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.