Posts Tagged ‘kids’

Web gems

If, like me, you are chilling at home on a rainy Sunday, you might enjoy some of these links that caught my eye recently:

These Steampunk Softies are just about the cutest, geekiest craft project I have ever seen.

I’ve got a Project Runway post in the works (those who know me in real life know that I have long been a huge fan.) This season, I am also following Project Project Runway, also from Craftzine, where folks play along with the PR challenges by making outfits for dolls. Maybe next season I will join in, though it would be a big time commitment.

I am also a huge Boston Red Sox fan (Jason Varitek and Dustin Pedroia being my particular favorites.)  A friend recently sent me the link to Bill Simmons’ entertaining take on this season’s Sox.

WanderMonster is a blog where a dad chronicles the creative collaboration between himself and his son. Dad gives the kid a paper with a drawing prompt with his lunch and posts the prompts and the subsequent drawings. I love this blog so much, and I especially loved the recent post about an imagined argument.

I adore these stunning National Park posters by Charley Harper. And some are available for a steal at the U. S. Government Bookstore.

I only recently discovered the style blog, Closet Confections, but she definitely had me with her Sassy sundress that is evocative of a Dr. Seuss book. Sounds silly, but it’s actually fabulous.

Let me know if you’ve stumbled upon any fabulous links lately.


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photo by Flickr user ArkanGL

One of the things I sometimes wonder about is what is up with all the food allergies and intolerances that abound these days.  I am convinced that the prevalence is due, in part, to awareness of the conditions and the ability to test for an diagnose them.  I don’t think that’s all there is to it, though.  I’ve heard a number of theories as to why allergies and sensitivies, to peanuts in particular, are on the rise.  Some say exposure at too young an age can cause a food allergy, while others claim that eating peanuts early in life helps prevent an allergy (if I recall correctly, peanut allergies are very uncommon in African nations where peanuts are a staple even for babies.)

Here’s the thing.  I have the luxury of idly wondering about food allergies.  I complain about my allergies to dust and mold and pollen, but I feel very lucky that I don’t have any food allergies.  Working in the medical field, I sometime see the scary effects that food allergies can have, and I have also worked with patients with Crohn’s disease and celiac disease, whose lifestyle is greatly affected by the ways their bodies react to food.  Though it is sheer speculation on my part, I think it might be harder to have celiac or another type of sensitivity, since so many people just don’t get it.  People seem to understand  the need for vigilance with ingredients if exposure could trigger an anaphylactic  reaction that could lead to death.  But a person with celiac disease isn’t going to have that kind of sudden, obviously life-threatening reaction, so I think it is difficult for others to comprehend why that person needs to avoid all traces of gluten.

I recently read two fascinating blog posts about food allergies and intolerances that really made me feel for folks who have to live with these conditions.  The first was a post for BlogHer aboutaccomodating kids’ dietary restrictions for parties and playdates. The blogger tells about overhearing a mother, who was planning a birthday party for her child, wishing she hadn’t invited a child to the party with a food allergy, because it would be “such a pain” to deal with the child’s needs. That really got me. You know what? It is a pain to deal with food limitations, but that parent only has to do so once in a while. That child and the parents have to cope with the inconvenience, expense, worry, and fear all the time. Plus, think about how that child would feel about being excluded. I love that the blogger has simple, easy to follow tips for welcoming children with food restrictions into your home. While the post is geared toward hosting pint-sized guests, the suggestions are equally valid for having an adult with an allergy or sensitivity over for a dinner party or movie night. Planning a menu around dietary restrictions takes extra time, but we are lucky to live in the age of the internet, when information on appropriate products and recipes are at our fingertips. Folks with these conditions already miss out on a lot; those of us who are lucky enough to be able to eat freely without health concerns shouldn’t make them miss out on our social events, because of minor inconvenience.

Carol of Alinea At Home, one of my favorite bloggers, wrote movingly about the burden of celiac disease. That post shows how the daily wear and tear of coping with the disease can wear you down, even a woman like Carol, who is savvy and has an amazing ability to adapt recipes.

Hopefully, awareness of food allergies and intolerances will continue to grow, so that life is easier for people living with the conditions. I also hope this post helps a little in raising that awareness.

