Gardening with Kids

The weather is finally (!) starting to warm up, which means it’s finally time to start your summer garden here in the Pacific Northwest. While cool weather vegetables, like snap peas, lettuce, kale, and chard can be started as early as mid-March, now we can start  warm weather vegetables like peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, and squash.

The peas that we planted in early April have been languishing through all this cold wet weather, but they are still hanging on. Last week we spread some lettuce seeds, and they’ve sprouted this week. It’s made me excited about the summer garden.

Gardening is a delightful activity to share with kids, young and old alike. There are so many benefits to having a family backyard garden. It gets you out in the fresh air and sunshine and is an activity that can include all ages.

Here are a few tips to make it fun for everyone.

Begin with soil prep

Helping prepare the soil for planting means dirt and shovels and digging! What fun! If you work in raised beds, little ones will have an easier time knowing where their feet can go (outside the garden bed) and where their shovels go (inside!). It’s better not to walk  on the prepared soil, as that makes it harder for seeds to sprout. Seeds like the soil slightly tamped down, but not compacted. If you’re working in a garden with rows and paths, using straw to mark the paths for walking can be helpful for kids.

Start with quick to germinate crops

Choose seeds that are quick to sprout to maintain interest in the process. Green beans are one of the quickest to sprout and easy to care for. If you choose a bush variety there is no need to build a lattice to support vines.  But if a trellis is needed, you can easily make one with garden stakes and some twine. Tie the top ends of four stakes together using twine. Position the bottom ends about three feet apart, pushing them down into the prepared soil, then wrap the twine in a spiral on the outside of the stakes to form a trellis for the growing plants. Plant the seeds between the stakes, so plants grow up the twine to the top.

Create a garden log

Invite older kids to keep track of the garden’s progress with a daily log. They can record what was planted and when. You can also track daily temperatures, rainfall, and sunshine. Note when each crop sprouts. They can even measure growth rates and record flowering and harvest dates, for a full picture of how long it takes for a vegetable to go from seed to the table. Next year, your garden log will help you know when to start seeds and when to expect produce as the garden grows.

Don’t forget the flowers

I have one kiddo who loves to plant flower seeds and watch them grow and bloom. Marigolds are great at helping keep pests away from vegetable plants, so we often have marigolds at the end of each row, or around the edges of a raised bed.

Kids who participate in growing vegetables in a garden are often more willing to try new foods and eat what they have grown. 

Fresh vegetables, better eaters, and better nutrition – all brought to you by your backyard garden.

Make Heart Health Part of Your Self-Care Routine

February is American Heart Month, a chance to celebrate both our affection for others with valentine’s and chocolate – and a time to recognize that taking care of our hearts is taking care of our whole self. The National Institute of Health, together with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, offers these tips for keeping our hearts healthy all year long.

Devoting a little time every day to care for yourself can go a long way toward protecting the health of your heart. Simple self-care, such as taking a moment to de-stress, giving yourself time to move more, preparing healthier meals, and not cheating on sleep can all benefit your heart.

And that’s a good thing because heart disease is largely preventable and focusing on improving your heart health has never been more important. Heart disease is a leading cause of death for women and men in the United States, and many Americans remain at risk of getting it, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). People with poor cardiovascular health are also at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. 

“Studies show self-care routines, such as taking a daily walk and keeping doctor’s appointments, help us keep our blood pressure in the healthy range and reduce our risk of heart disease and stroke,” said David Goff, M.D., NHLBI’s director of cardiovascular sciences.  

It may be easier than you think to “put your heart” into your daily routine. Each Sunday, look at your week’s schedule and carve out 30 minutes daily for heart-healthy practices. Take an online yoga class, prepare a heart-healthy recipe, schedule your bedtime to get at least seven hours of sleep, or make a medication checklist. Then seek out support from others, even if it’s online or via a phone call, to help you stick to your goals.

Here are a few self-care tips to try every day to make your heart a priority:

Self-Care Sunday

Find a moment of serenity every Sunday. Spend some quality time on yourself. 

Mindful Monday

Be mindful of your health and regularly monitor your blood pressure or blood sugar if needed. Keep an eye on your weight to make sure it stays within or moves toward a healthy range. Being aware of your health status is a key to making positive change.

