What Children Need in the Second Week of School

Back-to-school is the biggest transition of the year, and it takes a few weeks to feel comfortable in this new routine. September takes a toll on our kids physically, mentally and emotionally. I’ve been guiding young children and their families into a new school year for 30 years now. I know a few tricks for easing into a fall routine. And I know that, heading into week two of school, your child will need these things:

THEY NEED TIME Your child is tired! They are taking in so much during the day— new rules, new schedules, the teaching style of a new teacher. It takes a lot of brainpower, and it’s exhausting! Think back to when you were training for a new job or learning how to drive. Those first few experiences are mentally draining. Support your child during back to school transition by allowing them a good chunk of unscheduled time.

If it’s possible, hold off on signing up for weekday extra curricular classes, (as well as after-school play dates) for two weeks. This will give your child a chance to get comfortable with their new surroundings before being expected to take on another set of rules and routines.

They may need down time from talking as well. I know you’re dying to hear about their day, but if they need a break to mentally take in the day, try to save the questions for later in the evening. It’s awesome if your schedule allows for your child to take off their shoes, plop on the couch and decompress when their school day is done.

THEY NEED CHOICE At school there’s a new routine and not a lot of choice. Your child is told when to have lunch, go outside, read, think mathematically or be creative. Allowing your child to call some of the shots when they get home (maybe what and when they have a snack, what they want to play…) allows them to get some control and choice back in their day (and maybe burn off some built-up frustration from not having much choice). This freedom to choose will allow your child to build up their self-regulation reserves so that when they get back to class tomorrow, they can be attentive.

THEY NEED FOOD Your child is taking in a new routine and this may temporarily throw off their appetite during school hours. If you are noticing that your child is extra moody, or short tempered after school, they may be really hungry. Support this transition time with some after school comfort food. But before you start easing up on what you pack for lunch, be warned that as soon as your child feels comfortable in class, they will start eating their regular amount again.

THEY NEED TISSUE BOXES! Give your kids the materials they need for the next day. There is nothing worse for a child than having to start a day telling their new teacher they don’t have what they’ve been asked to bring. So, whether it’s a family photo, a fall leaf or a box of tissues- send it with your child on the day it’s due. You are not only supporting them, you are setting up strong organizational skills and sending the message that school is important.

THEY NEED SLEEP It’s not easy getting used to a new routine of going to bed (and waking up!) early. Wind things down in your house a half hour before their new fall bedtime. (NO homework- this can re-fire their brain, set off nerves, and wreck their sleep) and have them go to bed at this earlier time, even if they aren’t sleeping right away.

THEY NEED A GOOD STORY Just before you shut the lights out, let them choose a story- a favorite, a funny one. Let your child read (or be read to) for pleasure and enjoyment. This is not the time for a must-sound-out literacy lesson, this is story time at it’s finest. You will establish a lifelong love of reading AND set your child up for a good night’s sleep if you establish an enjoyable story time just before bed.

 It takes time! Give these tips a try and give your family two weeks. Soon everyone will make it through school transition.

5 FUN Back-to-School Picture Books that Ease Anxiety and Foster Positive Feelings

There is no way around it- whether you have a little one starting school for the first time, or a child heading back to those first few grades, starting school is an anxiety inducer. But your positive attitude towards the situation (and some great picture books) can alleviate the stress and help pump up your child’s confidence and optimism about school.

 

  1. 618RPzbO2WL._SX389_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg Pete the Cat, Rocking in my School Shoes, by Eric Litwin and James Dean https://www.amazon.ca/Pete-Cat-Rocking-School-Shoes/dp/0061910244

This is a fun easy read that shows children there are lots of great spots in school, and it’s ‘all good’!

 

  1.  51q9Smmke-L._SX402_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgWemberly Worried, by Kevin Henkes https://www.amazon.ca/Wemberly-Worried-Kevin Henkes/dp/0061857769/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1472559642&sr=1-1&keywords=Wemberly+Worried

You think you’re worried about school- well Wemberly worries about everything! How will she handle her first day? This is one of my absolute favorites! It provides support, understanding, encouragement and inspiration.

