Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Happy Day After Christmas!

The girls have been happily playing in their new tent with a few new toys for hours now.  I sit here and enjoy my coffee and think about how very, very lucky I am.

Wishing you all the very best small moments for today and throughout the upcoming year.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Great Gifts...Batteries Not Included (I Mean Necessary)

Just before Black Friday, I picked up a popular magazine at the supermarket checkout counter.  I thought that the featured article, “Top Gifts for Children”, might provide the inspiration I needed to begin Christmas shopping for my own kids.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Everything in the guide cost a fortune, looked cheap, made noise, needed batteries, and did most of the thinking!  Rather than sugarplums, I had visions of broken plastic dancing in my head.  No thanks!
Our homes do not have to be filled with the latest and greatest, the toy of the hour.  Playthings should stimulate our children’s imaginations, engage children independently and also be played with a parent, sibling or friend.  A good toy is quality that can withstand a beating and last long enough to get passed on.  

As both Jean Piaget and Maria Montessori taught us many years ago, a child’s most important work is play. The toys we provide for our children are their learning tools, they help children understand the world around them. Too often we lose sight of how simple play can be.  Bells and whistles are unnecessary, and the best toys require no batteries at all.  

  1. Standard Unit Blocks and Other Building Toys

The number one toy that ALL children should own is a quality set of Standard Unit Blocks. Unit blocks are the blocks you might remember from your own preschool or kindergarten. The come in a rectangular shape and various fractions of that shape.  An enormous amount of mathematical and physical science knowledge can be gained through play with these blocks. AND...blocks can become anything! A castle, a pirate ship, a zoo, a farm, a factory, the possibilities are endless. Other building toys such as Lego, Duplo and K’nex help with fine motor development, provide patterning practice, are great for sorting, and for problem solving. They are great for developing problem solving, reasoning and numeracy skills...and are a lot of fun!  

  1. A Toy Kitchen and Other Cooking Accessories
Children love to play grown-up, and a toy kitchen is a perfect place to do it. Just think of the amount of time your family spends in the kitchen and you can understand why kids like to "cook" so much. In my house we keep the toy kitchen in the real kitchen and my kids are often "cooking" at the same time I am.  When looking for a toy kitchen try to find one that has a cook top, prep area and a sink to clean up in. Neutral colors are a must...we want the guys to like cooking just as much as the girls! I am partial to the wooden kitchens as I think they look better, but there are great plastic models out there as well. It is worth investing in a high quality toy kitchen as it will get YEARS of use. A bonus is that for subsequent birthdays and Christmases you always have the inexpensive gift option of a new and different food set or kitchen accessory.

  1. A Versatile Backdrop Filled with Animals, People and Cars
Imagination is one of the greatest things that we can encourage in our children. So many toys on the market today have such a prescribed story that the imaginative part of the play is taken away. Instead, the play becomes a retelling of stories made up by others. Get your child an open ended backdrop, free of "characters". A simple dollhouse, a train set, a castle, a mountain can all be a setting for amazing stories.  Whatever your child's passion is, support it by supplying many versatile figures with which to play. Be it dinosaurs, dolls, or construction trucks, open ended figures allow children to create fantastic stories.

  1. Books
Studies have shown that one of the best predictors of a child’s success during their first twelve years of formal schooling is the amount they were read to before they even got to kindergarten.  Reading aloud with your children allows them to hear an enormous amount of words, build a bank of vocabulary, and  develop a system of proper English syntax and semantics.  All of these things help them to build the frame necessary for decoding and understanding text when they become a reader.

  1. Time and Experience
My last suggestion in this little list of gift recommendations is the gift of special time spent with YOU!  A family membership to The Mount Washington Valley Children’s Museum or the White Mountains Aquatic Center ensures a years worth of fun for everyone.  A homemade coupon for an evening of bowling or a family visit to open skating at the Ham Arena could be a great little stocking stuffer.  Be creative and look at all that our little valley has to offer.  There is only so much stuff we can fit into our homes, but there is no such thing as too many great experiences!
Magic Cabin

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Be Still, Smartphone

Everyone knows that I love my iPAD.  I bet if you have one, you think yours is pretty great too.  Smartphone?  Don’t have one of those.  I’m way too cheap for a data plan, but I’m sure if I got one I would think it was nifty.  My kids at school use the iPAD.  My kids at home use it too.  This morning I watched as my two year old navigated herself successfully through a coloring game, back to the homepage and onto a new category of pages.  I never showed her how to do it...she just knew.

