We are a pretty tech savvy household. We have lots of techie toys, smart TVs, smartphones, tablets, and so on. While I try to keep a balance in this area and make sure we don’t become to dependent on our “screen time”. I don’t want anyone in the family to feel like they are in withdrawal if they have to sit with their thoughts and little else to entertain themselves. If they do start to get antsy without their electronic devices then I know we need some screen free time.
I also see the value in all these devices. It makes managing everything in life so much easier. I can’t forget a bill I have to pay because my phone and computer notify me when things need to be paid. Same with appointments. I can keep kids entertained on long car rides with games and apps too. They don’t have to mindless games and apps either. There is a whole world of educational apps out there that help us entertain kids in educational and thought provoking ways. One such app I have been using lately is the Scholastic Parent & Child’s KidQ App. It is educational yes but it also has a great twist…
It may seem a bit contradictory but the idea of this app is to help us connect and start conversations with our kids. The KidQ app for iPhone and Android facilitates great conversation between parents and children with fun Q&A’s about the things that kids (and parents!) are the most curious about, like Why do we get goosebumps? and What sea animal is related to the elephant? Each day, users receive a playful question that serves as a conversation starter along with the official answer. Families will have a great time as they compare their answers to these questions. I found it to be great fun, as did my kids.
Ever have a long car ride and you want to get the conversation started and you aren’t sure where to start? Well have one of your kids grab your phone (or their own device) and open this app to start answering some fun questions. I would rather talk to my kids about what lobsters hear and how crazy it is that their teeth are in their stomachs than hear the bleep, bleep, bloop of Angry Birds or the hum of music from a child’s earbuds. This app helps make device time a time of connection between parent and child and that is valuable to me.
As I mentioned you can use it on iPhone and Android and you can download it here, along with other great apps.
I have an Android device and the app installed in seconds. Here are a couple screenshots from my phone so you can see the app in action. Enjoy!
I was compensated by Scholastic Parent & Child for this post. They are a company I trust and love working with. All opinions are my own.
Kids love to get their hands messy and play with good ole fashioned play dough. The stuff in the stores though could have any number of unsavory ingredients. The truth is we don’t know because the major players in the industry refuse to disclose ingredients, claiming that it is proprietary. The uber bright colors are enough to make me worry though because there are lots of toxic nasties in dyes. The powers that be claim are they “perfectly safe”. I say why wonder when you can make your own. Enjoy!
RICE FLOUR PLAY DOUGH
from the Lisa Lewis book Special Diets for Special Kids
1/2 c. white rice flour
1/2 c. corn starch
1/2 c. salt
2 t. cream of tartar
1 c. water
1 t. cooking oil
Cook all ingredients over low heat until you can form a ball.m When cool, store in zipper plastic bag.
COOKED FLOUR PLAY DOUGH
3 cups flour
1.5 cups salt
6 tsp cream of tarter
3 tbsp oil
3 cups water
Pour all ingredients into a large pot and stir constantly over medium heat until a ball forms. Knead the play dough until the texture matches conventional play dough (1-2 minutes). Add food coloring if you want colored play dough. Store in plastic container. Should last for at least 3 months.
NOTE: This recipe is made from edible ingredients it is not intended as a food item.
Peanut Butter Play Dough
18 oz. peanut butter
6 tbsps. honey
Non-fat dry milk
Cocoa for flavor
Mix all ingredients, adding enough dry milk to give make dough pliable. Shape, decorate with edible treats, and eat!
Colored Play dough
1 cup flour
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup water
1/2 cup salt
2 tsp. cream of tartar
Natural food coloring
Mix all ingredients in saucepan. Heat, stirring constantly until ball forms. Knead until smooth.
Simple Play Dough
1 cup flour
2 cups oatmeal
1 cup water
Gradually add water to flour and oatmeal in bowl. Kneed until mixed (this dough is sticky, but unique in texture.) Model as with clay.
Equal amounts salt and flour; then add enough water to make it doughy. Dries hard in a couple of days and then you can paint it.
