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Beating the Winter Doldrums

The holidays are over, yet Spring is still months away.  And, on top of it all, I’ve got a second grader that has decided to attempt to boycott homework and/or school on an almost daily basis (by the way, he doesn’t win, but he does try!).  So, to help us through this chilly, “blah” time of the year, I’ve mapped out a few activities to put a spark back in our day.  At least once a week, I plan a special “after school” activity for my son.  The stipulation, though, is that he’s had a great week or so of staying with his school work and doing his best.  Having something like these activities on the horizon is enough to keep him motivated while we wait for the weather to warm and Spring Break to arrive.

  1. Playdates.  This is great on so many levels.  I don’t mind having an extra child over every now and then, and many parents are willing to reciprocate.  We can work these around pretty much any schedule, on weekends, even an overnight every now and then.  And, I get to know his friends a little better as well as their families, which is so important for child safety and development.
  2. Special After-School Snacks.  While I’m not thrilled with sweets, I do find that a cup of hot cocoa on a chilly day goes a long way to making homework time more productive.  We also have not-so-hot cider from time to time, too, just to take the chill off and get our minds “warmed up” for homework time.
  3. Change Of Location.  Sometimes, it just takes a change of scenery to make homework more fun.  While my son usually does his homework at the kitchen table, he has also used my bedroom and office, the porch, and even set up an area in the living room on the floor.  For a true location change, try places like the public library, a coffee shop, or even a neighbor’s house.  My next door neighbor and I actually swapped kids one afternoon; she worked with my son on his homework, and I kept her son with me for homework time.  Both boys had a blast “switching places”!
  4. Theme-Related Activity.  When my son’s class finishes a big unit, I try to find a fun activity to use as a reward.  After his class finished their dinosaur unit, we visited the local Children’s Museum to see their visiting Dinosaur exhibit.  And, when his PE class learned about basketball basics, I took him to the local high school to watch a game (cheap and not crowded!).  If your child’s class has been talking about hibernation, why not set up the blanket-tent in the living room and do a little hibernating together?
  5. King For A Day.  This is perfect for those “nothing weekends” – the ones where nothing is going on!  Put your child “in charge” for the day.  Let her choose her own clothes, what to have for breakfast and lunch (from a set of choices – make it a win-win for both of you!), and which games or activities to play.  My son also gets to make up a silly rule on his day, such as Mommy has to wear all her clothes backwards or everyone has to call him The Man.  You get the picture.

An Easy Watercolor Activity For Anyone!

Picasso is not my maiden name.  Nor is Renoir.  Or Michelangelo.  I am a great copier, but I am a horrible creator.  It just isn’t in me.  Give me a calculus equation and I’m all over that, but throw a bunch of open-ended ideas at me to run with and, well, you’ll get the same thing over and over. 

However, I did an activity with my preschool class this past week that is sure to be fun for you and your children.  Find yourself some good sturdy paper (like white construction paper or heavy stock typing paper) and some watercolors.  Let your little kids make all kinds of blobs and splats on the paper.  Keep them separate for best results.  No set shape, just blobs of paint: different colors, different sizes, and different shapes. 

After they are dry, sit down with your child and look at them.  What do you see?  Like looking at the clouds rolling by, use your imagination to find shapes of things you know.  Maybe it is a frog leaping in the air.  Perhaps you see a boat with its sails open.  Or maybe you’ve found a dinosaur lurking on the page.  Use a permanent marker to draw details of what you see.  As you turn each blob into a recognizable form, you will find that being creative doesn’t take much more than fresh eyes and a little conversation.  Between you and your child, you’re sure to have a paper full of new and exciting pictures!

The State Of Our Children’s Health

Much attention has been given to childhood obesity in the news recently.  While our focus shouldn’t be on how “fat” or “skinny” a child is, we should concentrate on healthy eating habits.  By offering and reinforcing healthy foods into our children’s diet and keeping them physically active, we can give them a defense against many issues related to childhood obesity.  And the earlier we start, the better.  Children who are overweight can have a variety of health-related issues, such as breathing problems, joint pain, even diabetes.

Young children do not need adult-sized portions, and many times, we offer children more food than their bodies really need, creating an overeating factor early in life.  A good rule to follow for portion sizes of foods is one tablespoon for each year of age.  So, my three year old should have three tablespoons (or 1/4 cup) of each food that is offered at a meal.  Make sure to give your child plenty of good-for-you liquids – milk, low-sugar juice, and water.  It will help maintain their metabolism and aid in keeping their bodies healthy.

Since your child depends on you to make good, healthy choices for him/her, choose foods that are low in sugars and fats.  Meals and snacks should include whole grains, low-fat yogurts and cheeses, lean proteins such as chicken, tuna, beans and eggs, fresh or frozen fruits, vegetables (as long as they don’t pose a choking hazard).  Peanut better is a great protein additive to snacks and meals that fills a child up quickly (be sure that your child isn’t allergic though!).  And healthy eating doesn’t mean “boring”.  Some of our favorite snacks are Ants on a Log (celery with peanut butter and raisins on top), raw veggies and ranch dip, fruit kebabs, quesadillas, and cheese sticks. 

And, healthy eating shouldn’t just be for the kids.  Set a good example by practicing healthy eating habits yourself.  Cut down on sodas.  Add plenty of fruits and vegetables to your own plate.  Watch your portion sizes as well.  Children learn by mimicking us, so it is especially important to set the tone with them about the importance of healthy eating habits.

