Screen-Free Valentine’s Fun

Bill Branson, Wikimedia Commons

In today’s modern world, there is no better gift for your family than your presence. So this Valentine’s Day, think outside the box to spend some screen-free time with the ones you love. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time before age two and less than two hours a day for kids older than two. There are many screen-free activities that kids can engage in by themselves or while bonding with their family or friends. And even better, screen-free activities are great for fine and large motor skill development as well as developing creativity and imagination. Read on to find some suggestions for screen-free activities for preschoolers and elementary-age kids.

  • Puzzles
  • Reading
  • Have a dance party
  • Have a tea party
  • Paper dolls
  • Make music using common household objects
  • Building
    • Blocks
    • LEGO/Duplo
    • Magna-Tiles or similar
  • Board games
    • Candy Land is a great beginner game. My kids all began enjoying it around age 3.
    • Card games like Go Fish and UNO are great for elementary-age kids.
  • Crafts
    • HighlightsTM magazine has some great ideas that can be found in print or online.
    • Boxes and recycled materials have endless craft possibilities.
  • Sensory activities
    • Paint in a zip-top bag is fun for drawing letters or shapes in.
    • Kinetic sand, cotton balls, and anything with texture
    • Play-Doh (homemade or store-bought)
  • Play outside
    • Nature scavenger hunts and collecting nature for art are some favorites in my house.
    • Check out a new park.
  • Cook/bake together
    • We are big on food traditions in my house and “Cookie Fridays” are high on my list of screen-free favorites.
  • Take a fieldtrip
    • My kids are always happy to check out a new place and the library is one of our favorite go-to places.

Consider making this Valentine’s Day screen-free and enjoy some extra snuggles while you can!

– Melissa Rettmann, M.S., PA-C, has a background in pediatrics and allergy. She is the mother of three young children and volunteers with the Parenting Program.

Christmas Magic is a Feeling, Not a Thing

It’s that time: the holidays are upon us. With Thanksgiving being so late this year, it feels like they came on fast and furious. It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed; even when you are aware and intentional about trying not to let the stress get to you, it can creep in as there is just so much to do.

As I go about all the tasks of getting ready for the big day — many of them revolving around my kids and making things special for them — I find myself thinking back to my own Christmas memories. It definitely puts things in perspective. Of course there are a few memories of seeing a certain toy under the tree that I had been hoping for, but mostly what I remember is the overall experience and how it all felt. I think of decorating our tree while a fire glowed in the fireplace, the stockings hanging from the barn-beam mantle of my childhood home, playing in the snow with my sisters and coming in to the chocolatiest hot cocoa that my mom made in a big cast iron pot. I remember Christmas Eve parties at my grandparents’ house with so much laughter and happiness. There were the different kinds of cookies my grandma made; she made extras for replenishing the trays and stored them in shirt boxes hidden from my grandpa so he wouldn’t get into them. Then coming home late, getting tucked into bed, waking up and sitting at the top of the stairs with my sisters, while my parents went downstairs, turned on the tree lights and oohed and ahhed about the gifts. My dad would always say, “Oh boy, Santa has been here!” We waited — impatiently — for him to tell us we could come down to see for ourselves. The morning was just our family of five, but I remember being excited to see my cousins and celebrate with our extended family in the afternoon.

With that, I think the Grinch had it right: “What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?” So when you feel yourself getting caught up in the frenzy, let this serve as a reminder: Christmas magic is a feeling, not a thing.

Here are a few of our traditions that don’t involve “stuff”.

  • Christmas tree campout. The first night that our tree is fully decorated, the kids make beds with lots of blankets and pillows and sleep beneath it.
  • Holiday movie nights. We have a few favorite movies that we watch together in the weeks leading up to Christmas Day. We turn off all the lights except for the twinkle lights from the tree and other decorations, there is popcorn and sometimes peppermint stick ice cream.
  • Light tours. After dinner one evening in December, we make hot cocoa and drive around to look at the lights and decorations while the Christmas music station plays on the radio.
  • Volunteer. We have been bell ringers for The Salvation Army to help and also spread a little Christmas cheer.
  • Cookies. Many years we baked chocolate chip cookies (a little less time consuming than traditional frosted cutouts) and packaged them on festive plates and delivered to random neighbors, some we knew well, and some we did not, just to bring a smile.
  • The Elf. I know this can be a polarizing subject, but we have a very boring elf who merely moves from place to place each night. He doesn’t make messes or meals or play tricks, and the kids still love the simple excitement of finding him in the morning.
  • Carry on traditions. I kept some of the traditions from my childhood Christmases that I loved. Let’s just say my kids also wait at the top of the stairs.

Happy holidays!! Tell us what you do to create Christmas magic!

–  Kelly Ryan, LMSW, Parenting Program Director

Summertime language activities for children and their families

image credit: Personal Creations, Flickr. CC license.

