Tag Archives: ideas

Christmas – Getting To Play With Toys All Over Again

a christmas creche with dinosaursOne of the best things about having my babies was getting to play with TOYS all over again! I spent many a happy morning, building block towers so that my sons could knock them over again; creating towns with train tracks, fields and herds of domestic dinosaurs. In December we would build a crèche using toy animals. By Christmas Eve night, the crèche had become O Sprawling Metropolis of Bethlehem with many villages, fields and animals galore.

“Umm, maybe not the dinosaurs,” I would say. “But MUMMY, Baby Jesus loves ALL the animals.”

“Oh! I see…”

So much for my tasteful nativity scene!

Creative play is important. We know this. Given a heap of blocks and a few wooden or plastic animals, kids will make an imaginary world come to life. Add a cardboard box or two for hours of entertainment. You can join in the fun, if you’re feeling extra-creative!

Wood vs. Plastic:

Wooden toys far surpass plastic for sheer toughness. Our wooden toys withstood heavy use… The plastic toys ended up in the bin. Environmentally and financially, wooden toys get an A+.

Don’t Get Carried Away…

It’s tempting to buy everything in the store! But really, less is more. Investing in a few good quality toys will sound like very good sense if you happen to step on a broken piece of cheap plastic toy in the night. A recent poll found that children only play with five percent of their toys… Think of all that money spent on stuff that will lurk at the bottom of the toybox, unused. Usually, the latest flashy toy will be played with once and the ones that have been around for generations will entertain your kids for years to come. Good quality toys are recyclable too: Our wooden blocks and train tracks have been handed down to happy little cousins, even after being bashed, crashed and loved to death by my three boys!

Our All Time Favourites:

Wooden Blocks

Dress-up clothes

Sets of animals and people, farms and buildings

Matchbox and Hot Wheels Cars

Cardboard boxes, glue, crayons and bits of paper

Musical and percussion instruments

Bath toys



Board games

A Teddy Bear!

by Nan Sheppard

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Owning Our Depression

a woman in shadow looking out a window at fall leavesThe weather, our hormones, the way our lives change when we become mums and dads, financial woes, broken sleep, so many responsibilities, things not working out the way you had dreamed… There are many reasons for parents to feel overwhelmed, exhausted, or depressed.

The first step in dealing with depression is often simply admitting defeat: “I AM SO DEPRESSED!” We are used to carrying on as normal, saying “I’m fine thank you,” and not making changes for our health. Often we are so very busy, we feel that we cannot stop and give ourselves the time and love that we need. But a parent who is tired and unhappy is not the best parent, partner, or friend they can be.

    “There is no doubt that depressed mothers can also have a big
    negative impact on their babies’ brains.”

               – Sue Gerhardt, psychotherapist

If making ourselves happier is going to help our kids to thrive, then bring it on I say!

Getting Better:

Old wives used to say “Fresh air and Exercise, that’s what you need!” and there is certainly something in that. Walking in the sunshine is proven to beat some types of depression, and exercise releases endorphins, which acts like a shot of happiness.

Talking to others about it can help, if you have a spouse, friend, mum, fellow volunteer, or doctor with whom you feel comfortable opening your heart. Other people can often see a practical solution to a problem when we are just too miserable to think clearly.

Cleaning! When my house gets too cluttered and chaotic, I get crabby. It’s time to put on the cleaning music, grab a bag, and go from room to room throwing stuff out. By the time I’ve got all of the dirty socks in the laundry bin and wiped everywhere with nice-smelling stuff, I definitely feel better. I’ve even had friends come over and fold laundry while I tidied around them, which is TRUE friendship. (Okay, so they couldn’t find a chair to sit on unless they moved the laundry heap… but it’s the actions that count!)

Vitamins and a healthy diet: Omega 3, B vitamins, and several others nutrients are found to aid recovery. Our modern lifestyles are stressful and much of the food we eat is not of the best quality. I know that when I feel blue, I don’t feel like cooking, and go for easy snacks.

Hydration: Drinking enough water is a simple way to detox and feel more energetic. Drink your eight glasses a day!

Meditation can be useful in learning to quiet the mind and deal with stress.

