Monday, December 5, 2016

Make Meaning with Parent Talk this Holiday Season and Beyond

We all want to teach our children to be kind and generous, especially in today's world.  It can be both heartening and overwhelming to know that they learn directly by watching us -- the way we interact with others, the manner in which we speak, and the things we value most.

"Garden Clean-Up Grand Rapids Montessori School" by Steven Depolo


This time of year, many of us have long To-Do lists.  Simultaneously, we strive to concentrate our efforts on making memories.  Many Parent Talk members are also looking for ways to give back to the community.  We would like to help you in these efforts!

 Ways to Give Back, Give Thanks, and Spread Kindness

1.  Share the food pantry wish list from Needham Community Council with your children and have them pick an item to purchase on your next trip to the grocery store.  Pop by the food pantry together to drop it off.

2.  Help your children choose one or more toys that they no longer play with and donate them to an organization such as Cradles to Crayons.

3.  Explain to your child the importance of thanking public service workers for all that they do to keep us safe.  Help them write a note and/or draw a picture and drop it off at a police or fire station.

4.  Connect with the Needham Community Council to find out what it needs for its holiday outreach programs.  One possibility is decorating bags to hold gifts for local nursing home residents.  Your kids could also make holiday cards to send along with NCC's turkey dinners that are dropped off with local families.

5.  Find a good-sized rock, help your child paint it, and write an inspirational word or quote on it.  Place it in a popular place where it will bring a smile to people's faces when they see it.  Some places to put rocks include next to a tree in a park, on the edge of a frequently traveled path, or give it to a teacher for use as a door stop.  The goal is to pick a place where it can spread kindness and happiness to others.


 Organizations Parent Talk Supports/Has Supported

Let Parent Talk know if you want help in getting connected to opportunities to support the organizations below, or others. These links are to the organizations (along with some opportunities to get involved) that Parent Talk has supported through the years.   If you have hatched your own idea, don't be afraid to reach out!  Parent Talk is interested in helping you develop initiatives that help the community.  



"cradles-to-crayons-4" by Barb Hoyer



Needham Community Council (Fit To Be Tied Program; Food Pantry)

Project Night-Night

The Walker School 

Home For Little Wanderers

Room To Grow

Brockton Neighborhood Health Center

Library Foundation of Needham (Little Free Libraries)

Cradles to Crayons

Massachusetts Department of Children and Families

Operation Christmas Child

Bagong Kulturang Pinoy

Arm2Arm 

Lynn Women's Health

The above are opportunities to feel accomplished while showing your kids what matters most.  Please feel free to contact Parent Talk's Community Relations Chair at cheripugatch@gmail.com, anytime with questions, comments, or ideas about supporting our communities.


About the Author
Cheri Pugatch is mom to three daughters and a golden retriever puppy.  Before becoming Parent Talk's Chair of Community Relations, she was a kindergarten teacher.  She enjoys volunteering in her daughters' schools and with various non-profits.  Cheri is very excited to get more involved in Parent Talk, where she brings her passion for connecting children and families with community service.


Parent Talk Wishes You Happy Holidays! May this Season (and Beyond) Be Filled with Meaning and Memories!






 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Volunteering with PT Just Got More Fun with More Rewards!

If you are a Parent Talk member who volunteers, you already know that volunteering is its own reward.  Volunteering makes you feel good, and it's a great way to get to know the community and make new friends.  Now, with a new volunteer appreciation program, there is added icing to the cake!

"Cupcakes" by phil wood photo

Starting with PT's 12th Annual Preschool and Kindergarten Fair (October 19) and Portraits in Silhouette (October 23-24), every time you volunteer, you will be entered into a raffle for a free year's membership to Parent Talk.   The more you volunteer, the more entries you get.  The more entries you get, the more chances of winning!  We will also be awarding gift cards and other prizes to a few lucky volunteers at various times during the year.

Haven't gotten around to volunteering yet?  Want to cross that 2-hour annual commitment off your To Do list?  Now is the time!  You might be pleasantly surprised by how easy it is.  Give yourself the satisfaction of finally being able to say, "Mission accomplished!" And, don't forget, you might be a winner!

"We Can Do It" by Stew and Vee Carrington

Member-volunteers run almost all aspects of PT.  Have you enjoyed shopping at Parent Talk's bi-annual Used Clothing, Toy, and Equipment Sale? Or attending playgroups, lectures, and family-fun events like Flicks on the Field and Barn Babies?  Yes, those are all run by member-volunteers.  Just goes to show you that while 2 hours is a small amount of time, the contribution of many volunteers achieves great things!  And when you find out how rewarding it is (as I have), you just might keep coming back.

