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Hosting Happier Playdates

Lucky is the parent who has never sweated through a playdate that’s gone south. You know, when the kids suddenly don’t seem interested in being together, have no idea what to do, or just sit couch-adjacent absorbed in their individual screens. Learning how to host friends is a life skill that will not only help your children forge stronger connections, but also help them practice planning, organizing, and reading social cues.

Kidstir founder and CEO, Aparna Pande, has twin 9-year-old boys, which automatically makes her a playdate expert! Try her playdate game plan with your kids:

1. Do a little recon. Encourage your child to talk to her friend ahead of time about things they both like to do. (If you have a specific screen-time policy, be sure to share that with the other parent ahead of time so there’s no disappointment. Aparna prefers to keep them screen-free so kids have more opportunity to actually be together. )

2. Curate the ideas. Have your child take out three items or activities that she knows they both enjoy. Three is enough to have back-ups without overwhelming the kids with too many options. (Baking together can be excellent playdate activity for kids who like to be in the kitchen. Our apple cupcake recipe will give them a chance to decorate too!)

3. Welcome warmly! When the pal arrives, let your kid show her guest around and offer up her ideas. Remind her to let her guest choose first. Sometimes the excitement makes it easy to forget!

4. Try to be flexible. If an activity turns out to be not so fun, your child can say, “How about we play this for another five minutes and then switch?” It’s important to remember not to say things like, “I’m bored!” If you overhear something similar, you might take your child aside for a quick reminder: “As host, it’s our job to make sure our guests are happy and comfortable.”

5. Keep ‘em short and sweet. Two hours is a good place to start! There’s still enough time to something, but not so much that kids start to lose interest. Happy hosting! 

 

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Dealing With a Tattletale

Starting around preschool, you might notice that an official member of The Rule Police has suddenly joined your family. These tiny people have an uncanny knack for spotting—and reporting—every act of wrongdoing within a 100-yard radius. If something amiss happened, you know you’ll hear about it. With younger kids, tattling is actually really normal. Kids this age are extremely literal: They understand there are rules and those rules are not supposed to be broken. Period. That’s an important early life skill.

As kids get older though, their motivation for tattling may start to evolve. Yes, their sense of moral duty may be compelling them, but school-age kids may also be trying to one-up a sibling, get some attention, or test the boundaries. When you’re sure that the report in question doesn’t involve an actual serious issue, you can try some of these tips to redirect the unwanted behavior:

Ask him why he’s sharing this information with you. What does he hope will happen now that you know? This conversation can help him begin to understand his motivation. You can then ask him to think about how he would feel if his sibling told on him for the same thing. Just this little prompt can help kids understand how hurtful tattling can be and help them develop deeper empathy.

Avoid rewarding the tattler by punishing the “wrongdoer.” This will only reinforce the behavior you’re trying to stop. It also deprives the kids of the opportunity to learn how to work out their own problems. Instead, offer to help him figure out an alternative. Tattling isn’t going to solve the issue, but what else might? If it’s a case of not sharing a toy, for instance, you can suggest that he ask for another turn or just find something else to do for a little while. If it clearly seems like a bid for attention, you might say, “I’m happy to talk about anything else you’d like except what your brother is doing right now.”

Make him work for it. For your repeat offenders, you might ask them to draw a picture or write a paragraph about the situation for you to look at later. Chances are, he’ll move on pretty quickly!

These strategies reinforce something else: That you will always listen to what kids have to say. That’s crucial because you do want kids to know you’ll be there when the situation is in fact dangerous. Here’s a little cheat sheet to help them remember the difference between telling and tattling:

Tattling gets someone IN trouble. The problem is kid-sized.

Telling gets someone OUT of trouble and/or keeps them safe. Grown-up help is definitely required.

Need more help? Read Helping Siblings Get Along, which includes a printable Peace Pact for your kids to sign! 

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Family History Interview for Kids

There’s something so incredibly powerful about knowing your family’s story. Even more powerful, especially for kids, is hearing that family history directly from the people who lived it. Encourage your children to interview their older relatives and record their conversations. Not only will they get to practice basic life skills like communication, attention, and listening, but they’ll forge even deeper connections with their relatives. Over time, you’ll create a rich oral history that your entire family will value for years to come.

We’ve come up with 20 questions to get kids started, but they should feel free to veer off script! Ultimately, the goal is to have a true back-and-forth conversation. This is a great activity for a big family reunion, or on an everyday visit to Grandma’s house. Help your child keep track of the audio or video files with a simple naming convention that includes the name of the relative and the date.

