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Archive for May 2009

Salt, sugar, sushi, spices… What does your kid eat?

As a toddler, my son ate curry. Not the seriously spicy stuff, but when he was 2 or so, his favorite foods included rice and his grandmother’s yellowish-green, Filipino version of chicken curry.

Even now, he digs ethnic food. But perhaps that’s because it was always part of his diet. But he also loves pizza and the occasional corndog. He’ll eat broccoli but he’d rather have cookies or cake.

Matthey Amster-Burton, a Seattle food writer andauthor of “Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater,” told NPR that many children are actually able to self-regulate so it’s good for parents to let children try all kinds of food – even the ones that are often considered taboo.

The NPR report, “Let them eat sugar: A new guide for feeding kids,” Amster-Burton advised parents “to let their kids navigate the world of  food without getting between them and their plate. This includes providing access to salt, sushi, spices and, yes, sugar.”

Here’s an excerpt from his book:

My daughter’s first meal was supposed to be, oh, let’s say local organic carrots pureed with homemade chicken broth in a hand-cranked food mill. That’s what everyone wants for their kid, right? I swear I was totally planning a feast of that nature when fate intervened and a doughnut fell on her head. …

There’s no evidence that the doughnut caused permanent damage, but Iris, now four years old, does exhibit some peculiar tendencies. In her favorite video game, Chocolatier, she builds a worldwide chocolate empire. Her favorite foods are pizza and burgers, but also sushi and a spicy Szechuan noodle dish. And recently, she had a friend over to play, and after they’d made a mess of the dining room baking pretend cakes, they ran over to me crying out, “We need more garam masala!”

… We have a small, eccentric child. In most ways, Iris eats like a typical four-year-old. She prefers white food, takes her burger plain, and is skeptical of vegetables. But she’s also picky about certain things that are clearly a result of her parents’ food obsessions.

…Iris may be more of a bacon snob than I am, but I think we have the same overall philosophy about food: Food is fun, and you get to enjoy it three times a day, plus snacks.

This made me laugh, but it also hit home. I know childhood obesity is a problem and I do think our culture relies too much on pre-packaged food. But sometimes, a little sugar can’t hurt, don’t you think? Instead of keeping certain foods away from our kids, wouldn’t it be better if we encourage them to try different things and teach them to enjoy it all in moderation?

Math in Spokane

Laurie Rogers, one of the original members of the newspaper’s Parents’ Council, asked us to post this on the blog:

On May 27 at 7 p.m., Spokane school administrators are scheduled to address the school board about proposed teaching materials for mathematics.

I’m asking parents and teachers to go the board meeting and demand that the district replace its failed math curricula.

Spokane’s current math curricula are “reform,” which means they focus on estimation, writing, calculators, and multiple ways to solve problems. They downplay the need to practice the most efficient algorithms (necessary for advancing in math, and needed in college, business and the trades). They emphasize constructivism (“discovery”) where students work in groups to try to teach math to each other.

In 2008, just 45.9% of Spokane 10th graders passed the math WASL. Many high school graduates must take several remedial college math classes, even arithmetic. For 20 years, parents, math teachers, professors, business owners, STEM professionals (science, technology, engineering and math), and math advocates have fought against reform math. In 2008, the National Mathematics Advisory Panel called for more traditional content and increased rigor across the nation.

Please come to the board meeting. Bring your students and high school graduates. They have the right to be heard. I’ll bet they have a lot to say about their K-12 math experience.

To contact Laurie, please e-mail her at or check out her blog: “Betrayed.”

“Mom, I’m bored…”

Summer can be a challenging time for tweens and young teens. They’re old enough to stay home alone, but many can’t work or find regular activities to do without adult supervision.

Today’s story in The Spokesman-Review, “Keeping kids busy during break on a budget,” acknowledged the fact that so many families this year can’t afford summer camp, which can cost several hundred dollars a week. So what’s a tween to do?

“He’ll read a lot. He’ll draw,” Lee Ann Fleming, whose son is 12, told the Associated Press. “There’ll probably be too much time watching mindless television. I don’t know what else to do.”

Thankfully, youth in Spokane have some options. Although some of the pools will remain closed until later this summer (and will no longer offer free admission to kids), the Spokane Parks & Recreation Department still provides a few affordable options – from two-week tennis lessons to weeklong camps for basketball, cheerleading, soccer and even flag football. The YMCA also has some affordable options including martial arts and hip hop dance.

