Halloween activities for preschoolers

Building self-esteem in young children is a cause which resonates deep within me.  I have found that picture book stories are an amazing vehicle for parents and teachers to use, not only for entertainment and enjoyment, but also to help preschoolers deal with the many issues they face as they grow up.

Halloween is a perfect time to read, “A TIGER CALLED THOMAS“, by Charlotte Zolotow.  Every young child will enjoy the story about the little boy who moves into a new neighborhood and feels that no one will like him.  He is too afraid to connect with the children he sees playing outside.  But on Halloween, even though he hides behind a tiger mask, the children and adults in his neighborhood welcome him and show him that they want to be his friend.  For other books that address a similar theme of young children who are hesitant about moving to a new place and making new friends, check out “ALEXANDER WHO’S NOT (DO YOU HEAR ME? I MEAN IT!) GOING TO MOVE” by Judith Voirst and “GILA MONSTERS MEET YOU AT THE AIRPORT” by Marjorie Weiman Sharmat.

Halloween is also a perfect time for dress-up and role-playing, although these activities can be enjoyed by young children all year long.  In fact, dress-up and role-playing are wonderful ways for  children to express feelings and concerns that they might be hesitant to express as themselves.  You can use a sturdy cardboard box to store dress-up items…your child can help decorate the outside of the box and you can shop at Goodwill or consignment stores to find inexpensive items to supply the box.  If you do go out to buy a premade costume, make sure it will be safe and comfortable for your young child to wear.  Most little ones will be thrilled with a homemade costume that they have helped put together.  We often get caught up in the commercialism of many holidays…but with young children…simple is often the best choice.

Over the years, we had many Halloween parties for our children.  We also went trick or treating countless times.  But the best Halloween ever was the one we spent at a church-organized “Trick or Treat” where the children and adults all dressed up in costumes.  Each Suncay school classroom was manned by an adult (in costume) and the children walked down the halls, knocking on each door that was opened by the adult who was ready with a bowl of treats.  When all of the children had gone “trick or treating”, everyone assembled in the main dining room which was festively decorated.  In each corner, games had been set up…dunking for apples, donuts on a string, beanbag toss, etc…and there were small prizes awarded to each child. There were also tables with juice, cupcakes and other things to eat and drink.  Finally, there was a costume parade and each child won a blue ribbon for the best costume in different categories: scariest costume, most colorful costume, shiniest costume, etc.  It was a safe, fun-filled evening for everyone.  Perhaps your church, temple or neighborhood group can organize a similar event.  It’s not too eary to start planning!

For more information on all things Halloween, go to;

http://familycrafts.about.com/b/2010/10/05/all-about-parenting-halloween-blog-carnival.htm

 where Sherri Osborn is hosting a Halloween Blog Carnival.  You’ll find tips on costumes, food, party ideas and more for the youngest trick or treaters and lots of ideas for older children and teenagers, as well.

3 top creative snacks for your child’s lunchbox

Sometimes as parents we have to be magicians in order to insure that our children pull out healthy snacks from their lunch boxes.  Whether your child goes to a daycare or preschool facility or is home with you, it’s important that he be eating healthy, nutritious foods…both at mealtimes and for snacks.

If the facility provides the snacks and meals, it’s crucial to find out what is being served.  And, if you are not happy, please don’t hesitate to make suggestions and, if necessary, band together with other parents to work towards upgrading the menus and ingredients used.

On the other hand, if you are providing the food that fills the breakfast plate, lunchbox and dinner table, you are in total control of what your child is eating.  This can be a daunting task…but it is wonderful because you can pick and choose the best ingredients and most healthful recipes.

Our children look forward to snacks…we can help fight the current trends of increased child-obesity, dental decay and juvenile diabetes by making those snacks high in nutrition and fiber and low in sugar and fat.

Here are three top creative snacks for your child’s lunchbox.  You and your child can spend some quality time together, making these simple, delicious and healthful treats.

