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Food and cooking have always been a passion of mine. As a child, I loved baking and helping with meal preparation. As I got older, I became more adventurous in the kitchen and started playing around with my own recipes — with varying results!
My children love to be my kitchen "helpers," and happily drag a chair or a stool to the counter when I begin pulling things out of the fridge or cupboard. My almost-four-year-old has become more curious about cause and effect, and has even started to create kitchen experiments of his own.
Teaching children how to cook and experiment in the kitchen has widespread benefits. From math and science to problem solving, children are learning skills that will lay the foundation for continued exploration in the future. Here are some of my favorite ways to get children excited about being in the kitchen.
- What happens to food that goes in the trash? Instead of throwing food out, teach them How to Make Compost with this fun activity. Not only will they learn about the benefits of composting, they will also begin to understand the science behind decomposition and how composting can help the environment. While this is geared towards preschool and kindergarten ages, this activity is fun for the whole family.
- Is your child interested in growing plants, and you lack the space or it isn't quite the season yet? Try the Indoor Gardening with Kitchen Waste activity to use up your kitchen scraps. Your child will delight in growing their own food, and learn how to reduce the amount of waste in the process!
- For the young chefs, teach your child to make Indoor Easy Homemade Yogurt and they'll become kitchen scientists at the same time. With only a few items needed (nonfat dry milk, yogurt, and a cooking thermometer), you and your child will realize that delicious homemade yogurt is easy to make right at home!
- After making yogurt, play around with another item you can make with milk, by Making Your Own Butter. This is a great project to encourage your child to make predictions about what happens with different types of milk. You can create a chart to track how long it takes for the milk to turn into butter and experiment with different ingredients to make this project one they'll be begging you to repeat!
- In my house, everyone LOVES to eat meringue cookies. Try the Make Meringue Science activity to learn more about states of matter while creating a delicious delicacy in the process. You'll only need a few common ingredients and kitchen items to make this tasty scientific experiment right in your own kitchen!
- Everyone loves cupcakes, but most of the time a cupcake for dinner is frowned upon. Use the Bake Healthy Dinner Cupcakes recipe to get your child excited about baking, trying new kinds of food, and they'll love that they get to eat cupcakes for dinner! This is a great way to get your child active in the kitchen and excited to eat their creations.
- Food isn't the only thing you can make in the kitchen! My kids loved making their very own Homemade Finger Paint using this easy-to-follow recipe. You'll explore following a recipe, asking questions, and experimenting with color combinations.
- Take your finger paints and use them to make Art with Household Items in this interesting activity focused on the unconventional use of kitchen tools! Your child will enjoy thinking outside the box as they discover different uses for everyday objects.
- What's the difference between a solid and a liquid, and why is it important to know? Use the Solids, Liquids, Maple Syrup activity with your child to find out what makes the difference between states of matter, while having a fun (and sticky!) time in the kitchen.
- If your child is anything like mine, they'll love becoming a scientist as they experiment with Sudsy Lemon Science to find out more about the properties of objects while learning about chemical reactions, physical reactions, and magnetism, all while using items you probably have in your kitchen cupboard!
Spending time in the kitchen preparing food, learning about kitchen safety, and experimenting will give your child an opportunity to use their senses, test their theories, and get excited about the magic that happens in the kitchen every single day.
While trying to wrangle two preschoolers who often have “the sillies," the daily struggle is real. Don’t get me wrong; I love their joy, the way they love each other, and that laughter fills the house. But sometimes it feels as though no one is listening to me and my only option is to raise my voice, which I really don't like to do. Instead of yelling, I know I need to get close and down on their level, sometimes reaching out to touch their shoulder or hold their hand. Simply being near them and making eye contact helps them snap out of "the sillies." Once I pull their attention away from the shrieks and giggles, I realize that the key word isn’t listening—it's hearing. They just didn’t hear me.
Hearing and listening are two very different things. Hearing is the involuntary and automatic act by which we detect noise and vibrations in our environment. Listening is the voluntary act that requires us to make sense of the sounds we hear. Once my children hear me, I then need them to listen. Whether it’s a question, instructions, or simply sharing information, it’s important that I can communicate to them and that they listen so they understand.
But are young children inherently great listeners? Not so much. I’m not sure any human is inherently great at it. But there are ways we can train ourselves to be better listeners. Developing listening skills in young kids is important because it’s an integral part of the communication process. Listening skills allow us to function properly in society, in academic settings, and in relationships with others. Good listening skills help us:
- Develop language skills.
- Build a better vocabulary.
- Speak properly and coherently.
- Interact more positively with others with fewer misunderstandings.
- Receive and understand important information.
