beyond-santa

Beyond Santa Claus – Helping Kids Discover the True Meaning of Christmas

by Lori Ramsey – real life parenting with a mom with 6 kids

Little children believing in Santa Claus brings a whole new depth of magic to the Christmas season. I know what it’s like to sneak off to go Christmas shopping with the little ones clueless. When ours grew older and more aware, we told them we went to meet with Santa’s elves. It was a tale told to me by my mother and I completely believed her. I thought when she left me with my grandparents, she honestly spoke with a real elf. To my memory, she actually did talk to an elf. But I also have other memories of that time and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

On the not so magical side of the Santa Claus belief is the kids who ask for toys they never received. I remember asking for a particular doll and being disappointed on Christmas morning that Santa didn’t bring it to me. But he gave it to the little girl down the street. My parents told me all sorts of tales as to why Santa wouldn’t give me what I asked for and would give it to the kids up the road.

The reasons above have a good argument for the total belief in Santa Claus. Where do you draw the line for your children? I know parents who will go out and buy everything on their child’s wish list to the point of being ridiculous. Then there are the kids who barely get anything. My daughter asked me one year why Santa would choose to pour the gifts on some and not on others.

Some parents make the choice to be honest with their kids from the beginning and the belief in Santa is never practiced in their homes. These are the children who will tell other kids Santa isn’t real and then you have the discussions with your children if he’s real or not.

We do allow our children to believe in Santa Claus, but we try to portray Santa as more of a human who has limited resources and how he has to shop for toys throughout the world and sometimes he can’t find individual items, so he has to substitute. I feel it’s often a tangled web when we get into it. I am relieved when they outgrow the whole Santa thing because then we can be real about it. It begs the question, what should we be teaching our children about Christmas and Santa Claus?

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by Stacey Schifferdecker

When my children were young, we started a new holiday reading tradition. We would put aside our traditional night time books for the month, and every night of December, we would read a Christmas book. This was a great to have some calm and peaceful moments together at the end of the day. If you'd like to start a similar tradition, here are some of our favorite Christmas books for you to try (in no particular order) — enough to get you through the first half of December.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

by Dr. Seuss

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

Yes, it was a book before Chuck Jones made the fabulous animated version we all grew up with and Ron Howard made the live action version starring Jim Carrey. Why read this book? Well, it's got those great Dr. Seuss rhymes, a funny story line, and amusing illustrations. On top of that, it's a sweet story about the transformational power of love. (It does send the erroneous  message that the purpose of Christmas is family togetherness. I make a point of telling my kids that being together as a family is a Christmas bonus, but that the real purpose of Christmas is to celebrate Jesus' birth.)

Country Angel Christmas

by Tomie dePaola

St. Nicholas invites the Country Angels to coordinate heaven's Christmas celebration this year. The angels get busy baking, decorating, and learning songs. Unfortunately, no one can seem to find a way to let the three littlest Country Angels help until St. Nicholas gives them the job the other angels have all forgotten: fetching the Christmas star.

We like to read this book on the day we hang the angels on our Advent calendar.

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Travel that Teaches

Today’s parents are leaning more toward "travel that teaches" vacation experiences rather than the typical amusement park summer jaunts. Every destination offers its own unique experiences, whether it's soaking up history in Paris or London, or take a tour through some of Ireland's magnificent medieval castles. You don't need to visit famous locales with your family either- you'll find learning opportunities everywhere you go.

Planning Your "Travel that Teaches" Odyssey

Families can "wing it", learning as they go by randomly visiting historical sites, museums, national parks, etc., or they can make it a point to study places they plan to visit in advance. iPads, smart phones and laptops can instantly help fill in the facts as well as you travel. There's also a lot to be said for good old fashioned books as well, with travel guidebooks being great resources. Just keep in mind than when traveling with young children, it's a good idea to purchase books filled with colorful photos of the sites you plan to visit.

Tours and Family Adventures

There are several types of family travel related tours available, focused on combining learning with fun. A good example would be escorted group tours that take families to fascinating places all over the world. Imagine visiting some of Europe's most legendary cities, going on an African safari, or visiting New York in the U.S., packed with iconic landmarks. All of these travel destinations have fantastic itineraries, well-informed guides, and lots of special activities geared toward kids.

Ecotourism

Some locations offer Ecotours, perfect for a family adventure, based on teaching the whole family about ecology, marine and wildlife. Ecotours are always popular with families who have the opportunity to get up close and personal with some of their favorite creatures.

