Archives for July 2012

I Don’t Like It!

Before the food even touches his lips, before I have gotten the food on his plate, I have barely finished cooking and my 8 year-old son has announced to the entire family (including his impressionable 5 year-old sister) that he does not like what has been prepared for dinner.

This sets off a sequence of events that we experience regularly at dinnertime. It goes something like this: we (mom and  dad)  load up his plate with the food that we expect for him to eat, place it in front of him on the table as he grimaces at the thought of sampling his meal, he complains, protests, and negotiates (loudly at times) throughout our family dining experience, and the rest of us attempt to enjoy our meal regardless of his distaste for virtually everything that is on the table.

After a long day of work, school, and after school activities and commitments our family of 5 could really use a peaceful and enjoyable dinnertime. We would like to have this time to have a meal that has been lovingly prepared and beautifully served for all of us to enjoy together. Lately, this has been challenging given my son’s shrinking desire for the food that the rest of us like. Additionally, we already find it challenging to cook the chosen meal for the evening, and prepare something special just for him seems overwhelming and unnecessary. Of course my son believes otherwise and spends much of his energy trying to convince us to see things his way.

My husband and I have asked ourselves countless times if we would be doing him a disservice by preparing “special meals” just for him along with our daily family meals when he does not like what is being served. Many times when we have refused to do this he has gone to bed with less than an full stomach. Should we prepare only the meals that he will enjoy? This option causes the rest of the family to miss out on much of the food that we enjoy. Is there a reasonable compromise when dealing with a picky eater in the family?

Much of the literature written about picky eaters suggest that parents set routines and expectations for the dining experience. One of my favorite authors on the subject, Ellyn Satter, even gives parents a “division of responsibility in feeding” that provides a helpful guideline to remember when considering these issues:

For infants:

  • The parent is responsible for what
  • The child is responsible for how much (and everything else)

For toddlers through adolescents:

  • The parent is responsible for what, when, where
  • The child is responsible for how much and whether

Considering this, my husband and I seem to be making some solid decisions about our family’s mealtimes and eating habits in general. Ellyn Satter’s website is full of additional tips and conversations about eating with children in general as well as eating with the picky eater.

My next few posts will include some of the more creative ways that we have found to solve our family’s eating dilemmas and some family  menu ideas that we have tried and had success with. I like to call them my “go to” meals. Check out the website link above and watch for future posts under the title “I Don’t Like It!”



Summer Reading: A Family Affair

Summer is a time for play for sure. Children should take the seemingly unlimited hours of daylight and play from dawn to dusk if they can. And adult family members are encouraged to join in the fun when the opportunity presents itself. There are additional things to take advantage of over the summer break as well, such as: traveling, picnics, water play, beach fun, community fairs and the like. But what about academics? Should we encourage our kids to completely disengage  in academic activities over summer break? After all summer is often considered a BREAK from the rigors of academics. Right? Well maybe so, but lets consider the “academic task” of reading.

For the highly engaged, independent reader, reading is likely considered a leisure activity- perfect for warm summer afternoons under a shady tree. However, dependent readers are most likely to consider reading to be an academic activity that is associated with rigorous academic studies motivated by school life- not summer vacation. Regardless of your child’s perspective on reading there is evidence grounded in research that shows that students who read over the summer vacation are less likely to have learning loss. Additionally, the more books they read positively impacts their achievement in the fall.

For example, in her landmark study of public library summer reading programs, Barbara Heyns found that children who read at least six books during the summer maintained or improved their reading skills, while children who didn’t read any books saw their reading skills decline by as much as one grade level (Barbara Heyns, Summer Learning and the Effects of Schooling, New York, NY: Academic Press, 1978).

So how do we encourage our kids to read over summer break? And more importantly, how to we get them to enjoy it? The article The Self-Confident Child: How Can I get My Child to Enjoy Summer Reading outlines the following three simple tips for encouraging reading in children:

1. Children are motivated to read by seeing their parents read.

2. Children are motivated to read when they are read to as young children (older children enjoy being read to as well).

3. Children are motivated to read when they engage in partner reading with a parent or caregiver. That is, the adult and child take turns reading.

Most classrooms have established daily reading times when the entire class (including the teacher) is engaged in leisure reading. There are a variety of  labels for this in-class reading activity such as SSR (Silent Sustained Reading) and DEAR (Drop Everything and Read). This activity has been utilized effectively by schools for years to model reading and motivate a community or readers. So why not try out this concept at home? One way to integrate reading into your family life is to establish a routine that involves reading. Just like we have been told to have routines for personal hygiene such as brushing our teeth or bathing, we can create the same expectations for reading as a family. It can happen regularly every day in the context of our schedule, such as reading before bedtime. Younger children can be read to or engage in partner reading with a parent or older sibling. As children mature they can spend a few minutes before bed snuggling with mom and/or dad as you each read a book, or partner read a book together. Be creative, set goals, make it fun, and most importantly, enjoy the time with your child knowing that you are modeling an important life skill while enhancing their academics.



Road Trip

We are always looking for a new place to spend the 4th of July. We love the excitement of the holiday from the food to the fireworks (both watching them and setting them off our ourselves). So every year we hunt for a new place to spend the evening.

2008 we were at a friend’s house in town.
2009 we were at our neighborhood block party.
2010 we were in downtown Corvallis.
2011 we were in Portland.
2012 we will be in Seattle.
Yes, we are going all the way to Seattle for the 4th of July. And we are DRIVING! Since the drive will take us around 5 hours (longer if we run into traffic) we decided to stay an extra day to enjoy the city.
This will be our first road trip of the summer. And for a family of five this takes will take some planning and preparation. Our three children ages 5, 8, and 11 have various needs when confined to the space of a minivan for 5 hours. My 5 year-old cannot officially “read” yet so her activities include things like coloring and other quiet (the adults in the car need this too), hand-held toys. My 8 year old loves to read graphic novels  and crossword puzzles. My 11 year-old loves to read and draw. So a trip to the library and a sweep of our home bookshelves should get us started.
I know what you must be thinking because I am thinking it too. Really? How  unrealistic to think that kids will sit and read, do crosswords,  and color for five hours. Okay so now what? I’ve got to figure something out. So what else do parents do to make trips of this nature enjoyable (at the very least, bearable) for the entire family?I have been checking out the advice and tips from experts in family travel and I found a great resource to share with you. Check out where you will find cool places to travel with your kids and useful tips for getting there. So warm up your car and head out for some road fun. Enjoy!