New Year’s Resolutions for Families

Photo courtesy of Mommy Nearest

Every year, my family has taken part in the time old classic of reinventing ourselves for the new year ahead. I’ve tried many successful (and unsuccessful) new resolutions myself over the years, undertaken many new activities, and even participated in a few friendly competitions while doing so. When my husband and I had our first child, and became a young family, my New Year’s resolutions took on a more holistic theme, incorporating my baby and husband. As our family grew, our resolutions morphed into fun activities, adventures, and growth opportunities. Last year, my family even started a weekly family game night!

This year, my family would like to try a few new resolutions to brighten our days and grow as a family. I’d like to share them with you. I’d also like to share a few past resolutions that I’ve tried, ones that I sometimes struggled with and tips on how I plan to make them work this year.

Before going on though, I want to add a little cautionary note to this article: not every resolution works (shocking, I know)! But I’ve always found that even the ones that don’t still gave me and my family fond memories and happiness, even if just for a short time. So never get discouraged! New Year’s resolutions are for fun after all!

Get Outside More

Historically, this has been a New Year’s tradition for me. I’ve called it different things (running more, exercising, going on adventures), but it’s generally a well-known New Year’s resolution in many households. It typically starts strong in the first month or two of the year then peters out when the weather gets really cold. No matter how long my family keeps it up for though, we always enjoy it!

This year, I’m giving myself a tip (and you too) to help keep the adventure alive: telling my kids when the weather is nice, frosty comes out to play.

My kids really do keep me young at heart, and also keep me from going back on my word! When I’ve told them we are going to do something fun, they always make me keep my word. And I know it’s important I do to help them build honesty and trust. So I told them frosty likes warm weather. Whenever the sun is shining, he comes out to play. And they remind me whenever the sun starts peeking through the window! It’s been a great method in keeping the energy up and getting the fresh air we need outside! Being held up in the house with many former activities now out of reach, the army of snowmen we’ve created outside really has been a great morale booster too!

Keeping Pen Pals

As a kid, I often tried to write letters to my friends and keep regular correspondence with family too. This was just something not meant to be though. Once I got my first phone, I wrote only to my Great Aunt, who lives in Scotland. As the distance is so great, the letters took a great deal of time to reach either of us so the general pen pal feeling was lost after some time. I did try to gain new pen pals as I left my college years and started a family, but having a vehicle to bring me to my family members took the fun out of it once more as I often saw them in person before they received their letters!

This year, with the new normal still strong, my family and I have rekindled this long lost art. We seldom see any of our old friends anymore so have started crafting some letters. The kids have been having a blast doing so too, using their new Christmas gift (art supplies) to build their own letters! I love how inspired they are and the new skills they are gaining too. It will surely do them well when they start attending school.

But how do I plan to keep this going throughout the year? By enlisting my honest little prompters again! Funny enough, my older son knows what a ‘year’ is by knowing the sequence of holidays in the year. As soon as one holiday ends, he begins preparation for the next holiday (just like his Mom). We have hours of fun making crafty decorations or planning the tasty treats to enjoy the day of. But this year, we will also be sending cards to all of our families and friends! He has already made eleven cards for his cousins and brother. I hope to continue this tradition (and building new skills) throughout the year on other holidays!

Keeping a Record of Fond Memories

In past years, when I had more time on my hands, I really liked making photo albums. I made digitized ones and had them printed by photobook companies. It made for great collages of my finest memories.

It’s been a few years since I’ve made one, so this year, I’m going to make one for each of my children. How will I inspire myself to make this resolution a reality? I’ve been showing my children past ones I’ve made and made a promise to each of them I will make them one before the year is out.

I’m really looking forward to completing this task as it will not only be a fun activity to do together as a family but will also be a cherished record of my kids during their young lives they will have forever.

If you like this idea, you can also get in on the memory record-keeping game with old-fashioned photo albums, artistic collages for your walls, and making albums within social media platforms! They all work to keep your memories alive!

Practice a Positive Cognitive Skill

Lastly, this year, my family and I are planning on doing something new around the house on a daily basis that will help boost morale and show our appreciation for one another. It’s not exactly something we don’t normally do, but this year we plan to make it a resolution to try to be more cognisant of. We plan on showing gratitude whenever an opportunity presents itself.

In our busy day-to-day lives, sometimes we forget the struggles of our other family members. Sometimes we don’t notice the hard work that is being completed right before our eyes. We grow so used to the qualities that make our individual family members so amazing that we pass it by, forgetting to show gratitude. But the little things, like saying thank-you, really do make all the difference.

Therefore, my husband and I plan to make a conscious note to keep showing our gratitude towards each other and our children whenever possible! To show our appreciation has really benefitted our relationships with each other, and taught our kids the importance of gratitude by leading by example too.

How do we do it? A couple easy steps to start you off are to listen to one another during a conversation, make eye contact when listening or speaking, giving compliments for big and small things, and show appreciation for the efforts taken by others. These small gestures make home life very happy. So how do we plan to keep it up?

Try this! Whenever someone shows you gratitude, make a mental note to return the appreciation when possible. Even though it’s tough to explain this to a young child, by doing this, they catch on pretty quick! Compliment them, listen to them (and even say “I’m listening to you”) while making eye-contact, and say thank you. They will eventually start to mimic you and the mimicked actions will eventually turn into real feelings. It’s pretty amazing when your child starts thanking you for reading them their bedtime stories!

Last Note

Did you have a chance to come up with your own New Year’s resolutions this year? Any ideas you’d like to share? Please reach out to me because I’d love to hear about them! Also, if you liked any of my resolution ideas and are hoping to give them a go with your family, tell me about it! Thanks for reading and Happy New Year!

Holiday Treats

With new gathering restrictions in place, many of us are facing a holiday season unlike any other we’ve had in the past. For my family, we always travelled to the houses of relatives to spend the holidays together. This was lucky for me as Grandmothers’ houses are always filled with memorable baked goods. My sisters and sisters-in-law would also bring tasty goodies. I would contribute one or two items as well, but always left the more traditional treats to experienced hands.

This year, my family will be staying home and having Zoom calls with relatives. We have shipped our gifts to family members far and wide and will open them together, virtually. The distance is not so bad for gift opening and socializing thanks to the day and age we live in and the technology at our fingers. However, the classic holiday treats my family has grown accustomed to having this time of year is in short supply! Therefore, with a bit of proactive bakers shopping,   I started getting my hands dirty…

These recipes provided below are from the more experienced bakers in my family but are also age appropriate for a few little fingers too. If you feel up to it, give them a whirl with your little helpers! I hope you enjoy them!

Preparation Tips

Some tips before starting the baking process are start with a clean workspace and end with one as well. Nothing is more daunting than a pile of dishes, so it’s best to clean as you go. You also want to be careful with hot surfaces, sharp objects, and food safety before baking with children. Remind them to wash their hands, and to ask for help when needed. And if you are going to double, or triple a recipe, I find it easiest to write down the number of ingredients I need (e.g. instead of 1 cup, write down 2, or 3 cups as to not alter the recipe too much). Lastly, if you do deviate from the recipe, be sure to write it down in your cookbook. This helps you replicate a favourite treat later, and it makes for a great memory book year after year to pass on to your children.

So let’s get cooking (rather, baking)! Be warned, although I like to substitute healthy ingredients in my recipes all the time, these recipes are holiday specific in my family. Therefore, they really are treats!

Whipped Shortbread Cookies

 Ingredients:

1 cup softened butter (can’t use margarine or oil)

1 ½ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup icing sugar

½ cup glazed cherries

Parchment paper

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
  2. Mix the butter, sugar, and flour with an electric mixer for approximately 10 minutes, or until light and fluffy.
  3. Lay the parchment paper out on a baking sheet. Put roughly tsp sized dollops of the mixture spaced evenly on the parchment paper.
  4. Put a half glazed cherry in the centre of each dollop. This is the step kids like to help with most!
  5. Bake at 325° for 15 minutes, until very light brown.
  6. Let cool and enjoy!

Source: Grandma’s Recipe!

