Posts Tagged 'playtime'

Bring on the mess

Little boy playing with Play-Doh

Unaltered image. Jose Martinez, Flickr. CC license.

Before I had my son (who’s now 3 years old), I used to facilitate developmental playgroups in community libraries for kids ages birth – 5 years. I used to love bringing out the cloud sand, shaving cream, water bubbles and play dough — and the parents loved it as well. I received comments all the time about how parents were overjoyed that I used these activities in the group because they wouldn’t dream of doing this with their child at home. And, honestly, I was a little taken aback. I thought, “But look at how much your child loves playing with this.” It seemed like a simple task to me at the time.

Now that I’m a parent myself, I totally get it.

I understand the hesitation to pull out the shaving cream for sensory play. Who wants to clean up even more messes in a household on top of the laundry to do, toys to pick up, dishes to clean, floor that needs vacuuming, and so on? The messes in my house seem to never end and I can feel myself cringe when I pull out the Play-Doh® for my son to take over the kitchen table with. But I have the background experience to know how important getting messy is for my child.

Why being messy is important

Allowing your children the opportunity to get messy lets them express their creativity, have pure fun making a parent-approved mess, and lets them work on improving multiple areas of their development.

Let’s take the shaving cream example. When my son plays with shaving cream, he is improving his fine motor skills (the small finger muscles that allow a person to grab small objects like a button or Cheerio). When he makes two “snowman friends” he’s working on his social-emotional skills (skills needed to understand emotion and interact with others). When those two “friends” talk to one another, he’s working on language and communication skills. The best part: This doesn’t even feel like a learning activity to my son!

In today’s world there’s too much pressure on kids to color within the lines, stay squeaky clean outside, or even keep their hands clean after eating an ice cream cone. I mean c’mon — I can barely keep clean after an ice cream cone myself!

There are days when I shake my head after I pull out a stained shirt from the dryer, but I try to remember the fun that my son had while making that mess. Childhood comes with sticky hands, messy faces, skinned knees, dirt under the finger nails, and black bath water. That’s the fun of childhood!

– Stephanie Babcock is an IFS coordinator with the Parenting Program. She’s a proud mom of one with another on the way.

The beauty in hearing “I’m bored”

Little boy playing with his cars by a tree

Summer is in full swing at our house. Late nights jumping on the trampoline, BBQs at the park, carpools to swim team practice, tubing on the lake, bed times pushed back — all the big and little moments that will forever remind my kids of summer.

Don’t get me wrong, not every summer day in our house is this busy. There are many, if not more, days that have no structure to them and I end up either battling the technology monsters demanding that they let go of my children or trying to call for a cease fire between battling kids.

I’ll admit there are moments where the peace and quiet that technology affords me is a beautiful thing. However I’m worried that it is also sucking the life out of my kids’ imaginations. So this summer, I’m trying to embrace the words “I’m bored” a little more thoughtfully and with a little less action.

Recently my boys were complaining that they had nothing to do. They were relentless in their complaints, but I held tight to not offering anything up. About 45 minutes later, I heard the boys outside in the yard. They had found a remote control toy truck in the attic and had created an obstacle course in the yard using logs, tree branches and pieces of flat wood. They rearranged the course in several different patterns and ended up playing outside until dark.

So the next time you hear your kids complaining, “There’s nothing to do,” try to resist the urge to step in. It may just be exactly what your kids need to jump start some great creative play.

– Andree Palmgren is a parent volunteer with the Beaumont Parenting Program and mom of four kids ages 13, 11, 8 and 4.

Letterboxing fun

Boy on his dad's shoulders in the woods

Cropped image. Ikmal H Noordin, Flickr. CC license.

It’s summertime in Michigan. The kids are out of school; the weather is warm and inviting. Many of us are looking for a way to unplug and spend some time with nature. But if your kids are anything like mine (and to be honest, like me), they might need a little more incentive to take a walk in the woods than simply “Look at the leaves on that tree.” One thing my kids can’t resist (I wonder where they get it from?) is a prize! Take a walk in the woods to find a reward?! When can we go? So we started letterboxing.

What is letterboxing?

No, this has nothing to do with the format in which you watch a movie. Letterboxing is an activity that involves following a set of clues to find a hidden box, usually in the woods but in some other surprising places as well.

All you need to start letterboxing is a team (my family is “Well Done, Dragon”), a rubber stamp, an ink pad, and a notebook. You then use a letterboxing website (I like Atlas Quest) to search for sets of clues that will lead you to hidden treasures all over the world.

How does it work?

People who letterbox hide boxes in various places and write a set of clues (some simple, some maddeningly complex) that lead you to the prize. You may have to use a compass or work together to solve riddles and puzzles.

