Friday, August 30, 2013

Homework Readiness

Back to school = back to homework! Are you ready? Here are a few tips to consider.

Location, Location, Location
Each child needs a place that is comfortable for them and well-lit. Not every learner likes the same kind of location. Some children prefer spreading out at a table, others like to work at a desk and still others may like to sprawl on the floor. Often adults have a concept of the best environment to do homework but that might not match with what works best for every child. In our household we had one of each - the oldest preferred to work at her desk which was away from the general chaos of the household, the middle child liked to take over the kitchen table which was right in the center of everything, and the youngest preferred to use family room floor space stretching out on her tummy. A little trial and error for finding what works best for each child was needed. It became clear pretty quickly that insisting that each of them do their homework in a specific location didn't work for them as individuals or for their learning style. No matter where they work make sure they have appropriate lighting available.

Avoid Distractions

Each child may have their own issue with distractions. Be aware of how sensitive they are and how you can help them. So, for example the oldest couldn't handle many distractions so she went to her desk away from everyone. As she got older she was able to handle more noises around her. The middle child loved to be in the center of things and distractions (phone ringing, dog barking, meal preparations, etc.) not only didn't it bother him but somehow was comfortable. He did better when in the center of the action - and believe me we tried other options - but we quickly learned this was his way. The youngest, the floor sprawler, used a headset to shut out noises while still being able to be in her favorite homework spot. I tried to maintain a quieter mellower atmosphere in general - no TV on, no radio - we sometimes put on a classical CD with the volume down.

Tools at the Ready
Have all the materials they'll need available. Paper, pencils, dictionary, computer for research or any special items for projects should be stored in a location that the child can get to easily. Some children will excitedly tell you if they need something special for school, but I would suggest that you check with your child daily to find out if there is anything they need. There's nothing more stressful for everyone than those last minute "I need this tomorrow morning!" situations. We got into the habit of having poster-boards, specialty papers, a variety of art supplies, etc. on hand just in case. As technology becomes part of the learning experience be sure that items are charged, batteries are on hand and everything is in working order.

Establish a Routine
Setting up a routine for homework will help everyone. Consistency is the key to many child
related issues and homework is no different. This routine may shift as children get older and have more homework demands or larger projects that might include working with their classmates. Be prepared to work with the children to determine what is best for them - again keeping in mind their learning needs. Our routine consisted of coming home, having a healthy snack and discussing the day, give them a few minutes to relax or play with their pets, and then onto homework before dinner. While they were having snack I would go through their backpack for any notes or information to set aside for their parents, get out their homework assignments and ask a few questions. It was also a great time to touch base on how things were going at school.

Your Attitude Matters
Children look to us as models, so the attitude you have about homework will translate to them. Be positive and excited about their learning experiences. Give them heartfelt positive feedback. Notice if they are getting down to work without your prompts and let them know how much you appreciate them taking initiative.

Guiding vs. Answering

I know this goes without saying but providing answers is not helpful to children developing homework habits. To really learn the material they need to explore and sometimes wrestle to find answers. It's a balancing act to provide support while allowing them to confront challenges. Asking open ended questions and giving clues can be helpful. I noticed that all three children would get frustrated if they were asked to complete answers on a worksheet from an assigned reading. They were sure the answer wasn't there. I would scan the reading, find the answer and give them a clue - "Check out page __, halfway down the page. Does that fit?" I didn't tell them the answer they still needed to find it, but it eased the pressure they were feeling.
Homework is often used by educators to measure how well the children are grasping concepts and understanding ideas which means that unanswered questions or wrong answers tell their teacher something important. As adults we want to send the children off with completed homework and all the correct answers but that may not mesh with their teacher's goals in assigning homework. Check with your child's teacher about their homework expectations and goals.
Teachers appreciate the role you play in the child's homework. If you are struggling in working with a child, talking to the teacher can be a great first step. The teacher can provide additional tips that will help homework time go more smoothly. Good communication with the child's teacher and school is essential. You may find that some projects or homework are meant to be done by the child alone - no adult help. Honor those requests. After all homework and special projects are developing independent lifelong skills for the child.

