Embrace What You Love

“I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it full speed. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it, and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good.”

-Roald Dahl

I came across this quote and wanted to share it with you. However, it’s interpreted, maybe it will make you step back and reflect a little. It did for me. It’s funny how I come across little reminders like this. 

I welcome these breaks. Don’t you?

How we Taught our Kids to Ride Without Training Wheels at age 3

“You’re doing it! Look at you go!” I shout at our three-year-old son as he pedals his wobbly bike without training wheels down the street.

Three? You may ask yourself. Yes, that’s right. It can be accomplished. Say goodbye to the training wheels, and self-doubt that your child will never learn how to ride a bike on their own. Sayonara to the oversized bike trailers and “hello” independence. Well, let’s not get too carried away, but that’s how it felt when my husband and I had our two children conquer this life skill by the age of three.

Want to know our secret? It’s called a balance bike. It was no secret to the many families that had already relied on this genius two-wheeled pedal-less bike. But when we discovered it? Our confused thoughts on how to teach this task were gloriously put to rest. It’s a secret no more. We wondered why this didn’t come with the instructional manual on “How to Raise Kids.” That’s right, we never received one when the stork dropped off our two bundles of joy at our front door-step. Isn’t that how it works? Let’s move on.

We first heard about this awesome alternative after a fellow dad kindly and willingly shared his brilliant secret with us. We did a little more research, and within no time, a lime green balance bike showed up on our doorstep. Contrary to the prior statement, it was not flown in by bird, just the friendly neighborhood delivery man.

How does it work?

Unlike ordinary bikes, it has no pedals, larger tires, and lower seating for a toddler to rest their feet on the ground. The child uses their legs and feet to push off the ground to gain speed. After some practice getting on the bike and scooting around, the child will gain confidence and naturally begin to lift their feet for longer periods of time. Mostly, they start to coast around. It’s all about balance.

“Bikes with training wheels tilt to the one side, creating a false sense of balance. In order to ride without the training wheels, a child must “unlearn” how to ride unbalanced and learn how to ride balanced,” according to an article on Two Wheeling Tots.

That sounds like a lot of extra work when some of the steps can be cut out. Basically, with the balance bike, the child will feel themselves tipping to one side and will learn to keep their body upright and support themselves.

When do they start using the balance bike?

Two Wheeling Tots says that kids can start as young as 18 months old, all the way up to 5-years-old. They use the bike for about two years before moving onto a traditional bike without training wheels.

How we did it

To get our daughter excited about the process, we let her pick out which color of bike she would like, along with a fitted helmet. Once the balance bike arrived,  I was shocked at how lightweight it felt. It was a plain bike frame with two wheels. No chains, no other contraptions for the child to get caught on, just pure simplicity.

We started on the driveway first teaching our 20-month old to tilt the bike to the side and lift her leg over the seat. While grasping the handlebars, she practiced sitting and focused on balancing herself. After the novelty of being able to just sit on her very first bike wore away, our daughter gained more confidence and began to push herself around. It went from a single push, to push, push, glide.

In no time, she was testing out the steering, slightly turning, then making larger circles. My husband and I were amazed at how natural the process was. Within a few months, we noticed she would lift her feet to coast along. By the age of three, we felt she was ready to try a bike with pedals.

Unsure of how the transition would look, we purchased a little bike from the second-hand store. We put our daughter on the traditional bike, held the back of the seat, showed her how to keep her feet on the pedals and walked with her as she rode. Eventually, we let go. She fell off but caught herself. We tried again, and within three attempts, she was riding down the sidewalk. It was incredible!

My son didn’t catch on quite as quickly. We thought he was ready, when he was not, so we gave the traditional bike a rest for a bit. He practiced balancing a little longer until he said he was prepared to try again. Within no time, he was pedaling on his own. He just wasn’t ready when we thought he was. It was up to him. That is a key factor in the whole system. The child knows when they are ready to learn and each child is different.