Family Travel Programs

Several organizations offer educational trips for kids, including the Sierra Club, which offers an extensive list of travel programs including several geared toward families. In addition, organizations, which include aquariums, often plan family travel focused experiences.

Sightseeing

Sightseeing opportunities in major cities often offer a wealth of learning opportunities for kids, including many of the best museums. For example, there are art museums out there that offer brochures filled with kid friendly fun including scavenger hunts, free interactive exhibits and audio guides programmed specifically for kids.

Whether you're seeing the signs of wildlife on a family camping trip, or exploring historical sites in the UK, anywhere can be a great place for the kids to learn about history, culture and nature.

Here are some fun examples of things the whole family can do together during their "travel that teaches" vacations.

New York

There's something truly magical about New York that draws people from all over the world. From the attitude of the locals, to the iconic yellow taxis, to the world renowned, legendary buildings, the "Big Apple" is a one of a kind destination. New York is also a surprisingly inspiring place to visit with kids of all ages as well, with its art galleries and museums, Central Park and don’t forget about treating the family to New York pizza and hot dogs. Next stop, the Gorilla Forest’s, an impressive 6.5 acre habitat or the massive Bronx Zoo with exhibits that include a butterfly garden with thousands of beautiful butterflies. All children should have an opportunity to see the site of Ground Zero as well, a symbol of the strength of New Yorkers.

Washington

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Sad Child

by Joy Burgess

Scary news seems to be everywhere in the media these days. With the recent tragedies in Paris and other ISIS attacks around the world, many children are beginning to ask their parents questions about these senseless acts of violence. Kids are often exposed to the news today, bombarded with images of shootings, earthquakes, bombings, and more. As adults, we find these events scary and unsettling, but tragedies can be downright terrifying to children. When tragedy occurs, it’s important to talk to your child, ensuring that they feel safe and secure. Of course, what and how much you share should be dependent on the temperament and age of your child. Keep these helpful tips and suggestions in mind as you help your child navigate the many tragic events that take place in our world today.

The Importance of Limiting Your Child’s Media Exposure

First, it’s important to limit your child’s media exposure, especially for your younger children. Children under the age of five don’t need to be exposed to tragedies like Paris at all. Older children between 6-11 years of age can be given the basic facts and they should only have very little exposure to the media coverage. For children of this age, constantly being exposed to terrifying images can result in problems with anxiety among children.

After the recent Paris attacks, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement suggesting that parents be very careful about the images their children see after the terror attacks in Paris. Violence has lasting effects on kids, even if they only hear about it and see it via media. For children under age 11, it’s important to avoid the details that may be scary and disturbing to children. However, it’s still important to allow your child to express any feelings they may have after learning about a tragedy.

Bring Up the Tragedy Yourself if Your Child Doesn’t

When a tragedy occurs, your child may not bring up the topic. Even if they hear or see the topic in the news, they may be reluctant to talk about it. If you know that your child is aware of a tragedy, and they don’t bring it up, take the time to bring it up yourself. Ask your child what he thinks happened so you can find out what he thinks actually occurred. In many cases, children are left with misinterpretations of a tragic event, which can be even more of a problem. Kids often hear about tragedies like Paris from other peers, and it’s important to ensure they know the truth about the vent. Spend some time bringing up the problem and find out what they know about it so you can correct any misinterpretations.

Ask Questions to Find Out Your Child’s Concerns

When scary events take place, kids are sure to begin asking you questions about the details. They may ask questions like: “Will that ever happen here?” Where were the child’s parents at?” “Were those people bad?” “Does this mean we’re having a war?” “Who died, etc.?” However, before you begin to answer these questions, be sure that you’re fully sure what they are asking. You can find out the root of your child’s concerns by asking some questions of your own. For example, if your child asks “Will that every happen here?” you could ask your child the same question, asking what they think about it.

In many cases, children worry about your personal safety or their own personal safety. If this is the root concern of their questions, it’s possible for you to offer them specific reassurances so they know that they are okay and you are okay.

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Laurie Berkner

Laurie Berkner, The Dinosaurs and Me

by Jennifer Shakeel

One of the greatest joys in what I do is getting to talk with really cool people that are doing what they can to help children. Be it help them grow, learn, understand or overcome something in life.

Recently I was able to chat with one of my favorite Kids Rock Stars, can I say my kids were beyond excited, the one and only Laurie Berkner.

