Thank you for the beautiful day!

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It can be so easy to get caught up in the busyness of life. Especially as we enter the holiday season. As adults, we see to-do lists, obligations, special events and upcoming snowy/stormy weather as things to conquer, overcome and simply push through.

However, I have witnessed two people recently who take a different approach to day-to-day life and I admire their optimistic attitude.

 

At our house, we take turns saying a nightly prayer at the dinner table. When it is my 6-year-old’s turn, he prays for his friends and his school and always includes the sentence “Thank you God, for the beautiful day.”

Listening, I sometimes smile to myself at his cute optimism and think  – “It wasn’t a beautiful day – it was rainy or cloudy, too cold or too hot.” But those are my negative thoughts. Every day truly is a beautiful day. We are alive and well. We have family and friends. We have warm houses and healthy food. Our children can help us see that and when they are having a negative day we can help them see that truth as well.

One Monday morning, I was saying hello to a co-worker and asked, “Was it a good weekend?”. When I am asked that question, I typically respond with one simple highlight of the weekend or often comment, “Well – just a typical weekend – nothing special”.

However, his response struck me. He responded, “Every weekend is a good weekend!” Perhaps his weekend wasn’t actually that stupendous – perhaps he still had work to do or the weather didn’t allow him to do what he wanted to do.  But his approach to each and every day is to see that it was good!

How do you see today? Is it a day to push through and endure? Are you simply waiting for the next weekend, the next Christmas party, the next vacation? Or can you and your family take the moment and see that today is a beautiful and good.

Blessings on you and your family this holiday season. It is a beautiful and good day!

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Parent Fails and Positive Spins

Do you ever have a day that you just don’t feel like you are succeeding in your parenting role? It was just one of those mornings at our house. Trying to get the family out the door almost sent me over the edge. However, the important thing to remember each and every day is that there is a positive spin to all situations and just keep trying.

Parent Fail #1: Lack of groceries. Life has been busy and I haven’t made it to the store for the big shopping trip that is needed to fully restock the school snacks and lunch needs. Therefore – making lunches was stressful as I tried to find semi-healthy things that my children would eat.
Positive Spin: The kids all got a bonus cookie which will make them smile.

Parent Fail #2: Breakfast. My children all varied breakfast tastes and this morning they all seemed to want different things. Since their lunches seemed mediocre at best, I wanted to please them all by making a breakfast smorgasbord. Instead, they ended up with toast and cereal.
Positive Spin: My youngest tried oatmeal and I actually got to eat breakfast today thanks to his leftovers.

Parent Fail #3: Clothes. Along with a failure to fit in a big grocery shopping trip, I have avoided doing a big clothes shopping trip to fill out my children’s fall wardrobe. This led to a clothing crisis as my daughter tried to find a warm fall outfit that actually fit and was comfortable.
Positive Spin: My children did all leave the house with clothes on. Online shopping will occur later today.

Parent Fail #4: Outdoor Clothes. Lightweight gloves were needed for the bus stop this morning and I tore the closet apart looking for a pair for each child. After finally succeeding and handing gloves to each child – my 8-year-old smiled and looked at me and shared that he had 2 right gloves. A problem which he solved by flipping one over to make it a left glove.
Positive Spin: We got a great laugh at the bus stop as he showed us his problem solving skills and I had a chance to share that moms don’t always get it right, but we try!

We sing a song at my preschool called The Super Man Song by Mary Rice Hopkins.  It teaches kids that even when things don’t seem right, we were made just the way God intended us to be. Verse 3 is a favorite with the teachers and also seems to resonate with the kids that even if Mom doesn’t always get everything right, she is trying.

Verse 3:
I am just an ordinary mom
And sometimes things just go wrong
I’m not Supermom
So, join in and sing this song

Chorus:

Thank You, God, for who I am
I don’t have to be a Superman
Thank You, God, for who I am
All I wanna be is Your best friend

Hang in there Moms and Dads!

