3 Fun Family Bonding Activities for Valentine’s Day

Did you know that on February 14 every year, more than 150 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged all around the world, making this the second most popular card-sending occasion after Christmas? That’s a pretty significant number! And luckily enough, this year the Feast of Saint Valentine (as it is sometimes also referred to), falls on a weekend. What better way to spend some quality and fun time with family, and celebrate the festival of love with those for whom you care the most?

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Heart, Card, Pastels, Figure” by kaboompics is licensed under CC by 2.0

Here are some sure shot ideas for having a good time the coming weekend.

Bake something special together

I once came across the following definition of ‘kitchen’ and loved it: ‘A kitchen is a gathering place for friends and family; a place where memories are homemade and seasoned with love.’ You could try your hand at baking heart shaped valentine cupcakes together with your kids (here’s the recipe video). Or you could whip up delicious desserts with fruits and whipped cream (we all love heaps of whipped cream and bananas). The time you spend bonding in the kitchen – all the while creating a mess- is a special and beautiful time. The best part about it is that all age groups can get to be a part of the process of cooking, even kids as young as preschool.

Play online games together as a family

A study was recently conducted by Goldsmiths University and gaming company PopCap, which involved a total of 3250 parents and grandparents altogether. Their research was mainly focused on ‘casual gaming’ of sorts, thanks to the smartphones and tablets which have become a part and parcel of our (and our children’s) everyday lives. One of the findings of the study was that a third of the guardians involved played computer and virtual games with their kids on a daily basis and considered it to be quality time, claiming that it had strengthened the bond between them and their children. Why not try doing something similar this Valentine’s Day? Your kids would probably love it more than anything else.

Revisit old family memories together

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Books, Book, Old Books, Read” by cocoparisienne is licensed under CC by 2.0

This is the best way to end the day and make it special. In the evening, put on an old video of your kids as toddlers, or simply hunt down and re-open those dusty old photograph books stored right at the back of your closet. Even going through birthday party videos of your kids can be taking a happy and nostalgic trip down memory lane. You’ll surely end up recollecting so many of their pranks from back then when you leaf through those pages.

“Having someone to love is Family.

Having somewhere to go is Home.

Having both is a Blessing.”

No wonder, the best way to celebrate Valentine’s Day is with your loved ones around you at home!

The Big Gift Box

Christmas Present Wrapped in Gold and Silver

Don’t we all adore being gifted by our loved ones? And when it comes to kindergarteners or preschoolers and gifts, they are the most over-excited of the lot! Here’s a fun gifting game to play with the little tykes (especially when there are more than 10 of them involved) that is bound to result in squeals of laughter and lots of merriment.

All you need is a really big cardboard box; as in each of the kids should be able to fit inside it individually. Just before you begin the game, ask the kids to guess what could be inside the well-wrapped up box. They’ll have fun imagining stuff – computers, bicycles, televisions or helicopters! Then you can lift it up and show them that it’s empty.

The game is actually all about letting one child be blindfolded and then choosing one of the others to hide within the box. Once the blindfold is removed, the child in question needs to guess who is missing from the group. The others can even give hints as to who might be within the box. Needless to say, the kids will love the hiding part in this game more than the guessing part!

Preschoolers – Fun with Music

I have yet to come across any preschoolers who dislike music. Whenever they get a chance, be it a song coming on the television, a birthday party or even a simple drum roll, the most natural and spontaneous reaction of young kids is that their eyes light up and they begin to shake a leg (why, really they do!). And hence, since preschoolers seem to adore music so much, here is a simple and fun musical activity they would probably enjoy as well.

Make A Coffee Can Drum: Simply cut the bottom out of an old coffee can you no longer use and cover the can with a paper (you could glue it on) on which your child has drawn something (for instance, I covered mine with a piece of paper on which my daughter had drawn an alien, which to me looked more like modern art). Stick on the actual plastic lids on each side of the coffee can. Now stick the lead end of a pencil into the hole of an empty thread spool to create a drumstick and you’re done. Let your kid bang away on the coffee can drum to glory!

Easy enough, isn’t it?

How Playing & Working Out Can Go Hand-in-Hand

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The benefits of children running around and playing outdoor games are numerous – it helps them grow strong bones, keeps their weight in check from an early age and also does its bit in providing them with a healthy outlet for all the excessive energy stores they seem to perpetually have, by mingling with other kids of their age.

On the other hand, adults need their regular dose of exercise in order to prevent putting on the excessive pounds as they age, to decrease their risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, to improve muscle strength and perhaps blow off some steam after a hectic day at work.

Adults call it ‘working out’. Kids call the same thing ‘playing’. Put both of them together and you can have a gala family time. Here’s how.

