Posts Tagged ‘fun’

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!

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

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!