Summer Reading Programs – Incentives and Rewards

July 2, 2009

Most experts agree that a child should read at least 20 minutes a day to foster a love for reading and learning. Its very easy to allow that time to slip away from us and with busy schedules it is far easier to keep the TV on and let the books collect dust. I know that I have strategically (and with guilt) used the television to give me free time for cooking, cleaning and business calls. Its an evil necessity at times but does not have to be a constant decision.

One of the best decisions I ever made was to stop giving away -free- television time and turn off the “idiot box”! Video Games, Movies and TV are earned in my house and are not a daily expectation. This was implemented before my daughter started kindergarten and we have a “No TV on School Nights” rule. Some of you may read this and scream. Most children hearing this would definitely scream. However, I find that the limited amount of TV for all of us has opened up the doorway to more enjoyable things and we have become a happier family as a result.

There are two reading incentives my seven year old daughter has right now; the local library Summer Reading Program and our own Book Token Reward system. Each day she reads for 20 minutes she gets to fill in a circle on her chart for the library and five days of this earns her a sticker and a free book! Our Book Token Reward system isn’t quite as simple! When she finishes a book that is more than twenty pages long I give her a book token. These are simply die cut pieces of paper in the shape of books that I picked up from the dollar store. I write the date, book title and number of pages on it and she likes to tape them to her door. If she decides to fill out a “Book Report” on the finished book she will get a star on her Book Token. The Book Report is five simple questions about the book and she has to answer with at least three sentences. A star earns her an additional point! Our rewards are constantly changing because this is a new system and we are really enjoying it! She can choose to “cash” in her book tokens for smaller prizes or save them up.

5 Book Token Rewards:

  • 15 minutes of computer games
  • 1 Age Appropriate Show
  • A Popsicle or Watermelon Banana Split (recipe to be added soon!)
  • A Mommy and Daughter Board Game Throw down (She gets to stay up after her brother goes to bed and we play a board game of her choice before she goes to bed.)

10 Book Token Rewards:

  • A Chapter Book
  • Two Coloring Books
  • One Kiddo Comic Book
  • 5$ to Spend on Choice (she has been picking hair accessories!)

15 Book Token Rewards

  • Movie and Popcorn
  • Picnic in the Park (she decides the menu)

20 Book Token Rewards

  • Lunch at Restaurant of Choice
  • Fun Family Outing of Choice (We have passes to Zoos and the Aquarium so its usually a choice between these places)

I usually do not reward with food however with this system I tried to pick rewards that would be more than just junk. We rarely do sweets or dine out so these rewards tend to be a pretty big deal.

We have added new rewards as they have come up and she can earn two a day if she really focuses on it (which she HAS been! Yay!). I am sure this will constantly change and evolve as her reading progresses. I currently stick to twenty pages in a chapter book so there is more reading and less pictures. Sometimes we compromise on books that are longer with more pictures but the amount of reading is about the same. It is a very loose system and I implement it solely as a positive. Book Tokens are -never- taken away and are never used in any negative. She is honestly quite proud when I fill these out and she puts them on her door!


Sensory Table: Water Table on a Budget

June 25, 2009

water tableI love sand and water tables and I feel the store bought ones are much too expensive! So, I’ve created a simple solution for a hot summer day… a water table made from a 31 quart storage bin, placed on top of a child sized table and different cups, spoons and items from the house. It is simple really and extremely affordable. I chose this bin because it is clear, holds a good amount of water and is tall enough to keep most of the water in.

I use everyday items from the house for water tools for the kids to fill, dump, fill again and pour. A strainer will make fantastic rain. A funnel is great to fill bottles with and any empty containers or squeeze bottles will be put to good use. Measuring cups have multiple purposes. Oh and ever wonder what to do with left over plastic easter eggs? The possibilities are endless and you don’t have to break the bank!

funnel

Additional Ideas:

  • Add some liquid dish soap so the kids can make bubbles
  • A few drops of food coloring
  • Line the bottom of the storage bin with aluminum foil to make it shiny
  • Add a bag of clean aquarium gravel
  • Add a tray or two of ice cubes so the kids can watch them melt
  • Add sand and plastic gems. Give the kids spoons to use for shovels. Have them find the buried treasure!
  • Add sand and seashells and boats for an ocean theme
  • Cut out foam craft pieces into the shapes of lilypads, add corks and other items that float. Then add marbles, buttons and rocks. Discuss the difference between the objects

Want to clean up after fingerpaints? Have the kids use the water table so they can have fun while cleaning off! Today we decided to use the water table after we pulled a lot of weeds. The kids were very dirty and we were very hot so it was a perfect way to end the afternoon. Just remember to dump the water afterwards and you have clean kids and a dual activity!


