A Cradle of Wishes

This is a submission in our monthly contest. December’s theme is Growth. Enter your own here!
A magical cradle, a feud between food groups, and a boy with a pet dinosaur – just a small sampling of the stories my daughter had conjured up while staring dreamily into space.
It began when I met a writer friend for lunch. Over raviolis and mojitos, we got to talking, as two mothers invariably do, about our respective children. Her son, eight years old, had finished the third Harry Potter book, and embarked upon the fourth. I heard her out, completely amazed. My daughter, nine years old, has not progressed beyond Geronimo Stilton, and shows little or no inclination towards Harry Potter. She shies away from “heavy” books because she doesn’t believe she can finish them, or worse, that she would find them boring.
My heart sunk when I first heard her words. I hail from a family of readers, from Kolkata where a poor man foregoes his meals but fritters away his earnings on books and magazines. In my heyday, I polished off two to three books every week with unfailing regularity. But this speed diminished when I had my daughter, and when my son was born the habit of reading print books disappeared altogether and I confined myself to the occasional light read on Kindle.
On the way home after lunch with my friend, I rued my lack of reading. I bemoaned the fact that I now finished no more than a book every month. I regretted that I hadn’t adequately demonstrated to my daughter the pleasure that even “heavy” books could give.
Only much later, it dawned upon me that my daughter has grown way beyond reading books – she is writing her own stories. At age six, when she had first shown an interest in writing, having seen me tapping away on my laptop, she penned the following words:
Once upon a time, there was a girl. She was six years old. One day her mother disappeared.
Over the years she started stories and then left them abruptly, never happy with the direction they were taking.
Last week while in the throes of her exams, she appeared distracted. I implored her to study, but she floored me with a revelation. She had ideas for three stories, and wanted to write them when her exams were over, lest she forget them. Overcome with shock and wonder, I acquiesced.
As soon as her holidays commenced she started writing her three stories. The first is called “The Cradle of Wishes,” about a small boy whose mother buys a magic cradle that grants wishes.
The second is a parable about a fight between fruits and vegetables, who pick a quarrel over which one of them is more valuable to human beings.
The third one tells the story of Charlie, and the unusual consequences he faces when he brings home a dinosaur as a pet.
Eventually, she gave up writing her own stories and resorted to another method recommended to writers just starting out – imitate the greats. She hauled out her copy of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and began typing it out, word for word.
One day as we were discussing the prospect of starting piano classes, I told Hiya I’d teach her the basics of piano even before she began, so she’d have a head-start.
She clapped her hands in joy. “Thank you, mamma! But before that you have to teach me one more thing!”
I was surprised. “What is that?”
“Did you forget already? You have to teach me how to become a beautiful writer like you!”
I remembered the story of JK Rowling writing about a rabbit called Rabbit at age six. Nothing my daughter had done touched the same levels of brilliance, but I like to think of that moment as one where a little girl blossomed into a writer.

“Don’t Lick the Cat!” and Other Things I Never Thought I’d Have to Say

That was just the beginning of the downward spiral of strange pieces of advice I would be giving my son over the next two years.

