Easter Traditions

I’m a mom to two cunning and adventurous boys, aged almost four and two, and even though I’ve been in the parent role for almost four years, I feel like I’m still fairly new to the family tradition-starting game. I don’t even want to get into my response to my toddler pointing out that Santa did indeed look a lot like Grandpa; I will forever remember not having a clever response to his shocking observation. Therefore, for Easter, I wanted to be on my game, so I asked around my mom-circle of friends for some crafty new-age and old-family Easter traditions. Here were a few egg-tastic ideas I came across!

 

Growing Your Own Egg Grass

Many families, including mine, put together big baskets of goodies and toys for their children. It’s a real treat to follow the trail of Easter eggs to the treasure basket at the end, right? Well for this tradition, instead of using that plastic grass or green paper shreddings for the bottom, it’s a neat idea to grow the grass yourself ahead of time – with your kids! My family purchased wheatgrass from the farmer’s market and are currently taking turns watering it until the big day. I explained to my boys that the Easter Bunny needs to have a place to leave his gifts to us, so we need to grow some grass for him to hide our presents. They really like helping me take care of it; it gives them some responsibility and excites them quite a bit. It’s also cheaper than the plastic grass and will go nicely in our smoothies afterwards. Plus, it won’t end up all over my floor or in the landfill.

 

Planting Magic Beans

This was the cutest tradition I’d ever heard of and I can’t wait to do it with my family! The evening before the Easter Bunny arrives, my family and I will be planting jellybeans in our garden. Yes, that is correct! We will be digging holes in the soil, putting candy jellybeans inside, burying and watering them. The next morning (with a little help from Mom), the jellybeans will have sprouted into large, muti-coloured lollipops (or peeps on sticks, I haven’t decided yet)! This will be the sweetest tradition because any lollipop-shaped treats are my children’s favourite candy and I know I will be catching amazing memories on camera!

 

Visiting a Farm

One of my mom friends told me she takes her kids to a farm once or twice around the Easter holidays. This really makes me think of spring because you’re bound to see bounding lambs, chirping chicks, and porky piglets. I think this is a great idea for a spring outing and is sure to teach young ones about outdoor farm activities. If you’re interested in making this a tradition, I recommend Prairie Gardens just north of Edmonton. They are opening a little later this year than normal (May 1st) but they always have great farm activities, including a petting zoo, and festivals (click here)!

 

Easter Scavenger Hunts – In the Dark

Lots of families do the chocolate and toy scavenger hunts, even personalized ones or ones with riddles and clues! I love the idea of all of them as my parents also did these for us while growing up, but have you ever heard of an Easter egg scavenger hunt at night!? When my tots are a little older, I will certainly be bringing the fun with this game! What you do is get the plastic Easter egg containers, the chocolate eggs or toys, and glow-in-the-dark bracelets – crack the bracelets, add them and the chocolate to the Easter egg containers, turn off all the lights and hide them. I’m certain no child will forget this cool and spooky Easter tradition (beware of terri-fried little chickens)!

 

Rainbow Brunch

Again, many people probably recall the lovely family brunch they grew accustomed to on Easter morning, cracking open and enjoying numerous coloured eggs (after handfuls of chocolate I’m sure). But a few Mom friends of mine have brought the Easter egg coloured breakfast one step further – rainbow pancakes! Just separate your favourite pancake batter into different bowls and add food colouring. Watch the happy faces enjoy their rainbow stack of pancakes with their favorite juice (which you can also add colour to)!

 

Egg Carton Picnic

This one is also really cute – instead of using plates for our Easter picnic at the park, we will be eating out of egg cartons! And I have so many cartons saved up already, it won’t be hard at all. Cut up some cheese, broccoli, carrots celery, nuts, raisins (all of the Easter Bunny’s favourites of course) and add them to their own egg compartment for a portable lunch outdoors! Of course, one of the egg compartments will have chocolate eggs; I’m not a total Momster.

 

Remnants of the Easter Bunny

Lastly, try this one out if you enjoy a goofy way to end the holiday (it’s a total Dad joke but hilarious; I’m a comedi-hen myself). Take those jellybeans you planted in the garden (since no one wants to eat them now) and put them in the toilet bowl. Add a sign from the Easter Bunny to the inside of the toilet lid that reads, “Easter Bunny was here – Sorry I forgot to flush!”

If your kids are old enough to read, they’ll either love it or be disgusted – if this joke is a bad egg, don’t blame me, I only laid the table!

 

Add Your Easter Story

If you have Easter traditions you’d like to share, please feel free to leave a comment or story! I know we’re all funny-side-up yolkers here!

Risky Play

Have you ever found yourself enjoying a nice cup of tea and watching the morning news in peace when suddenly a pint-sized person jumps from the arm of the couch into your unsuspecting face?

Children love risky play, especially my children. They are constantly looking for ways to increase the thrill of the game, even if it means sacrificing safety. The purpose (other than to give me a heart attack) is to increase the fun and explore the rules of their environment.

 

A Learning Technique

Risky play is a learning technique – what I mean by this is that when children are engaging in risky play, they are conducting a science experiment (without knowing it). They are using reasoning and chance, as scary as it is, to determine what they are comfortable with, and what their bodies and environment will allow.

 

Benefits of Risk

Risk management skills, along with self-confidence, resilience, and reducing the chance of injury, are all learnings a child gains from engaging in risky play.

I know what you are about to ask; how can risky play reduce the chance of injury? The science tells us that those children who engage is risky play have a much greater understanding of what is likely to cause injury. A child that has continually experimented with tree climbing knows the best routes to take, which trees are safe to climb, and how to go back the way they came.

If you had never climbed a tree as a small child and then are asked to climb one as an adult, your body, being longer and stronger, would allow you to climb to the top without difficulty. But now you’re in a pickle because you’re at the top of a tree and don’t know how to get down. A child can only climb as high as his or her body and environment allows, not to the top. They take small steps as they mature, pushing themselves just as much as is allowable.

 

A Young Life Without Risk

Risky play certainly seems dangerous and it can result in injury, so why hasn’t natural selection weeded it out?

Experiments have been done on rats to deprive them of risky play and the outcome was less than appealing. The researchers did not deprive them of other types of socializing, just risky play, and they found that the rats grew up emotionally crippled. When faced with the unknown, instead of showing curiosity and adaptability like their risky play counterparts, the emotionally crippled rats would seize up in fear or lash out with aggression (click here). Not a rat-ical way to grow up.

On the flipside, the science has shown that risky play has quite the evolutionary advantage. I’m sure everyone can recall their puppy or kitten play wrestling with them or another animal. Perhaps to wolf cubs, this is practice for later squabbles over meals. Monkeys will leap for branches that are just within reach, pushing themselves further and further each time. This experience will certainly come in handy when leaping away from challengers. Certainly one of the most perilous types of risky play can be seen in mountain goats (kids) that frolic on incredibly steep, rocky slopes. Undoubtedly this will make them hard prey to catch. All animals engage in risky play and it benefits them tremendously.

Freedom + Fear = Thrill (Danger)

So now that we are all aware that risky play is a benefitting activity to engage in, should we just let our youngsters have at it – absolutely not. There are still real dangers in hazardous play (which often accompanies risky play), so parents have to be vigilant in identifying and removing the hazards.

