Friday, July 31, 2009

From the Mouths of Babes: Kids Say the Funniest Things

Why are kids so funny all the time? I think it comes with a limited perspective about life. People constantly ask me why I teach pre-school. I spend a lot of my time as a freelance writer, so the combination seems incongruous. I do it because it is so much fun. Every single day, one of the kids says or does something that is hysterical. We laugh a lot in our classroom. Watching kids walk in the door in September with tears in their eyes because they’re scared to leave their mothers, and walk out in June singing a silly song or telling a joke, makes my heart sing.

For example, take the story of Sarah. During the summer camp program, the little girl began searching for something around the classroom. She looked in every child’s cubby, and even on the toy shelves.
“What are you looking for, Sarah?” we asked her.
“Tuesday,” she responded.
“Tuesday? What do you mean you’re looking for Tuesday?”
“My Tuesday underpants,” she replied. “Mommy says this is really screwing up our week.”

I could give you a story for every day of the week! So enjoy the wonderful things your kids say.....if possible, jot them down. When they grow into teenagers, you can pull out your notes and reminisce about the adorable tots they once were!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

I Have to Have THAT Teacher

Pretty soon you'll get the letter that announces the teacher or teachers your child will have next fall. With three kids of my own, I had a lot of angst over those letters. The rumor mill ran rampant and getting certain teachers could potentially make or break you and your child.

Yet, now that I'm on the other side of the door, I urge you to keep your cool if the teacher-you-had-to-have is not the one your child gets. I admit, my kids had a couple of really lousy teachers in their long educational careers. But now that my son is 21, how horrible was it really that I found his second grade teacher to be boring and lazy? I have no doubt that he learned ways to compensate, and the truth is, real life isn't always perfect.

Where I teach we spend a lot of time and take great pains to match students to both the appropriate teacher and the best class for that child. It is a long and painstaking process, that is intended to match personalities, temperaments, and learning styles, while also considering the mix of the entire group. Last year the class I taught was phenominal because the chemistry among the kids and teachers was magical. We all got so much out of the year.

So, before you go postal and call the Preschool Director to complain, take a deep breath and consider why your child received that placement. If you feel a call is necessary, be respectful and allow the Director to explain why your child is destined for a wonderful experience. Nine times out of ten, your child will have the right fit. Once in a while, it may not go as smoothly as you'd like, but try to see the positives in even difficult situations, because every teacher has something important to offer her students.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Please Don't Text While Driving

This page typically offers parenting advice, but today I want to focus on the parents. It seems so innocent to text a quick note while you're sitting at the traffic light. It's even likely that you are so good on your keyboard that you don't even have to look at it any more. As tempting, and time saving, as texting while driving may seem, it's a dangerous habit to get into.

New studies prove the point. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute used cameras to continuously observe drivers for more than 6 million miles. It found that when drivers of heavy trucks texted, their collision risk was 23 times greater than when not texting. This compares to dialing a cellphone and using or reaching for an electronic device, which increased the risk of collision about 6 times in cars and trucks.

Our lives are stretched and we are in constant search of time saving techniques. Yet, think of your kids. There are two possible consequences that should cross your mind every time you text while driving. The first is that you might cause an accident, hurting or killing an innocent child or his parent. How could you possibly live with that? The second is that you might harm your own child or yourself. Again, something you can't live with.

So, please put the phone down. If it's that urgent, pull over. You're quick enough on the keyboard that you can make a pit stop in no time.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Kids and Divorce: How to Help Them Cope

With so many marriages ending in divorce, many involving young children, parents are naturally worried about how to best protect their kids through the process.

According to Allison Granite, MSW, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker who lives and works in Voorhees, “The most important thing parents can do to help ease kids through the divorce process is to constantly reassure them that their relationship with both parents is permanent and continuing. Parents must try to put aside their own personal crisis, which is easier said than done. Tell kids what to expect and give them enough time to process and talk about any major changes, such as a parent moving out of the marital home, before those changes happen. Parents need to be honest, but give age-appropriate answers when their children have questions about the divorce. Remember that although the marital relationship might end, responsible parenting must continue.”

