Dr. Rene At Home

How Your Own Sibling Relationships Can Impact Your Children’s Sibling Relationships

 

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Me and Rodney 1975

 

I’ll admit, I am about to way oversimplify an issue about complex family dynamics. There are people who spend years in therapy unraveling the impact from the next few points. That said, there are some fairly obvious ways your own sibling relationships, from growing up and from current exchange, can impact your children’s sibling relationships. While it may not be as direct in your family, still worth stepping back and checking the big picture.

Your expectations from childhood – How you got along with your siblings can shape your expectations for how your children will get along. My brother and I got along great, and I expected my children would get along. My husband and his siblings, not so much. He is still surprised by the way our children get along.

Your current sibling relationships – Through your current sibling relationships you are modeling how to treat and interact with siblings. How much you keep in touch, how you greet each other, the time you spend together and how you move through disagreements are all modeling to children about sibling relationships.

How you speak to and about your siblings – How you speak to and about your siblings, models to children how to speak to and about their siblings. If you put down your siblings, complain about them, or critique their decisions often, it opens the door for this to be how they speak to and about their siblings.

Your tolerance for behaviors shaped by what you experienced – A mother of three was teary-eyed asking how to stop her children from bickering. Her question started, “I just can’t take their bickering. There was constant bickering in my house growing up…” Yes, healthy goal for her children to bicker less. Also healthy to recognize some level of bickering is normal, and to find ways to lessen her carried-over stress about the remainder.

 

Having Difficult Conversations with Children

 

Mother and daughter at home

As a parent, there are so many potentially difficult conversations in front of you. This may include conversations about transitions like moving to a new place or a marriage separation. At some point, you’ll likely have to talk about the significant illness or death of a close relative. Also as they grow, you’ll need to address sex and drugs and alcohol with something more than “don’t.”

Parents set the emotional landscape – How you present information goes a long way towards how they take that information in. I am not saying be a robot, it is normal to be emotional about emotional topics. However, if you present something as “the worst thing ever,” children will take it that way rather than presenting it as “something we are going to work on.” Here is a helpful post about setting the emotional landscape.

Ask what they already know, what they think, how they feel – Before you start, it may be helpful to ask what they already know. If a grandparent has been sick for weeks, you may have not talked to your child directly, but they may have overheard lots. This can give you a good starting point and gives you a chance to clear up any misunderstandings.

A few well planned sentences – For young children, two or three sentences is plenty. This can be longer for older children but good to make it on the brief side and straightforward.

Let their questions be your guide – Once you finish your few, clear sentences be ready to answer their questions. Depending on the topic, the child, and their age, they may have no questions or they may have several. The idea is they are in need of the amount of information they ask for.

Answer all of their questions, honest and small – As difficult as it may be, it’s good to answer all of their questions. Be honest and answer just what’s asked. If it’s too emotional in the moment, or you don’t actually know the answer, it is fine to let them know you need some time, but be sure to follow up with this.

Acknowledge emotions and validate why – If there is upset or anger, it’s good to give empathy and recognize why they might feel that way. It’s not a time to talk them out of their feelings, it’s a time to recognize and help them communicate.

Offer reassurance often – During and following difficult conversations, children are often rightfully thinking, “how does that impact me?” Even if they aren’t able to express it, the concern is there. Reassurance when discussing school shootings might be, “your school is a safe place. Dangers like that in schools are very rare. It is your teacher’s job to keep you safe, and she has a plan.” Reassurance after the death of a loved one, “most people die when they are very old. I am healthy and hope to be here when I am very old. There will always be someone to take care of you.” The idea is to add reassurance to the conversation and remember to reassure as you answer every few questions.

Parenting books and children’s books – For any life transition or difficult conversation, there are good children’s books available. It can be helpful to search Amazon’s children’s books by topic or head to the book store to ask. Reading and discussing books together can be a base for your conversation or a way to help answer questions. There are also parenting books available for several difficult topics.

