Simplicity for Christmas
I love that scene in the Grinch movie where all of the people of Whoville are running amuck shopping, decorating, eating, singing, and damn near knocking each other over when they hear about a discount nearby. Cindy Lou Who looks up at her father and says, "Isn't this a little much?"
Can you relate?
I have never wanted Christmas to be about the presents and I've always tried to extend the hoy of the season and the magic through experiences over material things (and greed). The greed and the "gimme gimme gimme" mentality can be avoided if you make a conscious effort each season. Here are my tips:
#1: No Christmas Lists
I have never told my kids to write a Christmas list for Santa or tell Santa what they want. Te operative word here being "want". They have; however, written letters to Santa that include drawings, greetings and stories. Instead, we say things like, "that's something Santa may keep in mind for you this year" when they're browsing a toy store or "I wonder what the elves are making in the shop to surprise you with"
#2: Santa has never been "real"
I explained Santa as the sprit of Christmas. The magic of the season in our mind and in our hearts represented by a man in a red suit with a white beard. "Oh how we love when Santa surprises us with magic and joy each Christmas" and so on, but I've never tried to convince them he's a real physical being. The north pole, the reindeer, the elves are always discussed in the same voice as when we discuss the light fairies entering the room from our prism outside, or the water fairy that escaped the bathtub and made a mess on the floor. Its all in fun and sparks imagination, but never in deceit.
#3: Santa Bag over commercial boxes
I have one request from gift givers in my home and its too unbox the gift and wrap it in a plain box, bag, or tie a giant bow around it. I seek to create separation from the toy bought commercial goods and the thoughtful gifts given by friends, family and "Santa" (ie the spirit of Christmas
#4: Focus on Experiences
Christmas in our home starts with decorating the tree and the home together. We often have Christmas music playing, popcorn and hot cocoa and we delight in the unboxing of all the fun things we've collected over the years. We visit the library and check out books about Snow, penguins, polar bears, winter, moons, and Christmas! The best books are those by Elsa Beskow, Jan Brett and Astrid Lindgren.
We make a paper chain of red and green to count down the days, but I would like to move towards having an advent spiral in the home next year and an advent ring on the table with candles.
We make note of special events at school, or in the community, and around our home on the calendar to include tree lighting, caroling, Christmas parties, train rides, Christmas markets, parades, and shows and make reservations to attend.
Part of the joy of the season is the anticipation of the upcoming event, the planning, but most importantly the nostalgia experienced each year through the sights and sounds of the most magical time of the year.
My children will be spoiled by gifts by others in their life and I won't have much control over the gluttony of gifts or treats experienced when they're away from me, but I know in my heart of hearts, that my boys will always know Christmas with mom was magic and never about the presents as much as it was about imagination, joy, compassion, and togetherness!
Tis the season to find joy together,
van life with kids
I came home from eight days in a van with two five year olds half expecting a medal or badge of honor to be awaiting me on my doorstep, but none such medal was there! Truth be told, it wasn't all that bad because we planned accordingly and had taken several van trips as a couple and knew what to expect.
We picked the boys up from school and drive a few hours before stopping for dinner and then we let them sleep in the bed in the back before we arrived at an Airbnb for our first night. The trick to this is having pjs in their backpacks so they're easy to grab and their electric toothbrushes charged (and accessible) as well. I keep my overnight bag organized with toiletries and easy to slip on clothes as well so I'm only carrying in one bag from the van.
We drove the rest of the way the next morning to the redwoods after an easy breakfast of yogurt, fruit, boiled eggs and toast. Healthy items that are grab-n-go make the best for van trips. I made sandwiches en route and passed them out with apples once we arrived at the first stop. We hiked, stacked rocks, balanced across fallen logs and stood in awe of massive redwood trees together before deciding to check out the Trees of Mystery on our way to the coast. This is definitely a stop worth your while!!!
We always have cereal bars, pre-made smoothies, and cheese sticks on the ready as you know kids eat constantly. Snacking in the van helps the hours pass by. On the way to Beverley Beach where we camped our first night, we read stories, did puzzles, and the kids colored in the back. We tried to avoid screen time as much as possible and its amazing how kids will entertain themselves using...gasp...their imagination..when given no other choice.
The first night in the tent was rough, and looking back, we should've put the kids in sleeping bags instead of using the sleeping bags for cushioning in the tent. It was brutally cold so I slept with Cannon in the van after he gave me the "F this, mom" look around 2am.
We drove the Oregon coast over the next several days, stopping anywhere (and everywhere that looked cool). We decided the best course of action for the journey was to mix up some nights camping in tents, sometimes in the van, and sometimes in an Airbnb. We ate most meals in the van, but stopped occasionally for a meal at a restaurant and to use a decent bathroom.
The easiest camping meals were hamburger patties in foil over the fire, roasting hot dogs with beans I made in the van, and smoked salmon on toast with avocado and tomatoes for breakfast. Eggs are easy and only require one pot and sometimes I mix it up with cheese and tortilla chips for migas! We also keep the van pantry stocked with popcorn, nuts, crackers and grab-n-go veggies in the fridge like artichoke hearts or cherry tomatoes. Celery is easy to eat too and there's always peanut-butter around!
We spent the last few days of our trip in Mt Hood and Hood River, which is a gorgeous town! In fact, it was so unexpected that we didn't plan any time there other than to ride the Christmas train. But, I definitely would go out to Hood River again. Besides Bend, Id say Hood River is one of the few cities in Oregon where I don't feel like I've taken a time machine back 30 years.