Some clues tell a wonderful story, but they all lead you to a hiding place where the author has a box containing a notebook and a rubber stamp. When you find the box, put your team stamp in the notebook in the box, and the stamp from the box in your notebook. Be stealthy; the first rule of letterboxing is not to let other people see what you are doing.

Remember to look at the notebook you found to see what teams have found the box before you. Many of us put our hometowns and the date we made the find — it’s amazing to see how far some people will go to find their prize.

As you continue to find letterboxes, your notebook fills with images from the rubber stamps — many of which are hand carved — as you make a record of your finds. I also like to make notes in our book about which team member made the find, and other cool stuff we saw along the way (like the family of baby raccoons that followed my youngest with her bag of peanuts).

Letterboxing vs. geocaching

I know some of you are reading this and saying, “I’ve heard of this, but I thought it was called geocaching.” Geocaching is different as it involves using a GPS and coordinates to find things.

Letterboxing is tech-free beyond finding your set of clues. Instead of coordinates, you use your brain and your powers of observation to follow clues and solve puzzles. That’s what got us hooked on letterboxing — not just the pleasure of the find, but the satisfaction of solving the riddles and unraveling the clues.

Go out and letterbox

Letterboxing is something you can spend the day doing, or something you can incorporate into another activity. One of my favorite summer days ended when my family stumbled out of the woods dirty, sweaty, and beaming after spending six hours hunting down a series of boxes (we found them all). But there are also many letterboxes hidden in the wooded areas of highway rest stops. In fact, Atlas Quest has a feature where you can search by proximity to a highway route, so we like to get a list of boxes hidden along our route on road trips. There are also boxes hidden in less woodsy areas (look for team Well Done, Dragon’s stamp if you letterbox at Cedar Point or the Rochester Hills Public Library). I’ve even heard that there are letterboxes hidden on each of Disney’s cruise ships but I haven’t had the chance to check that one out. Yet.

So unplug, find some clues to a box near you, and go find your prize. And if you find Box 2 of National Treasure, can you give me a hint?

– Nicole Capozello, Parenting Program Volunteer

Keeping Busy: Sources You Can Use to Find Out Where the Cool Kids Hang Out

Little boy and girl "driving" big trucks

My twins at a local “touch a truck” event I found on Metro Parent.
My son “drove” a SMART bus and my daughter “drove” a Zamboni!

My kids aren’t old enough to say, “Moooom! I’m booooored!” but I’m certainly to the point where I say, “If we don’t do something, I’m going to go insane!”

To help channel their buckets full of energy and save my mind, I’ve amassed a treasure trove of “things to do” resources that I can call on in times of need. Because I love you all, I’ll share, but you have to share your sources, too!

  • MetroParent’s events calendar has tons of events and happenings broken down by county. You need to create a free account to see some of the pages on the site, but they do send a handy weekly “here’s what’s going on email.”
  • Find your local Macaroni Kid. This is an awesome resource for things happening in your neighborhood and community. Bigger calendars don’t always cover library events or programs, but this one does. Subscribe to their email to get a weekly update with calendar and also like them on Facebook. Don’t forget to look at the Macaroni Kid for cities near you, too. If you’re willing to drive 15 minutes, you’ll open the door to all kinds of fun.
  • Subscribe to your local public television station’s calendars and updates. Detroit Public Television has a special section just for your shorties. We met Barney, Super Why and The Cat in the Hat by checking out DPTV emails.
  • Bookmark the Michigan Activity Pass page. Click on the site, enter your ZIP code, and see which museums and attractions offer free or discounted rates through the MAPS program. Just by entering my ZIP code, the search returned 64 entries. Not a bad start!
  • Check out the calendar and tips at MetroDetroitMommy.com. It’s just another source for finding something to do!
  • Also, do a little research and find local mommy bloggers, such as Detroit Moms Blog. These groups usually do “best parks” round-ups, listings of local fireworks shows and more.

So there you have it: my list of resources to help me keep the kids involved and experiencing new things. What are your resources and tricks?

– Rebecca Calappi, Publications Coordinator at Beaumont Health and adoptive parent of multiples

Summer Fun for Improving OT/PT/Speech Skills

Father and toddler son blowing bubbles together

Cropped image. J B, Flickr. CC License.

Summer is a fantastic time for developing your child’s motor, sensory and language skills. Certainly vacations can afford opportunities for gross motor activities or sensory exploration, but many fun activities can happen right in the comfort of your own backyard.

In addition to traditional running activities, there are other fun ways to develop strength, coordination and developmental skills.

  • Play some old-fashioned games like hopscotch, jump rope and hula hoop (a smaller, weighted hula hoop for school-age children is easier to keep spinning).
  • Practice weight shifting and soccer skills by kicking a ball back and forth using the top inside of your foot to kick the ball and then practice stopping the ball with one foot, balancing and then kicking it back.
  • Since you’re outside, this is a great opportunity to play with toys that move far distances: Frisbees and toys that you can stomp on to project (soft) rocket-shaped toys.
  • Messy play is also better outside, starting with bubbles. For smaller children, you can blow the bubbles and have them practice stomping on them (great sensory input too). Older children can blow bubbles for you or for friends; this helps to develop oral motor muscles, too.