Earth Friendly Goo
1 cup water
1 cup cornstarch
4-5 drops fruit juice like blueberry or raspberry (combine a 1/4 cup of the food with 2 cups water, simmer for an hour. Cool, strain, and use as coloring).
Work the ingredients together and let your kids have fun with this gooey concoction.
Natural and Safe Finger Paint
1/3 cup soap flakes melted with 1/2 cup boiling water
1 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup cold water
A few drops juice dyes (combine a 1/4 cup of the colored food like beets, blueberries, or raspberries with 2 cups water, simmer for an hour. Cool, strain, and use as coloring).
Make Your Own Bubbles
1 qt water
8 tbs glycerin, can be purchased at drug stores
6-8 tbs Ivory dish soap
Mix all ingredients together and use outdoors with bubble blowers.
Make Your Own Silly Putty
2 cups white school glue
1 cup liquid starch
Mix together and set aside until dry. Store in an airtight container.
I am not a professional photographer but I do love to take photos. I especially love taking pictures of my kids. In fact they were what motivated me to buy a DSLR camera. I wanted more professional looking photos (as opposed to candids) but I didn’t have the money to be hiring a photographer several times a year for important events and portraits. It seemed a no brainer to buy a decent but low end digital camera, purchase a few lenses (off-brand), and then learn a trick or two until I could take photos I would proudly hang on my walls. And I do hang canvas photos of my kids throughout our home. When we have guests I often get comments about the gorgeous “professional” photos.
The best photos tell a story and they give the viewer a glimpse of the child’s unique personality. By getting creative with poses, settings, lighting, and background you give your boring photos some pizazz and create something worthy of being framed or set on canvas and then proudly displayed. You are also helping to document a child’s life. Years from now they can look back at the photos you have taken and see a visual storybook that shares the very essence of the little people they were and the unique person they grew up to be. Photos tell stories… they tell the story of the first day of school, the story of their one and only fifth birthday, and the story of their first school dance. More than just capturing the moment, your photos should give insight into the actual person being photographed and what was being felt at the moment you clicked your camera. What stories do your photos tell? I hope they tell great ones! This post has lots of tips for helping the amateur or hobbyist photographer take better photos of children.
1. Crop Your Photos
Many pictures we take of our kids end up being less than stellar because of the background. Perhaps you have a messy room, a cluttered kitchen, or a big tree overpowering your photo. One way to avoid this is to frame the picture in such a way that the area behind your child is free of clutter and then crop the photo to hone in on the subject alone. Or perhaps you want the subject of the photo to be an amazing smile or some other feature of your child and you want to isolate that in the photo. Simply crop the photo to show only what you want to show. Easy!
This particular photo was taken in my backyard. I wanted to frame my daughter’s angelic face and clutched hands and make them the focus of the shot so I cropped out the rest of the photo.
#2 The Rule of Thirds
Most newbie photographers like to center their subject but one of the most important rules for better photographs is to use the rule of thirds. It just provides more visually interesting pictures. Divide your imaginary image into thirds vertically and horizontally and place your subject along the intersecting lines. Although not a text book example the photo above shows how you can off center the subject or place them along the imaginary lines that would divide the photo into thirds. I like how you get some of the creamy brown background (which was the dirt from a baseball diamond) in the photo and I find the picture looks better visually instead of a centered image.
#3 Capture Emotion
Since you are trying to tell a story with your photos it is always a pleasure to capture moments of emotion. Certainly your child goes through life with moments of pure happiness, sadness, bliss, tantrums, fear, etc. Those moments are what make us human. Does your photo convey what they were feeling when you took the shot? Does it tell a story on its own?
In the photo above my two boys were “caught” jumping on the bed during the holidays.
#4 Location is Everything
One of the best ways to take better photos is to get in your car and drive someplace visually interesting and shoot there. Your community likely has many places that are great for photos so there is no reason you need to stay at home and shoot there. Take your mini photo shoot on location!