Looking for more family history activities for kids? Have fun with our family tree craft or design your family’s coat of arms

Family History Interview Questions for Kids

  1. Where did you grow up?
  2. What was your house like?
  3. Who were your brothers and sisters?
  4. Which ones were you closest too?
  5. What do you remember about your grandparents?
  6. How did you celebrate the holidays?
  7. What did your parents do for a living?
  8. What was your favorite subject in school?
  9. When did you learn to drive?
  10. What were you like as a teenager? Did you follow all the rules…or get in trouble?!
  11. What did you want to be when you grew up?
  12. What did you do for fun with friends, siblings, and your family?
  13. How did you meet your spouse/partner?
  14. What drew you to him/her?
  15. What’s the most surprising advance in technology that you’ve seen?
  16. What was one of the hardest things you had to overcome?
  17. What was one of your best experiences?
  18. What, if anything, do you wish you could change about the past?
  19. What would you never change?
  20. What do you hope people remember about you?

Want a printable, fill-in-the blank version of the Qs? We’ve got you covered! 

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Kids Helping Kids: 5 Awesome Charities for Children

It may seem strange to think of empathy as a life skill for kids (and adults for that matter!), but that’s exactly what it is. And while it’s true that it may come more naturally to some, almost everyone can learn to better understand and respond to other people’s feelings and experiences. Encouraging your family to give back to others in need is an excellent way to get kids to flex their caring muscles.

Depending on the age of your kids and the cause they want to support, you may be able to volunteer together as a family. If that’s not possible, brainstorm ways your family can raise money to donate: Lemonade stand? Bake sale? Saving loose change or even a portion of allowance? Whatever works for your family—no amount is too small!

There are countless worthy charities that will put your dollars to good use, but we decided to focus our list on those that impact children—there’s something especially powerful about kids helping other kids. That said, if there’s another cause your child is passionate about, by all means, support it! (You can search for more reputable groups at charitynavigator.org.)

Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation  ALSF is dedicated to funding research dedicated to finding a cure for pediatric cancer. Sign up online to host a stand and get all the info you’ll need to make it a fundraising success.

Kaboom!  Every kid deserves a fun and safe place to play, and since 1996, Kaboom! has worked with partners to build and improve more than17,000 playgrounds serving over 8 million kids. They even work with cities to turn everyday spaces like sidewalks, bus stops, and vacant lots into awesome play spaces.

No Kid Hungry Did you know that 1 in 6 children in the United States live in “food insecure” homes? That means that they don’t regularly have enough food to eat. No Kid Hungry supports numerous federal nutrition programs for kids and families, especially the school breakfast food program, after-school meals program, and the summer meals program. A little really goes a long way: $10 provides meals for 100 kids.

Pajama Program Every night, thousands of kids go to bed in a strange place—maybe they’re in a shelter or staying with a foster family. The Pajama Program provides these kids with new PJs and bedtime books so they can go to sleep feeling loved and cared for. The group accepts donations of new jammies and books as well as direct financial support.

Pencils of Promise Hundreds of millions of kids around the world don’t have access to a quality education. For the last ten years, PoP has been trying to change that. The group has built 400 schools, trained teachers, mentored students, and partnered with local communities to create lasting change.

For more on volunteering with kids, read Kitchen Volunteering

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Teach Kids How to Plant Seeds

There’s something especially magical about planting a seed and seeing that first green shoot pop up out the soil. No wonder Jack couldn’t resist the promise of those beans! Planting seeds at home with your kids not only introduces important science concepts about germination and photosynthesis: The activity also gives your children an opportunity to practice important life skills, including responsibility and consistency. Even better, taking care of plants is something that kids of all can age can do! Let’s get started with this advice from kidsgardening.org:

What you’ll need:

  • Small containers about 2- to 3-inches deep (egg cartons, yogurt cups, plastic pots, etc)
  • Lightweight soil-less potting mix
  • Seeds (sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos, radishes, lettuces, and dill all grow quickly)
  • Spray bottle
  • Craft sticks
  • Plastic wrap

What to do:

  1. Make sure your containers are clean and dry. Poke a hole in the bottom for drainage (this is an adult job, obviously!).
  1. Moisten the potting mix. If you squeeze a clump and water comes out, add more mix. It should be damp but not soaked. Be sure to avoid using outdoor garden soil to start your seeds. The soil-less mix is sterilized (so there’s less chance of germs hurting the baby plants) and it provides good drainage.
  1. Fill up your containers, leaving about half an inch or so at the top. Gently tap the container to settle the mix; don’t compress it.
  1. Read the seed packet to determine how deep to plant them. For a small pot, kids can plant five seeds: one at the top, bottom, left, right and middle.
  1. Mist the top with a spray bottle (this will keep the seeds moist without drowning them). Write the name of the seed on the craft stick, place it in the soil, then lightly cover the top of the pot with plastic. This will help keep them from drying out and keep them warm.
  1. Place them in a warm, sunny spot, then let the magic happen! Encourage your child to check and mist the soil regularly so it doesn’t dry out.
  1. Remove the plastic once the seedlings emerge, and rotate the pot every couple of days so they don’t bend toward the light. To water now, place them in a tray and water them from the bottom. This will help the plant grow stronger roots.
  1. Once the seedlings have two or three leaves and have grown a few inches tall, transplant them to bigger containers.