Helping others can be uplifting. Volunteering your skills with a local charity, for example, will win you many enthusiastic friends!

And If That Doesn’t Work…

We all have bad days, but ongoing depression can be your mind telling you that something has to change. Unresolved issues from our own childhood can affect the way we feel about ourselves as parents, and talking about it can help.

Ask your GP for advice: they can often help you by listening, and they may have excellent suggestions. Your doctor can refer you to a counsellor or psychologist if you need further assistance, and these specialists are a wonderful resource. The earlier you can deal with the issues that cause you stress, the faster you can get on with your life and be the best parent possible.

Depression can also be a symptom of a medical condition, such as some viral infections or hypothyroidism, and your GP may want to check that you aren’t suffering from any treatable condition. So do see your doctor if you can’t seem to beat the blues.

Remember, most kinds of depression are temporary: Post Natal Depression will lift, and those of us who get depressed when the weather is grey feel better in the Spring, so there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Getting help can make you feel better sooner, and might just prevent recurring blues. Take care of yourself, so that you can be the best for your family!

by Nan Sheppard

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Zen and the Art of Airline Travel: Part I

view from front seat of car looking at oncoming tunnelI cringed when I saw the family in front of us at the security gate.

As their youngest tried to crawl under the security gate to a different line, their oldest screamed.  They were laden with a large, bulky 2-seater stroller, over-stuffed with loose bags and sippy cups, multiple carry-ons, and a laptop.

Thanks to the new and so-called improved security lines at Midway, I was stuck in the Family-and-Other-People-Who-Can’t-Get-Their-Sh*t-Together line.

True, I was in that line, because I was also traveling with my children.  But there was one small difference:  my family was prepared.

There is a certain skill to airline travel with children.  It’s one that our family has down.  It’s one that’s easy to learn and easier to master, if you just follow a few simple steps:

1.  Traveling with children is not the same as traveling on your own. Obvious, I know.  However, it warrants stating, because the first step to a successful flight is to realize that you have to change your expectations.  You can’t expect everything to go smoothly or easily, and if you do, you’re in for disappointment and frustration.

2. Fly at reasonable hours. We made the mistake of trying to get an early morning or late night flight to save money when our son was just a baby.  It wasn’t worth the $20 we saved.  Your best bet when traveling with very young children is to schedule the flight right around nap time.  By the time they get through the airport and onto the plane, it won’t take much for the noise and motion of the plane to knock the little munchkins right out.  If you can’t hit a nap time flight, you shouldn’t book any flight that interrupts their schedule.  Don’t expect a child who is up earlier or later than usual to be on their best behavior.

3. Minimize What You Bring:  I know, I know.  There’s something about having children than makes usually sane, rational adults feel as though they have to pack their entire house every time they leave the house.  If they’re going farther than the store, for some reason they feel like they should bring the house as well.  I’m here to tell you that it’s just not necessary.  You should limit your luggage whenever possible.  Remember, you and you alone will have to schlep it from point A to B to C then over to the car rental place.  Oh- and remember that you’ll be doing that with three tired munchkins in tow.

Limit yourself to 1 suitcase per adult.  I know those little children’s roller-bags are adorable, but resist buying them.  Little Jo-Jo is only going to pull it for about 4 minutes, and then guess who will be trying to pull it through the airport?

Bring as little as possible through security.  Limit yourself to one carry-on with diapers, wipes, and snacks.  If your child is old enough, he or she may be able to carry a small backpack with toys, but don’t over-load it, because you’ll end up being the one carrying it if it’s too heavy.  Consider checking the stroller.  If you have an infant, often you can get through the airport easier with a sling or carrier.  If it’s made completely of cloth, you can often leave the baby in it as you go through security.  If you have a toddler or older, they’re not going to stay in the stroller anyway.  If you must bring a stroller, think small.  You want something easily collapsible that can fit through the security scanner without much effort. We use a well-built umbrella stroller, and I’ve never wished for anything bigger.

If you must bring along electronics or a laptop, designate one bag, and (if possible) one adult as the keeper of them.  Have all the electronics in one bag, and make sure that whoever is dealing with the electronics isn’t also holding a baby.  There’s no reason for both parents to deal with laptops at security.

