Leave Me Alone, I’m Talking

We are living in such a digital age, and the benefits to us as adults are immeasurable.  We can stay in contact with the touch of a button, have access to calendars, cameras and contacts immediately, and the availability of information is unlimited. Technology has a place at our table, and it is a very significant place indeed.

Our young children, however, may be seeing our interest in technology in another way. Although we have ready access all the time, we as parents need to be conscious of just how much and when we are using our mobile devices. Recent research has shown that the way parents are using their phones may be getting in the way of getting along with their children.

  • Young children learn about the world around them through us as parents. When they watch our reactions to our environment, or see the way we approach different situations, they are making decisions about how they will behave in these situations. If we are not engaging in our world because we are using technology, our kids can’t learn from us about how to successfully navigate the world.
  • Young children will learn language best when they are engaged in conversation. The back-and-forth of language between people encourages more words, more interest in communication, and more skills with language. Walking through interesting places with our child, but not talking to her about what we see and what we are doing because we are distracted by a screen, results in our child not getting as much out of the experience. She is having world experiences in isolation, even as we are walking with her. If we stop and talk about the details of the environment, the feelings we have in seeing something new, the ideas we have about what we are seeing, we are building vocabulary and strengthening her experience as well as language skills. Our children want to talk with us about all that they experience, and when we respond we are not only encouraging language development, we are reminding them that what they have to say is important.
  • A child who is misbehaving is often a child who is looking for attention. Our use of mobile devices and screens can draw our attention away from our children. Since children most want attention, they will resort to negative attention if this is all they can get. If we are consistently on our mobile devices, we may see consistent misbehavior. Sometimes the best way to reshape our child’s behavior is to make changes in the way we interact. Putting away our phone and focusing on our child will likely help you to see much better behavior.

Looking for more information on how screen use is affecting our relationship with our children?  The latest research was summarized on a recent radio program. Click here to get the full story.

Creativity Corner

These recipes are often classroom favorites, and the teachers are sharing them with you for the days when long winter snowstorms keep you inside, and your children are looking for something new and fun to do. So, warm up your stove tops, get the ingredients on hand and get ready to play with all these fun concoctions!

Note: These recipes are not for eating, though some of them smell just delicious. Keep these creations on the play table, not the dining room table.

Kool-Aid Playdough
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup salt
2 pkgs. unsweetened kool-aid

Mix together.
Add 2 cups boiling water and 3 Tbsp oil. Stir well. Knead, cool and store in an airtight container.

Use equal parts cornstarch and water. Mix as best you can. Pour into tubs or trays.

Puffed Paint
Mix equal parts of flour, salt and water. Add food coloring. Put in a squeeze bottle and paint.

1 1/2 cups white glue
1 cup liquid starch

Mix together with hands. If it is wet and a lot of starch is not bonding add water. If it is sticky, add more starch. Keep working it until it feels right.

1 cup water
1/3 cup Dawn dish soap

Mix together and see what happens to the bubbles when you blow them in a Minnesota winter.

Pumpkin Pie Play Dough–this produces a classroom-size amount, so save this recipe for a day when you will have a play date with others.
This one takes a bit more work, but it smells delicious, and will inspire creative baking play for sure! (It is still not for eating)

5 1/2 cups flour
2 cups salt
8 teaspoons cream of tartar
3/4 cup oil
1 (1 1/2 ounce) container pumpkin pie spice
Orange food coloring (2 parts yellow, 1 part red)
4 cups water

Mix all the ingredients together. Cook and stir over medium heat until all lumps disappear. Knead the dough on a floured surface until it is smooth.
Store in an airtight container

Why the gooey fun?
Ever wonder why early childhood teachers encourage such messy play activities? Having messy activities in our homes can be difficult to manage (which is why it is so nice that the teachers create opportunities in their classrooms all year), however there is a lot of learning that goes on while children are playing with these different materials.

First of all, because children learn about their world through their senses, they need a wide variety of sensory activities to encourage learning and growth. This tactile play–really getting the hands dirty– helps to stimulate children’s brains and create connections about the world around them. While our little scientists are experimenting with all these materials, they are making discoveries about their world.

