26th February 2015The best books to enjoy with your children
When it comes to reading, some children will take to it like a duck to water, while others will avoid it at all costs. However, as a parent, it's important that you are a constant source of support, encouragement and engagement in this area.
If your child is having trouble reading or simply doesn't enjoy it, there's no big issue, but helping your younger family members in this area can help them in many areas of life and development. Being able to read well will help them learn better and easier at school, while it will also help them build confidence in their own abilities.
For many parents, the struggle comes when their child has learnt to read but doesn't seem enthused about challenging themselves further and taking their reading to the next level. Some of the books in this list may seem too advanced for your child, but you can start by reading it to them before they go to bed, and slowly encourage them to read more and more of it themselves.
There are many books that are ideal for helping bridge this gap in reading, and continue to encourage your child.
ROALD DAHL - THE TWITS
Roald Dahl is a fantastic author when it comes to persuading children that reading is not dull. His stories are exciting, gruesome and funny, which immediately inspires most young people to continue reading his books. The story of The Twits focuses on Mr and Mrs Twits, who are nasty people who do horrible things to those around them and each other. This story is full of funny anecdotes, which children will instantly love, but also has a sentimental and important message that parents will love too.
The best thing about Roald Dahl is that, if your child gravitates towards his books, there are plenty more for you to choose from.
BEATRIX POTTER COLLECTION
If your child isn't quite up to reading Roald Dahl, start them off with some of Beatrix Potter's work. Starting off as an illustrator herself, Beatrix Potter's books are full of beautiful and detailed pictures to accompany her heartwarming stories. These alone should be enough to encourage children to delve a little deeper, but the tales are amusing and innocent stories about animals.
JK ROWLING - THE HARRY POTTER SERIES
As the most popular children's series of all time, Harry Potter is an obvious place to start for people that are looking to develop their reading ability. Although fans of the films may worry about the dark undertones, the shorter, earlier books are ideal for young children. There is enough action and excitement to keep them entertained and there are fantastic lessons to be learnt from reading them. Not only does good conquer all in the Harry Potter books, but it also deals with many other issues like the power of friendship, loyalty, bullying and judging others. One of the best things about this series is that, as your child matures, they can carry on reading the series.
Reading with your child is a fantastic way to build a close relationship between yourself and them. Of course, you don't want to be too pushy but make sure to praise and encourage them even when they are struggling.
For lots more help with and information on getting children reading, it's well worth taking a look at the Book Trust website all year round, as well as getting involved with Children's Book Week each summer.
26th February 2015Get kids involved with games that encourage moving and shaking
If you think about playing games with your kids, the chances are that board games immediately spring to mind - fun toys that while away a winter's afternoon and provide some good quiet time to interact with one another.
While these are undoubtedly extremely useful for building cognitive skills and winding down at the end of the day, it's also important to play games that encourage movement too.
In fact, these can have just as big an impact on children's development, plus they fit in plenty of the all-important exercise necessary each day.
We were reminded of the importance of moving and shaking by reports of a new study, which tested a toy that aims to combine learning with movement - and fun, of course.
The study was carried out by media scientist Dr Martina Lucht from the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology, Germany. She had spotted a hopscotch grid drawn on a footpath one day and realised this old game could be put to good use in a more modern setting.
"It suddenly occurred to me that learning has to be combined with movement to make it fun," she commented.
Dr Lucht designed a toy a little like a dance mat, with sensor pads divided up into nine fields featuring letters and numbers, just like the keys of a mobile phone.
Depending on which game is programmed into it, children complete tasks by spelling out words or 'typing' out numbers after the computer has asked them questions - such as dancing out spellings.
It's suitable for all ages and Dr Lucht pointed out that subjects from maths to history can all be incorporated. Initial tests showed children to be enthusiastic participants, so the inventor hopes to roll the toy out more widely in the future.
We thought it was interesting how the Hopscotch toy capitalised on kids' apparently built-in ability to use mobile phone keypads, but also on keeping their minds active and their bodies moving at the same time.
MOVING AND SHAKING GAMES YOU CAN DO AT HOME
However, since you might not have access to this type of toy, you can achieve similar effects by designing your own 'get moving' games in the house or garden. There's something about the effect of exertion that seems to get the mind more focused and allows for the easier recollection of new information later.
You could even bring back chalked-out hopscotch grids with letters for children's spellings within, which is a low-tech version of the new toy above.
Anything that involves running, jumping, skipping and other simple physical activities is great, but the learning aspect can come in if you introduce tasks during the exercise.
For example, set up an assault course using your climbing frames and get your youngsters to grab letters that you've placed at strategic points along the way. The first to spell out a word or answer a question using clues on the cards is the winner (Anyone who remembers kids' TV programme Fun House will appreciate this game!).
