Seedlings and the title: Thinning My Garden

One of my favourite parts of gardening is seeing the first sprouts pushing their heads through the ground. The newness and anticipation of a coming harvest is exciting. How big will the beets grow this year? How many zucchinis will come? Will we be able to harvest the tomatoes before the first frost?

(A quick disclaimer before I continue. I am not an experienced gardener, so please do not take this post as gardening advice.)

I love seeing those little seedlings grow bigger each day. Seedlings sprouting

Soon, however, comes a stage I don’t like so much: thinning the garden.

Often gardeners plant more seeds than they will let grow to full maturity. Because of this, the seeds are too close to each other.

As the seeds grow, they become crowded and begin to fight for sunlight and water. If not thinned, none of the seeds will grow strong and healthy. They will remain half-shrunk and weirdly shaped as they strain for more light.

So, the morning comes when I slip into my gardening sandals and head out for a closer look.

First, I pull the weeds. I mercilessly yank them from the ground. They don’t belong. They won’t bring value or a harvest. I don’t want them. They only serve to get in the way of the plants I want to grow.

New sprouts in a garden

Then I look at the radish row. They’re often quicker to grow than the others. The plants are far too close. I know I have to thin them if I want large healthy radishes.

I crouch down and take a deep breath.

I pull a radish seedling. Looking at it, I feel bad to have had to pull a perfectly healthy and good plant that could have grown excellent food. Still, if I didn’t pull that seedling out, the others wouldn’t grow well.

Looking again at the row, I pull another seedling and then another. Pretty soon I have a pile of radish seedlings. Thankfully I can eat these sprouts for lunch. Yet something inside of me remains sad that they will never reach their fullest potential.

When at last I sit back and look at the radish row, I smile. These remaining plants will now be able to grow strong and healthy. It was painful pulling the sprouts, but the reward will be worth it. No half-grown radishes for me.

On to the next row of plants I go, and then the next. Pretty soon the garden is looking far more empty, yet I remind myself that it now holds more chance of reaching its fullest potential. The harvest will be bigger and better because of the thinning I did today.

What about in my life? Do I need to do some thinning there?

Raddishes

Having grown up attending church, I have long known the parable of the sower. The part about the seed that fell among the weeds seems fitting to consider now.

“Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it didn’t produce fruit. … these are the ones who hear the word, but the worries of this age, the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” (Mark 4:7, 18-19 CSB)

Okay, got it. In order to be fruitful for God, I must get rid of the weeds in my life. Weeds are bad things, right? Don’t covet wealth, don’t worry, don’t pursue other bad worldly things. If I get caught up in those, my life won’t reach its fullest God-given potential.

Take out the weeds in my life, and I’m good to go, right? My experience in the garden says there might be more to do.

Maybe there are other things I need to thin out of my life in order to thrive in what I keep.

Jesus, after having a powerful night of ministry did just that, as recorded in Mark 1:35-38 (CSB).

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, He got up, went out, and made His way to a deserted place; and there He was praying. Simon and his companions searched for Him, and when they found Him they said, ‘Everyone is looking for You.’  And He said to them, ‘Let’s go on to the neighboring villages so that I may preach there too. This is why I have come.'”

I can so easily read those verses and think, “Everyone was looking for Him. He could have stayed and taught them so much more and done more miracles. They were ready to listen.”

Jesus, however, knew the task His Father had placed before Him. If He was to fulfill His mission on earth, He had to move on.

Sometimes I get caught up in all the good things I have opportunities to do. When a door is open, that means I should go in, right?

I must remind myself that this is not always the case. As with my garden, if I am involved in too many good things, none of them will thrive. They will be half-nourished and straining for light.

Instead, I need to prioritize my life intentionally. Sometimes prioritizing includes pulling out good healthy things so that the rest can thrive.

What do I need to thin out of my life so that what remains can grow? I’ll have to follow Jesus’ example and pray about that.

In the meantime, here are some valuable quotes to ponder.

“Good is not always God’s will, but God’s will is always good.” – Watchman Nee

“Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at something that doesn’t really matter.” – D. L. Moody

Toys laying abandoned.

