Loose Parts Play

Have you ever heard of loose parts play? When I first heard about it, it sounded like a cross between messy play and outdoor learning, and it is! With a whole lot more…

The History

The theory of loose parts play was first proposed by an architect in the 1970s. It has since been the inspiration for many physical education teachers and play space designers! In a one sentence answer, loose parts play is a form of play that incorporates moving parts to allow children to move around their environment in a natural way and empower their creativity (click here). The loose parts can be natural or synthetic, for instance, both sticks and pinecones, as well as spoons and boxes, can be used as objects in loose parts play. The best objects for loose parts play, I’m sure is no surprise to parents, are objects that can be molded or adapted, taken apart and put back together, and irregularly shaped.

The P.E. Class

Physical education teachers use loose parts play to encourage children to be more active in everyday life, not just in the gymnasium! By bringing imagination into the classroom (or open outdoor space), children move away from organized sports and competition and towards natural, everyday movements, such as carrying, lifting, bending, turning, and fine motor skills. Along with the movement comes the inspiration to be creative and well-rounded social skills! By encouraged to use objects as they so choose, children can create a wider variety of play exercises than those that are purely adult led activities. The loose parts that can be moved, carried, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart help foster problem-solving and innovation skills required in later life. In other words, it helps them think outside the box! As for amazing social skills, teachers have noticed that rather than teaming up with their friends like they do while playing sports, children start to play together and interact based on shared interests! Collaboration at its finest! Click here!

The Play Spaces

Play designers utilizing this theory have started developing play spaces that are no longer a one size fits all kind of notion. By moving away from expensive play equipment that are one-type uses, they’ve started having loose items for children to manipulate as they please. It is most obvious in newer childcare centres, recreation centres, or preschools, where children have the opportunity to gather outdoor items, like rocks and paint them, or play kitchens with all the mini accessories (click here). I myself take my children to Millennium Place in Sherwood Park, where they have a large room dedicated to camping toys. Children are encouraged to build toy fires out of wood and cook over the stove.

The Con

So is there a downside to loose parts play? I myself have only noticed one – the clean-up! Just like messy play, with its many advantages and brain-developing powers, loose parts play can be a bit of a chore at the end. Personally, I like loose parts play outdoors so my children and I get the added benefits of sunshine and fresh air, and the clean-up is practically non-existent. However, in the winter months, I also preferred having boxes of sticks, pinecones, rocks, and dried flowers over the synthetic loose parts. My reasoning was I just had to scoop them all back into the box and do a quick sweep to get the debris. If using synthetic loose parts, it often meant washing my dishes after they’d been dragged across the floor a bunch. Plus it’s nice to have summer stuff to remind you winter doesn’t last forever!

The How To

Only two steps are required for loose parts play, gathering the materials and playing with your child! To engage your child in loose parts play, be sure to choose items that have no set purpose. If you give your child his toothbrush to play with, it’s likely that he won’t be as adventurous with it as he would something that doesn’t appear to have a defined use. Great choices that have worked for my children are:

Pinecones

Flowers

Seed pods

Nut shells

Leaves

Sticks

Rope

Baskets

Buckets

Sand

Shovels

Gravel or rocks

Larger stones

Old bird’s nests

Water

All of these items and more can be used for loose parts play, just let them roll with their imagination! However, be sure to choose items that are developmentally appropriate for your child (small objects aren’t recommended for littler ones).

Next, support your child when they make a change to the shape or object that they are pursuing. If they started out making a castle but it looks more like a sinkhole, let them adapt to their wishes. Resisting the urge to “fix” the project can be difficult for the more practiced creative types, but try to let your child follow their desires. For me, this can sometimes mean intervening when older or younger brothers try to “help.” I usually resolve the situation by saying “Oh, I love sinkholes! They are my favourite!” and both boys usually get a look of ambition and confidence when I compliment their work. It also helps the other brother understand that any project is worth admiring.

The Upkeep

Lastly, in order to keep loose parts play a success in your child’s play repertoire, be sure to keep them accessible for everyday use and keep the materials properly replenished and added to. My children don’t choose to play with their loose parts bucket everyday (thank goodness) but it is important that they always have the opportunity to! I also like to restock with different items that we find on outdoor walks to the park! This keeps items new and exciting for my boys, especially when they found the item themselves!

In Closing

Loose parts theory is best enjoyed with others in a fluid environment! Children gain more skills and confidence in fluid environments rather than static ones. Try loose parts play with your child and watch as their creativity, imagination, and self-assurance develop! As always, happy playing!

