Tuesday, December 14, 2010

It’s Time Your Child Sleeps in His Own Bed

What an exciting time - your child finally grows from his crib into his big boy bed. 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!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Why You Must Make Time for Family Meals

While 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!

SOURCE: http://family.samhsa.gov/get/mealtime.aspx

Monday, December 6, 2010

Saying Thank You to Your Child’s Teacher

I am blessed to work in a school filled with generous parents. Each winter holiday and every end-of-the-year party brings lovely gifts. Yet, as much as I enjoy the gift cards to fine restaurants and great stores, it’s the words accompanying the gifts that mean the most.

Most recently, a parent presented my teaching partner and me with our class gift. Her words were precious. As a first time mom, she said she was constantly amazed by how much her child was learning. At three years old, she thought he’d learn to play with others, but that was just one small part of what he’d accomplished.

Academically, he could point out numbers in the food store aisles, and read the names of every child in his class. But just as important, he started saying thank you when someone held the door open for him, and was proud to clean up his own toys. She couldn’t imagine how rapidly he was growing and learning. She thanked his teachers for lovingly guiding him down this path.

I am always amazed by how much toddlers learn. They are little sponges who are eager to soak up knowledge. I adore my students but I also appreciate when their parents tell us how they feel. I’ll enjoy a good dinner anytime, but it’s their words that make my job worthwhile.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sending Your Kids to Sleepaway Camp for One or Two Weeks

Sleepaway camp can be a wonderful experience for children, making new friends while leaving the comforts of home to spread their wings. It is also a big business. Over six million children attend camp each summer, and of the nearly 10,000 camps in the U.S., about 60% are residential, according to The National Camp Association (NCA). Traditionally, kids have spent four or eight weeks at an overnight camp, but economic realities and lifestyle changes have forced many camps to add shorter sessions to their schedules.

“About two years ago, as a response to what families were telling us they needed, we decided to implement two week sessions,” says Dee Billia, Director of Marketing and Public Relations, Appel Farm Arts Camp (www.applefarm.org) in Elmer, NJ. “It’s been a resounding success.”

The downturn in the economy forced some families to cut back on the amount of time they send their kids to camp. Four week sleepaway camps range in cost from $1,700 to $7,000, according to the NCA, while two week sessions run between $1,000 and $4,000. Beyond the economics, shorter sessions are also attractive to younger and first-time campers who may be nervous about leaving home for too long. “It’s an easy way to introduce a child to camp,” explains Billia.

Family obligations, including vacations, have also made shorter sessions popular. “From the parents’ perspective, they are trying to do more in their summer, and shorter sessions facilitate this,” suggests John Jannone, Director, Ballibay for the Fine and Performing Arts, (camp@ballibay.com), in Camptown, PA.

Camps have adapted their programs to make shorter sessions valuable to campers. Appel Farms specializes in the arts, from theater and dance, to recording and photography. Their two-week sessions are offered at the front end of each four-week session, and are tailored to a shorter curriculum.

Yet, not all programs can be carried out successfully in shorter sessions. Jannone points out that two weeks is too short for a completely individual-choice program, or a program that puts on full-length theater and musical theater. “But for focused art, dance, and rock programs, it is a very good length,” he says.

Shorter sessions are trend that is here to stay. “It’s an extremely positive experience,” concludes Billia. “Any time spent at camp is a great way for the children to learn and grow.”

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A New Baby’s on the Way – How to Break the News to Your Toddler

No matter how many children you already have, when a new baby enters the family, everyone is shaken up. Here are some tips to help you make the experience as positive for everyone as possible.

1. Timing is important. When you tell other family members about a pregnancy depends a great deal on each person’s age. Your two year old will not understand what you are saying if he you don’t look pregnant. Nine months is almost half his lifetime and way too long to be told you are pregnant. Wait until you are about five months along. At that point he can see where the baby is, and it gives him enough time to digest the news.

2. Be inclusive. It’s important to include your children in your pregnancy. Let them feel your belly, especially if they can feel the baby kick. That will help them understand that a real person is about to be born. When you begin to set up the nursery or buy things for the baby, let your children be involved. They can help you choose colors for the nursery, brainstorm names, and pick out bottles and rattles. It’s important that they feel part of the process.

3. Make them feel special. Be sure to spend quality time with your child leading up to the birth, making each child know how important he is to you and your family. Stress that because he is older, you will need his help when the baby comes. The new addition will have so much to learn from his big brother and you can’t wait to see what a loving, caring big brother he will be.

4. Ask permission to take your children’s things. For example, if you plan to move your three year into a bed so the baby can have his crib, be careful about how you do that. Begin by telling your toddler that he is big enough now that he can get a big boy bed of his own. Let him help you choose special sheets, pillows, and blankets so that he feels ownership of his new bed. Be sure he is in the bed at least a month before the baby arrives. Then, you can ask him if the new baby can sleep in his old crib since he is a big boy now and won’t need it anymore. Make him feel special to be able to share something so important with his new sibling.

5. Continue to shower them with attention after the baby comes. While everyone’s focus will be on the new arrival, be sure to let your older children know how important and helpful they are during this crazy time. If company comes with gifts for the baby but not the siblings, have a stash of small items that will be special to the older kids. When the company leaves, give your older child a puzzle, coloring book, or similar item as thanks for being such an understanding big brother. Try to take some time when the baby is sleeping to spend quality time with the other kids.

6. Encourage the children to appreciate each other. As your family grows, it is even more important that your kids get along with another, and truly love each other. Sure, there will always be sibling rivalry, but try to find ways to build their relationship as opposed to making them feel like they need to compete for your time and attention.

Congratulations on your new addition! When the baby comes you will be exhausted and there will be chaos for a while. The more you can prepare, the better off everyone in the family will be.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Even Toddlers Can Handle Small Jobs

Most toddlers love to please their parents and teachers. When asked to clean up toys in the classroom, the students beam with pride as they take this responsibility seriously. They will be equally eager to clean their toys at home if they feel that it is their job.

As young as two years old, you can explain to your child that everyone in a family has certain jobs to do and these jobs are very important. His job is to put his toys away when he is finished playing with them. You can help him at first by showing him how to sort the toys (also a great learning skill) such as the action figures from the animals. Be sure your shelves are organized and there is plenty of space on a low shelf that he can easily reach.

When he’s finished, make a big deal about what a great job he did and how helpful he is to you. You might even create a sticker chart that you will fill up with a sticker each time he cleans up. When you reach ten stickers, he gets a special treat, such as an ice cream cone, small toy, special play date, etc.

There are many jobs that kids can do at very young ages. You will need to add more responsibilities as you believe your child can handle them. Helping set the table, putting laundry away, and putting non-breakable groceries in the cupboard are all jobs that toddlers can handle. They will gain pride in helping you and will learn the value of becoming a responsible member of the family.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Creativity is the Key, Not Perfection

I’ve had students over the years whose parents wanted perfection. Yet, the way three year olds learn is by experimenting. The more they try new things, the more they learn. Even when they create things that seem wrong to you, it is important to allow them creative expression.

One of our projects each year is a self-image picture. The child looks in a mirror and tells us what color his eyes and hair are, and how many eyes, eyelashes, nose, and mouth he has. We then give him an oval shape to serve as his face, and he creates his image. One mother approached me after viewing the self-image pictures that were hanging in the hall.

“My son put his eye where his mouth should be,” she said. “Why didn’t you fix that?”

I explained to her that the process in making the picture was more important than the finished product. To make his picture, her son, Bobby, had to cut out the circles for the eyes, use scissors to fringe the eyelashes, glue them onto the face and then draw the nose and mouth. He then chose the color yarn that he wanted for his hair and attached that to his head. There were many skills involved in this, including correctly grasping a scissor and cutting, holding a crayon, gluing and coloring. I did ask Bobby to look in the mirror one more time.

“Is that where your eyes are?” I asked him.
“They are today,” he said laughing.

For whatever reason, Bobby was in a silly mood that day. He knew where his eyes belonged, but he felt like putting one eye near his mouth. Maybe we had a budding modern artist on our hands! Because Bobby did all of the cutting, gluing, and coloring, we allowed him to be creative and complete his own interpretation of his face. By that time, he was much more interested in playing with the toy truck.

