Get outside and get into nature

Tomorrow, April 22, we celebrate Earth Day. As you renew your commitment to care for our planet, keep in mind that the absolutely greatest contribution we can make toward Earth’s stewardship is to raise children who care.

Children raised in a caring family environments have greater capacity for empathy not only toward themselves and others but their communities and world. Children tend to care more deeply about what their parents hold and express as family values. To nurture their interest in nature, children need a parent or another caring adult to take them outdoors and share in their curiosity and wonder.

It’s not enough to say you care for the planet — you got to live it and model it to your children.

So, get the whole family out into nature. Plant a tree. Pick up litter in the park. Construct bee, bat, and bird houses. Participate in citizen scientist pollinator or toad counts. Watch nature documentaries. Visit your local natural history museum. Go camping. Turn over a log to discover insects underneath. Go to the zoo. Watch the birds and squirrels. Take a walk. Go cloud-watching. Pick wildflowers. Wade in a creek.

Need more inspiration? Children who get unstructured playtime outside are healthier, earn better grades, and receive other benefits — learn more in this video from the Nature Kids Institute:

Why Kids Need Nature” from Kenny Ballentine on Vimeo.

Building a strong parent-child bond through Playful Parenting

father-1633655_1280One of the most important and challenging undertakings of parenting is to build strong, close bonds between children and their parents. A strong parent-child connection enables children to become confident, independent, develop healthy relationships, and become a peaceful adult.

In his book Playful Parenting, Dr. Lawrence Cohen points out that through play, children explore the world, work through challenging situations and get connected with the people they are close with.

I have found that approaching common parenting struggles with Playful Parenting techniques to be very effective, and it helps to make things easier and more fun for everyone in our family.

Through play, we get to join our children’s world — promoting mutual respect, exploration, and cooperation while enjoying each other’s company.

Using Play to Manage Parenting Struggles

Parents of young children experience many situations where the child resists when they’re asked to do something: They don’t want to pick up their toys or get dressed to go out; they don’t want their hair washed or their nails cut. The list goes on. Making a game out of these tasks can help. It instantly makes the activity more fun and enjoyable for the child and makes it something they’re much less likely to resist.

When my toddler son was into recycling and trash trucks, we made a game of cleaning up his blocks by saying, “Let’s put all the trash in the trash truck.” The blocks were the trash, and the container was the trash truck. When he was 3 and very much into firefighters, we made a game of getting dressed to leave the house by saying, “There’s a fire! It’s time to get in the fire truck. Let’s get on our fire coats and boots!” He’d then be quick to get on his shoes and coat to get in the car.

Many times, parents think they don’t have time for such games. You’re in a hurry to get out the door, so why add in a game and waste more time? But I find that when we play our way through it like this, it actually takes less time for my children to get ready.

Some critics say that parents shouldn’t have to do this and that a child shouldn’t need a game to make them listen. While it’s true that they don’t need it, and there are many other ways to help children cooperate, it does make it more enjoyable. Just like, as an adult, I find it’s more enjoyable to clean while listening to music, or to fold laundry while watching TV. It’s the same concept.

Playing Your Way Through Fears

Play can help release tension and can make what seems scary into something silly. In this way, it can be used to help children work through their fears.

When my son was 4, he was scared during thunderstorms. The sudden sound of thunder was too startling for him, and it kept him tense at bedtime. One night during a storm, I said to him, “What do you think that thunder sounds like? I think it sounds like a train rumbling down the track.” He loved Thomas the Train, so I suggested, “Maybe it’s Thomas!” He started to laugh, and I kept going: “That was really loud. It must’ve been Gordon, because he’s so big!” This turned it into a fun game and made the experience less scary.

Play can also help with minor stresses. A child may come home upset after a hard day at school but then may get to work out some of those emotions by playing school where he is the teacher and in charge.

Dr. Cohen talks more about the idea of using play to handle childhood anxiety in his book The Opposite of Worry.

Connecting with Children Through Play

One part of Playful Parenting is about strengthening connection between parent and child. Children who feel connected and attached to their parents feel closer to them and thus want to cooperate with them. One simple and effective way to connect with our children is to sit and play with them.

Playing can be hard for adults: We’re out of practice, or have low patience, we may have forgotten how to play, or simply feel like we don’t have the time for it. Some people may feel awkward or embarrassed about being silly and goofy if they participate in children’s imaginative play, like a dad who may not want to sit and play with dolls with his young daughter.

However, when we make the effort to be involved in our children’s interests and carve out even as little as 10 minutes a day for one-on-one child-led playtime, our children notice it and respond positively. Deepening our connection with our children makes them more likely to respect us and to want to do what we ask of them. It helps them feel secure and loved, and makes us all happier.

Connecting through creativity and art

art2Doing art projects and other creative activities with my kids is something that’s very important to me. As a child, I always disliked Art Class because I knew I wasn’t very good at art, but starting when my oldest son was 2, I wanted to make art a part of his life. I wanted to let it be something he could enjoy, whether or not he was good at it.