William J. Thompson, Chair, Matrimonial Department at Archer and Greiner, P.C. recommends a few steps that divorcing parents should consider at the start of the process:
• Consider mediation. In many cases it can be quicker, less costly and far less adversarial.
• Be financially aware. You will need to know what assets exist, how much they are worth and how much you owe.
• Know where your money goes. Checking account and credit card statements can help you pull together an accurate and realistic budget of what your family spends and what you will be able to afford in the future.
• Be realistic. It is unlikely that you will receive all the assets or all of your spouse's income. The process is intended to be fair to both sides.
• Keep the children out of the middle. No matter what your spouse's faults, the children deserve a relationship with both parent, and it is not their responsibility to negotiate the divorce.
• Select professionals to assist whom you understand and trust. Ask questions and listen to their advice. A good lawyer will outline the pros and cons of a decision and give reasoned advice.

No couple wants to get divorced, but when it is truly the best thing, you have to work very hard to make the transition as smooth as possible for yourself and especially your kids. Read more in an upcoming issue of SJ Magazine.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Check out the Library

Looking for new, interesting, and cool things to keep your kids learning this summer? You've visited the pool, hit the beach, and have seen every G rated movie possible. You love spending time with your children, but they're getting bored and you're running out of options.

Check out your local library! The library has events for every age group, and toddler story times are always fun for you and the kids. The depressed economy is making the library more popular than ever,as consumers find ways to tighten our belts. Those who might have been regulars at the book store and video stores are choosing to borrow books, CDs and DVDs instead of buying them. Adults who might be searching for new jobs are brushing up on resume and computer skills in classes that the library offers free of charge.

The library staff has accepted the challenge to provide important services for their patrons. After Labor Day,the Burlington County Library System will offer special Friday night activities for the whole family. These include movies, concerts, craft activites, and lots of free family fun.

Burlington County Libraries alone present over 4,000 events each year, including something special for every age group. Starting at birth, there’s Infant Lapsit, which includes story time and socialization activities for kids, as well as a chance for parents to interact with one another. Educational concerts and story times geared toward older kids are also popular events.

So don't forget your local library when looking for an enjoyable activity to do with your kids. And, for more about the Burlington County Library System, check out the Burlington the Beautiful Magazine.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Kids Sick Days

We certainly never want our kids to be sick, but when it inevitably happens, it can be a wonderful bonding opportunity. My 19 year old daughter had 4 badly impacted wisdom teeth pulled yesterday. Her doc said it was one of the more difficult extractions he's ever had, because her teeth were so far up into her sinus cavity. The poor kid is black and blue and in a lot of pain.

Of course, I wish I could take some of her pain just breaks my heart. But I must admit that I enjoy taking care of her. Whipping up milkshakes, playing 500 Rummy, and replacing her ice every 15 minutes are all labors of love that I wouldn't trade away. It's been many years since she's needed me to take care of her like this.

So, when your child gets sick and you have to take off of work, find carpools for your other kids' activities, and rearrange your life without warning, find the silver lining. You get to make him his favorite alphabet soup, play a dozen games of Go Fish!, and cuddle in a way that is very special. They grow up so fast, and while they will always need you, you'll long for those sick days of the past.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Potty Training Tips for your Toddler

I've never heard a parent say potty training was fun, but there are creative ways to find success when potty training your toddler. According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, there is no set age at which toilet training should begin. They advise that the right time depends on a child's physical and psychological development. Between 18 and 24 months, children often start to show signs of being ready, but some children may not be ready until 30months or older. They also advise parents that if their child resists strongly, it is best to wait for a while.

Though the children are supposed to be toilet trained by the time they get into our three year old program, sometimes they aren’t ready yet. In my experience, girls tend to train sooner than boys. Some kids are strong willed and though you know your child could be trained if he wanted to, sometimes you just have to wait until he decides he's ready.

I taught one student whose mother came up with a creative way to entice her daughter to use the potty. At just over two years old, Isabelle’s mother was determined to potty train her daughter. She brought a special potty seat and two packages of Tic Tacs into school, and asked us to place her daughter on her potty seat at exactly 9:40 and 11:15 every day. We needed to instruct Isabelle to sing the ABC song while she was sitting on the potty, and as soon as the song ended, she needed to get up. If she was successful and peed or pooped into the potty, we were to give her one white Tic Tac and one green one.

Though we tried to follow through on Isabelle’s mother’s wishes, that was very difficult to do. With a dozen children and many activities, it was impossible to let those specific times dictate our routine. We did remind Isabelle to try to use the potty a couple of times each day, though the timing varied.

