Go Ahead and Let Your Kids Play in the Mud!

There is so much information lately about sensory play and the benefits of letting our kids get dirty. Being a mom who loves to dive right in and get my own hands dirty, I hopped on the sensory play bandwagon immediately! A mommy friend and I excitedly planned our first sensory play date. After the items were picked and the space was prepared, the kids were ready and it was time to begin!

Since our little ones still put everything in their mouths we needed to use things that were edible. Cornmeal was the first texture for the girls to explore. We started modestly with a small container and a few scooping toys. This was very similar to playing in the sand although it would not be as bad if they decided to give it a taste.

Things got messy in a hurry. The girls really enjoyed feeling the cornmeal in their hands and between their fingers. It was dry and slid off the skin easily. It gave us the opportunity to use new words such as gritty, coarse, and mild when talking about how the cornmeal felt or smelled, and the girls tried to repeat the new words back to us. The new vocabulary and fun we were having made it well worth the mess!

We were pleasantly surprised that it took longer than we had expected for the kids to taste-test this new texture. Although they made yucky faces, they persisted in trying it again and again. They even used the spoons to feed it to each other.

We were so happy that they were sharing and using the spoons successfully that we waited a few scoopfuls before adding more new vocabulary. Share, feed, lick and taste were just a few of the words we found ourselves using.

We were also learning about how to keep the floor clean while still having fun! In came the water/sand box from outside as our new, larger exploration space. We decided if we were going to do this sensory play thing we were going to go all the way!

My daughter loved how it felt having the cornmeal showered onto her face, neck and head. This gave us the opportunity to talk about those body parts and location words like in and out. Then we let them go in and out of the sandbox as they pleased, so they were in control of what they were, or were not, showered in. And why stop at playing with food? The containers were just as much fun; a bowl could also be a hat or a drum!

Next we added some dry rice, and then some oatmeal. Once again we found ourselves using more new vocabulary. Flat, round, hard, soft, light and dry were just some of the words we used.

Our next step was to slowly add some water. The girls were very comfortable diving in and exploring these new textures, as things got messier and messier, with little or no direction from mommy!

After a quick spaghetti and tomato sauce lunch to refuel, we were ready for round two! The leftover spaghetti was a perfect addition to the sensory play space. Although it was a texture and taste the girls were familiar with, it was new to get to squish it between their fingers and toes.

The girls continued to try tasting every new item we added and neither of them showed any sign of wanting to stop. This made us feel awesome!

The last food we introduced was tapioca pearls (the kind used in bubble tea). The pearls came in an array of colours and sizes. Eventually the gritty cornmeal stuck to the sticky tapioca exterior. Because we did not add sugar to the pearls, as the recipe suggested, the girls attempted to eat them, spat them out, then tried other ones. They probably did this fifteen times each!

The girls loved to stand up and sit back down, transfer textures back and forth between containers, and taste-test items over and over again. With music playing in the background, covered in goo, they even stood up and danced!

It was time to clean up and take our sticky kids to a new sensory play space – the bathtub! Our play date was ending, but we continued talking about all the new words, textures, tastes and smells we had experienced that morning.

Brains for Literacy!

  1. Halloween is coming.
  2. Zombies are popular.
  3. Let’s talk about brains!

This is a very exciting time to be alive. For thousands of years what went on inside a persons’ head was a mystery. And over the last hundred or so years there have been a number of breakthroughs that gave us a better and better idea of what the brain we carry around in our heads is actually doing.

The history of brain research is full of gruesome accidents, war wounds, dead bodies, and brain surgery. But even though Halloween is coming, I’m going to skip that part and get straight to the point: the advancements made in the last ten years have given us an increasingly sophisticated picture of how brains grow and develop in the very early stages.

So, why exactly is that exciting?

  1. It helps explain why so many of the traditional activities we have done with children for generations are so effective: person-to-person interaction is one of the most effective ways of forming connections in the brain.
  2. It shows us how stress can derail healthy development and compromise healthy brain functioning.
  3. It gives us very good reasons to hold off on expensive programs and products that promise to make babies into geniuses, because babies clearly don’t need any of those things.
  4. Seriously, there a lumpy organ behind your eyes that makes everything you think, feel and do possible with a system of squirts and splashes. That’s pretty close to miraculous in my mind.