One of the major components of being a good listener is being able to control your attention. Filtering out distractions and listening for a long period of time can be difficult for a young child, but practice and specific activities can help. While this skill will certainly be practiced at school, there are things you can do at home to help, too. Here are some tips for helping your child develop their listening skills:
- Interact with your child and model good listening. Put away the phone, turn off the television, and remove distractions so you can give yourself time to sit and talk, play, or sing with your child. When you demonstrate what it looks like to pay attention, make eye contact, and listen to your child, they have a wonderful role model to follow. After they say something, rather than replying with a simple comment like, “Oh, really?” or “I see,” try asking further questions to develop a conversation with them. Prompt them to explain their experiences more, and then share your experiences, too. Making connections to their stories will demonstrate that you are actively listening. These conversational techniques will also help your child as they develop socially.
- Use songs, rhyming, and sounds. Learning songs and rhymes by heart is a really great way to develop listening skills. Rhythm and rhyme stimulate our brain, which helps with our auditory memory. Once you and your child have learned songs and rhymes, repeat them! I like to start a line from a song or even a book that we have read several times and stop before completing the whole line. My kids know that my pause is their opportunity to fill in the blank. For example, I say, “Humpty Dumpty sat on a...” and my kids respond with “wall.” This practice encourages them to listen to the exact words that are spoken. For more information and tips on rhyming with your kids, check out the Rhyme Time: Building Language Skills in Young Children blog post.
- Integrate art. If you have an art lover at home like I do, this might be your go-to strategy for working on listening skills! Get out the art materials and a blank piece of paper. Come up with a scene to describe to your little one. Their job is to draw it! Slowly describe the picture to your child and have them draw it based on your description. It’s important to give them the description in small chunks so they are able to process the details. In this activity, allow and encourage them to ask clarifying questions. The simple fact that they are asking questions is a sign of attentive listening!
- Play games. Traditional games like Simon Says, I Spy, and Traffic Lights (sometimes called Red Light, Green Light) are good listening games. When we go out to ride bikes or scooters in the neighborhood, my kids like to zoom ahead of me on the sidewalk. We play Traffic Lights so they can enjoy racing ahead but I can also keep an eye on them. At restaurants and in the car, we play I Spy, which encourages my little ones to listen carefully to answers and questions as they work to identify a mystery object. I love playing these games with my kids because they are having fun without realizing that they’re developing their listening skills.
- Give instructions in 2- or 3-part chunks. Chunking is a strategy used to break up long strings of information into units or chunks. With small bits of information, our brains are better able to commit them to memory. It’s basically like reading an email with a bullet-point format, which is far easier for our brains to handle. So for kids, present information to them in the same way. Prioritize the information you want to share with them, and stick to 2 or 3 chunks or steps, keeping it short and sweet. For example, when I give my 3-year-old instructions, I use this method. I might say, “First, put your shoes away. Then, go potty. Last, pick a book.” Then I repeat it with just key words (“Shoes, potty, book”), and she repeats it back to me.
- Read stories together and ask questions. Reading aloud to our kids is one of the most important times we have with them. Reading aloud to kids gives us a chance to connect, despite whatever challenges the day may have brought. There are also clear cognitive benefits that show listening to read-alouds strengthens the part of the brain associated with visual imagery, story comprehension, and word meaning. For some tips on how to best utilize your reading time with your kids, check out 5 Ways to Make the Most Out of Read-Alouds with Young Children.
Listening is one of the most important skills for kids, and even adults, to master. It doesn’t necessarily come easy, though. With these activities and intentional practice, you can help your child develop their listening skills, which will impact many areas of their life—and yours!
I have been home with my family and practicing social distancing and isolation for months now. Like most people I know, we've gone through some extreme emotions and have had varying degrees of success when it comes to how we are all navigating this uncharted territory.
One thing I've realized is that, while being flexible is key to getting through the day, sticking to a basic schedule not only helps my kids anticipate what is next, it helps me, too. As we progress through this time, here are some ideas to support you as you navigate new routines for yourself and your family.
In the classroom, I always created a daily schedule with simple visuals to help my students look ahead and prepare for the day. As a parent, I have used schedules to help establish daily routines for my children. When my older son was two years old, I created a bedtime schedule for him; now, at almost four years old, he still likes referring to it most evenings.
When I realized that we might be at home and without the structure of our normal day-to-day activities and school schedule, I decided to create a loose plan to use during the week. My first version of this included a lot of snack breaks and unstructured time! Over the weeks, we have shifted into a routine that still reserves plenty of time for snacks and meals, but that also includes open-ended spots for art, indoor and outdoor play, and daily walks.
While it may seem excessive to use a schedule for your child’s daily activities, I've found that it really does create a daily rhythm and a predictable routine for myself and my family. Structure, even loose structure, can help you feel less stressed about deciding what to do next. Setting day-to-day expectations (for example, we always do schoolwork from 9 to 11 a.m., or we always eat lunch at noon) can create a sense of continuity and flow throughout the week.