Are your kids bored of their toys? Are they disengaged and uninterested? Try rotating their toys.

Toy rotation is highly beneficial in preschools, daycares, day homes and even in everyday family life.

Benefits of toy rotation

  • After a toy is packed away for a length of time, children become excited to play with it again because they haven’t seen it for so long.Child surrounded by toys
  • Putting away some toys for rotation may leave your child with less toys to play with. Believe it or not, this can lead to deeper engagement with the few toys that are available. With too many toys a child may bounce from one toy to another, rather than fully playing with any one toy. Sometimes less is truly more.
  • Having fewer toys available also shrinks the amount of mess a child can make with their toys at any given time.

How long should toys be available?

The answer depends greatly on your child, your child’s age, and the toy itself. Because the recommended length of time is so situationally dependent, watch how engaged your child is. When they show signs of being less engaged, it’s time to rotate. Be aware, leaving toys out, until your child is bored, may significantly decrease their excitement at seeing those toys again later. Therefore, try to do the rotating on a high note so they will associate good memories with the toys for next time.

Older children, such as elementary aged children, may be able to regulate the rotating themselves. Store all their toys on a shelf. Allow them to get out and play with only one or two types of toys at a time – perhaps the cars and the blocks. When the elementary aged children realize they are getting tired of the toy, they will ask to get out a different type of toy. Have them first clean up and put away the toy they are tired of, then they may get out the next toy. In this way, they can take some responsibility for rotating their own toys.

What about at preschools and daycares, etc?Child playing with wooden blocks

I have been a part of preschools and daycares who rotated their toys once a week, every other week, once a month, or never. Where the toys were never rotated, the children were extremely bored. They engaged in very little meaningful play and often misbehaved.

I personally would recommend rotating the toys every week or two. Some toys, such as large wooden blocks, may not need rotating as often, while other toys, such as puzzles, may only engage each child for one sitting and therefore benefit from frequent rotation.

Toy rotation in preschool and daycare settings comes with the benefit of providing a good toy washing routine. Every time new toys are set out, the old ones can be washed and left to dry before being packed away.

Does toy rotation make a difference?

My years of experience have given me reason to enthusiastically say “yes!” Have you seen the difference toy rotation makes?

Blue carpet with title

One morning, not so long ago, I spent some time praying before my day got started.

As is my habit, I brought before the Lord my family and friends and those whom I know have heavy burdens just now.

I glanced at the clock, it was time to get moving. I had things to do and breakfast to eat.

To close my time of prayer, I took a moment to kneel as I asked Him to be Lord of my day.

It was at that moment, as I knelt, that I saw them.Bugs on a carpet

First, I saw one little red-ish speck on the carpet, then I saw another. Leaning closer I realized they were bugs.

To my dismay, one careful survey of the surrounding area revealed several more bugs of the same type.

They weren’t fast bugs, nor terribly scary ones. It had surely taken them quite some time to get to where they were now. They looked almost like mini caterpillars, so small that, had I been standing, I likely wouldn’t have noticed them.

If there were so many of these bugs scattered across the floor, then naturally I had to assume there was a source of food nearby. Clearly they must have a well-fed flourishing colony.

I surveyed the carpet again. The scattering of bugs appeared to radiate from one particular cabinet.

Bugs on a rug

Immediately I could guess their food source. That cabinet had previously spent many years as the cat food place. While we had a dog, it was necessary to place the cat food on top of this cabinet to keep the dog from eating it.

My cats, unfortunately, were rather messy eaters. When they ate dry cat food, they always left large amounts outside the bowl. Despite our greatest efforts, some of that cat food fell down the back of the cabinet.

There was little doubt in my mind that it was that old spilled cat food that nourished these little bugs. To them, it was a feast allowing them to multiply. To me, it was an old unreachable space that had not fully been cleaned out.

Later that day, the effort was made to move this heavy cabinet so as to reveal the hidden and unreachable places behind it.

After a thorough vacuuming and cleaning, the spot was declared good and the heavy cabinet put back in place.