Mobile and touch technology is simply amazing.  It is also frighteningly dangerous.

As I pushed my cart through the grocery store a few months ago, I ran into an acquaintance and stopped to chat.  Her little boy did not look up from the iPhone in his hands.  He was watching Cars 2.

Sitting on the Fryeburg Fair ferris wheel I watched as the little girl in the compartment ahead of us played a game on the smartphone.  From what I could see, she didn’t look up or out.

Waiting in line to go on the Toy Story ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios I saw an entire family, two adults, two children, each engaged with their own mobile device.  One family, two smartphones, an iPAD and a Kindle.  In a line at Disney!

These are three instances that stick out in my mind but the use of a smartphone as a distraction tool is now incredibly commonplace.

I’m a mom.  I understand.  I leave my kids at home when I go shopping as much as possible, a ferris wheel is not the most exciting ride at the fair, and the lines at Disney are ridiculously long.  Maybe the moms need a break.  I’ve been there.  I hear the whining from my own children, I get it.  But I’m still going to judge.

These places of sitting, of waiting, of watching, these places of long lines and doing what your sister wants to do, these places of not always getting what you want and watching other people and the world going by are the very places where brains grow stronger.  They are places filled with sensory information; sights, sounds, smells, sensations.  They are petri dishes for growing an effective executive function system.  When a child is conditioned over time to dealing with the uncomfortable sensations of waiting, boredom, or want being denied, by being distracted with an intense stimulus, they are not learning to integrate the sensory input and deal with their difficult feelings in an effective way.

The Executive Functions of the brain operate as the CEO, controlling, regulating, and managing other cognitive processes.  Planning, Working Memory, Attention, Problem Solving, Verbal Reasoning, Inhibition, Mental Flexibility, Multi-Tasking, and Initiation and Monitoring of Actions are all processes organized by the Executive Functions of the brain.  When parents distract rather than allow and facilitate these processes to work through a perceived discomfort, the executive functions of the brain are not exercising and getting stronger and more efficient.

I feel strongly that this increasing comfort with disengagement is affecting the level of sensory integration and executive functioning skills that children are arriving at school with.  As parents and educators, we cannot change culture.  We can, however, recognized it.  We can begin to incorporate sensory activities and executive functioning practice into our daily routines.  We need to allow children to wait, let them make mistakes, teach them to look at the whole picture, and give them firm limits.  

Far past preschool we must encourage building, searching, sticking together and pulling apart.  We must actively provide free time where children can explore and get dirty.  When children are having difficulty we must be creative with our response, creating spaces for focus, creating time for thought.

Smartphones and mobile devices are not going away. And like I said at the beginning of this ramble, I love my iPAD. They are terrific learning tools and are a lot of fun too. We just need to be very careful not to use them as a default. A pacifier for our preschoolers. Instead, choose use time wisely, set clear limits, and use the technology together.  

  • Check out BrainPOP each day with your little one for a daily dose of "news". We learn about all sorts of great things from this, from Frida Kahlo to Paleontology, they cover it all.  
  • Practice letter and number writing with iWriteWords.
  • Create a movie with your kids and their toys using the amazing iStopMotion.
  • Your kid can color and learn another language at the same time with 123 Color International.
  • Help a pirate find the treasure through a series of challenges with Pirate Treasure Hunt.

Monday, August 27, 2012

When and Why to Ditch the Portable DVD Player

My fancy schmancy new-to-me mommyvan has a very interesting secret compartment that comes down from the ceiling with the push of a button.  Inside this very secret compartment is....a place to put a DVD player.  I keep extra sunglasses in it instead.

Don't get me wrong.  We have a portable DVD player.  Also a Leapster, as well as an iPOD loaded with Yo Gabba Gabba episodes.  We have a lot of electronics that can and do keep kids occupied in the car.  I love these electronics!  There have been times when I have believed with every fiber of my being that they are they greatest things ever invented.  But most of the time this stuff lives in the back of my closet in the "Road Trip Bin".  They come out when a trip is designated, by me, as a Road Trip.

My general rule of thumb is that a Road Trip is a trip longer than two hours.  I figure that on a two hour trip we can talk, play some games, sing along to the radio, and then take a nap so the grown ups can talk.  Does it always happen this way?  Not a chance!  Do I sometimes wish my children could be mindlessly entertained with the push of a button?  Absolutely!

