Friday, April 22, 2016

Pretend Play Masks

Download two free masks from the Pretend Play Masks packet.  They are in color or black and white so you choose whether to print in color or color them yourself.  Get 20+ masks, including animals, fairy tale characters, super heroes, community workers and more with the Pretend Play Masks complete download at Growing Play.  

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Kale and Apple Salad that Kids Will Actually Eat!

I can't believe it. My kids actually ate this kale and apple salad and asked for more. I like vegetables and happen to like kale but usually not raw. I adapted this recipe from Cooking at the New York Times.

Quick funny story - my kids tasted raw kale at lunch time
that I was putting on a panini. Their reaction ranged from comments about it being gross to actually spitting it out. At dinner time the same day, I made this kale and apple salad and asked them to try again.  I thought they might like it this time because the combination of the lemon juice and the parmesan cheese took the bitterness out of the raw kale. They loved it!  Some even came back for seconds.

Here is my adapted recipe.  I am lazy cooker so the least amount of dirty dishes are the best.   

Some kale ripped up small (about 4 cups - I didn't measure)
2 Chopped Apples (I didn't bother peeling)
Handful of shredded cheddar cheese

Squeeze one lemon
4 tbsp olive oil
Crushed garlic clove
2 tbsp parmesan cheese 

Stir it up and pour over kale. Toss the salad and serve. 

Would love to hear if your kids eat it!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Sock Bean Bags from the Sensory Box

Why not take sensory play outside the box with sock bean bags?  We have so many mismatched socks around this house so this was a great upcycle project.  We have a sensory box with dried split peas and lima beans.  Have to admit not one of my favorite sensory boxes - the split peas feel so nice running through your fingers but they are very hard to clean up.  

My toddler was able to help make the bean bags.  I put some small paper cups in the bean box.  She scooped up beans and poured them into the small socks.  I used a rubber band to secure the beans inside the sock and turned the sock inside out over the sack of beans.  Voila - bean bag!  We repeated this process 4 times.

The toddler quickly grabbed the bean bags and began throwing them around the room.  There was lots of throwing, squatting, reaching and carrying of the bean bags.  It entertained her for some time.

The older kids quickly found a cure for their boredom and practiced juggling with the bean bag balls.  The baby sock bean bags were the perfect size for small hands to juggle.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Creative Brain Series Question #5 - New Holiday?

Here is question #5 to get your creative brain juices flowing - Every year we celebrate holidays.  If you could start a new holiday what would it be and when would you celebrate it?

This post is part of the Creative Brain Series from Growing Play on creativity, imagination, outside the box thinking, something quick to do while you are waiting or a boredom buster.  The series will include one question every couple of days to get children and adults to think on their feet. There is no right or wrong answers just try to be creative.  Spend 1-2 minutes to think or just blurt out the first thing that comes to mind to share your answer.  

My answers for question #5 would be a Family Fun Holiday. It would be a holiday that everyone plans a few, fun games, crafts or an outing to bond together as a family.  You don't have to prepare a meal or make it a huge gathering but just slow down and PLAY TOGETHER!  
Answer Creative Brain Series Question #4
Answer Creative Brain Series Question #3
Answer Creative Brain Series Question #2
Answer Creative Brain Series Question #1

Monday, April 18, 2016

10 Nature Challenges for Your Family

Here are 10 ideas to get your creative juices flowing to head outdoors!

1.  Go on One Hike:  Head outdoors for at least one hike.  I love hiking with the family as long as we pick appropriate trails.  I like well marked, short jaunts (maximum 2 miles round trip) that are not too hilly.  For me, I do not like any cliffs or extreme drop offs (plus I drive my husband crazy saying be careful every two seconds).   I try and plan our hikes by researching on the internet or using trail books to determine appropriate trails for the family.

2.  Start a Nature Collection:  Pick one item that you will collect this summer.  It can be anything general or specific i.e. a rock collection or maybe only white rocks, seashells or only tiny shells.

3.  Follow a Trail Map:  Children learn so much by bringing along a trail maps and trying to lead the way.  Again, research this and go for a walk where maps will be available and appropriate for children to guide you along the way.  We have found that most nature centers usually have trail maps that children can easily follow.

4.  Grow Something From Seed:  There is a nice sense of accomplishment to start something from seed.  Whatever you choose, flower, vegetable or fruit, let the children do it from start to finish.  Lettuce is sure to be successful. 

