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by Elizabeth Wickoren on Nov 29, 2022

Art is one thing I feel like I really don't do enough of with the kids. 

I am a big, ole Scrooge when it comes to any art other than drawing. The thought of clay, paint, and the like just makes me cringe: all that mess and chaos, ugh!

Don't get me wrong: I love to do art myself. I love it! Love, love, love it, but I tend to be kind of lazy when it comes to breaking out the messy stuff for my brood. Or, I thought it was laziness. Today, I'm thinking it is more like a self-preservation instinct. 

I was recently reading a blog post describing a lovely winter trees project involving shaving cream, so I bought a couple cans of shaving cream and cleared off the kitchen table.

Things started out innocently enough. My three children were swirling colors and dipping papers.

If you want this to be a blog post that inspires you to do art with your kids, stop reading now. Get some cans of shaving cream and have fun.

If you want to hear our story, read on.


My oldest son started rubbing shaving cream on his tummy. I told him that he needed to clean up. While helping him get started on cleaning up, the two younger kids began rubbing shaving cream all over their bodies. I went with my daughter and other son to clean up in the bathroom.

When I came back to the kitchen, my oldest son had stirred his shaving cream as fast as he could until all of the color mixed into a putrid green. When the two kids came back from the bathroom, the other son excitedly followed suit and mixed his shaving cream into a green mush, too.

I felt irritated that they were ignoring the whole concept of making beautiful art and instead focusing on the smoosh factor. I tried not to let it get to me: Intellectually, I know that it was still a fun tactile experience for the boys, even if they weren't making art as I had planned. 

I praised my daughter's shaving cream swirls as they really were lovely. The boys then asked me to help them make swirls, too. I added more color to their piles of green shaving cream and all the kids successfully made swirly art.

I wish I could end the story here.


Once everyone had made several swirly art pictures, I started cleaning up. I admit that I felt a bit frazzled and ready for the art project to end.

While my back was turned, the kids again rubbed shaving cream on their bodies. I remember how their laughter began to get that crazy sound to it. You know, when the sound shifts from joyful, delightful giggling to insane, overstimulated, maniacal screams of laughter. I turned around as plops of shaving cream landed on the floor and chairs and my clothes.

What came next was not my finest moment.

I yelled, a bit. I tossed out some choice phrases that had no business being said to children. Maybe "yelled a bit" is being too kind. I screamed. I lost it.

All I could think was that I had spent all this effort trying to do something fun and special with them, and they were almost literally throwing it in my face. My oldest son got the brunt of my anger, because I reasoned that he "should know better" being the oldest and because I blamed him for the mischief. I sent the three kids to the bathroom to clean up.

When I had calmed down a little, I walked into the bathroom to see how clean-up was going. They were playing in the bathroom sinks with the shaving cream!

Thankfully, at that moment, my husband came home. He took over clean-up of the kids and the bathroom while I cleaned up the kitchen table and focused on calming down again.


After a few deep breaths, I went to talk to my oldest son. I apologized for yelling. We talked together about where things went awry. I asked him: "If you were at school, would you have taken the art supplies and started rubbing them all over his body?" He laughed while saying no. I explained that I was angry that he and his siblings had misused the art supplies. He replied, "But the shaving cream just feels so good!"

I told him that there is a time and place for whole-body art. At home, this time and place is outside in the summer where they can be hosed-off afterwards before coming into the house. 

Then, I had a light-bulb moment!

"The other place for whole-body art," I said, "is in the bathtub where all the mess can be rinsed down the drain."

Frankly, I'm thinking all art should be done in the bathtub in the future. It really is the perfect location.


What is the moral of this story? I need to approach art with the kids differently. I need to expect mess. Expecting specific aesthetically pleasing results is just setting myself up for disappointment and stress. 

Underestimating the amount of mess that can be made with two cans of shaving cream was a grave error in judgment on my part.

After thinking about it, the whole point of art is to enjoy the process and not worry too much about the end result. I lost that focus while gazing at pictures of magical, snowy trees and imagining my kids making something similarly cute. The kids' aim, though, was to enjoy the process. 

As I reflect on what I could have done differently today, the experience is not without merit. I learned, and relearned, some important lessons.


see through your child's eyes

by staff on Nov 22, 2022

Warm relationships with other adults sustain us when we're struggling or feeling isolated. These "villages" are our connected communities of caring adults who support us in nurturing our relationships with our children. 

