Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Dried Up Markers - Turn them into Watercolors!

You're Throwing Out "Dry" Markers Too Soon
One thing we are never in short supply of having? Dried up markers. It seems like a perpetual challenge for my children to replace the caps on the markers after they are done using them. I've tried showing them the convenient spot to "store" the cap while their drawing. I've tried reminding them to find and replace the caps. I've even threatened to not buy any more markers if they can't take care of the ones we have.

The only thing that has worked for our family so far is to shrug it off and find a new way to use the dried up markers.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
One of the basic tenets of environmentalism (and environmental education) is to reduce the amount of stuff we consume. So the threat to not buy more if we can't take care of it is OK in terms of preventing waste but it isn't a creative solution to the realities of life with young children.

Reusing/Recycling the markers is a more solutions-focused approach to the dried up marker problem. So this is how we do it.

Step 1: Collect your materials. You'll need:

- dried up markers
- water bottles
- funnel
- water

Step 2: Fill a bunch of little bottles with water.

Step 3: Place dried up marker in bottle and seal the bottle.

Step 4: Repeat with however many colors you want.

Voila! - Washable Markers become Liquid Watercolors
The longer you leave the markers in the water the more ink can come out. In the picture below the purple and the darker blue had been sitting the longest (weeks) and the others had only been sitting minutes.

Fluid Dynamics
There are two main features of fluid dynamics of this little project. First, pouring water from a large container into a smaller container using a funnel could be a physics/math lesson in and of itself. Watching the water pour, fill the funnel, and then spill (and sometimes overflow) from the small bottle is a learning experience. Second, putting the marker into the water and watching the ink slowly leach out and distribute in the water is mesmerizing.

Don't Scold for Carelessness, Model Problem-solving
No one should beat themselves up about dried up markers because they merely present a new problem to solve. That is why I invite you to model problem-solving for your child. Not only will they learn a new way to be responsible with their used goods, they will have fun with you doing it.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

When a Square is a Frog

Variety is the Spice of Life - Indoor Playgrounds 
In every place we have lived (Montana, Arizona, and Colorado), we have visited the local gymnastics schools. There is always an "Open Gymnastics" time when the schools open their doors for a small fee and allow families to run around, jump on trampolines, hang from bars, and balance on beams. It is essentially an indoor playground.

So on days when the weather isn't right for playing outside (too rainy, snowy, or hot), it is a wonderful option for getting in some big movement. And even when the weather is right sometimes it is nice to work in a new place to spice up life.

Setting the Scene (A Parent's Expectations)
The gyms look a lot like what you might expect. There are balance beams set to various heights. Uneven parallel bars invite hanging. Trampolines are ready for being bounced upon. I know what all those inviting structures are for because I have grown up watching the olympics. I imagine my own children as mini Mary Lou Retton, who was one of my childhood idols, or her modern counterpart Simone Biles. They will run and jump and hang and balance. Or won't they?

When a Square is a Frog
Our children haven't grown up watching the olympics. They are in the middle of growing up and might not have had the chance yet!

Yesterday at open gymnastics my daughter ignored almost all the gymnastics things and grabbed a green beanbag. "Let's play frogs," she said. Surprised but curious, I accepted her invitation and followed her around with a "frog" in hand. Then we proceeded to spend almost the ENTIRE hour in and around the foam pit ("lake") playing "frogs."

The frogs looked for family members (which were in the form of blue foam cubes), hopped around the outside of the lake, jumped into the lake, and flew over the lake with jetpacks (which were different colored beanbags).

The whole time I looked at all the other places we weren't going - the trampoline, the bars, the beams - and shrugged.

Open Gymnastics, Open Minds
It has taken me years to open my mind at open gyms (and other places). I used to want to lead my child around, showing him or her all the awesome things with which we could play. I treated the space as a list of things to do and I would make sure we checked off every single task. In fact, I didn't always let them exhaust their interest, say in the trampoline, before ushering them to the next place.