Risk – The possibility of something happening

Hazard – A potential source of danger

Hazards are often beyond a child’s ability to recognize. Risks are uncertainties that a child often recognizes and challenges (click here).

Back to our lovely tree example, the child sees a challenge and is uncertain about what will happen if they climb to a certain branch. What the child does not recognize is that the branch they’ve chosen to climb to has rotted out – a hazard the parent needs to control. Removing the hazard can be done by removing the branch, or, even better, teaching the child how to recognize rotted branches. By controlling the hazards, the child is still able to engage in risky play without an increase in the chance of injury.

Risk now equals hazards divided by parental safeguards.

 

Risky Play in Your Community

I love the tree examples I’ve shared with you but when I look around the current area where I’ve chosen to raise my family, not many trees pop out to say “climb me.”

Living in a city rather than countryside can seem a little challenging when it comes to engaging in risky play, but it’s important to note that risky play hotspots can be found anywhere! Your local park, your backyard, your living room – anywhere! When it was too cold and slippery outside for hazardless risky play, my family and I set up an obstacle course throughout the house. My preschooler would run and jump from chair to chair and my toddler would bound into piles of pillows. When we play in the backyard, my kids love to use the short beam surrounding my yard to perfect their gymnastic skills. The chance of a small drop to the grassy lawn below certainly livens up the game! And local parks encourage plenty of risky play activities with its monkey bars, twisty slides, and swings. All you have to do to be a vigilant parent in these scenarios is to remove debris, check for the correct signage for safety standards, and be a helping hand when your child needs it!

To find out more on how Canada is improving your child’s access to independent and unstructured outdoor play, click here.

 

Last Note on Inspiring Yourself

“Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller

 

Please feel free to leave a comment or story about the risks you and your child take together!

Sports for Kids

Coming out of the winter coma are the bright and fresh faces that perk up in the new light of spring! If your kids are like mine, just coming to terms that Mom was right, that the world really does have seasons, you would also laugh at their astonished faces as you push them into the year’s first muddy puddle!

And now that my spring babies are another year older, what does it mean for new activities this year? Of course I had this planned since they started walking – sports!

Every parent loves watching their child grow and master new skills. For preschoolers playing sports, these skills can include better coordination, increased stamina, healthier lungs and hearts, stress reduction and improved sportsmanship. For the family as a whole, it promotes bonding and healthy living! A home run for everyone!

What’s Holding You Back?

For our family, sports can be a huge undertaking. They can be pretty expensive as they usually require gear in addition to registration fees. They are usually held on weeknights, which can be exhausting. Plus, there are so many kinds to choose from – a hurdle on its own! But these red flags shouldn’t hold you back! After all, raising children is a lot like building a recreation centre. The first five years can be likened to laying the foundation, the most crucial part as it sets the pretense for the rest of the structure. A strong foundation with core morals and values will enable your child to grow into a beautiful building, I mean person.

And sports have the power to help build that strong foundation because they teach leadership, trust, patience, discipline, respect, and sportsmanship!

 

Just Do It

The Frontrunners of Funding

There are a few organizations out there that can help low income families pay registration fees and/or provide funding for equipment. One of these programs is called KidSport, a local non-profit whose mission is to allow any kid to benefit from sports and to remove the financial barrier that could be preventing them. To check out their website, click here.

Likewise, Canadian Tire’s Jumpstart program is very similar. The criteria to qualify are similar and they are happy to help families fill out application forms. Find them here.

Also, your local YMCA has funding options for low income families and they host a huge variety of programs! For qualification, check them out here.

Lastly, this hidden gem is not so hidden. AllSports Replay is a used sports store where you can buy and sell secondhand sports gear! This is a great way to save a buck and also give your old sports equipment a new home. Find them here.

 

Out of Left Field

As for knowing which sports your child is ready for… Were you or have you ever been like me – new to the world of sports but wanted to drive that soccer-mom minivan with an air of expertise? I’m happy to say I’ve now lived through an entire season of kids in sports and know a thing or two! Check out these sports and their corresponding benefits!

Soccer – One of the more popular sports for kids. It’s easy to learn, with young stars starting out at the tender age of two, and one of the more reasonably priced ones (I recently paid $115 per child for the spring season and no gear was required). Soccer is fast-paced, adrenaline pumping, and promotes teamwork and discipline. As children age, they will also have the benefit of learning to control and juggle the ball, improving coordination and flexibility (click here).

Badminton – Racket ball sports like badminton have additional benefits because they encompass a large variety of athletic movements, including running, lunging, swerving, and diving. Small children can easily hold and handle small badminton rackets and learn to handle the birdie with practice and patience. When older, sports like badminton encourage kids to become nimble and strategize their moves. To learn from the experts on gear and game, click here.

Swimming – A must-learn survival skill and wonderful pastime, swimming is a sport that is learned through competition with no one but the water. Once learned, swimming will never be forgotten, and strangely enough, no one is a newbie as swimming is actually learned in the womb. My babies and I did Mommy muscle toning swim classes together when they were only four months old! Classes were $75 and only required swim diapers! See here.

Lacrosse – Another sport that is knocking it out of the park is lacrosse! A great starter game for hockey enthusiastic parents that cherish their children’s front teeth, lacrosse is a strategic game that requires dexterity and quick-footedness. Starting at four years, my older son has just come out of his first season of lacrosse and has learned quite a bit about teamwork. The season wasn’t too expensive ($120 for three months) but the gear was quite pricey. Still, if you dream of cheering on your little star, check out the specs on proper hockey helmets as I believe this is the most important part of this sport (here).

Bicycling – This is one sport I love to do with my kids and it is terrific for cardiovascular exercise! It promotes balance, coordination, and love for the outdoors! You can pick up fairly inexpensive balance bikes or training wheel bikes at Sportchek ($60) or buy secondhand, or likewise, baby ride-along seats that fit on your bicycle ($100)! For the experts in bicycle and helmet reviews for kids, check out two wheeling tots here!

 

Child Too Young for Sports?

Is your child too young to pass a ball but you’re itching to get back into the active world of sports? Were you previously an active person and find it hard to get back into the swing of things after being dubbed the parent title? I recall a time when I could go running or swimming any time I wanted – Now I have to get creative!

The jogging stroller – try picking up one of these! They can run fairly prices but if you have Kijiji at your fingertips, you can usually score a good deal as many parents love them and they usually last through more than one child. Likewise, Once Upon a Child usually has discounted secondhand ones that you can testdrive in the store. Jogging strollers are very useful and maneuverable. They double as a mode of transportation and as running equipment (especially if you find one with snow runners). Plus, running is a free sport!

If running isn’t your thing and you crave the atmosphere of the gym or class, check out the City of Edmonton’s Kids Dens located in these rec centres: Clareview, The Meadows, Commonwealth, Terwillegar, and Kinsmen. They have childminding staff that will watch your little one while you work on your bod for one to two hours. If you’re interested, click here.

