4th Annual Healthy Al, Healthy Me Celebration: Having Fun AND Learning Healthy Habits!

Children in several states, Bermuda, and Canada recently celebrated Healthy Al, Healthy Me Day in grand style! Here are some highlights:

Fairyland family child care in Sandy, Utah made fruit smoothies and whole wheat french toast and egg kabobs for breakfast. Then they had a whole wheat tortilla feast for lunch! Beautiful and nutritious!

Ilse HAHM 2016

Ilse HAHM 2016 lunch

Children all got involved in special cooking activities at St. James Child Development Center in Richmond, Virginia. They also decorated hats and did yoga! The teachers said they enjoyed the day as much as the children did.

ViviLnk

ViviLnk

 

In Bermuda, children decorated their Healthy Al hats and wore their Al’s Pals tee shirts. They used a beautiful array of fresh fruit to make fruit kabobs, and sang “I’m a Healthy Child.”

Bermuda HAHM 2 cropped

Bermuda HAHM 4 cropped

 

Being active was a big part of the morning for children at the Childhood Early Enrichment Program in Lenore, Idaho. They talked about the importance of exercising and did a scarf dance and bean bag throw to prove it can be fun. They also had a healthy food tasting party and recorded their preferences (find the form here).

HAHM 2016 Tasting Party Form

 

At St. Andrews School in Richmond, Virginia, children loved hearing the Al’s Healthy Choices book and made veggie faces. They really enjoyed eating the vegetables afterward!

SAS whisker face

SAS Jazara

 

At the Huron-Superior Catholic School District in Sault Ste Marie, Canada children had a ‘fruit extravaganza’, played games, and even the superintendent came by to join the fun! Only disappointment – their pictures got deleted!

Strawberry picking was the first activity for children in Sau’nia Kay’s family child care in New Bern, North Carolina. They took the strawberries to a retirement home and worked with their friends there to make a strawberry, spinach, almond, and mandarin orange salad! What a fun and delicious inter-generational activity!

strawberry-mandarin-spinach-salad

HAHM 2016 Saunia

Our friends at CACS Head Start in Lansing, Michigan invited Very Important Families to join them for their special activities. They read and acted out Al’s Action Story, sang songs about being happy, and had a nutritious snack together.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Children at Michelle’s Playland in Suffolk, Virginia were moving all morning. They did some exercise routines and then finished up with lots of dancing!

At the Shady Grove Y in Richmond, they celebrated as part of Healthy Kids Day. Everyone made a Healthy Al hat and they set up a Calm Down spot where several children took a moment to chill.

HAHM 2016 Shady Grove Y 3

 

 

 

Cultivating Cooperation

“Our Morning Routine is Not What My Child Has in Mind”

It’s almost time to go out the door and head off to school.  The last time you checked, your four-year-old was taking off her pj’s and was on the verge of getting dressed. Ah, you think to yourself, “It will be a good day.” Now, five minutes later, not only is she still in her pj’s, but she has slipped her sweater on, backwards, over the pj’s. You gently remind her that it is time to get dressed to get ready for school and help her take off the tangled sweater. Instead of getting dressed, she starts to play with a puzzle. Exasperated, and concerned about the time, you pull off her pajamas and put her clothes on, even though she has successfully dressed herself many times before. You sigh. So much for the day starting off smoothly.

Most of us have struggled, at some point, with trying to persuade a preschooler to get ready or finish eating on time. And it is so easy to become annoyed when they don’t comply. We try to stay calm but the more she does her own thing and acts “contrary”, the more we find ourselves feeling frustrated, anxious, and even angry. And on top of that, we start feeling stressed about being late. The more we try to “force” the child, the more resistant she may become and the situation can easily escalate.

Avoid Power Struggles by Engaging Children

Sometimes a shift in our approach can be helpful.  As adults we often find ourselves telling young children what to do and how to do it.  When they don’t comply, we often blame the child for “not listening.”  This can quickly become a power struggle and ultimately no one really “wins.”  Rather than telling young children what to do, we can periodically try a different approach – we can engage them in the process. Young children crave – and NEED – independence.  They want to assert themselves and be in control of themselves. Don’t we all want that? So one of the keys to having children cooperate is to give them some control, while still maintaining expectations.