The photo above was taken at a state park in the tall grass near the entrance. We took many photos that day but this one was of the first and captured beautifully the area we were visiting and enjoying that day and how my little guy felt to be out in the great outdoors.
#5 Don’t Say Cheese – Capture Natural Smiles
Some of the best shots are taken when your kids are not posing or even aware that the camera is there. When we ask our children to stop, stand still, and say cheese, we often get awkward faces and smiles. I prefer getting shots of their natural smiles that light up their faces and give me a glimpse into their unique personality. MUCH better than cheese faces!
#6 Capture Their Personality
Can you sum up the major aspects of a child’s personality with one photo? It may be a tall order but it is certainly possible. The trick is to catch them doing what they love to do and all those things that make them uniquely them will shine through. I love this photo of my youngest son because it is so HIM!
#7 Take Interesting Photos
When choosing a setting, background, or pose try to think about what will make that shot visually interesting. Instead of taking a photo next to a blank wall can the child lean on it or sit beside it instead? Instead of a boring white wall can you go outside and take a photo next to an old gate or the brick wall of your garage? Get creative and take visually interesting photos. Once you have some practice you will start to develop and eye for this. I love this photo of my daughter because it is unusual and shows some of her favorite toys.
Bonus Tip: Follow photographers on Pinterest and save your fave photos to a photo inspiration board!
#8 Capture Their Favorite Place and Things
One goal of photography is to capture the essence of childhood and a great way to do this to take pictures of the things and places they love. Do you have a photo of your child with their favorite stuffed animal? Do you have a photo of your child at their favorite park? You will always want to remember those things by capturing them. The picture above was taken at one my kid’s favorite places. The zoo!
#9 Use Simple Backgrounds
You probably don’t have professional backdrops but you can still choose a simple background that will add visual appeal while not overpowering the subject.
I like to take photos against painted walls and then blur the background so you can’t tell its a wall. I also like taking pictures with brick walls in the background. I have also been known to drape a sheet on an existing wall to make my own backdrop. I also LOVE making nature my backdrop.
#10 Always Be Prepared to Shoot!
Some of the most interesting photos will be ones you hadn’t planned on taking. Perhaps you see your kids blowing bubbles outside and you have to run and grab your camera or perhaps they run outside to run around in an unexpected rain shower. Always be prepared to take great shots by having your camera nearby. I rarely go anywhere without mine these days.
The other BIG tip I have is to get a good photo editing program and buy some “actions”. These are often sold by professional photographers and they replicate the steps that professionals use to edit their images with the click of a button. I have Photoshop CS5 and the cheaper Photoshop Elements. There are actions available for both.
I was a pretty shy kid.
Until I was 13 years old, my parents literally had to coax me out of my bedroom (where I was typically buried in a medieval fantasy novel) to get me to simply shake the hands of our visitors and look them in the eye.
Then I’d quickly duck back into my room.
But somehow I survived college and a modern working environment (barely!) and I’m now raising my twin boys to give them as much social success and social confidence as possible, and today’s article will delve into six natural and ancestrally-based ways that you can do the same.
The Importance of Tribes
Many of our animal relatives spend a great deal of their time wandering or living in tribes, groups, flocks, herds and schools – even going so far as to eat bugs off the body of their friends and families. Although I’m a fan of the burgeoning cricket protein food movement, I’ll admit I am somewhat glad we humans aren’t necessarily social to the extent of grooming via bug-picking. But unfortunately, nowadays we don’t even come close to the tribal attachments displayed in nature or in our ancestry.
But consider this: in multiple studies, relationships and spending time with family and close friends is consistently correlated with amazingly higher levels of happiness and well-being. Despite this fact, the last several decades have seen a significant decline in many aspects associated with tight-knit social circles – including qualities like family and household size, club and social participation, and number of close friends.
Sadly, we’ve instead witnessed an increase in solo or isolated activities such as television, long commutes, the internet, and digital relationships.
