Snowflakes for Sandy Hook

Send some love with your crafts and let the children of Sandy Hook know you’re thinking of them.

In the wake of Sandy Hook’s school shooting tragedy, most of us are left stunned with aching hearts, feeling powerless in the face of such violence. We argue over gun control and get political when really, perhaps the best thing we can do is love our children even more fiercely, more tenderly.

This includes the children of Sandy Hook. Even though most of us may not know the members of the Connecticut community personally, we can all still take part in this simple idea. People all over the country are cutting out snowflakes and sending them to the children at Sandy Hook to let them know we are thinking of them. As the kids prepare to return to a new school in January, brothers and sisters of America are hoping to fill their building with snowflakes and provide a drop of whimsy in this sea of despair.

Making snowflakes is so easy. If you don’t know how, you can always fold up a coffee filter and make an easy snowflake—or follow this simple online tutorial. No matter what you decide to do, it doesn’t have to be perfect. It just needs to be from your heart. Add glitter, yarn, confetti—whatever you want. You can even jot a message on it if you want, though plain snowflakes are fine, too. Have each member of your family design a snowflake to send; it only costs one stamp to mail it to the kids.

Once you’re ready, please send your snowflakes to:

Snowflakes for Sandy Hook

Connecticut PTSA

60 Connolly Parkway, Building 12

Suite 103

Hamden, CT 06514

Daily Toy Bins Keep Things Interesting

Our kids have a lot of toys.  Too many, in fact.  Despite having heaping bins of toys, they only very rarely play with them.  It seems silly to constantly move these toys around, so we went through every toy and got rid of about 75 percent of them.  The survivors were placed in three separate bins, and only one bin is allowed out at a time.

We rotate through these three bins, giving the kids one bin per day.  They cannot play with the other bins until the appropriate day, so each bin stays organized and the contents new.  We rotate them out and at the end of every day, all of the toys for that bin are safely stored away again, until it is their turn in the rotation.

Each day can have a theme, such as monster trucks and robots for him, and a tea party and dress up stuff for her, or you can spread out like toys across multiple days, though I think keeping them confined to a single day might make them more enjoyable.

The difference has been amazing.  The kids are enjoying their toys again, because they can clearly see the choices they have, and for toys with pieces, all of the pieces are kept together.  We make it a ritual each morning to pull out that day’s bin, and they get right to playing with those toys. 

From now on, when we receive a new toy, we will choose a toy from one of the bins to donate or sell, so that the amount of toys in our home never again gets to unmanageable levels.

Everyday Learning Opportunities

Schooling your children does not have to be about setting formal hours, sitting down in a classroom or studying from a textbook.  Kids as young as a year can begin to learn about the world around them, and you can use everyday activities to teach lessons such as math, science, critical thinking and less textbook skills like compassion, helping and fairness.

Dinner preparation can become a lesson on fractions, and even a younger child can understand the concept of halves and quarters through measuring cups, cutting apples or dividing leftovers.   Those fractions can be applied to lessons about sharing fairly, dividing two groups into equal parts for two children, for example.

Cleaning the change out of your purse is a great opportunity to teach about different coin denominations and counting.  Kids love to sort through change, so a stack of coins can be worth a good twenty minutes or more of entertainment value.

Dyeing Easter eggs is a chance to teach about how colors interact with each other.  Let your kids experiment with combining different colors to see what new shades they make, or make a lesson out of using natural ingredients to create dyes.  Beets and blueberries are great examples of foods that can make beautiful, lasting dyes.

Every day presents a new opportunity to teach your children something valuable through the mundane activities you perform.  Taking advantage of those opportunities before your children start school can give them a lifelong edge in learning, and teach them that education can be fun, as well as practical.

Are You Teaching Your Kids How to Fight?

As my kids went after each other yet again the other day, I caught myself mid holler and realized that perhaps they aren’t coming up with their attitudes all alone.  All too often, we forget that the things we do and say are far more educational than what we tell our kids, and the examples we set do more to teach our kids how to be than any book or lecture.

