Making Time for Family Time

Work together - and have FUN, too!

Work an a project together – and have FUN, too!

Life is BUSY for Today’s Parents

“I have to work late this week.”

“How many games do the kids have Saturday?”

“What time is the birthday party?”

“The laundry!!”

“What?? It’s December?!”

Life is busy – regular everyday life. And this time of year gets even busier. The holidays can be wonderful – full of family gatherings, special traditions, and delicious food. But it can also mean having too much to do and feeling very stressed! How can we navigate this hectic time and find the balance we need for ourselves and our families?

Family Time Can Be Simple, No-cost, and Beneficial

One of the most important things a family can do is to make time to be together. Time when everyone is unplugged and present. Time when the focus is on conversation. Time to re-connect. This is an excellent stress reliever and helps family members feel close to one another. But how do we find that time?

Here are a few ideas to carve out some family time with little or no fuss or prep:

  • Have a family meeting – get together over hot cocoa and graham crackers (without phones or devices). Start with each family member telling something kind or helpful another member of the family did for them. Talk about what is coming up that week. Schedule a Family Fun time – and it can be simple: block out half an hour to play a board game, go for a walk with flashlights, build a blanket fort, or color together. Having some simple, fun time together can make a big difference.
  • Eat together – one of the most important and beneficial things you can do with your children is have dinner together. Again, without any electronic devices or TV. Research shows children have a bigger vocabulary, do better in school, and even eat more fruits and vegetables when families have dinner together. And it doesn’t have to be a home-cooked meal. It’s the sitting down and eating together that’s important.
  • Give back – brainstorm with your children ways to help others. Think of something you can do as a family – volunteer at a food pantry, go through toys together to find some to donate, fix a meal for a neighbor, or serve a meal at a shelter. Spending time helping others strengthens the family bond and supports the community.
  • Work together – take on some projects that you can all do like raking leaves, sorting laundry, or organizing books. Make it fun by singing or telling knock-knock jokes. If children help with household chores from an early age, it becomes the expected norm. And it increases their sense of belonging and of feeling valued.
  • Just say ‘no’ – you do not have to say yes to every invitation or event that comes along – even if it might be fun to do. You don’t need to make excuses when you decline. A simple “We are not able to attend that evening” is fine. Scheduling time to not have plans is a splendid way to have some down time together. Treat that time like it’s written in stone; everyone can relax and re-charge.

Plan now to make family time a priority. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, or costly, or take a long time. It does need to be intentional and involve talking and listening. Everyone will feel more connected and better prepared to take on what life brings next.

Ready or Not, Here Comes Kindergarten!

Summer is a Great Time to Get Ready for School

There’s lots of talk about school readiness, but what does that really mean?

School readiness is more than basic knowledge of language and math, important as these are. Being ready for school means being ready in all areas: physical, cognitive, AND social-emotional. It also helps to come with a positive attitude toward learning.

There are many facets to helping a child prepare for success in school and summer is a good time to support your child’s readiness. These tips can help make the transition a smooth one.

Lots of new experiences at school!

Lots of new experiences at school!

Practical strategies to help kids prepare for daily school life:

  • Helping hands. Have children take on more responsibility as a member of the household. Together with your child, come up with a list of chores that he can do this summer. Some ideas are tidying up his room, helping with meal clean-up, feeding and brushing a pet, sweeping the kitchen, sorting laundry, making his bed, putting away groceries, planning a meal. Children will have more responsibility at school, so this is good practice. And children thrive when they contribute to and feel like a part of a group.
  • Fine motor fun. Give children a chance to use scissors, glue, and paints, or build with small blocks or legos. These activities help with fine motor development and spark creativity.
  • I did it myself! Look for opportunities to let your child do more things herself. Can she order her own lunch, carry a tray, speak to the cashier or librarian, or pack and zip up her backpack? This builds independence and gives her the message that you believe she is capable.
  • Play. Games that have rules, require waiting, or involve counting are great for practicing self-control, understanding rules, and learning how to take turns. Old favorites like Red Light/Green Light, Mother May I, and Simon Says help children learn the difference between right and wrong, fairness, and delayed gratification.
  • Silence is golden. If your child is talkative, help him remember to share the talking time. Have a discussion about taking time to listen to others and waiting to talk sometimes. This is another opportunity to work on self-regulation – remembering to stop and think before speaking.
  • But why? Encourage curiosity, discovery, and exploration. Get books from the library on topics that your child asks questions about. Look things up online together. Try new foods – have taste tests with unusual fruits or vegetables. Be curious yourself and ask questions about how things work, or grow, or fly (weather, nature, animals, space).
  • Hit the books. Read, read, and read some more. Reading together promotes emerging literacy and language development. And research shows that reading to a child is the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading. Plus that time together evokes warm feelings about reading and enriches your relationship with your child!

