Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Serve up health and happiness

When my daughter was in 5th grade, she loved to memorize facts, especially historical ones. As you might guess, this did not make her very popular. As part of a girl scout project we set up some time for her to volunteer at our town's history museum. She loved it and found another kid just her age who was just as into it as she was. Numerous studies have extolled the benefits of helping others on your physical and mental health. Making new friends is just one of them.

Volunteering is a great way to get your family off the couch and active in your community. Besides releasing those feel good endorphins, it will help you appreciate the good things in your life, like good health, food in the cupboard and a roof over your head. Participating in a volunteer project will help your kids gain confidence, social savvy and valuable job-related skills in a variety of settings.

This time of year is a great time to reflect on the things your family is thankful for and reach out to help those less fortunate.

Here are some great family service ideas.

Serve at a soup kitchen
Help collect or stock at a food bank
Read with kids at a school or library
Clean trash from a park or a trail
Help an elderly neighbor or family member with yard work
Take meals to sick friends or serve the homebound with Meals on Wheels
Work in a community garden

Donate money to a humanitarian fund
Participate in fundraising events
Collect items for donation
For more ideas on helping around the world, click here.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Let's go ride a bike!

Halloween candy has invaded the stores. It will soon be followed by more holiday treats. Do your kids need some help down from the Halloween sugar high? Get them outside and moving to burn off that extra energy.

This is a great time of year for a bike ride. The temperature is cool, but you’re not as likely to get caught in a rain storm as you are in the spring. On a sunny day you should be able to get away with a light jacket or sweatshirt for your ride. It should be about to tie around your waist in case you too warm. Also bring a pair of knit gloves since your hands can get cold easily holding on to the handlebars.

The warmest part of the day is, of course, late afternoon. It also gets dark early so you’ll want to plan on being done with your ride by around 5:30. Plan to ride for about 30 minutes to an hour. How far you go will depend on how big/small, fast/slow your kids are and how big their bikes are. When just out joy riding, most bikers average 10 to 15 mph.

You can ride just around the neighborhood or check out local bike trails. You can contact your city parks and recreation department, ask around for suggestions from friends, or ask about trails at a local bike shop. Think about how you will transport bikes to the trail if you decide to go on a designated bike path.

You may want to run through the route yourself before hand to scope out any potential problems for your kids (like hills that are too steep or roads that are too busy to cross). Make sure to bring helmets and water for everyone. It’s also a good idea to bring a small pump, bike tool kit, and a cell phone.

Enjoy the ride. Worry less about time and covering a certain distance and more about enjoying the outdoors. Take breaks to look at scenery, collect rocks and leaves, and stay hydrated.

Learning to ride well is a confidence booster for kids and can give them a measure of independence. Consider letting them bike to school, practice, or other activities. It’s better for their bodies and the environment.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sleep tight!

Bedtime, kids hate it -- parents crave it. One of the easiest ways to improve your children's school performance is to make sure they are getting enough sleep.

An American Academy of Pediatrics study showed that when children ages 7 - 11 added just 27 minutes of sleep to their night they saw a significant improvement in not only absorbing curriculum, but regulating their emotions and controlling their impulses.On the flip side, children whose sleep time was decreased, had decreased function in these same areas.

Emotion and impulse control are areas looked at to diagnose some behavioral issues, like ADHD, so it's important to make sure more sleep isn't a simple solution to behavior problems.

How much sleep does your child need? The National Sleep Foundation says children
1-3 years need 12 - 14 hours
3 -5 years need 11 - 13 hours
5-12 years need 10-11 hours and
12 and up need 8 - 9 hours of sleep each night.

Tips for an easy bedtime:

  • Keep a consistent bedtime (it doesn't have to be immovable, just regular).
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine.
  • Turn off electronic stimulation an hour before bed and keep TVs and computers out of the bedroom.
  • Avoid caffeine.
  • Once your children have been put to bed, be firm -- don't let your kids stall or get out of bed.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Leaping into fall

Pile them up … Take a leap … Pile them up … Take a leap … Bury someone … Run from the leaf monster … Pile them up… My kids can play in the leaves for hours. An adult can burn around 250 calories raking leaves. Think of the exercise your kids are getting with all that running and jumping.

Playing in the leaves will become one of your kids’ fondest memories. All ages can enjoy it together and it doesn’t take any special skills to join in.

It’s a good idea to get a few child size rakes so everyone can help out and avoid fighting over the rakes. You can order them on the internet at Amazon.com or Forsmallhands.com. You can also occasionally find them at box stores or toy stores.

If your kids need a little help getting started, play games like raking the leaves into shapes, or making the biggest pile. It won’t take long until you can leave them to themselves and they’ll make up the rules.

