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.

Fun indoor activities to keep kids moving all winter

young kids doing Zumba

Altered image. Lori Yerdon, USAG Humphreys Public Affairs, Flickr. CC license.

Much like adults, children need regular physical activity, an hour a day, to reap numerous health benefits including improved cardiovascular health, strong bones and muscles, positive self-image, decreased stress levels, and improved sleep. Achieving an hour of exercise in the winter time can be a challenge due to the cold weather and shorter days. Here are some ideas and tips to keep kids moving all winter long.

Use what you have and what your child enjoys

Board games, puzzles, balls, arts and crafts all can be used as motivation to perform exercises. A familiar position we use as therapist is tall kneel and one-half kneel. These are great positions because they strengthen the hips and core muscles while working on balance, coordination and endurance. Once the child is in either position, he or she can play a board game, draw a picture, or play catch with a sibling, friend or family member.

tall kneel, one-half kneel

Yoga

Yoga is for everyone and you don’t need to leave the comfort of your home. Simply do an internet search for “storytime yoga” to locate kid friendly stories and themed yoga poses to go along with the stories. There are YouTube videos to follow along with or once you get the hang of it you can make up your own yoga poses to go along with some of your child’s favorite books. Ask your child to make up yoga poses as well. It’s great opportunity to be creative and silly. There are also kid friendly yoga pose cards that you can purchase or make your own from Pinterest. Take turns picking cards and performing the selected pose. Mix them up and create a yoga flow.

Play tag in a small space to improve agility

Do you have an area in your house that is pretty open, maybe a basement or play room? Create a “Tag Court” by sectioning off a small space, approximately 10′x10′ (smaller or larger if you choose), with use of masking tape. Play with two players at time and players cannot go outside the taped lines. Use stickers or football flags, if they are handy, to create a game of tag and keep track. This game is great fun and works on speed and agility. You will be surprised how quick this game gets your heart rate up. Variations of this game can also be used such as jump tag, playing tag while jumping, playing tag while crab walking, bear crawl tag and so on.

Have a dance party!

Time to be creative with your moves and get your heart rate up. Pick songs that your child enjoys, clear a space and have fun. You can keep it simple or decorate by putting up streamers, having balloons, different colored lights, flash lights, and microphones for singing. Invite friends over to work on dance routines and have a recital or just have fun. Want to change it up? Try a “freeze dance,” where dancers must freeze the music stops playing. This is a great activity to improve agility and direction following. You may want a theme dance: dance like your favorite underwater creature, favorite animal, cartoon character, etc. Try a dance in the dark with flashlights or incorporate instruments.

Turn screen time into activity time

Have you heard of Go Noodle? It’s an interactive website designed to get kids moving. Many classrooms are using this site and children are responding positively with improved attention and test scores. Sign up for the home version for free at gonoodle.com. There are limitless fun and catchy songs that incorporate academic content. There is also a section of mindfulness with calming activities.

I hope this gives you some more ideas on how to have fun and sneak in some exercise when stuck indoors over the winter. Imaginative play is limitless. Keep moving to stay healthy and stay warm!

– Christina Paniccia, pediatric physical therapist and pediatric supervisor at the Beaumont Neighborhood Club in Grosse Pointe, Mich.

Learning while we laugh

child jumping in puddle

Sometimes in this fast-paced world, we parents get caught up in making sure our children have all the skills they need to succeed—to the point where we over-schedule and stress our children and ourselves. From organized sports to lessons in language, art or music, not to mention school and educational apps or games, it can become overwhelming!

Here’s some great news: Good old-fashioned play has a multitude of benefits and involves lots of learning as well. Through play, kids model what they see, work out conflicts, build physical mastery of their environment, generate new ideas, and problem solve.

Sometimes unstructured play is thought of as not being as useful as lessons and classes, but it is actually essential to creativity and building perseverance and tolerance of boredom. When we are bored, we get creative and explore our environment, searching for something of interest. Educational television shows, websites or applications are fine in moderation, especially if you watch together and talk about what you see and learn. However, free-flowing, unstructured time is a must for both parents and kids.

There are lots of ways to make learning fun that don’t necessarily require set-aside time. Beyond the more obvious learning aspects of a toy or game, you can teach your kids to be curious and explore dramatic play or unexpected/silly play. Be creative and see what fits your family.

