Tuesday, January 22, 2013

January and February Birthdays

I have a son with a January birthday, so I know how challenging it is to create a memorable birthday party when it falls so close to the holiday season.  It's a bummer for kids when we combine holiday and birthday gifts unless they are teenagers. Then, they are usually fine with it because the price of the gifts seems to have grown exponentially (more than 2X).

So, for young children, what's a parent to do?  Themed parties are always alot of fun, and kids birthday parties built around a theme can be entertaining and set it apart from the crowd.  Here are five birthday party planning tips for young children:

Choosing a theme - Choose a theme that ties into your child's interests and that captures the interests of children at that age.  For young children, animal, train, tea party, and themes which engage kids seem to work well.  Design the cake, decorations and activities around your chosen theme.

Keep it structured, but not rigid - Young children often lack the maturity to bring their manners to others' homes or get overexcited with the fun of a party.  So, plan your party around structured activities, but don't be so rigid that you can't be flexible based on the kids' reactions to the activities.  If something isn't going well, abandon it and move on.  If something is going very well, allow a little more time and eliminate another activity from the planned list so the party stays fun and spontaneous.  It'll be more relaxing for you and you'll be less likely to have kids running wild throughout your house!

Substitute treats for sweets - Give kids something to remember by allowing them to create a craft to take home in their goody bag instead of sugary candy.  Support a healthy lifestyle and good behavior by foregoing all that sugar.  Crafts, toys and activities that enhance fine motor skills carry an extra benefit.

Watch for kids who struggle - A birthday party is not fun for a child who can't figure out how to fit in, who is uncomfortable with an activity, or doesn't have the developmental skills to participate at the same level as other kids.  Young children develop at very different rate, and there seem to be more kids with learning differences, so enlist relatives or friends to ensure the birthday party is successful for all kids.  Pay particular attention to children who may not be able to draw or cut well, who may need help interacting socially, are shy, or are bothered by loud noise.

Stay positive - Invariably, there will be kids who misbehave or need redirection to appropriate activities.  Be positive and help them re-engage positively with other kids at the party by facilitating the right behaviors and interactions.  Praise those using good manners and including others.

Inexpensive craft kits we like for birthday parties at JumpStart Toys, LLC:

    Create-A-Craft Race Car                                                                              Create-A-Craft Train

Paint By Numbers Butterfly                                                                 Decorate-Your-Own Flower Mirror

To view more creative arts or for educational toys, games and puppets, visit www.jumpstarttoys.com.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

10 Ideas to Keep Kids Busy That May Aid Development

"I'm bored!" wines that little voice, and you wonder how that is even possible so soon after the holidays.  But, it's the first week of January, and inevitably, it will happen.  What now?  Here are 10 ideas for keeping kids busy and entertained that also aid development:
  1. Shaving cream and washable toys - Introducing this novelty is likely to entertain your child for a good 1-2 hours.  Simply cut and spread a garbage bag across your kitchen table to make clean up easy.  Spray on some shaving cream, and you have "snow" for the plastic, washable animals or other washable toys for your child.  Encourage your child to imagine what the animals would do in the snow and to create a story with it.  While they are busy playing, little do they know you've just introduced a new sensory experience to their central nervous system that helps promotes their development!  For older children, try "insta-snow" to introduce them to concepts in chemistry.
  2. Big bowl of pinto beans - Find the biggest nonbreakable bowl or container that you own and fill it with dried pinto beans.  Allow your child to hide their toys and play in it.  The novelty will entertain your child, and most children love the feel of the dry pinto beans.  Don't have pinto beans or you've used pinto beans before?  Try dry rice to introduce another sensory experience that helps develop the nervous system.  A twist on this idea is to ask your child to cover their eyes while you hide a small toy in the bowl of pinto beans.  Then, ask your child to feel around the beans and find the toy!
  3. Pair a new and old toy together - Create a combination that your child hasn't thought of and help your child begin playing in a new way using their imagination.  A new combination is simple, and often works, especially for younger children.  Imagination skills aid development.
  4. Combine recyclable items with art supplies - Find clean recyclables - plastic water bottles, the cardboard soda cartons, paper towel holders, empty plastic jars - and rinse clean.  Combine these with typical art supplies such as glue, tape, markers, foil,  and construction paper and see what your child can create.  My son once created "tin man" out of these materials.  He was quite cute and we had "tin man" for years "guarding" the door to his room!
  5. Create a memory game - Choose a magazine and let your child pick the pictures to be cut out and then hide them under pieces of a wooden peg puzzle.  Have your child find the pictures under the puzzle pieces.  Peg puzzles work very well for this activity and provide good practice for the pincer grip, which is one factor in fine motor skill development.  If you don't want to spend time cutting out pictures, try this see-inside alphabet puzzle.
  6. Create a camp and picnic - One old blanket draped over a table and chair creates the tent and add picnic food for snacks.  Try to pick a low table to encourage your child to crawl.  Crawling is thought to be important for a whole host of developmental reasons, and this activity makes it fun and entertaining!
  7. Spoon-imagination - Give your child a big serving spoon and ask them to sing, dance or create a story using the spoon in a non-traditional way.  See how creative and imaginative your child can be while fostering language and imagination skills!
  8. Tabletop ping pong ball races - Put a piece of masking tape across one end of your kitchen table to mark the starting line.  Put another piece of masking tape across it about two-thirds of the way down the table.   Put the ping pong balls on the starting line and start blowing them to the finish line.  Who has the most hot air?
  9. Create an obstacle course - How fast and how well can your child navigate it?  Make the obstacle course from materials you likely already have at home:  masking tape in a straight line for a balance beam or use the grout between kitchen tiles, crawl through a tunnel, hop over something, run around a chair three times, etc.  Make the course different each time to help enhance motor planning and coordination skills.
  10. Combine technology with cuddly stuffed animals or puppets - Get your child's favorite cuddly animal and use the Internet to learn all about its habitat, life cycle, and more.  Kids are never too young to stimulate their interest in science and learning and they'll love your attention and interaction.  It's easy and cleanup is a breeze!

Note:  Ideas, recommendations and potential results are given based on a parent's experience and are not supported by specific training or licensed certifications.  If your child has specific medical or developmental issues, please consult a trained professional and embrace a consistent and tailored plan to address your child's needs.  These ideas are intended to entertain your child and potentially enhance development, but no guarantees of results are being explicitly or implicitly made.