The Holiday Season is here and the shopping has begun! I was in Target this past weekend, the toy choices are overwhelming and expensive! What are the best toys for your child? Which toys will be fun and valuable for your child’s development? It is difficult to decide what toys are the best choice!
I can remember feeling like toys in our house multiplied every night. SURELY we didn’t have THAT many stuffed animals yesterday! Too many toys results in a child who doesn’t play with anything well, they become overwhelmed with the number of toys. Parents also can fall into the trap of buying the newest flashiest toy on the market. We all love our kids, so why wouldn’t we stand in line to buy the “most popular” toy of the season? Many of these flashy toys encourage a child to play passively, using no imagination or creativity. Toys should allow a child to play in several different ways. A child should be able to decide how to play with a toy, the toy should not determine how a child plays. Play is a child’s work, it is through play that a child learns how the world works. As you make that holiday wish list, here are what I think every child needs in his playroom. You might be surprised!
- Blocks and construction type toys
Wooden blocks, cardboard bricks, Legos, and magnetic tiles are all great choices. Depending on your child’s age, you will see children build towers, knock towers over, sort blocks by color, create designs, make roads for cars and tracks for trains and more.
- Art supplies
Creative juices start flowing when a child has a blank piece of paper, crayons, paints, markers, stickers, scissors and any other item you can find in the craft aisle to help with their masterpiece. Blank paper rather than coloring books will provide more encouragement for a child to create. Children age 2 and older love to create on an easel which allows for larger muscle movement which makes drawing and painting easier.
- Books….lots of them!
Provide books in bins so children can see the front of them. The front of the book will interest a child more than the words on the spine of the book on a shelf. Provide books that have flaps, pop ups, and colorful pictures. A corner with a small chair or big floor pillow encourages reading.
- Play kitchen supplies and other child sized house hold items like keys, phones, brooms, rakes etc.
If space allows, a play kitchen is a great investment. Play food, dishes and utensils and other child sized household items encourages great imaginative play and cooperative play with others.
- Doll stroller or shopping cart
All children like to push dolls, stuffed animals, and other toys around. Toddlers and preschoolers are “gatherers” and a doll stroller or shopping cart provides a way for them to collect “treasures” on walks outside or around your home.
- Dress up clothes
Role play is a great way to encourage imagination and development of social skills and empathy. Keep those Halloween costumes out all year in an easily accessible dress up box.
Puzzles help a child learn to problem solve, develop patience, practice persistence, and develop spatial awareness.
- Medical kit
Play helps a child work through scary or anxiety producing experiences. All children like to give Teddy or Baby a check up and/or shot after a visit to the doctor.
- Musical instruments
Children love to create music. Drums, xylophones, tambourines, shakers all help develop rhythm and a love of music. Children exposed to music and rhythm often are more successful in Math!
- Tools and play household items like a broom, vacuum, lawn mower etc.
Boys and girls love to hammer and build with “tools”. Allow your child to build. This is the basis of STEM education. Children also love to take on the roles they see at home, let them participate in chores and pretend with toys that look like Mom and Dad’s tools. A Swiffer or dust cloth is fun too!
- Tent or play house
Children love small places to hide, read, play quietly or play house, school, or camping. This play house or tent could be as simple as a large box or a blanket thrown over a card table.
- Dolls/stuffed animals
Playing with dolls or stuffed animals fosters empathy development. Pretend role play of Mommy and Daddy is very important.
Throwing, catching, kicking are all developmental milestones. Simple games with balls introduces cooperative play, taking turns and helps with fine and gross motor development.
- Shape sorter
This is a basic toy that will grow with your child. Young toddlers will fill and dump, older toddlers will sort by shape and color, and often children will use it to gather other items. Another great sorting tool is your kitchen muffin tins! Have your child sort different cereals, different colored pompons, or any other item!
- Stacking cups
This less than $10.00 toy is a bargain! This will last a child from 6 months through preschool. Children bang them, stack them, pour and dump water and sand, “drink” from them and learn size and volume with them!
Children will love to squish, roll, and create with clay. The use of hands to roll and shape creations develops fine motors skills used for writing.