 

The Ball is in Your Court

Now that you have the knowledge, it’s time to get active! Remember, building a strong foundation with your child now will help them out in years to come! They need a strong foundation to rely on for their entire lives – let sports help you impart knowledge and values to your kids now – you won’t regret the effort!

Car Seat Safety

Last year, I was driving along a moderately quiet street when I noticed police on either side of the road. I slowed down as I approached, knowing that this was a check stop for something or other. I saw them peer into my vehicle windows as I drove closer to them. They must have seen the cutie pie toddler strapped into his car seat behind me because next thing I know, I’m being ushered along into a very full parking lot stuffed with young families.

“Hi miss, we are doing a car seat check stop this afternoon, would you mind to open the door to the rear seat and your trunk?”

After full cooperation, much joking and gratitude for their service, I’m handed a $155 fine.

Yep, my son’s car seat, after all the hassle of pouring over online car seat reviews, reading the very detailed manual front to back, and painstaking assembly into my cramped car, was not fit for safety. What went wrong? Ah yes, foolish complacency (find out below).

 

Alberta Car Seat Laws

The driver of any vehicle in use in Alberta has the wonderful obligation to ensure any passenger under 16 years is seat-belted correctly. I myself am lucky enough not to have a 16 year old to negotiate with (can’t wait for that day), but I do have two preschoolers who depend on me and my judgement for safety. This means I have to ensure the correct car seats are being used, they are correctly installed, and my children are properly secured in them. These three tasks, if performed correctly, should reduce the risk of injury during an accident by as much as 71%.

To ensure the correct car seat is being used for your child – check the manufacturer’s manual (Toys R Us is fantastic for giving you the quick specs on each seat they carry but read the manual fully before using)

To ensure they are correctly installed – check the manual and ensure your child rides only in the backseat of any vehicle. No car seat is safety rated for use in the front seat.

To ensure your child is properly secured – check the manual and do the two finger test between the five-point harness or seat belt and your child. Do not bundle your child in thick clothing as this could make the seat belt ineffective.

For those looking at the numbers right now, it’s important to note that Alberta is currently undergoing changes to car seat safely legislation. The changes are said to properly address safety by assessing a child’s height more so than their weight as height is a better indicator of being able to properly fit into a car seat. My stringbean children would agree! Therefore, I have addressed the province’s current views, which pertain to checking the manufacturer’s car seat manual.

 

Rear-facing Car Seats

Rear-facing car seats are the safest option for any child who still fits in one. Car seat manufacturers produce seats that have seat-specific weight and height limits. The longer a child can stay rear-facing, the lower the risk of injury in an accident, so it’s best to pick one up that can stay rear-facing beyond the age of two.

As a parent, I understand the dilemmas in keeping your child rear-facing. For one, children are people, have emotions, and crave being entertained and seeing a parent’s face. My children did not do well in rear-facing seats for very long. They like toys, being handed objects, interacting with me, and sharing food. For the sake of safety, I kept my children in rear-facing seats as long as possible and got by with a few well-chosen tools, namely the Lamaze Jacques the Peacock car seat hanging toy, DMoose Car Seat Travel Tray, and Brica Baby In-sight Mirror.

Jacques the Peacock was hand-chosen by Grandpa. This toy has phenomenal reviews, is easy to install, and keeps munchkins entertained for roughly 20 minute car rides. But, if a short commute to the grocery store isn’t what you’re planning this weekend, I suggest the DMoose Travel Tray. This too was gifted to me, but by my brother who travels from very far to visit me with his young family. Well versed in travel tantrums, he couldn’t say enough positives about this item – it has easy to open compartments to store toys, crayons, bottles, and snacks. It also has good safety ratings, as it is stable but forgivable. Lastly, if you’re a paranoid parent (guilty) and need to watch your child and the road at the same time, pick up a backseat mirror. I started with a small version at first but quickly stepped up to the largest mirror I could find, which is my advice to you. Don’t be afraid to spend the money on this item as it will help your baby stay safe and give you piece of mind.

The rear-facing car seat stage was by far the hardest for me and my boys but I had safety in mind which helped us pull through.

 

Forward-facing Car Seats

If your child has reached the maximum weight and height limitations for the rear‑facing seat, they can move to a forward-facing seat. This normally happens around the age of two. If you have a multi-stage seat, check that your child has reached the minimum height and weight limits for the car seat (see the manufacturer’s manual), before switching to forward-facing. As with the rear-facing seats, the longer you can keep a child in a safer seat, the better, and for forward-facing, this is the five-point harness. The five-point harness allows for maximum immovability and must be used until a child reaches the maximum weight and height limit for the forward-facing seat (can move into a booster).

Both of my children are currently in this stage and don’t mind it one bit. Bonus, I am still able to utilize two of my tantrum diffusing items as the DMoose Travel Tray is usable in either car seat position and the Brica Mirror worked well when strapped to the back of my headrest. Now my sons can check out our puppy riding along behind them or at their own handsome reflections.

 

Booster Seats

It may be that your forward-facing seat can convert into a booster seat too, but if this isn’t the case, it’s nice to know boosters are the least expensive car seats. Children who have exceeded the maximum weight and height limits for a forward-facing seat (keep that manual handy) should use a booster seat as long as the seatbelt properly crosses their chest. If a regular seatbelt does not fit your child properly, you may need to look at purchasing a different forward-facing seat that can accommodate your child, a hard truth for some of the parents I ran into at the check stop parking lot. Choose a high back booster seat if your car does not have an adequate headrest for your child. Once your child has reached the maximum weight and height limitations of the booster seat, it may be time to move to riding co-captain, but be patient as I understand this is usually at age 10.

For tips on choosing the correct car seat, click here.

 

Other Car Seat Tidbits

For safety reasons, buy a new car seat that is being sold in Canada. I’m not so stringent on reading books to the end or checking out early on a diet, but as a parent, I do not want to cut corners when it comes to my children’s safety. Therefore, I buy new and look for the national safety mark sticker on the bottom of any car seat I purchase. For my piece of mind, I cannot rely on previous owners to tell me the entire history of a car seat so this is always an expense I save my pocket money for. And I get to choose my own colour!

From a woman who has purchased gorgeous shoes that were too small for my feet, I know regret. Choose a seat that has room to grow, or save up for that convertible seat. It will pay for itself in the end!

I know they say never to give out your email but this is one of the few times it could save you! A new car seat will come with a personal information card to send to the manufacturer. This will allow them to contact you if there is a recall for the product you purchased. If you are reading this and are cringing at the memory of recycling this card, fear not! You can always check the Transport Canada website (but the onus falls on you to keep checking)!

Stow any projectiles in your car. This goes for any car ride, not just ones with little passengers. Purses, coffee mugs, cuddly Chihuahuas, or any other object not strapped in can cause injury in an accident.

If a car seat is in an accident, whether a child was in it or not, do not use it again. Insurance should cover the cost of the seat and help you pay for a new one. Cut the seat belts of the old seat to prevent anyone else making the mistake of using it.

 

Foolish Complacency

Try your hardest not to be like me and forget the little things. After showing the friendly officers that my child was snuggly in his seat, my heart fell when I saw that the belt that was supposed to be anchoring the seat to the latch in the trunk of my car was not tethered. Switching car seats over from one vehicle to another too often and not double checking myself made for a foolish mistake that, luckily, would only cost me $155.