I. PEANUT BUTTER BALLS

You will need: 1/4 cup peanut butter (or other nut butter), 1/4 cup honey, 1/2 cup non-fat dried milk powder, 1/4 cup shredded coconut, a large bowl and a cookie sheet lined with wax paper.

  1. Mix the first 3 ingredients in a large bowl until well-blended.  Then roll into small balls (about 1 tablespoon each).
  2. Roll the balls in shredded coconut and place on cookie sheet.
  3. Refrigerate for 15-20 minutes.
  4. Place uneaten balls in a cover container and store in the refrigerator for up to a week (although they won’t remain uneaten for that long).
  5. This recipe makes about one dozen balls.  You can double or quadruple the recipe quite easily.  To go in your child’s lunchbox: wrap one or two balls in waxed paper and then put in a small sandwich baggie.

II. LION’S CANDY

You will need: 1/2 cup peanut butter (or other nut butter), 1/2 cup ground sunflower seeds, 1/4 cup instant dry milk, 1 Tb honey, 1/2 cup finely chopped raisins (or dates or other dried fruit), 1/2 tsp cocoa (optional) and a large bowl.

  1. Blend together nut butter and ground sunflower seeds.
  2. Stir in dry milk, honey and dried fruit.  Mix well (with hands, if necessary).
  3. If the mixture is too dry, add some liquid milk; if too wet, add more dry milk.
  4. Form into teaspoon-sized balls.  If desired, roll in cocoa powder.
  5. Makes about 2 dozen balls.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  To send in your child’s lunchbox, wrap 1 or 2 balls in waxed paper and put in a small sandwich baggie.

III. RAINBOW VEGGIE STICKS WITH NUTTY DIP

You will need: Assortment of colorful vegetables such as green and red peppers, carrots, zucchini and celery (use your imagination), 1/2 cup almonds (or other nuts), blender or food processor, small container and a large container.

  1. Wash the vegetables and cut in sticks.
  2. Grind the nuts.  Add a little olive oil or canola oil if the dip is too dry.
  3. Store the cut vegetables in a covered container in the refrigerator.
  4. Store the nut butter in a small covered container in the refrigerator.
  5. To send in your child’s lunchbox, put an assortment of the rainbow-colored vegetable sticks in a small sandwich baggie and put a tablespoon of the nut butter in a small covered container.

Chef Ann Cooper, director of nutritional services at Berkeley Unified School District and co-author of Lunch Lessons, has great ideas about our children’s nutrition and offers tips on how to improve it: www.thelunchbox.org

You can also find more information about healthy living and nutritious eating at: www.betternutrition.com and www.deliciousliving.com.

5 skills every preschooler should learn

I noticed an article on MSN’s home page about skills teenagers should master as they approach the age when they will leave home to go away to school or out on their own to work.  I think it is a big mistake to wait till our children are teenagers to teach them these important life skills.  Except for car maintenance, every single skill can and should be introduced and taught to our preschoolers.  I think back to my own childhood and am saddened to realize that my mother did not  expect me or my sister to help clean the house (although she did suggest it once or twice) and we were not taught to balance a checkbook or keep to a budget.  She cooked all of the meals and did not teach us to cook, plan menus or shop for ingredients. 

What are those life skills that every child should begin to master at an early age?

  • CLEANING THE HOUSE: show your child what to do and let him help…of course, if you are using toxic cleansers, perhaps you can switch to more eco-friendly (and child-friendly) green cleaning solutions.  Check out one of my earlier posts for some simple suggestions.
  • DOING THE LAUNDRY: even a toddler can help sort items for the laundry…darks and lights for example…putting dirty clothes in the hamper…folding towels…matching socks…what great opportunities for science and math experiences!
  • COOKING: little ones LOVE to help in the kitchen…measuring, mixing, learning about what ingredients go into making various meals and accompanying you to the store to discover that green bananas should be yellow with spots if we want them to taste sweet and what a ripe melon smells like.
  • MANAGING MONEY: every young child should have a piggy bank where allowances (if your family does that) and money earned or received as gifts are kept…it’s easy for kids to “want” everything…but life is about making choices and that is a part of money management that little ones can be taught…if Johnny wants something that costs $1.00 and he only has 50 cents in his piggy bank, he will have to “earn” the rest or wait until he has enough by saving allowance or gift money.  Older children should learn to balance a checkbook!
  • MAKING APPOINTMENTS AND MANAGING A DAILY SCHEDULE: you can make a chart that shows the daily schedule…breakfast time, lunch time, doctor’s appt, playdate, bedtime…use pictures cut from magazines to help your child identify what is happening during the day…young children feel less stressed when they know what to expect and what is expected from them…for children who have trouble settling down and getting ready for bed, this might be a life-saver!