Newfie Snowballs

Ingredients:

½ cup softened butter (can’t use margarine or oil)

½ cup evaporated milk

¼ cup cocoa

¾ cup sugar

1 tbsp vanilla

2 cups coconut shavings

2 cups oats

¾ cup coconut shavings (for coating)

Steps:

  1. Bring butter, milk, cocoa, sugar, and vanilla to a boil over medium heat.
  2. Mix in coconut shavings and oats.
  3. Stir the mixture and pour into a medium sized bowl and allow to chill until cold (around 2 hours).
  4. Once cool, roll small dollops into 1 ½ inch balls. Perfect step for little helpers!
  5. Roll into the coconut for a coconut-y coating.
  6. Keep chilled and enjoy!

Source: Auntie Krystle’s Recipe!

Holiday Cookies

 Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tbsp sugar

3 tsps baking powder

½ cup shortening (or butter)

¾ cup milk

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  2. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.
  3. Cut in shortening (or butter) using two knives until the mixture looks like fine crumbs. I personally like using my hands. It’s messy, but I find I get too impatient with the knives. Plus, the kids love to help with this step!
  4. Pour in the milk slowly, stirring as you go. Pour in and mix until the dough leaves the sides of bowl and starts sticking together.
  5. Now you can place the dough on a lightly floured surface and begin kneading. Knead roughly 10 times.
  6. Roll or pat the dough until it is roughly ½ an inch thick.
  7. Cut with holiday cookie cutters. Another kid favourite step!
  8. Place on a lightly greased cookie sheet approximately 1 inch apart.
  9. Bake in your preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown.
  10. Once done, remove from the oven and remove from the cookie sheet, leaving on a counter or plate to cool.
  11. Enjoy!

Source: Auntie Julie’s Recipe!

Peanut Butter Marshmallow Squares

 Ingredients:

½ cup butter or margarine

1 cup smooth peanut butter

1 (300g) bag of butterscotch chips or chocolate chips

1 (200g) bag of mini marshmallows

Steps:

  1. Put the butter, peanut butter, and butterscotch chips in a pot on the stove and melt together at a very low heat stirring constantly.
  2. Once melted, cool for a bit off the burner but keep the mixture in the pot.
  3. Stir in the mini marshmallows.
  4. Pour into greased pan. I like to use a glass pan with roughly 2 inch sides.
  5. Let sit or put into the fridge for faster drying.
  6. Cut up and enjoy!

Source: Auntie Rocky’s Recipe!

Nothing Says It Like The Smell of Baking!

Hope you enjoy these holiday treat ideas! They really make my home smell and taste like the holidays. If you have a special recipe that your family enjoys during the holidays and want to share it, send it along to me! We can all use some more sweets this season. Take care!

Babies and Morality

Have you ever been sick, and I mean really sick, with a toddler acting as your at-home doctor? Have you ever been bedridden as a parent and just been blown away by your child’s sense of ethics? Kindness or meanness? Notion of right or wrong?

Recently, I’ve been feeling under the weather. And I mean really under the weather. I’ve been bedridden for two months (it feels more like two years) and my only excursions from my blankets have been my very frequent trips to the washroom to feel the effects of nausea. My family has been there for me the entire time, and my children, have shown remarkable compassion.

They’ve been gentle, kind, and considerate. They’ve held my hand, brought me food (half-licked), and have done what I’ve asked on the first go. They’ve shown incredible honesty and dependability for being so young in age. They’ve shown great morality.

How on earth do they know how to do this?

What is Morality?

First off – let’s define morality. Morality, by the experts, is explained as knowing the difference between right and wrong, good or bad. Showing morality includes actions such as telling the truth, respecting other peoples’ property, showing courage, keeping your promises, not cheating, not judging, and being dependable.

Experts have always agreed that children as young as kindergarteners have shown morality, but what about kids younger than this? What about kids as young as babies?

When Does Morality Start?

It’s been some time since I’ve had a little baby but I do love to remember my tots this way. I do often look back at their early life development, whether for inspirational writing or for my own joy. So, let’s take a look at what the experts say on babies and morality. Maybe it makes itself known before those kindergarten years…

Psychologists at the University of Yale suggest babies as young as 3 months show morality. Incredible, right? How do they test for this? Babies that young are unable to talk or even point at objects. I was blown away when I read this. How could someone who has just learned to hold up their own head demonstrate morality? How could it be that they show their preference for good and bad at such a young age?

Well, I was dying to find out so I kept reading, and this is how they discovered their findings.

They showed babies a puppet show. Babies were a year old, six months old, or three months old.

The scene played out like this: A baby was shown two puppets and two bowls of food. One of the bowls contained cookies and the other, green beans. The baby was given the two bowls and had the chance to pick a small snack from one bowl. The baby chose a cookie (usually). Then, one of the puppets said it liked the cookies, and the other liked the beans. Next, the puppet show began. The baby watched as the cookie puppet played repeatedly with a ball, dropped the ball, and was returned the ball by another puppet, the helper puppet. Then the cookie puppet would play again with the ball, lose it, and on the other side was another puppet, the hinderer puppet, which stole the ball away.

Then, the show would end.

The baby was then presented with the two puppets, the helper and the hinderer. The vast majority of babies chose to snuggle with the helper. Some even gave the hinderer a smack on the head…

That is correct, even the three month old babies showed they knew the difference between right and wrong. Psychologists conducting the study suggested that this emphasizes babies are born with morality.

You can read about it here and watch it here. I also understand it’s been featured on Netflix’s Babies documentary series.

Where do We Come into Play?

So, taking this all in did open a big question for me, personally. If babies are born with this innate knowledge, do parents have a role? What if, by design, my baby’s sense of morality was, dare I say it, wrong? Could morality still be taught?

Well, the study goes on to find another interesting clue into baby design. What about the bean-loving puppet? This character did not identify with most babies. Do they still like him the same?

The experiment repeats. This time, the green bean puppet is the star. The ball is played with and lost, returned, and stolen.

The babies are then shown the helper and the hinderer. The babies chose the hinderer.

Another twist!

The psychologists conducting the study suggest this shows babies are born to show a likability for those similar to them. Characters they identify with are the ones they chose to love and/or protect. This holds true with many other studies conducted in older children and adults. As beings, we are programmed to show preference to other beings of similar taste. Makes sense I suppose, teenagers like other teenagers with the same taste in music. Adults like adults with the same taste in cars. Cookie babies like cookie puppets.

But I know my children like children that don’t have the same taste as them. My older son’s best friend likes the movie Cars. My son detests this movie, but still likes his friend. I am undoubtedly my younger son’s best friend. He shows kindness to me even though he can’t stand my preference for spicy food. If I chose green beans over cookies, would my children still show morality and be compassionate towards me? For the lack of a cookie-loving similarity, would my children still bring me half-eaten soup when I’m sick?

Luckily, yes. And this is why. The psychologists that conducted the study also tell the story that morality still needs to be taught, developed, and nurtured to fully develop. The green bean puppet story tells us this. Children do not go through life only liking those of similar taste. So this is where we, as parents, come in!

How do I Nurture Morality?

According to Psychology Today Canada (here), young children are egocentric, meaning they follow their impulses and wishes. If your child takes candy off the counter at a store without asking, it certainly doesn’t mean they are growing up without moral fibre. It just means they wanted the candy.

We see this behaviour in young children, a little less in older children, and a little less still in adults. What is happening as we age? Are we coming to learn more about the differences between right and wrong and that is what is guiding our impulses and wishes? Correct. We are learning.

And how do we learn? Through role modelling.

What to Teach and Model?

Not another blog about role modelling, right? I’ll keep it brief!

What do we want our kids to learn and how do we show them – four main categories and examples:

  1. Honesty

The best way to encourage honesty is by being honest. How many of us have taken our children to the movies or indoor jungle gym and said they were a different age than they truly are? Have you ever told someone your child is sick so you didn’t have to go on a play date? These little lies resonate with children. When your child hears them, even if given a thoughtful and considerate answer for why it was done, they are still seeing and hearing that sometimes it’s okay to lie and that lying is a natural part of life. The only way to correct this is to be honest even when it affects you negatively. You may have to pay more to watch a movie at the theatre, but your child is reaping the rewards for having heard something honest. This will help them learn that telling the truth is important, even if it affects them in a negative way.