So, go ahead and volunteer!  Volunteer opportunities are usually announced in PT's email newsletter, and time slots are viewable on links to Sign Up Genius.  The PT website, Facebook and this blog can also have information.  Check for a time that works for you on October 19 or October 23-24, respectively, for the upcoming Preschool and Kindergarten Fair or Portraits in Silhouette. If those dates don't work for you, not to worry -- there are plenty more volunteer opportunities coming up, like Parent Talk's Winter Marketplace on December 11, 2016!  Hope to see you at a PT event soon!



About the Author
Darlene W. Cancell is an attorney turned stay-at-home mom.  She discovered the joys of volunteering with Parent Talk through its Sale, and then as its Blog Coordinator.  Currently, she is excited for the chance to help make volunteering even more fun and convenient for PT members in her role as Board member and Volunteer Chair.  She welcomes your feedback and suggestions for volunteering here, or at darleneparenttalk@gmail.com and volunteers@parenttalk.info.













Monday, August 8, 2016

The Importance of Promoting Healthy Eating in the Early Years

From the moment that your child is born, his or her relationship with food begins and, as a parent, it is important that we nurture this relationship and ensure that, when possible, it is a healthy one.  Living a healthy and well-nourished lifestyle is important for your child's physical and mental development, which is why it's so essential that children are encouraged to develop healthy eating habits and eat a healthy and balanced diet.

The consequences of not enjoying a healthy diet can be dire.  The obesity crisis means that more than two thirds of adults in this country are considered to be overweight and obese, and around one third of children between the ages of six and nineteen are either overweight or obese.   Healthy eating could not be more important.  So, how can you promote and encourage these healthy eating habits?  Here are just a few tips and ideas.


"Unwrapped Dum Dums Lollipops" by DDGuy

RETHINK DINNER TIME

Most children are notoriously fussy eaters, and many parents find it difficult to encourage their children to eat, and worry that they are not getting enough calories each day.  This is one of the main reasons parents succumb and allow their children to eat an excess of junk food, such as chicken nuggets and french fries.  One way around this is to take a different approach to dinner time.  When cooking your main evening meal, always make sure that you offer at least one item that the kid likes and will eat.  You should also only cook a limited amount of the starch dish.  Cook extras of the fruits and vegetables and other healthy components, in order to encourage second helpings.  Why not try our recipe for hidden vegetable pizza (below) which is a great way to introduce those extra veggies in a way that your kids will enjoy?

REDEFINE TREATS

Many parents reward their children with unhealthy food, positioning candy and chocolate as "treats."  This can be very damaging and can create a long term mentality of associating food with rewards.  Instead, consider rewarding children with non-edible treats, such as a trip to their local bounce house, a day out to the park, or even a small toy or gift.  If you do decide to reward them with food, introduce healthy treats such as fruit, or even fruit incorporated into cake (see our recipe for a healthy fruit tart, below).  If you do succumb and bring junk food such as sweets and candies into your home for your children, then choose the smallest possible package size.

TALK ABOUT FOOD

Finally, the most important aspect of instilling lifelong healthy eating is education.  It is important to make your children aware of the differences between healthy and unhealthy foods and the effects that they have on their bodies.  Because of children's susceptibility to eating disorders (regardless of their age, gender, or current weight) it is important not to focus too deeply on weight and on the concept of being obese or "fat."  Instead, position healthy foods as something that helps children to grow strong and healthy.  No food should be forbidden.  Banning things only makes children want them more.  Instead, encourage your children to make healthy choices as much as possible, but acknowledge that the occasional sugar craving is not something that should be ignored, and it's important to include a huge range of different foods (even less healthy ones) in your diet.

"Summer kids eat lunch" by U.S. Department of Agriculture

These small changes can really help to promote healthy eating.  By talking to your children and explaining why you are making these changes to their diet and the positive effects on their lives and their bodies, you are likely to find that your kids will get on board with the idea very quickly.

RECIPES

Hidden Vegetable Pizza

1 Cup fresh spinach
1 Cup mushrooms
1 whole green pepper
1 jar of spaghetti sauce or passatta
mozzarella cheese
1 premade pizza crust

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
Use a blender to blend together the spinach, mushrooms, pepper and spaghetti sauce.
Spread the sauce over the pizza crust.
Top with mozzarella cheese.
Bake for 10-15 minutes and then serve hot.