Play catch with your kids. Yes, your kids will run faster than you. Yes, it will be difficult to catch them. But that’s precisely the point of this game! The faster they run away from you, the more energy you’ll have to muster in order to get hold of them, and in turn the louder they’ll squeal with delight when they keep prancing just out of your reach!

Go cycling together. Plan a family outing to a place nearby which is within cycling distance from home. Arm your bicycles with picnic baskets (you’ll have to do this instead of your kids since they are bound to be heavy!) and pedal away to glory on a sunny day, singing all the while at the top of your lungs (make sure you leave behind your headphones at home). It’s an invigorating feeling, especially if you set out relatively early in the morning.

Cheer your kids on. This is for rainy days. My kids love to play pet games like these while I do my daily half an hour on the treadmill. This serves two purposes – they know that their screen time is limited to the time I spend on the treadmill and they make the most of it while I egg them on, all the while panting and sweating profusely!

Weekends mean a new sport. Make this a part of your routine – weekends could mean teaching the kids a sport you loved as a kid – be it soccer, cricket, baseball or any other game.

Blanket run. This one is for your garden or backyard, and is especially fun if it involves a number of grown-ups with their kids. Get hold of some blankets (make sure they aren’t new since they are bound to get a bit dirty outdoors), place them on the lawn and plonk your little tyke down to sit on one end of it. The adults then have to race to the finish line pulling along the blankets in tow and the kid must not fall off!

And since each of these activities will ensure you get an adequate amount of quality family time, it’ll be a win-win situation all along!

Online Fun with Your Kids

Having a child who spends all his free time online can be tough. Trust me, I know. Your mind screams at you to do something about it, and you worry about your child’s emotional and physical well-being. But as far as advice goes, I kept coming across the same suggestions – install spyware to find out what sites your child is frequenting, install programs to restrict computer use, use a password to prevent children from using the computer. And as much as I want to see my kids grow up as well-rounded individuals with a healthy social life, I don’t think much of these suggestions.

Sure I’d like A to finish his homework before turning on the system, but I want him to do so as an exercise in self-control and not because I give him the password only once his homework is complete. I worry about the negative influences running rife online just as I do about the negative messages bombarding kids in their everyday lives. Parental control software does a passable job filtering out the former, but can’t do much for A in terms of the latter. And while it would put my mind at ease to see a list of the websites that A visits in the hours he spends online, it wouldn’t do much for our relationship when he realizes I’m spying on him.

How then does one deal with a child with an internet problem? Get online with him!

This may not sound like the ideal solution, but there are plenty of reasons you should spend time having fun with your child online. Here are just a few of them.

  1. It’s what your child loves

To form a lasting relationship with your child, it’s important to get to know him better. Spend time with him doing the things he loves. Show appreciation for the things he does well. And if this means watching your child play games online, so be it. The hours your child spends online clearly points to the fact that he enjoys what he’s doing. And when you show interest in spending time with him online, it gives him the message that he is important to you and that you are willing to accept him just as he is.

  1. It will teach you more about your child

What exactly does your child do in all the time he spends in front of the computer? Is he a budding writer of fanfiction? Is he a star gamer? As long as you watch him disapprovingly every time he gets online, you’ll never find out. Free your mind of prejudices and let him know that you’d like to spend some time with him online, and that it’s entirely up to him to choose the websites you visit together or the games you play. It’s quite likely that the thirty minutes you spend doing so will teach you a lot about your child you couldn’t have learned otherwise.

  1. It opens the doors of communication

Being familiar with the websites and online games that your child enjoys is a great starting point for having conversations with him. You can talk to him about the people he meets online or his latest achievements in his favorite game. Additionally, the time that you spend online with him is a special time that you spend connecting over his interests, and he is far more likely to open up to you during those sessions than when you criticize him for using the internet too often.

  1. It provides great opportunities for teaching

Sure, there are plenty of learning games and educational websites designed to teach your child scholastic skills and while I strongly recommend them, that isn’t what I’m referring to. The online world in many ways mirrors the real world and just as you teach your child social skills and values in everyday life, you can teach him the same skills while connecting with him over the internet. When a fellow gamer uses bad language or an online buddy is mean to your child you can turn the situation into a positive learning experience. Just as you encourage your child to be a kind and compassionate friend, you can teach him to develop a positive online persona.

Spending time with your child online is a great way to get him to open up to you about his internet experiences and interests. It also makes your child more receptive to any suggestions you may have about responsible and controlled internet usage. In addition to this important step, you can encourage him to take control of his internet usage by getting him to maintain a log wherein he notes down how much time he spends online and which websites he visits every day. Use the log as a starting point to discuss any changes that you expect in his daily routine and which tasks must take priority over his computer usage. With honest and mature discussions you can equip your child with the skills he needs to lead a wholesome and fulfilling life, both online and otherwise.

