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.
Sippy cups are everywhere…there are aisles and aisles of them at most discount and baby stores. Cups with soft spouts, cups with hard spouts, cups with valves, cups without valves, cups with straws, cups with handles, and cups of every color and size. Choices, choices and more choices! Once again it seems a parent needs a class on how to choose a sippy cup. I am going to make it easy for you….
Sippy cups are a transitional cup…..Transitional! That means it is a cup for a child to use for a short period of time when transitioning from a breast or bottle. Children are developmentally capable of drinking from a lidless cup with very few spills by age 3. Capable if we allow them to develop the skill.
A cup should be introduced at about 6 months when a child starts solid foods. I have always recommended a sippy cup with a hard spout and without a valve. I now feel that a child should use a straw cup over a sippy cup. Children often use sippy cups like a bottle. Their heads are tipped back and they suck on the spout just like a nipple. When children suck, their jaw, lips and tongue all move simultaneously. This motion does not allow the jaw, lips and tongue to work separately which is necessary for speech. The tongue also is in a forward position pushing on the teeth, which can cause a misshapen mouth and a tongue thrust. This all can result in problems with speech and articulation. The use of a straw cup will often prevent this from happening.
So, introduce a valveless hard spout sippy cup with meals at about 6 months of age. Start working with your child to use a straw cup. Usually by 9 months of age a child is able to use a straw. You can start by using a cup that can be squeezed, put gentle pressure on the cup to bring fluid up into the straw. Try using an open or lidless cup with meals and save the straw cup for times that you are away from the table and want to prevent spills. Your child can also practice with an open cup in the bathtub…no worries about spills there! So parents, let go of that sippy cup! Allow your child to learn how to drink with a lidless cup and use a straw cup when spills need to be prevented. Their teeth and their speech will thank you. Relax, there will be a few spills, but there is no reason to cry over spilled milk!
Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.
By: Cindy Love MSN CPNP
The introduction of solid foods is often an exciting time for babies and parents. Is there anything cuter than your baby sitting in a high chair with food spread from ear to ear exploring the new taste of sweet potatoes? Having access to healthy food is key to a child’s proper growth and development. With the recent reporting of the presence of heavy metals in most commercial baby foods, parents are adding another worry to their parenting worry list. Toxic metals like lead, arsenic and mercury are often found in soil and water. So, food grown in this soil will take up these contaminants. Additional contamination can occur during manufacturing and packaging of processed foods. Children’s developing brains are more likely affected by these heavy metals which can affect learning and behavior. Parents need to remember many things influence a child’s brain development and this heavy metal exposure is just one of them. However, any way that we can limit our child’s exposure to these contaminants will be a benefit.
The American Academy of Pediatrics states that the low level of heavy metals found in baby foods are most likely a small part of a child’s overall exposure to heavy metals. We as parents need to work on limiting this exposure in all aspects of our children’s lives. So what can we do to prevent the exposure?
- Buy organic? Buying organic does not prevent heavy metal exposure. Some of the baby foods tested that were labeled organic actually had some of the higher levels. Organic food will limit pesticide and chemical exposure but not heavy metal exposure.
- Make your own baby food. Making your own baby food will help limit any heavy metal contamination from the manufacturing and packaging process; but this will not prevent the contamination of the food from the soil and water.
- Limit your child’s rice intake. Arsenic exposure is seen in diets high in rice content. Rice cereal often is one of the first foods introduced to babies. Choose instead a whole grain cereal such as oatmeal, wheat, or barley. Many toddler foods/snacks such as puffs, combination meals (chicken, vegetables and rice), and teething cookies (Mum Mums which are rice rusks) are high in arsenic. Choose snacks like puffs made with other grains, cheese cubes, frozen fruit to help with teething pain, and combination meals without rice.
- Serve a variety of foods. This provides a well-balanced diet of fruits and vegetables, grains and proteins which will lower the exposure of contaminants from single food choices. Sweet potatoes and carrots have some of the highest levels of contaminants, so including many other vegetables along with sweet potatoes and carrots will lessen exposure. Wash all fruits and vegetable well in cool water before serving.
- No juice for children under age 1. Very limited juice for children over age 1 (4 to 6 oz/day). Juice, especially apple juice, has higher levels of contaminants than the whole fruit. Choose the whole fruit which has more nutrients and fiber.
- Do not use rice milk as a milk substitute for toddlers and older children. Rice milk contains significantly high levels of arsenic. If your child has dairy allergies, talk to your pediatrician for other choices!
- Serve fresh whole foods. This is always better both for nutrition and the prevention of exposure to harmful additives and heavy metals during processing and packaging.
- Serve fish that is known to be lower in mercury. These choices would include light tuna, salmon, cod, and white fish. Fish is a healthy source of protein!
- Don’t smoke or vape. A child’s second hand exposure (breathing in the smoke) or third hand exposure (clothing of a smoker/vaper) will increase exposure to cadmium and lead.
- Check older homes for lead paint. Exposure to lead through chips/peeling of lead paint is the most common way for children to develop high lead levels.
We can’t prevent 100% of a child’s exposure to these heavy metal contaminants, but we can do our best to limit the exposure. Do your best, provide whole fresh foods as often as possible, limit the amount of rice based snacks and foods, and serve a variety of foods… then relax and enjoy that sweet face covered in food grinning at you!
Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.
Preparing your child for school success includes outings like this! School readiness is not just about letters and numbers!