By now I know that it is better for my child to choose. And I have found a perspective that helps me relax my expectations - my child is learning something in every thing she does. Spending the day at the "lake" playing "frogs" she got to discuss family, make plans for getting around the space (is that preschool cartography?), and use a beanbag as a frog (well, that substitution is just preschool algebra).

Getting the Most at Preschool Open Gymnastics
Before heading into open gymnastics (or a children's museum or ANYTHING for that matter), first grant yourself patience and an open mind. Your child's interest might surprise you (or it might not) and allowing him or her the option to explore and to learn at his or her own pace will be just right.

Monday, September 19, 2016


I wrote a guest post for My Little Poppies...

My Little Poppy, like most poppies, experiences the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. In many regards, it is his biggest strength. Because he is intense and persistent he learns and remembers the minutia and nuances of whatever interests him. Because he is perceptive he sees things that everyone else around him misses, including the beauty of small things. Because he is sensitive, he has developed a refined palate for good food, good books, and good times.


In fact, he loves, LOVES, to be happy. (Who doesn’t? Right?) And since giggles come easily to him, people are drawn to him. Children and adults want to experience his joy. They approach him to see what is so funny and join him in laughter. But before too long they start to back away…
It happened yesterday. We had been invited to a new friend’s house. While I sat with the mom, My Little Poppy went off with his new friend. Before too long they had started to play a “bad guy” game, antagonizing the older sister of the house who went along with it for a while. Then she split off and My Little Poppy’s new friend suggested playing with hose water in the back yard.
Talk about unbounded happiness! Hose play is hands-down My Little Poppy’s favorite thing to do.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Second-Best Thing about Controlling Screen Time

Finding What Works for Your Family

For every family I meet who limits and/or controls screen time I meet another one who doesn't. We are parenting in uncharted waters and doing what works best for our families. For my family, what works best is setting limits. My children are screen-free until Saturday morning when they watch cartoons for an hour.

The First-Best Thing

It hasn't always been that way. We used to use an iPad and watch TV on a daily basis. But when things began to deteriorate, I made a change that had remarkable and lasting positive effects on our lives.

The best thing: sleep. After three weeks of screen-free living, my son began sleeping long and uninterrupted, which was the first time ever in his five and a half years of life.

The Second-Best Thing

So what is the second-best thing? Binging on free piano lessons. My children and I have found a loophole in the screen-free rule. They can take piano lessons via The Hoffman Academy whenever they want and for as long as they want. And they do.

This is what you should know about The Hoffman Academy:

  • 160 Free Piano Lessons
  • Each lesson is between 10-20 minutes long, presented as a YouTube video. 
  • Mr. Hoffman teaches more than chopsticks. He presents a comprehensive curriculum that includes ear training, rhythm, sight reading, technique, improvisation, and music theory. (Now, I'm no expert but I am a critical consumer and this looks pretty freaking awesome to me.)
  • Each lessons ends with a 30-second comedy sketch that keeps young children coming back.
  • Each lesson has supplemental materials you can buy.

More than a Babysitter

I have to admit that I enjoy the peace and quiet that Saturday morning cartoons bring to the household. While the kids sit watching Octonauts or Pokemon, rapt, I enjoy a slow cup of coffee and conversation with my husband. It is almost as good as hiring a babysitter for date night and it is free.

But piano lessons with Mr. Hoffman is more than free babysitting. While I cook or have a little quiet time in the next room, the kids take turns sitting at the keyboard listening to Mr. Hoffman who is simultaneously entertaining and educating them. I hear them giggling, answering his questions, clapping rhythms, or playing notes. And with that work, I suspect they are experiencing and enjoying the whole-brain workout of playing a musical instrument.

Better than TV

It is the whole-brain work that makes piano lessons with Mr. Hoffman better than TV time or playing an iPad. For our family, the marked difference becomes obvious when my children step away from their piano lessons.

When they play on iPads or watch TV, they come off it like drug addicts, which is apparently not unique to my kids. In fact, the chaos that ensues immediately after watching an episode of Octonauts is not unlike what is described in research: they can't do anything on their own. As part of our Saturday morning routine, my husband and I plan to reconnect with the kids by reading books to them or playing a game with them to help them transition away from being mindlessly entertained by the TV into being independent human beings.

