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!

Growing an Herb Garden

Growing an indoor or outdoor herb garden can be just as useful as it is fun! My boys and I have been working on a few projects since the beginning of 2020 and growing a successful little herb garden has been one of them. Of course it always helps if you have or know of someone with a green thumb. For me, that’s my sister! She taught me a lot of valuable insights when it came to taming chives, splitting parsley pods, and fluffing up basil bushes. If it wasn’t for her, my indoor creations would have been a flop. So now that I’ve mastered a few of these tricks, I’m going to share them with my KARA family! But first, let’s check out the benefits!

Herbaceous Benefits

Herbs have a wide variety of health benefits, including fighting infections (basil), reducing nasal congestion from allergies (rosemary), and relieving nausea and IBS symptoms (peppermint). They are also known to keep teeth healthy and freshen breath! Check out more benefits here.

Michigan State University also advocates that gardening has plenty of developmental benefits for children! Zipping around the lawn with tools and bags of seeds provides practice for gross motor skills. Pinching little seeds and grasping hand tools help develop fine motor skills. Playing with water and soil helps provide children with sensory play. Children are also able to develop reading skills when looking at garden tags, math skills when counting seeds, and a love of nature through nutritional education. And let’s not forget all the fresh air and exercise that are good for every family member! Check it out here.

Green Goodness

So now that we are familiar with the goodness of these greens, let’s start making our own from scratch!

What we need is:

  1. A medium to large pot with holes in the base
  2. Gardening soil (or a glass jar for sprouts)
  3. Seeds of desired herbs

Seeds that we planted included basil, garlic greens, sunflower greens, alfalfa sprouts, and a very cool little plant called burgundy oxalis. We also inherited a pot of chives that we have been mothering diligently.

I chose these plants because they are very easy to grow and work for a variety of dishes. I did try my hand at favourites like cilantro and parsley but found these extraordinarily temperamental. The cilantro came up all spindly and the parsley didn’t even germinate. Oh well – I’ll just have to keep practicing!

So let’s get down to the whys and hows of the plants that were successful! Oxalis burgundy shamrock grows wild in Alberta. Purple basil – nutmeg and basil. Lemon basil. Garlic greens! Alfalfa sprouts 5 days. Sunflower greens. Pea sprout 3 inches

Chives

Chives are the only plant I haven’t kept in my kitchen herbarium. That’s because they do so well outdoors! Chives are a perennial plant (they come back year after year) and can easily be grown indoors and out. Be careful with them though because their beautiful flowers spread seeds like crazy as they try to invade and take over your entire garden. Very edible and delicious, they are an onion that can be used in any pasta dish and can even be enjoyed raw from the garden.

I was lucky to inherit my already well established chives from a friend who planted them in their own large pot. This prevents them from getting out hand. However, as I understand it, chives are best planted and grown in cooler seasons like spring. In early May, my outdoor chives are already starting to bloom! They also prefer sunny spots and to be planted in well-draining, well-composted soil. Ensure that they are planted in the ground or a pot with holes in the base to prevent drowning. Sow seeds 2 inches apart and no more than ¼ inch deep (quite shallow with a sprinkling of soil on top). Harvesting them actually produces more chives if done properly as you can take one third of them by thinning them every couple of weeks. Just pick one stock for every three and you will always have happy chives!

Basil

Basil thrives in a sunny window in well-drained soil. It is super sensitive to cool weather so it sits in my south facing window right next to my kitchen sink. I find some herbs smell even when not cooking and basil is certainly one of them! Its powerful aroma is very pleasant though and really makes doing dishes more delightful.

Sowing seeds is very easy but must be done 10 to 12 inches apart. I only planted one as space was a commodity in my little herbarium, but that didn’t stop the basil from becoming one of the main attractions! It grew into a little tufty plant and if I kept taking leaves from the top, the basil got bushier and bushier on the bottom! Another super cool thing about basil is that you can take a cutting and germinate a new plant! Select a 4 inch section of basil that has not yet flowered and place it in water. Roots should form within a week and you can gift it to a close friend or make a second thriving plant. Totally awesome!

Another note – if you decide to plant purple basil instead of the regular kind, it tastes like nutmeg!