4. Have a plan and be ready to execute it at the security gate. My husband and I have an understanding–there can only be one chef in the kitchen.  Everyone else is a line cook and, well, needs to get in line.  Airline travel doesn’t have any room for ego.  If you’re traveling with a partner, it’s essential that only one of you lead.  This is especially important when you get to the security checkpoints.

In Part II, I’ll talk more about the plan for a pain-free security experience.  In Part III, I’ll be talking more about the flight itself and give you suggestions on how to keep your kids occupied from a trans-Pacific Flight Attendant.

Meanwhile-  what are your favorite airline travel tips?

by Lisa D.

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Condoning Avoidance

kids hands with friendship braceletsNow that the summer is over and the kids are back in school, I thought I’d take this time to reflect on our latest experience with Summer Camp. The daycare located on site where I work offers summer camp for children entering kindergarten through those entering fifth grade. My son is a veteran now, since this was his third time in the summer camp program. This year was my daughter’s (who just started kindergarten) first time. Up until this summer, she was technically still in the preschool that is offered for the younger kids.

For my daughter, everything new about the way things were done in summer camp caused her to be nervous. She adapted to riding the bus on field trips after I chaperoned a couple of the first ones and she decided that riding the bus wasn’t such a big deal after all. She adapted to field trips in general, even ones I couldn’t go on, both because her big brother was always with her and because she had a great time. She got to know new kids in her class and adapted to making new friends.

The two things she didn’t come around to liking were swimming lessons and what the summer camp called “sports day”, or something very close to a physical education intro to organized sports sort of class. She very strongly disliked both of them with all of the emotion that her little body could generate.

Both my son and daughter disliked sports day enough that getting us out of the house on Wednesday mornings (the day that was sports day) was more than a chore. They’d think of every way possible to delay leaving the house so that we’d arrive late enough that they didn’t have time enough to participate. From waking up crying or just crabby in general, to dragging their feet getting dressed or eating breakfast, we never left on time. After a while, I just decided to stop trying to make them go, and scheduled shopping trips or doctor’s appointments for Wednesday mornings rather than spend all my time nagging them to go. They run around all day, and neither of them are in any way out of shape. I figured it was alright to negotiate this one away.

The last one, swim class, was tougher. I want both my kids to learn how to swim for their own safety. I never formally learned myself, and can sort of get by enough to splash my way through a swimming emergency if need be. For my daughter, she was literally terrified about going. She’d cry in my arms when I dropped her off at school, something she hasn’t done since she was three. She would wake up on swim lesson days sobbing so hard I could barely understand what she was saying and I often thought she was going to make herself sick.

I tried to ask her what was making her so scared of swim lessons. She couldn’t really tell me other than she just really didn’t want to go. I tried explaining that the swim instructors would be there, and her teachers would be there, and that nothing bad was going to happen. Nothing seemed to help her. She would go to the class, but she’d opt to sit next to her teachers on the bench, while her classmates would go in the water and splash around. At this age, none of them are really swimmers, and lessons mostly consist of getting their face wet and floating. Eventually, I let her stay behind at the summer camp and hang out with her brother on swim lesson days (they sent girls as a group on one day and boys as a group on another), rather than go with her class to the pool.

I know that others would probably have pushed her to conquer her fears, or somehow made her just suck it up and go, but that wasn’t what my gut was telling me. She was so out of sorts and so communicative about how distressing she found the lessons, that I felt it was alright to let her skip this year. There will be swimming lessons again next year. She will have another chance at trying. I felt it was better to listen to her feelings and find a way to work with them and validate them, rather than just forcing her to do something that’s “good for her.”

For me, listening to my children and helping them to conquer there fears at their own rate has always been more important to me than forcing them to get there on my terms and in my timetable. They’ve managed to accomplish things they first were afraid to, and they have done it when they felt safe enough and ready to do them. Perhaps it’s going to take longer this way, but in the end, I hope that I’ve helped them to feel confident that they can step back and take a breather from life when they need to every now and then, as long as they give it another try when they are ready.

by Rocket Science Mom

Photo graciously provided by amanda.venner , through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved

Healthy Lunchboxes

bento box for lunch _ salad and veggie pattiesLunch boxes! Oh I know, they can be a bore! It’s easy to just throw some junk in there, anything your child will eat without complaining. But during term time, lunch box meals take up quite a chunk of your child’s overall food intake, so it’s best if they have healthy ones. And with some planning and creative shopping, you can put a balanced couple of snacks together.