Know school’s curriculum and stay ahead of it – Some of these topics are addressed in school. Sex education, drug and alcohol abuse are all covered in school health classes or D.A.R.E. programs. If your children are participating, it is good to know what will be covered, and it’s better to discuss these issues with your children before they hear it in school.

Small conversations scattered across time – Once a topic is open, it is normal for children to have questions over time. As they grow they are learning, being exposed to new information and new opinions. Good to let them know they can always talk to you about anything, anytime. It’s good to keep the topics open and answer them in honest ways as they ask you more.

Calm conversations – For them to feel like they can truly talk to you about anything, you have to stay calm when they bring up the difficult or challenging topics. You might read Screamfree Parenting by Runkel, Peaceful Parents, Peaceful Kids by Drew or attend our Calm Parenting workshops for help on this. Here are a few helpful posts on calm parenting.

 

Want Your Older Children to Really Talk to You? Practice Open Talk Time

Family time

When my girls were little, I practiced Stanley Greenspan’s floortime with them as a way to really connect with them in play. Here is a post with the basic guidelines of floortime.

As they got older, there was a gradual shift from floortime to open talk time. In my family, this shift started around 8 years old. Again inspired by Greenspan, open talk time is a way to encourage real conversation with your children. It’s a way to build their trust, for them to learn they really can talk to you about anything.

Like floortime, the goal is 20 minute stretches a few times a week. This is a time when you are fully engaged, really listening and not checking your phone or going up and down to make dinner. In my house, this happens after tuck-ins. Once everyone is in bed for the night, I lay down beside someone and we talk.

It’s fine for your child to lead the topic. It’s good to have positive conversations about things like what they enjoyed over the weekend or what interesting things they are learning about at school. It is equally good to have more difficult conversations about things like what they didn’t like about their summer camp or what they don’t like about you. During the more difficult conversations it is important to listen, reflect, accept and understand. If they are discussing challenges they have within your relationship, you might comment, “yeah, that would be hard if I were my mom.” They are learning you will stay calm, you can listen without judgements. The goal is to avoid any defensiveness, argueing, big opinions or upsets. By all means, if you feel you must weigh in, just give it a day. Come back later and say, “I was thinking about our conversation…”

It was February of Alicen’s eighth grade year. I was making dinner and she was setting the table when she said, “Okay, I have to tell you about this thing that is happening at school because no one is telling their parents.” I sat down. She proceeded to tell me a pretty horrible thing that was happening at school, and while all the students knew and were talking with each other, the teachers and parents were unaware. Usually when the girls tell me things of concern from school, we brainstorm how to best handle it. This time I just said, “You don’t need to worry about this one, I will speak with your principal tomorrow.”

What exactly was happening isn’t the point here. The point is she told me about it. When no one was telling their parents, she felt comfortable to tell me about it. She knew I wouldn’t lose it. There’s no way to be sure, but I feel it’s our open talk time that got us to that point.

 

 

What to Do When They Don’t Like Lessons

A children baseball player don't want to play

Last summer your four-year-old agreed to swim lessons, and he even seemed a little excited. However when swim lessons started, he clung to your leg and cried through the first lesson. He sat on the side for the next few lessons that followed. Here are some ideas for the next go around:

Ask what they’d like to do – At any age, it is good to ask their opinions and really listen to what extracurriculars they’d like to do and why. It’s fine if there are things you require like learning to swim, but for most of their activities it helps when they have a say.

Preview or smaller related experiences – If your child wants to take gymnastics classes, maybe start with a free trial or host a birthday at the gym. At the very least, watch gymnastics videos on youtube.

Enroll with friends – Everything’s better with a buddy.

Finish what you start (don’t sign up for year long programs) – I am a fan of encouraging children to finish what they start. To make that happen, it’s best to enroll in shorter programs until you both have a better sense of what they like to do.

Give matter of fact empathy before, during and after – When a child is complaining that they don’t want to go, many parents answer with logic and reasoning saying, “all of your friends are there,” and, “you had fun there yesterday.” This is all just stuff to argue with. It’s far better to meet complaints with empathy and move forward saying, “I know you don’t want to go. This is hard,” as you put on their shoes or walk out the door.