Garlic and Sunflower Greens

This was one plant that resulted from trial and error. My husband decided to grow his own garlic from a clove bought from the store. He brought home some garlic, ate almost all of it, but saved the last clove and buried it in a corner of the herbarium. Within a couple of days it had sprouted into what looked like a green onion stalk, and it didn’t stop there… My husband and I even started measuring its growth day by day, it was growing that fast! We placed a few bets too to see when it would outshine my other plants.  I called my sister to see what her thoughts were. She said that although it would never produce new cloves, the garlic green that was growing, at a surprisingly fast rate, was deliciously edible and very much worth the short amount of time it took to grow. We would chop off the green top little by little to munch on as a snack – absolutely scrumptious!

We later found out we can also do this with sunflower seeds (not roasted ones) harvested from our sunflowers. They make nice little greens that taste great in a salad!

Alphalpha Sprouts

These quick to germinate little sprouts are very easy to grow – and you don’t even need dirt! Just a glass jar and paper towel will work! Place about 2 tablespoons of alfalfa seeds in a glass jar and let them soak in 1½ cups of water overnight (6+ hours). Drain them through the paper towel (or cheese cloth or dish cloth). Put them back in the jar and add ½ cup of fresh water. Swill them around to wash them and drain again. Then leave the jar on its side with paper towel over the opening to allow them to spread out and the moisture to be partially trapped. Repeat the rinsing and draining process every morning and evening for 4 days, always leaving the jar on its side. The sprouts will be roughly 3 to 4 cm in length with green tips when ready to eat. You can then put them in a sealed container in the fried until needed. I also noticed that they lasted longer when wrapped in paper towel then in a baggie. Add to sandwiches and salads for a delectable treat!

Burgundy Oxalis

By far the coolest thing I’ve ever grown, this bushy plant grows easily and tastes exactly like a crisp green apple! For someone who is allergic to apples, this was a very welcome treat. Also known as purple shamrock, this plant is a type of clover. And with that said, it does contain a small amount of acid which can be toxic in high doses. Used in many foods found in the supermarket, the US National Institute of Health notes that it is safe for people who eat a variety of foods.

This plant tends to prefer shade but I’ve left two in my indoor herbarium facing a south facing window and they seem to love it! Both plants have grown into bushy clusters that overtake a few others. If planted in the garden, beware as it likes to get out of control.

Plant burgundy oxalis in well-drained soils and keep it well watered. Plant it in a shadier spot. If you want to keep it growing big but control it from spreading, pluck the little yellow flowers before they bloom. All the leaves, stems and flowers are edible on this plant – but refrain from eating too much!

Our Blossoming Best

So, there you have it. With minimal supplies, you can easily start your own growing adventure. While we’ve discussed several plants, there really are endless possibilities. I recommend that you plant what you most often use in your own cooking. This can be heavily influenced by your favourite cuisines, so if you love Italian food, perhaps basil and thyme might be good choices. If you enjoy Mexican, perhaps cilantro and oregano. Just remember that it’s always nice to try new things! I hope this has been helpful and has inspired you to start down the incredibly rewarding path of beginning your own small garden!

New Year’s Resolutions for Families

Before starting a family (or when I had an extraordinarily young family), I used to practice New Year’s resolution trends like many younger and older adults! My resolutions were focused on myself of course, and always fixated on healthy or financially beneficial ideas. Now that my munchkins are older though, I’ve become accustomed to including them in my new resolution musings. When I decide to eat healthier, spend more time outside, exercise, or keep my life more organized, I inadvertently increase the benefits to them as well. A family shares the welfares of one another it seems!

This year though, my family is going to start a new resolution that was always meant to incorporate the whole! We did brainstorm together what the resolution would entail and many ideas cropped up during our family briefing: helping each other keep our rooms clean, going on more family outings, eating more chocolate (Polar Bear’s idea), and watching more dinosaur movies (Grizzly Bear) each made the list. We finally settled on a splendid idea that made everyone happy – Family Game Night!

