Are American Kids Religiously Literate? Maybe not…

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What in the world is religious literacy? When I checked out Stephen Prothero’s book, “Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs To Know and Doesn’t”, from the library, I was curious as to what the words “religious literacy” even meant! I had a hunch this was an important skill set that I didn’t yet have, so I turned on my reading lamp and dug in!

After a day or so reading, while looking for interesting events online I noticed that Stephen was going to be a guest lecturer at the Chautauqua Institute in July. Raised in the Christian religion, wondering how I could be so clueless as to what religious literacy was, and curious how important it was to my blog Swami Mommi, my family and my children’s education, I reserved my tickets. I was headed to Chautauqua to find out. Turns out, it is hugely important, not only for my immediate family, but for all the nations of the world!

Stephen himself is a religious academic, a professor at Boston University. In his book he makes the case that Americans are very unaware of the major religions of the world. He, rather jovially, points out that many know little about their own religion, let alone the 5 major religions of the world. Few could name the Ten Commandments, or identify the most important book for the religion of Islam or who Mohammed was (many thought it was Mohammed who founded Judaism). While most countries in Europe were found to be highly literate in religious knowledge, few Americans knew much at all. Interestingly, Europeans are educated on world religions as part of their early required education. Stephen thinks that maybe American children should be required to learn about world religions in school too.

So why is this so important for our American Kids? Because kids and adults alike should be able to have an educated discussion about religion, says Prothero. He is not advocating that religious education focus on one religion any more than another, however he says that knowledge about the various religions is vital, pointing out that religion, in its various forms, has a huge influence on our politics, from elections to international affairs.

Interestingly, Madeline Albright (who I once bumped into while shopping in Georgetown several years earlier!)  was at the Institute for a conversation about similar matters the day before the Prothero presentation. She made note that while she was Secretary of State, she had access to literally hundreds of special consultants on politics and economics; however, she had not one related to religion. One has to wonder how blindly we navigate international politics as a nation? Is there anything beyond the obsession of power and greed?

So what skills do our kids need? What skill will ensure that we are “religiously literate” adults?  Stephen in his Chautauqua presentation listed several aspects of this skill, the first of which was knowledge and the second being an ability to use the knowledge to get a real feel for what it might be like to experience that religion; experiential knowledge of being an observant follower of another faith. Finally, he talks about having knowledge enough to question, peacefully.

After the presentation there was a question and answer session. One women asked if he could comment on how much the attitude of “my religion is right” affects peaceful dialogue. He said that in Christianity and Islam, the idea that there is “only one religion” does exist; however, in most other world religions, he stated that this idea of “one” religion is right” does not exist. For example, Buddhists actually try to get rid of all beliefs as part of their religion, even the belief of “one religion as the right and only religion”. He is hopeful that peaceful dialogues are possible.

And I think he is right. I find when I am educated on anything, I am less defensive. I think that our children deserve the chance to be religiously literate, to have peaceful dialogues as they grow, to make educated statements and draw educated conclusions.

So here’s to you, Stephen Prothero! Thanks to your work, there will be one little 6 year old who can hold her weight when it comes to “religious literacy” and one family who isn’t going to stop learning about world religions any time soon.

Easy Ways to Have a Corny Summer !

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Our kitchen is spotlighting healthy foods in an effort to make a Nutritional “FARM”acy we can use when meal planning.  A CORNY undertaking no doubt which makes this weeks focus of corn all the more relevant. Good things are in the foods we eat, and we want to know what they are. We want to know how to cook them up tasty, and as an added bonus were asking kids why they love them! So get your cutting board ready, whether you have a picky eater or athlete to feed; this week we are focusing on CORN! (We prefer Non-Gmo Corn.)

What’s In Corn? : For good energy, corn provides the B vitamins: B3 an B5. There is vitamin C and zinc for healthy immune function. Folate is present for reproductive health along with fiber for good heart health and good cholesterol levels. Corn also contains beta-carotene and magnesium.

How To Eat Corn:  Corn can be ground into meal and used as a flour, but the most nutritious form is the corn grown fresh on the cob. With Non-Gmo fresh corn cobs hard to find these days, it’s good to know that canned and frozen sweet corn retains most of nutrients found in the fresh cobs.