Even when you have a day that feels like a parenting fail. Laugh, love and enjoy each other!

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Share and Share Alike

As a family grows and adds more children to the mix a new dynamic emerges.  The need to share toys with your siblings!  It can be so hard to teach older siblings how to share with younger ones. For a long time, “it’s just the baby” and there isn’t any real competition for playing with the same toys. But as that baby becomes a toddler and then a 2-year-old, he or she might start trying to get into the toys that the older sibling considers his/hers. And no wonder – they’ve had those toys to themselves for years!

If your family has one child, sharing is still a really important lesson. There are going to be playdates and day-care situations and school situations that will require your child to learn how to share and share alike.

So – what are some good sharing tips that we can implement in our households?

I just read a great article called 11 Ways to Teach Your Child to Share that teaches that the ability to understand true sharing which requires empathy and ability and desire to make a choice based on helping another doesn’t really occur until the age of 6. My understanding is that any younger than that and they can be taught to share, but they might not have the true mental capacity to WANT to share. Therefore, if your child is younger than 6, this is the time frame to teach your child some sharing habits and create systems for the household to help sharing go easier.

Here are some favorite thoughts I gleaned from the article:

Consider letting the older child have some toys that are “just his/hers”. This will give that child a sense of ownership that he/she doesn’t have to share everything. In the same sense, perhaps there are some toys that are “just the younger siblings” and he/she always has to let the younger sibling have it or at least play with it first.  Along that same line, children may have toys that they do not want to share with a playdate friend or neighbor. I think it is okay to honor that desire and put those toys out of sight/mind before a playtime begins.

Model generosity. Use sharing language as you talk and play demonstrating how you can share toys and all have fun. When you are playing with your children, be sure to look for opportunities to share. “Do you want this play-doh tool now? I can share it with you?”

Teach the language of sharing. Demonstrate to your child how to express that they would like to play with a toy when their friend/sibling is done with it. “May I have that toy next?” or “When will you be done playing with that toy?” As the adult, you can step in to make sure time frames are honored and that the toy does successfully get shared. In our family, I made big use of timers if the toy was a hot item. The article suggests even just a 2 minute playtime is a good amount of play before sharing the toy with the other person. And then back again.

Consider playing a “sharing game” in which you have a toy and then you “Share” the toy with one child who then “Shares” the toy with the other”.  Cheer and celebrate as the toy gets passed around.

And finally – I loved point #11 encouraging you to give the child opportunities to share. Perhaps the older child can dole out a special treat in the afternoon or he/she can pass out the crayons at coloring time. Opportunities for him/her to feel helpful and “grown up” can make sharing more fun.

Life is better for parents and kids when we learn to share.  These are some great tips to help that process go smoothly.

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Read, Read, Read!

I attended parent night at my children’ school last night and walked away with one main lesson. READ!

Schools, like the rest of our culture, seem to go through different phases and fads of what one should be doing. I have been seeing lots of articles questioning how much homework should be required. I have seen articles questioning US schools and their ability to test well in various subjects.  I have seen many a discussion about how math is taught and how do we really feel about common core.  And yet, teachers seem to agree about this one thing: READING IS VITAL.

Here are some of the basics that I walked away with:

Introduce books – Allow children to be introduced to books at a young age. Even if you are not available to be reading to the child, encourage young children to page through books and admire the pictures.  In my child’s preschool, they are taught to “picture read”, meaning that they can often figure out the story or create their own story by simply looking at the pictures in the book.  Check out some great wordless picture books at this site.

Read to your kids – Whenever time permits, read to your children. Choose books that you know they will love and consider challenging them to try a different genre or style. Let them hear how you are able to add suspense, questions and different emotions through the use of your voice.  As they get older, encourage them to follow along in the book as you read allowing them to see and hear the words at the same time.  My school recently shared this hilarious book with the first graders. Check out this YouTube video of the author reading The Book with No Pictures. And you will see what fun books can be.