Cinnamon Toast With Rice Bread

June 20, 2009

I have found over the years that most recipes are easily adaptable to being allergy friendly so long as you don’t expect it to be exactly the same. For example there are some Vegan cheeses that are free of milk and casein that aren’t terrible but they are never going to exactly duplicate a soft Cotswold or have the exact flavor of cheddar.

The lack of wheat, eggs and milk makes baking difficult and the variety of dessert is unfortunately limited in the kid’s diets but we get around it. When I was pregnant with my daughter I used to love eating cinnamon toast. A slice of bread, a generous amount of butter, sugar and cinnamon broiled for a few minutes and you are left with a seriously yummy treat. I have tried this in a wheat, eggs and milk free way and its actually delicious!

Ingredients:

1 slice of rice bread of choice (these slices are usually hard but soften up nicely when warmed/toasted)

1 tablespoon of sugar

Nucoa (or other dairy free margarine)

cinnamon to taste

Directions:

Generously “butter” your bread. I put on an unhealthy slab of it so it gets good a buttery but I will lightly butter it for the kids! Then sprinkle the sugar on top and add cinnamon to taste. Put it in the over and broil for approximately 3 minutes or until the sugar caramelizes.

You really can’t make a bad batch of this so long as you don’t burn it! Sometimes I add less margarine and more sugar. Sometimes no cinnamon. I often top this with whatever Jam I have in the fridge with sliced bananas. This has become a new favorite in our house for breakfast with a mountain of fruit on top of it. Its easier for me to make than a batch of pancakes from scratch!

Enjoy!


Positive and Fun Meals!

June 19, 2009

fun lunchFood should be positive, fun, delicious as well as healthy but we live in a time where everyone is overly health conscious and kids pick up on the stress of that. I try to avoid the talks about “good and bad food” and just present it as food. “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” I’m not a force feeder and I feel that if you keep offering food in a positive way without any negative food comments at the dinner table then children are more likely to eat it. Little minds are easily influenced and I’ve seen kids go from absolutely loving something like broccoli and then refusing it after they heard an adult or peer say, “Oh yuck! I don’t like that!”. So, my rules at the dinner table are simple…

  • Keep negative comments about food to yourself
  • Take one bite of everything at least, please
  • You are welcome to seconds after all portions are consumed

Of course there are the other general rules of manners at the dinner table but that is a topic for another day! Oh and these rules apply to the adults at the table as well!

A meal is a time to connect, bond and enjoy each others company. It should be a positive and thankful time for everyone involved. We have such busy lives that these little moments in time are valuable and should be appreciated.

I offer a lot of variety and small portions so it expands the palette gradually. A typical meal will have one part meat, two parts veggies, one part fruit and usually rice. If I am offering something new to a child that I am sure they will frown upon I will only give enough for just one bite. It’s less intimidating for a child to eat a single bite of something new than stare at a huge mountain of it. If I am offering something I know a child does not like then I will give them two bite portions. Why? Because if a child is known to dislike something we generally always encourage to at least have one bite so they expect that. If they eat the second bite we can positively enforce it with “Wow! Great job! You ate it ALL!” Sure, the portions were only two bites but that fills a child with pride to know they really did eat all of something they dislike. Eating all of something is much more of an accomplishment than just eating two bites. If they choose not to eat it all then I just ignore it and say something positive about what they did eat.

fun shapesHowever, sometimes kids just aren’t into food that much or become bored easily. Thats why I try to make meals simple and fun with ideas from the Japanese bento. Bentos are traditionally a Japanese lunch that is taken on the go and served in a box. I have a lot of fond memories of bentos from my childhood. I loved all the cute containers, contrasting colors and neat shapes of common food. It always made lunch more enjoyable! I try to use a few ideas with every meal to make our meals a little more visually appealing. Even if its something as simple as using cookie cutters to cut meats into heart shapes, or cutting hot dogs into the shape of octopuses. Children respond positively to a plate full of fun and cute things.

Every child is different and because of such its hard for us to figure out what grabs their attention. Its a constantly changing and evolving process but I find that if you get down to their level and see through a child’s eyes it all becomes a little clearer. Sometimes we can’t change their stubborn nature or apprehension on trying new foods. But, we can change how we present the foods in a positive and fun way so hopefully it sticks.


My Toddler. My Garden. Just some basics.

