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  1. Article
    As a kindergarten teacher, I always believed my top priority was to help children fall in love with learning. The joy was getting them to enjoy school, to cherish the memories they make there and embrace the challenges. I felt that if each child could come to school excited for learning, that I would be setting them up for a lifetime of success. With school buildings closed and parents juggling their own work while also managing online learning and homework, I am afraid this priority of mine is in serious jeopardy. How can we, as exhausted and stretched-thin parents, keep learning fun for our frustrated and burnt-out children? How can teachers and the education system maintain rigorous learning while keeping the joys of learning intact? Now, it is more essential than ever to keep learning enjoyable by engaging the whole family in learning, and prioritizing organic learning through play. What exactly does this look like? Read on for some of my favorite ways to play and learn as a family. Play a family game Think of the amount of learning, thinking, and growing that happens when your family sits down to play a game. If they’re old enough, have your children read aloud the rules and repeat them in their own words. Then, as you play, count and describe your play out loud. Take turns saying “Your turn!” and sharing materials. Not only are your young ones benefiting from intentional family time, but they will be learning social skills, strategy, reading, and comprehension skills, too. [Related: Reintroducing playdates in a post-pandemic world] Take to the kitchen Some of the best learning can happen with a hands-on approach in the kitchen. Have your child help you write out the grocery list: encourage them to spell words out on their own or copy the letters from current packaging. Involve your child in the recipes you create by having them read the recipe card to you. All kinds of math takes place in cooking: fractions, conversions, and counting. And don’t forget science! Have your child help you discover the purpose of baking soda, or what happens to yeast in water. Spread some joy We all know someone who could use a smile. Have your child write letters to loved ones, make a book for a neighbor, or read to a younger sibling. Addressing and mailing the letters are half the fun! [Related: You can make eating out with your kids actually enjoyable] Follow their interests Does your child love building? Have them invent a new way to hang the towels in the bathroom or store items in the closet. Have an artistic one? Have them paint a picture, then write a note describing the image they created. Does your child love “search and finds”? Have them find and highlight sight words in a newspaper or magazine. Above all, encourage your children to find their own ways to follow their curiosities. Have them ask questions about things that matter to them, and work to find the answer together. We owe it to our youngest learners to keep this journey exciting for them. Their (and our) future depends on it!
  2. Event

    Toddler Moms Night "Out" - Virtual Get Together

    until
    As part of our All About Baby's programming, we are excited to host a June Virtual Toddler Moms' Night "Out!" Toddler moms always need a break - here is your chance to gather and gab with moms who are as entertained and frazzled as you are with your little wonders. Grab your favorite beverage and join us Wednesday, June 9th at 8PM! NPN member and volunteer, Cathy, will lead a Zoom chat for moms with children between 18 months and 3 years to connect and talk about the unique challenges and joys you face as moms. This event is for NPN members only. Please register once. You will receive an email confirmation after you register with the Zoom link. For non-members, as part of our June All About Baby programming, you can join NPN for $30 using the promo code AllAboutBaby to receive a discount. Questions? Contact NPN Program Manager Meredith Marzano at mmarzano@npnparent.org. Thank you to our presenting sponsor, Erikson Institute. NPN is proud to share information about Erikson Institute's Fussy Baby Network: The Fussy Baby Network offers a range of parent support services around crying, sleeping, and feeding issues for babies and toddlers up to age 3. We provide free phone support through our warmline at 1.888.431.2229, staffed by our warm and caring family/infant specialists. We also offer free virtual home visits to families no matter where they live. Finally, we provide support groups for parents to talk together about the challenges they face and how they cope. All of our services are available in English and Spanish.
  3. Event

    40+ Mom Outing in the Park

    until
    Moms always need a break - here is your chance to gather and gab in person with moms who are as entertained and frazzled as you are with your little wonders. NPN member and volunteer, Cathy, has coordinated a 40+ mom meet up at Horner Park on Sunday, June 13th at 2 PM to to connect and talk about the unique challenges and joys you face as toddler moms. Please note that this event is for NPN members only for moms 40+, and our host requests that you wear masks to Horner Park. Parking is on California, we hope to see you there!
  4. Event

    Toddler Moms Night "Out" - Virtual Get Together

    until
    Toddler moms always need a break - here is your chance to gather and gab with moms who are as entertained and frazzled as you are with your little wonders. Grab your favorite beverage and join us Wednesday, May 12th at 8PM! NPN member and volunteer, Cathy, will lead a Zoom chat for moms with children between 18 months and 3 years to connect and talk about the unique challenges and joys you face as moms. This event is for NPN members only. Please register once. You will receive an email confirmation after you register with the Zoom link. For non-members, as part of our June All About Baby programming, you can join NPN for $30 using the promo code AllAboutBaby to receive a discount. Questions? Contact NPN Program Manager Meredith Marzano at mmarzano@npnparent.org. Thank you to our presenting sponsor, Erikson Institute. NPN is proud to share information about Erikson Institute's Fussy Baby Network: The Fussy Baby Network offers a range of parent support services around crying, sleeping, and feeding issues for babies and toddlers up to age 3. We provide free phone support through our warmline at 1.888.431.2229, staffed by our warm and caring family/infant specialists. We also offer free virtual home visits to families no matter where they live. Finally, we provide support groups for parents to talk together about the challenges they face and how they cope. All of our services are available in English and Spanish.
  5. Event