5.  One Hour, No Plan:  Head outdoors in the yard, at the park or in the forest with no plan.  Let the children guide what to do and just follow along.

6.  Go birdwatching:  Sounds boring to some but this is actually quite interesting.  Again, this is a good one to research a bit before you head out.  Maybe the kids can research what birds live where you are heading.  Print out a picture and see if you can spot that bird while hiking or enjoying a picnic. 

7.  Climb a Tree:  This one is easy but let your children climb trees.

8.  Sketch Something in Nature:  I loved this as a child.  Head outdoors with a sketch pad and a pencil.  Find a cozy spot and sit down and sketch what you see. 

9.  Find Animal Tracks:  Go walking to find any type of animal tracks and identify them.

10.  Explore a Stream: Sounds simple and maybe a little wet but my children have spent hours exploring and crossing streams.   If you are worried about their feet make sure they wear puddle boots or crocs.   Looking for crayfish, minnows and frog hunting is a super fun experience.  Half of my kids love to catch frogs and half won't touch them.  Bring along nets or wear garden gloves if children are hesitant.  We always catch and release the animals. 

Whatever challenges and goals you set for your family, everyone benefits from spending time outdoors.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Giant Animal Memory Game

Check out this fun, giant game of memory that you can print and play!  Get kids moving and thinking with this activity.  You can print the pages in color or black and white (color before you play).

Watch it in action below. Download the free Giant Animal Memory game at Growing Play.  

Friday, April 15, 2016

10 Suggestions for Parents to Help Children's Emotions Stay In Control

This is the second post regarding self regulation in children. The previous post discussed how we set children up for potential meltdowns with our hectic lifestyles.  As parents, we need to advocate for more unstructured, free play for children to help them to develop self regulation skills.  Here are a few changes that you can make to your family schedule to help children learn how to stay in control:

1.  Cut down on extra car rides - combine errands on the way home from work, don't sign up for extracurricular activities that are far from home or walk whenever possible.  

2.  Don't sign up young kids for too many organized activities.  Let younger children just play indoors or outside.  They will most likely get more physical activity playing outdoors when compared to waiting their turn at a team sport practice, dance class or language lessons.  For older kids, do not sign up for more than one activity at a time.  Make sure that children have some downtime each day.    

3.  Eat meals at home more often.  Pre-plan menus for the week to make it easier to prepare meals at home.  

4.  Stop hovering.  Back off from your children in certain situations.  This has been a big game changer for me.  Years ago, when our four oldest children were not school age I spent hours at the parks or story hours.  I hovered like crazy constantly telling my children to share, wait your turn, etc. It definitely makes for nice manners which is important but I interfered way too often, eliminating their ability to do that on their own.  

5.  Slow down and smell the roses!  I know life is busy, trust me!  Just try to occasionally slow down and let the children go at their own pace.  Maybe start with only 15 minutes a day where you just slow down, sit on the floor or dawdle behind them letting them lead.

6.  Unplug everyday for a certain amount of time.  Follow the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations to limit screen time to 2 hours or less per day.  This will be difficult at first if it is new to your family, but trust me over time your children will be more engaged, creative and independent.  They will be bored on occasion but will find things to do on their own.  Start out offering some suggestions of what to do when the screens go off ie. read, crafts, activity books, etc.      

7.  Create a structured homework routine to get it completed as efficiently as possible to allow for free time. Distractions will make it harder to complete the work so turn off the television, keep an organized space and encourage children to focus on their work.  Allow for physical activity prior to homework so the child's brain is ready to focus.

8.  Allow some extra time when you are getting ready, preparing meals or chore time.  Even 5 minutes more can be enough time for your child to tie their own shoes, put on their coat, wash a few dishes or pour a bowl of cereal.

9.  Kids should play outside every day for at least 6o minutes a day.  That's it, plain and simple - head outdoors!

10.  Advocate for more recess time at your children's school.  Here is a great article to get started with research to back up Why Recess Is Important for all children.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

10 Reasons Why Children Have Trouble with Self Regulation

Lately, I have been wondering why kids seem to act out more? Child rearing has changed so much over the last few decades. Children's ability to self regulate and control their emotions is greatly influenced by their environment. Here are 10 things that have changed over the years that can affect a child's ability to self regulate. 