June 19, 2009

Let’s face it… toddlers love to get dirty! Teaching children to garden has many more benefits than developing fine and gross motor skills. They learn to follow basic instructions, “Dig a hole here please!”. They start to process the basics of how plants grow, “Please put these seeds in the hole and cover them up. Now lets water them.” They have fun because they can actually get dirty and play with water and we encourage it! Sunscreen, a hat, lots of kid sized tools and patience will give you a good start to the toddler gardening experience.

watering The first thing I am going to suggest is to remove any cellphones, PDA’s, iPods or anything that can get damaged by water. I always fully expect to get soaked when I garden with toddlers. Why? Because most kids love to help water and they point the hose where they are looking! “Look its a bird!” and for some reason the hose has to look straight up as well! This is a perfect activity on a very hot summer day. Then again if you have a watering can this helps eliminate the soaked factor, however, I still say keep electronics out of the way! I learned the hard way!

I prefer to grow edibles with children simply because they are more likely to try something they have grown in the garden. I focus on positive encouragement when it comes to food because its important to me that children keep the negatives off of the dinner table. Yes, most children will recoil at certain new foods and can be extremely picky but I think its all about how you present the foods. The right enthusiasm goes a long way. My daughter will not eat a bowl of yellow pear tomatoes or cherry tomatoes that I buy from the store. Actually, she won’t eat any kind of tomatoes that aren’t in marinara sauce or ketchup unless she picks them straight from the garden. I asked her once why she will eat what we grow and not what we buy and she said, “Because I worked hard to help you grow these… and they taste better.” I think she was indulging me on the first part though. Hmm.

Cucumbers, sunflowers, lettuce, corn, tomatoes, squash, pole and bush beans, peas and pumpkins are all fun to grow! Even a novice gardener with a very black thumb can grow these… with some help by the kids of course.

Keep gardening times short! You will want to give the kids tasks in 15 – 20 minute time frames. I break it all up with different activities and present it in a fun way… “Now we are going to fill these cups up with soil!” then “Okay kids lets play with bubbles!” and finally “Lets look in this bag of seeds. Can you put a few in the cups of soil?” Sometimes you have to put off a task for the next day. It all depends on the child(ren).

Gardening Duties for the Wee Ones:

  • Pick out new plants or seeds (with some helpful positive direction of course!)
  • Fill up cups, pots or recycled container (like yogurt cups with holes cut out) with soil
  • Put seeds in soil and cover
  • Put in marker (after you label them)
  • Pull off dead heads. Give your kid(s) a basket and allow them to pick off all the dead flowers.
  • Water the plants (dodge as much as you can!)
  • Pull weeds! (Show the difference between seedlings and weeds)
  • Collect worms!
  • Harvest the goodies!

These are just some basic ideas to get you started. Figuring out how to get your toddler in tune with your garden is a forever evolving process. And, sometimes… no matter how much you try there will be destroyed flowers. They are, after all, toddlers.

flower destroyer


Strawberry Allergies No More!

June 19, 2009

StrawberriesStrawberries are very easy to grow and are a very beautiful addition to the garden. Unfortunately, we had a no berry zone in our garden for many years. My daughter has a lot of severe food allergies and one of her biggest allergies was berries. I say “was” with a smile on my face because she tested negative to berries this past year and we have slowly made them a regular addition to our meals. She is seven years old now and was diagnosed with life threatening food allergies when she was only a month old. Its been a very limiting road for us with food, however, we have always enjoyed everything we can. I am so much more aware of food, ingredients, preservatives, chemicals and organics because of this life change it was only a natural progression that I took to growing our own. I never would have thought that I’d be growing, jamming and canning our own food but here I am making so many foods from scratch and enjoying every step of the way.

After we slowly tried all the berries we could she decided that strawberries are her favorites and blueberries are a very close second. Since she is crazy about strawberries we had to grow them for the first time this year! I really do love to garden with children and most importantly I love growing our own food. With a lot of patience and the right timing gardening is really enjoyable with them. Earlier this year we picked up three different varieties of strawberries from the nursery so we could compare them. The first strawberry that started to form was watched by my daughter daily. She would go outside to “check on it” as often as I would let her. She would gently keep checking the mulch around it and make sure it wasn’t too thirsty. That first strawberry was such a milestone for us because not only could she finally eat them but we enjoy their beauty daily since they line our walkway to the front door. first strawberry

Okay, in all honesty the first strawberry was real small and very runty but it was delicious! Or so she told me since I didn’t even get a nibble! I had hoped that we could eventually grow enough so I can make some strawberry jam but the ripe strawberries rarely make it inside the house and are gobbled down immediately.

