Monday, November 30, 2009

Start Family Traditions When Your Children are Young

Family traditions are the glue that unites a family, and these special moments help mold and shape your children. Among the many traditions our family enjoys, our favorite by far takes place on Thanksgiving. Now that my children are young adults, I can witness the effect this tradition has on them.

Each Thanksgiving morning, another family joins us at a house at the beach, to assemble 40 Thanksgiving meals. Each meal includes turkey with gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, and cranberry sauce, filled into a carry-out container. We then add a roll, cookie, plastic silverware and a juice box, to make the meals complete.

Each person oversees a segment of the meal, whether it’s cooking, scooping, or assembling. I cook the turkeys the day before, so the whole process takes just a couple of hours. We then load the meals into boxes, get in the car, and drive to the Atlantic City boardwalk. It doesn’t take long to find people in need of food, more this year than ever before.

Practically every person we offer a meal to is incredibly appreciative. There is no greater feeling than feeding someone who is hungry, and the smiles on my children’s faces offer proof of that all day. As we seek out the people who would benefit from our meals, our family bonds. We tell jokes, actually referring to the day as “Bad Joke Holiday.” We enjoy the ocean breeze and brisk wind that often accompanies the November day and reflect on how thankful we are to be able to share with others.

This year we gave our meals out in record time. Sadly, there are too many hungry people. Yet, being able to help just a few is very meaningful to us all. It doesn’t matter what your traditions are, but repeating them year after year for your children is priceless.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, safe Thanksgiving!!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Teaching Your Children Respect

Because it’s Thanksgiving, for the next few days I will be rerunning some of my earlier favorite blog entries. Have a safe, wonderful, healthy holiday! Happy Thanksgiving!

Something happened recently with my 15 year old that reminded me how important it is for parents to begin teaching their children respect when they are very young. My son and a couple of his friends, little men already at 5'10" with sprouting facial hair, and deep voices, had an encounter with some neighbors. The boys have cut through these people's property for the three years we've lived here, as a short-cut to the Bagel Shop across the street.

My son has chatted up the man who lives there, as he is usually on his riding mower or working in the yard. Yesterday, his wife came out and, to give my son's version, she started screaming at the boys for cutting through her property. He came home and told me about the encounter, and said that he and his friends just kept on walking.

About an hour later, this couple rang my doorbell. I had never met them before. They felt that the boys were disrespectful while she was trying to talk to them. They weren't upset about the cutting through, just about their view that the boys ignored her while she was speaking.

She was absolutely right. Both my son and I apologized and he explained that it wasn't his intention to ignore her. He was very sorry. Later, I picked up an impatien plant as a peace offering, and all three boys accompanied me to their home. This time, we took the long route instead of cutting through.

We rang the doorbell and this woman looked at the boys and plant and had the hugest smile on her face. The boys apologized again, and she was overwhelmed. She gave each of us a hug and thanked us for the gesture.

When I initially informed the boys that I couldn't make them come with me, but I thought it was the right thing to do, they moaned, groaned and obviously didn't want to come. Yet, on the way home, (this time cutting through the yards,) they thanked me for making them go. It was just really a nice human moment.

As a teacher, I have been disappointed to note the lack of manners so many of my students demonstrate. By three and four years old, they should be saying please and thank you on a regular basis. That is the exception in my experience, not the rule. I don't understand why this is happening. Manners are the basic form of respect.

In my classroom, the children learn very quickly that they must use good manners. Of course, there will be mistakes along the in the story about my 15 year old. Children model their parents' behaviors, so begin by using good manners at home. Trust me, teachers can tell which kids learn it at home and which don't.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Encourage Your Child to be an Individual - Within Reason

While we encourage every child to be an individual, and nurture the differences that make each one special, there are times when children must conform to the rest of the class. Aaron was an extremely bright, precocious child with a mother who believed that he could do no wrong. She felt that he was more advanced than the other children and should be given special privileges. For whatever reason, he didn’t like to say thank you. When the teachers tried to insist that he use good manners, he’d refuse.

They called his mother and explained the problem they were having. Aaron’s mother said that at home he is allowed to say “T-Y” instead of thank you. She never knew why he was so adamant about it, but as long as he said “T-Y,” that was fine with her. The problem was that in a classroom community where the teachers are trying to instill good manners in young kids, he was allowed to do things differently.