Be Observant
Keep an eye out for signs of frustration or fatigue. Often a short break can help. The youngest usually needed more breaks as she was doing homework - even when she as she got into high school. She worked hard concentrating at school all day, got home and started working again - it was exhausting for her. Having snack when she got home and something to drink while she was working helped, but the best plan for her was getting up to move every 15 minutes or so. Physical activity for 10 minutes allowed for better concentration.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Fall into School Schedules

by Kelly Miller

Fall is a season of change.  School is starting and parents are signing up their children for activities.  

How can parents help their children deal with the transition into school?

When my oldest children were starting kindergarten, I networked with other parents to arrange playdates for our children before school started.  This was invaluable to my children (after all, who wants to walk into a room full of people you don't know?).  I practiced dropping off my children in the car line at school, and then picking them up.  I wanted them to be as comfortable with these new procedures as possible.  I also take them to the school playground.  Now that two of my children are older, I help them maintain their friendships during the summer with playdates and outings with classmates.

Once school starts, I will regularly eat lunch with my school age children in the cafeteria. I will also stay for recess, as that gives me a chance to meet and talk to their friends.  Since I have to take my preschool age child along, this is helping him to feel comfortable in the school he will attend one day.

It is important to talk with school age children about any upcoming changes the new season will bring.  After school classes and sports are a lot of fun, but it is also important to leave time for play, rest and homework.  I recommend taking the entire families schedule into account, and making sure it flows together.  Some families may prefer all of the children's activities to be held on the same night, to leave other evenings for family time.  Other families may like scheduling no more than one activity per child per evening.  In our family of three, our youngest children each get to pick one activity, and our oldest child gets to pick two. 

It is also important to have a regular before and after school routine for children.  Planning a calm, healthy breakfast is a great start to the day.  After school, establish regular snack, homework, dinner and family times.  Having clear schedules and expectations can all pave the way for a smooth year.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Lunchbox Inspirations

Gearing up for school we start thinking about how we can perk up lunch time for children. I found this great inspiration on Pinterest from a blog. See how creative you can be in making lunch fun. These ideas may get you thinking.
If you are wondering about these containers - I understand from the blog that they are available on but you can use other types of containers or bento boxes.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Car Seat Guidelines


More from The Stir: 7 Rules for Buying & Installing a Car Seat   It was believed that 1 year and 20 pounds was the benchmark for forward facing babies in car seats, despite evidence elsewhere that that was still dangerously early. Now, hopefully, with new guidelines, parents and doctors can get on board and spread the word about the safest practices for children. Here are the details.

New Rear-facing Recommendation: Parents are to keep children rear-facing until 2 years old, or until they reach the maximum height and weight for the seat as noted in the manual.
Safe Kids agrees. Two years is a goal easily met, considering even some of the lowest cost seats now rear-face until 40 pounds. When your baby outgrows their infant carrier, that is when you buy a convertible seat that rear-faces longer, not a forward-facing seat, which you can put upright up to 30 degrees when kids are bigger with better head control, often making them take up less space than infant seats.

New Boostering Recommendation: Children should ride in a belt-positioning booster (that means a high-back!) until they are at least 4 foot, 9 inches, AND 8-12 years old.
Jennifer Hoekstra, the Safe Kids Program Coordinator at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids, shared:
In working with parents, we educate them beyond the law and share with them the best practice for keeping their child safe. We strongly agree with the new AAP policy and support the extended rear-facing limits as well as the new booster seat advice. It's best to keep children in their harnessed seat until they outgrow it, which is into elementary years with the height and weight of most convertible seats and even harness-to-booster seats these days. But they will outgrow it and go into a booster, and eventually they need to meet all points in a 5-point test before they're ready to sit in a car's seat without a booster of any kind. Remember that these belts are designed to fit an average adult. Best practice is also waiting until children are 80-100 pounds as well.

More from The Stir: The Forward-Facing Car Seat Controversy Continued
Beyond that, all kids need to stay out of the front until they're at least 13 years old.

