Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Wanna Play? Using Your Child’s Playtime to Teach Skills for Life

There’s nothing more stressful for a parent than a tough play date. Which is your favorite thing to worry about: Is my kid going to share? Is my kid going to actually interact with the other kid? Will there be a tantrum, or worse, a punch thrown, a shove, a bite? Will my child run around and steal toys from the others just to keep them from playing with those things? What if the other kid touches my child’s precious Thomas pillow or McQueen Monster Truck? 

The experts tell us that our kids learn appropriate social behavior through playing with others, but how do we get them to play in a way that will teach them useful skills? Surprisingly, the answer may be to become the best, most present playmates that we can be to our kids, by being attentive to how they play and by modeling play strategies that help our kids to learn useful social skills.

At Needham’s own Temple Beth Shalom Children’s Center preschool, the faculty have been engaged in learning and applying a program called “Social Thinking” that aims to do just that: teach kids to play in a way that helps them to work well with others and learn about the world. The program is designed to teach kids to think about their own feelings and thoughts in the context of the greater social group. They learn that while they may have their own individual plan for themselves, there is a group plan as well that they may fit into or clash with. Using this paradigm as a foundation, the TBS faculty is teaching kids to strategize how they play with each other and individually so as not to disrupt a group plan that is for the greater, collective good. For example, it will be necessary to ask friends if it is okay to smash the tower they just built before doing so, in order to understand the group plan.

The strategies taught through "Social Thinking" are equally as valuable for parents as they are for teachers. It is a program that works just as well to teach kids how to play well at home, on play dates, and in any situation getting along with others.

Join us on Wednesday, January 14th, at Temple Beth Shalom in Needham, for a discussion led by Sherry Grossman and Amy Freedman on the Social Thinking program and age-appropriate play strategies. Reception/registration beginning at 6:30pm, lecture to follow from 7:00 to 8:30 pm.  Sherry and Amy are early education experts at Gateways: Access to Jewish Education in Newton, MA, who between them have almost 70 years of early childhood education experience. They have been working with the TBS faculty in their application of the Social Thinking program to their curriculum. By applying the precepts of Social Thinking to smart developmentally-appropriate play strategies, teacher trainers Sherry Grossman and Amy Freedman hope to show parents how they, too, can teach their kids to play and work well with others. TBS faculty members will also be available to add dimension from a classroom perspective. 

To register for this event, please go to Wanna Play? Using Your Child's Playtime to Teach Skills for Life

Amy Freedman

Sherry Grossman

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Few Fun Snowmen: Recipe, Craft and Book

The ground is still bare but hopefully soon we can go outside to build a snowman! Until then, enjoy these snowman themed activities inside with your little one.

Snowman Pb&Js

Make an everyday food festive easily with a cookie cutter, a few chocolate chips and a mini candy cane! This could easily be made healthier with whole wheat bread, any spread of your choosing, raisins instead of chocolate chips and a carrot or celery stick cane. I made these for a party and thought the white bread made them a little more realistic!

Felt Snowman

I love this craft because it doesn't make a mess and can be used again and again! It's great for your little one's fine motor and spatial reasoning skills. This does require some handiwork with scissors. I suggest making a cardboard template for the three circles and for the snowman's hat, then tracing with a sharpie. Any craft store should have the felt and if you are a perfectionist, buy shears to be used only on fabric (paper will dull them.)

To personalize this project or to extend it further, cut out different hats or outfits for the snowman! Also, if you plan to do this with a very young toddler, consider making the pieces very large and possibly hanging the background on a wall for them to assemble while standing.


Snow Slime Recipe 

  • 2 cups of white school glue (you could also use silver glitter glue)
  • 1 & 1/2 cups of very warm water
  • Iridescent glitter
  • Optional: a few drops of peppermint extract to give the snow slime a fresh and clean scent
Combine in a small bowl

In a second bowl combine:
  • 3/4 teaspoons of borax
  • 1 & 1/3 cups very warm water
Mix the ingredients of both bowls well and then combine both bowls.  Mix the ingredients with your hands for a few minutes.  As the ingredients are mixed the snow slime will form

A beautiful snowman story

This book by Raymond Briggs is wordless but the illustrations are so enchanting. There is also a movie made from the book that you may be able to find at the library. I remember it from my childhood and loved it!

About the Author:

Liza d'Hemecourt is the blog coordinator for Parent Talk. She formerly taught kindergarten and first grade and now stays home with her two toddlers. Liza is from Maine originally and now lives in Needham with her family.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Giving Back in Our Community

We can all agree that we are fortunate to live in communities around Boston that are family oriented and rich with opportunities for ourselves and our children. Still, it is important to acknowledge that many local residents are in need, whether it is a family relying on the food pantry at the Needham Community Council or children at the Walker School in need of holiday gifts. In this time of year as we make shopping lists and plan celebrations, it is the perfect time to reach out to others in a large or small way. Perhaps this winter, your playgroup or neighborhood could host a 'drive' on a larger scale, but at the very least, you may have some things at home that could be put to better use by one of the organizations below.