This process actually did work for Isabelle, though her mother was a slave to the process for several weeks. For her, that was just fine, because she got her desired results. It’s important to remember that every child is different, and while that particular process of training worked for Isabelle, it may not work for your child. In creating your own personal plan, you must consider your routine, and how much time you will be able to devote to the process.

According to Dr. Blum, a pediatrician and toilet training specialist at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, “If a child is at home most of the time and has easy and rapid access to a bathroom, than being toilet trained is one thing. If you expect that your kid is going to go to the mall with you, ride 45 minutes in the car, and in those situations, not have easy access to a toilet, that’s a whole other level of difficulty. When you think about toilet training your child you must also consider what you are going to expect of him or her in terms of how long you are going to expect them to be in a place where they don’t have access to a toilet.”

So hang in there....I promise it will happen eventually!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Babysitter Dilemna: Monitor your Caregiver

One of the most difficult things I've ever had to do was hire a full time babysitter for my kids when they were young. I found it incredibly difficult to be sure that the person I chose was trustworthy and reliable. Sometimes I made bad choices and had to quickly rectify them. It was always stressful.

One summer I was at our local swim club where a young child, probably about three years old, was accompanied by a babysitter. The little boy splashed in the baby pool while the caregiver lounged nearby. The trouble was, she paid no attention to him. She read a magazine, gabbed on the phone, and even napped. I was horrified.

That evening, I called the child’s mother at home. I explained that I knew this wasn’t my business and I was sorry to pry, but she needed to know what I had witnessed at the pool.

As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. Neighbors, friends, family members and teachers may have more interaction with your babysitter than you do. Ask them periodically what they think of your caregiver. Is she devoting an appropriate amount of time to your kids? Is she respectful toward them, kind, caring?

To me, that’s the role my kids’ teachers served with my babysitters. Now, as a teacher, I make sure to let the parents know how wonderful (or not so much) their child’s caretaker is. There's no greater peace of mind than knowing that your children are in great hands when you arent' there.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Too Many Plans: Smell the Roses with Your Kids

While I believe that structure is important for children, I think it comes at a cost when every moment of their young lives is planned and scripted. When do children have an opportunity to literally smell the roses (or some non-thorny flower!)?

When I was a young parent, I heard a story of a mother who had an extremely harried life (like most of us.) As she was taking her daughter from one activity to the next, her daughter looked out the car window and noticed the wild flowers that were planted by the side of the road.

“Look at those beautiful flowers!” she exclaimed, her eyes wide and nose pressed against the window.

As her mother was about to tell her daughter that they didn’t have time to get of the car and examine the flowers, she looked in the rearview mirror at the wonder on her daughter’s face. The child was mesmerized.

That day, this mother pulled her car over and she and her daughter got out and played among the wildflowers for a while. She said it was a memory she and her child would never forget.

That story made a huge impact on me. As a parent, I tried to follow her example and allow time for spontaneous moments. I always found the most memorable experiences with my children to be the ones that weren’t planned.

So,among lessons, classes, birthday parties, and all the things you have planned for your child, try to allow for some spontaneous moments. I am sure you won't be sorry.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Make a Regular Date Night with your Spouse

Babysitters can cost a fortune, and finding a steady night each week to escape with your spouse is tough. But, it's vitally important to find a way to make it work. The time alone that you and your spouse spend is invaluable. It allows you to connect in a calm atmosphere where you can actually enjoy uninterupted conversation. It also demonstrates to your kids that you value your adult relationship and make it a point to carve time out to be alone together.

I encourage parents to begin doing this when their children are infants. It sets a standard that the child gets used to without questioning. If you wait until your child is old enough to question why you're leaving her, it will make the separation much more difficult for all of you.

Since babysitters and entertainment out can be expensive, there are ways to get away without breaking the bank. Relatives are always great babysitters if you're lucky enough to have ones available. If not, start a co-op with close friends and neighbors who you trust. You take care of their kids on Friday night, if they'll take care of yours on Sunday.

Many restaurants have off hour or early bird specials. Take advantage of these, as well as coupons. Take a hike in the woods, or visit a park and grab an ice cream cone after. What you do together doesn't matter, as long as it's something you both enjoy. It will give you the time to keep your relationship fresh and prove to your spouse that you value him/her and enjoy time alone. It also gets your child used to spending time without you, even for just one night a week.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Getting your Kids to Sleep in their Own Beds

Your child finally grows from his crib into his big boy bed. Whoo-hoo! Or, so you thought. Maybe he could climb out of his crib, but getting out of his bed is simple and fun. Here are a few tips to keep him in his bed all night:

1. Remind him that he has this way cool bed because he's a big boy now. Responsibility comes with that....that means a few rules. One rule is that he must call for you if he wants to get out of bed. At first, he may call for you a lot, but the first step is that he's not allowed to get out of bed without you.

