Posts Tagged ‘family’

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!

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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

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.