- Pedal powered ride on toy
Learning to pedal is a developmental milestone for 2 to 3 year olds. Ride on toys get children needed outdoor time and exercise along with development of coordination.
- Cars, trucks, and or train
Children love toys that move. Purchase cars, trucks, and trains that are easy to handle and run on “kid power”.
- Farm or other toy with animals
Farm animals, dinosaurs, and/or zoo animals are a great way for children to learn about animals, habitats, and encourages imaginative play. Dinosaurs are often a favorite too!
- Family games
Even preschooler can participate in family games. Think Candyland! (not my favorite, but there are many choices out there!) Board games help a child develop skills in handling winning and losing, taking turns, and cooperative play. Board games are much more valuable than video games which do not provide as much person to person interaction.
And yes, sometimes just a large box or two, plastic containers or a few laundry baskets will provide hours of entertainment and imaginative play for your child! Toys do not need to be expensive! Remember that a toy is only valuable if your child plays with it! Quality is more important than quantity of toys. Often the best toys don’t come with batteries. And most important, allow your child to play freely…a child who plays well is learning!
Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.
The New Year often has us looking at goals and resolutions. I am not a big fan of New Year resolutions, they often set me up for failure. I am a big fan of New Year hopes. There is something about new beginnings that gives me a bit of excitement. I always liked the beginning of a new semester, the start of a new sport season, opening a new daytime planner, even the start of a new day. There are so many possibilities with new beginnings. 2021 is no exception……
My hope for all of us is a lot more happiness and health in 2021. How do we get there as a family? There are a few simple things we can do which can truly make a difference in our life and our children’s lives.
Sleep…we all need it. Without it we are less patient, more irritable, less energetic and actually less healthy. Studies show our risk for obesity and cardiac disease increases with poor sleep habits. Bedtime routines for our children and ourselves are very important. Think bath, book, bed! Good for adults too!
Cook together, eat together and don’t skip breakfast! Starting the day off right with breakfast that includes both carbohydrates and protein is important. Keeping blood sugars from crashing improves learning and behavior in both children and adults. Life is better when we aren’t “hangry”! We also know that children who help out in the kitchen are more likely to eat what is prepared and families who eat together are better connected and children are more likely to do better in school and have less behavioral problems.
Move! Exercise improves health and mood. Feel good hormones (endorphins) increase with movement. A brisk walk outdoors, a dance party in the house, playing at the playground, a quick game of basketball on the driveway or soccer in the yard makes everyone feel better. Physically tired children and adults sleep better too! It feels so good to be physically tired and not just mentally exhausted!
Unplug! Decreasing screen time can increase happiness! Put down the phone, turn off the TV, get off social media and this can result in more movement, less mindless eating, more conversation with family, and less competitive parenting/comparisons through social media. You will be more present instead of viewing the world through a screen. Get those board games out, sit and read, or simply share your day in conversation and improve the mood of your family!
Plan a little fun, be spontaneous, celebrate everything! Sometimes we need to simply plan a little fun. Do something a little out of the ordinary. Eat ice cream for dinner. Families that work fun into daily routines are happier. Why not celebrate “over the hump Wednesday” or “Fun Friday”? How can you make “Taco Tuesday” a little more fun? Keep it simple, but planning fun or a little crazy into your life can bring some welcomed stress relief and laughter into a week.
Outside everyday! Sunshine, fresh air and a little nature are all mood boosters for children and adults. There are very few days that the weather is too bad to be outside. There is no bad weather, just bad dressing! Hot or cold, dress for it and get a little fresh air.
Forgive and forget. We all need a little grace. Life is not perfect and neither are we. We will make parenting mistakes, our children will disappoint us, we will lose our temper, our children will throw fits or be sassy, and some days are more challenging than others. Forgive yourself, forgive your child, don’t hold grudges, start over every day or multiple times a day. Move on and hug your child, your spouse and yourself. Don’t dwell on the negative and your day will always be better.
We all can eat a little healthier, move a little more, enjoy the outdoors, unplug from our screens, give a little grace to others and hug a bit more. As I look at 2021, I am hopeful. I am hopeful that we all can live a little better and love a little more. Be joyful!
Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.