In other words, we seem to be making a stark transition from tribe to individual. However, we humans are biologically hard-wired to be social animals. As a matter of fact, we’re such social animals that the mere act of joining a club (e.g. dance club, chess club, bridge club, tennis club, golf club, etc.) halves your chance of death in the next year. Or consider the fact that – as mentioned by Malcolm Gladwell in the book Outliers – living in a close-knit town of three-generation households can singlehandedly lower your risk of heart disease.
So how can you get a jump-start on making your kid ready for tribal interaction that makes them live longer and be happier?
During early childhood development, from birth to 3 years old, much of our neurobiology and core personalities are formed. To increase propensity for social and tribal engagement, increase empathy and decrease risk of anxiety and depression in children, it is during this time that it becomes highly important to simulate the close-knit parent-child bonds displayed both in nature and in the practices of our hunter gatherer ancestors. I realize that was a mouthful, but in a nutshell, we can begin by increasing attachment at an earlier age.
For example, in a recent national symposium, University of Notre Dame psychology professor Darcia Narvaez highlighted six key practices consistent with the concept of attachment parenting (a philosophy originally championed by well-known pediatrician Dr. William Sears). The six practices for increasing attachment are detailed below.
Six Ways To Increase Attachment in Kids
1) Natural birth: Research shows that medical interventions such as C-sections, whisking a baby away from a mother and off into a separate ward for post-birth testing or treatment, and baby formula feedings can inhibit important hormones like oxytocin from being released, which interferes with the natural mother-baby bonding process that jumpstarts the tribal feeling.
2) Breastfeeding: Many of our previous ancestral cultures breastfed their infants for two to five years. This not only helps to form a properly functioning gut-based immune system, but also decreases anxiety and forms important social bonds between a child and mother. Obviously, if you have a high schooler you can’t do much about this, but if you are currently expecting or currently breastfeeding, I recommend you take breastfeeding to at least the two years old level.
3) Cuddling: Along with the nutritional value of breast milk, kids develop a sense of wellbeing from the positive touch that breastfeeding involves. Positive touch has benefits to brain development, hormone-functioning, and appropriate social interactions. For this reason, breastfeeding into later ages is important, as is co-sleeping, and plenty of cuddling. My wife Jessa, me and our six year old twin boys River and Terran often simply lay on the living room couch in a big pile of family togetherness for 20 minutes after they get out of bed – and I can feel that oxytocin surging through my veins.
4) Responsiveness: In most ancient cultures, there was not much value placed in letting a baby fuss or cry. Don’t worry – comforting your child when distressed is not going to ruin their chances of becoming a tough, Spartanesque, future Cross-fit games champion or some other kind of professional athlete (if that’s what you desire in a kid). In contrast, children who have responsive parents tend to develop greater empathy, they tend to develop a conscience earlier, and they will be set to interact more cooperatively with a tribe.
5) Multiple Adult Caregivers: Our early infant ancestors benefited from being cared for not just by mom and dad, but by other adults and tribe members who loved them. Surrogate parents also help to share some of the burden of parenting, helping to prevent parental exhaustion. For this reason, raising up children in some sort of a tribe setting can bestow an incredible advantage to your kids and to you too. This approach can save you work, since with other trusted caregivers around, you have more time flexibility. In many cultures, kids run around everywhere with their parents nowhere in sight. But all the neighbors know each other. There are aunts, uncles and other family members and friends who are keeping their eyes on the kids. As Eric D. Kennedy describes it in his excellent online essay “On the Social Lives of Cavemen”, there is a healthy middle ground between not being allowed to cross the street and a high school house party. As children are allowed to become independent of parents, they are able to do it, but within a trusted support network of family and friends.
6) Free Play (With Kids Of Varying Ages). This concept actually builds on the concept of having multiple adult caregivers. Our ancestors’ children weren’t separated into age-specific play circles, but were instead exposed to kids at different stages of development – thus enhancing the child’s physical and mental growth. I’d highly recommend you read a recent article in The Atlantic (available for free online) entitled “The Overprotected Kid”. The article describes how preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery, without making it safer. It goes on to describe new kind of free-play, junk-yard type playground. This miniature outdoor city is full of fire, fences, mud, wood scraps, tires, and other random materials where children of all ages spend the entire day exploring, forming tribes and generally being left to “fend for themselves” – but under the watchful eye of older tribe members such as friends, family members and parents who are within close proximity – distant but present.