Kids won’t only be using their muscles but their imaginations. It also doesn’t hurt to get them to help with the yard work. When they’re all done playing teach them how to bag or compost the leaves.

Fall is a great time of year for outside activity. You can avoid the hot and sweatiness of summer and so kids will play outside longer. Parks are a lot less crowded at this time of year both during and after school hours.

Your kids will be good for hours with a jacket and some light cotton gloves. Be more careful on windy days because the wind can really be biting.

Though there isn’t a big chance for dehydration at this time of the year, you still need to make sure they’re drinking. Finish play time with some spiced cider or hot chocolate for the really chilly days.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Smart TV habits

Does your family have a screen problem? A mom's life is hectic and its easy to turn to TV as a babysitter when you're tired, your kids are fighting and you need to get something done. You can blissfully go about your household duties while your kids sit still and be quiet. Don't fool yourself though, there will be consequences when you try to get your zombified child to turn it off.

Here's some ideas for kicking your family's bad TV habits.

Make a plan. Don't use the TV as a boredom buster. If your children want to watch a favorite show, let them watch that show, then turn off the TV. If your kids are bored, encourage them to do something creative or active. Make a list activities or fill a box with games and supplies your kids can use when they are looking for something to do. Sometimes TV is just the first thing you can think of and so that's what you do.

Here's a list of TV free options:
  • Puzzles
  • Books
  • Card games
  • Board games
  • Art projects
  • Outside games
  • Gardening
  • Legos, building blocks and erector sets
  • Knitting or needlework
  • Sewing
  • Walking the dog or teaching pets tricks
  • Scrapbooking
  • Collecting

Set a time limit. Don't let the time creep away. Let your kids know how long they can watch TV and stick to it. If it help you, set a timer.

Make it educational. Whether your kids are just learning basic reading and math, or delving into world history, there are a lot of great shows on TV that can enrich their learning experience. Think of a topic that interests your child, then search the internet for a list of educational shows that will help them learn more.

Here's a list of some of our family's favorite educational shows:

For little kids:
  • Word World
  • Team Umizoomi
  • Octonauts
  • Little Einsteins
  • The Wild Kratts
  • Between the Lions

For big kids:
  • Mythbusters
  • Pawn Stars
  • American Ride
  • History Detectives

TV is a perk, not a right. Make sure your kids' other obligations (homework, instrument practice and chores) are done before the TV gets turned on. You can also use additional TV time as a reward for extra work or good behavior.

For more tips on taming your TV time, click here.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Weekend Romps: Backyard games

Backyard Fun and Games

You want to send the kids outside for playtime everyday, but sometimes the imagination is turned off and you hear, "There's nothing to do outside." This is a great time to pull out the backyard games.

Some of our family favorites are croquet and bocce ball. These are easy for the kids to set up and play on their own, and even my youngest plays along with her older siblings (with liberal rule interpretations for her.) My husband and I also enjoy playing with the kids.

You can find sets at most sporting goods stores and at big box stores during the spring. Other backyard games your kids might enjoy are ladder ball, paddle ball, badminton, and horseshoes.  One great thing about these backyard games is that adults and kids can play together without the adults always having the clear advantage. (My 6-year-old plays a mean game of croquet and I think everyone can beat me at badminton.)

To enjoy them, you don't have to be a super athlete or do a lot of running. At extended family parties we hold tournaments and it's a great way to get everyone (of all ages) mingling.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

No Drive Zone

Now that the weather is warm, it's a good time to set up a "No-Drive Zone" around your home. This is a distance that you and your kids have decided is close enough to your home that you won't drive your car to places in this area. Instead, walk or bike.

It may take an extra 10 minutes when you go out and require a better shoes or a jacket, but you'll get several benefits from a No-Drive zone. First, you'll be surprised at how much physical activity this will add to your day. Even with a small No-Drive zone you can count on an extra 30 minutes of walking adding up all your trips in the zone.

Second, adding up those small trips saves gas and wear and tear on your car. It also adds up to being easy on the environment, especially since you're more likely to let your car idle on short trips within the no-drive zone.

Third, you'll get more chances to say hello to your neighbors or talk to your kids or spouse as you walk. It's less stressful than driving.

Your kids will also learn to better navigate the neighborhood on foot, bike or scooter than they will riding in the back of the car. This allows them a little more independence. They'll learn how to get to their friend's or to school and back on their own -- which frees up some time for you. 

Lastly, FRESH AIR. I know I'm sick of the stale recycled stuff in my house right now.

