Mother Earth Living

Smart Parenting

Practical advice about raising children


3/10/2014

Kids in the Kitchen
Photo by Kristy Severin

Encouraging children to help prepare meals in the kitchen is a wonderful way to introduce the simple pleasures of life. By taking the time to prepare meals with children, they are learning to work with their hands, about food preparation and planning, working with others, as well as developing an appreciation for the food we eat every day. To help encourage your child or a child you know, start by having children help out with the meal planning—from deciding what to eat, making a grocery list, helping out at the grocery store and unpacking the groceries at home. Children may gain a sense of pride and independence if asked to help with these practical tasks that could help guide their future in a positive manner.

Kids in the Kitchen: Kitchen Tools

Most kitchen tools are kid friendly, such as mixing spoons, measuring cups, and bowls. For the not-so-kid-friendly kitchen tools, try these suggestions.

Kid Friendly Knife

Kid-friendly cutting knives such as a Joie wavy slicer

Kitchen Stool

A safe kitchen stool such as the Guidecraft kitchen helper stool

Kitchen Peeler

Kid-Friendly peeler such as the one from “How We Montessori”

To encourage even more independence, you may want to have an area in the kitchen designated solely for the child that contains items within reach such as plates, cups, silverware, snacks, napkins, and other practical, safe kitchenware.

Small Kitchen Area
Photo courtesy Three Oaks Blog

The idea of allowing children to serve themselves and/or help out with practical every day activities may seem overwhelming at first but children are generally intrigued by practical life skills and activities, and you may find them not only interested in helping, but that they will love helping and the chance to be independent. You may also enjoy having the extra helper and the time to bond with your child.


Kristy SeverinKristy Severin is a mother of two, a certified art instructor, photographer, painter, writer and cook. She earned her BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uganda, East Africa. Inspired daily by her children and love of the earth, Kristy’s fine art and writings are at The Art of Green Living.



12/3/2013

I loved being outdoors when I was a kid and was fortunate to have parents who encouraged me to be outside. We moved around a lot, and it was always fun to explore new places. Sometime in high school however, I lost touch with that part of myself and became much more of an indoors person throughout my young adulthood. Now, I have a two-year-old son who loves to be outside and am learning once again the value of getting kids (and myself) to play outside.

Playing Outside
Photo By Fotolia/Alliance

Our family faces a challenge I’m sure some of you can relate to living in a small apartment with only a balcony to call entirely ours. It’s easy in that situation to give in and blame accessibility, the weather, and a number of other factors for staying inside.  Thing is, getting your kids outside doesn’t have to mean letting them loose in some 1/2-acre fenced backyard or waiting for perfect weather at the park. It might take a bit more effort on your part as a parent, but it’s well worth it.

Are there any other ‘outdoors’ areas nearby? We are fortunate enough to have some semi-wooded public areas in our apartments where I can take my son. Is there a park nearby? Even if it’s just a small neighborhood park, it can offer more excitement than you might think. Do you have time to go somewhere like a nature preserve, county park, or greenway even if only on the weekends? Take advantage of those precious opportunities. What if the weather isn’t cooperating? You might be able to work with the weather for an outdoor activity (as long as you’re not dealing with severe weather). 

Playgrounds are great and sports are certainly a great reason to get outside, but for some kids neither of those will be much of an enticement. In fact, my son has little interest in playground equipment. If your child is ‘outdoor activity averse,’ try coming at it from a different angle. One of the most valuable effects of getting kids outside in my opinion is exposing them to the way nature works. I also love to start explaining to my son how human activity impacts nature and how we can protect nature. For the kid who is more bookish or interested in science than traditional play, recommend they take their interests outside. Could they pick up a book at the library about birds and then put that knowledge to use by bird watching at the park? Or perhaps your young scientist could count birds and then compare their totals to migrating bird counts to see how your local population compares? Or maybe they could observe and diagram the parts of a habitat?  Not all kids want to run, jump, or climb when they’re outside and suggesting alternative activities can inspire a child to get outside when they might not otherwise. 

Of course, one of the most important parts of getting kids outside is you. Kids obviously need supervision but also encouragement and sometimes someone to learn with them. Make what time you can to be part of getting your kids outside and you might even find yourself rediscovering your own inner child with dirt on your hands and fresh air in your lungs.


Elyse BlackElyse Black is a wife and mother to one (soon to be two), educator, avid home cook/baker, and pragmatic environmentalist. You can find her kid-tested, kosher-friendly recipes on her blog, “What’s Cookin,’ Mamele?”



