Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Latham Family Adventures: Poor People

     The Little Lathams were fascinated by the idea of being “poor”. Being too young to realize the heartbreak of true poverty, they based their ideas on the stories we read together. Many folk and fairy tales feature clever characters that must rely solely on wit and ingenuity to survive. These characters not only seemed to have a multitude of adventures, but many times they turned out to be the heroes of the stories.

     So was the mind-set when the children set out to play a game they called “Poor People”. Barefoot and dressed in raggedy clothes, the only thing they took was a basket or bag for gathering. They left me with some advice, “Be careful what you leave outside…there might be poor people around who would take things from your yard.” “Yeah, like lemonade!”  

    Off they went to fend for themselves. It was a scraggly group sneaking around in the garden. They gathered green beans from the vine, onions and anything else that looked ripe enough to eat! (They consumed more vegetables as poor people than they did at the dinner table!). Sooner or later the poor people ended up at the huge patch of wild blackberries at the edge of the property. There, they feasted until their fingers were stained purple.

     Next, they decided it was getting dark. The poor people would have to bed down for the night. They chose a spot under the trees and curled up, five in a row.  They pretended to sleep through a long night (about 10 minutes).  

    At some point in the day, I rambled outside with a jug of lemonade and some cups. I settled at the picnic table for a while, and then suddenly realized that I had left something in the house. I ran back in completely forgetting about my lemonade! It didn’t take long before five dirty faces peered around the tree trunks along the edge of the woods. Two of the motley figures dashed into the yard.  They made off with the goods and disappeared back into the trees with the others cheering them on.

      Hansel and Gretel would be proud!


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Small People Love Small Places

It was a great day when my husband brought home a big, empty box from the appliance store! There were three preschoolers in the family at the time and they took one look and knew just what they wanted. They wanted to be inside that box! The cardboard lasted a couple of weeks before falling to bits. It became a play house, pirate ship, and school bus.

Then there was the two month period when my daughter practically lived in the wooden cradle we brought home for her soon-to-be little brother. She took everything she needed into that cradle to stay busy: toys, crayons, books, stuffed animals. Busy, she stayed. And happy, too, for quite a while every day!
As our children got to be a little older, they still gravitated toward those spots that made their play more private, cozy. In the yard, was a huge cedar tree with drooping branches. The ground under the tree was soft and dry. It was a great place to play, hidden away from the rest of the world.

I always thought it was cute to see kids playing happily in a place all their own. But now, I realize there was more to it than that. Kids need to feel safe and in control of their surroundings now and then. As an adult, can you imagine what it would feel like to experience something new every day in a giant, noisy world? I know I get overwhelmed sometimes by the fast pace and extreme-ness of life. My safe place is the snug corner of my couch. I often go there with a piping hot cup of coffee!
Of course, we as parents want to challenge and stimulate our children. We want them to keep exploring and experiencing our giant, noisy, wonderful world. They do have to grow up after all!

But, there are also times when we need to provide them with an environment they can totally manage on their own. Let them feel safe in a niche just their size. Give them a place where they can create and pretend. You’ll be amazed at the growing that can take place there, too.  
So what do you say? Isn’t today a good day to drape that bed sheet over the table and watch the kids disappear into their own little kingdom?


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

You Never Know When They're Listening

As a young adult, I’d been around kids a lot. I had worked as a nanny and in preschools, daycares, and camp programs. Then I had my first child, a girl. And she was as cute as a button! However, I soon found out that bringing home my own little person to care for was different from anything I had experienced. Plus, this child was nothing like me. She didn’t like to sleep…my favorite thing. She didn’t like to eat… also my favorite thing. And she didn’t like to ride in the car…I never screamed my head off during an entire two hour drive! The best way to describe her behavior is to say that she seemed to be really, really annoyed by the fact that she was a baby. (Now, when my second child was born, he spent a lot of time sleeping and rolling around playing with his toes. He enjoyed being a baby!)

Naptime and bedtime were daily battles with my daughter. I spent a long time reading, rocking, singing, standing on my head – whatever it took – to get her to close her eyes. When I was near exhaustion, she would finally drift off for her usual 30 minute nap! I developed the habit of bending over her when I was positive she was asleep and whispering very softly in her ear, “Mommy loves you so much.” I’m not sure if this was to remind her or me of my love after the prolonged agony of night-night time. Either way, I did love her so much at that quiet moment and wanted to tell her. It was a ritual that I continued throughout the years with my other four children.
One day I eavesdropped on that two year old as she played with her doll. I watched as she fed the baby and tickled and rocked her.  Then, when my daughter decided it was nap time, she put the doll down on a blanket. As I continued to watch, I saw an amazing thing. My daughter leaned over that baby doll and whispered in her ear, “Mommy loves you so much”! I couldn’t believe it! She was too young and too ornery to feign sleep when I was whispering those words in her ear! So, how did she know?  I can only think that she must have heard me even as she slept.

I look back at all those child-raising years and remember the talks, explanations, and lectures I handed out to my five children. I find myself wondering if they heard any of it. Did they listen? Did they understand? You know, mothers worry about these things.

Then I recall that little two year old girl whispering to her dolly and I think perhaps they did hear.  And perhaps they were listening when I said  the most important words of all.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Latham Family Adventures: Back to the Keep!

     One autumn at the Latham place, we were visited by some enormous logging trucks.  The trucks went in and out of our woods, taking away some of the old trees. When the work was done, there were huge gaping tire tracks left in the soft ground. Eyesore, you ask? Not for the Little Lathams!

     It just so happened, that the children and I had been reading together a lot that fall.  Our favorite topic was the Middle Ages. We read every book on medieval knights, castles, and weapons that we could find. The Little Lathams took one look at the sloppy mess in our front yard and knew just what to do. They donned helmets and armor (as well as they could fashion from cardboard and old costumes) and headed outside.

