Building Halloween excitement before the big day

house decorated for Halloween

With so many things to love about fall, it is definitely my favorite season. Football, cooler temperatures, changing leaves, apple orchards, cider, donuts, sweaters, boots, and of course … Halloween. Halloween is such a fun and exciting holiday, especially for kids. As soon as the calendar flips to October at our house, the spooky Halloween buzz begins. While I wouldn’t say we go Halloween “crazy,” over the years I’ve enjoyed doing simple little things here and there to make the month fun, and to build the excitement and anticipation of the day.

Halloween décor

Adding indoor and outdoor decorations always makes things seem more festive. You don’t have to go “all out” all at once. I’ve collected things over the years, often on clearance after the holiday. We always add one new decoration each year, and the kids love getting them out and helping me decide where things should go.

jack-o-lantern clementinesFun food

Pinterest is full of silly Halloween snack and food ideas. I usually keep it simple and the kids still love it. I always try to pick up a box of Halloween cereal to surprise them with, and you can make an adorable pumpkin for the lunchbox with just a clementine and a Sharpie.

Visit a Halloween supply store

Whether you already have the costumes set or not, visiting a Halloween store is lots of fun. There’s so much to look at, masks to try on, and even some spooky animatronics that might make you jump. Keep toddlers close by as many of these are motion activated. Older kids may enjoy this activity more than the little ones.

Local free events

Many cities host trick-or-treating at the local businesses before Halloween, and many schools have trunk-or treat events where you decorate your car and kids go car-to-car collecting treats. It’s nice to get some additional opportunities to wear those costumes!

Enjoy Halloween books and movies

Now is a perfect time to dim the lights, pop some popcorn and watch a Halloween movie or read your favorite spooky books together. Lighting some candles or giving the kids small flashlights, always helps to set the scene and make it even more special. There are many age-appropriate choices; here are a few of our family favorites:

Send out Halloween greeting cards

Receiving unexpected fun mail is the best! There are so many adorable Halloween cards in the stores or you can make your own. Pick a few friends and family and send them a Halloween greeting. I promise they will be surprised! People often expect a birthday card, but when was the last time you got a Halloween card? We have a family friend that sends one to my kids every year and they always look forward to it. You can also throw in some spooky stickers to make it even more exciting.

Happy Halloween!

– Kelly Ryan, LMSW, Beaumont Parenting Program Director. She is also mom to Cassie and Connor, and coordinator of Halloween shenanigans at the House of Ryan.

Making memories through reading

dad reading to boy and girl

Cropped image. Paul Hamilton, Flickr. CC license.

I’ve been speaking about play and reading to parent groups for many years. I’m not a teacher or reading expert by any means, but it’s been very easy and fun to be an advocate for the importance of reading to (and with) children.

Many of us already know the value of reading and I always ask my groups, “Why should we read to our babies?” The answers are plentiful: brain growth, cognitive connections, vocabulary development, language skills, bonding, fun, etc.

Then I ask another question: “Do you remember being read to as a child?”

Not everyone has such a memory, but those who do often remember the books as well, such as Berenstain Bears, Golden Books, Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, etc.

And there is always an obscure title mentioned with a smile and a brief nostalgic nod.

Looking deeper, these memories come from time spent together as child and parent with books at the center. Memories that incorporate books and reading are there for the making! Some fun ideas include:

  • Family trips to the library.
  • Gathering books to donate.
  • Saving an allowance to buy a book.
  • A special book that only grandma reads with them.
  • Planned reading time together, taking turns reading to each other (especially good for older children).
  • Talking about favorite books at dinnertime.
  • A book exchange with neighbors and friends.

It’s hard to predict what memories will linger as we grow into adulthood, but these activities are valuable even if long forgotten.

– Betsy Clancy is a group coordinator for the Beaumont Parenting Program.

Parenting politics


Unaltered image. Theresa Thompson, Flickr. CC license.