2. If he starts calling for you excessively, explain that the next rule is that there are only certain times when he can call for you. If he's having a bad dream or feels afraid he can certainly call for you. Or, if he has to go to the bathroom, although be sure he uses the bathroom before bed to help avoid that problem. Give him a small drink before bed so he doesn't wake up thirsty.

No doubt, he will cry for you in the middle of the night and tell you he's scared, because he wants to come into your bed. At all costs, try to avoid that. It's easier at times to let him, but once he enjoys the comfort of snuggling with Mommy and Daddy in bed, it will be very hard to wean him of the privilege. Of course, there are special circumstances, such as a loud, scary storm, where you welcome a family bed, but you have to put your foot down on most other occassions.

3. When he calls you, go into his room and ask him what's wrong. If he says he had a scary dream, let him tell you about it and reassure him that it was just a dream and he's very safe. A nightlight by his bed is often important so he can see his surroundings. Tell him you'll stay with him for five minutes until he falls back asleep, but you are very tired and you need to go back to sleep too. If he doesn't fall asleep in five minutes and starts to cry when you try to leave, tell him that you will wait out in the hall for five more minutes, but then you are going to your own bed by yourself. It is helpful to have a clock by his bed so you can show him exactly what five minutes means. You have to follow through on what you say. If he still calls for you, tell him that you are going to bed, he is safe and you both need your sleep. Then, you have to let him cry.

I know that it is so much easier to give in, but if you nip it in the bud right away, he will understand that he has no choice. Then, on the special occasions when you allow him in your bed, he will recognize that it is truly a special occasion.

I have also had parents tell me that they allowed their child in their room, but the child had to lay on a blanket on the floor. This worked for them, although I don't really see the distinction between the floor and the bed. The point is to set the boundary that his room is where he sleeps and your room is where you sleep.

If you have any other suggestions, please hit comment below and pass them on!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

When Parents are More Concerned with Their Cell Phones than Their Children: a Teacher's View

Teachers see just about everything. So did kids, even little ones. It's important for parents to demonstrate that their children are important through their actions. Here's an example of what not to do.

It is not always easy for working parents to find the time to come into school, but when they can, their children are proud and pleased to have them there. For Roxanne’s fourth birthday, her mother and father both came to school to share in her celebration. We typically invite the family to come for about a half hour. That gives us enough time to sing happy birthday, enjoy a special treat, and if the parent wants to, he can read a story to the class.

Roxanne’s father came ten minutes past the scheduled time, and walked into the classroom talking on his cell phone. He didn’t acknowledge the fact that he completely interrupted what was happening in the classroom. Five minutes later, he got off the phone, not even uttering an apology or explanation. We sang happy birthday to Roxanne, and while the children were enjoying their snack, her father read them a story.

Midway into the story, his cell phone rang again. Unbelievably, he answered the phone and proceeded to speak to the caller. He talked for a couple of minutes, hung up and then continued reading the book.

I have no doubt that he was a businessman who believed that his phone conversations were important. Yet, his utter disregard for the students, his daughter, and the teachers was unconscionable. He should have turned off the phone before coming into the room, but if he had some emergency to handle, he needed to explain that and then take the call out in the hall. This man was concerned only with himself and had no appreciation for anyone else. The only thing that mattered was what he needed at that moment, even over his daughter. At four years old, kids already understand where they fit in the pecking order. What kind of lesson was this to teach his child?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Eat Meals Together as a Family

If your kids are still toddlers, you probably have the time to enjoy meals together as a family. Soon enough though, they’ll get involved in sports, art class, religious school, and the list goes on and on. The more kids you have involved in things, the harder it becomes to carve out a half hour for dinner when everyone can be included. It’s really hard sometimes, but you must make a family meal a priority.

Research has proven that kids who eat family meals do better in school and are less involved in dangerous behaviors. The time spent talking, debating, and even arguing over the dinner table, helps forge stronger relationships. When you show that you are interested in what your kids have to say, you will be amazed at the things they choose to share. Not only will you learn more about them, and them about you, but you get the chance to demonstrate that you value their opinions.