Healthy Fruit Tart

15 Medjool dates, pre-soaked
1 Cup cashew nuts
1 Cup Greek yogurt
Assorted sliced fresh fruit (depending on child's preference)

Use a blender to blend together the dates and cashew nuts into a dough.
Press dough evenly into a lightly greased pie tin.
Spread the yogurt over the top of the pie crust.
Decorate with the fruit, then slice and serve.



About the Author
Helen Watts is a freelance writer and mother.  She began writing professionally after becoming a mother and leaving a varied career as a nutritionist and dietician.  She is particularly passionate about healthy eating for children.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Giving Experiences (and an Experiment) for Father's Day

"Father's Kiss" by Shuana Hawkins

Father's Day is coming up this Sunday, and in my household, we have been brainstorming ways to show the many fathers in the family that they are appreciated and loved.  Psychologists say that the most satisfying gifts are experiences, not things.  Maybe take a family outing to the beach, or eat out or in from a favorite restaurant (Gari's Maki Madness for sushi lovers)?  Or, relieve Dad of his household chores so that he can spend more time doing something that he really enjoys?  Some family fun ideas include an art festivalfarm festival, a day sailing, and Stone Zoo or Franklin Zoo (fathers get free admission!).

While gifting an experience is a good idea, I'm also a big believer in pairing it with something tangible that can be unwrapped.  Luckily, my craft-loving preschooler has been excited about creating a present for Dad.  So, we took a trip to Michaels and after nosing around a bit, came home with a large, white, cotton tee-shirt and dimensional fabric paint to customize a Father's Day shirt.  Along with a stencil and sponge brush which we already had at home, these were our basic tools. The results of my little guy's first shirt-decorating experiment is below.

OUR PROCESS

First, we laid the shirt on a flat surface.  After placing the stencil where we wanted it (middle of the shirt), my son squeezed fabric paint onto the stencil.




Then, with a sponge brush, he spread the paint throughout the parts of the stencil that he wanted to use.




To switch paint color, we rinsed the sponge brush in a cup of water, and squeezed out excess water with paper towels. After rinsing and squeezing, the brush was ready to be used with another paint color.



The stencil was moved to another section of the shirt to continue decorating.




When the stenciling was finished, my son added "DAD" and signed his name on the shirt, next to a heart.





When the back of the shirt was dry, I turned the shirt over to add lettering for Fathers Day 2016 on the area under one shoulder. My son added his fingerprints in his favorite color everywhere else, adding his personal touch.




LESSONS LEARNED


  • Dimensional fabric paints, I discovered, are the same thing as "puffy paint."  It can be hard to squeeze even amounts while writing words, and the words end up . . well. . . puffy.  Next time, if a more polished look is the goal, we'll try flat paints, letter stencils, or markers.

  • Using a simple, single shape would probably result in a crisper, cleaner look than the graffiti stencil we used here.  For our second try, I may have my son paint a large sponge or cardboard cut-out that I provide (possibilities include a happy face, palm tree, or ocean waves) to simply press onto a clean shirt for the image transfer.

  • It helps to place a couple of brown paper grocery bags on the inside of the shirt to prevent paint soaking through to the other side.  In case you are wondering, yes, adding my son's fingerprints to the front side of the shirt was how we made a couple of unintentional dots of paint become part of an intentional design!


Even if the ultimate result is not really polished looking, I know my husband will enjoy this gift.  It's a wearable piece of art as well as a tangible reminder that he will have of the fleeting days of his son's early childhood.

Happy Father's Day!



About the Author
Darlene W. Cancell is an attorney turned stay-at-home mom.  After serving as Parent Talk's Blog Coordinator, she looks forward to her new role as PT's Volunteer Chair for 2016-2017!



Sunday, May 22, 2016

Ready, Set, Play Outside!

It took a while, but finally it's here  -- perfect weather to visit area playgrounds.  Researchers have found that being outside is important for developing and keeping eyesight keen, so get ready for some outdoor time!

Parent Talk members can access a helpful list of local playgrounds on the PT websiteParent Talk Matters Blog has also posted recommendations worth a revisit:   It's Playground Time! and Local Playgrounds for the Littles.  These are mainly for offerings in Dedham, Dover, Needham, Natick, Newton, and Wellesley.

I'm adding info for a couple of my favorites to the list of recommendations.  Two are local in Westwood, and one is a little off the beaten path.

Playing in Westwood's Tot Lot is fun when dressed for cooler weather, too!