As difficult as it may be at times, there are a lot of reasons to ditch the DVD!

  • Car rides are a great place for story-telling.  My children love classic stories like Goldilocks and Little Red Riding Hood.  We have listened to these stories together on audio book so many times that we know the stories by heart.  Now we spend time reenacting the stories.  We are each assigned parts and we then act out the story.  At first I was the narrator  as well as most of the characters, but we have gotten so good that the kids play most of the major roles and I stick to bit parts. 
  • Re-telling well known and loved stories is great fun, but I know that as a kindergartener, Zoe will also be expected to come up with her own stories.  To help her develop this skill we have started to play "Pass the Story".  I will start a story with a sentence or two, then she continues it by adding her own sentences.  We keep taking turns adding pieces until we have finished.  The stories always take a few unexpected twists and turns and it is really funny to listen to what others come up with.
  • Road signs and passing scenery are great tools for a child to practice their emergent literacy and numeracy skills.  
    • Play the ABC Game.  For pre-readers show them the letter they should look for and then find it as many times as you can.  For more advanced kids, look for the letters of the alphabet in order form A to Z.  See how far you can get before you reach your destination. 
    • Choose a type or color of vehicle to count.
    • Play Color I Spy.
    • Games such as these not only help your child practice basic skills necessary for school success, they help them to train their brain to recognize things rapidly which may help with future reading fluency.
  • We practice our critical thinking skills as well as our natural science knowledge when we play "I'm Thinking of an Animal".  We take turns giving clues about an animal so the others in the car can guess.  Older children can play 20 Questions to practice the same set of skills at a more advanced level.
  • Sometimes in the car, I don't interact with the kids.  I turn on NPR and tell them that they are on their own.  In life, kids are not always actively entertained.  Staring out the window of a moving car is a great way to practice amusing oneself calmly and quietly.  As a parent be prepared to weather some whining with this one.  It's important, though, so take some deep breaths, find your zen, and let your children be bored.
  • Finally, in the car, a child is truly a captive audience.  When else is our child strapped down and facing forward?  Car rides are a great time for proactive rather than reactive parenting.  Is your child doing something that bothers or worries you?  Create some scenarios that might happen and talk about possible choices that could be made.  I often will create a story and pose a poor solution so that my daughter can tell me the right thing to do.  She can use these practice situations to better know how to handle the real thing.
It's not always easy, but it is oh so important to ditch the DVD most of the time. 

What are some other ways you keep your kids happy, amused and engaged in the car?

    Hanna Andersson

    Wednesday, August 15, 2012

    North Conway with Kids: 5 Great Hikes

    Now that kid one is a big kid and kid two is two and a half with energy to spare, it is time for me to get back into the hiking game and bring the family along for the climb.  The trick is I want to hike, I want my kids to hike, I want my dog to hike, and I want us all to have fun.  I consider Zoe walking the whole way and Sammy walking at least half with minimal whining to be a success.

    We are so lucky to live up here in the beautiful Mt. Washington Valley with great hiking in all directions and we have found some great spots.  I thought I would share a few of our favorites!

    1. Boulder Loop

    Boulder Loop is off the Kancamagus Highway near the entrance to the Covered Bridge Campground.  We love this hike, but I do have to say that we never actually do the whole thing.  Just a short way up the trail are huge, glacial boulders to climb on, under, around and over.  We bring a picnic, hike on up to the big rocks, climb like crazy, find a little rock cave to eat in, then hike back down.  After fun on the trail, we walk over to a tiny little beach under the covered bridge to cool off!

    2. Diana's Bath

    Located just off West Side Road on the way to Bartlett, Diana's Bath has been a favorite for as long as I can remember.  It is a very short hike, a bit more than a half mile, ending at a series of waterfalls that you can climb around, swim in, or just plain relax at.  There are a few bridges to cross and lots of logs to balance walk on next to the trail.  Small diversions like this always keep my kids excitement up as they go.  The whole trail is smooth enough to push a stroller on so it is a perfect first hike for the "big kid" to walk.  This trail can get very busy on hot summer days so plan accordingly.