Over the last few years, art has been a way for us to connect, have fun, and learn.

Allowing children opportunities to create their own art is a wonderful way to help instill creativity and confidence. It can also provide sensory experiences, fine motor activities, and chances to learn about different styles of art.

To first get started with art activities, I spent some time walking around a craft store and selecting items that either seemed like the basics (paint, markers, and glue) or like they’d be really fun (googly eyes and pompoms). While I was there, I also picked up some 5d diamond painting kits for myself to break my hiatus and resume my painting hobby. I also got project ideas from the many blogs dedicated to toddler and preschool art.

Our activities have been very different based on my children’s ages. When my son was 2 and we were just starting, we did a lot of finger painting, sensory activities with things like rice and oatmeal, and water play with cups, bowls, and spoons.  As a preschooler, he experimented with painting with strange objects like ribbons and flowers, and we explored some famous artists. I loved painting of few artists and also decided to hung it at my home for him, so after seeing painting he can get more interest into painting. I decided to get a Pet paint by visiting the custom painting online. Now that he’s 6, we’ve been getting art books from the library for him to select project ideas from, and he’ll help pick out art supplies that he wants to use.

We both try our best to remember that it’s about having fun, not about having a perfect finished product.

When my second and third children were born, I found ways to get them involved in art at an earlier age. I found baby-friendly activities, such as filling a container with colorful tissue paper or a variety of fabric scraps with different textures, and placing paint and a paper inside a sealed plastic bag for them to smoosh around and make their first paintings — completely mess-free.art3

For us, art has been one way to connect. After my second child was born, it was also a way to have some much-needed one-on-one time with my oldest son while his baby brother was napping. For other families, there may be different but equally fulfilling ways of achieving this, if art isn’t interesting to you or it’s not something you can make time for right now. It’s important to explore and find your own ways of connection.

3 tips for connection in the summertime

DSC02151Summertime can bring a variety of opportunities to connect with our children and enjoy new experiences together. It especially can be a time to reconnect with a child who has been at school all day throughout the year and is now home each day.

Here are 3 suggestions for deepening the family connection during the summertime:

1) Start a family tradition or ritual

Creating traditions and rituals each summer, just as during other seasons and holiday times, can help children experience predictability and be a source of family bonding. In our family, summer traditions include minor league baseball games, going to a carnival, visiting all the libraries in the county, and eating dinner outside.

We didn’t consciously set out to create these traditions: They just happened as we found things that our family enjoyed together and things that to us say, “summer.”

You may also want to bring some traditions from your own childhood into your families now.

IMAG007922) Get outside

Research has shown a correlation between time outside and reduced stress levels. Being outside in nature also helps keep kids calmer. Consider a trip to the best points for Apple picking in NJ, they will love it and learn a lot from a nutritive fruit

There are so many opportunities to get outside throughout the day. It can be staying near home and playing in the yard, or venturing out further for a hike or nature walk. Try to visit different playgrounds and climb the playground equipment along with your children.

Or, when you’re in a need of an opportunity for self-care and craving some balance, sit and enjoy a book in the fresh air while they play.

Some of the fun activities my children like to do outside our house include getting a bucket full of shaving cream and some paintbrushes and “painting” the deck using longest lasting deck stain, filling a squirt bottle with water, searching for bugs and pretending to be bugs, doing messy art projects outdoors, and setting up an outdoor movie night. If you are not having a redwood decking but wanna build one for your kids, so that they can do outdoor activities, then contact Outside Entertainment Area Specialists for the deck building.

3) Find fun activities, but don’t force them

A few years ago, I created a “summer wish list” of about 15 places to go or things to do during the summer. We didn’t end up doing all of them, but it was helpful to have some plans and suggestions. Some of those activities became our traditions, while others were one-time only outings.

While these can be great, it’s also important to remember that some may not work out as you planned. Sometimes, what seems like a great idea to us sounds boring to our children. I’ve been trying to take my oldest son strawberry-picking since he loves strawberries and since it was something I loved as a child, but he’s simply not interested. Rather than forcing it, I work on finding other activities he is interested in and focus on being present with him in whatever it is we end up doing. Sometimes that means just playing board games inside.

It’s important to remember that these activities are about strengthening our family connection. If the activity is stressful to you, not enjoyed by the kids, and not creating a good bonding experience, don’t feel bad about scrapping it for something else!

I hope you enjoy exploring, experiencing and connecting with your kids this summer!

Less screen time…more creative, active playtime

screen free wk 2016Editor’s note: May 2-8 is Screen-Free Week, an observance created by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood that encourages children, families and communities to unplug from digital entertainment and spend their free time playing, reading, daydreaming, creating, exploring, connecting, and rediscovering the joys of life beyond the screen. Attachment Parenting International (API) reminds parents to find a balance with screen time in their families and supports a variety of activities — including play — to strengthen and nurture secure parent-child attachment relationships.

Children need to play.