*I am not referring to Internet Addiction Disorder characterized by the progressive loss of control over one’s ability to regular internet usage. If your child faces frustration, anxiety and irritability when unable to go online, feels the need to get online for longer periods to experience the same ‘rush’, abandons friends and other hobbies to focus on online activities and spends most of his offline time thinking about past or future online experiences, he is suffering from Internet Addiction Disorder and needs professional help.

Lego Love versus Virtual Games

I’ve loved Lego from as far back as I can remember, from time immemorial. My earliest memories of playing are pottering about with these colorful interlocking plastic bricks – I used to follow the directions given in the instruction manual to a T and end up fascinated with the result of my efforts, which would inevitably be exactly the same as those depicted in the manual. But be it the small moon glider (which ended up being my all-time favorite) or the more elaborate pirate boat on wheels (which took double the time to set up in my initial days), I would proudly prance around the house, pleased with myself no end and show it off to anybody and everybody who would care to listen.

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Such were life’s little pleasures in those days back then. But it’s when I look at my kids now that I realize what ‘generation gap’ actually means. Their ideas of having fun are pretty different (this article here pretty much sums up my thoughts on this subject). Our playtimes consisted of going out to play, taking the dog for a walk, playing hopscotch, hide and seek or Simon Says and then squealing in delight every now and then much to the chagrin of our moms, who would come running out into the courtyard to find out if we had scraped our knees or had a bad fall. The meaning of playing for my kids today is very different; they would much rather sit indoors glued to their tablets and play pet games with their virtual pets rather than actually play with their dog; Temple Run is another one of their favorites where they keep running on and on with no end in sight; what’s more, even comics are preferably read online now, rather than curling up with a paperback on the couch!

And hence my beloved Lego – even though my kids ‘inherited’ it from their grandparents – has been forced to take a backseat, relegated to the dusty corner right at the back of the shelf. It comes out only on those rare days when the entire family (wifey included) is at home together and we decide to spend some quality ‘family time’. Last time we did it was something like four months ago; the next time we’ll do it? I have no clue, since Pictionary seems to have taken over as the unanimous choice for our ‘family time’.

The other day I chanced upon an article online which rekindled my love for Lego – an easy tutorial on making edible stackable Lego gum candy! I was ecstatic and tried it out the first opportunity I got (which was the next evening). And though it didn’t turn out as good as the pictures in the article showed it to be, I loved the partially gooey colorful mass, and surprisingly, so did the kids! Here’s what goes into it:

  • Measure out half a cup of ice cold water and add one-fourth cup of corn syrup to it.
  • Stir the mixture thoroughly until the corn syrup dissolves.
  • Pour the mixture into a pot on the stove but don’t immediately turn on the heat.
  • Add two packs of unflavored gelatin.
  • Pour in the entire box of JELL-O and let absorb into water for a few minutes until the gelatin gets completely mixed in.
  • Set your stove to medium-low heat for 8-10 minutes; stir the soon-to-be candy mixture constantly.
  • Once the gelatin is liquefied, you know the mixture is ready; pour it directly into the Lego molds.
  • Leave it undisturbed for 5-6 hours and your candy is all ready to be played with and eventually eaten!

Here’s the video tutorial of the process for a better idea of how the entire process is carried out.

I plan to try it out again soon and hopefully do a better job out of it!

The Four Elements – Learn with Fun Activities

Toddlers and pre-schoolers can learn about the four elements in nature by engaging in some fun activities that are easy to put together. Also referred to as the four states of matter, the Greeks believed that these four elements made up all matter. You can help children explore and experience these elements with simple and safe activities. Children this age learn better with their senses, so activities designed to engage their senses rather than facts can help them get started.

Fire

Start by showing young kids dragon images where the dragons are breathing fire. They will be mighty impressed. You can light a birthday candle and for added effect place it atop a cupcake. Ask your child to blow it off. That’s air extinguishing fire!

Birthday CakeBirthday Cake – Candles” by Jessica Diamond is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Earth

Kids can explore the element earth with this sensory activity. Ask your child to fill a box with loose sand, a few rocks, flowers and leaves. They can make patterns with the rocks and leaves, or simply trace designs on the sand. Children can also create sand art. You can draw an outline for them. Using a paint brush, apply glue across an area. Ask your child to pour sand on to it. Let it sit for a while and then shake off the extra sand!

20142014-05-04sensoryellie” by Doracy Harrison is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Air

Show how air works by buying a bunch of helium balloons and asking your child to release them in the open one after the other. Kids can also blow bubbles! These soapy mixtures are easy to make. Mix water, dish soap, glycerine and a pinch of sugar. Plastic straws can be used and by blowing into the straw, kids can release bubbles into the air.

BubblesLittle Girl Blows Bubbles_3520” by Philip McMaster is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Water

A fun way to get children to use water is to get them to have a water balloon fight or jump in puddles. Too messy? Then try encouraging them to water plants regularly and help with chores like washing dishes or the car as it can show them how water is used.

