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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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6 Potty Training Tips for Success

March 22, 2016

By Noralba Martinez

6 potty-training tips for success | In over 15 years as an early childhood intervention specialist, this mom has helped potty train hundreds of toddlers. Here are her 6 key tips. | A child's feet point to a potty training toilet.

When it comes to potty training, every child is different. I’ve supported the potty training of hundreds of toddlers through my career as an early childhood intervention counselor, and the strongest advice I can give you is that consistency is the key to success.

Here are six tips that will help you through this journey.

Is your child ready?
Your toddler needs to be ready before you can begin potty training. How do you know if your child is ready?

  • Your child knows when he or she is going to the bathroom, even if it’s in a diaper.
  • Your child is able to pull up his or her pants or underwear.
  • Your child doesn’t go to the bathroom during naps and can stay dry for at least two hours.
  • Your child communicates a desire to use the toilet.

Model the behavior
Once you know your child is ready for potty training, take him or her with you to the restroom. Show your toddler that going potty in the toilet is a natural and normal thing everyone does.

Explain in simple terms what you are doing. Be patient and calm, as it may be difficult for your child to understand at first.

Make it easy and remove obstacles 
Keep the bathroom door open at all times so your child can access the room whenever he or she feels the urge to go. Put the potty chair in an area your toddler can see and get to quickly. If you’re using a child seat on your toilet, put a stool next to the toilet.

Set a schedule
Take your toddler to the potty chair or toilet every 30 minutes. He or she can sit for five minutes. If your toddler doesn’t go, it’s okay. You’re setting a schedule to encourage him or her to have the opportunity to empty regularly.

If you need help remembering to have your child go every 30 minutes, you can use a timer or a potty watch. Just be sure to stay consistent so your toddler can expect the opportunity to go.

Reward and praise your child
Motivate your child and increase his or her success at potty training by praising all efforts and rewarding accomplishments. Stickers are a great way to reward your toddler when he or she goes in the potty. Some parents have a special basket of dollar-store toys the child can choose from after a successful potty. Verbal praise also goes a long way to influence your toddler.

Bye-bye potty chair
Just like you have to say good-bye to your toddler’s high chair, playpen, and many other baby items, you will also say goodbye to the potty chair. After your toddler has demonstrated independence and self-care responsibility, transition to the toilet full-time.

Potty training can seem like a daunting task, but if you’re patient and stay positive and consistent, you and your toddler will get there. It won’t happen overnight, but with your help he or she can do it.

Do you have potty training tips to share with fellow parents? Please tell us in the comments below!

This article was originally published on April 10, 2014 and has been updated to reflect additional information.

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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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Preparing Your Child for the Arrival of a New Sibling

June 16, 2015

By Jennifer Eckert

Preparing Your Child for the Arrival of a New Sibling | This mother shares five tips for preparing your child for the arrival of a new sibling. | A girl kisses her baby sister.

Just over a year ago, my husband and I learned that we were expecting our second child. While we were overjoyed to be adding to our family, Rob and I were also anxious about how our 18-month-old son would react and adjust to the new arrival. As a first child (and only grandchild on my side of the family), Bobby was used to being the center of attention. The upcoming change was going to, in the words of my mother, “turn his world upside down.”

Naturally, I scoured the Internet in search of advice and found tons of it. Many of the articles I found supported each other, and just as many contradicted each other. While every child is different in terms of situation and temperament, the following strategies seemed to work well as Rob and I prepared our Baby No. 1 for the arrival of Baby No. 2.

Provide concrete details versus abstract ideas.
With a young child, it’s better to wait until you (or your spouse or partner) starts showing. Pointing to a growing belly and talking about the baby “in Mommy’s tummy” provides some physical evidence of a change that’s about to occur. I’m pretty sure all Bobby thought about my bump at first was that it was a great shelf to stand on when in the swimming pool. But once he was able to feel the baby’s movement, he seemed to think my belly was pretty cool.

Strengthen the bond with Dad.
If your first child is extremely attached to Mom (or if Mom’s the primary caregiver), it’s going to be a bit rough once she’s busy with the new baby—especially if she’s breastfeeding. It’s a good idea for your child to spend a little more one-on-one time with the other parent before the baby arrives so it’s not such a shock when suddenly Mom’s not as available. Bobby has always been kind of a “Daddy’s boy,” so we accomplished this step pretty easily (a little too easily in my opinion).