1.  Kids ride in the car way too long! Years ago many families only had one car.  Kids walked or rode their bicycle or you just didn't go.  All that riding in the car, kids start to get impatient and tired. 

2. Kids play organized sports too young or too many hours of organized sports a week. Participating in organized sports requires the ability to follow multi step motor commands, waiting your turn and following rules. Many young kids are not ready developmentally to even do that for a 60-90 minute practice.  Older kids can't hold their emotions together after hour upon hour of structured, rigorous practice.  When I was a child, organized sports did not start until 5th grade.  Now it starts as young as 2 years old. 

3.  Families eat out more often which translates into more waiting.  With dual income households or single working parents, after a long day at work making dinner can be difficult.  Gone are the days that dinner is on the table waiting for the kids after playing outside after school. 

4.  Helicopter parenting.  Parents are right on top of their kids.  Do this, don't do this, share, make nice, blah blah blah (guilty as charged sometimes).  Kids sometimes don't even get a chance to make a decision.  We try so hard for them to avoid conflict that when it does occur they are not ready for it.      

5.  Families are in a state of constant rushing. There is no time to dawdle, jump in a puddle, or watch the clouds float by.  Frequently, work comes home with parents.  Thanks to email and cell phones, gone are the days when you left your job and 5:00 and didn't think about it again until 9:00am. Rush, rush, rush to the next scheduled activity. When little ones pass by a dandelion and can't make a wish, stop and search for the perfect rock or walk along the curb they get grumpy. 

6.  Kids zone out on television or technology all day long. Years ago you could only watch children's programming certain times per day. Otherwise, there was complete junk on tv so you turned it off.  You went and found other things to do when you were bored instead of zoning out with a tablet. 

7.  Kids have more homework. This cycle begins at a very young age. Preschoolers have homework. Elementary school and older can have hours of homework. This makes for very little downtime in children's lives. 

8.  Children have less time to learn to be independent.  It is easier for parents to just do it for the kids sometimes rather than slow down and let the children do it themselves. When a toddler wants to put on his own shoes and mom/dad has to run off to work, the toddler melts down when all he/she wants to do it be independent.

9.  Kids don't play outside enough.  When I was a child and we would get rambunctious, our mother would yell "go outside!" and she didn't mean for 5 minutes.  We would head outdoors for hours, burn off steam and be ready to come indoors for dinner with our bodies and emotions in control.

10.  Children have less recess time during the school day.  If you had to sit all day long, listening to a teacher, following rules and never getting a break you will be at risk for a meltdown too!   

Read the next blog post for 10 Suggestions to Help Children Stay In Control.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

5 Ideas for Family Fun Night for Under $5

On the rare occasion that we are all home for the entire night, I get excited.  As our children get older, it can be hard to have everyone together all evening.  When those nights do happen, we like to make it fun (and since I am a cheapskate - economical too).  Here are some of the things we do when we are all together:

1.  Family cooking wars - see who can create the best edible treat with different ingredients that you have in your pantry or fridge.

2.  Card Games - read my 5 best card games to play with the family.  We are a card playing family for sure so this activity gets picked the most.

3.  Category GamesPerfect activity for family game nights. Younger children can be on a team to help come up with different words in the categories. Older children or adults can record the answers.  These games are fun and challenging for all ages. 

4.  We love to play Set the Record! - This game is great because children of all different ages may be able to hold the family record.  Time for the kids to beat the adults!

5.  Memory Games - Download the Memory Challenge packet or try this classic from when I was a child. One person gathers small items from around the house and puts them on the tray.  Place the tray in the middle of the table. Everyone studies the objects on the tray for 30 seconds. Cover up the tray.  Each player has one minute to write down on paper all of the objects they can remember from the tray.  Compare your answers.  If you are playing with young children who can not write, have the children close their eyes.  Remove one or two items.  The children open their eyes.  Can they remember what you removed?      

What is your favorite, cheap family fun game night?

Friday, April 8, 2016

Memory Challenge - Welcome to the Zoo

Welcome to the Zoo is a freebie from the Memory Challenge packet.  Study the picture, fold the paper and see if you can remember all 12 objects.  Kids can play alone or with a group - see who can remember the most objects.  Download the Zoo Memory Challenge at Growing Play.    See additional information below on the complete Memory Challenge packet.