Who knows, next year we might expand our tiny strawberry patch and be up to our ears in jam but for now we enjoy each and every one like it was her first and appreciate her food allergy accomplishments.


Watching the Clouds

June 17, 2009

Cloud Watching

Have you ever watched the clouds with your kids? It seems so simple and primitive (okay, and seemingly BORING!) however, its actually pretty enjoyable. By the way, this was not my idea by a long shot! I was happily pulling weeds and sticking peppers and pole beans into the ground when my son yelled “Mommy! Lay-lown!”. He usually only says that when he is demanding I read a book to him so I couldn’t resist his smile when I turned around and saw him laying in the middle of a blanket in the yard. “Loo Mommy! Fluffy!” I called them fluffy clouds once and he only calls them fluffys! Yes, at that moment I groaned and really did think pulling weeds would be much more entertaining.

Happy Little Trees

In all reality we were staring at a big tree and two tiny clouds and our cat kept pouncing us because even he thought we were being boring. Does this sound awesome yet?

Unhappy Kitty

We had spent most of the day outside, running errands or painting. I felt like the day flew by so quickly and I started worrying about my lack of preparation for dinner. My seven year old daughter can’t pass up anything involving a good snuggle so she quickly came over and joined our cloud watching party. We talked about the clouds for only a few minutes since they quickly passed. We talked about the trees and what lives in there. When a flock of ducks flew overhead she reminded me about the time we were at the beach when a seagull pooped on my head. We laughed, had a tickle fight and continued to get a different perspective.

Taking the time to just do nothing is a rare moment for me and its something I really need to remember to do more often. I enjoyed over a half an hour of laughter without spending a dime. I relaxed with my kids and the breeze was amazing. I got to hear stories about how the tree was really fighting with the neighbors trees and thats why the branches were moving so fast. I also had my sunglasses stolen and didn’t have a reason to point out to my son that he had them on upside down. It wasn’t until that moment that I noticed how truly beautiful the day was.

So, maybe watching the clouds doesn’t seem as thrilling as a roller coaster. Its probably less entertaining than the latest kids flick. I know its not as educational as the library and definitely not as fun as the neighborhood park. But, the day was perfect simply because we stopped everything to watch two little clouds roll by.


Toddler Bubble Fun with a Fly Swatter

June 15, 2009

If I didn’t have bubbles on the brain when I went shopping with the kids I don’t think I would have considered a flyswatter for a bubble wand. I was standing in the cleaning aisle watching my son trying to grab the swatter and I thought, “Hmm.. why not?!” It just seemed like a great idea! All those tiny little holes, the long handle and the obvious interest my two year old son had in it seemed like the perfect, and inexpensive, toddler bubble wand.

So, there we were in our front yard with a big bowl of bubble solution and our flyswatters and we had so much fun! With one SWOOOSH we had hundreds of bubbles of all difference sizes! It was more enjoyable for my two year old to swing the swatter around than trying to dip a tiny wand in a bottle and mostly spit in his attemps to get any bubbles. We ran across the lawn and watched the bubbles trail behind us. Both of the kids took turns pretending the wands were wings and made “fairy bubbles” and they flew around the garden. The possibilities were endless, the investment was minimal and the laughter was constant.

Before trying this you have to accept that fact that the kids, yourself, possibly your neighbors cat and everything within your general area will get bubbled! But, that makes it even more fun! The bigger the swats the more bubbles made.

And of course I suggest you buy flyswatters specifically for bubble swatting and not for flies!

My Basic Bubble Solution:

1 cup of dishwashing liquid (Dawn or Joy)
4 cups of water
3 teaspoons of sugar or 4 tablespoons of glycerine


Cucumbers, Toddlers and Pickles

June 13, 2009

Do you love pickles? Do your kids? Grow some cucumbers and enjoy making homemade pickles with your kids! Kids always want to be entertained and that often makes us parents cringe because we will most likely be diving into our pockets. Why must entertainment and family activities cost so much? It doesn’t have to! Get back to basics with your kids! How about a little gardening? Oh sure, you might have a very reluctant black thumb but don’t let that stop you. Even a mistake in gardening can be a wonderful experience! You often won’t need much in the way of cost. Even if you don’t have a huge garden you can spend less than 10$, have a project for months and get a yummy treat at the end!

