Evening Activity

Why evening activity is so important to our family

The actual term Evening Activity comes from my years, long ago, at summer camp.  After dinner and before bed, we had ‘Evening Activity’, which was one last chance in the day to splash in the lake doing water ballet, laugh with our friends while playing Mexican dodgeball, or go on crazy hikes around the lake.  Even though we were exhausted from being outside in the heat all day and longed to lay on our beds, this was a time of the day that had a different feel with the cooler air, the setting sun and the counselors who were beat and ready to be off duty for the day.  It was peaceful and culminating.

Many, many years later, when our Little One was about 7 months old, it seemed that our Oldest was starting to internalize the fact that his little brother was, in fact, going to be a permanent fixture in our family.  We had worked hard to prepare him for the arrival and he had an incredibly smooth transition into big brother-hood.  But, as I have often seen with kids in my preschool classes, sometimes it takes awhile before the older child experiences some turmoil.  Once the reality sets in that baby will be sticking around or when he or she starts to crawl or show interest in the older sibling’s toys.  For our Oldest, his response to these feelings that he was unable to verbally express, was to act in a way that we had never witnessed before.  He became obstinate and argumentative.  He was less then gentle with his brother and no longer seemed interested in helping to care for him.

Whenever my kids go through a behavioral phase, we try to take a step back to think about any changes that have been going on, if our behavior has been different, what routines may need to be adjusted or what preventative measures may need to be put in place.  For example, when my Oldest was two years old and starting to show signs of having a hard time listening to directions (i.e. picking out what shoes he wanted to wear) that he normally followed without hesitation, I instilled a visual schedule into our morning routine.  The structure of the schedule made him feel secure and responsible while the pictures of familiar items allowed him to check the schedule without needing to check in with me every time.

So, when we found ourselves in the situation with our Oldest having some significant changes in behavior, we brainstormed and decided that he definitely needed some time alone without baby brother but with both of us.  After all, he had it that way for almost three years, it was not fair to expect him to give that up 100% without recourse.  I thought about our day and realized that the only time that it might be possible for this to happen was after the bath and before bed.  For three years, we had the same bedtime routine with him – bath, PJ’s, books, bed.  But, it was important to carve out this time of day for him.  So, during our end of summer vacation, we told him that we were going to change things up a bit and explained the why’s and how’s.  He was thrilled.  And it was a huge success.

Quickly, we saw his behaviors change.  Having this consistent, pre-planned special time also gave us something to talk about and look forward too during the day time.  As we got deeper into this routine, we began broadening our activities from books or coloring to board games, elaborate art projects, anything with teeny tiny pieces that babies can choke on and the all time favorite – ice cream.  To this day, over a year after starting evening activity – it is still a topic of conversation as our Oldest asks us “What’s for evening activity?” during dinner or bath time.  Usually, it’s some type of project but it can also be a chance to watch a movie or have a special snack, like ice cream.

I am so glad that we added this special time into our day.  Sometimes I’m so tired by bath time that it’s hard to imagine doing another activity, but luckily, the only thing that really matters to him is that we are spending quiet time together and giving him the extra attention that he needs as a big brother.  It’s a hard job and he’s really amazing at it, so he deserves this time.  This time that is peaceful and culminating.

 

 

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Superheroes & Social Emotional Development

I have recently been given the challenge of addressing my Oldest son’s growing curiosity of all things “Batman”, “good guys”, “bad guys” and even a little bit of “booming” and “shooting”.  I don’t necessarily take issue with the general idea of superheroes but I am concerned about and am considering the idea of my 4 year old being able to appropriately process and identify the emotions and actions that go along with this subject matter.  At this young age, it is natural to be curious and want to experiment with the feelings of being scared or powerful, the contradiction of good vs evil and the fantasy of things like flying and dragons and of course the importance of wearing a cape.  But, they are not mature enough to fully understand and appropriately assign all of those intense emotions or comprehend the all the possible ramifications of acting out the physical behavior that they may see when watching superhero shows or reading the books.

After briefly talking to my Oldest about this new language, it was clear that he was confused and not really making any sense of it all in his head.  I knew that we needed to address the topic in a way that explained things clearly to him while allowing him to explore his interest, but also in a gentle way so as not to promote or show that we approve of aggression or violence.  In addition, we typically try to steer clear of commercialized characters but his interest, very specifically, began with Batman, so I felt that character had to be included on this journey.

I began my process by looking for books that I felt are age appropriate and meaningful – there were many things to consider.  I did not want there to be any physical fighting, weapons or death.  What I was looking for was history and facts about the commercial characters and superheroes in general, the idea of helping others and a brief introduction to social and emotional concepts such as good vs. evil, confidence, power, fear, anger and bravery.  So far, I’ve found a pretty good selection to choose from, starting with the DC Comic board book series by David Bar Katz.