And this wasn’t an isolated example. Andrew’s mother gave the teachers clear instructions regarding what he was allowed to modify if he didn’t want to do something. Sometimes, the teachers followed her wishes, but other times they could not. On one occasion there was outbreak of lice in the classroom. The teachers had to check each child individually by combing his hair in a special way to seek out any lice. Andrew’s mother protested. “He is an individual and he is uncomfortable about having his teacher comb his hair,” she explained.

The teacher responded that she would be very quick and as soothing and gentle as possible, but in this situation Andrew had to conform to the group. They could not risk that he might have lice and would bring them back into the classroom.

We want all of our children to be individuals, but there are times when they must follow the rules and conform for the greater good of the group.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Monitor your Child's Diet to Keep Him Fit

Exercise is half of the battle in keeping kids fit. Their diet is the other half. Ryan came into our class at three as an average sized child. By January, he had gained quite a bit of weight. His cheeks were fuller, his belly was bigger and while he hadn’t grown a lot taller, he was definitely wider. His mother shared her concerns with us and said that she tried to limit his diet, but that was hard to do for a three year old.

We gave her some suggestions to help reverse the trend and keep Ryan physically fit. For starters, his mother told us that he hated to eat breakfast. She figured that was okay because those were calories he wasn’t eating. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that eating a healthy breakfast can help children avoid gaining weight, because they tend to spread their calorie intake throughout the day, instead of eating one or two large meals.

We encouraged her to see a nutritionist, who made several recommendations. For breakfast she would feed him low sugar cereal with milk, or toast with either peanut butter or a low fat cream cheese, or one waffle with fruit. An eight ounce glass of calcium fortified juice was all he needed, as drinks can contain a lot of calories. Ryan typically ate a pre-packaged pizza meal for lunch. It turned out that the meal was laden with calories. Instead, she switched lunch to deli turkey, or humus and crackers, or yogurt, and she included lots of fresh vegetables with a low fat dip to go along with his main dish. She could give him one treat for dessert, such as a piece of candy or small bag of cookies. Depriving a child of something sweet isn’t necessary. Her nutritionist told her that this is his reward for eating healthy foods and that anything in moderation is acceptable.

Let’s start our kids off on healthy paths when they are young. The choices you teach your children to make now, will guide them throughout their lives.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Washing Hands will Help Avoid the H1N1 (Swine) Flu

Regular hand washing will help stop the spread of illnesses, including the H1N1 (Swine) flu. It’s important to teach children how to wash their hands effectively. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are several steps which parents and teachers can pass on to their children and students:

1. Hands should be washed using soap and warm, running water
2. Hands should be rubbed vigorously during washing for at least 20 seconds with special attention paid to the backs of the hands, wrists, between the fingers and under the fingernails
3. Hands should be rinsed well while leaving the water running
4. With the water running, hands should be dried with a single-use towel
5. Turn off the water using a paper towel, covering washed hands to prevent re-contamination.

In the school where I teach, we build hand washing into the daily schedule, and we try to make it fun. With two teachers we are able to divide the class in half, with one half using the bathroom sink and the other half standing on a stool in front of the large sink. Just jumping up and down from the stool is a treat. We also have the children sing either the ABC’s or a hand-washing song to ensure they are spending 20 seconds on the process.

The mother of a 4 year old questioned the school’s policy on hand washing, after her son had gotten sick twice within just a couple of weeks. Neither time he had the H1N1 flu, but she was extremely worried that he might get that next. This mother urged the Preschool Director to have the teachers wash the students’ hands more often.

In our classroom, the children wash their hands with soap and water each time they use the bathroom. They also wash them after playtime which comes just before snack. We wash them once again when they come in from the playground. Though our kids are only in school for 2 ½ hours, three days a week, we feel the time we spend on hand washing is important.

This mother, however, wondered why we didn’t wash the children’s hands as soon as they entered the classroom in the morning. Certainly, we could do that, but with a dozen or more children in the average classroom, that is a time consuming process. If the parent or caretaker washes each child’s hands before entering the classroom, that will allow more time for other valuable activities.

