Getting Intentional with our Children’s Books

Getting Intentional with our Children’s Books
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There was an article going around earlier this year that talked about about how the Inuits use storytelling as a way of teaching their children rules, boundaries, and emotional regulation.*  I really loved the premise of this, but had a hard time figuring out how to create the right stories for the lessons that applied to our family.  I tried to come up with stories on the spot about characters who shared, who brushed their teeth well, or who listened to their mommy, but it turns out, I’m a not a natural storyteller.  I’m embarrassed to admit that in just the last couple weeks, I realized that I can use already written story books to teach these lessons and many other values.  I didn’t need to make my own stories up when I have a wealth of stories right at my fingertips.  Since we are reading often with Nora, I bet she’s already been picking up on these lessons through the intentional children’s books we’ve already been reading.

Getting Intentional with our Children's Books

Learning Lessons Through Books

Getting intentional with drawing the lessons out has been a little harder, but seems to be worth it.  Nora has been having a really hard time sharing what used to be “her” baby toys with Charlie now that he’s big enough to be playing with the more exciting ones. We recently checked out the Big Book of the Berenstain Bears from the library and in it is the story The Berenstain Bears’ New Baby. In the story, Brother Bear gets a new big bed so that Sister Bear can have his baby bed when she is born.  Brother Bear is so excited that he has his new bed, but also that he has a little sister that is using his old bed.  When Nora was trying to take over Charlie’s play house the other day, I brought up the story of how Brother Bear had to give his little bed away, and it clicked for her in that moment that it was good to share her things. Of course, this didn’t last all day, but it’s a start!

Prepare for New Activities

As I’ve shared in past posts, we have been using books to help us with all sorts of activities already. We have our potty training books (The Potty Train and Usborne Books What is Poop? are still read multiple times a day here) and our church books.  I just bought some new Usborne books talking about feelings in hopes that Nora will share what emotion she is experiencing instead of just melting down- the two’s are fun.  We started pretty young with Nora with all of the shapes, numbers, and letters books, and I think, because of that, she’s got those pretty well down, so we know that books are a good way, at least for her, of teaching her different ideas.

Introduce New Ideas for Play

Even the books that don’t have as obvious of an emphasis have been helpful for creating new play ideas, introducing places we are going, and talking about how to handle different situations. One of the most random lately is from her 5-Minute Mickey Mouse Stories in which one of the stories talks about a picnic at which they eat fruit salad. She went through a huge phase of serving us fruit salad made of all sorts of different objects.  Nora’s also all of a sudden very into Pete the Cat books, and after reading Pete the Kitty and the Case of the Hiccups a million times, every time she gets the hiccups (which is surprisingly often), she says “How do you stop the hiccups?” and then goes through all of the different ideas the friends in the book have. It’s pretty funny!

Live and Learn Vicariously Through Books

In thinking about how much she is picking up from these stories right now, I’m trying to be intentional in the books that she’s reading. I want to surround her with materials that help her become a good human as she continues to grow and learn. I recently read The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie and came away with so many ideas for forming a family culture based on stories. One of the ideas that stood out the most to me was that reading allows people to live vicariously through experiences of those in the book, so that they don’t necessarily need to live it themselves to gain the perspective and learn the lessons. Books also can then have an impact on how compassionate your children become by exposing them to these different perspectives. I feel like we know this intuitively as adults with the difference that reading a headline in the news feels vs. reading a story about someone who is experiencing what’s going on in that headline. Stories are the conduit by which people feel the perspectives of others and, hopefully, then grow in compassion.

Introduction to Empathy and Kindness

In our family, then, I want to find intentional children’s books that are not just a cute story but also, either subconsciously or not, teach values and tell stories that we want to be a part of our family culture. If I had to choose one quality that our kids have when I send them out into the world, it would be that they are kind. I want them to be empathetic and compassionate with others.  I may not succeed (who knows what kind of kiddos Tony and I make), but I can give them a good foundation to start from. To help with this, I’ve started looking for books with a diverse set of characters in race, class, and ability, as well as in family type. I want to find more books about characters from different places in the world and about different cultures. I want to find books in which characters figure out how to solve disagreements compassionately. I want to find books that the characters face hardships, and though they may not solve all of their problems, they still find sparks of happiness. I want to provide a wide basis of characters for my kids to fall in love with and learn alongside.