 

  1. Justice

How do we remedy a situation in our lives that was our fault? My kids are fairly boisterous and competitive. These are normal and positive behaviours. They often disagree on things too. Again normal. Sometimes, they start to disagree with their arms and legs and a polite person would call it a tumbling match. As their Mom, I can see the difference between rough and tumble games and a battle over a toy. When you have a disagreement with someone, or have done something wrong, how do you make amends? We say sorry, we give hugs, or we do something kind for the other person. These actionable doings do more than just make the other person feel better. They teach justice. When someone has done something wrong, something is done to make it right. Making amends isn’t a consequence or penalty, but it is something done by the wrongdoer to show remorse. How do I model this? I make it right with actions. When one of my children has done something wrong, I also get them to make amends. As a Mom learning what works best for which child, I’ve learned that giving something of importance to them makes the most impact. My three year old gives cookies to apologize and my sensitive five year old give hugs. These favourites will change in the future so I will have to remain on top of my game.

 

  1. Consideration

Words and actions affect how other people feel. Kids pick up on this. When I’m sick, I’m already feeling stressed. A noisy household is hardly making me feel any better. So when my kids come see me, they talk quietly and do their best not to tackle or jump on me. How do they know to do this? I’ve deduced that my kids likely feel their most stressed out self when they are in a time-out. They’ve just done something wrong, need a minute to compose themselves, and are in their room replaying “the bad parts.” When I go in to see them, do I start shouting and bullying them? No, I sit down beside them and calmly have a little chat about actions and feelings. My actions towards their feelings in those moments maybe have more positive benefit than the words themselves. My children can see that actions affect their feelings. Push over their block tower? This action hurt their feelings. Give them a hug? This action boosts positive feelings. Good role modelling to teach consideration is critical.

 

  1. Love

Lastly, be generous with your affection. A busy day can get away from you but little affectionate gestures make a world of difference to a child. Big grand gestures are also fantastic but many little ones are the real winner when it comes to instilling affection in your child. Show them affection by showing love to others as well as them. Show affection to their other parent, grandparents, family, and friends. Never be too busy for a hug or to say you love them. Write them little notes to tell them how special they are to you and do the activities they like to do. Tell them you love them every night before bed. Once they hear it enough, they will start to say it back. By showing your love, you may be instilling perhaps the greatest value of all.

How do You Show Morality?

I certainly hope that you’ve had a good time reading this blog. Learning what I’ve learned has made me realize that my youngsters, even though amazingly born with a moral compass, have also gained a few tips along the way from me and the rest of their families. The only way I know how to continue teaching them is to teach them how I want to be treated. So give it a go with your child. They may bring you soup the next time you are sick – even if you like green beans!

Magic Tricks for Kids

Blog 83 - Photo

With all that is going on outside the home these days, my family has been cooped up for a while. We’ve done a few fun family indoor activities to keep things interesting and my son, Grizzly Bear, wanted to share one with you! Magic tricks!

Grizzly Bear has always loved magic. The first time we saw the movie Onward, he ran outside to grab a stick, called it a splinter, and asked me to say the magic words to turn it into a wizards staff. It was a heartbreaking moment to see his little chest fall with disappointment when nothing happened. So, since then, he occasionally comes up with his own magic tricks and puts on a show for us. This week, I had a chance to help him out. I looked up a few tricks for tots and we did the show together! These are the fun magic tricks we learned and they are easy for kids to do!

The Disappearing Penny

This one got me good, and got my husband too! It’s very easy for kids to do and even my three year old Polar Bear tricked his Dad. An old penny is made to disappear under a magic cup then reappear at will! My husband’s voice got all pitchy, his eyes widened, and he demanded Polar Bear show him the trick. Curious? Here’s how to do it.

The Materials:

  1. Two pieces of construction paper, the same colour
  2. A glass
  3. A pencil
  4. Scissors
  5. Tape
  6. A penny

The Prep:

Turn the cup upside down and use it to draw a circle on one piece of construction paper. Cut the circle out and tape it to the opening of the cup.

The Trick:

On the second piece of construction paper, put the penny on one side and the cup on the other. Show your audience the penny as it disappears under the cup you slowly slide over top of it. Then make the penny reappear again. Magic!

The Magic Scarf

This one is cute and easy too! Grizzly Bear uses a paper telescope to show the audience nothing is there but paper, then he makes a scarf (we used Christmas ribbon) to appear out of thin air! Want to know the secret?

The Materials:

  1. A piece of construction paper
  2. Tape
  3. Scarf or ribbon

The Prep:

Roll the paper into a cylinder making it very tight on one side and leaving a gap on the other side. Stuff the scarf or ribbon into the gap.

The Trick:

Show the audience the telescope by looking through it at them. They can see there’s nothing inside. Then pull out the scarf or ribbon from the other side. Tah-dah!

The Vanishing Crayons

This one takes some nimble fingers but Grizzly Bear got it after a few tries. Crayons are shown in their box to the audience, then the box is flipped and the crayons vanish! It was very cute to watch him confuse his brother. Polar Bear had the most adorable look on his face trying to figure it out!

The Materials:

  1. A small box of crayons (four pack)
  2. A knife
  3. Scissors
  4. Tape

The Prep:

Cut a square hole in the crayon box to show the audience the crayons inside. This step isn’t required if your box already has a hole. Use the knife to cut the crayons in half and tape the top halves together so it still looks like a normal box of crayons to the audience but the bottom half of the box is empty.

The Trick:

When showing the crayons to the audience, apply pressure to the crayons in the box so the audience can see them through the hole. Then flip the box, toot some magic mumbo-jumbo, and poof! The crayons vanish!

My Shy Friend

This one was by far my Grizzly Bear’s favourite magic trick! He loved his new friend and couldn’t stop giggling when he disappeared. After the show was over, he even followed my husband around while he did the dishes, showing him the little paper friend he had one second, and the next was gone! Need to know how?

The Material:

  1. Paper
  2. A crayon
  3. Scissors
  4. Tape

The Prep:

Cut a small piece of paper out, the width of your child’s finger and as long as a toothpick. Colour on a little smiley face on one side. Tape the bottom side to your child’s thumbnail.

The Trick:

As your child makes a fist with their hand, with the thumb on the inside of the fist, the friend is smiling at the audience. When the child’s hand opens, the friend disappears! He was inspirational, and my son even made it sound like the friend was shy. Adorable!

The Magic is in You!

I really hope you and your little one get a chance to try some of these out! Even in the familiarity of my own living room, I felt like I was laughing with a crowd in a big circus tent! But don’t forget, the magic is in you! Even though my children were the stars of our little magic show, I couldn’t help but feel the audience (me and my husband) were the magic in their eyes. When your child “gets up on stage,” be sure to give them your attention, be inspired by their talents, be amazed at their tricks, and laugh with them. Magic isn’t magic if there’s no one to share it with!

Children and Problem Solving

Undoubtedly, one of my favourite things about being a parent is living vicariously through my children. Do you recall the first time you wrote your own name by yourself? Your first memory of tying your own shoe? The first time you solved your own problem?

I have to admit, I don’t recall many of my first accomplishments, but my parents do! They have tons of old stories of the wondrous adventures I’d get into and how I got out of them. And that’s how I know I’ll never forget my children’s accomplishments and how they find solutions to the many new adventures they take. The look of joy and pride on their faces as they work out how to finish their very own puzzle – inspiring! It’s like I’m reliving the best moments of my life with the addition of knowing I’m giving them theirs. It’s pretty amazing.

So, along with being that incredible parent moment, what else does a child solving their own problems do? What’s the significance?

The Importance

KARA has recently crafted Nurturing Problem-Solving Skills in Children, a newsletter on the importance of problem solving in children and how we, as parents, can nurture healthy problem solving skills. Why is this skill so important? The short answer is that it provides children with various skills to develop and maintain healthy relationships with others.

Really, you ask? How does that correlate? Problem-solving skills lead to harmonious relationship skills? What’s the link between these two unlikely talents?

Imagine being a little kid presented with a problem. You have a square block and you’re trying to smash it into a triangular hole. You try one thing and it doesn’t work! Time to throw yourself on the carpet for the adorable “world-is-crashing-around-me-tantrum!”

Now imagine your parent or caring older sibling comes over and says, “Maybe we can try a different block!”

You give it a go and it works! Pride and joy overcome you and everyone is giving you a high five – but not because you selected the right shape – nope. It’s because you have chosen to be open-minded.

That’s right! Kudos to you, little guy or gal, because being open-minded is one of the most important life-skills you can have! It opens doors with a number of significant people in your future life – your parents, teachers, employers, and significant others. It’s the skill needed for any positive relationship! It allows you, as the person you are, to have your own values and opinions, but still see the significance of others’ values and opinions.

