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Conventional wisdom Vs. Secret knowledge

October 1, 2012

So after you child has given you cardiac arrest darting into the street for the soccer ball, you decide it is time to review street safety. "When the soccer ball rolls in the street, what do you do?" You hope the answer will be to stop and look both ways before going into the street after the ball. Possibly it's, "Well, I need go get it," accompanied by sighing, eye rolling, and the "are you an alien from another planet" look.

Have you ever considered that sometimes parenting is like the soccer ball rolling into the street? The best parenting choice would be to stop and look in both directions before deciding, declaring or demanding. Alas, too often we dash into "Issues Street" and kaboom! What in the world hits us?

Conventional wisdom often compels us to run headlong into Issues Street. If we took time to check our options, we could see conventional wisdom in one direction and what I call "secret knowledge" in the other direction.

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For example: All four of my children had chickenpox at the same time. The boys didn't seem to be itch prone. My daughter complained and scratched and carried on. Conventional wisdom told me to put my chickenpox-covered daughter into a soothing colloidal oatmeal bath. Secret knowledge arrived in the shape of a soap dish floating in that bath. In it was one of those large headed little plastic dolls with long, strange colored hair. I didn't see a strange little doll with purple hair, I saw the Lady of Shalott of classic fiction. My secret knowledge kept me sane.

So now it is October. The leaves are falling, the bedding plants are withered and it is time for the day - the dreaded day of family yard work. Conventional wisdom says that if everyone participates, the autumnal ordeal will be over quickly. You muster a cheery voice, "OK, finish whatever you are doing. Come on outside. It's time to rake leaves." There you go, speaking alien language again. Secret knowledge tells you to romance the yard with the kids before the actual work day. Renew your relationship with the trees and love the leaves cover the ground.

Maybe it has been a while since strolling around the yard and enjoying all things growing there. Try this fast and fun way to refresh your tree knowledge. Instead of looking up things on the Internet, bring on your walk a colorful book such as Gail Gibbon's "Tell Me, Tree: All about Trees for Kids" (Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2002). This is a fun K-3 guide to parts of the trees. It includes tree trivia and suggestions on how to make your own tree identification book.

For older elementary age kids look at "Trees, Leaves and Bark" (Northword Publishing, 1995) by Diane Burns and Linda Garrow. This book is more like a simple field guide to trees and their leaves. The authors have tucked easy craft projects throughout the book and a space at the end for scrapbooking and journaling.

So, back to yard cleanup day.

The children might act as if they are on an enforced march out the door and down the steps to the wild and woolly non-electronic outside. Conversation is a great way to ease the burden of physical labor. Ask simple inquiries like, "How many kinds of leaves in your pile?" or "Can you identify the different kinds of leaves in your pile?"

For the pre-schoolers who sometimes have the attention span of gnats, you could suggest simple activities like finding the biggest and smallest leaves or finding leaves of one color or two or three colors and what the colors are. They like to match and compare. They also love slopping around in elbow deep water. Toward the end of work day, fill a shallow tub so the kids can discover which leaves float the best. These are just idea generators. Let the day take you where it will.

Some leaves are "keepers" and make their way inside. They lend themselves to craft projects. There are those who have time and patience to wash, dry and press leaves for future use. The do-it-now crowd can trace around favorite fresh leaves creating patterns for crafts. Fresh leaves such as maple, walnut, oak or sweet gum are sturdy leaves and will withstand leaf rubbing.

For this project, place a fresh leaf on a work surface, cover it with a thin piece of paper such as copy paper, and rub the side of a peeled crayon over the paper. The image of the leaf will appear. For a greater challenge and a larger picture arrange several sizes and varieties of leaves.

My kids considered a sun catcher - a "stained glass" leaf - as the crown jewel of their leaf crafts. The directions are simple; however, an adult needs to facilitate what my kids called the "hot part" of the craft.

You will need two squares the same size of any color construction paper - 5-by-5 inches or 6-by-6 inches work best. Trace around a leaf in the center of both squares.

Cut out the leaf from the center of both squares. You will be using the squares for this craft, so save the leaves for another project. You will need two sheets of waxed paper (a waxed paper sandwich bag cut and divided into two squares works).

With an old carrot peeler or old grater, shave some fall colored crayon stubs. It's a great way to recycle the little uglies in the bottom of the crayon box.

Next, spread the shavings on one waxed paper square. If someone is into glitter and twinkles, by all means add a little. Cover the shavings with the other square. Set your iron on medium heat and start ironing. The wax will melt, becoming a beautiful marbleized creation.

When it is cool, place the crayon art between the cut out construction paper squares. Glue around the edges and press the squares together. Punch a hole in the top and hang this stained glass beauty.

Conventional wisdom says to hang the stained glass leaf for all to see. Secret knowledge says fond memories have been made and will arise again at interesting times.

- Heidi Maness Hartwiger, a Wheeling native, is a writer, teacher and storyteller. She is the author of two books, "All Join Hands: The Forgotten Art of Playing With Children" and "A Gift of Herbs." She is a mother of four and a grandmother of five.



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