Why Do Kids Love To Eat Corn?: Kids are saying that they “love corn on the cob”, “love to eat frozen corn kernels for a fresh summer snack”, and “love corn on the top of a salad to make it look colorful!”

Check out the Swami Mommi Pinterest page for great corn recipes, ideas for picky eaters and corny side dishes!

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Carrots: Not Just for Peter Rabbit!

Carrots: A healthy snack for kids!

Carrots: A healthy snack for kids!

Carrots:

Our kitchen is spotlighting healthy foods in effort to make a Nutritional “FARM”acy we can use when meal planning.  Good things are in the foods we eat, and we want to know what they are. We want to know how to cook them up tasty, and as an added bonus were asking kids why they love them! So get your cutting board ready, this week we are focusing on Carrots!

Carrots:  Beta Caroten is converted into Vitamin A that is beneficial for vision and heart health. Cells are also protected. We use Vitamin K for blood clotting and the healing of wounds and to help with digestion. Chromium found in carrots helps control blood sugar levels too! It also has zinc, folate, calcium, iron and fiber.

How To Eat Carrots: One easy way is to eat carrots raw with hummus. Remember that whole carrots are difficult to digest so grate or chop them finely before eating. Carrot juice is also a great thirst quencher plus an added blood sugar stabilizer.

Why Do Kids Like Carrots? Because we can go “num num num” like Peter Rabbit, eat them with hummos, and grate them to eat  in salads. Juicing carrots is a fun thing to do too!

Kale: A Mighty Food Kids Love!

Our kitchen is spotlighting healthy foods in effort to make a Nutritional “FARM”acy we can use when meal planning.  Good things are in the foods we eat, and we want to know what they are. We want to know how to cook them up tasty, and as an added bonus were asking kids why they love them! So get your cutting board ready, this week we are focusing on Kale!

KALE

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KALE has: many vitamins and phytochemicals.  Kale is an important immunity booster. It has lots of Vitamin A, B vitamins, iron, zinc and K1, is good for your eyes, and it helps to make smooth skin. It is big on repair and detoxification, as well as a help keeping cholesterol level healthy. Improves energy levels too and keeps cell membranes healthy.

How to eat KALE: Kale can be eaten raw, steamed, or lightly sauteed or stir fried. We add broth, a little butter and salt in a saute and it’s great!

Why do kids like KALE?: Because you can eat it with cheese, it might have lemon squeezed onto it (YUM!) or if mom or dad cooked it it might have “extra love” in it!

5 Minute Valentine Freezer Candy: Filled with Protein for a Healthy Snack!

Boxed and ready to eat, this snack is a Love filled delight! I wanted more, and decided to make a second batch!
Boxed and ready to eat, this snack is a Love-filled delight! I wanted more, and decided to make a second batch.

These treats were so easy and so quick, and full of good stuff to eat like protein and antioxidants. It can also be made Gluten, Dairy and Egg-free for your little ones with sensitivities. It’s the Valentine Solution for keeping the whole family on the right track to good nutrition!

It is also a great kids’ activity; super easy so they could really do it themselves. A great way to have fun and help kids learn about cooking and sharing the Love this time of year! They will probably request these for their lunch box too….just make sure they can be kept cold. 🙂

Ingredients:
1/2 cup nutbutter (peanut, almond, cashew, etc.)

1 1/2 tablespoons Enjoy Life Chocolate Chips (I use Enjoy life because they are allergen free) or other chocolate chip variety

1 1/2 tablespoons Dried Goji berries

1 tablespoon maple syrup

Mix well and spread into a small freezer proof dish or mold into any shape with a candy mold tray. I used a plastic tray with little hearts. (I would try silicone molds the next time to eliminate the small bit of effort I had to use with the butter knife to pop them out of the tray.)

Wrap in wax paper, boxes, or tie in a pretty bag with ribbons….that is if you can wait to eat them. Om nom nom. We ate two or three before they even got in the Valentine Box!

Enjoy and have a Happy Valentine’s Day. <3 <3 <3

Warming Up Winter: Acorn Squash Sundaes Toddlers Love and Kids Can Help Make!

Warm Acorn Squash

It’s cold. Kids are inside. Tummies are growling. Time to have some quick and yummy fun! Squash Sundaes are the answer.