With the November election today, you can’t read a newspaper, watch television, listen to the radio or peruse social media without encountering political messages. And while many people have expressed exhaustion with the constant bombardment, the election is certainly important. In part, it’s important because we are electing a new president. Equally important, we are choosing representatives, senators, mayors, and judges on the federal, state and local levels, as well as voting on various proposals. Even more important, every election gives us an opening to educate our children about the political process and its attendant issues.

Why talk to your kids about politics? For that, there are several answers.

  • Liberty. We live in a country with the freedom to self-govern. We exercise that freedom by being informed and involved in the political process. Children who are comfortable with government, politics, and social and fiscal issues will be involved and informed citizens.
  • Self-Interest. The business of government is the peoples’ business, and what is accomplished (or not) in the political arena affects the lives of the people, including the lives of the little people. Does your daughter’s school have enough computers in her classroom? Does your son want to see an expansion to the city’s recreation department? These are issues that are addressed in the political arena.
  • Influence. Put quite bluntly: Other people are talking to your kids about politics; shouldn’t you be too? From what kids see on TV to what they hear in their classrooms, there are subtle and not-so-subtle messages reaching your children about government, politics and politicians. When we discuss politics and government with our children, our voices, our values and our beliefs will give them a framework against which to weigh all of the other information they receive.

So that’s the why. Next it’s the how.

How do you talk to your child about politics? The first step is not about talking at all, but about showing. We all know that kids won’t do what we say but rather what they see. For example, we can tell them to eat their vegetables until we are blue in the face, but unless they see us munching carrots and cauliflower the message will never hit home. So show your kids that the political process matters to you. Take them with you when you vote! There is no message so strong on the importance of exercising your right to vote than having your kids see you do it. In every election. For every issue. Remember that while presidential elections get all the attention, the local millage vote has as much impact on your child’s life as, if not more than, who sits in the Oval Office.

And then talk to them. Start with explaining what you do in that voting booth and why it’s important that you do it. When it comes to issues, I recommend being guided by their interests. If your elementary school age child loves tigers, talk about wildlife conservation. If your high schooler bemoans the fact that there is no lacrosse team at school, discuss school finance. Make the discussion of political issues a natural part of family discourse. If your kids see you filling out your tax forms, talk about tax policy. And if they hear about crime on the news, discuss your beliefs about crime and punishment.

Finally, if you encourage a spark of interest in your children, nurture it. Take them to a School Board or City Council meeting. Encourage them to volunteer to help a cause they are passionate about before they are old enough to vote. When my own kids started to show political passion, I sat down with them and watched the West Wing on DVD. It opened up the opportunity to discuss process and positions in a way that held their interest. (And yes, for those of you familiar with both the show and this author, there is a reason my youngest daughter is named CJ.)

So while political fatigue may be setting in, please remember that your little people are looking to you for example and information. The choices you make at the polls affect their lives, but not nearly as much as teaching them to make those choices for themselves.

– Nicole Capozello, Parenting Program volunteer

It’s Never Too Late to Learn to Camp

Kids and adults around a large campfire

The kids loved telling scary stories around the campfire at our family reunion last month.

Have you noticed how different people have such various reactions to the adventure of camping? Some people crinkle their noses and avoid this “camping” at all costs. Others I talk to are interested, and can innately relate to some of these rustic experiences.

Even though camping is one of my favorite activities now, growing up, my family never camped. My mother would always say, “My idea of camping is a hotel without room service.” Ha! My first time camping was when I was in my early 20s and it was one of the more lavish experiences where we went “up north” (Has anyone ever noticed that this term is such a Michigan thing to say?) to Rose City where my fiancé’s family has property. We stayed in the family cabin where there was a shower, soft bed, electricity and even a TV. This was a nice soft introduction to camping!

From there, my fiancé and I have camped all around Michigan and even got engaged while on a camping trip in Florida. During the summer with the great weather and flexible schedules, we try to make “mini vacations” where we pull out the tent and sleeping bags, and have a campfire in the backyard just to break up our daily routine. My son Grayson, who’s 2, has grown up camping and loves spending time around the campfire with family and friends (even though I secretly think it’s mostly for the s’mores).