Having a schedule also ensures that we stick to routine habits that can be easy to let slide, such as getting dressed after breakfast, leaving the house (even just for a quick walk around the block!), and eating meals at the same time together. My favorite part of our new normal is sharing our daily highs and lows during dinner. Even my almost two-year-old participates! This practice is a great way to keep things in perspective while bonding as a family.
While a schedule is great, be sure to remain flexible, too! For example, pre-quarantine, my children would only watch movies or TV shows once or twice a week. Since shelter in place began, we have allowed my four-year-old to watch a show or a movie while his baby brother naps. This gives all of us a break, and helps create predictable perimeters around screen time.
Flexibility will look differently depending on the ages of your children, your work responsibilities, and your child’s school’s expectations. Depending on how I feel and what work looks like on a given day, I might put a lot of effort into creating elaborate projects and activities (last week we made a giant cardboard rocket), while other days our art time looks like coloring with crayons. Even in the best of circumstances, we have things that cause us stress, and this pandemic is no different. So being flexible with our expectations of ourselves and our children is essential to maintaining everyone's well-being.
Connect with others.
Set aside one-on-one time with your child. While you are likely super busy and doing 100+ things at once, giving your child five to ten minutes of undivided attention will help you connect and, perhaps counterintuitively, encourage their independence. By spending a short time being 100 percent present with your child, you will actually fill up their reserves for independent play time. I've noticed that if I am able to start my day by sitting down and talking, reading, or playing with my children before picking up my phone or sitting down to get work done, they are able to keep themselves entertained for much longer afterwards.
Staying connected to friends and family on a regular basis can help you and your child feel connected to the outside world as well. While video or phone calls are a great way to communicate, we can all probably relate to virtual fatigue at this point. While my extended family has hosted a few group calls, we have also been practicing old-fashioned letter writing, too. Handwritten letters are a great way to feel connected, practice reading and writing skills (even younger children can draw pictures to send in the mail), and stay connected offline, too.
- Get active. Try adding daily movement breaks and regular exercise to your routine. Getting regular exercise not only increases your muscle tone, improves flexibility, and strengthens bones, it also supports your mental health. You don't have to spend an hour doing hardcore training to stay active! Try using activities such as Animal Movements, Movement Cards, or Animal Racing to get the whole family involved. Integrating simple stretch breaks or a morning walk can also be an easy way to encourage your child to move their bodies, get fresh air, and get those wiggles out!
- Practice kindness. Remember, we're in this together, and while things are tough right now, they will get better. Know that you are going to feel stressed out some of the time. You might not look picture-perfect baking bread and tye-dying shirts every day, and that's okay! The best thing we can do for our children as parents or caregivers is to practice empathy for ourselves and others and know that this is hard. It's okay to make mistakes, feel all the feelings, and then do it all again tomorrow. This is challenging, and we are all adjusting. So do your best by being kind and forgiving to yourself and others.
You might not be living the stylized “quarantine life” you see on social media, and it’s unlikely anyone else is either! Hopefully, each day gets a little easier, and we will come out on the other side with more compassion and understanding for ourselves and those around us.
Since my family and I are staying home for an indefinite amount of time this spring, we have been tackling some major spring cleaning projects. I figure if we are going to spend all of our time here, we might as well make the most of it and spruce up the place. However, with children around, this can be challenging. There are constant interruptions, and let’s face it, children have an uncanny ability to turn a tidy room upside down in minutes.
The only way we are able to semi-successfully clean our house is by involving our three children (ages 2 to 9) and making the cleaning fun! When possible, I turn cleaning tasks into games, and I also try to focus on jobs that match my children’s ages and abilities. With a little effort and creativity, the whole family can participate in the satisfying endeavor of spring cleaning.
- Start small. Especially if your child is new to cleaning, start with a small job, like their bedroom. Breaking spring cleaning projects into manageable chunks makes everyone happier. The sense of accomplishment from completely cleaning one area of the home will motivate children to hit up other parts of the home, too.
- Make it fun. By turning cleaning into a game, your child is bound to want to participate in the fun. Have them put on some old socks and skate around the house to catch the dust bunnies. The one with the dirtiest socks or the largest dust pile wins! Be silly and take breaks as needed throughout your cleaning time.
- Be systematic. I like to use a whiteboard or a big piece of paper to write out our spring cleaning plan, or you can use a printable to-do list. We divide the house into rooms and list the tasks to be done in each room. Children love checking off to-do lists as much as we do! Show your child how to do each task step-by-step. My kids have received multiple sweeping lessons from me and my partner. We also remind them to clean from top to bottom, decluttering and wiping tables and counters before sweeping and mopping.
- Get your groove on. Blast some of your family’s favorite music as you clean! Who doesn’t like to dance while they’re dusting, or sing their favorite song while using a mop as a microphone? It lightens the mood and makes the task more enjoyable.