The police officers that patted me on the back that afternoon also told me that Edmonton offers free car seat courses that anyone is welcome to take. Not only do you get the chance to learn some things you didn’t know but attending will also waive the fine! They really were looking out for my family that day.

 

Make Every Ride a Safe Ride

If you have more questions or need clarification, it is recommended that you contact your car seat manufacturer (details will be in your car seat manual) or take Alberta’s Child Car Seat YES Test to do a self-check on using the correct seat (click here).

If you still don’t feel up to the challenge of installing your own car seat and want expert help, you can check St. John’s Ambulance, police stations, fire departments, and hospitals for a Car Seat Tech. Not every police officer, firefighter, or nurse is a Car Seat Tech so I would recommend asking in advance. For myself, I went to a police station and St. John’s Ambulance for preparatory purposes of my newborns’ rides home, but I’m almost certain this was due to the nesting stages of each pregnancy!

Bed Sharing

Bed Sharing with Toddlers

Recently, my younger son, Polar Bear, has been finding it difficult to sleep through the night without finding his way to my bed. In the very wee hours of the morning, I can often hear his stumbling footsteps down the corridor between our two rooms. I doze in and out as I listen to his “Mama, mama, dou,” semantics. Roughly translated to English, I think this is “Mommy, where are you?”

Then I’m jolted awake as he throws open my bedroom door and, like a heat seeking missile, launches himself into the folds of covers that are around me.

Usually, I am able to fall back to sleep and endure the unprovoked and startling knee jerks to the back and elbow jabs to the face. Some nights, I just needed my mommy sleep and I gently corral him back to his bed or play musical beds and find another place to lay my head. Other nights, I enjoy the nighttime snuggles and wonder if there are negatives to bed sharing.

The Truths about Bed Sharing

The Canadian Pediatric Society does not recommend bed sharing with children under the age of one as it isn’t safe. Bed sharing with infants can be dangerous due to the increased risk of SIDS and suffocation. Please click here to learn more about these dangers and how to prevent them.

For children over the age of one, there doesn’t appear to be a general consensus on bed sharing among experts. Many see it as benefiting children through bonding. Others saw it as disrupting a child’s social skills and independence. A great deal more seem not to take a stance.

However, a study conducted in 2011 helped debunk the 21st century thoughts that bed sharing may decrease a child’s developmental progress. When factoring in the socio-economic factors of the 944 families observed with children aged 1 to 5, there were no obvious developmental or behavioural issues noted between the children who shared a bed with their parents and didn’t. An anthropologist who looked at the study also mentioned that children may have instinctive sleep needs that don’t match our modern-day parenting sleep expectations (click here).

As a parent of young children, I can understand their little person instinct to want to be close to someone who provides comfort and security when woken in the middle of the night. My children use me as a shield for most unpleasant experiences they face; meeting strange dogs at the park, making new friends at their dayhome, trying new sporting activities, and even tasting new green, leafy vegetables. So why shouldn’t they want my comfort and experience when faced with darkness? Surely, it’s only natural, no question, but I, like many, have a modern day life with a modern day career, so I do need my children to be modern day sleepers, at least on weekdays.

Sleep Retraining

Now Polar Bear used to be a model sleeper, just like his brother, sleeping soundly all night and going back to sleep easily if woken. One night, something woke him and, foolishly, I brought him to my bed to comfort him. Since then, he came looking for me about once or twice a month in the middle of the night. It normally did not affect me too much because it wasn’t too often and I was able to get the sleep I required to function the following day. More recently, however, it became once or twice a week, which greatly affected my daily performance at everyday tasks.

I had to get Polar Bear to be comfortable sleeping in his own bedroom for my sanity. And since he was already a model sleeper, retraining him wouldn’t be too hard (or so I thought)!

Sleep retraining Polar Bear wasn’t easy. True, I was starting with a ready-made pro that I had just made a small lapse in nighttime guidance, but he was a stubborn little man and had already gotten to a place of expected nightly snuggles; it had already sunk in that Mommy would comfort him until he fell asleep (if she was too tired to put up a fight). Funny how fast their learned behaviour develops, isn’t it? But, I knew how to retrain him, just like the first time, when he was a small baby. And just like the first time, I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty.

Sleep Training a Toddler

It turns out sleep training a toddler isn’t quite as easy as sleep training a baby. It turns out they can stay awake for much longer periods of time than a baby. They also make a heck of a lot more noise. Polar Bear easily woke his brother on multiple occasions and I would have to endure both boys pining for me in the middle of the night. But I persisted, taking these crucial pieces of advice (click here) along the way: pick a good time to start, be persistent, and give plenty of praise!

Pick a good night to start – First, I made sure it was a good night to begin this process. For my situation, this meant a weekend so that we could both sleep in if Mommy-Toddler arguments went well into the night. I also waited until he no longer had a cold and could sleep soundly once asleep. Was he in the midst of changing routines or potty training? Nope, another green light that it was the right time to start.

Stick to the routine – My children and I follow a simple bedtime routine before lights out. This routine consists of brushing our teeth and reading 5 board books (the last one is a goodnight themed one). If your family has a nightly routine, stick to it. When children are able to predict what will happen next, they feel secure and safe (click here). This is especially important to a child learning to comfort themselves during the night.

Lights out and listen – Now this is the tough part, especially if you didn’t handle the baby “cry-it-out” stage well. If your child is like mine, they can dish out explosive fury. I would sit outside his door and wait for him to open it, each time walking him back to his bed and giving him a stern look after explaining that he needed to stay in his bed. In his day, my older son handled this tactic moderately well, only pining for another book or glass of water. Polar Bear just pierces me with dirty looks (we call it the Polar Bear Glare) and clenched fists before letting out angry growls as I closed the bedroom door. Every child is different and they will probably try multiple tactics to make you give in, but it’s important to stay strong!

Nightly gambles – Polar Bear would try his luck at climbing into my bed in the early morning hours. This was the toughest part of our relationship. Mostly because this was the time when I was least motivated to win and because he had already won so many times in the past. But I was resilient and marched him back, hand in hand, to his bed every time he tried.

The victorious morning after – This was the best part of our battles, the morning party held just for him! I would deliver plenty of praise (and gratitude) that he spent the whole night in his bed. His favourite part, other than having the pleasure of picking his own morning juice box, was being called a “big boy just like his brother.”

This did make my older son mimic those Polar Bear Glares!

From One Parent to Another

If you struggle with nightly visits from your child, fear not! You can try some of the tactics here knowing that whatever you try, consistency and persistence always wins! On the other hand, bed sharing does not have negative impacts to your child (just to your sanity), so if you cherish the moments that seem to fly by so quickly, keep snuggling them!

Nutritious Desserts!

Nutritious Desserts!

Do you have one or more picky eaters at home? Do you struggle with kids who like candy too much? Do you like providing your munchkins with healthy dessert options? Are you a parent with limited meal prep time?

If you answer yes to any of the above questions, I recommend giving this blog a good read, because I’ve compiled some of the best dessert recipes and info on healthy dining that I’ve come across over my last few years of being a Mom!