It’s okay to stay, but if you do disconnect and be boring – Unless it’s meant to be a parent-child class, it’s best to sit off to the side and not participate. When a parent stays a few days while their child adjusts to our preschool, we ask the parent to bring work to do or something to read while they sit off to the side paying no attention to their child or the class. If the parent is boring, the child is more likely to join the rest of the class.

Don’t push them to join, let the activity and teacher pull them in – If you stay, it’s okay if your child sits nearby. While you are being boring, it’s best to disengage. The more you tend to push them out, saying things like, “you should go play blocks with them,” the more they tend to cling.

Okay to leave, if you do ask for direction – If your child is struggling and you’d prefer to leave, it’s good to check in with the teacher first. This way the teacher can be ready to offer support, and you can both make a back-up plan for if it goes poorly and decide a way to communicate later.

All comments in the positive – Following the class, focus on anything positive. Let’s say your child sat by you for 55 minutes and played with legos for 5 minutes. On the drive home it’s good to say, “those legos looked like a lot of fun!” not, “I don’t know why I even take you places, you sat with me so much.”

Avoid overscheduling – This bullet point deserves to be it’s own blog post or three, but here goes, children need downtime. At a minimum, I tend to think an hour of downtime a day, and it can even be great to have whole days of downtime. This is unstructured, go play time. Also though, classes and clubs are great too. Think of building a balance.

Look for patterns – Your child may be more of an independent athlete, rather than enjoying team sports. Your child may be more of a chess club kid than into drama. They may do better with weekday evenings at home, and enjoy classes and sports on the weekends. Note what works and discuss it with your child.

With an older child, it’s fine to agree on a trial period – When it’s available, it’s reasonable to try a new sport, class or instrument for a set period of time and then evaluate. It’s good to stay open and flexible.

All that said, if it’s miserable it can be okay to quit – So you’ve tried several things on the list, and both you and your child are still miserable over them attending a class. It’s fine to drop out. It’s good to discuss the reasons why and consider changes moving forward. Quitting four-year-old swim lessons doesn’t mean they’ll be a quitter for life.

Deciding they don’t like it at the end of an 8 week session isn’t quitting – If your child lets you know they are done with an activity at the end of a session, it’s good to discuss and really listen to and about why. Deciding they’d like to take a break or the activity isn’t for them isn’t quitting, it’s making room for other, preferred activities.

Fun Things to Do on Snow Days

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Last year we had a full week home with snow days. Late on day two, we made a list. I hope it helps on your next snow day!

  • Stay in your pajamas with your kids all day
  • Take bubbles baths
  • Bake cookies from scratch
  • Color
  • Paint
  • Any craft kits that have been sitting on the shelf – our favorite is potholder looms
  • Rent movies on demand
  • Charades
  • Board games – make a list of all that’s available
  • Puzzles
  • Pillow forts
  • Blanket fort under the dining room table
  • Hide-n-go-seek in the house
  • Sardines
  • Scavenger hunt
  • Build a Lego or Ello town
  • Puppet shows
  • Set up the racetrack or train set
  • Card games – teach them Go Fish, War, King’s Corner’s and Spoons if you haven’t already
  • Any gross motor play you have – a ball pit, a sit-n-spin, balance board, mini trampoline, or jumps ropes
  • Any pretend play – get out the doll house or the airport set, again make a list of all that’s available
  • Dress up clothes – In our house, it’s usually a fashion show, but it may be a fire station in yours.
  • Read aloud – good to start a new chapter book
  • Water play at the kitchen sink
  • Make home made playdoh
  • Play with regular playdoh
  • Teach your children every campfire or patriotic song you can remember
  • Play with cornstarch and water – so fun if you get the mix right and cleans up easy as soon as it dries
  • Let the kids make lunch
  • Play restaurant with waiters at lunch
  • Picnic in the living room for snack
  • Here is a post with lots more active indoor play ideas
  • BUNDLE UP AND GO OUTSIDE – make snowmen, throw snowballs, use an ice box and make bricks for an igloo, make snow ice cream, go sledding, go for a nature walk or slide on (absolutely safe depth) ice patches.