Would we do it again?

Yes! We feel it took away a lot of the guessing that comes along with trying to figure out how to teach this task.

We have since passed the balance bike on to our niece who’s loving this new experience and boost in confidence. If you’re interested, I encourage you to check out the balance bike and if you feel it’s a good fit for your child, give it a test ride.

Dear Summer, Please Don’t End Yet

The time of year when all the school supply shopping begins and parents start marking their calendars for the first day of school is finally upon us. As a teacher, usually, I’d take all the fun, innovative ideas that I discovered on Pinterest and start masterminding my big plans for the upcoming school year. To my surprise, I’ve done none of it. Nada. Zilch.

I’m not going to lie; there were times during the summer when I thought I’d never make it to the end. The fighting and arguing among the kids was wearing away at whatever patience I had left. But now as we are getting closer to the first day of school, I’d like to put the brakes on this fast-paced roller coaster we call life.

The “Are you ready to go back to work yet?” comments from friends and family have started rolling in. But the answer is surprisingly no. I’ve enjoyed the late night bike rides to the ice cream shop or staying outside longer to watch the kids catch fireflies. I’m not ready for it to end.

Being able to wake up a little later without the hassle of getting the kids up, fed, dressed, and rushed out the door in a time crunch is a relief. My youngest is often still in his pajamas when his dad comes home after work at 6 pm. I’d say that pretty much sums up the laid back, no fuss time we’re having. I prefer not to conjure up a plan on how I’m going wrestle him out of his early morning garb. Instead, I join in on the fun. Heck, pajama day could be every day if he wants. It’s summer, remember?

I’ll miss the lazy mornings drinking coffee and eating breakfast together. Not that we can’t do this when the school year starts, it’s just our time will be short. You want bacon, a yogurt parfait, or eggs sunnyside up today? No problem. There’s no race against time or a schedule that we have to follow. The only thing on my mind is deciding what fresh fruit I’ll pile on top of my steaming hot bowl of oatmeal.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to sit and think about what day it was or glance down at my phone to check the date. Right now, time is on our side.

Oh, it’s Thursday? Let’s take a stroll into town and check out the local farmers’ market. Nothing beats the handpicked, and colorful produce displayed beautifully and ready to be devoured. Let’s not forget to stop by the fruit stand and say “hello” to the vendors we befriended over the summer. On our way out, we’ll pick up our usual homemade muffins sold by the young Amish family we’ve come to know and look forward to seeing.

When the sun is shining brightly, we find ourselves contemplating if we should head to the pool or stay home and play in the sprinkler? Maybe neither. Instead, we might take our bikes and go for a ride to the park. I’ll bring my book, while the kids run around until their heart’s content.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve grown to love cooking healthy, nutritious meals for my family. This extra time has given me a newfound desire to discover and try various recipes I’ve scrounged the internet for. I’ve dusted off the cookbooks that were patiently waiting, pages unturned. Now they’re decorated with oil spots or remnants from the process of cooking a delicious meal.

This summer marked the first year that the kids were old enough to start taking more trips and trying new adventures. We went camping, hiking, biking, swimming, roasted marshmallows and enjoyed each other’s company while sitting around the endless campfires. We road tripped to multiple states and visited family.

This summer we’ve made lots of memories, and there’s still some time left. So, please summer, don’t end yet.

Thank You, Kids for Reminding Me Not to Grow Up

Have you ever wanted to dress up in a costume and just become that character for a while? Immerse yourself in the personality and life of someone else?

I watch my kids in awe and amazement when they play make-believe. I want to see what they see through their eyes. Before life pushes us to become grown-ups and our magical fairy wings slowly disappear.

How do I get that back?

My daughter and I were in the electronics section of a store the other day when one of her favorite songs came on full blast. Immediately she broke out into a dance.

The beat first started near  her shoulders and quickly traveled to her hips, and soon she had moves like Jagger. It didn’t matter that there were people around her. She just wanted to dance.

