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  1. Not all kids like to cook at younger ages and that’s to be expected. It’s easy to get intimidated around hot pots and sharp knives. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some fun and safe ways to get your mini chefs involved in making dinner for the whole family! Meatless Monday We know it’s a cliché, but what better day to make a veggie-based pasta? Use a food processor to whip up an easy spinach “pesto” using fresh baby spinach, basil, nuts of your choice, and good parmesan or other aged cheese (optional). Have your kid(s) pour in the olive oil as the motor runs until the pesto is smooth. Cook pasta in a small pot according to package directions, drain (reserving about a tablespoon of the cooking water), and add pesto to the pot. Have your mini(s) stir to coat with a wooden spoon. They can also garnish the prepared bowls by sprinkling in some extra grated parmesan cheese and/or tear up more basil leaves to place on top. [Related: 5 tips for cooking with little kids] Taco Tuesday OK, OK, it’s another cliché, but do tacos on Tuesday ever fail? Switch things up a notch by making crispy taco bowls or cups with toppings of your choice. While you cook some ground beef (or chicken or turkey) seasoned with salt, cumin and chili powder, have your mini(s) push small flour or corn tortillas into the cups of a muffin tin lightly sprayed with olive or avocado oil. You can spoon in the cooked meat, and they can top with shredded Chihuahua, Mexican blend, or other cheese of your choice. Bake off the taco shells in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes or until crisp. Once cooled, serve the muffin cups with a variety of toppings: chopped tomatoes or mild salsa, diced avocado, shredded lettuce, chopped fresh cilantro, and a squeeze of lime — if they’re up for it. Meatball Wednesday Time to maka da meatballs! Add ground beef/pork or chicken/turkey in a large bowl. Have your kid(s) sprinkle in some seasoning (onion powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper, oregano), and then have them squeeze in some ketchup for sweetness. Either you or they can crack an egg and add some panko, or have them tear up day-old bread for fresh breadcrumbs to add to the mix. Using clean hands, mix up the batch and everyone can take turns rolling the meat into golf ball-size balls. Pour a jar of marinara in a large, deep skillet and heat until a slow simmer forms. Gently place the mini meatballs in the mix, cover and cook until cooked through but still tender. Serve with pasta, in hoagie rolls, or by themselves with a veggie of choice. [Related: Ways to make learning playful and fun for kids] Stir-Fry Thursday Remember Mongolian BBQ? Bring back the '90s fave with make-your-own stir-fry bowls. Set up a station with bowls of raw, pre-chopped veggies (broccoli, mushrooms, diced red and yellow peppers, matchstick carrots, peas or edamame, etc.). Have them hand you their bowl while you add the protein (diced chicken or turkey breast or shrimp) and some pre-made stir-fry sauce (store-bought or a combo of soy sauce, hoisin or honey, and grated garlic and ginger). Heat up a little neutral or avocado oil in a wok or large skillet and cook until meat is cooked through and veggies are tender. They can finish off their bowls with any garnish of their choice (sliced scallions, toasted sesame seeds, chopped peanuts or almonds), or skip this part. You can even have then pick out the veggies you’ll be using at the grocery store to help them get more excited about the meal. Pizza Friday Make an easy Detroit-style pizza using a pan! This one’s easier to handle than stretching out and dealing with fresh dough. Line a buttered, 9"’ x 11" pan with prepared pizza dough and lightly brush it with olive oil. Have your kid(s) place alternating pepperoni slices and diced cheese across the dough (Detroit-style uses buttery brick cheese, or go for combination of brick and mozzarella), making sure to place enough cheese in the corners to create those signature, caramelized edges. Bake in a 500-degree oven on the lowest rack until bubbly, and edges are dark brown, almost black — about 30-40 minutes. Be sure to let the pizza rest 10 minutes before cutting into squares and serving. Photo: Annie Spratt on Unsplash
  2. Hygge: feeling warm, comfortable and safe. This Danish concept advocates enjoying the simple pleasures and treating yourself with care. During Chicago winters, we could all do with a little dose of hygge: the perfect antidote to Zoom overload. Here’s how. Clear out clutter To ensure the simplicity required for this concept, some decluttering is required. Make this an opportunity to donate items, then clear everything out of sight into some large, natural hampers. Bring in cozy Wool blankets, faux sheepskins, baskets of slippers. There is nothing better than snuggling with your family and embracing the best of togetherness. [Related: From slow to go! Balancing life post-pandemic] Add texture To complement the soft textiles, add some earthenware bowls for soup or glass jars filled with pinecones for a pleasing aesthetic. Bringing nature in promotes the tranquil vibe. Display those memories While we can’t see extended family members