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Good Times for All: 10 Thanksgiving Family Activities for All Ages

November 24, 2015

By Jessica Vician

Good Times for All: 10 Thanksgiving Family Activities for All Ages | How can you spark that good energy early and ensure everyone makes the most of the holiday before and after that meal? Encourage your kids to take advantage of their family time this year with these activities for all ages. | A family sits down to Thanksgiving dinner.

Sitting down to the table on Thanksgiving is a great feeling. The cooking is done, the food smells delicious, and everyone is eagerly awaiting that first bite.

So how can you spark that good energy early and ensure everyone makes the most of the holiday before and after that meal? Encourage your kids to take advantage of their family time this year with these activities for all ages.

Kids 3-10

  • Get crafty. Prepare Thanksgiving-themed art projects for your kids to do with their cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Use our Pinterest board to find cute project inspiration.
  • Sing a song. Rent a karaoke machine for the kids to sing their favorite songs after dinner. The adults can sit back and digest while the kids put on the show.
  • Perform a play. Speaking of shows, if you have a group of future Tony Award winners in the house, ask them to put on a play at the end of the day. They’ll spend the afternoon working on the script and rehearsing, and they’ll be so excited to share their talent with the family after dinner.

Ages 11-13
Middle school kids are sometimes difficult to please. If yours like playing with younger kids, encourage them to help with the play or karaoke show. You can also try these conversation starters:

  • Make it a game. Before guests arrive, challenge your child to talk to each member of your extended family by the end of the day. Give them a few questions to ask everyone throughout the day and invite your child to talk about their common threads at dinner.
  • Cook together. Task your tween with a recipe and encourage them to ask an aunt, uncle, or grandparent for help. It will give them a project to work on together and spark more conversation.
  • Have a deck of cards handy. Playing cards can bring the family together, as games encourage us to be competitive and rely on each other to teach and learn the rules.

Ages 14-18
Just like kids in middle school, teenagers might need a little prodding to make the most of the holiday with family. In addition to cooking together and playing cards, try these activities with your teen:

  • Give them talking points. Encourage your child to ask aunts, uncles, and grandparents about their first concert, the first album they bought, or other things that interest your child. While the answers may highlight the age difference, they can also spark conversations about what it was like to live through certain decades that your teen missed out on.
  • Start a new tradition. Ask your teen what kind of holiday tradition they would like to see every year. Assuming it’s doable, have your teen explain their idea to the family at dinner and start right away.
  • Give your teen something to look forward to. If your teen is more focused on seeing friends, host a dessert party after dinner. Your teen can invite their friends over and the family members who are still there can meet the friends and share in that experience.

College students
Your student coming home from college for the holiday will probably be grateful for a home cooked meal and a comfortable bed, so take advantage of that gratitude and encourage them to learn more about their other family members.

Once a person starts college, they start to see the world a little differently. Their studies are more focused on what they want to learn, not what they’re required to learn.

Embrace that shift by encouraging your student to talk to their grandparents. They have lived through a different time than your child and might shed some light on topics your child might be more interested in now.

For instance, did a grandparent serve in Vietnam? What were politics like when the grandparents were growing up? What types of shows were on television?

Not only will the grandparents want to share about their past, but your child will gain great perspective and learn something about their family that they might not have known before.

Do you have tried-and-true activities that foster family bonding over the holidays? Share your secrets below so we can try them this week!

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12 Winter Exercises to Keep Your Kids Fit

November 19, 2015

By Jessica Vician

12 Winter Exercises to Keep Your Kids Fit | These are 12 easy and fun ways to keep the kids fit through the winter. Don’t let the weather stop your family from getting at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. | A young child and mother have a playful pillow fight with the father on the bed.

As the weather cools, it can be difficult to keep your child physically active indoors. While summers are full of playing outside, riding bicycles, rollerblading, and even hoverboarding, the cooler temperatures and wet weather puts an end to the outdoor fun.