We all have heard that childhood obesity is a major health issue in our country. Children who are overweight will be more likely to be overweight adults and develop significant health issues. We hear so much in the media about what to eat, what not to eat, how to cook, how much exercise we all need, and frankly sometimes it is simply overwhelming to parents. We all are busy and many times the drive through at the fast food restaurant just calls our name at the end of a long day. We can develop healthy patterns as families to guide our children to healthy lifestyles. These healthy patterns can be simple…it is just getting started. So, parents….let’s get started!
Breastfeed when possible and no solid foods before 4 months of age…
- A recent study showed that when children were breastfed for at least four months, then the timing of solid food introduction did not affect the obesity rate of the child at age 3. Children who were never breastfed or who stopped breastfeeding before age 4 months and were given solid foods before the recommended 4 months of age were 6 times more likely to be obese by age 3.
Know where your child is…(know where you are too!)
- At your child’s 2 year old well child visit, your pediatrician will calculate his body mass index (BMI). This is a better indicator of weight issues than simply where your child is on the growth chart. A child with a BMI greater than the 85th percentile for his age and sex is overweight, a BMI greater than the 95th percentile determines that your child is obese.
- Children that have parents who are overweight have an increased risk to become overweight too.
Know what a serving size is….
Remember, children need child size portions! A tablespoon per year equals a serving. This is a simple guideline. For a child age 2 to 3:
- Grain Group: About 3 ounces of grains per day, half of them whole grains. That is about three regular slices of bread or one slice of bread plus 1/3 cup cold cereal and ¼ cup cooked rice or pasta.
- Vegetable Group: 1 cup raw and/or cooked vegetables per day. (no ketchup is not a vegetable J, but tomato pasta sauce counts!)
- Fruit Group: 1 cup fresh, frozen, canned, or dried. Juice should be kept at a minimum. Whole fruits are better than juice!
- Dairy Group: 2 cups per day. Whole milk is recommended for children younger than 2, low-fat after age 2.
- Meat and Beans Group: 2 ounces total per day. Options include one ounce of lean meat or chicken plus one egg or 1 ounce of fish plus ¼ cup of cooked beans (black, pinto, etc.).
- Oils: 3 teaspoons or less per day of liquid oil or margarine.
- For more information about eating plans and serving sizes for other aged children, visit MyPyramid.gov.
- Unhealthy snacks fill up small tummies so children don’t eat the nutrient dense foods they need. Try giving fruits and vegetables as snacks. These foods are low-calorie, high fiber, and full of vitamins and antioxidants. Giving these foods when your child is hungry encourages your child to give them a try.
- Juice should be at a minimum…and no soda at all!
- Keep healthy snacks in plain sight. A bowl of fruit on the counter, fresh cut up vegetables on the first shelf in the refrigerator, dried fruit and trail mix in the pantry.
- Don’t let your child eat because of boredom. If your child has eaten well and had a healthy snack but still is begging for more…then suggest another activity. Ask you child what he would like to do besides eat. Help your child distinguish between “I’m bored” and “I’m hungry.”
- Make snack time planned…no grazing throughout the day. Have your child sit on the floor or at the table for snack time. Mindless eating is an unhealthy habit!
- Serve whole-grain breads and cereals.
- Whole milk until age 2 and then low-fat or skim milk after age 2.
- Full fat yogurt until age 2 and then lower sugar and low-fat yogurt.
- Serve lean meats like chicken, turkey, fish and lean beef cuts and pork cuts. Remove fat and skin.
- Bake, broil, poach, grill, or steam when preparing meat, fish, and chicken.
- Use vegetable oils like canola, corn, olive, and sunflower.
- Encourage fresh fruits and vegetables in season, frozen next and canned last. Have fruits and vegetables at EVERY meal.
- Limit fast food to an occasional meal only.
- Treats can include frozen fruit bars, frozen yogurt, low-fat pudding, angel food cake, graham crackers, vanilla wafers, and of course…the occasional Oreo! Balance and moderation are important to teach children so they do not “binge” later.
Don’t force your child to be members of the “Clean plate club”…
- Forcing children to eat everything that is put on their plates often leads to overeating.
- Focus on the quality of the food your child eats and no the quantity. Let your child learn what it feels like to be full and what it feels like to be hungry.
Get your child excited about healthy food….