I have always been a big believer in allowing kids to come in contact with germs, because they ultimately need to build defenses against them. Yet, the H1N1 has changed my thinking, at least until this epidemic is behind us. We can all take part in doing our share to help protect our kids.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

With Independence Come Mishaps, but Encourage Your Toddlers to do Things for Themselves

I often preach the importance of encouraging independence in your toddlers. They need to try things for themselves to discover what the world has to offer. Oftentimes, they will try something new but won’t succeed. Part of the lesson is in figuring out how to do something differently the next time, until they ultimately figure it out.

Kudos to 2 year old Brady’s mom. Her little guy so desperately wants to be just like his 4 year old big brother, that he is constantly trying to do things he isn’t yet ready for. For example, Brady was convinced he could brush his own teeth, and he actually succeeded…sort of.

Brady hopped up onto the bathroom stool and grabbed his brother’s toothbrush from the stand. He found the white stuff that he was sure goes on toothbrushes and began brushing furiously. At that moment, his mom stepped into the bathroom and realized that Brady was brushing his teeth with hand soap!

It’s not so easy to get an overabundance of hand soap out of a two year old’s mouth. Though Brady’s mom was somewhat exasperated, it was actually a wonderful moment for her son. He may have been confused about the toothpaste, but he was successful in brushing his teeth all by himself.

On another occasion, Brady observed his older brother blowing his nose into a tissue. Brady’s mother found him sitting next to an empty box of tissues and a toilet bowl filled with the ones he’d used in blowing his own nose. My kids were pretty old before they could blow their own noses, but Brady figured this difficult skill out on his own. Sure, he used up an entire box of Kleenex, and there could have been a nasty overflow in the toilet, but he taught himself an important skill.

God bless Brady’s parents and all the other parents out there with the understanding necessary to allow toddlers to learn new things. It takes a sense of humor of to be a parent. Remember that in the moments when it’s easy to forget.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Under the New Mammogram Guidelines, I Might Now be Dead

I am shocked and disappointed by the new guidelines presented by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force. Contradicting their previous guidelines, as well as those from the American Cancer Society, they believe that women shouldn’t begin mammogram screening until they are 50, as opposed to the old guidelines which urged routine screening at 40. They also suggest that a woman need only be screened every other year, as opposed to every year. Maybe even more shocking is the assertion that women should no longer do self exams.

The reasoning behind the new guidelines is that only about 15 percent of women in their 40’s detect breast cancer through mammography, and only one in 19,000 will die of breast cancer. Yet, many other women face false positives, unnecessary biopsies, and feel anxious about the test.

As one of the 15 percent, I strongly disagree with this change. At 46 years old, I discovered I had breast cancer through a routine mammogram. I felt no lump, nor had any idea there was anything wrong. Even after my cancer was diagnosed, no doctor was able to feel my lump. Had I waited four more years until I turned 50, it’s impossible to say how far the cancer might have spread.

Due to my early diagnosis, I endured a lumpectomy and radiation and am now almost four years cancer free. My oncologist said I had “an excellent little cancer.” Four years later, I doubt she would have used those words.

My friend Claire also had breast cancer. She caught hers through a self-exam, but it did not show up on mammography. Her cancer wasn’t so excellent, and she needed a mastectomy, chemo, radiation, and pretty much went through hell and back. Had she not done a self-exam, it is hard to know what might have happened.

I struggle to see the downside of early screening and self-exams. I would rather be concerned about a false positive, than miss the opportunity to discover I have cancer as soon as possible.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Eating Disorders Can Begin as Early as Preschool

Eating disorders have increased by about 50 percent in the last ten years, according to Lori Feldman-Winter, MD, MPH, Division Head of Adolescent Medicine at Cooper University Hospital. The most common eating disorder today is ED-NOS, Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified. Young girls can become preoccupied with eating and dieting as early as pre-school, even though the behaviors may not show up until later. “This is difficult, because over time, the thought patterns become ingrained,” says Dr. Feldman-Winter. “We would like to identify these thought patterns as early as possible because that’s going to lead to a more likely, complete resolution of the disorder.”

Predominantly girls are affected, with only 5-10 percent of boys having eating issues. Typically, these girls have a distortion in body image. Doctors are able to show a patient illustrations of different body images, and ask the girl to circle the one who she believes mostly resembles her own body. “Very often, there’s a big disparity between the girl she circles and where she actually falls in her own BMI (body mass index) percentile,” says Dr. Feldman-Winter.