This recipe is super easy and can be tailored to any eaters needs. Toddlers can eat it pureed, and older kids can help make it. It’s warm, comforting, and fills the corners of hungry bellies. I used it as a dessert, but it can fit easily as a snack or even better, a warm healthy breakfast. Plus, did I mention it is jammed with nutrients and other good stuff to keep families healthy when it’s cold outside? Oh…it is!

Ingredients:

Acorn Sqush

Olive Oil

Blender or food processor (to puree for early eaters and toddlers)

Cranberries, pecans, butter (Earth Balance), maple sugar to taste

Any other additions or substitutions that you think might work, such as walnuts, raisins, maple syrup or cinnamon

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Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut Acorn squash in half, scoop and discard the seeds, and with about 1 tablespoon olive, coconut or grape seed oil coat the inside of the squash. This helps it stay soft and not burn while cooking. Depending on the size of your squash, cooking times may vary, however with a medium squash it took about 40 minutes to roast on the middle oven rack.

After the squash is roasted, let it sit a few minutes until you can easily scrape out the flesh. It makes a great mash as it is being scraped out of the rind, but if you need it to be pureed for your early eater or toddler, use a food processor or blender. If you don’t you may encounter a few strings or textured parts that are not safe. Additionally, kids can’t really help with this part of the recipe, as using the stove and scooping out warm squash is not safe either. However, kids do love to push the buttons on a blender, as long as they are well supervised.

Once the squash is in a bowl it is easy to get kids involved. I recommend setting out a couple small bowls with the cranberries, pecans, butter, walnuts, raisins, etc. so they can add in their favorites. If it is for the whole family they can add in what most of the family would like, or each child can get a bowl and make an individual “Squash Sundae”. Add more or less as each person desires, use them as toppings or mix throughout.

That’s it. Simple, easy and very little clean up! Tomorrow morning I’ll be trying this for a healthy breakfast, and I hope you too get to try it during these cold days of winter!

Ol’ New Years Eve: Festive Favors for Kids that Teach Cultural Diversity

Out families New Years Eve Favors!

Out families New Years Eve Favors!

It’s time to celebrate the New Year to come AND to recycle the cardboard rolls from paper towels and toilet paper, AND clean up that extra wrapping paper laying around the house AND put use to all the little its and bits of small toys the kids have collected over the past holiday month! And one New Years Eve Favor can do it all!

Additionally, this favor is culturally diverse, at least for all of us outside of the United Kingdom. While visiting London for a New Year’s Eve celebration, I learned of these little party favors and was delighted. My favor had a silly pair of glasses and a bit of chocolate, with the other people in my party having equally fun items inside. The rest of the night involved dancing, chatting, and playing with a fun favor surprises.

Several of my friends who are originally from England, or who had family there, told me that these favors are very much a tradition, one that they still follow around Christmas and New Years. I had seen the favors in markets around the holidays before, but now knowing how much fun they bring to holiday parties, I decided to make my own.

English Holiday Favors: Culturally Diverse and Fun

This is a super easy craft that is fun for kids and toddlers alike, although I find the toddlers actually like tearing into them on New Years Eve the best! All you needs is:

paper rolls

wrapping paper

tape

string

small toys, or stickers (whatever is size safe for you home and kids; ie NOT choking hazards)

safe, age appropriate snacks, like popcorn or crackers

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Simply fill the tubes to your delight, tape on scrap wrapping papers around the roll, twist the ends and tie with string. They look delightful and make a great centerpiece for the New Years table! We are having a dipping buffet this year, and think our metallic tray with these favors adds the perfect accent to create a festive feel in our home.

This is a great activity for fine motor skills too, all while having fun and being successful.  Tearing tape, cutting paper, manipulation of safe small objects, and practice tying knots all work great for early skill development. So this year you can feel like a Swami Mommi, while ringing in the New Year with a festive favor to boot!

All we need is fancy string to tie off each end!

All we need is fancy string to tie off each end!

Happy New Year with blessings of health, prosperity, and Joy all Year! Happy 2015!

ToT School: Every Parent Can Teach Book Launch

 Tot School launch collage

TOT School: Every Parent Can Teach
With Melissa at Swami Mommi a contributor

Do you feel like you want to teach your toddler, but want some creative ideas to get started? Do you want to save money on materials or feel confident in your approach? Then ToT School: Every Parent Can Teach is the e-book for you!