Bicycling Basics

Even in the dreary weather we’ve been having, I’m sure many of you are excited to start your little ones off on a new adventure – BICYCLING! Teaching a small child can be a fun, rewarding, and albeit, tricky experience. Also, don’t forget nerve-wracking!

First off, I want to point out a great resource I came across three years ago and still use today! It’s the best guide to correctly sizing your child, narrowing down your bike options, bicycle reviews and much, much more – Two Wheeling Tots (click here). I’ve used this website for all my bicycle information needs as they complete hundreds of reviews and give you all the safety info needed to start your child’s two wheeling adventures. The only thing I caution is their bike buying options though, as they are based in the US and product availability isn’t as great here in Canada. Otherwise, they are phenomenal and I mention them quite a bit throughout!

First Steps – Exploration and Understanding

First off, know that bicycling can be a challenging and even daunting task for children. They almost all want to do it, so they can be like the “cool, big kids,” but when faced with the actual task, it can be a little scary to move from two stable feet to two rolling wheels. So encouragement and patience are key.

At around 18 months, I let my kids explore bikes and the way they move while they were lying on the ground. Also, it helps to point out bicyclists just in your normal, everyday activities or in your child’s books. Let children become familiar with bicycles before getting them on one.

Before getting my son his first bike, I would point and OOO and AHH every time I saw a bike while we were walking , to reinforce a positive interaction and curiosity with them. I started this when he was a year so he would learn the words and become familiar with seeing bikes in a positive light. I was very careful to only draw attention to cyclists who were wearing helmets and other proper safety gear. I didn’t mention them and would pass them by silently if they weren’t wearing helmets, hoping my son was just looking the other way! I’m sure this helped reinforce the normality of helmets and how even adults wear them.

Next Steps – Measuring and Picking Out the Right Bike

While it’s fun to choose the colours and designs of the new bike, it’s more important to pick one that is a proper fit for your child. Bicycles come in all shapes and sizes, but the very best way to get the right bike is by measuring the inseam of your child’s pants and making sure the seat height of the bike is the same distance to the ground.

My son was a fairly squirmy toddler and so I picked his best fitting pair of pants, laid them down flat on the floor, and did my measurements in the relative peace of my own living room. I really caution parents not to do the measuring in the middle of the bike store because your child may be so overwhelmed and excited (or terrified) that you’re not likely to get the most accurate measurement (click here).

Use the measurement to narrow down which bikes will fit your child. You can do either balance bikes or a bicycle with training wheels.

Balance Bikes

Balance bikes all the rage now! They are bikes without pedals, training wheels, or any other do-dads. This makes them incredibly light, enabling an 18 month old to pick them up and move them with ease. They also fit children better, as they are designed more like adult bikes without the added accessories. And they help kids learn to balance on two wheels, which is the most challenging part of riding a bike. Some of them do come with handbrakes and you can add bells and streamers if needed!  The prices range quite a bit but the Nakamura 12 in bike is sold at Sportchek for $80.

For our two boys, we tried the new balance bike wave. While balance bikes may seem odd (they certainly did to me the first time I encountered one in the wild), the idea grew on us, and our children. They were light enough for my son to carry around and maneuver, they were comfortable for him to sit on, and they teach a child to balance! Huge bonus and extra points – when my son grew too tired to keep riding, the bike fit easily in the bicycle trailer used on the back of my bike. The bonus for my child, well he also gets to look like those cool older kids, without all the pressure! Click here.

Training Wheels

Bicycles with training wheels have been around for ages, and if you are sentimental, needing that exhilarating memory of letting go of your child’s bike as they take off for their first ride without their trainers on, then this is the bike for your family! These bikes would also be a great fit for those children needing a little extra encouragement as they have a sense of stability you won’t get with a balance bike. It’s harder for children to turn the bikes and move them because of their extra gear and weight. Bells, streamers, and spiderman stickers can be added to these bikes too!

Helmets

Before we go any further, always stress the importance of wearing a helmet! Never let your child on a bike without this crucial piece of safety gear! To get the right fit, measure your child’s head with a soft measuring tape one inch above his or her eyebrows (the thickest part of the head). A proper fitting helmet should fit squarely on the head, not tilted back or forward, and should not move when he or she shakes her head. Ask your child if they want broccoli for lunch to try this safety test! Click here.