     Once outside our door, the hands of time turned back to the year 1200 A.D.  The ground was lumpy and the trenches filled with water from a fall rain. A game began to take shape.  

     I saw the knights gather near the castle wall. Perhaps they were discussing battle strategies. The knights then ventured outside the castle walls to engage the approaching (and apparently invisible) enemy. The skirmish raged a short while, then things began to look bad for our noble warriors. The leader decided it was time for retreat. “Back to the Keep!” he would shout at the top of his lungs!

     At the sound of the cry, I turned to look out of the window and saw an amazing sight.  A mad scramble took place as the knights charged back toward the castle. They clambered up the mounds of earth and catapulted themselves over the moat. After much splashing and sloshing, our champions were all safe inside the keep. They would rest a bit, brag about their exploits and head out to fight again.

     The Little Latham knights were as brave as any we had read about in our books. And they never gave up defending the castle – for at least 50 battles they fought that day. Each one ended with the serious command “Back to the Keep!”…followed by cheers and laughter!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Book Review: The Princess and the White Bear King

 The Princess and the White Bear King by Tanya Robyn Batt
The Princess and the White Bear King


My family loves folk tales and books with amazing illustrations. The Princess and the White Bear King is both of these things! Beautifully written by Tanya Robyn Batt, the story includes elements from three different European folk tales woven into a simple, but captivating story. The language used by the author is fitting for such a timeless tale and the illustrations by Nicoletta Ceccoli are gorgeous!

     The heroine in this story makes a mistake (as we all do, right?) and when she realizes what she’s done, she goes about setting things right. Her perseverance and ingenuity pay off with a very happy ending. This is a great read aloud book that is requested over and over again at my house.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Latham Family Adventures: All Things Baseball

     When the oldest Latham boy turned ten years old, he joined a little league baseball team. Up to that point, his baseball training wasn’t very formal. He and his siblings were introduced to the game by their dad. Being a ball player and avid fan of the game, Dad wanted them to learn all about it. He taught them the basic skills needed to hit the ball, catch, and throw. That was the beginning of many sessions of batting practice and fielding grounders.
     All the Little Lathams loved the time spent playing ball with Dad, but some of them (the boys in particular) took the game one step further. As long as they had a ball and something that resembled a bat, they were ready to play. And they were good at incorporating baseball into other games they played on a daily basis!
     For example, jumping on the trampoline. It was no longer enough to bounce and flip around. They created a game that involved someone on the ground throwing pop flies to the person on the tramp. The fielder was required to make the fanciest catch possible. This hopefully involved nabbing the ball in mid-flight, landing with a roll of some kind and not breaking any bones.
      Another activity turned baseball-ish was a summertime favorite. The slip-n-slide! A long sheet of plastic was placed in the grass. Next, a garden hose poured a stream of water from one end. This made a wonderfully sloppy base path. Three players were required to play this game. Luckily, we had three Little Latham guys. Player One pretended to catch a pop fly. Player Two tagged up at third and ran toward home on the sip-n-slide.  And Player Three was the catcher. This last fellow tried to tag the runner after receiving a blistering throw from Player One. Of course, the runner slid the entire length of the plastic sheet, face first through the water. And of course, there was always some kind amazing tag out at the plate!
     They had a blast and played for hours keeping scores and statistics. Now I watch them play ball in high school and college. Judging from the bumps and bruises they bring home, I’d say those “fancy catches” were much easier back when they were Little Lathams playing on their trampoline!


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Can Kids Still Create?

A common theme is emerging in my blog entries. I’m worried about our kids. Specifically, I’m worried about how America's kids will grow up in a healthy manner amidst all the technology.
Why does technology exist? To make tasks easier, faster, and more efficient. To provide short cuts in our work so we are free to engage in leisure activities involving yet more technology??
Where, in this world of quick answers, immediate communication, and constant mental stimulation does the creative process live? Will we have a society full of people who don’t know the joy of creating? In generations past, creativity was a necessary part of life. Folks sewed, built, cooked, made music. And what about the crafting of a good old-fashioned letter? I wonder if our kids today are able to slow down long enough to put their thoughts together. Then, with proper grammar and without the help of Wikipedia, can they put pen to paper and create something they are proud of?
Like I said, I’m worried.
I’m thinking of my future grandchildren. The image in my mind doesn't involve little golden haired cherubs staring intently at computer screens. (I’ve seen two year olds navigate the buttons and icons on an iPad with scary proficiency!) Rather, I hope to see my progeny in environments which allow them to think and create. In art rooms, workshops, kitchens, gardens. The possibilities are endless. The creative process can thrive alongside all the technology. After all, our kids must live in a high tech world and will surely benefit from the many advances. The challenge for parents is to make time and provide materials and opportunities for kids to create.
I know the joy of creating something. It is the feeling I wish for all of our children. It is the feeling of using what God put inside each of us: patience, energy, ideas, and love. The finished product does not have to be amazing, but I guarantee the process will be.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Latham Family Adventures: Ozark Pioneers

      The Little Lathams spent hours and hours listening to stories being read aloud to them by their father and me. This was the primary source of education when they were young! Consequently, their play often imitated the stories they heard.
     One particular area of study centered on the early years of our fine nation. The kids loved hearing about the Native Americans and their way of life, as well as the adventurous folks who settled here with their families. The idea of exploring and taming a new land intrigued the Little Lathams and they had many games which allowed them to become pioneers on our 20 acres of Ozark wilderness.
     They loved to trek about the woods. They even created their own covered wagon. Using long slender branches, they formed a ballooning archway and mounted it to their old American Flyer. Then they covered it with a sheet. It actually looked authentic from a distance. The only trouble was, there was only room for one pioneer to ride at a time. And that meant someone else had to pull the wagon...
     And pioneer children had to play, so the Little Lathams were anxious to try out games and entertainment they read about in books such as Little House on the Prairie. It seems that children of that time had great fun doing something they called tree-topping. This activity consisted of locating a young, pliable tree. We had plenty of these on our property. Next, the top of the tree is bent over toward the ground and tightly gripped by a child standing next to the tree. Each Latham took his turn to be the tree-topper. Now it is time for the fun. Still hanging on to the branch, the child begins jumping. If the tree has a flexible nature and if the child is the ideal weight, a really funny thing happens! The child is able to jump very high with the help of the branch which is trying to return to its upright position. With each jump, the child goes a little higher and even feels like he is flying for a moment. I'll admit, some of the Little Lathams didn't go more than three or four feet off of the ground, but still they shrieked with delight.  One did manage to fly ten feet up in the air holding tightly to the branch. He must have had the right combination of tree and weight. Or it could be that the Little Latham I refer to was just a particularly bouncy boy!