Tasty Tuesday

Choose how you want to approach eating healthier. Start small by pepping up your meals with a fresh herb or spice as a salt substitute. Get adventurous and prepare a simple, new, heart-healthy recipe. Or go big by trying a different way of eating, such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan, which is scientifically proven to lower blood pressure. DASH is flexible and balanced, and it includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, fish, poultry, lean meats, beans, nuts, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. 

 Wellness Wednesday

Don’t waffle on your wellness. Move more, eat a fruit or vegetable you’ve never tried, make a plan to quit smoking or vaping, or learn the signs of a heart attack or stroke. You could be having a heart attack if you have chest and upper body pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, cold sweats, nausea, or lightheadedness. You might be having a stroke if you have numbness in the face, arm, or leg; confusion; trouble talking or seeing; dizziness; or a severe headache. 

Treat Yourself Thursday 

Treats can be healthy. Try making a dessert with fresh fruit and yogurt. Then stretch your imagination beyond food. Host a family dance party, take a few minutes to sit still and meditate, go for a long walk, or watch a funny show. Laughter is healthy. Whatever you do, find a way to spend some quality time on yourself. 

Follow Friday

Follow inspiring people and pages on social media, or text a friend to help you stick to your self-care goals. Remember to take care of your mental health, too. Two of the main hurdles to self-care are depression and a lack of confidence, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. If your mental health gets between you and your fabulous self, take action to show your heart some love. Reach out to family and friends for support, or talk to a qualified mental health provider. 

Selfie Saturday

Inspire others to take care of their own hearts. Talk about your self-care routine with loved ones or share a selfie on your social media platforms. Having social support and personal networks can make it easier to get regular physical activity, eat nutritious foods, reach a healthy weight, and quit smoking. 

Learn more about heart health and heart-healthy activities in your community, and see what others are doing for their heart health, at nhlbi.nih.gov/ourhearts or follow #OurHearts on social media.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

The Link Between Food and Mental Health

The choices we make when we eat affects more than just our weight, heart, and physical health. The role of nutrition in mental health has been shown to be just as important.

Studies of diet and exercise for mental health have shown a significant link between food and mental health.  What we eat can affect our mood, how we feel, and how well we cope with stress in life. Says Dr. Eva Selhub,  “Think about it. Your brain is always “on.” It takes care of your thoughts and movements, your breathing and heartbeat, your senses — it works hard 24/7, even while you’re asleep. 

This means your brain requires a constant supply of fuel. That “fuel” comes from the foods you eat — and what’s in that fuel makes all the difference. 

Put simply, what you eat directly affects the structure and function of your brain and, ultimately, your mood.”

For many years I worked in an office, surrounded by others, all of us in cubicles. I had a cup of coffee at home, then another when I got to work.  I worked productively throughout the morning, which I attributed to being a “morning person”. I was always productive and full of energy at the start of the day.

After lunch, I resumed work, a little less energetically. By 3 pm I’d hit an energy low. Problem-solving became more difficult.  So I’d have a diet cola mid-afternoon. It gave me a boost for the last stretch of the workday.

I’d commute home, have dinner, and by 8 pm I hit another low.  My brain was mush and I was exhausted. Every day was the same – clear-headed and mentally energetic in the morning, brain fog by 3pm, caffeine-assist mid-afternoon, and crash by 8pm.

But then, during the height of popularity for detox ‘cleansing’, I did a 3-day juice ‘cleanse’ over a weekend.  I spent the weekend with a classic caffeine withdrawal (excruciating) headache. But by Monday morning I was on the other side and the headache was gone.  I hated the idea of having endured that headache for nothing. So I decided to stay off the caffeine.

The impact of that one small change in my diet was astonishing.  Without the caffeine, my energy level for the entire day remained steady.  My brain was fully functioning all the way to bedtime. I wasn’t crashing mid-afternoon, so didn’t need the soda to make it to the end of the workday.  I got to the other side of the dinner hour and still had mental and physical energy. It was amazing to enjoy the evening, instead of watching the clock as I held up my weary head for at least as long as the kids were still up.

I was amazed at how the caffeine I’d been drinking – just two cups of coffee in the morning and a soda in the afternoon – had impacted my mental and physical health for the entire day.  I was happier and healthier without the caffeine.

What we eat really does affect how we feel and how well we cope.  Says licensed nurse Carolyn Denton, “The food we eat gives our bodies the “information” and materials they need to function properly. If we don’t get the right information, our metabolic processes suffer, and our health declines.  If we get too much food or food that gives our bodies the wrong instructions, we can become overweight, undernourished, and at risk for the development of diseases and conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease.

