Archive for the ‘The Power of Play’ Category

It’s a boy! And a girl!

Friday, June 18th, 2010

After nine long months of dreaming, planning, building, and decorating, we’re finally ready to announce our big news: Chinaberry had twins!

Meet Jake & Ella, the newest addition to the Chinaberry family. Created by the original Chinaberry kids, Elizabeth and Evan (some of you may remember them from our earlier catalogs way back when), Jake & Ella brings our mission of raising children with love, honesty, and joy to a new generation of discerning parents.

When Chinaberry launched its first catalog almost (gasp!) 30 years ago, our message and values attracted a community of people who were decidedly noncomformist. From vegans to homeschoolers, homesteaders to tree-huggers, our customers back then didn’t exactly swim with the mainstream. But over the years, as “Chinaberry babies” started having babies of their own, we have happily witnessed a slow but meaningful culture shift among parents. “Tree-hugger” is a badge to be worn proudly, and urban-dwellers are planting their own backyard organic farms. “Unschool” play groups are popping up across the country, and everyone seems to be talking about making healthier, more conscious food and lifestyle choices. It would seem, Chinaberry parents, that we’ve all done something right after all.

Now, catering specifically to those with babies and toddlers in their lives, Jake & Ella offers distinctive, sustainable toys, wellness products, and resources for nurturing creative, compassionate children. With a focus on environmental and social responsibility, Jake & Ella draws on three decades of Chinaberry’s experience to help the new generation of parents make natural, conscientious choices for their littlest ones.

Beyond its online boutique, Jake & Ella’s blog and social networks are building a community of unconventional and thoughtful parents, ones who wish to give their children the knowledge and inspiration to make the world a healthier, more wholesome place for all of us. From the latest news in environmental health to alternative thinking on child development, Jake & Ella’s online communities cover topics often ignored by the mainstream but essential in navigating the increasingly complicated business of raising a healthy family today.

Celebrate with us! Stop by our store, peruse our blog, connect with us on Facebook for interesting news bites, special offers, enticing contests, and banter with like-minded people. And if you like what you find, please let your friends know! Now through July 31, 2010, we’re offering a special deal for our Chinaberry family: Spend $50 or more at Jake & Ella and get $10 off your order. Just enter the code CBFAMILY during checkout to receive your discount!

We know you’ll be as smitten with our exciting new bundle of joy as we are…

Sarah’s Silks

Friday, March 12th, 2010

Read about one of our favorite toy-manufacturers, Sarah’s Silks [story by Mike and Sarah Lee]:

The story of our toy-making business is a deeply personal one for us. Our oldest son Josh was in need of many dress-up options as he loved to play pretend. He required lots of pieces of beautifully colored, non-itchy fabric for his games. We found that the options in toy stores were limited and so we began to dye our own silk squares for him to play with, eventually bringing them to market. For 15 years, we have been offering a wide selection of natural fiber dress-ups and toys to stores all over the world and, ultimately, providing families like ours with beautiful, creative toys.

We chose silk as it is a natural fiber and renewable resource. Silk is an ancient product of China. Our silks are hand-hemmed in a small village near Shanghai which we have visited. The seamstresses are in their homes, often sitting in doorways, as their children play nearby. In addition, many of our products are sewn, ironed and packaged by women working in their homes in Sonoma County, CA. Our dyes are non-toxic and the silks are easily hand-washed.

At Sarah’s Silks, we are dedicated to helping create a better world through imaginative play. We believe that simple, open-ended toys are best for growing minds. Developing inner creativity at a young age leads to higher levels of creative thinking in adulthood. When children’s inner creative life is nurtured, they grow into more well-rounded, stronger, and creative contributing members of our society, eager to bring their gifts to the world. We are dedicated to simple, unique and beautiful toys for all of the children of the world. Through our work, we are reminded of the infinite possibilities of play.

We offer quality playsilks, toys and dress-ups for boys and girls between the ages of 3-10, that ignite the imagination, and capture the magical soul that lives in young children.

To see Chinaberry’s full selection of Sarah’s Silks’ products, please go to www.Chinaberry.com and type Sarah’s Silks in the search box.

Enter the Land of Dirt and Bugs

Friday, February 5th, 2010

I don’t think there is a worm left in our yard that hasn’t been turned. My son has discovered the joys of digging in the soil, and every rock, block, and grain of sand has been flipped in his search for underground creatures. At any given time I am sure to find a container of dirt in the yard, a new ”home” for his bugs until he releases them back to the earth. I think his fingernails will always have dirt embedded underneath them, despite my attempts with a nailbrush and a firm scrubbing every night.