Friday, September 28, 2012

I Love this Essay from Memoria Press

Once Upon a Time at Home: Why you should read aloud to your children
by Martin Cothran
Kindergarten Read Aloud Set One Saturday many years ago, when even my oldest children were young, we had a visit from two friends of ours. They were not quite my parents’ age, but they were old enough that they had just become grandparents. We invited them in, and, as happened when anyone entered our home at that time, they were beset with children.
Not everyone takes such things well, but for these friends, it was a welcome imposition. After a few formalities, Jim sat down on our living room couch and grabbed a children’s picture book, and my two oldest children, my son and my daughter automatically sat down next to him, and he read them a story as my wife and I—and Jim’s wife Renee—looked on.
In the process of just a few short minutes, a friendship was formed. I regret to say that we got together with Jim and Renee only a time or two in the ensuing years. But in that one moment there was an immediate bond of shared wonder between these two friends and my children, woven from a simple story.
Something about the act of reading aloud is communal. To read by yourself is to involve only one person, but to read aloud is to involve you and someone else—perhaps several people, all of whom are hearing the same thing at the same time from the same book read in the same voice. This is the first benefit of reading aloud: it makes a community out of those who had been mere individuals.
I don’t remember what Jim read to my children that day. Maybe it was Green Eggs and Ham, or The Story of Ferdinand, or possibly Mike Mulligan’s Steam Shovel.  It could have been a hundred others: we had them all.
I spend a lot of my time writing and speaking on education issues, and I frequently have occasion to extol the virtues of reading aloud to children. In my opinion, it is one of the most important ways, not only of bringing our individualistic modern selves together, but of simply introducing children to the wonder of reality. This is its second benefit: It brings a sort of enchantment into their everyday lives.
A very young child, of course, does not recognize the distinction between reality and magic. To a child, everything seems fantastic.  “When we are very young”, said G. K. Chesterton “we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door.”
When our first child was only about a year old, we began reading to him at bedtime and ushering him into the world of Wynken, Blynken and Nod. I am quite confident that he had no trouble at all with the idea that three children, one night,
Sailed off in a wooden shoe—
Sailed on a river of crystal light,
Into a sea of dew.
To him it would have seemed no more fantastic to sail off in a shoe than sailing off in a ship. In fact, to such a child raised on such poetry, sailing in something as mundane as a ship might seem positively unnatural.
Some of the books that so enchanted our children in this way had ushered my wife and me into the world as well. When our other children were born, we plied them with other favorites, such as Dr. Seuss’ The Sleep Book, our copy of which still bears, inside the front cover, an annotation: “1122 Bedroom Lane, Storybookland.” It was written there by my wife when she was a little girl.
And above my daughter’s bed, in a cross stitch sampler my late mother-in-law sewed for her children, was a prayer:
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take
My wife would often pray it with her before she kissed her goodnight, and it was in one of the several books of children’s poetry we had on our shelves.
We read Little Toot, The Little Red Hen, Little Women, and The Little Engine that Could. We read The Little Princess, Little Britches, The Three Little Pigs, and Stuart Little. We read The Little Farm, The Little House, and Little House on the Prairie. Then, of course, there was The Story of Doctor Doolittle and the Little Golden Books, as well as Policeman Small, Fireman Small, Farmer Small—and, last as well as least, The Teeny Tiny Woman.
We read The Big Wave, The Book of Giant Stories, and Danny and the Dinosaur.
We worked our way up from One Horse Farm and One Was Johnny, to The Three Billy Goats Gruff , and The Five Chinese Brothers, and then on up to Ten Apples Up On Top. We went Around the World in Eighty Days, and counted “… hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats” (an expression we sometimes used of my mother’s farm in Kansas, where there seemed to be too many cats to count).
There were certain picture book illustrators and authors who became perennial family favorites: Bill Peet (The Caboose Who Got Loose, Cyrus the Seasick Sea Serpent, and The Wingdingdilly), Paul Galdone (Henny Penny, The Gingerbread Boy, and Hansel & Gretel), and Edward Lear (The Owl and the Pussycat, The Jumblies, and The Pelican Chorus).
Each book was a fairy wand, waved over our home. Whenever we heard a loud explosion, it was Drummer Hoff, firing it off. Our home was not just good, it was The Best Nest. And sometimes the last one in got a swat on the bottom, just like Ping.
And every bean was a magic bean.
Dr. Seuss worked his way subtly into our consciousness. If you were out too late and we had to go looking you, and we found you in the dark, we would take you home. We would call you “Clark.” And if someone offered you something you didn’t like, you could simply explain that you didn’t like it here or there, you didn’t like it anywhere.
Having been read Where the Wild Things Are, my children knew, when they were told, “I’ll eat you up I love you so,” just how much love that meant. They had been read P. D. Eastman’s Are You My Mother? and so they knew what to think when, after saying “Mommy?!” to get their mother’s attention while she was trying to get supper together, she responded impatiently, “I am not your mother. I am a snort!”
In fact, the kitchen was often a place of instruction and admonition in practical wisdom born of books. There was more than one cake baked there about which it was asked “Who will eat this cake?” And always there was a chorus of “I wills” from the very voices who had answered “Not I” when the question was who would help to make it. The message was understood, but always the voice that could have said “Then I will eat it!” was merciful.
We laughed when Betsy made “everything stew” and it tasted awful in Betsy-Tacy—and when  Jack outwitted the giants in The Jack Tales. But it wasn’t only delight we found in books. One night, my wife came back into the living room after having read a chapter in Anne of Green Gables to my daughter, the half-opened book hanging limply from her hand. I could tell she had been crying. Matthew, Anne’s beloved adoptive uncle, had died.
Bedtime wasn’t the only time they were read to. As part of our home school day, they were read to in the early afternoon, usually after lunch. One of my fondest memories is the many times I passed by the living room and poked my head in to see my wife sitting on the sofa, with one child in her lap, one sitting next to her coloring in a book, and another on the floor quietly playing as she read the Bible.
And this a third benefit that comes from reading aloud: These were not only learning the Bible by listening. They were learning to listen. Listening, like reading and writing and figuring, is a skill.
And this training in how to listen extended even to the dinner table. After supper, I would push the dishes away, grab a book, and begin reading. These were usually chapter books. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, Rascal, by Sterling North, The Good Master, by Kate Seredy, Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt, Pollyanna, by Eleanor Porter, The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald, and Charlotte’s Web and Trumpet of the Swan, by E. B. White. In addition to the Little House on the Prairie books and the Chronicles of Narnia, there were books we read again and again as dessert was served: Penrod, by Booth Tarkington, and Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien.
I don’t know how well my children remember all of these books. I suspect they remember most of them. I know I remember them.
But as Chesterton points out, it is not the very young child who needs this magic the most: The older the child, the more such magic should be mandatory. In fact, it is the oldest children—adults themselves—who often benefit the most. Everything these stories touched was transformed, and even the most mundane of circumstances was cast in a new light.
Occasionally I would notice my wife missing, and after searching for a few minutes would find her sitting up on our bed reading a magazine, her back propped up on a pillow. Around her wriggled the signs that her search for a few moments of solitude had been unsuccessful. She would look up at me, put a loving hand on the head of the squirming child nearest her, and with a bemused expression say, “I do not like this bed at all. A lot of things have come to call.”
More than once I would be working at the dining room table long after the voice of my wife, reading in the next room, had become but background noise. All of a sudden I would realize that the children had all escaped to the back yard long ago, and there was silence in the house. I would poke my head in the living room, where she would still be sitting on the couch, reading the same book. “Are you okay?” I would ask. “Yes,” she would say, “but listen to this, …” and she would share some pearl of wisdom she, an adult, had learned from a book meant for children.
This is one of the reasons you should not stop reading to your children when they learn to read themselves. I still read frequently after dinner, even though our youngest is now 17 years old. He will often complain that he has better things to do, but he’ll listen anyway, and often, though he doesn’t like to admit it, he enjoys it.
And I often read to my wife, even when there are no children around.
In Virginia Lee Burton’s The Little House, a woman passes by a little dilapidated house in the city one day. It turns out that the house had once been out in the country, but the city had grown all around it. “No one wanted to live in her and take care of her any more.” She finds out that it actually belonged to her great-great grandfather, and it “couldn’t be sold for silver or gold.” So she had the little house moved out in the country and lived in it.
We too own a house in the country, having moved from the suburbs before our children were born. And when my wife gets in one of her cleaning moods, she will often cast her eyes on the many books we have acquired over the years, many of them children’s books, and she sometimes wonders out loud how they might sell at a yard sale. They just sit there on the shelves, gathering dust. No one wants to read or take care of them any more.
Some of them (the not-so-good ones that were only read once) may need to go, but some day there will be a grandchild who walks by those shelves, and some of those books may be moved to his or her own bookshelf at 1122 Bedroom Lane, Storybookland. And that’s why they can never be sold—for silver or gold.
Many of the books used in the Cothran home are available in Memoria Press' Read Aloud programs, currently available for K Jr.-3rd. Permission to reprint this article with a link to Memoria Press' website ( is hereby granted.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Latham Family Adventures: The Chipmunk Tree