My First Batman Book is a very basic introduction to the character such as his alter ego, his pal Robin and some of his unique tricks like swinging from buildings and driving the Batmobile.  The short book has provided us with plenty of material to begin talking about real vs pretend, helpful friends, asking for help, tools and wardrobe required to be a super hero .  It has prompted many questions as well and since neither my husband nor I are superhero experts, this is a learning process for all of us.

The second book that I ordered in the series is Super Heroes Book of Opposites and again, this book has provided plenty of opportunity to begin talking about things like good guys and bad guys, facial expressions, anger, fear and other emotions, and a variety of super powers.

In addition to the two character specific books, I also ordered Eliot Jones, Midnight Superhero by Anne Cottringer, on the recommendation of a blog post on superhero books over at No Time for Flashcards. I had a gut feeling that this would be a good book for us after reading the review.  And now after reading it half a dozen times, I am positive that my Oldest is more intrigued by this book then the two about the commercial superheroes.  Eliot is a quiet boy by day and at midnight he turns into a superhero that saves the day in many different situations.  My son can completely relate to Eliot’s day time persona and I can see that the idea of this ordinary boy being able to do superhero things is fascinating and empowering.  There have been numerous rich conversations about courage, strength and bravery, during and after each reading.  I highly recommend this book.

Interestingly, at the end of My First Batman Book, a question is posed to the reader about being able to help Batman.  The first time we read the story, my son quickly said that he could not help him and I believe his answer came out of fear and insecurity.  We talked briefly about how Batman is just pretend so maybe he could just pretend to help.  “But, I need a belt like this one” he said, as he turned the page and pointed to his belt.  So, we proceeded to make a list of all the things he needs to consider the idea of helping Batman.

Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 3.45.23 PMWith supplies ready, I asked if he wanted to start by making the cuffs.  He was excited about the idea and as usual, excited about getting out the markers and scissors.  While we were making the cuffs we talked about the idea of him having a superpower and he couldn’t come up with anything at that time.  He did say that the stickers and colors he chose were superhero colors and “Batman” stickers, so he was starting to relate a tiny bit.  I hope to use his interest in art and creating to make some more of the items on the list but I also am not going to push him as he seems to be slightly uncomfortable with the idea of being a superhero himself.

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As an Ed Director, I advised teachers who had classes interested in superheroes to read the book SuperHero ABC by Bob McLeod.  It is another good book to use as an introduction to the idea of  superheroes and super powers.  The book itself lacks the social/emotional piece that I look for but often after reading the book, the children in the classes I supervised would use the first letter of their name to create an alter ego for him or herself and then decide on a super power.  I saw this empower children who were shy and reserved as well as give meaning to the actions of those who were more physical in their superhero play.  My Oldest has had this book in his library for some time but I am curious to see his reaction to it now that we’ve been talking more about the topic and I hope that he is interested in creating an alter ego for himself.  It might have to be a family project!

I also want to use this opportunity to encourage a healthy and appropriate understanding of princesses and female superheroes.  I believe in being somewhat gender neutral as we raise our boys but also to have them grow knowing that girls are strong and powerful.  I have a few books on the way to help with this tangent, I will review them as they come in and share our princess adventures.

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The Many Benefits of Taking Children to the Grocery Store

In light of the growing trend of ‘curbside pickup’ I’ve been thinking an awful lot about the many benefits of bringing your kids inside to places like the grocery store, Target or the bank.  I do see the value in this service and know that there are times when, if available, I would likely take advantage of it myself.  But, I think it’s important to step back and realize the value in human interaction and real life experiences.

I remember going with my mother to the bank where she would fill out deposit or withdrawal slips, speak with the teller, see members of our community and say ‘hello’.  I remember how serious and grown-up it all felt.  Then as an adult I moved to four different states in only a few years and I was easily drawn into the world of online banking and ATM machines, making banking a cold and removed experience.  Now, my husband does our banking inside the bank but our kids never go with him and I think this is something that we need to change.  I want our kids to feel comfortable in a bank, understand what happens to their money and how to handle certain ‘grown-up’ things like making deposits and withdrawals with people, not just machines.

We do, however, almost always bring our kids to the grocery store.  While this is not always easy, I see a great deal of value in them accompanying me to the store.  I’ve had to refocus my thought pattern when it comes to heading out the grocery store.  As opposed to feeling as if it is a chore that just needs to get done and dragging the kids along is an added feat, I see it as a learning experience for them and it becomes our activity for the day.

In the past few weeks as we are all adjusting to a very new routine, I’ve gone to the store a few times with just the Little one as it fits nicely into the time when my Oldest is at school. Well, this week, my Oldest, while being tucked into bed, asked my husband to relay a message to me.  He wanted me to know that if I was going to Trader Joe’s, that he wanted to come with me and asked that I not go while he is in school.  This warmed my heart and in my head, I immediately changed our plans for the next day to include him in our shopping trip.  This is pure proof that going to the store is not an errand for him, but an adventure and meaningful experience.  How could I ever deny him that?

