Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Homemade Snow Dough

This is a favorite dough recipe from when I was a child. What makes it a Snow Dough is the sparkling quality the glitter adds to the dough. I prefer the iridescent or white glitter rather than the silver or gold glitter which is often also coarser and can tend to make the dough more crumbly or tough. With this dough project children don't have to wait to have a winter fun day. When it's just too cold to play outdoors this can be a nice substitute activity. Appropriate for children about 18 months and up. The children can add props to their snow people and snow scenes - sticks, found objects, beads, etc.

1 cup flour
1 cup water
1/2 cup salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 tablespoons white tempera paint (this really whitens the dough which can have a grayish tinge otherwise)
1 tablespoon white or iridescent glitter (this little amount makes a big impact)
*A few drops of peppermint extract or another extract you like (optional)
*If you'd like to color your dough you can add either a few drops of food coloring or a small amount of colored tempera paint.

1. Combine all of the ingredients except the extract (if using) in a medium-size pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture holds together, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.
2.Turn the play dough onto a waxed paper–lined counter to cool, about 15 minutes. If you like, knead in peppermint extract for a festive holiday scent.

I also recommend giving each child their own space at the table. A tray or mat can help keep their creations stable while providing a defined personal space. Everyone at the table is sharing, enjoying the activity while also having their creations and space respected.

If you'd like to create a winter snow scene and snow people to display, use a paper plate or some other container as a base.  Over time the dough will begin to dry and eventually crumble. Children should be prepared for this. This is a teachable moment opportunity - a time to talk about the way our outdoor snow creations don't last forever because of the weather, so too the indoor creations have a limited time. So we enjoy them while we have them!

If you want to reuse your dough again and again don't leave it out. After playing store in a Ziploc bag or air tight container in the refrigerator. The dough keeps for about two weeks, maybe a little more, if refrigerated.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

15 Ways to Thank Your Nanny

By Nannies from the Heartland staff

During this season, families often ask us how they can thank their amazing nannies. Here are some ideas from the Nannies from the Heartland staff!
  1. Have the children make her cards or art projects.
  2. Encourage your nanny to take advantage of classes, seminars, and other professional-development opportunities. Pay for the class or pay her for the time she spends at it.
  3. Tell her about the impact she has on your family: "Sasha sure loves reading with you!" or, "The boys won't stop talking about the trip you took to the zoo." Even better, make it specific to her best qualities: "You are so good at listening to the children," or, "I really admire the way you teach Jacob spelling."
  4. While a pay raise or bonus is wonderful, also consider compensation that won't be taxable income. This might include a contribution to health insurance or retirement.
  5. Give her a framed photo of her with your children or family.
  6. Make time to ask your nanny for her insight about your children--she is a child care expert!
  7. Give your nanny her birthday or another special day as additional paid vacation time.
  8. Recognize milestones, such as her annual anniversary of working for your family. Enlist your children in baking a cake, presenting a special song, or picking her flowers.
  9. Purchase her a membership to the International Nanny Association or another industry organization.
  10. Allow your nanny to take the children on outings and to playgroups. Consider purchasing a zoo, pool, or park membership for her to enjoy with your children.
  11. Make sure your home is stocked with books, art supplies, games, and the other tools she needs to perform her job with excellence.
  12. Give your nanny regular performance evaluations and feedback. Educate yourself about industry pay and employment standards so you are sure your nanny is being paid competitively. We will happily give our client families advice about current trends; just contact us any time.
  13. If your nanny is truly exceptional, ask for her permission to nominate her for International Nanny Association's Nanny of the Year award.
  14. Put together a gift basket based around an activity she enjoys: watching movies, cooking, exercising, scrapbooking, etc. Include gift cards, edibles, and small items. Children love taking part in this!
  15. If possible, allow her a bit of schedule flexibility for doctors' appointments, important family commitments, and other events in her out-of-work life.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Helping Children Cope with Holiday Stress

For many children, the holidays are happy, fun and exciting. There is a break from school and a chance to see friends and relatives. However, the holidays can also be stressful and confusing.

Family plans and celebrations may be complicated a variety of factors. Relationships with adult siblings can put children in awkward positions. Family dynamics can be hard to navigate particularly with families who are separated, divorced or remarried.

The following are some tips for parents to help children cope with holiday stress:

Discuss holiday plans well in advance, and include your children in the planning process. Children need some degree of control and predictability. Prolonged uncertainty, constantly changing plans or last minute decisions can all increase stress. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a spontaneous experience but be careful that other plans aren’t upset in the process.