For this reason, problem solving is arguably one of the most important skills one can gain in life. And I like to think children are naturally born with this ability to try new things and take advice from others. And with a little help from family, we gain the confidence to continue to grow in that regard.

Where it All Starts

Babies are natural born problem solvers. From the first moment they open their eyes, they are taking everything in and making new connections. They problem solve in a way we don’t even recognize – or I didn’t at first anyway!

When my first baby came along, I was an excited new mom. Although he had been solving problems for weeks before I caught on, the first time I recognized it was pretty exciting to say the least.

I sat holding him in my arms, smiling down at him with the look of a parent totally in love. And as he looked back at me, something miraculous happened. He smiled back.

Yes that’s right, he figured out how to copy me. I’m sure it took him a few tries to get the right muscles to work, and then the connections were made and he smiled. And the more I smiled at him, the more practice he had to do it back. And before either of us knew it, he had solved a problem – how to show the world what he was feeling.

So the lifelong adventure began – and never stopped! Watch, try, mimic, practice, solve. The race was on.

But how did I help him and his little brother continue to develop these skills?

Fostering the Skills

I feel there are endless possibilities when it comes to helping your little ones succeed. Problem solving how to help your little one problem solve – it’s problem solving at its finest! I try showing, teaching, explaining, waiting, listening, learning, coaching, and a bevy of other things at times. But the three most important things I’d say are being there for them, handing out the praise, and being open-minded.

My guys are in different stages of life, and they are both past the point of learning how to smile or shape sort. How do I help them problem solve their more difficult problems? After all, being five and three isn’t easy.

Since problem solving at those ages is a daily occurrence (in fact, more like a minutely occurrence), I’ll just stick to two examples – two of my children’s favourite pastimes at their current ages. For my five year old, that’s space exploration. For my three year old, it’s dinosaurs.

I’ll start with my five year old since I find the younger they are, the easier the problem but the harder it is to solve. For my older guy, the problem is more difficult, but the foundation of problem solving exercises is more set up for success. I have an odd feeling that when we get to the gauntlet of challenges that is adolescence, this paradigm will shift dramatically, but I’m not there yet to give evidence.

My five year old has already succeeded in writing his own name and learning to ride a bike. He is already familiar with “start at the beginning” and “practice makes perfect” and has his own memories to serve as evidence of success. Therefore, I like to give him the space he needs to try his own hand. He loves space, learning about the planets, and, above all, space robots. The first thing is to help him challenge himself by providing him with the right tools. We’ve purchased him a space robot game that is challenging. He can’t get enough of it. It could be the robot but I think it has to do more with the sense of accomplishment. The next thing is to give him space and only venture in when he truly needs help. In the midst of a pandemic when I’m working remotely at home, this works very well. I’ve set him up next to my work station. He is out of reach and out of eyesight. This means I do not know what is going on in his game at any given time so when he runs into a problem, he has the choice of asking me for help (where he has to take a great deal of time to catch me up to speed) or he ventures on in his element, independently trying various tactics to progress. He often chooses his own independence over engaging me. He says what the problem is out loud, just as he was taught, and then progresses to solve it on his own. But he never misses a chance to show me what he has accomplished, what robot he has built, or what planet he has discovered. Truly inspirational.

My three year old is a dinosaur fanatic. He is all about setting up his own prehistoric landscapes and acting out various scenes (most of which are family related where dinosaurs are his parents and sibling). He too, needed the right materials and challenging scenarios to excel. We bought him dinosaur figurines and have been teaching him the names (this has been a learning adventure for me too as I preferred dolls over dinosaurs when I was three). Hearing a young tot correctly identify various prehistoric creatures with lengthy names has been amazing. But let’s get to the problem. When he loses a toy, can’t recall a name, or something else is awry, he comes barreling into the room. We work together to say the problem out loud together. This, I find, is very helpful to young ones. It helps them identify the problem, the key to working toward a solution. One day, he came in to explain his problem, attempting to say it out loud on his own. This was challenging in itself and posed as our first problem – giving me an indication of what the problem was. It took time, trying various things, like new words and motions, and eventually, we came to an understanding. The velociraptor figurine was larger in size than the brachiosaurus. Hysterically, explaining to me, his dino newbie mom, that the dinosaurs I had purchased him were anatomically incorrect posed a harder task than the problem he originally had. He was given tons of praise for identifying his problem and even given the chance to explain his new findings over the phone to his grandparents, using his new words and motions. What a smartie pants!

A Problem Solving Exercise for All Ages

In KARA’s newsletter, there is a bevy of fun exercises one can do with their children to promote problem solving skills! Examples are stacking games, scavenger hunts, and puzzles. I also have a problem solving idea that fits well with this festive time of year, and should be a good time for any age – tree decorating! With a few inspirational anecdotes now in your back pocket, give this one a go with your little one. Here are a few ideas on how to problem solve together!

  1. Ask your child to help envision the decorated tree. Planning and imagination go hand in hand with problem solving. It’s also just as fun!
  2. Take ornaments out of containers together. Allow your child to open boxes and unwrap decorations. Take care to help little ones with breakable ornaments or those on long strings as they can pose a danger.
  3. Place ornaments on the tree. Using loops and hoops and placing ornaments on sticky branches can help fine motor and hand-eye coordination skills. A terrific way to problem solve.
  4. Also, if you are getting a real tree this year, take an extra step to help children care for the tree. Watering it is another great way to build gross motor skills and gardening skills.
  5. Lastly, give them praise as they try new things and take advice from others, fostering the skill of being open-minded and trying to see things from another’s point of view.

Last Note

As you’ve read, helping a child learn to problem solve is a miraculous way of providing them with an essential skill for later life. Having that open-mind is a game changer. Plus, the excitement and happiness as they make everyone around them proud will give them confidence and desire to problem solve again and again!

And what about you? Reliving your childhood memories through the eyes of your child has got to be the added cherry on top!

Reading Adventures

I grew up in a large family and almost all of us are avid readers.

My older sister reads a new book every one to two days. I know what you are thinking – they must be pretty small books!? You wouldn’t think that she could be reading 500 page novels in a single day! But she does. She is just an incredibly fast reader. Once, when I was a small child, I watched her eyes while she read. They flew across the page like an eagle chasing its prey. It was remarkable to see. She tells me she has always loved reading. In fact, she loved reading so much that when she would get in trouble, our parents actually took away her books as punishment! They were more important to her than any other toy.

My younger sister is an avid reader as well. She enjoys classic novels and hasn’t missed a single best-seller. She reads at a more normal pace but never stops. She loves reading and always tells me about the newest book she has just dived into.

My older brother also enjoys reading. He prefers magical and heroic quests that he can immerse himself in. He really connects with individual characters and their struggles. His favourite characters even become part of his everyday life – he cares for his beloved characters so much, he has used their names for his pets and children!

My Dad is the king of reading – for that’s what we all know him as. His personal library is so expansive and he is so fond of his books that my Mom has to sneakily recycle or donate them to make room for more. He reads everything from manuals and historical narratives to Do-It-Yourself books and literary novels. Any topic of conversation, and he has read a book that will enable him to be the master of the discussion. He is a walking encyclopedia (of which he has four sets).

My Mom is less of a reader than the rest of my family but she is only overshadowed due to the vastness of the rest. She is still the only person I know who reads a newspaper (the entire newspaper front to back) every day. This makes her very knowledgeable on current affairs, but, albeit, a less interesting conversationalist – just kidding Mom!

As for myself – well I’ll get to that in a moment…

Reading Stats

We’ve all been told at one point that reading to our children is important – and it is! If you weren’t aware of the benefits, nothing says it better than KARA’s newest Playing Together, Growing Together Newsletter – Reading for Pleasure. Children gain literacy skills, build confidence and relationships, shape their imaginations, and become life-long learners! What better way to set your child up for success!

The 20 minute/day rule is what pops out the most to me when I think about my kids and our reading schedules. So I make sure to put in the time and more whenever possible to encourage my children’s healthy reading habits. After all, that’s what my parents and grandparents did, and it worked well for my parents and siblings!

So what more do I need to know?

Well, I was curious what the statistics said about reading. Since we put in so much time (608 hours in the first five years of life!), I was interested to know exactly how the benefits affected a child later in life. Let’s check it out!