His mother felt that we should have made him fix it.
She said, “But compared to all the other pictures hanging in the hall, Bobby’s looks stupid.”

“Maybe you have the next Picasso on your hands,” I replied. “What is important in this project is the process of cutting, coloring and gluing. These activities all use fine motor skills and you can see that Bobby did an excellent job. I am sure that he knows where his eyes belong on his face, but if he wants to be creative, we prefer not to discourage him.”

I do remember years earlier when I was the mother in the hallway comparing my children’s artwork to that of their peers. It is easy to get caught up in the minutiae of the finished product. Does my child cut as well as the others? Is my son behind the curve?

Yet, the more I have worked with different children, the more I value their individualism and creativity. In preschool, kids are experimenting with different mediums often for the first time. Sometimes, just peeling a sticker off its backing is a difficult task in itself. To observe children using their imaginations in their artwork is a beautiful thing.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Celiac Disease and Childhood Food Allergies

When 15 year-old Molly began losing weight, her parents were worried. They suspected her new early lunch period in school was the culprit, but they took her to a doctor to be sure. After about a year of testing, Molly was finally diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune digestive disease that affects about three million Americans. People with the disease cannot consume gluten, a protein found in most grains, cereals, and breads.

“The gluten triggers an immune response so that your body attacks itself and the little hairs on the intestine get blunted so that you can’t absorb your nutrients,” explains Molly’s mother Jennifer North, who is now Vice President of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. Essentially, the body attacks itself every time a person with celiac consumes gluten. People with celiac disease must adhere to a strict gluten-free diet.

Throughout my career, I have taught many children with food allergies. Some have been allergic to peanuts, but our school is now a peanut and tree nut-free environment, so we no longer have to worry about that. Others have had dairy allergies, and one little girl, sadly, couldn’t eat anything at all. Lately, we are seeing more celiac disease.

One of my students, Rachel, had a failure to thrive between ages one and two, gaining no weight and having skin that appeared practically translucent. Doctors knew something was wrong, but it took many tests to finally conclude she had celiac disease. Since the snacks we serve in school are typically crackers, cookies, and pretzels, Rachel could not eat what we served the other children. Her mother provided a basket of snacks specifically for Rachel. They were similar to what the other children ate, but were all gluten-free.

Even at three, Rachel knew that she had to eat her own snacks, and if someone mistakenly put something in front of her that she couldn’t have, she was able to say that she couldn’t eat it. When Rachel was diagnosed, her doctor pointed out that the disease is genetic, so if Rachel had it, one of her parents must have it also. After testing, it turned out that it was her dad. He only recognized his symptoms in hindsight.

“I knew that if I ate certain foods I didn’t feel good, so I stopped eating those foods,” he explains. “I would eat breakfast when I was in grammar school and I would never feel good after breakfast. So, I stopped eating breakfast.”

Though he wasn’t diagnosed until he was 41, he likely had the disease for much of his life. That’s the word the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness is trying to get out. “Celiac has over 300 symptoms, so there really isn’t a typical profile,” points out North. “It can onset at any age.”

As many as 90 percent of people with celiac disease do not even know they have it. Symptoms range from stomach aches and headaches, to bowel issues and discolored teeth. It can also trigger other autoimmune diseases such as thyroid disease or lupus, and even infertility and migraines.

Now that father and daughter are on a strict gluten-free diet, they are both feeling better than ever. Several area stores carry gluten-free foods, and more restaurants than ever offer gluten-free entrees.

People with celiac must be very careful. Gluten is an invisible ingredient, so if a food were contaminated with it, it would be impossible to see it. When Rachel’s father has eaten gluten by mistake, he says he feels like he has the flu for about a month.

North urges people to speak with their doctor and be tested before going on a gluten-free diet on their own. For more information visit www.celiaccentral.org. If your child has any food allergy, be sure to educate her teachers about her disease, what her restrictions are, and how they can best suit her needs seamlessly in the classroom. She shouldn’t be made to feel badly because of this difference from the other students. Also put a large sign in a place that is easily seen by all, which points out the child’s name, picture and allergy. That will ensure that a substitute teacher or parent helping out, won’t mistakenly give the child something she can’t have.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What’s the Right Age to Potty Train?

I find that more families are holding off on potty training their children. Years ago, most children were trained before their third birthday. Today, I have some four year olds who are just being trained. Does it matter? That’s a personal decision, but I believe that when a child is ready, it’s important to take those cues and get the job done.

Sonia was a four year child I taught who was bright, articulate, and strong willed. She was the only child in our class who still wore a diaper. When we would encourage Sonia to use the potty, she would, though reluctantly. She simply didn’t want to be bothered. Though we encouraged her at school, her parents didn’t reinforce this at home, so there was no consistency in her training.

In my opinion, Sonia should have been trained by this time. She understood and recognized how it felt when she needed to use the bathroom. It got to the point where other children would make fun of her for still wearing a diaper. She wore dresses a lot, and when she sat at circle, her diaper was obvious. The kids love to talk about the characters on their underwear, and Sonia seemed embarrassed that she was still in diapers.

Experts say that it’s easiest to potty train a toddler when she’s ready. Watch for those signs from your child and take advantage of the opportunity. Cleaning the bottom of a four year old is not a fun experience. By four, most children should be using the toilet.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Teach your Kids to Say Thank You

Another Halloween has passed, and again, I am amazed at how many children fail to say thank you after getting their goodies. Generally, the really young kids who come to the door with their mothers are prompted with “what do you say?” But the children who are old enough to walk up to the door on their own seem to have lost that sense of appreciation.

I love Halloween! I enjoy the adorable children in their wonderful costumes. I get a kick out of hearing the doorbell ring, and am sad when we don’t get many takers. I like to notice which kids take their time choosing their candy and which just grab and dash. It’s an opportunity to catch up with neighbors I haven’t seen in a while and to see how the kids have grown over the past year.

It just irks me to see so many kids forget their basic manners. In our classroom, we make using good manners a necessity. Whether it’s thanking the child who holds the door open, or using “please” when asking to have a shoe tied, we stress the importance of being polite. We hope that these rules will be so ingrained in the students that it will carry over into their daily lives.

So, parents, I offer you a challenge. Spend this year reminding and encouraging your children to use good manners, including the words “please” and “thank you” in their daily vocabulary. I’ll look forward to well-mannered ghosts and goblins and fairy princesses next Halloween!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

When buying a Pet for a Child

Last week I spoke about the dangers of buying a pet as a gift for someone during the holidays, and the important questions that must be answered first. When considering getting a pet for a child, there are extra considerations. Children may embrace the companionship a pet can provide, but realize that there still needs to be a parent or guardian consenting to the pet as a gift.
• Teach the child how to care for the pet — The parent or guardian must agree to teach the child how to feed, bathe and exercise the animal. Dr. Rosenberg points out that bunnies for Easter are a popular gift, but people don’t understand how to care for them.
• The adult must still be in charge — “The child may be responsible for the animal’s daily care but the parent or guardian will ultimately be responsible for ensuring the pet receives the necessary care and purchasing the animal’s food, toys, treats, bedding and veterinary care,” says Messer.
• Share responsibility — Giving a pet to a child can be a wonderful tool in teaching responsibility, but there must be a sensible adult to intervene when needed.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Do’s and Don’ts of Giving Pets for the Holiday

It’s very tempting to give a loved one a pet for the holiday. You adore your pet and know how much he enhances your life, so you figure your friend will feel the same way. But before you run out and choose a precious puppy or cuddly kitty to give as a gift, there are many things to consider. Most importantly, remember that you are giving someone a lifetime commitment.