Listen to your kids – As they learn to read, start sharing reading time or taking turns. This is a great opportunity to learn where they are at in their reading and to help them practice sounding out difficult words. It is also a great chance to help them with their comprehension. Do they really understand what they are reading?  You’ll soon find out!

Demonstrate reading – Keep reading yourself. Let the kids see you reading a book or the newspaper or a magazine. Share with them fun facts that you learn and encourage them that they can learn new things too. All from books!

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Summer Learning Loss – Simple Steps of Prevention

I am one of many parents who LOVES the start of summer. Less morning routine obligations. Less lunches to pack. More options to relax and play. More vacations etc etc…

Typically, my kids are VERY ready to take a break from the school routine as well and are not excited to hear words like reading log, math booklet, science and so on. And I can understand that – they have been working hard for several months and are ready for a break.

And yet, I have read articles about the learning loss that occurs over these summer breaks. For example I just read that:

2.6 months of math skills are lost over the summer.

Six weeks of learning are spent in the fall to re-learn old material forgotten over the summer months.

Two months of reading loss occur over the summer.

2-3 hours of work per week are required to prevent summer learning loss. 

https://www.oxfordlearning.com/summer-learning-loss-statistics/

So – now it’s almost the end of July and we have had a summer of minimal school-focused learning. This doesn’t mean that we haven’t found ways to keep ourselves connected to reading, math and science, but I haven’t made a huge priority of it.

For example, math factors into our lives ins so many quick and simple ways. For elementary school kids, it is so easy to ask them simple questions like: “We have 2 pizzas with 8 slices each. How much pizza did we just order?” Or on a trip – “We are 100 miles away from our destination, traveling 60 miles per hour, will it take us 1 or 2 hours to get there?

I have previously bragged about local library reading clubs (kdl.org) and continue to be a huge fan. Thanks to their incentive programs, my children have chosen to keep reading this summer.

Science too, can enter into our daily conversations.  Encouraging your children to help in the garden and learn about plants or collecting rocks are simple introductions to science.

But – now it is the end of July and school starts in just 5 weeks. Yikes!  I have realized that there has been enough of a break from school that I am ready to add some focused reading, math and science time into our family.

For our family, this will include having a parent listen to reading time to help our kids learn better pronunciation of words and sounds. This will mean setting aside a little time every couple of days to practice sight words with our youngest and this will mean dusting off the math books that came home with our kids in June and filling in some of those pages they didn’t have time to finish.  It can also be a  lot of fun to look up some fun and simple science experiments to try at home too. One favorite of our kids involved making water climb up a glass. Learn how here: http://www.stevespanglerscience.com/sick-science/114wsks58tzofz7z9/

So – continue to enjoy these last weeks of summer, but look for some simple and easy ways to start integrating some of those school concepts back into the day-to-day. Your kids’ teachers will thank you.

 

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Story Starters for Kids

As I read articles on parenting and teaching, I continually read about the importance of introducing our children  to words, language and stories. Reading to them when they are young, encouraging them to read and write as they get older and using proper language pronunciation and words are so vital to helping kids get a good start in their language and vocabulary.

traditional-letter-writing-still-popular-among-children-136400464902203901-150917001009One of my favorite activities is something I call “story starters”. These can be used on a road trip, hanging out around the house or as a formal writing time.  Depending on age, you can choose if you are going to simply tell the story verbally, have a person write one story with everyone contributing bits and pieces or have each person write their own and then share later.

Here is an example of how I explain the activity to our nannies:

“Look at the story starters below. Pick one to explore. Choose whether to tell a story verbally or if children want to write their own story(ies).  If you choose to write them individually, enjoy sharing them at the end and seeing how different people chose different endings.”