Summer doesn’t mean you have to take a break from stimulating speech and language skills with your children. There are still many opportunities to enrich communication skills. From trips to the zoo, waterpark or beach, to camping and other family vacations, you’ll have plenty to talk about. Here are some suggestions for incorporating language into your fun summer plans.

Schedule play dates with friends and classmates. Play dates foster peer interaction, play, functional communication, and social skills. Offer a few summer activities (bubbles, sand toys, swings) and encourage conversation/interaction. Later, ask open-ended questions about what happened, who was there, and other details.

Plan a day trip. Take a trip to the beach, park, museum, amusement park, or zoo. Providing your child with a variety of experiences gives them a broader vocabulary base and builds connections to stories and books they may read. While planning for the trip, talk about what you need to pack for the trip. After the trip, tell the story of what you did that day. Check online for nearby family-friendly activities and discounts.

Go for a walk. As you walk with your child, encourage conversation by asking open-ended questions (e.g., What do you like to do outside?). Make observations and comment on what you see around you (e.g., I see a blue bird flying in the sky), while encouraging your child to do the same. Or try an “I Spy” game to focus on inference skills by describing items and having your child guess what you see.

Make a snack together. Cooking and baking create natural opportunities to practice following directions. Together, check the ingredients list and create a shopping list. While shopping, discuss what you will buy, how many you need, and what you will make. Talk about the size (large or small), shape (long, round, square), and weight (heavy or light) of the packages and where you put them (in the cart, on, under, above the grocery cart). Then get to cooking! After the snack is made, have your child describe what they made. Take it a step further and see if your child can remember and retell all the steps in the process.

Read. Reading with your child is one of the best activities you can do to promote language and literacy skills. While reading, ask your child different “wh” questions related to the story (e.g., Why is he sad? What do you think is going to happen? Where are they?). Visit the local library to check out new books.

Host a scavenger hunt. Work with your child to write clues and create maps for participants to find the items. While writing the clues together, work on sentence formation and vocabulary development. To target a specific articulation sound, think of items that start or end with that sound. Completing the scavenger hunt targets critical thinking skills and following directions.

Camp in the backyard. Set up the tent with your child, tell campfire stories and make s’mores. Not only is this activity so much fun, but it targets narrative skills, imaginative play, and following directions.

Have a game night. Board games, charades, bingo and card games are very interactive and fun. Most games can have multiple players at a time so invite over the neighbor kids for some laughs! Games encourage turn taking, social skills, rule-following and understanding directions.

What are your favorite summertime activities, and how do you incorporate learning during while the children are not in school?

– Alexandra Barman, M.A., CF-SLP, Speech and Language Pathologist, Children’s Speech and Language Pathology Department, Beaumont Health

Our family’s “hoedown” reunion

One of my favorite summer traditions is a family reunion. But it’s not any reunion. My husband’s family hosts a yearly family reunion called the “Hoedown.” Although the name might suggest otherwise, there are actually very few cowboy hats and “yee-haws” present. Instead, the purpose of this weekend-long reunion is to spend quality time with family members from across the United States and create many memories together.

This year marks the 46th year for the hoedown! I personally have attended for only 10 years, but this  quickly became one of the summer traditions I look forward to every year. Family members from California, Georgia, Texas, New Jersey, South Carolina, Florida, and Ohio all travel to the 200-acre family property in Rose City, Michigan for a long weekend.

Every year incorporates different fun activities such as a kids’ fishing tournament, adult/kid obstacle course, strong man competition, cookie competition, bingo, and even a cardboard boat race. But the unending presence of family is what I really look forward to each summer.

On the welcoming day, there is a big breakfast followed by a float down on Rifle River; everyone brings their own vessels and gets on the water with drinks and music. Typically lasting a few hours, this is a nice way to catch up to see what’s new in everyone’s life. From there, everyone participates in the year’s highlighted activity and then breaks for lunch back at their own individual cabin, camper or tent. Afterwards, we all gather back together at a central pavilion for a big potluck family dinner where there is great food and even better company. After everyone’s belly is filled, the karaoke machine gets pulled out, and we catch up and belt out a few favorite tunes. Kids and dogs run wild and everyone lets their worries go in the up north breeze. As my own kids grow older, they look forward to seeing their cousins who live from far away and I hope treasure these times just as much as I do.

– Stephanie Babcock is an IFS coordinator with the Parenting Program. She’s a proud mom of two.

