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, supports the community, and sets a great example for kids.
  • 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 lot of 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.

Snack Fever: Have Young Children’s Eating Habits Changed?

Healthy and tasty snack!
Healthy and tasty snack!

 Snacking Is Part Of A Bigger Problem

Over one third of American children are overweight or obese.  We’ve heard this for so long; the statement has almost lost its impact.

But really – one third?

Not only are overweight children more likely to feel bad about themselves, but they may well be on a path of on-going over-weight and diminished health.

Won’t Young Children “Outgrow” Being Overweight?

Some young children DO grow up and out of being overweight.  But not all.  Children who are overweight are more likely to be overweight adults.  That means one third of our children are more likely to develop diabetes, liver and heart disease, asthma, cancer, sleep apnea, joint problems, and other health conditions.

What Causes Children To Be Overweight?

In addition to larger portion sizes, more processed and high calorie foods – changes in children’s snacking patterns contribute to the hefting of the nation’s children.

This is a short blog, so let’s look at one factor – the snacking – and what caring adults can do to protect children’s health.  [ more ]

Helping Children Cope with a Storm

Big storms like hurricanes can be alarming for children.  Adult awareness and support can help children handle  feeling nervous or worried, and get ready to cope with the storm.

Best Ways For Adults To Help Children Cope With A Storm

Watching the Storm
Waiting for the storm

Stay Calm.  Children take cues from adult behaviors and attitudes.  Even if you feel worried, prepare as much as you can, and then stay calm.

Be aware of the storm broadcasts.  Hyped up news reports may increase children’s sense of alarm.  Keep the volume low and engage children in other activities.

Let children know it is okay to feel worried or scared.  Many children don’t like storms and feel afraid. Remind them that you will take care of them. [ more ]

Lots of Feelings as the New School Year Starts

Change Can Be ChallengingJohn in the hall - lightened (2)

The end of summer brings lots of changes. The weather gets cooler. The days get shorter. The leaves start to change color. Children start school. Or child care. Or have new teachers and classrooms. A lot of change.

While starting something new can be exciting and eagerly anticipated, it can also be scary for a child. Will my teacher like me? What are the rules? Will I know anybody? Where is the bathroom?

And it’s not just the child having all the worries! Parents have them, too. How did my child grow up so fast? What if he doesn’t like it? Will he have friends? How will I manage the school routine, soccer practice, my job, and everything else going on?

 

Getting Prepared

It helps us all to know what to expect when change is looming large. We need to be prepared for the ups and downs, the highs and lows. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • It can take weeks for children to become comfortable in a new environment.
  • When a child has to ‘keep it together’ all day, there may be melt-downs where it’s safe (with you!) and they can let it all out. Anticipating this can help us be prepared to stay calm and supportive.
  • New behavioral issues may surface: a child who rarely cries may be quick to break down. An easy-going child may become grumpy and quick-tempered. Or a child may regress and say she can’t get dressed on her own or pick up her toys anymore. Patience is the key here. Typically these behaviors won’t last long.
  • Children will probably need more sleep, especially early on – adjusting to all that newness can be exhausting!

So how do we weather the stormy or even the sunny transitions?

 

Supporting Your Child

  • Take your cues from your child. What questions is he asking? What is he worried about? What is he excited about? Help him identify his feelings and let him know those feelings are okay. He might be feeling anxious and eager. It is comforting for children to know that they can have more than one feeling at a time and that feelings can change quickly.
  • Be careful not to dismiss your child’s feelings by saying things like, “Don’t worry. Everything will be fine.” While we want to be reassuring, it doesn’t feel like everything will be fine at the moment. Instead, reflect the feelings you hear.
  • Tell a few positive stories about your early school days, or about a time you started something new (going to camp, joining an organization, changing jobs). And talk about times you felt scared or nervous and what you did to feel better. It helps to know that we are not the only ones who have felt this way.
  • To build skills that are helpful in a classroom, play games that involve taking turns, have rules, or require thinking before acting. Even good ol’ Simon Says, Red Light – Green Light, and Mother May I help children develop self-control.
  • Keeping to a routine (as much as possible) is comforting to children. Try to hold the extra activities at a minimum those first few weeks. Allow for down time – over-scheduled kids can mean tired, frazzled, and tense kids. And parents!
  • Refrain from telling your child how much you will miss him. Instead, at the end of the day ask him to share one thing about his day, and you share something about your day as well.
  • Try to set aside a few minutes each day (without technology) to spend on an activity that your child chooses. That focused attention, even if it’s brief, is reassuring for your child and makes him feel valued.