 

  1. willow_s_whispers.jpg Willow’s Whispers, by Lana Button and Tania Howells https://www.amazon.ca/Willows-Whispers-Lana-Button/dp/1554537444/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1472560178&sr=1-1&keywords=Willow%27s+Whispers

When Willow is at school her words come out as soft and shy as a secret. But not for long! Willow will inspire young ones to use their own big strong voice in school. This story also builds inclusiveness and empathy for every voice in the class.

 

4. My Picture Books My Teacher’s Not Here! by Lana Button and Christine Battuz https://www.amazon.com/Teachers-Not-Here-Lana-Button/dp/1771383569

Kitty proves to herself that she can not only get through an unexpected day at school, she can even have fun!!

 

  1. 51n2oEIWNQL._SX495_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers https://www.amazon.ca/Day-Crayons-Quit-Drew-Daywalt/dp/0399255370/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1472560981&sr=1-1&keywords=the+day+the+crayons+quit

…because, hey, when you’re anxious, you need a good laugh! And I love the message that we have the freedom to think outside the box and create new and exciting things— that’s the fresh start opportunity waiting for your child at school— like a brand new box of crayons!

 

Lend an understanding ear to your child when they tell you about their back-to-school anxieties. Let them know that these are common, understandable emotions that will go away in time. And fess up to your child that many of us are feeling the same way during this annual stress-filled transition. But while you remain supportive, concentrate your words, your body language and your attitude on the positive exciting aspects and opportunities of school. Hang on! In a few weeks, we will all be in the swing of things!

Parenting Do’s and Don’t s for Successful Preschool Drop-Off

boy in brown hoodie carrying red backpack while walking on dirt road near tall trees

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

You have got this parenting thing figured out, right? I mean, so far you’ve survived a nine-month pregnancy, 20 hours of labor, years on no sleep and toddler tantrums. So…saying goodbye to your child at preschool? You can handle it.
You’ve done all you can to prepare your child for the big day. Every item is ticked off your back-to-school list. But what about you? Have you spent any time preparing yourself? Have you thought about how you’re going to feel when your job, as a parent, is to walk away for the first time?
As a preschool teacher, I witnessed more than 18 years of dramatic farewell scenes: shell-shocked parents unable to give their upset preschooler a confident send-off because they are suddenly emotional themselves. Letting go is a powerful thing. So prepare yourself.
Beware little ears. Don’t confess your preschool jitters to your friend when your child is right beside you. Keep preschool discussions positive, light and simple.

Have a Plan. And let him in on it. Mommy’s taking you to school. You’ll have lots of fun. I’ll be back when school is over.

Know the rules. You probably received a policy manual at registration. Read it. It outlines the program, routine and policies. You’ll know if she needs indoor shoes, or a labeled cup for snack. You will make her transition easier if she has everything she needs. Don’t promise she can carry Mr. Blanky around, and then find out it’s against the rules.

Prepare for the Kiss-and Fly. The big day! You both march confidently into school. The teacher greets you at the door. Then it hits you like a bag of hammers: This is my baby’s classroom. And I’m not invited. It’s like arriving too soon at the departure gate with security telling you to move along. You consider hanging around for a minute. Don’t! Your job is to send the message to your child that school is a safe, fun place. By standing there looking doubtful, you set his radar off: There’s something to be scared of.

And the Oscar goes to… Here’s where your high school acting career comes in handy. Breathe. Smile. And say in a calm, confident tone, Have lots of fun. I love you. I’ll be back when school is over.

Beware the Velcro trap. One kiss. One hug. Then walk. Do not get snagged in a Velcro grip as your daughter decides she’d rather go home and watch Shimmer and Shine. Stay calm. Her teacher will take her (not unlike removing a kitten from a wooly sweater) and comfort her. Keep walking. I mean it. Mentally block out the crying with the well-practiced mantra, She’s in a safe place.

