Tips for How to Turn Off the Television (Without a Fight)

tvOne of the transitions my kids like the least when we move from summer mode to school mode is the return of strict limits on screen time.  We are barely one week in, and already our heads are spinning from the number of things on the calendar.  With all of the sports, extra curriculars and playdates, there just isn’t time for television during the week, so our house rule is no television until after school Friday.   We usually have a movie night on Friday, and weekend mornings are fair game for whatever screen time the kids want (if the hockey schedule allows!) and it’s back to no screen time on Sunday nights.

Even with these limits, and even with a whole morning of available screen time on weekends, we still have a hard time when it comes to turning off the tube.  The kids resist unplugging, and there’s inevitably a squabble once the television stops entertaining them.

So at CBC Kids’ Days, when I met with Dr. Lynn Oldershaw of CBC Kids, I knew exactly what I wanted to ask her:

1. How can television teach kids how to regulate their emotions when the t.v. goes off?

2. How can we turn off the television without the meltdown that almost inevitably ensues?

Oldershaw pointed out that as part of their teaching of emotional intelligence, CBC Kids shows teach kids how to name their emotions, regulate their emotions and then problem solve to cope with their emotions.  Shows like The Adventures of Napkin Man and Poco teach strategies for how to manage anger or sadness, for example.  I’ve taken to getting Youngest to name the sense of aimlessness he feels when he unplugs.  At least if he’s able to recognize the pattern of feeling at a loss when the tv goes off, he can begin to find ways to overcome it.

Her advice for how to turn off the screens without a meltdown is to make empowerment the key.  Give your children choices.  The more control they feel they have, the less they will resist the limits you impose.  Have a family discussion about what is a reasonable amount of screen time and when it can happen.  Present them with choices before and after screen time:

“Do you want to watch television or play on the Wii?  It’s your choice how to spend your screen time.”

“Do you want to put in a movie or watch a television show?”

“Do you want to have lunch or go to the park?  It’s your choice what to do next.”

What do you do to help your kids unplug?  Is it a difficult transition? 

 

 

Elderflower Everything

stgermainliquuerI am obsessed with Elderflower.  Obsessed.  I discovered it a few years ago in a pop I found at Winners.  Do you know, I sometimes go to Winners just to shop in the crazy impulse buy aisles they have you weaving through miles of just to get to the cash register.  Seriously.  Just for that.  I find the best stuff in those aisles!  It’s where I found this elderflower pop.  It’s where my elderflower adventure began!

From a rare find at Winners to England, where elderflower pop is readily available at Tesco, and a habit was formed.  I drank a lot of it in England and brought home a bottle of elderflower cordial in my suitcase.

From elderflower softdrinks, I moved on to a discovery of elderflower liqueur.  St. Germain is available at the LCBO, and mixed with a splash of soda, it’s a little taste of heaven.

Also available at the LCBO is Rekorderlig elderflower and pear cider.  Serve very well chilled.  See above re: heaven.

Finally, a friend, aware of my passion, brought me a bottle of elderflower cordial from Ikea.

If you are feeling ambitious, you can make your own!  Recipe here from the Tree Council.

So, I’ve got several ways to find it, and now I’m working on ways to mix it.

Elderflower Bellini

A really indulgent cocktail that’s perfect for summer, is a simple mix of Prosecco and St. Germain.  Pour half an ounce of St. Germain into a champagne flute, fill with chilled Prosecco and feel the bliss.

REKORDERLIG-ELDERFLOWERElderflower Elvis

I made this cocktail for my Mad Mums’ Martini afternoon.  It was incredible.  At the time, I left out the beer from the original Bon Appetit recipe because I’m not a big fan of beer cocktails.  I’m thinking, though, that the Rekorderlig cider would be a delicious substitute for the beer and would amplify the elderflower flavour.

I also adapted the recipe by substituting vodka for gin and soaking segmented grapefruit in the vodka for a few hours.  I then used this flavour-infused vodka to make the cocktails and used the grapefruit for garnish.  Delish!

Virgin Elvis

Just add Elderflower cordial to pink grapefruit juice and add a splash of soda water.  Yum!

Please tell me about any other elderflower drinks you may know about!!