At our house, we do not fight in front of the children – or at all, for that matter – but the way we react when they start to fight is sometimes not conducive to a peaceful solution. By getting upset when they do, we teach them that being emotional is the way to respond.  If we make a big deal out of little sister pulling hair, soon enough, it will become a big deal, whether it was before or not.

Likewise, if we get angry at one another for little things, we are teaching our kids to blow things out of proportion and we are instilling resentment and anger in those young minds.

By modeling the behavior we want our children to display, we give them the best education possible and help them to understand that respect and honesty are the most important traits they can have.

So next time your children start to bicker, take a step back and examine how you respond to the situation.  It could be that you are teaching more than you intended, setting the stage for behavioral problems throughout life.

Dyed Rice for Hours of Fun

I came across an idea on Pinterest that is sure to be a hit with young kids.  In fact, my four and two-year old kids couldn’t get enough of it when I showed it to them.  The concept is simple and easy to do – dying rice with food coloring.  If you have an old bag of rice that is past its expiration date, this is the perfect way to use it up and give your kids hours of entertainment.  You can use either white or brown rice for this – I used both and I bet you can’t tell the difference between them in the photo.

To start, divide rice into one-cup increments and place into zipping storage bags.  I made five colors, which was as much old rice as I had.  Find enough small bowls to create the colors for each bag of rice, and pour 1-2 tablespoons of vinegar into each.  Next, add a generous amount of food coloring.  Your color will be richer if you add more – about 10 drops or so each.

Now, pour the food coloring mixtures into each bag, seal them tightly and have the kids squish the rice around so it is thoroughly coated with coloring.

Lay wax paper on a cookie sheet, and then spread the wet rice out to air dry.  If your kids are impatient like mine, you can use a hair dryer to speed things up.

Once the rice is dry, get each kid two bowls and a spoon, divide the rice, and let them sort to their heart’s content.  Mine have played with the rice several times, and it’s already gotten many hours of use.  The only problem is the cleanup afterward.  You might as well resign yourself to sweeping it up and tossing it, because it’s impossible to get it all back together.

Kawasaki Disease

My son's hands started peeling the other day.  At one point, they seemed to be peeling several layers at once.  This wasn’t a major concern to me, but it kept up for about two weeks.  I looked online to see what could cause it, and while I’m pretty sure it is something he picked up when he started wrestling practice, I came across a rare disease where a common symptom is peeling hands.  Since almost no one would find peeling hands to be that big a deal, I thought maybe I should try to get the word out there.  My son’s hands are healed and he is fine, but someone else might not be so lucky.

Kawasaki Disease, named so because it is common in Japan, is a very serious disease that can cause lifelong heart complications if untreated.  According to the National Institute for Health, it usually starts with a fever of 102 °F or higher that lasts at least five days.  Common symptoms include bloodshot eyes, chapped lips, red, swollen hands and feet, skin rashes, peeling skin on hands, feet and genitals, swollen lymph nodes and joint pain.

The treatment for Kawasaki is immediate hospitalization to receive intravenous gamma globulin, which will help prevent damage to the heart.  If left untreated, lifelong complications from heart damage can occur, so it is critical to see a doctor right away if you suspect Kawasaki disease.

Not all peeling skin will be Kawasaki disease, but being aware of the other signs and symptoms can help you know when it is serious and when to let it heal on its own.

Time Outs Aren't Just for Your Child

The other day at our house, it seemed like the whole world was imploding.  We have two toddlers and a newborn, and the two oldest were having meltdown after meltdown.  It got pretty rough there for a while, and after yet another timeout, I started thinking about how those time outs are good for not only the kid, but also us haggard parents.

I don’t like to use timeouts, because I never want to give them the impression that I don’t want them around, so sending them to their room is a last resort.  This particular day, however, our two year old was screaming bloody murder about a toy or something, and we are teaching her that screaming is not the way to handle frustration – if she starts screaming at us, she must go to her room until she’s done with it.