So, here are some of the benefits that I can think of that can come from a simple grocery store trip.  And some reasons to start thinking about the task in a different light.

Language & Literacy Development

  1. List making
  2. Reading signs
  3. Reading ingredients
  4. New vocabulary
  5. Speaking to grocers and cashiers

Social Interaction

  1. Becoming friends with grocers and cashiers – This one I want to explain…We started going to the new Trader Joe’s once a week shortly after my Little one was born.  As a baby-wearer he was either in a wrap or a ring sling, bundled up on my front as we shopped.  The woman who gives away samples commented on my wraps and my boys every single week.  We would chat briefly and over the months she would smile and say hi before even reaching her booth.  As my Little one got ever so slightly bigger, he was ready to start sitting in the cart.  The first time this happened, we walked up to the counter and she said “oh, he’s in the cart today!  Wow, he’s getting so big!  It’s so exciting!”  It was just a lovely exchange and has made me realize how these acquaintances are so meaningful.  In addition, my Older one, who tends to be quite shy, started speaking to this grocer, asking her for a sample or a napkin or a cup of juice.  He feels comfortable there, it’s one more place that I can encourage his developing social skills.  And for that, I am incredibly grateful.
  2. Seeing familiar faces and saying ‘hello’
  3. Interacting with other families who are purchasing similar items or who also have children in tow

Math Development

  1. List making
  2. Counting items as they are chosen off the shelf and go into the cart
  3. Talking about cost
  4. Discussing weight and measuring on a scale
  5. Ingredient measurements

Health & Nutrition 

  1. Asking your child to pick a vegetable – this has proven in my house to be the trick to getting my Oldest to try new veggies
  2. Discussing the importance of what foods you are buying to your health
  3. Discussing why certain items do not end up in your cart
  4. Choosing recipes

Planning & Organizational Skills

  1. List making
  2. Choosing recipes
  3. Counting and checking what food you have run out of at home and need to replace
  4. Arranging the items in your cart
  5. Packing grocery bags

In conclusion, I am attaching some photos of how we sometimes make our trips to the store complete learning experiences from beginning to end.

 A Visit to Trader Joe’s

Together, we make a list, I write the words and adding a drawing so he has the visual cue.  He will go to the fridge to count how many yogurts he has left, will request specific fruits or vegetables, and gets one special snack.

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In the store, he is responsible for picking out all items on his list and then checking them off as they are put in his cart.

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This part is incredibly important for my son in particular.  He gives the cashier his cart and interacts with him or her as his items are scanned, bagged and put back in his cart.

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At home, he unpacks his groceries and puts them away on his shelf in the fridge.

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Supporting Language & Literacy Development at the Beach!

When we go to the beach, in addition to splashing in the water and enjoying the sunshine, I view the trips as an opportunity for adventure, exploration and learning.  We have done a number of activities that help to promote development in all the major domains (cognitive, language & literacy, social & emotional and motor).  In this post, I will share some examples of our language & literacy explorations at the beach.  I should note that these activities are planned as well as spontaneous.

Also, please keep in mind, these activities can be altered for other environments like the park, a lake or even your backyard.  My overarching goal is to show how learning can take place outside of the classroom, away from paper and pencil and by using natural materials.  And my belief, based on both experience and research, is that by using these materials and experiences, that the information will be meaningful, relevant and more easily retained.  Enjoy!

Letter Recognition

1. Digging letter shapes into the sand to be filled in by various materials (seaweed, rocks, sticks, shells, sea glass)

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With big brother’s help, my Little one filled in his ‘L’, with rocks.

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My Oldest filled in his ‘O’ with seaweed.

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2. Drawing letters with your feet.

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3. Using rocks, shells, seaweed, etc…

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IMG_1975.JPGStorytelling

1. Collect materials to use as props while making up a story.  Rocks can be people, shells can be cars, piles of sand can be houses/mountains.

2. Recall events after leaving the beach, building comprehension is an important skill to develop (and the conversation might help keep little ones awake on the way home).

4. Make a book!  Use pictures from the beach and have your children draw pictures of their favorite beach memory.  Then add words to describe the pictures or tell the actual story from a particular beach visit.

Vocabulary

1.  There are many words that come up during a trip to the beach – dig, scoop, pile, catch, current, waves, tide – just to name a few.  Look around and use lots of language that might not ordinarily come up day to day.  This is a good opportunity for language development for all ages.

2. Try to continue to use vocabulary picked up at the beach while at home.  Ask your children to draw pictures of the beach and label them accordingly.  Research words like tide and current with your older children.

I am sure there are so many other ways to incorporate language & literacy into a simple trip to the beach.  I’d love to hear your ideas!