 

CBC Kids’ Programming: Combining Learning and Fun

photo (8)File this under things I never thought I’d say: if I had it all to do again, I would let my preschoolers watch more television.  At least, that’s how I feel after meeting some of the great minds behind CBC children’s programming.

I love meeting people who are infectiously enthusiastic about their jobs, and that was very much the case at CBC Kids’ Days when I met Kim Wilson, creative head of CBC children’s programming, and Dr. Lynn Oldershaw, child psychologist and children’s’ programming consultant for Kids’ CBC.  They were introducing three new shows coming to CBC Kids– Chirp, The Moblees, and You & Me–and they invited 4Mothers along to their Very Important Picnic, where parents and kids could mix and mingle and meet some of the people in front of and behind the camera.

(Confession: I have a crush on Mamma Yamma and I got to meet her!  In the potato flesh!)

photo (7)

Almost as exciting as that celebrity spotting, I learned a lot about their whole child approach to children’s programming and how their shows fill their mandate to educate and empower children.

“We are not just making content, we are making a difference.”

Kim Wilson

Both Kim and Lynn emphasized how television can make a positive difference to preschool-aged viewers, and, I confess, I was a bit skeptical at first.  As a rule, I place tight limits on screen time because I’d prefer my kids to be active, but as Lynn pointed out, preschoolers do not watch television passively in the way that adults and older children do.  Their minds are constantly working as they watch, and they are active consumers of what’s on the screen.  If you make sure to put them in front of quality, interactive programming, then they will engage and learn.

The team at CBC ensures that learning happens with their Whole Child Development Approach to programming, in which five areas of development are being targeted in shows that are very interactive:

1.  Cognitive Growth (science, spelling, numeracy, learning to read; Bookaboo, Monster Math Squad)

2. Social Skills (equally important in preparing for academic success is how to get along with other children; Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood)

3. Emotional Intelligence (empowering kids to identify and regulate their emotions and then problem-solve to cope with powerful emotions; Poko, The Adventures of Napkin Man)

4. Creativity (music, art, storytelling–children have an enormous capacity for creativity, and quality programming will stimulate it, not stifle it, by enabling kids to extend on what they see and hear; Artzooka; I noticed how simple the monsters in Monster Math would be to draw ourselves)

5. Physical Development (many aspects of the programming encourage, and even require, kids to move in order to propel the story; Bo on the Go)

I was thrilled to learn that John Mighton, of Jump Math fame, was a consultant on the numeracy content in Monster Math Squad, and Mary Gordon, who founded Roots of Empathy, was a consultant for the emotional intelligence content of The Adventures of Napkin Man.  These are thinkers and activists whose work I have long admired, and to hear that they are contributing to children’s television is nothing short of delightful.

We had a great day at the CBC studios, and I left feeling really grateful to have had the chance to look behind the curtain.  It has given me a much rosier view of how the small screen can be a positive part of at home learning.

 

50 Things to Do Outside

Have you seen the list of 50 Things to Do Before You Are 11 3/4 from England’s National Trust?  It’s brilliant.

I’m a big fan of the bucket-list approach to living.  (We are steadily working our way through 1001 Children’s Books to Read Before You Grow Up.  I plan never to be too old for anything in that book.  I love the whole series.)

Give me a list and I itch to get ticking.  Is it even possible to try 1001 Whiskeys Before You Die?  There’s only one way to find out!  It’s the journey and not the destination, right?

What I love about the National Trust List is that it is as much a starting point for infinite adventures as it is a finite list.  It works for the task-oriented, but also for those who like to wander off the beaten path.  It pushes you further into the wild, and it makes you open your eyes to the wilderness on your urban doorstep.

Middlest and I were walking through a ravine the other day, and he said, “People just see the danger in the wild.  They don’t see the good things.”  We started to name the good things.  We ran out of ravine before we ran out of ideas.

conkersI grew up playing conkers in England.  You tie a chestnut onto a string, and then you try to knock your opponent’s chestnut off of her string.  The enormous crispiness of those brown leaves, the prickle of the nut case, and the smell of weather cooling is forever part of my sensory memory.  I don’t know why conkers isn’t popular in Canada, but because it isn’t, chestnuts are just another tree to my boys, and they probably could not name it.  Chestnut, maple, oak: these are trees that I am confident I can identify in almost all seasons, but as Middlest and I were walking, I realized that I could not name nearly all of the trees we walked past.  It awoke in me a desire to learn to identify all of the trees in our neighbourhood.  They are so much a part of our lives, and yet we don’t know all of their names.

treeI’ve taken to carrying my tree guide to the park, to taking new routes with new trees, and while the kids play soccer, I wander around looking at the trees.  Then they wander over and have a peek and help me to identify the leaf shape and find the right name.

