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Backyard Summer Learning for Toddlers

June 21, 2016

By Nikki Cecala

Backyard Summer Learning for Toddlers | Learning opportunities exist right in your backyard! Try these fun activities with your toddler. | A young boy and his brother play with a water toy in the backyard, wearing matching plaid shirts.

I love summer. The season allows my son and I to have lots of adventures, creating bonding opportunities and memories for a lifetime. Although sometimes I get so wrapped up in planning these adventures that I forget he can get just as much out of playing in the backyard exploring as he could on a field trip with mommy and daddy.

Outside time is golden time for discovery, development, and growth. Children can learn on so many levels: basic, fundamental, and even about the universe. And they’re more likely to remember what they learned because it was a memorable and personal experience.

Take advantage of the summer for learning with your toddler by trying these backyard lessons.

Ice Block
Freeze a few toys in a block of ice overnight. On a warm, sunny day, bring the block of ice onto the porch or sidewalk and lay kid-friendly tools next to it.

Explain to your toddler that that the toys are frozen in ice and he or she needs to break the ice to get the toys out. Your toddler will see how frozen water melts, and you can answer any basic questions he or she has about liquids and solids (and even gases if you talk about evaporation).

Gardening
My son loves to garden so I picked up gardening tools at the dollar store. He was so excited to pull weeds, dig holes, and plant seeds.

Gardening is a great opportunity to teach your child how trees and food grow from seeds. Now that my son has played in the garden, he has an appreciation for plants and their importance for our survival in the world.

Bugs
There are a lot of neat bugs that come out during the summer, like worms, ladybugs, and fireflies. Why are these bugs so important and why do they only come out in summer?

The next time you see a worm, teach your child the importance of a worm’s role in increasing the amount of air and water that gets into the soil. When you see a caterpillar crawl by or a butterfly land on a flower, teach your child about the insect’s lifespan and how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly.

Space
For children, there is something magical and special about the night sky. The next time your child is up late enough, explain what the moon and the stars are. If you’re lucky you will see a shooting star!

Parents and relatives play a crucial part in advancing a child's learning, health, and well-being, so prioritize and have fun with these backyard lessons!

What are some activities you do with your child in the summertime?

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6 Summer Activity Ideas for Every Age

June 7, 2016

By Jessica Vician

6 Summer Activity Ideas for Every Age | Once your child finishes school for the summer, it’s time for less traditional and more fun learning. Keep your child’s mind stimulated throughout the summer to prevent them from losing the knowledge they gained over the past year with these activities.

Once your child finishes school for the summer, it’s time for less traditional and more fun learning. Keep your child’s mind stimulated throughout the summer to prevent them from losing the knowledge they gained over the past year.

To avoid the summer slide, ask your child’s teacher for a list of learning outcomes they accomplished this year and think of ways to incorporate that knowledge into your activities throughout the summer.

Your kids can also try these activities for additional stimulation this summer.

For toddlers

  1. Plant seeds and watch them grow. 
    Teach your child how plant life begins.

    Buy a packet of seeds—try an herb that you cook with frequently (basil, mint, and cilantro grow quickly with minimal human effort)—and some soil. Follow the directions on the seed packet and they’ll be growing in no time.

    This activity teaches your child that plants need food to grow just like kids do. The seeds need soil and water to nourish them, like kids need water and healthy foods to nourish them.

    Get excited with your child when the first sprouts break through the soil—it’s a big accomplishment for both the plant and your child!

  2. Develop their fine motor skills.
    Fine motor skills involve the movement of muscles in smaller actions. According to Baby Center, “it's equally important that kids work on their fine motor skills—small, precise thumb, finger, hand, and wrist movements—because they support a host of other vital physical and mental skills.”

    To help your young toddler develop these skills, prompt your child to stack toy blocks, sing songs with hand movements like “Wheels on the Bus,” and go to the playground and let them figure out the play equipment.

    For more activities that will develop your child’s fine motor skills, read this article.

For elementary students

  1. Join a summer reading program.
    Your local library likely has a summer reading program for your child’s age group. Encourage him or her to be social and read by enrolling in a free or low-cost program.

    You can also create an independent summer reading program. Challenge your child to read two books a month (at his or her reading level) and offer a reward, like a family dinner at your child’s favorite restaurant. Remember Book-It? It still exists and you can set up an at-home version.

  2. Create a DIY summer. 
    Teach your child how to make common things like lip balm, lotion, exfoliating scrubs, and even household cleaners. The American Girl YouTube channel has great video tutorials and Pinterest has an endless supply of ideas and directions.