Make sure children get plenty of rest. While it may be exciting to stay up late, lack of sleep often leads to increased irritability. Stick to the “normal routine” as much as you are able. This is also true of regular meals and snacks. Holiday time brings in special foods and sweets. Be thoughtful about how these impact children’s health and wellbeing.

Limit the amount of time children spend alone watching TV or playing video games. Encourage physical activity and interaction with peers. Include physical activity in your holiday events. This can be a wonderful time to try something new together as a family. Our family loves to engage in group games and community service projects together. Getting outdoors to play or take a family walk are easy ways for everyone to enjoy physical activity.

Don’t promise things you can’t produce. For example, don’t promise something will happen during the holidays if the decision is really out of your control. Instead stick with plans that are achievable and reasonable.

Don’t try and compensate for an absent family member or inability to do a special activity with lots of gifts. What most children really want is your time and attention. Focus on them. In fact, limiting gifts can have a positive effect. Many families choose one special gift per child. Our family did this along with a family gift – a new game, special activity together or some other family based event that everyone could enjoy. This shifts the focus from gifts to time spent together.

Uphold and maintain family traditions. Children count on certain traditions. They can have an important grounding effect. There is also a place to add a family tradition to as children grow allowing them to broaden their holiday experiences. I know a family who volunteers to deliver meals to families unable to get out. They have done this for years and their daughter looks forward to the tradition and the service to others. Our family plays tag football as part of our traditional Thanksgiving activities.

As the adult, take care of yourself. Try to avoid getting overloaded with obligations. If you feel stressed, it increases the pressure and tension on your children.

Most children enjoy the holidays. However, preparation, patience and honesty can help prevent conflict, reduce stress, and enhance the holiday season for the whole family.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Teaching Respect

We’ve all heard the adage: To gain respect we must give respect. How do children learn to be respectful? We all know that children learn from the adults around them, so what are we modeling? Are they seeing that mom, dad and nanny are treating each other respectfully? Are they expected to be respectful themselves? Are they feeling respected? Respect is a two-way street

Although children may not put labels such as respect or disrespect to the behaviors they see around them they are watching . . . and learning. Is it the lesson you want them to receive? When children see adults they care about communicating in an open and valued manner they will follow those examples. And it’s not only what is said or how it is communicated but body language as well. Children are constantly interpreting what they are seeing and feeling.

Encouraging Respect:
1) Serve as role model of respect in your daily interactions; taking other’s opinions seriously and controlling emotions. You are also a role model when you correct children after they behave insensitively towards others.
2) Encourage appropriate group interactions. Children need practice with their peers and adults. Understanding individual uniqueness while having a feeling of belonging goes a long way in building respectful behavior.
3) Encourage self discipline. Individuals who are able to discipline themselves have an easier time managing reasonable social rules and expectations.
4) Provide decision making opportunities. Giving children a say in family or other group rule development empowers them to follow those same rules in various circumstances and to appreciate the authority of others.
5) Often showing respect means being tolerant. Cooperating with others in projects and conflict resolution helps build the values of sharing and tolerance.
6) Promote discussion and debate. Issues such as fairness, inclusion or exclusion, and following rules are part of a normal day for us all. Being able to discuss feelings and opinions in a constructive manner needs to be practiced and developed.

Show Respect:
1) Allow the speaker, adult or child, to complete what they are saying uninterrupted. Be a good listener.
2) Allow children to make mistakes – and forgive mistakes that are made by others, whether children or adults.
3) Allow and encourage civil disagreement. We don’t all agree on everything. Being able to accept differences is important. Civil discussion is a balance of expression and listening skills.
4) Transition time is necessary. While this is most often true of children it can also be true of adults. Being pressured can lead to disrespectful outbursts that could be avoided.
5) No means no. Being able to say no and stick to it. This is a good one for all of us to follow. Wheedling to get a “no” to turn into “yes” is disrespectful. If your “no” is easily turned to “yes” what message is that sending to others?

Respect is an asset worth everyone’s investment which has great return, not only to your family but to the community at large.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

How to Keep a Nanny Long-Term

"We’ve had challenges keeping a nanny long term with our family. What are we doing wrong?"

The nanny employment relationship is very unique. For one thing it is very personal and intimate. This makes for a great foundation for caring for children and working with parents in a partnership. It also increases sensitivity about the daily issues that can come up and can make dealing with concerns challenging for everyone. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

MUTUAL RESPECT: This is huge. Respecting each other is critical from day one. Being cognizant that your nanny is a professional and her expertise can really be an asset to your family. Great nanny and family relationships rely on respecting each other.

