1. Get Your Kids To Read More Often

    by Jimmey Jackson Jr.

    These days, it seems like one of the more prevalent concerns among parents and educators is that children just aren’t reading anymore. Then again, in an age of pulse-quickening video games, endless cable channels, attention-sucking mobile phone apps, and unlimited internet access, the idea of picking up a book can seem downright quaint. Thankfully, due to a handful of popular authors and their captivating characters, reading hasn’t totally fallen out of favor. However, getting kids to read books that don’t feature boy wizards and sparkling vampires may still prove to be a difficult task. Luckily, we’ve got some ideas on how to encourage your kids to read more, and more variedly.

    With a little effort you can help your kids find the right books to match their interests. Do they like dinosaurs? Fairies and magic? Mythological Greek gods settling their conflicts with a not-so-friendly game of football? There are books out there that tackle these subjects and many more obscure ones. You can find recommendations at sites like The Young Adult Library Services Association, Oprah’s Kids’ Reading List, and Drop Everything and Read. These are great sources for narrowing down the vast field of children’s and young adult books to find one your kid will love.

    If they need a little push, offer kids rewards and incentives for reading. Maybe let them stay up past their bedtime if the time is spent reading. Or perhaps exchange a minute of television or video game time for every minute of reading. Perhaps you’ll find that your children will want to polish off another chapter instead of blowing up aliens on their PlayStation.

    The recent explosion of tablets and e-readers makes having access to books easier than ever before. These devices can hold hundreds, even thousands, of e-books, meaning your children can have a virtual library at their fingertips anytime. And you needn’t worry about spending a fortune to fill your child’s e-reader to capacity. Countless websites are devoted to the electronic distribution of literature; for example, Project Gutenberg offers the web’s largest single collection of free e-books.

    It may take time and encouragement to instill a love of reading in your child, but once you do it’s as if you’ve pulled back a curtain and showed them a new dimension to their young lives. Books are ultimately transporting; they let you slip through time, travel to the far reaches of the galaxy, and even live another person’s life. Once your children discover the extraordinary power of books, they’ll almost never want to put them down.

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  2. New Traditions for the Holidays

    Whether religious or secular, your family’s traditions are what make you unique – and they’re what your kids will remember most. But if you tried to sing “The Twelve Days of Christmas” with the kids last year, and they lost interest around “three French hens,” it might be time to consider some new traditions. Don’t be afraid to break with the old – traditions you create yourself can be even stronger than traditional…traditions.

    First, try getting rid of traditions that either aren’t fun or don’t make sense for your family. Write up a list of current holiday activities and ask all family members which activities should stay and which get the ax. Don’t forget to take your children’s opinions into consideration; they’ll be home on school vacation, and likely to overindulge on TV and cookies if they don’t have lots of fun activities to divert them. So give them diversions galore. The best are fun, inexpensive activities that involve the whole family. They can be as simple as a family board game – if it’s fun enough, the family will want to do it next year, too. Here are a few more ideas:  

    Ride around together on a neighborhood tour of lights and decorations – go by bike if the weather’s mild, by car if not. If your family likes to judge, make up some signs, 1-10 or A-F, to evaluate your neighbors’ festive displays. Will the Joneses beat the Smiths this year?

    If your family is not particularly religious, but looking for a way to celebrate the holiday season, the winter solstice – December 22, the longest night of the year – is an opportunity for festivities. Cultures around the globe observe the solstice in different ways, but many celebrations involve giving thanks for light. Why not celebrate with a family game of flashlight tag?

    Or, if you want to show some generosity as a family, give a present to someone who won’t be expecting one. Who should it be? The mail carrier? Arnie down at the town dump? That old woman with the cats? Whoever it is, make the gift meaningful. The same goes for your holiday traditions: only your family can decide what traditions are meaningful to them. And if you’re looking for meaningful gifts for the kids in your life, look no further than CookiesKids.com!       

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  3. Tips for Tiny Travelers

    Whether it’s a much-anticipated beach vacation or a somewhat less-anticipated trip to Great Aunt Thelma’s house, the holidays are a time when travel is more or less inevitable. If you’ve taken trips with the little ones before, it should come as no surprise that travel is fraught with pitfalls, many of the tantrum-inducing variety. So if you want to make your next trip with the kids fuss-free, here are some tips to help.

    At-home preparation can make or break your trip. Intelligent packing is key. When you help pack your kids’ suitcases, try and choose outfits that could pull double- or triple-duty. Explain that it’s OK to wear the same pants a few days in a row when you’re on the road – truckers do it all the time! Besides clothes, you know better than anyone what items your little one needs to have around to feel comfortable, but one thing you should always remember is a kit of essential medicines. If your daughter gets a sore throat in Peru, it’s unlikely the local farmacia will have her preferred flavor of cough syrup (and last time we checked there’s little in the way of conventional medicine up on Machu Picchu).