                                      "It takes a village to raise a child." ~ African proverb

Our villages often contain our closest friends but are more than a set of friends. They are friends, neighbors, extended family members, and acquaintances who–whether intentional or even knowing–help deliver us as parents to our children. We are full participants, receiving support while offering our care and support to others.


As with our children, we have learned that relationship-building is at the heart of our villages. Establishing and maintaining relationships of any kind takes effort and persistence, and this can be intimidating especially at first. It is rare to stumble into a ready-made community and feel immediately welcome. Even in inclusive and inviting groups, you may have found that you still had to reach out, show up frequently, extend invitations repeatedly, and have patience. 

Finding a village requires vulnerability. We had to extend ourselves and make invitations that may not have always been accepted. This was challenging. The challenge didn’t end once we established relationships. Opening our homes and our lives to other people also opens our hearts to hurts, but we learned that we must do so to create genuine relationships.

Building a strong village also required us to accept differences. While we're all looking for people who share our values or who are otherwise like us, true community allows for diversity. While we do not want to sacrifice our values for the sake of connection, we learned that authentic connection runs deeper than our similarities.


Sometimes, we find our villages in organized parent groups in our community. Other villages seem to arise out of the people already in our lives. We may need to be intentional in creating and sustaining a community through planned activities. Which of these village-building ideas are your favorites? 

  • Invite friends to join in your family’s celebrations such as holidays, birthdays, or family meals;
  • Begin a tradition with friends that allow for long stretches of relaxed time together such as camping trips;
  • Walk your dogs, and children, together;
  • Begin an online social group of families from your geographic neighborhood and use it to create opportunities for meeting in person;
  • Visit your local farmers market;
  • Open your house or backyard to your neighbors for a shared meal;
  • Ask for help as needed (even if you feel you don’t need it) as many people enjoy giving support to others;
  • Offer to help others when you recognize a need.

The idea is that we find easy ways to find “our people” – those friends who support us to be the parent we want to be. They come alongside us when it’s hard, help us answer our questions, encourage us to grow into our roles as moms and dads. And we do the same for them! That’s what it means to be part of our village. What does your village look like?


Who is in your village?

by Judy Sanders on Nov 15, 2022

It's dinnertime somewhere.

Families sit around a dining table, or gather around a short-legged table, or settle on a rug in a circle.

A baby may be in a highchair or on his mother's back, having food handed to him. He may be in a hammock, gently pushed every so often, dozing, not eating, and absorbing the sounds of his family enjoying their evening meal.

Why regularly share the evening meal as a family? How does this routine activity serve us beyond nourishment?

It has been said that the table is the heart of the home. At the table, we rejoin the pack in a timeless ritual. We are no longer separate and solitary; we regain our identities as part of a greater whole.

As we eat together, we mark milestones, divulge dreams, bury hatchets, make deals, give thanks, plan vacations, and tell jokes. It's where children learn the lessons that families teach: communication, cooperation, manners ("so you'll be comfortable when you have dinner with the queen"), self-control, values, following directions, sitting still, and taking turns. It's where we make up and make merry. Children can count on spending time with their parents and learning about the adult world. Sitting down for a meal gives us a fresh chance to reconnect.


Families vary in their expectations or rules regarding the family table. In some families, all members are expected to be at all dinners; in some, only Sunday dinner attendance is required. Common expectations are no television and no phone use.

In some families: If you're hungry before dinner, eat an apple. If the food is passed family-style, take only what you want and eat what you take. If a food is offered for the first time, you must try at least one bite. Carry your dishes into the kitchen. Everyone helps with clean up; it's part of the meal. If you're still hungry after dinner, have some cereal or a peanut butter sandwich.

In other families: Stay at the table until everyone is finished eating. You have to ask to be excused from the table.

Some parents strive for fun at the table. Criticism is not allowed. You can't complain about the food or bicker with your siblings. If you say something negative about a brother or sister, you must follow it with something positive.

Good stuff happens in the kitchen, before and after the meal. Working together to prepare food and clean the kitchen later fosters a sense of teamwork. When a parent and a child are working side by side, with a sense of cooperation, it can be easier and less confrontational to say something private and important. Cooking together teaches cooperation, respect, and patience and instills confidence.

My grandmother's preparation for supper included tying on a clean apron and walking outside to meet her husband as he came in from their orchard. Her children noticed this ritual that reflected their mother's love and respect for her husband.