     Sometimes a name just sticks.  This was the case with a huge tree in our back yard. The first time the Little Lathams played on it, they pretended to be chipmunks. Thus the name: Chipmunk Tree.
     The Chipmunk Tree, I think, was an oak. It had a long straight trunk, five feet in diameter. Big, thick branches shot out in all directions, but none had leaves on them. You see, this beloved tree was lying on the ground, having been blown over in a long ago storm. The trunk was embedded in the dirt and seemed to belong right there where it fell. It’s final resting place. We didn’t even consider trying to move it or burn it or chop it up. It belonged to the land.
     The children loved that tree. It was big enough to hold all five of them and they spent hours climbing the branches and walking along the trunk balancing carefully.  It was no easy trick for the young chipmunks to navigate the rough surface of the tree. Sometimes they seemed more monkey than chipmunk! 

     Each of the children had a comfortable perch on which to sit and hold chipmunk conversations.  And they were often busy collecting little chipmunk treasures to hide in the nooks and crannies of the bark.Once or twice, I witnessed the younger chipmunks being a bit pesky as they sat on their perches throwing acorns at the others. 

     Through the years, the Chipmunk Tree served many roles. From  pirate ship to  picnic bench and everything in between. I was often reminded of Silverstein's Giving Tree as I watched the kids playing. For no matter what was  asked of the Chipmunk delivered!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Warning: Never Multi-Task in Front of the Children!