STORY #1: The Giant’s Toy

There once was a giant who lived behind our house. No one knew he was there because he was invisible to everyone except…

STORY #2: My Imaginary Pet

Meet Oscar. He is my imaginary pet. He is a _____________. He loves to eat ____________ and go for walks in the park. One day…

STORY #3: The Windy Day

Once upon a time, there were 3 children who met at a park. Their names were _________, __________ and ___________. Suddenly a huge wind started to blow and…

STORY #4: The Best Day Ever!

One morning, I woke up and knew that today was going to be the BEST DAY EVER! It was going to be the best day because…

These are just a few examples of story starters.  I love this project because it can be geared to so many different age groups. For example, my 8-year-old needs some extra practice with his penmanship. He doesn’t enjoy writing from a workbook, but LOVES creating his own story. Penmanship practice and creativity can go together wonderfully! My 6-year-old is just learning how to sound out words and spell. He and I usually work on a story together and I can have him help sound out certain words while I fill in the rest.  It is also a chance to demonstrate proper grammar. For example, when he says “we go-ed to the beach” I can suggest that we turn that into “we went to the beach” and he gets to hear the proper word.

Next time you are tucked in the house during a rainstorm or riding in the car for a few hours on the way to Grandma’s – give these story starters a try!

 

 

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Indoor Summer Play

Last week, we discussed ways to have fun with your kids with some simple outdoor play  at home or a park. But sometimes, it is simply too hot or rainy to head outside or you have a small time frame to fill before another activity. Here are some indoor activities that can be easily tweaked to be fun and age appropriate.

Story Time – It is so important for children of all ages to be introduced to the parts of a story and the idea that they can be their very own authors.

2-4 year olds – Encourage them to tell YOU a story that you can write or type up. Explain some of the basic parts of a story – Introduction, climax, resolution (and explain what those big words mean – simply that we need to meet some characters, have them do something and have them finish) and that we want to hear about one event. See what happens.

4-8 year olds – Depending on their writing abilities, offer to write/type for them or encourage them to write the story for themselves. Ask leading questions about what is going to happen next or help them clarify what they are trying to communicate. Teach fun details like adding the color of the princess’s dress or the size of the truck tires.

8-12 year olds – Challenge them to write their own story. Introduce the concept of character development, using more description words and taking more time before starting the story to outline what parts they want to include in the story. Reintroduce those words of Intro, Climax and Resolution and challenge them to show you how they are using each part.

Reading Time – It is so key to continue those reading skills throughout the summer. Our local KDL branches do an amazing job of providing age appriopriate challenges for our kids.  My 8-year-old who does not LOVE reading yet, is eagerly reading his 15 minutes a day to earn his online badges and points.  Visit KDL.org and click on their summer reading program to learn more.

Craft Time – Often it is wonderful to simply gather around the table and have a chance to use your creative side.  For different age groups, this can look very different.

2-4 year olds – The little ones might want an official coloring book or a chance to draw a picture with you.  Contrary to some opinions, you don’t need to buy big chunky crayons for young children to be able to get a good grip.  Actually, thin and short crayons force children to practice their pencil grip from a young age. If you would like to learn more about pencil grip, here is a great article. http://mamaot.com/3-tricks-to-help-kids-learn-to-hold-their-pencil-correctly/

4-8 year olds – Here, more advanced coloring books might be desired or it is a chance for your child to demonstrate their own creativity. Do they love space and planets or fish and sea creatures. See what they want to draw. Consider offering a different media such as oil pastels (put some paper down under your table first) or colored pencils or markers.

8-12 year olds – Older kids can really enjoy learning some drawing and coloring techniques. Our daughter loves a website called Art Hub where a dad teaches how to draw favorite cartoon or movie characters while his child draws with him giving you the artist perspective and the kid perspective. Very fun!

So, enjoy your summer both indoors or out and have a great time with our kids!

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Outdoor Summer Activities for the Family

The school year is wrapping up and you are busy putting away the multitude of papers that came home with your child.  Now, you take a breath and wonder what will fill your summer days? Day camps? Family trips? Playdates with friends?  All are great chances to enjoy the summer months.