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It’s tough to watch and read the coverage of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis in Japan.  Not really being able to help, other than making a little donation, makes it even harder for me.  I have found myself avoiding a lot of the coverage.  The other day, though, I was reading Barbara Meltz’s parenting column in the Boston Globe, and found her advice on talking to kids about the situation.  I am trained in explaining scary scenarios to kids, and I have to say that Meltz does a fantastic job of outlining the key points. It dawned on me that it may be a little thing, but I can help a bit by using this blog to share tips on supporting kids during times of tragedy and disaster.

Many parents are tempted to shield children from disturbing news or try to dismiss the fears that may arise.  After all, many adults are struggling to understand how these things can happen.  I don’t think it is helpful, though, to totally shelter kids.  For one thing, images and discussion of the disaster is everywhere, so it is almost impossible to prevent even very young kids from learning about it.  For another, if we protect children from distressing news, they will never learn how to cope with the tragedies that they will inevitably face and we rob them of an opportunity to develop empathy.  Many kids will never face a serious earthquake, much less a tsunami, but if they are given the chance to learn about and discuss such an event in a supportive and loving setting, they will gain resilience that they can use in situations they face in their own lives.  That is not to say that it is okay for kids to be constantly exposed to the intense, rapid-fire, confusing images and sound bites of media coverage.

Like Meltz, I firmly believe that we should be honest with kids and give them permission to talk about scary events, so that their impressions and thoughts don’t grow and get distorted.  I love her suggestion to ask kids if they have seen or heard about the earthquake and tsunami and let them know you are willing to talk about it.  Many kids will feel that the troubles in Japan have nothing to do with them and may be totally unconcerned.  That’s normal and okay, but it is also normal for kids to fear that a similar disaster could happen to them.  The latter kids will need reminders of their safety, such as Meltz’s suggestion to point out how far away Japan is or that earthquakes don’t happen often in your area.  No matter how outrageous your child’s fears may seem to you, they are real.  Telling a child not to worry, probably won’t work, and may make him hid his feelings from you or even intensify them by giving the impression that the situation is too horrible or terrifying to talk about.

Play and other open-ended expressive activities are great ways for kids to deal with the fear and stress from disasters and other tragedies.  Kids naturally try to make sense of the world in their play, so you might see a lot of block buildings being knocked down by earthquakes or drawings of big waves.  You can gently ask your child to describe what is going on in her dramatic play or pictures and use that to guide your conversations.  Children may not want to talk, or they may not have the words for what they are thinking and feeling, though.  You can help ease fears by suggesting safety and rescue elements: “It looks like Buzz Lightyear got hurt when the building fell down.  Here comes an ambulance to help him.”  Outdoor and very active play also help kids deal with strong feelings indirectly.

Children who have a strong reaction to the disaster may regress or become unusually clingy or moody.  Try to be matter of fact if your child suddenly needs a nightlight, has toileting accidents, fights more with siblings, or doesn’t want you out of his sight.  Such issues should be temporary, but if problems last a long time, talk to your pediatrician or seek help from a counselor.  Similarly, kids may have occasional nightmares or episodes of sadness, but it is cause for concern if they are persistent or interfere with school and favorite activities.

At times like these, children are likely to need as much familiarity and predictability as possible in their lives.  Disasters can be a reminder to count our blessings, so we may be tempted to shower children with extra affection or goodies.  Letting your kids know you love them is always a good call, but letting go of family rules or greatly relaxing expectations can actually make kids feel less secure, by sending a signal that something is awry with their world.

Doing something to help disaster victims can be therapeutic for kids (especially middle- and high-schoolers) and adults alike.  Involve your kids in brainstorming  how to help, whether it’s collecting pocket change from friends and family or having a garage sale and donating the proceeds.  (Charity Navigator has great tips on how to help, along with a list of highly rated organizations involved in Japan relief efforts.)

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Surviving Snow Days

photo by flickr user bensonkua

We’ve already had three substantial snowstorms this winter in Boston, and my brother in Chattanooga, TN has gotten measurable snow twice.  I think it is already safe to say it’s an unusually precipitous winter.  (Yes, I know that’s not the proper use of the word precipitous, but sometimes I like to be silly with words.)  During last year’s ridiculous mid-Atlantic dumping of snow, I talked with a friend in the DC area who was at her wit’s end cooped up with two little boys under 3.  I made some suggestions that she liked, and I thought I could share some here, too. Most of these tips are geared toward toddlers and preschoolers, partly because that’s where a lot of my experience lies, but also because those age groups tend to have the most challenging cabin fever.