I pulled this off the Department of Health and Human Services Website:
*By eating with your children, it is more likely that meals will be healthier and more balanced.

*Compared to teens that have frequent family dinners, those who rarely have family dinners are three-and-a-half times more likely to have abused prescription drugs or an illegal drug other than marijuana.

*Girls who have five or more meals a week with their families are one-third less likely to develop unhealthy eating habits, which can range from skipping meals to full-fledged anorexia or abusing diet pills.

*Parental influence and involvement is an important tool in preventing substance abuse. Regularly sitting down for a meal with your children is one way to connect with them and be involved with what is happening in their lives.

What Should We Talk About?

*Ask everyone to share their favorite part or biggest challenge of the day.
Plan and then let the kids pick tasks for the next day's menu, preparation, and cleanup.

*Exchange memories about your favorite family pastimes.

*Discuss an activity the family can do together and then put it on the calendar.

*Talk with your children about a book they are reading or a movie they have seen. It might turn into a family book club or a regular movie and popcorn night!

*Ask the kids about their classes, homework, teachers, and upcoming assignments. Find out if they would like your help or want to brainstorm on an assignment.

The importance of regular family activities to share ideas and find out "what's happening" is a great way for a parent to be involved, discuss rules, monitor activities and friends, and be a good role model. The benefits of eating together will last long after your meal ends, especially if you make family mealtimes a regular activity. Take the family meal off the endangered species list and move it back to the VIP list!


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Breast Cancer Awareness

Though this blog is typically devoted to preschool and toddler issues, today I'm going to talk about Mom. I am now three years cancer free, and I need to periodically share my story in hopes of reaching other moms who face a similar ordeal.

According to the most recent stats from the American Cancer Society (ACS), the chance of a woman having invasive breast cancer some time during her life is about 1 in 8. The chance of dying from breast cancer is about 1 in 35. Ladies, that means that when you're in your Little Gym class and you take a look around the circle of 8 women, one of you will likely get breast cancer. Please don't think it can't happen to you.

My cancer was detected through a routine mammogram. I never felt a lump or any pain at all. In fact, after the doctors knew exactly where the lump was, they still couldn't feel it. Believe me...they tried! Because my little lump was detected so early, my oncologist dubbed it an "excellent little cancer." As cancer goes, that was a nice diagnosis to have. It was excellent because it was found early was extremely susceptible to treatment.

I went through a few surgeries and a summer of daily radiation and have been in tip top shape ever since. There is little history of breast cancer in my family - it just happened and no one knows why.

So, to be the best parent you can be, you must take care of yourself. The ACS recommends that women without a family history of breast cancer get their first mammogram at 40. If you have a history, you need to talk to your doctor about the appropriate age to begin. A mammogram is a walk in the park compared to breast cancer treatment. Take a girlfriend, build in a lunch out at a real restaurant to celebrate your health.

I'd love comments from other women, especially those who for some reason refuse to get a mammogram. I want to try to change your mind before it's too late.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Even Colic Flies By

I was at the shore watching a harried dad trying to get his colicky baby to stop crying. He looked like he was going to start crying himself. I remember those days vividly. Though "they" swear it won't happen, all three of my babies had colic. The first was the worst, not knowing what to expect. The poor kid cried day and night. He was just miserable for months.

I do remember some tricks we used. The one that worked best was holding him over my shoulder with my hands on his ankles and his stomach on my shoulder. I rocked him up and down like a lever until his crying stopped. I even tried putting him in his car seat on the running washing machine but that one never worked too well! The magic trick was switching his formula. At the time, it was Nutramigen which was liquid cost twice as much as regular formula. I remember that money was no object if it got him to stop crying.

I bring this up because it reminds me of one of my favorite songs...It Won't be like This for Long by Darius Rucker. The song talks about the stages of his daughter's life and how quickly each one flew by. Now that my oldest is 21, colic was an eternity ago. Yet, at the time, I was a new overwhelmed mom whose kid wouldn't stop crying and it seemed like that stage lasted forever.

So, whatever your children are into now that are making you tear your hair out, just take a deep breath and reassure yourself that it won't be long before they're on to the next thing. In hindsight, even colic flies by.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Show Children Charity

I've been lucky to teach many students whose families were extremely charitable and they built that wonderful trait into their daily lives. While writing checks to a charity is certainly admirable and important, it is not as strong an example for your kids as actually doing something to help others.