    Your child will learn math skills, like how to measure and a practical application of fractions, as well as learn what goes into these products.

    Supervise your child and use natural ingredients instead of potentially dangerous chemicals, as there may be an unexpected reaction combining different liquids and solids.

For teens and tweens

  1. Learn an instrument.
    Enroll your child in a music class this summer. Learning to play and read music can teach your child valuable emotional and academic skills by engaging both the right and left sides of the brain. It also helps him or her learn to focus, improves critical thinking skills, and nurtures your child’s emotional maturity, according to VH1 Save the Music.

    If your child already plays an instrument, register him or her for a class in a different musical style. For example, if he or she knows how to play guitar, enroll in a blues or jazz guitar class, or a class modeled after your child’s favorite artist. If your city or town doesn’t offer those types of classes, find YouTube videos that focus on learning new songs.

  2. Learn to code.
    Your child should learn to code for many reasons. For one, there are so many jobs out there that require a minimal knowledge of HTML and CSS. And like learning a foreign language, it increases brain mass.

    Let your teen learn and invest in his or her future this summer with these free online resources that teach coding.

Do your kids have favorite summer activities that keep them learning in a fun way? Share them in the comments below!

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4 Ways to Manage Your Child’s Anger

May 24, 2016

By Nikki Cecala

4 Ways to Manage Your Child’s Anger | Teach your child to manage his or her anger and channel it toward a productive outlet.

Dealing with an angry child is one of the most frustrating and difficult parts of parenting, but you can teach your child to manage his or her anger and channel it toward a productive outlet.

After all, anger turns into aggression, which can lead to harmful behavior such as hurting someone or destroying property. According to one study, one in seven kids who show signs of aggression early in life have a higher risk of school failure, adult unemployment, physical violence, and mental illness.

Help your child manage his or her anger by communicating that anger is a normal emotion. Accept your child’s anger—do not deny or repress his or her emotions. Then, try a combination of these four suggestions.

  1. Let it out
    Communication is one of the best ways to understand what is really going on. Let your child vent and vocalize his or her anger or frustration. Listen to your child for a few minutes before responding, as it will help you understand the problem and decide what to do next.
  2. Bring in reinforcements
    Ask a close friend or family member to come over or speak with your child by phone. Ask someone your child trusts, like a godparent, aunt, uncle, close family friend, or even a favorite babysitter. If your child won’t talk to you about the problem, he or she might talk to another trusted adult.
  3. Provide physical outlets at home and at school
    Encourage your child to journal, exercise, meditate, talk to someone, listen to music, or take a walk. Depending on the situation, your child might need 10 minutes alone to collect his or her thoughts and calm down. Teaching these coping mechanisms now will help your child manage his or her anger later in life, too.
  4. Always model positive behavior
    Children observe how their parents react to situations. Parents must be aware of the powerful influence their actions have on a child’s behavior. If you curse or even punch a wall when you’re angry, don’t be surprised when your child does it. Children mirror our behavior, so always set a good example and deal with your anger the way you want your child to.

One of the most important things you can do as a parent is to help your child grow and respect him or herself. This vital process takes years of patience but pays off in the long run, as it helps your child become a happy adult. The earlier in life you teach your child how to manage anger and share his or her feelings, the more outbursts you can help prevent.

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5 Fixes for Your Toddler’s Temper Tantrum

May 17, 2016

By Nikki Cecala

5 Fixes for Your Toddler’s Temper Tantrum | Tantrums are a normal part of a child's development, but that doesn't mean they're fun. Here are 5 ways to deal with them.

According to my mother, my 3-year-old son is exactly like me when I was a toddler. She doesn’t say this with pure joy in her voice—it’s more of a warning. I was a climber, a talker, and had a whirlwind of temper tantrums growing up (and can still throw some minor fits).

Despite the term, "terrible twos," temper tantrums can start as early as 12 months and continue beyond age four, though they occur most often during a child’s second year. While not fun, tantrums are a normal part of a child’s development. Through the process, they learn to cope with frustration.

When encountering a tantrum, first rule out the basics. Is your child:

  • bored? 
  • uncomfortable? 
  • hungry?
  • over-stimulated?

If it’s one of the above, then address that problem immediately.

Otherwise, take a moment to look at the bigger picture of what is causing your child to throw a tantrum. Get creative and find a tactic that works for you and your child when entering Tantrum Town.

