Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Value of Play

I was watching my two middle children the other day as they were playing house. They were all dressed up in several layers of dress-up clothes and pushing my youngest around the house in the doll stroller. I could hear them talking to each other in tones that grabbed my attention. They were calling each other sweet names and sharing so nicely. I began to think about how they were preparing for their future lives in this role play. They weren't pretending to be bickering children but mature adults who are patient and loving. 

My heart began to sing. Is this a glimpse into the future? Is all of that training truly paying off? No matter where they live or who they become, they will always need the all important skills of cooperation and kindness. I was so glad that they were practicing. It wasn't too long before the utopia of the situation melted into squabbles and the baby began protesting about being the play-dolly. It did however, make me stop and think about the value of "play". Children love to play!

Over the years, we have created some consistent and some special occasion forms of play. Some are typical preschool play and others are a little more unconventional:)  
I have one kitchen cabinet that basically belongs to the baby. He crawls in and out like a little play house when I am working in the kitchen. The things that are in the cabinet are all children's plastics that he loves to rearrange. 
My kids have the typical dress up clothes, kitchen toys, building blocks, education games, etc. But it seems that they like to play in unconventional places most of all. One favorite is taking flashlights into the closet and pretending all sorts of outer space adventures.

One thing that I started recently (Peter's mom does this often when the kids visit her house.) is giving them special play that we do just every once in a while. The favorite is "water play". We fill up several large bowls, buckets, or containers with water and then I give them smaller containers, funnels, basters, spoons, etc. Because I am not excited about cleaning up the mess, I send them outside on the picnic table. The younger ones will play for hours! One variation of this is texture play. Here we fill containers with different textures such as flour, cornmeal, dried beans, etc. It is just so different from anything else that they are excited and entertained. Another modern favorite is shaving cream. I just squirt a little shaving cream on the table and they smear it around like finger paints and draw pictures in the cream. This is also a great way for us to practice writing letters or words without them knowing that we are reviewing school:) When they are done it is only a quick wipe down and they all smell great!

Monday, November 10, 2008

How to get your kids to eat veggies...can you really?

Can you really coerce your kids into eating veggies? Can you force them to eat them? How important is eating veggies vs. having a peaceful meal? These questions are just some of the meal time questions that mothers often ask. While I don't have all of the answers, I want to share a few stories and suggestions that have and haven't worked for me over the years. Hope they help you!

My kids have all eaten veggies really well as babies. It is usually around eighteen months that I begin to see them refuse veggies. My pediatrician said as long as they are eating plenty of fruit and a good variety that it's alright if they don't eat veggies. I wasn't convinced. I decided to create the healthiest meals that I could and then just draw the line and require them to eat it. After all, I am the parent right? Yeah...I did that. I made this great zucchini casserole and put it in front of my kids. The older two wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole. I just drew the line, explained that they would obey and amazingly enough they both began to eat the casserole. Feeling pleased at what a great job that I was doing as a parent I began eating my zucchini casserole. I looked up just in time to see one of my boys shiver and then throw up his entire dinner. Yeah...I can make them eat it but evidently I can't make it stay down!

I decided that it must be a texture issue so I began to do the puree thing. I had an infant so I was pureeing veggies anyway. I would look through the freezer and find the frozen veggie puree that was close in color to what we were eating and then mix it in. You know...butternut squash in the mac & cheese, spinach under the cheese on pizza, and flax seed in all baked goods (not a veggie but very nutritious). The result was that the kids, most of the time, ate the veggies without ever knowing. Amazing! It seemed like I had at last found the answer to getting the proper nutrition down the kids. However, after the baby was old enough to not need pureed food, I quit pureeing as it was a time consuming process.

Now I was back to square one.

One evening in an attempt to get the kids out from under foot as I was preparing dinner, I sliced up some veggies and put them on the table with a little dip. The younger two ate it immediately and one of the older ones took a few bites. I began to do this regularly and before long three of my four were gobbling down the veggies. Because the kids are really hungry and that is the only option, they eat it. My oldest didn't join in on the veggie eating right away but eventually, even he came around and now they will devour a plate of veggies as I cook dinner. They are occupied and out from under foot and they are gobbling down veggies. So, in the end, it was as simple as giving the veggies as an only option in a stress free environment when they were really hungry. There was no forcing veggies or veggie casserole coming back up:) If they are hungry they can munch on veggies while I prepare dinner and if not, they can wait for the dinner to be ready.

I don't know if this will work for you but it has been worth it for me:)

Another last suggestion is to start veggies early. With my first two, I was so concerned about them choking, that I didn't give many veggie chunks until they were developmentally at a place where they were turning into picky eaters. With my third, I would chop tomatoes, avocado, black olives, broccoli, carrots etc. on the tray as soon as she could take chunks. To this day, she eats all kinds of veggies very well. I did the same with my fourth baby and he is a veggie lover as well. I even started some crisper veggies like cucumber before they turned one just sliced really thin. My baby prefers cucumber to almost anything else.

If you have picky eaters...give it a try!

Monday, November 3, 2008

The upcoming elections and children

Today I am thinking about the elections that have already begun by early voting and will be decided tomorrow. I have been contemplating how to get my kids involved and help them learn about our Democracy within a Republic. I wanted to share a few ideas for getting your kids involved and letting them learn about the election process. Whether you homeschool your kids or not, you can play a role in educating them about our government. These ideas are presented with the homeschool family in mind but can be used by any family wanting to make the elections come alive to their children. I used some of these in the classroom when I was teaching. Some of these ideas are a bit late for this election but great to put away in your "election education" file.

Mapping The Results:
This idea is for most any school age kids. I actually remember doing this as a child during the Bush/Quayle elections. Get a blank map of The United States and a red and blue crayon for each child. You will have to give some explanation of the election process and then the kids can watch the results come in with you and color states their prospective colors. With older kids you can even have them make predictions as to how they think the states will go and then compare in the end to the actual map.

Mock Election:
Mock elections are so much fun. I would recommend this for upper elementary students and older but younger siblings can definitely join in. Create a position or office for which the kids can run. Let them make signs and hang them around the house. You can even have a "debate" or speeches by the candidates. Decorate a shoe box and cut a slit in the top to collect the votes. You can even count you votes and announce the "winner" during the elections to fill in the gaps of commercials or color commentaries that the kids aren't so interested in hearing.

Election Party:
I love to have theme parties! Let the kids color flags, make red, white, and blue, construction paper chains, and of course nothing makes a party like the snacks. The important thing is to let the kids be involved in creating, decorating, and baking for your party. Invite friends or have just your family. Either way they will remember it for years to come!

Research Candidates:
For your older students, give them the chance to research candidates both federal and local and see how they stand on the issues that are important to your family. You can even make a spread sheet for them to check or X issues according to the candidate's views. Most candidates have a blog or website that you can find by googling the candidate's name. This may turn out to be a good resource for you! Not only is this teaching research skills but also training them for the years when they will be voting.

Read About Elections From History:
Reading books about elections and past candidates is a great way to learn about the election process. It is a good lesson in History as well as civics. Kids love to hear what happened in the past and there are so many interesting things that have happened with different elections and the rules that govern them.

These are just a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing. Have fun with the elections this year and DON'T FORGET TO VOTE!!