In addition, the open-ended nature of these materials allow children to develop and nurture their creativity and self-expression. They become emotionally involved in their play, and emotional involvement in an activity is linked with cognitive development.

So, during these long winter days, choose some of the above recipes and encourage your children to explore with them in whatever way they wish. There are no wrong answers with these materials. When it is time to put things away, have them help to clean up the mess. Who knows, you might find that these recipes become some of your family favorites!

Clean Mud
Sensory fun for little ones.
You’ll need:
• Bar of classic Ivory soap
• Cheese grater
• Measure cup
• Roll of white toilet paper
• Shallow plastic bin for playing with the “mud”
Grate the bar of Ivory soap and stir the flakes into a cup of hot water until it’s melty and mushy. Hand a roll of toilet paper to your little ones and have them rip the paper into small pieces and put in the bin. Add the soapy water and have the kids mix and mash it with their hands until it becomes a slippery, moldable “dough.” Get out some toys, cookie cutters — anything you can think of — for playing around with this clean “mud!”

Change it up!
Help your young child explore money.
You’ll need:
• Many coins — quarters, dimes, nickel, pennies.
Pour the coins into a pile on a table or a blanket on the floor and invite your child to be the “banker.” Put out four bowls and show her how to sort the coins so all the quarters are in one bowl and so on. If your child is really interested in money, teach them how to “buy” various items from around the house with the coins, and let them sell items to you as well. Try making coin rubbings with colored pencils and coin stamp prints with washable paint, too. There are many fun ways to introduce your young child to financial literacy concepts!

How do I love thee?
A loving project for mom or dad to make for the kids!
• pink, white, red paper
• scissors
• marker
• double-faced tape
• decorative ribbon (optional)
A fun project to show your kids you love them in the month of February. Each day during February, cut out a heart shape from the construction paper and write something you love about your child, celebrating their individual qualities. Attach it to their bedroom door or to the decorative ribbon with double stick tape. Each morning, they will see a new message and feel extra loved as they embark on their day!

Bird Feeder Cakes
• 2 packages unflavored gelatin
• 2/3 cup water
• 2 cups wild bird seed mix
• Cookie cutters, cookie sheet
• Drinking straws, cut in fourths
• Parchment or wax paper
• Twine or yarn
Mix gelatin and water in a pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, then stir in the birdseed and let it cool enough to handle safely. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and place the cookie cutters on it. Now the kids can spoon the birdseed mixture into the cookie cutters, Pack the mixture tightly or the cakes will not hold together. Insert straws into the cakes near the top to create holes for hanging them. Let them dry overnight. Gently pop them out of the cookie cutters and tie twine loops through the holes. Head outside to hang up the cakes for your feathered friends in a place you can observe from indoors.

Marshmallow Print Snow People!
Use marshmallows as stampers!
You’ll need:
• Large size and mini marshmallows
• White and black children’s paint
• color construction paper (not white)
• Markers
Let the stamping begin! Let your child dip a large marshmallow into white paint and stamp on paper as many times as she likes to create the “body” of the snow person. Dip a mini marshmallow in white and stamp several times to create a head shape. Then, dip a clean mini marshmallow in black paint to stamp buttons, eyes, and a mouth. Using markers, your child can add arms, legs, hands, and other details for their snow person.

Fall Leaf Wreath
Go on a leaf hunt to find materials for this fun craft!
You’ll need:
• Fresh fall leaves (approx. 20)
• White paper plate
• White school glue
• Scissors
• Ribbon or yarn for hanging
Freshly fallen leaves glue best. After collecting your leaves, cut the middle out of the paper plate by folding it loosely in half and cutting out a half circle (some children may be able to do this on their own if you start the cut for them). Begin gluing the leaves around the edge of the wreath. Get as random and creative as you like, then hang up with a pretty ribbon or yarn for a fresh fall decoration.