Children learn by example. They watch our every move and listen to every word (especially when we think they aren’t!). So we, as parents, need to examine our own behavior and attitudes.
I saw last week on a news program that today’s teenagers are masters of multi-tasking. They engage in multiple text conversations and listen to music and play video games and work on homework. All at the same time! Many teens say they can’t even do homework without these other activities going on.
I’m shocked…and scared for our kids. As a young mother of five, I prided myself on being able to accomplish multiple tasks. Heck, I could make dinner while bouncing a baby in my backpack, quizzing one kid on multiplication facts, and participating in a spirited game of    I Spy with the other three! Did I feel good about being with my kids and getting dinner on the table? You betcha! But did I do my best at any of those tasks mentioned? No way. And that made me feel a little frustrated at the end of the day.
Take that situation and multiply by 100 to get a glimpse of what our teens (and even younger kids) are experiencing. Imagine not ever really concentrating on the thing at hand. Always keeping ears perked for that magic little tone with a message that indicates something is going on somewhere else that’s probably better than what you’re doing. Never experiencing that feeling of putting all of one’s self into an effort, a project, a conversation or … a prayer.  
I think I can rein myself in when it comes to preoccupation with gadgets, but I want my kids to understand this, too. So, I have made a decision. I will keep cell phones in a basket by the door when my kids come home for the evening. Sure, they can check once or twice to see if any emergency requires a response, but the rest can wait until the next day.
I’d like them to be present during our time together. How much more valued will our loved ones feel if we give them all of our attention when we’re with them? How much better will grades become when the work in front of a student is the main thing on his mind? And how much more interesting would conversations be if they consisted of more than abbreviated answers in the form of text messages?
None of this can happen with my kids unless I also embrace the motto: NO MORE MULTI-TASKING! I will turn off that cell phone and put down that i-pad when my family is around. I hope to set an example by being totally present in my interactions with loved ones, friends, neighbors, and most importantly, God…. Join me?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Latham Family Adventures: Grass Houses

     I’ll remind you here, reader, that we Lathams weren’t exactly country folk before we moved to the country! Our land was beautiful. It was mostly wooded, but a few acres were open pasture. Some people would have thought of using the pasture for livestock. Not us. We immediately set up a backstop in one corner for baseball and softball games. The rest of the field was left as a giant, meadowy playground for the kids.
     This pasture was where the Little Lathams played a game which they called Grass Houses. I remember the day they invented the game. It was springtime. I was mowing along our driveway beside the pasture. The grass in the field was new, but it was already 18 inches tall. On a whim, I pushed the mower into the tall growth. It was quite easy to cut. I knew the children liked to pick flowers and explore in the field, so it seemed like a good idea to make a path. I set out through the field. I made a few curving, crisscrossing trails and came out the other side.
     The children loved the maze. They ran laughing and chasing one another. Then things grew quiet. I looked out and saw that they had spread out in different directions across the field. Heads down, they were each working on something. That’s when I saw that they had raided our supply of picnic blankets. Each child used an old wool blanket to flatten the grass to make a place to sit. These little cleared spots became their houses. They were spaced out along the pathways. There weren’t any furnishings in the grass houses. The fun came with travelling around the trails to visit one another. As the days passed, the game evolved. Sometimes a picnic lunch was in order. Other times, the game turned exciting when there was a monster or bad guy loose! Then, the kids ran screaming to each other’s houses for safety.
     As spring turned to summer, the field kept growing and I kept the pathway mowed. This made the grass houses even better. I could barely see the tops of the kids’ heads as they played in the field. They were completely hidden when they sat on their blankets surrounded by the tall grass walls.
     All in all, it was a fun game. And,yes, there were times when I wished we had more farming experience. But if we had to do it over, I’d choose baseball games and grass houses in that field over a few head of cattle any day!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Be a Stegosaurus

I discovered pretty early on that kids love to-do lists. Just like adults, they feel that sense of accomplishment when they mark a task as being completed. I began using a chalk board to make daily lists for my children when they were young. Items included school work, chores, and some fun activities. When a friend came by the house one day, he looked at the board. He questioned something on my son’s list. No. 4 read “Be a Stegosaurus”. He was so amused by my choice of words. Why hadn’t I written “Pretend to be a Stegosaurus” or “Act like a Stegosaurus”? I laughed about it at the time as my son roared at us from the other room. How does one Be a Stegosaurus? It involves taking on the characteristics and habits of a stegosaurus. There would be some studying involved. Practicing, emulating, and then being.
 I think there’s a pretty good lesson here. If we desire our child (or ourselves for that matter) to become a person of honorable character, why not encourage him to “be” that person? It may seem false to act courageous or honest, or generous if you haven’t practiced those traits before.  But it’s the first step to becoming those things.  
So, as my children grow older, I no longer make to-do lists for them. But, I pray that they continue to practice the axioms we’ve talked about for years.   
As they leave the house each day for school, work and sporting events, I want to give them some encouraging words. I think that rather than “Have a good day” or even “Do the right thing”, I’ll try pumping my fist in the air and shouting “Be a Stegosaurus!”

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Latham Family Adventures: Dancing in the Moonlight

     There is something magical about night time when you live in the country. I realized this when our family moved a few miles outside of town. The nights weren’t the same I knew growing up in the suburbs of a big city. The darkness was different. It was velvety, black, country darkness. The sky was dotted with a million stars. The bright moon made shadowy patterns on the ground.
     The Little Lathams were like all children in that they loved to be outside after dark. This was allowed most often when family and friends gathered. The adults enjoyed the visit so much they ignored the clock. Hiding and chasing games normally played during the day had an increased element of fun in the dark. 
    When the children had tired themselves out with running games, someone would suggest dancing in the moonlight. It was my job to provide music. The children gathered and begin to dance. They swirled and twirled. They joined hands and locked elbows. Sometimes they choreographed medieval looking line dances to do over and over again. This activity was usually limited to the girls, but I do remember boys occasionally joining in the fun. They would spin until they fell laughing in the grass collecting chigger bites.
      I like to recall one fall night in particular. It was a night our family attended an annual harvest party with friends. The kids all wore costumes. There was a common theme among the girls that year. Fairies, princesses and fancy ladies were in high attendance.
      Toward the end of the night, things began to wind down. Little ones were showing signs of weariness. I realized we had forgotten our tradition of dancing in the moonlight. As I stood on the porch of the house, I saw several of the girls making their way down a gentle hill. They were in groups of two or three walking towards the bon fire. I decided to turn on the music, hoping to get their attention. When the sound reached their ears, not one of them looked back to see where the music had originated. They didn’t even look at one another. They all just lifted their arms and began dancing.
     Suddenly, a group of tired looking little girls was transformed. They became naiads, dryads, and pixies. The hillside was covered with floating, twirling figures. The fire glowed behind them making their costumes shimmer.
    I looked around to see if anyone else was watching. I was alone. I was the only witness to this beautiful sight. A little Vivaldi, a little gossamer, and little girls dancing in the moonlight…I have no doubt there is something magical about night time in the country!