First Thing’s First, The Basics of Nutrition

Good food provides our children with nutrients and energy. Nutrients, both macro and micronutrients, support the reactions cells have in our bodies and provide us with energy. Energy allows our bodies to function. The two together make for one healthy individual.

Macronutrients are the calories needed for energy. The term “burning calories” is very real as our bodies live off of this “fuel.” Macronutrients come in the form of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Most foods contain high amounts of these macronutrients, so I won’t dive too deep into their importance.

Micronutrients are composed of vitamins and minerals. We need a smaller amount of micronutrients than macronutrients, but they are still essential to healthy living as they help support our cells in their ability to regenerate. Cells make up our entire being, organs and all. Click here to learn more!

So children, with organs and tissues still developing, and more energy than we can sometimes handle, need the perfect mix of these vitamins, minerals, and fuel. As a Mom with children who live for chocolate‑themed holidays, how do I put the health back into our desserts? A little help from our new Canada Food Guide has given me some clues.

The Canada Food Guide

You may have noticed that the new Canada Food Guide has done away with portion sizes and redirected its information towards the importance of certain foods. This is a wonderful adoption as no person is the same and we don’t all require the same amount of food. Children going through growth spurts eat a lot, as do athletes, as they are really active.

My toddlers are exceptionally active. More active than me as I sit at my computer desk telling you this. 😊

Vegetables and Fruit

Vegetables are a mix and match when it comes to what they provide us. Starchy vegetables, like corn and potatoes, have carbohydrates and vitamins. Dark green veggies pack plenty of protein and minerals.

Fruit contains a perfect blend of carbohydrates, vitamins (like Vitamin C and Vitamin B-9 (folate)), and minerals (like potassium). They also have plenty of fiber, which is indigestible, helping to clear our bodies of waste.

According to the Canada Food Guide, healthy living suggests half of our diets should consist of vegetables and fruit.

Protein Foods

Protein foods, such as plant-based foods, provide vitamins and minerals in addition to proteins.

Plant-based protein food, like nuts, seeds, beans, peas, and lentils, provide more fiber and less saturated fats. Try to choose these types over animal-based ones.

According to the Canada Food Guide, healthy living suggests one quarter of our diets should consist of protein foods.

Whole Grains

Known for their high-fiber content, whole grain foods, such as quinoa, pasta, rice, and oatmeal, also provide us with vitamins and minerals.

Foods with high-fiber content help rid our bodies of waste, preventing diseases associated with digestion. Fiber also helps slow the rate that sugar is absorbed, helping regulate our sugar levels.

According to the Canada Food Guide, healthy living suggests one quarter of our diets should consist of whole grain foods.

So it’s clear that vitamins, minerals, and fiber are just as important as those high fuel foods we enjoy so much! How do we get them into desserts that usually don’t include them? Luckily, I have a few recipes up my sleeve that are packed with these micronutrients and still taste delicious!

Chocolate Pudding

Yes, you read that right. I have a very fast, very healthy chocolate pudding recipe that my kids (and I) love!

All you need:

A big container and lid, like a tupperwear

Chocolate flavoured almond milk

Chia seeds

What you do:

Mix the almond milk and chia seeds together with a 1:1 ratio in the container. Place the lid on and shake vigorously. Place the pudding in the fridge for 24 hours. Serve cold.

What it gives you:

Apart from it’s wonderful nutty flavor, almond milk also has Vitamin D and calcium added to it, just like regular milk (both are enriched, meaning we added it after pasteurization). Almond milk has less proteins and carbs than cow’s milk but more Vitamin E. Chia seeds have a lot of everything, including fiber, protein, nutrients, minerals, and even antioxidants. What is particularly impressive about them, however, is their ability to bind to toxins and carry them out of our bodies!

Coconut Cookie Dough Balls

Get ready for this one, it’s a no-bake cookie recipe!

All you need:

A food processor or blender

2 cups of pitted dates

1 ½ tbsp. of coconut butter

What you do:

Blend everything together in your food processor and scoop out with a spoon. Roll 1 to 2 inch balls with your hands and place in the fridge. FYI – my younger son loves these as is, but my older one typically won’t eat them unless there’s mini M&M’s in them. You win some, you lose some. Place in the fridge and serve cold.

What it gives you:

Dates are packed with fiber. For anyone that has eaten too many of these at one time, you don’t need me to go into details. Coconut butter though, this one is worth explaining. It’s packed with healthy fats that provide us with clean fuel, but it also has lauric acid (which is a really powerful antibiotic if you didn’t catch my breastmilk blog), one of the very few foods that do.

Purchasing tip: Coconut butter runs at high prices in grocery stores since its health benefits hit the newspapers, but it is still very reasonably priced at Asian food markets.

Acorn Squash Custard

This one is an old family secret, although many families seem to have co-authored it online, which must mean it’s a good one! It takes a bit longer but has little actual work time.

All you need:

A sharp knife

A spoon

A baking sheet

1 acorn squash

½ cup of brown sugar

¼ cup of butter

What you do:

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Place both halves face down on the baking sheet and bake for 1 hour. Once baked, it should be tender enough for a fork to pass through, like butter. Turn the halves over, face up, and add the brown sugar and butter to one of the halves. Put the two halves together (place one on top of the other) and put them back in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove them from the oven, peel off the skins, and blend with a fork or blender. Serve warm.

What it gives you:

Squash is the healthy ingredient here, so I will elaborate on it. It packs vitamins, folate, minerals, and fiber! The mineral manganese, which it is rich in, helps boost bone strength and your body’s ability to process carbohydrates and fats (which is good since these are this custard’s other ingredients)!

Added bonus: acorn squash seeds are just like pumpkin seeds! Roast them up in your already preheated oven with some salt and you have a fiber-y snack for the next day!

Peanut Butter Banana Ice Cream

I always buy too many bananas. We used to do our best to buy the right amount, but their brown, spotted bodies always seemed to stare me down at the end of each week. I had to come up with an alternative to watching them deteriorate. Luckily, this recipe came to the rescue and no ice cream maker was required!

All you need:

A blender or food processor

A baking sheet

Baking parchment paper

4 spotty bananas

2 tbsp. of peanut butter

What you do:

Cut up your bananas into slices and lay them on your parchment papered tray. Put them in the freezer until frozen, about 2 hours. Pulverize them in your blender a few times, using a spoon to scrape the sides when needed. Once a creamy texture, add the peanut butter and blend one more time. Serve cold.

What it gives you:

Peanut butter is a plant-based protein food, containing mono-unsaturated fats. This means they are easily digestible and give you healthy, clean fuel. It’s also very rich in vitamins and minerals. Bananas are a powerhouse when it comes to nutrients. They are packed with vitamins and minerals, most famously, potassium, which helps regulate muscle control like your breathing and heartbeat. Their also easy to digest since their rich in fiber. The combo is simply delicious – and no more spotty bananas!

More Information

If you like these healthy, low cost recipes, I know you’ll enjoy KARA’s Collective Kitchen program, which also packs in the nutritional information and easy how-to creations! Call KARA to register for this one as soon as possible because it can fill up quick!

