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Energy-burning Indoor Fun for Kids

Winter wears long around this time of year for those of us who live in the Midwest.  Usually, our family enjoys the snow because it allows for lots of outdoor fun – sledding, building snow forts and snowmen, snowball fights, and other gross-motor, active fun.  However, with wind-chills well below zero lately, we’ve been cooped up indoors.  You can imagine the ensuing chaos created by four bored children (okay, three, the teen isn’t usually as rowdy as he used to be).  Our middle child in particular, all boy, struggles to release his pent-up energy in a way that does not harm others or damage items in the home.

What do you do when the kids are bursting with energy but can’t go outside? How can you keep them active indoors to keep cabin fever at bay?

We tried every fun, high-energy indoor activity I could remember that worked in years past, but with so many days spent inside, I soon ran out of ideas.  So, I turned to my friends and family on facebook.  They helped me compile a list for future reference and out of sympathy for you all, I decided to share it here. 😉

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Snowball Fight – Yes, you can have a snowball fight indoors and burn a lot of energy doing so!  I learned this game from a birthday party we attended recently.  You will need a stack of white paper (newspaper will suffice if you don’t have white paper).  Crumple the paper into balls – the more you have, the more fun it will be.  Dump the paper snowballs into the middle of an open area and let the kids go wild! It’s even more fun if you create some obstacles to hide behind.

Bounce around – Several years ago when the twins were younger and I frequently babysat children in our home, we invested in a small bouncy house.  It’s been a lifesaver on several occasions when the weather kept us indoors.  Another less expensive option would be a small, indoor trampoline, or even an exercise ball.  If all else fails, you can always resort to letting the kids jump on your bed (I do!). Jumping uses a lot of muscles group, so it  burns off excess energy quicker.

Ball pit – When our youngest son was a baby, he needed some physical therapy.  One of the things his therapist did was to create a small ball-pit using a laundry basket filled with balls.  At first, he hated it, but eventually he grew to love it. Let the kids enjoy active fun by jumping into the pit, swimming in the balls, throwing balls, and so on. Frugal ideas for ball pits: laundry baskets, plastic totes, inflatable kiddie pools, or large cardboard boxes.

Indoor Skating – I’ve found two different ways to create indoor skates.  One is to tie wax paper around the bottom of your children’s feet and let them skate away.  The other is to use kleenex boxes (or other cartons) as skates – just insert feet into the opening. We only had one usable kleenex box, so I improvised with a juice pouch box. 😉

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Climb, climb, climb – Recently I was reminded that kids of all ages love to climb.  My husband brought a step-ladder indoors to do some repairs.  When he finished, our four-year-olds spent a good thirty minutes climbing up and down, up and down (with supervision, of course).  Other options – smaller kitchen step-stools,or a stool your kids might use in the bathroom, stairways, boxes, etc. What an easy, indoor energy-burning activity that uses items you most likely already have at home!

Activity Dice –  Create a large dice from cardboard or cardstock (the bigger the better in the eyes of children).  On each side of the dice, list a different activity to be performed.  Examples: do ten jumping jacks, flap your arms like a bird, twirl in circles until you’re dizzy, hop up and down, jump like a frog, crab-walk, do a somersault, etc.  If your child is old enough to find this activity boring, try making it into a competition – it’s a game changer.

Dance the wiggles away – We have Just Dance Kids’ version for the Wii that our younger children really love.  However, we also frequently dance to music on the radio or our oldest son’s ipod. 🙂  One of my friends suggested playing “freeze” by pausing the music and having everyone freeze in place. Another “freezing alternative is to turn the lights off and when they come back on, everyone has to freeze in place (while music continues to play, of course).

This song is perfect for freezing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7JoCCR4OsM

Or try this active song that was an immediate hit with our younger two: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dXoiCMyyu4

Geronimo! – We love this classic.  Create a huge pile of pillows, blankets, beanbags, stuffed animals, etc., near a couch or the bottom of your stairway.  Jump away!  Our children have spent endless hours getting out extra energy this way when we’re stuck indoors.

Pillow Fight – Caution: if you have a child who tends to get aggressive, prepare for possible injuries.  It’s a good time to work on self-control. 🙂  Even our teen boy likes to pillow fight when the whole family is involved.  What better use of family time than to burn off some stored up energy?

Family wrestling – Nothing is more tempting to children than when Mom or Dad lay on the floor.  For some reason, our four kiddos love to sit on us, climb on us, bounce on us, and so forth. Family wrestling is also a good opportunity for Mom to sneak attack Dad’s feet (he can’t get away with four kids piled on top-ha!).  As with all active fun, it usually ends when someone cries. 😉

Spikeball – We created this game using punch-balloons leftover from a birthday party.  To begin, we spread out in the largest room in our home.  Then we “spike” the punch-balloons across the room at another person.  Each player receives points for hitting another player as long as it is not a face-shot (we had to ban those during a particularly crazy game).  It’s a mad frenzy trying to snatch up the punch-balloons and spike them at others while also trying not to get hit yourself.  You could also use a regular balloon, but punch-balloons are just a little heavier, bigger and bouncier, so they can travel farther.  Tip: it’s more fun and crazy if you have more than one balloon. Second tip: if you have a wide age range like we do, be sure the littles get their fair share of turns or you’ll endure much pouting.