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Importance of Being Quiet

I encouraged my children to spend some quiet time each day when they were young. Well, that’s not exactly true…I required them to spend quiet time every day. It was on the to-do list that had to be completed before they were free to play. It was mandatory. With five kids, one may think I just needed some peace in order to keep my sanity. That was a nice benefit, but I actually have a strong belief that kids need to practice being quiet! And I don’t mean using ear phones to listen to music or play video games so no one else will be bothered. I mean real, true silence. 
When the weather was nice, I sent all the kids outside. Each one found a private spot to be alone in the quiet. Sometimes they took journals or sketch pads and climbed into the branches of a tree or settled in a shady spot next to the shed. It really didn’t matter as long as the children were cut off from the craziness of the world, for just a bit.  I wanted them to have the chance to hear their own thoughts and form their own ideas, and to pray. It’s really hard to pray in a high tech world. I set a timer then called them in when the buzzer sounded. They always seemed happy and energized upon returning. I never asked what they thought about or wrote about in their journals. I knew it was time well-spent.
As parents, we do our best to plant seeds in our young children. Then we pray the seeds take root. As my children grow into young ladies and men, I hope this is one of my plantings that truly stays with them. I hope they always remember the importance of being quiet.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Of Lego Blocks and Charles Dickens

Kids are amazing, right? I think we all know this as parents. Sometimes, in the daily grind of life, we forget just how amazing they are. Kids remember things. Many, many things. They absorb ideas and information without even trying. This is why I believe that while our children are young, it is the job of parents to surround them with the best things possible. As their minds develop, we must feed them on positive, inspiring experiences.
When my children were young, I read to them each night before bed. And sometimes after breakfast. Now and then, we took a little afternoon reading break…okay, so we read a lot! I chose books which were interesting and well-written. Many times, the reading level far surpassed a book they could read on their own.  As they listened to the book read aloud, they were able to absorb the meaning and nuances of some wonderful stories.
This idea was confirmed for me during the reading of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield. The youngest of the children, boys aged four and five years, would sit quietly building with Lego Blocks while I read aloud.  The older three children were intensely engaged in the story. The little boys seemed to be concentrating on their building efforts. I soon realized that just being in the room while I read was great for the younger guys. They were being exposed to some new vocabulary even if they didn’t follow the intricacies of the story. They were listening and learning.
 Even at that young age, they laughed with the rest of us at the comical characters. They were especially entertained by Aunt Betsy’s harsh ways. One of their favorite lines of Aunt Betsy directed to Miss Murdstone made them roll on the floor with laughter.
                       "Let me see you ride a donkey over my green again, and as
                         sure as you have a head upon your shoulders, I'll knock your
                         bonnet off, and tread upon it!" 
 I’m pretty sure a Dickensian sense of humor was developed in each of them that still exists today. And the Lego towers weren’t so bad either!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Latham Family Adventures: The Secret Garden

     It was autumn when our family moved to a new home on 20 acres in the country. After settling in, the first order of business was planning a garden. An area was chosen, fenced in and prepared for planting in the spring. While this work was happening, the little Lathams had their own idea about a garden…a secret garden. They began by clearing a trail into the woods. They raked and scraped and pulled up the growth. Finally, there was a twisty little path leading to a small clearing in the trees.
    The children came to me for help choosing plants for this shady area. Luckily, a friend had recently thinned her garden and offered to give us flower bulbs of all varieties. The Latham kids each chose an area of the garden and began planting. They moved rocks to make borders and placed logs to be used for benches.
    Early the next spring, things began happening. The children were happily surprised to find their bulbs sprouting and blooming. It was beautiful to see those flashes of bright color interrupting the dark green of the woods. More plants were added throughout the spring. One Little Latham planted a fairy ring of purple cone flowers. Some native wonders were discovered by the gardeners, too. They found tiny wild strawberries, goose berry bushes, and blankets of purple violets.
      The path was well worn by the passing of many little feet, but the rest of the garden was a little wild. This made it even more mysterious. It seemed as if the flowers had sprung up on their own amidst the grape vines and poison ivy. It was cool there, even on the hottest summer days.
     This secret garden was the backdrop for many games and adventures. It was truly hidden. If a visitor came to the place; he never knew the garden existed. That is, until he was invited in…

Monday, April 2, 2012

Latham Family Adventures: The Matryoshka Game

     Some of the Latham Family Adventures did not involve all five of the children actively participating. Such was the case with the Matryoshka Game. Not that the boys wouldn’t have gladly played along, the girls just couldn’t allow it!