- Go to local Farmer’s Markets and let them pick out fresh produce.
- Start a garden and grow some vegetables of your own.
- Give them age appropriate jobs in the kitchen. Letting children help prepare healthy foods encourages healthy eating and excitement!
- Get creative and expand everyone’s palates. Try new foods!
Eat breakfast every day…
- Start every day out right with a healthy breakfast. Children often eat their best meal of the day in the morning. Include healthy grains, fruits and proteins to give your child a great start.
- Children and adults who eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight.
Establish good sleep habits…
- Making sure your child gets good sleep can help prevent obesity! Research has shown that people who sleep less than the recommended amount gain weight faster. One theory is that fatigue decreases activity or may increase appetite.
Get your child active…60 minutes of active play at least every day…
- Get outside every day.
- Choose developmentally appropriate activities. Be careful about organized sports too early…burnout can happen. Let your child just be a kid and play!!!
- Provide active toys. You should have balls, jump ropes, bikes and other active toys.
- Be a role model. Build physical activity into your daily life so you can keep up with your children and feel better!
- Turn off the TV and limit computer time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 1 to 2 hours of total screen time a day after age 2. That includes video games, TV, movies, and computers.
There is so much that parents can do to prevent childhood obesity and lifelong weight issues and medical problems. Outdoor play, limited TV, limited fast food, healthy food choices, teaching appreciation for good foods, and soon everyone in the house is feeling better, having fun, and living a healthier lifestyle. We can do this Moms and Dads!
Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.
Halloween is just around the corner. As with everything in 2020, things might be a bit different this Halloween. Children have sacrificed greatly over the last 8 months with remote learning, loss of graduation celebrations, sports that have been cancelled, birthday parties that were different, play dates cancelled and so much more. Halloween celebrations are such fun for our children, what can we do safely? In my opinion….Halloween does not need to be cancelled, let our children have fun with costumes and Trick or Treating by adding just a few safety changes. I know I will be masking up and eating a few Snicker Bars! Don’t let Covid-19 take this fun from your child!
- Incorporate a cloth mask in your child’s costume. Super heroes wear masks….so does everyone else during 2020! Be careful adding decorations to the mask like paint because of the risk of harmful fumes.
- Masks which are part of a purchased costume should not replace a cloth mask for your child. Be careful about putting a costume mask OVER your child’s cloth mask, it may make breathing difficult.
- As always, be sure that your child’s costume allows your child to see well and for others to see them. Reflective tape/material, flashlights, and the use of face paint or masks that allow children the ability to see well are the safest!
Trick or Treating:
- Trick or Treating outdoors is best. Indoor haunted houses and parties are not as safe. Replace haunted houses with outdoor corn mazes or spooky outdoor scavenger hunts with prizes.
- Do not congregate in large groups on the street or on porches, maintain social distancing.
- Make sure your kids are washing hands/using hand sanitizer frequently.
- It is ALWAYS safer to check your child’s treats at home before they indulge. Have them wash hands or use hand sanitizer after opening treats and before eating or wipe the treats off before opening the packaging.
- When giving out treats, don’t forget your costume and mask! Wear a cloth face mask! Use hand sanitizer or wash hands before giving out treats.
- Place a bottle of hand sanitizer out on the porch for families to use.
- Consider sitting on your front porch and watching the kids walk up to your home and pick up their individually packaged treats. You can enjoy the Trick-or Treat parade of kids without close contact.
- I always love to have treat options for children who have food allergies such as bouncy balls, stickers, crayons, spider rings, etc. This year non- food items may be a great safe option for all trick or treaters!
If Trick or Treating is cancelled in your area or you are not comfortable participating, there are still many fun activities you can do with your child..
- Decorate or carve pumpkins
- Roast pumpkin seeds
- Decorate your yard with Halloween spookiness
- Have a scavenger hunt inside with family or outdoors with a few close friends with clues and hidden treats
- Watch Halloween movies
- Hold an outdoor Halloween movie night with social distancing
- Decorate Halloween themed treats such as sugar cookies and cupcakes
- Have hot cider and donuts at home or on your porch with a few friends who are distanced
- Have a virtual Halloween Parade via Zoom with friends and family
Share other ideas!
