The Tragedy of Mike Tomkies and Moobli

moobli

We have a tendency to romanticize nature writers. We think of Thoreau or Edward Abbey as sages on the land, revealing profound truths about the nature that was their true muse.

I just finished a book, a dog book that I’ve been meaning to read for several years.  It is called Moobli by Mike Tomkies. Tomkies was famous for his first hand studies of Scottish wildcats, red deer, and golden eagles on the vast Highland wilderness on which he roamed.  He set himself up in an ancient crofter’s cottage on the shore of Loch Sheil and spent years chronicling its wild creatures. For nearly 9 years, his main assistant in his wildlife studies was an “Alsatian” named Moobli.

Tomkies became a wildlife writer after leaving the Coldstream Guards and spending years wandering around North America. North America, of course, is a place with much more wilderness than the island of Great Britain. He became an expert tracker of grizzly bears and cougars, and when he returned to set up his mission in Scotland, he used these skills to find wildcats and badger setts.

When one reads Tomkies’s prose about wild creatures, a profound sensitivity and tenderness is revealed. His passion for them oozes through every description, and I thought we would get an even more intimate sensibility when the subject switches to a beloved dog.

I was strangely jarred by his inability to understand dogs. If you believe in positive only dog training, this book is very difficult to read. Moobli is hit often, and in many cases, Tomkies’s description of the why he gave the punishment would lead to me think that Moobli would have had no way to understand the correction.  For example, Moobli gets hit for defecating in the cottage, even if the offense happened some time before the correction,

Knowing this breed as I do, my guess is that poor Moobli spent much of his life in constant terror of offending his beloved human, who seemed to offer very little attempts to communicate with him.  These dogs are not stubborn or recalcitrant. I’ve never known dogs that worry so much at trying make sure they are doing your bidding. It distresses them to know you’re cross with them far more than it does with even golden retrievers.

And yes, they do have an edge to them, and they must understand rules and boundaries. They just must be communicated to the dog in a way that dog understands them, and for someone with such a deep sensitivity towards animals as Tomkies, it can be distressing to read how he is utterly tone-deaf in dealing with this dog.

From my reading of Tomkies’s biography, he owned only two dogs in his lifetime. The first was a free-roaming German shepherd-Labrador cross that he owned in Canada. This dog later accompanied him to Hollywood and made an appearance in a movie as an extra, and this dog was obedient and sagacious. Though he loved this animal very much, he left the dog in Canada on his return to the UK, but his partial German shepherd heritage inspired Tomkies to get one of his own for his Scottish missions.

Tomkies didn’t know dogs. He tried to, but as I read the book, I kept wondering if he would ever understand what Moobli actually was. I laughed quite hard at his description of “Alsatians” as independent dogs, for I will tell you in all honestly that “independent” is one word I would not ascribe to this breed. I can only image what would have happened had Tomkies taken in a Siberian husky or some form of scenthound.

However, despite my reservations with Tomkies’s understanding of dogs, his honesty in the prose is almost refreshing. He confesses to hitting Moobli, even after he decides it is immoral, and he also is open about his abuse of alcohol and how lonely he becomes as the one man sage of this wilderness.

Moobli, though, is such a compelling figure. Moobli has loads of tending and warding off instinct. He finds many injured red deer and sheep on their long hikes into the wild. He also becomes a proficient tracking dog, tracing foxes to their earths and badgers to their setts.  That Moobli is able to figure out what Tomkies wants, even though Tomkies obviously had no clue how to train a dog, is a testament towards his German shepherd biddability and intelligence.

Moobli is also a contradiction. Though he is gentle with most sheep and red deer hinds and calves, he could be quite aggressive towards rams and stags that came to raid Tomkies’s sprout and cabbage patch.  Tomkies describes the great battle between Moobli and a garden raiding stage, which stands to fight the barking dog.

Further, Tomkies caught Moobli chasing a brown hare while on a visit to Southern England, and although he was able to call Moobli off, his predatory instincts are stimulated. On the returning to Scotland, Moobli gets after a roebuck, which he pursues into the water and kills in a most lupine way.

So the same dog that would tend a starving lamb or an abandoned red deer calf could also kill a roe deer on the run.

Tomkies is more angry at Moobli for the attack. He does not take the time to marvel in this profound contradiction that exists in dogs and humans and in all species that are social hunters. We can be gentle and tender, even loving, but we can also be so savage at times.

