Encourage Your Children to Read More by Building a Fort

The Christmas and New Year’s holidays will soon be here and our children will have many days off from school.  I often like to think about creative ways for parents to encourage their children to read and develop active readers from a young age.  Why not consider building a fort in a child’s room or family room as a unique, cozy, private place to read?

In building a makeshift fort, let your children take the lead in researching what types of forts can be built, planning what is needed, and actually building it.  After all, it’s “their” fort.  I recommend starting out by searching the internet for pictures, articles and ideas.  There are also many books that give step by step instructions on building all types of forts. 

A fort can be simple and just made with a few chairs for walls and a blanket thrown across the chairs for the roof.  Or, it can be more elaborate.  What is important is that everyone participates in the decision as to what it will look like.   Be sure to make it big enough so that you can join your children in the fort.  A fun activity is reading to them inside the fort!

This project will definitely be one for the memory books!  And, importantly, you and your children will have a fun time bonding.

Have Your Children Participate in Holiday Planning

Three major holidays are soon approaching – Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.  Typically, parents plan all the activities and children enjoy the fun, including days off from school and eating lots of sweets.  This year, have your children actively participate in the planning of each day’s activities to help them build organizational skills and appreciate what needs to be done.

For gifts, get suggestions from your children on what should be purchased or handmade.  Family members usually enjoy receiving personal, handmade items from children.  If your children are artistic, encourage them to think of presents that they can make.  There are many websites as well as stores that have ideas for projects.  The key is to plan ahead and make sure that you and your children have  time to make each gift.

If you decide on buying some gifts, encourage your children to come with you to select the gifts.  You can build fond memories looking for the perfect item for a grandparent, for example.  The gift recipient can be told that the child helped to select the item.  Oftentimes, that makes the gift extra-special.

Each holiday will need a special menu for meals prepared.  Ask your children to participate in building the menus and then grocery shopping and cooking with you.    They will learn about selecting meals and obtain hands-on- knowledge of ingredients as well as learn your cooking secrets.

Decorating the house for each holiday should be a planning activity too.  Many families have already accumulated decorations over the years that are kept in storage until the time to put them out.  Consider adding some new, special touches to this year’s decorations – some that your children select.  For example, one of my nieces wanted specific Christmas decorations in their front yard one year.  She and her parents discussed the decorations, arrived at an agreement on what could be purchased, and then went shopping for them.  Everyone assisted in putting them up.  The new decorations turned out to be an extra-special touch for their yard.   

Children love to be included in planning activities – it shows them that they are truly appreciated.  They can learn so much by doing so too! 

Is There Such a Thing as a Fun and Wholesome Party for Teens?

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
— Matthew 5:13-16

As a parent of two sons who are now adults,  I understand the dilemma that Christian parents are in when it comes to allowing their teenage children to throw parties.  I am a strong proponent of offering our children alternatives, always remembering that we are called to be the salt and the light where ever we are. 

What does it mean when Jesus said that we are the salt of the earth?  Salt has been used for centuries as a preservative for food.  As Christians, we are called to be preservatives of men – to show the world what it means to live a godly life.  Also, salt enhances the taste of food.  We are called to be influencers in the world. 

What does it mean when we are called the light of the world? We are to have our lives shine forth as examples of what it is to be believers and followers of Christ.  We are not to conform ourselves to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of our minds.  Romans 12:2.  We are to set the examples!

How do these scripture verses relate to teenagers and parties?  In many different ways.  As I mentioned in the introductory paragraph, I am a proponent of offering our children alternatives.  When it comes to throwing parties, we should encourage our children to do so in godly ways, always being mindful that we are the salt and light of the world.  So, instead of discouraging them from parties, consider the impact of a wholesome party on all those in attendance.

Teens can have a great time in a wholesome environment but it takes a lot of planning.  Remember that at this age, they are social beings and love to have fun and interact.  Of course, food is critical.  Have a variety of  delicious snacks available.  Even consider an ethnic theme.  For example, I found Mexican food easy to cook and a hit with teens.  Instead of offering alcoholic beverages, have other choices, such as a tasty punch.  Teens love to play games, so have your children search the web for fun games to play.  They know what games they and their friends would like to play – do not force them to play a game that they do not want to. 

