New Book Born: Saving Arcadia

My third book. Published April 1, 2017. If you never seen the beauty of the Great Lakes be prepared to fall in love.

My third book. Published April 1, 2017. If you never seen the beauty of the Great Lakes be prepared to fall in love.

I’m excited to announce my newest book: Saving Arcadia. This book gets back to my love of the outdoors and wilderness.

I grew up in a Great Lakes state – Ohio – but never really encountered the greatness of the Great Lakes until I moved north and lived in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. After graduate school, I landed a dream job preserving Great Lakes coastal habitat with a regional land trust in northern Michigan.

This book tells that story. A David and Goliath conservation adventure story that takes you behind the scenes into how a small community negotiated with a giant public utility to save 6,000 acres including a magnificent dune – and won against all odds.

For those of you who love nature, wild areas and beautiful beaches, this book is for you. It’s about the power of community, determination, inspiration, and deep down, a love of land and family. I wrote it to read like a gripping novel – like the real life adventure it was – and reviewers are agreeing:

“This work of creative nonfiction may be among the year’s best pieces of environmental drama so far.  Engaging, personal and lively, this tale of the Little Nonprofit that Could is a captivating and moving triumph. It is suspenseful in places, even gripping, and full of heart throughout. Accounts like these are what turn ordinary people into environmental activists.” ~ Foreword review

“You might not think a book about the struggle to wrest six thousand acres of Lake Michigan dunes from development would be a suspenseful adventure story, but [it’s] just that — a riveting story that spans decades about a small community of people who preserve a beloved tract against all odds.” ~ Northern Express

If you’ve read my first two books on parenting, be prepared for something new. The first books are about our relationships to our children. Saving Arcadia is about our relationship to our planet.

April (“Earth Month”) discounts of 30% off with code of SAV1.  This discount is good through the Wayne State University Press website, though you can order the book anywhere.

Book Launch parties in Traverse City, Michigan  April 8, 2017 at Bluewater Hall and in Arcadia, Michigan in July at Camp Arcadia.

Signed books are also available if you order through my local bookstores.

Happy Reading!

Posted in Agents and publishing, Good Reads | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

2 Responses to New Book Born: Saving Arcadia

  1. Congratulations, Heather. Looking forward to a great read.

  2. Mark from Arcadia says:

    Heather, great read, and I am proud of the sacrifice you made to save our dunes! Living among them, it make me shudder to think Baldy could have been covered with McMansions and golf courses. After work today, I will be hiking the dunes in your honor.

No Balls? No Kidding

What is the power of a ball to change play?

What is the power of a ball to change play?

Once in a while, an idea comes zipping through the air that startles me out of my old habits. I love it when a new idea upturns my day.

I know, I’m the renegade – I’m used to being the one who sends startling ideas out to others, ideas that upend stable ideas about parenting. But it’s nice to be on the receiving end sometimes.

This happened to me when I spoke recently with Dr. Debbie Rhea. She’s an incredible recess advocate who took a sabbatical to Finland, then returned to create LiiNK which focuses on more recess and more empathy. You’ll hear more about LiiNK and Debbie in a series of upcoming Renegade Rules podcast interviews this spring.  But for now…here’s a teaser.

LiiNK introduces schools to 4 recesses a day.  (Yes, four. That’s not a typo.)

I love it – though this didn’t shake my brain. You can read all about why kids need so much recess in my book It’s OK to Go Up the Slide. What she said next is what got me thinking:

“There are no balls allowed on the playground.”

What?!  Images of childhood games of Dodgeball and Kickball shot through my mind. I loved ball games at recess as a child. But here’s her reasoning – they intentionally wanted to promote unstructured, creative, kid-to-kid social play. The kind of play that naturally evolves when you put a bunch of children outside together. “When you have balls, kids use rules and turn them into a sport.”

Hmm. I’ve watched this happen. A ball in an elementary school playground becomes a soccer game. In most playgrounds I’ve witnessed, a ball segregates the boys from the girls. This seems to happen even when the girls regularly play soccer (or other ball sport) on a team, enjoy the sport and have skills. What would this same playground look like without balls?  How would the play change? It got me thinking.