Functional Medicine practitioners examine the role of nutrition in chronic disease, they look at multiple systems, such as the digestive system, the immune system, and the detoxification system, because of the interconnections between those systems. For instance, because 80% of the immune system is contained in the gastrointestinal system, a person’s issues with immunity could be related to faulty digestion.”

Many studies have also looked at the impact of nutrition on young children.  A review of the research done in 2014 found that a poor diet is linked to poorer mental health in children and adolescents.   

They conclude that there is an important relationship between diet patterns or quality and mental health early in life.  The evidence also indicates that what we – and our children – eat may play an important part in preventing or managing mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), and dementia.

Says the UK Mental Health Foundation, “Just like the heart, stomach, and liver, the brain is an organ that requires different amounts of complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and water to remain healthy.” 

Included in this report is a chart of these essential nutrients, the impact they have on our mental health, and the foods that can increase their presence in our bodies.  (see sidebar)

Not surprisingly, good nutrition includes fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds, meat, fish, and dairy.  These foods, known to benefit our heart and liver, also benefit our minds, memory, and emotions.  

And while a healthy diet helps everyone’s mental health and brain function, for infants and children under the age of 3, whose bodies and brains are growing more rapidly than they ever will again, good nutrition also feeds their ability to learn, setting them up for a lifetime of benefit.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori toddler teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own.  You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Summer Free Lunch

This week I want to tell you about something that I love.

It is Oregon’s Summer Meals program, and in this time of uncertainty and crisis, I believe it’s one of the few things around that’s just purely good.

It might seem like I’m hyperbolizing (or, more likely, just inventing an excuse to use that word in a sentence), but I tell you it’s true. Why, take a gander if you will at the organization’s handsome and generous website, which provides an overview of the service and a tidy history as well as a sweet site locator to find meals around the state.

What do they do? Well, since it was created thanks to an act of Congress (remember those?) exactly 50 years ago, the USDA-funded program simply gives out free meals to children aged 1-18. Some sites also sell meals to adults, and some offer activities and educational opportunities before or after. That’s it.

Why is that magic? The awesomeness is in the details: how many public programs can you think of that don’t ask you to register your kids, meet eligibility requirements, sign up for further something-or-other, or commit to anything? Really! You just show up and they feed your kids. The end. No follow-up, no stigma around needing the assistance. I think that’s mighty special.

My kids, who eat a lot and are sometimes in need of assistance, have enjoyed free meals in parks and libraries around Linn and Benton Counties. They’re not picky or anything, but they have pronounced the offerings both varied and pleasing. I believe them.

If you have kids, a finite amount of financial resources, and/or it’s just too cockadoodle hot to make lunch, I suggest you check out the Summer Meals sitch.

So, what are you waiting for?

Except for maybe morning?

 

The Worst Day (and Week) of the Year: The Switch to Daylight Savings Time

This week’s post is by featured contributor Esther Schiedel. We hope that you enjoy it and, as always, we look forward to future posts by Esther.

It’s coming…aargh! The worst day (and week) of the year: the switch to Daylight Savings Time.

This can be really hard on families with children and teens. Not to mention every other person.

Here are a few strategies that have helped me as an adult and a few ideas I’ve found online. Please share your own strategies.

Start now by moving bedtime a little bit earlier each night—if you have a lead time of five nights (Monday-Saturday) then 12 minutes earlier each night gets you to an hour.

Some people recommend simultaneously waking up earlier as well. I’d suggest NOT doing that or at least not doing that until closer to Sunday. My rationale is that it’s better to get as much sleep as you can in advance of the change. Many of us are already short on sleep. See waking up strategies below.

Practice healthy sleep habits:

Fresh air and exercise during the day

De-stressing/relaxing times during the day and/or evening

Dark room

Cool room

Shift meal schedule gradually as well (if possible) It isn’t just bedtime and morning that gets thrown out of whack by the time change. If you can’t move meals try to incorporate more snacks (healthy ones and maybe some high tryptophan foods for dinner and bedtime snacks). See this article from the National Sleep Foundation.

NO CAFFEINE!

One hour before you want to get to sleep: No screens. No full-spectrum, LED or fluorescent lights. Use a yellow, amber or red bulb for reading (see the linked article on How Blue Light Affects Kids & Sleep). Red Christmas lights work well as nightlights. Googling “blue light blocking products” will get you to many sources of bulbs. Candlelight probably works as well, but please be careful!