Make sure that healthy eating carries over from meals into snacks.  If a child knows they can get a candy bar or ice cream for a snack, there isn’t much incentive to finish that broccoli at lunch.  And, DO offer snacks.  A good rule to follow is “five”:  three meals, two snacks.  Children have plenty of energy all day and aren’t as hungry so that they overeat when mealtime rolls around.

All children have a tendency to be picky at least once in their lives (or quite a bit more than that if they live in my house!).  Realize that, just because a child turns the proverbial nose up at a food, that doesn’t mean that it should never be served.  Try multiple times because, after a while, they will realize that the cheese-covered vegetable medley is actually quite tasty.

Alongside of healthy eating habits, children also need to take part in healthy playing.  Make exercise a part of your child’s daily routine.  Children can learn that exercise is a lifelong skill that is relaxing, fun and benefial to their bodies at an early age.  By engaging in daily physical activity, children will sleep better, feel better, learn to play with others, improve basic motor skills and build strong bodies.  And, it can be a family event!  Go to a park, ride bikes, dance, play catch, swim, play in the sprinkler, take a walk around the block or through the neighborhood, play “Simon Says” or “Follow the Leader”.  The possibilities for being active with your child are endless, and the benefits to YOUR body are countless!

By being diligent with teaching our children to eat healthy and take care of their bodies, we are raising a generation of men and women who will pass those skills along to THEIR children as well.  Healthy living shouldn’t be a choice; it is a way of life.  A healthier life!

Wisdom

I’m not a “young” mom by any stretch of the imagination.  Oh sure, I had grand dreams of three kids before I was 30, but I was blessed with two wonderful boys who both showed up when I was 30 and 35.  That doesn’t qualify me as an “old” mom either, but I think it does put a different spin on the parenting stuff.

A couple of weeks ago, I came across an article in the USA Weekend magazine in my local paper written by Philip Lerman.  He wrote a great piece on why being an older dad is so much better in his case.  And, a lot of what he said rang true for me, too (even though, obviously, I’m not a dad!).  Here are a few of his points that I found especially close to my own parenting style…

  • TECHNOLOGY – in this day of cell phones, blackberries, PDAs and instant messaging, it is rare to see any parent without some sort of device along for the ride.  The important thing to remember is that, while your work might have access to you 24/7, your family needs the same.  Be sure to pay attention to your children and not be so distracted by outside influences.
  • TIME – unfortunately, so much of our time isn’t spent with our families anymore; it is spent at our jobs or other commitments.  However, kids are kids, just as they were 30, 50, and 100 years ago.  And kids still need their parents.  Take a few nights a week to make a point to eat together as a family (if you aren’t already doing so).  Every once in a while, burn a few vacation hours at work to enjoy your kids for an afternoon.
  • BUYING THAT Wii – While I’m not going to knock my friends who have the latest Playstation/Wii/xBox, I will say that I do have a good chuckle at my friends who buy these things for their kids.  What happened to Legos, Lincoln Logs, and Tinker Toys?  Where are the dolls, the paint and the balls?  The simplest toys are what every child needs to develop creativity, motor skills and thought processes, not the latest version of Super Mario.
  • TV TIME – Television isn’t what it used to be.  What we watched as kids on Saturday morning doesn’t hold a candle to what is out there now.  That’s not to say that ALL programming is bad - Dora, Little Einsteins, and Cyberchase still offer great messages in a format better suited for children.  What is essential is to sit down with your child and watch it WITH them.  Discuss what you see.  You might learn something yourself!
  • PLAY PLAY PLAY!  As exhausting as it is, playing with my kids is the best thing I can do for them.  Our time together, whether it is a rousing game of Monopoly or Memory or a book or puzzle we share or even a game of wiffle ball in the back yard, will be some of the best memories they take through adulthood.  TV can wait.  But our kids grow up.  And quickly.  Take advantage of every moment you have with them.

As Philip Lerman says, “When you have a baby, the nights are very long, and the years are very short.  Amen, Philip!

Just What The Doctor Ordered

We’ve been struck by the sick-bug in our house this month.  Both of my boys have struggled through strep and upper respiratory infections.  Needless to say, all of the “grand plans” I had for them have fallen by the wayside.  We had to go to Plan B (and C and D…).

One of the main things kids want (and need) when they don’t feel good is some good, old-fashioned extra loving and attention from their parents.  And, attending to a child who doesn’t feel well for long periods of time can leave you exhausted.  One of my most trying places is the pediatrician’s office.  Here are a few ideas to keep your child occupied when they’re not up to snuff (and help save a bit of your sanity, too!)…

  • Play “I Spy” – give a clue for an object in the room (“I spy something green” or “I spy something tall”) and have the other person try and guess what it is.
  • Place and Trace – take several small objects from your bag, such as keys, a credit card or other objects and let your child trace around them on a piece of paper.  Can you make a set of keys from just one key?  Can you design and color your own credit card or driver’s license?
  • Experiment – how many different things from your bag or purse can stand on end?  How many can roll? 
  • Flip a coin – with younger children, have them shake it up instead of trying to flip.  Guess whether it will be heads or tails.  How many times do you guess correctly?
  • Storytelling – my son’s favorite thing to ask is, “Tell me about when you were a little girl.”  These stories are perfect for long waits in the waiting or examining room. 
  • Make a puppet – when you are in the examining room for the long haul, tear off a corner of the paper lining on the table and crumple it into a ball.  Grab a tissue and drape it over, twisting it around the ball to hold it in place.  Draw a face on it, and you have an instant puppet!  For something a bit different, take a pencil and stick the puppet on it, or balance it on your finger!
  • Above all, don’t forget that special cuddle and kiss, the hug and attention your child craves when he doesn’t feel 100%.  It rivals most medicines today!
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