While those timeouts give our daughter a chance to bring herself under control and take a few breaths away from the line of fire, they also give us parents the opportunity to draw a few breaths too.  A time out is just that – time to stop whatever is causing the trouble and regroup.

So when you are feeling at your wits’ end, taking a time out is not only a good idea but also probably necessary.  It sure beats the alternative of struggling to maintain your cool when things seem to be falling apart, and usually just a few minutes is all it takes for everyone to calm down and be ready to play nice again.

Don't Forget to Snuggle

My four-year old son was sick the past few days.  It was nothing major, but enough to get him down and make him more interested in snuggle time.  That got me thinking about how easy it is to be caught up in life and forget to take the time to snuggle once in a while.  Snuggling shouldn’t be reserved for only those times when they don’t feel good.

Snuggling is a great way to reconnect with your child, whether it be while they are getting settled in for sleep or just while you watch TV on the couch.  Touch is a critical part of expressing love, and that close contact of snuggling in close to Mom or Dad can make a child feel secure and loved.Both of my oldest kids, at four and two, want to be snuggled to sleep for their naps and at bedtime.  There are many times when I wish I could be up and doing something else, but I remind myself of how much it means to them to have that comfort as they drift off to sleep.

All too soon, those days of wanting Mommy or Daddy cuddles will be over.  While it may seem like snuggling for naps takes time away from what I need to do, the thing that’s most important is right there in my arms.  It won’t be long before I find myself wishing they would just sit still and let me love on them.

What about you?  Do you still take time for snuggles, or have your kids outgrown the snuggle stage?

Limiting Snacks to Prevent Grazing

Getting toddlers to eat a healthy diet can be one of the most frustrating parts of parenting the little guys. Young kids tend to be picky eaters, which can make finding good snack choices an uphill battle.  If your children like to graze throughout the day, it can be even more difficult to make sure they are eating good foods.  Limiting those grazing opportunities will help you have more control over what they eat, ensuring a more balanced diet.

Frequent grazing is not necessarily a bad thing, unless the foods they choose are unhealthy.  Carrot sticks, nuts or raisins are all fantastic grazing choices, but cereals, crackers and other foods that are high in carbohydrates and low in nutrition may help set the foundation for poor eating habits and trouble with weight later on.

By limiting the choices your kids have, or limiting their ability to free range through the kitchen, you will be able to teach them healthy food choices and make sure they get adequate nutrients, while still allowing them to choose their own foods, to a degree.

Try stocking the lower shelf of the snack cupboard with choices like nuts, dried fruits, or even popcorn.  In the fridge, put carrot sticks, yogurt cups and sliced meats and cheese on the shelf they can reach.

These early years are the perfect opportunity to build a foundation of healthy eating habits, tasty and nutritious food choices, and a schedule of eating that promotes energy and health while inhibiting overeating and weight problems.

Toddler Clothes on a Budget

Young kids go through clothes at supersonic speed.  Keeping up can keep your head spinning and your wallet empty, especially if you buy new clothes for your kids.  There are ways to keep those young tots in clothes without such a big drain on your cash, and most of the time you will get clothes that look almost as new as fresh off the rack.

Craigslist is my favorite place to get baby and toddler clothes, because I don’t like the hassle of shopping.  You can often find bags full of clothes for just a few dollars, and you are spared the headache of finding each item of clothing individually.  I recently picked up a kitchen garbage bag full of 5T clothes for $5 – you can’t beat that at any used clothing store.

Consignment Shops
Many kid clothing consignment shops exist, where you can buy, trade and sell gently used clothing.  Expect to pay a premium price for used clothes at these types of stores, but you can also expect higher quality there too.

Thrift Stores
Unlike consignment shops, people seem not to think of going to thrift stores for kids clothes.  I’m not sure why that is, but the selection always seems to be surprisingly good at thrift stores, and the prices are very reasonable as well.

Buying kid clothing does not have to be a major expense or headache.  Since they grow out of them so quickly, it makes no sense to buy new clothes, only to get rid of them after only one or two uses.