Balls are terrific for play. Kids also use balls for all kinds of games, including creative ones they make up. I’m all for giving children a variety of props and environments to explore, balls included. But within the specific school-recess environment, would there be more creative, emotional, social and friendship learning with or without balls?

It’s a new idea. One LiiNK is exploring with powerful results. For now they’re working with the youngest kids, ages kindergarten through 2nd grade, and what’s good for recess may change as kids get older.

I’m not sure what I think of it yet. New ideas flop around for a while. The zing of a fresh idea can also hurt – our brains are pretty comfortable without change. But how wonderful to be open to new worlds when a new idea comes along.

What new ideas have startled you lately? What about balls on the elementary school playground? What would you see without them?

UpTheSlide final cover

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

2 Responses to No Balls? No Kidding

  1. Wow. What a simple but radical concept. I’m with you, Heather. An intriguing idea but I wonder how it will pan out. I see both sides of the theory too, especially since I was one of those boys who always loved sports and competing. Maybe the trick is to use balls that aren’t sports-specific (ex; baseballs, footballs, soccer balls), but just generically round or unusually shaped balls that may foster creative play and game-inventing.

    No balls on a playground recess would probably lead to more games being invented that use other props or no props at all. I would expect to see more creativity and original thinking and playing among more kids, since the non-sporty types wouldn’t feel relegated to the sidelines like they do when most kids are playing kick ball or soccer or football.

  2. Debra says:

    Great question about props and environments. I like the Japanese school that left unicycles in the yard. Wish there were a site that collected and studies these; and helped our overtested students, undersupported teachers revitalize…

Founding a Better Kindergarten

Founding board members and families of the Red Oak Community School. No good kindergarten options in your area? Start one!

Some of the founding board members and families of the Red Oak Community School. No good kindergarten options in your area? Start one!

It’s time for some good news. If you’re looking for inspiration in the early childhood world, look no further than Cheryl Ryan and the brand new Red Oak Community School.

Her motto: “No grades, no homework, no testing.”

Like many parents, Cheryl noticed that kindergarten options were not good for the kindergarten-aged child. Cheryl’s from Columbus, Ohio, and already had her children at SYC (the Columbus preschool School for Young Children that inspired my books It’s OK Not to Share and It’s OK to Go Up the Slide), but SYC doesn’t include kindergarten. So what did she do? Together with a group of like-minded parents and teachers, she founded a new school catering to 5-8 year olds.

What’s amazing is that Red Oak went from idea to reality in just one year.

“People ask me: ‘Why didn’t you just homeschool your child?'” Cheryl told me. “This was easier.”

That’s right. According to Cheryl, starting a brand new school is fairly simple. Cheryl and her fellow visionaries brainstormed, filed for nonprofit status, found funding, hired teachers, found a building, and enrolled 35 students. Their first “let’s do this” brainstorm happened in August 2015. By September 2016, the school opened its doors to kids. Initially Red Oak is a K-2 school, with plans to expand up to age 14.

It’s a school where children love coming. It’s joy-filled learning with a strong dose of nature. Red Oak is a model for what we can do about kindergarten. So many caring adults lament that “kindergarten is the new first grade.” We need more kindergarten options that are healthy, good fits for children.

Worried about kindergarten options in your area? Start your own school.

  • find your tribe of like-minded families
  • file the paperwork
  • find a teacher(s) and space
  • enroll eager students

That’s the simplified version (setting up a school rules vary by state) but if you are dreaming about creating a place where kindergarten-aged children can THRIVE, then find out more about the nitty-gritties and listen to Cheryl’s shining example on our podcast interview. Cheryl was a guest on Renegade Rules podcast. Listen to the interview.

We all need inspiration. The world needs developmentally-appropriate kindergarten programs. If your town doesn’t have one, why not give your dreams some action and start one now?

Have any new kindergartens started in your area? Who are the visionaries who started a program you admire? Could you be another visionary?

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on Founding a Better Kindergarten

Comments are closed.