Moobli’s relationship with the various wildcats that Tomkies raised is also worth noting. Tomkies lived with wildcats in much the same way that Jim and Jamie Dutcher lived with wolves in Idaho. He really got to understand what a European wildcat truly was in its essence, and Moobli was an expert in tracking down the cats once Tomkies gave them liberty to roam in the wild.  He also was the gentle caretaker of any kittens that Tomkies raised in the house.

Moobli is a good dog. He is active and fit, and because of his great tracking prowess, he is the ultimate naturalist’s dog.  He can get on the track of the different species on command, tearing off after wildcats and ignoring badger and fox spoor and then tracking those beasts when his master gives the appropriate command.

He is also a superb retriever. Fetching many objects just based upon their name, and when one reads Tomkies’s description of teaching the dog to do a retrieve, it is obvious that he never heard of any kind of formal retriever training. He just points at the object and gives it a name, and Moobli deduces the object by his master’s “Nahs” and haranguing.

That this dog performed so well with such inexpert handling is truly remarkable. At one point, the dog figures out how to push Tomkies’s small boat to shore when the engine gives out. After trying to look for objects to retrieve,  he begins to push boat with his paws as he swam strongly in the water.

This dog is on the move. He swims several miles a day in the loch during the warmer months, and he also spends hours traveling over the mountains with Tomkies.  The photos of Moobli in the book reveal a faded out black and tan. The dog is a sort of homely creature. His ears don’t really stand properly, even though they were posted.  Judging from the photos, he is a hair fat, even though he does get this exercise, and I wonder how much venison and sausage that Tomkies was feeding him every day.

Despite his physical defect, Moobli’s temperament and proclivities are so typical of what the best of this breed has to offer. If only he had experienced a more careful hand to mold him, Moobli would have become an even more special dog than what he became.

I suppose that my difference with Tomkies is that I am a nature writer whose dogs have always been my conduit for exploring the natural world.  Tomkies is a nature writer who happens to like the odd dog that he finds useful. Tomkies does not take much time to understand the canine condition. It is always projected through his own very human nature.

The hardest part of the book is what comes at the end. In animal biographies, we know what happens. The animal dies.

And Moobli died of degenerative myelopathy. When he was going through the disease in the early 80s, we had poor understanding of the disorder. Tomkies describes one veterinarian who calls it “the Alsatian disease,” even though other breeds get it, and in those parts of the book, he conflates it a bit with an unrelated arthritis issue that Moobli also developed.

We now know the disorder is conferred by a recessive allele. The spine degenerates when the dog is in late middle age, and in our popular understanding of the disorder, we often see a conflation between this disease and hip dysplasia.  Not all dogs that are homozygous for the recessive allele get the disorder, but it is a big problem in the breed.

Tomkies had a hard time letting Moobli go. Swimming was superb exercise for the dog, and after several months dragging his rear, the dog winds up with massive shoulders.

Tomkies writes veterinarians all over the UK, hoping that one might have a the cure. The offer only new treatments. There was no cure then. There is no cure now.

He hits Moobli for defecating in the house when the disorder hits. That was the hardest part of the book to read, but Tomkies realizes that this lack of bladder control is a symptom of the disease.  He then rearranges the cottage for ease of cleaning.

For nearly a year, Tomkies keeps Moobli alive. It is only when the dog’s dragging tail becomes infected with bottlefly maggots that he decides to alleviate his suffering through euthanasia.

In the end, Tomkies realizes what a profoundly good dog he had, and in the epilogue, he admits that he has not purchased another dog. He says that he is too full of sorrow to get another, and if he did, it would have to be a very different sort of dog. I detect a bit of remorse about how he treated the dog at times, which is why Tomkies included such horrible images in his prose.

It is just as well, for wild creatures are Tomkies’s true muse.  He had a great dog, but he lacked the expertise to understand this creature and its true potential.

The end of the book is Tomkies describing his loneliness. His father has just passed in Spain. Various commercial interests are pressing hard on invading his wilderness. The townspeople are no longer amused by his wilderness activism.  No publisher will buy his manuscript, and he is stuck living in the converted sheep shed on Loch Shiel.  Moobli’s grave lies just below the cottage, and he is forced to remember what once was and never will be.

This is the true tragedy of the nature writer.  He is alone. There is mystery and romance about such an ascetic existence, but it is not all the beauty and the glory of the wildness.  It is recognizing that one can put one’s self in exiled existence that is hard to rectify.