Other balloon fun – Balloons are great for quick and easy active fun because you can play so many different games with them.  Play don’t let the balloon touch the ground, or blow the balloon across the floor.  You can even play an indoor version of hockey with a balloon and pool noodles (cut them in half for smaller players).  Play volleyball by hanging a string or a blanket between two chairs for a net.  Hang balloons from the ceiling or a doorway just out of reach and ask children to jump up and touch them. Put a balloon between the knees and race from one end of the room to the other without dropping the balloon. Tie a balloon to their feet and try to step on each other’s balloons. The options are endless!

Indoor Obstacle Course – This is an often-requested favorite at our house and with our children’s ministry at church, also.  First the kids help to create the obstacles using chairs, card tables, tunnels from a Playhut set, brooms for hurdles or limbo sticks, hula hoops to hop through, inflatable swimming rings in place of tires for an agility hop, etc.  Once everything is set up, they race through it over and over again! I can’t wait to try this winter-themed course that involves climbing a “snow mountain”: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/59532026298294418/

Sliding – If you have a slide you can bring indoors, you can entertain toddlers and preschoolers for quite some time. Since our kiddos have outgrown our slide, we turned our stairway into a giant slide (something I pinned a long time ago on pinterest).  The only thing you need is a few large, wide sections of strong cardboard.  If you use an appliance box, be on the lookout for staples that will need to be removed first!

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Nerf/Koosh Gun War – Two of our boys received Koosh ball guns for Christmas, and not long after I happened to find refill packs of balls on clearance at Walmart – score! 🙂  We also have a couple of Nerf dart guns and a disc shooter from years past.  Sometimes we sneak attack our oldest son or Dad, but usually we play all together.  Gather up the ammo and have fun chasing each other all over the house.  Note: it’s important to establish some ground rules first, such as do not shoot at the face and do not shoot at windows, etc.

Play Basketball – We also have been gifted a Little Tikes basketball hoop, as well as a classic Nerf hoop that hangs over the door.  One way to burn lots of energy is to play basketball free-for all.  Much like spikeball, there are few rules to this game other than to get a hold of a ball whenever you can and put it through the hoop.  If you like a more organized game, you can take turns shooting or see who can make a shot from the longest distance, etc.  No hoops in the house?  Improvise with a trash can or bucket and a small ball or even wadded up piece of paper.

Scary Hide-n-go-seek – A variation on the traditional game, this version is played in the dark, indoors and is another one of our most-requested indoor games.  We turn off all of the lights except one or two dim ones (for safety).  Something about hiding in the dark with the chance of being spooked really gets the adrenaline pumping.  Of course, if you have little ones who are scared of the dark, you’ll probably have to hide with them. And if you have a dog, chances are he or she might give away your hiding spot by sitting and staring near you.

Wii activity – In addition to our Just Dance Kids game, we also have Wii sports and a few other games that require activity.  You can often find gently used games at a greatly reduced price at places like Game Stop or on E-bay or Amazon.

Sword-fight – Our boys love to sword-fight with their light-sabers, but inevitably someone gets hurt and we have to quit.  So, I really, really love this pinterest idea for creating light-sabers from pool noodles cut in half.  Sometimes we make it a whole family activity and even the teen joins in with us! What a fun way to be active indoors!

Kid-Olympics or Ironkid Challenge – We did this once for our AWANA kids at church during the last Summer Olympics.  We used frisbees for a discus throw, pool noodles for a javelin, relay races, etc.  We even ordered plastic medals online, but you could easily create your own indoor version.  Why not have an awards ceremony, too?

Wipeout – I love this idea for energy-burning fun that came from a friend of mine.  Use couch cushions, etc. to create a course inspired by the tv show Wipeout!

Giant tent fort – While this activity doesn’t burn quite as much energy as some of the others, it still burns some and it takes a good amount of time to do.  Our kiddos recently spent the better part of a day creating this giant fort using a card table, a piano bench, kitchen chairs, plastic totes, a step-stool, and anything else they could find.  We left it up for days until they got tired of it.  Any activity that holds interest beyond a day is a winner in my opinion! 🙂

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Treasure Hunt – This was another friend’s high-energy suggestion.  Create a treasure hunt where the clues involve some sort of physical activity such as jumping jacks, push-ups, and so forth.  Of course, you need a fun treasure, such as a special snack or maybe new coloring books.