Your goal should be to make such an impression on the teens that they will realize that wholesome parties can, indeed, be a lot of fun and want to throw more.  Support your teens to be the salt and light of the world!

Websites where you can find great suggestions for games for wholesome parties:

When Was the Last Time Your Family Had A Game Night?

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Children love spending time with their parents, especially fun time.  What better way than to have a family game night to enjoy the time together and help your children to learn and develop new skills?

Games teach children many different, yet important things.  From colors to shape recognition to new words to social interaction, there are so many benefits.  Some games such as chess teach logic and strategic planning.  Children also learn that there are basic rules that must be followed in order to play and win. 

To start off, select one night a month that fits into everyone’s schedules.  Once the date is selected, stick with it and do not make excuses to cancel it.  Plan for the night as a family so that each person has input.  Will there be food? What game will be played? How long will the game(s) last?  It is easy to search the internet to find games that will be suitable for your family.  Consider both board games and physical games such as Twister (which was one of our family’s favorites). 

Be sure not to give up if the first family night is not as successful as you hoped.  The key is to plan and keep everyone involved.  It will become one of your and your children’s fondest memories.

Helping Your Children Become Entrepreneurs

We should encourage entrepreneurship spirit in our children beginning at a young age.  Children are very creative and having a dream to establish a business and be self-sufficient and successful are very positive goals.

My parents were small business owners.  I saw how they struggled to make ends meet when their business was established and then the benefits they reaped as the business grew.  After I graduated from law school and returned home to practice law, the seeds they had planted in me for entrepreneurship began to grow and I established my own private law practice.  My parents always encouraged me and my sisters to be self-sufficient and follow our dreams.

Later, as a mother with two sons, I hired them to work in my office to do general office tasks after school and on the weekends.  By working with me in that business environment, they were able to experience hands on training about what it is like to own your business and the dedication and hard work it takes to be successful.

Many children do not have the opportunities that I and my children had but parents can still open their children’s minds to the possible business opportunities that are available.   Children frequently ask for money so why not think about ways to help them earn money rather than just giving it to them.  If your children’s school has classes that teach entrepreneurship, encourage your children to take them.  If there are after-school activities and clubs centered on business ownership and development, again, encourage your children to participate.  

Of course, the typical business idea for children is the ubiquitous lemonade stand.  However, there are many websites that have ideas for children’s businesses.  At the end of my blog, I will give you a website with some very creative suggestions.

The key component is the parents’ involvement to help start and run the business, as children cannot possibly do it themselves.  Please do not start a business and then give up because you allow other tasks or activities to take precedence.   Many factors must be considered before starting a business with your children, including the time commitment involved, the availability of financing, and the general logistics of where and how it will be operated.  As the old saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail.  

Please visit this website for some business ideas for children: click here

Helping Your Children Find Hobbies and Sticking with Them

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Do your children have any hobbies?  A hobby is something that is done during their free time for fun and pleasure.  I hope that you did not answer that question with “Yes-they play video games”!  The absolutely last thing we should want our children to be doing during their free time is sitting and playing video games for hours on end.  

According to child development experts, hobbies are important for children for many reasons.  Hobbies help your children to develop creativity.  Is your child artistic?  Then, encourage him to draw and paint.  Several brand stores have huge sections devoted to art supplies.  Does your child enjoy taking photos with your cell phone?  Encourage her to continue to take photos and learn more about that art form.  There are many books that teach about how to take photos and to be very creative in doing so.  If her interest continues, consider purchasing a camera for her.  You can even show some of her photographs to her teacher and ask for suggestions of a club that she can join with like-minded persons.

Hobbies also can help develop skills that may lead to lucrative careers in the future.  If your child enjoys writing stories, help her to learn more about being an author and structuring her work.  It may be that you have a budding Pulitzer prize winner on your hands!