I could go on and on, but there is a new video from the folks at the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative and Norlien Foundation that paints the picture of why this is helpful quite nicely in less than 5 minutes:

How Brains are Built: The Core Story of Brain Development

And if that video whets your appetite for more brains, Dr. Bruce Perry and his organization, the Child Trauma Academy have made a 13 minute video introduction to the brain. If you’re interested in how the brain works, this is an excellent place to start. You might have to watch this a few times, there’s a lot going on in that dark place between your ears:

Seven Slide Series: The Human Brain

So, if you ever catch a glimpse of a family literacy program, remember that while we spend a lot of time crawling on the floor with babies, and squashing play dough with pre-schoolers, we are hard at work building healthy brains!

 

Halloween Traditions

Halloween has always been a big celebration in my household. Every year in October we would bring out all of the previous year’s costumes and have a fashion show. We would decide on our new costume for the year and make a list of all the new things we would need to add. I can remember being a gypsy, a witch, Little Bo Peep, and many others. After the fashion show we would decorate the house. The decorations we made in school were added to the collection of plastic spiders, webbing, and skeleton stickers for the windows. My mother still has a few of her favourite Halloween decorations that my sister and I made.

Closer to October 31, we would all go to the store and pick out our pumpkins for the time-honoured tradition of pumpkin carving. We would spread garbage bags over the living room floor and scoop out the inside of the pumpkin until it was clean – first with our bare hands and then with a spoon. Next would come the debate on how we would like to decorate our pumpkins this year. Would it be a scary face or funny? To start we would draw the face with a permanent marker, then hand the pumpkin over to our parents to carve. Eventually, as my sister and I grew up, we were able to take over all pumpkin carving duties. I can still remember the first year I was able to carve my pumpkin all by myself. Unfortunately the pumpkin didn’t turn out as well as it had on previous Halloweens.

Even now, years later, pumpkin carving is my favourite part of Halloween. I still spread out garbage bags on the living room floor and debate what to carve on the pumpkin. I have graduated from triangle eyes and crooked mouths to designs of witches, cats, and sometimes even star wars characters. In recent years I have started to save and roast the pumpkins seeds. So far I haven’t attempted to cook with the actual pumpkin but I hope to try something this year.

To me, Halloween isn’t about trick or treating and how much candy you can get. It’s about time spent together with family and traditions. I hope one day to pass down the Halloween traditions that I love so much.

I always like to hear others’ experiences of Halloween. Please share your favourite memories, costumes, and experiences with me.

 

Voting Voice

The concept that our vote is our voice is a popular and compelling way of getting people out to vote.  The legitimacy and authority of our government lies in the confidence that it is elected by a majority of the people who live in the community. If there is low voter turnout, it could be argued that the government that is elected does not accurately represent the community it is serving.

In the 2010 civic election in Edmonton only 33.4% of the eligible voters cast a ballot. How do we increase this number?

I believe one way is to increase the literacy levels of adults in our community.  In Alberta, 4 in 10 adults do not have the literacy skills to fully participate in our society.  During elections, we read campaign pamphlets, articles in newspapers, and information online and attend forums to help us form our opinions on the issues. For 40% of Albertans who have low literacy levels, acquiring the information to make informed decisions can be a challenge.

I believe that every citizen has the right and the responsibility to participate in the democratic process.  If everyone has the skills to understand the issues and the confidence to participate in the process, we will have a more engaged electorate.

At the Centre we believe that literacy develops in families first.  Parents who are informed on social and political issues and discuss these with their children are demonstrating the importance of having your voice heard. My daughter and I have gone through all the websites of candidates running in our ward and she has helped me decide who I am going to vote for!

There is one action that I think we can all do to support the community – go vote on October 21, 2013.

What Are You Thankful For?

My favourite part of Thanksgiving is time spent with my family. It usually involves too much eating and a lot of laughing. However when we all get together and sit down to our turkey dinner, my mom always makes us share at least one thing we are thankful for.

As a child, I used to think this was a silly and unnecessary activity. However, I am grateful that my mom taught me how to reflect on and appreciate so many things in my life, both big and small. Here are just a few things I am thankful for:

  • family and friends
  • a roof over my head
  • clean water to drink
  • the beautiful colours of fall
  • good health
  • my job
  • pets
  • living in Canada
  • long-weekends!

I hope this Thanksgiving weekend is full of things for everyone to be thankful for! Enjoy spending time with family and friends and don’t be afraid to ask them, “What are you thankful for?”

 

What I Learned by Reading for READ IN Week

I had the opportunity to read to a kindergarten class at Lady of Peace School this morning as part of the READ IN Week activities, and on my drive back to work I reflected on the time I had spent with the class.

My days are usually spent in meetings or on my computer, so being with so many young  and excited children was a very different experience. I read a simple story about how reading makes you feel good; they had so many questions and so many things they wanted to share. The enthusiasm and energetic participation of the group was amazing. The children didn’t hesitate to share an answer because, in their mind, there were no wrong answers.