So what? Why do I share this morning’s adventure? Because it got me thinking.

Do I have hidden and unreachable places in my life that need to be revealed and cleaned?

It is a convicting question. I can recall times in the past when God has brought to light things I hadn’t dealt with, which in turn had begun feeding bugs. Things that I didn’t realize or remember were there until I started seeing bugs and, with God’s help, found the source – a process which sometimes took months or years.

No matter how many bugs I got rid of, if I never found the source – the thing that was feeding them – I would forever find more bugs.

The cabinet in my house behind which the old cat food lay was heavy and hard to move. When I trace the bugs in my life to their source, I may find something similar. The source may be blocked by something I can’t move myself. Often only God can clean and heal those areas.

How then, am I to notice these bugs in my life?

More often than not, it must be God who enables me to spot the bugs in my life.

I believe it is primarily when I walk closely with the Lord with a humble heart that He reveals these bugs to me and guides me to their sources.

When did I spot the bugs in my house? When I knelt to pray.

Had I walked through the same room remaining on my feet and busy going about my day, I would never have noticed them.

I believe there is a lesson there for me. Yes, I need this reminder.

More often than not, it is when I take time to pray that God reveals to me the bugs that must be dealt with in my life.

May I more often join David in praying:

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way.” (Psalm 139:23-24 CSB)

Indeed, “may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14 CSB)

Letters being covered by cloth

This simple game is fantastic for engaging your preschoolers. It makes your children think hard as they try to solve the exciting mystery of what’s missing!

The game itself is extremely basic, yet the modifications and ways of using it to teach specific vocabulary are nearly endless. It can be played with a group of children or just one child.

Why play?

Children love this game! Not only is it fun and interactive, but it also makes your children think hard. Our brains, like our muscles, need exercise and stretching to make them strong. This game provides an excellent brain-stretching exercise for kids, and for adults too. I’ve often been amazed at how quickly my children are able to learn the skills needed to play this game well. You’ll soon find yourself needing to make it harder and harder to keep them challenged.

Not only that, but this game is also a great opportunity to provide a review of the vocabulary your children are learning, whether letter names, or colours, or various zoo animals.

How to play

  1. Collect various unique items.
  2. Show the children the items and review their names.
  3. Cover the items with a blanket to hide them from the children’s sight. While they are hidden, remove one of the items.
  4. Uncover the items and encourage the children to guess what’s missing.
  5. Repeat until all the items have disappeared

Various office supplies under cloth

 

Zoo animal cut outs under cloth

 

Farm animal toys under bandana

 

Foam letters under blanket

 

Tips

Make it engaging:

  • Be excited about figuring out what’s missing. If you’re excited about it, your children will be too.
  • When your children guess right, celebrate with them. When they guess wrong, be encouraging. Learning that it’s okay to make wrong guesses will help them succeed in school and life.
  • Try to play at a level where your children can guess correctly 75% of the time. You want it hard enough that they have to think, but not so hard that they become discouraged and give up.

Which items to choose:

  • You can use just about anything to play this game!
    • Small plastic toys such as farm animals
    • Paper zoo animals that you printed and coloured
    • Random craft/office supplies such as glue stick, pencil, paintbrush, etc.
    • Small cars or construction vehicles
    • Magnetic letters
    • Small blocks of various colours and shapes
  • The more similar the items are to each other the harder the game becomes. Beware that it also becomes far more tricky if the children are unfamiliar with the right words to name the items.

Make it easier:

  • Use fewer items. For a class of two years olds, I often start with only 4 items the first time I play with them. Once they understand the game and are guessing well, I might use more items the next time we play.
  • Use items the children are able to name well. Something like an ostrich is harder for the children to recall that it is missing and to produce the name as a guess.
  • Use items that are very different from each other.
  • When you remove an item, leave its spot empty to help them recall what’s missing.
  • Each time, before covering the items, review the names of the items to help the children memorize them.
  • For younger children, when I get down to one item left, I like to ask them which item they think will disappear. Then I proceed to make the final item disappear.