Schedule big changes for before or after the due date.
The arrival of a new sibling is probably going to be the biggest change that has occurred in your first child’s life so far. It’s best to get any other changes (e.g., a new childcare situation, a new bed, potty-training) out of the way in advance, or you might want to hold off until things have settled down a bit.

For instance, even though we knew the new baby would sleep in a bassinet in our room for the first few months, Rob and I still moved Bobby out of the crib and into a toddler bed about a month before I was due. We figured that would give him plenty of time to get used to the new bed and not feel as if he was being “kicked out” by the new arrival.

Read books, but don’t overdo it.
Of course, we received tons of books from family and friends about new babies and becoming a big brother, but we used them sparingly. We didn’t want to shove the topic down his throat and cause resentment. One of my favorites was I’m a Big Brother by Joanna Cole. It emphasized the positive aspects of having a sibling and the idea that the older child would continue to have a special place in his parents’ heart.

Bring out the baby gear early.
This was one of the best pieces of advice for us. We brought out the bassinet, car seat, rattles, mobile, etc., about two months before we needed them. This gave Bobby plenty of time to “rediscover” all his old stuff and get used to it lying around. At first he kept trying to use everything himself (including wanting to take his nightly bath in the baby bathtub), but eventually he chose one of his stuffed animals to be the “baby.” Every night, he’d pretend to feed his toy Glo Worm with a bottle and then lay it down in the crib to go to sleep. Rob and I were quite touched by the nurturing side we began to see.

Armed with all these preparation tactics, we felt we had done our job by the time Baby Henry joined our family in late January. As to how Bobby really did adjust to having a younger brother... well, that is the subject of a future article.

Learn more about preparing your child for big changes in our YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books, now available on Amazon

Jennifer Eckert is an editor at National Geographic Learning and a freelance writer. She lives in Chicago with one husband, two sons, and three cats.

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St. Patrick’s Day Leprechaun Adventure

March 12, 2015

By Jessica Vician

St. Patrick’s Day Leprechaun Adventure | Try these DIY activities with your kids to create a magical leprechaun adventure for St. Patrick's Day.

According to Irish legend, leprechauns worked very hard as cobblers and craft specialists, earning a lot of gold. But they were very thrifty, and it’s said that leprechauns would bury their gold in pots at the end of the rainbow.

The legend says that if you catch a leprechaun—which would take a very smart person because leprechauns are clever—you can ask him where he hid his gold and he must tell you the truth.

St. Patrick’s Day can be a magical holiday for your kids with the mystery and wonder of these old Irish tales. This year, why not expand on this magic and send your kids on a treasure-hunting adventure? They can help you with some of the crafts this weekend, and you can arrange the rest on Monday night so they wake up to the fun Tuesday morning. If your kids are in school already, then arrange the crafts while they’re away so they can hunt when they get home.

Here are the DIY crafts you’ll need to prepare this St. Patrick-themed leprechaun adventure.

  • Leprechaun footprints. Leave a trail to where the leprechaun may be hiding.
  • Leprechaun trap. Encourage your kids to design their own leprechaun trap this weekend. Before they wake up on St. Patrick’s Day (or once they return from school), move the trap to the end of the trail you created with the Leprechaun footprints. 
  • Create a handprint rainbow that leads to gold. Make the rainbow with the kids this weekend, then put it above the leprechaun trap on St. Patrick’s Day so that the trap appears to be at the end of the rainbow.
  • Turn your child into a leprechaun. Print a photo and follow these directions. When they find the trap after following the footprints, your kids will be surprised to see that one of them is actually a leprechaun! Giggles should ensue.
  • Dig for coins. Make this shaving cream and green food coloring concoction for your kids to dig through once they find the end of the rainbow and leprechaun trap at the treasure hunt’s end. For effect, it’s a good idea to have a pot full of gold chocolate coins as a fun reward once the kids have cleaned up from the shaving cream.

For more St. Patrick’s Day crafts and activities, visit our St. Patrick’s Day Activities Pinterest board.

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