ALWAYS Ask First
Surprising someone with a new pet is never a good idea, according to Marc E. Rosenberg, Veterinarian and co-owner, County Line Veterinary Hospital in Marlton, New Jersey. Adds Angela Messer, Director of Operations, Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PSPCA), “This is something that should be discussed at length with the recipient prior to acquiring the new pet.” There are many important things a pet-owner must consider first:
• Do you have time for a pet? — Animals can’t be ignored when life gets hectic. They require food, water, exercise, care, and companionship every day.
• Why do you want a pet? — If it’s because the kids have been begging for one, think twice. Be sure all family members are willing to help with the responsibilities that go with pets.
• Are there any allergies in the home? — While there are certain animal species that are hypo-allergenic, many people are allergic to a variety of pets.
• Are there any living restrictions? — Some apartment complexes forbid pets or have size requirements. Some landlords require declawing of cats.
• Do the personalities of the pet and owner match? — “It’s like getting a spouse unseen,” jokes Dr. Rosenberg. “If you don’t have interaction in the beginning, how do you know this is the pet that’s right for you?”
• Is the home properly set up for a pet? — Are there appropriate gates to keep the pet in a certain space, or a fenced-in yard?
• Can you afford the pet? — The cost of the pet is minute compared to the expense of feeding, training, and providing medical care.
• Carefully consider the breed — Be sure to take into account the breed of animal you select. A very active person may enjoy the high energy of a Labrador retriever over the laid back attitude of a basset hound. Always do research and meet many animals before settling on a specific breed or type.
• Shop together. — “The best thing is to take the person shopping with you to see if they really want a pet,” suggests Edward Wagner, owner of Seaford Pet Emporium in Seaford, Delaware. Pet stores will ask a lot of questions to ensure that you are making the right choice.

More to follow next week regarding pets for children.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Practice Cutting with your Toddler

Scissor skills are important for children to practice, though some parents do not allow their toddlers to use them at home. Concerns over the child harming himself or cutting something that he shouldn’t be cutting, make parents wary of even introducing their kids to scissors. We encourage the use of scissors in school for a couple of reasons. For one, this is an important, though difficult skill, for children to master. It takes a great deal of practice for most children to even learn how to grasp a scissor correctly. Cutting is also a skill that they will need by the time they get to kindergarten, and it takes quite a bit of practice. It is also an excellent way to help develop fine motor skills.

We have three types of scissors in the classroom. For children with very weak fine motor skills, we have a pair that actually has four finger holes. The child puts his fingers into the bottom two holes while the teacher puts her fingers into the top two holes. I find them a bit awkward, but for the very beginners, it helps children learn the proper grasp and the motion of opening and closing the scissor. After that, the child can use a pair that has a spring so the scissor can open itself. The student needs to use the proper grasp, but he only needs to squeeze the scissor shut and then it will open back up automatically. Once the child is successful with this pair, he is able to move on to a regular child’s scissor.

In all cases, the scissors have rounded edges and can only cut paper. They can’t cut a child’s skin or fabric. We place a dot with a magic marker at the base of the thumb hole. This dot serves as the scissors’ ‘eye’ and must point up to the sky. That helps the child understand the way the scissor needs to be held. We then help him put his thumb into the top, smaller hole, and two or three fingers into the bottom hole. Next, we practice opening and closing, opening and closing the scissors.

Even before introducing scissors, we encourage the children to rip pieces of paper. Ripping can be a difficult task before fine motor skills are strongly developed. Some children have trouble with the ripping motion. Once they are able to rip with their hands, they have an easier time cutting with scissors.

When the children do graduate to scissors, we start by having them fringe paper as opposed to cutting it. The fringing motion is a quick opening and closing of the scissor without having to navigate moving the scissor fully across the paper. Once they can fringe, we give them straight lines to cut. Finally, they are encouraged to actually cut out shapes.

I am always amazed at how persistent children are when learning how to cut. Very few children can cut instantly. It’s a skill that takes practice. Yet, even children who have trouble cutting are willing to persevere until they find success.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Importance of Back to School Night

I just enjoyed another Back to School Night – something I will never tire of. There are many advantages for both the teacher and parents during this session. From the teacher’s perspective, I get to meet many of the parents I don’t otherwise see in the halls at school. Working moms and dads generally make an effort to visit their children’s Back to School Night to actually see the teacher in person. I find it invaluable to meet as many of my students’ parents as possible.

It also allows the teacher an opportunity to tell the parents what her priorities are. From mundane tidbits regarding the correct size of the backpack to more important toileting matters, to most important learning concepts, an open dialogue between the teacher and parents is imperative. The session gives teachers a chance to demonstrate what their kids do every day at school. It’s hard for parents to imagine how a three year old actually learns, and this is our opportunity to share the curriculum.

Finally, this night forms a bond between the teacher and parents. While it isn’t the time to talk specifically in detail about how a child is doing, it is a chance for the teacher to tell the parents how adorable, kind, special, their child is.

From the parents’ perspective, it’s an opportunity to experience what their children are doing on the other side of the classroom door. They can see the teacher’s learning style and find out what they can be doing at home to support in-class learning. For example, we urge parents to allow their children to practice cutting at home because it’s a difficult skill that requires a lot of practice. We even show them the type of scissors to buy and where they can purchase them.

The parents also get to meet their children’s peers’ parents at this meeting. Play dates are invaluable, and now that the parents know each other, they are eager to set up get-togethers among their kids.

But, the very best part of all is the incredible slide show. We had almost 100 pictures of our students in action. They painted, laughed, played, and learned and the parents got to see them uncensored.

A big thank you to my classes’ parents because they all took the time to get babysitters and come to Back to School Night. What an enjoyable night it was!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Moms, Remember to Get your Mammograms

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 four 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. While there is certainly conflicting data on when to get your first mammogram, I agree with the ACS, which 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.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Practice Fire Prevention with your Toddlers

Our school year started with fire drills the very first day. We had barely gotten the kids to begin feeling comfortable in our classroom, and we had to endure the loud noise and get them quickly outside. So muchy for preparation.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC,) children ages 4 years and younger are among those at highest risk for residential fire deaths and injuries. So, it’s our job as parents and teachers to teach them what to do in case of a fire.

I heard a story recently about an older child whose clothes caught on fire. There was a swimming pool in the backyard, so he ran and jumped in the pool. While the water seemed like the best idea at the time, in fact, the time he took running to the pool, actually helped the fire burn stronger. Instead, had he stopped, dropped, and rolled, he would have ended up with less severe burns.

It is a scary thought to talk to our toddlers about fire, yet we must. In our three year old classroom, we talk about fire safety in a non-threatening way that the kids actually enjoy. First, the teachers model for the children a scenario, and then the kids take a turn. We say, “Oh, no, there is fire on my pants. What should I do? I need to stop, drop, and roll.” We act it out repeatedly. Each child gets to stand up and tell us where the fire is on their clothes, and what they will do to put it out. They stop, drop, and roll around the floor.

We also talk about the loud bell that goes off if there is a fire. Yes, it can be very loud, and scary, but it is an important bell. It tells us that we must stop whatever we are doing and get out of the building. We don’t stop to clean up toys. We don’t stop to finish our snack. We don’t worry about turning off the TV. What we have to do is line up at the door and together walk outside of the building. We practice this with the kids, encouraging them to help us make the loud noise of the fire alarm.

Our school has fire drills monthly, so we try to do this right at the beginning of the school year so the kids aren’t freaked out the first time the alarm unexpectedly goes off. Of course, this year that wasn't the case. Some kids will be afraid no matter how much you try to practice, but safety is the most important thing. Don’t assume that your toddler won’t understand. Teach him and he will know what to do in an emergency.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Teacher’s Role in Potty Training

I am re-running an earlier post about the teacher’s role as it relates to potty training.

In preschool, a teacher’s primary role is to teach. Of course she will love, nurture, serve as a role model, and even change diapers for her charges, but first and foremost her goal is to teach. At times, parents lose sight of this.

At three years old, Colleen’s parents hadn’t started potty training her yet. Every day she would move her bowels at one o’clock, and you could almost set your watch to it. The girl was very regular. Her teacher spoke with her father, and suggested that they work together to begin to toilet train Colleen.

Her father became instantly offended and told the teacher that he would train his daughter when he believed it was time and it was not her place to make that suggestion. He went on to say that changing his daughter’s diaper was the teacher’s job and she shouldn’t complain about doing her job.

This was a disheartening conversation. To begin with, changing diapers is not in the teacher’s job description for a three year old. In many schools, children who aren’t potty trained aren’t even allowed to enroll. While in our school teachers willingly change children out of love and caring, the teacher’s job is to teach, not change diapers. Potty training can be very difficult, and this teacher was willing to help Colleen’s parents with the task. Her father should have not only appreciated her desire to help out, but also her willingness to change his daughter’s soiled diapers so many times. Face it, a three year old’s bowel movement is very different than that of an infant. It is not a pleasant job for anyone.