And then not even have a dog to care for you.

 

 

 

Natural History

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10 Tips for a Successful Holiday Road Trips With Kids

This post is sponsored by Autotrader; however, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

My family and I are no strangers to travel. Thanks to my husband’s job (he works for a band and travels constantly), we get to take journeys throughout the year to visit or accompany him, both by plane and by car. We also have friends and family throughout the midwest, so it’s road trips that end up being the most frequent type of travel for us. And when it comes to road trips, it’s the holiday season ones that end up being the most unforgettable. There is something especially sentimental about them (there’s a reason “home for the holidays” is such a beloved expression), but they also seem to be the most challenging (which, ultimately, also makes them the most memorable). As we prepare to go visit my sister and her family for the holiday season in a couple of weeks, I thought I’d share some of my tips (from experience!) that make holiday road tripping with kids a success.

1. Prepare your vehicle.
One of the most important tips is something I found via a great article on Autotrader with tips for long holiday road trips: ready your vehicle. This might seem like common sense, but there have been more times than I care to admit that I’ve been in a rush to hit the road and have neglected getting my car trip-ready, only to have something go wrong on the way. Make sure your vehicle is up to date on maintenance and oil changes, that coolant and windshield wiper fluids are full, and that the tire pressure is correct. Run it through the car wash and vacuum the inside as well. The trip will be so much more comfortable for your whole family in a clean vehicle, I promise. And your stress level will be infinitely lower knowing your car is in good shape for travel, especially during these winter months.

2. Bring an extra phone charger.
Yet another reminder I discovered in the holiday road trip article on Autotrader, this tip is one I wish I had years ago. When my youngest was a baby, I took a solo road trip to Indianapolis and my cell charger broke. It was during the holidays, the roads were bad, and I was in the middle of nowhere. Eventually I came across a town and found a place that carried them, but dragging a toddler and newborn out into a snowstorm to buy it was not fun. Especially in case of emergency, having an extra charger in the car is crucial.

3. Pack coloring and activity books and/or a travel journal.
Yes, screens are an easy way to keep the kids occupied, but bringing along more hands-on activities like coloring books for the little ones or travel journals for older kids will make your holiday road trip so much more memorable for them. We recently got the coolest road trip kit called Joy to the Road box from Autotrader that came with a fun Paint By Sticker book (think paint by number without the mess; perfect for the car), Color & Frame book (the kids can make frame-worthy colored art as holiday gifts for loved ones on the trip!), colored pencils, and a travel journal where my daughter can write about each day of the trip. These types of activities are the perfect way to keep the kids occupied while remaining present for the experience of the trip instead of tuning out.

4. Bring snacks. Lots of snacks. 
Hell hath no fury like a child who is trapped in a car for hours with no snacks. We try to pack healthy, non-messy snacks (apples, strawberries, apple sauce pouches, crackers, and string cheese), and we also pack some fun holiday themed treats like candy canes and holiday cookies. Snacks are an easy solution to a whole lot of road-tripping-with-kids problems, I promise.

5. Take pictures to create visual memories.
We take a lot of pictures on our phones on holiday road trips (okay, so my husband doesn’t, but I take enough for both of us), and I’m always so thankful later to be able to look back through the visual memories. But there are other ways to take pictures that can make your holiday road trip even more fun. My kids were so excited to receive an Instax Mini 9 camera and film in our Joy to the Road box from Autotrader, and we can’t wait to use it on our trip. We plan to take photos along the way and make a special photo album documenting our journey when we get back.

6. Make the car ride cozy.
If you’re going to be spending hours (or even days) in the car, your might as well make sure you’re comfortable. My kids and I love creating a cozy holiday environment in our van for trips like this. We bring blankets, cozy slippers (I’m loving the comfy snowflake slippers that were included in our Joy to the Road box from Autotrader; Emmett does too, and has claimed them for his own, as seen in the image above), and hot chocolate and coffee (in my new Autotrader Titan Thermal Mug from our Joy to the Road box, which came filled with yummy holiday sweet treats for our journey). We als listen to holiday music the entire way (or at least until it drives my husband crazy).