WORK AGREEMENT: Establish a work agreement with details about the position that everyone is clear about and then follow through with what you’ve agreed to. If things aren’t working for whatever reason address them directly and specifically. Don’t wait until frustrations set in before talking together. Nannies from the Heartland client families receive a fill-in-the blank work agreement document to use as is or as a springboard for creating their own.

UNDERSTANDING THE NANNY: Nannies are nurturers. This is ideal for a profession centering on children and families. Their position with your family is very personal to them. It’s a very different environment than working in the corporate world. So a different approach is needed when discussing job related issues with the nanny. Put yourself in her shoes and see things from her viewpoint.

APPRECIATION: Everyone needs to know they are appreciated – in your job, with your family and friends. Appreciation builds a relationship and fosters loyalty. Letting your nanny know that you appreciate the care she is providing for your children and family goes a long way. A daily “thank you” is simple and effective. A thoughtful personal gift on their birthday or at a holiday will show that you not only appreciate them but have taken the time to know who they are.

COMPENSATION: Appropriate compensation which reflects your nanny’s experience, background and education will help ensure a long term working relationship. This includes paying accurately and on time. If you are uncertain about the current market, contact us at Nannies from the Heartland, we’d be happy to assist you. The compensation package should also include how vacations, holidays or other benefits are handled. Following through on your work agreement in these areas is important to the nanny. Period performance and compensation reviews should be done to keep everything up-to-date. Nannies from the Heartland supplies a performance review document that is provided to both the nannies and families working with us.

GREAT PARTNERSHIPS = Long Term Positions: We have many stories of amazing nanny and family relationships which have lasted for years and years. The one common theme is the time they took to develop their relationship and really work as a team. Great nannies who are happy in their work truly value their job, the children and their employers. Great employer families support their nanny; treating them with respect and care. While not every nanny and family relationship is always long term, many are. Nannies from the Heartland are experts in helping both nannies and families find the best possible fit to build strong partnerships.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Tantrums, Fussing, and Whining, Oh My!

Parents and nannies often find the most frustrating discipline problems during early childhood to be managing tantrums, fussing and whining. Here are some ideas to help get a handle on them.

Emotional Control: Most often these behaviors are caused by a child’s inability to express or control his emotions. Tiredness, hunger, boredom, frustration and other causes can frequently be avoided or modified. Observation of those underlying issues will help you get your child back to their happy self.

Choices: You may be able to avoid problems by giving your child more of a say in his life. You can do this by offering choices. Instead of saying, “Get ready for bed right now,” which may provoke a tantrum, offer a choice, “What would you like to do first, put on your pajamas or brush your teeth?” Children who are busy deciding things are often happy.

Eye-to-eye Communication: When you make a request from a distance your child will likely ignore you. Noncompliance creates stress, which leads to fussing and tantrums – from both of you. Instead, get down to your child’s level, look them in the eye and make clear, concise requests. This gets their attention.

List of DO’s: Instead of focusing on misbehavior and what you don’t want them to do, explain exactly what you’d like your child to do or say instead. Give simple instructions to follow and then praise results. Remember “thank you” goes a long way.

Validate Feelings: Help your child identify and understand their emotions. Give words to feelings, “You’re sad. You want to stay here and play. I know.” This doesn’t mean you must give in to the request, but communicating that you understand can help keep things calm.

Distraction/Redirection: Children can easily be distracted when a new activity is suggested. If your child is whining or fussing try viewing it as an “activity” that your child is engaged in. Since children aren’t very good at multi-tasking you might be able to redirect them with a recommendation of something different to do.

Call on the Imagination: If a child is upset about something, it can help to vocalize his fantasy of what he wishes would happen: “I bet you wish we could buy every single toy in this store.” This can become a fun game.

Prevention: Review desired behavior prior to leaving the house, or when entering a public building, or before you begin a playdate. This might prevent the whining or tantrum from even beginning. Put your comments in the positive (tell what you want, not what you don’t want) and be specific.

When It’s Over, It’s Over: After an episode of misbehavior is finished let it go and move on. Don’t feel you must teach a lesson by withholding your approval, love or company – or with a lecture. Children bounce right back, and it is okay for you to bounce right back, too.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Taking Care of the Caregiver

Those who live or work with young children know how physically and emotionally draining it can be at times. For many child-centered people, one aspect is neglected — themselves. Here are some ideas to help you take care of yourself so you can be the best possible caregiver for the children in your life.
Set aside time each day for yourself. When children are napping or in quiet time, resist the urge to catch up on dishes, do laundry, or pick up toys until you have had 15-30 minutes of uninterrupted time for yourself. Remember, lunch hours are a standard in the business world because people need a break during the day.