Some parents have personal reasons for waiting to potty train their children until they are older, even four or five years old. They believe that if they wait until their child is completely ready on his own, it will be a far easier process. If that is how you feel, at least say thank you to the teacher who needs to clean and change your child while she is at school.

And please don’t lose sight of the teacher’s primary responsibility, which is teaching.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ways to Help Your Child Improve 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 that 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. Give your child strips of construction paper and have him rip them into small pieces. Ripping is a great precursor to cutting.

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.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Time to Start Saving for College is NOW!

As you tuck your adorable little toddler into bed at night, thoughts of college are the furthest thing from your mind. Getting him to sleep through the night and learn to dress himself are way more immediate concerns. Yet, with the average cost of a private four-year school for the 2009-2010 academic year at $26,273, according to the College Board, there’s no time like the present to start saving and planning.

Started in 1996, 529 savings plans encourage families to start college savings when their kids are young. While these plans are subject to the economic conditions of the market, they do offer many benefits. For starters, every state offers at least one plan and they are very user friendly for families who may not be investment savvy.

They are very good for middle income families and families who can’t save a whole lot each month, and there’s usually a good tax advantage for state taxes, points out Cindy Bailey, Senior Policy Analyst at the College Board. It’s the route for parents to begin to look at what these costs are going to be and look at ways they can begin to provide some amount of savings toward those costs, and at least have a cushion.

Look into the 529 savings plans in your state and a couple of others to determine the one that’s best for you. Remember, these plans follow the overall stock market, so when the market is down the plan will lose as well. Yet, if you force yourself to put even a small amount into the plan each month, your forced savings will increase over time.

Beginning in October of 2011, every institution that gets federal funds will be required to have on their website a Net Price Calculator. This tool will allow families to put in information about themselves and get information back about potential financial aid packages at that school.

It’s going to be a very helpful tool across the board for institutions and families, taking the confusion out of what a school will actually cost. The calculator will help you determine how money is given out, how it is packaged, and what you might get. You will be able to get a feel for how much you will need to save when your precious toddler becomes a precocious college student!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Why it’s Important that Your Toddler Learns to Dress Herself

There are many reasons to teach your toddler how to get dressed by herself. For starters, this process teaches the child many skills, including how to navigate sleeve holes, buttons, and even which shoe belongs on which foot. But, it also teaches m independence, and a sense of accomplishment that she got dressed by herself. The icing on the cake is the time that is freed up in your morning routine, because you didn’t have to dress her.

Part of this process involves allowing her to choose her own clothes. That’s not always easy. We had one little girl in our class who wore the same pink dress to school every day for two months. She insisted on wearing it because it was her favorite, and her mother chose not to fight that battle every morning. Eventually, her mother took her shopping and allowed her to pick out several new outfits. That at least expanded her repertoire.

If you want some control over what your child wears, you can offer her choices.
Before she goes to bed at night, let her choose between two outfits that you have selected. Giving her the choice makes her feel more independent, and by doing it the night before, she can take her time in making the decision. But, if your daughter hates to wear dresses, having her choose between two different dresses will probably not fly. You must take her tastes into consideration, as well. As much as you might wish she’d wear a dress, the choices will need to be pants outfits.

It is difficult for a young child to fasten closures, so be patient. Start with zippering. Put the base of the zipper pull into the other side to get it started, and then let your child pull it the rest of the way. Hooks and snaps usually come next, with buttons the most challenging. But you have to let your child try, and fail, and try again, until she gets it right. How proud will both of you be when she accomplishes this important new skill!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

How to Dress Your Toddler for Preschool

As I shook sand out of my flat strappy sandals after being on the playground yesterday, I remembered a golden preschool rule – no open shoes on the playground! I’ve preached this to my students’ parents for years, but somehow my love for my Grecian sandals got the better of my judgment.

As you plan for school, it’s important to consider the right clothing for your child to wear. Of course, clothes should be comfortable, allowing the children to play freely, without worrying about their outfits. Naturally, your kids will get dirty in preschool – that’s part of the fun! If the thought of paint on a collar or scuffed knees from a fall on the playground concerns you, that’s not the right school outfit. We do have the kids wear smocks, but they are not foolproof. Also, many times kids spill juice on themselves, or their neighbors.

Getting back to shoes, preschoolers generally visit the playground daily. Today, most school playgrounds sit on mulch or recycled tires, and there’s often a sandbox. All of these things can find their way into sandals or open shoes. It’s tough, I know, because on hot days, sandals seem perfect, not to mention stylish. Yet, it can also make a playground experience miserable. Closed shoes or sneakers are perfect for the playground, as well as any gym activities.

Today, Velcro closures are blessings, at least until it’s time to teach kids how to tie their own shoes at about five years old. Then, ties are necessary for shoe tying lessons. The very little ones, however, can put on and take off their own shoes when they have Velcro straps.

So, when choosing back-to-school clothes for your preschooler, think comfort and messy fun!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Choosing How Much Time to Send a Child to Preschool

Back in August, I wrote about a dad who was struggling with the amount of time he would send his toddler to preschool. He was choosing between sending his three and a half year old daughter to school three days or five. With a six year old going to the same school his daughter would attend, it would be convenient to take both kids every weekday. Having a two year old at home also meant that it would be easier to have the two older siblings out of the house each day.
Yet, five days just felt like too much school to this dad, and he wondered if three would be better.

I suggested that whatever decision he made, it would likely be right - and the best part is that his decision wouldn’t be irrevocable in the chance it didn’t work out. I would equally weigh two factors. First, his daughter’s temperament. If she’s a go-with-the-flow kind of kid, she will likely thrive whether she goes 3 days or 5 days. The second factor is his wife’s well-being. If she is not ready to give up her time with their daughter and she would love to spend those two days with her, that is really important.

On the other hand, if the baby is keeping his wife busy and it will be difficult for her to keep both girls occupied in a really positive way, five days might be a better choice for the family. The fact that his son will be in the same school will make the transition even easier for his sister, knowing that her big brother is in the building if she needs some reassurance.

Whatever decision he made, I urged him to give it a few weeks before pulling the plug. If after three weeks she seems irritable or overwhelmed, back her down to 3 days. In my opinion the decision is less about age than the child’s temperament and the family’s needs.

They decided to send her for the full day, 5 days per week. Though it seemed like a lot of schooling for a three and a half year old, in the first month of school, she thrived. She really enjoys the school and looks forward to going every day. In the end, this decision worked out well for the entire family.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Importance of the Meet and Greet

We just enjoyed our Meet and Greet, an opportunity for the students and their parents to meet the teachers and see the classroom before school actually begins. This is such an important time for everyone involved.

It allows the student a chance to become familiar with the classroom while Mom or Dad is nearby. She can meet some of her classmates – in our school we have four or five come at once – and not be overwhelmed by a huge crowd. When she walks through the door on the first day of school, she will already know what to expect in the classroom, including where her cubby is, where favorite toys are kept, and who are teachers are.

For the students’ parents, there is often anxiety, especially if it’s the first time the child is going to school on her own. The parents can meet some of the other children and their parents, see the environment where there child will be each day, and have an opportunity to ask any questions of the teachers. Filling the teacher in on where the child in on potty training, explain the child’s temperament, and providing warnings of any food allergies, make the transition that much smoother.

The teachers enjoy this time because they get a sense of the make-up of the class. If a child has trouble focusing, the teacher will know to put her close by to keep her engaged. If a child is afraid of the sound of the toilet flushing, the teacher can warn her when a child is about to use the potty.

We have a few rules that we can discuss with the parents right up front. For example, we ask our parents to try hard to be on time for the child’s sake. For the first 10 minutes of class, the students put their things away and then have time to chat with one another. They love sharing with each other, and when a child walks in late, if we have already started our circle time, she will miss out on the “coffee klatch.” We also ask the parents to leave their child at the door rather than walking into the classroom. Even if the kid is screaming and holding on for dear life, it is important that we peel her off her mom and bring her into the classroom. It is more difficult for a child to transition if Mom comes into the room, and it makes it even harder for the other kids whose parents do not come in when they see another parent.