While 2 years or 8 years may now be the minimums, we don't parent by minimums, do we? Buying a high quality (not necessarily high cost!) seat to start, after you do all your research to choose the best seat for your child, can easily help you meet these recommendations.
Make sure you're using the car seats correctly, too. There's a lot of intricacies for both harnessed seats and boosters. When in doubt, find a Safe Kids inspection station or event and get checked out by a tech. And hopefully more and more pediatricians, with these new recommendations, will be on board as well, and we can maybe put an end to vehicle related-injuries being the number one cause of death in kids ages 2-14.

Image via MelanieLouise/CafeMom
Written by Christie Haskell for CafeMom's blog, The Stir.  

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Child Friendly State Fair Visit

Tomorrow is the start of the Great Minnesota Get Together - the State Fair. It brings back memories of all the years that either I took the children in my care to the fair or I joined the family to go as a group. We found that being well prepared made for a day of fun rather than a day of frustration. Here are a few tips and some links to the fair website.

Safety First
  • Sunscreen, shade and plenty of water: We lathered up before we left the house and then multiple times throughout the day. Everyone had their own hat and we'd take some breaks in the shady areas. When they were very small we had a big wagon with a sun shade. We brought our own water with us, which I believe you can still do. Keeping hydrated is important. There are places to rest and freshen up - I recommend taking advantage of those throughout the day.
  • Bring along a small first aid kit. You never know when you'll need an anticeptic wipe or small bandaid. There are first aid areas throughout the fair but if you just need a quick little something it can be eaiser to take care of it yourself.
  • In a backpack I had extra clothing just in case we needed something, the first aid kit, sunscreen, water, hand sanitizer, camera and a sketchbook with colored pencils. It was an easy thing to carry or place in the wagon. The sketchbook was really a nice addition so the children could draw if they wished. I'd even include rain ponchos if the weather was uncertain.
  • Appropriate clothing is important. There is a lot of walking involved in any fair experience so shoes that really support you and the children are a good idea. Often the days are warm and sunny, so choosing clothing that breaths well and is comfortable but also protects from the sun is best. I would even dress us in similar colors just so I had a good visual on everyone.
Pace Yourself
  • The fairgrounds are large and spread out. Not all exhibits and areas are interesting to children or child friendly. Make a plan before you go. Because the animals were very exciting to us, we would start our fair experience at the barn area and then make our way to the DNR building and up to the children's rides area.
  • Take a break several times throughout the day. We would find one of the shaded areas and just have some relaxing, people watching time. Younger ones might nap and the older one would sit drawing.
  • We'd take advantage of the many side shows - music, puppet show, magic, dance - to sit down and take five minutes to rest. Then we were off again.
  • Keep to the children's regular schedule as much as possible - meal times, snacks, rest time.
  • There is a lot of special fair food to try but it can get to be too much. We preferred to do a little sampling of the fun food on a stick, sharing a few nibbles of some special foods while also choosing those healthier options that are available.
Fair 2011 State Fair Information
  • Little Farm Hands - education exhibit for children which is awesome. Here is a link to the PDF document about the exhibit,
  • August 22 is Thrifty Thursday with special STEM activities
  • August 23 is Governor's Fire Prevention Day and many special learning activities are planned.
  • August 24 is 4-H Day with a focus on the animal barns and 4-H projects
  • August 26 is Senior, Kids and MN State Patrol Day with an emphasis on safety and discounts for children and seniors
  • August 28 is Read & Ride Day celebrating public libraries along with family fun in Carousel Park.
  • September 1 is MN History Day with great learning experiences.
  • September 2 is Kids and Last Chance Day with a variety of special activities planned
  • Brochure Rack at Get all kinds of information before you go including the Fabulous Fair Alphabet Game Card and so much more.
  • You can also connect to a Fun Finder at which gives you a list of all kinds of fun that can be found each day. There is also a food finder if you want to access that as well.
  • Daily Schedules are available via the Fair website at, there is a schedule for each day.
  • Use your smart phone - for all types of information.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Nannies and Parents -

The International Nanny Association (INA) is providing a series of three webinars on topics I know you'll appreciate. Dr. G shares insights on Respect, Resilience and Responsibility. She uses practical applications she's developed as a mother and physician. Her style is warm, humorous and engaging. INA members can register for the webinars as a free member benefit but non-members can take advantage as well by following the link (three 90-minute webinars) as you see below. There is a fee for non-members and a package opportunity for all three webinars. Also, if you choose to join INA now you'll be able to take advantage of this benefit as well as other member only opportunities.