“Come on, Mommy!” She said while grabbing my arm to join the impromptu dance party.

I could have easily laughed at her silliness and shuffled her along to finish up my to-do list, but I didn’t. What the hell? I thought and joined in on the fun.

How liberating! I must have looked crazy. Out of the corner of my eye I could see shoppers staring at me, but guess what? My daughter and I were giggling and having a blast! It was enough to remind me of being a kid again.

Somewhere between the age of “I can’t wait to be a grownup” and “ Shit, I think I’m a grownup,” the child-like freedom slunk away and forgot to come back.

Bills, mortgages, work, the ho hum of everyday left chipped away at that natural curiosity of life and living that we all so desperately need.

I think about going to the ice cream shop with my son. He wants to try every single flavor there is. The more colors on a spoon, the better. Me? Let’s just play it safe. The usual, please. I say to the high schooler behind the counter.

Do you find yourself staying within your comfort zone? Are you just having your usual? Is it because we are afraid we won’t like it? Don’t want to take the chance because we’re afraid it won’t be as good? Of course, this isn’t about ice cream, but more like a metaphor for life.

What if we stopped caring so much? What if we harnessed more of that zest for life from our kids and sprinkled it in our own? Want to dance in the middle of an electronics section at a store? Try it. Want to take off on a whim to explore an area you’ve always yearned to travel? Or maybe start small and try a new flavor of ice cream.

Let’s bring back that spirit. I will if you will. In fact, I dare you.

 

Children’s Books Illustrations Linked to Decreased Word Learning in Preschoolers

Hold up. Before placing the newly minted children’s book on the counter at the bookstore, you might want to take a peek inside first. Look at the illustrations. Are they colorful and bright? Do they show more than one thing happening on a page? If so, put it down for second and listen up.

A new study published in Infant and Child Development shares how a group of researchers from the University of Sussex found that having more than one illustration on a page can result in poorer word learning in preschoolers.

That sound a little strange? Don’t kids enjoy reading stories with pictures? Yes and yes, but to a point. The researchers are saying that a younger child viewing a page with more than one illustration or reading a book with flaps, make it more difficult for them to follow. Essentially, there’s too much going on to focus.

Co-author of the study Dr. Jessica Horst said, “…this is the first study to examine how decreasing the number of illustrations increases children’s word learning from storybooks.”

For the study, they read three stories from a set of storybooks to a group of three-year-olds. The first book had one page of illustrations, and the other page was blank. The second story had illustrations on both pages, while the third had one large illustration. What they found was that the children learned twice as many new words after reading the book with a single picture on a page.

Does this mean you need to go through your child’s bookshelves and start cleaning house? Not exactly. In a follow-up study, they found that merely pointing to the illustrations on the pages with multiple images before reading was more beneficial when guiding the children to learn new words.

“Our findings fit well with the Cognitive Load Theory, which suggests that learning rates are affected by how complicated a task is. In this case, by giving children less information at once, or guiding them to the correct information, we can help children learn more words,” said Zoe Flack, Doctoral researcher and co-author of the recent findings.

In addition to reading stories with fewer illustrations, how about the many times your child begs for you to read the same story over and over again? Believe it or not,  it may not be a bad idea to listen. Horst shares that after reading the same story multiple times, the child gets something new out of it. For example, the first time they are just enjoying the story while the subsequent reads they begin to notice details and listen to the words being said.

The silver lining in all of this is just to keep reading to your children. By exposing them to texts and sharing the love of reading with them is a gift in itself.

What Superheroes Accidentally Taught My Son

KaBam! Pow! His bright red cape, flapping in the wind as he runs to rescue a baby duckling from crossing the road. “Don’t worry mommy, I’ll save her!” my three-year-old son imagines while pretending to fly. He scoops up a yellow stuffed duck and throws it in the air.

“Ahh! It’s covered with sticky, hot lava!” he yells.