I used to enjoy digging and getting dirty too, back when I was called a ”tomboy,” rode an oversized bicycle around the neighborhood, and didn’t come home until the streetlights came on. I spent spring days after school outside with my mom’s trowel, digging big holes in the yard (which I know my mom appreciated!). I’d happily scrape my trowel deep enough to reach past the sandy top layer, through the moist dark layer, down to the red clay treasure until it was too hard to dig anymore.

This spring, may we all have time to dig a little deeper and get our hands messy alongside our kids. By gardening, bug hunting, and exploring in the dirt together, we not only connect with our children and to the earth, we are also reminded of the outdoor memories of our own childhood. Remember the delight of holding a leaf that was bigger than your head or the fascination of watching an earthworm or caterpillar wriggle in front of you? And of course you could just take a trowel and dig as deep a hole as possible, not with any purpose, but just because you can!

Interview with Susan Magasamen

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

Interview with Susan Magasamen, author of The 10 Best of Everything

When I read Susan Magasamen’s book The 10 Best of Everything, I found myself lusting after her job a little. Just as we at Chinaberry scour the nation for books and other treasures to enrich people’s lives, this woman has made it her mission to find destinations for families. While we’re searching for life-changing stuff, Susan’s out and about “testing” ice cream shops and campgrounds! (Sigh . . .) We just had to find out more about this woman and her amazing job, so we’d like to introduce to you Susan Magasamen!

Janet: What words of advice would you like to share with our readers for having the best family vacation of their lives?

Susan: Incorporate everyone into the planning!  This will make the trip something adults and kids are interested in and are looking forward to!  If you can start the planning early enough, it is great to introduce films, books, art, music and other aspects of the culture prior to the visit.  We also find that after the trip there is always a heightened interest in a new topic. For example, we just came back from a trip to Vienna and discovered our kids had a real interest in opera.  We are now renting operas!

Another tip is to allow for the unexpected and change your plans! No matter how much reading and research you do on a place, it is never the same as being there and experiencing it firsthand.  That is really the wonder of travel…the unexpected and the expected exceeding your expectations.

Janet: As I read your book, I wanted to dog-ear every page because all of your incredible “finds.” I especially loved reading about the “best road trips.” If you could only go on ONE of these road trips this summer, which one would you choose and why?

Susan: As you know, this book is a compilation of other people’s experiences!!! We have families sharing their favorite places in California, another exploring Boston, or a folklorist talking about Philadelphia. The “best road trips” are amazing and I would like to do all of them.  Hmmm, right now I think I would like to take my family to The Ultimate Florida Keys Vacation. This is the trip from Deb Kirkland and her two boys.  They planned an adventure-packed, nature-filled week, from hand-feeding the rays to an alligator show.

Janet: Out of all your experiences, from checking out wilderness hikes to resorts in the Key West, which was the most memorable for you personally?

Susan: Throughout the book we share travel stories of famous folks — from scientists and artists to poets and explorers.  I loved hearing about the places and experiences that helped shape their lives. This was very inspiring to me and reminded me that as a parent you have an opportunity to expose your children to what they might become in their lives. Elizabeth Spires’ visits to authors’ homes was very moving to me. As a writer, I relate to the way she got to understand the writers by seeing where they wrote. Often we don’t get the biography or background of things. When you have the opportunity to see where someone wrote something, what inspired them, what their life circumstances were, it helps to understand yourself, the world and perhaps even your place in it a little bit more.

Janet: During the course of putting together this book, what surprised you the most?

Susan: How much people love ice cream! And also how important time spent together is for families. As we travel, visit and see new things together, we create memories that last a lifetime.  I come from a family of five girls. Whenever we get together we still talk about some of the crazy trips we have taken.  I remember once my sister and I took our young children to Colorado to what we thought was a dude ranch.  It ended up being a disaster of a place.  So our husbands and kids all banded together and we went on a road trip all the way to New Mexico.  We had the time of our lives!  Again, expect the unexpected.

Janet: What’s the biggest mistake you feel parents make when planning family vacations?

Susan: Overbooking and pushing kids to “learn.” When your kids are engaged, interested and active, they will have a great time.