as much as we would like, displaying photos brings them closer. Or, dig out old mementos and arrange treasured items on shelves where they bring back happy memories. Read and listen Reading and listening to music are soothing pastimes for many of us. Select some poetry or a beautiful photo book, create a playlist, and chill out in a nook made from a bean bag chair or throw pillows. Embrace changing seasons Embracing the seasons is a part of hygge that we all have to accept in Chicago. Bundle up on sunny days, invest in a sled for the snowy ones, and makeover your bedroom hotel-style for the really ugly ones. Set a fire Whether you have a fireplace indoors, a fire pit outside, or just a visual on YouTube, fires are immensely relaxing. Rearrange the furniture around this focal point, replacing the TV with conversation. Enjoy a cuppa Make 2021 the year to up the ante on winter drinks. A hot chocolate bar is a fun, low-key activity for all the family. Alternately, cover a box with beautiful fabric and fill it with a range of teas for a home tasting. Bake a treat Though cookie exchanges are a no-no, take the opportunity to explore comfort foods from across the globe. Baking bread is another wonderful way to bring in the hygge, filling your home with an enticing aroma. [Related: Family-friendly slow-cooker meals for cold snaps] Bathe in light If candles are problematic with children and pets, there are plenty of realistic battery versions. And of course, strings of tiny fairy lights add a magical effect strung up a little haphazardly. Put away tech Central to the theme of hygge is simplification, and that applies to technology, too. Identify a place to put away these items at the end of the day, such as a sanitizing station or a charging drawer. Embrace neutral decor To fully embrace the required Danish décor, repaint a room in neutral colors of grays, greens and creams. For a low-commitment fix, try adding new pillows or replacing the bold with calming artwork. As we continue our winter living with COVID, it is so important that our homes become our sanctuaries — and not our cells. While traveling and experiencing a refreshing change of scene remains problematic, setting up our dwellings to provide respite is hugely beneficial to our wellbeing.
  3. 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!
  4. Article
    As vaccines roll out by the thousands, the days are getting longer, and hope feels more tangible than ever. But how do we balance it with the pace of the past year? For a lot of families and couples, the pandemic's slow down period has been a blessing in disguise. This is not to say that it hasn’t been difficult in a million weird and unexpected ways. It has. However, not having to go to playdates, attend birthday parties, and uber children to multiple afterschool activities has allowed for more time together. For my family, we now have a standing Friday night pizza and movie date which we all really look forward to. So how will we remember to just relax and play when the world quickly plays catch-up? Don’t think of this as making up for lost time Time was not lost; it was slowed down. There is no need to go full speed. List the activities that each member of your family would like to do and only commit to one to two at a time. Same goes for summer camp: Keep in mind that kiddos are used to having down time, so we don’t want to overwhelm them by booking every week. Just because we can, doesn’t mean that it's the best option for our family. Keep at least two days/nights free of activities Preferably one weekend morning so that you can sleep in (if all the stars align). It is also nice to wake up and not have to run off to something. I find that on Saturday morning, my children are excited for the weekend and looking forward to playing and using their imagination for the things that they wish they could have done while in school. This also leaves room for spontaneity. Take turns Historically, my husband and I felt that we had to both attend birthday parties because it was a social event for us, but in the end we would be exhausted. One idea we’ve had since is to take turns with parties and activities. We also take turns working out, cooking, and cleaning. [Related: Self-care during COVID: Creating your own pandemic slowdown] Make time for yourself Pick something that brings you joy, and do it! For me, it was to take a pilates teacher training course so that I can learn and do something new. Another thing my partner and I do is that if I have plans to work out on a Saturday, then we make a plan for him to work out on Sunday. If you make time for yourself, you are more likely to help others make time for themselves as well. Be aware of the new social anxiety I am finding with myself and a lot of my clients that there is a sense of feeling awkward in social situations. Questioning the conversations when you get home and thinking that you talked too much are normal. We haven’t been socializing the way that we were used to. It might take time to find our groove and make new friends as adults, and this is a good reminder that our kiddos might struggle with this also. Ease back into life with one activity at a time and don’t forget that "No" is still an acceptable answer.