Superheroes are all exciting and fun unless you have a child that actually, believes that he’s got superhuman strength and can fly. It turns out, he doesn’t, and he’s learning the hard way.

Super Strength Test

A loud scream is coming from my son’s bedroom. He’s supposed to be napping. Guess that didn’t work out too well. I swing open his door and find him stuck in his rocking chair. It’s flipped over, with his little body wedged in between the foot-rest and the underside of the seat. How in the world did this happen?

“I was trying to be like Mr. Incredible when he gets stuck in his belt and uses his super strength to bust out,” he cries.

Right. Mommy needs to use her superhuman strength to wiggle him from the destructive jaws of the great wooden monster. At last, he’s free.

I Can Fly

Climbing the wooden ladder to the top of the playset, he stands tall and mighty. Can you guess what super boy is about to do? Thank goodness his handy dandy sidekick mommy is there to the rescue. Without time to throw on her spandex leotard, a ghastly sight anyway, she hurls herself forward just in time to catch the Superboy as his magical flying powers dissipate into thin air.

“That was cool!” he laughs.

Unfortunately,  sidekick mommy is busy hyperventilating and overcoming her near heart attack to take part in his excitement.

Through deep breaths, she manages to say, “Don’t. Ever. Do. That. Again.”  

Laser Beams

We’re standing in line at the grocery store when he gets the urge to be a superhero again. Great, I’m thinking. This outing is not the place for that.

Shoo! Shoo! Using his fists, he begins throwing laser beams to any unknown creature in his path.

“Stop. You can’t do that in a store.” I say.

Shoo! Shoo! His arms were flying forward. Eyes narrowed, and with a scrunched nose, he flings another beam. Except this was a big one. Standing in front of us was an older lady. I’m not one to judge, but she looks like she eats kids for breakfast. Not exactly the person you’d want to throw supersonic laser beams toward.  

With a light laugh and nervous smile, I say, “Sorry. My son thinks he’s a superhero.”

Hmmph, she grunts and turns around. I’m sensing danger, and my son’s villain detector has gone off. He pulls a Buzz Lightyear and crouches down with one arm back, and the other shooting forward. I look down just in time to see the destruction that is about to unravel. We’re talking unleashing all his powers to capture the evil villain kind of beam.

Shoo, shoo, shoo, shoo! We’re under attack! Laser beams are flying everywhere, the child-eating lady in front of us nearly jumps out of her nylon circulation stockings, when I do the unthinkable. I use my body as a shield to stop the blasts and get a hold of Captain Crazy Pants before we get kicked off this planet, in other words, out of the neighborhood grocery store.

“I’m so sorry,” are the only words I can get out of my mouth to save us from this embarrassing situation we’ve found ourselves in.

Thank goodness for the older man chuckling behind me who apparently watched the whole showdown.

I pass the apologetic look onto him, and he says, “I have three boys, and from what I can tell, those were some pretty good repulsor rays.”

We both laughed, and somehow we managed to get through the rest of the line without further attacks.

While I admire my son’s determination to save us commoners from the daily evil-doers of this world, we need to teach our invincible thinking Superboy that danger doesn’t always lurk around the corner. He doesn’t have to hang up his cape and get back to the daily grind of being a three-year-old but instead considers using his mighty superpowers to find the sock eating villain that lives in my dryer.

New Study Connects Diaper Contents to Brain Development

“Poopy brain!” your child yells at his little sister. Before sending the tyke to time-out for having a potty mouth, he may be onto something. Of course not literally, but a new study from University of North Carolina School of Medicine is finding connections between the yucky mess found in your child’s diaper to their future cognitive abilities. This isn’t to say you should study every lump and color (sorry, TMI) of your child’s fecal masterpiece, but know a scientist does.

The first year of a child’s life is critical in not only brain development but gut establishment as well. Looking for a possible connection between the two, Ph.D. Rebecca Knickmeyer, an associate professor of psychiatry, and a team of colleagues from the UNC, decided to take a closer look at the bacteria found in dirty diapers.