Pick Me Up Mommy

Pick Me Up, Mommy

This evening, as I was preparing supper, leaning against the kitchen counter, a little person with a little set of hands pushed and poked until he was between me and the counter, entirely determined on obtaining my undivided attention. He reached up towards me and, without saying a word, indicated with his big blue eyes exactly what his motive was – pick me up, mommy.

My heart melted as it normally does when one of my children are being affectionate. Without skipping a beat, I scooped him up in my arms and planted a big kiss on his cheek. And here’s why:

Affection – The Importance of It

When you respond to a baby who requires your attention or needs your care, you are strengthening their ability to trust. This decreases stress levels, which increases the ability to learn new concepts.

You cannot spoil babies by responding to their needs. Babies cry because something is wrong. At birth, crying is the only form of communication available to them, their first learned form of communication. As they age, they learn more forms of communication, but crying was the first form, so they use it throughout childhood (and sometimes as adults!).

A survey conducted by the University of Michigan looked at the parenting knowledge of 3,000 adults in 1997. The results indicated that 62% of adults incorrectly believed a six-month-old could be spoiled. It also indicated that 44% of parents and 60% of grandparents thought that by picking up a three-month‑old every time he cried, it would spoil him (click here).

This survey, although older, indicates that not all adults know why babies cry or what babies need, which in short, is affection and reassurance. Use this knowledge when you’re in a situation when someone criticizes your parenting techniques (we’ve all been there). The studies speak for themselves and know that when you respond with affection, you are doing the right thing for your child.

Ability – It’s Not Always Possible

But sometimes it’s not always possible to pick up your child, is it? When you’re carrying a large pile of groceries or already carrying one child, you must make exceptions or have some back-up forms of attention, correct?

Quite recently, I underwent minor surgery which came with doctor’s orders; I was unable to pick up my children for one month (or vacuum or drive, but I was okay with those). With a son who was only seventeen months old at the time, and fully into the carry-me-everywhere stage, twined with an occasionally jealous three-and-a-half-year-old, I had to come up with some crafty alternatives to avoid using my stomach muscles. Here’s how I got by:

Alternatives – Try These on for Size

I would encourage them to walk with me by making it into a game. We incorporated running, jumping (not me), singing, skipping and dancing into the mix. My children had fun keeping the beat going while we would make our way to various destinations. And because they are competitive little boys, we seemed to always arrive with time to spare. I’d say turning adventures to the grocery store or friend’s house into a friendly competition that involved bonding worked the majority of the time. Hooray!

However, my children aren’t always so easily inspired to be independent, as I’m sure no one’s are. Sometimes they just needed to be with a parent to feel safe and reassured. During these moments, I found that kneeling down beside them and cuddling with them on the floor for a minute or two gave them exactly and what the doctor ordered (literally)! I found that these cuddle moments were most often required during times of change or stress, such as changing routines or being worn out. A little bit of affection and talking with them gave me more insight into their needs and gave them the opportunity for some on-on-one mommy-cuddles!

Lastly, if you’re really in a jam and don’t have the ability to play a game or cuddle, I also had two backup methods. My younger son did really well with distraction methods, such as food and toys. We would still bond and he would develop trust by interacting with me and getting what he needed. I found my older child did really well with explanations and tasks. I did explain to him that mommy had a big scratch on her tummy and couldn’t carry him, then I would give him a big boy task to inspire his independence and encourage him. Although this worked extraordinarily well in the moment, he would also lovingly, and with what I can only assume was concern, tell everyone we came across that I had a big scratch on my stomach.

Whatever the crafty alternative, it’s important that children receive the same level of bonding they would if they were being held. You will be able to tell that by the level of fun and trust they are exhibiting during the alternative strategy.

More Information

As all new parent’s know, it’s essential to get all the good information right from the start, including how babies develop trust! If you’re looking for more information on the benefits of picking up and holding your little person, KARA’s free Nobody’s Perfect program has all the tools! This program focuses on the basics of parenting a young child, including helping children learn and develop new skills, among other topics. So feel free to pick up the phone (and your baby!) today!

Indoor Crafts

Snowy Days and Indoor Crafts

As the weather turns, it’s difficult to keep our kids active and inspired. Rather than turning to the same old toys and television, I urge parents to try some indoor crafts! And, there’s no better time like the present because there’s another fun holiday around the corner, and terribly low temperatures leading up to it. Knowing this, my sons and I have been working extra hard on decorating our home with DIY Valentine’s Day crafts!

Craft Making – The Importance of it

Craft making is inspirational!  Not only does it help young ones develop fine-motor skills and give them that boost of self-esteem (sometimes I wonder if my kids really need it), it also helps promote innovation, creativity, problem-solving skills, and socializing! Recently, researches in this area have found a connection between the skills developed during arts and crafts time and success in later years of life. They concurred that toddlers and preschoolers develop what are called visual-processing skills when they create a crafty project. Visual-processing skills incorporate our ability to recognize patterns, find sequences in patterns, and identify spacial patterns. In simpler terms, if you have a blue triangle and you’re trying to fit it into a yellow, circular hole, you will be able to recognize that it doesn’t fit before even trying it. These same skills are what mathematics, geometry, and reading rely heavily on. Researchers also found that children who have regular arts and crafts time also have greater memory skills, muscle memory, and planned behavior. These skills are indicative of professional leadership skills (click here).

Woohoo! Now let’s bust out some romantic crafts! I’ve divvied up these crafty ideas based on age for ease of perusing.

Newborn to One Year Old

A Salty Keepsake

You can never have too many cutie-pie feet or handprint décor in your house, so try making this one with your squirmy baby (it’s easier to use and cleaner than paint!). You will need:

1 cup of salt

2 cups of flour

¾ cups of water

5 drops of red food colouring (more if you desire red rather than pink)

1 large mixing bowl

1 mixing spoon

1 rolling pin

1 well-rested baby

Stir the salt and flour together in the mixing bowl. Gradually mix in the water until you have a nice, doughy consistency. Knead in the red food colouring until you have the desired colour and then roll the dough as if you were about to cut it into cookies (but don’t because they won’t taste very good!).

Using your baby’s feet or hands, make a print in the dough. I liked making heart shapes with their feet and then cutting a heart shape around it. I also made a small hole at the top so that I could lace a string through to hang it up.

After your unique baby creations are created, place the salty memories in the oven at 180 °C for about 10 minutes (times vary depending on the size and thickness of creations).

Note: You can also paint and varnish your creations if you desire to make your own homemade toys!

One to Two Years Old

A Sticky Situation

If you’re like me and allow your children as much free rein as possible with arts and crafts (within reason), you’ll want to have a go at this one! What you’ll need:

1 piece of paper (I prefer cardstock as it will allow for a lot of glue without getting soggy)

1 bottle of glue or glue stick

Approximately 30 pieces of coloured paper, roughly 1 x 1 inches in size

1 black marker

1 adventurous toddler

I drew a large heart on a white piece of cardstock with a black marker, added a bunch of glue to the inside of the perimeter, and provided my son with little pieces of coloured paper so that he could decorate as he saw fit. It worked very well – the third time.