Have a wonderful school year!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Welcome Back to School – Get Organized

Welcome Back to School – Get Organized
After a harried morning waking kids who were used to sleeping late, making lunches, and arguing over “appropriate” clothing for school, now you can take a deep breath. Whether you are at work or at home, you know your kids are tucked safely away at school.

This is a great time to begin getting organized. Use a calendar to keep track of sporting events, religious school, birthday parties, etc. And don’t forget to check that calendar every night to be prepared for the next day.

It’s also the time to set up carpools. It’s virtually impossible to drive all your kids to all their events, so take advantage of sharing this responsibility with neighbors. When you are the driver, listen to the chatter in the back seat. It’s amazing what you’ll learn about your kids, and their friends, when they forget that you are the chauffeur.

Make lists. Whether it’s “To Do,” a grocery store list, or birthday card reminders, an organized parent is a happier parent. It’s hard to keep track of everything, and lists are helpful reminders.

Sort Closets. In many places, Fall weather is erratic. Schools can be hot, or cold, and kids may need to wear layers. Get rid of the things that your child outgrew, and organize drawers and closets so the kids can find what they need on their own. Even three year olds can dress themselves with a little assistance.



Enjoy some “me” time. If you can give yourself a half hour to do something special for yourself, whether it’s on your lunch break or while you’re at home, it will go a long way in recharging your batteries for the hectic after school activities that await you. Take a walk, enjoy a cup of coffee, watch a soap opera – whatever will make you relax.

Get into a routine. As best you can, create a routine that works for the whole family. Kids can brush their teeth, get dressed, and make their beds all on their own, and then come down for breakfast with a little time to spare. It’s your job to enforce this and it will make your life way easier while teaching your kids responsibility.

Have a wonderful year!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Buying Back-to-School Clothes

This is repeated from last year at the request of some preschool moms.

Part of your school planning process involves having the right clothing for your child to wear to school. Be sure to choose comfortable clothes for school days. The children should be able to play freely, without worrying about what they are wearing. One year, we had a little girl, Carly, whose mother made all of her clothes. She operated a cottage business making and selling children’s clothing. Every day, Carly came to school in an outfit cuter than the day before. Her barrettes or hair bands matched the cuffs of her pants, and the way her mother combined fabrics was unusual and unique. Unfortunately, many times Carly’s pants or skirts were too long, and she was constantly tripping over them. We’d have to roll them up just to keep her safe.

Her mother told us that Carly hated getting dressed up, but her daughter was her “sample size.” She needed the other mothers, her potential customers, to see Carly’s outfits. As soon as she came home from school, Carly would rip off her clothing and put on a pair of jeans or sweatpants and a t-shirt, usually her brother’s soccer shirt. She felt much more comfortable in loose fitting clothing.

Carly’s mother had a specific reason for sending her daughter to school dressed as she did, and I always marveled at her mother’s seamstress prowess. She was lucky that her daughter was willing to wear the outfits she created. Fortunately, she didn’t mind if her daughter spilled juice on her shirt or got paint on her sleeve, which are inevitable outcomes for preschoolers.

When buying your child’s school clothes, keep in mind that they will be getting dirty. If you bristle at the thought of scuffed knees from a fall on the playground, or dot marker on a collar, find another outfit that can get dirty. Smocks are not foolproof and snack time is often an adventure in drips and spills.

As for shoes, most preschoolers go on the playground almost every day. Typical school playgrounds have mulch, recycled tires, or some other material that can get into open shoes. While sandals seem perfect for warmer days, having mulch constantly stuck in your shoes makes for a miserable playground experience. Sneakers are way better. It is also necessary to have your child wear tennis shoes on gym days, to be able to take advantage of all the activities.

When choosing shoes for two and three year olds, I find that Velcro closures are best. Once the children reach four or five, ties are important so the kids can begin learning how to tie. But for the very little ones, having to deal with untied shoes is annoying. Many shoes come with rounded laces which seem to be perpetually untied. Flatter laces tend to stay tied longer.

I learned a trick from a shoe salesman. If you loop the string twice when you make the initial knot, before you start the bow, it tends to hold longer. Then make a double knot and it should last for at least the morning.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

It Takes a Community to Raise a Child

In today’s hectic society, families often need support from the outside. Whether it’s a neighbor who can carpool, a babysitter who can fill in, or a mentor who can provide advice, parenthood is tough and we are lucky if we have other people to lean on.

Sue Ambrose is the type of neighbor who will help anyone with any need, despite having three children of her own, including one with special needs. She is involved in SpEAC (Special Education Advocacy Council,) a parent advisory group whose goal is to work toward the understanding of, respect for and appropriate education of all children with special needs in our community.

While this particular group is an off-board committee of the Moorestown New Jersey Home and School Association, similar groups have sprung up throughout the country to support other families. SPEAC serves as the designated parent advisory group to satisfy the state requirement for parent participation in Special Education.

If you happen to live near Moorestown New Jersey, check out their upcoming event at CafĂ© on Main, called A Gourmet Taste of Hoboken right here in Moorestown! This “fun”-raiser event is open to the whole family on Friday, October 8th at the Moorestown Community House from 6:30-9:30 p.m.

If you live elsewhere, think about ways that you can help other families in your community and take advantage of neighbors eager to help you.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Practice Scissor Skills with your Toddlers

One day in our three year old classroom, I saw Marie sitting under one of the activity tables. As I got closer, I was horrified to discover that the little girl was sitting in the middle of a pile of blond girls. She had given herself a haircut. Whenever a parent tells me that she won’t let her child use scissors at home, I recall the story of Marie. Yet, with constant supervision, I urge parents to help their children learn this important skill.

Learning how to grasp and use scissors isn’t easy. It takes lots of practice from the child and lots of patience from the parent. But it is worth the time and effort. It’s a shame that some parents do not allow their toddlers to use scissors at home. Concerns over the child harming himself or cutting something that he shouldn’t be cutting, make parents wary of even introducing their kids to scissors.

We encourage the use of scissors in school for a couple of reasons. For one, this is an important, though difficult skill, for children to master. It takes a great deal of practice for most children to even learn how to grasp a scissor correctly. Cutting is also a skill that they will need by the time they get to kindergarten, and it takes quite a bit of practice. It is also an excellent way to help develop fine motor skills.

We have three types of scissors in the classroom. For children with very weak fine motor skills, we have a pair that actually has four finger holes. The child puts his fingers into the bottom two holes while the teacher puts her fingers into the top two holes. I find them a bit awkward, but for the very beginners, it helps children learn the proper grasp and the motion of opening and closing the scissor. After that, the child can use a pair that has a spring so the scissor can open itself. The student needs to use the proper grasp, but he only needs to squeeze the scissor shut and then it will open back up automatically. Once the child is successful with this pair, he is able to move on to a regular child’s scissor.

In all cases, the scissors have rounded edges and can only cut paper. They can’t cut a child’s skin or fabric. We place a dot with a magic marker at the base of the thumb hole. This dot serves as the scissors’ ‘eye’ and must point up to the sky. That helps the child understand the way the scissor needs to be held. We then help him put his thumb into the top, smaller hole, and two or three fingers into the bottom hole. Next, we practice opening and closing, opening and closing the scissors.

Even before introducing scissors, we encourage the children to rip pieces of paper. Ripping can be a difficult task before fine motor skills are strongly developed. Some children have trouble with the ripping motion. Once they are able to rip with their hands, they have an easier time cutting with scissors.

When the children do graduate to scissors, we start by having them fringe paper as opposed to cutting it. The fringing motion is a quick opening and closing of the scissor without having to navigate moving the scissor fully across the paper. Once they can fringe, we give them straight lines to cut. Finally, they are encouraged to actually cut out shapes.

I am always amazed at how persistent children are when learning how to cut. Very few children can cut instantly. It’s a skill that takes practice. Yet, even children who have trouble cutting are willing to persevere until they find success.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Creativity Over Perfection for Children

When our children are little, it’s easy to get caught up in the notion that now is the time to teach them to do things the “right” way. We sometimes forget that the way three year olds learn is by experimenting. The more they try new things, the more they learn. Even when they create things that seem wrong to you, it is important to allow them creative expression.

