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Family Fitness – Keep Your Kids Active

With the weather warming up and school about to come to a close, we’ve been looking at ideas on how to keep our family active and fit this summer. After reading 5 Practical Tips to Encourage Your Children to Get Into Fitness, I decided to get my ideas down in black-and-white, so I can refer back to these ideas when my memory and creativity take a vacation day. Hopefully you can use these ideas with your own children this summer as well.

  1. The Swimming Pool – If you have frequent access to a swimming pool this summer, you have an easy way to entertain the kids and stay in shape at the same time. Practicing strokes and doing laps are great exercise, but even just a fun afternoon splashing around in the water gives you and your children opportunities to use muscles in different ways that you use them on land. Water games like Marco Polo and water volleyball also offer different ways to play at the pool. No pool? Try a sprinkler in the yard or a Slip N Slide, which gets kids outside but keeps them cool and refreshed. No matter what, don’t forget the sunscreen. And we have a great selection of Water and Sand Toys for play in the yard, at the pool, or at the beach.
  2. Jumping Rope – A jump rope represents a great chance to improve both your cardiovascular health in your coordination skills. There are lots of different ways to jump rope, from one person with a single rope, to two people using the same (longer) rope, or three people where two turn the rope and a third jumps in the middle. Use two ropes for double-dutch jumping! Also, combining the basic jump with fancier skills such as hopping on one leg, handstands, and more will build additional skills and confidence. offers great videos, teaching materials, and ropes. Plus we have our own adorable Carrot Jump Rope and, for a different twist, a Solo Chinese Jump Rope with stakes so it can be used by a single person.
  3. Family Walks – Taking a walk with our family is one of my favorite ways to unwind after a long day. It’s a great alternative that gets the kids outside instead of watching a cartoon for 30 minutes. Our walk may be as simple as one-time-around-the-block, or on days when we have more time, we walk to one of the neighborhood parks and let the kids play on the playground before we walk home. Walking is easy on your joints, usually allows for easy conversation, and it a great way to get some fresh air, observe wildlife, and greet your neighbors.
  4. Gardening – While caring for plants may not be as aerobically effective as the previous ideas, I love the way it combines nurturing, science, and activity. Plus, indoor container gardening is impervious to rainy days. Children learn the responsibility of caring for a living thing, and gardening offers opportunities to talk about plant parts, pollination, insects, and more. Consider planting a vegetable garden, which has the added benefit of providing healthy food that kids may be more interested in eating, since it represents the “fruits” of their own labor!
  5. Family Yoga – Ever since we invested in a Wii Fit gaming system, the yoga exercises have been one of our kids’ favorite activities. We take turns using the balance board, but everyone can participate at the same time. It’s perfect for stretching tired muscles and calming down frazzled nerves (mine and the kids’!) So many of our activities involve shortening our muscles, so good stretching activities like yoga and Pilates help balance that by working to lengthen muscles. The focus on breathing is also great, particular in its calming effect.

I hope that these ideas will give you some inspiration to stay active over the summer break. If you have other good ideas, please share them in the comments!

February – Dental Health Month

I always found it interesting that Dental Health Month coincided with one of the sugary-est events of the year – Valentine’s Day.  As we approach the Day O’ Love at the end of this week, we should also use this time to teach and reinforce good dental health habits with our children.

  • Start with the source – give your pantry and your refrigerator a makeover!  Have your child(ren) help you move healthier food choices to the front (and lower for smaller, searching eyes) of the pantry and fridge.  Make healthy choices, such as cheese, fruits, vegetables and whole grain snacks, readily available for little hands.
  • Switch away from sodas – work on making mouth-healthy drink choices, such as milk and water instead of fruit juices and sodas.  Making the same choices yourself sets a strong example for your children, too.
  • Make a dental appointment.  If your child hasn’t been to a dentist, definitely make an appointment to do so.  Don’t know who to see?  Ask around!  Ask friends, neighbors with children and even that mom you see across the grocery store with her own kids for recommendations of pediatric dentists.  Our dentist is great with kids and supplies us with floss, brushes, toothpaste and even a toy when we’re done.
  • Brushing twice a day – make a chart for brushing teeth twice a day if this is difficult to remember.  Always brush teeth in the morning and before bed.  With smaller children, have them “help” with teeth-brushing, but closely supervise and step in to make sure all of their teeth are getting well-brushed.  While small children still have “baby teeth”, problems like cavities can be devastating to the adult teeth below the surface as well.
  • Floss – teaching my own boys about flossing was much easier than I realized.  I invested in a hand mirror and had them lie down on the couch while I sat next to their head.  My boys would hold the mirror so they could see what I was doing while I quickly ran floss around their teeth (baby teeth tend to be spaced out quite a bit, but flossing at an early age builds good dental hygiene further down the road).
  • For older kids, consider a model for them to explore and study, such as the Bio Signs Human Anatomy Models: Teeth and Gums.  Reasonably priced, they provide a detailed model of teeth and gums as well as a discussion guide.

How I Fed My Child Broccoli

(aka: beating my son at the picky-eating-game)

I have a nine year old who lives on meat, yogurt, and rolls.  Oh, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  That’s pretty much it.  You can add macaroni and cheese from time to time, count on green beans about once a week, and you might be able to bribe him to try some carrot sticks as well.  Of course, he LOVES anything with sugar or loaded with carbs.