For younger children who might not be able to spell out complex words yet, getting them to jump to paper in different colours on a mat will build their skills without making them feel overwhelmed.
There are lots more ideas and the only limit is your imagination, so have a think and see what else you can come up with as winter ends and spring rolls in.
If you want more information about exercise for children and developmental games, check out this really useful guide from the British Heart Foundation, which covers kids from newborn onwards.
26th February 2015How to help your kids get a good night's rest
Any parent will know that bedtime is one of the most important parts of a child's development. In order for little ones to grow properly both physically mentally, it is essential that they are getting the right amount of rest each evening.
On the face of it, some may be forgiven for thinking the more shut-eye they get the better, but looking at it in this way is really a bit over-simplistic. If a child is spending an excessive number of hours in bed each night, this could actually be doing more harm than good.
In addition, although experts have been conducting research into the field for decades, there is still no ultimate theory on how much sleep the average person should get.
This has just been demonstrated by the fact that the University of Loyola in Chicago has unveiled some interesting new findings, which suggest the eight-hour estimate most people seem to take as a given might actually be a bit off the mark.
The research provides a detailed breakdown of the hourly range that people of different ages should aim for in order to be at the peak of their health.
HOW MUCH SLEEP SHOULD CHILDREN REALLY BE GETTING?
As you might imagine, children often have a very different idea of how much sleep they should be getting to their parents. One of the biggest causes of unrest for little ones is having to go to bed before adults, possibly because this gives them a sense that they are being left out of something - and feeling excluded is unsurprisingly one of the main sources of upset for kids.
However, it is a simple fact that children should be getting at least a few more hours in each night than their parents, meaning you might have to come up with a few tactics to persuade your loved ones to head upstairs on time.
The sliding scale - according to Loyola - starts with newborns, who are recommended to spend 14-17 hours a day in bed. This then goes down on a gradual gradient, with toddlers and children, who should be getting between 11 and 13 hours and teenagers (14-17 years old), who are advised to spend eight to ten hours sleep each night.
With that in mind, here are a few ways that you can make sure your children get the right amount of sleep.
START THE PROCESS EARLY
Just because it's mealtime doesn't mean that it is too early to start thinking about putting your child to bed. The size and nutritional value of their evening food intake could well have a profound effect on how well they sleep a couple of hours later.
Always make sure the kids have their tea at least two hours before they will be heading up to bed, as otherwise indigestion and excess energy stored up from carbohydrate-rich meals could leave them unable to nod off. Desserts are also a great treat for children on an occasional basis, but too much sugar and saturated fat before bed is a recipe for disaster.
It can be tempting to match kids' mealtimes with your own, to get them used to the etiquette and social side of eating with a group, but this can be more negative than positive in the case of really young ones.
There are few better ways to get children settled down and ready for sleep than the age-old method of the bedtime story.
It is naive to think that little ones will be tired enough to drop off straight after they have headed upstairs, but the bedtime story acts as a kind of halfway house, easing them into the idea of slumberland calmly and comfortably.
Fun toys like night lights and hanging mobiles are two of the classic ways that kids can be given help with sleep. However, in the modern day there are hundreds of similar products that could well prove the difference between being sleep-rich or sleep-deprived.
Take Pillow Pets from TP Toys for example, which are a fantastic combination between soft toys and comfy pillows, making an association between sleep and something that the child holds dear to them. Check out TP's fantastic range to learn more.
19th February 2015Bear Grylls calls for outdoor activities for youngsters
Rugged and (ahem) rather handsome television presenter Bear Grylls is back in the papers this month, arguing that youngsters need to be more involved with outdoor activities and community service.
"Having outdoor adventures builds a pride and confidence that you wouldn't get in the classroom" he told the Radio Times. "Outdoor classes should be part of the curriculum."
Mr Grylls (swoon) may well be right - it's easy for our children to spend more time attached to iPads and watching the television these days, and many schools see more value in IT lessons than getting them out and about. If this sounds like a familiar story, you can at least make sure your children have plenty of opportunity to get outdoors at home. It should be easy enough to get them out and about if you have the right tools - as Mr Grylls says, "Young people dig the outdoors".
Adapting your garden
First of all, it's essential that you make best use of your garden space by adapting it so that the kids can wear themselves out whenever they like. Having an adventure playground they can enjoy at any point is an excellent way of encouraging them to love the great outdoors, and it doesn't need to be done expensively. Climbing frames, slides, trampolines and swings can all be set up and designs these days can be quite compact if you're limited on space. Giving your child access to the great outdoors is an absolutely essential step in encouraging them to exercise more.