For more planting fun, learn how to regrow plants from veggie scraps! Kids can also track their plant’s growth with our printable plant journal pages. 

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3 Games Kids Can Play With Cats and Dogs

This is one pet responsibility kids rarely shirk: playtime! Dogs and cats each need dedicated time every day (and usually more than once) to run, play, and generally exercise some of their natural habits like stalking prey (cats) or herding/retrieving (dogs). Put the kids in charge of the pet games, and they’ll not only have a blast—they’ll also build an even deeper bond to their little fur ball. Try these ideas: 

Bubbles That’s right, dogs and cats love bubbles as much as the kids do. They get to run, chase, jump and catch. So. Much. Fun. Just be sure to use a pet-safe formula—even though the ones for kids are non-toxic, they can upset pets’ tummies. There are several available, including bacon-flavored for dogs and catnip ones for cats. Just search “pet-safe bubbles” online or ask your local pet store.

Fetch Cats can learn to play fetch too! It may just take a little more training than it does with a dog. Toss a small cat-nip filled toy across the room and watch Princess capture it. Encourage her to bring it back to you, and be sure to offer a treat and lots of praise every time she does. You can do this with dogs too (they’re not all natural retrievers, after all). Use a toy they really like (it may take some experimenting), then always use that one for fetch.

Hide-and-Seek For cats, your kids can play a simplified version: Simply have them hide behind a desk, sofa, or chair. They may want to pop a head out quickly to get kitty’s attention. When they “disappear” again, Kitty’s interest will be piqued, she’ll come to find them. Remember to give her a treat!

For dogs, it helps to tag-team. Have one kid hold him in a sitting position. The first time, let him see where the other kid hides (behind the couch or wherever) and then have the child call out “find me.” Give lots of love and a treat when he does. Pretty soon, the kids will be able to hide in different rooms and the dog will have a blast smelling them out!

Ready to get your kids more involved in caring for the family pet? Download our free pet responsibility tracker.

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How Pets Teach Kids Responsibility

Getting kids involved with the daily care and feeding of family pets is a win-win-win: Your mini helpers get to practice valuable life skills like responsibility, commitment, compassion, and respect. Their furry (or feathered or scaly) sibling gets all the love and attention it deserves. And you get some much-appreciated help!

While it’s usually super-exciting to bring a pet home, it can definitely take some effort to get kids on board with the mundane but still-important tasks of keeping it happy and healthy. Playing fetch is way (like, way) more fun than scooping up poo! So whether you already have a pet or you’re just thinking about it, ask kids to think about how their animal (or animal-to-be) is just like them: It breathes. It eats. It gets hungry. It needs to go to the bathroom. It likes to play. When they can identify with their pet’s needs, it becomes a lot harder to argue about whose turn it is to fill the water dish.

Obviously, the age of your kids will impact how much of the actual work you still have to shoulder, but even littles under 5 can help with simple tasks like drying the cat’s dish or giving the fish a pinch of food. One key to drumming up enthusiasm—these are ultimately chores, after all—is to allow the children to choose which pet responsibilities they’d like to take on. That freedom fosters a sense of ownership over the tasks, which makes following through easier. We’ve got a list of basic responsibilities below for dogs, cats, fish, and pocket pets like hamsters, gerbils, and guinea pigs. Review them with your kids, add your own as necessary, and have them pick the ones they think they can do daily (or as needed). To help them keep track, download and print our pet responsibilities log. Post it on the fridge for easy access and reminding—and don’t forget to praise your peanuts for a job well-done!

DOGS

Feeding*

Filling water dish

Walking

Playing games

Picking up toys

• Brushing

• Scooping poop

*Kids under 10 shouldn’t feed dogs unsupervised—pups can get feisty around their food!

CATS

Feeding

Filling water dish

Scooping litter box

Playing games

Picking up toys

• Brushing

FISH

Feeding

Changing the water regularly

• Cleaning the tank

HAMSTERS, GERBILS, GUINEA PIGS

Feeding

Filling up water bottle

Cleaning the cage

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First-Aid Basics for Kids

When you’re used to being the one who soothes all the bumps and bruises, it can be difficult to imagine your child taking over the job. But the truth is, basic first aid is a life skill that all kids need to learn. Naturally, they should know to always (always!) get a grown-up if a sibling or friend gets hurt, and they should also know what they can do to help in the meantime. Included in this: Understanding when to call 911. (For more info on how to talk to kids about true medical emergencies, check out “Teaching Your Child How to Use 911” from kidshealth.org.)