And, lo and behold, we all have a name for the fragrant tree that brings us so much joy when it’s in blossom in June and July.  Hello, Linden.  So nice to know your name.

Learning to Draw

Our theme for our posts for July is, loosely, homeschooling: learning at home.  Partly, we are talking about avoiding the summer slide, but we are also looking at how learning at home and outside of the classroom is important for broadening our kids’ horizons.  And, yes, we include our trip to LEGOLAND in the learning category!  You should have seen how the boys looked at each others’ car models and sought advice and inspiration from each other to make their cars faster.

One of my goals for myself and my kids this summer is to create more art.  I am powerfully drawn to art supply stores in a way that totally defies logic because I can’t draw!  All those gorgeous colours of markers, and here’s be barely able to draw a smiley face.

I’d like to change that.

Here are three sets of books that I have found really useful.

animalsEd Emberley’s illustration instruction is an outstanding place to start, not only because the method is so simple and fun but because results are so instant.  Seriously, no one can mess this up.  We have several of his books, but the web site is fun and useful, too.  It has printable sheets and animated instruction.  I really like the step-by-step method, but also how he includes ways to vary the basic image.  We own a copy of his Drawing Book of Animals, originally published in 1970.  It is dedicated to “the boy I was, the book I could not find.”  That broke my heart a little.  Well, your boys and girls can find both the book and the web site and can get busy making art right away.  His fingerprint illustrations are particularly fun, and they even incorporate literacy into the method: if you can write IVY LOU, you can draw an owl.

owl

Another series I love is based on shapes.  Chris Hart has a whole line of illustration instruction books, but the ones I go to all the time are his very basic shape-based ones: Draw a Triangle/Circle/Square, Draw Anything.

drawAgain, the key to the success of these books is step-by-step instruction and instant gratification.  My son’s hockey team, whose logo was a deer, made it to the finals in their division a few years back.  For luck, I decided to give them all lucky underwear (inspiration from the coach, who had a pair) and I went to this book to find a super-simple image of a deer to draw onto the underwear.  Huge hit.

20Finally, I have fallen in love with a great series of books that encourage artists not only to make art but to find a style that suits them: the 20 Ways to Draw series from Quarry books.  The illustrations are a lot more advanced, but the books demonstrate various styles for illustrating the same object, from simple to more complicated.  There is no step-by-step instruction, but there is a lot of inspiration!

20-ways-draw-penguin-244

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TMN-logo_Square1A reminder that voting is open for the best mom blog of 2014, for which we are thrilled to have been nominated.

Please head over to Toronto Mom Now and check out the other nominees.  You can vote for your favourite three.  Voting closes on Monday, July 14.

 

Legoland Fun for All

Lego ROM!  Amazing.

Lego ROM! Amazing.

Isn’t it a great feeling when your kids get along with your friend’s kids?

In the four years we have been blogging together, our boys have never met each other but last week we all met at Legoland Discovery Centre and within minutes our boys were laughing and playing together like they’ve been friends for years.

Legoland Discovery Centre invited us to try out the newest addition to the Vaughan Mills site: the Ninjago Laser Training Camp and since Carol, Nathalie and I are not as fluent in all things Lego like our boys, we brought them along.

Waiting to get in.

Waiting to get in.

 

Our morning started with a group photo before we entered the Lego Factory.  An interactive entrance to the museum, the factory lets kids see the steps that go into shaping a Lego brick.  They can also measure their height and weight in Lego bricks, and create art with Lego bricks on ipads.

After this introduction, we hopped aboard the Kingdom’s Quest tunnel ride and were handed laser guns.  This group of boys was giddy at the opportunity to point, shoot and tally up their score.  The mothers all sighed.  We’ve long given up on fighting the appeal of “gun play.”  Truth be told, Carol got the best score.  “Hey!  I’m pretty good at this!” she said.  Props for mom when the truth was revealed.

