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Archives for : nonfiction

Free Range Chicken Gardens

Jessi Bloom’s Free-Range Chicken Gardens: How to Create a Beautiful, Chicken-Friendly Yard, available at the end of January, is the quintessential book for chicken owners and gardeners alike. Chock full of information for the chicken novice, Bloom’s book makes a compelling argument for allowing chickens to free range in your garden to create a symbiotic environment benefitting plants, chickens, and their human counterparts. With pertinent and practical information, this inspirational book will have the urban or suburban (or even rural) gardener or chicken owner making the cross-over to a mutually beneficial and sustainable free range chicken garden.

Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.

Previously posted at Living Peacefully with Children.

The Five Love Languages of Children

The Five Love Languages of Children, by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell, is not in and of itself a book about consensual living. It does skirt the issue of consensual living, though, and has merit for some parents. The book as a whole would be stronger if the authors had chosen to make the book either secular or religious, instead of their attempt at straddling both worlds. The outside of the book and publisher reviews make no reference to religious content. Single biblical references in each of the first two chapters lead to long Christian sections further in the book. Parents looking for a book without religious references will be sorely disappointed by the inclusion of religious references and opinion. Parents looking for a religious reference would be better served with a book that is straight forward regarding its references and position and which continues that theme throughout the entire book.

The book begins by addressing unconditional love, a term made more popular by Alfie Kohn. This is a concept often misunderstood by mainstream parents, and the authors clarify that while parents may always love their children, it’s the perception of the child that matters. This is an important distinction to make for parents. The concept of a love well, similar to Lawrence Cohen’s love cup, is also addressed at the beginning and utilized throughout the book. It is important that our children feel loved, and the book adequately addresses this fact. However, the beginning of the book, as well as various other parts, seem to meander around without clear focus, perhaps as a result of having two authors writing together; although other authors in a similar partnership, such as Faber and Mazlish, seem to do just fine with this approach.

The center portion of the book addresses what the authors refer to as the five love languages, defined by them as: physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, and acts of service. The love languages seem to be loosely based on neuro-linguistic programming, with an emphasis on communication. I can’t argue with the concept of good communication and conveying to your children that you love them unconditionally. However, the overall concept is better explored with non-violent communication and other books on connection parenting. The authors begin addressing the concept of authority and the training of children towards the end of this section.

The last third of the book focuses greatly on training your children properly with love. The concept of training children stems from the belief held by many conservative religions that children are inherently bad and that without our help, they are incapable of making good decisions. This is not a concept held by families practicing consensual living nor by the world of psychology in general. The authors go on to end the book by addressing how their particular religious beliefs affect their parenting and how it should affect yours.

I would recommend this book to Christian parents who aren’t quite on board with consensual living or non-coercive parenting, but who are looking for more gentle ways to interact with and communicate with their children. Consensually living families will find the concepts of unconditional love and the expression of such more adequately addressed in other books.

Previously posted at Living Peacefully with Children

Free Range Kids

In April 2008, Lenore Skenazy wrote an article for The New York Sun entitled Why I Let My 9-Year Old Ride the Subway Alone. There was a lot of feedback from this article. Parents were outraged that she allowed her child alone on a subway. Parents were thrilled to see another parent allowing her child freedom. She was immediately called by television studios for interviews. Later she began her blog Free Range Kids and wrote a book entitled the same, Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry. There was a lot of publicity in the radical unschooling world prior to the book’s release. I have to admit I felt some excitement about it and considered pre-ordering it. The price at the time held me back. My ideals of simplicity gave me enough common sense to know that I should probably check the book out and read it before spending hard-earned cash for my personal library.

It took our public library a while to get the book in. In fact, I just recently was able to request it and read it. I sat down to read the book and was immediately drawn by the fact that it started out very conversationally – promising to be a quick read, something every time pressed parent of many young children appreciates. I found myself thinking that many parents would enjoy that aspect, however, I found that I did not. I would have enjoyed a book which read like a novel, with great insight and some research. Instead, the book is written in the manner that (admittedly, I presume here) Skenazy speaks. I have to say that it really grated on me and I contemplated not finishing the book many times. I have an affinity for complete sentences.