7/31/2013

If you’ve ever tried gardening with a young child, you understand why it may not always be described as “enjoyable.” I can’t imagine what must go through their little heads when they see all that dirt to play with! We see hard work and beauty to behold; they see their next trail of destruction!

Gardening with your kid(s) doesn’t have to be stressful though. Following these five steps may just put you both in the right frame of mind to garden peacefully together. 


Make gardening a personal experience for your child by providing them with their own space. Photo By Jamie Lamb.

1. Start with a Book. Part of the process of having your child garden with you is getting them excited about it and understanding why we do it. You can easily explain all this through reading to them. When your child begins to see the connection between their books and the green things sprouting outside, it makes more sense to them. “Up, Down and Around” by Katherine Ayers and “Jo MacDonald Had a Garden” by Mary Quatellbaum were two books that my child enjoyed and helped her connect the dots between gardening and her food supply. If you need more examples, head over to my blog for a listing on gardening books for kids.

child reading
Start by reading a book about gardening. Photo By Jamie Lamb.

2. Parents Prepare. I can’t emphasize this one enough. If you’re trying to figure out a task and then  try gathering  tools, pots, soil and seeds all while wrangling your tot and trying to keep his/her hands out of everything before starting, you’re bound to get frustrated quickly. Plan out specific projects or tasks you’ll be doing ahead of time. Have a lot to do? Consider mapping out a plot of land just for your child. Having his/her own large pot or plot of earth will give them the independence to explore, create and maybe even destroy. But it’s theirs so it won’t matter what happens to it!

3. Purchase Kid-Friendly Tools. Your plants will not survive with a kid wielding an adult-sized hoe. That giant “sword” is just waiting to puncture the heart of your zucchini plant! Invest in equipment that your kids can easily use and you’ll save your plants from an early death. Kid gardening gloves, miniature shovels and spades, as well as a squirt bottle for watering are all good ideas to get you started. 

child shoveling dirt
Provide your child with child-sized garden tools. Photo By Jamie Lamb.

4. Lay Out the Expectations First. Explaining the process of your tasks up front and setting clear expectations of what is allowed—and not allowed—is a sure-fire way to set things off on the right foot. If you just tell a child you’ll be planting seeds today, you’re bound to suddenly see shovels full of dirt and seeds being strewn all over the yard and in the air. If you can simply instruct step by step and explain that ripping out carrot tops is not acceptable, you’ve set the boundaries that kids ultimately want and need.

5. Chill Out. No not your kid—I’m talking to you. This is a hard one for me personally to remember sometimes. We put so much effort into our gardens that sometimes we forget how much fun it can really be. Take the time to see it through your kid’s eyes and don’t forget a garden isn’t complete without a few mud pies. Remember that not every cherry tomato would have survived anyways.  So if they become victims to a child gardening, leave it be. Each year will get easier and your child will learn to love what you love. 


Jamie LambJamie Lamb resides in beautiful Central Pennsylvania. An avid gardener for the past five years, she’s passionate about our food supply and believes anyone can garden. To follow her quirky take on expanding her families gardening footprint all with a toddler in tow, visit her blog, They Call Me A Hippie.



5/30/2013

Every year you’ll find it on your child’s school supply list: hand sanitizer. You’ll find the words “antibacterial” plastered on every home-care and personal-care product across the board. Our culture is obsessed with this idea of killing bacteria yet most of us have no idea what we are really doing.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are nothing new to some of us. With the onslaught of MRSA, mainstream news outlets have covered the story from time to time, but we continue to use products like hand sanitizers, unknowingly turning our children’s hands into little Petri dishes. Doctors are taking steps to curb the problem, such as testing for bacterial infections before simply handing out prescriptions for antibiotics to every child with a runny nose, but the school system seems to have ignored the warnings and, in fact, studies claim the use of hand sanitizers has had a positive effect in the classroom, resulting in less absenteeism. On the other hand, numerous studies show, “these antibacterial hand washes and disinfectants are also contributing to the rapid growth of antibiotic-resistant superbugs that pose a serious risk to human health.” Let’s not forget that using these products also kills off the beneficial bacteria in the environment, just as antibiotics kill off healthy gut bacteria.

hand sanitizer
Photo By SonnyandSandy/Flickr

So what could be worse?

Triclosan: the most popular ingredient in antibacterial products and a heavy endocrine-disrupting substance. Triclosan can be found in everything from clothing to kitchenware, furniture, toys and, of course, in antibacterial soaps, toothpastes and cosmetics. If you don’t know much about endocrine disruptors, go check out Mrs. Green’s explanation or at least throw “endocrine disruptors” into your search bar. Basically, triclosan has the ability to alter your body’s hormones in a negative way. Recent studies have also found triclosan to weaken muscles and hinder the heart’s ability to circulate blood. In layman’s terms, this chemical can stop your heart. Bacteria don’t sound so scary now, do they?