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development at the University of Melbourne followed a group of 4,000 children aged 4 to 5 years through until they were 10 to 11 years. The study included taking information on each child’s family environment, early childhood experiences, and physical and socio-emotional state. The study, focusing on the effects of reading, also captured the frequency of parents reading to their child. All this over six years – that’s a lot of data – what did they find?

I’ll tell you! The data showed that reading to children at age 4 to 5 every day had a significant boosting effect on the child’s language, literacy, numeracy, and cognitive skills, propelling them ahead of the curve. Reading to a child 3 to 5 days/week boosted the child ahead so that they had the same skills as a child 6 months older than him or her. Reading to a child 6 to 7 days/week boosted the child ahead so that they had the same skills as a child 12 months older than him or her! Crazy, right? Furthermore, children that were read to more frequently at age 4 to 5 achieved higher scores on standardized literacy and numeracy tests in Grade 3 (age 8 to 9). The really cool part is that the differences in reading and cognitive skills are not related to the child’s background or home environment but are the direct result of how frequently they had been read to prior to starting school.

Now, my children are incredibly smart (probably that instinctual-mom-thing-to-say), but they are also just starting their reading journey, so rather than asking my children how they felt reading affected them, I went a different way to determine if the science proved true in my personal life. I asked my 16 year old niece and this is what she had to say on the subject:

“Reading is a very important aspect of my life, and fun as well! Books and stories are very important to me. They help fuel my creative side while working my brain with new words and phrases. I find exercising my brain like this very enjoyable! It probably stems from when my mother would read to me every night. They were usually books like Little House on the Prairie, Black Beauty, and Roald Dahl to mix things up! When I finish school, I plan to become a lawyer. I believe one of the main reasons I want to follow that career path is because I love to read books about solving mysteries and helping people, and I want to relive those precious stories! Reading also drastically improved my vocabulary, ability to write stories, and love for writing, which really helps in the workplace. I just hope I still have time for my stories when I get my dream job!”

Reading this anecdote always makes me tear up! She is going to be a terrific lawyer (although I hope she will always be my editor too)!

Personal Reading Quests

Like the rest of my family, I was read to as a child. Shockingly, I never become an avid reader though. This was always pointed out to me throughout my childhood and even into my adulthood. True, I do read about 5 books a night, but I’m not sure The Very Hungry Caterpillar counts…

Being surrounded by so many other readers and having the same time spent being read to, what happened? Well I never became a reader.

I became a writer!

The End

I hope these narratives, statistics, anecdotes, and inspirational inscriptions inspire you to read to your loved one. It’s never too early or late in the day to pick up a book and spend a couple of minutes sharing an adventure with your child. They will love and cherish it, and it will affect them more than you think!

Building Social Skills

About a year ago, I had lunch with my sister’s mother-in-law-to-be. We were meeting for the first time and she didn’t know who I was, just that I was to be a bridesmaid at the wedding we were both attending.

After the lunch was over, and all the planning had taken place, we got up and walked out together. On the front step of the restaurant, she asked, “Are you her sister?”

I was actually shocked because my sister and I don’t look anything alike and most people don’t jump to that assumption. We have very different skin tones, hair colour, and eye colour. One hundred percent different appearances actually. I said, “Yes! How did you know?”

“You both have the exact same social skills.”

That was the answer I received.

Although my sister and I look like we come from different worlds, this stranger knew we were closely related because of how we behaved in social situations. She must be extraordinarily observant, right? The next Sherlock Holmes?

The Importance

Developing proper social skills is extremely important and should start at a very young age. They’re important because they are an integral part of a functioning society, and even more importantly, they are an integral part of building self-worth and a healthy personal identity. Social skills can dictate how someone will handle pressure and responsibility. They allow someone to make lasting friendships and help interviewees land their dream jobs. They support meaningful communications with strangers and close friends alike in everyday scenarios, helping people properly handle stress and face challenges – they even allow highly tuned strangers to make very accurate predictions to familial connections! From family life, to school life, to work life, and on. Social skills can be a person’s ticket to every kind of encounter.

Fortunately, I knew this even before I was a mom, but the problem was I wasn’t entirely sure how to go about building good skills in my kids. How does one even develop these skills? How did I?

After my encounter with my sister’s soon-to-be-mother-in-law, it was evident to me that there must be a common link somewhere. I was told she could tell who I was by my hand gestures, how I nodded my head when she was talking, and even how I scrunched up my nose when confused. All of this is a form of communication and is how I communicated my feelings without even saying them!

After assuring me she was not the long, lost descendant of a fictional character, I began to think about that common link. As well as my own children and their social skills.

Lead By Example

Now that I’m grown up and am learned in my own brand of social skills (ones that even give away my identity!), how do I promote good social skills in my own kids?

Well one of KARA’s newest newsletters is called Developing Good Friendships and has some great examples of good social skills, such as making eye contact, taking turns sharing information and stories, using facial expressions, and using proper assertiveness to communicate needs.

How can I promote these examples in my own home? Do I have any examples I already do on a daily basis? Luckily, many came to mind!

  1. Eye Contact – When my chatty five year old, Grizzly Bear, comes bounding into the room to show me his newest invention, I do make sure to pull my eyes away from the screen I’m looking at to have a proper conversation with him. Learning to put down my phone or tear my face away from any form of technology to have a real conversation is so important to me. Growing up, my family had a very primitive computer and we almost never used it. My parents always made proper eye contact with me when I had something to say, so I practice this good behaviour with my children. Long story short, I feel like my kids have great eye contact and know that their stories are coming across to me.
  2. Taking Turns – Many families share a story time routine in their families. When I was a kid, this was done on the walk home from school. My parents would meet us after a long day and we’d all share a story telling time that focused on what happened that day and why we did or did not have a good day. As my munchkins aren’t in school yet, and they love running rather than walking, we do story sharing time during our evening tooth brushing session. While I brush one child’s teeth, the other can tell us about his day. When I switch kids, the other one has a turn. This way, my kids get to share story telling time, do a little show and tell, and I get to learn a little more about how their day went.
  3. Facial Expressions – Littler ones, I find, have a very hard time expressing how they feel. Their short sentences of forgotten or made-up words are, luckily, accompanied by the most expressive facial expressions, which are surely the most communicative part of any story, allowing us to piece together their thoughts. My three year old Polar Bear has many dramatic stories, which usually involve big words. He does have a slight tendency to use the letter “L” in words that don’t require it. For me, his Mom, I’m quite used to his jargon and can decipher nearly all of his musings. However, when speaking to his Grandpa, the two seem to communicate purely through facial expressions and sound effects! How do they know how to do this? When my tots were really little, I used facial expressions to encourage them to do something, like eat their spinach. Choo choo! When I was little, my parents also used expressions to show empathy when I got an ouchy. As we’ve all grown, it seems we all still use these facial expressions during all of our social experiences to help us communicate. Who knew!
  4. Assertiveness – My parents always encouraged us kids to have confidence by allowing us to take our turns sharing our feelings, praising us for practicing, letting us lead activities, and, most importantly, listening to us. Now with my own kids, I also practice these habits in my home and my children, luckily, and with a lot of encouragement, are confident in their communication skills. They are always able to express their needs – even when their needs are more of a want like ice cream! It is so important that they know how to communicate their concerns as well as their musings, and grow as individuals with a healthy appetite for expressing themselves!

Now that I’ve gone through all of these personal examples, I can see the common link my sister and I share! Can you? Yes, we are two dynamite ladies, but that isn’t it. It’s because we have two dynamite parents. J

Role Modelling During COVID

Yes, proper communication skills and assertiveness can allow children to better handle stress, pressures, responsibilities, emotions, and challenges. It may also help instil positive role modelling behaviour into them for when they become parents!

And yes, role modelling is the most effective way to develop these important skills. And the best role models are caregivers – the people whom children see and learn from every day. Which is very lucky when considering these unprecedented times!

When the pandemic first started, I was one of the many, many parents who worried about my children’s development as I grappled with the decision of pulling them out of daycare and educational programming. How were they going to learn how to build relationships? How were they going to learn positive social skills if they weren’t hanging out with youngsters their own ages? It’s a well known fact that young children’s brains develop at warp speed – how could I chance skipping these prime developmental years?

The fact, and a fact I didn’t know until I did some research, is that I wouldn’t have to choose social skills over health. Not by a long shot.