Trees of Mystery
Cannon Beach (haystack rock and Ecola State Park)
Astoria Goonies House, Film Museum
Mt Hood: Mirror Lake Trail, Hood River
In sum, a week long trip with kids requires organization (storage cubes and individual backpacks), lots of easy-to-grab snacks, mixing up sleeping arrangements, and keeping everyone active and exploring! In just one week in Oregon, we saw redwoods, misty beaches, mossy forests, mountains, snow, rivers, and sand dunes. Oregon is the most underrated state as far as natural beauty goes, its politics in absolute turmoil, but definitely a state to spend some time in!
Keep exploring! -Chelsea
The 4 Elements
If you subscribe to my podcast, Whole Heart: Crunchy Parenting, then you may have caught the episode about the four elements- Fire Water Air and Earth and the value for young children to have an opportunity to play with all the elements, but there's also value in including the elements in the home. Incorporating all of the elements into your daily life can have a positive affect on your child's development and promote grounding and centeredness.
Let's do a little mental exercise before you write this off as hocus pocus!
Step 1) Close your eyes and picture a classroom inside a modern school building with white walls, state-of-the-art technology, tile floors and fluorescent lighting and a bathroom down the hallway.
Step 2) Now close your eyes and picture a home-based preschool with a fire going, a large garden area, treehouse, mud kitchen, and large windows. Bright art colors the walls and the smell of bread is coming from the oven.
Why is number two so comforting and inviting? It incorporates all of the elements of nature. We are animals and we thrive among the elements!
EARTH: mud kitchen, sandbox, gardening, clay play, beeswax crayons, silk scarves, wooden toys, felting, sewing, pottery, barefoot play, picking apples or berries, tree climbing, raking leaves, balancing rocks, chalk, crystal play, gemstone hunting, exploring caves, hiking
AIR: windows open, windchimes, blowing bubbles, feathers, flying kites, hammocks, prisms, flags, prisms
WATER: water table, bathtime, watercolors, tugboats, paddleboarding/canoeing, fishing
FIRE: pottery together, glass blowing demonstrations, fire place, making candles, candles at naptime and mealtime, baking bread together
Children thrive when they feel connected to nature. One of the top Waldorf schools is located smack dab in the middle of downtown Chicago; hardly a place kids can be outdoors all year around. But, the teachers bring nature inside!
Create a nature table that changes seasonally using items collected from outside and silk scarves matching the colors of the season. My kids use the Play Silks from Sarah's Silks and we add items from nature, festive fairies and gnomes, and sometimes a book or two for each season.
Add windchimes, windmills and prisms outside on the patio or perhaps put a temperature gauge on a bedroom window. A water gauge in the garden or flower bed is fun for kids to track rainfall as well!
Fire tends to add life to a room! We have our fireplace going daily all fall and winter now that we live in Oregon, but we also use candles before bedtime and the boys have a "fire fairy" at school who lights naptime candles to signal time for rest.
Fill your home with natural light, natural scents, and items made from natural materials. Toys made from natural materials have a living quality to them that enlivens the toy and helps the child feel more connected.
And...get outside! Play outside, eat outside, go for walks together as a family and vacation where natural beauty is the focus! You'll see a change in your child's behavior as they begin to feel more connected and grounded among the elements.
Setting Up Your Playroom
I see questions posted on social media often about how to set up a playroom and the best toys for each age. If you're setting up a playroom to impress your friends, then by all means, make it bright and colorful and fill it with hundreds of toys. However, if you're setting up a playroom with child development in mind- less is more.
An understated playroom is less about being a "trendy minimalist" and more to do with the multitude of benefits for your young child. Having a safe space to play freely and strengthen the head, heart, and body should be the top priority.
1) Muted tones
Gone are the days of obnoxiously colored walls, ABC and 123 wallpaper and toys that are more of an eyesore than a dirty diaper on a beautiful beach. In fact, it serves the child's best interest when the walls are painted a soft, muted tone, perhaps even Lazure peach, as this is calming to a young child whose senses are so open to receiving. Children can easily become overstimulated by too much color, but they also have the added benefit of decorating the space differently each day with their wonderous imagination. A blank space can be anything the child wants it to be and they can transport themselves to other worlds in their mind.
2) Everything at the child's level
I once had a college professor who said he dreamed of a world where every pediatrician's office, classroom, and children's hospital in the world featured child sized furniture and all the art was hung at the child's level, sending the message, "This space is for you", rather than serving the adult and expecting the child to adapt. The playroom should have child sized table and chairs, shelves they can reach, book nook on the floor, child sized costumes and role play, and art hung at the child's eye level.
3) Open ended toy only
When I see posts from mothers seeking the best toys for their 18 month old and their 3yr old I cringe! The right kind of toys should be enjoyable to a child from age 12m to 4 or 5 years old. The way the toy is used will change as the child develops, but the toys dont change. The child changes. For example, I bought 5 wooden spheres from Hobby Lobby and pained them different colors one year when my boys were small. They carried them in their pockets and rolled them around at that age. When they were three, these same spheres became the sun, moon, and the planets. Around age four, they used these as dinosaur eggs, apples, or currency to trade each other for things they wanted. Open ended toys are toys that don't "do" anything, but instead allow the child to "do" something with. They can be anything the child wants them to be because they're unformed, undefined, and they don't make noise or light up.
My favorite places for toys are Etsy for "Waldorf toys", Palumba, Goodwill figurines, Bella Luna Toys, Nova Natural, Magic Cabin or handmade toys. If you're fortunate enough to have a Waldorf school in your area, find out if they have a store and check it out!
Thanks for playin', Chelsea
Parenting expert, blogger, inventor, single mom to twins, barefoot nomad, adventure seeker, boho spirit, advocate of play