However, when they step away from the piano, they are entirely independent and often elaborating on what they learned. Sometimes they pretend to be Mr. Hoffman, sometimes they pretend to be his finger puppets. Last week, they used a metronome to define the speeds at which they raced around the back yard. And yesterday my son started writing music note "secret codes."

Maybe, Possibly, Perhaps...

Do you think that your children would ever binge on piano lessons? Maybe...with Mr. Hoffman.

Do you think your children could learn to play an instrument? Possibly...from Mr. Hoffman.

Do you think you are ready to accept my invitation to try? Perhaps... It is up to you.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

4 Sing-Along Books You’ll Never Get Tired Of

Elevated by Song

Nothing delights my four year old more than discovering a new "singing book." With these unique picture books, siting together and reading is elevated by song. Lyrics come to life through illustration; story comes alive through song.

Ubiquitous Songs and their Books

Classics have been made into finger puppet books like The Itsy Bitsy Spider and Old MacDonald Had a Farm. We return again and again to songs and books by Raffi (especially "Down by the Bay") and Sandra Boynton ("The Belly Button Book"). The classics have a place in our world but I often find myself rolling my eyes when they are requested.

More than Music, Extraordinary Sing-Along Books

Fortunately, there is a small handful of sing-along books that I find extraordinary. The melodies are simple and easy enough for me to sing my way through. But each book has something special that makes it stand out. The revised message by Sylvia Long in "Hush Little Baby" emphasizes mindfulness and finding comfort in everyday things instead of the classic message that "Papa will buy"cooperation and comfort. The artwork in "Ain't Gonna Paint" is joyful and colorful and intriguing. And Robert Sabuta's ornate pop-up version of "The 12 Days of Christmas" celebrate the song in a wildly imaginative and refreshing way.

These are Forever Books
I want to keep them on my shelf forever and ever.

Hush Little Baby by Sylvia Long is my go-to gift for new parents. The melody is one most of us remember from our own childhoods. However, the lyrics are different. Instead of encouraging children to seek comfort in newly purchased possession ("Papa's gonna buy you a diamond ring."), Ms. Long demonstrates how to appreciate the mundane ("If that hummingbird should fly, Mama's going to show you the evening sky.") Between this refreshing new perspective on finding peace and the beautiful images, this book stands out among other sing-along books.

I Ain't Gonna Paint No More by Karen Beaumont illustrated by David Catrow tells the story of a young child who cannot help but paint. Set to the melody "Ain't Gonna Rain No More" the boy paints himself from head to toe. Catrow's illustrations show vibrant paint-dripping mischief and joy of Aelita Andre and aspiring painters everywhere.

"Puff, the Magic Dragon" was first a song by Peter Yarrow and Lenny Lipton released in 1963 and re-recorded for release on "Peter, Paul, and Mommy" 1969. In 2007 illustrator by Eric Puybaret painted a story that evokes joy of adventure and tear-jerking sorrow of a friendship lost. (Indeed, my four year old daughter weeped when I sang/read the book to her.) Like the other books on this short list, the visual art rivals the quality of the song it depicts.

"The 12 Days of Christmas" is seasonal but when did that ever stop a young child from wanting to think about and sing about the beloved holiday? Robert Sabuta's pop-up book is a mechanical masterpiece. Enough said.

Again?! Of Course
Like many children, my daughter has gone through phases of requesting each of these four books on a daily (and sometimes more-than-once-daily) basis. Unlike some of her other requests, I find myself saying, "This one again!? Of course. Let's sing together."

Friday, September 2, 2016

My Beef with Bath Toys

The toys. They are everywhere. The pressure to do more with and for our children. It surrounds us. In my ever-evolving journey through parenthood, I have discovered three ideas that resonate with me that I return to over and over again: minimalism, mindfulness, and respecting the individual nature of each person (each child) we meet. Last night, during fairly typical bath time conflict I realized that I have a beef with bath toys.