Convert the garage -If you have a garage, consider moving your vehicles and opening up space for indoor bike-riding, roller-skating, skate-boarding, scootering, or even an old-fashioned game of foursquare (use chalk to draw the lines). I’ve also seen hanging ladders, ropes, and sets of rings available for purchse to hang from the ceiling (guess what’s on my wish list?!). If your children are very young or you have the inside space, you might consider bringing a tricycle or scooter indoors even.

Put on a Show – Our children, like most, enjoy performing for any willing audience.  Our shows usually consist of lots of break-dancing, twirling, and kung-fu-type stunts.  Set up a stage area and a seating area and settle in for lots of laughs. (Thanks to another one of my friends for reminding me of this!) While you laugh, they’ll be expending lots of extra energy.

Work the Maze – Create a laser-beam maze in a hallway or other narrow space using yarn or even crepe paper.  See who can get through without touching or breaking any of the lines. Instant indoor energy-burning fun that takes only minutes to create.

Armed with this list, I now feel prepared for the pending snowstorm heading our way (and any rainy days that might come our way this summer).

 Once you’ve drained off the extra energy, your children might settle down enough to attempt some of these fun indoor activities from Coffee Cups and Crayons.

Do you have more ideas for energetic, gross-motor indoor fun?  We would love to hear from you in the comments!

Jen 🙂

Related articles:

Our Big List of Favorite Games  (categorized by age)

Top Free Resources for Pre-K

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7 Creative Ways to Teach Scripture to Kids

We all know scripture memorization is important.  If only it were also easy!!   🙂  If memorizing Bible verses proves difficult for adults, then imagine how much more difficult it can be for our young children to learn scripture.  Over my years of mothering our four kiddos and working with children at church, I’ve learned that teachers of  preschoolers in particular need to be really creative.  Sometimes that’s a real struggle for me!  What works for adults doesn’t always work for kids, and even more, what works for one child may not work for another.

So, for all of the purposeful parents, the homeschooling mamas, the Sunday School teachers, the toddler nursery workers, the Children’s Church volunteers, the daycare providers, the AWANA teachers, for any person who desires to teach children scripture but aren’t sure where to begin, here’s what I’ve learned thus far that works:

7 Creative Ways to Teach Scripture to Kids

1. Check it – Be sure the verse is short enough.

For very young students even a single sentence might be too long.  If the verse you have chosen is lengthy even in a children’s bible version, condense it further.  For example, if “Be kind and compassionate to each other” is too much, shorten it to “Be kind to others” or for very young children: “Be kind.”

Equally important, be sure that that your children or students understand the words in the verse.  What good is memorizing a verse that holds no meaning for them? 🙂

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2. Act it – create motions to go along with the verse.

In general preschoolers tend to learn more when they are being active rather than passive. Even many elementary-age children prefer to learn through movement rather than seatwork.  So, especially for those little learners who always seem to have ants in their pants, this technique can work wonders.

 For example, in our Cubbies class (preschool class for AWANA at church) we recently learned the verse “Children obey your parents in the Lord.”  The word “children” was portrayed by holding a hand out flat, palm down, and stair-stepping down, as in “stair-step children” (that’s the best I could think of, unfortunately – anyone have a better idea for children??).  Then for the phrase “obey your parents,” we pointed our finger straight out like a mommy telling a child what to do (picture Uncle Sam’s we-want-you pose – the kids really understood that gesture well, haha).   Finally, For “in the Lord” we simply pointed straight up into the air as if we were pointing to God in Heaven.

If you happen to know sign language, the easiest gestures would be actual signs, especially for words or phrases that will be repeated often, like God, Jesus, or Bible.   Sometimes my Cubbies are able to help me think of appropriate gestures, too.

Youtube example:

*One important note: do not try to attach a gesture to every single word in the verse.  Doing so will frustrate some children and will interrupt the natural flow of the verse.  You only need a gesture for each concept or phrase in the verse.  A second note: if the children look confused, then your chosen hand gesture or motion is not computing. Let it go and try something else.  🙂

3.  Play with it!

We usually repeat our memory verse a few times together before we get a little silly with it.  When the boys’ eyes begin to glaze over, I know we’ve repeated one too many times. 🙂   Once we can mostly say it together, I usually ask the children to stand up and push in their chairs so we can be more active.  We might crouch down and say the verse very, very quietly (gestures included) and then hop up and say it as loud as we can.  Sometimes we march around our table and say it, or we chant it to a rhythm, or we sing it, or clap it out, or use silly voices, and so on.  Songs in particular work very well at this age (Tip: you can use familiar tunes such as Farmer in the Dell, Old MacDonald, Three Blind Mice, etc. to put the words to if you don’t already know a song for the verse you are trying to teach).

Youtube example:

Once we used the suggested game for that week from our Cubbies book – let’s call it, “Lights on, lights off.”  When the lights were off, the kids were free to move around in whatever manner they desired: walking, creeping, running, hopping, crawling, etc.  When the lights came on, everyone had to freeze in place.  Once they understood the concept of the game, I used the “freeze” time to repeat our verse.  The same concept could be used with music rather than lights.