- Tackle it through teamwork. My partner and I like to form teams as we tackle certain areas of the house. A task is less daunting and goes faster when you are chipping away at it with a teammate. We often add a competitive component to the cleaning and see which team can finish their task first!
- Give your child agency. Involve your child in the process as much as possible. The more agency they have in the decision-making process, the more they will be invested in the cleaning project. Let them choose which room to clean. Ask them if they prefer to dust or mop. Label bins or baskets with categories such as "give away," "put away in another spot," "throw away," and "keep." Have your child sort their belongings into the different categories. Model how you sort your own belongings by thinking out loud: "Hmm, I haven’t used this bread maker in a long time. I like the idea of making my own bread, but I just don’t use it. I could give it to Aunt Lou, who has always wanted one." It can be hard for a child to let go of a toy or t-shirt, but if you remind them that it could be used by another person who really needs it, they will be more likely to pass their stuff along.
- Rotate! Just because you have five bins of toys doesn't mean all of them should be out at the same time. As part of spring cleaning, ask your child what toys they are playing with now. Keep those out and available, and put the rest away in storage. There's tremendous value in putting some items away and switching them out periodically. Kids are always excited to play with some "new" toys.
Remember that your spring cleaning project will probably make your house messier before it gets neater. Streamlining your space takes time and effort. You really have to get everything out of a closet or cabinet if you want to thoroughly wipe down the surfaces and go through every item. As you put everything back, you’ll end up with the satisfaction of having a clean and decluttered place to hang out, which is especially nice during this strange and trying time in our lives.
With the recent shift to at-home learning, parents everywhere are experiencing firsthand their children's learning styles, habits, and preferences. This includes how their kids deal with success, as well as how they cope with frustration.
Celebrating your child's success is easy. But how should we help our children navigate setbacks, especially when they are learning at home?
My children have been home from their half-day preschool program for months now, and my five-year-old, Alex, is gearing up for kindergarten in the fall. We recently began making our way through the first set of BOB books for beginning readers. Like many children, some days Alex enjoys reading and is excited and proud of his accomplishments. Other days, reading feels new and challenging. That's when frustration sets in. For Alex, this looks like whining, avoiding, slouching in a chair, or crying.
Learning to manage and overcome frustration is a valuable skill that builds resilience. Yet helping our children work through their frustration is also a skill that parents can learn and develop. In learning to help our children manage feelings of disappointment and discouragement, we can help ensure that these normal, predictable feelings don't get in the way of learning or completing the tasks at hand.
Below are five strategies for helping kids manage frustration as they learn at home.
- Recognize what frustration looks like for your child. Frustration may surface as anger, tears, avoidance, lack of engagement, or distractibility. A child might say things like, "I can’t do this!" Once you recognize that your child is frustrated, be sure to note any patterns or trends. Do they become frustrated when they're working on a particular subject, or at a certain time of day? Does frustration arise after they've been seated awhile? Try to identify the circumstances that tend to surround their frustration; you may even want to keep a log to track patterns over time.
- Respond in a calm, consistent way. Witnessing your child's strong emotions may cause you in turn to feel anxiety, fear, or anger. While these are all normal, understandable reactions, it's important that you remain calm rather than become visibly upset with your child. When you model how to remain calm, your child will notice. The best thing you can do is to consistently respond in a calm manner, even if your child doesn't calm down right away.
- Give your child space to talk. Once you have recognized that your child is frustrated, take some time to talk about it. Try to alleviate their stress and anxiety by slowly counting to 10 or practicing mindful breathing. Frustration is a normal human emotion that everyone experiences. Tell your child about a time you have become frustrated and how you coped. Invite your child to do the same; practice active listening as they do so. Once your child begins to open up, try to see if you can get them to talk about their current frustrations. This will help you to gain additional insight into their experience and possible triggers.
- Try something different. Once your child is at the point of frustration, it's a good signal that something isn't working. This is a perfect time to take a break or to switch gears, whether this is finding a different task or redirecting your child's focus. You know your child best, so you can decide if the moment calls for humor, hugs, games, or another approach. It's important to note that what works in one situation won't necessarily work in another. For example, sometimes my son needs to laugh and other times he needs a good hug. Be patient and flexible with your child as you discover what they need at that moment.
- Re-evaluate as needed. If you begin to notice that your child tends to become frustrated when working on math problems, try to come up with a new plan. Does your child need a more hands-on approach? Would a different time of day work better for tackling this subject? Does your child need more examples before they join in or try on their own? Flexibility is important as you re-evaluate your plan and make changes that will support your child on their learning journey.
The most important thing to remember is that your child is building resiliency as they work through their emotions, and your job is to remain positive, understanding, and committed to supporting them. Use encouragement and model calm consistency to show your child that they can work through difficult things.