But just because the kids are inside doesn’t mean the exercise and fun should stop. Exercise is critical to your child’s physical development and must continue in every season to help your child:

  • Strengthen his or her bones and muscles
  • Reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes
  • Lower his or her blood pressure and blood cholesterol (yes, it’s important for kids, too!)
  • Reduce and cope with stress

Kids ages 5-12 should have at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day, according to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education.

While your school-aged child should get some of that 60 minutes during recess, fill in the extra time (and get the full 60+ minutes on the weekends) with these fun activities both in and out of the home.

In Your Home

1. Crank up the tunes and throw a dance party. Practice routines from YouTube videos.

2. Hop on the bed and have gentle pillow fights.

3. Host hallway races, encouraging the kids to beat their best times.

4. Have a big basement? Play crab soccer.

5. Run to find the best hiding spot during a physical game of hide and seek. 

Outside the Home

6. Visit a trampoline park for bouncing basketball, dodgeball, or just jumping.

7. Find an indoor laser tag center for running, hiding, and fun in the dark.

8. Roll your little ballers into a family bowling night.

9. Kids can practice their swings at an indoor golf center in the off-season.

10. Swim their energy away at an indoor pool.

11. Practice a single lutz or play hockey at an indoor or outdoor ice skating rink.

12. Have a snowball fight after each big snow.

These are 12 easy and fun ways to keep the kids fit through the winter. Don’t let the weather stop your family from getting at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Join in on the fun for your health and fun family memories.

What activities do you do with your family in winter? Tell us in the comments below.

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Activities for a Fun Family Fall

October 22, 2015

By Nikki Cecala

Activities for a Fun Family Fall | From pumpkin carving to hayrides, try these fun family activities while embracing the weather and colors of fall. | A little boy poses in front of a patch of pumpkins.

Ah, my favorite season: autumn. I don’t know about you, but here in the Midwest, fall could be a very short season for us. That is why as soon as the leaves start changing colors, I have most of my weekends booked for family fun. From Halloween baking to carving pumpkins to hayrides, I put together my favorite adventures so you can try them with your family.

Whip up some Halloween treats
Halloween treats are so fun to make… and to eat! Check out my article, 5 Healthy and Creative Halloween Party Foods, for Halloween-themed recipes to make with your family. Impress at a party with these Pinterest-worthy designs.

DIY fall décor
Instead of buying decorations for fall, spend a Friday night together making kid-friendly art. A Spectacled Owl has a great list of fall crafts you can make with the family.

Carve pumpkins
Carving pumpkins seems to have decreased in popularity, which is pretty sad because it’s awesome! Put down the technology and get your hands dirty with this fun adventure. The Pumpkin Lady offers how-to videos and hundreds of pumpkin-carving stencils to choose from.

Take a trip
Depending on where you live, a pumpkin patch or apple orchard could be anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours away from your house. Plan a day trip with the family—you wont regret it! Many have hayrides, petting zoos, pony rides, and more.

If you are tight on cash, visit for a sightseeing trip instead. The scenic views of the red and orange-hued trees are worth your while and even serve as an opportunity to teach your child why leaves change colors.

Create traditions
Whatever you choose to do for the season, make it a tradition with your family. What starts as a small event one year could be an everlasting memory for your child for years to come.

What are your favorite fall family activities? Tell me in the comments below!

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5 Healthy and Creative Halloween Party Foods

October 6, 2015

By Nikki Cecala

It’s difficult to come up with healthy, satisfying treats for children at Halloween parties, so I recently took on the challenge. Not only did I try to find amazing recipes for all ages to enjoy, but I also tried to make the food so appealing that the kiddies would beg for more!

These recipes were the biggest hits for the eyes and the taste buds. Bring these fun treats to your child’s classroom Halloween party or to the family bash you’re throwing this year.

BOOnana Pops

5 Healthy and Creative Halloween Party Food | Boonana pops, recipe and photo via Amber's Recipes | Banana pops covered in white chocolate with chocolate chips for the eyes and mouths of the ghosts.