Please comment and share your snow day ideas!

Encouraging Piano Practice

Boy Playing Piano

Dear Dr. Rene,

My seven-year-old son has been taking piano for six months. The first several months came easy to him, and he was happy to practice. Now that the learning is requiring a bit of effort, he grumbles about the practice. How can I encourage him to practice without being all ‘tiger mom’? I’d like to instill a small sense of obligation and self motivation.

Thanks,

Nancy G., mom of 2

Dear Nancy,

It’s great that he enjoyed the first several months, and there are lots of things you might try to encourage ownership and add enjoyment moving forward.

  • Set reasonable expectations and times – At seven years old you might expect 20 minutes a day, five days a week. You could offer to break this into two 10-minute stretches if that fits. It may be helpful to have a chart by the piano where he can check off his practice times.
  • Give choices – It may be helpful to give him choices. Give choices about when to practice, either before or after snack, right after school or right after bath. Give choices about the order of things within, either scales first or review last weeks song.
  • Add fun – As he is practicing, sometimes sit for a recital, sing along with songs, record songs to play back or send songs to others over the phone. Every fourth lesson, our piano teacher would play musical notes UNO with the girls. I think she made the cards herself but the girls loved it.
  • Avoid rewards but occasionally build in things that are related – I’d avoid things like stickers and start charts, but it’s fine to occasionally give related things. As he is practicing, this might be a new piano book or downloading new music. It’s better to give as a surprise, rather than something to work towards.
  • Go on related outings – Take him to see an orchestra. If you are in Northern Virginia, take him to The Fish Market on the early side of piano night. My girls loved going there for an appetizer dinner and listening to everyone sing along with the piano player.
  • Highlight practicing – When the girls were little it took them each about 3 summers of swim lessons to be able to swim across the big pool. We reference that often when it comes to practicing new skills. When Alicen bumped up against multiplication tables in third grade, we compared this to swim lessons. It takes a lot of effort over a period of time to master a new task, but eventually it becomes easy.
  • Swap for practice – Once in a while, you might let him stay up 20 minutes late if he is practicing, or you might let him out of a daily chore for practicing.
  • Give descriptive praise – When you give praise, be sure you are praising his effort, “you learned every note,” process, “you can play those scales so fast,” progress, “you know it better this week than last,” or effort, “you practiced everyday this week.” Avoid praising outcomes, “what a pretty song. I like that!”

Hopefully something in here helps!

Sincerely,

Dr. Rene

Northern Virginia Staycation (Updated 2017)

Child at Mount Vernon in Northern Virginia

I made this list when we stayed home for yet another Spring Break, and thought it would be equally helpful to share at the start of summer! There are so many great things to do in the Northern Virginia area.

The Smithsonian- Our family’s favorite museums include the Natural History Museum, the two Air and Space Museums, the American Indian Museum, the American History Museum and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. The National Building Museum is also a hit with families, especially their recent summer exhibits. My children particularly enjoy taking in an IMAX movie and visiting the butterfly experience at the National History Museum. Here is a link to highlighted children’s activities: http://www.si.edu/Kids

Steven F Udvar Hazi Center- If your kids enjoy the Air and Space Museum, this museum in Chantilly is a must.  http://airandspace.si.edu/visit/udvar-hazy-center/

Newseum- We have found this to be a great museum with older children. It’s as interactive as it is informative. http://www.newseum.org/exhibits/

International Spy Museum- Fun for kids seven and up. http://www.spymuseum.org/education-programs/kids-families/

Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse- Good food, and who can beat Monday and Tuesday’s $2 movies? They often play family friendly matinees on the weekends as well. http://arlingtondrafthouse.com/drafthouse/

Fletcher’s Boathouse- Great place to rent rowboats, kayaks, canoes and bikes right on the Potomac River. http://boatingindc.com/boathouses/fletchers-boathouse/