The Every Day Hero’s Job is Speaking Up

Speaking up is hard to do, but that's called courage.

Speaking up is hard to do, but that’s called courage.

I suppose the whole message of my “It’s OK” books is simply about speaking up.

Speaking up when something’s wrong. Speaking up directly child-to-child when a child doesn’t like something. Speaking up when the culture is at odds with what’s good for human beings. Speaking up if something is just plain wrong for life on this planet.

Sometimes we know something is wrong but we stay silent. That’s understandable, but make a resolution to practice courage. Silence can hurt. We hurt ourselves, our children and the people around us if we know something is wrong and don’t say anything.

For those of you who’ve bucked the system, questioned a teacher, family member or authority figure, disagreed with someone respectfully, been willing to state what you don’t like and work toward a solution together – you know it’s  hard. Extremely hard. Speaking up takes courage.

Speaking up is hard. It’s lonely. It takes practice. It’s daunting, difficult and downright frightening for most of us as adults. But if we learn this practice from childhood, it’s much easier. It also gets easier with practice. Courage begets courage.

The topics in my books cover speaking up in many forms: conflicts over sharing, conflicts over friendships, conflicts over anything, homework, recess-deprived children, strangers, body limits, feelings, ideas, respect. Fundamentally it’s all about respect and kindness.

On the eve of the U.S. presidential election, I’m speaking out in favor of kindness. No matter what your past or current political views, do not let your vote endorse a person with bullying, bigoted ideals and give him a seat of world power. It’s dangerous. If your views are conservative, support other conservatives on the ticket.

What we need — at all ages — is to make an effort to understand each other, take care of each other and respect each other.

Taking turns. Speaking up. Listening. Practicing emotional control.

As Winston Churchill said: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

Have you found your courage lately? Have you ever known something was wrong “in your gut” for a long time before speaking up?  When’s the last time your practiced courage?

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Every Day Hero’s Job is Speaking Up

Comments are closed.

Teaching Tech Limits

Heads down. This is what parents look like to kids.

Heads down. This is what parents look like to kids.

If you ask most adults, they’re concerned about kids and the amount of time they spend on screens. That’s definitely important, but have you asked kids lately how they feel about their parents’ use of screens?

Too often, this is what children see: Heads down. Attention focused on the device. Parents lost in the netherworld of their phone.

We’re constantly modeling sensible tech use to children (or not such sensible tech use). Here’s what they’re learning when we over-use phones:

  • The online screen world is more important and fascinating than this one.
  • It’s OK to interrupt people in real-life all the time.
  • I have to really work to get my parent’s or another adult’s attention.
  • Balance? Boundaries? Manners? What are those?

When it comes to parenting, we like to focus on how to improve the kids’ behaviors. It’s a little harder to focus on our own. Smartphones have swept over our generation like a tidal wave. In all the excitement and flurry we’ve often forgotten to find balance.

Just like modeling good nutrition, parents must demonstrate healthy tech use.

Our daily habits matter. Kids are always watching and jumping to their own conclusions. “I thought grown-ups were just playing video games all day,” said one boy. That’s what he likes to do with a screen, so he assumed that’s what all the grown-ups around him were doing.

Try setting up some new healthy screen habits.

  • Announce what you’re doing. “I’m checking the weather.” “I’m sending a message to Daddy.” The screen is a vast portal to anywhere. Kids and others around you don’t know what you’re up to, so it’s polite to let them know.
  • Make pick-up and drop-off time a no-screen time. Finish your phone call before picking up your child from school. Enter the building fully present. Meetings and greetings are vital social times.
  • Set aside sacred times and spaces. Set family rules to keep mealtimes, bedtimes and bef0re-bed times screen-free. Make sure adults stick to it.
  • Discipline yourself and your phone. No, you don’t need it all the time. Remember it’s just a tool. You’re in charge of it; it’s not in charge of you.

If your family struggles with phone use, try my chapters devoted to technology in “It’s OK to Go Up the Slide.” Here’s an interesting article about overdoing tech and what it does to us: “I Used to be a Human Being” and NPR’s “For Children’s Sake.”