  5. Article
    Most of us probably have a good idea what it takes to get our young children to love reading. Snuggling up with a favorite book at bedtime, for example, sends a clear message about the value of reading. But what about a love of math? For many parents, it’s not so obvious how to help young children appreciate math — especially if they don’t enjoy it themselves or feel their skills in the subject are lacking. Yet parents are a powerful influence on how children feel about math. Feelings? Yes, research is clear that children’s mindset — their beliefs about what math is and who can do math well — helps determine their math achievement. So, if you’re a parent and don’t consider yourself a math person, there are still ways you can help your child succeed. First, try putting aside any pressure you feel to be their math teacher, and instead, think of yourself as a math cheerleader! With that perspective, following are five strategies you can use to cheer your child on and encourage their love of math. Be curious The concept of being a “math person” — or not — is a myth. But even if you don’t identify as someone who likes or is good at math right now, you can still model curiosity about the subject. You don’t have to have all the answers, but you can ask good questions. Two great questions to ask your kids: “What do you notice?” and, “What do you see?” Look with a math lens We use lenses all the time to help us see things differently: to improve our vision, to shade our eyes from the sun, to magnify microscopic organisms and to watch a 3-D movie. In the same way, we can use a math lens to help our children see the world differently. For example, you and your child might look at how eggs in a carton are lined up in two rows of six. You might notice the patterns on a checkerboard, or the symmetry of a building, shapes in the tile floor, height of a tree, rhythm of a song, etc. By pointing these things out, it won’t take long for your child to recognize the ways math is present everywhere they look. Picture books, too, are a great invitation to look at the world with a math lens. Visit your public library and check out these award-winning Mathical Prize books. Talk about math You’ve got chores to do: grocery shopping, washing dishes, doing laundry, straightening up the house. These tasks all offer opportunities to help your child sort, count, make comparisons and reason spatially. The Early Math Collaborative at Erikson Institute offers many practical ideas for math at home. Remember that language and math skills develop together. Take advantage of small moments to talk about math ideas as you move through your day together — think of it as the curriculum of life! Play games Children learn best through play. Games provide children with enjoyable math practice skills while also developing their logical, strategic thinking. Simple card games such as Uno and Memory offer opportunities for matching and comparing. Path-based board games like Parcheesi or Chutes and Ladders, in which children use dice or spinners to advance spaces, develop a sense of number magnitude. Strategy games like Connect Four and Mancala require children to plan their problem-solving by thinking a step ahead. Puzzles are also great for spatial reasoning. The blog Games for Young Minds is full of game suggestions and reviews to help you plan your next family game night that encourages your child’s love of math. Embrace effort Making mistakes and trying to figure things out is part of doing math. How you respond when you or your child makes an error can send the message that math is a process and that success comes from effort. As children move through school, there’s bound to be some struggle learning math — and you may be in the position to help with homework. In these situations, pause for a moment before offering assistance. This sends the message that it’s okay for them to not understand right away. As parents, we have to develop a stronger stomach for some temporary frustration. This is how your child will learn problem solving and perseverance — both crucial skills for life that math teaches particularly well. Jeanine O'Nan Brownell is the mother of three children. She works at Erikson Institute’s Early Math Collaborative and partners with school districts, childcare centers, and agencies to design programs of professional learning for preK-3rd grade teachers.
  6. My family isn't counting the days, weeks or even the months anymore, but we are counting the memories. What began as a couple of weeks holed up at home could have morphed into a lost year. Instead, we chose to begin each day with the question, What memories are we creating today? Capturing those memories—both joyous and challenging—has become central to our daily lives. Here are some easy ways you can help your kids record feelings and milestones surrounding a most unusual year. [Related: How to celebrate kids' birthdays while social distancing] Memory book Inspired by a school assignment, our children began filling out and coloring in printables related to the new normal. We decided to supplement these with our own pages—including handprints and comic strips—with the ultimate goal of printing a hardcover book. Artwork Allowing youngsters to express their view of a pandemic world through art is helpful in gauging their understanding and how they’re feeling. My youngest daughter, an aspiring doctor, made a detailed image of a Covid-19 patient and a truly creative series of virus watercolors. Memory box To preserve three-dimensional pieces, creating a memory box makes for another interactive project. Adding rocks painted with messages of hope or magazines exploring issues of the day, such as Time for Kids or National Geographic, will be interesting for years to come. Time capsule Or how about creating a time capsule for the next generation to find? Including a newspaper seems like a no-brainer, but ask your kids what else might convey our lives today. A face mask? A popular toy? A recent book? Let their imaginations get to work. Newspaper reporters Children can also be encouraged to create their own newspapers. Explaining that we’re living through history really brings home the momentousness of the current situation. Task them with becoming reporters or bloggers and charge them with noting what is happening right now. [Related: These thoughtful gifts prove showing you care doesn't cost a thing] Video diary Budding movie producers can capture these memories in video format. Immediate family members can be interviewed in person, while Zoom or FaceTime can be used to connect with folks in other parts of the country or world for a broader perspective. How do their experiences differ? How are we all the same? Movie poster If this year were a movie, what would it be called? Who would be the main characters and who would be the stars? Summarizing 2020 in poster format is another creative way to encourage reflection and put the year into a visual format. Poetry and song Of course, memories can also be captured lyrically. There are many different types of poetry youngsters can try their hand at, with free verse or narrative well suited to individual expression. Alternately, given a few musical instruments, kids will quickly develop their own songs. While there is so much of this year we may choose to forget, for our children these are the days they’re witnessing significant history, and as such are worth remembering. Capturing some of these memories in a way that works for your family acts as a counterbalance to the aimless drifting of 2020. It can even bring some hope during an uncertain year.
