Monday, March 2, 2015

Searching for Signs of Spring

The vernal equinox, or first day of spring, is around the corner on March 20th but with this very thick blanket of snow, we won't be seeing daffodils until much later! So, how can we 'push spring' a little bit, lifting our spirits while teaching our little ones at the same time? Feed the birds! An especially snowy winter like this one, is very hard on our feathered friends and if you believe that seeing a red breasted robin is a sure sign of spring, try one of these feeding activities.
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A great way to begin is with a book. Riki's Birdhouse, by Monica Wellington, is one of my daughter's favorites. In it, you see the way a little boy welcomes birds to his backyard through each changing season. The book also provides some great information at the end about building and installing a birdhouse, birdbaths and feeders, as well as identifying certain common birds. My favorite tidbit from the book for our purposes is the Bird Food Cupcakes recipe, which is as follows:

  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 2 cups birdseed mixture
  • 2 cups cornmeal
  • 1 cup melted vegetable shortening or suet
  1. Mix ingredients together in a bowl
  2. Drop the mixture into greased or lined muffin tins
  3. Push a stick through the middle of each cupcake
  4. Chill until hardened. Remove the sticks and paper linters. Thread string through the holes and hang. 
To purchase a copy, please consider using Amazon smile and selecting Parent Talk as your charity of choice! 
more about the book!
If you want to set up a more longstanding birdfeeder that you can begin watching with your child, there are few things to keep in mind for success. The birds need to feel safe from predators in order to visit the feeder so place it around twelve feet from some type of brush or bush that they can easily retreat to if feeling threatened. Also, be sure not to place any feeder less than thirty feet from a window to avoid confusing them and causing traumatic collisions! To learn more about bird feeding specifics, I found this website helpful. Also, consider taking a trip to the Needham Garden Center on Chestnut Street. They have a wide variety of bird feeders and food, plus great customer service!

more ideas
This birdfeeder made from a re-used water bottle is an easy and inexpensive way to try your hand at bird feeding while involving the kids! Just cut the holes, insert wooden spoons or chopsticks, fill with feed and hang. But even simpler, and more hands on for little ones is the classic peanut butter covered pine cone rolled in birdseed (or have them sprinkle it on with a spoon!) It may be tricky to go for a winter walk and find an uncovered pinecone, but maybe you have some accessible branches you can reach from these high banks! Another option I came across is to use a toilet paper roll. Also, if you do not want to use peanut butter, use 1/2 cup of suet or shortening, combined with 1/2 cup of oats or cornmeal and then try pressing the covered pinecone or toilet paper roll onto birdseed poured out into a pie plate.
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I hope these ideas spring some hope into an afternoon for you and your baby birds! Let the countdown to green grass begin! Once the snow has melted, there are so many other ways to make your backyard a sanctuary for birds and birdwatching is a great way to teach patience and to instill an appreciation for nature.

About the author:
Liza d'Hemecourt is the Blog Coordinator for Parent Talk. She is a former kindergarten and first grade teacher. She lives in Needham with her husband and stays home to raise her two and three year old children.





Monday, February 23, 2015

Why We Should All Attend Go Green this Saturday

This Saturday is Parent Talk's annual night out. But you already know that, right?  You've bought your tickets, booked your sitter and picked out your outfit. What's that?  You haven't?  You need ANOTHER reason to go?  
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If the promises of food & fun, great raffle & auction items and dancing & good company have not convinced you yet, then let me give you the best and most important reason of all - this event is an integral part of fulfilling Parent Talk's mission of helping families with young children connect, learn, play and grow together.
Just a few of the ways we fulfill this mission include the operation of the Play Space and the provision of member benefits like the museum pass program, partnering with other local organizations including the Community Center of Needham and the Needham Business Association to bring you great community events like the 2014 Needham Lights, and giving back through the donation of items not sold during the bi-annual sale or the assembly of project night-night bags.
luminary stroll in Needham

Yet, the annual membership dues we collect cover just over one third of the annual operating costs of the organization. That leaves us with close to two-thirds of the operating costs to raise via fundraising events and activities. In a nutshell, we need events like Go Green to be a success if we want to keep offering the same member benefits and community support as we do today. 
Go Green attendees from 2014!