There are a myriad of things that parents expect to say to their children. “Have you brushed your teeth?” “Your room needs to be cleaned,” “Bring me your dirty laundry,” and “Eat your veggies” were all things that I was completely prepared for. I had a mental notepad of all the “mom” things I knew I would need to say as my son grew up and as I said each one I would mentally tick it off my list with a smile. Little did I know there would be an even larger list of things I never thought I would have to say to another human being, ever.
One morning as I was getting ready for the day, when my son was about three, I heard a distinct cat hiss followed by a human hacking sound. I turned from the bathroom mirror to see my son vigorously attempting to get a clump of cat hair off of his tongue while he hopped around my room. I heard “Momma, kitty tastes bad!” while he scrunched his little face up as I attempted to stop my child from hacking up a fur ball later.
“I bet. And this is why we don’t lick the cat.”
That was just the beginning of the downward spiral of strange pieces of advice I would be giving my son over the next two years. He’s only six now but we have covered a vast array of subjects, each one more troubling than the last. Shortly after the cat licking incident I had to inform him that it was in bad taste to chew your toenails at a family restaurant. This was closely followed by me having to inform him that going to the store in only a diaper and rain boots was underdressing for the occasion.
As he has gotten older, the peculiarities of parenting have come out in full bloom. At least once a week I have to tell him that growling when being asked a question isn’t exactly the polite answer I was looking for. Our latest was me explaining that, because puppies don’t have thumbs, his new dog would most likely not be interested in playing with his kinetic sand so he should be fine on his worries about it.
There have also been a few new variations on tried and true “mom” things. “Eat your veggies” has now turned into “Please don’t shove the foods you hate up your nose.” “Have you brushed your teeth” is now “Please don’t lick me, a simple yes would have sufficed.” And “Bring me your dirty clothes” has turned into “Why are all of your things in the freezer and why didn’t I notice you doing this?”
Bath time has turned into me chuckling as he screams out that he peed in the bath, again, which is then followed by me telling him that he probably shouldn’t scream that at the pool, again. While I am trying to stop my son from running at the wall after watching “Harry Potter,” I am simultaneously trying to stop him from stabbing his father with a lightsaber while yelling “I’m Kylo Ren!”
“Get that out of your pants” is now a personal favorite of mine along with “Fancy goldfish can’t eat hotdogs so don’t even try it.” “Don’t lick the shopping cart” has now replaced various animals and telling him that his pet snail won’t climb out of his cage in the middle of the night and crawl up his nose is a new one – I’m not entirely sure of its origin. “Pinecones don’t make sounds so stop shoving it in your ear” took a while to get rid of and “The drapes are not vines, watch something other than Tarzan” lasted about a week.
Many of my interactions have morphed into me telling him to ask his father and then hearing an exasperated sigh from whatever room they are residing in followed by yet another reiteration of how something isn’t a good idea. The list of interesting conversations with my son could fill a book but unfortunately I need to go stop him from giving ants a swimming lesson in his kiddy pool … for the fourth time today.
This article originally appeared on lyvingdedgurl.com.

How to Arm Yourself to Go out to Dinner With Kids Without a Screen

From better family connection to simply teaching your children important social skills, there are many compelling benefits to a device free dinner.

It’s a special occasion, you have visitors in town, or you just can’t face cooking tonight. You want to take your family out to eat, but as a family with small children, the thought of a meal at a restaurant might induce panic. I still shudder at the memory of a dinner with out-of-town relatives that stretched on for hours when my oldest was a toddler.
The temptation to rely on screens to entertain children in restaurants is understandable. You’ve no doubt seen a child glued to a phone or tablet while the adults at the table enjoyed appetizers and civilized conversation. Maybe you thought, “I’d never do that.” Or maybe it was more like, “That looks amazing,” as you wistfully mopped up a drink spill.
There are so many compelling benefits to a “device free dinner,” though, from opportunities for family connection and better conversation to simply teaching your children important social skills.
From start to finish, here are some tips for an enjoyable, screen-free restaurant experience:

Do some restaurant reconnaissance

Call to confirm the restaurant has high chairs if you’ll need one (and by default, determine whether the place you’ve chosen welcomes little guests). Scout out menu options and pack baby food or toddler snacks if needed. To avoid waiting with starving kids, feed them a snack before you go, or plan to order an appetizer right away.
baby with People toy mirror ball at restaurant
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People toy company logo

Parent Co. partnered with People Toy Co. because they know the right toys can make otherwise tedious moments fun and easy.

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Pack kid-friendly supplies


Spill-proof drink cups and appropriate utensils go a long way towards baby and toddler restaurant success. For kids likely to overturn plates, a placemat that sticks to the table can be a game changer. This one is easy to wipe down at the end of a meal and rolls up to fit in your bag.
Pack a few teething or tactile toys that can be attached to a baby’s wrist, clothing, or carrier handle to save yourself from crawling around on a food-strewn floor to retrieve dropped items. For a child who uses a high chair, an engaging toy that suctions to the table is a great option, like the Brain Builders: Magic Reflection Ball from People Toy Company.
toys and products to distract babies at restaurant
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A small set of interlocking or magnetic building toys is the perfect choice for preschoolers at the table. Packing something for little hands to do discourages alternatives, like silverware symphonies or salt-and-pepper snow.
People Toy Co. magnetic blocks to distract preschoolers at restaurant
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Older kids

Mess-free art supplies, like Scratch Art, Magna Doodle, or a small container of beads with pipe cleaners for stringing them are fun additions to the standard provided crayons.
art supplies for older kids at restaurants
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Teach restaurant behavior

Dining out is an opportunity to teach children how to be polite and speak for themselves. Even a toddler can say, “Pizza, please!”
To teach children to engage appropriately with others at the table, it helps to have a few conversation starters at the ready. Go around the table to ask each person, “What was your favorite part of today?”
The Family Dinner Project has a long list of other ideas. Plus, if you’re dining with your perpetually single college roommate or stoic great aunt, this gives other adults a little help interacting with your kids.