  7. “Halloween is an opportunity to be really creative” – Judy Gold Never has that been more true than now. So how do you embrace creativity and find a way to celebrate during these strange times? Lights tour When our children were babies we would stroll through the neighborhood on a night prior to Halloween, just enjoying the lights away from the crowds. This activity has now become a part of our annual tradition. We’re truly thankful that we can continue this part of our typical celebration during this distinctly abnormal year. Pumpkin-decorating contest To make a neighborhood tour more personal, you could challenge other families to a pumpkin-decorating contest. Give everyone a few days to check out the competition, then either vote using an online poll (for the truly competitive) or make everyone a winner. Spooky treasure hunt For another distanced activity, create your own neighborhood treasure hunt—with a twist. Take a family walk to spot all the spooky chalk drawings your friends have sketched. Check them all off for a cauldron of goodies at the final stop–your home! Party at home Hats off to anyone who creates their own Zoom party. We can’t quite muster up the will to get online after a week of virtual schooling. Instead, we’re going to party en famille with indoor trick-or-treating. We’re adding some inexpensive orange and black balloons (no helium required) for a homestyle ball pit. And if it’s nice outside, a pinata filled to the brim with candy would seem ideally suited to the occasion. Embrace being inside For once you won’t have to worry about sensible weather-appropriate clothing, so just let your little ones dress up however they please. Task the younger members of your household with writing a script for their random characters, then let them entertain you with a play. Let’s face it, these dress-up clothes are destined to get plenty of wear over the long, likely-stay-at-home months ahead. Costumes with masks And if you are venturing outside, finding costumes that include masks is not that hard. (Aren’t they always reminding us not to bring masks into school at this time of year?) We’ve been thinking about ways to bring virus-protection into costumes. The stores have some cute animal face masks which would be perfect paired with feline onesies. Similarly, dressing up as doctors or surgeons is easy-peasy. Non-traditional parade At this time of year you’re likely mourning your typical Halloween parade, but try remembering that it doesn’t have to follow the usual format. You can have your children walk past the local shops where they will definitely get the desired attention. We might just stand in line at the local donut haunt and have folks filter past us. What’s more fall-appropriate than eating apple cider sugary treats? Character visit There are services where you can hire a character to visit. However, if you have a bunch of parents that are good sports, how about having one of them dress up as a superhero or other fan favorite. (A dad who showed up to daycare as a unicorn is always remembered as a star.) By waving to the kids at a safe distance they will be like the Santa of Halloween. Look to other cultures Sometimes it’s better to embrace change rather than try to do what you always did and fall short. Other cultures can provide inspiration. El Dia de los Muertos is an obvious alternative to Halloween. Or offer up gifts of food to pacify hungry ghosts like they do during the Hong Kong festival of Yue Lan. We might celebrate British Guy Fawkes Day on November 5 with a fire pit in lieu of a bonfire. Now, more than ever, it’s important to teach our children to overcome hurdles, build resilience and employ creativity. What is more emblematic of that than a re-imagined Halloween?
  8. When Chicago's stay-at-home order began, like many parents I wondered how we would fill so much time at home with my 22-month-old. Even as a stay-at-home mom, this was a daunting task! I decided to get busy using my elementary-education teaching background to create basic plans for exploration and make the most of our time together. As we draw near the fall and probably another step toward increased distancing, I hope to empower parents with ideas for simple play at home. Creating memories at home together is the first step in your child’s education, and can be done with minimal materials. I believe in learning through play, exploring child-led curiosities and interests, and exposure to as much language and color as possible! Through the eyes of a child, everything within your home is a learning tool! Getting creative with some basic items will encourage hours of play and create lasting memories. Below are some of my favorite materials for our projects, arts and crafts, all of which are pictured and detailed on the Instagram account, @raisingminimoss. [Related: How to keep your kids active inside] Pom poms: These fuzzy balls are so visually exciting! Use these for color sorts, toss and catch, or spooning into muffin tins. Tape paper towel rolls to the wall and create a pom pom drop! Squish some into a kitchen whisk and have your little one use their pincer fingers to get them out. Contact paper: This one-sided sticky paper has filled hours of fun and crafting with my 22-month-old! Stick cotton balls to it and make a sheep or bunny. Use tissue paper scraps to make a suncatcher. Feathers can turn the contact paper into a beautiful bird! My little one loves going on a nature hunt and displaying her found leaves, sticks, and flowers on the paper. Dot stickers: These are the basic ones you can find at the office section of your favorite store, and they can be used in so many different ways! Fine motor skills are practiced when removing the stickers from their paper, hand-eye coordination is practiced when sticking them on a line. They can be great for color sorts and matching activities by putting uppercase/lowercase letters or numbers on them. Bubble wrap: Write letters or numbers on the big bubbles and have your child pop it as you call them out. Wrap a rolling pin with it and roll it through paint—the print is amazing! Paint it and use it as a stamp to make prints of honeycombs or sheep’s wool. My little one’s favorite is to simply put it on the ground and jump. Talk about gross motor skills! [Related: How to celebrate kids' birthdays while social distancing] Paint: My favorite is Crayola Washable Paint. I love it because it washes out of everything, but I still keep baby wipes on hand for quick messes. We love “random object stamping”: pine cones, dried flowers, or even sticks from outside. The bottom of a celery stalk stamps like a rose and apples and citrus fruits make beautiful prints. Forks make amazing prints too, like lion’s fur! Recycling: Take a look at what you are recycling, and upcycle it! Your toilet paper rolls can become binoculars, stamps, or slides for toy cars. Empty tissue boxes can become a bed for dolls, a sorting bin, or with a few rubber bands it can become a guitar. Sensory play: Sensory play encourages motor skills, scientific thinking and problem-solving, and is so much fun for exploration! Shaving cream, popcorn kernels, and even shredded paper can provide a great sensory experience to explore. Toss in a few small toys and have your child fish them out. There are lots of taste-safe options, too: yogurt, Jell-O, Cool Whip, food-coloring-dyed spaghetti noodles, ice cubes and even dried lentils. Beyond these projects, reading, singing and sharing nursery rhymes encourage language skills. Your young child’s brain is a sponge! Use books as a springboard for projects and talking about various topics. Include your child in at-home chores such as laundry sorting, stirring and mixing in the kitchen, and pulling out pots and pans to make instruments. Take advantage of this time together and make some special memories. By seeing the world through your child’s eyes, you, too, will develop a sense of wonder and creativity! Allow yourself to be empowered by your own ideas—you and your children will be glad you did! And when in doubt, just dance!