Janet: What is #1 on your Wish List right now for your next vacation?

Susan: We want to see the Northern Lights!  We’re thinking about going to Norway to do that.  Interestingly, this has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl. At supper one night I said I really wanted to do this, not thinking anyone else would be interested. As it turned out everyone was! We’ve all done our homework now and have found a really cool website that reports on the Lights like a weather report!

Janet: Is there anything else that you’d like to share with our readers?

Susan: The biggest and best piece of advice I can give is to take naps!  Usually when kids are bored they are tired.  If you can take a rest, eat a great snack, and get something to drink, you can get back in the groove.

Safety or Insanity: What the Press Didn’t Tell You

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

Remember the lead-in-toy-paint scare during the Holiday season of 2007? While we all remember the recalls, the most significant offshoot of the situation is a law known as the CPSIA (Consumer Product Safety Information Act) which Congress passed the following year - an election year. A well-intentioned but deeply flawed law, it has resulted in the demise of many small businesses and cottage industries and economic hardship for all but the most enormous of companies.

As written, this law made felons out of handcrafters of one-of-a-kind children’s items, including organic and natural wooden toys and baby afghans sold at craft fairs (unless the finished item had been tested — often redundantly — by one of a handful of accredited labs in the US at a cost of several thousand dollars or sent to overseas labs, both of which typically result in the destruction of the item itself). Incredibly, the law also has the potential to make criminals of anyone having garage sales and reselling anything (clothing, bedding, toys, books printed pre-1985, etc.) for children 12 years old and younger if any item is found to be out of compliance with this law. For a short while, libraries and schools were anticipating having to dispose of, in hazardous waste fashion, all of their books for children 12 and younger. There are still storerooms of boxes filled with books printed before 1985, which are currently banned as children’s products.  Schools and libraries are no longer planning to dispose of post-1985 printed books, but science programs are still being held hostage by the rigid regulations, resulting in at least one school using posters to teach geology rather than using real rocks, and leaving others without access to items like microscope bulbs due to the necessary lead solder used to make them. The absurd fact is that CPSIA law covers virtually anything — not just toys — for children 12 and under — even shoes. Using the logic that made CPSIA a law, we should never let our kids go barefoot outside because the lead content naturally found in dirt could easily exceed the legal allowable lead content for anything intended for kids 12 and under.

Keep in mind that there were already laws in place concerning lead in paint in toys when the 2007 situation occurred. What we were seeing and hearing about at that time were toys that were not compliant with existing laws and should have never ended up in the U.S.  What would have made sense to ensure child safety with regards to lead paint would have been to enforce these existing laws. Instead, in a knee-jerk and politically-driven reaction to public concern, our legislators passed a law that has been, and will continue to be, tragically, the undoing of many makers of the very best and safest in children’s products. What started out as a law with bipartisan support has now become good ol’ politics. Congress has continued to push back scheduled meetings about the CPSIA, leaving everyone involved scratching their heads and guessing how to best move forward to comply. (There are more interpretations of this law than you can shake a stick at.)   On top of all this, there have been 11 proposed amendments that are going nowhere.

This is a law that is so monumentally extreme and cumbersome and, in our opinion, misdirected, that it will benefit few but huge retailers and toy manufacturers, and most importantly, not parents and children. Ironically, many of the toys we want for our children - those that are lovingly hand-crafted, inspire creativity, are made with the purest of materials, and won’t end up as landfill after several months of use - are now unavailable to us because of CPSIA. Ironically, what will make a toy CPSIA-compliant are expensive material and component testing that is cost-effective only in vast quantities — which brings us back to toys “made in China” in most instances. A bizarre turn of events, eh? And while European toy safety standards have typically been recognized around the world as the most stringent, many of these toy manufacturers have discontinued doing business in the U.S. because this law is so clumsy and unnecessary, safety-wise. It is a sad day when Grandpa in Minnesota, who crafts wooden toy trains in his garage, has been put out of business because he can’t afford several thousands of dollars of component testing, while factories in China the size of football fields - many with questionable regard for workers’ health and the environment — spew out toys made of plastic because they can afford the testing.

While this law has squandered literally millions of people-hours of those interpreting it, researching it, communicating about it, and attempting to be compliant with it, it has little to do with safety. Ineptly reported by the media, and passed in knee-jerk fashion by Congress, CPSIA is changing the landscape of items we can offer our children. Our legislators have created this mess and parents should be aware that their choices for items they purchase for their 12-and-under kids are being drastically reduced.

