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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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!

Finding the Balance between Your Children’s Activities and Their Well-being

In a prior blog post, I wrote about the importance of having your children participate in a variety of after-school activities and the benefits that doing so provide.  Today, I would like to extend a cautionary note that those activities should enhance their childhood experiences, not inhibit them.  Children who are overexposed to activities can suffer from headaches; feel tired, anxious or depressed; and suffer a drop in their grades.  Here are a few tips on how to have your children involved in extracurriculars, while still giving them the chance to be children:

  1. Time: According to most experts, children should not spend more than 10 to 20 hours a week participating in out of school activities. If they spend any more time than this, they will not have enough time to do their homework, adequately prepare for tests, and be with their families. Choosing activities that meet bi-weekly or monthly could be healthier options for children, rather than those that meet once or several times a week.
     
  2. Request: Before enrolling your children in an extracurricular activity, it is best to ask if they want to join in it. This way, it will be an activity that they want to do, not an activity that they are being forced to do. Also, try not to pressure your children to outdo themselves or anyone else in their respective activities. Never compare what they are doing or not doing with other children.
     
  3. Your schedule: Ask yourself whether you or your spouse have the time to drive them to and from each activity.  Adding too many activities can wreak havoc on your schedule too and cause a lot of stress. 

The balance between school, homework, play, and family time can be difficult.  The important issue is that you try to balance all four, with an emphasis on what works for the family unit as a whole.   No activity should take the place of spending quality time together as a family or put too much stress on family life.

Extracurricular Activities Ensure Excellence In and Out of the Classroom

Study after study has shown that extracurricular activities provide many benefits for students.  These activities have been known to not onlyprovide children with a break in the day from the stress and anxiety that comes with academics, but also to assist them with copingwith all of the many different things happening in their lives.

Programs such as a language club or a debate team reinforce many classroom-based skills, while sports and musical programs have been known to ‘wake’ the brain up.  Additionally, these type of activities give children a sense of routine, and by allowing them to choose activities they are interested in, parents will inspire them to continue with these routines throughout their adult lives.  Moreover, students who participate in these sorts of activities have been shown to earn higher scores on college admission’s exams.

After-school activities have actually been found to give children energy and help them thrive within their social groups.  All of this is added impetus to later doing homework as well.   On the other hand, students who are not involved in any after-school programs have been known to go through periods of sluggishness, making it difficult for them to even get started on their homework. 

An additional benefit is being able to provide constructive information on a college application.  Colleges are looking for students who are well rounded and sociable, and who will likely survive a rigorous academic schedule.   When your children are able to show what they have done outside the classroom, they will be able to establish their good character, social worthiness, and academic stamina. 

To learn more about the benefits of extracurricular activities, click here.

When Planning What Gifts to Buy Your Children This Christmas, Remember This: Your Presence is More Important

As parents, we often spend much of our time planning what presents to buy our children, particularly as Christmas approaches.  Another video game? Another DVD? Music lessons?  Dance lessons?  The newest fad watch?  The list can be endless.  For this holiday season, stop and think about the fact that your children would much rather have time with you than with a gift.

Consider instead planning an activity that will become a family tradition.  Your children will have life long memories of all the fun they had with the family rather than the gift.  Such family traditions can include having the entire extended family over for a meal; or volunteering time together to help the less fortunate; or attending church together.

What about planning a family trip together?  You can select a different location each year.  One Christmas, my sisters and I planned a family trip to a popular theme park.  We rented a large home and our parents and all our siblings and their spouses and children came.  We had such a wonderful time and made enduring memories.  

Also be sure to include some relaxed time.  What about simply going outside and looking at the stars?  Or trying a new recipe for a special desert? Or playing fun games with them?  When was the last time that you were the horse and they rode on your back?

Spending time with your children requires planning.  But, these plans will be the most important and life changing plans you can make. 

 

Throw a Fun Book Swap Party for Your Children and Friends

    Book swap parties have become popular events for children and promote reading at the same time.  They are simple to organize and fun to participate in.  And, they are a wonderful way to add new books to your children’s collection without having to pay the cost.

    If you’ve never been to a book swap party, here’s how they usually go.  Pick a date that will work for you, your children, and others.  Have your children select the books that they have already read and would like to swap with other children.  Be sure to explain to them that once the book is swapped, it no longer belongs to them but to the other child.  That way they understand that the book will have a new home. 

    Encourage your children to write a couple of sentences on an index card or post-it note as to why they liked those books.  This will encourage other children to read the books too.

    The children who are invited should also bring their books to swap.  Plan refreshments and snacks, just as with a regular party.  During the party, the children look at all the books and swap for the ones they want.  For those books that are left over, donate them to your children’s school’s library or the public library.

What are Some Interesting and Fun-filled Summer Activities for Children?

    It’s summer.  Are you wondering about what to do with your children?  You have a lot of work at the office, but your children need summer activities to fill their time.  I came across this online article by Jen Hatmaker discussing 10 summer activities to do with your children.  She’s a wonderful writer and has come up with many fun and creative ideas.  