Second only to the bi-annual sales in terms of funds raised, Go Green is also one of our only events that is focused almost entirely on making sure that moms and dads get a night off from the kids to connect with friends, new and old, without the distraction of sports schedules, daycare drop-offs or wiping noses.
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So what are you waiting for?  Shake off the snow, give yourself the night off and click here to purchase your tickets and join me in supporting the amazing community we have here in Parent Talk.

This post was written by Wendy Todd, president of Parent Talk.



Thursday, February 19, 2015

Little Voices, Big Changes! How Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers Acquire Language

I like to tell a story that makes a lot of our friends who have kids laugh: my son pronounces “st” as “d”.  So a “stegosaurus” is a “degosaurus”.  Well, one day last summer, he was helping me in the garden.  I was putting sticks near the tomato plants to hold them up.  My little guy became very curious about what I was doing and grabbed a stick and ran off with it. When I took it back, he demanded in his very loudest voice that I return the stick to him. “NO, MOMMY! I WANT MY….” Well, you can fill in the blank.

So why is this story so funny to parents? Because it’s eminently relatable. Even if you are lucky enough to have a child who doesn’t scream… well… “STICK!” so loudly that the neighbors can hear it, you know that every kid has some linguistic quirk or foible.  Some kids don’t use prepositions, and others like to use the same pronoun for everyone and thing, regardless of gender.  Some kids don’t talk for a very long time and then burst out in a stream of language that amazes.

If you’re anything like me, you have also wondered whether you are simply wasting your time reading to your 8 week old baby – especially when he grows up to love degosauruses and … sticks.  Should I keep reading to his baby sister, despite the fact that she just falls asleep after I turn the first page?

It’s only natural, of course, for us to wonder if our babies and kids are on track, if those quirks are just that, quirks, or if they are evidence of a gap in learning or ability.  Linguistic benchmarks seem to be quite vague, or largely useless in the case of bilingual or trilingual kids.  And assuming that everything is in order, what can we parents do to help make sure it stays that way? 

Please join us for a special evening with Dr. Sudha Arunachalam, Assistant Professor in Boston University's Department of Speech, Language, & Hearing Sciences and the director of the BU Child Language Lab, for a discussion of how language acquisition actually happens. She will explain the most cutting-edge linguistics research showing that language comprehension can be manifested in kids as young as 6 months of age, and how that changes as kids age. She will review the latest updates to developmental milestones, and she will provide a practical discussion of strategies that parents can use to support and enhance their children’s language development. Dr. Arunachalam’s research is focused on language development in infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, and specifically on how they learn about meaning and grammar as they hear people speaking to them and around them.

The lecture will take place at North Hill in Needham from 7-8:30pm, beginning with a wine reception and registration. Click here to register for this event.

About the author:
A former middle school teacher, administrator, and corporate bankruptcy attorney, Shalini now faces her toughest but favorite audience: her kids, husband and cat Bishop. A Needham resident since 2012, Shalini is enjoying all the community-building opportunities offered through Parent Talk!

Monday, February 16, 2015

What to Wear to Go Green?

Are you ready to forget about snow and think spring? Time for the annual Parent Talk Go Green event on February 28th. Grab your green and pass go. Buy some raffle tickets and collect some goodies along the way.

You got your tickets, now what to wear? Parent Talk member Katie Sullivan helps out and shares some cute ideas on her new blog, Beantown Chic.  Festive means a cute green top and your favorite pants. However, since a lot of us are bored with winter, feel free to go for it with a fun spring dress!

Read all of Katie's fashion ideas here at her Go Green Inspiration post.



p.s. Be sure to watch the Parent Talk facebook page this week. We will be sharing a post where you can enter to WIN a free ticket to Go Green in honor of 1000 fans on our page! Get your tickets now with your friends. If you win we will refund your ticket price.

CLICK HERE TO BUY YOUR TICKETS BEFORE THEY ARE SOLD OUT! 


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

How do you know that you are choosing the right summer camp for your family?