What a lesson for me! How often do we participate half-heartedly in meetings or groups, or hold back on suggesting ideas because they might be wrong?

My takeaway is to remember to bring my enthusiasm, energy and ideas to the table just as Mrs. Kim’s kindergarten class did!

Road Trips!

I LOVE road trips with my family! With long weekends such as Thanksgiving coming up, many of us hit the highways to visit relatives or to have mini vacations. I love road trips on my own as well. I just can’t get enough of all the places to learn about – using all of your senses. With children young or old, you can point out all that can be seen with their eyes. From mountains to waterfalls, rivers to forests, prairie lands to farm animals, and wild animals too. Visit historic sites. Learn about our past.

With digital cameras it is easy to allow your children to take as many photographs as they would like (deleting ones that don’t make the final cut won’t disappoint them). You can see the world through their eyes and you may be surprised by how great their photography skills can be. You can also give your children binoculars to help them search the land for scavenger hunt items, or try playing a variety of license plate games while on your road trip!

You can use your ears to hear things you may not hear if you are from a big city! Things such as quiet or animals in the forest. If you stop somewhere for a picnic and for stretching legs and relieving restlessness, you may hear a train travelling nearby. You might hear water rushing down a waterfall if you’re on a mountain escape. You can even hear insects buzzing around in summer; we don’t like them, but they are there! Is that a cow lowing in the background? Talk about farmers harvesting this time of year. There are plenty of tractors such as combines to be heard if you pull off at a rest stop.

How about singing to pass the time away? If you aren’t comfortable with your own voice leading the family choir, how about some family friendly CD’s borrowed from your local library? There is so much more to children’s songs now than there was in the past. One of our favourites is a CD called “Snack Time” by the Bare Naked Ladies. My teenagers will still sing along! For lyrics that mom and dad can laugh at, and a very original version of ABC’s, it is a must have.

Smells! You cannot dismiss the power of your sense of smell. The air smells cleaner, perhaps more crisp as we leave our city homes behind. We can point out smells our children may not be familiar with. There are plenty of smells that accompany any farm, whether grain, livestock or vegetable and fruit. Find some flowers to sniff. Is that a sticky tree? Do trees have a scent?

Hands on! Why can’t a road trip be hands on? Have you ever stopped to see the monument that makes a town special? Plan your breaks for places with something interesting to see, do and learn. Run, play, burn off some energy before the next leg of your trip. Collect post cards and things like kids’ paper menus (the kind kids can draw on if you stop for a restaurant meal), random memorabilia, or maybe a picked flower. I still have a little flower picked by my son almost 10 years ago. It has a story behind it of what lengths he and his dad went through to get that flower back to me. My son drew me a picture to go with the flower that helps tell the story. I will treasure it always.

Back in the car again, hand your child a pencil, maybe some crayons, and a sketchbook. Have them write or draw pictures about what they have learned along the way. It is easy to keep a little box of things needed for creativity in the vehicle. You can also find an assortment of lap trays (which resemble dining trays) to use on your trip. They are perfect for snacks, drawing, puzzles, and more. Prepared ahead of time, scavenger hunts are fun, to check off things as they are found or places discovered.

    

Try this website before you head out on your next Canadian road trip, www.bigthings.ca, there is a list by province of things to see!

To me finding some of these things is reason enough for a trip in the car!

Sharing Books Creates Memories 2

I remember my mom reading with my sister and I every night. Our favourite book was “The Big Book of Stories” and we read a different story each night. My favourite was about animals joining the circus. Our imaginations ran wild with the images of puppies swinging on a trapeze, chimpanzees flying up and down on a trampoline, and piggies walking on a tightrope. So of course I wanted to share books with my daughter when she was born, and I was lucky enough to inherit a whole collection from my sister whose children were older. We had so much fun and the tradition with my daughter lasted for many years.

Eventually I had to part with some books and offered the best of them to a neighbour with a toddler. I was so shocked when she refused them, saying “no thanks, he doesn’t like books”! My mind was racing with thoughts like “what, he doesn’t want to fly a spaceship or go on a jungle adventure?” I felt bad that the boy was missing out on the experience of cuddling with a parent and sharing a book, or the fun of acting out the story of a trip down a crocodile infested river on couch cushions, with wooden spoons for paddles/weapons. But I didn’t say anything. I just wondered if it was the parent more than the child who didn’t like books.

After many years, I did learn that my neighbour had difficulty reading. Teachers hadn’t had  the extra time to spend with her and she was embarrassed to keep asking. It still happens. I wonder if her son is sharing books and creating memories with his children?