We’ve outlined the basic first-aid steps for handling minor injuries below, including a list of what kids need to stock their very own first-aid kit. Review the steps with your child—who knows, you might just have a future doctor on your hands!

What to do about CUTS & SCRAPES
1. Apply gentle pressure to the wound with a clean cloth or tissue.
2. Wash under cool running water when the bleeding stops. If there’s visible dirt, add a little soap and rinse well. Gently pat dry.
3. Unwrap an adhesive bandage and squeeze antibiotic ointment on the pad.
4. Apply the bandage snugly.

What to do about BURNS
1. Cool it! Place the area under cool running water for 10 minutes or apply a cool, wet towel until the pain lessens. (Do not use ice.)
2. If you see a blister, leave it be. (Do not pop it.)
3. Cover it loosely with a bandage.

What to do about BUMPS & BRUISES
1. Wrap an ice pack in a towel, and apply it to the bump for 10 minutes. Use a ziptop bag with ice or even frozen peas!
2. If possible, have the person lie down and raise the injured area above their heart. (Rest it on a pillow.)
3. Reapply the cold pack for 10 minutes every hour or so for 24 hours.

What to Stock in a Kid’s First-Aid Kit
• A box with a lid (a large pencil case or even a shoe box works)
• A list of emergency phone numbers (download our printable label)
• Adhesive bandages in different sizes
• Nonstick gauze pads in two sizes
• Medical tape
• Antibiotic ointment
• Small scissors
• Hand sanitizer (just in case you don’t have quick access to soap and water)

Read “Kids Helping Kids” for more on raising kids who care. 

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Grow Plants from Veggie Scraps

Don’t throw those vegetable odds and ends into the compost bin just yet. They’re a kids’ science experiment waiting to happen! Follow the instructions below to get started with a few common veggies. No matter which you choose, be sure to rinse it well, change the water every few days, and then transfer it to a pot with soil once the roots grow.

Sweet Potato Cut a potato in half and submerge the bottom half in water. (You may want to insert toothpicks to suspend it over a glass.) Roots and leaves should appear in about two weeks.

Beets Cut about half an inch from the top, leaving the greens attached. Trim the greens so there’s just about a half inch of stem. Place the beet top in a shallow dish of water. Shoots should appear in a few days.

Celery Trim a bunch of celery a few inches up from the bottom. Place in a shallow dish of water. Roots and shoots should appear in about a week.

Green onions Cut the tops off leaving the white bulbs. Submerge them in water (just the bottom half), and you’ll have new sprouts in a few days. They’re fast!

Encourage the kids to track their plant’s growth with our printable plant journal pages. And when they’re ready for more, try growing plants from seeds

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Easy Tissue-Paper Flower Craft

When kids feel moved to help someone feel better, they’re not simply being good humans: They’re actually putting life skills like compassion, empathy, and caring into action. And the more opportunities they have to practice them, the more natural that helper instinct becomes. And notice that we said practice: These aren’t skills that you’re just born with. They have to develop. You may very well have to prompt kids every. single. time. to think about someone who might be sick or feeling a bit blue, and that’s absolutely ok. One day, they will reach out all on their own!

In the meantime, it helps to have a few easy ways for kids to brighten up someone’s day. If time is tight, simply download our color-in feel-better card, print it on card stock, and let the kids get busy decorating. Got a few more minutes? Whip up a simple tissue-paper flower—or an entire bouquet! Download step-by-step photo instructions or just follow along below.

You’ll need:
• Five pieces of tissue paper (we used 5 x 5-inch squares; vary the size for bigger or smaller flowers)
• 1 pipe cleaner for each flower

What to do:
1. Neatly stack the tissue. Starting at one edge, fold the layers up about half an inch.

2. Flip the stack over, and fold again, making sure to line up the folded edges.

3. Continue folding and flipping until you reach the end. It should look a bit like a folded fan.

4. Hold the folded layers together and pinch the middle. Tightly twist on the pipe cleaner. (It will look like a bowtie.) Snip off the corners.

5. Starting on one side, carefully separate the layers, pulling the top ones up and the bottom ones down. Fluff as you go!

6. Snip off a few inches from the bottom of the pipe cleaner, and twist it into a leaf shape. Attach to the stem.

Read “Kids Helping Kids” for more on raising kids who care.