Eat healthy foods that you enjoy. If the kids like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day for lunch, that doesn’t mean that you need to eat that, too! You will be happier if you eat your favorite foods.

Get enough sleep. Most people need at least seven or eight hours of sleep each night, but many people don’t get that much. An idea for parents: go to bed when your kids do. It will improve your physical stamina as well as help you keep a positive outlook.

Exercise. Go to the park and play with the kids. Push the stroller or pull the wagon around the neighborhood. Go ice-skating or sledding. Put in your favorite CD and dance. Not only will you feel better, but you will teach the children to enjoy being active.

Take time for the things you enjoy. Just as we can’t fulfill all of our children’s needs, they can’t fulfill all of our needs. Listen to music, enjoy a hobby, call a friend, or do whatever it is that you enjoy.

Hopefully these ideas will help parents and nannies take care of themselves. In turn, we will be better companions to children.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Full disclosure: what does this mean?

by Mary O'Connor

Full Disclosure: What does this mean? Why is it important?

I recently did a Google search on this term and found many definitions:
• The need in business transactions to tell the “whole truth” about any matter which the other party should know in deciding to buy or contract
• The requirement to disclose all relevant or material facts to a transaction
• The need in certain situations for both parties to tell the whole truth about all information relevant to the transaction
• The act of providing all material information about an article or property intended or proposed to be transferred, which may influence the decision making of the buyer.
While some of these definitions are geared to certain business transactions, the principle of full disclosure is extremely critical in hiring a nanny to care for your children. At Nannies from the Heartland, we have a policy of full disclosure when working with families and nannies.

We’ve had several experiences that concern me about the business practices of some other services when screening nannies and making referrals to families.
• One nanny came in to interview with our service and had worked as a nanny for two different families where her duties in both jobs involved transporting children. When we ran her driving record, we found four recent moving violations. Two of which were alcohol related - careless driving and implied consent. I seriously doubt that the families using this nanny’s services through an agency they had paid to screen her were aware of this driving record.
• Another nanny was very upset that we would not represent her and refer her to client families. Although she had some previous nanny experience, she had an eight month gap in her employment history which she explained was due to working with a family that was “not a good employer” so she didn’t want them contacted for a reference. When I explained that we couldn’t consider her as a candidate if she didn’t provide a complete employment history with contact information, her response was that several other nanny services locally were accepting her as a candidate. They had told her not list this employer and/or alter her dates of employment so there was no gap. They apparently took at face value what she told them about the employment situation. Eventually, she reluctantly provided us with the name of this employer but said she had no contact information for them. What she didn’t know, is that this family had since become one of our clients and I knew they had terminated a previous nanny. When I contacted them, they explained this was the same person they’d terminated and for some serious infractions. I’d be very surprised if any family would consider hiring this person if the agency had done their due diligence, learned what I had and then disclosed this to the family.

We would not have considered referring either of these nannies to our client families. However, there are occasions where the nanny has excellent credentials and good references with perhaps one exception. I feel confident referring the nanny but would never consider concealing this reference’s comments. It may hurt her chances of getting a job and I know we may lose out on a placement, but our commitment to full disclosure is important to us.

Not only can families rest assured that we provide complete information on the nanny, but nannies can be confident that we are working with their best interest at heart. Full disclosure to nannies can be illustrated in several ways.
• Sharing with the nanny candidate anything we know about the family employment history that would impact placement consideration.
• Providing complete details about the position expectations and duties, hours and benefits offered by the family prior to interviewing with the family.
• Being assured that we work with families who agree to pay legally and provide appropriate compensation.
We’ve hear stories from nannies working with other services that concern us deeply. Agencies providing sketchy descriptions of the family, misrepresenting job details or appearing to give the “ok” for the family to pay under-the-table, are just some of the experiences nannies have shared. Telling the nanny one thing and the families another only leads to frustration, confusion and a waste of everyone's time during the interview process.

Nannies from the Heartland, is committed to providing complete information to both families and nannies so that the interview, selection and placement process is a positive experience for everyone. For more information please visit our website at

Monday, June 27, 2016

Fitness Party!

Being Active is Fun!

Several years ago Family Fun Magazine had a great article about encouraging healthy fun. The Fitness Party was their focus. Of course, I tweaked it to meet our needs but the essentials are all here. The following is how we hosted our own party!

Neighborhood Invitations
We made our own invitations to our Fitness Party for all the neighborhood children in and around the ages I was caring for. I also asked a couple of older children if they'd like to help run the event with me - they were 12 and 14. They wanted to be involved but didn't want to be considered a "kid." Our invitations were simple - made from colored construction paper and colorful stickers they included date, time (start and end), how to RSVP, what to wear, sunscreen reminder, etc. We hand delivered them so we could explain a little more about what to expect or answer any questions.