Appalacian National Scenic Trail near Leesburg- For beautiful short or long term hikes, the entrance is just west of Loudoun County. https://www.visitloudoun.org/listing/appalachian-trail/364/

The B&O Railroad Museum- If you have a train lover in the family, this museum is worth the trip to Baltimore. http://www.borail.org/

Kid Museum in Bethesda- This museum offers STEM and cultural activities for children six to 14 years old. http://kid-museum.org/

Port Discovery in Baltimore- A fun children’s museum in Baltimore. They provide three floors of interactive exhibits. It’s designed for children who are toddlers to 10 years old. http://www.portdiscovery.org/

National Aquarium in Baltimore- The aquarium has become both of my girls’ favorite outing because of the dolphin show, rainforest area and shark tanks.  http://www.aqua.org/

Maryland Science Center- This Baltimore museum is worth the trip. http://www.mdsci.org/

Corcoran Gallery of Art- This museum has a large collection and interesting family programs. http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/education/families.html

National Geographic Museum- http://events.nationalgeographic.com/locations/city/washingtondc/

Canoeing, Kayaking and Tubing- We enjoyed tubing last summer, and are scheduled to go white water rafting (the mild course) next weekend. There are several companies including:

  • River & Trail Outfitters in Harper’s Ferry http://www.rivertrail.com/adventure-tours/
  • Shenandoah River Outfitters in Luray http://www.shenandoah-river.com/
  • DownRiver Canoe Company in Bentonville https://www.downriver.com/.

Mount Vernon- A full day of learning about George Washington’s life and times. It’s a kid friendly tour with lots of tips under Educational Resources on the website. http://www.mountvernon.org/

National Harbor Ferris Wheel and Waterfront Activities or Tidal Basin Paddle Boats – For waterfront fun! 

http://www.nationalharbor.com/play/ or http://www.tidalbasinpaddleboats.com/

US National Arboretum- This is a beautiful place to visit, and now they have a mobile app to assist with your visit. http://www.usna.usda.gov/

United States Botanical Gardens- Another beautiful place to visit to learn about plants and gardening. Every Thursday they host a parent-child tour for parents with young children in backpack carriers or slings. https://www.usbg.gov/

Leesburg Air Shows- Save the date – this year it’s Saturday September 30th. http://www.leesburgairshow.com/

Sandy Point State Park (beach on the Chesapeake Bay)- A small family friendly beach on the bay.

http://reservations.dnr.state.md.us/camping/sandy-point-state-park/r/campgroundDetails.do?contractCode=MD&parkId=380517

Trampoline Parks – Flight in Springfield, or Rebounderz in Chantilly.

County and State Parks

  • Huntley Meadows in Alexandria
  • Buddy Ford in Arlington
  • Frying Pan Park in Reston
  • Burke Lake Park in Burke
  • Bull Run Park in Centreville

Children’s Theatre

  • Encore Stage and Studio
  • Wolf Trap Children’s Theater in the Woods
  • Imagination Stage
  • The Puppet Co. at Glen Echo
  • Creative Cauldron

Spraygrounds and Water Parks

  • Special Harbor Spray Park at Lee District in Alexandria
  • Drew Park in Arlington (spray park)
  • Mosaic District in Fairfax (spray park)
  • Great Waves in Alexandria (water park)
  • Splash Down in Manassas (water park)

Farms

  • Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon
  • Loudoun Heritage Farm Park
  • Great Country Farms in Bluemont, VA
  • Washington’s River Farm in Alexandria

Horse Riding Trails 

  • Rock Creek Park Horse Center
  • Piscataway Riding Stables
  • The MainTree Farm in Leesburg

Zoos

  • National Zoo, DC
  • Maryland Zoo in Baltimore
  • Salisbury Zoological Park, MD
  • Catoctin Wildlife Preserve, MD
  • Roer’s Safari (Reston Zoo)
  • Leesburg Animal Park

Ice Skating

  • Lee District Rec Center
  • Ashburn Ice House
  • Fairfax

Playgrounds- There’s really too many to list here. This is a link to Northern Virginia Magazine’s list: http://www.northernvirginiamag.com/game-plan/2013/07/05/playgrounds-for-the-kiddos/. Here’s a second extensive list from Our-Kids https://www.our-kids.com/sports-recreation/playgrounds.