Strategies to Encourage Children’s Cooperation 

Some tried and true strategies to encourage children’s cooperation:

  • Be proactive. Talk ahead of time about expectations like being ready for school on time. For example, over the weekend, when you and your child are both calm and relaxed, talk together about the steps of the morning routine. Be sure to include your child in coming up with ideas for what she needs to do to get ready (i.e. wash hands and face, brush teeth, get dressed, eat breakfast).
  • Use visuals to help guide and remind your child. For example, create a chart together using pictures for each step. Or write each step on a tongue depressor, and include a picture of it to serve as a cue. Place the tongue depressors in a red cup. As your child completes each step she places them in a green cup. Once all the tongue depressors are in the green cup, it signals to your child that she is finished and ready to go.  And gives her a feeling of accomplishment.

  • Make the task into a quick game. For example, challenge your child to see if she can put her pants and shirt on before you reach 1 when you count backwards from 10. Or incorporate the task into a nursery rhyme: challenge her to finish brushing her teeth before you get to six in the “Buckle My Shoe” nursery rhyme of “one, two, buckle my shoe, three, four, shut the door, five, six, pick up sticks.”

Note: Expect to change up the game every so often – if it’s no longer working, it’s time to try something new.

  • Recognize when your child does cooperate – thumbs up, high fives, specific verbal comments like “nice job putting the toys back on the shelf.”

When Children Feel Empowered

This phase does not last forever.  At the time they are going through it, it can certainly pluck our every nerve.  While it is important for children to learn to follow instructions, we can help them navigate this struggle for independence by giving up some control, allowing them to gain some control. By finding creative ways to involve them, we promote their independence and they gain a sense of accomplishment. Making daily tasks into fun challenges can help motivate children and they often will rise to the occasion and cooperate on their own.  Rather than resulting in a power struggle, it ends up being a “win-win.”

For more tips, check out the Cooperation tab on “In a Nutshell” and
download Take Five: Countdown to Cooperation.

Being Truly Present With Children Is a “Priceless” Gift

What’s a Perfect Present for Young Children?

There is a no-cost, easy-to-acquire gift that supports the overall well-being and personal happiness of young children:  Be More Present.

Being more present with children sounds simple, but for many of us our daily lives feel more and more chaotic. We often feel stressed and distracted – so much to do and so little time.

 

Tune Out the Distractions and Tune In to Children

Many adults today are plugged in non-stop and maintain hectic schedules.  Balancing work lives (in or out of the home) and family lives can be tough.  Parents and children are often “together”, but not really together. How many of us have found ourselves talking with our children, nodding our heads, but not really hearing what they are saying because we are distracted by other things? We are physically present but we might be thinking about a disagreement we had with a friend or an email that needs to be finished. Without even realizing it, we are often focused on the past or the future, preventing us from being truly “present.”  It takes conscious effort to focus on the moment at hand.

 

Connecting with Children Helps Them Feel Valued

Young children are intensely present every day, every moment, absorbing and learning.  They can be thoroughly engaged watching a squirrel wind its way up a tree or stomping in a puddle. In a child’s perfect world, their favorite adults will slow down and appreciate their interest in the squirrel’s acrobatics or how high the puddle water will splash. Those adults will take a little time to have that meaningful, in-the-moment interaction.

Consider offering your child (and yourself) the sweet gift of tuning in.  Create some time to simply be more present, on purpose, with your child – even for just a few minutes. When you focus on your child and engage with him, you give your child a valuable message: “You matter. You are important. You deserve my time and attention.”

The gift of bring present  - giving your full attention.
The gift of bring present – giving your full attention.

Tips for Being (More) Present with Children

Of course, we can’t always be tuned in to our children. We have things that need to get done. And we are busy. And tired. And sometimes, in our jam-packed world, it’s ok to “listen” and nod while we think about those things. But connecting with a child for just a few minutes can have a huge impact.  A few strategies are:

  • When your child is telling you something, try to stop what you are doing, and really listen when you can. Let your presence show by validating your child’s feelings, making comments, or asking questions.
  • Watch for opportunities to connect with your child: in the car, walking the dog, settling down at bedtime. Whether for 10 minutes or an hour, focus on being ‘all in’ during this time. Let your child know she has your attention by looking at her, touching her shoulder, or holding her hand.
  • Put your phone away when possible. Let your child see that you value him above all else.
  • Plan a ‘together time’ or ‘just us time’ or ‘the two of us time’ and let your child choose a quiet activity for the two of you. Keep ‘together time’ media-free. Just making a long line of cars or drawing with markers or doing puzzles together creates opportunities for quiet sharing, or simply being close. If you have more than one child, let each know that they will have their chance for ‘together time’ too. Maybe it’s once a week, and maybe it’s for 10 minutes, but it’s invaluable.