The boys then spent about thirty minutes constructing their Lego Racers and testing them out on the Royfoss track.  It always amazes me to see what kids are capable of creating with no adult involvement.  As a group they cheered each others’ cars on and made the necessary improvements to improve their performance.

After that they worked up a sweat racing through the multi-level play zone while the moms enjoyed each other’s company on the sidelines waiting to experience Merlin’s Apprentice.  Seated in pairs (children under 120 cm must ride with an adult on all Legoland Discovery Centre rides), we pedaled up, up and away!

photo (3)

Before viewing one of the four 15 minute 4-D movies, we got in the line for the Ninjago Training Camp.  The boys were excited to tackle the lasers and discussed at length their strategies with the enthusiastic operator who encouraged the boys to try the more advanced ninja and sensei levels.  They were all too happy to oblige.

The maze doesn’t last long but it is addictive, meaning our boys returned to the line-up several times over to increase their score.  Points are awarded by making it through the maze without “breaking” any of the laser beams.  The boys used their creativity (and their oh-so-flexible limbs) to hop, crawl and slide their way through.  The moms were not quite so limber but in all fairness were saddled with purses and extra sweatshirts.

When it was time to say goodbye, with the promise to get together soon, the boys made their way through the exit and of course . . . the gift shop.  Each boy chose a small token to remember their special morning by and mothers were thankful for the minutes of quiet playtime said purchases bought later that afternoon.  We left feeling that we could easily have stayed longer and not run out of things to do.

Thinking of making a visit?  Here’s what you need to know:

-       Shoes and bare feet are not permitted inside the play zone.  Socks must be worn.

-       The snack shop has a variety of healthier options but many options are not nut-free.

-       The washrooms are clean!  Hurrah!!!!

-       There are NO in-and-out privileges.

-       Adults are not permitted entry without children.

-       Tickets are less expensive if purchased on-line ($18 each) and children under the age of 2 are free.

-       The centre is not large and can get very crowded at peak times (holidays, school breaks, summer vacation, etc.)

-       Many of the activities are geared to younger children (under 10)

-       We spent three hours there as a group, and Carol stayed for another two hours and said her boys would happily have kept building for yet more time.  Out of ten, her eldest gave it a “10 google” (off the charts).

-       None of us had been before and all of us would happily go back.

Mad Mums’ Martinis

I hosted a Mad Mums’ Martini afternoon for some other half-day Kindergarten kids and mums.  This is the aftermath:

mad

Note that the jello salad is almost all there, the spam is untouched and the vodka … well, not untouched.

One of us wore pearls and heels.  One of us wore a twin set.  One of us wore one of 200 dresses in her closet from the fifties.

All of us had fun.

Because sometimes in this crazy journey we call motherhood, we have to make a detour for the carnival.

 

Countdown

Sing to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands”

There are 14 days of school, shout hooray!

There are 14 days to go, shout hooray!

There are 14 days to go,

Tell everyone you know,

There are 14 days of school, shout hooray.

I happened to overhear a version of this from a Kindergarten room at my sons’ school the other day.  (There was something more earnest and learning-positive in the middle in the teacher’s version.  I just made up something that scanned for the purpose of story-telling.)  It’s been stuck in my head ever since.  Counting down, counting down, counting down….

It’s not quite clear to me why the JK and SK set need such precise knowledge (or, indeed, daily reminders) of when the last bell will ring, but I had mixed feelings when I heard that song.

June always wears me right out.  The final push, the dash to the finish line.  It’s so very difficult to keep everyone motivated, to keep the ship running tightly.

Eldest is half-heartedly studying for exams that his teachers and principal seem at pains to tell him are not all that important.  I guess the idea is to downplay things so that the kids don’t get anxious, but we could use just a touch more anxiety over here.

Middlest is working hard finishing work for his extra-curricular classes, but once that’s done this week, he’s off the hook until the last bell rings.  The classrooms get awfully hot and stuffy.  Great work does not get done in June.

Youngest is in SK, so he’s just waiting for the days when he can play soccer all day at soccer camp.  Summer Nirvana.

I am quite genuinely looking forward to the last bell, too.  We always have a pajama day on the first day of summer, with sugary cereal and unlimited screen time and no set bedtime.  In other words, feed yourself breakfast kids, and leave me alone with my books.  My summer nirvana.