Your No-Drive zone could be a few blocks or up to a mile from your front door. Keep in mind natural boundaries like busy roads or frequent destinations. Once you get in the habit of driving less, you'll find you love foot power.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Backyard water fun

Summer is here and that means heat. Waterparks are fun, but expensive and usually an all day affair. Here are some fun ways to cool off in your own backyard.

Kid Wash
This take on a car wash is sure to have kids lining up to cool off. Using PVC pipe (which is really inexpensive) build your wash structure. You'll need to have a base (like a square or rectangle), use joints with 3 openings. Plug the end of one pole on the base and leave one end open to put the hose into. Stick poles up and attach another PVC shape (usually echoing the base) on top. Drill holes in the top poles and when you turn on the hose, the water will drip down onto the kids going through. Add buckets and car sponges for extra fun.

Water balloon wars
Supply each side with water balloons and let your kids go at it. You can use them to enhance a variety of backyard games. You can use water balloons to tag people in capture the flag. See how long you can volley them with badminton rackets before they break. Toss them back and forth in a game of hot potato.

Backyard spa
Add some bubble bath to a kiddie pool. Or, paint the bottom of your kiddie pool black and let the water heat up all day in the sun. Then, let your kids take a soak.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Planting a family garden

It's officially spring and we're getting ready to garden. Gardening is great for kids. Kid's learn hard work and consistency. You can't just water once, you have to continue to care for the plants all season. They also have to be patient for the pay-off. Gardening is a good summer activity to get kids away from the TV, outside and exercising. It also promotes healthy eating. Home grown vegetables picked at their peak are contain more nutrients that store bought vegetables. Plus, they taste better. Kids are more likely to try something new if they've grown it themselves.

There are 4 basic steps to a family backyard garden.
  1. Prepare the soil.
  2. Plant.
  3. Water and fertilize.
  4. Harvest.

Preparation is a fun thing for kids to be involved with. They get to use shovels and since there's nothing planted yet, they can't hurt anything. Choose a sunny spot (gets at least 8 hours of sun) and dig out the weeds and add in the compost.

Planting is also a very kid friendly activity. Whether you plant seeds or seedlings, buy them from a local nursery, not a big box chain. At the local nursery you can talk with experts who can tell you what will grow well in your area, how best to care for it, and whether your soil will need anything extra added in. You can't plant seedlings until after the last frost. After Mother's Day is a good rule of thumb. If you're planting seeds, you can plant after the ground thaws in late March, early April.

Check to see if your plants need water frequently, but don't over-water them. If you stick your finger into the soil down to your first knuckle the soil should be moist. If it's not, you need to water. Also look for drooping leaves and a duller gray-green color. Your local nursery expert can help you choose a good fertilizer. Granule fertilizers need to be applied less often than liquid fertilizers.

Harvest is the fun part. Kids will love seeing, and tasting, the rewards of their hard work. Some of our families favorite things to plant are pumpkins, green beans, snap peas, carrots, and potatoes.

A great website for beginning kids gardening is http://urbanext.illinois.edu/firstgarden/.

Enjoy your garden!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Indoor fun

An Australian study showed that children who are active during the day fall asleep much faster and stay asleep longer than children who are sedentary. That makes a lot of sense. If your children are having trouble sleeping, wear them out before putting them to bed.

When it’s cold outside, it’s harder for your kids to get the exercise they need. They’re probably not spending as much time in the back yard and may no longer be walking home from school. Sometimes recess is even cancelled. Now is the time to look for recreational activities indoors.

Swimming. One of my kids’ favorite winter activities is swimming. There’s probably an indoor pool somewhere near your community and they’re a lot less crowded than they were during the summer months. Swimming is a total body workout and playing in the water will wear kids out quickly.

Roller skating may have fizzled in popularity since the 70s, but there are still roller rinks around and kids still love them. Rent skates and blades or bring your own. Some rinks even allow scooters on the floor. Your kid will learn balance and get a good workout. Most roller rinks have discount days. Look online for the best deal day for you.

Bounce houses may be a staple of summer fairs, but indoor bounce play areas are popping up all over. They often include a variety of blow-up toys to climb, slide and, of course, bounce on. Your kids will love it, and get a lot of exercise. Only a kid has the energy to bounce around one of those places for over an hour.

Climbing. There are a lot of indor rock climbing places and kids are naturals at this sport. (Aren't you always telling them to stop climbing on things?) They have a great upper body strength to weight ratio. Some places even have special wall areas just for kids. Besides traditional rock climbing venues, you can often find indoor rock walls in gyms and large sporting goods stores.

Sports. There are plenty of sports you can sign up for that take place indoors. Basketball, volleyball, gymnastics and martial arts to name a few.

All of these things will cost some money, but there are plenty of free ways for your kids to get exercise when it's too cold to go outside. See this post for some ideas.