And here’s why:

Quality Time

It’s true that quality time trumps quantity. With the busy life that twins parenthood, making time to spend together as a whole is very difficult. We are often multitasking when we do get together: my older son tells me about his day while I make supper, my younger son and I put a puzzle together while I keep scanning my emails on my phone, and my husband and I try to do things together but often do them apart, like walking the dog or going to the store (for the sake of convenience). Much of our time is eaten up with responsibilities – but fear not! Research has shown that quality time is much more beneficial to family life than the quantity!

Putting in a few hours of undivided, positive, and passionate time with your children has the greater potential to benefit them in their later years. A study published by the Journal of Marriage and Family indicated a very feeble connection exists between the amount of time parents spend with their children and their children’s emotional, academic, and behavioural development. Shockingly, the greater the time spent with children had little impact on them, and even affected them negatively if the parent was anxious, sleep-deprived, or stressed. However, the connection between quality time and positive development was very strong, indicating that children may flourish developmentally when the interactive parent is truly there (mind and body) with a positive and encouraging attitude. To check it out for yourself, click here.

Games for Preschoolers

So now that we’ve settled on a New Year’s resolution that has obvious benefits, what kinds of games are suitable for young children that can’t read? We were certainly not about to pull out Scrabble! But we did come up with some very promising games through a little more research and our own childhood reminiscing! Here are a couple of game ideas we came up with to get us started for our weekly game nights as a family:

· Twister – A game that’s extraordinarily active and full of funny positions is sure to make it to the top of the preschooler pile of fun nights! We received this game as a gift over the holidays and our boys just love it! It also gives them a chance to be in charge and increase their confidence as they can take a turn spinning the wheel and directing others! We played with all kids and adults alike and it was a hoot!

· Operation – A game of silly skills as you take turns playing doctor! This game is also a giant boost in the fine motor skills department as little ones are encouraged to pick up small objects with tweezers! This game is currently on the way to our house and I know it will bring all kinds of laughs!

· Jenga – Another unbeatable game when it comes to problem solving and fine motor skills! Jenga has all the pieces to give the family a laugh and I bet our kids will love it when we bust this one out later this year!

· Guess Who – This game involves some critical thinking as your child tries to guess which character card you are pretending to be! I believe this will be perfect for my older son as he tries to detect his way towards winning! We will also add this game to our weekly rotation when we get it!

· Bingo – My extended family introduced my children to this game a few weeks ago and they both love it! My older son is quite good at reading individual letters and numbers now and we hand-make personalized bingo cards (printed from Word) to help him maintain his skills. My younger son adores the bingo dabber and enjoys playing in teams so that he can continue to develop his skills as well! We also personalize his card with shapes to give him the winning edge!

· Perfection – We’ve had Perfection in the home for a little while now and it’s undoubtedly my younger son’s favourite game! It’s a more advanced and intricate shape sorter than baby toys and adds the fun as we all try to race time before it pops all the pieces back out at us! A great game for any budding child and devoted parent!

· Snakes and Ladders – Lastly, a final classic that is sure to be the first board game in any home. This timeless game of trying to race your opponents to the top helps kids learn to count and complete simple math while using dice. My older son loves this game and he is quite the little teacher as he tries to help his younger brother count too, leading by example when we show him! It’s a very inspiring evening when we play this game.

All of these games are sure to make our family quality time the best and most beneficial weekly activity we undertake for our young children and I hope these ideas benefit your families as well!

As Always, With You in Mind

I hope these game ideas inspire you and your family as they have mine. Please feel free to chime in with your favourite family games or New Year’s resolution! We can all use good ideas to keep our families happy and healthy!

And most of all, Happy New Year to you and yours!

Magical Music

I’ve always known that I wanted musical children. I always dreamed of learning a few instruments myself. So when the day came that I was bringing my son to his first piano lesson, I was a little crushed when he wasn’t ready for the program.

I contacted the music teacher and asked if she would take on a 4 year old. She was very hesitant to say yes over the phone and instead, suggested an interview. We made an appointment, arrived on time, and proceeded to answer questions about our knowledge and understanding of music. My son was a superstar throughout the interview – he answered all of the questions spectacularly and his personality shone bright as he exuded confidence and understanding. Unfortunately, he didn’t answer one question right; what letter “E” was when it was drawn on the piano key. From that, the pianist let me know that he was going to be an extraordinary musician, but not for a few months yet. She gave me some homework to do with my son and let me know to come back when we were ready.