  1. Calm down
    When my son gets hysterical, I tell him as calmly as possible that he needs to calm down before we move forward with anything. I ask him to breath slowly and hold my hands. There will be times when you think you can’t keep your composure, but it’s critical when telling someone else to calm down. Yelling solves nothing.
  2. Give them your undivided attention
    One morning, I was driving my son to daycare in bumper-to-bumper traffic. We were running late and I was listening to the traffic report on the radio. Suddenly, my son started making an angry whining sound. Already short-tempered, I asked him what was wrong. He was angry that I wasn’t hearing him point out all the things he was seeing out the window.

    I quickly realized that he was trying to share things that were exciting to him while I was busy stressing out. When you notice a tantrum starting, get out of your head and take a moment to appreciate what your child is trying to share with you. Sometimes they just need a little attention.
  3. Check yourself
    Are you having a rough day and taking it out on your child? We try not to, but sometimes it happens. Kids can pick up on those negative vibes and will poke at it until they share the same unhappy feelings. Leave the drama from work, relationships, or anything else at the front door. If you bring it home, you’re asking for a tantrum.
  4. Ignore them
    During certain situations (e.g. a tantrum in line at the grocery store) you need to remain strong. We’ve all tried bribing them with candy or toys just to get them to be quiet, but that only lasts for so long.

    Instead, explain that their behavior in public is unacceptable. If your child is still not listening, ignore them and wait until you get outside to have a more personal conversation about the behavior.
  5. Communication is key 
    It’s a simple concept: talk to your child and pinpoint what the problem is. My son has excellent verbal skills, so when he starts whining and making noises I ask him to use his words so I can understand why he is upset and fix the problem.

    It’s easy to think you are already listening to your child, but if the TV is on or you’re texting someone, you aren’t 100 percent listening, are you? Give your child the same respect you desire and get to the cause of the tantrum. The more you practice, the easier it will be for both of you to settle down, cope with your child’s emotions, and move on.

What are some ways you address your child’s tantrums?

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5 Ways to Make Friends for Your Toddler

March 29, 2016

By Nikki Cecala

5 Ways to Make Friends for Your Toddler | If your toddler isn’t in daycare yet, how can he or she meet other kids and make friends? It’s easier than you may think. | Two toddlers sit next to each other on the playground, looking up at the camera.

Kids love spending time with mommy and daddy, but it helps their social skills when they play with other kids. Children start developing the skills for making friends between the ages of two and three years old. But if your toddler isn’t in daycare yet, how can he or she meet other kids and make friends? It’s easier than you may think. There are many free or inexpensive ways to connect with other parents and their kids.

1. Go local
Your community is a great place to start. Check out park district classes specifically designed for your child’s age. These interactive classes are a wonderful way to meet and connect with other parents in your neighborhood. If your toddler seems to make a connection with another child in these classes, exchange numbers with the parents and schedule a play date.

2. Social media
Social media is a great way to find new friends or reconnect with old ones. Go through your friends and take mental note of people with kids.

  • Do your friends from high school or college have kids now? Reconnect beyond social media friendship and send them a message to meet up with the kids.
  • Do you belong to a local parenting group? I am in two parenting groups on Facebook and simply asked, “Are there any parents who live in the Chicagoland area?” It gave me an idea of which parents live near me and could meet up for play dates.

3. Meetup.com
This website is the world's largest network of local groups. It’s easy for anyone to organize a local group or find one. A quick keyword search on the site for “kids” yielded almost 60 results, including neighborhood groups, groups for moms and toddlers, and groups for gifted kids. You can even search through the site before signing up to get an idea of how it runs.

4. Take advantage of play areas
Every Thursday evening, my sister and I go to McDonald’s with our two boys. No, not for the Shamrock Shakes. Many McDonald’s have play areas attached to their restaurants and it’s free to go in without a purchase. It’s a great way to catch up with a friend or sibling while the kids play.

5. Attend birthday parties
The idea of attending a party with 30 toddlers running around and screaming can sound a tad overwhelming, but it’s a goldmine for meeting other parents and connecting. It also gives you a chance to meet friends of friends and enlarge your circle of parent friends.

When trying to make friends for your toddler, remember that you’re making a new friend, too. Your child is always watching how you act, so set a good example by modeling positive behavior. Always be polite, respectful, and caring to other parents and their children.

For more information on building your child’s social skills and modeling positive behavior as a parent, read the YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher books, available on Amazon.

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