Do not play Let’s Make a Deal. This is no time to bargain, so don’t promise an LOL Doll if she stops crying. And don’t cancel Christmas if she doesn’t. Remember, by lingering you make it worse, sending the message: I cry, Mommy stays; I cry harder, Mommy stays longer, And She’s staying, so there must be something to cry about!

Watch those claws. They expect you to leave your hysterical baby while some other adult comforts her?? Back off Mama Bear, and trust the teacher. Believe me; we are very good at hugging, reassuring and distracting. The faster your child realizes her teacher is caring and trustworthy the faster she’ll adjust to her new preschool. I promise she will always love you best.

Hold the waterworks. Unless you bring your own mom, no one’s comforting you. Sorry. You can drop the tough act in the parking lot; there’ll probably be a whole group of you. Go have coffee and pass the tissues. Chances are that before the foam cools on your latte; your son will have stopped crying and started tackling his first puzzle.

Don’t count on clinginess. Your daughter might be the one who bounds into school without a backwards glance, let alone a kiss goodbye. Guess what? This may break you heart. Remind yourself that an easy transition is a blessing.

Keep your end of the bargain. When school is dismissed, be there to greet your little scholar– not stuck in a Starbucks line up. It’s crucial. Minutes can feel like an eternity to an anxious child-especially when he sees all the other mommies and daddies collecting their charges.

Give it time. Your child may reenact the dramatic farewell scene for a while; three to five weeks of regular attendance is a typical adjustment period. Your job is to get them there, on time, regularly. The faster the routine is set, the faster they will adjust.

Your rookie preschooler is entering a new stage of development. And like most stages, it often starts out rocky. Need a reminder? Just reconnect with a new parent with that, I’m so tired I’m throw-up sick look, or one who’s desperate for a toddler to give up the bottle. Trust me, in a few weeks your child’s preschool class will be a room full of happy adjusted children. And your child will be one of them.

images-2For Picture Book support look at the Llama Llama series by Anna Dewdney. They are wonderful for establishing comfort, confidence and security. My favorite is Llama Llama Red Pajama https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/llama-llama-red-pajama/9780670059836-item.html

 

 

Surviving Surprisingly Messy Milestones

Your kid’s teeth track your parenting journey.  Dental milestones mark your child’s growth and life experiences, from infancy to adulthood. As a parent we get to feel the gamut of emotions while experiencing childhood once again, from the passenger seat. Some milestone markers feel pretty awesome. Nothing’s better than sharing our child’s  excitement and delight when they proudly reach a milestone. But some are painful. And when your kid hurts, you hurt.

So I’m doing a little internal mom dance because—I’ve ticked off my final tooth milestone as a parent! Not that I’m keeping score; but I’ve gone three times round the cutting teeth track, three trips down the loose tooth-lost tooth- tooth fairy trail, 3 bouts of braces, and now my third and final time nursing a teetering-on-adult child through wisdom teeth removal.

 

It’s been a journey- times three. So many awesome moments! The thrill of seeing those first teeth poke through! The anticipation of having those same teeth fall out, or having those braces finally off. (And, let’s be honest, that final ortho payment!!)

A NEW TRIP EVERY TIME But as a mom of three I experienced, over and over again, that just because I’d been through a milestone with one child, didn’t mean I was any more prepared to do it again next time around. Our kids are very different, so each of my daughters’ teeth experiences were unique. Where one breezed through cutting molars, another spiked crazy fevers and developed a rash. One child attacked any baby tooth that threatened to be wiggly with obsessive intention. While another one battled tooth-losing anxiety; leaving teeth dangling from her gums like Chiclets.

SURVIVING THE MESSY ONES But milestones should be celebrated… right? Let’s be honest, some are surprisingly messy. Uncomfortable. Painful. As an Early Childhood Educator I came into parenting armed with a list of how-to’s for successfully steering a child through growth and development. As a mother, I experienced, over and over again, that my daughters obviously were not consulted with this list. I had to accept that, sometimes, in order to make it to the other side, you have to think on your feet, throw away that list, and even break a few of your Well, I would never do that rules. Because when you and your child are stuck in the middle of a messy milestone, just like in THE BEAR HUNT, you can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, you can’t go around it- you gotta go through it! And the right way to survive a messy milestone- is whatever way you can!