A nice little tidbit – I also stole the chance to reiterate road safety and rules about walking hand in hand when crossing a road while forcing the helmet convo on my child! It worked great!

Other Accessories

Balance Buddy – For small racers who want to keep up with others but haven’t got the feel for balance quite yet, try a balance buddy! They are a long handle to attach to your child’s back axle. They ride, you balance. It can give them a bit of a confidence boost and some exercise for you! One $30 at Canadian Tire!

The Clicker – One interesting thing that many bike manufacturers have noticed is that hesitant riders are often incentivized to keep moving forward if they hear a ‘click, click, click’ sound from their back wheel. It prompts them to keep going to keep hearing the sound. Easy and cheap, just duct tape a card to your child’s rear wheel.

Strap – Some of the best balance bikes come with bags or straps to shoulder carry after your child ditches it to chase a butterfly. I myself bought our balance bike off of Kijiji and it didn’t come with a strap. Luckily, I found a very short bungee cord that worked perfectly as either a shoulder strap or to secure the bike into the stroller, wagon, etc. Worked like a dream!

And Off We Go!

It’s very exciting to bring all the gear home and encourage your child to hop on. But I caution all parents to be patient. Our oldest took almost two years of bumping into walls and falling down on his balance bike before things really happened. And some days he just did not want to practice. But it did eventually happen! Once your child finds his or her comfort zone, the feet come up and the magic begins!

One summer day last year, walking down a paved walking path, laden with a baby and a diaper bag, my oldest son got the feel for it all at once. He pulled his feet up while going down a hill, screaming, “I’m going to win the race!”

I dropped my bag (kept the baby) and took off after him! He was having the time of his little life! I was too, for the most part… Haha!

And now he is a natural! He is ready for his first bike with pedals (no trainers needed) and is doing just fine mastering his “death-defying maneuvers.” And a big bonus – his little bro is all ready to start on his new hand-me-down balance bike (with a few brand new flame stickers to increase it’s speed).

Last Gentle Reminders

Always remember to remind your children of the dangers of riding their bicycle (preferably without terrifying them!). Our children are small and hard to spot, so keeping them away from roads is certainly a good idea until they’re old enough to understand the dangers and do’s-and-don’ts of bicycle safety. And never forget your helmets!

It’s also extremely important for parents to have patience and understanding in this important step of their child’s development. Try to never discourage your child or pressure them to go too far outside of their comfort zone. While some gentle encouragement (“You can do it, just give it a try”), can be hugely beneficial, going too far (“Well, I can’t teach you if you’re not willing to try”) can have some pretty negative effects. Remember that with all things, learning to ride a bike takes time and everyone learns at a different pace.

At the beginning of our adventure, my husband and I were the gentle guides, but two years later and our child takes the lead, often winning the race!

Back with Summertime Tips

It’s Wednesday, May 29, 2019, at precisely 6:00 pm. It also happens to be 32 degrees Celsius outside. It appears that summer is, at long last, officially upon us!

While this is exciting, it begs the question: how am I going to occupy my children with fun, safe, affordable outdoor activities?

The first activities that come to mind for me are KARA summertime programs. These are free, drop-in programs running from the start of July to the end of August. They are largely spent outdoors and follow weekly themes and adventurous outings around the city. Until these programs start up though, you can usually find my family at Drop-In Fun, Creative Play & More, and Playtime Drop-In. These programs are also a blast – the ladies and gentlemen running the drop-in programs put in a lot of effort to make family time fun and educational! Connie’s cooking is also worthy of the long trek it takes to get there!

For those who are as familiar with KARA’s wonderful resources as I am, here’s a bit more about our great city:

Edmonton is home to 70 completely free to access spray/water play parks! These are typically my go-to and they are easy to find close to any home. They always provide a way for my family to cool off on hot days as well! Some of these sites are still under construction, but to find one near you and see their availability and hours, visit the City of Edmonton’s website here.

Another fun water activity (my kids LOVE the water) is Edmonton’s several outdoor pools. Edmonton has announced that, for the third year in a row, all of its outdoor swimming pools will be open to the public with no cost of admission! If you happen to live near KARA, the Borden Natural Swimming Pool is where you will want to be this summer! It is the first of its kind in Canada – a man-made natural pool surrounded by sand and disinfected without chemicals! This pool is set to open June 22 – just in time for the really hot weather! For more information on the Borden Natural Swimming Pool, including hours of operation, special facility guidelines, and how it is cleaned, click here. Interested in other free pools? Click here.

