me wrong. I have enlisted Curious George and that good old Cat in The Hat many a time to act as a distraction while I scramble to get something done. This is not a ‘no T.V. household. It’s just limited.

So, to conclude my protest of this “cookies are a sometimes food” situation (it even sounds ridiculous), I will leave you with this. What about the imagination and fun of being a kid?   What about just teaching our kids moderation?

I miss the times when a kid could get an ice cream cone and it didn’t have to become a topic of a national discussion about whether or not he would know that he couldn’t eat ice cream for every meal. I miss the days when kids played outside and had to be told at least three times to get in this house!

Slowly I am watching as these fond memories of childhood livin’ are being replaced by a world devoid of the occasional ice cream cone and filled with cartoons that have to tell children how to exercise.

I know I can’t turn back time and make Cookie Monster the way he used to be. But, I can try to remember that one of the most important things I will teach my son is moderation. It’s my job to teach him this so that he can do his job of being a silly toddler who loves to laugh at imaginary puppets as they call upon sock fairies to solve the latest laundry mystery , play in blanket forts, and even eat the occasional cookie…after he finishes his vegetables, of course .

We Love ya Little Buddy, stay strong.

Lil’ First Friday Featured Artist: Ashley Percival

Welcome to Lil’First Friday at Mommy Brainer! This month’s featured artist is Ashley percival. Percival’s prints are the perfect combination of whimsical cleverness and fun. They really call to mind that carefree and imaginative feeling that exists in childhood. And while his prints are marketed for little ones, I would gladly hang these all over the rest of my home as well. Have a look!

The bikers

 

Fox on a Bike

The Night Owl

Serious Skaters

Free hugs

How adorable are these? I want all of them…and there are A Lot.  Find more information about the artist on the Featured Artist  page and check out more of Ashley Percival’s illustrations HERE.

Have a great weekend! Be sure to stop by next Sunday for our featured children’s literature selection on Second Sunday Book Review.

Slow Your Roll: Reducing Overstimulation and Helping Kids Learn to Just ‘Be’

As a new parent I seemed to constantly hear about the importance of making sure your child was surrounded by stimulation-bright colors, patterns, ect.in order to help their development. And while I totally agree with creating this type of stimulating environment for children, lately I have been thinking about the importance of, well, ‘under-stimulating.’

Kids today (I sound like an old person, these kids today!) are bombarded with stimulation-all day long. When I was a kid, many, many, years ago, their was a focus on teaching children to multi-task. But today our children, as well as ourselves, live in a world that puts us in a constant state of multi-tasking where we are almost always doing too many things at once. (try to think about the last time you did one thing as an isolated task…)

While multi-tasking is still considered a skill in many circles, especially in business, research shows that when people continuously multi-task they are essentially making more work for themselves in the long run. Why? Because while multi-tasking does allow people to get more things done in a shorter amount of time, it also causes each individual task to suffer because the tasks are not done properly.

Your brain is a powerful machine, but it does need focus to make it work to its best ability. Here’s a snippit from an article from Harvard Health Publications about the Hazards of Multi-tasking:

The hazards of multitasking

Many people take pride in how well they multitask. But new research suggests some big downsides to it.

I spoke with Dr. Paul Hammerness and Margaret Moore, authors of Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life, a new book from Harvard Health Publications. They said that multitasking increases the chances of making mistakes and missing important information and cues. Multitaskers are also less likely to retain information in working memory, which can hinder problem solving and creativity.

Instead of trying to do several things at once—and often none of them well—Hammerness and Moore suggest what they call set shifting. This means consciously and completely shifting your attention from one task to the next, and focusing on the task at hand. Giving your full attention to what you are doing will help you do it better, with more creativity and fewer mistakes or missed connections. Set shifting is a sign of brain fitness and agility, say the authors.

I recently started reading a book by Goldie Hawn called, 10 Mindful Minutes, which focuses on teaching ourselves, and our children to, well, focus. (I still can only picture her in the movie Overboard while I’m reading the book, but that just seems to add another fun layer to the book as I read…) I’ll post a full review when I’m finished with the book, but so far, so good.

Following these insights, I took a good look at my son’s play area. WOW. Just a complete explosion of toys and stimulation. Now, his play room has always been organized, but before I started thinking about mellowing it out, it was more like organized chaos. Using the concepts of Reggio Emila, which stresses the importance of environment as an important ‘teacher’ for children, I re-organized my son’s play room and toys using these basic ideas:

  1. let as much natural light into the room as possible
  2. organize toys into groups: toys that always stay out, toys that go into rotation (store toys that are out of rotation in a “toy library” AKA, a bin of any kind out of the play area), and toys that are for supervised play only. Rotating toys not only clears the chaos, it also allows the toys to seem new again to your kids.
  3. make the space ‘his.’ There should be bright colors, things at his level, his own art work around the space. This tells children it is their space to learn, grow, and create in a safe environment.
  4. Create different ‘zones’. Our play room is not huge by any means, but I managed to create a space set aside for reading and relaxing by placing a soft blanket and a few pillows on the floor next to a basket of books.