  9. Article
    Inactivity during winter months can have a negative effect on a family’s physical and mental health. Research has shown when kids don’t get enough activity, it could result in difficulty sleeping, behavior problems, and inattention for academic tasks. That’s why it’s important to keep your kids active all year round, especially during those long winter months. And no one understands this more than Chicagoans! To stay active while not having to leave your house, we’ve put together some fun ideas to help your family stay sane and survive inside. Living room warrior course You can create gross motor obstacle courses in your home using everyday items. Use step stools to step up and down — or, even better, jump to stay off of the “hot lava” (which is the carpet, of course); walk along a tightrope (aka a taped line on the floor); practice balancing while stepping across floating islands in the ocean (better known as couch cushions). Other great ideas to add to your obstacle course: animal walks (such as bear walking or frog jumping from one point to another), skipping or hopping on one foot, or crawling through stacked up pillows or under blankets. Encourage your child to follow this path in order to retrieve pieces for a puzzle from one end of the room to another, or see how long it takes them to finish the obstacle course. Have them “beat their personal best” without stepping off of any obstacles along the way! Dance party! Turn up the music and move your bodies to your favorite tunes. Ask your child for their request and DJ their own personal dance party. Instead of sitting to watch a movie, play your children’s favorite soundtrack from the film and have a dance off or act out the movie. Another fun dance game is to try a “copy dance.” Each participant teaches their favorite move for the other family members to master. Some older children may even want to make up their own routine and put on a performance for the family. Announce them to the stage and encourage costume changes! You can also practice listening skills with a game of freeze dance. The rules are simple: dance when the music plays and freeze when it stops. First one to move is out! Lights, camera, action Kids can use their imagination to put on a play for family members. They can recreate their own version of their favorite book or movie, or write an original script. Encourage your child to design their own costume using their clothes or by making a costume with paper, fabric and the universal sewing machine — a stapler! To add even more fun, they can use items to create a “stage” such as hanging a sheet for a curtain or finding props for their performance. Find your chi Teach your little yogis some kid-friendly poses using premade yoga cards. YouTube has great yoga practices, as well, that are frequently “themed” and set to music. (Can you say Star Wars yoga poses, my young padawan?) Yoga practice can keep your kids moving while improving their balance and flexibility. It’s a great way for all ages to play together and help stretch away the winter blues. Hopscotch it down the hallway In order to play hopscotch inside, use construction paper, stickers or tape on tile or hardwood to make the hopscotch game pattern almost anywhere. Encourage kids to skip areas by throwing a stuffed animal at a square to skip over. Family game night Instead of sitting to play a board game, try choosing a family game like Twister or Charades to encourage more gross motor movement! This is a surefire way to stay active and add a lot of laughs to an evening. Bounce your sillies out A mini trampoline is great way to keep moving that does not take up a lot of space. Many fold up and can fit neatly under the bed until the next jumping emergency. Find your happy sensory place Make sensory bins for your child to experiment with. Fill up plastic contains with water beads, dried food goods (corn kernels, rice, beans, pasta etc.), kinetic sand, or cornstarch and water. Allow kids to put their hands (and maybe even feet?) in them. You can hide toys in the bins and go on a treasure hunt! Hopefully, we’ve got you started with some good ideas to get your creative juices flowing, your kids movin’ and groovin’, and everyone’s lives a little saner to survive the winter blues. Happy motoring!