After invitations have been distributed and before the event gather all the equipment needed for each activity. We also gave out as a favor a water bottle to each child with their name on it. They weren't fancy and I wrote the names on in permanent marker including Fitness Party and the date as well. We then used these bottles throughout the day. I had a water station set up for everyone to fill up their bottle. We also had a snack break after all the events were over with fruit kabobs, whole grain crackers and a frozen yogurt cone. I think planning this for a morning rather then the afternoon when it gets too warm for everyone is best. Our party was from 9 AM to 10:30 AM. Also, depending on the number of children participating you may need or want to split into smaller groups to work through all the activity stations to limit wait time at each station and keep things moving.

Stretching Time - Start by spending a few moments with simple stretching motions like reach to the sky, touch toes, lean to right and left. This was led by our two "helper" children. They actually put them through a nice stretch before we got started with the main events.
Hula Hoop Whoop - This is a multi-functional station which starts with each person getting a hoop and giving it a spin around their waist/hips. There is a learning curve for those who are not hula hoop professionals so give everyone several tries. We had 5 hoops going at once here so you'll need some space. Next place hoops end to end (example: OOOOO). Children line up and take turns jumping from hoop to hoop. They get back in line and the second time around it is hop like a frog, next time it's walk like an elephant, etc. If you give the children the chance they'll come up with several ideas of their own.
Beanbag Toss-o-Rama - This station a great throwing activity. I like beanbags over balls just because they are often easier for young ones to toss successfully and don't take off rolling away from you. I made a target laid out on the lawn on a large tarp using painters tape in a simple grid. I had made enough beanbags so there was minimal waiting. My "helpers" encouraged everyone to try and hit every target area.
Mega Hopscotch - Rather than play a game of hopscotch we opted for a mega hopscotch course for everyone to try out several times. The course twisted and turned over our entire driveway. The course needs a little prep but once you have it down on the pavement you only need keep participants in line. Older children should one foot hop where indicated while younger ones can jump onto squares.
Knock 'em Down, Stand 'em Up - You will need a couple dozen small size cone markers. We had some for marking off our backyard soccer games and then I got a more at a discount store. They were packaged by the dozen. I've also seen them offered online in bulk. We found lots of uses for these cones over the years. For this event you place the cones in a random pattern over a large section of the yard - half the cones are standing upright and the other half on their sides. Split your group into two teams - one team will be knocking over upright cones and the other team is taking the knocked cones to place them upright. Children are instructed to run to the cone, bend over to use their hands rather than kick over the cone with their feet. This game is timed and I used a whistle to start them and then a whistle to stop them. This is a crowd-pleaser.
Obstacle Course - This was our final event and everyone cheered each other on to success. We laid out the course using hula hoops, beanbags, cones and the naturally occurring features of the yard (trees, swing set, etc.). Plan a course that includes running, jumping, over, under and through options if possible. We made a tunnel using a our tarp over the backs of a couple of benches which was great for crawling. While everyone was taking a water break . . . don't forget to encourage water breaks between each station . . . my helpers and I set out the obstacles according to a plan I had formulated previously. Then each child had their turn to run the course and cheer on their friends. Each child was offered two runs at the course.

We ended our party with a fresh and healthy snack bar. Everyone took home their water bottle as a souvenir. This kind of special party has so many options that can be offered and planned. We were able to use many of these activities for playdates or birthday parties. You might want to plan several Fitness Days throughout the spring and summer months. We'd love to hear your ideas or experiences with a Fitness Party or other special homemade activity - send us a comment!

Use Online Nanny Job Searches With Caution

What potential pitfalls do nannies need to look out for when using online job services? HomeWork Solutions has a great summary in this article.

We've heard from nannies who got caught (or almost caught) by these schemes. Working with a service like Nannies from the Heartland ensures that all of your potential employers are vetted and coached in being good employers. We meet the vast majority of our families in person before ever sending them a nanny's file.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Simple Suncatchers for all Seasons

Clear contact paper is the key to making suncatchers anytime!