Change your clock during the day on Saturday (if at all possible). I got this idea from crossing the Atlantic Ocean by ship. Going east, they changed the time at noon (since they had total control over the schedule, this was possible). I don’t know if part of it was psychological but it really helped. The change made dinner earlier so that also contributed.

Waking up. Just as light interferes with going to sleep, it helps us wake up. Gradually increasing the light in the morning will help you (and the kids) wake up. There are products “dawn simulators” that provide this (sorry to keep you Googling and spending money but it can be a good investment-some are less expensive than others so research options). Or you can do this manually for your children.

Make morning a pleasant time: snuggling, talking, and reading with your child can make for a happier transition. Breakfast in bed anyone? Allow enough time for morning routines.

The real key to happy waking up is getting enough sleep the night before. Most of us don’t get enough sleep so this is a good time to focus on more sleep.

See Sleepless in America by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. She also has a website with a free download of sleep suggestions.

Esther Schiedel is parent to three adults, grandparent to three boys, and a Certified Family Life Educator. She provides parenting education through classes and workshops through LBCC and through her business, Sharing Strengths. She became interested in parenting education when she became a parent and had a need for more information and support.

On Peanuts, Truth, and Other Stuff

Earlier this month, the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (say that three times fast) released new guidelines for the prevention of peanut allergy in children. These guidelines were rather surprising for many people because they were a complete reversal of the previous ones. Whereas previously the official scientific advice had been to avoid feeding peanuts to allergy-prone children until the age of three, parents are now urged to begin introducing it “before they are 6 months old,” as a preventative measure.

Needless to say, the press release introducing the new position, and the flurry of news coverage that followed, led to much consternation on social media. Many parents, rightfully concerned for the health of their kids, expressed fear and distrust of what appears to be a dramatic turnaround in scientific thought around the issue. A lot of questions were asked about why we should trust the new results when we clearly could not trust the old ones. If scientific research is supposed to give us answers about life or death issues, why does it seem so unreliable?

As far as social media controversies go, the peanut allergy studies are somewhere in the middle. Much more contentious has been the continuing debate over the safety of vaccines: on the one hand, concerned parents who mostly don’t want their kids to get sick are accused of endangering everyone around them. On the other, the lingering suspicion of a link between vaccines and autism (a link that has been strongly–and repeatedly–debunked by several studies).

Not so controversial, but certainly as high-stakes, is the changing advice on how to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Late last year new recommendations included letting children sleep in the same room as parents, and taking away blankets and soft toys.

As someone who does research-based work with families, I try to keep up with new studies, and I like to be able to present parents with the context behind my advice other than “because I said so.” Parents want to do the best thing for their kids, especially when it comes to their health and safety. When the science gives ambiguous or seemingly controversial advice (though really, sudden reversals such as the one about peanuts are pretty rare), the guilt we feel about our decisions may shade into suspicion. How do we know what information to trust?

When I searched online, nearly everything I found was from academic websites. If you’re writing a research paper (and I’ve taught a few of those classes), you want to be sure your sources are sound and reliable. When it comes to the news and the kind of information we rely on, like medical advice, it is just as important (maybe more: more important than research papers!) to distinguish the solid stuff from the shaky.

The articles I have linked to in this post are from major publications. Major newspapers and news magazines have editorial boards and fleets of fact-checkers. They don’t want to be sued for slander. When they make a mistake, they quickly publish a correction and add it to the bottom of the piece. All three name authors and include dates and other identifying information. They link to the studies they discuss (presented by the organizations in question) so that we can see them for ourselves.

When it comes to parenting (or really, health in general), the internet is not the best place to get our information. Pediatricians, clinics, and public health agencies contain real, verifiable people who can confirm or deny when needed.

Practicing this kind of discernment is more important now than ever (and I’m not even going to use the words “fake news.” Oops). Regardless of the anxiety we may feel as parents over keeping our kids safe and healthy, if we know how to pay attention we’re doing the right thing.

The Food Post

If there’s anything to get one in mind of food in families, it’s Thanksgiving. Don’t worry: I’m not going to offer advice about how to present leftovers in endless combinations (though I bet the internet has something to say about that). In fact, the only thing I have to say about our Thanksgiving is that we had four (4) pies. So clearly we won.