We're Getting Intentional with our Children's Books

Let’s Choose Intentional Children’s Books

This is a little overwhelming- there are soooooo many books to choose from and not near enough time to read through them all. Luckily we’re starting early- Nora’s only 2.5 and just starting into the “big kid” books, and Charlie’s just starting to get into his touch and feel books. I’ve started looking at lists of intentional children’s books on different blogs, finding different classics that are classic for a reason, and just trying out different books at the library. Nora’s an eager book listener, so she’ll definitely be our guinea pig as we figure out which books are worth adding to our shelves and which just don’t fit.  I’d love to hear if any of you have books you love dearly- both intentional and just fun ones to get us started. We’re just starting to fill our bookshelves with true children’s picture books, and I need help finding the ones that will help us instill the values we hold dear in our kiddos <3

Read More:

Fostering a Love of Books from Early On

Fun Indoor Activities Both You and Your Kids will Love 


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For All the Martha’s in the Back

For All the Martha’s in the Back
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Monday was St. Martha’s feast day. As some of those who knew me in college know, I am a big Martha fan girl, and I could talk all day about her (maybe I’ll have to write a book someday 😉 ). I even led a Bible study based on Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World and the subsequent, Having a Mary Spirit, both by Joanna Weaver. For those who don’t know the reference, check out Luke 10:40-42

But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

And, man, I am such a Martha- getting distracted with all of the extraneous details of life and motherhood, making sure everything is in order before I take a moment to sit down, breathe, and remember what the point of it all is. The only reason I even knew it was St. Martha’s feast day was, ironically, because it was listed in my new planner that I’m using to keep all of my to do lists and basically my life pulled together. For the last couple nights, I spent all night checking off my to do list and left my prayer time to the very end of it. Then Charlie woke up one night and Nora the next, so there my quiet time, and thus my prayer time, went out the window.  I was angry, distracted, and tired, and there was nothing anyone could do to bring me out of that mood. But then, I remembered St. Martha and Jesus’ words to her that I had even written into my planner- Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things, but only one thing is necessary.

What does that even look like, though?  Is it bad to want order and to always have a plan and to want others to help you follow through with that plan to a T (okay, maybe not to the T!).  I don’t think so.  It’s good to have the servant’s heart that Martha has.  It’s even good to want things to be beautiful and perfect for those around you. Indeed, I think having aspects of Martha in my personality helps me to be a good mother, to be a good wife, and to do what I need to do to keep moving forward every day. The problem comes in when I’m doing all of the ordering, planning, and following through without taking the time to invite Jesus in, taking the time to sit with Him away from it all, and centering what may seem like chaos sometimes around Him.

There’s a later passage in John 11 where Martha is featured shortly again. This time she runs to Jesus and trusts him with her chaos. It’s time for me to hand over my chaos too.

So, being a Martha, I’m planning out what that looks like.

1) I want to start my day with the Morning Offering.

I put a reminder in my phone every morning at 8am with the words of the Morning Offering so that I’ll automatically do this before I can do anything else on my phone. It’s probably good to get off to a good start, right?

2) I want to find a time earlier in my day than 10pm to carve out just 15 quiet minutes to spend in prayer.

This is getting really hard lately. I’m finding that I really need that quiet time, and I’m just not getting it in my day between Nora not napping all of a sudden and Charlie not wanting to go to bed at a reasonable time. This’ll probably last a month and then go back to some semblance of normality, but in the meantime, I need to find some quiet time scattered throughout my day.

3) I want to invite Jesus into my chaos and throw up that “Jesus, I trust in you” a little more.

I tried this more today, and it did make such a difference to bring Jesus along through the potty accidents, the long nursing sessions, and the tantrums. It allowed me to have a little more patience and a lot more love to give to my kiddos. Plus, I was, admittedly, a much nicer person to Tony tonight than I have been in the last week. (It probably helps that he was able to get Charlie asleep by himself tonight!)

These are just little steps on my journey in this stage of life, as I pick up mess after mess, cook meal after meal, and kiss booboo after booboo.  I’m not going to make it through if I don’t have Jesus along, and I thank St. Martha for that reminder this week. It’s time to recenter, refocus, and remember the big picture <3

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How We’re Getting Through Church Right Now

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As I took both kids to church this morning by myself since Tony is out of town, I remembered how not long ago, I was trying to do this every week while he was doing his RCIA classes. He had to sit with his class and then leave after the homily, and I had to figure out how to get Nora to church while mega pregnant and then with a newborn. On one of these weekends after Charlie was born, Nora made a run for the altar after Communion. It was one of those moments that happens completely in slow motion. I saw her look back at me, smile mischieviously, and then run even faster all the way to the altar and to the priest. I chased after her, babywearing little Charlie and all, and we caused quite the scene- the look of surprise on the priest’s face when I finally got to her behind the altar will be burned into my memory forever. Many comments of Nora’s future Olympic track career happened as we made our way out after church. To say it was mortifying is an understatement, and I took a break from taking the two of them by myself for awhile.