One family had a tradition on their birthdays. After opening their birthday gifts, the child (or parent, depending on whose birthday it was,) would choose one gift to donate to charity. They would then travel together to physically give that gift away. It was a wonderful demonstration of the importance of helping others who are less fortunate.

Another family worked together one night each week to cook meals for a charity. They had a great time cooking by side by side, along with other families who shared their vision. Sometimes they would volunteer to bring the food to the home or actually serve the guests they had cooked for.

Since my kids were little, we have done many things to help others. Our favorite occurs every Thanksgiving when we create 40 traditional Thanksgiving meals, filled with turkey, cranberry sauce, veggies....all the fixings! A juice box, napkin, plastic ware and brownie complete the meals. We then drive to the boardwalk in Atlantic City and hand the meals out to the homeless.

It is my family's favorite day of the year, and now we've been doing this for so many years that we would all be heartbroken if the tradition ended. Watching my kids help a homeless person stick a straw into a juicebox is truly an overwhelming feeling. What could be a more basic way to help someone? When my older kids applied to college, they wrote about this experience. Their words were personal, and extremely meaningful. They truly understand what it means to give back to others.

Choose something meaningful to your family, and get your kids involved. We started off when the kids were very small by playing bingo with residents of a nursing home. There are plenty of things little kids can do, and the lessons are invaluable.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

What to Feed the Kids

I'm big on walking the walk...not just talking the talk. Parents must lead by example and it's really hard to know just how to do that. Today, I'll talk about how you can get your kids to try new foods and make healthy choices.

Too often, a child says she doesn’t like something without ever trying it. I feel that parents do a great disservice to their children by not encouraging them to taste an array of foods. Some parents cook one meal for themselves and something else for the children because the kids will only eat chicken fingers, pizza or macaroni and cheese. Once the children get into the habit of demanding such a limited menu, it will be more difficult for them to want to try new things as they get older.

Also, those old standbys are not nearly as healthy as other foods, including fish, poultry that isn’t fried, and fresh fruit and vegetables. If you give your child the same meal that everyone else in the family is enjoying, and you refuse to make a separate dish for just that child, she will realize that she has to try it. Sometimes adding ketchup or another sauce that can change the food’s flavor will make it more appetizing. But, if you tell her she has to eat what everyone else is eating, and then if she refuses, you make her macaroni and cheese anyway, she will learn that she doesn’t have to try new foods.

Every Wednesday in our classroom we have healthy snack day, and one parent brings in a healthy treat for the class. We’ve enjoyed everything from fresh fruit salad to cream cheese on celery, to frozen yogurt. We try very hard to encourage every child to taste whatever the snack is. If they try it and don’t like it, we’ll give them pretzels, which is our old standby that everyone seems to like. But if we offer them two types of snacks and they refuse to taste either, they have made the choice to skip snack that day.

Here’s a story that happened in school. One day we made ‘Stone Soup’ in class after reading the story by the same name. Of course, we skipped the stone, but we put in carrots, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, alphabet noodles and seasoning. Every child tasted the soup, and most of them enjoyed it. When Becky’s mother picked her up that day, she was certain that her daughter had refused to taste the soup. To her surprise, we told her that Becky had eaten every drop. Her mother insisted that Becky would never touch a vegetable at home, and wondered what we did to get her to eat vegetable soup.

Part of the appeal was the fact that Becky helped make the soup. We gave each child a plastic knife and we softened the carrots and potatoes enough that the children were able to cut through them. Every child also had a turn to stir the soup. But Becky also knew that we expected her to at least taste the soup. As the other children around her were enjoying it, she realized that it was okay to like it.

If you offer your child the foods that the rest of your family is eating, she has two choices – she can taste them, or she can be hungry. At some point, her hunger will force her to find something on the table that she’s willing to eat. But, if you give in and make mac and cheese and chicken nuggets for every meal, your child will never learn to eat new and healthy foods.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Prepare for Back to School - Just Have Family Fun

Yesterday I talked about the importance of summer reading, but don't forget that summer is also the time for kids to relax and enjoy family moments.

According to Valarie Lee, Reading Professor at Rowan University College of Education, summer should be a time for family experiences. “You can’t underestimate the value of talking to your kids,” Dr. Lee explains. “It doesn’t have to be expensive vacations, but just opportunities to experience things with your kids. Going to the park, going on a hike, visiting the library - the things that are so enriching for them in the school environment are the conversations you have during those activities.”