So, don’t wait to start teaching your child these important life skills…begin when he is a preschooler and life may be much smoother in your home as your child grows up.  He or she will definitely thank you…self-sufficiency and mastering tasks and skills are cornerstones in the foundation of high self-esteem.

Your preschooler needs a bucket list

Several years ago, Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson starred in a movie called “The Bucket List” which told the tale of two older gentlemen who decided that before they died, there were a number of things they wanted to do.   Many people, as they get older, begin to think about the things they never got around to doing, but wish they had.  In fact, that’s one of the reasons I was thrilled when I visited my son in Chicago and he told me he had arranged for us to go skydiving.  I had an awesome experience and I was able to cross one more item off my bucket list. http://bit.ly/b8By2X If you click on this link, you’ll be able to share that exciting ride with me!

There are many things that young children need to experience as well.  I think there are some basic things that every preschooler should have the opportunity to do, although your family may want to add to the list or subtract from it, based on your individual situation.

So, here is my bucket list for a preschooler:

  • Hear the words, I LOVE YOU, every day!
  • Be shown by parents and other adults that he/she is loved and valued!
  • Be encouraged to master tasks and skills.
  • Be allowed to express his/her feelings, whether positive or negative.
  • Go to a zoo.
  • Jump in puddles after a rainstorm.
  • Play in the mud and get dirty.
  • Use art supplies (paints, crayons, clay, etc.) to express creativity.
  • Get a library card (as soon as your local library allows…go to the library on a regular basis.
  • Feel safe at home and in school, daycare or anywhere.
  • Be read a story (or two or more) on a daily basis.

As Alecia Devantier says in 101 THINGS EVERY KID SHOULD DO GROWING UP, “Childhood is a magical time of newfound joys and enriching experience.  The gifts our children are given today will last a lifetime.”

What’s on your child’s bucket list?

Why I LOVED the start of school

I know that many parents are anxious about their child starting school.  I’ve addressed that in previous posts as well as how to help a child who is anxious about going to school.  I began thinking about how I felt when my children started school: EXCITED, EAGER and HAPPY, and how my children felt about going to school: as far as I know they were EXCITED, EAGER, and HAPPY. And, even though it was a very LONG time ago, I can still remember how EXCITED, EAGER, and HAPPY I was when I started school.

So what did my mother do all those years ago to help me and my sister look forward to going to school with eager anticipation?  I know that I tried to copy her winning formula when it came time to send my own children to school. 