4. Repeat it – give each child to a chance to say it alone.

Once we have played around with the memory verse a little bit, most children will have at least part of the verse, if not the whole, in their minds.  At this point, I usually test my Cubbies a little while still trying to keep it fun.

For instance, if we’re chanting our verse to a beat, then in between each repetition, I’ll give a single student a chance to say it on his or her own.  Then the whole class says it together, followed by another individual, and so on.  Be sure to support those who need it so they don’t become embarrassed.

And we always, always celebrate, even if we are only partially successful at saying the verse!

5.  Draw it!

Some students prefer putting crayon to paper over reciting verses aloud.  Since my preschool Cubbies cannot read yet, I might ask them to draw a picture of their verse.  Of course, at their age I always have a few who choose to draw something totally unrelated, but for those who process information visually or spatially, drawing can really help to cement the concept of the verse in their minds.

6. Forget about references…for now.

Not that we shouldn’t attempt to teach the reference at all – I still do.  However, I just don’t stress about it anymore. At this age remembering a reference that doesn’t hold much meaning and is difficult to even pronounce can be really challenging and frustrating, especially for kids who might not be familiar with the books of the Bible. How many three-year-olds can actually pronounce books like Deuteronomy, Ecclesiastes, or Thessalonians?  Even if they can pronounce them, do they understand what those words followed by numbers mean?  If not, then they are learning words that make no sense to them, hold no meaning.

Very rarely will my own young children remember a reference beyond a week or two unless it is a verse that we hear or review frequently, such as John 3:16, or a verse put to song that includes the reference, like the “Be ye kind” song.  In Cubbies we have a new verse every week and limited time for teaching, so the likelihood of children retaining references decreases even further.

Thus, in my humble opinion, the priority should be the conceptual learning taking place: truths about God making us, God loving us, loving others, etc.  I still teach the references, but I don’t emphasize them as much as the body of the verse itself.  For young children, as long as a child remembers the main idea of the verse, I count it a win!

 However, if you are going to be working on a verse for an extended time, then by all means, include the reference.  Additionally, if your children or students are older and can understand the purpose of a reference, then the reference should most definitely be included! 🙂

7. Remember variety, different methods work with different children, so use a variety when possible.

Our preschool daughter loves to say her verses carefully along with hand gestures as if she is performing on stage.  On the other hand, her twin brother resists the hand gestures, but he love, love, LOVES anything repeated in a weird or sing-song voice. (True story – I once entertained him through an entire grocery shopping trip simply by repeating the same phrase over and over again in a robot voice.  Whatever works, right?!)

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 Of course, sometimes during AWANA, or even at home, the kids are so crazy and energetic that we fail to accomplish much in the way of scripture memorization.  And we don’t always make time for memory verses either, but when we do, I want to make sure that it’s time well-spent.

Whether you teach at church or in your own home, I hope you find these tips helpful!  I have yet to find any ways to address tactile (touch-based/sensory) learners who cannot read yet, so if any of you have ideas for me, I’d really love to hear them.

Blessings to you brave mamas and teachers of little ones,

Jen 🙂

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Top Free Resources for Teaching Pre-K at Home

Do you have toddlers or preschoolers in the home?  I’m planning to teach our two preschoolers at home this year, for reasons like teaching the faith and values that our family upholds as true and also for financial reasons.

While I’m really excited to exercise my teacher muscles by homsechooling our preschoolers, I’m also feeling a little overwhelmed since preschool is not exactly my specialty. So, lately I’ve spent a good deal of time on Pinterest and Google trying to gather up the best, free (or really, really inexpensive) preschool resources out there – from curriculum, to themed units, to printables, to hands-on activities, and more.

So, on today’s Mama Monday, I thought I would share these free preschool resources with you so that you don’t have to spend all of the time I did on collecting them! 🙂  I won’t have room to mention everything I’ve pinned while searching, so if you want even more material to consider, look at my Learning at Home board on Pinterest.