I’d love to let the kids coast gently into that summertime bliss…

But wait!  Before the final bell rings, before we can laze around in our pjs, before we can spend full days at camp doing exactly what we love best, we have to get ready for a major renovation to the second floor of our house.  The renovation begins the very same week the kids finish school.

No rest for the weary.

So in this final dash to the finish line, we will be spending our evenings purging toys, packing up the bookshelves, storing away the hockey gear, and getting ready to seal off the playroom and the laundry room.  (Yikes!  Sealing off the laundry room is not high on my list of things to look forward to.)

I am genuinely looking forward to that purge, but, oh!, the energy it requires.

There are 14 days to go before the hammers fall….

 

A Trial Run with a Dog

photoA few weeks back, I pondered if I was ready for a dog.  Eldest had come back from a dog sledding trip positively bursting to get a dog.  I did not say no; I suggested some further investigation was in order.

When his uncle and aunt had a baby a few weeks ago, Eldest suggested that, as a shower gift, he would look after their dog for a week.  I thought it a great plan: a chance to help out and a chance for a trial run with a dog.

Well, I am thrilled to report that Eldest knocked it out of the park.  He got up at 6 every morning this week to walk the dog.  He came straight home from school to walk him.  He fed him dinner promptly at 6.  He took him for an abundance of walks.  He lavished him with attention.  The dog slept in his room each night, so none of the rest of us had a moment of disturbed sleep.

All three boys are so happy to share his company.   The dog herds the youngest two to school, and he is reluctant to leave them there, staring longingly at the doors after the bell has gone.  There is much joy and rejoicing on the occasion of every reunion.  We went for a lovely long walk with him after dinner last night, and when Middlest gave me a dandelion clock to make a wish on, I wished for more nights exactly like that one.  I am extraordinarily proud of Eldest, who demonstrated absolute readiness to take on the responsibility of a dog.

His mother, however…..  His mother is.  Just.  Not.  Ready.

Even with Eldest’s excellent performance, and the abundance of joy in our house, and a dog with the friendliest, most relaxed temperament, I have found it so very draining to have another dependent living being on my radar.  I am on edge.  I feel like I have not been able to recharge my batteries all week.  I cannot really account for it based on how low stress a dog this is, but there is no arguing with the spike in my anxiety.  I had no idea I was so close to the edge of my limit, but the dog has shown me that this whole time that I have been operating with the sense that I am on top of things, I’m still basically a hair’s breadth from a meltdown.

It has been a huge disappointment to discover my limits this week, especially since Eldest did all we could reasonably require (and more) in terms of demonstrating his maturity and responsibility.

But this is what trial runs are for: exploring, experimenting, testing our limits.

Packing it in

013We took ourselves off to the first Toronto Flower Market of 2014 as the first stop on my Day Before Mother’s Day Extravaganza.  The idea was to spend the whole day together in vacation mode.  I planned a full day of events with my beloved and our boys, stopping off at various places around the city:

  • the flower market
  • Type Books
  • (unplanned detour to) the ER at Sick Kids with Eldest who broke a bone in his hand the day before, the swelling of which I could no longer ignore, though I had managed to ridicule his claim that it was broken on Friday night.  (“Hell, no, I’m not taking you to the ER on a Friday night.  It will be packed.  If that hand was broken you’d be writhing in pain, child.  Put some ice on it.”)
  • ate falafel and humble pie for lunch
  • bought one-handed food for Eldest who is now sporting a cast (see above re: humble pie)
  • the Science Rendezvous at UofT, where the kids exploded gummie bears, crawled through the blood vessels of the heart, and made frothing toothpaste
  • street basketball
  • gelato
  • soccer in the park
  • dinner at Sports Café to watch the Habs game

It occurred to me that I was packing an enormous amount of fun into a single day, and that aside from ignoring my children’s broken bones, I am quite possibly the most amazing mother on earth, but then I realized that, minus the ER, some folks just call that an ordinary weekend day.  Some folks just head out the door in the morning, and don’t come home until the day is done.  These are People Who Know How to Have Fun.

I enjoyed being one of those people for a day, packing it in.  Not my usual speed at all, but that’s what holidays are for.