Hobbies further help children with developing intelligence.  For example, by sitting and putting together a jigsaw puzzle, your child will learn how to associate shapes with images as well as patience.  If your child enjoys reading, books will provide challenges to learn new words.  When your child encounters a new word, encourage him to write it down, find its meaning, and then use it in a sentence.  Review the word again with him each day for a few days to make sure that he continues to remember it. 

Lastly, hobbies give children a sense of accomplishment.  They have undertaken a fun task, stayed with it, and completed it.  Do all you can to have your children complete a hobby that they started.  The results can truly be amazing for them and you!

There are so many hobbies to consider.  One of the growing categories is rocketry.  Think about all the science involved with propelling a rocket.  Your children will be learning as well as having a fun time.

Please do not overburden your children with hobbies though. As I have written in prior blogs, your children need to spend time with you and other family members.  Adding too many activities to their schedule, especially during the school year can cause unnecessary pressures on them.

The list of hobbies is almost endless.  Don’t allow your children to waste their free time.  Hobbies will definitely allow them to continue growing and learning.

Some Fun & Interesting Websites for Your Children this Summer

During the summer months, parents struggle to find interesting and creative activities for their children.  The last thing we want them doing is playing mindless video games all day long.  Finding alternatives for them that are fun and still allow them to use the computer can be challenging.  We have done the work for you and found some interesting websites that we believe your children will truly enjoy and learn from:

1.    Science News for Children https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/ - This is an interesting and challenging website full of facts that children will enjoy.

2.     Cool math http://www.coolmath.com/ - There are so many cool math lessons, your children will be amazed.

3.    Is it possible for your child to become a genius? “Make Me a Genius” claims that it can http://www.makemegenius.com/

4.    National Geographic for kids https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/ - This website provides almost everything your child will ever want to know about animals, nature, countries, etc.

5.    Games that help children learn http://thekidzpage.com/ - All kinds of puzzles and other games are featured that will keep your child learning and having fun.

6.    How stuff works https://www.howstuffworks.com/ - This website provides answers to many questions in a variety of areas.  Nothing boring here!

7.    The Old Farmer’s Almanac for Kids  http://www.almanac4kids.com/ - So much fun information for your children that they cannot possibly get bored.

The Benefits of Sensory Activities for Toddlers and Young Children

The knowledge of the importance of sensory play for children has grown significantly over the years.   Sensory activities are those that stimulate one or all of the five senses - touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound. Young children, especially babies and toddlers, are constantly learning by utilizing their senses, which makes sensory play a great learning apparatus as well as a stress reliever.

These activities encourage children to use different processes in their play, including motor skills, aid in their development of these skills, and refine their sensory thresholds, which basically means they give children information as to how they are affected by the things around them.  They also assist in helping them to understand their bodies’ reaction to certain stimulants.   What does a lemon taste like? What does squeezing this object do? What does spinning in circles for a long time do? Can I shake this and make a noise?  Why does it make a noise?  Sensory  play answers these and many other related questions your children may have.

Some fun (and relatively mess free) sensory play ideas are:

1.    Frozen shaving cream

2.    Homemade shakers (jars with rice, beans, nuts, or seeds)

3.    Lights and shadows (different light intensities and their effects on shadows)

4.    Homemade, edible finger paints

5.    Sensory bin (a large container -big enough for a toddler- and one that is inside and smaller containing different objects of varying shapes, colors and sizes. The big bin traps all the mess!)

Along with being a way for children to learn more about their reactions to different stimuli, sensory play can also provide a great deal of comfort.  Squeezing play dough or playing with shakers can be very cathartic, so keep them on hand for the next time your children need a quick source of distraction and comfort.

There are many internet sites with sensory activities.  Try this one to start as it breaks down sensory activities based on each specific sense that is the focus: CLICK HERE

Be Vigilant This Summer to Ensure Your Children’s Outdoor Safety

School is out and our children are outside much more enjoying summer activities.  Their safety should always be of utmost concern for parents.

In a recent online article Summer Outdoor Safety Tips Offered for Child Care Facilities, reporter Eric Tegethoff of Public News Service writes about issues of concern for parents during the summer months especially.  The article is a refresher about information we may have heard in the past, but is updated and reminds us parents about how diligent we must be to protect our precious ones. 