Photo and recipe via Amber's Recipes

Ingredients and materials:
Skewers (sharp edges trimmed) or wooden or plastic treat sticks
Bananas (one banana will give you two pops)
White chocolate
Raisins or chocolate chips

First, slice the banana in half. Insert the skewer or wooden/plastic stick into the thick end of each banana half. Place the bananas on wax paper or a plate and put in the freezer for at least three hours.

Once the bananas are frozen, place the white chocolate in the microwave (30 seconds) or in a pot on the stove to melt. Stir it frequently. I recommend putting the melted white chocolate in mug so it’s easier to dip the banana into. Dip the bananas in the white chocolate one at a time and then place on the wax paper.

Quickly add the chocolate chips or raisins for the eyes (and mouth if you prefer) before the chocolate hardens. When finished, place back into the freezer until ready to serve.

Frankenguac

5 Healthy and Creative Halloween Party Foods | Frankenguac, recipe and photo via Dine and Dish | Frankenstein's face is made of guacamole, with blue corn chips serving as hair, sour cream as eyeballs, and olives as pupils and the mouth.

Photo and recipe via Dine and Dish.

This is a fun and quick recipe.

Ingredients:
A batch of your favorite guacamole
Handful of blue tortilla chips
2 tablespoons sour cream
¼ cup sliced black olives

First, make sure you have a rectangular platter. Spoon the guacamole onto the platter using a flat-edged rubber scraper to shape the guacamole.

Place the blue tortilla chips near the top of Frankenstein’s head with the triangle tip pointing downward. Add two dollops of sour cream a few inches under the chips onto the guacamole for the eyes. Place a sliced black olive in the middle of the sour cream eyes, with the hole of the olive facing down.

As for the mouth, I recommend looking at a picture of Frankenstein to get the idea. Push sliced olives with the rounded edges facing up into the guacamole.

Bloody Brains

5 Healthy and Creative Halloween Party Foods | Bloody brains made with cauliflower and beet hummus. Recipe and photo via Jeanette's Healthy Living

Recipe and photo via Jeanette's Healthy Living

Scare the kids with this healthy treat!

Ingredients and materials:
1 head cauliflower (cut into florets)
Virgin olive oil
Salt
Ground pepper
6 roasted beets
¼ cup roasted pine nuts
Balsamic vinegar
Parchment paper

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Toss the cut up cauliflower with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place a piece of parchment paper onto the baking sheet. Roast the cauliflower for about 20-30 minutes or until tender.

In a food processor or blender, combine the roasted beets and pine nuts, blending until the nuts are finely ground. Add olive oil and vinegar and blend again until smooth. Use a spoon to smear the roasted beet hummus or “blood” on a plate and top with the “brain,” (the cauliflower).

Dracula’s Teeth

5 healthy and creative Halloween Party Foods | Dracula's dentures are made of cookies, marshmallows for teeth, red-tinted vanilla frosting for gums, and slivered almonds for fangs. | Photo and recipe via The Girl Who Ate Everything

Photo and recipe via The Girl Who Ate Everything

This was super fun to make. While it’s more delicious than healthy, you can vary the recipe to swap a gluten-free version of the cookies if needed.

Ingredients:
1 package refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough (or your favorite cookie recipe)
½ cup red-tinted vanilla frosting
1¾ cup miniature marshmallows
Slivered almonds

Prepare cookies as directed on package or according to your favorite recipe. Once the cookies are cooled, cut each in half for 48 halves (assuming you make 24 cookies). Then, frost the bottoms of all the cookie halves.

Place six marshmallow teeth around the curved edges of 24 halves. Place the other frosted cookie half on top of the marshmallows. Insert two almond slivers in between the teeth for fangs. If the fangs do not stay put, dip the tips into the frosting.

Pumpkin Fudge

5 healthy and creative Halloween party foods | Pumpkin fudge recipe via Blissful Basil.

Photo and recipe via Blissful Basil

Did you really think I was going to give you five recipes and not include pumpkin? You can decorate this fudge how you please after it’s made, but here is the basic recipe that is “vegan, gluten-free, paleo, and free of refined sugars,” according to Ashley at Blissful Basil.