No, the reason this came up is that at dinner tonight (a completely non-leftover related affair) our five-year-old was displeased by what was on offer and was invited to wait in her room until we were done and I could help her get ready for bed. I later learned that she had changed into her pajamas, brushed her teeth, made her bed, tidied the floor, and made a drawing, so she was clearly not malnourished.

I won’t say that this is a common occurrence. It’s not. But nor is it unheard of. I can think of a time in the recent past when three out of four children opted out of a meal because of objections to a dish, an ingredient, or a method of preparation. And that’s fine. As we say, “There will be food again at the next meal.” Reliably and regularly. And we will attempt to make that meal as balanced and healthy as possible (with the exception of ice cream for dinner, which I haven’t written about for a few weeks). So if a child refuses offered food, it’s really a drop in the bucket.

Growing up, my nemesis was onions. I would not eat them in any capacity, for any reason (though strangely I always liked onion rings AS LONG as the breading did not come off). My mom, who did most of the cooking, didn’t put a lot of thought into accommodating my prohibition but was pretty good about warning me. As a result, I learned to deal with it as much as I was able and only very rarely gave up on the meal. My dad would marvel at my ability to find every trace of onion in a slice of supreme pizza; I would leave a neat pile on one side for future use in landscaping projects.

The frequency with which we deal with refusals of food is related to the sheer number of new foods we introduce to them. We don’t expect kale or beef liver or spaghetti squash to “take” the first time. Or even the first five. It may not happen ever. But given the variety our kids have seen on their plates over the years, the number of times they felt they had to throw in their napkin and walk away has been statistically quite small.

So, food allergies and sensory issues aside, the reason a child may “only eat chicken nuggets and pizza” or whatever is that this is what keeps ending up on their plate. Might I suggest taking a gamble that they will eventually try something new–if not now, then at the next meal?

 

A Kitchen of Their Own

Everybody eats.

That’s why a play kitchen is a crucial part of our children’s education at home. Through playing at cooking and serving food, our kids can practice the skills they will need as they get older. They can learn about nutrition, how to prepare a balanced meal, and how to interact with others around food. Kids like to imitate the work we do around the house, and a play kitchen can provide an entry into helping grownups in the “real” kitchen.

Who can benefit from a play kitchen? It is traditionally thought of as a toy for girls, but given that everybody eats, and everybody can prepare food, it is just as important and just as valuable for boys.

You can spend as much or as little money as you wish. We have a simple wooden kitchen with a stovetop, a sink, some cabinets, and an oven. Most toy stores carry more elaborate models with a microwave, a kitchen clock, and various dials and thingamajigs. But you can use most anything to make a play kitchen, and the kids will be glad to help. A cardboard box, with circles drawn on top for burners, works just dandy.

There’s no need to buy play food, either. My girls recently stocked their pantry with food they made from clay and painted; they frequently use wooden blocks, paper cutouts, water, dry rice and beans, mud (preferably while outside, though this is not always the case) and pure, all-natural imagination. They love to play with empty containers such as butter boxes, yogurt cartons, and cupcake holders. We often “hand down” old utensils, plates, and cups.

Kids love to help out with food preparation. Even toddlers can stir batter, combine ingredients, chop vegetables, fruit, or, say, cheese sticks (closely supervised, of course, with a butter knife or crinkle cutter: safety first!). My nine-year-old daughter has mastered baking from a recipe and can scramble eggs like a champ.

Involving kids in kitchen work is a great way to introduce math concepts through measuring and timing; show them where ingredients come from and how they work together to make a meal; to model cooperation and sharing work with others. The added responsibilities will make them feel proud and useful. Best of all, if kids are picky eaters they are much more likely to try, and enjoy, foods they had a hand in making. Inevitably, they practice these skills in the play kitchen as well.

Healthy and Happy

I think if you asked any parent, they would agree that they want their children to be happy and healthy. We all want our children to have the gift of health and to live long and happy lives. All of us are coming from different places when we make decisions in regards to healthy lifestyles and how we implement them in our families. We were all raised differently and it can often be interesting and challenging to parents who may have been raised with different values around what “health” looks like and its’ importance.

A lot of us are also very confused. Should we take on the French philosophy of feeding? Should we eliminate gluten? Should we eliminate all food with dyes? What amount of exercise do we really end and what kinds are best?  The questions can be limitless and so can the information that is out there.  There are many new diets being introduced by the week and constantly changing ideas of what parents should or should not feed children. Many children today lead very sedentary lives with video games and media being a top priority. Included in this media are the messages sent about what is attractive in our society and what our society as a whole values.  It unfortunately usually doesn’t take long for children to form an opinion of what they think their bodies are supposed to look like according  to the messages that they see and hear. One of the messages youth often key in on is that being extremely thin is the ideal.