The most important thing parents can do is to teach their children healthy eating and exercise habits. With an obesity epidemic in our country, there’s a lot of talk about weight and dieting. “We’re trying to shift that focus to proper nutrition and physical activity,” she explains. “Proper nutrition starts from birth. Everybody thinks that really fat babies are cute, but now we realize that really fat babies may be at risk for having problems with obesity.”

Parents and other adults must also be careful about comments they make that may be harmful to a girl’s self-esteem. A mother complaining about her own appearance, or a coach pushing a dancer to hold her stomach in, can help trigger a girl’s distorted perception of her own body image.

If you notice that your child is restricting what she’s eating, that may be cause for concern. As a child grows, she must gain weight to maintain that growth. If she is getting taller but not gaining weight, that is a red flag. Also, if she makes comments suggesting a disgust with fatness, she may turn that inward. If you are concerned, take your child to her doctor where she can get the help she needs to get back on track before serious, irreversible damage is done.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Eating Disorders Give Young Girls Control

At thirteen years old, bright, out-going Katie, had lost 20 pounds on her 100 pound frame. It was tough being in eighth grade, with all the “drama,” Katie remembers. Diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder that involves limiting the amount of food a person eats,
Katie needed therapy to help her gain the weight back.

Sadly, two years later, she faced anorexia for the second time, after breaking up with her boyfriend of two and a half years. “I just kind of stopped eating,” she explains. “I didn’t have any appetite because I was so sad. But then it got to the point where being able to not eat felt good, because it felt like I had control over that part of my life.”

Control is the key to eating disorders, according to Lori Feldman-Winter, MD, MPH, Division Head of Adolescent Medicine at Cooper University Hospital. Eating disorders come from a combination of psychological issues, biological issues such as a genetic predisposition, and social issues. There is a lot of pressure on kids today academically, socially, and through the media. More than ever before, parents today are extremely involved in the decisions their children must make.

“Kids used to have a lot more freedom in the past, and sometimes, with this sort of authoritarian parenting style, I think lack of freedom sends a very loud message to kids, which is that they’re not capable of making their own decisions,” explains Dr. Feldman-Winter. “Very often, kids will try to find something that they can be in control of.”

Eating disorders have increased by about 50 percent in the last ten years, she points out. The most common eating disorder today is ED-NOS, eating disorders not otherwise specified. Young girls can become preoccupied with eating and dieting as early as pre-school, even though the behaviors may not show up until later. “This is difficult, because over time, the thought patterns become ingrained,” says Dr. Feldman-Winter. “We would like to identify these thought patterns as early as possible because that’s going to lead to a more likely, complete resolution of the disorder.”

Tomorrow I will talk more about eating disorders and the warning signs parents can watch out for.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Clean-Up Time: Your Child’s First Job

I am a big believer in giving kids responsibilities at a very young age. At two years old, your child is fully capable of helping clean up his toys, and he will enjoy the independence and feeling of usefulness that accompanies the task.

Clean-up time is the perfect chance to promote independence, both at school and at home. Not only do kids do a great job cleaning up, but they love the challenge. In school, we make clean-up time fun. There are two songs that encourage the kids to give it their all. The first is an old standby:

Clean up girls,
Clean up boys,
Put away your blocks and toys,
And don’t forget the little dolly’s cup,
That’s the way that we clean up.

Once they get started, they want acknowledgement for their hard work. That’s where the second song comes in:

I like the way that _(child’s name)__ is cleaning up,
I like the way that ____ is cleaning up,
I like the way that ____ is cleaning up,
Here at school today.

Heaven forbid we leave a child out, he is quick to demonstrate his cleaning prowess. The children work especially hard to be sure we sing their names.

As a parent, it is your job to teach your children how to be a contributing part of your family, as well as a contributor to the greater community. Each person must take some responsibility in being a productive part of their world. The sooner your child accepts this responsibility, the easier it will be for him to continue to find new ways to help out. First, it’s cleaning up his toys, but soon he can help set the table, put away non-breakable groceries, make his bed, and the list goes on and on. He will feel very proud of his accomplishments as he demonstrates that he is an important helper in his family.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Finding and Keeping a Great Caregiver

When my kids were small and I worked full-time, I was fortunate to have some wonderful caregivers. Yet, finding the right person was cause for major stress. My husband and I tended to choose women who generally stayed for only a year, because they ended up going back to school, starting families of their own, or moving into office jobs. Though that meant starting the process all over again, with few exceptions, the sitters we chose were phenomenal.