Ingredients:
½ cup of coconut butter (NOT oil)
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons canned pumpkin purée
3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons creamy almond butter
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
Fine grain sea salt

Place all the ingredients in a medium saucepan over slow heat. For 3-5 minutes, whisk constantly until everything is melted.

Using coconut butter, grease a small container (3x5 or 4x6) and pour the mix into the container. Freeze for one hour.

Remove the block of fudge from the container by turning it over and tapping until the fudge releases. Cut the fudge up into small slices and store in the refrigerator (for soft fudge) or freezer (for firm fudge).

What are your favorite healthy Halloween recipes? Share with us in the comments below.

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4 Fun Ways to Develop Your Toddler’s Fine Motor Skills

September 22, 2015

By Ana Vela

4 Fun Ways to Develop Your Toddler's Fine Motor Skills | As infants enter the early toddler stage, we tend to focus on major milestones like crawling, walking, and running (gross motor skills). But fine motor skills are equally as critical. Here are 4 fun ways to develop those skills. | The author's daughter plays at a park.

All photos courtesy of Ana Vela. 

As our infants enter the early toddler stage, we tend to focus on major milestones such as crawling, walking, and running (gross motor skills). We may not put as much focus on fine motor skills, which can be equally as critical.

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.”

I’m fascinated in watching my 15-month old develop these skills. She gets frustrated when trying something new at first, but with my persistence, encouragement, and modeling, she will eventually pick it up. And I love seeing her glow with pride when she learns.

There are many ways you can help your child develop fine motor skills while integrating them into your everyday activities. Here are some of my personal favorites to do with my daughter:

4 Fun Ways to Develop Your Toddler's Fine Motor Skills | As infants enter the early toddler stage, we tend to focus on major milestones like crawling, walking, and running (gross motor skills). But fine motor skills are equally as critical. Here are 4 fun ways to develop those skills. | The author's daughter stacks blocks.

Play with toys.
Use stacking blocks to encourage your child to grab the block and carefully coordinate stacking them on top of each other. This will take several tries, but it’s amazing how soon your child will stack them to a nice height! Other great toys are large puzzles with knobs on the pieces, stacking toys, and Legos.

4 Fun Ways to Develop Your Toddler's Fine Motor Skills | As infants enter the early toddler stage, we tend to focus on major milestones like crawling, walking, and running (gross motor skills). But fine motor skills are equally as critical. Here are 4 fun ways to develop those skills. | The author's daughter plays with cymbals.

Enjoy music.
I sing songs to my daughter that use hand motions, such as “The Wheels on the Bus” and “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” Through many attempts, she now knows how to follow along on her own. She also has a musical instrument set, which has encouraged her to grab more difficult instruments such as the cymbals. She couldn’t pick them up properly at first, but now she can hold them successfully between her thumb and fingers to bang them.

4 Fun Ways to Develop Your Toddler's Fine Motor Skills | As infants enter the early toddler stage, we tend to focus on major milestones like crawling, walking, and running (gross motor skills). But fine motor skills are equally as critical. Here are 4 fun ways to develop those skills. | The author's daughter eats her food with a spoon.

Encourage independent eating.
Although I hate messes, it’s important to teach your toddler how to eat on their own. Demonstrate how to hold a spoon, scoop up some food, and place it in their mouth. Sounds simple, but a lot of complex finger, wrist, and hand movements are involved.

4 Fun Ways to Develop Your Toddler's Fine Motor Skills | As infants enter the early toddler stage, we tend to focus on major milestones like crawling, walking, and running (gross motor skills). But fine motor skills are equally as critical. Here are 4 fun ways to develop those skills. | The author's daughter picks up a soccer ball.

Encourage physical play.
We live in Chicago and have a limited amount of nice outdoor weather, so when it’s warm and sunny, we spend a lot of time at parks. Help your child learn to climb, slide, and maneuver around the playground and obstacles. I’m also teaching my daughter to play with a soccer ball by picking it up and trying to kick it.

All of these activities are beneficial, but most importantly they are fun and entertaining for your toddler. As discussed in the YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher books, use positive reinforcement to encourage your child to keep trying and celebrate their successes.

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