Strategies to support emotional readiness:

  • Focus on feelings. Listen for the feelings. When your child talks about starting school, stop and listen. Accept all feelings and resist the urge to say “don’t worry” or “there’s nothing to be nervous about” or “you’ll be fine”. Instead of talking him out of his feeling, validate the feeling: “It sounds like you are worried about being in a new classroom. Lots of kids would feel worried about that.” Let that soak in for a minute, then add something like, “Let’s imagine what you think it will look like. Then we can compare that to what we see when we visit.”
  • Teach kindness and friendship. When reading together or out in the real world, point out and talk about what it means to be a good friend. What does kindness look like? How do friends treat each other? Model kind acts by letting someone go ahead of you in line, keep bottled water in your car and hand them out to folks on the corner asking for help, visit a neighbor, take flowers to a friend for no reason.
  • Share your memories. Tell stories of starting school or talk about when you started something new. Certainly be genuine, but spend the most time on the positive parts of your experience: making new friends, learning cool things, getting new supplies.
  • Spend time together. Designate some time when there are no electronic devices and really connect. Spend 15 minutes doing whatever your child chooses (that doesn’t involve technology!); try to have dinner together as often as possible (device-free); take advantage of time in the car to talk and sing together; make time to snuggle.

You child will appreciate your attention during any of these activities. Your positive attitude about starting school will set the tone and help to make it something to look forward to!

Healthy Al, Healthy Me Day 2017: ‘Such fun!’

Teachers and children from around the country and in Bermuda went all out for the 5th annual Healthy Al, Healthy Me Day!

At Lowell Elementary School in Watertown MA, they had a wonderful celebration complete with fruit kabobs, hummus with carrots and cucumbers, dancing, and even selfies with Al. The children recorded their tasting preferences on this form. They added, “Can’t wait for next year!”

Filling out the Tasting Party chart.

Filling out the Tasting Party chart.

Dancing is good exercise. And FUN!

Dancing is good exercise. And FUN!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the Child and Family Network Center in Alexandria VA, children made fruit kabobs, too, creating a pattern using strawberries, bananas, and blueberries. They talked about the importance of eating foods that keep their bodies healthy and strong!

Red, White, and Blueberry

Red, White, and Blueberry

Children at the Catholic Diocese of Evansville IN made Healthy Al hats, played Al Says, read the Al Story, played the rolling dice exercise game, colored on the sheet where they picked fruit for their salad, and completed the maze.

maze no 2

In Richmond VA at the Partnership for Families, we read Al’s Healthy Choices and did Al’s Action Story. It was great fun acting out all of Al’s movements like looking under the bed!

Is Al's favorite book under the bed?

Is Al’s favorite book under the bed?

Can you feel your heart beating?

Can you feel your heart beating?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Down at the Corrigan-Camden School District in Corrigan TX, the pre-K classes made a day of it! The Food Service Director presented a short program on healthy breakfast choices. Each child got a chef hat, a cup of yogurt, and blueberries, strawberries, dried cranberries, and graham crackers. Then they created their own healthy parfait. For their outdoor activities, each class planned a game including a ball relay race. Parents attended and participated in the events. Even their principal joined the fun and played games with the children.

Healthy Chefs in the Making!

Healthy Chefs in the Making!

In Wytheville VA, children celebrated by playing duck, duck, goose and having races. They had a healthy lunch of turkey and cheese roll ups, salad, and sliced apples. They talked about the importance of drinking water and enjoyed water that was flavored with fresh strawberries!

Meanwhile in Little Rock AR, there was a tasting party going on at Glenview Elementary School. They tried different fruits and vegetables and made a chart of which were their favorites. They also sent home parent notes about Less Screen Time, More Play Time and Healthy Eating. The students enjoyed dancing and exercising and talked about how this helps them to grow and be strong.

Did you like squash, spinach, or sweet potato best?

Did you like squash, spinach, or sweet potato best?

 

 

Wait…a few more seconds

child waiting with parent

What’s the Rush? 

We’ve all done this, we all do this.  Habits are hard to change.

Imagine: You and your young child encounter another grownup you know.  The grownup looks at the child with a smile and asks him, “How are you?” “What are you up to today?” Your child looks at the ground, then up at you, and you quickly answer “We’re on our way to meet a friend.”