When it’s time to choose a caregiver, there are many things to consider. Do you want that person to drive your children? For my family, that was a must. If so, you need to be sure they have a clean driving record and a reliable car. Whenever possible, I would let the sitter use my car which I knew was safe.

Do you need flexibility of hours? If you travel or have a schedule that isn’t always fixed, the sitter will need to be flexible. You may even need her to spend the night on occasion. If so, is there a place where she can comfortably stay in your home?

Of course, references are vital. I was all set to hire Mary Poppins, or so she seemed, until one of her references warned me not to hire her. Unfortunately, not all references are honest, and some certainly may have grudges for whatever reason, but you have no choice but to listen to what they tell you.

When interviewing a potential candidate, have her spend some time with your children. See how she interacts with them and them with her. Does she instantly find a game to play or some way to connect with the kids? Do the kids seem to relate to her? How is her tone of voice?

If you can, try to be around the first day she sits. Maybe work from home if possible, or pop in and out several times throughout the day. Try to stay out of her way to encourage her to take charge, but you can keep and eye and ear out to see how it’s going. For the first week, if you can, have your spouse, parent, or neighbor check in occasionally. Set up play dates with neighbors and see what the neighbor thinks of how your sitter is doing with your children.

We had a wonderful sitter who had an eyebrow ring. That certainly wouldn’t be top on my list, but she was so great with the kids that I had to let my feelings about that go. Another one smoked and that was a fireable offense. She said she’d only smoke outside, but I could smell it the moment I walked in the house.

Your child’s teachers will also get a great sense of your sitter. How do the kids react when she picks them up? Is she receptive to passing on communication between the parents and the teachers? Is she on time?

Your children are the most precious thing in the world, and finding someone to fill in for you is never easy. Take your time, take a deep breath, and do your homework. And, if you suspect things aren’t going well, move on.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Special Holiday Gifts in an Especially Tough Economy

One of the positive by-products of this difficult economy is that many people are rediscovering basic family values. As the holidays approach, remember that homemade gifts truly are special, most notably when they come from your toddlers.

Now that my kids are grown, I relish their tiny handprint works of art that they gave me when their fingers were so small. I still use the pencil holder my daughter made out of an old can when she was in the fourth grade. I even continue to put out holiday decorations that were my kids’ original creations, and there is no price that can be put on their value.

While abstract art is fabulous, be creative if you want to find something useful for the recipient of the gift. Christmas ornaments and Chanukah menorahs can be displayed and enjoyed year after year. Signing a work of art with handprints and dating it, will allow you to compare the child’s growth along with his artistic development. What’s more fun than paining feet and walking across a giant greeting card?!

I am not a crafty person, but anyone can create a collage. Choose an old shoe box, and help your children cut pictures and sayings from magazines or used wrapping paper that symbolize the person the gift will be for. Glue the pictures all over the shoe box, the more the better. This is a time consuming project and your loved one will not only enjoy reading the words and seeing the pictures meant solely for her, but she can have fun reading the box over and over throughout the years.

As your children get older, they can help you create CD’s with special songs intended for someone they love, and there are lots of websites that help you create personalized calendars very inexpensively.

So this year, take some of the pressure off and enjoy spending time making something meaningful with your children. Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Importance of Scribbling

As parents and teachers of toddlers, it is our job to encourage our kids to enjoy the process of art, and that begins with scribbling. It’s easy to get caught up in pushing our children to write letters, draw shapes, and create artwork that actually looks like something. That will come, but developmentally, kids need to scribble first.

Generally, at two years old, given a crayon and blank piece of paper, a toddler will create an uncontrolled scribble. She may choose to use different colors, and some lines may be darker than others, but she is experimenting with the crayon and learning how she can control it to make marks on the paper.

At three, children’s scribbles may become more controlled as they better understand the connection between their actions and the marks they see on the paper. Their movements will still be large and generally unorganized.