Sensory Pumpkin Goop
It’s a liquid, a solid, and fun!
You’ll need:
• 16 oz. container of corn starch
• 1 cup of water
• orange food coloring
• pumpkin pie spice
• pumpkin seeds and Pop Rocks candy (optional)
• tub for mixing and playing
• stir spoon
Place the corn starch container in the tub, and supervise your child pouring/spooning it into the tub. Allow your child to slowly add water and mix with the spoon or hands. (corn starch-to-water ratio is about 2:1) Add 2-3 drops  orange food coloring (may stain hands/clothes), and pie spice. Pop Rocks will add the element of sound, the seeds add to the sense of touch. Appeals to all the senses!

Kids Hand Print Fall Tree Art
Little hand prints make fall leaves!
You’ll need:
• 1 sheet of white paper
• Fall colors washable paints
• paint brush
• brown crayon
Draw an outline of a tree trunk for your child with a brown crayon. Have your kids paint their hands yellow and stamp it above the trunk for “leaves.” Repeat with the other fall colors. Have your child fill in the trunk with brown paint or crayon. So simple, toddlers can do it. Dress for mess and have fall fun.

Watermelon Paper Plate Craft
Watermelon and summertime go together!
You’ll need:
• 1 paper plate cut in half

• Red, green, and black washable paint
• optional: slice of watermelon as a “model”
Even toddlers will get in on the action of painting their very own watermelon slice! Show them a watermelon slice if needed for inspiration. Have them paint about 1 inch or so of the edge green, fill in the remaining space with red, and use finger prints to make the black seeds. Enjoy some real watermelon after making this easy and fun summer craft.
Fireworks in a Jar
Love colors and fireworks? Try this simple experiment!
You’ll need:
• 1 large-mouth jar