According to Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, my children have everything they need to develop proper social skills within the four walls of our home. Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek is an infant language specialist working in the Department of Psychology at Temple University. She is world renowned for her contributions to developmental psychology research pertaining to young children and says that the most important thing for children to know during the pandemic is that they are loved and safe. Kai-leé Berke, a senior advisor at Promise Venture Studios for early childhood experts and former CEO of Teaching Strategies, says the most important social interactions are those with their home base, whoever that may be. And I believe it! When I was a kid, I lived on a farm far away from friends. I didn’t have a cell phone to communicate with people and we only had a chance to do a few social outings here and there before we started school. So you see, if we really want our children to learn how to build relationships, then we can do it even under quarantine, because the practice happens with us, the caregivers/role models!

A Final Word

Caregiver role modelling had a lot to do with my social skills. And it has a lot to do with my children’s. More than any other early childhood relationship experience. It’s what made me me – and what made my sister so darn like me.

However, should you feel like getting in some additional fun, family experiences that allow for more out‑of-the-home communication for your child but still within the safety net of your four walls, here are some quick ideas! Let your child draw a picture for his/her friend and mail it to them! Build a block tower, take a photo, and text it to a cousin! Video call grandparents! And chat with neighbours behind your fence! All of these allow for social distancing while still building social skills.

Have fun and stay social – it can change a life!

Fall Crafts and Décor Ideas

Ever peruse the magazines in the grocery store lineup before checking out? This time of year, I can’t help but look at all the fancy covers of living rooms decorated in bright reds, smashing oranges, and vibrant yellows – they all look so warm and cozy! Some years when I’m in a creative mood, I strive to make my home look as inviting as those. And this year, I’ve come up with a few ideas to help!

Four of these décor ideas are crafts for kids and parents to make together and one is for parents to make and kids to artistically display! Let’s dive right in!

Image sourced from Worth Writing For

Handprint Tree

Nothing quite says fall like a colourful tree. As a kid, I remember making this craft in school and bringing it home to my parents. I loved this craft so much, I even somewhat incorporated it into my wedding (I had a large painted canvas of a tree which people left fingerprints on as my guest book). Now I’m back with my kids making this craft – full circle!

This craft is ideal for the younger children just learning their way around glue, like ages 1 to 2 years. Keep a close eye on tots so things don’t end up in their mouths!

What you need:

  1. Construction paper
  2. Red, orange, and yellow leaves, tissue paper, or paint
  3. Glue or tiny fingers
  4. A brown marker

On a piece of construction paper coloured as per your child’s choosing, colour a brown tree trunk with the marker. If you’re not the artistic type, using your hand and forearm (or your child’s hand and forearm) can really help and give it a more personal touch. The forearm can be the trunk of the tree and the fingers can be the branches.

Use glue to add real leaves collected from outside (more environmentally friendly and a chance for adventure and education). If unavailable, you can also use coloured tissue paper or painted fingerprints! This craft is terrific for teaching your child about the environment and seasons (to be ahead of the game for preschool), and promotes fine motor skills! Also, throughout the crafting process, your child will also develop communication skills, social skills, and develop a healthy sense of self-esteem. Woohoo!

To add to your home décor, I find the best priced photo frames can be purchased at Canadian Tire! Who would have thought! I received ten different shaped ones for ten dollars in a multipack. The only downside is that they don’t always carry them so I have to keep checking whenever I’m in. The pro to framing your child’s artwork though is that you’ll have them forever and they make terrific and cost effective décor.

Image source from The Resourceful Mama

Sunflower Plates

Crave a beautiful bouquet of flowers on your table? Already have one but feel like it’s missing something? Add a paper plate sunflower!

This craft a great for busy hands just figuring out children’s sized scissors, like 2 to 3 years old! It also entices them to eat a healthy snack!

What you need:

  1. A paper plate
  2. A popsicle stick
  3. Paper
  4. Yellow and green paint
  5. Glue
  6. Sunflower seeds (in the shell)

Try this out for your vase! You will inspire fine motor skills, communication skills, social skills, and creativity!

Help your child paint the paper plate yellow and the other paper and popsicle stick green (or brown). Let them dry. Help your child cut out small triangles from the paper plate and a leaf or two from the green paper. All sunflowers look different so try not to micro-manage your child but let them experiments on their own. That being said, you know your child’s comfort level and skills better than anyone else – follow your instincts! Lastly, glue a handful of sunflower seeds to the sunflower’s face and the popsicle stick (stem) and leaf to the back. Voila!

To spruce up your kitchen, dining table, or even bathroom, put your flower(s) in a vase. I even sprayed mine with a bit of perfume to take that additional fun step! Afterwards, I was reminded (by the tots) to give them some shelled sunflower seeds as promised.

Image sourced from Home You

Leafy Mason Jars

This very nifty and pretty craft makes a glamorous kind of décor. It’s very pleasing to the eye and all over the fall theme we’re trying to create!

It’s easy but a little messy too, so I recommend for 3 to 4 year olds.

What you need:

  1. A mason jar
  2. Mod podge glue and brush
  3. Leaves

Gather some leaves from your local park and bring them home. Try to pick vibrant, dry leaves but ones that will hold up to a little handling (won’t crumble in your hands). It’s also best to do this sticky project outside if possible and wear old clothing if your child is a little new to glue. Gently brush some mod podge glue onto one side of the mason jar (we used old pickle jars) then stick your leaves on the glue. Mod podge over the leaves once they are on. Do the other side but try to hold the jar by the bottom or top to avoid getting sticky.

This project is great for the tot that has a little patience and enjoys the great outdoors so much that he or she wishes to bring it inside! It develops fine motor skills, and, with any craft project completed as a family, encourages communication and social development too! It’s also environmentally friendly as it uses leaves and recycled items. Win-win!

To decorate your home, nothing could be better! Use the colourful mason jar as a candle holder! It brings beauty and warmth to all! Just be sure to keep candles up high and away from little hands. Also never leave unattended.

Image sourced from The Mad House

Pinecone Hedgehog

This craft is also on the eco-friendly side and terrific for child development! Plus, you’ll get your very own little friend for the table centerpiece!

This craft is ideal for slightly older kids with more patience and who are developing a sense of social responsibility, like 4 to 5 years. Keep a close eye on hot objects!

What you need:

  1. A large pinecone
  2. Brown felt or paper or Play-Doh
  3. Black paint and white glue or a black marker
  4. Googly eyes or a black marker
  5. Hot glue gun (if needed)

There are a lot of options to making your own hedgehog pal. I tried to list the materials for the ones I could think of but feel free to experiment!

We went with the felt and hot glue gun option as we already have the materials and I wanted it to last in my décor bin for years to come.

Find a nice, large pinecone outside (one per hedgehog). Bring it inside and give it a name (my tots chose ‘Prickly’ and ‘Baby’). Cut out some felt or paper faces and ears. You can also use brown Play-Doh and smoosh it into the pinecone on one side, making a little point for its nose. If using felt or paper, mix together equal parts black paint and white glue and make little dots on the face for eyes and a nose (likewise, you can also just draw on a face with a marker). Leave the faces to dry (even the Play-Doh face). Once dry, hot glue gun on the felt or paper face. If using Play-Doh, glue on some googly eyes. You can even cut out and add little feet or pipe-cleaner whiskers to your hedgehog friend.

Again, this craft promotes many developmental skills and coordination in children. It may also promote responsibility if your child choses to carry around and care for a delicate ‘animal’ all day afterwards (be ready with the glue to fix any accidental mishaps!).

For décor ideas, place ‘Prickly’ or ‘Baby’ in your table centrepiece! He will be sure to bring warmth and coziness to your dinner that evening!

Doily Confetti

Ready for the big kid craft? I have always considered myself a big kid when crafting! This one is sure to knock your socks off (or on depending on your skills)!

A few years ago, I started making these tiny, fingernail sized doilies to help decorate for my sister’s bridal shower. I didn’t realize how much I’d fall in love with them or how dedicated I was to making my own personal set. They turned out to be very easy to make so I started making them for my favourite seasons and holidays.

Remember, this is recommended for just big kids (parents). Your tots can help you artistically display them on your dining room table after they’re complete!

What you need:

  1. A very thin crochet hook (B/1-2.25mm is what I use)
  2. Red, brown, orange, and yellow strand floss

This is a very inexpensive craft that looks so cute on any surface! It’s not for the faint hearted though! Watch the video I got started on here. This taught me how to make a slipknot, how to chain, and how to make both single and double crochets.