So what do you do, when a milestone isn’t going according to plan?

ACCEPT SUPPORT I mean real, non-judgy support, from friends or family who might not have the answers but do have some time to listen and maybe even an extra hand to help you out. Let your friend come by to give you a hand. Take your mother-in-law up on the offer to help. You need to be at your best when going through a difficult milestone. Because, just like in an emergency flight, you have to put the oxygen on yourself first, before you help someone else. And when things calm down (and they will!) it can be your turn to help your friend pick up the pieces.

FIND ADVICE THAT WORKS FOR YOU Look for advice, from books, from parenting sites, from friends. But you have to sift through this advice to find the tips that work for you. You already know how sleeping through the night or toileting is supposed to go. You need help getting through your child’s unique experience. And although no one has been through the exact thing, a tip here or there that you can tweak a bit can be the perfect fit for you.

My Top Tooth Tips that I found most helpful are:

TEETHINGIMG-2796(2) Wet a baby facecloth and stick it in the freezer. It’s a great teether!

 

 

 

 

IMG-2797 WIGGLY TEETH– For those wanting relief or a little help getting that tooth out, fold a piece of paper towel and wet it. Biting on this is soothing for those who hate that ‘wiggling feeling’, and it can be just the trick to having that tooth finally let go.

 

 

braces colourful equipment healthcare

Photo by mali maeder on Pexels.com

BRACES: Have their favorite soft foods ready, for up to three days after each tightening. And when they first go on, be prepared for some insecurity. It’s a tough age, and adding braces can make your pre-teen/teen even more self-conscious. (I always found that a little retail therapy was much appreciated at this stage!)

 

 

 

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WISDOM TEETH: Plan it well! They are going to need 2 weeks before they recover. This can be challenging when dealing with graduations, summer jobs or starting school. I made the huge mistake of not planning enough time for healing and sent my daughter off to collage with an ice pack and pain medication.

 

 

 

DANCE IN THE RAIN Vivian Green said, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” Parenting is a journey of maneuvering our children from one milestone to another. We have to steal some joy in the bad times, along with enjoying the good times. I’ve endured some pretty scary nights, with a child who is sick and suffering. Yes, I am upset that my daughter feels so sick, but in this moment I am so grateful she is snuggling into me. I’ve been surprised at myself, even felt guilty at times, that during a crisis I’ve laughed- at the most absurd thing. Give yourself permission to find a moment of joy in a bad situation. It can honestly clear the air, ease the tension, and give you the extra breath you need to keep going.

And while I’m at it, eat, and sleep. Don’t be a parenting martyr and ignore self-care because you are temporarily stuck in a tough milestone with your child. Taking time for self-care not only gives you the strength you need to parent during trying times, it also models for your child that self care is an imperative part of maintaining strong mental and physical health.

FIND SUPPORT IN LITERACY for you and your child. Nothing relieves a mind more than hearing that other people have survived a similar situation (or one much worse). You not only gain advice from literary support, you also feel the reassurance that you are not alone in your struggle.

Pick your milestone and you will find books to help you and your child.

My new favorite book on the losing-teeth topic is:

1771386150 WADE’S WIGGLY ANTLERS written by Louise Bradford and awesomely illustrated by MY TEACHER’S NOT HERE!’s Christine Battuz (Kids Can Press) https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/home/search/?keywords=Wade%27s%20Wiggly%20Antlers#internal=1

It’s about a young moose named Wade who notices that his antlers are loose!

 

readlearnrepeat.blog recently listed some great books “All About Teeth” I really like the non fiction:

0823422062 THE TOOTH BOOK: A GUIDE TO HEALTHY TEETH AND GUMS by Edward Miller (Holiday House)  https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/the-tooth-book-a-guide/9780823422067-item.html?ikwid=the+tooth+book&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=4

 

5 Essential ‘Starting School’ Skills for Kindergarten Success

Hey Parents— If you’re spending the last few weeks of summer coaching your child on counting and reciting the alphabet, take a breather. Your time will be better spent teaching these 5 key non-academic skills.