For more information about CPSIA, please visit the following sites:

http://www.cpsc.gov/about/cpsia/cpsia.html

http://learningresourcesinc.blogspot.com/

http://www.whatisthecpsia.com/

Cherishing Our Kids’ Faithful Companions

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Last week, my husband and I were clearing out Ben’s room to get ready to put in a new floor. Out came clothes, toys, games, furniture, and lots of other stuff. This all got piled into our room, and we wondered how in the world all this stuff ever fit into his room in the first place! The old, icky carpet and pad came out practically in a jiffy, really, compared to how long it took to take everything else out!

One of the things we dragged out while muttering under our breath was a black chest that had been in Ben’s room for ages without being opened. The reason we hadn’t opened it for so long was because of the pretty intricate Lego creations sitting on top of it. Once we carefully moved these, we were ready to open it.

And voila, inside were many of the stuffed animals from years past! Coco, Freddy, Bubbles, loads of Beanie Babies, as well as many more friends I did not recognize. The ones I did remember were faithful companions, loved for ages, squeezed at night, cuddled whenever necessary,  and who even accompanied us on our travels.

This picture, from about 5 years ago, shows two of these faithful companions on a trip back East. The black Lab in Daniel’s arms is a smaller replica of our own black Lab. The stuffed version was chosen not long after we adopted Buca, and now resides safely in Daniel’s room. Ben’s koala friend was made at one of those build-your-own-stuffed-animal parties and became his dear friend for quite a while. Although it’s hard to tell, this marsupial companion is dressed in a soccer outfit that coincides with the beginning of Ben’s fervent interest in the sport, bringing back those memories and making finding it all the more special.

While my memory-loving heart melted at seeing these stuffed animals, the more practical side of me was so glad to have photographic proof of how near and dear these companions were to my sons, especially since my guys are  growing up too quickly, in my mind anyway, and toward things other than stuffed animals. And although these stuffed animals made the cut of what to return to the less cluttered room, who knows where they will be in a few years?

If you can think of it, next time your little one clutches a faithful companion to his or her heart, grab your camera and record this moment of sweetness for posterity. While the stuffed animals may not be found in a big cleaning years later, the photo can last much longer.

Super Sports Disks

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

Why are these sports disks one of my top five favorite toys of all time? For one, they encourage kids to get outdoors and get physical! I’ve used them with my 4-year-old grandson as well as with my own friends, and we’ve all had a blast. The foam-ringed disks have a high-strength mesh net that makes the ball catapult off it, enabling you to catch and throw balls up to 150 feet. They’re perfect for the beach or pool since they won’t sink, and on scorching hot days, use them with water balloons! Both sizes are suitable for 4-year-olds and up, but the larger ones are easier for younger ones to use (I actually prefer them myself!), progressing to the smaller ones after a little practice. Each size comes with 2 disks and a 2-inch rubber ball. Winner of the 2007 Parent’s Choice Award. (Colors may vary.) 4+; $39.95. Mini Sports Disc also available.

Review by Janet at Chinaberry

Give Your Kids the Gift of Boredom this Summer

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Growing up in the 60s and 70s, I don’t recall my parents ever going into a panic because school was out and they had to entertain me. Come to think of it, did any parents in that generation ”entertain” their kids?! Nonetheless, I don’t seem to recall many bouts of boredom. Somehow, I managed to find things to do without a pony, an inflatable bounce house, or anything requiring a microchip.

So why do we parents so often feel the need to be entertainment directors? And since when is ”boredom” a bad thing? Now I’m not condoning letting our kids fend for themselves all day long, but this summer, I’m hoping we parents and grandparents can all just chill a little and not fret so much about the details of what our children are going to do with their free time. It’s summer vacation — not a NASA mission! Let’s take some of the pressure off ourselves and give our children some credit for using their imaginations. Better yet, let’s help them to cultivate it by letting them figure out some of the details themselves!