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  1. God’s Little Explorers CurriculumMotherhood on a Dime offers this FREE, faith-based preschool curriculum online for homeschoolers, and it looks to suit our family’s needs.  The free curriculum includes basic plans for daily instruction (based on a four-day school week) as well as printables.  I plan to use the free version of this curriculum as my foundation and supplement it with some of the activities and ideas listed in the categories below.   Note: the creator of this program also has a paid option format that includes better graphics and more printables.  The paid option is still very inexpensive (less than $15 )for an entire school-year’s worth of plans!
  2. Seasonal/Themed Printable Packs – I plan to use this free fall printable pack from Homeschool Creations as a supplementary material for this season along with the curriculum mentioned above.  Homeschool Creations offers many other printable packs as well.  1+1+1=1 is another amazing printable packs resource with everything from princesses and my little pony to solar systems and star wars! 🙂
  3. Writing Skills – my children are not yet coordinated enough to form actual letters (although our daughter is close), so we’ll be working on some pre-writing skills before anything else.  I picked this floral printable for my daughter  and these printables will work well for both children as well as these from 3 Dinosaurs .  I love the idea that this mom had to put the printables or workbook pages into sheet protectors in a binder so that you can use dry erase markers with them.  You could even let your preschooler decorate the front of his or her binder to personalize it.  Use them over and over again! 🙂  Once they grasp the concept, I plan to introduce alphabet letter formation.  The Measured Mom offers these writing stations as homeschool alternatives to using printables alone.  You could use the same methods with shapes and numbers, as well.
  4. Letter Recognition – I love the idea of starting out with my children’s names as well as other names in the house.  You can read about name kits at Fun-a-day.  If you’re intersted in a montessori method for introducing letters, Living Montessori Now offers excellent advice.  Hands on as we grow  has a list of 50 fun activities for learning both upper case and lower case letters.  At Crystal and Co. you can find instructions for fun letter-of-the week crafts, too, as well as other homeschool resources.
  5. Number Recognition – DLKT offers a number of counting and number worksheets here. Turtle Diary offers these printable options.  What I think will most appeal to our preschool boy and girl will be more hands-on activities like this paper tube one from Learn With Play at Home and a method using easter eggs from Reading Confetti.
  6. Shape Recognition – Although our preschoolers already know most of their shapes, we still need to do some reviewing in this area.  Hands on as we grow demonstrates how to be hands-on when learning shapes.  Shape puzzles are another great resource as children can both handle the shape itself and also learn how it fits into the board. I also like this crafty approach to shape matching from education.com.  Creative Family Fun offers 12 fun ways to learn shapes.  Also, you can find printables for shapes here at Aussie Childcare Network.
  7. Color Recognition –  Although our daughter is pretty solid on her colors, our son could use more help.  So, we’ll be continuing to practice our colors through the preschool years in our homeschool.  I’m working on a home-made version of Go Fish using colors for our preschoolers, so when it’s done I’ll be sure to share with you. 🙂 Toddler Approved provides these hands-on learning methods for colors.  Inspiration Laboratories has a great idea for creating a color rainbow that I think our preschoolers would love.  We also plan to sort buttons, pom-poms, beads, etc. by color and create patterns, as well as learn colors through reading some books we have about colors.
  8. Music/Rhymes – I plan to use youtube for much of our music, but I also like these printable nursery rhymes from Aussie Childcare Network.  DLKT offers these printables for making nursery rhyme characters to use as puppets or for a felt board.
  9. Bible Literacy – I plan to incorporate Bible lessons into our home preschool, but I’d like to save this topic for a future post as I plan to review a few options in detail.  So, check back next week for those options. 🙂
  10. Letter Formation –  Here are some great printables for the alphabet:

Other free (or nearly free) resources to consider:

Pinterest – while I already knew of some of these free online resources, much of the additional material I found on pinterest. 🙂

Library books – the best way to teach your children (aside from play) is through reading to them.  You can find books on almost any theme or subject you plan to teach.  Libraries are great resources for supplementing the books you already have at home.

Youtube  – a quick search for alphabet songs, shape songs, days of the week songs, and more reveals that the options on youtube are endless… and best of all, free! 🙂  You can also teach nursery rhymes and other preschool favorites such as “Five Little Speckled Frogs.”

PBS/Netflix – Leap Frog, Word World, and Super Why are all educational animated shows that focus on letter learning, although Leap Frog has some that focus on numbers and shapes as well.  We have a subscription to Netflix’s online streaming service, so I plan to use many of these programs through Netflix.  The advantage to using Netflix over PBS is that I don’t have to wait for an episode to air.  Instead, I can hand-pick episodes to coordinate with themes we might be exploring that week.

Online learning – the internet offers a wealth of free online resources for learning games.  Check out this article to  find out which of  our favorite educational websites will suit preschoolers.

Dollar Store Deals – I wrote a whole post on items you can find at the dollar store to use in teaching preschoolers or toddlers, complete with ideas on how to use them!

Toys – we have a few toys that I have set aside specifically for our preschool use (I do not keep these toys in their regular toy box, which makes them special since they can’t play with them whenever they want).  Any toy that says a letter’s name aloud and repeats the sound the letter makes can be a good tool to use when your preschooler just doesn’t want to sit and work with paper.  You probably already have a few of these “educational” toys laying around the house, so don’t feel the need to go out and buy new ones. 🙂

Additionally, much of the time spent during preschool should be free play, when children have time to pretend play using blocks, legos, dress-up clothes, kitchens, etc.  You can also use toys you already have at home to enhance themed lessons.  Finally, puzzles can be great resources for learning shapes, colors, letters, and numbers, etc.

I hope this helps to get you started on planning for your toddler/preschool years, whether you intend to teach formally by homeschooling or just as your children are interested.  Feel free to share with us your favorite free online sources, as well!