Remember, the children are always watching. We need to show them that real life is the most fascinating thing of all.

How do you see adult phone use impacting children in your life? What is  your relationship with technology? Who’s on top, you or your phone?

UpTheSlide final cover

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

2 Responses to Teaching Tech Limits

  1. Great post. I fear this addiction to technology will be the downfall of western civilization… Well…not really, but it boggles my mind how many people prefer machines to humans these days.

    I use a computer all day, but do NOT like using my smartphone. I don’t want anyone to have the number so no one will feel entitled to call me 24/7. Tech is a tool, but to rely on only one tool is foolhardy. What on Earth will we do if a terrorist attack wipes out the electric grid?

    My Little Brother is nine and seems indifferent to technology other than liking to play “educational” video games at the library. I assume he has a Game Boy or similar at home, but thankfully he never drags it along when we have time together. I rarely use my phone while with him and have only called his mother or taken a few photos with it. I hope to show him that life with technology used sparingly is possible and (more?) enjoyable than life glued to a screen.

  2. Another thing that’s slowly disappearing is the reading of “real” books — children nowadays are so engrossed with social media and in using their gadgets.

Celebrating Cake


The castle cake just before it was besieged. See the knights in the background.

I was just talking to fellow parenting author Jessica Joelle Alexander about the virtues of cake. She’s the author of the new book The Danish Way of Parenting, and describes how Danish teachers focus on empathy lessons every week from preschool through age 16, and do it with cake.

Cake seems like a good way to restart the Starlighting Mama blog for the season. The blog and I take summers off from each other. In summer, the outdoors is calling, the children are calling, and computers are cool, but not all the time. So here we are back again, and I can’t resist sharing with you my newest cake creation, created for my son’s birthday: A Besieged Castle.

Not just any castle, as you can see. It had to be actively under siege. So besides the vanilla wafer crenellations on the battlements, we have knights and siege engines attacking the castle walls.

The siege begins.

The siege begins!

The central castle is made from two 8″ square cakes stacked on top of each other. I baked a second set of square cakes and cut them into quarters and something less than quarters to make foundations for the towers (toothpicks help keep the towers stable). Then there’s stacked blond Oreos for the top of the towers, crowned by Nilla wafers. I’ve used fruit roll-ups before for windows and doors, but since this was a working fortress castle, we used pretzels for arrow slit windows (also called “loopholes”) and the castle door.

To accompany this cake, the kids devised various rough-and-tumble games, including making their own cardboard shields and then staging sword fighting duels and having an archery contest. After all that, they were ready to attack the cake castle.

Welcome back to the blog. If you like podcasts, I also started a podcast six months ago called Renegade Rules. You can listen via iTunes or Stitcher weekly on Saturdays.  The podcast interview with Jessica and ideas from “The Danish Way” will be up in October.

Meanwhile – celebrate life with cake.

Flaming torches crown it all. Of course, the good guys win.

Flaming torches crown it all. Of course, the good guys win.

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules, Cool Cakes and Costumes | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

One Response to Celebrating Cake

  1. Loved the cake. I would have killed for that as an 8-yr-old. 🙂

Have you Talked to your Child about ISIS?

Hiding under Blankie

Kids often carry real worries about events in the news. Talking can help kids cope.

News disasters don’t just stay in the news. Children encounter them.

When something terrible happens, kids want to know why. We may not think they even know what’s going on in the adult world – but you’d be surprised. Kids pick up more than we think. They pick up our fears. And they deserve age-appropriate honest answers.

This weekend I witnessed a scene that sums up childhood. My kids were romping outside with a friend, immersed in a game of imagination. They were outside in nature. Running through the meadow. Working out the game rules. The scene from my window was idyllic.

When they came in, my youngest announced “We were playing ISIS.”

ISIS. What a chilling game.

This is childhood. Childhood is about running carefree through meadow grass. But it’s also more complex than that. Childhood play is about sorting out the world, processing fears, figuring out what’s happening in the adult world and how to cope with it.