  • My mother had a matter-of-fact, upbeat and positive attitude about us going to school.  I never heard her say anything negative about the school or our teachers.  Children are so very sensitive to our emotions…if we are tense and anxious about something, they probably will be also.
  • We went to a neighborhood school, so we knew many of the children in our classes.  Try to make sure that your child has visited the school before the first day…you can also try to connect with other parents of his classmates and arrange playdates so that your child will feel more comfortable with the other children.
  • We got a new pair of SCHOOL shoes and a new outfit to wear on the first day.  And, when we got home from school each day, we took off our school clothes and put on play clothes.  Somehow, that made “school” a very special place.  Encourage your child to lay out his clothes the night before each school day…this will help lessen the last-minute rush in the morning.
  • My mother encouraged us to bring friends home after school (she was a stay-at-home mom…as were most moms in those days).  Whether you have a career or not, try to set aside some time, perhaps on the weekend, to enable your child to get together with some of her classmates.  Maybe you can form a group with several parents and alternate having a little monthly party to celebrate one of the children’s birthdays, a holiday or whatever you wish.
  • She loved hearing about our day at school…she was a great listener…what we did was important to her and she was happy to help us with homework or studying.  In the early grades, I can remember sitting at the kitchen table and having her help me cut and glue magazine pictures.  When I was in high school (and even in my college years), I can remember sitting on the floor at her feet, pad of paper and pen in hand, asking her, “Mom, how can I start this paper?”…and she would throw out several ideas and off I would go, scribbling like a maniac.  Often, I would wind up changing the beginning that she had suggested, but her encouragement and willingness to help gave me the courage to trust my own inspiration and creativity.  Try to be there for your child…always be ready to listen.
  • As the school year progressed, my parents attended as many school functions as they could, whether it was a meeting with the teacher or a play we were in.  This showed me that what happened at school was important to my parents, and therefore, to me.  Do your best to fit school functions into your schedule…if you are not able to attend an event, make sure there is someone else there to represent you so that your child doesn’t feel you don’t care…because then he might not either.

So why did I love the start of school: I believed my parents loved it also, I had new clothes and new shiny shoes, I was going to spend the day with friends, I knew my parents loved me, and I felt that school (and learning) was IMPORTANT.  When my children were ready to attend school, I tried to recreate what my mother had done for me.  And I hope that my children will do the same for their children.

    Skydiving at 63

    Yesterday I posted a blog about the connection between skydiving and parenting, but I didn’t really talk about why I decided to jump out of a plane at age 63 and how it felt.

    Life constantly offers us opportunities to grow.  But I think most of the time we ignore them.  I know that as a child, I was extremely timid (and intimidated) and I rarely wanted to do anything new or go anywhere different.  Perhaps that’s why I am so passionate about helping children build a self-esteem and why I try to encourage parents to help their children develop confidence and a sense of competence. I guess there is at least one great advantage to getting older…at least for me.  I tend to be willing to try new things and travel to new places.  In fact, I look forward to these new experiences.  So when my son told me that he had a surprise for me during my visit to him in Chicago, I was excited.  And, when he informed me that the surprise was a skydiving adventure, I was thrilled.  Maybe it sounds odd, but I wasn’t anxious or nervous about it.   I guess by the time you reach my age, you realize that any one of a number of things can happen to end your life in the blink of an eye…crazy driver on the road, freak slip in the shower or an angry disenchanted person who decides to shot a bunch of people at the mall where you are shopping.

    The atmosphere at the Chicagoland Skydiving Center seemed quite festive…families sitting at picnic tables waiting for someone who was already up in the air; children running to and fro, heads craned way back to watch the planes taking off and the people parachuting down; upbeat music from a loudspeaker blending with the cacophony of children playing; a line of people waiting to order corn dogs and ice-cold soda at the vendor’s trailer.

    So now I’ll tell you about my skydiving experience.  After registering in the main building, we waited until our names were called to attend the brief training session where they explained what would take place and what we should do while in the plane and out of it.  The instructor described the position we should assume while jumping out and while in free-fall.  As this was going to be a tandem jump for both myself and my son, it was important to know that we needed to keep our hands crossed on our chests, so as not to impede our “pro” to whom we would be harnessed.  And to keep our head to the side in the crook of his neck, so as not to head-butt him and knock him out, rendering him unable to control the fall.  There was a large group in the training session, so we were pleasantly surprised when we heard our names being called soon after the session was ended.  We quickly made our way to the main building and were met by our “pros” who introduced themselves and proceeded to put us in the harness and explain how to crouch at the hatch (like a baseball catcher).  The plane was just about ready to take off with our group of about 7 jumpers and their instructors and a couple of photographers, so we made our way over to the airfield, boarded the plane and arranged ourselves on the benches that lined the inside  of the plane.  For me, the smell of the engine fumes was the worst part of the experience.  When they opened the hatch, the smell disappeared and the view of the countryside was beautiful, but we soon became too busy with preparations for the jump to notice anything.  My son and his instructor were the first ones out.  As soon as he had jumped, my instructor and I duck-walked (I had been sitting on his lap during the flight to 9000 ft so that he could attach my harness to him and his to me) to the open hatchway.  We rocked back and forth two times and on the third…out we went.   Running through my mind were the instructions we had received during the training session: head to the side in the crook of the instructor’s neck, back arched, legs between the legs of the instructor, feet tipped up toward his butt, hands crossed on my chest.  The power of the wind and air pressure as we plummeted down was awesome.  In a few seconds, I realized the photographer was falling in front of us, motioning to me to wave, give a thumbs up and smile!  Which I did…you can see it all if you check out the video they made:  lifepursuitvideo.com/asppublic/Vide… via @AddThis