Check it out today! You won't be sorry you did.

 International Nanny Association

Three Free Webinars for INA Members  
Dr. G 2013


Parenting Expert, family physician, author and media personality, Deborah Gilboa, M.D., aka “Doctor G,” has teamed with the International Nanny Association to educate parents and childcare professionals on the three “R”s of parenting: Respect, Responsibility and Resilience. 

“We live in a busy world.  Parents and caregivers rarely get to hit the pause button and learn new skills and information on age appropriate topics.  The key to raising kids who can launch successfully, lies in character building,” says Doctor G.   “I’ve created the three R’s of parenting: Respect, Responsibility and Resilience, to educate and empower parents and care givers.  My goal is to validate the difference that they make in their kids’ lives through intentional parenting.  When parents and caregivers are effective, kids get healthier!”

Each of the three 90-minute webinars focuses on a character trait, rational and real life age specific application of the 3R’s.  The webinars are being offered for free to INA members and open to the public for a nominal fee. View the 
INA's Fall Learning Series Introduction Video .

Webinar dates and topics:
Registration will close 48 hours prior to the start of each webinar, with no exceptions

Part One: Respect 
September 15, 2013
Time: 9pm EST/6pm PST 

Part Two: Resilience
October 20, 2013
Time: 9pm EST/6pm PST  

Part Three: Responsibility 
November 10, 2013
Time: 9pm EST/6pm PST 

Doctor G empowers parents to increase their knowledge and activate their existing parenting instincts. Sometimes, these skills get dampened by stress, doubt and guilt with the pace and volume of life’s everyday activities.  “We all want to raise kids to be people that we respect and admire,” says Doctor G.

Doctor G is a board certified family physician and author of three “little books,” with her upcoming book to be published in Fall 2014.  She offers workshops, seminars, virtual events, and more to meet the needs of parents worldwide who reach out with their parenting concerns and questions. 
She is the creator and author of, an online resource for parents and a regular contributor to Pittsburgh Today Live, PBS iQ Smartparent, and numerous print and on-line publications including Huffington Post and

The International Nanny Association (INA) is a nonprofit organization, serving as the umbrella organization for the in-home child care industry. INA members include nannies, nanny employers, nanny agencies, educators and industry service providers. INA leverages the expertise of industry professionals from around the globe to help increase awareness about the industry, to develop the professional skills of nannies, and to educate parents about the benefits of hiring a qualified nanny to care for their children.
International Nanny Association
P.O BOX 12347, Wilmington, NC 28405
Phone: 888.878.1477  |  Fax: 508.638.6462

Friday, August 16, 2013

Back-to-School Readiness Tips

It’s hard to believe that summer is coming to a close and the new school year is looming, but it is and we should start planning now. Getting a plan in place to ease into the school year can lower stress in those first few weeks. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Paperwork Ready:
Getting back to school often means having paperwork ready for the school in August before the first day. Immunization records are a big one and getting ready now will prevent the last minute scramble. If your child is starting preschool or kindergarten or changing schools there is usually other paperwork that needs to be completed.

Calendar and Schedule:
      Having a centralized calendar or organizer can help keep everyone on time and on task. It’s often not just school that is starting in the fall but sports and activities as well as curriculum nights and school open houses. Most of these may start before the first day of school. A visual reminder, the calendar also is a teachable tool for children.
     Have a place for the weekly schedule, school lunch menus, notes from each classroom and all the other papers that come into the house helps keep everyone organized. A simple file system can work wonders for keeping track of items that need to be returned to school (permission slips, etc.) and items to have in case you need them (school directory, class information, etc.). If you have several students in your home color coding the files can be very helpful.