Honestly, I can see a difference in the way my son is playing. He seems less frustrated, plays with things for longer, and has a bit more focus on the task at hand. He even sits in his reading ‘nook’ and ‘reads’ his picture books to himself. Sometimes he reads them out loud, which is so cute I want to vomit.

I think adults could really benefit from focusing on single tasking as well. I am making a conscious effort to focus throughout the day. Sure, I still find myself pushing a stroller, sending an email from my phone, and mentally making a grocery list at the same time now and then, it happens. But, I have found that simply thinking about slowing down has made me start to actually slow down.

Here are some inspirations based on Reggio Emilia- inspired spaces:

Space to Create

Reading nook

Closet for Lil’ Critters

From inspired Space for Young Chidren

From Architecture of Early Childhood

Have fun! And don’t forget to stop by Friday for our first Lil’ First Friday to check out November’s featured artist :)

Exploring Sounds, Color, and Texture: DIY Shake & Sort Activity

A few weeks ago I discovered the magic of creating discovery baskets for my little guy. The first Discovery Basket  took about 10 minutes to put together, cost nothing, and my 13 month old son played with it for hours. 

Inspired by the more engaging style of play that these hand-made exploring toys evoked, I decided to make another activity that would focus on sounds, colors, and sorting.

Here’s what I used to make these

Small plastic containers with lids

glue gun and glue sticks

assorted beads, google eyes, stones, glitter, pony beads, pom-pons

All of my materials came from the dollar store again (I always wondered who bought the random useless stuff in the dollar store…now that mystery is solved). I filled each container with a variety of different items depending on what sound they would make, light they would reflect, ect. I added water and glitter to some for a snow globe effect. Then, I put a ring of hot glue on the lid edge and sealed the cups shut, allowed them to cool, then test-drove then by chucking them around the room a few times and banging them on things.

***Be sure to check for cracks in the plastic after each play session (after about a week of smashing and banging, a few of the containers that had hard materials inside, like stones, developed cracks. I just threw them out, they only  cost $1!) and make sure to supervise with this activity incase anything cracks during play***

I put the cups in a muffin tin, the cups acted like little sorting containers, and my little guy loved sorting them and shaking them…and banging them, and throwing them, and hiding them in the laundry basket.

This shake and sort activity is really fun and these DIY shakers are really versatile for play. We used them as noise makers when we did music and sound play later in the day. The most fun part of this type of play is seeing what your little one does as he’s exploring the items. You’ll be amazed at what kids come up with and you’ll probably find yourself saying, Huh. I never thought of that.  I know I did.

Have Fun!

Word Thieves!: Why People and Companies Should Know Who They are Stealing From

What’s worse than writing a personal account of something and then having some one steal and use it for free content on their advertising blog? Well, a lot of things are worse really, but still, stealing other people’s words and then defiling them with linked up advertisements sucks.

I have my blog listed on a few ‘mommy blog’ directories. I’m new-ish to this blog circle and thought it was a good way to meet some new bloggers and maybe get a few new readers. Two of these blog directories are mostly legit- you make a page with a link to your blog, and other moms can find your blog there. No problem.

Now, for the word thieves. This particular blog (Let’s just say their logo is pink and white with black text…) asks you to actually post your content, or blog posts, on their site.

Here’s the rub: Once you do this, they take about 5-6 of your words in your blog and make them into links that go to pop-up advertisements. Beautiful. (Even more beautiful when it was a blog post about how my recently deceased grandfather has inspired me to teach my son how to be a good person…I guess these word thieves didn’t have a grandfather that taught them that.)

Basically, they are using your content as free text for their giant blog which is a huge advertising hub. How do I know this? Well, I’m a professional copywriter. So I know exactly  how this works and what it looks like. I’ve been trained as a writer to watch out for these kinds of scams. I should have noticed it sooner, but, alas, they got a few over on me.  I was an unwilling advertiser for a hair loss treatment, an accident lawyer, and a weight loss pill, to name a few.

So, there you have it.  I have sent a request to remove my content and have removed their info from my page. I realize that in this kooky world of the interwebs everyone “borrows” from here or there-it’s just the way it is. But you know what? Borrowing isn’t so bad if you give the author credit (we learned this in about 4th grade).  Thieving someone else’s words and using them to make money for yourself is a different animal all together-and that animal’s name is STEALING.

*BTW, this image is public…and besides, I think Marilyn would enjoy being in a post about writing integrity. She was married to Arthur Miller, after all.