Haha! I mean to say he had fun each and every time he tried it but he mastered new skills along the way, making his third attempt worthy of carefully scraping it off the highchair to hang on the wall.

Two to Three Years Old

Fashionista in the Making

Kids at this age love to play dress-up, so why not fashion your own trinkets? If you can get your hands on these, or similar items, try making this DIY Valentine’s Day crown and necklace:

6 pieces of pipe cleaner, red or pink

1 piece of white cardstock (lengthy enough to fit the circumference of your child’s head)

20 to 30 foam or paper hearts

1 pair of children’s scissors (or a holepunch, if available)

1 pencil

Tape or stapler

1 apprentice jeweler

First, measure your child’s head using the cardstock paper. Mark it with a pencil (don’t cut it while it’s near your child for risk of injury or a nasty haircut). Cut and tape it. Let your child decorate it with the hearts and pipe cleaner.

I liked showing my son how to wrap pipe cleaner around his finger to give it a spirally appearance. We then put hearts on them and taped them to either side of the crown to appear as ears.

For the necklace, holepunch or cut holes in the centres of the remaining hearts and let your child poke the other pipe cleaner pieces through them. Twist the pipe cleaner ends together so that they will make a lovely, romantic necklace with heart shaped jewels!

Three to Four Years Old

A Basket of Roses

My son is obsessed with bringing me flowers ever since he was allowed to pick them in my Mom’s garden this summer (she told me he was more accomplished at demolishing her flowers than the neighbourhood rabbits). This year, we made some DIY roses in a freshly decorated Chinese noodle box. They smell excellent.

What you need:

1 Chinese noodle box (or tissue box cut in half width-wise)

18 to 20 coloured mini (or regular sized) cupcake liners

6 green pipe cleaners

1 small floracraft (or styrofoam)

2 sheets of red tissue paper

Tape

1 amateur florist

Help your child turn the cupcake liners inside out so that the coloured portion will end up being the inside of the roses. Stack three liners on top of one another and poke the pipe cleaner through the centre of the stack, so that it is just poking through, and twist slightly so that is remains in place. Do this for all six of the flowers.

For the basket, tape the tissue paper to the outside to give it a beautiful glow. Place the floracraft inside the box and cover with more tissue paper. Then poke your pipe cleaner flowers into the floracraft. Viola! A beautiful centerpiece your guests are sure to comment on!

Four to Five Years Old

A Watercolour World of Hearts

For the most hardened of young artists, there is black paint and watercolours. This project takes a little prep work from parents as it requires a day for the glue to dry before your young creator can get to work, but it’s well worth the wait! What you need:

1 piece of cardstock paper

1 bottle of white glue

1 tablespoon of black paint

1 tray of watercolours

1 glass of water

1 paintbrush

1 pair of child’s scissors

1 aspiring artist

Empty one half of the glue out of the bottle and add the black paint (the bottle should contain ½ white glue, ¼ black paint, and ¼ air), and mix well. Next, draw hearts onto the cardstock paper and let dry for one day. My son seemed to like when the hearts had many sections in them as it gave him more areas to paint with different colours.

After the black glue is dry, let your child watercolour away! The watercolour paint doesn’t take nearly as long to dry (about half an hour). After we cut ours out, we taped them to his bedroom window so that it had a stained glass effect!

Shopping List and Other Indoor Craft Ideas

I do hope you and your family have fun trying these artsy ideas! All of the materials were available at the dollar store, except for the floracraft, which was obtained from Michaels, and the Chinese noodle box, which was left over from lunch. They were all relatively well priced (even the lunch!) and many colour options were available.

If you’d like more DIY craft ideas, I strongly suggest attending KARA’s Creative Play & More program, which is a free, drop-in program. KARA staff will surely astound you with the many crafty ideas they possess. Please come join us for an artsy day this week!

Exercises for Kids

With the New Year now in full swing, my Dad (Grandpa) approached me to engage in a strange conversation.

Dad: “What will your New Year’s resolution be this year?”
Daughter: “I’m not sure, perhaps try to save money. What about yours?”
Dad: “I’m going to start an exercise routine with your kids.”
Daughter: “?????”

That’s right. My Dad was looking to get into shape this year and he was counting on my high-spirited, active children to keep it fun and motivating!
Kudos to him for coming up with this brilliant scheme, one that rivals the methods used by many gyms to get you into shape (and get your money). Surely this is going to benefit him, but would it have a positive impact on my kids?

Why Organized Exercise is Good for Kids

When I was young, we had a TV but exposure to it was limited by parental rules. If I wanted something to do, the number one go to for fun was activity (particularly outdoor activity).

With our kids having more than just a TV to stare at now (my dayhome lady owns more than just one tablet – yikes), it can get a little hard to encourage exercise in little ones…

But you should and here’s why:

Exercise, organized or not, helps children gain and develop gross motor skills. Gross motor skills are one of the five areas of development to determine if your child is on track (see Blog 14). Gross motor skills allow kids to run until
they’re exhausted, score the perfect goal when playing soccer, and jump on parents while they are sleeping. Gross motor skills are fantastic, right?
And gross motor skills gained now last a lifetime, as does a healthy exercise routine.

You may think that your kids get plenty of exercise right now by running, jumping, and just generally gallivanting around, which they do. But just like brushing their teeth, exercise will live with them if you start laying the foundation when they are small children.

When you’re teaching a child to brush their teeth, what you’re really doing is protecting their teeth for many years to come. If they pick up on exercise now, you’ll be laying the foundation for a lifetime of exercise. This is fantastic
because we all know exercise:

Promotes Heart Health: A heart is a muscle that works very hard during exercise. By doing your workout routine, especially cardio workouts, you are strengthening it.

Clears Arteries: Keeping arteries clear and “teaching” them to expand and constrict lowers blood pressure.

Increases Lung Capacity: By increasing the capacity for new air and enabling your lungs to efficiently move air in and out of your body, you are helping all of your cells get the oxygen they need to stay healthy.

Strengthens Bones: Just like muscles, bones strengthen and increase in density when you work out (I actually did not know
this one).

Increases Emotional Well-being: Exercise releases hormones that are associated with calmness and feelings of well-being while simultaneously reducing depression.

To see more benefits of exercise, click here.

So exercise helps kids develop skills now and promotes a healthy routine that could last with them through life – Sign me up, right?

But how do you start exercising with munchkins that can barely keep pace with you in the grocery store? Well we aren’t talking about lifting weights just yet. Start with these easy and fun exercises that are sure to increase the well-being of the entire family!

Exercises for Kids (and You!)

My go-to exercises have always been ballet barre and yoga. Both are exceptional for strength building, improving posture, meditating, breathing control, and even relaxation. Additionally, the poses incorporated are both feasible and fun for kids and adults alike. Check them out, but be wary! Exercising correctly is more important than exercising at all.

So, stretch first and don’t push yourself!

Planking: In this yoga pose, lay down on your tummy, place your elbows on the floor, and raise your body up, straight as a board from your head to your heels. Hold the position for 10 seconds or more depending on your and your child’s ability. I like to do this one with my children five to ten times.