What kind of skills?

“Those that foster independence are the most important skills to have when entering kindergarten,” says Linda Savel, veteran kindergarten teacher at St. John School in Burlington, Ont. As a registered Early Childhood Educator, I’ve also done time behind the kindergarten curtain and have witnessed the struggles, the frustration (and the downright shock) of rookie kindergartners adjusting to life at school.

Today’s kindergarten curriculum is stuffed with exciting academics, and classrooms are packed with very young students. Children with strong self-help skills are able to focus on these academics and start off on the right foot.

We’re accustomed to taking care of our kids and go on autopilot wiping noses and zipping jackets, but many of us don’t realize how much we ‘over-do’. (And let’s be honest; it’s a lot faster and more efficient when we do it for them!) But you want to set your child up for kindergarten success. So consider how your child will handle self-help tasks when you’re not in the room.

Skill #1: Getting dressed

black shoelace placed on gray floor

Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

Your child’s first school challenge will be met in the cubby area every morning, every afternoon and as many as three recesses. They’ll deal with shoes, boots, coats (and before you know it – snow pants, mitts and hats). I’ve seen many a meltdown as children wrestle with buckles and zippers, or watched as they stand staring at their jacket or shoes, ready for someone to do it for them. And after spending the summer in shorts and sandals they may need a refresher course! Let your child practice dressing independently without being pressured. The more they do on their own at home, the more confidence they will have to do it at school.
Out the door. Foster your child’s independence by giving them some say in picking their clothes. But do a test-run before school— because not all zippers are created equal. Your child can be the coatroom champ and the first one in line if his jacket has a quality zipper with an easy-to grasp tab.

Easy feet. You may be tempted to purchase those cute lace-up sneakers, but if your child can’t tie them tightly or properly, save them for the weekend. Go for slip-ons with a good rubber sole. Otherwise, your child will spend a good chunk of the day doing the lace dragging shuffle, or be one of 20 kids waiting for the teacher to tie them – again!

Skill #2: Bathroom success

white toilet paper

Photo by hermaion on Pexels.com

I know—your child has been ‘trained’ for years: which is exactly why many parents don’t consider the bathroom an issue. But believe me, the kindergarten washroom can be a challenge.

I’ve got to go! Many children have relied on a parent or caregiver to tell them when to visit the washroom. Give your child ownership in this department so he can start thinking for himself.

Hold on a minute. In a class full of children, kids will sometimes have to wait their turn to go to the washroom. Teach kids to not wait until the last minute before deciding to make a dash for it.

Clothes call. I realize those tights match perfectly with the headband, and those jeans are super cute, but can your kids undo that button or get the tights down quickly on their own, especially if they really have to go? Send kids to school wearing elastic waist bottoms – especially in September.

Clean sweep. Teach your kids to wipe efficiently. Some parents still assist with occasional bathroom visits. But children are on their own in kindergarten. Give them plenty of practice with solo wiping and hand washing.

Skill #3: Eating- without help

analogue classic clock clock face

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Lunch (or nutrition breaks as some schools call it) is like a game of beat the clock. In 25 minutes or less can you wash your hands, get your lunch, open everything, eat, and tidy up? It’s hard enough to eat without spending too much time chatting. Imagine if you can’t open a zipper or unscrew a Thermos lid.

Opening act. Can your child open every buckle, clasp, zipper and snap on all those fancy pouches and containers within the time limit? Practise at home.

Bums in seats. Make lunch at home a ‘sit down affair’ where nibbling and roaming isn’t permitted. Your child won’t be allowed to wander around during lunch at school.

Cutlery 101. Can your child use utensils, including gauging how much to put into their mouth at one time? Give lots of opportunities to practise this skill. No more ‘helping’ in this department.

Contain yourself. Test-drive the new Thermos. It’s great to send him to school with last night’s spaghetti. But digging pasta out of that container can be tricky! If you plan on sending a container full of soup make sure he can manage broth and a spoon without giving himself a bath!

