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Gratitude Diaries

Little girl looking at her mother

Little girl looking at her mother

I’m reading the Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan and loved the chapter on Raising Grateful Kids.  Her stories about UN-grateful preteens and young adults who resented the sense of obligation that comes with “thanking” their parents made me think about how we approach gratitude with our kids.  Do we demand that they be grateful for all we do for them?

 

Modeling appreciation is the best way to teach gratitude.  How often does our family hear us express gratitude for our job or coworkers? For the checker at the grocery store? For access to safe, nutritious food? For the privilege of transportation to get where we need and want to go? When was the last time your kids heard YOU say thanks to their other parent for something that just gets done at home? Have your kids seen YOU handwrite a thank you note to a friend for taking time to have lunch together? or bringing in the garbage cans that blew down the street?  Appreciating the small things keeps us from taking things for granted. Learn more ways to raise grateful kids in this video Teach your kids the gift of giving.

My granddaughter signs ‘Thank you’ to her Papa when he gets her a drink of water.  My heart swells when I see her learn this simple act of gratitude.  It starts early and extends throughout our life.  I started using the Five Minute Gratitude Journal to keep me focused on looking on the bright side of life.

Thank someone this week for who they are, or what they did, or that they are in your life. . .  and tell us what happened to YOUR heart. To their attitude. To the relationship.

Kristi Cooper

Kristi’s expertise in caregiving, mind body skills and nature education inspires her messages about healthy people and environments with parents, professionals, and community leaders.

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Screen Time and YOU

technology-momSTEM – or Science; Technology; Engineering and Math are classes that students will be introduced to as they become school ready. Many children have had plenty of access to technology through their use of a computer, gaming device or cell phone. These devices are preparing them to observe, think, navigate, and negotiate among other things.

A recent non-scientific poll hosted on our Science Of Parenting twitter account asked parents about how much screen time they support for their children ages 5 – 10 and 61% indicated 1 – 2 hours daily. 18% said less than an hour daily and 12% reported between 3 – 5 hours daily. It’s not hard to contemplate that much screen time when you consider schools use computers for some instruction and homework; along with television and gaming devices all popular with kids.

Adults too, are faced with decisions about their own screen time. And really, because technology has skyrocketed, screens are used in most all professions including medicine; education; agriculture and manufacturing, to name a few. When we asked adults about how many hours a day they were in front of a screen 76% estimated they were in front of a screen between 4 and 8 hours a day for work alone. In addition, 46% of respondents indicated they may spend an additional 1 – 2 hours daily in front of a screen viewing social media. And don’t forget the TV, adults reported viewing an average of 1 – 2 hours of television daily.

Managing screen time and finding a healthy balance for the entire family is necessary! If you should like to read more about screen time and health and wellness of your children, check out this Science of Parenting publication: Video Games and Other Media: Pros and Cons

Barb Dunn Swanson

Barb Dunn Swanson

With two earned degrees from Iowa State University, Barb is a Human Sciences Specialist utilizing her experience working alongside communities to develop strong youth and families! With humor and compassion, she enjoys teaching, listening and learning to learn!

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At Home with Nature

Children running on meadow at sunset

My childhood memories of nature include holding soft baby kitties, bicycling on the dusty gravel road, watching ants in the grass, hanging upside down in the swing in the big oak tree, collecting rocks, and digging tunnels in snow drifts. What are your favorite outdoor memories? Did you know that those experiences, in an unstructured, extended time frame, form the foundation of curiosity, learning and development of empathy? Scooping and dumping sand, making mud pies and stacking wood scraps were how you might have begun to learn physics and mathematics? Climbing a tree, running on uneven ground and carrying branches help a child develop body awareness, strength and visual spatial skills. Want your kid to be able to parallel park when he learns to drive? Give him outdoor experiences manipulating large natural materials and chances are he’ll be at the head of his driver’s ed – or graphic design – class. Kids also learn to manage risk and problem solve when they have early experiences in natural settings. Pokémon Go the virtual reality game may be a way to get kids outdoors, however unless they pay attention to the surroundings and explore those spaces, it does not substitute for actual experience with nature. Geocaching is another way for families to explore the out of doors.

I’ve been a certified Nature Explore trainer since 2009.  Thousands of Iowa early childhood professionals – teachers, child care providers, naturalists, parks and rec staff and parents – have learned to use tested design principles to help children connect to nature. Imagine my joy when I was invited to participate in a research project on Nature Explore backyards in Iowa City.  It was magical to watch  families embrace the concepts and open their backyards to transformation.  My memory of watching a toddler explore sound in his family’s new outdoor ‘classroom’ sustains me whenever I do a design consultation or teach a workshop. Excerpts from that research are in the book At Home with Nature.