    After about 30 seconds of free-fall, the instructor put his arm out and his wrist in front of my face to show me that it was time to pull the ripcord…I, however, was too busy interacting with the photographer, so the instructor had to do it.  WHOOSH!!! Up we went as the parachute opened and pulled us about 1000 feet back up…at least it felt like that.  From then on, the experience consisted of a gentle descent, pleasant conversation and lovely views of the countryside which grew slowly closer with every minute.  When we neared the ground, my instructor told me to bend my knees and stick my feet out as far and as high as I could.  Our landing was unbelievably gentle…he touched down on his feet and told me to put my feet down…which I did, and, to my surprise, I was standing and walking.  He unharnessed me and said, “Go see your son, he’s over there.”  Looking around him, I saw Peter several yards away, with the biggest smile, giving me the thumbs up!   Perhaps the best part of the experience was that I shared it with one of my grown children…continuing and strengthening the bond we’ve developed over the years.   It was definitely a great day…one I will remember for the rest of my life!

    A Leap of Faith: Skydiving vs. Parenting

    I just got back from a wonderful visit to Chicago to see my son and daughter-in-law.  Everything was perfect: the flights were all on-time and smooth; the weather in Chicago was sunny and not too windy; their new home is beautiful and they treated me like a treasured guest; the time spent with family was satisfying and enjoyable.  I spent an entire day with my sister, reminiscing about our childhood.  We had breakfast at Stella’s on Broadway.  I walked to the lake and shared many meals with family members I had not seen in several years. 

    Two things stand out that I will remember for the rest of my life – and both are connected because they both require a leap of faith.  On Sunday, my son took me to the Chicagoland Skydiving Center, where we registered, took a short prep course on skydiving, met our instructors, got harnessed up, boarded a little plane with no seats – just benches, and went for the ride of our lives.  The best part for me was not the 30 second free-fall, but the 7 minute gentle glide down after the parachute/canopy opened.   It was a thrilling experience and one I will never forget.  On the way back from skydiving, we stopped at my nephew’s home to visit with him, his wife and his two children.  As I watched the interplay between my nephew, his wife and his young children,  I observed what wonderful parents he and his wife have become.  It occurred to me that parenting, like skydiving,  is definitely a leap of faith.  Whether you are a novice parent with a newborn or an experienced parent with several children, there are no guarantees that what you do will turn out right.  You can read books written by the “pros” or consult with “experts”…but in the end, all you can do is your best.

    Sometimes, though, it helps to have a little guidance.  Just like the short prep course at the skydiving center and the last-minute instructions and “nudging” from Dave, my skydiving professional, we can gain useful parenting advice from books, workshops, and other sources.  My new book, SHOW ME HOW!  BUILD YOUR CHILD’S SELF-ESTEEM THROUGH READING, CRAFTING AND COOKING, which will be available by the end of the month,  provides tips, tactics and tools to give parents a sense of competence and confidence in their own abilities.  It pinpoints 100 picture books every young child should hear and develops pre-literacy skills while providing an eco-friendly craft project and a child-friendly healthful recipe for each recommended title.  I’m hoping it will be a parachute for the leap of faith that today’s parents take.

    If you’d like to see the skydive I took and share in the excitement, go to: lifepursuitvideo.com/asppublic/Vide… via @AddThis

    If you’d like more info about the new book, go to: www.positiveparentalparticipation.com