Here at Swami Mommi we are proud to put this e-book in the hands of caring parents. This book can give insight no matter which approach you use to teach. From a free play environment to a more structured setting, you will find resources that work. Empowering, enlightening, and comprehensive this book offering is sure to get you teaching and your toddlers learning.

Here is the link to get your copy today: Tot School: Every Parent Can Teach

 

 

Easy Toddler Recipe: Strawberry Cones!

Strawberry cones!

Strawberry cones!

Sometimes I work so hard to think of healthy food for myself and my family to eat. My daughter taught me how simple it can be when she was just a toddler, putting parts of her lunch together to make a healthy snack that not only tastes great, but looks appetizing too. Her toddler recipe makes for a truly beautiful food!

This recipe could also turn into a fun cooking game for kids! Kids can try to make a  super tall strawberry tower or just add nut-butter to “glue” other fruits to the cone to make Creative Cone Creatures! Cooking games for kids make eating fun, especially for toddlers who sometimes like to have a say in what they eat. Giving toddlers a fun cooking game will make the fruits go down easier!

Ingredients:
Fresh Strawberries (sliced)
Ice Cream Cone (GF if needed)

As a safety reminder, make sure pieces are cut to the size that is safe for your toddler. (Bigger pieces are for bigger kids.)

Assembly. Enjoy! Yummi!

Pebbles and Dancing: How Mindful Play Creates Emotional Resilience in Kids.

This is an account of an amazing day. It is an account of when my husband started a new job a few years ago. I thought it was worth sharing.

My daughter Gigi and I begin our day with a celebratory breakfast. My husband started a new job, and to celebrate, Gigi and I pull together a “basket of office supplies” gift  and a mega breakfast. I am not sure which one of us enjoyed it more. We were all  smiling throughout our time together.

After our morning routine, Gigi and I headed out to the playground that she calls the “castle”. It is constructed out of timber and has multiple towers and bridges, making it look like a castle with a moat of pebbles all around it. She is really most into the pebbles so I decide to accept where she was and make the most fun out of it. The towers and draw- bridges will have to wait a few more months.

This playground is fun when experienced mindfully.

Pebbled playground leads to fun sensory play.

Once we get there, I realize that she is in bliss with the feeling the pebbles bring to her hands. We start talking how these pebbles feel hard, how big ones feel heavy, and how our clothes and hair are the opposite in their softness. Two other little girls, Rachel and Nina, join us. They kindly ask if Grace would like to play with them. My guess is that they are really asking if they can play with us.

We all make pebble cakes and pebble pies. We create apple chocolate cake, berry cake, strawberry pie, and blueberry muffins. We all start talking about how rocks feel hard, and soon Nina and Rachel are running around finding all the hard objects in the castle. Hard poles, hard chains, hard swings, and when all options are nearly exhausted, they even say they have “hard heads”! The same process is completed with all things soft and soon everyone is giggling.

How Kids Learn Emotional Regulation

We pretend to be pirates of the castle and are sailing on our sea of pebbles to distant islands. Grace is happy to have playmates and I am happy to have everyone so excited learning about the textures of our pebble wonderland. This is where it all begins for Gigi and her emotions. She is creating inner resources of joy and happiness that she will use to regulate her emotions when things get rough.

If Gigi can describe her emotions as she feels them in her body, she will one day be the master of them. She won’t be afraid to deal feelings as they make themselves present in her life. It takes little effort on my part to give her a vocabulary for her tactile experiences, and hopefully experiences will present themselves that will enlarge her vocabulary in detail, degree and also in relation to her multiple senses. Sadness can be “heavy”, anger might feel “hard” and peace might feel “soft”. Gigi will be prepared to deal.

Nina and Rachel continue to play with us. Rachel begins hugging me and tries to sit on me like a horse. At this point, I realize it is great to be playing with these little girls, as they so need attention. Their mom is on the other side of the castle the whole time. She can not see her children as they play and she does not check on them once during the forty minutes we are playing. Nina begins to initiate hugging more and more, and so as to avoid any major attachment that can not be fulfilled, Gigi and I decline their offer to go to the ice cream shop, and head on our merry way to our next destination, a dress rehearsal of a dance performance in the city.  I truly hope that Rachel and Nina find the attention that they need.