Of course, the number one issue is keeping an eye on our children when they are in and around water.  As parents, we understand this but the tragedy is that even those parents who understand the dangers that lurk for children when playing in and around water, often believe that nothing would never happen to their children.  One of the first considerations is the surface around the water.  Typically, children play around water barefoot so your diligence requires your examination of the surfaces for any potential causes of injuries.  Are there any sharp or jagged surfaces?  Are there any protrusions? Can anything potentially dangerous be hidden underneath the surface, such as under sand at the beach?

Another consideration is keeping a vigilant eye on your children when they are in water.  The article quotes the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s findings that “for 77 percent of child drowning victims, the child has been missing from sight five minutes or less.” Never assume that another adult will be keeping an eye on your children unless you have specifically requested that he/she do so and trust that person. You must be focused and knowledgeable about where your children are all the time.

The article also refers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s  findings that 2 of the 10 drowning deaths that happen every day are to children 14 and younger. It recommends that there should be one adult for every infant in a pool.  As children get older, less monitoring is required:  four children for every adult at pre-school age and six per adult for school-age children.

Please do not forget to put sunscreen on your children before they go to play outside and be sure that they have sufficient hydration.  The sun provides important vitamin D for them but also can cause problems.

You can read the entire article by clicking here.

The Best Way to Prepare Your Children Academically for Preschool is by Reading

From the day of their birth, children are learning languages, and the words that they are exposed to for the first few years of their lives influence their language development and academic performance for the years to come.  When preparing your children for preschool, it is critical that you take time out of each day to read to and with them.

For generations, parents have read stories to their young children and for good reason - the developmental benefits are endless. The transition from daycare to preschool will be much easier when reading has been a part of their daily routine.  

When you read a story, don’t just read it quickly as if it is a task that needs to be finished right away.  Take your time.  Talk about the meaning of a word if it is a new word.  Encourage your children to look at the pictures on each page.  As a children’s author, I know the importance that not only words have on each page in a book, but also the pictures.  I hired a children’s artist to design and paint the pictures, according to my direction and input.  Pictures convey a specific message so I wanted to ensure that each picture told the message that I wanted the child to know and learn. 

In addition to looking at the pictures and discussing them, a parent should make reading fun by changing the intonation of his voice.  Also, if it is a woman speaking, try to speak as a woman.  The same thing if it is a man.  Make a silly voice if the character is a funny character.  I think you get the gist of what I am trying to convey. 

Try not to limit your reading times to bed time.  If there is a lull in the afternoon on a weekend, pull out a book to read to your children.   There should always be plenty of books in each room in the house.   Or, ask one of your children to find a book that you can read to them. 

We parents want our children to be prepared for preschool.  The foundation of literacy is the most important and lasting foundation that you can give them.

Getting Your Children Interested in STEM

STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering, and math - are commonly disliked subjects among children, especially girls.   However, that does not have to be so.  By introducing our children to real life applications, we parents can get them to be amazed at the wonders that come alive and have them asking for more. 

In her online blog titled How to Get Your Kids Interested in STEM (Without Forcing it on Them), writer Melanie Pinola gives some very good advice for some real life applications:

1.  Introduce food science while cooking, as children will love to eat the results.  In fact, there are many books that have edible science experiments for children. 

2. While shopping with your children or doing banking, encourage them to participate with numbers.  For example, you can compare the costs of similar store items and have them do simple calculations in their heads.  Also, talk to them about how interest works.  I assisted my sons with opening up their own savings accounts with their accumulated allowance money when they were very young and talked with them about how a bank will pay them interest on their money.   Have them calculate what the interest is every month.

3. Play STEM games with your children and buy them STEM toys.  One of the most favored STEM toys, especially with boys, are the Lego building blocks.  One of my nephews only wants gifts of these blocks and his bedroom is filled with all the different building projects he has completed. 

4. Watch STEM shows, especially those that cater to children. 

STEM subjects are critical to the development of our economy and will provide our children with good-paying, secure careers.  So, let’s start them at a young age learning and appreciating all that they can offer.