  • Take a walk together and explore a local park or even your neighborhood. It can be an open-ended exploration or set up like a scavenger hunt or I Spy. Really look around and see what you notice. Interesting flowers, scampering squirrels, crunchy leaves underfoot, piles of snow to climb, puddles to stomp in—all year round, there are things to appreciate and learn about, right outside your door.
  • Cook or bake something together and talk about all the ingredients (their different tastes, smells and textures) and how they combine to make the meal taste good. Practice using different units of measurement. You can even make cleanup fun with lots of bubbles, fun music, and good-smelling soap. Kids love to help and will have a sense of mastery and enjoyment over doing something we may take for granted. As they get older, they can help more and more, and can even cook (and clean up) the whole meal when they are old enough. Now that is a joyful moment!
  • Use sidewalk chalk and draw outlines of each family member on the pavement. Measure heights as well as hand and foot sizes. You can even make silly pictures out of the outlines.
  • Have races and use a stopwatch or timer to see how fast everyone can hop on one foot, run, walk, crab walk, crawl, walk backwards. Chart the times on a graph to teach graphing and comparison skills.
  • In the store, play I Spy for items you need. Have your children help find items in reach. Have them guess how much something costs and see who is closest to the actual price. Let them check items off your list. At the grocery store, have them help you pick one new healthy food to bring home and try; pretend you are curious scientists learning about the new food, and sampling its taste.

– Lori Warner, Ph.D., LP, BCBA-D, Director, Center for Human Development and Ted Lindsay Foundation HOPE Center at Beaumont Children’s

Love scavenger hunt

scavenger hunt clue

Valentine’s Day used to mean I looked forward to flowers and candy from my hubby (And I still do like those things if you’re reading honey,) but besides my husband’s modeling this for my two young boys, I questioned how do I explain this holiday to them?

Anyone could look up the history behind St. Valentine and end the discussion there. However, I’ve been on a mindfulness journey recently and taking an extra minute to really think about the decisions I make for my family. Do I want to show my children that this holiday is another event for candy? (There are just too many of those already!) Along this journey, I’m also paying extra attention to the lessons and traditions that I start for my family. After all, this will shape their lives and eventually how they celebrate this “holiday” in their own adult lives—maybe even one day carry on the traditions with their own children.

Instead of candy, giant teddy bears, or a love explosion concentrated in one day, I started the tradition of a Love Scavenger Hunt.

I created little rhymes and riddles that lead my oldest son, who is almost five, on an adventure throughout our house to highlight the everyday kind of love we have in our family. Once my youngest is old enough, he will get his own set of clues to play detective and join in on the fun.

My husband will tell you that I’m not the best at rhyming, as evidenced by my constant questions of “What rhymes with …..” in bed while writing the clues, but I’m the best at being grateful for everyday moments with my kids. I’m a big fan of gentle tickling my little ones wake them up, bedtime stories, card games at the kitchen table, and movie cuddles. So why not highlight these ordinary moments of love to show my boys that my love isn’t overflowing for them on Valentine’s Day? My love for those two rambunctious boys overflows for them every day.

I will disclose that at the end of the scavenger hunt my 5-year-old boy gets a big prize of dinner and movie (both his choice) with mommy or daddy. I feel this prize is fitting because it highlights that the importance of Valentine’s Day isn’t on the present or candy, but with the people who you love.

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

Singing helps speech and language development

little girl singing at piano

Unaltered image. David Simmonds, Flickr. CC license.

As a speech-language pathologist, I often incorporate singing songs and dancing during my therapy sessions as a fun way to target speech and language goals. It is common for my patients’ parents to ask, “Why songs?”

Children’s songs are very beneficial because they often include simple verbiage and repetitive language, and are commonly motivating to children. Those three key factors are recommended for early language learners in order to encourage engagement, whether vocally, verbally or physically.

Simple verbiage is important to a child who isn’t speaking yet or to a child who is beginning to speak. Why? Simple language increases attention and children are more likely to imitate. The longer and more complex sentences are, the more likely a child will lose attention and interest. Songs made for children are often short and use common vocabulary words that most children are familiar with.

Repetitive language enhances understanding of words or phrases, and increases practice opportunities for children to imitate or attempt to imitate. Typically, the more often children are exposed to an object, activity or place, the more comfortable the children become. This concept also applies to songs. The more repetitive a song is, the more children can anticipate the words and/or actions. This can help elicit more vocalizations and imitation attempts.

Songs are motivating! They capture a child’s attention and motivate them to imitate because they want to join in the fun. Being silly, laughing, and dancing with your child is a great way to bond, but also encourages your child to participate in the activity.

How do songs improve receptive language skills?

Receptive language is your child’s ability to comprehend experiences, words, people, etc. Songs often include concepts such as counting, body part recognition, animals, and more. Children tend to learn these concepts with ease when they relate to something more concrete and when it is fun! Many songs also build your child’s ability to follow directions and improve auditory memory (hearing information, processing, and later recalling).

Recommended songs:

  • Wheels on the Bus
  • Itsy Bitsy Spider
  • Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes
  • If You’re Happy and You Know It

If you want to make some of those well-known songs a little more entertaining and challenging, try a few of the five tips toward the end of this related article.

Song use also supports understanding reciprocal communication, vocabulary development, rhyming, concentration, spatial reasoning, and fine and gross motor skills. Use songs and enhance speech and language skills!

– Lauren DeClercq, M.A., CCC-SLP, Speech and Language Pathologist, Children’s Speech and Language Pathology Department, Beaumont Health