My own backyard contains the Nature Explore principles and I’m having fun seeing how they will change over time as my 16 month old granddaughter grows up. Watching her pick and eat berries for the first time, check out the wren’s nest and sing back to the momma and papa birds, stack river stones, fill a pail with pinecones, turn sea shells over and over in her tiny hands and swing in the mosquito netting hammock all fill my heart with gratitude and hope for her future.

How do you help your kids connect to nature?

Kristi Cooper

Kristi Cooper

Kristi’s expertise in caregiving, mind body skills and nature education inspires her messages about healthy people and environments with parents, professionals, and community leaders.

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Dirt and Kids Go Hand in Hand

Beautiful child with sunflower in spring fieldConfession. I am not a gardener. Well, I’m not a vegetable gardener. I can grow a mean hibiscus and a lovely tulips but vegetables stump me. Its not that I don’t day dream about growing a bountiful garden, I just haven’t quite figured out how to get started. So in an effort to set the stage for the rest of the month I want to first say, “you don’t have to do it all”.

If you had a chance to listen to the podcast you heard about all the great things that children learn from gardening. Truth be told, they can also learn many of those things while caring for flowers and house plants as well. So before you say, “This month isnt’ for me”, consider the live plants that you may already have. Consider the flowers you may currently be watering. Substitute them for the gardening ideas (except for the eating part).

Share with your children how to keep they happy and healthy. Teach them how to put them in sunlight or shade. Ask them questions as you thin, separate and re-pot them. Tell them about the benefits of growing green plants in an indoor environment as well as outdoor. And most importantly don’t give up on the the fact that you really are a gardener. I haven’t.

Let us know about your green thumb.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Kindness is learned by feeling kindness

friendsAs I was reading about kindness I became fascinated by the brain research. I sat there thinking “Well of course, the brain is in charge of our feelings. Why wouldn’t it be the center of this conversation?”.

Our brains are in charge of our emotions and our actions. Our brains take the input we receive from others. Process the information. Tell us how to emotionally respond. And our actions become the response. Makes perfect sense. The brain is in charge of kindness.

And then I read this, “our brain learns best about kindness when it FEELS kindness”. There is was.

How should I teach my children about kindness?  Help them FEEL kindness.

Children learn kindness when they ‘feel’ what its like to make someone else smile. And their brain learns.

They learn about kindness when they share with others, when they comfort others, when they give to others. And their brain learns.

Suddenly writing this blog topic wasn’t rocket science, but is was brain science. It was simply thinking about all of the ways that children can be kind to others and understanding that while they do this – their brain learns.

 

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Overindulging: What’s Best for Our Children?

Young boy (6-7) about to destroy toy car, girl (3-4) crying, mother sitting in armchair

As parents, we want what’s best for our children. But as a parent I’ve experienced the urge to provide experiences and material possessions that I wasn’t fortunate enough to have had as a child and as an adult I have the financial means to provide for my child.  I have learned that this urge needs to counter with the question of “what is best?”.

How do we know what’s best? I ask myself this question every birthday, and every holiday.  I have used a couple questions to keep my urge to give under control.  The first question I ask is “Is this gift or experience good for them?”   In other words, does giving this gift promote or prevent learning?  Then I evaluate the financial impact that this gift will have on our family budget.  Does it use too many family resources that should be used or saved for something else?  College isn’t many years away even for an infant.  Even little purchases add up over the years.  The last question I consider is that of need.  Is the gift something I want?  Does it benefit me more than my child?  Am I using the gift as a way to compensate for time, I wish I had spent with my child?

Overindulging and buying too much has become epidemic among parents. As parents we need to question our purchases and respond with moderation and mindfulness.  Even with good intentions, the results of giving too much can be harmful.

Janet Smith

Janet Smith

Janet Smith is a Human Science Specialist-Family LIfe with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She currently provides family life programming in eight counties in southeast Iowa. Janet is a "parenting survivor". She is the mother of Jared-21, Hannah-20, and Cole-15. She and her husband, David have faced many challenges together, including their son Jared's Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy diagnosis.