Contrast these reasonable risks with casual tribal supervision with our modern practice of extreme supervision by parents only, antibacterial hand sprays, plush bumper-guarded playground equipment, shouting at kids not to “run with sticks” and other ridiculous coddling, and it’s understandable why children are not only growing weak and fragile, but more socially anxious, less cooperative, and more picky and judgmental about spending time with anyone outside their peer group.
Practical Steps You Can Take
So from a practical standpoint, what can you do to implement some of the tips you’ve just learned? Try these quick tips:
-Breastfeed to a later age and don’t be embarrassed about it. Cuddle. Be responsive if your child cries or gets hurt.
-Make friends with your neighbors, try to live close to family if possible, kick your children outside to play for long hours, make sure they know it’s OK to play with a mix of older and younger kids, and then quit worrying. They’ll survive.
-Have family dinners. Have dinner parties. Read the good book “Never Eat Alone” and incorporate the same concepts into your childrens’ lives.
-Have your kids spend more time with trusted adults who aren’t their parents. Then do the same for yourself, spending time with the kids of adults who trust you. Hang out with mixed age groups and make sure your kids do too. Have your kids spend more time at older people’s homes or with grandma and grandpa.
-Become familiar with the concept of unschooling (visit Unschoolery.com). Unschooling is simply a rough version of learning that prepares a child for life, for being an entrepreneur, for learning anything, and for being autonomous. Whether your child is homeschooled, in private school, or public school, you can use unschooling concepts to generate important lifelong skills. Pay very close attention to what your children develop a natural interest in, and then teach them to learn about the world through activities, trips, and adventures. For example, our kids have recently become interested in singing. But rather than going out and purchasing formal music curriculum, we started playing a home version of the singing competition “The Voice”, we record songs on the computer with a microphone, we bought an electronic keyboard, and we brought them to a musical.
Ben Greenfield is an ex-bodybuilder, Ironman triathlete, professional Spartan racer, coach, speaker and author of the New York Times Bestseller “Beyond Training: Mastering Endurance, Health and Life” (http://www.BeyondTrainingBook.com). In 2008, Ben was voted as NSCA’s Personal Trainer of the year and in 2013 was named by Greatist as one of the top 100 Most Influential People In Health And Fitness. Ben blogs and podcasts at http://www.BenGreenfieldFitness.com, and resides in Spokane, WA with his wife and twin boys.
This is a guest post from Aby Nicole League
Children, it seems, are losing childhood.
It’s a story I hear too often from my friends. Much to my surprise, this story has been passed to me and now that I’m months away from my firstborn, I’m quite feeling the pressure of juggling things perfectly to raise my kid.
I want to raise my kids the way my parents raised me – playing in the nearest residential playground, running, screaming, playing under the rain, catching frogs and insects like I used to when I was a kid.
Modernity and technology are only bits of the puzzle when it comes to fast-tracking childhood. Learning and growing are accelerated across the board, but so is childhood in general. As we all experience plodding cultural change, children of the newer generation are losing childhood because they aren’t given the time for outdoor play. I couldn’t agree more.
I often see children aged 3-10 years old holding smartphones, tablets, Nintendo and other gadgets – those we haven’t even imagined possible by the time we we’re kids. And this trend never seems to stop. Alarming isn’t it?
Today, your child wants a new video game console. The next day, your child wants the newest cellular phone available in the market. The following days, your child wishes for a computer and join an online community with a monthly fee. In the newest research conducted by a child advocacy group, Common Sense Media, the use of portable gadgets has exploded over the past few years from 38% in 2011 to 89% in 2013. Furthermore, the amount of time kids spend with their devices has mounted triple. These happened in spite of the reiterations from several different medical organizations about the negative effects of too much screen exposures of kids to screens.