    3. The Red Bench

    This one is a recent discovery and we loved it!  We packed up our letterboxing kits and headed north to the AMC's Highland Center.  After a relatively easy hike around half of Amonoosuc Lake, you take a hilly spur that ends at...a RED BENCH!  You can find the letterbox, eat a lunch, and talk about what great hikers you are.  My kids felt very proud of themselves after the climb.  Head back down the spur and hike the rest of the way around the lake.  There are some cameras at different places on the trail to record wildflower growth which was a great conversation piece.  The total length of the trail is about 2 miles and the best part is that after a job well done you can all go play at the amazing natural playscape on the grounds of the Highland Center!

    4. Saco Lake Trail

    Another great trail leaving from just across the street from the Highland Center.  Crossing a series of plank bridges and several rock hop stream crossings kept this trail an adventure.  There was lots of wildlife to see up close too.  The trail passed right by a great beaver dam, we saw ducks at several points on the pond, and best of all, a great blue heron flew right past us.  Even the little one walked the entire way and it was so fun to watch her trepidation as she approached the bridges when we started and her sense of pride as she crossed easily towards the end of the trail.

    4. Black Cap Mountain

    Finally...a summit recommendation!  Black Cap is a great first summit for your little climbers.  The trailhead begins after driving a good way up Hurricane Mountain Road.  You have already done a lot of the elevation gain in the car befor the hike begins so the kids don't have as far to go to feel the thrill of a summit.  Black Cap has a rocky peak with views in all directions.  You'll love it!

    Happy Hiking!

    If you liked this North Conway With Kids post, try...
    Hanna Andersson

    Thursday, May 24, 2012

    Get Your Kiddo Ready for Kindergarten

    As summer quickly approaches I am winding down my kindergarten class.  At the same time, I am trying to make sure that my own soon to be kindergartener is ready to begin her journey in the fall.  It got me thinking about all the easy, everyday things that we as parents can do to ensure early school success for our little ones.

    Teaching is broken into small chunks in kindergarten, but it is still very important that your child can pay attention for short (10-15 minute) periods of time.
    • Play board games with your child.  Games such as Candy Land require sustained attention.  Encourage your child to stick with the game until it is complete.
    • Begin to read longer books with your child.  Continue reading picture books, but try reading a chapter book as well.  Do a chapter or two a night.  Ask your child to make a movie in their head about the book as you read.  Talk about key details from the story to strengthen their understanding.
    • Put together a puzzle together.  Talk about strategies such as sorting by like colors or putting the edge pieces together first.
    Following Directions
    Following multi-step directions is very important as your child begins school.  Throughout the day a kindergartener is expected to follow many sets of directions.
    • Play Simon Says.  Have Simon say 2-3 things rather than just one.  Ex: “Simon Says, clap your hands once, touch your toes then sit on the floor.”  Begin with two, then work up to four or even five.
    • Give your child multi-step directions.  Ask them to brush their teeth, put on their pajamas, then pick out a story.  Give them specific praise when they do well.  “I love the way you remembered to do all three things.  Way to go!”
    Phonemic Awareness
    Phonemic Awareness is the ability to hear sounds in words.  In order to help your child be ready to read, play many games using sounds.
    • Play “I Spy” using sounds and rhymes.  “I spy an animal that rhymes with ‘now’”.  I spy something with two wheels that starts with /b/.
    • Look for books with rhymes, alliteration and other plays on sounds.  Now is a great time to be reading Dr. Seuss beginner books with your child.
    Number Concepts
    In addition to knowing how to count to 10 and recognize most of those numbers, it is important that your child develop a concept of what numbers mean.  Having an idea of what “more” and “less” mean, being able to see or make basic patterns and working with shapes can help a great deal in math.
    • Tell and solve simple number stories with your child.  “If I have 2 apples and I eat 1, how many do I have left?  You can make up stories that are a good challenge for your child.
    • Get a set of Standard Unit Blocks and encourage your child to play with them often.  Standard Unit Blocks offer your child opportunity to work with all sorts of math concepts including area, size, number, patterns, fractions, measuring and estimation.
    Concept Development
    Expose your child to a wide range of experiences this summer.  Museums, shows, nature, and books are all places to build an understanding of our world.  This area is filled with free and almost free opportunities to learn!
    • If you haven’t already…check out…
      • Your local Children's Museum
      • Story Walks and Guided Nature trails
      • Small museums maintained by your Historical Society
      • Outdoor Concerts
      • Summer Reading Programs at the library
      • State Parks
      • Zoos and Botanical Centers
    • Discuss the experience.  Try to remember details, or sequence the events.  Use pictures from the event and create a memory book.  Let your child help write the captions.
    Fine Motor Skills
    In Kindergarten, your child will do a lot of writing and drawing.  Good fine motor skills help your child do school tasks without getting tired or frustrated.
    • Provide many creative materials at your house.  Crayons, pencils, markers, dry erase boards and chalkboards are all great.
    • Set up a collage station.  Get a nice pair of child scissors, a glue stick and some old magazine.  Let your child cut and glue to their heart’s delight.
    • Provide playdough.
    • Make bread and pizza dough with your child.  Kneading is a great fine motor strengthening activity.
    Choose Screen Time Wisely
    Limit the time that your child spends in front of a screen.  When they are watching TV or playing with your smartphone, use the time wisely.
    • Many PBS programs are specifically designed with pre-school learning in mind.  Sesame Street was originally designed to help children prepare for school.  Other PBS programs specifically teach reading, math and science concepts.
    • Angry Birds may be fun…but there are thousands of apps out there that will help your child learn Kindergarten material AND are a lot of fun!  Look for apps that teach sight words, letters, basic math skills, memory, logical thinking, and puzzle solving.
    • Please put away the screens during times and places that can enrich you child’s concept development, attention span and patience.  Let your child be a part of grocery shopping, teach them how to amuse themselves appropriately and quietly in a waiting room, play car games on road trips.