Make it harder:

  • Start with more items.
  • Use more challenging items, such as the letters of the alphabet or more unusual animals.
  • Use items with fewer differences such as all the items are dolls, but their outfits are different.
  • Remove more than one item per round.
  • After removing an item, rearrange the items before revealing them to the children.

Use it to teach concepts:

    • Each time an item is removed, review the names of the remaining items before covering them again.
    • Choose familiar things for most of the items, but add one or two unfamiliar items. Leave the unfamiliar items until closer to the end so the children get lots of practice saying those names.
    • Choose items that focus on one particular topic. If you want to focus on colours, select items that are identical (or nearly identical) other than their colour. If you want to work on shapes, select items that are nearly identical in colour so that the shape is the most prominent difference.

Bonus Tip

Do you have grandkids or nieces and nephews whom you can’t be with in person right now? Try playing this game while having a video call with them. You don’t even need a blanket since you can turn the camera away while you remove an item. Have fun letting them try to guess what’s missing!
I hope you enjoy playing this game with your children! What items did you use?
Road disappearing into dark night

Not long ago, I was driving through the Canadian prairies where the world seemed to stretch out forever, with only the occasional farmhouse to break the endless fields.

It was night, and the highway had no street lights to guide me. Beyond what my headlights illuminated, I had no idea where the road led as it wound through the darkness.

The road had many long straight stretches, then suddenly it would turn.

I glanced in my rearview mirror – pure blackness. There was no one in sight behind me.

Not too far in front, the taillights of a truck guided me onward. I appreciated his presence.

His lights showed me when the road ahead turned to the right or left. His continued progress reassured me that there was good paved road for me to drive on. The journey felt less lonely knowing that someone else was driving the same route.

Gradually, however, the truck increased the distance between us. Being on the flat open prairies, I could still see his lights, but he was a long way in front of me now.

From time to time, as I watched his lights so far ahead of me, I was surprised to see him turn sharply in the darkness. In such vast prairie, shouldn’t the road continue straight? But, no. When I finally reached the place where he’d turned, I found that the road did indeed turn.

I was sad when the truck finally outdistanced me so far that I could no longer see his lights. I felt more alone and the road was far more unknown.Left turn road sign

As I continued along, I quickly became grateful for the road signs warning of upcoming turns. Without those bright signs reflecting the beam of my headlights, driving at such speed would have been dangerous. I don’t know if I would’ve spotted the turns soon enough to steer safely around them. They would have come so unexpectedly that I would have continued straight off the road and into the nearest field.

Eventually, as I drove along, I glanced in the rearview mirror again. This time I spotted headlights! No longer was I the only one driving that way. Now it was my turn to be the one venturing into the empty darkness to show the vehicle behind me where the road led. 

What can I learn from these observations, I wondered. Is there a life lesson for me here?

Yes, I believe there is.

More often than not, as I go about my life, I do not know where or when the road is going to turn. I can see no further ahead than the few meters my headlights show me.

Thankfully, in such times, God provides guidance. He has said, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye.” (Psalm 32:8 NKJV)

One of the ways He guides, is by planting road signs along the way. Those road signs reflect especially brightly when I have my headlights on, or rather, when I am being intentional to stay in the Bible and prayer. 

Sometimes those signs are black and white in clarity, screaming, “turn now or you’ll end up a wreck!”

At other times, those signs are harder to understand. “What is the best way to love God in this situation?”

Thankfully, there are many times when God brings someone into my life who has gone ahead. Someone who is further along on the path I am currently driving and whose example, or taillights, helps me know when and where to turn. 

Paul understood that God brings people into my life to help guide me. He said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1 NIV)

Having said that, I must be careful who’s example I follow. It is possible that someone may ignore the signs and veer off the road, continuing straight through the fields. Or perhaps they might turn left when I need to take a right to get to my desired destination.

Ultimately, it is Jesus’ example I must be led by. As Hebrews says, “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…” (Heb. 12:1b-2a NIV) 

Through all life’s twists and turns, He guides me. He will never leave me.

Praise the Lord that He has gone before me, and that He sends people and warning signs to help guide me along the way!