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Spoiling Grandkids

This week we welcome guest blogger Kristi Cooper. Human Sciences Specialist in Family Life and new grandma.

were grandparnetsI had no idea I’d be taking my own advice years after I wrote about the overspending of grandmothers and aunts on new babies. I’m very excited to provide my 11 month old granddaughter with as many new experiences as she can handle.  Her parents are practical and their home is small so the oodles of toys, clothes and other baubles that are bestowed upon her by well-meaning relatives create stress. Besides, my grandgirl is pretty happy with simple household surfaces to pound and pull up on, and a human or two to keep her entertained.

Marketers of baby stuff focus on female consumers – aunts and grandmothers in particular – because their hearts are as big as their wallets. By keeping our wallets closed and our hearts open we can avoid turning our grandchildren into beggars and entitled teens. Here are 5 ways to love those precious little ones without creating strained relationships, stress over stuff and maintain our financial wellbeing.

  1. Gift of Talent/Skills We all have the need to contribute to our family and community. Share age-appropriate activities with your grandchild or grand babyPlay together – Teach a game from your childhood such as kick-the-can or hide-and-seek.
  2. Gift of Words Talk Together – Encourage grandchildren, nieces, and nephews by highlighting the positive values you see in them. Ask about their goals in life. Talk about how they can reach those goals. Point out the characteristics that you admire in them.
  3. Gift of Time Nothing says, “I love you,” like full, undivided attention – sharing conversation and activities. Work together  Do household chores, homework, bicycle repair or volunteer in the community with your younger generation. Working together teaches skills, work ethic and the value of contributing to others.
  4. Gift of Objects – We all like to receive objects that have been thoughtfully selected just for us. Keep material gifts to a minimum and consider the life-span of the object.  Create together – Choose toys  and consumables like art materials that stimulate critical thinking, imagination and are age-appropriate. Ask yourself, who is doing the thinking – the child or the manufacturer?
  5. Gift of Touch/Self Care – Wrap these gifts in plenty of hugs and kisses, bedtime backrubs, tickles and laughter. Practice relaxation techniques so you can be fully present for your grandchild.

YOU are the best gift your grandchild can receive!

 

 

 

Kristi Cooper

Kristi’s expertise in caregiving, mind body skills and nature education inspires her messages about healthy people and environments with parents, professionals, and community leaders.

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Gifts of Presence more Important than Presents

Join us in welcoming a new guest blogger Barb Dunn Swanson to the Science of Parenting. Barb joined our Iowa State University Extension Human Sciences team this past summer.  She brings a wealth of extension experiences from working in the youth and families field in North Carolina and Iowa. Barb will share her thoughts on the importance of giving children and family the gift of “presence” more than the gift of “presents”.

Do you feel like the holidays seem to roll around faster and faster each year? Am I telling my age when I declare that time seems fleeting? I do enjoy the break we get during the holidays to re-connect with family and friends and to get re-energized.

Not every family has the same experience at the holidays. Some families will be out of work, creating hardships and some grief. Some may be dealing with the recent loss of a loved one, and that too creates grief. Through all of this, our care and comfort of one another can be a blessing.

One of the traditions many families share is gift giving. The holidays are the time of year we can help children and youth learn the gift of generosity. Generosity is learned through role modeling. Children and youth learn so much by observing the behaviors of those around them. The language they use, body language and self -expression is all learned. As adults, we can send strong messages through what we say, what we do and how we treat one another.

During the holiday season, instead of giving gifts that may need to purchased, wrapped and delivered, maybe we can re-think our gift giving strategy. What if we were to give a skill or a helping hand to someone we care for? Could we offer our TIME, to wrap someone’s holiday gifts? Could we offer to address Christmas cards for someone? Could we offer to go to the grocery store or shopping mall and shop alongside someone who may need extra time or attention? Could we spend a day at the senior center and visit and listen to the stories of the residents? These are the priceless gifts of attention that so many of us can give, and others will certainly appreciate.

As we at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach reflect on the holiday, we are reminded about our gift to the next generation. This video explains our efforts all year long!

Barb Dunn Swanson

Barb Dunn Swanson

With two earned degrees from Iowa State University, Barb is a Human Sciences Specialist utilizing her experience working alongside communities to develop strong youth and families! With humor and compassion, she enjoys teaching, listening and learning to learn!

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More than half of us have had ‘Adverse Childhood Experiences’

This week we welcome our guest blogger Kristi Cooper, Human Sciences Family Life Specialist.

Sunday Dinner at Grandma’s

I love this quote from the program “Lemonade for Life” – “You can’t rewrite the beginning of your story but you can change how it ends.”