Sensory Play: How Mindful Movement Encourages Play

Gigi and I attempt to eat lunch, but Gigi is so excited about the dancers that she can’t begin to concentrate on her banana. We end the meal early, and head to the theater to see the dress rehearsal. The venue is a converted bar with a stage; it is very hip and has lots of room for Gigi to move “be a dancer” herself as she waits.
The second stage normally used by the musicians is not in use, so the dancers say that Gigi can go up on the stage. She is spinning, twirling and looking quite proud as she says “I’m a dancer!” She even tries the lifts as I swing her around the stage and she copies the dancers’ lunging patterns to the music. We both really enjoy ourselves.

Self awareness allows for mastery of emotions.

Calm parents are a model for calm kids.

How Good Memories and Emotions Help Me Stay Calm

As we leave the venue to find our car, I notice the sky becoming darker and darker. We have driven almost the whole way home when it begins to rain, and before I can process what is happening, cars are turning around in front of me due to downed trees. I also turn around and try an alternate route. As I navigate, our car begins to rock, the surrounding trees look horizontal, and the traffic lights take on the appearance of feathers being tossed by a majestic wind. Regardless of the nature of this wind, I am intent on getting home as fast as possible. Shingles from the roof are scattered on the front lawn; gutters and molding have been detached from the roof, and there is no electricity.  We make our way inside.

Once we are settled in, I check with my neighbors and soon learn there was a tornado that touched down a mile from our home. It is still raining, and Gigi continues to nap. My own emotions of ”heavy”. Fear subsides and gratitude for my blessings begins to “soften” me once again. Because I too have had an amazing day of great memories, calming down isn’t hard.

We are safe and sound at the end of a beautiful day.

Mindfulness leads to a mastery of our internal emotions. Mindful parents rasie mindful kids.

Mastering our emotions through awareness let’s use steer our ship well and weather any storm. Emotions light our way.

If Gigi can describe her emotions as she feels them in her body, she will one day be the master of them. She won’t be afraid to deal feelings as they make themselves present in her life. It takes little effort on my part to give her a vocabulary for her tactile experiences, and hopefully experiences will present themselves that will enlarge her vocabulary in detail, degree and also in relation to her multiple senses. Sadness can be “heavy”, anger might feel “hard” and peace might feel “soft”. Gigi will be prepared to deal.

Nina and Rachel continue to play with us. Rachel begins hugging me and tries to sit on me like a horse. At this point, I realize it is great to be playing with these little girls, as they so need attention. Their mom is on the other side of the castle the whole time. She can not see her children as they play and she does not check on them once during the forty minutes we are playing. Nina begins to initiate hugging more and more, and so as to avoid any major attachment that can not be fulfilled, Gigi and I decline their offer to go to the ice cream shop, and head on our merry way to our next destination, a dress rehearsal of a dance performance in the city.  I truly hope that Rachel and Nina find the attention that they need.

Sensory Play: How Mindful Movement Encourages Play

Gigi and I attempt to eat lunch, but Gigi is so excited about the dancers that she can’t begin to concentrate on her banana. We end the meal early, and head to the theater to see the dress rehearsal. The venue is a converted bar with a stage; it is very hip and has lots of room for Gigi to move “be a dancer” herself as she waits.
The second stage normally used by the musicians is not in use, so the dancers say that Gigi can go up on the stage. She is spinning, twirling and looking quite proud as she says “I’m a dancer!” She even tries the lifts as I swing her around the stage and she copies the dancers’ lunging patterns to the music. We both really enjoy ourselves.

How Good Memories and Emotions Help Me Stay Calm

As we leave the venue to find our car, I notice the sky becoming darker and darker. We have driven almost the whole way home when it begins to rain, and before I can process what is happening, cars are turning around in front of me due to downed trees. I also turn around and try an alternate route. As I navigate, our car begins to rock, the surrounding trees look horizontal, and the traffic lights take on the appearance of feathers being tossed by a majestic wind. Regardless of the nature of this wind, I am intent on getting home as fast as possible. Shingles from the roof are scattered on the front lawn; gutters and molding have been detached from the roof, and there is no electricity.  We make our way inside.

Once we are settled in, I check with my neighbors and soon learn there was a tornado that touched down a mile from our home. It is still raining, and Gigi continues to nap. My own emotions of ”heavy”. Fear subsides and gratitude for my blessings begins to “soften” me once again. Because I too have had an amazing day of great memories, calming down isn’t hard.

We are safe and sound at the end of a beautiful day.

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