By the time most children turn four, they are beginning to show some form and organization in their artwork. As they develop better hand-eye coordination and stronger fine motor skills, their drawings will begin to take shape.

You are doing a disservice to your child if you push her to make recognizable pictures before she’s ready. Let her enjoy the process of putting crayon to paper and she will advance at her own pace.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Breast Cancer Awareness for Mothers

Though this blog is typically devoted to preschool and toddler issues, today I'm going to repeat a previous post because it’s so important. This one is 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.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Helping Children Develop Fine Motor Skills

Experts believe that toddlers today have weaker fine motor skills than those of previous generations due to the change is placing babies on their backs in the crib instead of their stomachs. The purpose of placing babies on their backs is to prevent sudden infant death syndrome, but one of the by-products of that may be that babies aren’t using their arms to push themselves up as much as if they were on their backs.

With that in mind, it is the responsibility of teachers and parents to help toddlers catch up with their fine motor skills. There are many daily activities that you can do with your kids at home to help develop these skills. The act of getting dressed includes many fine motor skills, as simple as figuring out how to put on a sock, to the more difficult task of buttoning. Encouraging your child to dress himself at age two or three with simpler tasks will allow him to move on to more difficult ones as his fine motor skills improve.

Encourage your child to use crayons to scribble or draw freely. Play dough or clay is another wonderful tool to develop small muscles while having fun. Hide small toys inside a ball of play dough and encourage your child to find them and pull them out. Use chop sticks or tongs to play a game where the child picks up cotton balls, marbles, or other objects. Jacks and pick-up-sticks are also fun games that promote the use of fine motor skills.

If you don’t mind the mess, and I encourage parents to find a place where their kids can get messy, shaving cream is a great medium to play in. Let your child trace shapes into the shaving cream, or practice writing his name. You can also mix water and corn starch (about 3 parts corn starch to 1 part water) to create a cool mixture to play with. Again, you can hide small objects in the goop, trace letters and shapes, or just have fun letting your child run his fingers through it.

A three year old should be able to cut with scissors, but until his fine motor skills are strong enough, that is really tough for many kids. Encourage your child to work puzzles, play with worry ball, and even make taffy out of marshmallows. To do that, have your child grab a marshmallow between the thumb and index finger of both hands and pull it apart. Continue to flip your fingers so that the right hand thumb is on top, then on the bottom, which allows you to keep pulling the marshmallow. Not only will it turn into a delicious treat, but it will work those small muscles in your child’s fingers.

The more practice our kids get in working their small muscles, the easier time they will have cutting and writing. There are many things you can do at home to get them off to a great start.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Leaving Kids Home Alone

Many parents agonize over leaving our kids home alone, even during daylight hours. What’s the right age to let kids stay home alone? How do we prepare them if something goes wrong?

There is no law that determines the appropriate age when parents can leave their children home alone, according to Voorhees Township NJ Police Sergeant Brian Randazzo. He believes that it is up to individual parents to gauge the maturity and comfort level of their children.

“Along with that, parents need to be open to speak with their children about home security,” he suggests. “You don’t want to scare your children, but you do want to make sure they understand how to open the door completely and how to close the door completely; how to turn the deadbolt lock and how to unlock the deadbolt lock. And also, they should talk about who they would let in the house, when they would ever open the door, and play what-if scenarios.”

When choosing to leave your child alone for the first time, Sergeant Randazzo advises parents to start with small increments of time, which they can gradually increase. Ask the child how he felt being left home alone to help determine if he is ready. Be sure to leave a list of phone numbers in a prominent spot where the child knows to fine it. The list should include 911 in case of emergency, a friend or neighbor who lives close-by, and the parents’ cell phone numbers.

It’s also important to establish the rules for staying home alone. That includes things like, can the child go outside or in the basement or must he stay on the first or second level of the house? Can he have friends over? Is he allowed to use the oven or microwave, run the dishwasher or washing machine, and if so, does he know to clean the lint filter to prevent a fire?

The child should always be sure to have a phone close by, and preferably a land line and not a cell phone. If there is an emergency, the first step is to call 911. “When you see someone who doesn’t belong, call the police right away on the emergency 911 number. We would much rather come and verify that it was just the guy who was there to winterize your sprinkler system than to not find the burglar.”