Tips for Teaching Manners

A Mother And Daughter Setting The Table Together

  • There are a few games for teaching manners like for “Mother May I” we add “Mother May I Please.” The exchange before moving is, “mother, may I please take two steps?” “yes, you may,” “thank you,” “your welcome.” After each four phrase exchange, the child moves and the next player asks.
  • Start a ‘manners jar.’ First, talk with your children for a week about manners such as saying “please,” “thank you,” “excuse me” and “I’m sorry.” Discuss table manners each night at dinner. Teach how to introduce themselves to others and how to answer and speak on the phone. Read a storybook about manners each night at bedtime. Then, starting the second week, see how often you can catch other family members remembering their manners. Each time someon is polite, put a pom-pom or a marble in your ‘manners jar.’ See if you can fill it in a week, or measure your progress by seeing if you can earn more the second week than the first. If you want to tie something to filling the jar, be sure to make it manners related (to stay a positive logical consequence). This could be saying, “we’ll go to a fancy restaurant for dessert and practice our newly learned table manners.”
  • Have a tea party to practice table manners.
  • Require thank-you notes for gifts at an early age. It’s fine to start with thank-you drawings.
  • Start a ‘manners journal.’ Each night at dinner, talk about something someone in the family did that day that was polite or an instance where someone practiced good manners. Write it down in the journal with their name at the top of the page.
  • Play board games that teach manners such as The Picnic Basket Manners Game by Noodleboro, The Blunders game of Manners by Successful Kids or Don’t Pick Your Nose by Bambini.
  • Read children’s books about manners:
  1. Do Unto Otters by Keller
  2. Manners by Aliki
  3. Dude, That’s Rude! by Espeland (older)
  4. Manners Can by Fun by Leaf
  5. Manners at School and Manners in Public by Finn
  6. Berenstain Bears Forget Their Manners by Berenstain
  7. Richard Scarry’s Please and Thank You Book by Scarry
  8. A Smart Girl’s Guide to Manners by Holyoke (older)
  9. Soup Should be Seen, Not Heard by Brainard

Join me for a workshop on Honesty, Manners, Respect and Responsibility, on July 24, 7:00-9:00pm. We will spend about 30 minutes on ways to encourage each topic.  For more information and to register, please visit http://www.eventbrite.com/o/parenting-by-dr-rene-parenting-playgroups-283710166?s=1328924.

Parenting with Unconditional Love Matters Most When It’s Hard to Do

womans hands with paper man family

Unconditional love is easy when things are going as planned, but it can become difficult when things are not going as expected.

Let’s say you are an outgoing and social mom married to an outgoing and social dad, and your first child is equally comfortable in social settings. Your second child comes along and is very slow to warm-up, has difficulty speaking to others and you think “painfully shy.” This child clings to the wall, calling for you at swim lessons and cries often at birthday parties. This is not what you expected, and is such a different experience from raising your first child. You often find yourself feeling embarrassed and wanting to apologize for your child’s awkward behaviors. You catch yourself pushing hard to make them more social and cringing at the thought of starting new camps and classes. Unconditional love says stop pushing and cringing, and stop thinking of your child as “painfully shy.” Think of them as observant, and as needing a bit of time or reassurance to warm up. It requires that you stop comparing your child to their sibling and recognize them for who they are. It’s fine to positively coach social skills, role play how to start conversations and give them opportunities and support to be social. Love them for who they are now while moving forward.