     I liked to have a colored plastic envelope for each child where we kept documents that didn’t need our immediate attention. A red folder held those items that needed to be signed and returned to school or items that needed to be added to the calendar. Each day a quick look in the red folder let me know what needed immediate action.
     When children got home from school we’d go through their backpack and I’d help them sort out the different items. Homework was set aside and all those other papers where filed appropriately. This was especially helpful when parents came home and could see what needed immediate attention.
     Just a quick note about school plus extracurricular activities - remember to keep balance in the schedule. While some children thrive on a full schedule many other children can become overwhelmed quickly. Keep time for play, relaxation and family time in the schedule.

Inventory Before Shopping:
Before heading out the door to buy new school clothes and shoes check what you already have for the children to see what you really need. Often families get excited about new school clothes only to those outgrown by mid-year.
If you children have school supplies left from last year check to see what's there and can be used this year before heading out the door. Don't forget the school list when you go. Some stores have lists of local schools on site you can't always count on this. Also consider buying bulk items - pencils, pens, paper, notebooks, etc. - to have on hand throughout the year. Take advantage of sales now for items. We knew that poster board, presentation boards and craft supplies would be needed and prices were often lower during the back to school sale - we'd stock up.

Ease Into the School Schedule:
The first day of school is not the time to adjust the family's schedule. Start doing this a few days to several weeks ahead of that first day. This is especially true for children who have a challenge getting up early. This also allows for meal times to be adjusted accordingly. It takes time for the body to get in the swing of things so to avoid stressing everyone out give yourself that time to get back into the rhythm of the school year.

A little planning now will help the transition to the school schedule smoother!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Fun Snack Ideas

Healthy and fun snacks make each day go more smoothly. Most children need smaller meals along with snacks throughout the day to keep them going and growing strong. Getting creative makes it more appealing and encourages eating well. Here are a few tried and true ideas for you.

Fruit and Cheese Kabobs

This healthy and delicious treat is a fun project to do with children. They can help select fruits and cut cheese shapes. Then pick what they want on their kabob. When children participate in making their own snacks or meals they will eat better. Visit your local farmer's market for local fruits or cheeses - this makes a great outing with the children. As an alternative choose some veggies to skewer and make a veggie / cheese kabob.

Carrots and Dip
Baby carrots are not only nutritious and delicious but are very attractive to children. Pair carrots with dips that add to the fun and encourage eating. Hummus or a veggie dip are great to offer with carrots. Put it all in a fun package and you've got even the fussiest eater enjoying a healthy snack.
Mini Pizzas
Letting children create their own mini pizzas are not only a fun snack or light meal but by preselecting ingredient options they can make choices that are good for them. I like to use an English Muffin as the base. Alternatively you make use French bread or another firm textured bread. Making your own pizza dough is also a fun addition, but you do need to plan ahead for that as it adds time to the whole process. Toppings can include pizza sauce, veggies, mushrooms, cheeses and selected meats. Bake in the oven until cheese is melted and turning golden brown. I often would put the English muffin in the toaster then top and then into the oven to keep a crunchier crust. If you are making your own dough you can bake the crust for a few minutes before topping to get more crunch.

Trail Mix or Gorp
A favorite snack for most children and adults is trail mix or gorp. There are so many options here for mixing and matching ingredients. Typically a base of cereal, cracker or popcorn is the mainstay of any recipe. Then adding in dried fruits, nuts, chocolate chips, pretzels, mini-marshmallows and more make each batch fun. Placing the mix into interesting containers for eating can also add to the experience. Try using the cone for ice cream, or put into clean (new) flower pots, or what about using a plastic pail and shovel for a beach theme. We've also enjoyed serving in a fish bowl which we added plenty of goldfish crackers (the rainbow kind a bright and interesting) and once we had a construction party where we served the mix in a toy dump truck. We'd love to hear about your inventive serving options and recipes!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Celebrate August

August is a month lacking a big holiday . . . but there are some fun "special days" in August. Explore, discover and invent ways to celebrate. Get your creative juices flowing and have a party!

August 16 - National Tell A Joke Day
Get your jokes ready and let loose! Spread the laughs to family and friends. What about creating a joke book of all your favorites or a "Joke Journal" that you can add to throughout the year. We'd love to hear what ideas you have to celebrate Joke Day.

August 19 - National Aviation Day
This day was picked because it is Orville Wrights birthday. Discover more about the science of flight. Take time to make your own airplanes or gliders.