Drinking challenge. Opening juice boxes and milk cartons can be tricky. Every time your child pries open her own milk container or spears her own juice box she gains a sense of pride and independence.

Napkin know-how. Go for lunch and have your child do everything, from ordering the meal to putting the trash in the garbage. And if she gets ketchup on her face, don’t wipe it off! Start a conversation about wiping your mouth while eating. And model it yourself.

Tip: Play the ‘school lunch’ game. Pack lunches for your child and a friend (to add a social challenge). Set the timer for 25 minutes and see how they manage. Sit on your hands for this game so they really do everything themselves.

 

Skill #4: Being responsible for belongings

boy in brown hoodie carrying red backpack while walking on dirt road near tall trees

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

From bringing home forms to bringing back library books, to remembering backpacks from the bus, your child will suddenly have lots of things to monitor and remember. This takes practice on their part, and lots of patience and guidance on your part.

Cubby control. Children will have a bin or a hook where they are expected to keep their things at school. Managing this new space can be daunting for someone who’s always had someone do it for them. So back off at home and let kids pick up after themselves. Let them bring their own things in from the car, hang up their coat, put their shoes away. Give them a designated spot for their backpack so they can start great organizational habits.

Backpack management. Every day your child’s backpack needs to be checked for letters from the teacher, forms, library books and lunch bags. Establish a time and a space where you can go over this together. Keeping this organized needs to be a group effort. You want your child to be independent- but he needs you to fill out the forms and sign that agenda. But don’t add this to the list of things you do after he’s in bed. Do it with him. Go over the notes with him, while you fill it out. It’s an excellent opportunity to jog his memory about his day and can lead to a great conversation. Consistently keeping his backpack organized and ready to go for the next day not only helps your child establish organizational skills, it shows him that you value his education.

Skill #5: Following directions

boy wearing blue crew neck t shirt sitting on cardboard box

Photo by Sunbae Legacy on Pexels.com

Kindergarten expectations incorporate lots of self-regulation; children learn to put the breaks on impulses, wait their turn, and follow directions.

Step by step. Listening and following directions gets better with practice. Start with simple tasks at home, such as, “Please put your shoes away.” Then add more steps: “Please put your shoes in the closet, hang up your coat and put your hat on the shelf.”

Wait your turn. The kindergartener spends chunks of his day waiting; waiting for everyone to join the group, waiting in line for their turn, waiting for the teacher to give direction. It’s good practice for your child to experience waiting patiently for something at home, instead of having immediate gratification. They might wait for you to get off the phone before having dessert, or wait for you to finish the dishes before you play a game.

Picture Books to Support

big or little BIG OR LITTLE by Kathy Stinson and Jennifer A. Bell https://www.amazon.com/Big-Little-Kathy-Stinson/dp/1554511682 A great read aloud to celebrate your child’s new accomplishments as a ‘big kid’ while reminding everyone that in lots of ways, they are ‘still little’.

I love Jamie Lee Curtis picture books! https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/search/?keywords=jamie+lee+curtis These two are awesome books for celebrating the trials and tribulations of being a kindergartner:

Hard to be 5 IT’S HARD TO BE FIVE: LEARNING HOW TO WORK MY CONTROL PANEL by Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell

 

I'm Gonna Like Me I’M GONNA LIKE ME: LETTING OFF A LITTLE SELF-ESTEEM by Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell

This is my new picture book, which encourages self-reliance and self-confidence when your school day takes an unexpected turn: https://www.amazon.com/Teachers-Not-Here-Lana-Button/dp/1771383569

My Picture Books

Kitty proves to herself she can get through an unexpected day at school.