    Some examples are:

  1. Let your kids make videos or movies with a smart phone.  There are many free apps out there to help.
  2. Do “Mystery Thursdays” (or any other day of the week that fits best with your schedule).  The kids know that the family is going somewhere that is fun but it’s a complete surprise.
  3. Go through your children’s closets and toy bins and donate what they do not use anymore or have outgrown.   Try connecting with a needy family.
  4. Cook some very special meals with them.  Take out those cookbooks and search together to find the best recipes.  Have fun buying the ingredients, following the recipes, and then cooking.  Ms. Hatmaker mentions that she and her daughter cooked some meatball subs that were so delicious that they couldn’t stop talking and bragging about them. 
  5. Have a family boot camp and exercise together. 

To read her article and more of her ideas, CLICK HERE.

Let Your Children Help Plan Summer Vacation

As with any and everything having to do with your children, I highly recommend planning your summer vacation with them.  Are you considering traveling with them or just taking time off from work to spend a few days with them?  If your children are old enough, allow them to assist in planning.   
    
An article on the website www.schoolfamily.com actually recommends that parents let their children do the planning because they will learn many life skills.  First, sit them down and explain to them what is involved.  Give them a budget and have them come up with the plans.  Will it be a family road trip or a cruise or something else?

Second, give them a deadline within which to come up with their plan and then have them present it to you.  Third, have them get travel brochures and maps or print off the internet information about the various destinations and types of trips.  At the destination they select, ask them to develop an itinerary – what will the family do each day?  After the trip is selected, assign tasks to each child.  For example, have one child be the photographer and another child keep a written journal.  

There are unlimited ideas that parents can adopt to help make this summer vacation memorable. To read the article, click here.

Using Toys to Promote Reading

Using Toys to Promote Reading

I’m certain that your children have a lot of different toys around the house.  Try incorporating those toys during their reading time to make the stories come to life and to further develop their creativity. My two sons loved to read about dinosaurs, and we must have had every type of dinosaur toy in our home...

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Make Reading Fun By Adding Hand Puppets

Make Reading Fun By Adding Hand Puppets

I know what you may be thinking after reading this heading for my blog today.  “Why should I add hand puppets to reading time?”  “Hand puppets – where do I buy those?”  “Help!! Can you give me some ideas?” If there is one thing that I know well about children- it is that they love to laugh...

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Reading Mystery Stories Can Also Teach Important Reading Skills

Reading Mystery Stories Can Also Teach Important Reading Skills

A good mystery story can keep you spellbound for a long time.  You do not want to put the book down until the mystery is solved and you know who has done it.  You read and try to pick out all the clues.  You try your best to figure out the ending.  Did you get it right after all?  If not, what clues did you miss? Children love mystery stories as much as adults...

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Children Playing Video Games – The Pros & Cons

I’m certain that many parents purchased or friends and relatives purchased video games for their children or other young relatives as gifts this past Christmas.  As the mother of two sons, I know well the desires that children have to play video games, especially boys.   

Many parents ask – can playing too many video games really hurt my child?  According to developmental psychologist Douglas Gentile, the answer to that question is “Yes”.  He gives the following reasons why:

  • Kids who spend too much time at the computer are missing out on other activities fundamental to their physical, social, intellectual, and emotional development. Time spent in front of the computer or game console is time taken away from playing with friends, reading or doing a project with you, and other activities.
  • Kids usually play video games alone, and too much time spent alone can foster social isolation.
  • Children who watch more than ten hours of TV a week don't do as well in school as kids their age who watch less. When setting limits, it's important to consider the total amount of time your child spends in front of all electronic screens — TVs, computers, movie screens, etc.
  • Bad habits can become ingrained and are more difficult to change as children get older. (According to research, the average American 4th-grade boy spends 9.5 hours each week playing video and computer games, in addition to other screen time.)
  • If your child regularly plays games with plots based on violence and aggression, research shows he is at risk for increased aggressive behavior.

There are pros to video games, though.  He recommends quality games that give children the opportunity to practice problem solving and logic skills. They help the development of fine motor and coordination skills and also help children become familiar with information technology.  He strongly suggests playing these games with your children as special bonding time. 

Are Books Among The Most Important Objects In Your Home?

Are Books Among The Most Important Objects In Your Home?

When I walk into a person’s home, I can immediately know what is important to that person.  Is there music playing and music paraphernalia all around?  Are there toys and play areas for children in different spaces?  Is there a large tv screen with surround sound and other modern equipment to make tv viewing an experience?  I’m not being judgmental – simply stating facts.  

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Promote Literacy By Having Your Children Read to Pets

Promote Literacy By Having Your Children Read to Pets

Pets are a very important part of a family and can also be a creative way to encourage your children to read.  Some children read to dolls or other inanimate objects as part of their play time.  What about having them read to their pets?  In fact, some organizations have programs where children come in and read to shelter pets.  These programs encourage children to practice reading out loud and provide much needed attention for pets who are in the shelter.  What a wonderful way to promote literacy!

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Did You Know That Singing Helps Young Children Develop Reading Skills?

Did You Know That Singing Helps Young Children Develop Reading Skills?

Singing can be such fun!  When was the last time that you sang in the shower?  Or with your children? Did you know that singing is a wonderful way to help your younger children develop good reading skills?

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