7. Put a first aid kit in your car. 
Maybe you already have one in your car (high fives for thinking ahead!), but until I received one in my Joy to the Road box from Autotrader, I never even thought about it. Mine (from Thrive; it’s so cute) is the perfect glove box size and features a whole bunch of medical grade supplies, and I will never go on a road trip without it again. Vehicle first aid kits are especially important during holiday road trips when winter weather can create unsafe road conditions. And let’s face it, the chances of a kid needing bandage on a road trip are usually pretty high (because they make even the tiniest scratch feel better, right?).

8. Keep hand sanitizer in your vehicle. 
Raise you hand if your child always seems to get sick during holiday travels! It’s so easy to pick up germs during the cold months, and travel – whether by road or air – seems to up the chances even more. We keep hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes in our car at all times, and make sure we’re constantly cleaning our hands during holiday road trips.

9. Check the weather and road conditions in advance.
I tend to check the weather on my phone when we’re stopped during trips, but Autotrader’s Long Holiday Road Trip Tips article reminded me of the importance of checking ahead of time, before we hit the road. We’ve been caught off guard with road closures more than once during holiday travels, and while they’re never fun, they’re even more stressful when your little ones are with you. So check the weather before you leave, and use the Federal Highway Administration’s website (as suggested by Autotrader) for road updates.

10. Take breaks.
Another great trip from Autotrader’s Holiday Road Trip Tips article is to take regular breaks. We tend to try to get to our destination as quickly as possible, but it’s safer (and more fun!) to stop occasionally and stretch our legs. (This is also a great time to follow tip #4 and take pictures!) Autotrader suggests stopping at least once every two hours or more frequently if it’s snowing, which can have a hypnotic effect (who knew?). Autotrader also suggests taking frequent breaks during night driving to prevent fatigue and tunnel vision on the highway. Taking breaks to enjoy the journey makes it more fun for everyone as well!

Wherever your holiday road trips bring you, I hope these tips prove helpful! And for more great tips, check out Autotrader’s Holiday Road Trip Tips article and Autotrader’s Best Family-Friendly Car Features for Surviving Road Trips article. Autotrader has always been our go-to to help make car shopping easier, but now they’re also one of our go-tos for making holiday road travel easier too! From their informative articles to their seriously awesome Joy to the Road box, Autotrader is a true Santa’s helper for making holiday road trips stress-free. And as always, Autotrader makes online car buying quick, easy, and trustworthy. They have the widest variety of vehicle options in one place, and they’ve even added Kelley Blue Book Price Advisor to their car listings, so you get the most trusted pricing. The best!

If you have any tips for making holiday road trips with kids a smooth, enjoyable experience, I’d love to hear. Happy holiday travels!

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Bubby and Bean ::: Living Creatively

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The remains of an 18,000-year-old puppy might be those of a common ancestor of domestic dogs and modern gray wolves

18,000 year old puppy

A two-month-old puppy died 18,000 years ago, and it was preserved the permafrost near Yakutsk in Eastern Siberia.  I knew about this discovery a few weeks ago, but I was waiting DNA tests to see exactly what it was.  The late Pleistocene is when we start to see the beginnings of domestic dogs, and we do have some tantalizing subfossils of wolves with what might be exhibiting morphological characters suggesting domestication that date to even earlier than this puppy.  So it is an interesting find.

Indeed, any of these late Pleistocene gray wolves that are found in Eurasia could hold some mysteries about dog domestication.

But the initial DNA analysisrevealed that it does not match domestic dogs or extant gray wolves. This suggests that it might come from the ancestral population that leads to both.

Or it could mean that it is of a lineage of gray wolf that has since died out.

Of course, most media coverage of the discovery hint at this puppy being from the ancestral form, but it’s more likely that the latter is the disappointing answer.

More extensive genome analysis is going to be needed to determine what this gray wolf pup was.

Whatever it was, this puppy shows that these discoveries hold many mysteries in their DNA.

The puppy has been named “Dogor,” which means “friend” in the Yakutian language.  And he might have been just that– a friend to some band of Pleistocene hunters.

But for now, we can only speculate and wonder.

Natural History

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Tan is advancing.

dare black and tan

The tan markigns have expanded. We now have then going up the shoulder and the hip. The blanket markings are easier to see at night when you shine a flashlight on her. You can see where they will eventually be delineated.

Yes, she has some grizzling on her back. That is to be expected in females of this type.