Jen 🙂

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Practicing Patience with Preschoolers

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It’s the longest hour of the day, that chaotic stretch of time when naps have ended but supper isn’t ready yet and Daddy won’t be home for another sixty minutes.  It’s the time of day when mamas are weary and wishing for a nap of their own.  In our home, it’s often a time of crankiness and whining and neediness and hunger and all too often, a time of mom’s frustration.

The older boys are home from school, so the seven-year-old needs help with homework and the teen needs a permission slip signed.  The twins are rubbing sleep from their eyes and asking for snacks or juice or to be held.  I’m trying to find the motivation to start supper preparations, but one twin is clinging to my leg and the other is crying for no known reason in the next room.  What’s a mama to do?

I’m ashamed to say that this mom’s reaction can often be  a sharp, “Everyone BE. PATIENT!!”, followed by a mini-rant of my own about how I only have two hands and they are both full and can’t they just wait for a few minutes because I can’t help everyone at one time!  And then there are louder tears from the crying twin and a look of quiet frustration from the teen and more scowling impatience from the seven-year-old boy who just wants to do his homework right now!  Why is it that a request to be patient or wait creates the exact opposite effect than what parents desire to see in their children?

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I think most children who hear “be patient” or “just wait” see it as an immediate no.  They feel we have not acknowledged their needs and are, in effect, just ignoring them.  So, they ask again…and again…and again…almost infinitely.  As an adult who sometimes (ok, maybe often) struggles with impatience herself, I feel for my children when they have to wait.  However, I know that they need to learn patience in order to survive in the real world, and preschoolers are the perfect age to start practicing patience.

The reason I say “practice” is that patience, like any other virtue, takes time to learn. Patience is also something we must intentionally teach to our children, not something they will magically acquire on their own.  And in this day and age, I think we can all agree that patience seems to be lacking in our society!  So today, on Mama Monday,  I’ll share with you a few tips for teaching your children patience.

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Model patience yourself.  I know you saw this one coming!  Young children are excellent imitators, and unfortunately sometimes that backfires on us parents.  Our middle child was a very impatient little guy, even from birth.  During his toddler years, I spent many days questioning my ability to parent him to adulthood, seriously.

One day, he was even more impatient than usual, and I found myself throwing a little fit right back at him, asking why he couldn’t just BE PATIENT.  As soon as the whiny words left my mouth, I realized I was being just as impatient with him as he was being with me.  How could he possibly learn to be patient when his mama was not?

Change your speech.  When multiple children (or even just one) make requests at the same time and you already have your hands full, what is your response?  As you read above, my first response is typically frustration over my inability to help all four children at the same time. What if, instead of a frustrated command to be patient, my children heard me talk excitedly about an opportunity to practice a new skill?

What if instead of frowning or scowling, I smiled at them (even if I’m not smiling on the inside) and said, “Let’s practice being patient!  Who can do a really good job waiting quietly for mommy while she finishes this job?  We’ll use our words  instead of whining, and we’ll wait until mommy’s hands are free. Who can practice patience for me?”  Or, what if we used the word “choose,” especially with children who are older.  Instead of a pert command to be patient, I can remind them that they have a choice about their feelings.  They can choose patience rather than frustration. (And so can the mama!)

Distract them.  Although preschoolers are experts at wanting things, they are also fairly easy to distract (in comparison to older children).  Ask your children to find another activity while they are waiting.  Although you might make a few suggestions, put the responsibility for occupying themselves on their shoulders, not yours.  When I’m cooking supper, I might say something like, “Why don’t you practice patience by coloring while you wait for mommy.”  If they don’t like my suggestion, then I let them know it will be up to them to find something to do.

Give them a timeline.  While preschoolers are beginning to grasp the concept of time, they really can’t understand what minutes or hours or days are yet.  In their minds, ten minutes might as well be two hours, and that feels like a long time for a preschooler!  Even worse is the indefinite response of “Just wait.” However, if you relate those minutes or hours to scheduled events they are already familiar with, then they can understand how long they will have to wait.

For example, if we are going to the playground later in the day, but one of my children wants to leave now, then I would tell them we’re going after nap-time.  Use phrases like after this song, when you wake up from sleeping, after snack, when I finish this basket of laundry, and so forth, that give them more tangible ideas of the time frame they are dealing with.  If it’s going to be a particularly long wait, I give them multiple time markers, as in: first mommy has to vacuum the floor, then we’ll pick up toys, and then we get to go to the park.

Remind them.  Let’s see if this scenario sounds familiar.  “Mommy can I watch cartoons?  Can I have more milk?  Can I have a cookie? Can I? Can I? Can I?” Preschoolers have many wants.  As a mom, I know it’s not healthy for me to indulge all of those wants.  So, while I’m imposing limits, instead of just saying no or wait (for an indefinite amount of time), I like to remind them of what they have already had.  “You already watched cartoons.  Now it’s time to play.”  “You already had a glass of milk, but you may have water.”  “I already played with you this morning, but I’ll play with you again after nap-time.”