Don’t worry if it’s not always a magical “movie moment.”  Sometimes children are cranky just as we are taking a moment to be present. That’s life. You’ll have another chance.

 

Being Present Can Reap Many Positive Benefits

While we all struggle to find the right balance, it is worth the time and effort to deepen our bonds with our children. Being present with your child helps them feel valued and develop a sense of self-worth.  They may even be more cooperative and are likely to show improved behavior. All the result of our truly listening and showing genuine interest in them.

As we reflect back on our own childhood, it is not the stuff we got for birthdays or holidays that stands out, but it is those times spent with a caring and present adult that was the best gift of all.

 

Cultivating Kindness: Bully Prevention for Early Childhood

Bullying and Young Children

Be kind
Kindness counts.

Bullying has been in the national spotlight so much lately.  Does this mean anything for our youngest children?

Apparently, yes.  Not only do teachers and parents report bullying behaviors  in young children, but researchers do too.   Repeated, intentional, unkind actions from children with more power toward children with less power. That’s the definition of bullying.

One teacher shared, “Some years, we see just typical arguing or spats; other years, we are really surprised by the bullying and aggression that crops up.”

Bullying researchers (yes, there is such a thing!) have found that curbing bullying in the early years has the most long-term impact.  The longer bullying continues – the “stickier” the problem becomes.  Studies have found that a child  being bullied consistently in first grade is very likely to be targeted [ more ]

Healthy Al Healthy Me Celebration – April 23, 2015

Happy children and their fabulous teachers joined in the Healthy Al, Healthy Me celebration on April 23, 2015 across the country and in Canada, too.

A family child care program in New Bern, NC lead by Sau’nia Kay “had a ball!” They made salads out of cucumbers & tomatoes, with some from their own garden. They created and laminated placemats decorated with pictures of veggies and fruits. The placemats turned into a healthy version of I Spy while they ate. Finally, they took some bananas and applesauce to an assisted living facility and handed them out. The children wanted to be sure that the residents “could eat healthy, too.”

HAHM Placemat
I spy something red!

At Sunshine & Rainbows Learning Center in Joliet, Illinois, Karen Cooper and her class spent the entire day outside at a park. They hiked, played kickball and tennis, and enjoyed the fresh, brisk air. Lots of parents joined them for the day to get their dose of Vitamin N (for Nature)!

Outdoor trail
What treasures will we find on our walk?

In Culpeper, Virginia, Paula Treadway’s class had a great time exercising in the gym and learning about making healthy choices. They cut out pictures and made a collage of things that are healthy. Al made a surprise visit in some of the classrooms to see what the children had learned.

Up north in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Jennifer Barone’s class participated by making Healthy Al, Healthy Me hats and parents were encouraged to get involved by bringing in a healthy snack for the class to share. The children also did lots of gross motor exercises to build strong muscles.

Y boys with hats
We love our hats starring Al!

The children in Ana Cuenca’s family child care program in Salt Lake City, UT took advantage of many of the ideas provided for the Healthy Al, Healthy Me Celebration. They talked about good food, and used the food groups to sort healthy foods. They made a fruit salad together. They wrapped up the morning by doing yoga – a good time was had by all!

A good yoga stretch!
A good yoga stretch!

At the VCU Health System Family Care Center in Richmond, VA, Carol’s class had a full morning. They read Al’s Healthy Choices and used the lesson that comes with it. The children role played all sorts of active motions like bouncing a ball or running. Then they made veggie people and told stories about their creations. They finished up by eating lots of yummy vegetables and deciding which they liked best.

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Veggie baseball player ready for a home run!
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Entranced by Al’s healthy choices!
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Would you like to share my colorful snack?