Adverse childhood experiences (ACES) affect a child’s neurological, social-emotional and cognitive development. ACES may eventually manifest in chronic health conditions in adulthood.

I’m part of the 55% of Iowans who have more than one ACE. When I think of the chaotic times in my childhood, I’m grateful for the touch points that kept me ‘on track’. The research on Adverse Childhood Experiences tells us these touch points are called resiliency factors. These resiliency factors include individual capabilities, attachment and belonging with caring competent people and a protective community, faith or cultural process. Let me share a few of these touchpoints from my own life and maybe you can see how resilience can be woven through the fabric of our lives.

I am grateful for the elementary school nurse who never questioned my stomach aches and always had clean dry clothes for me to wear when I had an ‘accident’. I’m grateful for my 3rd grade teacher’s calm, caring approach and the interesting hands-on projects she had us do. She introduced me to creative writing which became an outlet for me whenever I felt life was overwhelming. I’m grateful for my grandmothers who loved me unconditionally and were always interested in me. I’m grateful for the routine of Sunday church followed by dinner at Grandma’s house with its comfort food, safety, hugs and laughter. All of these helped me feel normal and sane when life felt scary.

Spending time outdoors with cousins was an important touchpoint for me. Our many adventures catching tadpoles and crawdads, jumping the bogs in the pasture, riding bikes for miles, building snow forts and climbing in the empty corncrib took my mind away from the hurtful times. Music was another touchpoint for me. I saved my 4-H and birthday money and bought a guitar. With the creative writing gift from Miss Ihnen and my new instrument, I made it through a few more turbulent years.

All of these touchpoints helped to reset my stress response – all it takes is a 20 minute activity to reduce heart rate, regulate breathing again and re-focus the mind. As an adult I use meditation, yoga, journaling and sewing projects to reduce anxiety, keep depression away and help my mind think clearly. I have a therapist I consult when I need to sort things out. I’ve used my early experiences to change how I parented my children, hopefully, changing the course of my grandchildren’s lives. These individual resiliency practices combined with positive social relationships and trauma informed community resources help heal the impact of adverse childhood experiences and to reduce the impact of traumatic events.

What are the touchpoints that help(ed) you survive and thrive?

Janet Smith

Janet Smith

Janet Smith is a Human Science Specialist-Family LIfe with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She currently provides family life programming in eight counties in southeast Iowa. Janet is a "parenting survivor". She is the mother of Jared-21, Hannah-20, and Cole-15. She and her husband, David have faced many challenges together, including their son Jared's Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy diagnosis.

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STEM at the fair

It’s summer time! That means it’s county fair time. Do you know how much science, technology, engineering and math happens at a county or state fair?

Confession time, I was not a fair kid growing up. I thought that if I went to the county fair I would just see my friend’s farm animals and the cookies they had been practice baking for months. No really, that’s what I thought! I have come to learn however that it is about amazing fabulous STEM opportunities and experiences. Even as a visitor, your opportunities to experience STEM are endless.

When I searched ‘what to do at the fair’ I found an endless list of activities for families. From milking cows, to using robots, to participating in food demonstrations (read EAT), from creating your own artwork, to learning about wildlife and insects.  And these were just the 3 links I found from 3 different states! Not to mention all the counties in those various states that were sharing their fair activities.

Take a moment and think about how you might be able to encourage STEM activities in a fun and family friendly environment with your children. Most fairs are low cost or have discount days/times. They cater to families with children and want to create an engaging family focused time for you. Get creative while you’re at the fair. Create family challenges or mini-competitions at the exhibits and demonstrations. Enjoy the demonstrations and talk about how you might do something similar in your own home. Take the fair boards up on their offer, find a fair close to you and show your kids that you know a little about STEM too.

We would love to hear about your favorite fair experiences.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Parenting..More Than a “To-Do” List