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This is “The Becerra Bikers” a few years ago after a family ride.

 

Though maintaining a healthy weight can certainly  be a part of a healthy lifestyle, I have realized more and more that automatically equating health with weight and size can be misleading and even harmful. I think that most of us probably know at least one person who is very thin but doesn’t live a very healthy lifestyle. When we see a person who is overweight, we might also make assumptions about the lifestyle that person leads. I know that I can think of examples of several people in my life who although  they may be a little overweight, they are actually very active and really value eating a healthy diet. It simply is not fair to make assumptions that people who are thin are automatically healthy people and that on the flip side people who aren’t super model thin aren’t.

In my Healthy Sprouts class that I taught through the Healthy Youth Program, we talked to families a lot about how we are all unique and come in different shapes and sizes.  Instead of putting the majority of the focus on size, it is important to focus on health for everyone!  Teaching our children how to care for their bodies (and modeling how we care for ours), is a huge gift! Every family is unique and faces different challenges, and there is not one size fits all package for any family. Through my research as a former nutrition educator for the Healthy Youth Program and my experiences as a parent, I have a few tips that might be helpful as you try to figure out what “healthy” might look like in your own family.

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be active for at least 60 minutes every day. Because motivation, temperament, and activity level varies between each child, we might sometimes have to think outside of the box on how to make this process fun for each child. One of my children is so far not very excited about doing team sports, but she loves to ride her bike places and is open to doing yoga classes. I really do believe that there is a form of exercise for everyone. Walking, dance parties, organized sports, biking and swimming are a few of the many options when it comes to types of exercise we can encourage. This is something that I am trying to do a better job of with my own family, but my kids have been very receptive when we exercise together as a family.
  • Really think about the messages that you send your children based off of how you talk about your own size and body. Are you constantly weighing yourself in front of your children? Do you sit and talk with a friend about dieting or criticize your own body in front of your children? Children are extremely smart and perceptive, and I have really been contemplating the messages I send to my children by my actions and the things I say. When you put yourself down in front of your children, you are putting down a person who means the very most to your child!
  • Do your research. As you are deciding the specifics on what is best for your family, remember that not all information or internet sites are created equal. Often times sites have ulterior motives as they are trying to push their products.
  • From the years I spent teaching parent/child baby classes, I can see how common it is in our culture to compare body shapes and sizes early on. Though it usually starts as an observation or in fun, parents are often comparing their children’s size to their peers. Grandparents might joke about or constantly bring attention to the fact that one grandchild is much larger than another, even as babies.  I once had a mom break down in class once when she recalled how her family referred to her as the “fat” sister. She said that they were constantly joking and criticizing her and pushing her to lose weight. In tears, she told us that she will never do these comparisons or put this kind of pressure on her own daughters.
  • Eat dinner together as a family whenever possible. Family meals are a time to not only share food but also to share about our days and to check in with each family member. I inherited my childhood family table, and every time I look at it, it reminds me of the many times my family gathered around that table. And to be able to do the same thing with my family feels very special!
  • Be mindful about how much and which kinds of media you allow enter your home. Though we won’t be able to always shelter our children from everything, we can do our part to have a healthy relationship with media. When we do see commercials or ads, we can talk about the fact that even these pictures aren’t usually accurate pictures of what the person really looks like. They are often photoshopping and changing models to fit the societal ideal even more. There is room to have many meaningful conversations about health and body image.
  • Be more gentle with yourself. It is extremely important to me that my children have a healthy self-image, yet I can be so hard on myself when I haven’t been exercising as much as I would like. It can also sometimes still be hard to accept the fact that my body, that has grown and birthed 3 children,might not quite go back to the way I would like it to, even when I am exercising and eating well. It truly is a miracle that my body was able to grow these 3  children that are now in my care each day. I should be celebrating the beauty of this as I try to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

I would love to hear your thoughts on how you approach health and body image in your own families. How are your ideas influenced by the way you were raised? What fun tips to you have for other families based off of what has worked well for you? I wish you and yours health during this new school year and in the years to come!

 

 

 

Outside Everyday!