What I enjoy most about camping is how it brings everyone together. You wouldn’t think that changing your sleeping arrangement from a bed to a blow-up mattress would make that much of a difference, but it’s more about unplugging and really focusing on the people around you. Turning off the cell phones, skipping the Mickey Mouse rerun, and just being around my fiancé and son gets rid of the buzz of everyday life. I always notice when we go camping (whether in Florida or in the backyard) that things get so quiet. Like really quiet. It’s enough to stop and make me think about how grateful I am for the things in my life; this is especially easy when standing around a campfire making s’mores and roasting hot dogs (organic turkey, of course).

Camping can be a lot of prep work with making sure you have all the things you might possibly need while out in the wilderness, but it’s so worth it when you think about the lifelong memories that you’re making. My son will forever have memories of playing Red Rover with cousins, telling scary stories around the campfire, and the s’mores bar we usually have at any bonfire!

– Stephanie Paetzke, LLMSW, CPST, is the Grosse Pointe Coordinator with the Beaumont Parenting Program.

My Inner Child Wears a Tigers Hat

Tiger Stadium at Michigan and Trumbull

Cropped image. Baseball Bugs, Wikimedia Commons.

I loved Tiger Stadium growing up. It was a slice of emerald goodness in a concrete grayness that only years of neglect can give you. One of the best feelings I remember while growing up was walking through the labyrinth of ramps, cresting to expose grass as far as the eye could see.

You felt like you were transported into a different world, if only for a few hours. I miss the old place, a lot of good memories. But as the legend Ernie Harwell would say, it was loooooooong gone before I had my first child.

My oldest never had a chance, she was going to be a baseball fan whether she liked it or not. Luckily for both of us she’s a huge Tigers fan. In fact, the only poster in her room is of her favorite Tigers player. Brings a tear to my eye.

When we head downtown to go see a game, I miss parking on someone’s front yard for $5, or having to walk across the footbridge, dodging oversized balloons and t-shirt vendors to get to the stadium. It added to the experience. Now, we park in a fenced-in lot, pass the peanut guys and go into the stadium after our tickets are scanned.

A lot has changed. Ferris wheels, sushi and full pizzas are the norm.

What hasn’t changed is the look on the face of a youngster seeing the field for the first time. I remember that look on my daughter’s face; it was a mix of excitement and awe. There aren’t many days that you can put that look on your child’s face, so you have to cherish those moments … but it’s also up to you to feed that feeling because that will only grow their inner-child that they’ll need when they’re adults.

My daughter only knows Tiger Stadium by what I’ve told her. She knows it was where I saw my childhood heroes play. But what she doesn’t know is most of the time I was sitting next to my Dad, or as she knows him, Poppie.

My dad and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye on everything growing up, but what father and son do? But we could always agree that spending a summer afternoon in the bleachers was time well spent.

I plan on spending a few afternoons this summer with my favorite Tigers fan in hopes that one day she will look back at our time knowing that our trips to the ballpark were much bigger than the game.

– Jim Pesta, Parenting Program participant and father of two girls

The Magic of Christmas Traditions

Large family at Christmas

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Christmas is my favorite holiday and I always look forward to the wonder, excitement and tradition that accompany it. As a parent, I love remembering how I felt as a child and welcome the warm glow of memories from Christmases past.

Every year on Christmas Eve, my grandparents hosted a wonderful party to celebrate with the entire family. Considering that they had nine children and more than 40 grandchildren, our family was quite large. Many of them had spread their wings across the country so this was often the only time of year that we saw each other. The house always buzzed with excitement! Grandma Roughton was perpetually busy in the kitchen with her mom creating a delectable meal while my parents, aunts and uncles reconnected over endless card games. Pounds of Grandpa’s exquisite homemade sweets disappeared into the mouths of dozens of kids high on sugar and anticipation. The magic of the season hung in the air.