AGE 3 AND UNDER

Westwood Tot Lot
This quiet, small playground on Nahatan Street is ideal for the littlest ones.  Swings are tot-sized buckets, and the slides on two climbing structures are a few feet above ground.  There are toys scattered about that usually include shovels, trucks, and ride-on cars.  The lot is well shaded for hot days.  One con is limited parking.  A handful of spaces can be accessed by driving through the adjacent Westwood Council on Aging parking lot (where no playground parking is allowed), to the back side of the playground.  But I have used parking in the front of the adjacent EW Thurston Middle School when it's not too busy at the school.


AGE 3 AND OLDER

School Street Playground
This Westwood playground is great for a wide age range, and could be ideal for family outings with kids who are not very close in age.  It includes a climbing wall and a tall, rope-web climbing structure for the older kids (that could be challenging even for adults!).  For tots, there is small climbing structure with a slide and tot-sized swings.  For a wide range of ages, there are spinning tulip cups, see saw, tire swing, elevated roundabout, and 15 foot tall slides, among other things.  The caveat is that almost the entire playground  is open to the sun.  Plan to visit a few hours before or after the hottest part of the day, to avoid arriving when the play structures are too hot.


This is the Dragon Boat at Alexander Kemp Playground.  "Figurehead" by Andrew Watson

Alexander Kemp Playground
If you have the chance to trek to Cambridge, the Alexander Kemp playground is well worth a visit for its unique offerings.  Highlights include a water pump with a series of descending trays, allowing for play with cascading water and pools.  It also has a roundabout and various types of pulleys and bucket apparatuses.  There is a real sandbox (not just wood chips, here!) of decent size, with a good mix of sun and shade.  A caveat is that water features are turned off when the weather gets cold, so be sure to visit before October rolls around.  Parking along the adjacent streets can be challenging and limited to residents, but is not impossible to find.

READY, SET, PLAY OUTSIDE!

Armed with all of these playground options, hopefully you can rest assured that you won't ever hear your kids complain about "visiting the same, old playground again!"


About the Author
Darlene W. Cancell is an attorney turned stay-at-home mom, and most recently, blog coordinator for Parent Talk.




Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Fun and Games at Parent Talk's Spring Sale


"Family games" by Matthew Hurst


With my twins' birthday coming up, I asked my Facebook friends to recommend board games that would make good gifts.  The wealth of ideas shared was incredible.  Not only did I end up getting some great gifts (Monopoly Junior and Sequence Letters), but I now have an extensive list to keep an eye out for while I shop at Parent Talk's Used Clothing, Toy, and Equipment Sale, coming up this Saturday, May 7th.

Because there are more than enough games to go around at Parent Talk's biannual Sale, I'm sharing my list with you, too!  Below are the best games, separated into categories of the Classics, Newer Names, and Special Focus games.  

There's a reason that games are listed below as Classics.  They are the ones that are tried and true, and great options for the gamers in your life.   


"Little girl playing a board game" by simpleinsomia

Take a look under Newer Names if you are looking for some more options that you might not have played with when you were a kid.  Lots of great games have popped onto the scene since we were young.  I can't wait to look for them at the Sale and bring them home to the kids.  The eeBoo company makes wonderful games for toddlers and preschoolers.  You really can't wrong with any of them.  We have a matching game and a set of story cards from eeBoo, and the kids still play with them at ages 5 and 9.  

Special Focus games are those that have special appeal to a given age group.  For example,  Peaceable Kingdom makes some wonderful cooperative games for the preschool set.


TODDLERS AND PRESCHOOLERS

At this age, my kids were happiest playing games that focused on pictures, color recognition and simple counting.  Busytown Eye Found It! is a favorite at our house. 
Classics
Candy Land
Chutes & Ladders
Cooties 
Don't Break the Ice
Don't Spill The Beans
Hungry Hungry Hippos

Newer Names
Think Fun's Roll & Play
Snail's Pace Race 
Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel!

Special Focus:  Cooperation
Busytown Eye Found It!
Race for the Treasure
Hoot Owl Hoot
Count Your Chickens 


PRE-KINDERGARTENERS

With new logic, math, problem solving, language and reading skills just around the corner, there are so many great board games to pick from for this age group.  There are also a number of card games that are great for this age, including Go Fish, Crazy Eights and Old Maid.  My kids have a set of these old favorites made by Melissa & Doug which has long been a crowd-pleaser.


"Sorry" by frankieleon
Classics
Monopoly Junior
Sorry!
Othello
Guess Who? 
Trouble 
Go Fish
Crazy Eights
Old Maid

Newer Names
Camp
Qwirkle
Blokus or Blokus Junior
Family Charades
Zingo!
Spot It!
Sequence

Spot It! is a compact card game that is easy to bring along to restaurants.  We also have Sequence Lettersand it's been great as the twins start to practice their letter recognition and pre-reading skills.