Luckily, this morning did not include any track practice, and Nora not only stayed in the pew, but also semi-participated. Of course, she was a wiggle-worm per usual, but she also sang along with some of the songs, did the sign of peace, and sat/stood when everyone else was. Now that Charlie is getting more mobile and chatty, he’s starting to become more of a handful at Mass too. God must’ve been watching over us closely today, though, because Charlie fell asleep in the carrier sometime after the homily. It was a major success in my books, and we treated ourselves to Culvers after 🙂

Culvers after Church!

As I said before, I took a bit of a break from taking both kids by myself after Nora’s great escape and figured out Masses I could go to either alone or just with Charlie. Tony had his confirmation around Easter and could sit with us at Mass again, so Nora got to come along again. It helped so much to have another set of hands, as it tends to work best if both kids are being held, but she still is a handful. It’s important to me to introduce our children to Jesus and the Church from a young age, and I’m a full believer in Jesus saying to let the little children come to him applying to the kiddos being at Mass whenever possible. However, that’s easier said than done many weekends, and there are weekends here and there that end in tears (on both parts). Here are some of the strategies that we’ve started to make our mass-goings a little less eventful and a little more fruitful. (Disclaimer: these don’t work for us every weekend! Try at your own risk 😉 )

1) Books- in church and out

Nora LOVES books, so this works pretty well with her. Sometimes she gets angry when we don’t read them out loud to her, though, so we have to do some whisper reading at times. When she was a little younger, we did books with flaps that would last a little longer. One of our favorites is the classic Dear Zoo. Now that she’s into “big kid” books, I’ve been trying to do more faith based books. Our current favorite books are I Went to Mass: What did I See? and A Missal for Toddlers. Both of these books talk about what happens at Mass, so reading these before church helps Nora know what’s happening while we’re there. If we read them during, we have her point to where the different objects/people are at our real church. This has helped her IMMENSELY, and I’m so glad we got these. Finally, we have The Beginner’s Bible: Timeless Children’s Stories that is a little longer than a normal board book with beautiful pictures and succinct Bible stories, so it’s fun to go through at church.

2) Babywearing

I generally have Charlie in a front carrier during church so that I can have my hands free to help Nora with whatever she’s doing/ make sure she doesn’t eat it off of the kneeler she’s standing on. This was especially helpful when he was a newborn because he could nurse and sleep easily in it, and I could also hold Nora. I also did this with Nora when she was a baby, and it was so helpful to keep her content in those bitty baby months. Now that he’s a little more wiggly, he’s not as content to sit in the carrier. However, I’ll still bring it in if I think he’s going to need to nap during Mass or if it’s just me, like today. We use the Boba Wrap or the Happy Wrap when they’re really little and then switch to the Ergobaby Carrier when they’re bigger. I definitely get some interesting looks when I end up wearing Charlie and also have Nora on my hip, but I guess #catholicfamily?

3) Participating in the Mass

I’ve really started trying to get Nora to be more a part of the mass in the last couple months. We’ll point out the priest, candles, ushers, crucifix, holy water, etc. She likes to find the different objects/people- we just are working on making her “Found it!” a whisper instead of a shout… She also has been picking up on some of the songs and prayers- the Gloria and Alleluia are favorites! It’s not so much staring at the back of people’s heads if she also feels like she’s participating. Plus it’s so cute to hear her little voice as it sings “Glory to God…” and says the Our Father. It makes us feel like we’re doing something right bringing out squirmy 2.5 year old into Mass. The only thing that really kept her attention today were the songs- I told her beforehand that she had to whisper except for at the songs when she could sing as loud as she wanted to, so she even joined in with the cantor only parts!

4) Toys/Activities

I try to pack one “Activity” each week just in case we need something extra during the homily or other need to be quiet parts. Sometimes it’s lacing activities (like these or these), sometimes it’s stickers and a coloring page, sometimes it’s our Melissa & Doug Reusable Dry-Erase Activity Pad , and sometimes it’s one of our Melissa & Doug Water Wow! pads. We don’t always pull out these activities for Nora and have been trying to keep her attention mostly on the service, but they always come in clutch when we have to use them!