However, you also have those days when you are simply enjoying a day with just your kids.  What are some meaningful and fun activities that you can be working on?

Typically, (unless we have twins or triplets) our kids are a wide variety of ages. It can be difficult to create play that meets all of your children’s different play and developmental needs. Here, we are going to focus on a few examples of outdoor play that you can tweak to let all of your children enjoy it in a fun and meaningful way. Next article, we will look at some indoor activities you can use for a rainy or crazy hot day.

Hopscotch

Hopscotch is such a simple and easy game that can be varied based on the age of your children. All you need is some cement and a few pieces of chalk.

2-4 year olds – Simply challenge the children to walk the “course” and read off the numbers in each line. Can they go from 1 to 2 to 3 etc etc?  Or have an older sibling call out a number and see if the child can do a 2-footed jump to that square. 2 footed-jumps are a great gross motor skill to develop. Your preschool teacher will be so impressed in the future!

4-8 year olds – First, challenge these kids to be the ones to draw your hopscotch board. Can they judge what size to make the squares for proper jumping and landing. Can they draw the correct numbers in order?  How big do they want to make it? How high can they count? Next, they get to try out their own course.  Ask questions – do they think they made it the right size? Is it an easy course or a hard one?  What would they try different the next time? This is a great chance to get them practicing their writing and thinking creatively.

8-12 year olds – Even these big kids can have fun with a hopscotch board. Perhaps they would also like to design their own. Have them consider what shapes they want to use. The typical squares or maybe circles or diamonds.  Can they create a course that is good for a younger sibling or a really challenging course for their friends or a grown up?  Teach them the original hopscotch instructions of using a rock to skip certain numbers and the need to balance on one foot while picking up your rock on the return trip.

Ninja Warrior Course 

I don’t know about your family, but my family loved the tv show American Ninja Warrior and the idea of those types of physical challenges. We love to visit local playgrounds and create our own ninja warrior obstacle course.

2-4 year olds – Challenge them to walk across a low balance beam, run and touch different equipment in the park or lift them up to practice swinging on the monkey bars. This is a great chance to develop gross motor skills.

4-8 year olds – Create a more difficult course that includes balancing, climbing over and under equipment, going down the slide and going across the monkey bars. Consider timing them (teaching them they are only trying beat themselves if needed to prevent too much sibling rivalry) and see if they can better their time.

8-12 year olds – Have the kids design  their own course. What creative combination of obstacles can they invent?  Time them on their course and see if they can beat their last attempt.

Be prepared for other kids playing at the park to get excited about your fun. You might end of timing a few extra kids and your kids will have a chance to make a “park friend” for the day.

Nature Walk 

Going for a walk on a local trail or around your neighborhood can turn into an age-appropriate adventure with a little advanced planning. You can create a scavenger hunt list that is custom-made for each child. Some examples could include:

2-4 year olds – Select certain colors they need to spot; list simple nature objects like leaves and sticks or animals you are confident you will see like the neighbor dog, a squirrel or a bird.

4-8 year olds  – Raise the challenge level a little bit by combining some items. Now they need to find a Red Berry or a Green Leaf.  Ask them to spot a certain color car or a special type of bird.

8-12 year olds  – These guys will need to have the greatest challenge of them all.  Use some more challenging shapes they may need to find such as an octagon, diamond or circle.  Ask them to spot certain numbers that could possibly be found in a neighbors house number or a certain type of tree or flower.

Time with the family can be a great opportunity to create activities that can be enjoyed by every age group.  Have a great time this summer exploring the outdoors.

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Do You Need a Summer Nanny?

There are so many days of summer and so many hours to fill! What are you and your kids going to do?

Well – for a lot of parents work continues year round (obviously) and you need to find a great way to fill your children’s days.  Have you considered an in-home summer nanny?