Dorothy Weinzapfel at St. Phillip School in Evansville, IN appreciated the opportunity because she likes “being proactive in teaching children how to be healthy, cope with negative behaviors, and stay safe, rather than always reacting to the negatives.” They reviewed all the great things they have learned from Al, Keisha, and Ty this year and are planning a special healthy snack for their last week together. They want to make veggie people because it’s always fun to create something with food!

We are already looking forward to next year’s celebration! Remember, that you can have a Healthy Al, Healthy Me Celebration any time with these fun, easy-to-use resources!

 

Get Ready for Mud Day June 29

Children can join others around the world squishing and splashing in the mud on June 29th celebrating International Mud Day. Experiencing the wonders of mud is a true joy of childhood. More ideas on connecting children with nature can be found in our blog, More Vitamin N for Happier, Healthier, Kinder Children.

Children Should be Seen AND Heard!

Why Involve Children in the Activities of Daily Life?

Sometimes it is just easier to do it yourself. Toys need to be picked up in a hurry? Table needs to be set? A four-year-old needs to get dressed?  Activities for Saturday afternoon need to be planned? In our busy day-to-day lives, if there is a job to do or decision to make, we tend to mull over the options, choose one that seems manageable, and just do it. Quick and easy, right? But when we do it all, we are missing opportunities to involve children in meaningful ways that can help them become more independent, creative, and resilient.

Everyone Needs a Voice in Family Life

When we find ourselves making the decisions, telling children what to do, where to go, what to wear, what to eat, we are inadvertently depriving them of the chance to think for themselves and to voice their opinions. Like adults, kids begin to bristle when they are micromanaged all the time. Even the youngest children benefit when they get to be involved in life’s little decisions.

When given opportunities to express themselves, share their experiences and make decisions, children feel valued and develop a sense of self.  This gives them the message that they are an important part of the family.  And when they are involved in a way that has meaning to them, when they have a Voice, children become more cooperative and behavior issues decrease.  So how can we let children know that we value their ideas and experiences?

Joining in children's play helps them have a Voice
Joining in children’s play helps them have a Voice

We Need to Listen

One way for children to have a Voice is to take a few minutes to let them know you are genuinely interested in what they have to say:

  • Listen to how their day was. Prompt them with something specific like “tell me about one person you played with (or talked to or laughed with) today.”
  • Ask them to tell you that joke again (even though you’ve heard it 100 times).
  • Have them tell you about the picture they made or the block structure they built.
  • Ask a silly question like “What super power would you like to have?” or “If you discovered a new planet, what would it be like?” or “If you were the boss of the world, what rules would you make?”

While most adults can listen and do something else at the same time, to a child it feels like you are not tuned in. So when they are talking, be sure to stop what you’re doing and really pay attention. Let them know you are listening by looking at them and responding to what they say.

Involve Children in Decision-Making

Another way to help children have a Voice is to encourage them to share ideas and opinions when decisions must be made or problems need to be solved. Some examples:

  • Giving ideas about a family activity (which park to visit, which movie to watch)
  • Working through a problem with a sibling by brainstorming possible solutions
  • Helping to pick out gifts for relatives or friends celebrating birthdays
  • Brainstorming dinner ideas
  • Helping to plan a party or celebration

While they may not end up getting the final say, children get the message that their input is valuable and is taken into consideration. Needless to say, certain decisions are not appropriate for children to be involved in such as bedtimes and how much TV is watched. It’s important for children to understand that some things are not negotiable. Giving children a Voice is not the same as letting them ‘rule the roost’. Having a Voice means being involved in the process of child-appropriate decision-making and problem-solving, not necessarily the outcome. Life does not always feel fair, but it is valuable and reassuring for children to learn that there are times when caring parents make the decisions

What Caring Adults Can Do

To help children have a Voice, Dr. Richard Grossman, a psychologist in Brookline Massachusetts, suggests that we keep 3 guidelines in mind:

  1. Assume that what your child has to say is just as important as what you have to say.
  2. Assume that you can learn as much from them as they can from you.
  3. Enter their world through play, activities, and discussions; don’t require them to enter yours in order to make contact.

By letting children know that we value their thoughts and ideas, and that we want their active participation in the life of the family, we give them the message that they matter. Research tells us that involving children in a meaningful way helps them become more resilient and ready to take on the challenges that life will certainly throw their way.