The Importance of Music

The research shows that music is an extremely beneficial skill to pick up as a child as it helps with childhood development in ways not fully understood and are still being uncovered. A study done by the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California indicated that early music instruction accelerates brain development in the areas associated with processing sound, language development, speech perception, and reading skills. The study was five years in length, starting to 2012, and looked at children ages 6 and 7 just learning to play the violin. The neuroscientists used MRI scans to monitor changes within the brain, EEGs to track electrical activity in the brain, and behavioural tests. They compared the violin students to groups of kids playing soccer or not participating in any extracurricular activity. Within two years, the results started to show that the auditory systems, the system responsible for the development of language and reading, was greatly accelerated in the children learning to play the violin in comparison to others. To read more on this study, click here.

If that wasn’t enough, could you imagine the added benefit of dancing to music? Gross motor skills and social skills built during dancing also play into the mix! According to the North Vancouver Recreation Centre, dancing, in combination with music, engages the brain through patterns, helps cultivate communication skills, boosts self-esteem and physical skills, and promotes creativity (see here). So there’s a lot to be said for having a musician in the family!

Adopting Music into Your Home

After all of those benefits, it’s easy to see why music should be in the lives of all budding families. But how do we incorporate it into our routines?

As a new Mom, music and dancing were more instinctual for me than they are now. When I had a cranky baby, I would bounce them along in a little dance while I hummed my favourite tune. I also started singing songs that my parents sang to me. This would be my way of calming my children, but now that they no longer need to be bounced to sleep, I seem to have moved away from the music, and ushered in the age of sports and science.

Music is everywhere though. Theatre, movies, holidays, religion, celebrations, and even in books, music can be found. However, if you are finding it hard to find it, or want more musical activities for your young children, try these out! I’ve also included ideas for those looking to increase musical toys in the home!

Infants and Melodies

Infants can recognize the melody of a song, even if they don’t know the words. They enjoy simple, calm music and especially those sung by close family members. I sang songs about getting dressed, changing a diaper, eating yummy green food, or going to grandma’s house to my children to soothe them. It also helped reiterate positive emotions for good behaviours – particularly eating green food! Avoid loud music and music with harsh rhythm.

Know a little baby that could use some music in their life? Try this beaded raindrop toy. It’s great for gross motor skills and problem-solving too! Find it here.

Toddlers and Tunes

My boys, after learning to moves around a bit more, loved to dance! Their “moves” certainly weren’t graceful or nimble, but they could memorize and repeat motions. They could also try toy instruments like drums and shakers. Find fun songs with a little bounce in them, like “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” “The Ants Go Marching,” or my sons’ ultimate favourite, “Old MacDonald Had a Farm,” and let your child play an instrument or clap along throughout.

My toddler absolutely loves his Fisher Price cassette player! It comes with lots of music on both sides of the cassette and we can even record and playback our own tunes! Click here.

Preschoolers and Notes

My preschoolers is an enthusiastic musician. He can dance, sing, and has acquired a sensible side of confidence. He is eager to learn new songs and pick up new instruments. Although not ready for the professional level quite yet, I can tell he is going to knock ‘em out at those future Christmas recitals. To help stimulate his love of music, I now incorporate dance routines, funny songs, finger plays, and nonsense rhymes into songs he already knows to mix things up. For instance, I will sing a song he loves, but instead of singing the correct words, I will add something funny, like “Old MacDonald had a spider.” He catches on really quick and it keeps his brain moving. We can also now do Patty Cake with the hand movements and add snapping our fingers to cool songs.

I am getting him a giant floor piano mat for Christmas to help him learn the names of the piano keys easier and with a dash of fun. If you feel the impulse to get this for your child, the piano instructor we saw advised us to get one that looks like a piano and has the keys in the correct spots, like this one.

Kindergarteners and Chords

Have a little one in school already? These not so tiny tots are ready for the big leagues with musical education, real instruments, and intricate sing-alongs. Try incorporating songs into everyday teachings and everyday teachings into songs. Like counting, spelling, and recalling sequences of stories. Kids this age may also start expressing their likes and dislikes in musical taste, and may prefer to play or sing certain genres. Keep informed of your child’s progress in music class and practice their homework with them. They love to play for parents!