    Read, Read, Read
    Reading aloud to your child EVERY DAY is one of the most important things you can do to ensure school success.

    What other ideas do you have?

    Sunday, January 22, 2012

    Ultimate Atkins Birthday Cake

    Meatcake.  It sounds dirty...but I promise it is not.

    Birthdays are a big deal here at the Mountain View Mama household.  Anyone out there who knows us has heard of "Clay-fest", which of course has now expanded to include "K-fest", "Zoe-fest" and "Monster(I mean Sam)-fest".  Birthdays are a little bit like Hanukkah, with 5 days of celebration.  Little presents, parties, special activities and cake are spread out throughout the fest and it makes birthdays really special and really fun.

    My husband is the originator of the fest, so you can imagine my predicament when he told me, "No cake this year.  I'm serious."

    He started doing the Atkins diet right before Christmas and it works really well for him.  He didn't want to screw it up.  "Make me a bacon cake", he suggested.

    A bacon cake.  No carbs.  No sugar.  My family does not make things easy.

    As I wandered through the meat department of the local supermarket...inspiration struck.  A meatcake!

    The Ingredients:
    • Preformed Burger Patties (I got Angus beef, 90% lean)
    • Bacon
    • Bleu Cheese
    • Frozen Cauliflower
    • Butter
    • Sour Cream
    • Frozen Broccoli
    • Cracked Black Pepper
    We didn't use any sauce with it, but we thought it would be good with some A1 or au ju.
      To start off, fry the bacon on a cast iron skillet.

      Then pan fry 2 burger patties in the bacon grease.

      While the meat is cooking, steam the cauliflower.  When the cauliflower is soft(ish), drain the water, add 2 tbsp butter, 'bout 1/4 c of sour cream and a hunk of blue cheese.  Mash it up with a potato masher then add cracked black pepper to taste.  Keep warm on low heat while everything else finishes cooking.

      When the burgers are just about done, melt some blue cheese on top of one patty and top with bacon.

      Cook the broccoli in the microwave as everything else finishes up.

      To make the meatcake, spread a bed of the mashed cauliflower in the certer of a dinner plate.  Top with the stacked burger patty.  Frost with more mashed cauliflower.  Surround with broccoli.  Top with a candle and serve!

      It may not be a traditional birthday cake, but the meatcake was really, really good!  I made a smaller one for myself with only one patty and it was tasty too! 

      If your husband is on Atkins...or is just a regular old meat loving man...try out the Ultimate Atkins Meatcake.  He'll be a happy guy!

      Barnes & Noble

      Saturday, January 7, 2012

      App of the Month: Presidents vs. Aliens

      Presidential fever is rampant here in New Hampshire this week, with the primary only a few days away.  As I sit here in my living room heckling the debaters I thought I would spend my time a bit more productively and let you all know about a very presidential app that you can get.

      Reading skills are necessary for this one, so it's not for the little guys.  The big kids will love it, and the grown-ups will too.  Learn Presidential facts, nicknames, parties and more.  Collect Presidential flashcards and learn about them all.

      You might still have no clue who to vote for, but you'll be an expert on those who have already been there.

      Presidents vs. Aliens.  Have fun!