Telling stories, playing games, and sharing events are wonderful learning tools for children. Even seemingly mundane activities actually promote learning. For example, Dr. Lee suggests that when visiting the grocery store, talk about products, prices, and print that the kids see around them.

And don’t let those commercials scare you that your kids are going to forget everything they’ve learned in school.

“We create this fear that the kids are going to lose all of this information,” Dr. Lee explains. “Reading is a good example of where they lose a little bit, but if they’re engaged in experiences during the summer that are going to create background experiences, then they bring that schema with them into reading in the Fall when they go back to school.”

This depressed economy has brought many families together, and that's a great thing. Research proves that having family meals together keeps kids out of trouble. It also forges important relationships and there's nothing like dinner table debate to educate every generation! Here I am at 50 years old blogging.....we can all learn from our kids!

So enjoy your summer and don't worry if your kids don't seem to be doing enough on the academic front. Enjoy the experiences life has to offer and they will be learning every day.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Summer Reading - How to Chose

For many families, those three words, Back to School, bring dread and despair. If your kids are past their preschool years, there's a good chance their summer reading book is still in the Borders bag and the packet of work they need to turn in next September is in a corner somewhere collecting dust. No worries.

Experts say that summer is all about family experiences that enrich children's lives and bring a broader understanding of the world around them. Visits to the library, the park, and even a ballgame provide shared experiences that are invaluable. Tomorrow's blog will talk more about that, but today I want to focus on summer reading, and share advice from Farrah Koonce, Principal of the Clara Barton Elementary School in Cherry Hill.

She suggests that there are many ways to keep students from regressing over the summer. “They should engage in some academic stimulation, whether it’s reading, writing, or mathematics,” explains Dr. Koonce. “They need to just be doing something to keep their brains active. Doing something to stimulate their brain is critical.”

For example, visit the library and help your child independently choose a book that interests her. Violeta Katsikis, Instructional Support Specialist at Clara Barton Elementary School, provides guidelines to help kids choose appropriate books. Ask yourself these questions. If the answer is YES, this book is probably a JUST – RIGHT book for you. JUST – RIGHT books help you learn the MOST because you can figure out most of the words and you can UNDERSTAND what’s going on in the book.

1. Is this an interesting book that you want to read?
2. Do you know the author or anything about the topic?
3. Can you tell another person what is happening in the story or
something you have learned?
4. Do you sometimes need to reread a part to understand it?
5. Are there just a few (2 or 3) words per page that you do not know?
6. When you read are most places smooth and some choppy?

Hopefully, you parents are reading, too. When kids see that their parents have a love for reading, it will make them that much more interested in trying it for themselves. And, they don't need to read novels. Experts agree that reading anything is good, be it comic books, magazines, or even the cereal box. It's amazing how much vocabulary kids can pick up by reading just about anything.

When my kids were younger, I often read their summer reading books. Many of them were wonderful, and it gave us a chance to discuss the book together.

Check out the August issue of SJ Magazine for more tips on things you can do with your kids this summer to make school even more successful next fall. The most important thing is to spend time doing activities together.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Give Kids Jobs

My 15 year old son and 19 year old daughter mow our lawn. It's possible that we're the only family in the neighborhood without a professional lawn service. We pay them to do the job, probably the same amount we would pay a service. At times I think professionals might do a better job, but to us, it's about the kids having responsibility to the family.

As young as two years old, you can start giving your children "jobs." At home, parents can set the rule that your child must clean up after himself. Even at one or two years old, you can encourage him to bring a toy to the shelf to help you straighten up. As he gets older, give him more challenging tasks. By three or four, you can teach him how to help you set the table, make his bed, and help you put (non-breakable) groceries away.

Let him know that you appreciate his help, but also that you expect him to pitch in as a productive part of the family. In addition to learning new skills, he will feel proud of his accomplishments and independence.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Divorce Can be Best Thing for Kids

A few years ago I taught a child whose parents were going through a very messy divorce. It was a tough year for everyone in the family. The parents hated that they were putting their children through the process, but they recognized that they didn't want to stay married. Now, three years later, the divorce is final, the parents have created new lives of their own, and the kids are flourishing.

It is sad when young children have to face their parents' divorce, but kids are resillient and they will be healthier if their parents are happy. I grew up in a home where my parents fought constantly and they didn't divorce until I was 16. I think I would have been better off had they made the split sooner, as there was always tension hanging over all of us.