First, the team took fecal samples from nearly a hundred one-year-olds. A year later, using the same group of children, they conducted a series of cognitive tests that measured fine and gross motor skills along with perceptual abilities and language development.

Before I tell you the results, let’s review a quick science lesson about the microscopic powerhouses called microbes.

Microbes are in the world around us and within your body. In fact, your gut holds massive amounts; we’re talking trillions, of microbes that live in a little community called a microbiome.

While some microbes, bacteria or viruses, get a bad rap, overall these tiny creatures do more good than harm, by breaking down the food you eat to detoxifying your body and warding off stress.

What they found was vastly different compared to their hypotheses. “We had originally predicted that children with highly diverse microbiomes would perform better–since other studies have shown that low diversity in infancy is associated with negative health outcomes, including type 1 diabetes and asthma. Our work suggests that an ‘optimal’ microbiome for cognitive and psychiatric outcomes may be different than an ‘optimal’ microbiome for other outcomes,” says Knickmeyer.

In the end, what are we learning? Alex Carlson, an MD/Ph.D. student in Knickmeyer’s lab and first author of the research, says that while there is a lot more tests needed to be done before suggesting that everyone take a particular probiotic to create more healthy bacteria, there are some key things for sure. These results are opening up more areas for testing including the effect these tiny creatures may have on the emergence of social skills and anxiety. Also, how we may be able to guide the development of your microbiome to help diminish cognitive and language problems in children.

Knickmeyer concludes that “How you guide that development is an open question because we have to understand what the individual’s microbiome is and how to shift it. And this is something the scientific community is just beginning to work on.”

 

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Bringing the Outside, Within

My husband and I have a profound love for the outdoors. Going back to when we started dating in college, we’d find any moment we could to escape into the wilderness and get back to nature. Once we had our two children, we knew we wanted to instill this love and respect for Mother Nature within our little ones. The great John Muir, naturalist, and preservationist, said it best, “ In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

We purchased and framed a large map of the United States showcasing all the National Parks. Mapping out our destinations with the kids and letting them pin the parks as we go, has given them a way to connect with our adventures on a deeper level. They can own this experience themselves. Our first destination? The Badlands located in South Dakota.

We rented a cabin with fifteen acres in the middle of what felt like nowhere. It. Was. Glorious. The only traffic jams we ran into were cows lazily making their way across the gravel backroads. After a busy day taking in all the sites and hiking endless trails, a home away from it all was much needed. The stillness and sounds of Elk bugling and coyotes howling were a reminder that this is their home and we are merely guests stopping by for a visit.

From the rough, jagged landscape of the Badlands to the third largest underground cave in the world, we did it all. Stopping by the National Park visitor center, we purchased two passport books for the kids to stamp after visiting each park. They earned their badges to become junior rangers and pledged to preserve and protect these places so future generations can enjoy them.

Our son triumphantly climbed the mountainous terrain of the Badlands and called himself, “The Mountain Man.” To see the confidence in a young boy who was recently struggling to assert himself among older new friends at school, was pure relief. He was proud. There was no judgment about who could do it better.

Our daughter, although older, was confronted with feelings of intimidation and fear when climbing the steep, sandy hills. “You can do this. Keep going,” we’d say. Only to be followed by her response of fear but, soon exhilaration as she stood at the top in awe of her abilities.

Taking the time to unwind, let go, and discover nature in a new way, restored a peace that is often hidden by the hustle and bustle of daily life. No wifi or working GPS. No schedule to follow or feeling tethered to our phones to check work email and post family photos on Instagram. It was a welcomed break for us all.

As we left the state to venture back home, we were no longer the same people that arrived a week ago. Taking the time to discover the natural phenomena of Mother Nature, was like medicine to our souls. We needed a reminder of the real things in life. Bring us back to what’s important. Leave the chaos of everyday living and bring a little bit of the outside, within.