Did you know that Edmonton has the second largest metropolitan park in all of North America? It’s second only to the famous Central Park in New York City. Conveniently, a river runs straight through ours, and the Riverboat Queen is accepting passengers 6 and under for free this summer! Enjoy the cost-effective boat ride or a free bike-ride in the park!

Want more hot tips??? Edmonton is known as “The Festival City,” for good reason. While attending the theme parks can be quite expensive, Edmonton also plays host to many festivals and parades accompanying these events – which can be free to watch! Most notably, and hosting their 35th anniversary starting on July 5th, the Edmonton Street Performer’s Festival is certainly one of the most beloved festivals in Edmonton! Featuring approximately 1,500 performers and having a long tradition of accommodating free shows for infants/toddlers, how could it not be? Note that tips to the performers are encouraged, but in no way expected. More information can be found here.

Don’t forget Edmonton’s parades! Many of these parades stretch for long distances throughout the city – the most notable being the K-Days parade! Set to happen on July 19th, your family will surely enjoy the musical theme this year as they set the stage by partnering with Alberta Music! Your children are sure to love all the charismatic performers and talented musicians. Mark this one in your calendar – click here.

Raising late-night owls rather than sun-loving salamanders? Check this one out! Perhaps a lesser known program because it just started, but still a super value – Edmonton offers the “Kids Bowl Free” program. Located at the Bonnie Doon Bowling Lanes and Gateway Entertainment Centres, find all of the info here. Please note that sign-up is required.

Or perhaps your little one is more of an “intellectual”. My family seems to be raising a grown up rather than a child – last Wednesday, he shook his soccer coach’s hand rather than giving him a high-five (I suppose that’s better than what his brother tried to do, which was head-butt him). If a sophisticated aura appears to be wafting off of your child too, have I got news for you! The beautiful Art Gallery of Alberta is offering free admission on Thursday evenings between 5 and 8 pm! Children are always free at this majestic museum but on Thursdays, consider yourself a child too! You’ll certainly feel like one after you get in for free and start discovering the secrets of King Tutankhamun or exploring your fascination with dinosaurs. It’s sure to be a treat so check them out here!

Anything else spark your or your children’s fancy? Leave a note for other families to check out! Hope to see you at KARA and cheers to a wonderful summer!

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!

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!).

Halloween and Safety

“Halloween! Mommy, I love candy and candy is coming soon! Oh, I do love candy.”

A few weeks ago, I took my munchkins out shopping for their costumes and they had a ball checking out different characters, pressing buttons, and generally making a mess of the store. I felt right at home as I followed them around, picking up after them and discouraging my toddler from chewing on tags. We finally settled on matching Buzz Lightyear and Sheriff Woody getups and they looked fantastic!

As I was standing in line to purchase these wonderful (albeit expensive) costumes when I noticed glow stick bracelets. It was then that I recalled the safety prep portion that ties in with this holiday and I started to take note of a few other things I was forgetting that were Halloween related.
Safety was number one. My family and I must take precautions before and during obtaining free candy. It would be a good reminder for my older Grizzly Bear about roads and holding hands and a good introduction for my younger Polar Bear. Number two was getting to know our community. It’s always nice to meet our neighbours, even if it’s in the dead of night and we’re dressed in costumes asking for sweets.

In regard to safety, Health Canada recommends following these tips for this spooky season!

Costumes
 Choose brightly coloured, flame-resistant costumes. Have you ever been driving at night and seen someone dressed in black walking their black Labrador? Now imagine that person is 3 ft tall and on a sugar high; it’s probably a good idea to go with the flamboyant pink wig than a member from KISS (although hilarious)!

 Use makeup rather than a mask. Masks can interfere with vision and even breathing. Our children are likely to be out of breath running from house to house in a mad dash to get the full-size candy bars, so it’s best not to add to the risks associated with the intake of oxygen or falling over the neighbours’ garden ornaments.

 For youngsters such as my Polar Bear who have taken on the personality of a beaver, remove tags right away and choose costumes that don’t have buttons. For children of any age, do not choose costumes with strings. These can tangle easily and pose a big risk to circulation.

Decorating
 Put any jack-o’-lanterns up out of reach if you’ve decided to put real candles in them. Little ones can easily knock them over in their excitement to get to your door and even littler ones can find the flickering flame more irresistible to touch than waiting in line for candy.