 

Taking Care of Yourself

Sometimes in preparation for a transition like the start of a new school year, we focus all of our attention and energy on our child. If we are going to be supportive, we need to be aware of how WE are feeling, too. Young children are intuitive, and can pick up on adult worries and concerns. Whether you find comfort in talking with a friend, taking a walk, or just carving out a little ‘me’ time, try to take care of yourself, too. When we care for ourselves, we are often better emotionally equipped to have empathy for others.

Learn and practice steps designed to help you calm down when you feel yourself getting impatient or upset or even overly excited. Not only does this help you calm down, but you are modeling the use of a very helpful tool for your child. Teach it to them, too.

Stay in touch with your child’s teacher. It can help to know how things are going from that perspective.

In the immediacy of everyday life with young children, finding ways to take care of yourself, will help you be a calm, loving presence with your child.

 

Starting anything new is challenging. Taking time to plan ahead and be prepared can result in a more confident, relaxed child who is ready to take on the world!

 

6th Annual Healthy Al, Healthy Me Day was a Blast!

 

How was your Healthy Al, Healthy Me Day?

The 6th Annual Healthy Al, Healthy Me Day was a great mix of moving, reading, experimenting, and learning! Early childhood programs around the country and in Bermuda danced, ran, tried new foods, read books, and played games.

In DeWitt Michigan, at Capital Area Community Services Head Start, Jessie Nevius sent this report: “Our kids enjoyed celebrating being healthy with Al! We read the story Al’s Healthy Choices and did  Al’s Action Story.  We used the book to have a discussion about healthy foods and healthy activities. We worked hard to complete Al’s healthy food maze.”

Healthy Choice Mazes

 

The students at Lyceum Preschool in Bermuda enjoyed an interactive read-aloud by Mrs. Shavana Wilson.  After doing about twenty minutes of exercise, students were given a healthy snack of fresh fruit kabobs and peanut butter and jelly rice cakes. Mrs. Kimwana Eve also presented all the students with their own Al’s Pals t-shirts and water bottles.

Yummy fruit kabobs!

 

Debbie Miller’s class at Maymont School in Richmond Virginia read Al’s Healthy Choices and talked about their favorite healthy food and how they stay active. Then they had a tasting party with cauliflower, snap peas, mango, red pepper, cara cara orange, and starfruit. Most were a big hit, but the starfruit was not very popular! Everyone was adventurous and willing to try new foods.

We love the mango!

 

In Arkansas, at the North Little Rock School District, Whitney Addie’s class celebrated Healthy Al, Healthy Me all week and tried different fruits and vegetables.  The overall favorite was strawberries. After talking about how they grew and what they looked and tasted like, the children did a still-life drawing. Each child was excited about trying so many different fruits and veggies.

Strawberry drawings from North Little Rock.

Angelette Pryor at Shady Grove Y in Richmond Virginia reports that Al was as popular as ever during the YMCA Healthy Kids Day. At the Al’s Pals station kids made Al hats. This station is a calm spot among the busy, noisy stations. Several kids came to the calm down spot which had big pillows on a small rug with the Calm Down and Problem-solving posters there. They had current Al’s Pals kids stop by as well as those who remembered Al from previous years.

 

 

 

Dancing at St. James CDC
Yoga at St. James CDC

 

The Grasshopper Class at St. James Child Development Center in Richmond Virginia did yoga poses and danced. The celebration fit right in with their focus for the month of April: exercise!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruby Allen’s STEPS Head Start class in Charlotte Courthouse Virginia joined the celebration by having the children choose their favorite fruits and decorating them. The teachers used the fruits from the dramatic play center to continue the discussion of their favorites. They all enjoyed the celebration and had such fun – they can’t wait until next year!

What will you put in your fruit salad?

 

At Michelle’s Playland in Suffolk Virginia, they started their day with a discussion on the importance of healthy habits and taking care of their bodies. They exercised and danced to “Shakin’ It” by Paragraph Express. They read Al’s Healthy Choices – a couple of times! Their healthy morning snack was apples, cheese and crackers, and water. They were talking about butterflies that week, so their physical activity was moving like butterflies. That afternoon, their outdoor activity was to run races.

Enjoying a snack that tastes good, and is good for you, too!
Talking about making healthy choices.

 

So it was another great Healthy Al, Healthy Me Day! And remember that all the resources for these and other activities are always available here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Help children express gratitude with this Tree of Thanksgiving.