Special Focus: Logic and Problem Solving
Rush Hour
Camelot Jr.
Castle Logix 
Gobblet


KINDERGARTEN AND EARLY ELEMENTARY SCHOOL (FROM GRADES K THROUGH 2) 

Kids at this age are becoming readers, mastering their math skills and refining their fine motor skills.  This independence also means many more options for board and table games.   At this age, we discovered the GameWright company which makes a number of card based games that are just so fun.  Current favorites in our house include Sleeping Queens, Rat-a-Tat Cat and Chomp

"Queens" by Tedx NJLibraries
  
Classics
Jenga
Uno
Connect 4
Apples to Apples or Apples to Apples Junior

Newer Names
Pickles to Penguins
Skip-Bo
Very Silly Sentences
Suspend
Scavenger Hunt

Special Focus: Modified Versions of Games for Older Ages
Sleeping Queens
Rat-a-Tat Cat
Chomp

These games are often based on the card games we played growing up, which make them fun for both kids and adults.  While these games are geared for older kids, we have found that it's easy enough to make small modifications to the game so that the little kids can play, too.


(ALMOST) ALL AGES

Finally, I'm always on the hunt for games that can be played by my kids independently.  Now that they are aged 5, 5, and 9, there are a lot more options that fit this bill.  Our all-time favorites for independent play include Monopoly Junior and Hullabaloo.


"Alec - Mr. Money Bags" by aisletwentytwo

Monopoly Junior is a simplified version of the classic game, Monopoly.  It uses simple monetary denominations and all properties on a given side of the board are worth the same amount.  Our 9-year-old can easily explain the game and the younger ones picked it up after playing with guidance from us, along with their older brother.  Now, all three kids often choose to play it together. 

Cranium Hullabaloo is a take on another Hasbro game, Twister.  It comes with a talking console that calls out each of the "steps" in the game.  While the twins are the ones most likely to play this game on their own, their brother will often join in.  One of the twins, my daughter, will often play on her own, too.


About the Author
Wendy Todd lives in Needham with her husband, Aaron, and three kids aged 9, 5 and 5.  She previously served on the Parent Talk Board of Directors as both Playspace Chair and President.  She started volunteering for PT's biannual Sale in 2008 and has been a returning member on the Sale Committee for several years, now.  She plans to stay on the Sale Committee until her very last bargain is found! 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Beyond Sibling Rivalry -- Upcoming PT Lecture

While siblings have a special opportunity to develop close, strong bonds with one another, this special relationship can just as easily go the other way.  Siblings can engage in serious competition to such an extent that getting along just doesn't seem possible.  As the younger of two sisters, I have experienced sibling rivalry from childhood through my adult years.

"And a little sibling rivalry" by Cathy T


Some sibling competition can be good thing.  When my sister received a National Merit scholarship in her senior year of high school, I knew there was no question that I had to do the same. My senior year mirrored her accomplishment.  Although our paths took a different chronological order, we also both went on to graduate from the same university, attend law school, become attorneys, become part-time working moms and stay-at-home moms.  Along with similar interests, our competitiveness played a part in propelling us down similar, ultimately fulfilling paths.

At other times, sibling rivalry is not so pretty.  My sister and I have outgrown our rough and tumble cat fights as young kids.  But as an adult, I find it very easy to be pulled into the internal dialogue in which I compare the accomplishments of my child with her child, my niece whom I adore.  Based on our sibling history, I am certain that my sister does the same!   Luckily, for our families, this competition has not surfaced in any visible way (I hope!).

"Sibling rivalry" by Richard Leeming

If only there were some strategies and tactics that parents could take so that sibling competition among their kids doesn't become unhealthy rivalry.  Parents want their kids to nurture good feelings about each other and build supportive relationships that will last throughout their lives.

Interested in learning more about the pros and pitfalls of sibling rivalry?  Attend Parent Talk's  upcoming lecture, "Beyond Sibling Rivalry," by Peter Goldenthal, Ph.D on Thursday, May 19, 2016 at 7:30 p.m. at the Charles River School in Dover.  The author of a book by the same name, Dr. Goldenthal is an expert on sibling relationships and child development.  Parent Talk members are invited to attend for free and non-members can purchase tickets for $20.  Register and get tickets at Eventbrite.com.

About the Author
Darlene W. Cancell is an attorney turned stay-at-home mom, and most recently, blog coordinator for Parent Talk.

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