I admit the shock value stunned me a bit. But, of course, ISIS is part of this world and therefore it’s part of children’s play.

After the game I asked the kids what they knew about ISIS – “they’re hiding in Michigan.” We talked and I answered their questions about Islam, radical Islam, what radical Islamic terrorists didn’t like and why they might be angry. Usually after an in-depth talk like this the kids get done quickly and are ready to move on. Not on this topic.

When I checked in: “Have I answered your questions? Are there still things you want to know?” The answer was:

“Tell me more.”

Kids generally want to know more until they feel safe. We can’t guarantee safety, but we can help a child feel safe.That’s the root of it. The child wants reassurance that adults around him will take care of him.

Feeling safe

  • My fears and feelings have been heard
  • I’m lucky to live in a place that’s one of the safest in the world
  • I know what to do if there’s an emergency
  • I can talk to my parents about anything
  • Knowing what it’s all about makes the world less scary

Baffled? Don’t know what to say? My book It’s OK to Go Up the Slide devotes a whole chapter to talking to kids about news disasters – war, genocide, modern slavery, refugees, shootings, natural disasters, the whole gamut.

Remember, if she’s old enough to ask, she’s old enough to get an honest answer.

We shouldn’t flood young children’s minds with disaster, but we need to be aware that young kids pick things up. They pick up information and misinformation on the school bus. At recess. From classmates. From overheard news reports. From overheard adult conversations. They hear scare stories and real stories and mix it around in their heads trying to sort it out to make sense.

And, yes, they play it out.

So check in once in a while. Ask kids if there’s anything they’ve heard adults or kids talking about that worries them. Talk. Let them play. You might be surprised how sophisticated little people’s worries about the world can be.

What big topics have you heard kids bring up? Any funny misinformation stories? What’s been your reaction?

UpTheSlide final coverIt’s OK to Go Up the Slide explores this ideas in more depth and offers words to guide big, tricky conversations on news and news disasters.


Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

3 Responses to Have you Talked to your Child about ISIS?

  1. Joanne Frantz says:

    Great column, Heather, on a scary topic for so many of us! This is information parents need to have.
    I heard your NPR spot on All Things Considered Weekend. Again, you were very good and clear BUT it was too short. Food for thought from the other woman about behavior in public
    judged differently for low-income families. Of course, I don’t agree with her.

  2. Bridgett says:

    Good topic Heather. But don’t you think, we can avoid giving them the scary answers and just divert their mind to something else?

    Or just tell them it’s a movie or a fairytale and just escape for the moment.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Absolutely not. I love fairy tales in their own right, but when a child brings something to us about real news, in the real world, it’s up to us to give an honest answer, however scary that may be. If you think about it, it’s scarier for a child to realize she can’t trust her parents to tell her about life’s difficult subjects.

      Going into details may not be necessary, but basic information is. No need to dwell on it, but remember a child feels safer when her feelings are heard, her fears are understood, and her questions are answered.

Bullying: Why Zero-Tolerance Doesn’t Work

Anti-bullying programs are well-intentioned. But only real skills work.

Anti-bullying programs are well-intentioned. But only real skills work.

When grown-ups realized bullying was a big, bad problem, they did what they usually do: they banned it. Zero-tolerance. Automatic suspension. Kids forced to sign contracts to report bullies.

Now the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, an independent government advisory group, reports that zero-tolerance policies in schools don’t work. That’s no surprise.

You can’t solve a problem by wishing it away. Or banning it. Or expressing zero-tolerance. But you can change a bullying kid and a bullying culture. Yes, it’s completely possible, but it takes hard work.

When stories of zero-tolerance for bullies began reaching my ears a few years ago, I knew the programs would fail. Why? Because changing human behavior means confronting difficult feelings and teaching new skills. Just saying “no” to bullying does not work. Kids need skills to deal with the conflict. So do the adults around them.

As one of the report’s authors said, zero-tolerance programs don’t work because they don’t provide “skill training or replacement behaviors.”