Play is so essential to children’s health and well-being — and so endangered — that the United Nations lists it as a guaranteed right in its Convention on the Rights of the Child. One of the most important reasons to limit children’s screen time is to ensure that they have more time and opportunities for hands-on creative play.

Children play creatively to:

  • Have fun
  • Express their fantasies and feelings
  • Gain a sense of competence
  • Make meaning of their experience.

Hands-on, creative play promotes:

  • Intellectual growth
  • Critical thinking
  • Constructive problem solving skills through opportunities to explore and experiment
  • Self-control.

As the amount of time children spend with screens is increasing, the amount of time children spend in hands-on, creative play is decreasing making us want to recommend you to check out SUPER WHEELS SKATING CENTER here. Also, the more time young children spend with screens, the more time they are likely to spend engaging with them as older children and the harder time they have turning screens off. In addition to the time it takes up, screen media is less conducive to creative play than other media such as books or radio.

The best-selling toys, marketed on television and the Internet, often inhibit rather than promote creativity, because they are either linked to media programs, embedded with computer chips, or both. When children play with toys that are based on media products, they play less creatively because they are not spurred to make up their own world. And toys that talk, chirp, beep, and move electronically mean that a child’s involvement is often limited to pushing a button — hardly a creative activity!

Active play is important, too. Kids need at least 60 minutes of active and vigorous play each day, and one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to meet this goal is by playing outside. Given that childhood obesity is a major public health concern, the amount of sedentary time that children  spend with screens is a big problem. Children ages 10-16 now spend, on average, only 12.6 minutes per day in vigorous physical activity, yet they spend an average of 10.4 waking hours each day relatively motionless.

In  addition, young children living in inner cities are failing to develop essential large motor skills. One recent study found that 86% of disadvantaged preschoolers in 2 cities lacked basic motor skills like running, jumping, throwing, and catching.

While proponents of screen technology laud gaming systems like the Wii, which promotes movement, a recent study suggests that simulating activities by playing on a Wii does not burn as many calories as actually engaging in those activities.

Screen-Free Week is a chance for children and families to experience the joys of play:

  • Play with art supplies
  • Play with words
  • Play with music
  • Make up songs
  • Play with blocks
  • Play with nothing
  • Play cards and board games
  • Play indoors
  • Play outdoors
  • Play tag
  • Play sports
  • Play together
  • Play alone

And when Screen-Free Week is over, keep on playing!

Additional API Resources

Jean_Illsley_Clarke_PhotoAn exclusive API audio recording with Dr. Jean Illsley Clarke on “How Much Is Enough? Attachment Parenting, permissive parenting and overindulgence” — now only $9

2011 AP Month “Families at Play” research

An interview with Sara Adelman, founder of Screen-Free Week, on API’s online The Attached Family magazine

Personal stories on API’s blog, APtly Said:

“Non-TV ways to connect with your kids”

“Screen time and Attachment Parenting”

“Screen time can be family time”

Building a castle with my 5 year old

I’ve always let my children try to do a lot of things on their own, but lately I’ve been making more of an effort to allow my 5-year-old son more autonomy in what he’s doing. It’s sometimes hard to back off and let him make more decisions for himself, but I’m finding it’s worth it.

Recently he announced that he wanted to do an art project, so I suggested he look through our art supplies for some ideas of what he wanted to do. Before long, he came back with a random assortment of supplies – a pair of scissors, used cardboards and plain colored cartons. He was also carrying along these heat guns you commonly see with wires dangling as he walks. As I talked to him about his plan, he still didn’t know what he wanted. I told him to let me know if he needed help, but otherwise I backed off.

kelly shealer - son castleAfter a few minutes, he showed me a piece of black construction paper that he’d cut into the shape of a castle.

He wanted it to be standing up on its own, so I encouraged him as he brainstormed ways to solve his problem. As he made more parts of his castle — which soon became several pieces of black construction paper taped together so they stood — I forced myself to keep from taking over, offering suggestions before he asked for them or telling him, “That won’t work.” I let him figure out on his own whether his plans would work, knowing that the experience of trying and failing is a big part of the learning process.

Each time he had a problem, I asked him, “How do you think you can solve this?” When he wanted to add a drawbridge, he came up with the idea of taping on an additional piece of paper. After he drew and cut out a king that ended up being too big to fit through the door, and I asked him what he could do about it, he answered excitedly, “Make the door bigger!”

I was impressed with how long he worked on the project, how many things he added, and how much he wanted to do on his own without asking for help. The end product wasn’t perfect. It didn’t stand up for long, and he probably spent more time making it than playing with it. But I also know he loved the experience and learned from it.

I know that, with more help or direction from me, the castle could have been much sturdier and neater, but I also know that my son wouldn’t have had as much pride in his work. And I know there would have been more arguments and frustration if I took it upon myself to do something in a way he didn’t like.

I’ve noticed that my allowing him to work on his own through projects like this, as with more daily tasks, has affected his attitude. He’s excited when I let him decide on things for himself or take on a new responsibility, and I feel that this change is helping to strengthen our connection.

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