When my munchkins get to this stage, I hope they will tell me which instrument they want to pick up! I do pray it’s the beautiful and melodic piano but one can only hope!

More on Music

If you’re interested in introducing or increasing the music exposure outside the home, try KARA’s Rhymes That Bind program or, coincidently, the Castledowns Public Library also holds Baby Laptime and Family Story Time that also incorporate music into the mix!

In the words of Beethoven, music can change the world. So get out there!

Kindergarten Hunting

As another school year starts, I’ve come to the exciting realization that my eldest is due to start kindergarten next year! I was able to determine his age appropriateness by referring to the Edmonton Public Schools’ website and check out their Kindergarten Registration page here.

So, this week I thought I’d talk about my experiences so far in finding the right school for my children! First off, there are three (and maybe more) choices: private schools, charter schools, and public schools. Then there are the different kinds of each of those! You can register your children in immersion schools, where they learn different languages; you can look at different extracurricular activities or advanced programs; there are separate schools, where classes are all girls or all boys; and you have the choice of different religions or no religion schools. On top of that, as if it wasn’t confusing enough, you can decide on how much time they spend away from home from boarding schools to homeschooled – the choice is yours – and it’s a big one!

Here is a little breakdown of the three main kinds and those that are most easily available:

Private Schools – There are around 180 private schools in Alberta. Most private schools are not funded by the Ministry of Education and parents are required to pay for their child’s education. The reviews of private schools and education foundations are outstanding. The price per year for a child in a private school can run between $7,000 and $18,000 (during my searches). Find more information here and look up schools here.

Charter Schools – Alberta has 13 charter schools, most of which reside in Edmonton and Calgary. Charter schools sit in the middle of private and public. They are non-profit schools, meaning that they are like public schools, and are tuition-free, and they provide high-quality education. The catch with charter schools is that they are hard to enrol in. They rely mostly on a lottery system where you register and hope they pick your name. Additionally, if one of your children is chosen, it isn’t a guarantee that the other will be. To find more information, click here and look up schools here.

Public Schools – All public schools are funded by the Ministry of Education (taxes). They usually only require an administration fee, transportation fee, and school supplies. When I looked at the difference between daycare costs and these types of schools, my piggy bank did a happy dance! However, depending on where you live, class sizes of public schools can be very large and the facilities may be run-down from overuse and lack of adequate financing. Another downside is that you can’t simply “choose” your school if living in a large community. Chances are, there will be districts (based on addresses) and, depending on your district, your child may have no choices in the public school they attend. You will need proof of where you live (driver’s licence will suffice) to enrol your child. Find your designated school here.

In addition to these resources, I’ve also been relying a lot on school rankings by grades from the Fraser Institute. This is a nice way to check that the school you’ve fallen in love with consistently achieves high rankings in comparison to others. Check it out here.

Decisions about where your child goes to school are sometimes very personal and can be difficult. It’s common and normal for parents to feel anxious about getting this decision right. These decisions depend on where you live, your personal values, your child’s needs, school-specific factors, religion, and more. When you’re choosing an elementary school (like me), it’s also important to consider things like before-school and after-school care, and proximity to the day-home for any younger children still requiring care.

For some parents, the decision isn’t simple. Mine certainly wasn’t!

My husband and I have determined that the public school system will be a feasible, and still wonderful, option. As we have two children, charter schools were not for us, as we wanted them to stick together. Private schools are not feasible for us (unless I’m holding the winning lottery ticket).

But which public school? Going through our current interests and requirements helped us further determine which one was for us. Our youngest will still be attending the dayhome full-time, so proximity and commute are important factors. There’s nothing like the whirlwind that is our current morning schedule, and minimizing any further stress is very important. Both my husband and I attended immersion schools, me in French and he in Aboriginal, so that was a key interest of ours. We also have two very active youngsters that enjoy the outdoors and sports, so after-school extracurriculars were important too. We also needed to fixate on drop-off and pick-up times as we are both working. To accommodate this, you might consider sharing the load with your spouse. For example, many parents take the morning shift while the other spouse goes to work. The other spouse can then leave work early to pick up the kids and handle the afternoon shift. Many companies are becoming more flexible to accommodate two working parents and this option is very economical and stress-relieving.