Another example: your eight-year-old is being diagnosed with a learning disability.  School came easy to you. You were a bookworm as a child and love reading for pleasure now. Your child has struggled with reading all along and seems disinterested in even listening to you read stories. You were devastated when their teacher suggested they might have a learning disability and now, at the eligibility meeting, you just can’t get a hold of how upset you are. You think this is the worst thing that’s ever happened, and know they won’t go to a good college. Yes, I get there is a grieving process here, but move through it so you can help your child to transition. Unconditional love says recognize this new information for the gift it is. Your child was already struggling, and you now have the benefit of knowing exactly how they are struggling, so you can better make decisions about and support their education. The assessment and results don’t change your child in anyway. Your child has the same potential now that they did before the evaluation. They are the same person, you are just more well informed. Believe in them, advocate for them and aim high.

Your 13-year-old tells you they are gay. You had no idea. You cry and tell them this isn’t something they should let anyone else know. You talk to them about how so many people don’t really know who they are at thirteen, and how, over time, they may change their mind. Unconditional love says recognize how brave they were to tell you and how much trust they have in your relationship to be able to share that. For the benefit of your child and your relationship, stay open to what they are telling you. Love them every bit as much, and in the same way, after this news as you did before.

When love becomes conditional, the disconnect is between what you think should be happening versus what is actually happening. It can be difficult to be supportive given the difference, and this is a time when your support is important. Your child needs you. Unconditional love says step up to the now to love and support your child regardless of your “should.”

Nature Walk Ideas by Age

family walking

I grew up in a bird-watching, nature-loving family. We camped for summer vacations and had bird books on the coffee table. My parents still hike out to the middle of nowhere at 4:00 a.m. once a year for the Christmas Bird Count. With my own kids, we have found there are so many fabulous places for nature walks in Virginia. Here are a few tips to get you started:

Any age:

  • Encourage children to make related art projects – This may be drawing or painting pictures, crayon rubbings, making a leaf collage, painting pine cones or rocks and weaving flower jewelry.
  • Encourage children to make a collection – It may be shells, rocks, leaves or flowers. Allow the collecting and help create a place to display. It helps to take a collection bag on your walks.
  • Encourage nature photography and videos – With so many point-and-click options, being a budding nature photographer has no age minimum.
  • Encourage children to use all their senses – Ask how things feel and how things smell. Encourage children to sit quietly in nature and really listen.
  • Bring binoculars and a magnifying glass – It’s wonderful for children to be able to see things far away and very up close.
  • Bring a bug box – This can be a nice way for kids to get a really good look at bugs.  As best you can, plan for a safe catch and release.
  • Bring friends – It’s always more fun with friends!

Preschoolers:

  • Take all the time they need – When they are really interested in something, it can take 10 minutes to go a few feet. Have patience and let them examine things fully.
  • Point out and discuss colors, shapes and sizes often – Colors, shapes and sizes are  all part of an academic foundation.
  • A nature scavenger hunt
  • Label and then label some more – Nature walks and outings in general are a great way to boost early vocabulary. Label and include definitions as much as you can.
  • Be descriptive – Include lots of details and adjectives in your descriptions.

Elementary school kids:

  • Discuss similarities and differences – Discuss how two flowers or two birds are alike and different. Elementary children should be able to participate with this and it’s good practice.
  • Encourage journaling – This is an easy way to keep up their writing skills over the summer months. Bring a notebook and encourage them to write about the things they see.
  • Keep lists, counts and make charts – To make the journal more interesting, suggest they keep track of how many and what animals, birds or flowers they see.
  • Keep measurements – Early elementary schoolers may be very into measuring things. The simple idea is to take a ruler with you and have them measure flowers and sticks and rocks. This can be a fun thing for the journal.
  • Introduce guide books and teach to identify –  Guide books help identify the bird or plant in front of you. You can use these as you go, or take pictures and later go back to sort through the book.

Middle and high school kids:

  • Encourage more detailed journaling – As they grow, their writing should be fuller and have a shape. I think encouraging writing is up there with reading and math, this is just an easy way to get that practice. This might be an interesting time to focus on poetry.
  • Let them plan the hikes – Planning is a good skill in life. Have them pick the place, plan the snacks and pack the bags (might want to check this last one).
  • Good idea to ban the phones – Aside from taking pictures, nature walks are a good time to turn off the talking and texting. This helps everyone to be present and really enjoy where they are.

Please share your own tips below!

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