Sing the “Have Patience” song.  I don’t know who wrote the “Clean Up” song, but that person deserves an award!  It’s like magic!  You don’t even have to tell children to pick up toys because when they hear it, they automatically know what to do.  The lesser known “Have Patience” song can have a similar effect if you use it consistently.

First of all, singing in general, tends to lighten the mood.  Second, the song reminds children of the behavior you would like to see.  To find the “Have Patience” song, look here.  I only sing the chorus (and it is fun to speed it up as you repeat!). 🙂

Praise them lavishly!  At this age, children are often eager to please, so positive reinforcement usually works more effectively than negative.  If you see your children actively practicing patience, then tell them how much you appreciate their hard work (because it IS hard to wait, isn’t it?)!  Praise often enough that they are encouraged to continue practicing patience up to the very end.

For example, if halfway through a waiting period, I notice my daughter growing restless or whining, I will praise her for the good job she has done so far and ask her to continue. I might even draw her attention to how little time is left.  Many times, the magic is in the phrasing!

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Patience is a virtue worth instilling in young hearts, but it’s not an easy task.  Learning patience takes time and consistency.  It also takes a mama who is willing to look at herself and ask, “Am I a patient person?”

Of course, we cannot expect perfection.   I’m going to suggest that we learn to be content with imperfect progress in the area of patience (to borrow a phrase from Lysa Terkeurst’s book Unlgued).  As long as we are consistently moving forward in the bigger picture (even if sometimes we move back), then we are progressively working toward patience in our homes.

And in my opinion, a patient family is a peaceful family!

Jen 🙂

When is it most difficult for you to have patience?  When is it most difficult for your children to have patience?

Also linking up to Serenity Now and any of these lovely blogs.

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6 Principles for Picky Eaters

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We’ve all experienced it: the transformation of that babbling baby who happily ate ALL of the baby food groups into the terrible toddler who only wants to eat crackers.  Every child goes through a picky eater phase.  Of course, some children take picky eating to more of an extreme level than others! Our firstborn was easy, our second was challenging, and our third and fourth (twins) offered another perspective altogether.

Nevertheless, how we react to this picky-eater phase (much like any other phase) helps determine whether our children remain stuck in that phase or whether they grow through it. Thus, I offer you these 6 Principles for Picky Eaters based on my thirteen-plus years of parenting so far:

1. Decide ahead of time where you’ll draw the line and stick to it!  If you first set out with the goal of having your child clean his or her plate and later decided that’s too difficult, your child may see this as a sign of weakness.  Any sign of weakness can lead to a doubled effort on the child’s part to break you – seriously.  Trust me: at the first glimpse of weakness, your tiny tyrant will “seize the day” and your job will suddenly become that much more difficult.

2. Use the “Try at least one bite” rule.  This rule came directly from my mother, and I find it very suitable still.  At our house, the kids are not allowed to turn down an entire plate of food, especially something new, without even tasting it.  Even now that they are older, every food group must be at least tasted before they are allowed to reject it.

When he was a toddler, our middle child became so adept at turning down food, that I feared he would be adversely affected.  However, when I mentioned my mommy fears to our seasoned pediatrician, he just smiled knowingly and kindly pointed out that my toddler was perfectly chubby and wasn’t going to “starve” any time soon. It was our doctor’s obvious revelation that gave me permission to wait our strong-willed toddler out.  Here’s the technique we used:

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  • Offer the plate several times, giving the child a few minutes to try in between. Be on your toes during this phase. If it lasts too long, you’re likely to experience the ceremonial dumping of the plate. 😉
  • If the food is repeatedly refused, take it away and end mealtime altogether. (This step will prevent much frustration for everyone – including older children – and can even prevent irritations such as plate dumping, fit throwing, cup tossing, etc.)
  • Remove child from highchair or table with the reminder that the food will be waiting when he or she is hungry.
  • Cover the plate with plastic wrap and refrigerate if necessary.
  • Re-heat whenever the child asks for food and offer plate again. If your child is very strong-willed and you don’t want to reheat the food often, show the child the plate.  Tell the child if he or she is hungry, this is what he or she can have.  If  he or she immediately refuses, don’t even bother re-heating.
  • If the food  is again refused, put it back in the fridge.
  • Repeat cycle until the child eats (how much is up to you) or until bedtime.  Most children will break down and eat it when they get hungry enough.  However, I once re-heated a plate FIVE times within the space of two hours for our middle child.  So, don’t be surprised if your child continues to test until the process is well-established!
  • Important Note: absolutely NO snacks or milk should be given in the meantime (only water). This was per our pediatrician’s advice, and it makes sense.  A glass of milk is more than enough to satisfy hunger pains for an hour or two, especially for small children.  By caving in with a little bit of milk or even a single cracker, you will undo all of your hard work thus far. (Obviously if your child has a medical condition that does not allow for depriving them, follow your own doctor’s advice.)
  • Above all, be consistent!  I cannot emphasize that enough.  Once we started using this technique, we rarely had to employ it after the first few victories.  Toddlers and Preschoolers alike are quick to learn when we are consistent in our parenting.