ThinkstockPhotos-476027825 (3)I have two children that have graduated from high school and the youngest will start his sophomore year in high school this fall.   So my parenting years are dwindling. Do I have any regrets?  Well…I’m sure like many busy mothers; the years seemed to fly by and most of the time, I was blessed with children who were typically “easy” and didn’t demand intensive parental intervention.   Somewhere during those early years I remember reading a book by William Doherty, Ph.D. about being “intentional”. Doherty’s book helped me to realize the importance of everyday rituals that could strengthen our family and marital relationships.   I learned that I couldn’t do it ALL.  But I also learned that being intentional meant setting priorities.   And I learned that if I didn’t set goals, things just wouldn’t get done.  But sometimes, I just got tangled up in the never ending details of family life and responsibilities.  My kids have always been good at keeping me centered on what was most important.  I learned that when they were most unlovable, they needed love the most.  And when they were quiet and happily playing alone, they needed me just as much as when they were whining and pulling at my leg for attention.  We have attempted to make our family communication a two way street.  I know that I have learned as much from my children, as they have learned from me.  One of my most treasured “ah-ah” moments for me came from a mother’s day gift—from my then 12-year old daughter.   She framed a Dove Chocolate wrapper—with the fitting quote, “Life is more than a to-do list”.  How shaming, yet so very spot on!  I was taken back by her subtle communication tactic.  But I took her advice to heart and I still have the chocolate wrapper as a reminder of the most important things in life.  Be intentional and remember to take time for what matters most.

Janet Smith

Janet Smith

Janet Smith is a Human Science Specialist-Family LIfe with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She currently provides family life programming in eight counties in southeast Iowa. Janet is a "parenting survivor". She is the mother of Jared-21, Hannah-20, and Cole-15. She and her husband, David have faced many challenges together, including their son Jared's Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy diagnosis.

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Conversations, conversations, conversations

Dr. Constance Beecher, Ph.D, Assistant Professor, School of Education and Human Sciences Extension and Outreach shares more with us about expanding children’s vocabulary.

“Vocabulary can be developed by directly teaching new words, or indirectly through having a lot of exposure to words in books and conversations.   Research suggests a combination of both is the best approach, says Dr. Beecher.”

“Developing vocabulary indirectly through books and conversations has many benefits. Children who are read to frequently gain a life-long love of reading. The more children hear different words and understand their meaning, the better readers they will become. This is because learning to read requires an understanding of the relationship between the sounds of language (phonemic awareness) and the symbol or letter that represents that sound (phonics). The more words children know, the better they are able to understand the letter/sound relationship, and conversely, the more knowledge children have about the letter/sound relationship, the better they are able to learn new words,” Dr. Beecher.

She also suggests, “Parents can read a variety of books to and with children, and pause at words that children may not know to explain their meaning. For example, while reading “Corduroy went up the escalator.”, pause and ask “do you know what an escalator is?”. Then define: “An escalator is a set of stairs that moves you from one floor to another.” Then explain: “Last week while I was at Macys, and I rode an escalator from the first floor to the second floor”. Then relate to child: “Where have you ridden on an escalator?” – state the question in a way so that the child can say the word, or ask child to repeat word.”

Dr. Beecher reminds us that, “When having conversations, ask open ended questions (questions that can’t be answered with a yes/no). During these conversations, you can introduce synonyms. For example, you might be talking about what happened at daycare or preschool. If your child talks about making a tall tower in the block area, you can say “Oh, you made an enormous skyscraper?” “Enormous is another word for something is very big or tall”, and when a building is enormous, we call it a skyscraper. Why do you think we say skyscraper?”. This gives children an opportunity to practice the new words. Children need opportunities not only to hear new words, but to practice saying them.”

And she also wants us to remember the Non-fiction! Non-fiction or informational books are a great source of new vocabulary. When children are exposed to a wide range of vocabulary in areas like science or history, they are more prepared when they have to read these types of texts in school. See websites like this for suggestions, http://commoncore.scholastic.com/teachers/books/non-fiction.

Or talk with your librarian. This list of non-fiction books for ages 3-5 comes from the State Library of Iowa http://www.statelibraryofiowa.org/ld/t-z/youthservices/Best-Books-for-Preschoolers/bibliography-of-nonfiction-for-preschoolers.

Dr. Beecher says, “You can add vocabulary to your everyday activities. When you take your car to the shop to change your oil, talk about oil, engines, and other components of a car. When you go to a nursery to pick out new plants and flowers for your yard be sure to note the different names of flowers, types of grass, plants and trees. When you make a new recipe, talk about spaghetti, marinara sauce, parmesan cheese, sautéing. Use a mix of nouns and verbs.”

She says, “It takes about an average child about 12 times of interacting with a word before he or she is familiar enough with the word to use it, and many times we do not provide enough opportunities for children to get this practice.”

And Dr. Beecher’s final thoughts? “Lastly, make it fun. There is no need to sit children down with flashcards and ask them to define words. Reading and talking together will make learning vocabulary natural and fun.”

Share with us ways that you have made ‘vocabulary’ fun!