        A set of Russian nesting dolls, called Matryoshkas, was given to each girl when she was quite young. The girls loved the bright colors, tiny details, and the way the dolls nested together so perfectly. New sets of Matryoshkas showed up at our house as Christmas and birthday gifts, each unique and beautiful. As the collections grew, so did the idea of the Matryoshka Game. These beauties were not meant to sit on display somewhere! They were meant to come to life!
     The game had two parts. First, was the construction of a world in which the Matryoshkas would live. Our many books provided the basis for the houses. They were stacked at different levels to delineate the rooms and used as stairs and dividers. Colored glass jars and bottles became lamps and furniture. Brightly patterned scarves from the dress-up box provided carpets and draperies. Almost anything could be used to embellish the Matryoshka houses as long as it was colorful and exotic.
     The finished product was huge. It covered the entire floor of a good-sized bedroom. And it took hours to complete. Each doll family needed its own house which included cradles for the tiny ones and bedrooms for all the others. As the girls set up the houses, they were also developing scenarios for the various families. This is when part two of the game began.
     I never knew what went on in the lives of the Matryoshkas, but it must have been interesting. I could hear talking, crying, and laughing coming from the room during the game. The boys begged to come in just to watch from the top bunk bed. The girls took pity and let them in with the requirement that they not interfere with the game. Sometimes they were even granted one set of dolls to share and some odds and ends with which to build their own house in a corner.
     The game usually lasted about three days. At this time the girls would get tired of tip toeing through the room to get to their beds and the houses would start to look a little shabby. The Matryoshka Game only happened once a month or so. After all, it was a huge undertaking and clean-up was equally huge. But every few weeks, I expected to find the little Lathams lost in that world for a while. That happy, busy, beautiful world of Matryoshkas.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Evidence of a Toddler's Day

I remember my husband asking if it was time for our two year old to take more responsibility cleaning up her toys. Of course I knew it was time. She was actually pretty good at following directions. And she understood the whole idea of picking up after oneself. So, with a newborn to care for, why wasn’t I embracing the idea and taking advantage of my daughter’s compliant nature? I’ll tell you why.

It had to do with nighttime. Once the children were asleep, the world slowed down. I felt the tension go out of my shoulders. I found myself smiling as I remembered something cute my daughter said.  I chatted with my husband, giving him the highlights of my day. We quietly moved through the house cleaning up before we settled down for some grown-up time.

In the living room, we came across a family of stuffed bears where my daughter had been playing. She sang her first original song to the family of bears that day, entitled One by Heart. There was a basket, filled with a collection of play food she had chosen at the pretend grocery store. And in a corner of the room, we came across a beautiful, symmetrical design made of beaded necklaces and gaudy clip-on earrings. My daughter had neatly arranged the pieces on an over sized book. It looked like a framed piece of art. I didn’t even catch the little sculptor at work on that. As I put the things away I felt as if I were erasing the evidence of my daughter’s day. One that had passed so quickly.
 I cherished that nighttime ritual. Somehow, when telling my husband about our day, I forgot how messy, loud, and exhausting some parts had been. Instead, I focused on the happy evidence strewn about the living room as I once more vowed “Tomorrow, she starts cleaning up her own toys.” Well…maybe.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Latham Family Adventures: The Big Pit

      Maintaining property in town requires that one follow certain rules pertaining to the appearance of the home and lawn. When the Latham family moved to 20 acres of cow field in the middle of nowhere, we celebrated the absence of such rules.
    Case in point: the children informed me one day that they were planning to dig outside in the yard. We had no manicured lawn to worry about, and no power lines or plumbing buried behind the house. So, my only request was that they move a little distance from the back door so we could still go in and out. They chose a spot on the back side of a gentle rise about twenty feet from the door. I peeked through the window to see them discussing which two would take the first shift digging as we only had two decent shovels. They got busy, and I turned back to my housework.
     Each time I walked by the window that afternoon I glanced out and was astonished to find the children persevering with this project. Sweaty and dirty, some were digging, others moving buckets of dirt and all staring down at the ground, a point I couldn’t see from the house. The ridge blocked my view, but I was fairly certain the tops of their heads were sinking lower. That hole was getting deep.   
   The digging of such a hole, or Big Pit, as it came to be named, may not seem like an adventure. The pit itself played a role in several other adventures that I’ll not mention now, but the digging…yes, the digging was quite something. Unlike some forms of work (i.e. housework) in which it seems progress is never made, a hole can be measured. This is what kept the kids excited, and digging for several weeks. When friends came over, the little Lathams would run to meet them asking if they wanted to help dig the Big Pit. They always did. Especially the friends who lived in town.
     It was a happy day when the children realized that The Big Pit was deep enough and wide enough to hold two of them. They could stand inside and not be seen at all from ground level. The Big Pit was suddenly a hobbit house, a tiger trap, a beggar’s cave…who knows? The digging was done for now, Let the games begin!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Lad: A Dog by Albert Payson Terhune

 Lad: A Dog
I like dogs well enough, but I've never considered myself to be a dog person. Nor have I had a love for dog stories, as a child or an adult. That is, until I started reading the books of Albert Payson Terhune aloud to my children. Terhune's stories are of noble characters, exciting adventures, loyalty, joy, and some tragedy. And all of the heroes are the four legged kind! Terhune takes the adage "Write what you know" to heart, for his stories are all based upon his personal experiences with his dogs. Published in 1919,  Lad: A Dog is the first of several books featuring his different pets.

Expect kids to glean some new vocabulary from reading the Lad books. It's a happy side-effect. Terhune’s books are chock full of interesting and unique word choices.