 

Tree of Thanksgiving

This activity helps children think about what they are grateful for. It’s uplifting, fun, and results in a colorful ‘tree’. Here is a template for making leaves out of construction paper. Hang the completed leaves on a branch and read them together.  https://acorndreams.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/GPB-58-1024×1024-300×300-7.jpg

The Waiting Game

clock in grass

Waiting is Challenging for Children!

We have all faced the challenge of having to wait with young children. There is a lot of waiting in the world: waiting for others to finish snack, waiting at the doctor’s office, checking out at the grocery store, in line for rides at the fair, going to the bathroom at any event. We all have to wait.

How can we make waiting a little more fun, or at least survive without major meltdowns? Here are some ideas that might help.

Plan Ahead

First and foremost, take a few minutes BEFORE the waiting actually happens to prepare children – preferably well in advance. Talk about the fact that there will be some dull moments ahead. Ask what feelings they might have when they have to wait. How will they manage those feelings? Have them brainstorm ideas – what will make the waiting more fun or at least bearable?

When the waiting begins, remind them about that conversation. Check out the feelings first: “Remember you said you might feel mad, and you were right! Do you remember that you said you would take 3 deep breaths when you felt mad? Let’s do that together.”

Some Engaging Ideas to Pass the Time, Have Fun, and Even Learn Something!

Have your child pick one of the activities they came up with or try one of the following:

  • Guess Which Hand – put a small object in your hand and hide your hands behind your back. Have your child guess which hand is holding it. Give your child a turn holding the object and you guess.
  • Sounds Like – say a word and have the children think of all the words that rhyme with it. Start simple with words like ‘cat’ and ‘say’.
  • Guess What’s in My Purse/Backpack/Pocket – see how many items they can guess that are really there. In anticipation of this game, add a couple of unexpected things like a spoon or a bouncy ball or an adhesive bandage and give them hints. Added bonus: you will have those things should you need them.
  • Waiting Time Surprise – wrap small items in newspaper or tissue paper and bring them out at random times while waiting: figures with parachutes, paddle balls, pipe cleaners, bendable figures, small notepad and pencil, punch balls, playdough. (Be sure the item is appropriate for the waiting space).
  • Brainstorm – ask your children to come up with ideas for questions like: “What are all the things we could take on a picnic?” “What would you see on a walk in the city, or in the woods, or in a castle?” “What can you do to cheer up a friend?
  • Think Fast! – give a category and see how many answers a child can come up within 15 seconds. Some categories to get you started: animals with fur, things that fly, what you find in the ocean, kinds of fruit, things you see in a classroom, games that need a ball.
  • Creative Thinking Questions – come up with questions that get your child’s creativity working or try some of these:

If you could have a super power, what would it be? Why? What would you do with your special power?

If your pet could talk, what would it say?”

What would you do if you were invisible?

What do you love about being a kid?

What are your favorite smells?”

What 5 things would you take with you if you were going to live on a desert island?”

  • Build a Story – start a story, then stop after a few sentences and have children add a few sentences before passing it on. “Once upon a time a green lizard named Freddy was bored. He needed something fun to do. He started crawling towards his favorite pond and saw a big….”
  • Thumb Wrestling – “Okay, alright, I declare a thumb fight!
  • How Many Can You See? – look around the crowd and ask questions like, “How many people do you see wearing hats?” or “How many red shirts do you see?” “How many people have sunglasses on?
  • Even or Odd (for two or more children) – First have them guess if there will be an even or odd number of fingers. Then have the children stick out 1 or more fingers and count them up.
  • Drop a Leaf – drop a leaf holding it up high and see if your children can catch it before it lands.
  • Feelings Faces – take turns expressing different feelings with your face or by acting them out. Have the other person guess what the feeling is. Expand this by talking about times when you might feel the feeling that was acted out. “Tell me about what makes you sad.” or “What things do you find annoying?
  • 20 Questions – take turns thinking of an object and have the others ask yes or no questions until the object is guessed.
  • Alphabet Game – try to find each letter of the alphabet starting with ‘a’ on signs, ads, or tee-shirts around you.
  • Sing! – don’t worry about those around you. If you’re outside, sing lustily – maybe others will join in. If you are inside or need to be quiet, try singing songs in a whisper. Encourage your children to make up songs about what you are waiting to do, or what they see around them.
  • And don’t forget the standards: Rock, Paper, Scissors, and I Spy!
  • A small jar of bubbles is always popular and will engage others who are waiting, too!

By planning ahead for waiting times, we can prevent challenging behaviors – children will have fun, be creative, and they just might learn something, too!

 

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.