So, to what we decided! We are very much looking at a French immersion daycare that is accredited as a public school kindergarten. I am uneasy splitting my youngsters up and when I found this co-preschool-kindergarten option, I was very relieved! As both kids will be in the same building, in different classes, the pick-up/drop-off will be easier, plus both will be with youngsters of their own ages and be learning the approved Alberta curriculum. The costs of daycares exceeded our reach in the past, but because this is a publicly funded school, the costs for my kinder-aged child are low. As it is a daycare, and not a public school, districts are not an issue at the moment (although this daycare is right around the corner too!). We believe that, after the months of research, our efforts have paid off with finding this gem!

We hope you and your family have success in finding the right educational fit for your family too! Whether it’s homeschool, public, charter, private or other (boarding schools sound the best during rough mornings!). Please feel free to share your inputs or other resources with the KARA online family!

Happy School Hunting!

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!

Language Development

A Stolen Opportunity

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

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

He is 3.5 years old.

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

Grizzly Bear

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

Polar Bear

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

See below.

Vocabulary Milestones

Age 1

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

Age 2

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

Age 3

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

Mom “Did you have a good day?”

Grizzly “I had a beautiful day!”

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

Grizzly “Yes, this is so embarrassing.”

Mom “Can you help me with this?”

Grizzly “I can’t today, I’m a kitty.”

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

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

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

Grizzly “Can you turn on some music?”

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

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

Practice (and Patience!) Makes Perfect

Self Talk, Parallel Talk, and Expansions

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

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

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

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

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

Polar “Thirsty”

Mom “Thirsty for Juice?”

Polar “Ball”

Mom “You want ball?”

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

More Resources

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

Ages and Stages

The Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) is a tool used to look at children’s developmental skills and track important milestones. The tool is essentially a short test that describes actions and scenarios. Parents walk through the activities with their child and answer the questions based on how their child performs. It’s a great way to watch your child reach milestones and teach them new skills. The developmental areas included in the questionnaire are fine motor skills, gross motor skills, problem solving skills, communication skills, and personal-social skills. The questionnaire takes roughly 20 minutes to complete and is available from 2 to 60 months (from birth to kindergarten)!

I have been completing these developmental check-ups with my children at KARA since they were two months old. I love doing the ASQs with them, mostly because it’s a free, entertaining activity that boosts their self-esteem, but also because it’s important for me to know where practice is required. And I’m not the only one; my doctor completes a short one with them during their biannual check-ups. It’s incredibly important to catch developmental delays early, so both parents and healthcare professionals get involved! My boys are only three and one, but it’s not too early to think about elementary school. I want them to do well and keep up with their classmates. One way to accomplish that is to practice and to know what each ASQ area encompasses in order to complete activities that benefit my children.

Fine Motor Skills: This skill incorporates the use of small muscles, particularly in the hands and fingers, to accomplish tasks that require patience and concentration. Examples include a newborn grasping objects, a one year old holding a toy and changing it from one hand to the other, and a five year old using a crayon to draw a picture.

At Home: My three year old, Grizzly Bear, is currently working on learning how to hold a marker properly. He use to bunch his fingers like a fist around any stationary but after a few weeks of practice, he is now able to trace the numbers 1 through 10 while holding his marker between his index finger and thumb (Scholastic Write and Wipe Math Book – an absolutely fantastic book and
a great idea for Christmas)!

Gross Motor Skills: This skill encompasses the use of large muscles to complete tasks (and get into trouble)! Examples of these skills include a six month old learning to sit with support, a one year old pulling himself up to stand, and a three year old learning to hop or skip.

At Home: My younger son, Polar Bear, is learning (without much encouragement from me) to throw balls and climb into/onto furniture. My last blog on childproofing is being used to great effect here but I still wish there was a way to prevent myself from getting hit in the face unexpectedly with Mega Bloks Lego.

Problem Solving Skills: This skill encompasses a child’s ability to solve problems. Problem solving to a baby can be elusive to parents. Children have no problems, right? I quickly learned that a two month old that uses his hands and eyes to explore his new world is as much of an example of problem solving as a simple math equation is to a five year old!