Water BalloonsWater Balloons III” by Steve Wilhelm is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Once kids are familiar with these four elements, you can start them on experiments where they will learn how earth, water, fire and air react with each other.

How to Prepare Kids for Preschool

Starting preschool is a big step for a child. Parents have to play an essential role in preparing their toddler for this new experience. Here are a few tips to ensure the transition is a smooth sailing!

Preschool WorkbookImage Source – https://www.flickr.com/photos/coriehowell/11302243734/

Prepare on time

It’s pointless if children are trained for preschool months in advance. Building up the preparation far ahead of time can overwhelm a child and make her anxious of what’s about to come. She may eventually end up refusing to go to her preschool daily because of the built-up anxiety in her. Instead, it’s a good idea to start talking to your future preschooler in a casual manner about a month before classes start. For example, when you are out buying regular grocery for home, you can say, “When you go to preschool, you shall buy you a pink bag as pretty as that one”, or “Which water bottle would you like to buy from these to take to your preschool”. Grab opportunities from daily lives to gradually introduce the concept of school to your child.

Have a schedule

Having a schedule will help a toddler transition into a preschool setup smoothly. A routine at home will help a child understand the importance of time and the need to complete tasks on time. It’s a good idea to have a fixed time to wake up and go to bed at night, a time limit to finish breakfast, get ready, etc. Once a routine is set, toddlers will be prepared mentally for the day ahead and work towards completing each task without minimal nagging by parents. A lack of consistent routine for your child at home will make it difficult for her to adjust to preschool where time is one of the main constricting factors.

Take Advantage of Teachable Moments

Children are blessed with the trait of being naturally curious about the world. Their curiosity opens the door for parents to teach them at every small instance. Encourage your child to help neighbors, interact with other children, observe natural phenomena around them like rain, sunrise, and more, and talk to you about their experiences and observations. Ask them “How did it feel to help your neighbor”, “Is the sun round or oval”, or “What’s your friend’s favorite nursery rhyme” to help them comprehend their own observations and experiences. Point out and ask children questions about natural phenomena like weather, leaves falling, birds flying, etc. and enrich their learning experiences.

Play games

Preschool LunchImage Source – https://www.flickr.com/photos/buzzymelibee/8791464219/

There are a zillion of free preschool games online that you can get toddlers to play even before they join preschool. Most of these games introduce toddlers to patterns, colors, shapes, sizes, comparisons, alphabets, and numbers and are programed with splashes of colors and streams of animation making it a fun learning experience for kids. If you are keen on your child playing offline games too, have her count the number of bread slices on the plate, tell the color of a cake, or figure the shape of a table, all the while choosing examples from around them.

You don’t have to limit yourself to just the tips above. After all, being a parent, it’s you who’ll know the best what’s the best way to teach your child!

Music and Your Preschooler

Music has been an intrinsic part of many cultures for centuries. It comes as no surprise that studies have proven music affects people in surprising ways. Younger children benefit from music too. Music is more than just a background in the life of a preschooler. It plays a pivotal role in developing various skills in young children. It is a fun way to learn and is easy to introduce to children. So how can parents expose preschoolers to music and how does it benefit the children?

Exploring Musicexploring music” by Samantha is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Music in Games

Most children’s games have background music that is catchy and appropriate for preschoolers. There are also free preschool games that are music-centric like The Music House that allows children to play the online version of different music instruments. Musical Chairs is another game that is ideal when you have a group of children.

Play Instruments

There are many musical instruments available in the market that are specifically designed for young children. They don’t require any special training, and children will learn by observing the kind of music that is produced. It is more about play than technique, which allows young children to experiment. Some of the musical instruments that are ideal for preschoolers are glockenspiel, shakers, bongos and maracas. If children show an inclination toward music, formal music lessons are ideal.

Learning PianoLearning Piano” by Oliver Quinlan is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Sing & Dance

Fingerplay and songs that require children to move like ‘If you are happy and you know it, clap your hands’ and ‘Old MacDonald’ help improve motor skills. Another way for kids to tune into music is by dancing to mixed music. They will discover different sounds and rhythms as they instinctively move their body. Old folk songs are great to sing along and singing along can help improve language skills. Children will also learn to listen and pronounce words. It is easier for children to memorize facts that are set to music.

Kid DancingKid Dancing” by Yi Chen is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Benefits of Music

Some of the benefits of music that contribute to a child’s development are:

  • Better coordination and motor skills
  • Cognitive development
  • Improves ability to concentrate
  • Understand the emotions music elicits
  • Develops language skills and phonetic awarenes

Darwin TunesDarwinTunes 2.0 in action” by uncoolbob is licensed under CC BY 2.0

By understanding the power of music and its effects on your preschooler, you will be able to utilize it to benefit them in the best way possible.