As the years passed so did the torch of tradition. Aging grandparents and the exponential growth of our family gave birth to new Christmas traditions as the next generation of grandparents accepted the reins. As teenagers, our celebrations at my father’s home shared the same palpable fervor of anticipation. Each year brought new family members as my six siblings and I married and had children of our own.

Recently I accepted the torch to carry on the traditions started so long ago. Now each year, our family gathers in my home, building new bonds of love through another generation. We watch as the children bound exuberantly through the house comparing Christmas lists and negotiating with cousins who feel more like siblings. This wonderment isn’t lost on their parents as we revel in each other’s company, soaking in the magic of today, and pondering the expectant hopes of Christmases future.

Please take time this season to savor its magic. Look for the joy in the chaos that sometimes accompanies the preparation and remember to focus on the values that guide you as a parent. Know that you, too, are creating memories for your children that will last a lifetime.

– Nichole Enerson, MA, LLPC, CPST

Let the Light Shine Forever

A boy and girl behind a menorah

The History of Chanukah

Chanukah (The Festival of Lights) is not a religious holiday, but rather a celebration or festival. It celebrates the miracle of the light or oil in the Menorah (candelabra) burning for eight days when it had only enough oil to burn for one day. This was the miracle of Chanukah.

Chanukah lasts eight days from the 25th day of Kislev (usually in December) and commemorates the rededication of the temple in the first century of the Common Era by the Maccabees after its desecration. In fact, the word Chanukah means dedication.

It is marked by the successive kindling of eight lights.

Lighting the Menorah

Tonight Jewish families will join together to celebrate this miracle of light by lighting the menorah for eight nights, each day adding another candle to the menorah until all eight shine on the eighth night.

There is a specific order for lighting the menorah. On the first night, we light one candle at the far right in the menorah. On each subsequent night, an additional candle is set to the left of the candles lit the previous night. The Shamash, the center candle, is lit and used to light the other candles from left to right. It is an honor for the newest candle to be lit first.

Two blessings are recited each night of Chanukah. The sheheheyanu is recited on the first night, which is blessing the family.

Chanukah Celebrations

Traditionally Jewish people eat latkes (potato pancakes) or eat donuts since they are fried in oil. They also play with dreidels (a spinning top game), eat, sing and enjoy family. It is customary to give gelt (money) to children so they may give some of it to charity.

My Chanukah Memories

Photo of a family smiling for the camera

Family is the center of Judaism, and we always look forward to sharing time with family and friends.

I have fond memories of Chanukah. We also get together with extended family to celebrate. I grate potatoes by hand and then add the egg, flour and seasoning, and fry up tasty crispy pancakes. The children use chocolate coins (gelt) and play the dreidel game.

We give gifts at Chanukah, so when my three children were little, we would decorate boxes to hold the gifts — one box for each night. Last evening, my granddaughter was here to decorate Chanukah boxes with her Grammy and Auntie — that same tradition that her dad did when he was her age! We decorated our boxes with color, glitter, Stars of David, pictures of a menorah, dreidels and latkes.

Young girl standing by her Chanukah boxes

The boxes glow with shiny paper, glitter and enthusiasm, and with feelings of joy.

Without prompting, my granddaughter burst into song. She is only four years old and already knows the Chanukah songs and was ready to celebrate early. She went home eager for the holiday after decorating her box. Her packages were in place and we counted the days on her fingers until Chanukah.

The excitement is growing as it is the season to share, give and celebrate. Everyone will find the menorah, dust it off, make sure that the old wax from the candles is gone, shine and polish it up, then wait in anticipation for the beauty and significance it brings!

I wish you all a happy and healthy holiday season however you celebrate. May the light shine on forever in our menorah.

– Marsha Hoffert is a volunteer with the Parenting Program. She is a hospital visitor, group leader and parenting partner.