At Home: Both of my boys were born problem solvers, from learning how to open cupboards from the bottom to help themselves to snacks, to uncovering the heat registers to shove the snacks into spaces where even Daddy can’t get to them. Only little encouragement is required at home to develop problem solving skills but one item that does help is a shape sorter! These toys are marvellous but do require encouragement as they aren’t easy to master at first and children can get discouraged. I found it’s best to use one that is also colour coded for easier mastery.

Communication: This skill includes the ability to use and understand language, another extremely important skill to have and not to be delayed. Examples of this skill include a 6 month old turning towards you when you call his name and a three year old telling you he has to use the potty.

At Home: Books, books, books. We read a variety of books everyday. My Grizzly Bear had a natural interest in books and took to them easily. When our second was born, we would include him in book time but we kept reading Grizzly Bear’s favourites. It’s no wonder that it took our Polar Bear a little while to warm up to them and through a little pause and think parenting, we realized we needed to separate book time between the two boys when Polar Bear became mobile. When we understood that our boys were going through different communication stages, we had to adapt our parenting strategies to match, even if it took a little longer to complete the bedtime routine. Polar Bear is now very content to sit and read flip-the-flap books while Grizzly Bear works on his Write-and-Wipe books. A win-win!
Personal-social Skills: This skill incorporates the ability to interact with others and self-control.

Examples of this developmental skill includes a two week old making eye-contact with Mom, a ten month old waving his chubby hand bye-bye, and a four year old taking turns in games. At Home: The most successful type of activity we do at home to build this skill in both kids is pretend play, and they love it! My Grizzly Bear is at the prime age for pretending to be a superhero, pouring Mommy an invisible cup of tea, finding superb spots for hide and seek, and building race cars out of thin air. His younger brother also gets so involved with the play that I’ve sat and waited for a make-believe smoothie for 25 minutes before all the right ingredients were blended and I got to make fake yummy noises. The key to helping children develop this skill is interaction and encouragement. A big cardboard box also works wonders too!

The ASQ is a wonderful tool and makes parent-led check-ups fun! Both of my boys passed most ASQ developmental areas each time, and the times they didn’t, we worked a little harder to bring them up to speed, having fun along the way. If you’d like to complete an ASQ with your child or simply want more information on the tool, KARA is readily available for questions and to help you complete the questionnaire. The wonderful staff have thousands of ideas on activities you and your child can do together to improve development, believe me! They incorporate their ideas into their programs everyday to help ready your children for their first days of school too!

Reading for beginners

Ah, the wonderful sound of silence that creeps throughout the house when a book falls open at a favourite page. That’s the moment in the evening that most parents wait all day for. The moment when you know it’s nearing your child’s bedtime and the busy little bodies stop being busy for a split second to see The Very Hungry Caterpillar turn into a beautiful butterfly.

My two Little Bears are busy all day long and continue to run, jump, yell, and destroy possessions even during our mandated book time. But we push forward with book time and do whatever is necessary to get them involved in reading because of how important it is for brain development.

Three years ago, a study on the importance of reading was conducted at the Cincinnati Children’s Medical Hospital, where 19 preschoolers between 3-5 years (37% from low income families) underwent MRI scans while listening to their parents read a story to them through headphones, with no visual stimuli. The study showed that greater home reading exposure (reading for short periods often) was associated with the ability to “see the story beyond the pictures, affirming the invaluable role of imagination.” They could actually see the part of the brain responsible for imagination increase in function while the children listened to a story. They concluded that early reading allows children to easily transition from books with pictures to books without pictures due to the neuron pathways built in this portion of the brain.

Another study, a 50 yearlong study conducted at Edinburgh University starting in 1958, followed 17,000 seven year olds in England, Scotland, and Wales. The study proved the connection between reading well and future job success. Because of the massive sample size (so many seven year olds), they determined that engaged readers from households with fewer material advantages (lower income families) routinely outperformed less engaged readers from families with many material advantages. It doesn’t matter how many books you have, just read them!