What happened?  The other grownup directly asked the child a question and the child didn’t get a chance to answer for himself. No big deal, right?  Actually, children benefit tremendously when they have more time to process questions before answering.  Some adults do, too.

As adults we often experience this rushed world.  We have become accustomed to immediate responses, instant gratification.  At the coffee shop, we expect our order lickity split.  At work, or even socially, some people jump in immediately with ideas or suggestions. Others may have equally valuable ideas but may not articulate them as quickly. We all process information in our own individual way. It’s important to honor a variety of personalities with varying degrees of willingness to speak up in a group.

The Value of Giving Children Time to Respond

Let’s go back to the child.  The value in giving the child 5-7 extra seconds to form their own response is immensely more powerful to that child’s individual development than saving 5 seconds and answering for them.

Why is wait time for a child important? What’s the big deal?

  • Having the support from a valued adult helps a child feel more comfortable thinking for himself and speaking up.
  • We are modeling that we value other people’s ideas and thoughts.
  • Thinking and speaking on one’s own terms builds self-esteem and confidence. This. Is. Huge.
  • Practicing wait time for children to respond is a valuable form of respect.
  • Waiting helps the child who needs more time to process and form a response.
  • If children are always spoken for, they may begin to believe they are unable to speak for themselves.  They may believe their thoughts are not valuable.

Research shows that when a teacher asks a question, the average wait time is one second or less. But when teachers purposely wait a minimum of five or more seconds after a question, children give higher quality and more substantive answers, their self-confidence increases, and they interact with one another to advance discussion. What’s more, children reluctant to raise their hands begin to participate.

Tips on Giving Children Time to Think and Speak 

So what can we adults do to intentionally give a child time to respond?

  • Take a breath.  “Life isn’t a race.” (As learned from my preschool students.)
  • Believe in your mind and heart that the child can think and speak independently.
  • Show on your face that you believe the child can express himself independently.
  • Say nothing and allow the child 5-7 seconds to think and respond.
  • Look at the child. This will help the other adult also look at the child and wait for the child’s answer.
  • For a child who is particularly reserved, it might help to gently prompt or coach, after giving him ample wait time.

What if the child’s response isn’t true or isn’t right?

  • Ask them more questions! This can be an opportunity to gauge their level of understanding or reality.
  • Is it hurting anyone?  If not, it’s probably fine if they answer incorrectly.
  • Ask yourself, what’s more important in the situation, being accurate or being kind?  We have our whole lives to work on accuracy; we don’t have to race there, but kindness can go an incredible distance.  (You can even transmit kindness by accepting a child’s response regardless of its accuracy!)
  • Are they using their imagination?  Childhood is for fun, for learning through play, and it’s a time to make mistakes and figure out reasons.

Now back to habits… It is tricky to hold back from answering for the child if you are constantly doing it.  Perhaps it’s a cultural norm, perhaps it’s a pet peeve.  If we can begin by being aware that we’re not giving children wait time, that’s a step!

Sure, there will be times that you ARE in a hurry and can’t wait a few extra seconds for a child to respond independently.  That’s okay, forgive yourself.  Barely anything about caring for children is realistic with ALWAYS or NEVER.

Here’s a challenge: try it out, ask a child a question and wait much longer than feels comfortable, maybe 7 seconds.  What do you notice?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and observations!

 

About Our Guest Blogger

Lisa has been in the field of early childhood for about 12 years, working with children 8 years and younger in Richmond, VA, Washington, DC, and Boston, MA. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Decision Information Sciences from the University of Maryland, a master’s degree of Early Childhood Education (PreK-2) from Lesley University, and a Post Master’s Certificate in Early Childhood Practice, Policy, and Research from University of Massachusetts in Boston.  She is aunt to four fantastic nephews and one incredible niece.

 

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.

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.

How Much TV Is Okay For Young Children?

Lots of Screens In Children’s Lives

Screens here, screens there, screens, screens everywhere — in our pockets, on our phones, in our cars, and in our homes.

It can be hard to tear children away from the TV.

It can be hard to tear children away from the TV.

It’s no wonder National Screen-Free Week was created!

And it’s not just mobile devices, computers, and smartphones — TV screens are everywhere.  You see them in the pediatrician’s  waiting room, restaurants, convenience stores, banks, and car repair shops.    Even movie theater lobbies have TVs running previews of movies!

Preschool age children spend between 2 and 4 1/2 hours using some sort of screen each day. However, according to the “Zero to Eight:  Children’s Media Use in America” study (published by Common Sense Media’s Program for the Study of Children and Media), 74% of young children’s screen time is television.  Although the use of apps and video games is on the rise, for preschool children, TV is still the number one screen of choice. [ more ]