    Another thing to bring is toys, preferably new ones your kids haven’t played with before. For a delightful surprise, bring out a bag of new toys during the first few minutes of any car or plane ride. Voila! Several hours of distracting fun. Packs of cards and travel-sized boardgames are great too, because they can involve everyone. Car rides have their own set of multi-player games: I-spy, the license plate game, every family has their staples. These kinds of games can be great, for a while, but don’t be offended if your kid wants to tune out for a while and listen to their headphones. Maybe they’ve just counted enough blue cars for one day.

    If a family plane ride is in your future, providing lasting distractions will be particularly important – books are a great idea. To kids who have never been on an airplane before, explain what they can expect in grueling detail. Make sure to talk them through airport security, as that can potentially be a scary situation for young children. Also, it’s best to lay down your own personal rules for plane etiquette: rules like no sound on gaming devices and no blanket forts in the aisles are perennial favorites. Lastly, remember that airlines have severely cut down on the services they provide, so if you’re expecting to be able to board before everyone else or get an extra bottle of warm milk on the plane, it’s best to check your airline’s policy first

    Travel can put you and your family in close quarters with lots of coughing strangers and bad smells and general stressed-out-ness. But becoming a Holiday Travel Casualty – one of those desperate dads stroller-sprinting to make a gate check-in, for instance – is avoidable. All it takes is a little planning and a LOT of understanding. Understanding your family’s travel needs, before and during the trip, isn’t hard: just look, listen, and care. It’s the best way to keep “getting there” from getting ugly.

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  4. And They Call It Puppy Love …

    Surely you recall your first bout with love. The butterflies in your stomach when passing your crush in school hallways. The way you tried to act cool whenever they stepped in the room. How you’d written your betrothed’s name all over your Trapper Keeper. One day your child will experience the same wonderful, horrible feelings you once did. The signs will be easy enough to recognize: one day they’ll see a romantic scene in a movie and instead of saying “Eww, that’s gross,” they’ll say, “Aww, that’s cute!”

    In general, these feelings emerge around the time kids enter kindergarten or first grade because, as they spend more time in school and in activities outside the family, they’ll begin to feel affection for their classmates. Crushes are perfectly healthy, even at an early age; in fact, they’re a major part of your child’s emotional and social development. But as with all love, there always remains the risk of heartbreak and emotional pain, experiences that are hard for anyone to deal with, let alone children. Here are a few tips on what you can do upon discovering your little one has an objet d’amour.

    Please, no teasing, especially in front of family. Yes, you may view your child’s first crush as something that’s cheek-pinchingly cute, but bear in mind that the more you might tease, the more shame and uncertainty your child is likely to feel. It might even make them deny their feelings or be more guarded about them next time. So respect the real and intense feelings your child may be experiencing. Validate their feelings by making positive statements. Be inquisitive but not intrusive. Ask your child what they like about their crush and if they think their feelings are being reciprocated. Listen to what they have to say and show genuine interest. It may be appropriate to share stories of your first crush. It’s also important to encourage staying friends with a crush even “if” (after) the romance fades. After all, it’s likely your child will be classmates and friends with the ex-crush for years to come.  

    Crushes are a child’s first forays into the world of relationships. It’s a world fraught with complications and issues of vulnerability, desire, embarrassment, rejection, sadness, disappointment, and power. Besides being a good listener, perhaps the most important thing you can do about your child’s first crush is to set a good example through your own relationships. Your kids watch your every move – how you interact with family, friends, everyone. By setting good examples and being your child’s confidant, you’re helping prepare them for the emotional wonders and heartaches that growing up will inevitably bring.

     

  5. Hot Topic: Comfort Objects

    Did you have a blankie as a child? C’mon, you can tell us. Most small children form attachments to blankets, pacifiers, plush toys, and other comfort objects at an early age. These items give kids a sense of security and help them cope with many everyday experiences and feelings. But it can be pretty mystifying to see the lengths a toddler will go to for their favorite blankie – as anyone who’s ever lost their kid’s blankie already knows. If you’re trying to make sense of the blankie phenomenon, we can help.

    The term “security blanket” (coined by Charles Schultz in the comic strip Peanuts) is an accurate one; blankets and other objects help kids feel more secure. Many doctors and researchers agree that these items often remind children of their parents and, in the absence of parents, provide support and reassurance that’s portable and always available. These cherished possessions also have a soothing effect when a child feels sleepy, sick, or anxious.

    As your child’s comfort object allows them to rely on you less, it becomes easier for them to separate from you. No, this doesn’t mean they’re going to disregard you altogether, but it does help your child take those first necessary steps toward independence. Studies have shown that comfort objects actually promote play, exploration, and overall happiness in children when parents are not around.