• oil
• food coloring
• water
Fill jar 3/4 full with warm water.In a separate bowl, mix 4 tablespoons of oil and several drops of different colors of food coloring. Gently pour the oil mixture into the jar. Because the oil is less dense than the water, it will float at the top. The colored droplets will begin to sink. Once they sink into the water, they will begin dissolving into the water — which looks like tiny fireworks!
Easy Homemade Ice Cream
Simple ingredients + kid power = ice cream!
You’ll need:
• 1/2 cup whole milk or cream
• 1 tbsp. sugar
• 1 tsp. vanilla extract
• 6 tbsp. Kosher salt
• 2 cups ice
• 1 quart size and 1 sandwich size zip top plastic bags
In the sandwich-size bag, combine the milk, sugar, and vanilla extract, then seal the bag tightly. In the quart-size bag add the ice and salt. Place the smaller bag into the larger bag, and seal tightly. Let your child shake the bag vigorously until it becomes the consistency of ice cream. It takes about five minutes or longer if you have slower shakers. Enjoy!
Flower Prints from Soda Bottle
April showers bring May flowers! You’ll need:
• Empty 2-liter soda bottles (1 per child)
• Liquid tempera or other paint and large sheets of paper
• Shallow plates or plastic trays for paint
A fun, messy paint project for a rainy day! To make your flower prints, spread out sheets of paper. Dip the bottom of the soda bottle into paint, then stamp on the paper. Rotating the bottle around makes more ‘petals.’ Dip the bottle cap into paint and stamp in the center of the petals. Bright and cheerful!
Golf Ball Pool Painting
June in Minnesota means it’s time to head outdoors for arts and crafts! You’ll need:
• Hard plastic kids’ pool
• Liquid tempera or other paint and large sheets of paper
• One golf ball per child (or more!)
Place a large piece of paper on the bottom of the pool. Children dip their golf ball in the paint. Put dipped golf balls on the paper. Together the children hold the edges of the pool and roll the golf balls around. This makes a great design when the rolling is done!
Stick Puppet Butterflies
A butterfly craft that is fun to play with! You’ll need:
• Craft or frozen pop sticks
• Colored construction paper
• Glue
• Optional — glitter, markers, sequins, etc.
You can make simple stick puppet butterflies with two small paper hearts and a large craft stick. Have your child cut out two paper hearts if they are able. Child can decorate the hearts with markers, sequins, or glitter. Have her glue the two hearts onto to a craft stick, with their heart points meeting together on the stick. Let your child use her puppet while you read a book about butterflies together!
Tissue Paper Pumpkins
Turn squares of tissue into pumpkins!
• Clear contact paper
• Black construction paper
• Orange tissue paper
• Scissors
Cut up a pile of approx. 1″ squares of orange tissue paper and black paper pumpkin face parts (eyes, noses, mouths). Give your child a large piece of contact paper, sticky side up. Let them have fun sticking down a funny face and surrounding it with lots of orange tissue squares to make a pumpkin. When finished, cover with another piece of contact paper, sticky sides together, display in a window and let the sun shine through!
Ice Sun Catchers
Suitable for ages 2-9.
You’ll need:
• Shallow bowl or tin pie plate (for a larger sun catcher)
• Ribbon for hanging
• Water
• Items from nature: leaves, berries, twigs, evergreen tips, pine cone seeds
Collect colorful leaves, berries, etc. Let your child pour a couple inches of water into bowl, then artistically arrange his or her nature items. Cut 2 pieces of ribbon and set at edge of bowl to freeze and hang the sun catcher. Place bowl in freezer or outside to freeze. When frozen, remove from bowl and hang outside. Simple and beautiful.
Mess-free Fingerpainting
Finger painting is a great sensory experience, but sometimes you want the fun without the mess.
You’ll need:
• Tempura paint in primary colors
• Large plastic zipper lock freezer bag
• Sheets of white paper
* Tape (painter’s tape works best)
Squirt two large dollops of different colored paint in the bag, separated, not mixed (the kids will mix them!) Squeeze out the air bubbles and zip up the bag. Tape the bag to the table over a sheet of paper (optional, but it will help children see the colors better.) Then let them “paint” away, no mess!
Garden in a Glove
Explore the germination process with your older preschooler!
You’ll need:
• Clear plastic glove
• Five types of seeds
• 5 cotton balls, very damp with water
• Pipe cleaner
Write the name of the seed types on each of the glove’s fingers. Put two or three seeds of the same type into a damp cotton ball, and place into the labeled finger of the glove, repeat for all five fingers. Next, blow a small amount of air into the glove and close with a pipe cleaner. Hang the glove in a warm place, like a sunny window. Over the next few days the seeds will germinate. Once the seeds start sprouting, they will need soil, room for the roots to grow, sunlight, and water.
DIY Birdfeeder
It’s spring and the birds are hungry!
You’ll need:
• Paper towel or toilet paper tube
• Wild bird seed on a plate, or in a shallow flat dish
• Creamy peanut butter and butter knife
With the butter knife, let your child spread on a thick layer of peanut butter,  covering outside of the cardboard tube. Next, let her roll the tube in the birdseed, patting the seeds into the peanut butter. Then, help your child find a small tree branch to slip the tube onto. The birds will soon discover the tasty treat, and your child can observe!
Bubble Wrap Beehive
Busy bees will love this art project!
You’ll need:
• white paper
• paint brush and paint (orange and yellow)
• markers
• plastic bubble wrap (with small bubbles)
Depending on ability, have your child do or assist with the following: Cut out bubble wrap in the shape of a bee hive. Now, paint the beehive (bubble side up).Then flip and press onto paper. Dip your thumb in yellow paint and press thumbprints around the hive to create swarming bees. Use a marker to create stripes and wings on the bees when the paint is dry. Bzz bzz bzz!
Fireworks Painting
A perfect project for July 4th or anytime your kids want to create something sparkly.
You’ll need:
• Pipe cleaners
• Paint (red, white, blue)
• Glue (optional)
• Glitter (optional)
• Paper
Take 4 pipe cleaners and fold them in half. Then, twist the bottom portion to create a handle. Fan out the pipe cleaners to create a star shape. Put out red, white, and blue paint (mix in glue if you plan to use glitter). Holding pipe cleaner star by the handle, let kids dip it in the paint. Stamp the star on the paper, then rotate the paper a bit, and stamp again. Repeat with each color to create firework paintings. Sprinkle on glitter (optional) for some sparkle.