During the 200+ pages of the book, the author attempts to make her point against helicopter parenting by giving example after example of over the top control. One can only read so much of this before thinking that enough is enough. She states several times that parents also need to lighten up on each other and not judge, but she doesn’t give other parents that same respect she asks for, continually joking about other parents and being quite harsh at times. While some may find her style humorous, I don’t enjoy spending my time reading about one parent degrading others, whichever side I happen to agree with. It grows old quickly, and I found myself freqeuntly checking to see how much I had left to read. She stated that we shouldn’t pay attention to so called parenting experts, and then would repeat other parenting experts to support her side.

The crux of the matter is that in order to allow our children more freedom, we need to know our kids and trust them. A healthy dose of common sense goes a long way and will help your entire family to enjoy life more. With those two sentences, I’ve just saved you some valuable time reading the book and preserving your sanity while preventing eye strain from rolling your eyes and dental bills from grinding your teeth.

If you are really interested in what true dangers are out there and how to put your mind at ease, instead I recommend picking up a copy of Gavin de Becker’s Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe. It’s definitely worth the time to read and occasionally review.

Previously posted at Living Peacefully with Children

Raising a Thinking Child

Most parents want their children to be equipped to handle life when they are grown. The skills needed to do this are ones that we can help them with right now. Rather than handling situations for them, and hence taking responsibility for our children, we can show responsibility to our children by helping them to problem solve and handle conflicts on their own. Myrna Shure has addressed not only the philosophy behind helping children learn how to think rather than what to think in her book Raising a Thinking Child: Help Your Young Child to Resolve Everyday Conflicts and Get Along with Others, but has gone the step further so often requested by parents by going through numerous examples of how exactly to do this.

Shure begins by explaining the principle concepts of Interpersonal Cognitive Problem Solving, generally referred to as I Can Problem Solve (ICPS), which has been successfully used in home and institutional settings for decades. According to the book, ICPS will help you:

  • increase your awareness that your child’s view may differ from your own;
  • see that helping your child think a problem through may in the long run help more than immediate action to stop what she is doing;
  • provide a model of problem-solving thinking for your children – as a thinking parent, you might inspire your child to think.

ICPS will help your children:

  • think about what to do when they face a problem with another person;
  • think about different way sto solve the same problem;
  • think about the consequences of what they do;
  • decide whether or not an idea is a good one;
  • realize that other people have feelings and think about their own feelings too.

The concepts in the book were not new to me. As part of striving for a consensually living family, we try to brainstorm solutions as a family or help our children think through their own problems to come up with their own solutions. When people develop their own solutions, they are much more likely to implement and follow through with them. What makes Shure’s book unique is that she goes through specific key words to use during dialogues and has numerous examples to help parents new to using this type of technique.

Reading through the examples, I was struck with the thought that the process and word choice was almost patronizing to children and adults alike. I couldn’t imagine going through the examples with my children. However, as I continued through the book, I was immediately struck by the example given where the mother stepped in, using ICPS techniques with her children when the father, who had less opportunity to practice these techniques, was frustrated and reaching his limit. That was the moment when I realized the value of the given examples for families, children and parents, who are new to such concepts and are looking for key words to help them in the learning process.

As the title implies, the examples in the book are geared toward families with young children. They would need to be adapted quite a bit for familes with older children (or even some familes with younger children) so that the kids didn’t feel as if they were being spoken down to. However, the main philosophical concepts are relevant to all families and individuals for thinking through conflict and resolution.

Shure shows in her examples that children are empowered by solving their own problems. Yet, she also advocates liberal use of praise in order to get children to practice these new found skills. In my opinion, the book and concepts in general would be strengthened by removing the use of praise.

 

Previously posted at Living Peacefully with Children

A Ride on Mother’s Back

For families who are living differently from mainstream America, it can often be difficult to find children’s books which reflect our own values. Emery Bernhard has a lovely book entitled A Ride on Mother’s Back: A Day of Baby Carrying Around the World which appeals to attachment parenting families everywhere. The book takes a look at how different families in different cultures around the world go about their days with securely attached babies and children. While the title of the book specifically mentions mothers, the book shows many relatives sharing in the babywearing, including siblings, fathers, and grandparents. The brief glance into other cultures, along with a slightly expanded bit of information at the back of the book, is appealing to older children. Babies and toddlers love reading books about others their age. This book gives a nice opportunity for those families who practice attachment parenting to share with thei rchildren about other babywearing families. My children have all loved the book when they were little and continue to do so as they grow older.