For comparison. Here is her on October 26.

way more black

 

Natural History

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Dog Gaining Weight During Winter? How You Can Prevent Those Extra Pounds

Recent record cold temperatures across the US have created a host of problems including the disruption of regular exercise routines. For pet parents and their dogs, this can mean less activity and…



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DogTipper’s Holiday Gift Guide + Giveaway Extravaganza!

Celebrate the holidays with our roundup of great gifts for your favorite pet lover–and EVERY gift included in this gift guide will be gifted to one lucky winner in our DogTipper Gift Guide and…



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Festive Organic Cranberry Cucumber Vodka Spritzers

Cranberry Cucumber Vodka Spritzers

This post is sponsored by Prairie Organic Spirits, but all opinions are my own. 21+ Drink Responsibly.

Cranberry Cucumber Vodka Spritzers

Thanksgiving and the holiday season are upon us, my friends. I don’t like to rush things, but I’d be lying if I said there weren’t visions of sugarplums dancing in my head pretty much the second the clock strikes midnight on Halloween night. And by sugarplums, I mean the sheer delights of the food and drink that accompany this time of year.

Last year, I came up with a festive cranberry vodka spritzer that became my go-to cocktail for Thanksgiving and holiday entertaining. This year, I decided to change it up a little and add an ingredient usually reserved for my summer beverages: Prairie Cucumber Flavored Organic Vodka from Prairie Organic Spirits. Maybe this sounds unusual, but adding the crisp taste of cucumber to a cocktail normally reserved for the colder months gives it a delicious freshness that takes the spritzer to a whole new level. And, the spritzer is almost entirely organic! Try it and I think you’ll agree it’s pretty incredible.

Organic Cranberry Cucumber Vodka Spritzer
Servings: 1

1.5 fluid ounces Prairie Cucumber Flavored Organic Vodka
4 fluid ounces organic cranberry juice, chilled
1 ounce simple syrup (equal parts parts sugar and water; instructions below)
Splash of soda/sparkling water, chilled
Ice
Organic cucumber slice (for garnish)
Organic orange slice (for garnish)
Fresh organic mint sprig (for garnish)
Organic cranberries (for garnish)

To make simple syrup, combine equal parts sugar and water in a medium sauce pan. (I recommend one cup of each so you have more on hand than enough for just one spritzer). Bring to a boil, stirring consistently until the sugar has dissolved. Allow to cool.

Combine Prairie Cucumber Flavored Organic Vodka, organic cranberry juice, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker and shake well. Fill a glass half way with ice cubes, and pour cocktail over ice. Top with a splash or two of soda. Garnish with a cucumber slice, an orange slice, a sprig of fresh mint, and few fresh cranberries. You can also easy quadruple this recipe to make a pitcher for guests.

It’s the combination of high quality, organic ingredients in this festive cocktail that make it exceptionally delicious, but the key ingredient for me is the the Prairie Cucumber Flavored Organic Vodka. You might already be familiar with my undying love for Prairie Organic Spirits from a yummy pineapple vodka refresher cocktail recipe I shared over the summer, but if not, allow me to gush for a minute. The company itself is fantastic for many reasons: they are Midwest made (in Minnesota), they have a passion for true craftsmanship and put great care into choosing their ingredients and making their spirits, they’re USDA certified organic, and they give 1% back to hhelp more farmers go organic. And truly, their products speak for themselves. Prairie Cucumber Flavored Organic Vodka has a delightfully crisp taste that is refreshing, smooth, and distinctly delicious. (Did I mention that it’s gluten free?) I’m also a big fan of Prairie Organic Vodka and Prairie Organic Gin (makes the best martini you’ll ever have). It’s no wonder that Prairie Organic Spirits is the #1 Organic Spirit.

I can’t wait to hear what you guys think about this festive organic spritzer! Happy holiday sipping!

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Bubby and Bean ::: Living Creatively

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Our 2019 Family Holiday Cards

I share bits and pieces of my family here and on my social accounts, but I usually refrain from getting too personal (especially when it comes to my kids). One exception for me is our family holiday cards. And while sharing family holiday cards might not seem like a deep dive into our personal lives, there is something very intimate about them: they represent a year of our life, they’re shared with our closest friends and family, and they express love and gratitude. It’s a holiday tradition that I find incredibly endearing, and it makes me happy enough that I want to share them with you all too. 