We loved making suncatchers for all seasons - really anytime. Clear contact paper made it so easy. We would select what we were going to put onto the contact paper, decide on the shape we wanted the suncatcher to be, and how we wanted to place it in the window. Here are some simple steps to follow for your own suncatcher collection:
  1. Decide on what size and shape your finished project will be. You'll need to keep this in mind as you build the suncatcher as you need room to seal the edges and trim to the shape. You may want to have a shape template ready but this is not essential.
  2. Decide on the items you'd like in your suncatcher. Specialty papers, tissue paper, leaves, grasses, small light weight objects - having some items that are translucent and others that are opaque adds interest.
  3. Place items onto a sheet of contact paper sticky side up - keep in mind your final size and shape of the suncatcher.
  4. Press objects lightly onto paper.
  5. Place second sheet of contact paper over the first sealing in the objects. Now you can press more firmly and seal the edges well.
  6. Trim to desired shape and size.
  7. Hang you suncatcher - options include using clear tape and taping to window, using a punched hold and ribbon to hang it or using a window hook with a suction cup holder. We used these hangers because we liked to change out our suncatchers often. We also selected a window that had good light coming through and was an appropriate spot for these delightful creations!
Be creative - take this idea and springboard to another wonderful project! Have fun!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Bunches of Buttons

My mother used to keep a large container of buttons around. We loved digging around in the buttons, sorting with them and making up games. As I grew mom showed me how to sew buttons onto clothing and even make some jewelry with buttons. So I started my own collection of buttons. When I became a nanny I noticed the children loved to get those buttons out as much as I did when I was little. If you aren't a button collector you can purchase buttons at craft stores. You'll find mixed buttons as well as color or shape specific buttons. Here are some ideas on ways you can use buttons that are fun and educational.

Button Sorting
This is a great activity for older toddlers and preschoolers. You can make this work for sorting out colors, shapes or size differentiation. Using a muffin tin or egg carton can make it easy for younger ones to drop the button into the right space. To add fine motor skills you can use tweasers or tongs, spoons or scoops to move buttons from one container or space to another.

Button Letters
What a fun and creative way to support letter recognition! Placing the buttons onto the letter that can be written onto a larger piece of paper or you can have a letter cut out. If you glue each of the buttons down you have a nice art piece that can be framed and put in the child's room. Not only does it provide small motor skills and letter recognition but it's creative as well. If you are gluing the buttons down you may need to use glue dots rather than a white craft glue. Glue dots are typically clear and firmly hold heavier or larger items to paper very well. If you do plan to use this as an art piece I would recommend a heavier base paper like card stock or tag board.

Button Stringing
Another small motor activity that can result in a bracelet or necklace is button stringing. For smaller hands and younger children choose larger button with large holes in the center. If you purchase buttons from a craft store you'll see that they offer some that are perfect for this activity. I also liked to use pipe cleaners for children if this is their first time with this type of activity. Pipe cleaners maintain a firm base that allow children to get buttons on. Once they have stringing mastered with pipe cleaners you can move to heavy weight string or yarn. There are dull ended needles available to make this process easier. The button to pipe cleaner process is a good one to know as they can then make button flowers.

Button Flowers and Trees
Creative art activities are wonderful using buttons. Here are two that give lovely results, even for the youngest child.
Flowers are made using pipe cleaner or wrapped wire stems and button petals. Children can load the stem with several buttons or one. The finished flower can be put into a pot, made into a 3D display or glued down to a poster board background. They can add leaves, grass or other fun springy items to their finished product.                                                                   Trees are made by gluing down buttons to a poster board base that has a trunk and branches already painted or drawn on it. The example here uses the child's hand/arm print in brown paint. Or children can paint or draw their own trunk and branches. The buttons serve as leaves or flowers. Wherever the buttons land on their tree is fine - - - it's their creative choice.

Button Counting Game
This is similar to the sorting activity but we're introducing number recognition and counting into the mix. In this example you'll see drawn jars with a number assigned to each. The child then places buttons on each jar coordinating with that number. I've done this by placing the numbers in egg carton spaces. It's good for reinforcing sequencing as well - two comes after one, followed by three, etc. Once a child understand each number and their relationship to the amount of buttons you can mix things up and see if they are connecting the concepts. This segues into simple addition or subtraction activities. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Magic in "Monkey See, Monkey Do"

This article came to us from Samantha Sawyer, M.A. CCC-SLP, a licensed speech pathologist who specializes in helping children communicate. 

Have you ever wondered how to speed up your child’s skill development and make these interactions more fun and rewarding for both child and caregiver?  I want to share concepts, based on powerful tools I’ve developed over the last eight years, that will show you how to “hide” learning in play, emotional bonding activities, and sensory stimulation.

Spring is a time of inspiration in The Heartland that beckons to get outdoors and fully experience the magical transition from a brown to fresh green landscape.  Engaging your child’s five senses in multi-sensory outdoor play is a great way to stimulate growth and development.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Introducing Children to Volunteerism

Community service is a wonderful way for children to learn ideals such as generosity, self-awareness, compassion, and appreciation for diversity. However, the lesson will be lost if volunteerism isn't introduced to children in the right way.