I first read these books to my kids when they were elementary age and we all loved them. Then a few years ago, when they were teens, our power was knocked out for days by a huge ice storm. I pulled out our old copy of Lad: A Dog and we read it again. It was even better by candlelight!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Latham Family Adventures: The Hammock Circle

     It all started one fall morning in the kitchen with the sweet, inquiring face of one little Latham smiling up at me. His request was simple enough. He needed a bed sheet. One he could use outside. I pointed to the linen closet and told him to choose an old one. He ran out with the sheet and I continued washing dishes thinking the kids must be tent-building outside. Ten minutes later, another little Latham shot through the door asking if he too might have an old sheet. Luckily, I hoarded such things, always wanting to be prepared for the next sewing or craft project. Number two ran out, passing the other three in the doorway who had come with similar requests. It seemed strange that they needed so many sheets to build a tent, but I knew better than to ask questions. I granted their request… but started to worry about my sheets.
     After finishing the kitchen clean-up some twenty minutes later, I decided it was time to see what fun the little Lathams were having. I walked outside, glad for a reason to sample the day.  Just beyond the perimeter of our back yard was a persimmon grove. The persimmon trees were skinny, tall, and spaced closely together. I was zigzagging through these trees, when my ears caught the sound of laughter. I finally spotted the five children and stopped a few yards away to observe what was happening.
      I saw that the sheets were hung as hammocks, about four feet from the ground, one for each child. The trees provided posts and the hammocks were placed end to end to form a circle. At first I thought the kids were just enjoying the breezy day, swinging and talking together. Then I realized they were playing some sort of game, moving from hammock to hammock. Apparently, there was some penalty for touching the ground because they did whatever was needed to stay in the hammocks. The bigger Lathams sometimes helped the little ones make it across the gap to the next hammock. And some were even diving, somersaulting into the safety of the next sheet. I decided not to disturb the game, no longer concerned with rescuing my sheets. The group seemed cozy and happy playing and talking together.

      I allowed them to leave the hammocks up for months. The game grew and changed and the sheets became permanently knotted on the trees…but who cares about a bunch of old sheets anyway?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Wolf Story by William McCleery

Wolf StoryWilliam McCleery expertly weaves two stories together in this book. One being the story of Michael and his father, interacting together in the most endearing way during the telling of Michael's favorite tale. The other is the tale itself, which centers around Waldo the Wolf and Rainbow the Hen. This book will have children and adults alike cackling at the antics of Waldo, cheering for the rescue of Rainbow, and smiling at the universal "boys will be boys" behavior of Michael. Our whole family enjoyed this book as a read-aloud when the kids were young, then they enjoyed reading it on their own as an early chapter book. It is out of print, so check it out at your library and enjoy!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Power of a Good Book

I once read about a certain culture which is known to produce an abundance of talented musicians. The children are observed playing instruments at a very young age. This is not to say that the parents enroll their three-year-olds in Suzuki violin lessons, but rather when the adults gather to play music together (which is frequently), the children are welcomed. They are encouraged to hold and experiment with various instruments, joining in while the adults play. By the time the children are of an age to receive musical instruction, they are familiar with the instrument; the way it feels and the sound it makes. People are amazed at the seemingly large a number of natural musicians born in this region, when in truth, the environment and early exposure to music must play as important a role as heredity.
Another example of this thinking was made clear to me during a conversation with my son, a college baseball player. We were discussing a teammate who had the good fortune of being drafted by a major league team.  My son stated, “It was easy for this guy, his older brother plays in the majors.”  I questioned him, arguing that the kid must be good, must have put in lots of hard work. His answer was, “Yes, but just knowing that it’s possible is huge. He grew up expecting to be drafted like his brother.”  I see what he means. The more information and exposure a person has to an idea, the more confidence he has in pursuing it.
I share a similar philosophy when it comes to helping a child look at the world and all of its possibilities. What better way than through the reading of good books?   A gifted writer can create a world that is so real, the reader joins in the experiences of the characters and learns lessons that he may take with him as he faces challenges and opportunities of his own. When my children were in the 7-13 year old range, we read every book we could find with a nature/survival theme.   Sign of the Beaver, Tracker, Indian Captive, and My Side of the Mountain are a few that we loved. I feel certain the kids would have been fine had I turned them out into the woods for a week…in fact, they begged me to do just that! Such an appreciation of nature and of man’s ingenuity was fostered in them during that time.
We became absorbed by many other topics throughout the years of our read-aloud journey, and now that the kids are older, I sometimes see evidence of what we learned in their actions and choices. So, my challenge to you, parents, is to find out what captures your child’s interest and read about it! Read until his imagination is filled with possibilities. Then just sit back and wait for the music to begin.

Monday, February 6, 2012

How It All Started...

The hours spent reading aloud to my children are hard to number. I started reading to my first daughter when she was new born. If someone asked why, my answer would have been a jumble of ideas: listening to someone read is a great way to learn words and ideas; I wanted her to be a reader when she grew older; the one-on-one time was precious. It wasn’t until my second child, a son, was born almost two years later that my intuitive idea about reading began to take more clear shape. By this time, my daughter had graduated to simple chapter books and stories, so baby brother spent many hours cuddled between us listening to the magical, musical words being read to his big sister. During my frequent trips to the library, I came to the unpleasant realization that not all cute children's books are created equal! Some of the books promote ideas and beliefs with which I don’t agree, but what I found even more disturbing was the number of books that exist which say nothing, mean nothing, teach nothing! What a wasted opportunity! This began my effort to be discerning when choosing what to read to my children.
 There are so many good books; classics and those written by thoughtful, principled authors. As the number of children in our family grew to five and our reading continued, so did our list of favorite books. The criteria was simple; well written stories with admirable characters (along with interesting, well-penned villains) demonstrating noble qualities amidst the humorous, challenging, tragic and blessed situations that arise in life. The benefits of all this reading for my children range from the development of awesome vocabularies, to an understanding of right and wrong, a distinction that has become blurred for so many of our country’s youth today.
All of this to say that through this blog, I hope to share our reading adventures! I will include many of my family's favorite book suggestions as well as thoughts on other things related to kids and learning. Writing this entry has caused me to look back and remember the times I spent with the children lost in the pages of a great book.  And if you’re a fan of The Princess Bride, you will appreciate knowing that many a day, as I finished up reading to my kids, they invariably begged “one more chapter, pleeeease!”. I would gaze around, noting the half-cleaned kitchen and stacks of laundry before settling back onto the couch, taking up the beloved book with the reply, “As you wish”.