“But these products are regulated by the FDA,” you say.

Well, let me remind you that Michael R. Taylor, the deputy commissioner for foods at the Food and Drug Administration, worked for Monsanto and wrote the rBGH labeling guidelines. Turns out, rBGH is so bad even Wal-Mart banned it from its milk. I don’t think two million people marching in opposition to GMOs can all be wrong either, and I’m a firm believer in independent studies so research it for yourself to make your own decision. The FDA is looking into triclosan and you can wait for their determination—or you can simply stop using hand sanitizers and the like and turn to a natural alternative. In my opinion, it’s better to be on the safe side.

Naturally antibacterial essential oils:

• Basil
• Orange
• Chamomile
• Patchouli
• Peppermint
• Coriander
• Cypress
• Eucalyptus
• Rosemary
• Geranium
• Rosewood
• Grapefruit
• Sage
• Lemon
• Sandalwood
• Lime
• Spearmint
• Also spicier oils like thyme, oregano, and clove.

Any of the above essential oils can be added to your cleaning products and will make them antibacterial without the harmful chemicals. As for hand sanitizer? Try making your own with this easy recipe.


Kate HunterKate Hunter enjoys organic gardening, whole food cooking, crafting, making natural products, and following up on politics and the latest health food news. After changing her major from art to biology to English, she finally obtained a B.A. in English with an emphasis on writing from Southern Oregon University and has been writing about nutrition, healthy living, cooking, and gardening for over nine years. Kate is a published author both online and in print and has owned, operated, and published a literary journal. She is a mother of three, speaks sarcasm, some Spanish, but mostly English and spends her time baking, taking pictures, canning, growing and drying herbs, reading, selling natural products and homemade crafts in her Etsy store HomemadeByKate, and checking food labels of course. 



3/20/2013

I brought my kids to the St. Patrick’s Day parade in downtown Madison, Wisconsin, on Sunday. There was music, dancing and mounds and mounds of candy. We left with our pockets and stroller pouch overflowing with candy! Although I don’t want to deprive my children of the fun experience of collecting candy, I don’t want them to eat a large quantity of artificial colors, dyes and sweeteners.

making homemade art from candy  making homemade art from candy
Photos By Sarah Lozanova

At Halloween, a fairy came along and traded dates and raisins for the candy stash. Thankfully my kids were asleep before the trick-or-treating ended, so we were able to pass the candy along to other children. For St. Patrick’s Day, we decided to make artwork from the candy collection.

We started out by making homemade glue, which contains water, cornstarch, corn syrup and vinegar. My children, ages 2 and 4, then glued the candy on thick pieces of paper. They really enjoyed the project and didn’t once ask for a taste. The candy is still edible if anyone wants it, as the glue is food grade.

I enjoy celebrating holidays with my children, but I keep the emphasis on spending quality time together and enjoying ourselves, and away from heaps of candy. My daughter’s Easter basket last year was filled with carrots and blueberries, and we used polished rocks for our dreidel games (instead of chocolate coins). It keeps me on my toes too, finding creative and fun ways to celebrate the holidays.


Sarah Lozanova is a mother of two, a holistic parenting coach, and a freelance environmental writer. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin, and has an MBA in sustainable development. View her natural parenting blog at RawMama.org. 



3/7/2013

When I was a child, I would often spend time with a group of Italian neighbors in their 80s. We would stroll around the neighborhood together, pick grapes and visit their friends. They were warm, active and social women who were enjoying life, setting a great example of how rich the golden years can be. Aside from grandparents however, my two young children have very limited contact with older adults.

My family will soon be moving to Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage (BCE), a 36-unit community on 42 shared acres in mid-coast Maine. The homes feature a passive solar design, and a common house with shared space will be constructed soon.

little girl and senior carving pumpkins
Photo Courtesy Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage

“I think we have an amazing mix, from people in their 20s who are just having babies to people in their 70s,” says Judith Grace, a member of BCE and a grandmother of three. “We couldn’t have planned it better.”

I’m really excited for my children to live in a multi-generational community and form relationships with people of a variety of ages, as it can only enrich their lives. When speaking with other parents of young children living at BCE, they were attracted to the community partially for this reason.