August 23 - Ride the Wind Day
After learning more about flight on the 19th, what a fun day to make and fly kites! Paper bag kites are a great option for the youngest children. They are easy to make and because the child is supplying the thrust these kites can get going even on the calmest day.

August 26 - National Dog Day
It's time for a Puppy Party! Make a day of it with games, snacks and crafts. If you have a dog in your home don't forget to include them. If not, no worries you can still celebrate : )

August 31 - National Trail Mix Day
Have fun experimenting and developing new trail mix recipes. Plan a trail mix bar with all types of fun ingredients that each person can choose from. Happy munching!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Three Ways to Tame the Tension

by Samantha Sawyer

Ever feel like you’re living in a flea market, what with the constant back-and-forth negotiations with your child?  Reward-driven children are inclined to negotiate until they get what they want, leaving you disgruntled and wondering if your child will ever complete a simple task without needing a bribe.

Imagine coming home from a long, hot day of running errands, to be greeted at the door by your 12-year old son, Devon, who immediately asks if you’ll take him to Dairy Queen.  As you unpack the groceries and begin washing the veggies you tiredly feign a smile and respond with a “we’ll see.” Devon ramps up his efforts, moving into a pestering whine until you’re forced to pay his request more attention.  You ask about his chores for the day…did he: Make his bed? Take a shower? Vacuum the basement where he tramped mud in the day before? No, not yet, and nope!  Can you feel the power struggle about to ensue?  Read on for three ways to tame the tension….

By this point in the conversation you may notice you’re triggered to respond with anger.  “You think I’m taking you to Dairy Queen when you haven’t even done the three small things I asked you to do?”  In turn Devon grows defensive and, as an intense brain child, more aggressive as he builds his way toward emotional and physical destruction.  What to do?
  1. One of our favorite reactive techniques is to resist feeding the negative energy.  This teaches
    Devon that no matter how loud he becomes you won’t give in just to escape the situation.
  2. One of our favorite proactive techniques is to identify the different roles and responsibilities in your house.  Have a light-hearted conversation with Devon about these before going to bed one night.  Tell him the ones you are responsible for and let him know that as a member of the family he needs to identify three that he will perform so you have more time to do fun stuff together.
  3. Pinpoint a fun reward in advance to build Devon’s motivation to participate around the house and be sure to follow through when he achieves his tasks.
When you outline expectations outside the moment of intensity you dramatically improve your chances for avoiding power struggles and negotiations.

Samantha Sawyer M.A.  
Certified Parent Coach + Life Coach

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Summer Memory Keeper

This great idea comes from Spoonful (formerly Family Fun). You know how I love this resource!

Kids love this traditional Mexican yarn craft because of its fun weaving technique, and this framed variation is perfect for displaying your family's summer vacation mementos.

6 sticks, two 18 inches long and four 14 inches long
1 or 2 skeins of variegated yarn
Hand pruners (to cut sticks, an adult's job)

Start by crossing the 2 longest sticks in an X pattern. Tie the loose end of the yarn around the intersection and wind it around several times to secure the sticks. Next, wrap the yarn around the closest stick, flush against the intersection. Now wrap it around the next closest stick. Continue in this manner, working your way toward the ends of the sticks until only about 3 inches remain exposed. Cut the yarn and knot the end around a stick.

(Personal Note: while the example shows the wrapped version described above . . . some children find other ways of weaving the yarn around the sticks. I allowed each child to discover what worked best for them. Also, you don't have to have variegated yarn - - - you can use yarn left over from other projects.)

To add a frame, place the 4 smaller sticks in a square around the edge of the weaving, wrap yarn around the intersections of the sticks, and tie them in place, as shown at left. Finally, tuck summer vacation photos and souvenirs between the strands of yarn.


Monday, August 5, 2013

Beat the Heat Ideas

It's summer so we expect the heat but some days the temp is really up there. This got me thinking of all the fun things I've done with children to beat the heat. Here are a few of my favorites. Remember to reapply sunscreen often and encourage hydration!