One of our projects each year is a self-image picture. The child looks in a mirror and tells us what color his eyes and hair are, and how many eyes, eyelashes, nose, and mouth he has. We then give him an oval shape to serve as his face, and he creates his image. One mother approached me after viewing the self-image pictures that were hanging in the hall.

“My son put his eye where his mouth should be,” she said. “Why didn’t you fix that?”

I explained to her that the process in making the picture was more important than the finished product. To make his picture, her son, Bobby, had to cut out the circles for the eyes, use scissors to fringe the eyelashes, glue them onto the face and then draw the nose and mouth. He then chose the color yarn that he wanted for his hair and attached that to his head. There were many skills involved in this, including correctly grasping a scissor and cutting, holding a crayon, gluing and coloring. I did ask Bobby to look in the mirror one more time.

“Is that where your eyes are?” I asked him.
“They are today,” he said laughing.

For whatever reason, Bobby was in a silly mood that day. He knew where his eyes belonged, but he felt like putting one eye near his mouth. Maybe we had a budding modern artist on our hands! Because Bobby did all of the cutting, gluing, and coloring, we allowed him to be creative and complete his own interpretation of his face. By that time, he was much more interested in playing with the toy truck.

His mother felt that we should have made him fix it.
She said, “But compared to all the other pictures hanging in the hall, Bobby’s looks stupid.”

“Maybe you have the next Picasso on your hands,” I replied. “What is important in this project is the process of cutting, coloring and gluing. These activities all use fine motor skills and you can see that Bobby did an excellent job. I am sure that he knows where his eyes belong on his face, but if he wants to be creative, we prefer not to discourage him.”

I do remember years earlier when I was the mother in the hallway comparing my children’s artwork to that of their peers. It is easy to get caught up in the minutiae of the finished product. Does my child cut as well as the others? Is my son behind the curve?

Yet, the more I have worked with different children, the more I value their individualism and creativity. In preschool, kids are experimenting with different mediums often for the first time. Sometimes, just peeling a sticker off its backing is a difficult task in itself. To observe children using their imaginations in their artwork is a beautiful thing.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Why Families Should Eat Meals Together Whenever Possible

It makes sense that spending more time with your kids should strengthen relationships, and there’s proof that family meals keep kids healthier on many levels. No doubt, finding the time to choose a common hour when everyone can sit at the dinner table can be challenging. Yet, it’s definitely worth the effort.

Children who eat meals with their families have proven to do better in school and are less involved in dangerous behaviors. Research shows that the time spent talking, debating, and even arguing over the dinner table, helps forge stronger relationships. Use this time to get to know your kids. When parents show that they are interested in what their children have to say, the kids are more likely to be more open about their lives.

There are lots of great things that come out of family meals. For starters, parents will learn more about your kids, and they’ll learn more about you. Take this chance to demonstrate that you value other family member’s opinions. Ask your kids what’s happening in their lives, and discover what matters to them, who their friends are, etc. etc.

Studies also prove that parental involvement and influence are important in preventing substance abuse. Teens 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, compared to teens who have frequent family dinners.

Family meals also encourage healthy eating for all family members. When you eat with your children, it is more likely that meals will be more balanced. Research shows that girls who have five or more meals a week with their families are a third less likely to develop unhealthy eating habits, which can range from skipping meals to full-fledged anorexia or abusing diet pills.

We all lead excessively busy lives. Religious classes, sports, classes, jobs, and many other other activities make finding time for family meals difficult. Yet, I encourage you to do your best to try to make this a priority. Each and every member of your family will enjoy the benefits.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Getting the “Right” Teacher

I remember waiting anxiously for the letter to come announcing the teacher my child would have for the upcoming year. So many times, it seemed like I didn’t get the best choice. Now, as a teacher myself, it’s interesting to sit on the other side of the desk, and wonder how many of my students’ parents think that they could have done better.

In truth, most of the times when I was disappointed with my child’s placement, I was proved wrong. Once given a chance, the teacher came through and gave my child an excellent education. It’s so easy to get caught up in rumor and speculation and believe your child MUST have a particular teacher or he will be doomed to failure. Yet, there are many factors that go into creating a cohesive class, and usually your child’s best interests are considered.

For example, would your child be best educated by a teacher who will push her to work harder or is the gentle approach better? Will the other kids in the class form a complementary unit or are there kids who are more disruptive? In the end, it’s part teacher, part students, and part how it all works together that makes a class a success.

Where I teach we take great pains to create the most effective classes, getting input from the child’s previous teacher, the preschool director, and sometimes the parent herself. If we think two students prevent each other from being most successful, we work hard to separate them. If we believe a child is best served in a smaller class, we make sure she is placed there. If there are children who need additional support, we place them in a class with an extra teacher.

In other words, it isn’t the teacher alone who should make you pleased or not when you get your child’s assignment. Give it a chance even if you don’t get your first choice. Maybe, instead, your child got the best choice for her.

And, in the worst case, even a not-so-great teacher is a learning experience for the child. My daughter had a really crummy teacher one year. I believe she made my child more doubtful about her abilities. While I wish she hadn’t experienced that, it did force our family to work harder to instill confidence in our child ourselves. It taught her that sometimes you have to make a bad situation work, which is an important life lesson at any age.

So, when you open your letter, stay positive. Have faith that your child will have a wonderful year.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Mommy, Please Get Off Your Cell Phone

It’s hard to believe we didn’t have cell phones when our kids were young. I can’t even remember how I arranged what time to pick them up from school or sports, or what I did to occupy my time while I was waiting. Cell phones today certainly make those things easier. If only parents would limit their talk time to necessities.

I get so frustrated every time I walk into Target or the food store and witness a toddler vying for his mother’s attention as she gabs on the phone. I guess one way to prevent your child from asking for things in every aisle is to completely ignore him. Yet, the time you have with your child during shopping excursions is valuable, and when you talk on the phone instead of to your child, you are wasting precious time.

Stores are a great place for impromptu lessons. Pointing out the numbers of the aisles, showing your child a pomegranate, or teaching him how to be patient through the process are all life lessons. When you form a bond with your child when he’s young, you will have developed the important relationship that you will likely need when he becomes a teenager.

I have witnessed children who beg for their parent’s attention while she’s on the phone. They tug at her sleeve, call her name repeatedly, and even throw something out of the cart. That parent undoubtedly gets angry at the child, who only wanted her attention.

I’ve also witnessed kids who simply give up. They realize that Mommy won’t get off the phone no matter what they do, so they sit in the cart in silence. How very sad.

I beg parents to enjoy quality time with your toddlers whenever you get the chance. As the mother of grown children, I promise that one day you will look back and wish for those moments.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Deciding How Much Time a Toddler Should Spend in Preschool

I received a n e-mail from the father of three kids, who is struggling to choose between sending his three and a half year old daughter to school three days or five. With a six year old going to the same school his daughter will attend, it will be convenient to take both kids every weekday. Having a two year old at home also means that it would be easier to have the two older siblings out of the house each day.

Yet, five days just feels like too much school to this dad, and he wonders if three would be better. Here’s what I told him:

I love that you care so much about doing the “right” thing, but I will tell you right now that whatever decision you make, it will likely be right - and the best part is that nothing is irrevocable in the chance it doesn’t work out. I would equally weigh two factors. First, your daughter’s temperament. If she’s a go-with-the-flow kind of kid, she will likely thrive whether she goes 3 days or 5 days. The second factor is your wife’s well-being. If she is not ready to give up her time with your daughter and she would love to spend those two days with her, that is really important.

On the other hand, if the baby is keeping your wife busy and it will be difficult for her to keep both girls occupied in a really positive way, five days might be a better choice for the family. The fact that your son will be in the same school will make the transition even easier for his sister, knowing that her big brother is in the building if she needs some reassurance.

The bottom line is that you can start out putting her in five days and see how she does. Give it a few weeks though before pulling the plug. If after three weeks she seems irritable or overwhelmed, back her down to 3 days. In my opinion the decision is less about age than the child’s temperament and the family’s needs.