 Make sure lawn decorations are clearly visible and not sharp or pointy. Kids have a knack for not watching where they are going, often tripping over their own feet. It’s a shame when they trip over and break your decor but an even bigger shame if they end up hurting themselves.

 Keep your pets behind closed doors. Many disastrous events happen when pets are involved in Halloween. They can harm a child or harm themselves if they get out of the house when the door opens. Pets don’t understand what Halloween is and little strangers dressed in scary costumes could agitate and worry them, causing injuries.

Candy

 Little hands and big eyes can lead to disaster. It’s important to repeat the same motto your parents told you – don’t touch until you get home. Make sure to check your child’s haul thoroughly. Not everyone has your child’s best interest at heart. It’s hard not to get into the spirit of Halloween, especially when it gives you a chance to make memories with your child. My kids love the candy and I love the goofy pictures. I also like the benefit of getting to know my neighbours a bit more. This holiday is a great way to socialize and build strength in your community.

Last year, my family toured the neighbourhood and met most of the lovely folks that lived around us. For the last year, we’ve been able to strengthen those bonds further and it all stemmed from that first awkward conversation where my child asked for free sweets, shaking a brightly coloured bucket on their front doorstep.

Holidays such as Halloween really do have benefits for parents, even the ones that don’t steal their child’s candy after they fall asleep. So get out there and have a fun, safe holiday with your family. And watch out for tummy aches!

Mini Helpers

This week at KARA you’ll find the guys and gals outside with a Fun In The Sun theme! My little bears love being outdoors and have tremendous fun at spray parks.

The featured photo is of my Polar Bear making his way through a minefield of sprinklers in order to get to me. I feel the right caption to describe the look on his face is “Do I Have a Plan?”

But what if summer days aren’t sunny? We all know The Cat in the Hat children’s classic but do we really want to see our children staring out of windows at the rain in the absence of a large, talking feline? On these kinds of days, I like to get my children involved in something, engaged in what I’m doing, and entertained by simple daily tasks. No, I’m not talking about crafts or building forts out of my freshly laundered towels. We do that often enough during winter months. I’m talking about CLEANING! 􀀀

Cleaning and organizing are what I love to do with my kids and they are young and impressionable enough that they think it’s fun! We put some good, dancing music on, usually a Shania Twain album, and just let loose!
If cleaning, I prep some extra spray bottles of water for my two boys while mine is a combination of water and vinegar. This way, if they pick mine up and spray each other, the worst that happens is that they start to smell like a salad.

Next, I give each of them a scrubby pad and a baby wash cloth. My older Grizzly Bear actually has a fair few muscles now and can actually see the difference when making something clean. We wash floors and mirrors together, after making silly mirror faces of course. My little Polar Bear makes some developmental progress while feeling the different textures of the cloths. The smooth, soft baby cloth versus the rough, bumpy scrubby brush really enthrals him, plus add a bit of water and watch out!

When organizing, I bring my kids into the room that we will be working in and close the door. Clothes, books and long lost forgotten toys move too quickly in the hands of my children and my pulse quickens when watching them cart around dozens of escaping LEGO blocks. I usually only invite my kids to help organize my own room or theirs. They love organizing mommy’s closet and putting on my shoes! When we organize their rooms, I bring down the boxes of toys lingering at the tops of closets. By storing some toys away, it allows me to rotate their toys so old ones become new again, saving a buck, and outdated toys can be sold, making a buck.

There are a few things I’ve learned along the way when it comes to soliciting my children’s help in daily chores, however. Pushing buttons on the laundry machines, using the feather duster, and sweeping dog hair under the rug is all good fun but I’ve learned some areas are just not meant to be cleaned by kids. The dishwasher has led to a few close calls as my little ones are just too little. Likewise, the cleaning of the bathroom isn’t meant for curious little bears. It’s icky enough to clean a toilet as an adult with proper sanitary routines. Add a kid and… well I just don’t want to think about it.

In conclusion, parenthood is a busy time. You’re always doing the right things for your children but the right things often pile up when you add them together. Changing diapers and clothes, potty breaks, brushing hair and teeth, feeding them healthy meals that can take hours to make,
doing arts and crafts, reading to them, taking them to programs, teaching them good manners, and the multitude of other tasks we do for our loved ones add up quick. This is just one way of combining a few tasks together to try and make it easier on yourself as a busy parent. But hopefully our families’ summer continues to be sunny, and if not, at least our houses will be clean!