 

 

Un-Planning Perfect Summer Memories for Your Kids

So it’s the second week of summer and you might be feeling summer planning stress. As much as I tried to enjoy schedule free days when my three girls were young, in summer I often turned me into my own version of cruise director Julie from The Love Boat. For the under 40 crowd, Julie carried around a clip board in this 70’s TV show, with an endless list of perfect vacation activities. I tackled many summer days stressed to make this the best summer for my kids, and piled up the mom guilt if there wasn’t a fun activity, an organized day trip, or a magazine worthy summer snack (because hello, this was pre-Pinterest days- thank God!)  As a seasoned early childhood educator and Mom of three girls who all survived summer breaks through post secondary education, I’m here to tell you to enjoy your young child’s school free days— Because the secret to perfecting super summer memories is all in the un-planning.

Looking back, my girls say that some of their favorite summer memories involved a handful of water balloons that turned into days of entertainment. (I’m not joking- days! They wouldn’t throw them- they kept them, named them, created little water balloon habitats for them out of tissues and shoe boxes, and wept for them when they broke.) My girls spent hours playing store, or performing in home made shows. Some of their best summer experiences were those unplanned afternoons where adventure was created with the spark of their own imaginations. So here are 3 easy steps for un-planning perfect summer memories for your kids:

Time! Your kids need time. I’m talking unstructured, unplanned, uninterrupted time- with no screens within scrolling distance. Not every day. And I’m certainly not telling you to cancel your vacation. But now and then, strike a few things off that list of awesome summer activities and let your kids figure out what their day looks like. If your kid’s typical summer day is buckling in and out of car seats to get from swim dates to bowling to junior tai chi in the park then they won’t get the chance to stretch their imaginations and find out what adventure lies just past, “I’m bored.”

You’ve got to steel yourself. It’s kind of like those parents who sleep train. You know the beginning will be tough, but it will be worth it in the end. And, just like sleep training, you’ve got to trust the process. When the whining and lamenting starts about how very awful this incredibly boring day is, just shoo them back to wherever they came from- the backyard, the playroom, or wherever they are congregating -and tell them to ‘go play’. It’s common, during this transitional phase, to hear lots of groaning and moaning, but trust me! The magic starts right after the last, “There’s nothing to do!”

Warning: If kids aren’t used to stretching their imaginations, it might take a while. But every child has a magic sense of play inside them, and when you give a child time and space, they will find a spark. Not only that, but creativity and imagination, like many things, grow when you feed it. The more practice your kids get at using their imaginations and coming up with their own fun, the better and faster they will get at it. At some point the whining will stop and there will be an eery quiet…Your parent instinct kicks in… ‘What are they doing??’ You’ll head into the room to see spaces being created, characters divvied out, props being gathered. It might look strange at first. What exactly are they doing? You see the spark of imagination ignited in their eyes. That, mom and dad, is playing.

Support the Spark. Nothing supports a spark more than adding a few simple props. If the game involves a store, hand them a few pens. If they are creating a circus, give them an empty box or two. Clothespins, bed sheets, a deck of cards- simple props added to a spark of imagination are like dry kindling to a campfire.

Warning: Don’t butt in! Nothing squashes a spark faster than a well-intentioned adult who takes over the game. “You should add the clips here so the tent is more stable,” will have your kids abandoning the game and reaching for their iPads faster than you can say Fortnite. As a seasoned ECE who’s stepped in too far and squashed a spark on more than one occasion, I’m here to tell you that there’s an art to this. Position a few enticing props in their range, (like placing food within reach of an un-trusting stray) make a broad statement like, “Hey, maybe you’d like to use these,” then leave them bee. You can spy on them from the next room. Believe me, you’re gonna feel your kid’s excitement when you hear them exclaim, “Hey cool! Let’s use these for….” And they are off!

Ignore the Mess. The good part, when my kids played store, was that they created an intricate dramatic play game playing with each other for hours. And I am here to tell you, as I place my Early Childhood Educator cap on, that this type of play is essential for your child’s growth and development, and will make them a better student come September. Children develop problem-solving skills, increase their communication skills, learn to appreciate and deal with multiple perspectives, all while building their confidence as an innovator, and increasing their imagination and creativity. Tell me those things won’t come in handy when put in groups at school, told to work together, come up with an innovative idea for their project…etc.