Our favorite summer traditions

Our family’s favorite summer tradition is a trip to Red Oaks Waterpark in Madison Heights. It has a wave pool, three water slides, a lazy river, and a kid-friendly play area. (Bonus: Oakland County residents get discounted admission.) Our favorite time to go is during the Twilight hours from 4 – 7 p.m. Twilight admission is only $8 for Oakland County residents. We bring a picnic dinner and have lots of fun. I do recommend wearing water shoes as the bottom of the wave pool can be prickly on sensitive feet. Red Oaks also has a River Walk for adults on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, where you can walk against the current in the lazy river from 7:30 – 8:30 p.m. for $8. I haven’t tried it yet but I’m hoping to go this summer. – Emily Swan

Summer traditions … They’re the best and so many to choose from! My kids love traditions, big and small. Some of ours include a trip to northern Michigan with my parents, two sisters and their families. There are 16 of us total: eight adults and eight kids. The cousins just love to be together, playing in the water, running wild, and eating lots of ice cream. It is chaotic and wonderful. There is something special that happens when you get that vacation time away with family. I love planning meals, cooking and eating together, and my favorite is getting the early-morning and after-nap snuggles from my nieces and nephews (sweet bed head, the smell of fresh lakeside air and sunscreen). My immediate family of four also does a weekend in South Haven every summer. My husband and I met at WMU, so the west side of the state is special to us and we love sharing it with the kids. And lastly, before school starts back each year, we do a day at Rolling Hills Water Park in Ypsilanti with our neighbors; the moms even do the slides! So fun! – Kelly Ryan

When our kids were little, one of our favorite summer traditions included exploring the many amazing cities and lakes right here in Michigan. Whether we ventured north, south, east or west, it was all about discovering new and exciting sights that our beautiful state has to offer. Favorite activities involved swimming, biking, mini golf, volleyball and playing cards. Lazy days seemed to center around big scoops of ice cream, while a nighttime favorite included campfire gatherings and eating s’mores. The tradition continues once more! Last summer, we had a blast introducing our grandchildren to the beautiful beaches in the thumb area. – Deanna Robb

Our summer tradition when our kids were little was to visit Kelleys Island in Ohio. My husband’s great grandfather bought a cottage there around the turn of the century and it remains one of the oldest buildings on the island. Our kids loved it because the only rule was “no rules!” – Lori Polakowski

Summertime traditions with our family evolved over the years as the kids got older. But one tradition is we always seem to celebrate is the 4th of July together in our hometown. The big, all-day celebration starts with a parade, then a family fair and craft show, along with hot dog eating contests, and all-star baseball games at the city park. Then of course the big fireworks display tops off the night. It’s always great to have family and friends come over for the day. We have yard games going and the pool is open all day. There’s always lots of great food for grilling as everyone brings a dish. It’s a great tradition that we still enjoy as a family even as the kids have grown into adults! – Lucy Hill

No matter the summer vacation plans, we always make time for a visit to an amusement park! Each summer we visit Michigan’s Adventure or Cedar Point, and to be honest, most summers it’s both! Both are about a 3-hour drive for us, which is totally worth all the fun we have. Michigan’s Adventure has a fantastic water park, which is included with the price of admission and perfect for a midday cool down. Cedar Point has the absolute best roller coasters in the world, my favorite is Steel Vengeance. If you like to plan ahead, both parks offer deep discounts on admission throughout the year. I like to grab their Black Friday Deals! – Nichole Enerson

As my kids have gotten older and busier, it’s gotten harder to get everyone together. But one thing we still do every summer is take a trip to Cedar Point. We are amusement park junkies; we will go anywhere within driving distance to ride the latest coaster, but Cedar Point is our home turf. Everyone has their favorite ride that we make sure to hit. Because we have season passes and visit often, we never wait in long lines since we know we can ride another time. My youngest and I always look forward to the new stage show (Cedar Point has the best in-park entertainment outside of Disney!), and the rest of the family humors us and goes with us as well. Every trip to Cedar Point includes french fries at the back of the park at the Happy Friar. Don’t forget that you can get free courtesy water at every concession stand, which is especially important on hot days. Finally, the trip home will always include a stop at the Dairy Depot on Route 2. After all, it’s not a summer tradition if there’s not ice cream involved! – Nicole Capozello

I am not a tent camper but a few summers ago, my family discovered yurts at a county park. Since then, we’ve gone every year. My son takes his fishing gear and could spend hours at the dock trying to catch something. There are kayaks to rent, arts and crafts, hiking trails, and entertainment. We take our bikes and some board games, too. We love making a campfire, cooking foil dinners and having s’mores. There’s a tractor/wagon ride that goes all through the camp and we look to see which critters we’ll see on the ride. Another highlight is when we see the mounted Oakland County sheriff deputies. It’s a relaxing weekend away for sure! – Becky Bibbs

Two of our favorite summer traditions are family reunions and camping trips. We typically combine the two for a “family hoedown” every year in July and camp for a long weekend to spend time with family from across the United States. The weekend typically includes a fishing tournament on the property’s lake, bingo, treasure hunt, swimming, campfires, and a float down the river. It is such a fun time! – Stephanie Babcock