Read her entire blog by CLICKING HERE.

Be Sure To Celebrate the Week of the Young Child: April 16-20, 2018

Every year, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) celebrates young children and learning, and this week April 16-20, 2018 is dedicated to just that.  According to the NAEYC, the reason that a week is set aside annually is “to focus public attention on the needs of young children and their families and to recognize the early childhood programs and services that meet those needs.”

Local communities throughout the United States hold events for the celebration.  Events vary from a fun hat day to an ice cream social, a parade in a school and even a trip to the mayor’s office.   Importantly, the focus is on young children learning.

In the U. S. Virgin Islands where I live, I always participate in some way.  This year, I will be visiting an elementary school.  I have been asked to read a local  story to children and join in a special hat parade. 

Where ever you reside, please consider volunteering your time and talents to make this a special time for children in your area.  Whenever I visit a classroom or school to participate in an activity, I find that the children are always excited to have a special visitor who thinks they are important.  I am certain that it will be a blessing for you too, as it is for me!

Keep Your Children Active as Activity Works Out the Body and the Brain

The benefits of physical activity on the body are plentiful and well known. The more you move your body, the healthier you will be and the risk of weight related health issues – such as diabetes and heart disease - diminishes. For children, physical activity promotes healthy growth, improves fitness levels, and boosts self-esteem. Did you also know all the benefits exercise can have on a child’s mind?

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), students who are physically active actually had better grades, school performance, memories, and classroom behavior.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services  recommends 60 minutes of physical exercise each day. Many parents mistakenly believe that if their children participate in physical activities, they will have less time for homework and other school assignments and be too tired to perform their best in school.  Importantly, however, the scientific research data does not support this way of thinking.

Physical activity has been a very helpful as well in improving the behavior of children with behavioral disorders.  In a study to determine whether an aerobic cybercycling  physical education curriculum could benefit children who had behavioral health disorders, the findings showed that this type of aerobic physical activity benefitted children significantly.   A cybercycle is a stationary bike - similar to the ones we see at the gym - with a screen to give the illusion of an outdoor environment.   Often children with these disorders are not encouraged to participate in exercising and thus, suffer greatly as a result.

There are so many benefits that come from living an active lifestyle.  Promoting healthy behaviors today guarantees a better life for your children in their future.

For more reading, CLICK HERE or CLICK HERE.

Reading Fairytales from Around Our World Benefits Children in Many Ways

"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales."  Albert Einstein

Growing up, I loved reading fairy tales from countries all over the world.   Some were funny, others were serious.  They all had a moral or specific lesson to teach.  As an adult, I still love to read them.  They are much more than short stories about people who get into all sorts of predicaments.  Their teaching value is immeasurable.

In an internet article entitled “7 Reasons Why Fairy Tales are the Best Books for Kids”, the author describes the many benefits that children can reap from reading these tales:

1.    They teach that no situation is hopeless.

2.    They teach that hard work and practice are the foundations for success.

3.    They teach children to be willing to explore and be open to new things.

4.     They teach self-reliance.

5.    They teach children to be careful about whom they trust.  This is especially appropriate in today’s society.

6.    They teach critical thinking.

7.    They teach right from wrong.

There are many websites that provide readers with dozens of stories from around the world, such as fairytalesoftheworld.com and storynory.com.  Spend some time searching for the ones that you believe would be best for your children and enjoy reading them together.  Create special moments laughing and discussing the lesson in each tale. 

The entire article on the benefits of reading fairy tales can be found by clicking here.

Encourage Your Child’s Creativity- It Shapes the Way He Views the World

One of my favorite quotes about encouraging curiosity in our children is by Dr. Bruce Perry in his online article “Curiosity: The Fuel of Development” on Scholastic.com: “Curiosity dimmed is a future denied.”  That sentiment holds so much truth.  Curiosity has led to innumerable world changing inventions and innovations, and stifling it not only does a disservice to the individual, but also potentially the world.