Okay, so the bad news about this type of high-level dramatic play is that it can trash at least one of the rooms in your house. Not permanently! Just in the- ‘this room looks like it sneezed’ kind of trashed. Teeny tiny ‘price tag’ paper would be everywhere. Every toy and stuffed animal was out of it’s ‘tidied up’ spot and displayed. The mess would make me crazy! But those hours of play were worth it. And honestly, my girls are 19, 21 and 24 years old. There is no better feeling as a mom who no longer tidies up toys, than listening her girls reminisce, “Hey, remember when we played store! That was the best!”

So un-plan a few days, and let your kids create some great summer memories.

Some of my favorite stories about that magical sense of play are:

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The Wonderful Pigs of Jillian Jiggs by Phoebe Gillman

https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/home/search/?keywords=The%20Wonderful%20Pigs%20of%20Jillian%20Jiggs#internal=1

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My Think-a-Ma-Jink by Dave Whammond

https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/home/search/?keywords=My%20Think-aMa-Jink#internal=1

 

0340988193 Stanley’s Stick by John Hegley

https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/stanleys-stick/9780340988190-item.html

 

 

Top 5 Back-to-School Picture Books that Ease Anxiety and Promote a Positive Attitude

 

There is no way around it- whether you have a little one starting school for the first time, or a child heading back to those first few grades, starting school is an anxiety inducer. But your positive attitude towards the situation (and some great picture books) can alleviate the stress and help pump up your child’s confidence and optimism about school.

 

  1. 618RPzbO2WL._SX389_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg Pete the Cat, Rocking in my School Shoes, by Eric Litwin and James Dean https://www.amazon.ca/Pete-Cat-Rocking-School-Shoes/dp/0061910244

This is a fun easy read that shows children there are lots of great spots in school, and it’s ‘all good’!

 

  1.  51q9Smmke-L._SX402_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgWemberly Worried, by Kevin Henkes https://www.amazon.ca/Wemberly-Worried-Kevin Henkes/dp/0061857769/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1472559642&sr=1-1&keywords=Wemberly+Worried

You think you’re worried about school- well Wemberly worries about everything! How will she handle her first day? This is one of my absolute favorites! It provides support, understanding, encouragement and inspiration.

 

  1. willow_s_whispers.jpg Willow’s Whispers, by Lana Button and Tania Howells https://www.amazon.ca/Willows-Whispers-Lana-Button/dp/1554537444/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1472560178&sr=1-1&keywords=Willow%27s+Whispers

When Willow is at school her words come out as soft and shy as a secret. But not for long! Willow will inspire young ones to use their own big strong voice in school. This story also builds inclusiveness and empathy for every voice in the class.

 

  1. 61f83lXiPDL._SX439_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg Franklin Goes to School by Paulette Bourgeois and Brenda Clark https://www.amazon.ca/Franklin-Goes-School-Paulette-Bourgeois/dp/1771380101/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1472560561&sr=1-1&keywords=franklin+goes+to+school

So many emotions swirling around that first day! Even the children who can’t wait to start might find themselves anxious when it’s time to actually head off. This story allows lots of dialogue regarding the realm of emotions we go through when starting school, and illustrates once more, that we are heading off to a great spot filled with lots of new experiences and adventures.

 

  1. 51n2oEIWNQL._SX495_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers https://www.amazon.ca/Day-Crayons-Quit-Drew-Daywalt/dp/0399255370/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1472560981&sr=1-1&keywords=the+day+the+crayons+quit

…because, hey, when you’re anxious, you need a good laugh! And I love the message that we have the freedom to think outside the box and create new and exciting things— that’s the fresh start opportunity waiting for your child at school— like a brand new box of crayons!

 

So listen to your child when they tell you about their back-to-school anxieties. Don’t dismiss those feelings. Acknowledge that these are very understandable emotions that will go away in time. And fess up to your child that many of us are feeling the same way during this annual stress-filled transition. But while you remain supportive, concentrate your words, your body language and your attitude on the positive exciting aspects and opportunities of school. Hang on! In a few weeks, we will all be in the swing of things!