Every child is different. Some kids will sit down and eat everything in one go, others tend to graze. By the time he starts school, you will know your child’s eating style and can produce a yummy lunchbox to suit him perfectly. (Though naturally, if you’ve got more than one child, they will like completely different things in their lunchbox. This is one of the sad facts of a parent’s life.)

In my … let me see … over NINE YEARS of packing lunchboxes, oh my goodness! I have pretty much become an expert. I know that sandwiches made the night before can become dry and yucky, but salads made the night before are fine. I know that sliced tomatoes in a sandwich get all soggy. I’ve learned that in hot weather, a frozen juice pack keeps everything cool and defrosts at exactly the right time for lunch in a lunchbox. And, I can pack a good one, fast.

Here are my family’s fave packed lunches:

*Sandwiches are still the hands-down, most convenient, most liked lunchbox food. Crusts on, crusts off, whole wheat, wrapped in a tortilla, stuffed in a pita, and a million different ingredients make these my personal saviours in the morning rush. Be sure that your sandwich contains some kind of protein, such as cheese or meat, or peanut butter if your school allows. Protein will keep a child going through the long afternoon, while carbohydrates on their own will fuel a crash-and-burn. I often use deli meats, which are high in unhealthy ingredients, but my youngest son Max loves them and his diet is generally healthy otherwise so I’ve decided it’s okay. If I roast a whole chicken, Max loves chicken sandwiches with mayonnaise and he’ll eat that for three days straight. Roast beef, which I cook in the slow-cooker, is also really popular in a cold sandwich the next day.

*Dips! Max loves the tiny packets of cream cheese, which turn a boring and not-very-nutritious pack of multigrain crisps into a treat. Many kids who shun vegetables will happily eat carrot sticks and cucumber with dip. You can make a simple nut-free hummus, using a blender and a can of chick peas with olive oil and added seasoning: a very healthy vegetarian alternative.

*Soup is a wonderfully warming treat when the weather gets colder. In a thermos, soup will stay hot all day. Again, blending the ingredients up will make a popular creamy feast. Use orange vegetables and yellow split peas to make a bright orange blended soup that will convince your kids that veggies are fun!

*Fruit is so convenient, and many kids love it. An apple, orange or container of grapes (or cherry tomatoes!) will fit easily into a lunchbox and there’s one of your important five-a-day!

*A handy snack: some schools allow kids to run outside at playtime with a snack in their hand. If your child is a grazer, make sure he’s got something that he can grab and go with. Easily eaten fruits like bananas are great, and cheeses such as string cheese. Your child will be more interested in playing than eating at this point, so it’s got to be quick and easy.

*One of my older kids loves hard-boiled eggs. I packed them with shells intact and he would peel them and eat them with gusto, sprinkling a pinch of salt from a tiny container. Now that he is out of primary school and he buys his lunch, he still likes to put a few hot hard-boiled eggs into his pockets, to warm his hands on the way to school on wintry mornings! Then he can eat them before class.

*Many kids love salads: ranging from the leafy variety to a simple pasta or potato mayo with tuna and sweetcorn, these can be made the night before and popped in the next morning. Don’t forget a spoon!

*Juice and/or water is vitally important. Even in cold weather, kids can be dehydrated by the end of the day. There may be water fountains at school, but if there’s a line many kids will not bother to drink there.

Some kids like to have the same things every day… others prefer variety. If you have been packing the same popular lunch for a while and suddenly it’s coming home uneaten, try changing things a little. And, while you are packing a healthy snack for your kids, why not make one for yourself too? If you’re working, you can take it with you, and if you’re at home you’ll have a healthy, quick and easy lunch ready to munch. Your kids will be thrilled that their snack is good enough for you… and, you’ll be setting a good, healthy-eating example. Win-win!

I bet you’ve got ideas too! Share what works for you in the ‘Comments’ section… we’re always happy for snack inspiration here!

by Nan Sheppard

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