You might wonder, what kids do on these portable gadgets? Mostly play games, others use app and watch videos, further studies have found.
It is 2014 now, preschoolers don’t know how to climb a tree but they can win a life and death games using the electronic gadget.
I don’t want to raise my child too tied in modernity. I want an exceptional childhood experience for my firstborn and future kids, with the right balance after all.
Parents and soon-to-be –parents should encourage their kids to drop their gadgets and play at the school or community playground instead. Playtime which involves a lot of moving around obviously has several health gains and could cause you, parents, and priceless benefits as you interact with your kids in playground.
So, with the competitive attraction of modern gadgets, how would you make outdoor play more engaging than video games?
1. Travel Back in the 90’s
Who could have foreseen time flying kite could provide hours of endless entertainment? Get your kids outside by making their own kite. Let them design it and fly it by themselves. Use different colors of papers and sticks to make this activity more attractive to kids. Bring them to a wide open space. Give them the reign to control once they get the hang of flying the kite. Just watch over them and let them be on their own. You can also let them play other games – those which you enjoy when you were kids.
2. Bring them to play paradise
Play is for playground. Paradise is for nature. Try to have an uninterrupted playtime in nature-themed playgrounds. In a 2011 newsletter of Nature Action Collaborative for Children (NACC), nature-based playtime is defined as more than just outdoor play. It happens in a natural space and is child-initiated and directed. In short, it is children playing with nature. Being closer to nature also helps in overall child development. The wholesome goodness of nature and play makes kids smarter. Children have the opportunity to decide for themselves, stimulate their problem solving skills and creative thinking. They learn to work with other children. When they explore the outdoors, they feel freer to wander. Seeing such scenario is just priceless, go create your own nature-themed play project for you and your kids.
3. Treasure Hunt
Encourage group cooperation, problem solving, following directions, thinking and reasoning with this extremely exciting game – treasure hunt. Prepare colorful costumes and props. Make it look like the real treasure hunt they see in the movie. Let them play in the mud, make mud pies and solve problems while keeping cooperation with his/her teammates. You will get to see who the leader is and who the problem solver is, the trickiest and who the organizer is. Make sure to prepare something special for them after the hunt.
4. Set a Friendly Puppet or Talent Show
Invite other kids from the neighborhood. Bring out chalks, papers, radio, chairs, toys and other art materials. Set up a mini stage for this cute little event. This will be a good opportunity for parents to see their kids’ talent. It will help you gauge what sport and activities fit your kids – basketball, singing, art, painting, crafting and many others. Prepare healthy snacks for them too and invite other parents to help you assist the kids. With this, you do not just bring your kids outdoor, but make him open for friendship and conversation.
5. Introduce Outdoor Science
Children love to play and experiment to discover new things. Bring the science of play and the science of science outdoors! You can use simple and easy concepts of science to make kids drop their gadgets for a while and be the next Einstein. Awe them with –do-it-yourself rainbow or the mentos-coke experiment or the all-time string telephone. After accomplishing each simple experiment, explain the basic concepts behind them and let them asks questions. Answer each patiently.
6. Get Your Kids (and Gadgets) Outside
Kids don’t have to choose between gadgets and outdoor play. You can get the kids fall in love with nature through bighearted photowalk or make a family video, while having picnic outside. Let kids use their gadgets to capture the most amazing nature shot. Let them look for birds and flowers to take pictures of it. Prepare mouth-watering and healthy food and prepare mindful and nature-based games. Put a balance between nature and technology because after all, we have to embrace what the future really is.
As parents, we cannot not worry about our child safety but sometimes joyful abandon of what’s “safe,” you can reap the myriad of benefits for your kids. Pretty soon, I’ll have my baby and I won’t be ashamed if I raise my child in traditional way and by nature’s rule of thumb. More than the benefits of bringing kids outdoors, I wouldn’t want to see my kids live with the bots and eventually be one.
Written by Aby Nicole League of AboutPossibilities.com