As much as we’d love to shield our children from pain, they do deserve to know things that will affect them. Sadly, there are parents who get divorced while their children are in preschool. It is very hard for parents to know what to say to their children or how to behave in the presence of their spouse.How do talk to a very young child about divorce? Jean Thomas, MD, MSW, a Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at both The Children’s National Medical Center and The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, DC, who is internationally known for early childhood diagnosis and treatment strategies, shares her point of view.

She points out that parents cannot hide their true feelings. “The feelings that they think they’re hiding are shown to the child by their facial expression and body language. Let’s say they are putting on a pretty face every time they are with the child and the spouse. But, the child sees through that and absolutely knows when the parent is having a hard time, despite the false face that the parent presents.”

She suggests that the parents tell the child that Mommy and Daddy have been arguing and have been unhappy. “The problem with not telling the child what’s going on is the facial or body language information the child is reading,” explains Dr. Thomas. “The child thinks that it’s something he’s done. They have very strong little super egos so they blame themselves. That can lead toward a long-term depressive process if it’s not reversed. I think it’s very important that the child understands that there’s a problem.”

Until you are sure that you are going to separate or divorce, you don’t want to suggest to your child that separation is a possibility. “You don’t want to put ideas into their head that are then going to be reversed or fixed,” says Dr. Thomas. “If it’s a done deal and somebody’s moving out this weekend, I would make sure that there is no blame put on one or the other parent. Say something like, ‘Mommy and Daddy aren’t getting along very well and we think we would do better living in different places. We both love you and you know it’s not your fault.’” She says that kids are going to believe it’s their fault even if nobody is blaming them. They might think back to the night before when they were in trouble for spilling their milk as the reason for everyone’s unhappiness today.

So don't beat yourself up if you find yourself in this situation.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Parents Must Lead by Example: Walk the Walk, Don't Just Talk the Talk

Kids don't just learn things through osmosis....they must be taught, and the best way for parents to teach values to their children is through leading by example. Walk the walk, don't just talk the talk.

Parents today are tired. We work hard and the last thing we want to do is fight with our kids. Sometimes, it's easier just to give in than have yet another battle. Well, get over it.

I dont' mean to be harsh, but kids are very, very smart, and they know how to get what they want. It is the parents' job to lead by example, set the rules, and carry them out. When parents tell their kids something, but don't follow through, they have let the ball drop. Consider the story of Trevor.

Trevor was a child in our class who figured out very quickly that his father’s threats were usually idle. One day, we went to the grocery store on a field trip. Trevor was very excited and just wanted to touch everything he saw. First, he grabbed an apple from the shelf, which caused several more apples to roll to the ground. His father reminded him that he wasn’t allowed to touch the food. A moment later, Trevor grabbed a cucumber. This time, Trevor’s father raised his voice and told his son that if he touched one more thing they were going home. Five minutes later, Trevor nabbed a candy bar off another shelf. Again, his father told him to stop touching things or they would go home.

And yet again, Trevor took another item from the shelf. Though his father got angrier, he continued to threaten to leave without having any intention of doing so. There was no incentive for Trevor to stop touching things because he knew there would be no consequence.

Trevor’s dad had two choices. He could have threatened to leave and then actually left, or he could have used another punishment that he could follow through on. For example, he might have told Trevor that if he touched something else, they’d have to sit for five minutes and miss out on the class visiting the lobster tank in the seafood department. Once he followed through on that threat, Trevor would be disappointed to miss seeing the lobsters, but he would know that his father meant what he said.

Parents need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. You have to let your children know that you mean what you say. If you follow through the first time, the kids will be less apt to challenge you the next time.

Thanks to all who have shared stories with me either by email or comment here. I love hearing from you!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Potty Fun: Kids Learn all Kinds of Lessons in the Bathroom

In light of yesterday's post, I thought I'd share a funny story, compliments of my friend Pam, teacher and Pilates instructor extraordinaire. This happened to her when she was teaching in public school:

At five years old, Tristen was able to go down the hall by himself when he needed the bathroom. One day, he came back dripping wet. His hair was especially soaked.
“Tristen, what happened to you?” his teacher asked.
“Nothing,” he insisted, eyes looking down at his feet.
“Tristen, your hair is all wet. It’s okay, just please tell me what happened,” she asked encouragingly.
“I just wanted to see how high my pee could go!” he stammered.

Please share your funny potty stories!