2020 has brought so many changes to our lives. Many celebrations have changed and there have been many disappointments for our children. Let’s not make Halloween be another….let our children celebrate safely…
I know I will be eating my share of chocolate and drinking some cider. Enjoy.
From one day to one year, what a difference a year makes!
The first few months of my children’s lives sometimes felt like a blur. Parents get VERY little sleep and are just trying to get to know their baby. I can remember feeling that the first year just flew by and all of a sudden I would have a toddler on my hands! There are so many changes that come so quickly with your baby that first year!
During that first year, your baby is learning that he or she will be loved and cared for. It is important to foster that development of trust. Don’t let your baby cry for long periods of time, especially in the first 6 months. Crying is your baby’s way of communicating. Soon you will learn what different cries mean, like “I’m tired”, “I’m hungry”, “I’m wet”, “I need to be held”, “I am bored”….Responding to your baby’s needs helps your little one develop trust in you and the world. You cannot spoil a baby! Older children can be spoiled, but not infants, so just enjoy catering to their needs and loving your baby.
Growth and development should be steady and progressive. That is more important than comparisons with other children. It is common for new parents to look at other babies and start to worry and compare. Try not to compare, just know what important milestones your baby should be reaching.
How big your baby is at birth is a poor predictor about the size of your child by adulthood. The size at birth has more to do with the conditions of uterine development. Most children will find their growth curve and stay at that curve. A child that is smaller than 75 percent of other babies his or her age can be perfectly healthy, that may just be the growth curve that child has. By the end of the 2nd year, the size of your child will more truly reflect his or her adult size.
We parents know that our children are special! However, reaching developmental milestones faster than other children does not necessarily predict your child’s intelligence. As long as your child is reaching his or her developmental milestones on target, there are no worries!
By the end of the 2nd month your baby should:
- Look at you!
- Start to try to self soothe. May bring hands to mouth and suck
- Begin to smile at people
- Start to coo
- Turn towards sounds
- Follow things with eyes
- Pay attention to faces
- Hold up head and begin to push up during tummy time
Activities for parents:
- Talk to your baby
- Show simple objects
- Give your baby different looks at the world, change his or her scenery!
- Play the silly face game, open and close your eyes, stick out your tongue etc.
- Start the routine of a daily walk weather permitting
- Help baby with tracking objects, babies love mobiles, shapes and movements
- Imitate your baby’s sounds and expressions as your baby starts to learn to communicate
Your baby’s growth:
- Growth will be about an ounce per day in the first 2 months
- Growth will continue at about a pound a month after the first couple of months
- Birth weight doubles by 5 months
- Birth weight triples by one year
By the end of the 4th month your baby should:
- Like to play and interact with you!
- Copy some movements and even facial expressions like smiling
- Babble even with expression
- Cry in different ways for different needs like hunger, or being tired, or lonely
- Reach for a toy or rattle
- Track with eyes well side to side
- Be able to roll from tummy to back
- Push up on elbows during tummy time
- Like colors now and be drawn to them
- Continue to talk, talk, talk
- Build reading into your daily routine
- Respond to your baby’s coos and babbles…carry on a conversation!
- Continue to show your baby the world!
By the end of the 6th month your baby should:
- Recognize a familiar face and begin to have some stranger anxiety
- Like to look at self in the mirror
- Use vowel sounds when babbling and takes turns in a “conversation” with you!
- Begin some consonant sounds when babbling
- Respond when you say his or her name
- Transfer things from hand to hand, easy to hold toys are important
- Try to get things that are out of reach
- Roll over in both directions
- Sit with support
- Like to “stand” with you holding and might bounce
- Start to push up and may rock back and forth on hands and knees
- Start to scoot and move arms like a swimmer
- Sometimes show frustration if he can’t reach something he wants
- Teething may begin with the average baby cutting their first tooth by the end of the 6th month
- Should start the “dropping game” between 7 and 8 months (helps your baby learn object permanence)
- Should begin clapping between 7 and 8 months
- Remember stranger anxiety starts at about 6 months and peaks at about 9 months. This is normal. Help your baby by gradually introducing strangers. A stranger is someone your baby does not see everyday! Never force a situation quickly when your baby is afraid of a new face. Hold your baby, sit on the floor and let your baby explore with you holding him or staying near at first.