  10. You’ve been there: the “best party ever.” There are games, music, characters, and an entertainer taking pictures and playing with your children. But now, it’s your turn to plan the birthday party for your child and you want the same or better experience. Before you jump to hire the first company you find in your Facebook’s mommy group, it’s important to consider who — and what — you’re dealing with. As the president of a kids’ entertainment company, I can shed some light on the subject. Are you calling a legit/legal company? There are tons of people advertising themselves as “entertainment companies for children,” and most of them are not legit companies. You’ll recognize them because they want you to pay in cash, they don’t have a website, or their social media pages are poorly done or non-existent. Check the small print: Real companies should have an LLC or Inc. after their name. Who works for this company? You wouldn’t invite a stranger into your home, right? Make sure you ask: Are background checks and drug tests regularly required of employees? Many companies (especially the ones that aren’t legal) send whoever is available to work, and many times they don’t even know the performer. I once heard a mom saying that the person she hired came intoxicated and the kids could smell the alcohol. Is the company insured? Did you know that even face painters should carry insurance? Always ask. Why is insurance so important? Let’s say the kids are having a lot of fun and while dancing, someone bumps into a speaker and it falls and injures a child. I’m sure you don’t want to deal with a lawsuit. Insurance means the company is liable, so you’re not. Is the show age-appropriate for your child and guests? We’ve all seen those characters twerking on Facebook. Ask what kind of music the entertainer plans to use during the show. You can even ask about the type of games they will be playing. Have you checked the reviews? It’s common sense: Before hiring a company, shop around. If you see a company with a high number of likes on Facebook and tons of great reviews, go for it! Read the reviews, privately contact the company, and ask questions. Usually, companies with a low number of likes and no reviews are a red flag. Yes, parties are hard to plan. But the smile of your child that says, “This was the best party ever!” is worth the effort of asking a few questions and doing your research.
  11. Your preschooler can count to 50, maybe even 100. But does your child know what five means? It turns out that understanding the “fiveness” of five is far more important for a solid foundation in math than the ability to recite a string of numbers in the right order. And you can keep building this foundation all summer long. Since 2007, the Erikson Institute’s Early Math Collaborative has been helping teachers discover ways to improve math instruction for young children. Substitute “parents” for “teachers,” and our first “big idea” involves having your young children sort the laundry or the silverware. The big lesson to be learned from chores like these is that any collection can be sorted in more than one way. So while we sort by light versus dark before the wash, we might sort by clothing type — socks, shirts, pants — afterward. All with the same exact items. It’s not conventional math. It doesn’t require memorization. But it helps young children understand the concept of a category and gives them experience in creating sets. Because you can’t count apples, for instance, until you’ve figured out which are apples and which are bananas. When it comes to counting, it’s one thing to understand that three comes after two and before four. That’s the skill in a “count to 50” task. But what’s more meaningful is to understand that three is one more than two, and one less than four. It’s known as the cardinal meaning of a number. And it’s easier for children to learn when we couple a counting process with a total quantity. For example, let’s say there are five stairs leading to your porch. It’s not enough to count “one, two, three, four, five.” To help toddlers quickly pick up the meaning of the numbers, conclude with, “See? There are five stairs.” This ties the sequence to the quantity, giving your child a chance to construct a meaningful understanding of five. Taking this up another level of difficulty would be this scenario: Say the 10 townhomes on your block all look the same and all have five stairs leading to the porch. Now ask your child, if an 11th townhome were to be built, how many stairs do you think it would have? This is pattern recognition. What’s so powerful about it is that it enables children to anticipate what comes next. It allows for predictability in kids’ lives. And they love it. It’s why toddlers want the same song sung over and over again and love books that repeat a rhyme but add one new twist on each page. Patterns help kids feel confident and safe because they know what’s going to happen next. And in math, pattern recognition is the first step to algebraic thinking. Even when your child is on summer break, the day is full of simple ways that families can inject math into a meaningful activity. Just remember that it’s not just the counting that matters — it’s the patterns and the sets that the numbers create.