First make a slipknot, then chain two. Then make eight to ten (depending on the size of your hook) single crochets into the first chain made. You can either stop here and finish off as shown in the video, or, to make a wide variety of doilies, continue with a second round of single crochets, multiple single crochets within each, or double crochets. I chose to try a variety to see which worked best with the strand floss and my crochet hook. I found that one strand floss made 8 to 12 doilies (and strand flosses are $0.79 at Michaels Arts and Crafts Store so this was indeed a very cheap project. I can do this while cozying up on the couch with my munchkins and when all is complete, we can lay them out on our decorated table together with our pinecones and sunflowers!

The End

I really hope you and your kids enjoy these crafty ideas! It really helps bring fall alive and enjoy the last of the sunshine this year! If you have more ideas you’d like to share, please reach out! All the best and happy crafting!

Nutrition and Safety

It was recently brought to my attention that nutrition is a huge component of safety. Now, for those avid readers of my blog, it’s no secret that responsible nutrition is a passion of mine and I’ve written other blogs on it. In this blog, I hope to examine the nutrition component of safety and how we can use this knowledge to make safer choices for ourselves and our families.

Dr. Mike Wahl has used this analogy to describe safety and how we currently view safety.

Imagine Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson sitting in a tent in the middle of a field at night. The reason they are out there is because there is a thief in the woods and they are staking it out in order to catch him. Dr. Watson turns to Sherlock Holmes and asks, “What do you see?”

Sherlock Holmes replies with, “I see stars. There are probably planets around the stars. Probably a few of the planets are like ours. That means that some of the planets probably have lifeforms. And maybe some of those lifeforms are intelligent. Which means that someone else somewhere is looking back at us and asking ‘what do you see?’”

And Dr. Watson replies, “I see the stars too, which means our tent was stolen.”

And the thief makes off with the tent.

This analogy shows that we’ve dived so deep down the rabbit hole that we don’t see what’s right in front of us. We are so focused on parts of safety that are, in all likelihood emergency type scenarios, but are so unlikely to happen to us, that we aren’t focusing on the everyday safety. And a very large part of the everyday safety is what we eat.

Sugars

First off, let’s look at sugars because it’s the culprit we all struggle with. I’m also going to come back to sugars later in another example, but for now, let’s look at the different kinds of sugars.

Why is it that when we Google ‘sugar,’ a big picture of granulated white dust with a logo pops up? No matter where we turn in our modern lives, sugar is there. The reason – the people selling it are fully aware that it is addictive.

But we need sugar to survive, right? Correct, we do need it. But there are different kinds of sugars, and for the sake of our health, it’s important to recognize and understand the differences.

So what is the difference? Well, the difference is the package it comes in. Back in the day before processed foods ever made it on to grocery store shelves, sugar only came in the form of fruits, vegetables, breastmilk, honey, and other raw foods. Throughout human evolution, our bodies adapted to eating these forms of sugar – sugar that lasts a long time in our bodies because it comes in a package that contains other healthy ingredients, like fibre, vitamins, and minerals. These are called complex sugars (complex carbohydrates). Our bodies are genetically designed to digest these packages slowly, giving us a sustainable amount of sugar to go about our daily functions.

So what is the difference from natural sugar packages and processed sugar packages? Well, that’s just it. Natural sugars come in a package that takes time to digest and only a portion of the package is sugar. Processed sugar packages are not packages at all. They are 100% sugar. And it takes no time at all to digest it and society on average eats ten times what our great-grandparents used to eat.

That’s right, more processed sugar and in greater quantities.

What does this mean to our health? Imagine taking a leisurely stroll through the park. This lovely and relaxing walk takes you 20 minutes to complete and you’ve travelled probably 2 km. This is what it’s like to eat natural sugar packages. Now say you’ve decided to take a jet plane home. You travel the same distance in 20 seconds. Your knuckles are white from clenching the seat in front of you as your eyes are about to pop out of your head. Your mind is buzzing, going “What on earth just happened?”

Yes, that’s what your body is saying when you eat refined, processed, quick to digest, no-package sugar. It isn’t sustainable and your body feels overloaded.

So what does your body do to combat this overload? Well, when we have elevated blood sugar levels, our bodies release insulin, which is like a key to opening our cells for storage. It takes the high levels of sugar out of circulation so we don’t damage our blood vessels. Sugar in the blood stream really is like little razor blades. It causes little scratches all along the walls. The insulin keys, thankfully, take it out of our circulation system and store it in muscle cells, liver cells, and fat cells.

Problem solved, right? Unfortunately, when I eat fish, I’m the only one who doesn’t smell it. That’s because I’ve been sitting around it for so long, I’ve been desensitized to the smell. Even more unfortunately, insulin can become desensitized too. It doesn’t recognize the sugar after a while because it’s constantly there. This, very unfortunately, can lead to diabetes.

So why are we hungry again after eating sugar? The reason is because of insulin spikes. If we sit down and demolish a box of cookies (I’m guilty of this from time to time), our body reacts by pumping out insulin to counteract the huge amount of damage to our blood vessels. We actually pump out so much insulin to protect ourselves that our body is in a binge mode – “it’s too much, don’t keep any of it, get rid of it all as fast as possible!” This insulin spike lasts about an hour before dropping off. We didn’t use any of the sugar we just inhaled, we stored it all. Now our body is looking for more and we experience this as hunger. Also worth noting, these spikes and drop-offs greatly affect moods and can even result in depression.

Why is sugar so addictive? Simply, sugar releases endorphins. This, shockingly, is the same hormone we get from some kinds of illegal drugs. But, upliftingly, it’s also released when we hug our children, smile at someone, or go for a run!

What can we do instead of eating processed sugar? Well, again, we need sugar to survive. We need sugar that is meant for our bodies in order to get energy to move, function, think, and feel. We can eat natural forms of sugar! Sugar that comes in a package with other ingredients and gives us sustainable, long-lasting energy. So bust out that bag of apples!

Proteins

Now let’s move on to our bodies and how we are built. Dr. Mike Wahl likes to use the analogy of building a house, and when I blog about raising children, I like to use a house as well. So I’m going to use it here too.

When you are building a house, you have a budget. This budget can be like calories. We count calories like money, and have a certain budget when it comes to consumption. So if we are building a house, and we spend 95% of the budget on one thing, like the landscaping (dream come true), the rest of the house can’t be built. That’s why we need to think of every aspect of the house, and every aspect of our diet. And split the costs evenly throughout the different food groups.

To build a house, we need three things: the construction materials, the workers, and the transport. The construction materials are like proteins. They hold stuff up and keep the structure strong. When we think of proteins, we think of meat. Don’t worry about it, everyone does, even Google again.

But the best kinds of proteins come from foods without legs. In fact, leg counting is key to eating the best proteins with the least amount of unhealthy additives.

Let me explain. Beans, lentils, eggs, fish – none of these have legs and they are the healthiest sources of proteins. What comes next – chickens, which only have two legs. Chicken breast is healthier for you than the drumstick, and it’s also farther from the legs (spatially on the chicken). Then comes pigs and cows. The more legs, the less healthy the protein.

One super cool research topic that I read about recently (last night) was about the Blue Zones. This term was coined back in 2005 and I stumbled across it while doing some personal research. The Blue Zones are areas on the planet where people appear to live a very long time. It’s not uncommon for people in these zones to live to 100 years and lead very healthy lives. One researcher went to all of these zones to compare the eating habits of the local peoples and found that their main source of protein was beans! Ninety-five percent of their diet is plant-based, meaning they only eat meat around five times a month. If you are interested in following up, you can check it out here.

Sugars (Again)

Let’s come back to sugars again now that we are aware of the different kinds.

In our house analogy, sugars are the workers. Fruits, roots, vegetables, and legumes give us the energy we use throughout the day. The reason we need the packaged or complex sugars is that it comes in small amounts and lasts all day.

Imagine your worksite. The building materials (proteins) are all there lying on the ground. You need workers to start work. You eat a bunch of jellybeans.

Instead of having a manageable amount of workers complete tasks all day, you have an overload of workers for a very short period of time. The plumbers, electricians, scaffolders, and everyone else shows up at once! The supervisor, which is your brain, doesn’t know what to do so you send them all away to wait on the sideline. Now you have a bunch of material still laying on the ground and a crowd of people not doing anything. Wouldn’t it be much better to have a steady amount of energy that lasts the entire day? The right workers showing up at the right time?