Something recently happened at our summer photo shoot that serves as a perfect example of this. We had three children for models, and their parents were a little nervous because the children had never met and were supposed to play together and look like they were having the time of their lives with some fairy wands — items the adults had no clue what to ”do” with. Even the photographer asked, ”What will the kids do with these?” I told him I wanted to leave that up to the children. When they arrived, each child chose a wand, and with all of us adults hovering in eager anticipation, they stood in a row like brave little soldiers in front of the photographer. With forced smiles and stiffly held wands, the line-up looked like something from Fort Bragg, as in ”Yes, SIR! Reporting for duty, SIR!” Now I was nervous. One wise mom suggested we walk away and start talking amongst ourselves. Within minutes after the children were left to their own devices, they forgot about us and the photographer, and soon, irresistible peals of laughter began filling the studio. Out of the corner of our eyes, we saw more joyous movement than a passel of puppies with chew toys (see photo above). The photographer laughingly said it was like photographing chaos. Two of the children actually began to cry when it was over. One of them (my grandson!) still asks his mom if he can play with the girls at the photography studio again.

That is the magic that can be found in stepping out of the way and allowing children spontaneous play with open-ended toys. Yes, we adults were close by and available, but we weren’t hovering and orchestrating their every move. Perhaps the ingredients for a really good summer might be to provide our children with playmates from time to time and let them figure out the rest. Give them a few well-chosen toys (cardboard boxes count!), plenty of outdoor time, lots of love, and knock off all the worrying about getting it ”right” as parents. Let’s give ourselves permission this summer to forget the bounce houses, microchips, and ponies and r-e-l-a-x — because isn’t that what summertime is really about?

A Simple Yet Fun and Addictive Game

Monday, June 15th, 2009

Shut the Box

I played this game with my girls over the weekend. We really enjoyed it. My twins are seven and this game is a great way to help them with their addition and thinking skills, but most of all, it’s just fun. The games are quick and a lot of the winning has more to do with luck than anything else. This means your kids have the same chance of winning as you do. I even found myself playing Shut the Box by myself right before I went to sleep. I’d recommend this for a family game night or to play while waiting at the doctor’s office, at an airport, for a performance to start, etc.
- Ali, Blog Administrator

I’m not a game person, so when a friend pulled out his wooden Shut the Box game (a world traveler, he carries it with him at all times), I was none too excited. My reluctance to play, though, dissolved as soon as the game began.

It is believed that Shut the Box dates back to at least the 12th century. Because it is extremely easy to learn, yet involves a nicely challenging combination of strategy and luck, it is one of those games that is hard to stop playing.

The object is to flip over the numbered wooden tiles so that their sum equals the sum of the dice that a player has just rolled (e.g., ”7” is rolled, so a player could flip the 3 and 4 tiles, the 2 and 5 tiles, the 4, 2, and 1 tiles, etc.). When ”flipping” is no longer possible because the necessary tiles are no longer available, one’s turn is over. The sum of the remaining tiles becomes that player’s score, and the winner is determined by the lowest sum at the end of the game.

There are variations, too, and in case it isn’t obvious, it’s an excellent game for a child mastering addition. Additionally, although the directions don’t say so, it’s a fine ‘’solitaire” game.

My world-traveling friend says that his Shut the Box has traveled so many miles and seen so many hours of play all over the globe that he considers it almost as important as his passport! Now that I’ve played (and played) Shut the Box, I understand how people get addicted to games!

Review by Ann Ruethling

Jog-a-Thon School Fundraiser

Thursday, June 11th, 2009


About one week ago, my girls’ elementary school had their first jog-a-thon fundraiser and it was a big success! Our school raised a lot of money and because the PTA organized it without help from a fundraising organization, the school got to keep all of the money raised.

The kids seemed to have a great time as well. It was set up so each grade level had their own separate area for running. I went down and cheered on the first grade joggers, including my two girls. The older children ran for the longest period of time. Besides being a great way to donate money to the school, jog-a-thons also helps promote a healthy lifestyle.

I had the girls “train” for the event by running laps around our house & doing various exercises. One day I even set up an obstacle course in our yards, which challenged them not only physically, but cognitively as well since they had to try to remember all of the instructions (I could barely remember them myself, and I was the one who made them up!). It’s not easy to exhaust my girls (huge understatement), but I managed to do it at least for a few days.

Getting back to the topic of school, I think I’ll ask the principal if the school might consider starting a before-school running program. Most of the schools in our district that have started morning running programs, have had a lot of success. One big benefit is that the kids who run seem to be calmer and more ready to learn in the classroom.

So, whether you’re promoting jogging for a school fundraiser, a way for kids to get into better shape, or a way to help kids begin their school day, it seems as if it’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Has your kid’s school done a jog-a-thon? If so, we’d love to hear about your experiences.