Fill 'Er Up!
Ready to get wet? Then the children will enjoy this team game. You'll need two plastic cups about 6 oz size works well, two ping-pong balls and two hand held spray bottles filled with water. One teammate holds the cup while the other squirts water into it in order to raise the ping-pong ball up and out of the cup. Sometimes getting the ball out of the cup is a challenge so it can be modified to get water to the top of the cup. A refill bucket of water is available as needed for the squirters. Switch with your teammate and do it all again.
While this is meant to be a relay race it isn't necessary to race - - - it is perfect to just get wet. So you don't really need teams either just the desire to enjoy the activity.

Splash Volley Ball
Using a large sponge and a small kiddie pool enjoy a game that's cooling and fun! The kiddie pool is the net and the water loaded sponge is the ball. Because everyone can be around the perimeter of the pool you can play with any number of children. The goal is to keep the sponge going and keep the water splashing. Slipping into the pool from time to time will happen so I filled the pool with only a few inches of water. Because this can become very active make sure an adult is keeping an eye on the action.

Water Obstacle Course
We didn't have a large in ground or above ground pool in our backyard but we did have several kiddie pools. So we set them up around the yard. In each pool was a different activity - fill the bucket, scoop and poor, sponge toss, floating ducks. You can come up a with several options for different ages or different levels of difficulty. Children will enjoy the cool off along with the active play. Ask them to come up with different skills - they'll get a chance to show off their creativity.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Playdate Positives: Building Social Connections

Building social skills in children is always a key objective for both parents and nannies. Playdates can be positive experiences for building skills before those formal school years. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when planning playdate experiences.

• Age Appropriate: Most children three and younger use parallel play rather than shared play, but this is a good time to introduce interactive play with another child of about the same age. Typically four-year-olds are really getting the hang of playing with another child, especially if they have had opportunities to practice.

Plan Ahead: You may want to have a few activities that everyone can do, whether playing
together or side-by-side. Options might include puzzles, modeling dough, art materials, building materials, balls, or music and movement equipment (scarves, rhythm instruments). Having enough supplies readily available encourages sharing while leaving no one out.

• Snack Time: Serving a nutritious, fun, simple snack can be a highlight of the playdate especially if you include the children in the preparation. It’s another opportunity to build cooperative, sharing skills with a nice treat at the end of the activity.

• Conflict Resolution: Playdates are a great time to build resolution skills. When children are together conflicts arise. The challenge is to strike the balance between intervening when necessary but not interfering in the process. Allowing preschoolers to work out their own solutions is a best case scenario, but they may need adult guidance. Asking them how they want to work out the problem allows them to focus on possible options instead of the conflict itself. Getting both parties to agree to a solution allows for everyone to verbalize the plan. You may need to help them follow through with their plan of action. Here’s where having plenty of other activities ready can help ease sticky situations.

• Set Limits: Keep the child’s normal routine in mind when planning the playdate – skipping naps or changing mealtimes for playdates can lead to frustration and crankiness, not a good recipe for encouraging cooperative play. One and a half to two hours is plenty for most preschoolers. This time frame can be lengthened as children mature and their relationships develop. You may also want to limit the number of children involved in the playdate. For younger, less experienced children getting together with one other child is often best. Also, odd numbers of children can sometimes add to potential conflicts. Having enough adult supervision is another key to success. As children get older “drop off” playdates can be an option and encourages greater independence.

• Ending the Playdate: Give everyone a warning before the playdate comes to an end. A “five minute warning” can work well for most children, but if you know a child needs more time make allowance for that. Abruptly ending the playdate can set up negative responses. Clean-up is always the last thing before good-byes are said. Everyone should share in the clean-up so no one is left with a mess. I suggest giving a warning before starting clean-up, so in fact you may need to start the transition 10 or 15 minutes before the playdate ends.

 • Playdate Options: First playdate experiences often start in the child’s own home or their friend’s home. A home environment is comfortable for everyone. But as children’s relationships grow and they mature you may want to consider other locations for playdates such as outings to local parks and playgrounds, community centers, special child related programs, museums or other facilities. 

Playdates that are well planned, age appropriate and guided by attentive adults who allow children to work through situations can be positive skill building experiences. Children who have experienced a variety of social situations typically have an easier transition to more formal group settings such as preschool, kindergarten or other organized groups.