  12. Is your whole family about to lose their minds to cabin fever? Don’t let it get you down! There is so much free or cheap indoor and outdoor fun to be had. Here are some activities you and your special-needs kiddo can enjoy. Around town activities Free museum days Adler Planetarium, Chicago Children’s Museum, dancing with the kiddos at the Chicago Cultural Center, sensory Saturday at the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium and the Chicago History Museum. Conservatory exploration Explore beautiful plant life at the Lincoln Park Conservatory and the Garfield Park Conservatory. It’s always free and it feels like you are visiting the tropics! Live theater See a play that will accommodate those who have sensory issues at Lifeline Theatre and Chicago Children’s Theatre. Music Get out and do some serious dancing with your kiddos! Beat Kitchen has a whole kids' concert series! Indoor water parks Splash Landings Aquatic Center in Glenview, The Water Works in Schaumburg and Pelican Harbor Aquatic Park in Bolingbrook Trampoline park Sky High Sports offers discounted open play every Tuesday just for your special-needs kiddos! Obstacle and agility courses For those kiddos who crave climbing and hanging, check out Ultimate Ninjas for open-play weekends. Outreach play Misericordia offers a great play program that gives you a chance to meet and mingle with other parents while volunteers play with your child. Free play KEEN Chicago: Kids Enjoy Exercise Now! Chicago Park District's special rec programs CPD has a lot of available programs for our kiddos. You do have to sign up early as spaces fill very quickly. Sledding and skating Try sledding at one of the Chicago Park District parks. Our favorite hills are Oz Park, Horner Park, Gompers Park and Warren Park. Get skating in at Maggie Daley ice skating ribbon, Warren Park and Wrigley Field. Indoor home activities Sensory bins Create one or a few sensory bins using Insta-Snow, water beads, dried beans, shaving cream or cotton balls to hide and search for treasures. Dress up! Put those old costumes to good use and get dressed up for some pretend play. Have a very posh tea party, get rescued by your favorite little superhero or have your kiddo cure all of his or her stuffed animals boo-boos! Dance party Turn on that music and work out some serious energy! We have different genres programmed on Pandora, like Disney, Kidz Bop, Laurie Berkner, Fresh Beat Band and School House Rock, to name a few! Build a blanket fort and camp inside Make some s’mores Rice Krispies treats with the kiddos and heat up some hot chocolate! Family game day Play Twister, Charades, Old Maid, Hungry Hungry Hippos or whatever you have on hand to enjoy together! Art day Hold a painting party and drink apple cider from fancy glasses. Try re-creating a famous artist’s piece using paint, construction paper, beans, yarn or pasta! Winter can be lots of fun if you get a little creative! Enjoy!
  13. Article
    It’s that time of year: shortened days of sunlight, exhaustion from all the holidays and we’re stuck inside with little ones, ready to pull our hair out. How could anyone survive this, let alone enjoy it? Yes, these are tough days, but with a few helpful hints, we are going to have fun! It may just be changing up the same old routine with a few new and different things. Enjoy the time together and know spring will eventually return. Turn on the tunes I always put on music, as it changes the atmosphere and lifts the energy of the house. You don’t have to choose children’s music, either. Select something you like, perhaps the Beatles or Coldplay, and alternate. Declare a “dance party” and turn the volume up. Shed some light Next, I turn on all the lights and lamps. Light has been proven to lift our spirits, especially when we are missing hours of natural daylight that we had during the summer. When eating lunch, I light pillar candles and the children are fascinated by the dancing flame—same at dinner time. Plan a picnic Speaking of meals, I toss a blanket on the floor and we have a picnic inside. Then, when that meal is done, I use the same blanket (if there aren’t too many food spills) for a makeshift fort over the dining room table. Of course, you can put chairs together or other pieces of furniture, but I like draping a blanket over one end of the table to create a three-sided enclosed space. Toss in some pillows, flashlights, books, or whatever else you like. Get creative If your children are not napping, consider doing some table work, like “snow play.” Buy a box of instant potato flakes. Pour the box into a 9x13 cake pan or any container, and let them pretend it’s snow. Give them some measuring spoons, use sand toys from the summer, and if you add some water, the flakes get starchy and you can form little snowballs. Same with water, for “water play”: Pour warm water in a dish and give the kids spoons and small cups. Just remember to put a towel under the dish to catch splashing water. Raid the pantry Make some graham cracker “houses.” Yes, get out those stale graham crackers that no one wanted for a snack, dig up some store-bought frosting and sprinkles, and let the kids decorate the fronts of the crackers. Use frosting “cement” to stick crackers together, repeating until you’ve formed a cube. …and more! Other activities include browsing through photo albums or pictures and reliving the memories. Balloons make a great chasing game if you blow them up, and let them go. They dart, fly, and go in all different directions. Instead of designated screen time for one or two shows, consider combining it for a movie that day, especially if you have family videos you can watch. Laurie Empen created and leads Ms. Laurie’s Play Group in Lincoln Square. She earned a master’s degree in Child Development from Erikson Institute and continues to care for children and consult with families on issues of discipline, potty training, sensory concerns and more.