The last thing I will tell you is that while this decision is very important now, and I admire your research in trying to do the right thing, whatever you decide will not affect your daughter in the long term. Kids adapt. The school you choose is more important than the amount of time she spends there.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

How to Create a Rewards Chart

Alison, one of my favorite moms (that is mother of one of my students!) was struggling to get her two girls to complete daily tasks without an argument. She and her husband came up with a reward chart that used marbles to earn or lose rewards.

The chart itself uses clip art that is bright, colorful, and whimsical, making the entire process fun for the 5 and 8 year old girls. It allows for the younger girl, who can’t yet read, to be able to understand it.

For example, first line which includes colorful pictures representing the morning routine of waking up, going to the potty, brushing teeth, and getting dressed.For completing those tasks, the girls each get a marble. There are many opportunities throughout the day to earn additional marbles, from washing hands to staying dry all day, to getting themselves ready for school.

Alison explains, “As they got used to it, we started to expect them to do the things with one prompting by us. If they needed us to remind them over again, no marble. Also, there are things they do to earn extra marbles, including any type of good deed that they are doing that wouldn't necessarily be an everyday chore. It definitely encourages them to be helpful to Mommy! For example, they are rewarded for really great behavior if we are somewhere where really great behavior is appreciated.”

Throughout the day, the children can turn their accumulated marbles in for rewards, which Alison has also listed on a chart. These include dessert, an extra book or chapter (depending on the length of the book or chapter,) or 30 minutes of television or computer time. For the child hoping to save money to buy something, any marbles not exchanged can be turned into cash – a quarter a marble. This added money becomes their allowance at the end of the week.


Alison points out that it is fun to give them extra marbles when they earn them, however, the girls lose a marble when sent for time out. The family’s number one sin, lying, loses the whole day’s marbles.

So far, the system has turned their house into a more organized, stress-free environment, while teaching the girls responsibility.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Tips to Avoid Obesity in our Children

With Michelle Obama leading the charge to end childhood obesity, this serious topic is getting more attention. A new study on the subject revealed what most parents already know – there are three easy steps to keeping our kids healthy and avoiding obesity. According to the US Preventative Service Task Force, eating together as a family more than five nights per week, sleeping at least 10 ½ hours on weeknights, and limiting television and video watching to no more than two hours on weekdays, will give your child a 40 percent lower prevalence of obesity.

While these recommendations are fairly obvious, finding the time in our busy, hectic schedules to actually make these things happen isn’t easy. But, it’s necessary. The study points out that since the 1970s, childhood and adolescent obesity has increased three to six times. Approximately 12% to 18% of 2- to 19-year-old children and adolescents are obese (defined as having an age- and gender-specific BMI at 95th percentile).

Obesity can lead to other health problems for your kids, including diabetes and heart disease. Getting them on track now with a healthy lifestyle will set them on a positive path for their entire lives. In addition, all three routines also provide other benefits. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, by eating with your children, it is more likely that meals will be healthier and more balanced.

They also point out that teens 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. 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. They are more apt to tell you when they face difficult challenges or temptations.

The second recommendation, getting enough sleep, can also be easier said than done. By the time everyone gets home from work and after-school activities, has finished the family dinner and homework, getting 10 1/2 hours of sleep can be tricky. Yet, kids who get a full night’s sleep are sharper during the day, have more energy to enjoy physical activities, and stay healthier overall.

The final recommendation, limiting television and video watching, will allow your kids to spend time doing other, more productive activities. Playing a family game, exercising, Hop 66 Ball and reading, will all promote a healthy lifestyle.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ways to Manage Your Time and Help Your Kids Manage Theirs

Last week I talked about managing your time with a newborn in the house. Today I want to talk about kids as they grow into new stages of development. Teaching them how to properly organize themselves and manage their time is an important lesson that will make them more successful throughout their lives.

Elementary
• Use timers – if your child needs to practice an instrument for 20 minutes, use a timer to help him understand how long that is.
• Keep the bedroom TV free – combining a TV with a developing sense of what time is can create conflicts between the parents and children. It’s better to remove the temptation.
• Create visual calendars – make a picture calendar to show school days, activities, and other events that your child will be expected to attend.
• It’s okay to say no – be careful not to over-schedule your child with activities. Allow him some free time to read, color, watch TV, and just relax.

Tweens
• Use a planner – teach your child how to use a daily planner to write down all of her homework and other assignments every day.
• Utilize a home/school folder – have a pocket on one side for things to go ‘to school’ and another on the other side for things to come ‘from school.’ Along with your child, be sure that she has done each of her assignments and that all of her homework is ready to go the next morning.
• Renegotiate expectations – set age-appropriate bedtimes, expectations on the amount of homework your child should do each night, free time on the computer and phone.
• Take the computer out of the bedroom – avoid free time spent on the computer from sabotaging homework time. Your child may not have the internal skills to censor herself.

Teens
• Take advantage of access to your child’s grade and attendance on-line – most schools provide parents with a website and password to view your children’s progress. Be sure to keep track of how they are doing to catch any potential problems before it’s too late.
• Help your child multi-task – there will be long-term assignments that must be carried out over time, along with nightly tasks. Help your child understand how to balance all of her work.
• Help your kids avoid over-scheduling themselves with school work, jobs, extracurricular activities, and a social life. They need to understand how to prioritize demands on their time.
• Kids are more independent, but let them know they can ask for help when needed. Even if they want a sounding board, reassurance helps.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Time Management Tips for Parents with Newborns

I spoke with Maryanne Bourque, MS, RN, Community Education Coordinator at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, DE about time management with new baby in the house. Here is what she said:

Having a new baby can be overwhelming for even the most organized woman. A few tips:
• Keep it simple and keep it realistic! Although there are supermoms who seem to have it all together immediately upon leaving the hospital with their new bundle of joy, the reality is it takes some organization, some realistic goals and some help to manage your time.
• For the first few weeks, remember your body is healing. Try to limit visitors' time in visiting you and number of visitors. If they ask what they can bring, tell them to bring lunch (a small rotisserie chicken, a bagged salad and a baguette from the grocery store can be a real treat!) If family members offer to help, let them come and hold your colicky baby one afternoon while you try and take a quick nap. Let Daddy feed, bathe or put the baby to sleep for the evening - it helps him bond and gives Mom a break. In other words, let people help you - it doesn't mean you can't do it by yourself and people like to feel as if they're truly helping.

• Once you're a few weeks out from the delivery and you're ready to venture out more often, try to get and stay organized:
o When putting clean laundry away, put a clean outfit or two right into the diaper bag. Make sure there's a good supply of diapers, wipes and pacifiers.
o If you're going back to work, try to get ready the night before by laying out clothes for you and the baby (and siblings if this isn't your first!) pack your lunch the night before and keep it in the fridge till morning, throw anything related to errands in the car (dry cleaning, grocery list.)
o Make and keep two essentials: a calendar and a "To Do" list. On the calendar, plug in all appointments, work meetings, social functions so that you'll be able to plan your day, week and month. In keeping this calendar, though, remember flexibility is key - if neither you nor the baby slept the entire night, you may need to reorganize your day. Concentration on tasks may suffer from lack of sleep and being focused on your new baby, a “to do” list helps keep things top of mind.
• Other tips that may help:
o Keep things where they belong (keys by the door, coat hung up, purse and diaper bag in the same place)
o When scheduling things on the calendar, schedule time for yourself (even if it is only 30 minutes a couple times a week) to do something just for you (read a book, take a bath, get a pedicure). When you're comfortable leaving the baby for an hour or so with a trusted family member or sitter, schedule a date night with your partner - it's important to stay connected and communicating. Even if you just take a walk together for 30 - 60 minutes, the time spent alone together is very important.
o When cooking, try to keep to healthy things as much as possible: buy pre-cut veggies, when cooking a meal, double the recipe and freeze half so that you'll have a meal already made to pull out on a busy day.
Thanks to Maryanne for some important and practical advice. As the mom of three kids, I remember those days fondly, even though it was difficult at the time. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Meet NBC Nightly News Anchor Brian Williams

While these pages are generally devoted to parenting advice, today I will digress and share some of the interesting things NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams shared with me. He’s traveled the world to cover virtually every breaking news story in the last decade, and is passionate about explaining these stories to his viewers. He is also very proud of his own children, who are now young adults.

Here are some of the things he told me…..