Here are just some of the perks of having your own summer nanny:

*No Drop OFF needs. The nanny comes to you and the kids can still be in their PJs! No need to get the kids up and ready and out the door on your way to work. They can get a kiss goodbye and the nanny will take care of making breakfast, getting the kids dressed etc.

*Choose your own activities. Do you want the kids to be involved in a library class, attend a day-camp or still be able to have playdates with school friends? The nanny can bring the children to and from special events.

*Kids can enjoy simply being AT HOME. The school year is busy enough and lots of kids enjoy having the opportunity to be at their own house and play in their own yard without being shuttled to a day care setting.

*The nanny is available to keep the house organized and take care of child-related housework. Need a load of kid-laundry run while you are at work? Or want to make sure the kids are getting fresh sheets and making their beds? Our nannies can do this!

*Creative Play. We pride ourselves in nannies that bring excitement and creativity to the day. Maybe it is a new book or a scavenger hunt walk… Our nannies like to help kids enjoy the activities they are used to and bring new ideas of play, fun and learning.

*Flexible Schedule. Do you need full time care or maybe just a couple days a week?  Talk with Jeff about what your childcare needs are and he will do his best to find a nanny to match.

*No Pick UP needs. When you get done with your work day, just head home and the family will be waiting for you.  If you are running a few minutes late, just let the nanny know and she will be able to keep things going at home for you while you finish up.  Many of our nannies are ready and willing to get supper started or feed the kids if it’s a later night.

A Summer Nanny can be a wonderful way to give your children a great summer experience. Contact Jeff at 616-363-9966 to set up an in-home meeting.

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Meeting Kids Emotionally

temper tantrumDo you ever catch yourself dealing with a situation in the same way over & over, despite a lack of positive results?  For me, this occurred in my approach to meltdowns.  When my kids were tired, or grumpy or simply having a bad day and the slightest thing seemed to set them off, I would proceed to try to logically explain to them why they are feeling this way. I would explain to them that they didn’t eat all of their lunch so they are upset about the puzzle not going together properly because they are hungry.  Or, I know they are short on sleep so I tell them they are tired when they start freaking out because their brother touched (but didn’t hurt) their prized possession.

Their response to these logical explanations for their actions were typically more emotion.  They didn’t want to be told they are hungry or tired. They wanted to be told they were right.  It IS the END OF THE WORLD that a puzzle piece is missing. OR they simply KNOW THAT HE WILL BREAK that toy eventually so he better stop touching it NOW.  I kept persisting in my logical responses thinking I had to break through this wall of emotion, but I’ve learned I was missing an important step.

Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson have helped me out of my meltdown approach rut with their book,”The Whole Brain Child”. Among many great tips, the one I was able to put to immediate use was the simple reminder that we need to come alongside our child in their current emotional state – even during a meltdown.

The first tip I put to use was physical touch.  When a meltdown is occurring, get down alongside your child and stroke their back or give them a hug. Physical touch is scientifically known to calm down a situation.  Along with physical touch, our children need to know we are on their side before they want an answer to their problem.  Empathetic words help them know we are understanding their feelings and speaking those words give them a vocabulary to explain the emotions that are racing through their body.  Finally, after calming the child with physical touch and empathetic listening we are able to steer them to a more logical understanding of the situation.  It is likely true in my situations that hunger or tiredness were a valid explanation for why the every-day event was so frustrating or upsetting, but it isn’t until I’ve connected with my child on an emotional level that they will be ready to receive that info.

A final encouraging note was the scientific explanation that our children’s brains (and our’s for that matter) can get essentially hi-jacked by our lower impulses.  Logic and understanding can not break through to a child’s actions when emotions are out of control.  This doesn’t give our children a free pass to have tantrums or act out-of-control, but this understanding allows us to work WITH our children to rescue their more logical impulses from the power of their emotions.

I hope to continue to put these thoughts to use the next time a child has an extreme emotional response to a seemingly simple situation.

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