Our Parent Talk playgroup participated in Holiday Gift Bags through the Needham Community Council. We supplied white paper bags and decorating supplies as an activity for the kids and we each brought small items, such as specialty tea and hand lotion, from a list provided by the council. These bags will be delivered to elderly community members this holiday season. 

If you would like to donate to the Needham Community Council, consider bringing in non-perishable goods to the food pantry or dropping off clothing and household items to their thrift store. The thrift store is open to everyone and can be a fun place to shop! All proceeds benefit the Needham Community Council and their many outreach programs. For more details and drop-off hours, click here

Another wonderful organization in our community is Circle of Hope. Unlike the thrift store at the Needham Community Council, they serve a specific population of homeless residents and those who are struggling to attain housing security. They accept clothing and household goods but also seek items for babies and young children. All donations are sorted and delivered to people in need. If you would like to give to them, read here for more information. 

A third option for giving and volunteering is A Room to Grow in Boston. They only accept nearly new and new articles of clothing, books and gear for babies and young children. These items are given to impoverished families who have been connected with the organization through a social worker. If you would like to host a drive to collect items for them, email emily@roomtogrow.org. This would be another great playgroup effort! Read more about them here.

Lastly, The Walker School in Needham is running their annual Wishes Holiday Toy Drive. Walker serves troubled children by educating them and their families and offering mental health services. They are requesting new, unwrapped toys or hats/gloves, pajamas or slippers, appropriate for children between the ages of 3 and 14. Please get your gift to them no later than December 16th! For more information, visit this website.

It can be hard to know how to explain to young children that there are people who do not have enough to eat or the clothing that they need. Only you can decide if your child is old enough or to what degree you wish to educate them on this topic. At some point, it is a valuable experience to involve children in giving as a family. Perhaps a simple explanation for now and allowing your child to choose a few extra canned goods at the grocery store that someone else might like to eat, then dropping it off together. With my toddlers, I plan to deliver cookies to two elderly people in our neighborhood and maybe sing a round of Jingle Bells!

About the author:

Liza d'Hemecourt lives in Needham with her husband and two toddlers. She went to Boston College for theater and education and formerly taught kindergarten and first grade. Liza enjoys singing and playing with her children and spending time with other moms.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Sugar and Spice...and Puppy Dog Tails?

This guest post, submitted by LINX, was written by Nancy Gair, Early Childhood Specialist at Wellesley Treehouse. It is especially timely on the heels of our recent presenter, Dr. Rao, who spoke about his book, The Way of Boys. Also, this time of year, shopping for toys and winter clothing, I have been especially struck by the gender differences that are seemingly forced upon children by toy and clothing companies. My almost two year old son loves cats but I am hard pressed to find anything he can wear with kitties on it that is not pink! We thank LINX for this enlightening read and for the book recommendations.

Sugar and Spice… and Puppy Dogs’ Tails? 
We can’t deny that pink vs. blue is all around us when choosing newborn and infant clothing; nor that young boys’ clothing tends to be rugged and is notably absent of ruffles, bows and polka dots.  They are typically decorated with diggers, trucks, dinosaurs, fire engines, rockets, planets and lizards. It is also true that one can find baby girls’ clothing with similar decorations: skull & crossbones, or all black onesies with cuffed jeans; certainly more than one could 10 years ago.  But for the most part, from the day they are born, we identify our Johns and Janes very differently.

It’s not that I have a problem with the clothing.  But how many times do you hear someone say, “Oh, he’s a typical boy!”?  I don’t know about you, but I hear or read that phrase far more frequently than “she’s a typical girl”.  For some reason, we don’t like saying that phrase as often. People are more likely to get up in arms hearing such a thing about girls.  How dare you imply that because I like to put a bow in my baby’s hair and enjoy dressing her in outfits with adorable ruffles on the butt and ribbons on her socks, that she will be “typical” in any way as a woman in the world??

But “he’s a typical boy” is frequently said, even by the child’s own parents and often with great pride masquerading as exasperation at his boisterous antics or mud-covered boots and grubby face.  Personally, I had a problem with this because, as a mother of two very different boys, I could honestly say that nothing about them was “typical”, particularly if you compared one to the other.  For example, boys generally are considered to be later talkers than girls. My first son talked at nine months so I thought my second son was very slow when he wasn’t talking at 13 months, after which I took him to a speech therapist, only to be tutted at and sent home!  On the other hand, my first son didn’t walk until he was nearly a year and a half (saving me a great deal of money on shoes!), while my younger one ran and climbed quite sturdily before he was one. Neither of them have ever cared for organized sports!

There are a lot of books out there on childrearing, each with a different focus. I find a few points from some of them helpful and relevant.  A terrific resource is Steven Biddulph’s Raising Boys - Why Boys are Different - and How to Help Them Become Happy and Well-Balanced Men.  While I still bristle a bit at the title (everybody’s different, not just boys!), it is easily read and includes both anecdotes and facts, well-backed by evidence, and useful physiological explanations for some of the differences we tend to observe between boys and girls.