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Christmas Sock Story Reinforces Gratitude

This is a great time of year to tell family stories.  I purposely take the opportunity to retell my Grandma Isabel’s holiday story of gratitude each year to my children.  The story goes like this… her depression era grandparents would give each grandchild woolen socks with candy and an orange.  The gift was welcome to almost all of my grandmother’s brothers and sisters who usually received very little under the Christmas tree.  But one Christmas her ungrateful sister Ada complained that they were itchy and she didn’t like them.  Offended, her grandparents stopped the Christmas gift giving.  My grandmother was heartbroken, but her heart always remembered the importance of being thankful.  Her lesson of gratitude was repeated in story form for me each year!  I have continued the same story and sharing the importance of the value of gratitude.

My kids look forward to Christmas for 11 months each year!   The last thing I want to hear is them being an  “Ada” and complaining about is how they didn’t get everything they wanted, but teaching and having a spirit of gratitude instead.  Before Christmas, I try to set aside a time to do something for others.  They have griped at times…I will be honest…but I know that serving others will help make them into a better people.   It’s harder for them to think about their little problems when they see the Bob-Cratchit-sized issues of the less fortunate.

Janet Smith

Janet Smith

Janet Smith is a Human Science Specialist-Family LIfe with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She currently provides family life programming in eight counties in southeast Iowa. Janet is a "parenting survivor". She is the mother of Jared-21, Hannah-20, and Cole-15. She and her husband, David have faced many challenges together, including their son Jared's Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy diagnosis.

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From Maps to Apps

Vacation day arrives bright and sunny. As the car pulls out of the driveway, you glance into the back seat to be sure the kids are settled. And settled they are – completely engrossed in whatever their smartphones and tablets have to offer. Is this what you had in mind for family vacation? Are you going to be nagging everyone (maybe even yourself) the whole trip to put the phones away?

mapIt is well to remember that learning can happen in many ways. While the days of counting cars and playing the ABC sign game may be a thing of the past, family fun continues.

Here’s one example. Reading maps were a big deal when we traveled as a family. Someone would trace the route with a highlighter. We would use the legend to figure the distance in miles. Another person would check the population of towns we passed through and compare them to our hometown. Maps even had information about historical sites.

Now there’s an app for everything we used a map for – and more! Have the kids take turns with finding directions, checking out places to eat, sharing fun things about places, etc. You can make this into an electronic scavenger hunt (that dates me). The amateur photographers in the family can be responsible for taking pictures and creating a virtual album.

The point is to turn smartphones and tablets into a useful, learning part of vacation rather than a battle. And it’s still ok to occasionally have some “phone free” time. This too can become a game. Each family member gets to pick time during the awake hours each day when phones and tablets are taboo.

How do you handle this issue on your family vacation?

Donna Donald

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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A treasure hunt vacation? SIGN ME UP!

SandraGeocachingGeocaching: A Great Family Activity

Geocaching is a world-wide treasure hunt where you electronically use longitude and latitude to locate the “loot.” It is a great low-cost family activity. It is easy to catch on to and you can do it anywhere you are.

My adult son introduced me to the game. We used his handheld GPS unit and went searching in a nearby park. What we found was a camouflaged box full of trinkets. He explained we could take a trinket, but if we did we were to leave another of at least equal value. We signed the log that was inside the box and carefully put it back where we found it. Then we went along our merry way as if nothing had happened.

How did he know that the box was there? He went online to geocaching.com and searched near his home for a cache. He plugged the coordinates into his GPS and we left the house. When we were back to the house, he went online to log the find.

Now, the electronic treasure hunt is as easy as getting an app on your smartphone. You simply search near where you are, choose the level of difficulty and terrain you feel appropriate, and then off you go geocaching.

Since the time with my son, I have logged caches in several states. I have also introduced geocaching to several friends, relatives and colleagues. My 4 year old grandson and I have gone hunting together. We searched for one that was easy enough to get to and to find. He delighted to find the treasure! And no one saw us – which is a trick sometimes! You see, the caches are secret so you don’t want anyone to know what you are doing.

I’ve enjoyed traipsing stealthily all over the U.S. It is a quick activity to stretch your legs or get children out to run a bit when the family stops for a break on a trip. Or plan a picnic and day out exploring wherever you are. Hint: many geocaches can be found at safe places like rest areas, parks and cemeteries.

Maybe you’ll find a cache that I have hidden. What will be inside it?

To learn more about the rules and courtesies of the game, and to search near you, visit geocaching.com.

Guest Blogger, Sandra McKinnon

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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