Squats: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Then bend your knees as if you are about to sit on a chair – don’t fool yourself too much because there won’t be one there to catch you! Holding this position is a bit tough the first few times but it really is a good one for strength building and balance! I like to do this one five to seven times with the kids.

Rond de Jambe: This ballet move may be a hit with little girls (my boys like it too!). If you haven’t done this before, it’s nice to start with a chair to hold on to. Stand with your toes pointed out and both knees bent slightly. Raise one leg straight in front of you and your arm up in a curve over your head.

For parents, be sure to rotate your foot so your inner ankle is engaged– this is what actually tones your leg muscles. Bring your leg back and then out to the side. Only go as high with your leg as is comfortable. This one is a bit too easy for my soccer stars so we go until they get bored.

Plie Bend: Another ballet move that’s sure to be fun is the plie. Stand against a wall with your toes pointed out and slowly bend your legs so that you are sliding down the wall. Once you feel the stretch, hold for 5 seconds (or longer). Then slowly raise up to a demi pointe (not on the tips of the toes like true ballet, but on the forefoot). Like squats, I like to do this one five to seven times with my munchkins.

Burpees: My sons’ favourite exercise because it is a lot of movement and gets your heart going! This sequence of movements starts you off in the squatting position. Then put your hands to the ground and kick your legs straight behind you so that you land on your toes. Now that you are in a push-up position, why not do one (ugh) and then jump back so that your feet land by your hands and finish by standing up. My kids think these are so fun that they never really stop doing them (I crash after 10).

Try these exercises at home or come up with some of your own! I bet your kids will love them more than brushing their teeth (but please do still brush their teeth!).

Language Development

A Stolen Opportunity

This week, I was a swashbuckling pirate with a peg leg, brandishing a foam sword while my scallywag preschooler danced around me with his own foam weapon in a fit of pretend fury. I deflected him numerous times before I gallantly admitted defeat, laid down my sword, and started changing my other child’s diaper.

My preschooler, with no mercy in his eye, charged at me shouting, “OPPORTUNITY!!!”

He is 3.5 years old.

After laughing hysterically and trying to hold him at bay with one hand, I wondered, how did his amazing vocabulary evolve so quickly?

Grizzly Bear

At 11 months, my Grizzly Bear (preschooler now) uttered his first words. He was a late bloomer (in comparison to some babies) and said bye-bye to his grandpa as I carried him up to bed one night.  He didn’t talk for months afterwards and said very few words when coaxed all the way until he was 2.5 years old. By 2.5 years, he could string together a few words but still seemed to lag behind his peers. As any parent would, I tracked as he met other milestones using the Ages and Stages Questionnaire provided by KARA (see Blog 14), and discussed speech milestones with his doctor. I was reassured that even though his speech milestones weren’t on par with others, he was within the normal range.

Polar Bear

At 10 months, my Polar Bear (toddler now) motioned up at me as he said “mama.” Of course, I was over the moon with joy at his choice in first-time speech, but his vocabulary didn’t evolve much from that beautiful moment. At 18 months of age, Polar Bear is still stuck on a handful of words, which he uses sparingly and with tremendous hesitation. I know he can talk, but he is quite stubborn and will whisper words to me and motion towards something rather than try. Of course, I am not concerned as the age range in which children learn to speak is particularly variable.

See below.

Vocabulary Milestones

Age 1

By their first birthday, experts agree that a child should be able to say a handful of words, respond when you talk, and follow very simple directions (when in a good mood, I would imagine). My doctor indicated that if my kids could say one word by their first birthday, that counted and was within the normal range. I also understand that doctors are more interested in if a child responds to sounds and their parents’ voices rather than saying or repeating words. This form of communication (eye contact and body language) is a better indicator of being on track (click here for more info).

Age 2

By their second birthday, a child should use 50 words regularly; I recall trying to count all of my Grizzly Bear’s words at this stage and totalling in at 12 words. They should also be able to string together words; another area we weren’t excelling in. Lastly, they should be able to identify frequently used objects. Here was where both of my boys lived and thrived. They were quite capable of telling me exactly what they wanted – a book, a banana, a diaper change; they seemed to be communication experts when it got them what they needed. They also seemed to know what I was telling them – pick up the toy, put on the boot, lay down, etc. Conversationalists, they were not, but determined and clever, oh yes (click here).

Age 3

By their third birthday, a child should be able to speak clearly, speak in sentences, choose the correct words, and follow two-part requests. Check, check, check, check, and then some! Patience, practice, and motivation led my Grizzly Bear to becoming a conversational wizard! He derives new stories on his own, builds his vocabulary repertoire by himself, tries out new phrases, and even makes up his own jokes!

Mom “Did you have a good day?”

Grizzly “I had a beautiful day!”

Mom “Do you need help opening the play-doh?”

Grizzly “Yes, this is so embarrassing.”

Mom “Can you help me with this?”

Grizzly “I can’t today, I’m a kitty.”

Mom “I don’t think Polar Bear wants to clean up your toys.”

Grizzly “Yes he does, he is my minion.”

Mom “Are you excited to go see Mrs. Joyce?”

Grizzly “Can you turn on some music?”

Perhaps my son has moved on to being a teenager… I pondered as I turned up the radio.

So what helped? Completing Ages and Stages Questionnaires certainly did because afterwards, I was able to talk to staff experts about activities I could do at home to help my children practice.

Practice (and Patience!) Makes Perfect

Self Talk, Parallel Talk, and Expansions

I was given plenty of advice and tips after my Ages and Stages Questionnaires. One comment I even took away when my son was just an infant: apparently even a baby is interested in what I am doing or reading. A newborn baby can hear that I am making noise and can interact with me (through eye contact and listening), so why not tell them what I am doing or read what I am reading out loud? My sons didn’t have any inkling that I was spouting off what I was reading in the newspaper, but they were certainly happy to hear Mom’s voice!

Next came self talk, where I would use short sentences to talk about what I was doing. My boys could pick up words, particularly nouns and verbs this way. Many children also learn action words like “bye-bye,” “want,” and “come,” which accompany actions like waving, pointing, or motioning.

Parallel talk is very similar to self talk but instead of going on about which boring dish I’m washing, I would be talking about what my child is doing. This seemed to really spark their interest when we were doing something together and I would talk about it. It seemed to encourage positives towards talking and the activity. Mom is putting away the puzzle… Yes, follow my lead…

Experts suggest that while actively doing self talk and parallel talk with your children, it’s best to use short, simple sentences that are only slightly longer and more difficult than the sentences they are using themselves. This leads into expansions.

Expansions – in this stage, after they use the word frequently, add a word to it so that it becomes a short sentence. Only expand on words and sentences that your child knows well and uses.

Polar “Thirsty”

Mom “Thirsty for Juice?”

Polar “Ball”

Mom “You want ball?”

It’s always a treat to hear your child learn something from you so try these and other methods to help your kids develop new language skills (click here).

More Resources

I also highly recommend taking an Ages and Stages Questionnaire or one or more of KARA’s literacy programs: Literacy and Parenting Skills, Aboriginal Literacy and Parenting Skills, Books for Babies, and Rhymes that Bind. The questionnaires and programs that KARA offers are wonderful ways to learn beneficial methods of promoting language development within a family. Give them a try!