Get active! Gross motor activities are a big part of most kids’ school or daycare days, and without that activity, they may be restless, whiny, and have trouble napping.  Getting the kids out in the snow, sledding, fort-building, or snowball-fighting, is a good way to burn off energy, but sometimes that’s not an option.  When I was a preschool teacher, we’d survive days without outdoor play by designing movement games, like hopping about like frogs on paper lily pads taped to the floor.  Play Twister or a high energy version of Simon Says with jumping jacks, log rolls, sit-ups, etc.  Make an obstacle course.  (My DC friend tried this and she said that the parents spent more time setting up the course than the kids did completing it, but you can extend the play by asking kids to help create new portions or by timing them and encouraging them to try to beat their best time.)  As a nanny, I enjoyed creating scavenger or treasure hunts for the kids, trying to ensure that they’d have to scurry around a lot to complete them and would be tired (and quiet!) after.  Play paper plate frisbee or just put on some music and let the kiddos dance.

Bend, but don’t break, routines. A snow day can be a great excuse to do special things with your kids, like watching movies, drinking cocoa, baking cookies, and staying in PJs all day.  Relaxing or ignoring all the usual rules, though, can be confusing or even scary for kids, especially toddlers and preschoolers, which might lead to behavior issues.  You may want to stick close to your child’s normal weekday schedule or enforce the same cleanup, mealtime, and/or naptime rules as school.

Make it a theme day. With plenty of toys, games, and art supplies, it can be shocking when kids whine to you that they’re bored.  They might have too many options or need a little play inspiration, and a theme is a fun way to channel ideas.  Declare that you are going to have an indoor beach day and play balloon volleyball, draw colorful swimsuit designs, and have a picnic lunch on the floor.  You could have a theater theme and color tragedy and comedy masks, play charades, and see what kinds of costumes you can come up with using things around the house.  Your kids may come up with some great ideas once you start brainstorming.

Be prepared with novelty. I think it can be a lifesaver to have a stash of new toys, crafts, or games.  You can pull out one or two to keep your child happily occupied on a snow day, a plane flight, or other situation where you’re trying to avoid boredom or meltdowns.  Toys and activities don’t even have to be brand new to do the trick; digging something out of the back of the closet or bottom of the toy box that hasn’t been played with in months can have the same effect.  My very favorite novelty items, though, are big boxes.  Appliance boxes are ideal, but smaller ones will do.  They can be turned into a boat, rocket, castle, race car, playhouse, or whatever your little one’s imaginations come up with.   Have the kids decorate the box inside and out and help them come up with pretend play scenarios to get the action started, “Where is the rocket going to land?  Will there be aliens there?”

photo by flickr user supernerdz

Turn chores into games. You may want to get some things done around the house, since you’re stuck there, and with a little creativity, the kids can be helpful, instead of getting in the way.  Need to sort through papers or junk mail?  Let the kids do the shredding or cut or rip up catalogs for collages (or just for the fun of snipping – what is the preschool fascination with scissors?)  Turn figuring out which food storage containers are missing lids into a matching game.  One of my preschool classes had a ton of fun one day scrubbing the classroom’s chairs.  The grown-ups did the majority of the real cleaning, but the kids were happily involved the whole time, and the job got done.  That’s not a great option for when you are stuck indoors (and don’t have 18 grubby plastic chairs), but your child might want to use the Dustbuster while you vacuum, or try to fold towels while you do laundry.

photo by flickr user Pinot & Dita

Engage their senses. Sensory play often captures kids’ attention and imagination better than other activities, allowing them to have fun, and you to read the paper, answer some emails, or do the dishes.  Playdoh and clay are tried and true options, but by no means the only ones.  A big plastic tub with some dry rice or beans along with some basic kitchen items (measuring cups, spoons, funnels) or figurines to bury and dig up is like having an indoor sandbox.  If you squirt some shaving cream on a counter or table, the kids can sculpt it, smush it, and draw in it (and it might get out some old marker or juice stains!)  A simple mixture of cornstarch and water is a messy but really cool preschool teacher fave, sometimes known as goop or oobleck.  It’s weird stuff that feels solid when you squeeze it in your fist and resists when you stir it, but will dribble right through your fingers.  Or bring some snow into the bathtub and let the kids shape, scoop, and build mini snowmen.