Biddulph himself, however, in his division of boyhood into three stages, says of the first stage zero to six years:

Babies are babies.  Being a boy or girl is not a concern to them, and needn’t be to us either. Babies love to be cuddled, to play, to be tickled and to giggle; to explore and be swooshed around. Their personalities vary a lot.  Some are easy to handle; they can be quiet and relaxed, and sleep long hours. Others are noisy and wakeful, always wanting some action. Some are anxious and fretful, needing lots of reassurance that we are there, and that we love them.

I find the book particularly useful to help us as parents become aware of the language we use and some of the unconscious prejudices we sometimes exhibit and unhelpful behavior we might model.  

Some of these behaviors are usefully illustrated in another resource, The Everything Toddler Book by Linda Sonna.   Sonna quotes studies which show that adults are more likely to use baby talk - using words like “doggy” and “dolly” - far more frequently with girls than with boys.  Another example describes adults who are shown a videotape of a child reacting to a jack-in-the-box.  When told the child is a girl, they describe the child’s reaction as “fearful”; when told it’s a boy, they describe the same reaction as “angry”.  Research also reveals that parents smile and praise year-old boys more than year-old girls when they build towers of blocks and zoom cars across the floor, and are more discouraging of boys than of girls when they in some way “cross the gender line in their choice of play activities”, for instance when boys play dress up or play with dolls.

And of course, if the child is exposed to television advertising or spends any time in big toy shops, it’s pretty clear who’s supposed to want Hot Wheels and My Little Pony!  An excerpt from that same book is worth keeping in mind:

A few differences seem to be innate. Toddler boys tend to be more active and fussier than girls.  Although boys don’t actually cry more, their sleep tends to be more disturbed.  As a group, girls’ language skills develop faster than boys’. Girls also develop bladder and bowel control a few months earlier.
Of course, these are tendencies and group averages. The differences vanish when individual children are considered.  There are lots of calm, moderate-energy boys who sleep soundly and are potty trained at an early age.  Lots of active, fussy little female insomniacs reach their fourth or fifth birthday before they make it through the night without wetting the bed.  Most differences are due to how boys and girls are raised.

Regardless of gender or culture, books and studies agree: all babies thrive on cuddling, structure and activity appropriate to their age and stage. All babies need us to love our children as they are and not as we imagine they should be, nor as our society expects they ought to be.

Useful Resources:
Biddulph, Steve. Raising Boys. (1998). Celestial Arts.
Lipman, Blythe. Help! My Toddler Came Without Instructions. (2013). Viva Editions.
Segal, Marilyn. Your Child At Play: Two to Three Years - 2nd ed. (1998). Newmarket Press.
Sonna, Linda. The Everything Toddler Book. (2002). Adams Media.

About the Author:
Nancy Gair grew up in Arlington MA and went to BB&N (a "lifer"!). After graduating from Yale in 1981, she went to drama school in London, England where she then lived for the next 26 years. Following the births of her sons, she was inspired to train with the National Childbirth Trust as a childbirth educator, qualifying in 2004, and had the pleasure of teaching couples in her own home while her young boys sneaked downstairs to pilfer the refreshments. Nancy and sons (now 17 & 14) relocated to the Boston area in the autumn of 2007, when she began teaching both pre- and post-natal classes for Isis Parenting, subsequently also obtaining her CAPPA certification. She enjoys watching her boys follow in their parents' theatrical footsteps, and keeps up her own endeavors with cabaret performances & individual acting coaching for young adults.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Giving Tuesday

To all our supporters, members and past members, business partners and folks who we support throughout the year, Parent Talk wishes a very happy holiday season.

Last Thursday was Thanksgiving, a day to reflect on the bounty of our lives with family and friends.  It also marks the beginning of the holiday season, a time to prepare for our winter celebrations, decorate, bake cookies and buy gifts with Black Friday and Cyber Monday following closely.Tuesday has been coined Giving Tuesday, a day to reflect on community, giving to those organizations that make the world, and where we live, a better place. 

Photo by Ellie Beasley

This last year, Parent Talk welcomed 170 new families to our community, building friendships that will last a life time.  We hosted numerous events and information fairs for our members and the larger community, supported area direct service organizations and generally had a fun time doing it.
For those of you who have been a part of the Parent Talk community, you may have already received our Annual Appeal in your mailbox.  This is a reminder that we can’t accomplish what we do without the tireless efforts of scores of volunteers, the financial and other gifts that we receive from area businesses and your contributions.

Won’t you support Parent Talk this giving season?  You can easily do so here. Your gift will help us continue to welcome new families in our community, support playgroups and social and support groups for families, present informative lectures, and build events that entertain and educate our youngest neighbors and their parents.  And for a gift of $50 or more, we will thank you with a discount card to Legacy Place.  Here is a list of sample discounts that will be available this coming year.
Thanks for all you do for Parent Talk and our community!  Enjoy your holidays!

Mary Celeste Brown
Mary Celeste Brown has raised three children in the Boston area, is the executive director of Parent Talk and can be reached at executivedirector@parenttalk.info.

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