It is that time of year when parents are beginning to look at preschools for next year. Sometimes I feel that there is more pressure on parents to find “just the right preschool” than deciding on a college! Preschool is a must for some children, but it is NOT a must for every child. Studies have shown us that children who have engaged parents who read to them and provide various activities at home but don’t attend preschool are not at any academic disadvantage. Some recent studies continue to show us that any academic edge a child may receive from preschool may fade by the 3rd grade.
So, do I think preschool is a waste? Absolutely not, I feel it is very advantageous to those children who have fewer opportunities. I also think that with Kindergarten now being a full day, a year of preschool often helps children adjust to the rigor of school. It has become more necessary for children to have at least one year of preschool to help with the adjustment, prepare the child for following directions, learning to sit still for periods of time, and the general routine of school. However, I do think that the choice of preschool attendance for 2 and 3 year olds from families who are able to provide outings, hands on activities, and reading at home is an option. Many children LOVE their preschool experience, and Moms often enjoy some time to themselves. Children also can learn very valuable social skills and have the opportunity to participate in some play activities that are not always offered at home like finger-painting and other messy play. However, everything that a quality preschool offers can be offered at home by a loving, involved and active parent, if they would like. At times I think parents are sent the message that they are not capable of providing the necessary experiences for their child to develop well and be successful in school. Parents feel inadequate in the task of preparing their preschooler for academic success. This is simply not true. Attending preschool will not insure that a child will be more successful in school and unfortunately will not guarantee admission to Harvard! More important than letters and numbers, a preschooler needs to develop life skills, social skills, self-confidence, and emotional maturity to be successful in school. To help with success in kindergarten, a child needs these basics:
- Good physical health so their natural abilities can grow and mature.
- Appropriate emotional maturity and self-confidence so they can accept new challenges.
- Good language skills so they can ask questions and participate in group activities.
- Good social skills so they will be able to share and interact with other children.
- Good listening skills to be able to follow directions.
- Familiarity with letters, letter sounds and numbers.
- The ability to sit still for short periods of time.
We are finding that a child does not need a structured academic program in a preschool; he or she needs the opportunity to develop social and emotional skills. Children who do not have that opportunity at home will benefit from a preschool program.
Young children learn best through playing, exploring, and discovering. Imaginative play will actually improve high level thinking which improves a child’s chances of school success. Forcing pencil and paper academics and academic drills too early might actually decrease a child’s natural desire to explore and learn!
What makes a good preschool?
- A preschool should be convenient for parents! If it causes stress to get to school because of location or time of day, it will not be worth it to you or your child.
- Children should be active in the classroom playing and/or working in groups or stations.
- There should be hands-on materials and activities available. Pretend play items; dress up clothes, water play, easels, painting, clay etc.
- Children should have individual time and group time with the teachers. There should be 1 adult/teacher for every 4 to 5 children.
- Children should have their work displayed in the classroom…and it should not all look the same! Children should have the opportunity to be creative with projects.
- The learning of numbers and letters should be embedded in activities throughout the day, not in concentrated lessons or drills.
- There should be outside play daily (weather permitting).
- There should be a developed curriculum that provides some structure to the day.
- Teachers should have an Early Child Development background/education.
- There should be a stable teaching staff with little turnover.
- Music should be incorporated into the curriculum.
- Daily life skills should be incorporated into the curriculum like buttoning, shoe tying, putting on jackets, picking up toys, sitting for short periods to listen and following directions.
- There should be opportunity for children to socialize in play with other children freely learning sharing, taking turns, and other social skills.
- Children should be read to in groups and individually.
- “Field trips” to experience the world should be included in the curriculum. Trips to apple orchards, parks, the zoo, nature centers and other community destinations are important.
What can you do at home?
- Provide time for imaginative play. Be sure that you have toys that encourage creativity and imagination.
- Provide time to use paint, clay, scissors, crayons, chalk, water play, and other tactile fine motor play.
- Provide outdoor play daily (weather permitting).
- Expose your child to the world by going to the grocery store, post office, library, zoo, park, nature center, apple orchard, pumpkin patch, and other places. Talk about your outings!
- Read daily. Provide books that your child can “read” alone.
- Talk about stories that you read. Ask your child what will happen next! Let your child tell you the story.
- Provide music. Sing songs and dance.
- Point out letters on signs, talk about funny words, find words that rhyme, talk about the sounds that words begin with.
- Point out numbers, count items when playing, incorporate counting into everyday life.
- Have a routine at home; following routines will help when your child has structure and routine at school.
- Allow your child to dress himself. Practice buttoning, shoe tying, independently going to the bathroom, hand washing, and other independent life skills.
- Give your child directions to follow. Start with one step directions and then move to two steps, and three and four step directions.
- Give your child developmentally appropriate chores or responsibilities. (Pick up toys, carry dishes to the sink, put dirty clothes in the hamper etc.)
- Provide sorting and sequencing opportunities. Use a muffin tin for your child to sort different cereal, colored pompoms, letters, or other items. Let your child help you sort socks!
- Help your child recognize his or her name in print.
- Talk about shapes your child may see around the house or outdoors.
- Provide opportunities for your child to play with children his or her own age.
We all want our children to be successful in school. I believe however that the most important skills our preschool aged children need are not academic but social. Children are very pliable; we can teach a child to do many things at a very young age. We can teach a 2-year-old to recite numbers and letters, and we can even teach many 4 year olds to read….but I question at what cost? Will our children develop those skills that are truly needed for success in school? The skills that will allow him or her to problem solve, interact socially in a respectful and appropriate manner, follow directions and listen, and think with innovation and creativity; those are what are most important. So whether your child is in preschool or at home, be sure you are opening up the world to him or her, not pressuring academics too early and then your child just might end up heading to Harvard! What are your thoughts?
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!
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!