Dr. Perry is an internationally acclaimed authority on brain development and children.  In his online article, he discusses how important curiosity is in the development of a child.   As a child grows, he is more and more curious.  If he is encouraged to ask questions, explore, discover new things, and share his discoveries, he will grow in confidence and knowledge. 

Dr. Perry also discusses how we parents can hamper curiosity.  Three common ways are through fear, disapproval, and absence.  If a child is afraid, he will not be curious.  He will not want to take a chance and ask a question.  He will seek comfort with the status quo and conforming. 

If a child hears disapproval from his parents, he will not be curious.  What forms of disapproval are parents using?  Examples begin with the word “don’t”.  Don’t touch that; don’t get dirty; don’t ask questions! When your child knows that you are disgusted or upset when he does a particular thing, he will not want to do it or anything similar to it.  A child seeks approval from his parents and if his parents do not approve of him being inquisitive, he will not be.  Plain and simple!

A curious mind also needs a parent who is supporting and motivating.  A smile, kind words, a look of encouragement – all of these and much more encourage a child to continue asking and seeking. If a parent is absent, the nurturing that a child needs is not there.  

Encourage your children to seek, explore and discover.  Who knows – you may have a budding Einstein in your family!

To read more of the article, CLICK HERE.

At the Beginning of a New Year, Start a Children’s Book Club to Promote Reading

Book clubs are usually regarded as reserved only for parents.  A typical scene is adults gathered in the living room, sipping on a beverage, and talking about that exciting scene in their last read.  However, book clubs can be much more than that, especially for children.  These clubs give their members the opportunity to encourage each other in reading (and  all the benefits that come along with it); collectively immerse themselves into their book’s reality, leaving their own behind if only for a moment; and make new friends along with strengthen existing friendships.

Children already have such vivid imaginations and what better way to develop creativity than through books.  The idea of a club may not initially seem exciting to them, but gear your ‘pitch’ toward one of their favorite things.  For example, if they love robots, suggest some futuristic novels about artificial intelligence.

Filling the club with your children’s friends is a surefire way of making it more enjoyable.  There are several issues that need to be taken into consideration in planning, such as book genres to read and discuss, as well as convenient schedules and locations.  Be flexible as book clubs are not obligated to center around one theme.  At the start of a new club, have your children choose one or two books of their liking and then discuss with the other members of the group and their parents what types of books they would like to read.

Hosting the club once every two weeks or more makes scheduling easier and gives the children the opportunity to make reasonable headway on their reading assignment. Remember - it is unlikely that this is the club members’ only extramural activity, so discuss their existing schedules with their parents to come up with the best schedule and time for the meetings. When there actually are meetings, have a plan as to what should be accomplished in each session. They can discuss their favorite characters, make chapter/book predictions, relate the novel to an aspect of their lives, or act out their favorite scene.  The possibilities are endless!  Be prepared and organized so that the sessions run smoothly and children are encouraged to return.

It is critical that you find a good location for the meetings. Club meetings should be hosted in a convenient location and have enough space to seat everyone comfortably, including parents who may want to sit at a distance and listen. Perhaps rotating among members’ homes would be acceptable.

A further encouragement for your children’s participation would be having another “fun” activity planned afterwards that they can all look forward to.  For example, they can participate in the book club meeting and then go to the movies together. 

Reading is fundamental and book clubs can make it fun, too! You can find many of suggestions on PBS.org and SheKnows.com.

Fun Indoor Activities for the Winter Months

If you are reading this, that probably means you are recovering from all the outdoor fun that was discussed in last week’s article.  Even with all the fun you had in the cold outdoors, it feels nice to get inside in the warmth for a bit. Besides, the fun can continue indoors, as there are many great winter activities that can be done inside the house!  Here are a few:

1.    Scavenger Hunt. Hide objects around the house that your little ones can find.  Give them each the same number of items to find and put a time limit on the hunt.  Whoever comes back with all his items first, wins! For single child families, time your child while he searches for the items. When the time is up, have him come to you with any items he has retrieved.

2.    Make Snowflakes. We have all seen those snowflake decorations with the intricate designs on paper.  Have your children help you make some as all children love crafts!