He’s nine, though, and he knows that I am not exactly thrilled with his eating habits.  He needs more vegetables.  He needs fruits.  He does NOT need any more bread!  Here are a few ideas that we’re trying to get him to be a better eater:

  • We try to put something “new” or “like new” on his plate at every meal.  He doesn’t have to like it, but he does have to try it.  And, not some microscopic bite either.  After his bite, we let him rate the food with a thumbs-up, thumbs-down sign.  He gets to vote, and we get him to try something different.
  • At nine, we can explain the importance of healthy foods to our son and the need to go easy on sugary snacks while choosing healthier foods more often.  It is harder with younger children.  One thing that worked with my class of pre-k kids was to give them grocery ads and magazines.  They cut out foods that they found and we placed them on a chart of healthy and not healthy choices.  Posting something like this in the dining room or kitchen is a great reminder of what our bodies need.  Then, discuss where the foods that you are eating belong on the chart.
  • Sometimes, my son is more apt to eat something if he helps prepare it.  He’s a whiz at fruit smoothies in the blender and “ants on a log” (celery with peanut butter and raisins arranged on top).
  • My son knows that trying a food just once isn’t good enough.  When he was little, we told him that he had to “grow” those taste buds in order to enjoy a food.  So, our rule at our house is “ten”.  New foods must be tried ten times before a decision is made.  Surprisingly, trying broccoli (with lots and lots of cheese) went from “yuck!” to “not so bad” over those ten tries!

What are some of your ideas for getting kids to try new foods?  Share them in the comments!

The Sniffles

A couple of months ago, we became Best Friends with the only allergist in our small town.  Actually, he’d probably call us HIS best friend first, since I think we single-handedly financed his in-ground pool he just had installed at his home.  Our younger son, now three and a half, was once again going down a road we do not like to travel:  the never-ending Sniffle-Lane and the Ear Infection Highway.  Multitudes of visits, tests (“pokes” on the back – not well-received), nose-swabs and bills later, we discovered that our little guy is allergic to absolutely – NOTHING.  Not even dust (which I welcomed with open arms, realizing my possible days of tedius dusting were now, well, dust).  Our son was (and is) the victim of Germs.  He has a perpetual Cold.  And the nice best-friend-doctor classified him with Vasomotor Rhinitis.

Vasomotor Rhinitis is just a big, fancy way of saying that our little guy’s nose and nasal cavities get highly irritated and swollen when he has a cold.  He exhibits many allergic symptoms, from nasal congestion, runny nose, dark circles under the eyes, and drainage (which naturally leads to the ear infections).  There are many things you can do to ease the symptoms during a cold, but the best advice he gave us was the use of saline.

Giving your child’s (or even your own) nasal passages a saline wash, several times a day, removes the irritants from the cavity and aids in keeping colds to a minimum.  That’s not to say it eliminates them; it just makes them easier to deal with.  our doctor recommended a saline mist spray for about $3 at the local pharmacy and to use it at least 4 times a day.  While that seemed excessive at first, we found that it can be given any number of times.  The saline has an amazing way of keeping the passages moist (instead of drying them out like a decongestant) while helping to clean them out as well. With our little guy, we found that we did have to use the “nose bulb” that he got when he was first born because, well, he isn’t a nose-blower, and that stuff does need to come out.

So far this year, we’ve been fairly cold-free, and the one or two that we have had have been minor compared to what we are used to going through with our preschooler.  We use the saline on a daily basis, and it is such a part of our routine now that our older child also has a nose mister that he uses as well, and neither of them complain about using it.  They both understand that something as simple as saline is helping them stay healthy and is keeping the sniffles at bay.

Saline is an effective, easy, inexpensive tool to use with children when they’re sick (and even well).  And, someone else can finance the allergist’s hot tub this time!

Five Ways To Avoid The Viruses (Or At Least Attempt To Hold Them At Bay!)

The flu.

Our bodies fight off many germs and viruses each day, including the ones that lead to such nasty illnesses such as these (and more).  There are a few simple things you can do to keep your body healthy and strong to ward off serious illnesses.  These are also great practices when you ARE sick, if for nothing else than to protect others with whom you come into contact.

1.  Wash those hands – A LOT!  Make sure you use soap and water, and wash well.  I love to use the “preschool rule” for washing hands – sing the ABC song to make sure you lather and scrub for an adequate amount of time.  Washing your hands frequently is a good way to ward off unwanted germs and viruses that may find their way onto your skin.

2.  Bulk up on fruits and veggies.  Foods that are high in vitamins, especially vitamin C, will certainly help boost your immune system.  Make sure that you have at least five servings each day.  While multivitamins will give you your daily allocation, they are not as easily absorbed into the body in pill form as in their natural state.

3. Don’t forget your water.  Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day – more is better.  Keeping your body hydrated will help flush out any impurities in your body. 

4.  Saline is your friend.  Before you even get a sign of the sniffles, keep your nose clean by misting it with saline at least three times a day.  The saline will flush out any histamines or other airborne impurities that might leave you feeling not 100%. 

5.  Be a friend without being too friendly.  Keep your contact with others to a minimum.  People can carry viruses and germs on their bodies without showing any signs of illness.  Respect people’s personal space and keep your germs to yourself; others will follow suit.

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