Bullying is one type – and a common type – of conflict. Confronting and reducing bullying requires first and foremost a willingness to confront conflict both by the kids and the adults around them. It can’t be conveniently outlawed (think alcohol and Prohibition). It can’t be removed by singing peace and friendship songs. People need actual training in the art of conflict mediation. This training can begin as young as age two. It’s also never too late. Teens and adults can learn.

To tackle bullying we need different tools: Courage. Honesty. Time. New skills. An effective anti-bullying program involves deep feelings, conflict confrontation and opening minds to new ideas. These take time, and can be somewhat messy, but together children and the adults who support them will emerge stronger and kinder for the effort.

Has your school got it right? How is bullying handled where you live? What stories do you have to share? Have you seen zero-tolerance being phased out and replaced with more effective training?

Be courageous. Take the first steps towards anti-bullying. Dive into the wonderful world of conflict mediation. It starts by kids standing up for themselves. It starts by kids expressing emotions — even big, scary ones – appropriately.

It's OK small cover

Start learning the skills to prevent real bullying. Get a copy of It’s OK Not to Share for a child, school or family you love today.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

3 Responses to Bullying: Why Zero-Tolerance Doesn’t Work

  1. Makes sense to me.

  2. “You can’t solve a problem by wishing it away. Or banning it. Or expressing zero-tolerance.”

    That quote should be sent to every lawmaker, legislator, policy maker, school official, and rule maker in the country. Too often, well-intentioned, but misguided and/ or lazy adults believe that simply passing a law will fix any problem that comes up.

    Our local school district has typical anti-bullying policies that are as ineffectual as most.


  3. Jan Waters says:

    Great Heather! As usual, you are right on! Kids have to learn what to do not just what not to do. Jan Waters

Joys of a Burned Finger

Healthy risk is good. Kids are safer when they know how to cope.

Healthy risk is good. Kids are safer when they know how to cope.

My son burned his finger the other day as he was helping me cook. I love it when these things happen. Not the pain, of course. What I love is when kids engage in real life and learn how to cope.

We’d talked about the pot being hot and using potholders, but still his finger landed on the rim of the hot pot and he jerked it away the way our bodies teach us in an instant. “You burned your finger,” I said. “Put it under cold, running water.” We turned the tap on.

I’m sure he’ll burn his finger slightly again someday. But here’s what he won’t forget: what to do about it. He’ll stick it into cold, running water.

My father used to teach us how to fall. He encouraged us to balance on logs, jump across streams that were too big for us, and go rock hopping, but he prepared us by teaching us what to do when we fell. The assumption is that sometimes you will fall. If you are living. If you are trying. If you are exploring and discovering and engaging.

Instead of sheltering kids from the burn or the fall, teach them what to do when it happens. This is true of any healthy risk we let our kids take, including sad and angry emotions. Learning how to cope with the ouches of life is what kids need. It’s a lot more safe than sheltering.

Healthy risks young kids can try –

  • cutting with a sharp knife
  • using a real hammer and saw
  • running too fast on concrete
  • climbing
  • leaping from rock to rock
  • hauling heavy bricks
  • handling sharp needles and scissors
  • cooking with supervision
  • playing alone
  • playing outside alone
  • walking to the neighbor’s to deliver a message
  • asking someone to play
  • being told no

My new book delves into why we should put Safety Second. We live in a world of “safety first,” but safety first doesn’t create full human beings. Safety needs to be part of what we do, but when safety edges out healthy life experiences like playing with sticks in the park and using real tools, we need to err on the side of life.

What types of play or experiences have you seen adults ban recently? What risks do you welcome for yourself or children in your life? What healthy risks are you willing to give a try?

UpTheSlide final coverRead more about Safety Second and benefits of healthy risk in the new book “It’s OK to Go Up the Slide.” Read it? REVIEW it on Amazon or Goodreads.


Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

10 Responses to Joys of a Burned Finger

  1. Makes sense to me!

  2. Cari Noga says:

    I was astonished this weekend when at an overnight SCOUT camp all the children were told by the director NOT to run outdoors as they might trip and get hurt. I thought Scouting was supposed to be all about outdoor activity! On a similar note, a friend shared how her son’s finger started bleeding at soccer practice after being hit by a ball (who would have thunk, at a soccer practice?) The hit aggravated a prior injury, which the 8-year old calmly explained. My friend, however, who had taken her other two children for a walk away from the field, subsequently received a stern notice that the soccer league was not a drop-off program, that coaches were not responsible (!) and parents were required to be in physical attendance at all times. For safety’s sake, of course. Good grief.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Oh my. No running outdoors at Scout camp? Now there’s a place where children should be experiencing burned fingers – from building campfires. And running!

  3. Jenifer says:

    I love this! I’ve pretended I didn’t see “no running” signs in places where it made no sense to me to limit running. And since my kids can’t yet read, they were none the wiser. 🙂

    I also love the idea of teaching them how to fall, as well as teaching other safety skills (such as how to cross the street). But I’m not always sure of the best ways to do that teaching, or how to judge that the kids understand a skill well enough to tackle the next challenge (such as crossing the street alone).

    I’ve read Gavin de Becker’s “Protecting The Gift” and I’m familiar with (but need to revisit now that my kids are older) Free Range Kids. Do you have other good resources for helping parents give their kids the skills they need to take reasonable risks and assess which ones the kids are ready for?

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Glad you’re running! Crossing the street – observe your children when they don’t know you’re watching, or announce you’re going to let them try and see what they do. In both cases you can be nearby enough to step in if necessary. For non-life and death things, go ahead and give them a chance to try the new challenges. If you wonder if they’re old enough, they probably are. Try interviewing someone from an older generation to find out what kids their age used to do. Good luck and enjoy your confident, capable kids.

  4. Love your message and hope parents everywhere will see how it applies to academic challenges young children face as well. Teachers and parents need to create safe environments in which children can take risks in their pursuit of new knowledge and recognize how a perceived failure can fuel future success. It’s not about the failing moment, be it a test or assignment or wrong answer in class. The most important thing is what we do and model after a failed experience that counts for that is often where true learning takes place, perseverance is learned and growth is possible. Adversity builds strength and confidence. In the words of Mary Poppins, we are all “perfectly imperfect”. Thank you for sharing your message.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Ah, yes. Thanks for bringing up the academic side. Love your words “The most important thing is what we do and model after a failed experience that counts.” Our reaction matters, and school learning is often focused on getting things right and looking good, but failure and healthy reactions to failure are so much more important. Mary Poppins has it right again.

  5. Luiza S says:

    What types of play or experiences have you seen adults ban recently? Hmm, where do I start.
    1. When my daughter was 18 months old, I was chided by a passer-by for letting my daughter play about two feet from a street trash can while waiting in a bus station. `What if she touches it?” (I’ll wash her hands?)
    2. When my daughter was 2 years old, I was forbidden to let her climb up and down the stairs of a restaurant terrace. “She’s going to fall, and you are going to sue me!” (No and no.)
    3. When my daughter was 3 years old, I was scolded for letting her unattended in the house (which was locked up tight) while I was napping. “What if she burns the house down or injures herself?” (No she won’t. Trust me to know what my own kid can handle?).
    4. When my daughter was 4 years old, we were scolded for keeping blunt but sharp scissors on her craft table, and also letting her play with coins and buttons. “She may injure herself! She might swallow them and choke!” (Why would she do that?)
    5. When my daughter was 5 years old, we got a scolding by park rangers because she was jumping from rock to rock at the beach. “The rocks are slippery and she may fall!” (She’s barefoot for better grip, and she’s been doing that for a week already with no harm.).

    These are just some samples of the many times over the years we have had conversations on this topic. People, this kid only learns from experience (possibly all kids do?). Let her have the experience. We promise you we are doing the utmost to control any serious danger. She’s 6 now, and she has not injured herself or destroyed property.

    Thanks for the new book! I loved “It’s OK not to share”. It was a breath of fresh air.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      The one that hurts my heart most is the park ranger story. Kids out in nature should be celebrated and encouraged, not shut down. Thank you for sharing your stories and for keeping a level head!