As a professional volunteer coordinator, I often field inquries such as, "Where can my children and I volunteer together?" Here is some of my best advice for making community service an enriching experience for both your family and the organization you are serving.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Ask our staff: what about au pairs?

I’ve heard of hiring an au pair from another country. Isn’t this a less expensive child care option?
     The au pair program was designed as a cultural exchange and educational opportunity program. Most au pairs are 18 to 25 years old. They may or may not have child-care specific experience or training. They usually speak fairly good English, but aren’t always savvy to our American culture. That’s part of the experience -  to learn more. Families provide room, board,and a weekly stipend in exchange for some child care.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Safe and Fun Sleepovers: Our Best Tips

Last week we explored Sleepover Readiness. This week it's some tips for a great sleepover experience and things to know when you are the host family. Let's start by getting real about a sleepover - we all know very little sleep actually occurs. I used to call them Up Overs - it was a fun name for what really happens. The younger the children the more sleep they actually get - well, usually.

Set a "lights out" time. Younger children will eventually fall asleep with quiet, darker conditions. I would give them a 15 minute warning about lights out and follow up with 5 minute warning. Then I would enforce lights out. Other than a few night lights strategically placed it was dark. I’d have some quiet music in the background and set myself up with a book just outside the “sleeping” area. A few reminders to settle down were usually all it took. Older children can manage on their own but I still set a quiet time for the house. I didn’t mind preteens and teens staying up all night but it’s not fair for everyone in the house to be disturbed.

Size of the Party
Are you doing a best-friend coming over or is this a group event? If sleepovers are new to your child (and to you) you may want to do a few "one guest" invites before moving onto a group. Keep groups to 3 or 4 guests before trying any larger groups. It’s usually best if you don’t have odd numbers but sometimes that can’t be helped – just be aware odd numbers can lead to one person feeling left out. Knowing the children well can help you with planning and preparation. If you don’t know the child it can be a bit more challenging.

Timing is Everything
Not only do you need to consider the best evening – usually Friday or Saturday nights are best for most families – but you also need to think about start and end time. Traditionally children arrive around dinner time and leave mid-morning. So something like 6 PM to 10:30 AM is typical. You can make the start later so that guests have had dinner at home and arrive in time for activities and an evening snack. Some children may need to leave earlier in the morning because of other activities – sports or lessons or church – which means planning for that option as well. Don’t pick a weekend with a lot of other activities going on. Sleepovers or Up Overs are often exhausting for children and they may need some recovery time at home. Also, I was careful not to choose a weekend when I knew that there was a lot of school work or school projects that needed attention.

Family on Alert
All family members need to be alerted about a planned sleepover. Younger siblings may want to participate. I don’t recommend this. Your child, as the host, is already feeling some pressure to provide a fun time for their friends. Having to cope with their younger sibling is a recipe for unhappiness all around. I tried to find something special for the younger ones while the sleepover party was happening – a fun video, project, story, allow them to sleep in sleeping bags, etc.


Dinner should be easy and child friendly. The "go to" meal is often pizza, but it doesn’t have to be. We’ve served hotdogs, mac-n-cheese, tacos, chicken nuggets, etc. Yes, we also offered fruit or veggies with the meal but didn’t make a big deal out of it when children passed them up.

When you talk with the parents prior to the big night be sure to ask about food allergies or preferences. It will save you a lot of time and headache. True story: one of the boys coming for a sleepover only ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on white bread! That’s right, every meal. His parents told us he wouldn’t eat anything else. Sure enough he refused everything else including popcorn and other snack foods. We were glad to be prepared.

Evening snacks are often popcorn, chips, pretzels, etc. We also offered fruit and veggies with dips. A few liked to have the choices and as the children got older they really liked the variety.

Keep breakfast choices easy. I’ve hosted ten girls at a sleepover where we were serving pancakes, fruit and milk – a nice hearty meal. I made well over 70 pancakes for these little eating machines. At future sleepovers we offered several cereals, muffins, juice and milk. This was easier for them to eat when they were ready and required less cooking time for the adults.