I know families that like to highlight dinner with flowers, candles, a tablecloth, cloth napkins, and child-made placemats and place cards. They encourage the children who are setting the table to make it interesting and attractive. Decorations can be something simple and easily available, such as rocks from outside, leaves, and braided dandelions.

Welcome your children's friends to your table. It's a way to get to know them and for them to see your family in action. It is nice to have the inviter help choose the menu and pitch in to cook the dinner.


Some families take a period of time before the meal to focus on gratitude. There's the hubbub before the meal, getting the food on the table and herding everyone into their places, and then it's quiet for a moment. It's time to give thanks for the food, each other, and the cook and to ask for our bodies to use the food well.

Part of the ritual may be to join hands while we repeat something together. My son John and his wife Dana taught English in Osaka, Japan, for two years before they had children. Today, years later, before their evening meal, they hold hands with their daughters while the family says a prayer to Mother Earth and Father Heaven. Then, with palms together, they say together, "Itadakimasu," a Japanese grace that means "I receive from above." John told me he then thinks to himself, "May my heart and my choices do God's work."

The gratitude time before the meal may be formal or informal. One person might speak or sing, or all might spontaneously chime in, one at a time. This brief time of focused attention acknowledges that we are together again and fortunate to share this meal.


Every time you encourage your toddler not to bang her spoon on the table, every time you cock your head and listen to your spouse or your child tell a story from the day, you are clarifying your family's culture. You are saying: This is who we are; this is how we operate.
The word "companion" means "one who breaks bread with you," and companionship assumes communication. Parents need to establish an atmosphere where it's safe to share personal stories and opinions without fear of criticism or putdowns. Family members can have healthy debates when the goal is joint exploration and not one-upmanship.

Ask questions. Listen respectfully. You'll get an idea of how your child is reacting to the outside world and how the world is reacting to your child. Play to your child's strengths and interests. Who made you laugh today? Who did you make laugh? Consider the 1-2-3 game; for example: one thing you learned in social studies, two people you sat with at lunch, three things you saw on the way to school. For the older child: What was most interesting in today's news? Will it affect your life? Keep an encyclopedia, a world globe, and a map of your nation nearby.


Families need not avoid serious topics at the evening meal. We all confront challenges and losses and emergencies that blindside us. It's healthy to let our children see us worried, concerned, or sad and to see us grapple with the tough parts of life; they also see us clarify problems and develop plans to tackle them. They watch parents listen to each other with empathy and see them console each other.

They recognize our resiliency and move toward becoming resilient themselves. Children who know the tough stories as well as the happy stories from their family history can cope better when things don't go well in their lives. Terrible things have happened, but we're okay; our family survives.

Hearing the family tales again and again over time anchors a sense of who we are and gives us hope and a feeling of belonging. Children may find heroes in their own family.

Supper can be about prevention and repair. A child may feel safe to talk about his own tough stuff at the table. His problems may not loom so large after they are shared with the family during a meal.


Meals are the perfect place to celebrate anything. Causes for celebration: the last of the snow melts in the yard, a child finishes a school project, the first crocus is blooming, the neighbor's cat had kittens, a half-birthday (with half of a cake), 30 years ago this month one of the parents graduated from high school.

In our home, the birthday child enjoys The King or Queen Treatment all day: no chores, choose the menu for dinner, go to bed a half hour later, etc. Birthday traditions give the celebrant something familiar to look forward to. Every year, I knew my mother would make me an angel food cake with seven-minute frosting and choose the prettiest peace rose from the garden to put into the hole and in the top. My heart warms when I think of her choosing a rose and bringing it in to place on the cake she made for me.

Sing for your supper. We borrowed this idea from our good friends for Thanksgiving one year, but a family can do it anytime. Everybody prepares something to share between dinner and dessert, from the youngest person to the oldest. You don't have to perform something, but you'll probably want to. Read a poem, do a somersault, explain your research project (using markers and a chart on an easel), sing, read your favorite children's book, play an instrument, tell a joke, relate a family incident from many years before. This activity produces fabulous memories.

Try dinners with variety: breakfast for dinner, joke night, eat with your fingers lunch, a picnic in the living room, foods from other cultures, or green milk and mashed potatoes on St. Patrick's Day.


There are a zillion reasons for eating a meal together. It provides nourishment of all kinds: emotional and mental as well as physical. We get to know each other better. Family meals can be a bulwark against the pressures we all face every day. Sitting down to a meal together draws a line around us; it strengthens the bonds that connect us. The number-one reason? It's just plain fun.


What does your family table look like?