Can your kid tie his own shoes? Brush his own teeth? Take a bath? In preschool, none of this really matters. But as kids make the jump to kindergarten, they'll be expected to do more on their own, whether it's going to the bathroom themselves, or opening their own milk carton. You can help, by encouraging independence at home.
We've scoured what's out there to find fun, innovative items that help teach kids to take care of themselves. Here are seven finds that will help them get out the door on time, without help from Mom and Dad...
In preschool, the teacher probably gave your kid a hand with his handwashing, and a few gentle reminders to "rub well". But once elementary school hits, children are expected to soap up themselves. This squid-shaped pump gets kids in the habit of washing thoroughly, by "inking" them with a bright red dot. In order to wash off the mark, they need to clean their hands for a full 20 seconds, rather than the cursery rub most kids try to get away with. Properly washing hands is one of the best ways to make sure all those germs go down the drain, rather than into your child's immune system. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it's one of the keys to keeping kids healthy. So get squid-y with it! ($5 each, $15.99 for a multipack of 4, www.amazon.com)
Mother Nature gives parents a break when it comes to toothbrushing, giving kids a "practice" set of teeth before bringing in the adult set. Luckily, faulty toothbrushing doesn't do much harm in the early years. But once the baby teeth fall out, it's a different story. Kids need to learn to brush those pearly whites themselves, and properly, if they don't want to end up with a mouth full of metal. We like the Firefly toothbrush, because it keeps nagging to a minimum and lets parents show, not tell. Push the rubber bottom and a flashing light begins blinking, to give kids a visual cue as to the correct amount of time to brush for a decent cleaning. For even more fun in the bathroom there’s Float’n Firefly, with its cute little bug grooving as the bristles do their thing. It's like a party in a toothbrush. Germs be gone! ($2.99, www.amazon.com
Alex Toys Learn to Dress Monkey
This kooky monkey makes a great toy. But he's also flush with opportunities for practicing dressing. From snapping on straps to buttoning buttons, zipping zippers to hooking a hook and loop, kids will practice eleven get-ready activities as they dress their banana lover. Kindergarten teachers spend a lot of time focusing on fine motor skills-- things that work the small muscles of the hands to prepare students for writing. This monkey helps kids get some extra practice at home, by working finger dexterity as it teaches children to tie their shoes and shimmy into their overalls. By the end of kindergarten, this toy's bright colors and goofy expression will likely be too young for students excited to make the big move to first grade. But at the beginning of the school year, just ripe from preschool and with lots of small muscle skills to master? This monkey business is just right. ($29.99, www.amazon.com
Avon Kids Bath Time Body Paints
It may look like a roll-on deodorant, but who cares? Avon's bath time body paints may be just the thing to convince your kid to willingly step into the bathtub. Roll the container over wet skin and a strip of bright transparent color comes out. Armed with paints in pinks, blues, and greens, in sweet flavors like bubble gum, candy apple, coconut custard, or cotton candy, suds-ing up has never been more fun. And considering that making a mess is actually encouraged, all that kicking and screaming about getting clean may go away. Washing up becomes a fun, independent adventure, like a pooltime finger paint session! If only hair washing could be this easy... ($1.99 each, www.avon.com)
My First Shades
Most parents know they need to protect their children's bodies from the sun, but teaching them to protect their eyes is just as important. Kids may not be interested in the fashion statement sunglasses provide, but considering that they typically spend a much bigger chunk of time outdoors than their parents, it's important to get them into the sunglass habit, sooner rather than later. Back-to-school is the perfect time to roll shades into the get-dressed routine. My First Shades, a company that specializes in sunglasses specifically for the under-12 set, has plenty of playful patterns, from tangerine daisies to blue baseballs. For more sophisticated fashionistas, the sunglasses also come in more grownup styles like glossy black. The wrap around frame design minimizes exposure to peripheral light and the neoprene band makes it easy for kids to get them on themselves. Plus, with 100% UV protection and shatterproof lenses, parents can rest easy about safety concerns. (www.myfirstshades.com)
The Body Perfect Colored Sunscreen
The average person gets 80% of their lifetime sun exposure before they hit the tender age of 18. In fact, studies show that you can reduce a person's chance of skin cancer by as much as 50% by just being a little more religious about slapping on the sunscreen while they're young. The trouble is, for most parents, it'd be easier to solve the Middle East peace crisis than to convince a kid to slather himself with the stuff. Good news from The Body Perfect, a new line of sunscreens that will appeal to even the most resistant. With shocking colors like neon green and bright purple, an SPF of 30, and spacey names like Martian Mud, Saturn Sludge, and Jupiter Jelly, this stuff may just stop the family sunscreen war. When kids rub it in well enough, the colors disappear, turning sunscreen application into a cool hands-on experiment, and something they can do on their own before the bus arrives in the morning. ($10 each, www.thebodyperfect.com)
For some extra incentive in the sunscreen department, let science be your wingman. This bracelet is made of a unique material that turns colors, based on the intensity of ultraviolent rays hitting its beads. When kids are indoors, the beads are white, but once they step outside, the jewelry changes from pastel (on a cloudy day) to bright neon (when the sun is at its strongest). While we weren't that impressed with the gradations of color-- for example, the beads remained pretty bright, even while we stood in the shade-- we love the fact that this bling gives kindergarteners a visual reminder that it's time to slather up, or cover up. ($9.95, www.lioninthesunusa.com)
Teach Me Time Alarm Clock
Want to train kids to get to school on time, but keep them in bed beyond the wee hours of the morning? This alarm clock is a sleep-trainer and electronic rooster in one. Set it up and a soft yellow nightlight glows until morning. Then, at the okay-to-wake time customized by the parent, a green light shines to let kids know it's time to "Go!" The clock's silly shape, interchangable colored bezels, and simple buttons make this guy fun to have around the bedroom, and it's intuitive enough so kids won't get frustrated. Added bonus? The built-in time-teaching game helps kindergarteners learn their big hand from their little hand, progressing from the easiest level (hours only), up through rounding hours, half-hours, and quarter-hours, all the way to telling time independently. ($39.95, www.americaninnovative.com)