This year my daughter and I decided to grow six small pickling cucumber plants that we picked up from the local nursery with the intention of making pickles. She was focusing on the yummy result and I was thinking of all the little things she can learn from this project without knowing it!

Five of the plants were put in the ground in different areas in our front garden and one is in a pot. Okay so I admit we will never have the most beautifully landscaped garden on the block because of all of our random garden experiments, however, its our garden and I love it! Who says cucumbers don’t look right growing next to a Japanese maple or an azalea bush? Psh! Anyway, I chose to do this (knowing that some locations were not going to be ideal) because there are valuable lessons to be learned based on failed attempts in the garden. The idea is to observe the plants every week and tend to them all equally and discuss the differences. Kids are very perceptive and will often be quick to point out the noticeable differences! When the first blooms showed on the little guys my daughter made some interesting observations. This one in the pot is smaller than the ones in the ground. The other one in the shade has no flowers. The one in the hard soil is really yellow. I simply asked her questions as to why she thought all the plants that started out exactly the same are growing so differently. Her answers were mostly right on point however I didn’t agree with “The yellow plant is that color because our neighbors dog is using it as a toilet. So, lets not eat those.”

We planted our cucumbers very very early in the season and we are fortunate to be in Southern California and have a longer growing season so that means we already have cukes to harvest! The process of harvesting them was something we looked forward to every single day! Oh, and just remember that pickles are prickly so please wear gloves! Some were very short while others grew very crooked and we discussed the differences (and my daughter made her theories!). Some were consumed almost right away after a good scrubbing but most were put away for our original plan: Its Pickle Time!

I did most of the chopping and my daughter did most of the washing and we were both very eager to taste the end results. I wanted to use the easiest method for making pickles without having to deal with a lot of pots, wait time and mess. I found many ideas for “Microwave Pickles” and made my own that works for us! In about 15 minutes of wash, chop and nuke the cukes time we had our very own first jar of pickles! They were delicious!

The best thing about getting back to basics, including your kids in the process and having a delicious end result is that there is a lot to be enjoyed and learned along the way. My daughter isn’t too interested in cucumbers that we buy from the store but she wants an excuse to eat the homemade ones. Sure, she might not grow up to own her very own organic pickle company but she learns so much without even knowing it.

This is going to quickly become a regular project with my child care kids and we will easily be able to pick enough in one day to have for lunch. Even if you do not have a garden you can grow cukes in containers. You also don’t even have to grow your own to benefit from these ideas. Sometimes reading books about gardens and adding fun crafts can be enough! You can buy cucumbers and still have the kids learn how to turn them into pickles!

Below is a recipe for Microwave Pickles:

INGREDIENTS
5 – 8 small cucumbers.. slice them!
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
4 peeled garlic cloves *
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds *
1/4 teaspoon celery seed *
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric *

1.Mix all the ingredients and place them in a medium sized microwave safe bowl.
2.Microwave on high 7 to 8 minutes until cucumbers are tender and onion is translucent. I stop it every 2 – 3 minutes and give it a good stir!
3.Transfer to a sterile mason jar. Seal and chill in the refrigerator until serving.
* I find these ingredients to be optional and depends on what flavors you like. I personally just add the garlic and omit the rest. Its not that I don’t like the way it tastes with all the ingredients but I find that the kids all prefer it without them. So, use your own judgment! Plus, if you do not have all these ingredients you do not have to go out and buy them. They taste great without them!


Toddler Friendly Spring Crafts with Coffee Filters

April 4, 2009

I do both of these crafts together since they use similar supplies. You can use paint instead of food coloring but I prefer food coloring when crafting with toddlers!

Coffee Filter Spring/Easter Eggs

Supplies:

food coloring
water
cups
paint brushes/qtips/eye droppers
coffee filters (cut into the shape of eggs)

Fill cups with 1/4 of water. Add 4 – 6 drops of food coloring. Explore different color combinations!

Have the child(ren) dip brushes/q-tips/eye droppers in the water and generously wet the coffee filters.

Let them dry!

Use these for cards, to glue on construction paper, or to add in baskets!

Coffee Filter Butterflies

Supplies:

food coloring
water
cups
paint brushes/qtips/eye droppers
coffee filters
pipe cleaners or wooden clothes pins

Fill cups with 1/4 of water. Add 4 – 6 drops of food coloring. Explore different color combinations!

Have the child(ren) dip brushes/q-tips/eye droppers in the water and generously wet the coffee filters.

Let them dry!

Pinch the middle of the coffee filters and use a clothes pin or pipe cleaner. Fan out both sides of the filters to spread the “wings”.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.