After years of only sending cards that I designed for myself for my Bubby and Bean Art shop, I decided after Essley was born it was time for a change. First of all, I wanted to include a photo of her (my precious babe!) on the card. Second, I wanted a place that offered customization and would do the printing for me. Finally, I wanted a place that would, well, do all of the other work too. (Stuffing, sealing, addressing, stamping, and sending holiday cards is an incredibly time consuming task, let’s admit it.) After lots of research, I came across a company that not only had the coolest, most stylish cards around, they also offered everything else I was looking for (and then some). And here I am, five years later and still happily using my holiday card BFF, Postable.

While those first couple of paragraphs alone have probably already convinced you of Postable‘s awesomeness, I’m going to gush just a little more. But first, I want to add that Postable hasn’t (and has never) paid me to review them. I just think they’re the best. For real. Anyway, Postable rules for many reasons, but their huge selection of truly hip, beautifully designed cards is the first thing that caught my eye way back when. (No cheesy holiday cards here!) I’m also a huge fan of the fact that they care about the environment (climate change is real, the end) and use 100% post-consumer recycled or tree-free 100% cotton in all their cards and envelopes. The quality of their cards is some of the best I’ve ever seen too. And the process itself is so quick and simple it’s like a holiday weight the size of Cousin Eddie’s RV is lifted from my shoulders every year. In ten minutes (maybe more like seven to be honest), I upload my photos, greetings, names, choose my font (so many options, but I found one that matches Robbie’s handwriting almost exactly so I can be sneaky and fool my posse into thinking we hand wrote them), click on the addresses saved in my address book, and hit order. A few days later, my loved ones have received our holiday cards in their mailboxes, and all I did was sit on my butt drinking spiked eggnog and tapping a few things on my computer.

As you can see above, Postable has such an incredible collection that I always end up ordering a bunch of samples because I just can’t freaking decide. This year, I ended up choosing one that embodies the things I think are most important to the season (peace and joy) and that I felt best displayed the photo I took of the kids. I also changed up the back this year to include three additional photos (including the infamous dolphin shot from our summer vacation where Emmett’s facial expression is absolutely meme-worthy) because with Postable, you can customize to your heart’s content. I’m so excited about them.

Thank you Postable for making the holiday season easier for me in so many ways. Did I mentioned that the people who work for the company are genuinely nice humans too? They’re so nice, in fact, that they are giving you 20% off your entire order with code BEAN19. Go use that awesomeness right now and then come back and tell me all about the cute cards you chose. I can’t wait to see them. And thank you for letting me share such a special part of our family holiday traditions with you. Happy holiday card giving!

This post is in collaboration with Postable.

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Bubby and Bean ::: Living Creatively

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Win A Set of Two Purple YUCKY PUPPY Bags!

Recently we asked for your help choosing a purple pattern for our next PawZaar product: purple YUCKY PUPPY poop bag carriers! These waterproof, machine washable bags help you walk through your…



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5 Ways to Encourage Kids to Tell Their Own Stories

This post is a paid promotion by Fisher-Price and all opinions are my own.

When my oldest was a baby, a friend who is also a teacher and I were talking about the most important skills to teach young kids. One of the skills she said was crucial to encourage (in addition to, ya know, them wiping their own bums) is storytelling. She explained to me that this doesn't just mean getting your kids to verbally tell stories like they might read in a book (although that can be part of it). She said that it also means allowing them to use their imaginations and creative play to tell their own stories in other ways. This really resonated with me, and it's something I have made an effort to promote as my children have grown from babies to young kids.

When kids tell their own stories in different ways, it can improve their language skills, foster creative thought processes and imagination, and help with overall learning. Storytelling is a big deal, guys! Today I thought I'd share with you some of the ways I encourage this kind of creative storytelling with my little ones, and share more about our current favorite toy, Wonder Makers™ Design System by Fisher-Price!

1. Try fun ways to get your kids to tell you about their day.
It can be difficult for a small child to verbalize what happened in their day (how many of us get "nothing" or "I don't know" as an answer when asking your child what he or she did at school?), but encouraging them to do so helps their language skills and teaches them how to express themselves. We make it into a game, where I sit down with them, try to avoid asking too many questions, and express excitement in them dramatically telling me what happened at school, or even acting out parts of their day. (When my 5 year old daughter does this it's legitimately like going to a comedy show and I am 100% there for it. Best free entertainment around.) Or I have them use hands on toys to show me how their day went! Our new favorite hands on toy is called Wonder Makers™ Design System (only available on Amazon!). Through non-electric (yay!) elements made from wood, fabric, rubber, and plastic that fit together in unlimited ways, Wonder Makers™ Design System truly allows kids to use their imaginations and creative storytelling skills to build their own worlds. They include cues that are familiar from our everyday lives, like people, trees, vehicles, and buildings, but also allow for flexibility so the different pieces can be put together in any way your child likes - which is the perfect tool for kids to tell us about their days in a way that is fun for them.