Parenting From the Inside Out

Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell is an informative and insightful book. Our previous experiences have lasting effects on future experiences. If we don’t take the time to process our own pasts – good and bad, we are destined to repeat history. While I didn’t find any of the information to be new, the biological and psychological processes were very interesting. That being said, I wouldn’t recommend the book for many individuals due to the technical nature of much of the book. If you are looking for a good parenting book addressing healing yourself from your childhood and separating yourself in order to be fully present with your children, I would steer you instead to Naomi Aldort’s Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves.

Previously posted at Living Peacefully with Children

It’s So Amazing

After reading It’s Not the Stork with my children, I had high hopes for It’s So Amazing, the next book in the series by Robie Harris, geared for ages 7 and up. I decided to read the book before sharing it with my children, as I wasn’t quite certain what the difference between the two books would be. For the most part, the book builds on information presented in It’s Not the Stork, with the added topics of puberty and HIV/AIDS.

Harris addresses HIV in her previous matter of fact manner. She also takes a similar view point for bringing up the terms of hetero- and homosexuality. After going over the basics of puberty and briefly discussing sexual intercourse, birth control is mentioned, which may be uncomfortable for some families. However, it is not a definitive guide, only mentioning condoms and birth control pills, and is more an opening to discuss the concept with your children, ending with the fact that abstinence is the only way to completely avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

I had the same complaint with this book as its predecessor in regards to its reference to intact penises as uncircumcised. In this book, she goes further to say that both are normal. While our society’s vernacular isn’t quite what it used to be, accepted would be a better term for circumcised penises than normal. Society accepts individuals with both intact and circumcised penises, but there is nothing normal about cutting off a part of someone’s body. She also once again mentions in her discussion of okay versus not okay touches that it is acceptable for a doctor or nurse to touch a child’s private parts. It is never acceptable for one person to touch another person without their permission.

She also lost a little respect in this book by presenting to the mainstream crowd when it comes to childbirth. Not everyone chooses to have an attendant, which isn’t left as an unsaid option in this book. Women, in almost all cases except for when there are rare problems, are perfectly capable of birthing a child and do better when not inhibited and without interventions. Mainstream choices such as immediate cord cutting and delayed skin contact with the mother are also stated as fact rather than choice. While she mentions c-sections as an alternative birthing method, the word normal is once again inappropriately used. Surgery, while accepted, is never normal.

I ended up choosing not to share this book with my children. The greatest reason is that they haven’t shown any interest in discussing puberty more than we already have. They are still young, although we will probably be discussing the topic in greater detail in the next couple of years. However, I think there must be a better book out there for when they decide they do want to explore the topic in more depth.

Previously posted at Living Peacefully with Children

Positive Discipline

In her book Positive Discipline, Jane Nelsen approaches the topics of gentle and non-punitive parenting from an Adlerian point of view. She introduces the four R’s of punishment – resentment, revenge, rebellion, and retreat – and focuses her version of positive discipline as one which works toward mutually acceptable goals and solutions. The book has a lot of good information in it, although this is not the book I would recommend to parents new to the concept of consensual living or non-punitive parenting.

Nelsen writes as though she is lecturing, which ironically she advocates against (small pun intended). While she provides review questions at the end of each chapter, supposedly for discussion, they read as text book assignments. In an attempt to cover a multitude of ideas, the book tends to be repetitive and drawn out. This isn’t a book that grabs you with inspiration, compelling you to turn pages. I do find the book useful for quiet contemplation for those who are comfortably practicing  consensual living and actively working toward their own growth as parents and individuals.

Previously posted at Living Peacefully with Children

I Love You Rituals

Sometimes parents get so caught up in the physical acts of parenting, that they forget about the emotional acts of parenting. Becky Bailey presents the idea of making rituals in order to reconnect with our children in her book I Love You Rituals. While much of the book is targeted to parents and caregivers with young children, I think many parents could benefit from reading her book.

The first couple of chapters seemed to drag on a bit, but she started getting to the heart of the matter in chapter two. In line with other writers of non-coercive parenting, Bailey discusses the concept of unconditional love. She takes her explanation a step further by clarifyng it as unconditional affection. Just as others have written, most parents always love their children. The disconnect is in the child’s perception – based on our actions. Children need to experience our unconditional love as unconditional affection.