    Virtual 40+ Moms Group

    until
    Attention moms over 40 with children between 2 months and 3 years old - this is the group for you! Please join PN member and volunteer, Cathy, who leads a Zoom chat for moms 40+ to connect and talk about the unique challenges and joys you face as moms. Please sign up for this group to attend one or all of these April meetups and drop in for as long as you can! This group will meet at 12:15 - 1:00 PM on Fridays, April 9th, 16th, 23rd, and 30th. You will receive a Zoom link the day before the meeting. NPN members only. Please register once for you and your child(ren). You will receive an email confirmation after you register. Questions? Contact NPN Program Manager Meredith Marzano at mmarzano@npnparent.org. Thank you to our presenting sponsor, Erikson Institute. NPN is proud to share information about Erikson Institute's Fussy Baby Network: The Fussy Baby Network offers a range of parent support services around crying, sleeping, and feeding issues for babies and toddlers up to age 3. We provide free phone support through our warmline, staff by our warm and caring family/infant specialists. We also offer free virtual home visits to families no matter where they live. Finally, we provide support groups for parents to talk together about the challenges they face and how they cope. All of our services are available in English and Spanish.
  6. So your child is about to begin this huge stage of independent self-care and you have a million questions. Are they ready? Is it going to be a complete disaster? Will they cry? Will you? On the flip side, there’s the glory of no more diapers. Ever. Think of all the saved money you can stash away in that college fund. Not to mention, you really need a break. Plus, most preschools won’t let you drop off a kid who isn’t fully potty trained. Clearly, this has to happen. You survey your friends about what they did and then read a couple of potty training books you don’t have time to read. And yet, it still seems confusing and like a huge drag you’d rather put off till another day, month, year...perhaps forever. But what about preschool? This has to happen. When getting ready to potty train my own son, I had a crazy thought: Was there any way to make this fun? Not only for myself, but because I still vividly remembered a graduate psychology course in which we learned about Erikson’s second stage of development: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt. Usually completed between 18 months and three years old, it’s the period when children first encounter shame — the message of “You are bad” instead of “You made a bad choice.” Without even realizing it, parents and caregivers often use shame in potty training, not understanding how it can affect their littles. [Related: Potty Training for All Abilities (members-only video)] Knowing this, I was determined to make potty training a shame-free and fun experience. Pictured is the exact behavior chart I used. The result? A fully potty trained kid in no time. Quick note: I also had a second chart just for potty training when out and about. Because children have different things they struggle with — one might fear pooping in general, while another won’t go to the bathroom at school — feel free to get creative and make a chart that fits your child’s needs. 1. Get out all of your craft supplies and involve your child in the process. 2. Draw a fun shape like a circle or star and section it off into however many days you choose. 3. Write a reward in each box. I tried to create as many non-food rewards as possible and added special “bigger” rewards along the way; for example, making slime was a big hit, as was “phone” time. 4. This is the most important step: Buy or gather all of the rewards and place them in one spot in your home. Make sure your child can see everything. The idea behind this is that they will not have to wait to get their reward. When my son saw everything lined up on top of the hutch, he immediately bought into the program and said, “I’m going to get everything on my chart.” [Related: Best Chicago playgrounds for the potty-training toddler] A few things to keep in mind: No time like the present Summer is a great season to start this adventure because your kiddos can be naked without freezing. Less clothing to fuss with in and out of the bathroom is a win for everyone. If you can, take a couple of days off or a long weekend to potty train. Stay close to home, play board games, go to the park, and enjoy time with your little one outdoors. (Added bonus if you’ve got a boy: they can always pee on a tree in a pinch.) That said, always consider... Timing The best potty training advice ever given to me came from my pediatrician, who said to wait for the child to show interest. I took my son shopping for undies and then asked him every day for almost a month if he wanted to wear a diaper or undies. After Day 26, he finally said “undies” and I had them on him so fast he never had time to look back. Patience This is not always a quick process. Try not to get discouraged or frustrated. I quickly learned that if I got upset so would my son. Children feed off of our feelings. I began to act like it was no big deal and with the pressure off, there was room for fun. Phrases to have ready “I would never ask you to do something I didn’t think you could do.” “We all make mistakes; it’s part of learning.” “You’ve got this potty training thing down.” Humor Dance parties were the biggest part of our success. Every time he went to the bathroom, we would celebrate. He even had his own potty touchdown move. Take your time with the process so you can appreciate the joy of watching your little one accomplish this huge milestone.