Additionally, Leonard Sax, a well-known psychiatrist and physician, states gender also plays a gigantic role on the outcomes of a child’s life, and boys tend to fair less than their gender counterparts. From Grade 3 through to Grade 12, there is a literacy gap between boys and girls. Boys tend to drop out of school more often, attend post-secondary school less often, get poorer scores than girls, and have greater behavioural and addiction problems. Leonard Sax attributes these differences to video games, particularly violent video games, and has numerous studies to back up his theory.

Having two boys myself, I wanted to know the antidote to Doom and Grand Theft Auto, and it turns out it’s reading! Reading fiction especially, as the astounding benefits come from empathizing with the characters’ hopes, dreams, joys, and downfalls. Through empathy, reading increases social functioning because literature doesn’t just help children learn emotions, but experience emotions, a form of practice for later life. With greater social functioning, comes greater control and desire to achieve.

The Edmonton Public Library has tips on how and when to read to youngsters:
• Read at least once a day when your child/children are in a cuddly mood
• Read for any length of time but short, positive reading sessions are much more valuable than long ones
• Repetition deepens understanding so read favourite books over and over (and over)
• Engage children by reading to exaggerated voices, acting out stories, and switching voices for different characters
• Read books that incorporate interaction – kissy/cuddly books are my favourite, dancing books are Grizzly Bear’s favourite (my 3 year old), and flip-the-flap books are my Polar Bear’s favourite (my 1 year old)

For more resources, understanding, ideas or tips on reading to young ones, please visit KARA and register in our Literacy and Parenting Skills or Books for Babies programs. Your public library will also have information and programs regarding the importance of reading to infants and preschoolers.

To check out the studies listed above, follow the links below (but try to mix in some fiction reading too)!
https://www.google.ca/amp/s/neurosciencenews.com/mri-early-reading-brain-activity-1996/amp/
https://m.huffingtonpost.ca/jerry-diakiw/reading-and-life-success_b_16404148.html

My KARA Heros

Hello again, great to see you back! This week let’s dive into the KARA Summer Program; a fun-filled adventure around every corner, from great dinosaurs to the wild safari, every week has something different to offer!

If you weren’t aware, KARA has three locations; KARA, KARA-Too, and Dunluce Tenant Centre. Each of the addresses can be found on the KARA homepage or on the summer program calendar. Choose the location nearest you or attend all three!

The summer program calendar details the weekly themes for the free drop-in programs, held Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday, at varying times to accommodate those difficult nap schedules. Interspersed throughout the summer, we will be hosting field trips that are sure to inspire and wow your little ones, including nature centres, spray parks, and a dinosaur theme park!

When packing for these adventures, please remember necessities such as sunscreen, water bottles, hats, and comfortable shoes. Odd bits and pieces that may apply to your family may also include swim diapers, baby food, and extra changes of clothes. A light lunch will be served but if your children are anything like mine, it’s best to pack a mini fridge into your diaper bag.

Last summer, when KARA hosted a field trip to the Ukrainian Village, I attended as a Mom and hauled along my toddler (featured picture) and newborn baby. At first I felt like Mom of the Year. Look at me, strong and independent, on an outing with two young children and I can handle anything! As the day wore on, my children began to tire – and so did I! I’d try to keep my toddler’s spirits up with food, toys, and a happy singsong voice that made birds abandon their nests. All for not though, as I soon found out what being a Mom of a toddler will teach you if nothing else, very little can deter an impending temper tantrum.

At the time there was no mistaking the signs; the wobbly walk, the whimpering whines, the tearful eyes, and there it was. My son collapsed on the ground, his childlike, yet mighty voice thundering his displeasure. As I stood there at a loss, shocked with the task of consoling a two year old heap of emotions rolling on the grass in front of me while simultaneously holding an infant in my arms, in swooped my heroes. The KARA team took and cared for my newborn while I consoled my tired child, all the while putting the pieces of my dignity back together. It wasn’t so bad after all.

So if your child’s tantrums or behaviour in public places are the kind of moments you are dreading, deterring you from attending a field trip or program, fear not. We’ve all been there (and the ones that haven’t should give credit to where credit is due). Parenting isn’t easy. Mom of the Year goes to those that get out and about and if you attend KARA this summer, put your mind at ease. The KARA team has been there hundreds of times over and will be there for you too. Dignity and all.