I’ve often heard from people who would be sold on the idea of non-coercive parenting if the idea of praise was part of the concept. Some people exclaim that they themselves love hearing praise, and therefore they refuse to take that away from their children. I believe that Bailey hits a key point. It isn’t praise that people long to hear, it is feedback that they truly want. They aren’t really looking for a “Good Job” when they clean the kitchen, go to work, take care of the kids, or do any of the other things we as parents do on a daily basis. What they really want is feedback. They want to hear that someone noticed what they did and possibly whether or not that person appreciated their effort. The same applies to our children. They don’t need to hear that you think they did a good job at something, they just want acknowledgement that you saw them do it. They want specific feedback without judgement because in listening to feedback, they know you are there for them, and yet they are free to make their own decisions about their actions.

I Love You Rituals are things we can do to reconnect with our children, both in normal times and in times of undo stress. It’s that connection with our children that allows us to work together as a team in order to solve problems. Bailey addresses the idea of authority in a different light, using the root of the word. Parents as authorities do not impose their will on their children. It is impossible to truly control another person. Instead, she suggests that we use our authority to lead the situation away from where it is going and reconnect with our children in times if stress (whatever they may be) by using rituals.

The rest of the book has suggestions for love rituals. There is an extensive section on finger plays which would be quite appropriate for toddlers, although she does address activities for elementary aged kids at the end of the book. Overall, it’s a good book, and I think she has found a unique way of explaining some of the NCP/CL concepts. The examples of love rituals would be helpful for parents and caregivers of young children who need a little help coming up with ideas.

Previously posted at Living Peacefully with Children

It’s Not the Stork

Due to recent discussions and inquiries about sex at our house, I had requested the book It’s Not the Stork by Robie Harris from our local library. Based on some of the reviews on Amazon, I was expecting a book for older kids and was a little surprised to see the circle on the front as saying it was for ages 4 +.  I agree that this book is completely appropriate for that age group.

The book is honest and straight forward and answers some seemingly complex questions in a simple way that children can understand. The simple cartoon-like illustrations, while anatomically correct, are modest and not at all graphic. Harris addresses both similarities and differences between the bodies of men and women, girls and boys. She takes a non-biased view on issues, keeping everything to the facts.

I liked the fact that while it stated that most babies are born in the hospital (I would personally add in the United States to this statement), that some are born at home. While not mentioning it specifically, he doesn’t leave out unassisted birth due to his statement that many moms have someone help them out and equally mentions doctors and nurses along with midwives and doulas. No where is it stated that all women utilize these people.

The first part of the book focuses on correct terminology of body parts, utilizing a style shown in many board books where body parts are labeled with a line pointing to them. It focuses solely on reproduction after introducing terminology, mainly focusing on anatomy and what happens after the egg is fertilized. One statement explains that the man places his penis into the woman’s vagina during sex. This is the only mention of that and frankly, it’s needed after your children pass the stage where they want to know exactly how sperm reaches the egg. Contrary to one Amazon reviewers claim that the associated illustrated is soft porn, the picture merely shows a man and woman in bed covered up with a quilt. Since most people in our society sleep in bed with some type of covering, I’m not certain how that could be construed as something else.

The book goes on to cover how a baby is formed and grows. Despite the cartoonish nature of the drawings, I’ve noticed my five year old picking the book up to look at the babies and the mother’s pregnant bellies. Harris briefly mentions some of the needs newborn babies have, again taking an unbiased view on topics such as breastfeeding and bottle feeding. I was delighted to see an illustration of a mother tandem nursing her newborn twins.

After addressing reproduction, the author briefly goes over what are okay touches and what are not –  that it’s okay for you to touch your private parts if it tickles and feels good but that it is not okay for others to touch you. She also mentions that families can look very different, including all of the many children in our society who live in a family that doesn’t conform to the typical nuclear family.

Besides some initial giggling from my children at the beginning of the book with the mention of poop (why is it that children find poop so funny?), I mainly thought the book was very well written and illustrated. There were two things I would change. In the illustrations which show the differences between an intact penis and a circumcised penis, discussed with Harris’s unbiased writing style, the intact penis is labelled uncircumcised. Since penises are naturally intact, this really is not a correct way to describe them. The other part was in the discussion of who is allowed to touch your private parts. The author mentions that it is okay for doctors to touch you in order to help you. I personally skipped over that part. It’s my opinion that it is unacceptable for anyone to touch another person’s private parts without permission.

The book is geared for toddlers and preschool age children. With younger children, one could easily skip over parts that they weren’t quite ready for. I was pleased with the content of the book and look forward to exploring some of the author’s books for older children.

Previously posted at Living Peacefully with Children.