We hope you enjoy another fantastic guest-post from our friends at LINX. This is the perfect encore to our recent Parent Talk Summer Camp Fair! Grace Tummino gives us insight and thought provoking questions when it comes to choosing a summer camp for our precious wee ones.

This is the time of year when many families make the decision on which summer camp best fits their family’s needs. Maybe you’ve already attended a local camp fair and you’re trying to make a decision between two or more camps. Perhaps you are new at this and don’t know where to turn first for answers. One thing is certain; you want to feel confident that you are enrolling your child in the best possible summer camp to fit the needs of your family.
Before you start the search, ask yourself these basic questions. The answers will be your camp requirements.

Am I looking for a full-day or half-day camp, or is my child ready for sleepaway camp?

Is my child interested in many varied activities or is he/she more focused on one activity or sport? Are you looking for your child to learn a new skill? Many camps focus on specialties like STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education), sports, dance, theater, arts and crafts, nature, outdoor adventures, etc.

Is my child most comfortable in small or large groups?

Does my child have a food allergy or situation that may require special attention?

Is my child more comfortable in single sex or coed activities?

Is bus transportation important to me?

Do I need a flexible drop off and pick up schedule?

What is my budget?

Once you have finalized your list of camp requirements, listen to recommendations from friends and family, attend a camp fair, search online using keywords that describe what you are looking for in a camp, and look for online reviews from local sources like Campseekers.com. You should always, of course, contact a camp directly. Here are some important factors to consider as you are learning about different camps.

Environment:

It’s important to get a feeling for the camp. Is the staff happy to see or hear from you? A good camp will partner with parents by making an effort to teach respect and kindness, and this will shine through when you converse with them. Listen to your instincts when you visit the camp or make a phone call. No matter how you contact the camp, pay attention to the way you are treated. If you feel rushed or they are unable to answer your questions, then it is probably not the best choice for your family. A good camp representative will always make time for you and treat you with the respect you deserve.
Staff and the right camper to counselor ratio are important for a positive experience, especially for children who are most comfortable in small groups. You want to know that the staff is nurturing and patient. Many young children are experiencing camp for the first time, and they need extra guidance from an experienced and caring professional. If this is important in your choice, you might want to look for a camp that hires teachers and/or college students studying to become professionals in the field of early childhood development.

Integrity and teamwork – You want to know that your child will be part of a team environment where failure IS an option. When the focus is fun and learning, and not competence or failure, the child is free to learn, take risks, and grow at a faster pace. A great camp will give you the feeling that your child’s emotional safety is top priority. A camp that rewards a child who tries his best in any sport or activity, no matter the outcome, is a camp with integrity.

When a child has a sense of belonging at camp, he/she is free to explore new activities and interests without fear of rejection from other children. Does the camp have a bullying prevention policy? As a parent you will want to know the camp’s procedure for prevention as well as actions taken if a bullying event should occur. Please take a moment to read Eradicating Bullying an educational article written by LINX Camps’ Vice President and Executive Director, Josh Schiering.

Some parents favor a more traditional environment where the camper will feel like he/she is part of something bigger. If this is important to you, then find a camp that has an inclusive environment where campers take part in opening and closing ceremonies or camp-wide games.

Safety:

CORI (Criminal Offender Registry Information) and SORI (Sex Offender Record Information) background checks should be completed for every adult leader or volunteer. This is a requirement, enforced by the local Board of Health, of all staff and volunteers who will be in contact with campers. Is the staff CPR and first aid certified? Is there adequate access to EMTs?
Many camps have a plan for dealing with food allergies, other allergies, and medical issues. Check out the policy each camp has in place. You will want to feel confident in the event of an emergency situation. According to Foodallergy.org, “Having a written food allergy policy in place ensures that staff members are well-equipped to care for children who experience food allergy reactions while at camp.” You will find extensive guidelines for camps on this website.

Instructor competence should be a requirement. If you have your eye on a specialty camp, be sure an expert in the field leads it. Specialty camps, in areas like science and sports, should be staffed with experts in the field for obvious safety and instructional reasons. 