- Start to teach finger games like “so big”, waving “bye-bye”, playing patty cake
- Continue to read and talk to your baby
- Make sure you are establishing routines, especially bed time and nap time routines
By the end of the 9th month your baby should:
- Begin to have favorite toys
- Understand the word “no”
- Copy sounds you make and gestures you make
- Pick up small things with thumb and index finger “pincer grasp”
- Play peak a boo
- Look for hidden items
- Look where you point
- Sit well without support
- Start to scoot and crawl
- Start to pull up to stand between 9 and 12 months
- Continue to play finger games like “Itsy Bitsy Spider”
- Continue waving bye-bye
- Build things for baby to crawl under and over
- Let your baby play with every day objects like pots, pans, plastic containers
- Encourage your baby to imitate your behavior like brushing hair, talking on the phone
- Encourage pretend play with keys, phones, dolls, chunky trucks etc.
- Play with pop up toys, a jack-in-the-box is a great way to teach object permanence
- Play in and out games
- Let your baby hold your fingers to walk
By the end of the 12th month your baby should:
- Point at items
- Pull up to stand and may walk
- Cruise around furniture
- Squat and stoop to pick up things
- Throw a ball
- Understand one step directions from you
- Turn pages of a toddler board book
- Look for missing objects in last seen location
- Say Ma Ma and Da Da and maybe a few other words like ball, dog
- Start to show fear, will cry when you leave
- “Help” get dressed by holding out arms etc.
- Put things in a container, takes things out, likes to dump items
- Help baby with push toys, wide based push toys that children can walk behind are fun!
- Play games that the baby has a part in like puffing up your cheeks and letting her push the air out
- Look at books and make up stories about the pictures
- Teach body parts Where is your nose? Where is your tummy?
- Play with musical instruments that shake and bang
- Play music your baby loves to move and dance
If you are a kid…then play is your work! If you are an adult…then learn to play!
Sit for a moment and watch your child. Just watch…don’t jump in and give your child something to play with…just watch what your child will do. Children, if left alone and given the opportunity, will play happily with whatever is there. We parents don’t have to do anything or buy anything! Wew! One less thing on your “to do” list! As a matter of fact, parent led play or very organized play is not as valuable as your child playing on his own!
There has been a decrease in the amount of free play time our children have over the last 50 years. Our children now have less recess time at school, go to preschool at an earlier age, have more toys than children of years ago, watch more TV and play video games, play on more organized sports teams and at a younger age…all of this combined has resulted in less true free play time. Much of our children’s play has become adult led and organized. So, why is this a problem? Child led free play is so much more valuable! Free play is a child’s work and it…
- Helps children learn how to work in groups, share, negotiate
- Helps children build a foundation for problem solving
- Helps children figure out the world they live in
- Helps children develop decision making skills
- Helps children find their interests and passions
- Helps develop imagination
- Helps children try on different roles, learn empathy for others
- Helps increase language skills
- Helps foster creativity
- Helps children learn about nature and their environment
Adult led organized play can stifle all of this child’s work. Adult led play forces children to play according to adult rules and this decreases their creative play and their development of leadership skills. Watch your child, they often play with a toy much differently than the way a toy is “supposed” to be used! If left alone, a child will create all kinds of ways to play with a simple toy, if it is not a “one button wonder”. So many of the newer toys do one thing with a push of a button, these types of toys leave little to a child’s imagination or creativity. Going back to some of our basic toys like blocks, puzzles, stacking cups, books and dress up clothes may be much more valuable to our children’s development. Research also shows us that a child really only needs 30 minutes of adult led play a day but at least 60 minutes of child led play a day. So often we parents feel like it is our responsibility to lead our child in play! Child led play is also better than play that is “entertainment” based like TV, video and computer games, and movies. The less screen time a child has before the age of 2 the better! This type of “play” decreases creativity and active play which may be part of the reason we are struggling with an increase in childhood obesity.
Play at every stage of development in childhood is more than just fun, it is a child’s right and a necessity. As a society, I think we underestimate the importance of play. Do you want your child to be happy and successful? Don’t tell your child to just “hit the books” but tell him to “go play.”