While a sleepover is a relaxed event having a plan can help everyone pace themselves, including you. Along with choosing an appropriate start and end time, consider the flow of the evening. Have something to do as everyone arrives including where they put their sleeping bags and personal items. If there is a game or activity going then people can be directed to that area. This is particularly true if this is a first sleepover or if the children are younger. We always had the child who was the host of the party come to the door to greet each person and help them get settled.
Pace out the other activities, videos, snacks over the evening. Start with more active play earlier in the evening so that there is a sense of quieting down as the activities wrap up. Children left without some direction will find things to do - - - not always a good thing. However, you don’t need to overplan either. Downtime is a positive thing as well. Keep early risers busy with quiet activities in the morning.

Here is a general plan that I found helpful: arrival of free play inside or out, once everyone has arrived move to an active game or outing, dinner, quieter games or projects, snack and videos, lights out and quiet time, quiet morning activity for early risers, breakfast, clean-up and goodbyes. This is often followed by nap time for those of us who needed it!

Household Rules
Early on in the evening house rules need to be presented and reviewed. Making a list of rules is a good project for you and your child to do together. As the adult you are the one to review the rules and expectations with the whole group. You are also the enforcer. Be prepared for any child who wants to push the boundaries. I found it a good idea to share the house rules with all the parents when I contacted them so there were no surprises later.

Difficult Situations
Not all children are ready for a sleepover and you may have those that are homesick or upset. If you can comfort and reassure them, that’s wonderful. Usually they will want to go home. Simply call the parents for pick up. I made sure that I had each child’s parent contact information and had talked with each parent personally. They knew that I’d call them if there was any issue. If a child wanted to call home just to touch base I'd certainly let them do that. Parents would sometimes call to see if everything was OK. I was happy to give them an update.

What if it is your child that is overwhelmed or frustrated? This happened to us a few times. Often taking them aside to help you in the kitchen or setting up another activity helped. They want all their friends to get along and have a good time. It’s disappointing then when one or two of them are complaining or not friendly. If I felt they had too much downtime which was causing friction then we'd switch it up for a treasure hunt  or another activity – something to shake up the group dynamics.

Disagreements can happen. Do your best to let them work it out for themselves, but be ready to intervene if needed. This could be an opportunity to teach about compromise and problem solving. You may need to be the “heavy” and redirect their energy to something else or provide them with a solution.

Check in with them from time to time. Make sure everyone is ok and things are going well. Sometimes just doing this will ward off other behavior issues.

Sleepovers are a social, bonding experience for children and their peer group. Both boys and girls can benefit from these events. Hosting the event is a project but it also allows you to know your child's friends and see them in a different light.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Is your child sleepover-ready?

The first sleepover is a rite of passage for most children, but knowing when your child is ready for this special event can be tricky. Here are a few things to consider when deciding if your child is sleepover-ready.. and just as important, if are you a sleepover-ready parent.

No Magic Age
There really is no magic age when a child is ready for their first sleepover. Most often sleepovers with friends start when children enter the school years. Your child should be comfortable with staying overnight away from home. Feeling nervous and excited are to be expected but being fearful isn't the way to start. Children who have traveled with their families frequently, often have an easier time with sleepover opportunities. Staying over at grandparents or other family member's homes is also a good introduction to the sleepover.

Your child should be the one to let you know they are interested. Pushing your child into anything like this is usually a mistake. They may be talking about this with friends or have an older sibling who is a sleepover pro and they want to know when they can have a sleepover. Even if your child is a sleepover pro they may not always want to participate when invited. Finding out why is important as well as respecting their reasons to "pass" on an invitation.

Trial Run
Your home is a good place for a trial run sleepover. Make it special night where you host a family sleepover - fun food options, activity, video. Do some role playing about how a sleepover could go. Think about options and variations to explore. Part of the process is to sleep somewhere else in the house - not in their own bed.

Making a Plan
Share with your child your own sleepover experiences. Open the door to have them share their concerns with you. Discuss a plan for you and your child with details like drop off process, when you'll pick them up the next day and what would happen if they needed you to pick them up during the night. Sometimes that first sleepover is a false start. They need to know that you'll be there to pick them up as planned. This gives them confidence in you and that next time they may have more success.

Your comfort is vital to success. For any sleepover, but more specifically the first, knowing some information will help you. Talk with the hosting parents/adults/guardians personally. Who will be home during the sleepover? How many children are participating? What are the plans for the event - including food and activities, bedtime expectations, sleeping arrangements, etc.? If your household has rules about what your children can watch (movies or television) and they don't match the rules or plans of the hosting home, are you ok with this? Make sure that the host family has your contact information and understand that their child can call you at anytime.

If you are hosting then you want to be proactive and talk with each child's parents to let them know your plans and expectations. They need to feel confident in you as the hosting family. Making a few calls before your child invites their friends can go a long ways toward a successful event.

Watch for next week's article about tips for a safe and fun sleepover!