Thursday, July 15, 2010

Greening the Toy Box

Because A.'s birthday is coming up in August, we've been thinking about toys a lot lately.  Last year we made a commitment to stop buying all things plastic, to purchase or make only natural and Waldorf inspired toys, to support our local toy seller, and to encourage everyone we know to give up their dependence on Wal Mart.

We extracted two large garbage bags full of old toys for donation from A's room and we've enjoyed learning to make wine cork dollies with scraps of old fabric and wool roving hair.  We even tinkered some fairy furniture after finding inspiration at The Magic Onions.  This weekend we are set to make some wet felted Zen stones like these (above) from Etsy merchant Elinart.

All this thinking about toys reminded me of another toy story  -- the one recently in theaters.  Then I stumbled across this blog at Beliefnet...

It's a shame that a movie about the enduring pleasures of imagination and re-purposing and recycling treasured toys is also one long infomercial for more than 300 new products specifically tied to "Toy Story 3." Susan Linn of the Center for a Commercial-Free Childhood writes: "A search for toys licensed by the Toy Story franchise brings up more than 300 items on, most of which squelch exactly the kind of creative play the film celebrates."

Three-hundred toys?  Isn't this irresponsible -- if not appalling?  Hasn't anyone at Disney or Pixar heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? Just one thousand miles off of the coast of California, lies a pile of plastic the size of TEXAS.  

Check out this four minute video:

Knowing this, how can any of us in good conscience purchase plastic toys?  There are so many other choices -- such as making your own natural toys or supporting an Etsy merchant such as Nushkie, Little Red Whimsy, or Mamma4earth who use natural and eco-friendly materials.  Or, support a store like Bella Luna Toys or the Natural Kids Store whose products support your child's imagination rather than a feed corporate giants like Disney and contribute to the destruction of our Earth.

When our kids touch natural, simple, non-noisy toys they are connecting with nature.  Touching the Earth this way supports your child's understanding that all things are connected and helps them see themselves as stewards or custodians of this beautiful place we call home.  What's more, playing with simple, non-noisy toys requires kids to use their imagination thereby stimulating their creativity and innovation.  And if we ever hope to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it's going to take some innovative thinking.

Making smart choices doesn't mean missing out on any of the fun.  To the contrary, it often means discovering a world you never knew existed.  The next time your child is in the market for a new toy, hop on your computer and do a little research first.  Before resorting to old habits, let your child see what else is out there.  Each eco-compassionate choice we make teaches our kids to live consciously.  At this juncture in human history, I can't think of a more important lesson to share with our children.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lovebugs of Compassion

Today was the first day of our summer home school co-op.  Our July mindfulness unit is compassion and we kicked off our studies with a discussion about what the word means.  The girls did a great job naming examples. They said:
Loving speech
Feeling other people’s feelings
Comforting others when they are sad
A soft heart
Saying Namaste!

After circle time, I read the story of Kuan Yin from The Lady of Ten Thousand Names: Goddess Stories from Many Cultures retold by Burleigh Muten.  Kuan Yin is the goddess of compassion and her name means, "She Who Hears the Cries of the World."   

In this telling of her story, Kuan Yin starts her life as a princess who wants nothing more than to spend her days praying for the sick and nursing underfed animals back to health.  When she chooses a life in a nunnery over her father's wish for her to marry, her father burns the nunnery to the ground.  When she escapes the fire, he orders her execution.  The princess wakes from the sleep of death in the land of the gods where she earns her name, "She Who Hears the Cries of the World" by looking down to Earth and assisting those in trouble.

One day, she hears the cries of her own father and, despite his treatment of her, she goes to his rescue.  Because her heart was full of nothing but pure love, she is able to heal the king of his malady by sacrificing herself.  The Earth trembles, rainbow-colored clouds gather over the palace, the scent of lotus blossoms fill the air, and flowers rain down on Earth.  Kuan Yin rises into the sky like the round golden moon, spreading her glowing light all over the Earth.  From that day forward, the king shared his wealth with the kingdom, no one ever went hungry, and healers were always available for the sick.

The girls took picture notes while I read the story.  We talked about practicing to have a heart that holds nothing but love and how letting go of anger softens our heart and brings peace into the world.  Then they shared their pictures and answered a few listening comprehension questions.

Next it was time for a little movement.  The girls declared themselves "love bugs of compassion" and proceeded to buzz around the house giggling.  After a little silliness, it was time for some yoga.  With gratitude for her life-giving energies, we giggled our way through a few rounds of sun salutations.

For the last part of our day, we put our compassion into action with a little community service project that I'm organizing through Children Creating Change.   I'm connecting kids with nursing home pen pals at the local home where A. gives piano recitals twice per year.  The girls know that they may never get a letter in return but they're sending pictures and notes to bring a little cheer into the lives of some special grandmas.  If your child would like to adopt a grandma or grandpa, please post a comment below and I'll happily facilitate the connection.

The girls just finished eating fresh raspberries from our favorite local farm... and were convinced this one was a heart-shaped raspberry of compassion.  Now they're back in the classroom giggling and coloring.  Their little squeals remind me that compassion comes in many colors and is as essential as knowledge.  The Dalai Lama once said, “Each of us in our own way can try to spread compassion into people’s hearts. Western civilizations these days place great importance on filling the human 'brain' with knowledge, but no one seems to care about filling the human 'heart' with compassion."  I couldn't agree more and look forward to nurturing a little more compassion with these lovebugs this summer.

Magic Mindful Moments

Teaching mindfulness to our kids can only come from the depth of our own practice.  At the same time, our children are often our best teachers.  Even in the midst of chaos, our kids can draw us smack dab into the present moment.  Sometimes all it takes is a word or even just a certain look in his or her eyes and we are transported out of busyness and into that place of connection with our child. 

In this way, our kids are magical mindfulness magnets.  They pull us right into the now. 

These moments come in a plethora of forms -- when they need us, when they are hurting, when they are scared, when they cry, and when their joy is exuberant and flowing out like a stream of flowers.

Is there a certain time of day when you feel most connected with your child?  Do you have a memory of a time when your child pulled you into the present moment?  I'd love to hear about those magical moments of mindfulness.

[Originally posted to my new discussion group for moms, Everyday Mindfulness: Raising Conscious and Compassionate Kids]
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