2. Give your kids toys that encourage creative storytelling.
This builds on my first tip, and is so important! Kids learn through play. They express themselves through play. And I have found that there is no better way to encourage them to tell their own stories than through toys that allow them to do so naturally and with ease. This is one of the reasons we are such huge fans of Wonder Makers™ toys. The fact that include pieces of things kids recognize from their daily lives but allow them to build any way they like is such an incredible means for them to creatively tell their stories. My kids love following the suggested builds (Emmett adores the Lift and Sort Recycling System set and Essley is mildly obsessed with the Soft Slumber Campground™), but they get really excited when mixing pieces from the different sets to build their own worlds. And the different pieces can be used in different ways. Emmett loves to use the wood elements to create tracks for all of the vehicles that come with the sets, and Essley likes to incorporate them into unique buildings. The Wonder Makers™ sets enable the kids to not only verbally tell their stories as they're building both alone and as a team, but also nonverbally tell them through their finished creations and the act of creating itself. It's pretty great to watch.

From a design lover standpoint, I also have to point out how beautiful these sets are. The simple lines and artwork are just as appealing to me as they are to my kids! Woot!

3. Put on performances and be an audience.
Have your kids put on plays, musicals, or puppet shows where they are acting out stories, or even just encourage them to get on a "stage" (we use the area in front of our fireplace) and talk. Most children love performing to their families and close friends with whom they feel comfortable, and any excuse to turn their everyday stories into a performance is fun. My daughter thinks it's the most enjoyable thing ever to talk about things that happened in her day or construct elaborate tales through improvised song. (You should hear this child's exaggerated vibrato, too. It's lovely, endearing, and comical at the same time.) They also have so much fun putting on little shows to tell their stories using the characters and builds they've created with their Wonder Makers™ Design Systems. Essley put on a three act puppet show style play using their Wonder MakersSoft Slumber Campground™where she using the wood characters and other pieces, and built and rebuilt the set with pieces from different sets as she went along. It was genuinely as fun for me to watch as it was for her to play.

4. Have your kids draw, paint, color, sculpt, or build. 
As I mentioned earlier, storytelling doesn't have to be verbal. It can also be done by expressing their stories through art. My daughter is learning to read at school, and her teacher has them draw out their own stories about their days in journals that they bring home everyday. My son loves to tell his stories through painting and coloring. Art can an incredibly effective way for little ones to communicate. This is yet another thing we love about Wonder Makers™ toys - they are pieces of art that your child creates! When my kids build with their Wonder Makers™ toys, they are using their imaginations to make mini pieces of architecture and and beautiful, colorful scenes inspired by their lives. The interchangeable elements make this possible and encourage little ones to artistically think outside the box.

5. Read out loud and often.
This one may seem obvious, but reading stories together, along with exposing kids to regular story hours (like at your local library), is one of the best ways to encourage them to tell stories on their own. We always read at least two books before bedtime too, and often I will also make up an improvised story that I'll tell them right before they fall asleep. I have done this since they were babies. Now they take turns telling their own stories as well, which is so much fun. My kids also set up the characters from their Wonder Makers™kits as audiences using the elements from the different sets to create seating areas, and "read" to them. My 3 year old son's most recent story hour for his Wonder Makers™characters was an elaborate story about a dinosaur who ate red bananas, blue olives, and orange garbanzo beans, and as a result, pooped rainbows. Fantastic work, buddy!

If you have other ways that you encourage your little ones to tell their own stories, I'd love to hear! And if you're looking for a truly wonderful toy to help encourage your kids' storytelling skills, head over to Amazon.com and grab a Wonder Makers set or two (or more!). Their elements made from wood, fabric, rubber, and plastic are both high quality and beautifully designed, and your kids will have hours of creative fun fitting them together in unlimited ways! We have three Wonder Makers™ design systems so far, and they are high up on our holiday gifting lists too.

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Bubby and Bean ::: Living Creatively

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