Williams gained attention as the first and only network evening news anchor to report from New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, arriving even before the hurricane struck. He followed the story from the epicenter, reporting from inside the Superdome. Williams stayed in New Orleans for the aftermath and still visits the region to report on the recovery and rebuilding efforts.

He continues to spend a lot of time on the road, going where the news is. “I’m the representative,” he explains. “Most of the people in my audience are never going to get to Mosul, or Fallujah, or even Grand Isle Louisiana. So, I’ve got to be the guy telling them.”

Williams admits that these stories touch him personally. Returning recently from the Gulf where he covered the oil spill, he still has oil stains on his clothing. “I have some oil on my shirt that has been washed a couple of times – it ain’t coming out. This stuff is as permanent as ink from a pen. You put that in terms that people can understand and that helps to paint a picture.”

“I have a cup of oil from this oil spoil that I got out of the water,” he says. “It’s on our kitchen window sill and everyone who comes in our house looks at it. They take a knife and they dig into it – it’s solidified now. They want to smell it, they want to touch it, they want to see if it stains their skin. They want to experience it. On a larger level, that’s what I’m doing by going to these stories.”

He says that every story he covers affects him profoundly, especially getting to know the people whose lives are touched. Yet, he must remain objective in spite of his personal feelings. “I’ve got to turn around and give you as straight a version of what I’ve found as I can,” he explains.

Balancing Family with Work
With a wife, 22 year old daughter and 19 year old son, Williams has made a concerted effort to spend quality time with his family. “It has not been easy, but now it can be told that when my kids were young I managed to cut a lot of corners, drive real fast, and take an occasional slow afternoon off!” he says.

When his kids were young he worked at MSNBC at night, which allowed him to spend time with his children during the day. “I was the only Dad at a lot of daytime assemblies at school,” he recalls. “My son told me recently that his favorite thing was getting out early on Wednesdays and knowing my car was going to be outside the school waiting to pick him up. In a job where people assume I’m estranged from everything at home, you find a way to make the time you have, quality time.”

While his children aren’t directly following in Dad’s footsteps, they are interested in careers in entertainment. Williams’ describes his daughter as a performer, actress, vocalist, and improv comic. His son hopes to get into sports radio.

Williams is thankful that his daughter has a college degree and his son is in the midst of earning his. Not receiving his own college degree is probably the anchor’s biggest regret. “I didn’t even get a two-year Associates Degree,” he points out. “It’s a regret because you want to say to everybody ‘do as I say, not as I do.’ I happened to land in the one occupation where a degree, that piece of validation per se, isn’t really necessary. But I’m also in a very freakishly unique circumstance.”

He does, however, love to read and believes that his job is a master’s degree in itself. He enjoys Presidential history and American history and is sure to learn about the places he covers in the world. He is also a Bruce Springsteen fan, and recently filled in as a guest DJ for E Street Radio.

Read more in an upcoming issue of SJ Magazine (www.sjmagazine.net)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Take Advantage of Local Events

Now that my kids are older, I don’t take advantage of our local township events as much as I used to. Yet, there are so many opportunities for free family fun, right in my own backyard. In the town where I live, free concerts are offered a half-dozen times throughout the summer, in addition to a town picnic, Halloween Parade, and Movies in the Park.

There are many advantages to bringing your family to these events. For one, they are free. Grab a blanket or beach chairs, some snacks, maybe some bug spray, and off you go. You will likely bump into neighbors you haven’t seen in a while and your kids will probably introduce you to their friends’ parents who you’ve maybe never met.

Watching all of the children dancing to the music is sweet and fun. Some of the music is actually pretty good, but even when it isn’t, it’s fun to dis it with friends and neighbors. Summer is a great time to slow down the pace, avoid the car, and chill out with your kids.

Most towns have websites that advertise all of their events. Google your town’s name and you should find their site easily. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Be a Parent First, Friend Second

Summer is a wonderful time to spend fun, quality time with your kids. You aren’t rushing to get to school, or trying to fit a million activities into each day. Take advantage of this time to really get to know your children. Take the time to discover what they love, what they really don’t like, and what makes them tick. The more you and your children talk now, even about mundane topics, the more they will feel comfortable talking to you when the topics get stickier.

Yet, never forget that you are the parent, not a friend, and your children must understand that line of distinction.

This brings to mind a lunch I enjoyed with my 21 year old son. We sat at a table next to two acquaintances, a 13 year old girl and her mother. My son and I were having a great time, sharing stories, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company. While her mom and I were getting drinks, the young girl said to my son, “I know that’s your mom, but you act like friends.”
He told her that I am his mom but I’m his friend too. She was fascinated by that concept. She said, “I’m not friends with my mom. She doesn’t even know anything about me. She brought me water with lemon and I don’t even like lemon.”

Still fascinated by the concept, she asked him when he and his mother became friends. He told her that it was probably when he got older. She told him that her sister is 21 and her sister and her mother are definitely not friends.

As I thought about that conversation, I realized that is possible to be friends with your kids, as long as you parent first. My husband and I were fairly strict parents, and our kids knew the ground rules. As long as they stayed within the boundaries, we appreciated them for the people they became. There were certainly punishments along the way when our kids definitely didn’t consider us friends. But, there were never surprises. They knew the rules and they were aware of the consequences for breaking those rules.

Now, I am proud to consider my children friends. At 21 years old, my disciplining of my son is pretty much over. I can still provide advice and guide him through new experiences, but I adore the adult he’s become.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Managing Family Finances

I spoke with Steve Cordasco, financial wizard and host of the radio show The Big Money on 1210 AM radio in Philadelphia. Here are a few of the tidbits he shared:

How can a family calculate how much money they should keep in savings?
I usually suggest keeping at least six months of your income in savings. If you have a job that’s vulnerable, keep one year of income in savings.

For someone with a job that may be at risk, how should they prepare in case the worst happens?
Cut their expenses down big time. Areas where you can do that include eating out less – food is your major component. Work hard to try to get your insurance costs down without giving up coverage, by shopping around. Reduce energy costs in your home by adjusting the thermostat. If you’re driving a long distance, get a carpool or take the train. Pack a lunch – you’d be surprised how much that cuts out.

If you have lost your job, what should your priorities be if you are unable to pay all your bills?
You should definitely communicate with the companies you have bills with and let them know what your situation is. Ask if there’s a way to negotiate an easier payment system. It’s never going to be one phone call. You need to be relentless. Today more and more companies are open to that, especially if you are proactive in doing it. Life necessity items must be paid – your health premiums, shelter, the things you need to live day to day, you need to pay first. They can turn the cable off and repossess the car, and you’ll still find a way to manage.

Part of the American dream is that each generation strives to be more successful than their parents. Is that changing for today’s young generation?
Ultimately, it may not be that the generation coming out of college has to have as much stuff as their parents. Maybe their quality of life will be something that’s much more simple than this craziness that you’ve got to have more. Maybe the mindset of letting people borrow and continue to buy even though they don’t have the money will shift with this generation. In the end, are they not doing as well as the generation before them? I would say they are probably going to be in a better place.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Enjoy a Safe 4th of July

With the Independence Day holiday approaching, don’t forget important safety tips for your kids:

1. Steer clear of do-it-yourself fireworks. In most states, fireworks at home are illegal, primarily because they are dangerous. It is difficult to predict exactly where the hot ash will land. Many cities and municipalities offer firework displays that you can enjoy safely with your kids.
2. Cook-outs – Be sure to warn your little ones to steer clear of b-b-q grills. Whether charcoal or gas, remember they are ovens, and you wouldn’t let your child get too close to the oven.

3. Bike safety – Please be sure you and your children wear helmets every time you ride. Stay in designated bike paths whenever possible. If you must ride along traffic, be sure to follow traffic safety rules. Ride with the flow of traffic and obey signs and signals.

4. Suntan lotion – Remember to put the appropriate numbered sunscreen on your children. Generally 30 is sufficient but you can check with your pediatrician. Be sure to reapply after swimming or physical exertion, or simply every few hours while outside. Don’t let a cloudy sky fool you – the sun’s rays are still strong.

5. Water safety – Be sure to watch your young children in the pool or ocean at all times. Even experience swimmers can get cramps, or find themselves in a difficult current.

Happy Fourth of July!!