      • Luiza S says:

        The ironic part about the park rangers story was that there was a playground near the beach that the rangers closed for days after every trickle of rain (“Slippery playground equipment is dangerous!”). Well, at least open the playground if you don’t want the kids to play on the rocks! I couldn’t have made this stuff up if I tried.

        Kids are taught to fear nature these days from all angles. Nature is messy, muddy and icky. Some of my daughter’s playmates on that vacation would freak out if they stepped with their sandals in a mud puddle and would insist their parents clean it. And nature has critters. My daughter was afraid initially to climb on the seaside rocks because of the tiny crabs scuttling between them, so my husband convinced her to hold a few and let them scuttle over her arms and shoulder, to see they tickle but don’t pinch. That worked for her, but the other parents were shocked and were cautioning my husband that she might catch a disease. My husband was annoyed enough to tell them that these are not the right kind of crabs to catch a disease from 🙂

        It’s not as if we do this to espouse a particular child rearing philosophy; me and my husband were merely born in different times and places, and by those standards we are worrywarts with our own child. And the vast majority of young child rearing advice we see in North America seems to run counter to our desire to raise an independent, self-sufficient adult. Which is why I LOVE your books. I finally have something to point to: “See, we are not crazy and reckless!”.

What’s Fair and What’s Equal

Treating kids differently does not mean playing favorites.

Treating kids differently does not mean playing favorites.

We don’t want to play favorites. That’s a basic tenet of raising kids. Yet our quest for impartiality can get in the way of recognizing, supporting or celebrating one child.

Don’t play favorites, that’s still true, but kids can handle differences. Life does not have to be equal.

The other day I went to a youth presentation and was struck by how well a 12-year-old boy read. He was clear, dramatic and did his part with such poise that I went up to the family afterwards. “Thank you,” said his father. “We’re so proud of James, and of course, we’re proud of Tyler and Nate also, they’re great kids, too.” He added this in an apologetic rush. This attempt at being equal diminished James’ recognition. James was the one who read. James was the one we were talking about. His brothers can cope if they don’t occupy the spotlight all the time.

We strive so hard to equal, with our words and with our actions. But kids are different, and sometimes those differences mean it’s OK to treat them differently.

This goes for gifts and experiences, too. We don’t automatically have to buy a gift for every child just because we have something that uniquely fits another. Kids can handle it if every day isn’t exactly equal. It happens at birthdays already. Everyone gets a birthday, but it’s not usually the same day. One person gets showered with special attention today, the other one has a turn in a few weeks. The overall balance and value of each individual is what’s most important.

If everyone is praised equally and often (see “Stop Saying ‘Good Job!'” in the book It’s OK Not to Share), it becomes meaningless. Kids don’t need constant praise, but they do value genuine interest and observation: “I was really struck by how clearly you read. I could hear every word even in the back.” That’s recognition. When kids say “That’s not fair!” that’s an excellent instinct for social justice. “Why does he get to stay up late I have to go to bed now? That’s not fair!” Reframe it for kids: “Your body needs more sleep. When Sam was your age he went to bed when you do” (see “Share Unfair History” in the book It’s OK to Go Up the Slide).

So support the kids in your life, celebrate their individuality, and support their interests. Sometimes being fair is more valuable than being equal.

What do you think? It’s a tricky balance. Meeting an individual’s needs –all individuals — can be what’s most important. Have you ever felt stuck in these situations?

UpTheSlide final coverNEW BOOK – Read it? Love it? Write a review on Goodreads or Amazon. Order here.

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

One Response to What’s Fair and What’s Equal

  1. One of my biggest pet peeves is how most people freely interchange the terms “fair” and “equal.” Equal is rarely fair, and fair should rarely be equal. Why? Because we are all unique!

    I feel stuck sometimes, especially with kids when they all want the approval of adults. Your example of praising the 12-yr-old and the father immediately mentioning his other children is a great example. Let the ones being praised have their 100% moment of glory. and insist on the same treatment when the next child has his/her success.