  7. While nighttime control often occurs years later, mastering daytime bladder and bowel control is a process which takes, on average, six months for a child to complete. Urine and stool accidents are common during those months and should be expected. Toilet training regression, however, is defined as loss of these daytime skills long after the process is complete. It is understandably frustrating and concerning for parents when their child, several months diaper-free, suddenly refuses to use the toilet, begins having frequent accidents during the day, or develops some other unusual elimination behaviors. [Related: Best Chicago playgrounds for the potty-training toddler] If these daytime skills were truly mastered before the onset of regression, the first step is to rule out medical causes by meeting with your pediatrician. If the doctor determines there is no physical cause for the regression, emotionally stressful changes in your child’s life should be considered. Some common examples include: Fears (monsters, loud flushing noise, falling into the toilet, being sucked down the toilet) Illness of the child or a family member Pregnancy or birth of a new sibling Change in childcare environment Moving to a new home Parents’ marriage ending In such situations, it is important to remember that rather than lashing out physically with violence or tantrums, your child has found a relatively healthy way to cope with this stress. Using the following approach, however, you can help your child find even better ways to manage. Tell them you’ve noticed the change Do this with as much ambivalence in your voice as possible. Shame and guilt will likely be your child’s first reaction to learning their behavior has not gone unnoticed. It is therefore important you remove any hint of judgement from your tone and choice of words. Talk to them First, explain you aren’t mad at them, and it isn’t their fault. Next, ask if they know why this is happening. Depending on the verbal skills of your child, you may not be in the habit of asking their opinion yet. Even if they don’t have the words to explain what they are feeling, hearing you are interested in what they think is empowering. If they do offer any type of meaningful response, listen carefully to what they say, thank them for telling you, and sympathize with them as much as possible. Tell them you are proud of the good work they have done up to this point and that you know they will do better next time. [Related: How to make potty training your toddler fun. Yes, fun.] Brainstorm creative solutions alone as parents and also with your child Any practical steps to solving the problem are worth trying. Removing fear by making the toileting fun with songs or games. Spend special time together with your child separately from the new baby. Explore the childcare facility bathroom with your child and separately discuss the issues you’re having with their childcare or caregivers. Surround the potty with familiar objects or toys. Positively reinforce successes with sticker charts or other reward systems. If your child contributes any ideas, be certain to try them as well. Consider taking a break If your creative solutions don’t seem to be working (or, worse: creating stress and anxiety surrounding toileting), consider taking a break and returning to pullups for a few weeks. Sometimes taking a backseat for a bit allows your child to recognize they are responsible for learning this important skill. Encouraging this independence can be liberating for your child and lead to lasting success.
  8. Olympic fever is alive and well in our house. The excitement of close finishes, the talented and determined athletes, the national pride..what isn’t there to love? And what I find even more inspiring is that many of these athletes are parents, which means that while training for the Olympic Games, they are also participating in the Parenting Games. Which got me thinking about what types of “sports” there should be in the Parenting Games…skills and accomplishments that make you feel like you have mastered at least some part of parenting. So tell me, have you gone for the gold in any of these activities? The Floorboard Walk As any parent knows, it is a sign of deft expertise to be able to walk through your home silently and avoid all of those floorboard creaks, whether with a sleeping child in your arms or just after you tucked someone in and are hoping to race to your adult beverage and remote control before your little one wakes up. This vital parenting ability is also related to stepping on LEGO without screaming every expletive imaginable and walking past musical toys without setting them off (not only waking up everyone in the house, but also freaking yourself out a bit….because those toys are WAY creepy once night time settles in). The Diaper Challenge We have been surprisingly lucky to have kids who enjoy eating at local kid-friendly restaurants and behave rather well through the course of a meal, but there is always an element of going out to eat that truly puts our parenting skills to the test: changing a diaper when there isn’t a diaper changing table. Figuring out how to change your wiggly little one and keeping him or her from touching all of the nasty surfaces in a bathroom definitely proves that parents (especially those awesome dads out there!) earn the beer waiting for them back at the table. The Target Tantrum Side-Step Target is my happy place, but not so much when I am there with my kids. Why? Because they too fall under Target’s spell and want EVERYTHING! And when Mommy says no, guess what happens? Tantrums. Tantrums so bad that their faces get almost as red as the cart they are strapped inside. So every time a parent manages to either ride out the tantrum or head out the door while wrangling wailing kiddos, she should get bronze, silver AND gold medals. The Sleeping Child Transfer You know what’s awesome? When your kiddo conks out in the car and you can drive in peace (and maybe even hit up the Starbucks drive-thru). You know what’s not awesome? When your child screams and fights being in the car seat only to fall asleep five minutes from the house. But when you are able to somehow maneuver your child from the car seat, through the house, over to his bedroom without waking him, you have officially mastered parenting. Tuck yourself in as well, and enjoy a hard-earned nap.

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