There are hundreds of tutorials across several online platforms with step by step instructions for these and other winter decorations.  They do not have to be difficult either.

You will be amazed at the creations your children come up with. The whole family could get so occupied in all the fun you are having that the inside of the house ends up looking like the outside, covered in snow!

3.    Cook. This may not be a winter specific activity, but it is a great way to warm up and pass the time together. The best thing about this is that it gives the parents and children so many choices. You can choose a dish that takes 15 minutes to cook or one that takes a few hours.  It is all completely up to you. Children love helping out, so make these meal preparations fun and enjoyable for them.

What they do not know is that cooking also assists them with reading and comprehension skills.

If you want to give the experience that extra winter touch, you can make winter themed treats like snowman pancakes or gingerbread cookies. Delicious!

4.    Build a fort. There is nothing quite like the memory of building a fort to bring back the nostalgia of childhood for adults. Bring out your inner child and help build a fort big enough for the whole family. All you need is a large bed sheet, a few pieces of furniture to place it on, and some pillows to make it a little more comfortable to lay on the floor.

Try to remember that this is an activity for your children to take the lead on. It is easy to get caught up in the wistfulness of it all and take over. Try not to do that.

Once the fort is built, everyone can get in and tell stories, watch a movie, or simply relax and bask in each other’s company.

Not only are these activities wonderful fun for the family, but they also require lots of energy and you know what that means … sleepy kids!  After a day of fun, all your children will want to do is go through their bedtime routine and then sleep.

Fun Outdoor Activities for the Winter Months

Snow and cold temperatures have come again and do you know what that means? The entire family is inside, huddled around the fire waiting for the temperature to rise. Just because snow is covering the ground does not mean that fun cannot be had. Here are a few enjoyable and affordable outdoor activities in which the whole family can join this winter:

  1. Play Capture the Snow flag! If you are familiar with the original “capture the flag” game, you are going to have to unfamiliarize yourself because this is nothing like that. In this game, it is important to keep your eyes peeled because a white flag is to be tied to a wooden spoon and placed in the snow so that only the cloth is showing. Spotting a white cloth among a sea of snow is as difficult as it sounds and it is a fun way to enhance a child’s visual and recognition skills.

    Try to hide it well because whoever is able to hide his ‘flag’ for the longest period of time is the victor!
     
  2. Make ice bubbles! This one is pretty simple. Take an ordinary bottle of bubble solution and blow only hard enough that a bubble forms but does not leave the wand, then watch the magic happen. Watching the bubble freeze before a child’s eyes can be so exciting, and you can give him/her a little lesson about the freezing point of water in the process.

    To make this activity feel more like an experiment, look at the differences between bubbles formed by blowing with the mouth versus bubbles formed by waving the wand in the air.

    It is important to note, though, that this will only work in temperatures of 19-Fahrenheit and below.  Burr!!
     
  3. Make a winter bonfire.  Who ever said that s’mores were just for the summer has never had a winter bonfire.  The crisp, cold air matched with the warmth of the fire is a delightful combination.

    It is winter so outdoor camping is probably not an option right now.  Try instead to set up the fire in your backyard.  Ask your children (if old enough) to help you build the fire. You will not believe the sense of fulfillment they will feel having helped you out.

    You can even make this a big affair by inviting family and friends to participate. Bonfires often provide memorable bonding experiences, so why not share it with everyone you love?

There are so many amusing and inventive ways to enjoy being outside this winter.  You can also come up with your own ideas or use these and other activities that can be found online. So what are you waiting for? The outdoors is calling!

You can find more outdoor activities by CLICKING HERE.

Should My Children Have A Pet?

Parents are thinking about purchasing those ubiquitous Christmas gifts and often high on the list is a pet for their children.  Of course, children love the idea of owning a pet.  Who would not want small, fluffy (or scaly) creatures to show them unconditional love at all times? But pets can be much more than that.  In fact, studies have shown that pets can be catalysts for your children’s increased well-being.

Whether a dog, cat, lizard or bird, pets can provide their owners with countless benefits - especially children.  Here are a few great things that these wonderful creatures bring into our lives.