Too Many Toys

I have never met a parent who says, "We don't have enough toys." The number of places and ways toys come into our homes is staggering. No longer is gift-giving reserved for families to share treasures with each other to celebrate holidays. Now, like David Shannon so aptly describes in his picture book called "Too Many Toys," children acquire stuff at doctor's offices, dentist's offices, and even other children's birthday parties!

Expressing our love is easy if all we need to do is be generous with giving them stuff. But, really,
children really only crave one thing: your undivided and caring attention. And there are few places better than a bathtub to give your child just that!

Enough is Enough

It is enough to just sit with your child at bath time. With no toys to distract you, you can enjoy each other. Tell your child something about your day. Ask him or her about their day.

It is enough to feel the water on your skin.

It is enough to watch a sponge change from dry to wet.

It is enough to experience the smell and feel of soap, bubbles, and washcloth.

It is enough to climb, dripping, out of the water and be wrapped in a fluffy towel.

Lessons Learned from my Autistic Son about Self-Care 

One of the symptoms of autism is a preoccupation with objects over people. In fact, many young boys are obsessed with cars and trucks, or dinosaurs, or any number of not-human objects. But with autism, the interest is hyper-focused to the point it gets in the way of life. My beef with bath toys is a case in point.

At the end of the day everyone runs out of steam. My autistic son seeks comfort in the distraction of watching wheels turn, water pour from cups, propellers turn, or any other number of mechanical wonders. Breaking attention away from those comforts is stressful for him and, in turn, for me. So the simplest thing we can do at the end of the day, at bath time, is to be toy-free.

With no toys, it is enough for him to sit with me and enjoy my company.

It is enough for him to feel the water on his skin.

It is enough for him to watch a sponge change from dry to wet.

It is enough for him to experience the smell and feel of soap, bubbles, and washcloth.

It is enough for him to climb, dripping, out of the water and be wrapped in a fluffy towel.

Water Play is Best Saved for Other Times

Don't get me wrong! I LOVE water play. Water provides the basis for a lot of awesome activities. It soothes, inspires, and makes you happy. By playing with water young children can learn pre-science, pre-math, problem solving, and language. So by all means...find time and space for your child to play in and with water and with water toys. Just don't do it at bath time.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

On Top of the World

"54 14ers" was produced as part of the Songs from the Trail album by Jeff and Paige.

Fan Favorites - August 2016

Martial Arts School Teaches Kids It's OK to Cry
“It's OK to cry. We cry as men.”

This martial arts school in Detroit is teaching boys and their families some serious life lessons.

The Two Minutes You Didn't Know You Should Add to Your Morning Routine

How often do you wind up sneaking around after bedtime stealing and stashing toys for donation and “treasures” for trash? What if I told you that two minutes a day could save you the trouble of daytime negotiating and the bedtime blitz?

A Radically different Way to Respond When a Child is Aggressive
when you are willing to say, “I see you struggling AND I love you in this moment,” shame cannot survive.

The Collapse of Parenting: Why Its Time for Parents to Grow Up

“When parents realize that they are their children’s best bet, it challenges them to their own maturity.” It gives them the confidence that they know what’s good for their kids, and that they should stand up to them—this is, in fact, an act of love required of parents. They become, in effect, the grown-ups their children need.

It's 'Digital Heroin': How Screens Turn Kids into Psychotic Junkies
Many parents intuitively understand that ubiquitous glowing screens are having a negative effect on kids. We see the aggressive temper tantrums when the devices are taken away and the wandering attention spans when children are not perpetually stimulated by their hyper-arousing devices. Worse, we see children who become bored, apathetic, uninteresting and uninterested when not plugged in.
But it’s even worse than we think.
We now know that those iPads, smartphones and Xboxes are a form of digital drug. Recent brain imaging research is showing that they affect the brain’s frontal cortex — which controls executive functioning, including impulse control — in exactly the same way that cocaine does. Technology is so hyper-arousing that it raises dopamine levels — the feel-good neurotransmitter most involved in the addiction dynamic — as much as sex.