Hopefully you enjoyed the audio clip from our interview, now get comfortable and get inspired by a very busy mom and super talented artist!

How did you decide which songs would become books?

The decision was actually made along with my editor – another AMAZING person that I get to work with as part of this project.  When I was pitching the idea to different publishing houses I had written descriptions of about 30 of my songs, what each one meant, and what in my life had inspired me to write them.  When Christian Trimmer from Simon and Schuster read those descriptions – along with the lyrics – and listened to each of the songs, he chose three that he thought would make great picture books. I loved his suggestions and agreed that they would work well visually, and the decision was made.

How is your program “Music In Me” going? I read that you started the pilot program about a year ago in a few NYC schools?

It’s going really well!  Laurie Berkner’s The Music In Me is a curriculum I developed for “me and my grown-up” style music classes that kids ages 1-4 and their caregivers take together.  I’ve been training teachers, and we have classes in New York City as well as some in Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio.  The program is not in schools yet but there has been interest in having me modify the curriculum to use it in the classroom as well.

Earlier in your career you drew inspiration from your daughter and the things that she was doing. Now with her being older where do you draw inspiration from?

I actually started my career in kids’ music almost 10 years before my daughter was born, so while she was of course a great source of inspiration – especially when she was younger – I’ve written many more songs based on the kids I taught music to, my own memories of being a child, and things I hear kids say on the bus, on the street, in the grocery store, etc. I still write most of my songs that way.

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Family Promise Event

Houses for Change a Family Promise Endeavor

by Jennifer Shakeel

In 2015 alone, more than 2.5 million parents and children will experience homelessness. That is 1 out of every 30 children in this country.

Homelessness is the number one ignored epidemic that our country faces. Ignored because most people fail to realize that in the blink of an eye it could be them… it could be their children. How many times have you driven or walked by a homeless person on the street… or a family sleeping in a car and thought, “They must not have worked hard enough,” or something along those lines?

The fact of the matter is, the homeless population is made up of people from all walks of life. On a typical night in the United States of America there are more than 578,000 people homeless. For right now I want to go back to the 2.5 million that makes up families. In most states across our nation there are a variety of shelters and programs that in design are there to help those that end up homeless. But did you know that the majority of those programs don’t help families as a whole. Often families are broken up into a couple of different shelters based on the make-up of the family and the ages of the members.

Family Promise is one of the rare organizations that not only strives to end homelessness but that does everything they can to keep the family unit together, regardless of how that family is made up. Meaning single dads with kids… single moms with kids… kids that are over the age of 12 can stay with their parent(s)… grandparents that are raising grandkids… caregivers of children. Family Promise is an interfaith based organization that will help the family unit stay get back on their feet.

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Christmas Tree

by Lori Ramsey – real life parenting with a mom with 6 kids

The holidays are upon us and as a big part of the year, we decorate our homes for the festivities. For parents of smaller children, especially crawling babies and toddlers, this can be a bit of a challenge. We go from having a safe childproofed home to having decorations and holiday items that can be a hazard to the little tikes. As parents we have to decide is having a fully decorated home worth the extra safety risk to our little children.

For me, it often wasn’t and when mine were little I took on the holiday decorating with a whole different approach. I was a stickler for childproofing the home. I had outlet covers cover plugs and outlets, I had safety hinges on all cabinets. I had latches on doors and gates blocking danger zones and stairs. I realize how difficult it made our lives to have this stuff in place, but it also gave me breathing room to know my little one had a safe environment to explore. But when it came to the holidays I had to put a halt on many of the traditional decorations.

You need to make a decision if you choose to put up a traditional on the floor Christmas tree you have a couple of choices. You can either stay with your child every single moment to keep them from grabbing the ornaments, biting at the electrical lights, and knocking the tree over onto themselves or you can block it off. Put the tree in a little used room and keep the child out of it unless you are with them.

Or do like I did and do something different. When mine were little, I chose not to use the larger Christmas tree and instead we purchased a smaller tree that we set upon a table out of the child’s reach. All our décor existed high enough we could enjoy it but little hands couldn’t grab it.

As you can imagine, we went through about eight years where we did this just to make it easier on me. I’m sure there are parents out there who claim they can teach a child not to touch the tree, but with smaller children and curious toddlers, you’d better be right there with that constant need to slap back little hands or with the quick, “No-nos.” I chose not to go that route. Instead of it being a negative experience for our family, we kept the lower part of the home clear and child-proof and just decorated from about three feet and up.

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