Friday, January 6, 2012

BR: Simplicity Parenting

I have been reading a few parenting books lately. Being three has been very difficult for Ravenna and for us. Because I do not believe that the way I was parented is the best way to raise my own child I am constantly looking for advice, insight, ideas etc. to help with my parenting struggles especially when my immediate learned reaction tends towards violence and anger. Fighting those urges requires me to have a parenting toolbox filled with resources that I can reach for when I am at my whits end.

The full title of Family therapist Kim John Payne's book, Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids,  is enough to make one hope that this is the Holy Grail of parenting books and that we will never have to read another again. While not a cure-all solution for the difficulties inherent in child-rearing, I feel that Payne's book gives a lot of great ideas, a foundation, for creating a home and a lifestyle where children can thrive. Based on his experience with helping families to simplify as well as citing numerous studies, Payne makes a compelling argument for making, what will be for some, very difficult lifestyle changes.

Payne begins his book by making a case for simplicity:
Why simplify? The primary reason is that it will provide your child with greater ease and well-being. Islands of being, in the mad torrent of constant doing. With fewer distractions their attention expands, their focus can deepen, and they have more mental and physical space to explore their world in the manner their destiny demands.
That sounds pretty great doesn't it? He also adds that simplifying is not just for the benefit of the child but also for the parent. By simplifying parents have less "mental clutter" and because of that their understanding and appreciation for their children will increase. The first two chapters of the book describe the need for simplifying family life and also how to notice if your child is in need of simplicity, what he calls "A Soul Fever."
Trained in the Waldorf/Steiner tradition, it is clear that Payne finds a great deal of inspiration in how Waldorf classrooms a run, especially with the home environment and choice of toys. Very basically, get rid of stuff. Stuff clutters our heads and our hearts. I fully agree with this. Children don't need a ton of toys but they do need good quality toys chosen with care for their use and beauty. This is one of my favorite aspects of the Waldorf philosophy. Here are some of my notes from the chapter on "Environment" which I found the most beneficial for my needs.
  • "Too much stuff leads to too many choices," which is distracting and overwhelming for developing brains.
  • Too much stuff leads to a sense of entitlement echoed with the refrain for "More!"
  • "The number of toys your child sees, and has access to, should be dramatically reduced"
  • The less clutter children have in their lives the greater their capacity for free and "deep play"
  • Children's play needs to include: trial and error, touch, imaginary play, experience, purpose and industry, nature, social interaction (not just with age mates), movement, art and music (free access to child appropriate art materials and musical instruments),  
  • Simplicity with the choice of toys is also important. Think: simple, good quality, natural materials, open-ended.
  • Keep only the most loved and used toys easily at hand and in view. Put in baskets/bins on shelves, with only a few bins in use at a time makes cleanup easier and encourages more imaginative play.
  • Let play happen, don't make it happen. -This was one of the most useful ideas for me. It is exhausting trying to entertain my daughter all the time. Payne says that we don't need to. Just let them play and develop the way their brains and intended to. We cannot and should not try to force children into a developmental mold that is inappropriate for them, or any child.
  • Kids need nature and they need free play in nature as in Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. -This is one of my most vehement contentions but the one I meet the most resistance to in society today. Letting children have free play in nature is considered "dangerous" and can get a parent cited for child abuse. No joke.
  • Don't go crazy with books: No more than a dozen on a bookshelf at one time with 1-2 favorite available. Books should be developmentally appropriate (Waldorf and Classical Education Trivium both have suggestions for age-appropriate books), great quality stories (puts me in mind of Charlotte Mason's "Living Books" philosophy) and nothing to do with media characters (Dora the Explorer, Disney Princesses etc.).
  • Clothes should be simple, made of natural materials, and good quality avoiding media characters and stereotypical/popular phrases. I love the idea of making my home and family an "ad-free zone"
Children thrive on rhythm and predictability. Try as much within your powers to put that in stone. It also helps to let a child know in advance when something is going to change in the familiar rhythm. Also be aware and anticipate that a child might also struggle with the change and that will show up in their behaviors. Payne says one of the best markers to set the day around is mealtimes. During mealtimes everyone in the family should participate in both the making and the cleaning up of the meal, not just the eating of it. I love this idea! I also love the emphasis he puts on making simple meals with the quote "Food is meant to nourish, not entertain or excite."