  14. Worried your child might be losing her immersion language skills over the summer? Are you teaching your family language and eager to find new ways to connect your child to your family language? Parents of children learning other languages, whether through school, nannies or family, will find these ideas helpful to give their kids critical language exposure and support their development this summer. Get books! You can find bilingual books and books in world languages at your local Chicago Public Library, on Amazon, or through publishing houses like Tulika Books, Penguin Random House and many others listed on the Colorín Colorado website. Challenge your child to make these books part of a summer reading challenge. Do the weekly word challenge. Have your child pick a word in the target language, maybe an animal you saw at the zoo or a word in a book. Do a themed craft project around it (toilet paper roll zoo animals, anyone?), write it in fun ways for practice, or illustrate or write a story around it! Download apps and learning games. Games and apps pique the interest of kids and can provide rich learning opportunities in moderation. Traditional language learning apps like Duolingo and Mindsnacks provide fun, gamified experiences for older children. Young children are likely to be intrigued by alphabet games and language-rich YouTube videos. User tip: Extend the learning in the app by asking kids to use what they learned in real life (to write and illustrate a story, to act out a play, to teach a sibling) and pause at moments in videos that grab your child’s interest to make passive learning interactive. Visit language-rich places. There’s no better way to make the language come alive than to go to a place where it’s spoken. That could mean taking a trip to Taiwan or San Juan, but it could also be a weekend afternoon out eating, shopping, and experiencing places like Chinatown, Devon Avenue or Pilsen. Sign them up for events and camps. If you are crunched for time but want kids to have an intensive experience, check in with cultural and religious organizations for camps, Chicago Public Library for bilingual offerings or look into options like Concordia Language Villages or STARTALK programs. Join us at Foreign Language 411! Come to NPN’s upcoming event on Tuesday, July 25 from 6–7:30pm at GEMS World Academy to learn more about bilingualism and best practices for teaching language to your child. You’ll get info and tips, as well as the chance to socialize with other parents, equipping you with fresh ideas for extending learning this summer and beyond. Happy language learning! Jennifer Decker is a former teacher turned entrepreneur at FamLing Design developing products that multilingual families can use to make family language teaching easier and fun. She speaks five languages and is a kid-declared pro at gamifying homework time. She has an M.S.Ed from the University of Pennsylvania and has worked in education in Germany, the U.S. and India.
  15. Your child might know what half a cookie is, but how about 4/8 of a pie, or 2/4 of a pizza? If your child knows that all of these fractions mean the same thing, she's well on her way to understanding equivalent fractions. But if fractions strike fear into your child during homework hour, here’s a hands-on way to help her understand how common fractions can be equivalent. What you need: 8 ½ x11 plain white paper Colored pencils Lined notebook paper What you do: Begin by asking your child what equivalent means. If she's having trouble, help her find a familiar word within the word (“equal”). To gauge how clear or unclear she is on the concept, ask her to explain it to you. You can even mention that you can't remember the concept from when you were in school, and that you would love a refresher course from her. This may relieve whatever pressure your child may feel if she is uncertain about the concept. Tell her that you will work together to figure it out. Give your child the piece of 8 ½ x 11 paper. Have her hold it horizontally (if your child confuses horizontal with vertical, tell him/her that horizontal is like the horizon). Have her fold the paper in half, then open it up again, and ask her to shade in half the paper using a colored pencil. Tell your child to now fold the paper into fourths (i.e., half, then half again). Ask your child to open up the paper. Ask her how many fourths are equivalent to one half. When your child figures out that 2/4 = 1/2, encourage your child write this equation on the lined piece of notebook paper for future reference and review. Repeat Step 3, but go on to fold it into eighths and then sixteenths, each time having your child write down the fractions that are equivalent to 1/2. As an extension activity, you can have your child write down all the other equivalent fractions he/she sees, like 2/8 = 1/4 and 2/16 =1/8, etc. You can continue this activity with thirds, sixths, twelfths and twenty-fourths. You child will be surprised at how fractions that look big and "scary" as actually the very same fractions that they are familiar with! Post provided by education.com.
  16. I was a theater major (turned banker), so naturally I enjoy music and performance, and my husband is a big opera fan. We're also parents to two toddlers, so music is an essential part of our family life. Before kids, my husband and I used to go to a dozen shows each opera season, and now we still go to half dozen shows as a date night, sans kids. (I know some who have parents tried, but personally I don’t think it is wise to take kids under five to the opera.) While my kids are too young to step inside the Civic Opera House, we often play opera for them. There are numerous studies about the "Mozart effect" on brain development in children, so I won’t go there. For me, there are simply three benefits to exposing my children to opera: They learn to focus Most of the opera shows have dramatic voices and movements and fancy costumes, which catch kids’ attention. In the digital world of overstimulation, I always wonder how our kids are going to learn if they can hardly focus. Some operas have unbearably long pieces, so start with one you like and truncate them into a 3-minutes spans to play for your kids. Here is my playlist of four well-known pieces I play for my kids often. My almost three-year-old practices her vocals after I play them every time. They learn another language If you are type A or multicultural parents (or both, like me), you're likely keen to start the second language as early as newborn. Studies show early childhood foreign language learning provides higher academia achievement and positive cultural enrichment. And almost all the opera masterpieces are in Italian, Spanish, French or German, so besides learning to count in Spanish from 1 to 10, kids can also learn words from master composers. They learn about romance Opera is all about LOVE! Our country need it so much, especially in this political climate. All operas somehow involve romance. A tenor could sing for 15 minutes about how much he adores the eyes of his lover (who does that now?). Unfortunately, somebody has to die at the end of the story, for the big love sacrifice.

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