While visiting The Oregon Coast Aquarium this weekend with my children, I read a quote painted on the wall in the children’s area that said : “If we want children to flourish, we have to give them time to connect with nature and love the earth before we ask them to save it” (David Sobel). We have also been learning more about Helen Keller this summer as a family, and I love her quote that says: “To me a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug.” Both of these quotes really speak to me as I have really been making a stronger effort this summer to have my children outside as much as possible. We have been swinging, bike riding, berry picking, hiking, swimming (in pools and rivers),gardening, playing in the yard, and going on family walks as much as possible. I’m sure that many of you have been doing the same with your families with maybe even more additions to my list.

I have personally observed that my own children seem so much happier, fight with each other less, and behave better in general when given opportunities to connect with nature, whether on a hike at Bald Hill or in our own yard. Children of all ages really can flourish when we slow down and prioritize outside time every day. When given the opportunity to move outside freely, children encourage growth across all developmental domains.

My kids having a good time on a hike at Bald Hill last summer

My kids having a good time on a hike at Bald Hill last summer

Much of my motivation to get my children outside more often came after reading Richard Louv’s book: “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.” If you are not familiar with this book, you can listen to a brief interview with the author on NPR. In his book, Louv explores many of the contributing factors to less outside play today, which include media use in the home as well as parents perceived yet inaccurate assumption that we are raising children in much more dangerous times than when we were children (thus not allowing children to roam and explore). I know for me, one of the biggest barriers to getting my children outside can be weather. I have no problem getting my kids outside for long periods when the weather is nice, but it can definitely be harder for all of us to be motivated on a rainy day in February when I’d quite honestly rather stay inside and bake pumpkin bread, even if my kids would be up for time in nature.

Though I am making a stronger effort to make outside time the norm in our family, we are far from perfect when it comes to getting enough outside time. In fact, it seems like we adults can sometimes have a harder time finding motivation to get outside than our children.  I have found, however, that there have been some things that have helped my family in our efforts to get outside more:

  1. Choose to bike and walk when possible. Though we live too far from my children’s school to bike (and lack a route that is safe), we have made more effort to walk and bike when possible. We only live a little over a mile from a movie theater, so we have been trying to walk or bike when we see a movie instead of hopping into the car. We also try to ride our bikes to the park and to church when I have my act together.
  2. Make sure that you have the right clothing and gear. There is a saying that says, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.” Having the right kind of clothing for weather can make all the difference in the world of making outside play a positive experience. Because nice outside gear can often times be expensive, look for used clothes at thrift stores and consignment shops if this is a concern for you. Another way to cut down the cost is to buy gender neutral clothing so that you can pass clothing down between brothers and sisters.
  3. Find kid friendly hikes and other outdoor activities in your area. With most of us being connected to social media these days, it would be very easy to pose a question to find out the best local spots nearby. One of my favorite things to do as a family is to walk the short boardwalk loop at Jackson Frazier Wetlands. If the weather is particularly bad, this short loop does not take very long and even toddlers can walk it.
  4. Make outside time a part of the routine so it just feels normal. I have thought about setting a rule that media use does not happen that day unless my children have first been outside breathing fresh air.  Limiting media use in general can also leave more time and motivation to get outside.
  5. Let your children participate in gardening. My kids love spending time in the garden and take so much pride when they have actually helped to plant and nourish the food that then nourishes our bodies. And as an extra bonus, my children are more likely to eat food from our garden than they are store bought food.
  6. Enjoy outdoor activities with other friends and family. I have found that my children are far less likely to whine or complain about going outside in the cold when they have other kids to run around with.
  7. Listen to your children and follow their leads on what they like to do outside. Children are going to feel more excited about spending time outside if they have input on what the activity is. Some children might enjoy the challenge of geocaching or having a bird guide with them while they walk so they can identify the wildlife around them.
  8. Slow down. Sometimes during the school year it can be hard to even find the time to get our kids outside when we are running children around from one activity to another. Make sure that no matter what activities your child does, they still have some time left for free play and spending time in nature.
  9. If you live in the Willamette Valley, make sure to attend “Get Outdoors Day” each year. We went as a family for the first time this year, and my children were so happy exploring and participating in all of the activities for hours

    Miriam kicking back and enjoying herself at "Get Outdoors Day".

    Miriam kicking back and enjoying herself at “Get Outdoors Day”.

Some of my best family memories from my own childhood and with my own family have been enjoying nature together. We would love to hear what you love to do with your families outdoors and how you make exploring nature a priority!