1.    They Teach Companionship. I think philosopher Martin Buber put it best when he said, "an animal's eyes have the power to speak a great language."  Though they do not speak the same language or have the same mannerisms that we do, our furry friends somehow understand us enough to show us love when we want it and comfort when we need it.

In addition, they teach responsibility. They show children that to love something also means to take care of it - to feed and nurture it. From a large dog to a small fish, taking care of pets requires a lot of work. Exposing children to caretaking at a young age develops many critical skills for the future.

2.    Bye-Bye Allergies! Studies have shown that children who grow up with cats and dogs are less like to be sick compared to other children their age, and they are also less likely to develop pet-related allergies. Being exposed to pet dander at an early age reduces their chances of developing these allergies by 33%, according to a study by pediatrician James E. Gern, as it strengthens their immune systems. Before you rush to get a pet though, talk with your pediatrician because it is still possible for your children to acquire allergies.

3.    They Promote Activity. Animals, like dogs, need to be taken out for walks everyday - sometimes more than once a day.  Doing a couple of laps around the neighborhood is nice, but you and your children can use this task as an opportunity to explore so much more and become increasingly active.  Walk to the dog park and meet new people; go hiking with your pet; or have a run on the beach.  Keeping active is essential for both children and adults.

4.    They Make Life a Little Brighter. There is just something about the company of a pet that makes most children and adults happy. It is said that when we interact with animals, our dopamine and serotonin levels increase. In other words, the happy hormones in our brains are released!

5.    They are Learning Companions! Parents oftentimes find their children doing homework with or reading to their pets.  This is because there is no judgement with pets.  The comfort that they provide creates a safe space for children when doing academic tasks (or any task they may not be confident in).

Above all these benefits, the best thing a pet has been known to provide is the strengthened bond between family members.  They bring out the spirits of love and cooperation in people.  So, if your children ever ask for a pet this Christmas, please keep these points in mind when making your decision. Hopefully, it ends in adding a new member to the family under the Christmas tree!

Keeping Children Occupied During Airplane Travel

Soraya Coffelt Airplane Travel

During the holidays, families frequently travel on airlines.  For some of us, it is just a short one or two hour trip, but for others, it can be for many hours.   When traveling with children, there are numerous things to consider regarding how your children spend their time and how they behave toward other passengers.  No person wants to be a victim of a child kicking the airplane seat from behind out of pure boredom or a lack of manners (I have been the victim of this many times) or having to deal with a cranky, restless child.  Parents are encouraged to be prepared.  Here are a few fun-filled activities to keep your children occupied during flights:

1.    Reading. Bring some of your children’s favorite books on board. You can read them to your children or let them read the books themselves. If your child is a fast (or indecisive) reader, it may be best to have a digital version of several books on a tablet or E-reader so they have options from which to choose.  Pop up books are especially entertaining for toddlers, but for smaller children, hard back books and pages are better!

2.    Crafts. Crafts can get fairly messy and many are not appropriate for planes, but one that has garnered a lot of popularity is sticker art. All you will need is a book of stickers and another book with blank paper.  Or, there are books with both stickers and blank sheets of paper together- how convenient! Your children will definitely enjoy making their own creations with the stickers.  In fact, you can encourage them to even leave a little decorative art piece for the crew.

3.    Movies. This is one of the easiest and hassle-free ways to pass the time. Watching their favorite movie - or a brand new one - will keep your little ones entertained for an hour or two.  There are children’s portable DVD players as well as small laptops that can be accompanied with headphones.  You can also search beforehand for episodes of their favorite TV shows and download them.  My sons would often watch the same shows over and over again.

4.    Doodling.  A nice alternative to a bunch of crayons is an Etch-A-Sketch.  It allows your children to create several drawings without dropping (and having to search for) a single crayon.

Bringing along their favorite snacks and drinks is also very important, as it satisfies their hunger and thirst and further prevents their ears from popping during takeoff and landing.  Often, it does not matter if they ate before they get on board a plane, as children always seem to be hungry or thirsty. 

All parts of family travel should be enjoyable experiences for you and others.  The key is to prepare beforehand.   Happy travels!