Fats

Lastly, we have fats. Fats have a negative stigma around them simply because they are called fats and everyone is on a “low fat” diet. That is because different kinds of fats were only discovered recently (within the last couple of decades). And, just like sugars, there are good and bad kinds. And we need the good ones.

Good fats provide the mode of transport. They literally grease the roads to move faster. Bad fats cause plaque in your arteries which is also known as high cholesterol.

If you have a three lane highway (a major artery in your body), and you clog up two of the lanes, things begin to move rather slowly. Even if you have the best workers (sugars) trying to move the best building materials (proteins) calories can buy, it won’t matter if they can’t make it to the job site. And that can be a problem.

But good fats to the rescue! Because good fats actually slick the roads up again and get things moving! You can reverse any damage by eating the good kinds. Wonderful, huh?

So how can you tell the difference between the good and bad kinds? Well, again like sugar, it’s easy. Take a look at the foods at room temperature. If it is liquid at room temperature, it is a good fat. Nut oils, fish oils, avocado oils, and others are good fats. If you don’t cook much (guilty), just eat the fish, nuts, and avocados!

Bad fats are things like butter, bacon, steak, etc. At room temperature, they are solid and clog up our transportation networks in our house analogy and in our own veins running through our bodies. I learned this about a year ago, before which, I used to love butter. Now when I look at butter, all I can see is it smeared throughout my circulatory system and, I’m sure you’ll understand, I don’t crave it anymore!

Again, I can’ take credit for this analogy. I was inspired by Dr. Mike Wahl and wanted to tell a little of his story to you. To see more from Dr. Mike Wahl and how nutrition can influence your daily life and longevity, check out his story here.

In Summary

So you see, nutrition has an extraordinary ability to affect our health and safety, and it’s our choice whether it affects us positively or negatively.

How is your house coming together and what foods do you think should make the cut? How did reading this change or not change your mind about foods and how they affect your and your family’s safety? We covered a lot of topics and even took brief looks at diabetes, depression, and high cholesterol. Nutrition really is the closest and most attainable health choice we can make for our families. I know that after writing this blog, I feel like I need to go over my grocery list again!

But first, I will leave you with this one final tidbit that I was given a long time ago by my grandfather. It really helped before I was so nutrition savvy – if in doubt, stick to the outside perimeter of the grocery store. It covers most of the good, raw foods. The inside isles are where one can get lost.

Good luck and please reach out with any questions!

Improving Self-esteem

“Self-confidence is my four year old asking me to turn off the ceiling fan so he can show me how high he jumps” – Anonymous

If you subscribe to KARA’s newsletter, the most recent edition is all about growing children’s self‑esteem. This is an amazing addition to KARA’s new online portfolio but it’s also a chance for my family to see what we are doing correctly and what we can improve on! Read about it here.

According to Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours, there are three important points to consider when helping your child develop a healthy sense of self-esteem: acceptance, belonging, and competence. This got me thinking about the methods my family has used, how we have succeeded, and ways in which we can improve as parents. So I’ve done a little reflecting to see where we’ve excelled and areas where we still need work – as every personal and family journey is a work in progress!

Acceptance

It’s important for each child to know they are unique and valuable in their own personal way, but also to know that they are accepted for the person they are! Mistakes are simply just that – mistakes – and they are still loved and worthy of acceptance and respect.

This key message for parents really stood out to me as an area in which my family excels! My kids are quite fond of messy play, tardy chore time, and even dangerous climbing and acrobatic games. Whenever our little gaffers do something unique, even making mistakes as they go, the grown-ups in my family praise them and make them feel special for their unique gifts. I feel like it just comes naturally to us to say, “You’re my special guy,” “You always make the best Lego dragon,” and “Wow, that’s a cool new way to do that!”

With any little or big mistake the kids get up to, my husband and I always get down on our knees to be at the same eye level with our kids. We have always found this really gives them the respect they deserve and decreases any potential feelings of being ‘talked down to.’ We also use calm voices and explain why what they did was a mistake. “You can’t pull on the back of someone’s shirt because it could make them fall. That would hurt them and no one likes getting hurt.”

The coolest part is that we think these traits are projecting onto our children, increasing their ability to accept others for their awesomeness and even mistakes. We’ve often heard the two of them conversing on their own while playing, saying things like, “Great job, little brother, I like your sand castle,” and “That’s okay big brother, I’m not hurt.”

Of course, the little dreamy voice of a toddler telling his big bro his mistake was forgivable was simply heart-melting!

Belonging

Helping a child of any age learn that they matter to others, and have people that support them, is crucial to positive development. Knowing that they have a place that they fit in and that their needs and feelings are important and honoured by their family is imperative if they are to be healthy emotionally.

After reading about this key message, I thought back to a time when my youngest son, Polar Bear, and I had a disagreement. This story ties in with both belonging and acceptance, and was a beautiful moment I will never forget.

Polar Bear had taken a late nap in the car that evening, and, as a result, was having trouble sleeping that night. Any parent knows how frustrating it can be as you watch the minutes and hours pass by on the clock, dreading how you’re going to feel come morning. I admit I lost my cool and threw my own temper tantrum, obviously scaring him. Upon returning him to his own bed, I felt ashamed. He was now even worse off than he was before – and so was I. Instead of ignoring the moment, I owned it. I laid down beside him and told him that Mommy was sorry, that I shouldn’t have yelled, and that he didn’t deserve to be treated like that. By doing this, I felt that I showed him he matters to me, that I care about him, and that his feelings are important. His immediate reaction was to look straight at me and ask, “Mommy’s sorry?” Then he gave me a big smile and a hug.

Even though it was a little sad, it was a lovely moment that the two of us shared. I will certainly never forget that my child needs to know that his feelings matter to me, and that he was so good to forgive (and accept) me for my mistakes as well.

Competence

It is my family’s personal belief that each opportunity to increase a child’s skills should be undertaken with great care and enthusiasm! Helping a child understand that they have the abilities to take risks and learn new skills will help boost their confidence and allow them to try new things – whether it be making the most delicious imaginary tea or learning how to write the entire alphabet!

I know that each little one in my family has big dreams, and I only expect those dreams to grow – so I want to be the support they need to meet their personal goals. This means letting them know that they have unique talents, their contributions are valuable, and that they can be their own resource when it comes to problem solving! In later life, this competence helps us continue to try, knowing that success cannot be reached without a little perseverance.

One big event that has happened recently is that my Grizzly Bear has learned to ride his bike without training wheels. After two years of using a balance bike, he finally received a pedal bike for his 5th birthday. While he had mastered the balance required of bike riding, training wheels enabled him to focus on learning how to pedal. He’s a very sensitive child, and can get down on himself easily when things don’t work the way he thinks they should quickly enough, so this was a bit of a challenge for both us and him. Sometimes he would want to give up, to which we would encourage (but not force) him to keep trying. If he did decide that was enough for one day (or even one outing), that was fine. We knew to accept his boundaries, and while it’s important to always encourage your children to expand their horizons, it’s equally (if not more) important to respect their needs and be patient with their learning style. Often it would be only be a few hours later and we’d say we were going for a walk, and ask if he wanted to walk or try his bicycle again, and the answer was always to try the bicycle again. By keeping the experience as positive as we could on our end, despite his own reservations, he always wanted to try again. In no time (and two crashes later), he was excited to remove the training wheels. Once they were off, combining the two skills (pedaling and balancing) seemed to make him feel like he was back at square one, but our approach did not change – we kept encouraging him to meet his goal! He often asked if we could put his training wheels back on, but after asking if he was sure he didn’t want to just take a break, he’d soon be back at it. It also required a great deal of trust between us – but we’ve been building that relationship for 5 years!

Within a couple of weeks, he’d learned enough to ride his bike with confidence, and we learned a little more on how to develop competence.

Extras

If you feel like learning a little more about developing a child’s self-esteem, check out the KARA Newsletter linked at the top of this page. It has great info on the life-long learning positives of the self‑esteem boosting key messages. It also has a wide variety of strategies to try, books to read, and activities to partake in!

Also feel free to contact me for any more self-esteem boosting stories. I hope these ones have inspired you but I have plenty more if interested! All the best and take care!