Any other tips or ideas? I’d love to hear about other great strategies and activities for dealing with snow days in the comments.  What helps you keep your patience and sanity when a long day inside stretches ahead of you?  Do you have any fond memories of snow days from your own childhood?

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Contentment renewed

I am not really celebrating the Easter holiday, but I have had a lovely morning.  It is warm and sunny here in Boston – just a perfect spring day.  As I often do on a weekend morning, I walked down to a local cafe and sat down with coffee and a pastry and my book.  As I read and munched and watched the people walking by outside, I noticed that I was in a lovely mood.  One of those moods where I just feel sort of in love with the world and with life.  Do you ever have those moments?

Some of my mood certainly stemmed from small, simple pleasures.  I am reveling in the sunshine and warmth after a long winter and bleak, rainy early spring – I sometimes joke that I am solar powered, and as the days get longer and warmer in the spring, it really seems true.  I am wearing a soft, comfortable, pretty, flattering dress that I had bought back in the fall and been waiting for warm weather to break it out, and my hair was back in twisty braids that might make me look rather young, but are romantic and unique.   And I was enjoying my milky, slightly sweet, fair trade coffee, along with the pecan roll that was melting in my mouth and scattering flaky crumbs on my lap.

Little things like this are sometimes enough to put me in a happy place, but they were aided in this instance by the lingering memories of a wonderful day yesterday.  While basically having a babysitting orientation, I got to hang out with old friends and took their toddler daughter to the park.  The walk to the park was delightful, as the little one’s wonder and curiosity made for frequent stops.  “I see a bird!  It’s flying!” We checked out shadows and flowers and listened to cars, planes, and birdsong.  I think I have a touch of that wonder than overflows in children, so I actually enjoyed the way we had to stop and remark on so many things along the way.  At the park, the munchkin slid on the slide, worked on mastering climbing a panel with slightly tricky alternating cutout footholds (it is so cool to watch kids get the hang of a new skill!), and giggled when I demonstrated hopscotch on a grid someone had drawn on the pavement (“Again!”)  We also investigated an earthworm on the drying sidewalk and relocated it to a grassy area.  It was really fun.  And I got a touch of sunburn on my neck, which isn’t really a good thing, but it’s painless, and at this point in the year, I kind of like the reminder that it is actually warm and bright enough for a sunburn (but I will be more careful from here on out, don’t worry.)  In the afternoon, I went over to my brother’s place, where we kibitzed while participating in the live draft for the fantasy baseball league we’re in with our younger brother.  Hooray for baseball season being back on!  Afterward, we walked to a cute little restaurant that focuses on fresh, local ingredients, where we had lentil soup, fresh bread, maple roasted carrots, beet and blue cheese salad, and creamy mashed potatoes.  Yum!

Today’s happiness was definitely helped along by being preceded by yesterday’s, but it had a different feel.  Sometimes I get  joyful moods, the kind that make me practically skip down the street.  This morning, my emotions seemed more grounded.  Looking out at the world, while sitting with my coffee and pastry and book, my eyes actually welled up a bit.  With happiness, yes, but there was a bittersweet quality there, too.  The recognition that life isn’t perfect, that there are things I would desperately like to change, but that I am still happy and very, very lucky.  Maybe the Easter holiday, or simply the renewal of springtime played a role in my thoughts and feelings.  Subconsciously, I may have had sacrifice, renewal, and redemption on my mind.  This time of year is a reminder to me that we all have problems and failures, but that we are frequently given second (and third, and fourth) chances, to brush ourselves off and try again or make a new plan, to reinvent ourselves in large or small ways.  I have had a stressful couple of months, so that sense of spring renewal is most welcome right now.

This feels a bit like joy, but I think it is actually hopeful contentment.  A willingness, eagerness even, to embrace life and the world, flaws and all.  Simultaneously enjoying the moment and looking forward to what the near future may hold.

Happy Easter and Passover to all who celebrate, and happy spring to everyone!

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