As every child knows, running around on your own isn't half as fun as having other people to do it with. Try not to limit their social interactions with other classmates to school - invite them over and encourage everyone to get into the garden. Indeed, if you've followed the above suggestions and transformed it into an adventure playground that even Mr Grylls would be proud of, then you're going to be the most popular parents outside the playground every day. Encouraging your child to exercise socially will give them not only the obvious health benefits but the whole process will help their confidence and allow them to make friends more easily in the future. Combine the activity with some healthy snacks for everyone!
Make it a family activity
But getting active isn't just something that the kids can benefit from. You'll feel stronger as a family unit if you join in, at least with a few of these activities. As well as making sure Mum and Dad and any aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents feel better from doing a bit of exercise, everyone will benefit from spending time together as a family and bonding. It's not difficult to get active together, but it's a good idea to ensure the kids don't get bored. If you like the idea of a family walk every Sunday, why not buy the kids scooters so that they can scoot about? Or you could even take inspiration from Mr Grylls himself and take the family on a cross-country hike - make sure you take plenty of snacks and have breaks at regular intervals. Other fun activities to do with the family include rock climbing, canoeing, windsurfing and even dry-slope skiing. The possibilities are limitless.
From the above suggestions, you should have enough inspiration to help you show the kids exactly how much fun the great outdoors can be. Remember that the key is to keep things fun and don't overload them with exercise, else you'll kill their enthusiasm. If they're in any doubt, perhaps you could should them how cool and exciting it can be with an episode of one of Bear Grylls's documentaries? If all else fails, that will definitely have them out on the climbing frame, practising getting to the top as though it was a sheer cliff on a remote island. Because, you know - for kids, it doesn't have to be just a climbing frame.
18th February 2015Inventive ways to get the children exercising
"I want to go on a two-mile run." Said no child, ever. Although exercise is an integral part of their lives whatever age they are, it's important for parents to come up with clever ways to make the experience enjoyable. The long-term health benefits are simply unbeatable - allowing them to wear themselves out every day guarantees them a good night's sleep and can protect against obesity, among other things.
Recent research from the British Journal of Sports Medicine claimed that World Health Organisation guidelines are too restricted for children and don't promote motor skill development, socialisation or the fun factor. So a little extra thought is most definitely needed for the kiddies.
Workout regimes for kids
All right - so we've established that workouts for adults aren't going to get you very far. So what's the secret? Well, your best bet is to make the workout so much fun that the children don't actually realise it's a workout at all. Transforming exercise into playtime is undoubtedly the way to go. Here are our top tips for doing just that.
1. Invest in outdoor toys
The great outdoors is one of the best places to indulge in exercise and get the blood and adrenaline pumping. Bear in mind that you don't need an enormous budget or a gigantic garden to accommodate outdoor play - swingball, slides and climbing frames are available in a variety of sizes and can be great ways of encouraging active play. If you're looking to spend more, how about a trampoline? Bouncing is one of the best forms aerobic exercise there is.
2. Walk to school
A good way of getting more exercise into the lives of the kids is to think about elements of daily life that can be replaced with a more exercise-focused approach. The school run definitely counts here - if you're lucky enough to live within an easy distance of your child's place of learning, then you can easily transform weekday mornings into a workout. Whether walking or even taking to the scooter or bike, getting the blood going before lessons every morning can be a good way of getting the kids focused for a day at school.
If the hallowed halls of education are inaccessible on foot or by scooter, try replacing another element of your average week with exercise. Instead of picking up a newspaper in the supermarket every weekend, why not lead a family mission in search of a corner shop? You just need to use your imagination and be a bit creative.
3. Dance as a family
"Dancing the tango, could Mum and Daughter please take to the floor?" Strictly Come Dancing has a lot to answer for - children and adults alike adore the reality show and love the idea of taking to the floor themselves. You don't need to be Anton Du Beke to hold your very own dance competition in the home, and dancing is an incredible way to exercise. We've all seen those celebrities rapidly shedding the pounds as soon as they get in the training room! Dancing is a great way of getting your children interested in a fantastically fun form of exercise - and you might even spark an interest that could last for life.
4. Indulge in the latest playground games
If you've ever watched the playground during break time, you'll know the kids hurtle around it like balls in a pinball machine. Believe it or not, there is usually a sacred order to how this chaos is played out, with a mix of classic playground games ranging from 'it' to bulldog and many other variants besides. Trying to understand the rules is a little difficult sometimes but it shouldn't stop your family trying to recreate the fun at home. There's a never-ending supply of activities out there and if you and your children run out of ideas for games to play, then the internet is never short of them.