Sensory exploration is also a key benefit to outside play. If you don’t want a sandbox or a pool, consider a small sand/water table or even a storage container that is about 3″ square. Water and sand play afford so many opportunities for sensory and fine motor exploration. Scooping, pouring and digging are all great activities. Don’t forget other senses like smell, vision and hearing; explore your yard and search for different colors and smells or lay on the grass and listen to all the sounds of summer. Talk with your child about all the things you found.

Increase their language skills by increasing their vocabulary! Talk about all the fun things you are doing, but make sure to keep it simple. It’s easier for a child to process and repeat a sentence such as, “Go get ball,” rather than, “Let’s go over there and get the green and white spotted ball.” Make sure to pause and give your child enough time to answer questions and imitate you.

Here are a few tips on how to improve your child’s expressive language skills:

  • Expand on what your child says. If your child labels something “bubble,” you can expand it by saying, “I pop bubble.”
  • Questioning: Ask questions while looking at books or pictures, and during real life experiences to encourage spontaneous language and thought.
  • Commenting/Describing: Talk about daily activities as they are happening. Label objects and pictures as your child is attending to them or requesting them. Always try to use the correct pronunciation of the word as opposed to baby talk.
  • Delayed Responses: Allow your child to use his language to request/comment/protest. Do not anticipate his every need before he has a chance to communicate it to you.

This article will simply get you started. Once you get outside with your child, let both of your imaginations run wild. Take advantage of the beautiful days we’re afforded because before long, we’ll be looking for cold weather play ideas or ways to make shoveling fun instead.

Don’t forget the sunblock and have a fantastic summer!

– Debbie Adsit, OTRL Supervisor, Pediatric Rehabilitation at the Beaumont Center for Children’s Rehabilitation and Kristina Frimmel, M.A. CCC-SLP Supervisor, Children’s Speech and Language Pathology

Beating Cabin Fever with Toddlers

Little girl looking out the window

Unaltered image. LeAnn, Flickr. CC License.

There’s been pestilence at our house for way too long. In addition to the common colds and stomach bugs, we’ve had a round of RSV. The fun’s lasted for three weeks now, and with the extremely cold weather, it’s tough to keep two three-year-olds occupied indoors and maintain the adults’ sanity.

Lucky for me, the clearance sections at big-box retailers have been ripe for the picking.

At Meijer, I discovered Little Hands craft kits. Paper bag puppets, animals on craft sticks, and all kinds of other fun projects (sometimes as many as 20 and it includes a glue stick) came in a box. For a little over $3, you can’t beat the price. Now we have a menagerie, with some aliens and monsters sprinkled in, on our countertops, cabinet doors, refrigerator, etc.

While at Target (my home away from home), I found Cra-Z-Art projects on clearance. I scored a set of cardboard blocks that can be colored as well as a giant dry-erase floor puzzle. Huge hits with the kids!

We also have indoor sandboxes. This isn’t a project for the faint-of-heart. It can get messy, but it’s easy to clean up. Start with a smallish, shallow container with a lid that can be fastened on tightly. Ours are about 8 inches wide, 12 inches long and 3 inches deep. At the store, pick up birdseed, corn meal, dried beans or pasta, rice, aquarium rocks — anything with a dry texture. Combine them in the containers and provide small cups for pouring, spoons for scooping, and trucks for driving. The kids love it. Just keep the vacuum handy when you’re done playing.

When the kids aren’t sick, we like to take them to open play at a local gymnastics place. For a few bucks per kid, we get free rein of the gym, trampolines, foam pit, balance beams, and all the other fun things. It’s a great way to burn off pent-up energy and make new friends.

I’ve also been looking into the Michigan Activity Pass Program, which gets you entry to parks and museums around the state for little to no cost. The program is run through local libraries, so check to see if yours participates.

There’s also a ton of great kid-activity websites out there. What are a few of yours? What are some great indoor activities for your kids?

– Rebecca Calappi is a Publications Coordinator at Beaumont Health System and adoptive parent of multiples

Family Fun via a Video Blog Series

Art for the Summer Field Trips video blog

This summer I decided to put out a series of video-recorded blog (vlog) posts. After taking a marketing class for published authors, I learned that people are more and more inclined to watch video clips to learn something new. So I jumped on the video bandwagon and started filming. You can grab a cup of coffee and take some notes while watching my short clips that inspire families to incorporate simple routines and rituals into their days to make a difference in the lives of their little ones. I hope you enjoy following along this summer!

– Maria Dismondy, mother of three, reading specialist, fitness instructor and bestselling children’s author living in Southeast Michigan.


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