In addition to having rhythms throughout the day, Payne says that we should also ensure that children have lots of free time to be "bored." This is a great idea to be explored with older kids and it is well reading this book just for the section on team sports. Lastly, it is important for kids that adults do not burden children with adult matters. In our quest to raise compassionate world citizens we are actually creating a bunch of worry-warts. It is okay to not tell children everything. It is better for them not to know many things. Our stress also stresses our children. Get rid of the TV or just keep it off most the time.   

Overall, I think this book had a ton of great ideas and is worthwhile reading once to see which ideas you feel you can include and incorporate in your life. It wasn't exactly what I needed, which was help with discipline, but it was a good start. The book even has a website with a bunch of great information.

I am going to include a mix of toy ideas that he suggests under the section Simplified Play for my own reference:
  • Trial and Error: Many hours of floor time for infant; babies really don't need "toys"
  • Touch: "Rattles, nesting cubes, cloth dolls for babies, silks and scarves, heavy woolen blankets and cloaks, the pliancy of beeswax and clay as they warm to touch, a basket of smooth pebbles that change color when wet, solid wooden blocks and shapes, gnarled roots and sticks, beanbags." Food preparation with their own kitchen tools: child size "work board or mat, apron, wooden spoons, vegetable brushes, rolling pins, pots and pans, whisks and spatulas, with cloths for polishing apples and tidying up. Garden tools also should be real: a wheelbarrow or garden cart, garden gloves, with a small, but real shovel, rake, and trowels." Real but child sized tools are the key here as well as working alongside the parent.
  • Pretending; imaginary play: "Dress-up clothes, hats, and accessories...simple choices, rather than elaborate or character-specific outfits..."
  • Experience: "Excellent toys for all of this 'primal' exploration are buckets, nets, shovels and kites, scoops, bubbles, baskets, and containers for pouring and collection."
  • Purpose and Industry: Let children work with us. Mending doll clothes alongside our own mending. Child sized versions of cleaning tools: "small broom and dustpan, a dust cloth" etc.
  • Nature: Give children opportunities to be in nature and help them know some of the plants and animals that they can find there. Cardboard box, blanket forts, sleeping outdoors in tents during the summer, a quiet place in the yard.
  • Social interaction: "Cloth dolls with simple features...Tea sets, wooden animals, trucks and blocks, the loose democracy of the sandbox, the swing set, foursquare and hopscotch, jacks, pick-up sticks, puppets and puzzles, game of hide-and-seek and catch, cards and board games, checkers and chess." How closely a child stays to you is a sign of where they are developmentally (84).
  • Art and music: "a big pad or roll of paper; sturdy crayons (thick for toddlers) and pencils; paints; some kind of modeling medium, such as beeswax, clay, or PlayDoh; fabric, glue; and some dedicated place for art. As children reach school age, they can begin some simple crafts. Whittling and knitting, for example, develop graphomotor skills just as children are beginning to write. Beadwork and sewing, woodwork and candle making, paper-mache and ceramics." "Wooden rattles and egg shakers, drums, bells of all sorts, penny whistles, harmonicas, and simple recorders, lap harps, thunder shakers, and rain sticks."


  1. Thank you for sharing your notes and thoughts! I'm always always on the quest for more helpful parenting ideas, and this makes me want to read the book. Thanks Carrie and you're a wonderful mama!

  2. I really loved this book! I wanted to post a review myself but just haven't had time to write one.

  3. I guess I will be the third Lisa in a row to comment here (what the heck?).

    I agree with ALL you wrote here. I read about Simplicity Parenting in a magazine. I'd get the book but just don't have time for reading it. Thanks for sharing some highlights :)