When calling 911 from a regular phone, the address immediately pops up on the police dispatcher’s screen. When using a cell phone, the call may go to a central station which is not necessarily the closest to the home. The child will need to give his address before the dispatcher knows what precinct to pass the call on to.

When calling 911, the child should immediately give his name and address and explain what the emergency is. The dispatcher will usually stay on the line with him until the police arrive. The child should go to a place in the home where he feels most comfortable, and lock himself in that room. Parents should talk to their children in advance about where that spot might be.

Many parents feel that once their child reaches middle school, at about 11 years old, he is ready to be home alone during the day for a couple of hours. For some families, having a younger sibling there also is a positive thing, because the kids can support each other. For others, watching a younger sibling is too much responsibility for an 11 year old. It really depends on the maturity of your kids and how you feel about leaving them home alone. At whatever age you choose, be sure to have discussions about what to do in an emergency.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Conflict Resolution is an Important Part of Preschool

Learning to share isn’t always easy for a toddler. Conflict resolution is an integral part of preschool. Children must learn how to use their words to express what they are feeling. In our preschool classroom, Shana was a shy four year old who tended to allow other children to take advantage of her. If she had a toy and another child took it out of her hands, she wouldn’t do anything about it. If someone called her a mean name, she would just accept it. We were constantly working with Shana to stick up for herself and express, in words, how she felt. This involved a lot of role playing. If someone grabbed a toy out of her hands, we would help her respond to that child.

“I had that first, you can have it when I’m done,” we’d suggest she tell the other child.

Or, if a student said something that wasn’t nice, we’d encourage Shana to say, “That hurt my feelings.”

We would also have the other child respond so that they could have a dialogue. We’d encourage him to say something like, “May I please use that toy when you’re finished?” or “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.”

Children, especially girls, can be so mean, even at three years old. We don’t tolerate comments such as “You aren’t my friend,” or “You aren’t allowed to play with us.” It only takes one strong ring leader to encourage other children to make a rude comment or do something that hurts another child’s feelings. We ask the child how she would feel if someone called her a mean name. We discuss why it is wrong to make someone else feel bad.

The children must learn that we are one community and we must all be able to get along. That doesn’t mean a particular child has to be best friends with everyone else in the class, but they must be polite and show each other respect.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How Parents Can Say No to their Children Effectively

Some children have learned how to push their parent’s buttons to get exactly what they want. Once you give in, they’ve got you. While it’s incredibly hard at times to do the right thing and say no, you must be able to. I once heard a child in the hallway ask his mother why they couldn’t go to Burger King for lunch. She replied, “Because I said so.” That wasn’t a good enough answer.

Even at four years old, she could have explained to him her true reasons for not going out to lunch. Maybe, she didn’t want to spend the money. In that case, she could tell him that the family is excited to be saving money for something else, maybe an upcoming vacation, a trip to the store, or a special lunch over the weekend. That would teach him that they need to make choices in life, and they have enough money for some things but not for everything.

Or, if she had just stocked up at the grocery store, she could have explained that she bought him his favorite chicken nuggets or deli turkey or whatever she planned to serve him at home. She could make it sound even more special that she planned to work a puzzle with him or play his favorite game after lunch, something that they couldn’t do at Burger King.

Certainly, some children have an answer for everything and sometimes a parent can explain until she’s blue in the face. Then, “Because I said so,” seems easier. Yet, don’t short change your child’s ability to understand your motivation for saying no. There’s always a lesson in that. At the same time, he’s developing his debating skills!

Monday, November 2, 2009

From the Mouths of Babes

I teach three year olds because I think they are incredibly funny and interesting people. They learn new things every day, and they view the world through their limited perspective.

We go out on the playground every day we can, but sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate. On those days, we take the students into a large indoor gym, equipped with toys they can ride, exercise mats, tunnels to climb through and large connectable puzzle blocks. The children still have the opportunity to run around and blow off steam in the gym, even though they are indoors.

After spending time in the gym, one of the teachers called her class to line up to go back to the classroom. She noticed one little girl taking her shoes off.

“Why are you taking your shoes off?” asked the teacher.

“Cause I have sand in my shoes!” replied the toddler.

This child was used to playing in the sandbox on the playground, which caused her to need to dump the sand from her shoes before she came back inside. A creature of habit, she didn’t realize that there is no sand in an indoor gym!