    Most children begin to disassociate from their comfort objects on their own as they transition from toddlerhood to pre-adolescence. But if your child’s devotion to a comfort object becomes excessive, it may be time to talk. Some children become so preoccupied with their comfort object they exclude other activities. In this case, it might be wise to take steps to wean them from this object. First, bring it to your child’s attention that they seem to be spending an awful lot of time with their comfort object. Then, try setting limits. The next time you’re going on a trip, ask your little one whether they would be willing to leave their comfort object at home. Then, start taking the comfort object out only at designated times, like bedtime. Before you know it, they’ll forget all about that ratty old blanket.

    On the other hand, if they’re not quite at that stage yet, and you’re thinking of throwing out that threadbare blankie or that one-eyed teddy, browse CookiesKids.com for a replacement. But make sure to call your toddler over to have a look at the options – toddlers can be very choosy!

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  6. Hot Topic: Their First School Dance

    Don’t you remember yours? The punchbowl with its wilting lemon slices? The tottering, arms-length slow dances? That one girl who borrowed a little too much of Mom’s makeup? It’s easy to see school dances as hokey or downright lame in retrospect, but for your middle schooler the approach of their first school dance may stir up some pretty strong anticipatory feelings. It may inspire fits of joy. On the other hand, it could inspire terror. No matter how your pre-teen feels about it, we have tips to help.

    Middle school ages represent a wide variety of maturity levels, so it’s important to prepare your dance-goer (and yourself, should you care to witness the spectacle) for a range of behaviors. There will be kids who don’t want to dance. There will be kids whose dance moves are provocative enough to require the intervention of chaperones. Figure out what level your kid seems to be on. If they seem indifferent to the dance, and you don’t think they know the first thing about dancing, show them a step or two, or share a story. If your pre-teen has been imitating their favorite music videos around the house for years, perhaps warn them that those kinds of moves may not be well received by all their fellow students and teachers.

    School dances are indeed a “public sphere” for kids, an environment less inhibited than those most kids inhabit on a daily basis. Thus, it gives kids a chance to see their peers in a whole new light – namely the light from a mirror ball. The thought of all that dancing in the dark can make a shy kid very nervous, and surely some kids will not want to attend. But it’s important to explain that sometimes it’s worthwhile to see how one’s peers get down. It may be funny. It may be pretty strange. But it will certainly be a night to remember.

    Though clearly we’re a self-interested party on this issue, clothes are very important. They can be a big confidence booster and the difference between your kid having an “okay” time and the time of their life. Special occasions such as homecoming notwithstanding, most school dances are informal gatherings, yet kids will want to be a bit more dressed up than usual. At the same time, if your pre-teen wants to bust a move on the dance floor, they’ll want clothes that are comfy. Casual tops, T-shirts, blouses, skirts, and jeans are all acceptable wardrobe choices. Of course they’ll also want to wear comfortable kicks! The key is to give your young party animal a look their peers have never seen before. CookiesKids.com has a vast selection of stylish fashions that will make your pre-teen feel like the belle or beau of the ball.

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  7. Hot Topic: A Little Homework Never Hurt Anyone

    Homework: scale-tipping backpacks, towering stacks of literary classics, mathematical symbols that seem to swirl on the page after a while. These memories are alive and well for today’s youth, whose take-home assignments aren’t all that different than the ones you did as a kid. After all, homework has been an educational staple since the dawn of formal schooling, and it’s endured because of its positive effects on children’s attitudes toward learning. But let’s examine the issue a little deeper – because not everyone loves homework!

    Many parents and educators believe at-home assignments help students develop independence, responsibility, and time management skills. Furthermore, homework makes students realize that learning can take place anywhere, not solely in the classroom. And homework can benefit parents as well, giving them a window into the classroom.

    But some parents (and MANY students) scoff at the notion that homework has any tangible benefits. Homework’s opponents say the extra work puts unnecessary pressure on students, “robs children of childhood”, and may even cause self-esteem issues. The most fervid detractors contend that homework turns learning into a mind-numbing exercise, based solely on rote memorization and repetition of material, as opposed to an exciting learning adventure.

    What can you do to make sure homework doesn’t overwhelm, frustrate, or bore your child? Be positive – your attitude about homework is the one your student will base theirs upon. If they’re struggling with a subject, have them work on that subject first so they’ll be most alert. When they ask for help, provide guidance, not answers. And when it comes to tasks that seem like pure, boring memorization, try and show your student other alternatives: vocabulary words, for example, are a lot easier to recall if you can come up with a sentence that uses them in a funny and memorable way. Finally, don’t forget to reward your child’s progress. Set goals with incentives, even if those incentives are just a parent’s praise. (And, though we’d never recommend “bribery”, there are a lot of fine toys on our site to reward the most exceptional homework-improvers!) 

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  8. Hummer vs Sing-a-ma-jigs

    It’s a battle in the Toy Department of Cookie’s the Kids’ Department store between the aggressive Humvee and the passive Sing-a-ma-jigs. Who will be the victor?

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    Join the rumble: Get a Sing-a-ma-jig of your own today at CookiesKids.com - starting at only $14.99!

    Video by Ben Matanle and Noel Heberling. A Benja-ling production 2010

    (Source: youtube.com)