The Empathy of a 2 Year Old and His Dinosaur

Healing Dinosaur Offered

Caring and Empathy Start in the Early Years

“I’m going to visit Papa in the hospital today,” my daughter said to her two young sons. “Wait a minute, Mommy,” said 2½ year old Noah. He then disappeared up to his room. After rummaging through his drawer, he emerged from his room, proceeded downstairs, and placed a tiny orange plastic dinosaur in his mother’s hand. She did not remember him having this toy and asked what it was all about. Noah explained that when he went to his doctor when he was sick, the doctor gave him the dinosaur to help him feel better. He then instructed my daughter to bring the dinosaur to me to help me feel better as I recuperated from knee replacement surgery.

When my daughter presented the dinosaur to me in my hospital bed along with the Noah’s instructions, I was overwhelmed by the level of empathy demonstrated by such a young child. It was hard to fathom that he felt that connected to me and what I was going through. That wonderful, healing dinosaur proudly sat on the mantle in our family room and inspired me every day to hang in there through the challenging physical therapy that followed and helped me heal so I could play with my grandchildren.

While I continue to be amazed at how a 2½ year old could empathize so appropriately, it was a real-life reminder that even the youngest of children can understand other people’s feelings and show they care. While children are born with the capacity to be empathetic, empathy is a skill that children learn. When children have adults in their lives who respond to them with compassion and understanding, they are more likely to be empathetic towards others. Children who are empathic are more likely to do better in school, have more friends, and lead happier, more fulfilling lives.

 

How Can Caring Adults Help Children Learn to be Empathetic? 

  • Talk about feelings often – how you are feeling, how the child might be feeling, how characters in a story might be feeling. “How do you think the boy feels when his kite gets stuck in the tree?
  • Teach children words to express their feelings.  Accept all feelings and validate them.  Help them cope with strong feelings. “I see how frustrated you are that the puzzle pieces won’t stay together. That would make me frustrated, too.”
  • Encourage children to consider that other people also have feelings just like they do.  “You told me you felt sad when Maria teased you. How do you think Trayvon feels when you tease him?
  • Brainstorm with children what they can do to help a child in distress feel better. “Alisha is very sad because her mom is on a trip. Do you have any ideas for what you could do to comfort her?
  • Recognize children when they show caring towards others. “You were a good friend when you asked Kendall if she wanted to play with you.
  • Role model kindness and empathy.  Verbally express your concern for someone’s feelings.  Give caring gestures like patting a child on the back or calmly tell a child you understand how she feels if she is scared, frustrated, sad, or upset. “That loud truck made you feel scared, didn’t it? I understand. Loud noises scare me sometimes, too.

When children’s own emotional needs are met in warm, caring ways, they are more likely to be able to respond to other’s discomfort and pain – and extend a dinosaur of kindness to those in need.

Norman Geller, Ph.D., Educational Consultant and Assistant Professor

Autism and Educational Diagnostics, LLC.

 

Ready or Not, Here It Comes! Preparing for Kindergarten

Getting Ready for School: Supplies AND Support

Starting school can be exciting AND scary!
Starting school: exciting AND scary!

Schools provide a checklist of materials children will need to be ready for school – washable markers, paper, pencils, tissues, and glue sticks.  Check, check, and check!  This part of getting ready is clear-cut.

But what about getting “ready for school” on the inside? For some children, kindergarten is their first time being away from home for so long. They may feel worried about all the new children they’ll meet or if they will like their new teacher. Children may wonder if they’ll get lost in the school or if the bigger kids will be mean.

Starting school is often unnerving for young children (and their parents!). Luckily, with a little preparation, adults can help children feel excited and confident about their upcoming school experience.
[ more ]

More Vitamin N For Happier, Healthier, Kinder Children

Nature's Toy Shop Is Open For Business.
Spending Time Outside – Vitamin Nature!

If Vitamin N could be sold in stores, it would surely fly off the shelves. Although not found in stores, it IS widely available and usually affordable.

Children Need More Vitamin “Nature”

According to Richard Louv, author of bestselling book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, children today do not get enough Vitamin N – a phrase for the health benefits of nature popularized by his books. [ more ]