Memory Challenge:  This 28 page PDF document will challenge your visual memory skills. There are 2 versions of the game.  The easier version consists of 20 pages with 12 objects on each page.  Memorize the objects, cover them up and write what you can remember. The difficult version includes one recording sheets and 5 memory boards with 100+ objects on each page to try and remember.  Perfect for a family game night or for solo play.

Download a free sample page - Welcome to the Zoo.

To purchase the download of Memory Challenge for $3.99 ADD TO CART below.  You will receive an email to download the document immediately following payment.  SALE PRICE OF $1.99 until 4/30/16.


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Creative Brain Series Question #4 - Fountain of Youth?

Here we go again with question #4 - Imagine you have the choice to drink from a fountain that will keep you at any age forever.  At what age would you drink from the fountain and why?

This post is part of the Creative Brain Series from Growing Play on creativity, imagination, outside the box thinking, something quick to do while you are waiting or a boredom buster.  The series will include one question every couple of days to get children and adults to think on their feet.  There is no right or wrong answers just try to be creative.  Spend 1-2 minutes to think or just blurt out the first thing that comes to mind to share your answer.  

I struggled answering this question.  Partially because there are positives and negatives to every age and stage in my lifetime.  So here goes nothing - I would actually pick right now!  My mid forties.  Although my life is very hectic at times, all my children are still living at home (college in only two years away for our oldest), we have a decent balance between work and home life and I have a statement my almost 80 year old mother made years ago stuck in my head...she stated one of the happiest times in her life was when my 6 siblings and I were all younger.  

Answer Creative Brain Series Question #3
Answer Creative Brain Series Question #2
Answer Creative Brain Series Question #1

Monday, April 4, 2016

STOP Digitally Sedating Your Kids!

When young children need to wait at a restaurant, doctor's appointment, a siblings basketball game, etc. do you toss a tablet or smartphone in front of them?  This type of digitally sedation may be harming your child's ability to develop patience and self regulation.  Children need to gradually learn how to sustain attention, control their behavior and emotions and to simply wait.  When you offer excessive stimulation to children the second they start to wiggle you create a vicious cycle of zoning out on technology instead of interacting with the real world.

I am extremely concerned about overall child development when I see children as young as 5 with their own iphones.  It saddens me to see healthy 8 year old boys sitting underneath a tree at a playground huddled around a smartphone.  The teenage years should be spent hanging out and socializing not taking hundreds of selfies.   

I hear many parents say "what's the big deal?" technology is a part of our everyday world.  Children have to be exposed to it and learn how to use it at an early age.  I couldn't agree more!  Children do need to learn how to use technology in order to function in the education system and the work force. Watching Netflix is not learning technology. Zoning out on cause and effect apps is not learning technology.  Trolling through Instagram is not learning technology.  

You know what the solution is to fix the digital sedation. STOP bringing babies and young children to situations where you need to keep them waiting for long periods of time. Going out to dinner with a mobile baby or even worse a toddler can be torture.  They are hungry and want the food right away. They don't want to sit in a high chair while they wait and listen to you talk.  So here is a tip - eat at home as often as you can until they get older.  Don't eat at restaurants where you have to order drinks, then appetizers and then the main meal.  It is an unrealistic expectation to think that a toddler will sit for that long without some fall out.  That being said, on occasion you do need to eat out or bring a toddler to an event where they need to sit still (ie church, sporting events, assemblies, etc).  Instead of digitally sedating your child, try bringing a small bag of items to entertain a baby.  Bring books, a few crayons, a small notebook and a special snack.  Maybe toss in some boredom buster activities for older children if you will be waiting a long time. You may not get 30 minutes of sitting still but you should get a few minutes.  This teaches the child to sustain their attention, sit quietly when necessary, control their bodies while waiting and self regulation skills in general.  The CHILD is learning to control their body and emotions not external solutions like passive technology.   

When you go to certain places especially outdoors, ban technology.  Enjoy nature, play at the playground or ride a bicycle.  At dinner time, establish a no technology rule for all family members to help children learn to wait, practice table manners and socialize in person not just via social media.  One of my biggest pet peeves is people who use social media while sitting around the dinner table!  

Making all of these suggestions happen is hard work! Parenting would be so much easier if we allowed unlimited use of technology and digital sedation - certainly a lot quieter!