The AP article offered some practical advice: Coordinate with other parents; find odd jobs such as car washing and dog walking so that the kids can make a little money; check senior centers, soup kitchens and other places for volunteer opportunities.

Another suggestion I’ve seen on several  parenting websites is to organize a progressive play date. Instead of having your kids and their friends in one place, they can spend an hour at your house and then move on to the next house. I suppose this would only work if the play date involved neighborhood kids, but it’s still a way for parents to work together and supervise their children while also getting a few hours to clean the house, run errands or just get a break.

What are your summer plans for the kids?

The blowout bash for graduation

To celebrate the culmination of high school next month, hundreds of area graduates will stay up all night partying with friends at a bash complete with karaoke, casino-style gambling and raffle prizes that include iPods and gift certificates to local stores and restaurants.

It’s called the senior all-nighter – a lavish party that requires dozens of parent volunteers and many months of planning. For the past year, the parents of these graduating seniors have been selling poinsettias, hosting garage sales and car washes, asking businesses for donations and doing all they can to raise money for the festivities.

Some parents are able to raise as much as $30,000 or more for these parties.

It’s a special night for the kids, they say. It also gives parents peace of mind because they know their sons and daughters are at a fun, alcohol-free event instead of at a keg at some unknown destination. While some people think it’s a good idea and tradition that many high schools should uphold, critics say these parties can be decadent and indulgent, and that the money could be used to help the poor and others in need.

What do you think?

If you have a graduating senior, how will your family celebrate this special occasion? Could you also give us some graduation gift ideas? Is cash the most practical present of all?

Cleaning house

Are some people just messy by nature or is it really possible to “train” our loved ones to be tidy?

I was once a neat freak – the kind that couldn’t sit still in a room if there was dust on a shelf or a painting on the wall that was slightly crooked. Before meeting my husband and having kids, I lived in an apartment that I vacuumed every day.

But now, I give up. It’s impossible to stay on top of the mess at my house. In fact, I can’t even find time to do chores on a regular basis. My children know that they have to pick up after themselves, but they don’t always put their toys away. We got rid of a lot of stuff in the past two years, but nevertheless, we still can’t keep our house in order.

Besides hiring someone to clean, I’m wondering if other families out there might have some advice on how to keep their homes neat and tidy. Do your children have a list of chores? How old were they when they started helping out around the house? Do you have weekly routines that you follow?

I’m also wondering, are all little kids messy or is there something I should be doing now so that I can help them be neat and orderly adults?

Is it possible to exercise with little kids?

In some ways, exercising was a lot easier when the kids were infants. First, they weighed a lot less. Second, they napped a lot more. Rides in the baby jogger would lull them to sleep. They also didn’t fuss too much – we gave them snacks and toys and they were content to hang out inside the Chariot, a baby jogger that also can be converted into a bike trailer and cross-country ski pull. (Spokesman-Review outdoors writer and editor, Rich Landers, recently wrote this article about the Chariot and other child buggies, which have enabled many families to continue their outdoor pursuits. That’s my daughter in one of the photos, by the way, and my husband’s knee.)

But things are quickly changing for us. My 5-year-old refuses to sit in the Chariot these days. He wants to run, ski and ride his own bike instead of being hauled around. Of course he has always been mobile, but after half an hour or so, he was content to get a ride right next to his little sister. Nowadays, he’s just way too independent. It’s been great to watch him ski on his own and ride a bike without training wheels, but at the same time, it’s been harder than ever to get any exercise for myself.  Sometimes, getting the kids out and about has become so much work that I’ve resorted to taking turns with my husband and leaving the kids at home instead of exercising as a family.

Experts, however, caution against not including your children in your workouts. Of course you shouldn’t have to push your toddler in a baby jogger for hours if you’re training for a big race, but they should also get the benefit of being outdoors and exercising with their parents, some say.

“This is such a teaching time,” Heidi Hill, author of “Fit Family: The Infant, Toddler and Preschool Years” told the Miami Herald. Parents who are patient enough to include their children in their own sports and workouts become good role models, she said.

Her book is a guide for parents who want to hike, bike, run, cross-country ski and kayak with small children. In the Miami Herald article, she emphasized the need for parents to “persevere through these early years because as the kids get older and more self-sufficient, exercising as a family becomes more rewarding.”