*Disclaimer: this technique doesn’t work as well when that stubborn toddler becomes a sly four-year-old.  One day, we set out the plate at lunch time and had to put it back in the fridge.  We got it out at snack time and put it back. We got it back out at supper time and put it back.  We got it out once more at bedtime, at which point my son grinned wickedly and said, “But I won’t have to eat it for breakfast.”  Well-played, son, well-played. I decided to let him have his small victory, but he still went to bed hungry. It hasn’t happened since then. 🙂

*Disclaimer #2: This technique should only be used for healthy children!  Please see the note of caution at the end of the article.

Micah

3. Create a test to see if your child is truly full, or if they just don’t want to eat what’s in front of them.  If our children are asking for more of something they liked (or for dessert), but they haven’t eaten the other items on their plates, I ask them to finish the majority of the other items first.

For example, our daughter loooooves bread.  When presented with a plate of half of a sandwich, fruit, and fresh veggies, she will often eat the bread and the fruit, leaving the meat and the veggies.  Then, she’s likely to ask for more bread or more fruit.  We make her eat the majority of what she left behind (the meat and veggies) before giving her more of what she desires.

Tip: I use a similar method when my children ask for seconds of an unhealthy treat or snack.  “If you’re really still hungry, have some carrots.”  If they eat the carrots, they were really hungry and they ate a healthy snack.  If not, then they weren’t hungry and just wanted more cake, cookies, etc. Children are often smarter and more devious than we realize!)

4. Use the “take ______more bites” rule.  If one of our children wants to be excused from the table, but I can see they haven’t eaten very much of their meal, or very much of their veggies, I usually insist on at least a few more bites.  I only do this if they’ve eaten less than half of the portion.  Most times, they are able to stomach at least a few bites of whatever food group they’ve chosen to reject.

Start with a lower number of bites and then increase the amount as they grow older.  For example, our preschoolers might be required to take only two or three more bites, but our older children might be asked to take closer to ten (especially the sly middle child who takes the tiniest bites ever known to mankind).  An alternate method would be to divide the portion in half and ask them to eat only one half.  This method works well with older children.

*Disclaimer: if your child is visibly gagging on the food, think long and hard about whether or not you want to clean up a pile of puke before you choose to enforce this rule.   I’ve learned through experience that sometimes, they just CAN’T eat the foods we’d like them to – it’s not a matter of disobedience or control, but rather an uncontrollable physical response to a particular taste or texture. Again, see the note of caution at the end of the article.

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5.Make it fun!  Remember when your stubborn child was a smiling baby and you would makes spoonfuls of baby food into airplanes, or choo-choo trains, etc.?  Remember that baby smushing food on the high chair tray and running a finger through piles of goo?  But to the stubborn toddler we say, “quit playing with your food” or “sit still and take a bite.”

Now, I’m all for table manners, but somewhere along the line, we parents often quit making food fun!  If you make food fun, or even the eating experience itself fun, your child is likely to stay at the table longer and eat more of that healthy food you worked so hard to prepare (or at least arrange on a plate).  How do I make food fun, you ask?  Tune in tomorrow for a short post on Making Food Fun! 🙂

6. Be patient….. OR…. Win the war, not the battle. Naturally, patience is the last thing on your mind when your picky child dumps his or her plate for the second, third, fourth time of the day. Many of my most desperate prayers for patience were inspired by mealtime battles with our middle child. However, take a moment to remind yourself that this is only a phase.  You may lose battles here and there, but the goal is to win the war!

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In retrospect, I think the mantra for all mamas of small children should be, “This too shall pass” because it is true.  The parenting problems that so often seem unbearable today will be gone tomorrow, replaced by a new phase with its own set of problems.

If we can keep the years of picky eating in perspective, we realize that there is no need to stress about our children’s eating habits.  All we can do is our best to encourage them to make healthy eating choices, and then we have to trust God with the rest.

If you’re looking for tips specifically on how to include veggies in the diet without a fuss, click here!

I hope you find these picky-eater tips helpful.  If you have a tip to share with the rest of us, leave a comment!

Jen 🙂

*Reader Kimberly makes an excellent point – if your child is extremely picky, please consult your physician! There may be underlying physical issues, such as food allergies or intolerances, that are causing the trouble.  Thanks, Kimberly! 🙂

Enjoyed this article? Check out this post on how to keep those Eaters happy during meal-prep:

http://sarahjofairchild.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/top-5-toddler-approved-tips-for-preventing-pre-meal-meltdowns/

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