Communication:

Is the staff of your camp choice willing to take your calls at any time of day? Are you free to drop in and see you child at camp any time you wish? There should always be complete open communication between parent/caregiver and camp staff. You should feel free to talk with counselors at the end of a camp day if you have a concern or just want to chat about your child.

Cost:

Discounts and specials can help work your favorite camp choice into your budget. Does the camp offer a sibling or a multiple camp week discount? Are there any other benefits that come with the price? Summer camp is an investment, and when it comes down to it, you want to know you are getting a lot for your money. There is a vast amount of camps out there competing for your dollar, so make them work for it!

With all of this in mind, your camp choice will help define the camp experience for your child. Whether it is a first time experience or one of many, I hope you find the ultimate camp to meet the needs and expectations of your family. The results will show in your child’s self-confidence, increased independence, friendships, and willingness to try new things.

About the author: Grace Tummino is a member of LINX's marketing team, specializing in content marketing and marketing project management. She earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing from Pace University in NY, has an extensive background in marketing and product development, and is part owner and marketing manager for a technology company in MA.



Thursday, February 5, 2015

Using the Snow for Fun!

Knee deep in snow? Try waist deep or more for our little friends! Though it takes nearly twenty minutes to suit up to play in it, snow is an abundant and free sensory experience for our kids that we can use in some very 'cool' ways! Dig out (I know, enough with the puns) those cute kiddie sunglasses and pick one of these fun activities to make the most of the white stuff while we still have it. After all, the groundhog did see his shadow yesterday!
I always think of this movie when my kids are bundled up
Paint the Snow
Get a spray bottle, fill it with water and add a few drops of food coloring. It doesn't get much easier than that! This would also work well in squirt guns if you have them, or turkey basters. Depending on your child's age and how nimble he or she is wearing mittens, you may be the one doing the squirting but it is still fun to watch!
You can also read this mom's experience
Snow Ice Cream
I recently heard read that it is actually okay to eat the snow! Stick with clean snow in your backyard away from any animal waste and car pollutants. It is basically distilled water and is the major drinking source for mountaineers all over the world! So, why not make it even more enticing to children by following this recipe for snow ice cream?!

Recipe: 1/3 cup granulated sugar, 1 cup milk, 1 pinch salt, 1 tsp. vanilla extract, 8 cups clean snow

In a large bowl, whisk together all ingredients except the snow, then quickly stash it in your freezer while you run out to collect the snow! Mix the snow into the other ingredients until you reach a fluffy and scoopable consistency. Remember that this will melt fast so add some sprinkles and enjoy it right away!
...in case you want to see more of this recipe
Balloon Ice Sculptures
This is somewhat of a scientific process that you can explain to your kids and it looks amazing when complete! First, add a few grains of sand to whatever balloons you are using, otherwise the water may not freeze. The sand acts as a freezing nuclei for the water. Fill balloons with water and a few drops of food coloring. Then decide where you want to place the balloons outside, maybe along a walk way or on a deck where your child can see them. Let the balloons freeze and then peel away the pieces of balloon to reveal beautiful ice sculptures!
To read more about this process click here
Snow Sensory Play Inside
Finally, if it is just too hard to get outside with your littles, then bring the snow inside. That's right, grab a shower curtain, vinyl picnic tablecloth, highchair splat mat or a few beach towels and lay them on the kitchen floor. Then, fill a plastic taboggan sled or large shallow plastic container with snow and bring it inside. Add beach toys or cooking tools and let them explore!
This blogger has other great ideas!