“Many kids know their parents, perhaps their grandparents and 50 or 100 other kids their age,” says Dan Capwell, a member of BCE and a new father. “Kids from cohousing know many older adults, middle-aged people and older kids. It gives them a more well-rounded life experience to draw from.”

By design, BCE members have frequent contact with neighbors. Automobile access is limited and homes are clustered to preserve open space and encourage spontaneous interactions. Voluntary shared meals will be offered a few times a week once the common house is completed and all are encouraged to participate in the community gardens.

“Because kids in cohousing have access to all different ages of people, they tend to have a better relational skill set,” says Allison Piper, an expectant mother and member of BCE. “They are more confident in dealing with people of all ages. They can envision being friends with adults as easily as someone their own age.”

quilting with seniors
Photo Courtesy Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage

Many older adults are retired and have more time and energy to invest in relationships. Jeffrey Mabee, Judith’s husband, often goes to the sporting events to watch BCE children play and says he feels almost like an uncle or grandfather to them.

“I’m going to have a room in our house that I call my project room, and I think a lot about having children there, sharing in what I’m doing,” says Jeffrey. “I think of the things I can teach children, and it’s part of what attracts me to the cohousing project.”

As much as my children can benefit from living in a multi-generational community, I believe I will too. My mother is deceased and I don’t currently have many relationships with older adults. Many of the BCE seniors have grown children and a wealth of life experiences and wisdom to share.

“I think with age, we can bring a certain calm perspective and ability to look at the bigger picture,” says Jeffrey. “It is less important for me now to get the things that I thought I wanted. What is most important to me is to create love and connection in our community.” 

These are lessons that I’m still learning. I often prioritize completing a load of laundry above playing with my kids, or cleaning the bathroom above bathtub play.

Certainly we don’t need to move to a cohousing community to have relationships with older adults. Many churches and religious organizations, neighborhoods, extended families and non-profit organizations have members of all ages. Our local botanic garden has many friendly senior volunteers who go out of their way to converse with my children when we visit and seem to really enjoy the interactions with visitors.

I hope the older adults at BCE also find the relationships with families of young children enriching. “I think seniors aren’t getting the feedback that they are still a really valuable part of the whole fabric of society,” says Judith. “I think there are lots of seniors who have low self-esteem about being old. Our culture promotes that, but I think it is good for seniors to be in a place where their voice is just as important as anyone else’s voice in the community.”


Sarah Lozanova is a mother of two, a holistic parenting coach, and a freelance environmental writer. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin, and has an MBA in sustainable development. View her natural parenting blog at RawMama.org. 



2/7/2013

How did Silver Surfer get trapped in a bag on our window sill? And why is he so desperate to escape?

Silver Surfer toy

It's a convoluted tale that began at the Northwest Denver Toy Library. We're fortunate that the toy library is in the basement of our closest Denver Public Library branch. We make it there a few times a month, and the kids each choose two or three toys to check out. Sam usually chooses something that complements his own toys, like the police station below. Isabel always chooses the noisiest toys, with our blessing, since we'll be able to return them in three weeks.

Sam playing with toy police station 

toy piano 

The concept of a toy library exemplifies the idea of playing well with others. Our toy library has been a free resource for Denver families since 1980, and it’s always run and stocked by volunteers. We're usually there on Saturdays, and inevitably run into someone we know. Kids and parents end up playing, talking and building community.

Sam has recently decided to let go of a few of his toys, in order to make room for more Legos, Trashies and Nanospeeds. The toys that he's willing to donate are small, and generally plastic, but for him it's a great start in the process of letting go. You can see that SpongeBob isn't sold on the idea of leaving his happy home.

SpongeBob toy 

The problem is that SpongeBob can't move to the toy library. Donated toys that aren't brand-new, must include proof that they meet federal safety standards. SpongeBob and all of his friends don't have papers, so we've come up with another option. In the tradition of The Toy Society, we're going to start leaving the toys at playgrounds, parks and other spots where a toy might come in handy. We decided to wrap the toys in bags marked "Free Toys" so the finders won’t hesitate to take possession. We’ve been making the bags from old t-shirts, and writing on them with permanent marker, in the hope that they’ll survive all types of weather conditions. We’re looking forward to hiding and sharing many toys during the next few weeks.

Do you have any creative locations, where Silver Surfer and SpongeBob might find appreciative new owners? 


Elise Roth EdwardsElise Roth Edwards writes, paints, makes stuff, and asks a lot of questions in Denver, with the help of her two kids, her husband, and a growing crowd of friends and neighbors. You can read more about their experiments and adventures at her ever-evolving parenting blog, The Family Lab for Inquiry and Play





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