For Charlie (and for Nora when she was younger), we make sure to pack a lovey and some teethers to play with. Our current favorites are his ChewsLife rosary, these teething keys, and this teether. He’s starting to get chatty in Mass and never took to a pacifier like Nora did (we called it her plug), so we’re trying to figure out what level of baby chatter to allow before getting up out of the pew. So far, we’ve stayed in the pew and let him chatter a bit.

5) Snacks

This one is a little controversial. We’ve decided that we’re okay with a little bit of food if it’s seeming necessary. I’ve tried Cheerios in one of these cup things, but Nora ended up with them alllll over and it was a disaster. We’ve had success with the applesauce or baby food pouches since it’s minimal mess and it takes her a little bit to suck it down so she’s quiet for that time period. Lately, we’ve been doing fruit snacks for her. I try to hold off until the homily and then use them if she asks to buy us a little time of quiet. It’s been worth it for us to catch a little break- especially since she knows exactly where in the diaper bag the snacks live and will ask for them repeatedly until we open them. Toddlers are fun.

6) A Whole Lot of Prayer and Patience

I think this applies to all aspects of my life right now, but especially during the testing time that Mass tends to be with small people in tow. When we are actually able to get to church before Mass starts and not during the first song (about 25% of the time right now…), I include being able to pay attention and having patience with the kiddos in my beginning prayers. I find when I’m able to do this, I’m at least able to catch snippets of the readings and homily. We actually got there ahead of time today (a small miracle), and I included Nora in my beginning prayers, so they also included her behaving and being kind.

It also helps to know that someday the kids will sit nicely and pay attention, and I’ll be able to pay attention to the full mass again without pulling an endless supply of things out of the diaper bag. This is only a season! In the meantime, I’ll snuggle my babies close, whisper sing songs and whisper read books, and then catch up on the readings when we get back home.

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Here’s to the Start of Potty Training

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We started “successfully” potty training Nora about two weeks ago now.  She’s definitely nowhere near finished, as she had two big accidents today, but we are making progress! It was a draining first week, a more accident prone second week, and now my parents are here so we are all over the place. While, we’ve not finished yet, I’ve already written a few new lessons in my parenting book.

1) It’s good to be prepared.

We had been thinking about potty training since before Charlie was born, but the timing never seemed right. We always had a trip coming up, or a baby to be born, or something else that made us postpone starting. While I was pregnant, and still had time to myself, I read the popular book Oh Crap! Potty Training: Everything Modern Parents Need to Know to Do It Once and Do It Right.  It was really good to have read this book before we actually started, but I probably should read it again.  We have not followed everything this book laid out, but some of the tips have come in handy.

We also bought three potty seats because we’re over achievers. We’ve used the Munchkin Potty Seat in the bathroom, the Munchkin 3-in-1 Multi Stage Potty first in our living room and then in our van, and keep the OXO Tot Potty for Travel in the backpack to go out and about. It was good to have these ahead of time to introduce them to her slowly so she knew what to do with them when she actually started.

At some point, we had also picked up a couple packs of underwear from Target, had some microfiber cloths laying around the house for cleaning up accidents, and bought a ton of potty books.  We thought we would be good to go whenever we decided to bite the bullet- and I was glad to be ready with all of our supplies before I thought we would need to be!

2) It’s also good to be surprised.

I was really dreading starting the process and having to always know where the closest potty was for the rest of my life (I may be a little dramatic).  My parents were going to be out to visit us soon, so when Tony and I discussed when we should really start encouraging her to start, we thought that we’d wait a couple weeks until after they were gone.  Tony had a work trip and was going to be out of town for a few days in that time frame, so it was better just to wait. Of course, Nora tends to have her own plans (as most toddlers do), so she woke up the first day he was going to be gone and stated that she’d like to wear undies and pee in the potty now. And because I’m winging this parenting thing, I just went with it.  That first day was a good amount of accidents, but she also made it to the potty a couple times! The whole process ended up being way easier than I had anticipated, and I’m glad we waited until she wanted to do it rather than “forcing” it on her.  Had we introduced it before she was ready, I think it would’ve turned into more of a power struggle- especially with our strong-willed, opinionated little girl.  The overall dread I had over potty training left and was replaced by a new “can-do” attitude, as Tony calls it.