About the author:
Liza d'Hemecourt is the blog coordinator for Parent Talk. She is a former kindergarten and first grade teacher and now stays home with her two children, ages two and three. She lives in Needham with her family and enjoys the connections she has made through her Parent Talk playgroup.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Celebrating Valentine's Day with your Littlest Loves

One of the days I used to cherish as teacher was always Valentine's Day! My classroom would inevitably become a sea of red and pink tissue paper, construction paper and glitter. It was always noisy and the kids went home with a sugar high. BUT I got to see their faces as they passed out their valentines with pride, working hard to make sure that they visited each 'mail box' we had made and I knew how excited they were to open the paper cards from all their classmates. Not to mention, many of my students had a handmade love note for me so I got to deliver a lot of hugs in return! For many, it was their first experience spreading the love of this holiday and I wished it could always be as simple and satisfying as it was at five and six. Now my own children are old enough to enjoy some Valentine's Day activities so I searched out a few that would be fun and home-friendly.
Suncatchers (image source)


For this Heart Sun Catcher, you will need thin cardboard, like a cereal box, clear contact paper, tissue paper and glitter. I know, it takes courage to let little hands shake glitter!
  1. Start with a rectangle of your thin cardboard and cut out a large heart, leaving enough of a frame around it so that it will be sturdy.
  2. Cut two pieces of contact paper the same size as your cardboard rectangle. Peel one and lay it over the heart so that you are exposing the sticky side. Keep the other piece to lay on top of the work when it is finished.
  3. Allow your toddler or older child to decorate the sticky heart however they like, sprinkling glitter, laying down tissue squares or adding other materials you think of...
  4. When finished, peel your remaining contact paper and cover so that nothing is sticky or falling off. 
  5. Display!
Here are a few more cute ideas
Stamping with fruits and vegetables is great fun and shows little ones that there can be many ways to use something when you add a little imagination! I thought this would also be a nice Valentine's Day gift for a grandparent or teacher. You will need rubber bands, a bunch of celery, construction paper or card stock, red and green tempura paints.
  1. Before cutting the base of your celery off, wrap the top and bottom with rubber bands to keep them together. Then remove the base of the celery with a sharp knife.
  2. Pour red paint in a shallow paper or plastic plate and dip the bundled celery stalks
  3. Have your child stamp the flower shape on the paper several times
  4. Dip your child's finger in green paint or use a brush and have them add stems to the flowers 
There are many other animals that can be made from hearts!
This activity is better suited for a slightly older child but a preschooler can certainly help and will enjoy watching the hearts be transformed into an animal face! Have your child help you look at this picture to count how many hearts you will need of each color. Sorting by color and size is another great extension of this craft. You will need, brown, pink, black, red and white construction paper plus a glue stick or white glue and scissors.
  1. Fold two pieces of brown construction paper in half. Cut one large half heart from the first piece, unfolding it to reveal the whole heart. From the second piece, follow suit but cut two smaller hearts. With your scraps, find another brown piece to fold in half for an even smaller heart.
  2. Using the same technique, cut a hear from the pink paper that is just slightly smaller than the medium brown hearts.
  3. Fold and cut two small white hearts for the eyes
  4. Fold and cut an assortment of black hearts: nine all together.
  5. Finally you will need one small red heart for the tongue.
  6. This dog face goes together like a puzzle. You will cut the pink hear and one medium brown heart in half for the ears. The other medium brown heart is the top of the dog's face with the large brown heart overlapping it upside down as the bottom of the face. Piece together the rest for all the details!
  7. For more images of the steps to make this treat, click here
Now, if you are looking for a very addicting and super easy to make treat, try these sweet and savory Valentine's Day Pretzel Buttons! A student of mine used to bring me a pretty cellophane bag filled with these every year and I had to practice great restraint not to eat them all by the end of the school day. The best part about these is that they are perfect for boosting the fine motor skills of your little helpers (suffice it to say that my almost two year old son can already unwrap a hershey kiss with ease!) You will need pretzels (circular pretzels are shown here, but I think the square pretzel snaps are easier to use,) Hershey's hugs, and pink and red m&ms.
  1. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and heat your oven to 200 degrees
  2. Have your helpers unwrap the desired amount of Hershey's hugs (maybe give them a quota of how many they can eat)
  3. Place pretzels in rows on baking sheet with one hug in each center
  4. Bake for four minutes (do not let chocolate melt; it should still hold its shape)
  5. Carefully press m&m onto each hug; you may need to let the pretzel stand for a moment if the chocolate is too soft
  6. Deliver to neighbors, teachers or just gobble them up with your kids!
Happy Valentine's Day to you and your littles!

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