Often, it takes good equipment – the Chariot, for instance, or a sturdy backpack. But most of all, it requires an attitude adjustment. ”It’s just knowing that some days aren’t going to be great, but we’re going to put a positive spin on it,” Hill told the Miami Herald. ”I think people tend to find a lot of excuses — too busy, too much money, the kids are crying. You just really have to educate yourself, and do it.”

Parents with older kids often tell me this: Before long, the kids will be on their own. And they’ll be running, biking and skiing even faster than their parents.

How have you adapted your exercise routines and workouts to fit your kids? What are some of the things that you do at home to encourage your children to stay active and healthy?

Kids safety: Temporary tats, leashes and other ideas

A friend who recently took his family to Disneyland shared this great tip with me:

“A dad took a Sharpie and wrote his cell number on his son’s upper arm. So if the kid got lost, all he had to do was show an adult this number, and things would be good.”

Some companies such as Safetytat (“The tat that brings kids back,” is their slogan) sell temporary tattoos for families who fear losing track of their children at the amusement park, the pool, the mall, anywhere where a kid can get lost in a crowd. You could also use the Tat to let others know if your child has a life-threatening allergy, especially during school field trips.

I like the Sharpie idea, for sure. I’ve seen a few parents take their children out on a leash, but I’m a little uncomfortable with the idea and I’m not sure it would work for my family.

What are some of the safety precautions that you take when traveling or vacationing with children?

Gen X Parents

A recent story on asserts that the children of my generation – those born between 1965 and 1977 – are among the rudest in history.

Today’s tykes: Secure kids or rudest in history?” claims that Gen X moms and dads have forsaken compassion and empathy in order to ensure that our children have healthy self-esteem.

… By many accounts Generation X may be the most devoted parents in American history. They are champions of “attachment parenting,” the school of child-rearing that calls for a high level of closeness between parents and children, Many Gen-X parents co-sleep with their children, hold them back from entering kindergarten if they feel their children’s emotional maturity is at stake and volunteer at their kids’ schools at record rates. Gen-X moms have been famously criticized by early feminists for dropping out of the workforce to care for their young children.

Yet, their kids are, well, rude. It may be that today’s parents are so fixated on their children’s emotional well-being that they’re teaching them that the well-being of others is comparatively unimportant, says Dr. Philippa Gordon, a long-time pediatrician in Park Slope, Brooklyn, an urban New York neighborhood famous for its dense Gen-X parent population.

I vehemently disagree. Earlier this week, I was at neighborhood park, where my kids played alongside the children of other Gen-Xers. Unlike the example in the story – in which a mom wouldn’t share her son’s toys with another kid because her son started crying – we met parents who encouraged their toddlers and preschoolers to share their trucks, shovels and other playthings. In fact, they went out of their way to make sure my kids were included even though we didn’t know each other.

Many families we know – and yes, they are Gen X parents – emphasize the need for empathy and compassion for others. At our preschool, teachers work hard to build community among the children so that they know how to work together, solve problems together, help each other and show care and kindness – not just to for people but also for materials and livings things in our environment.

What do you think? Do you think today’s kids are really among the rudest in history?

My Mom or Me

How do you celebrate Mother’s Day when you are a mom and your mom lives close by?

Mother’s Day: A day of rest, not gifts

Mother’s Day can be a lot of pressure – especially on dads and adult children. When the holiday comes around – and it’s happening this Sunday – people find themselves scrambling to find the perfect gift. They send flowers, buy chocolates, purchase certificates to the spa, the mall or a restaurant. Gift-givers are expected to spend less this year because of the recession, according to the National Retail Federation, but Mother’s Day spending is still estimated to reach $14.1 billion.

Mother’s Day, however, was never intended to be another occasion to buy Hallmark cards and presents for mom.

When social activist Anna Jarvis began her efforts to establish a national holiday in 1908, her goal was to establish a “day of rest” for moms. President Woodrow Wilson made it happen in 1914. But when people started buying flowers, cards and candy for their moms and making gifts the focus of the holiday, Jarvis became so upset that she started a petition to rescind Mother’s Day, according to this 2008 NPR report, “Mother’s Day Founder Opposed Commercialization.”

“Not one more thing,” I’ve been telling my family for the past three years. I don’t even want flowers. I’m satisfied with homemade cards, maybe a little cake and a couple of hours to myself for a run or a bike ride.

I think Jarvis was right on. Every mom I know could sure use a day of rest.

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This blog is intended to provide a forum for parents to share knowledge and resources. It's a place for parents young and old to combine their experiences raising families into a collective whole to help others.

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