3) It’s okay to have setbacks.

I should’ve known that potty training wouldn’t be over as soon as it started and that she wouldn’t just start politely saying “Mommy, I’d like to go use the toilet now, please” and then go all by herself.  Over the first weekend, she had a couple big accidents that led to her not wanting to go anymore. Then she started saying her “booty” hurt, so being the kind of hypochondriac parent that I am, I thought she might have a UTI (even though she exhibited none of the symptoms- but you never know!!)  I gave her a couple days break where I didn’t push it, and she kept saying it.  Luckily, Charlie already had a doctor’s appointment that week, so we were able to get her in too to check. After an hour of trying to pee at the doctor’s office and then half an hour in our trunk trying some more, we finally had a sample to give to the doctor.  Of course, it ended up being nothing. On the way home, Nora said “I feel all better now. I like going to the doctor.”  So at least we got that out of our doctor’s appointment!

We started up again that next afternoon with success again! I guess it’s just important to jump back in when things are seeming to go backward. But it’s also probably good to listen to your toddler’s “symptoms” even if it turns into nothing.

4) The magic of music and books is a beautiful thing.

The amount of times I’ve sang the Daniel Tiger Potty song in the last two weeks is astounding.

When you have to go potty, stop! and go right away. Flush and Wash and be on your way!

The Daniel Goes to the Potty book was our anthem that first week- it even has a fun button to press that has a flushing sound, what joy! The episode it’s based on was also a hit (Prince Wednesday Goes to the Potty/Daniel Goes to the Potty). My mom had also given us a few potty books that we had been reading in preparation, Peep and Egg: I’m Not Using the Potty and Vegetables in Underwear, that have both been big hits.  Our newest favorite is The Potty Train– chugga chugga, pooo pooo. We keep these and a couple Usborne poop books on top of the toilet where we go and read them as we wait. They also work as bribes to get her to sit on the toilet when I’m thinking it might be time to go. Sometimes we’ll sing songs instead, The ABC’s is always a hit 😉 Whatever passes the time, right?

5) There’s nothing more exciting than that first time, except maybe the second time

I think the excitement around potty training falls into the “things I didn’t expect before I became a parent” category. The look of pride on Nora’s face the first time she went potty was so awesome to see and be present to.  It made all of the accidents and mopping up pee so worth it (at least so far…). Still, every time she goes, she has a smile on her face and a look of surprise that it’s actually happening.  She finally got that big P in the toilet yesterday and she was so excited, but also trying to figure out how it all works.  It’s so fun to see her little mind rolling.

Of course, we are still only a couple weeks in, there are still accidents happening (multiple today!), still diapers to clean up at nap/bedtime, and so much ahead of us.  These little peeks into Nora’s head have been so awesome- even if it is making us spend a long time reading and singing in the bathroom everyday!  Here’s to a fast transition to going by herself, without too many tears (on either of our parts!)

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To Begin, Begin

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I probably should have restarted this blog a long time ago. 

Like when we found out I was pregnant a month after we were married and two weeks before I was supposed to start PA school.

Or when we almost bought a duplex when we had no idea what we were doing with our lives.

Or when we chose a birth center and went home 5 hours after Nora was born without having given her a name yet.

Or when we moved to Grand Rapids, MI when Nora was 5 months old.

Or when I decided to do Nora’s first airplane experience by myself.

Or when we decided it was time to add a second baby to the mix.

Or when we moved to Tampa, FL 10 months after we had moved to Michigan, when I was 4 months pregnant.

Or when we had to figure out who was going to watch Nora while I was in labor after just moving even further from family.

Or when I decided to do Charlie’s first airplane ride experience by myself with two under two.

Or when we did our first long family road trip to Wisconsin from Florida.

But little did we know, we’d still be winging life after our crazy trip.  Tony and I recently decided that our whole life together has been a series of bad decisions that have gone right. Hopefully, they’ll continue to!  We’re excited to have you along on this journey as we tackle life in the only way we know how to- with too much planning for the wrong things, not enough planning for the right things, and a whole lot of faith that it’ll all work out. 

Be patient with me as I figure out this whole blogging thing and do some page organization. Turns out it’s a little more than writing something up and pressing publish ;).  Who knows where this is going to go or if I’ll stick with it, but as William Wordsworth said, “To begin, begin,” and that’s just what I’m going to do. 

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