Make waiting fun

It’s helpful to establish a few standby waiting games, because the chances are slim that new ideas will dawn on you while sitting in a crowded restaurant with fidgety kids. Games that can grow with your family – or the amount of time it takes for your meal to arrive – are especially useful:

What’s Missing?

Set up five small items from your bag or from the table – yes, condiments and blunt utensils are now up for grabs – and take turns secretly removing one so others have to guess the missing object. Gradually include more items.

I Spy

Once your kids know the general principles of looking for something of a certain color, you can mix it up. Try, “I spy something striped,” “I spy something that rhymes with moon,” or “I spy something that starts with the same sound as Mommy.” You could also hunt for letters, words, or items on the menu or signs.

The Question Game

Whether you limit it to 20 or not, asking yes-or-no deductive questions is another easily expandable activity. Start a small category and suggest helpful questions for your child. “I’m thinking of a pet. You could ask if it has fur.” Expand to other topics, like sports, foods, or favorite characters.

Tell a Story

Once again, the salt and pepper, or any of their counterparts, can be the stars of the dinner show. Establish “characters” using items on the table, imagine a setting, and work together to tell (or gently act out) an original tale.
For all of these games, you’ll want to model how to participate first so your kids understand how to join in effectively. If you play often, you’ll likely notice an improvement in their vocabulary and reasoning skills, which is a nice bonus to passing the time until the chicken fingers arrive.

Quit while you’re ahead

As pleasant as it can be to linger at the table after a delicious meal, this is an unrealistic expectation for many small children. If you want to continue the fun after everyone eats, plan to take a walk or move on to another venue. Or, just head home with the promise of another meal out soon.
Going out to eat with children screen-free can be done (your parents likely survived such outings with you, after all), and everyone involved can emerge satiated and unscathed. The occasional infamous evening of spills, botched orders, and angry sighs from other patrons who don’t seem to remember life with small children will happen regardless.
But rest assured that, with some advance preparation and tricks up your sleeve, you’ll be the one basking in the glow of other diners’ compliments, which may feel just as good as savoring that uninterrupted tapas platter.
People toy company logo

Parent Co. partnered with People Toy Co. because they know the right toys can make otherwise tedious moments fun and easy.


Teaching Kids How to Goal Set With New Year’s Resolutions

Surround yourself and your kids with piles of magazines and update vision boards for the fresh, new year to come.

Each year on December 31, I surround myself with piles of magazines and begin to update my vision board for the fresh, new year to come. Last year, my daughter wanted to do one alongside me so I used the opportunity to introduce her to the importance of setting goals and the power visualizing the things we want.
Even though she was only seven years old at the time and bounced back and forth between dreams of being the next Taylor Swift and a construction worker, depending on the day, it’s great for children to feel a sense of responsibility for the things they want, no matter the age.
When we started, the only advice I gave her in crafting her own vision board (she used sparkly poster board) was to turn the pages of the magazines and tear the things out that made her stop and feel something. I wanted to make sure I had no input on the things that caught her eye because I did not want to take the fun out of the activity and also, wanted her to feel in complete control over her desires. Instead, I talked openly about my own board and the aspirations I had for the months to come. I made sure to include phrases about being committed to the work in order to get results and being flexible about obstacles that may arise.
In an essay about goal-setting, Dr. Michele Borba writes:

“To help children feel comfortable talking about goals, we parents need to share our own aspirations. So take time to share a few of your dreams and wishes and the resolution you plan to set for yourself like losing those extra pounds, learning to text, finally reading and finishing Moby Dick, taking that gourmet cooking class. Whatever!”

One of the best things about doing this activity together was the conversations that stemmed from the different things we cut from the pages. We talked both realistically and imaginatively about far away places we’d like to travel and what it would be like to own a bakery or start a podcast. If nothing else came from this evening together, we exercised our creativity and bonded while reenacting some of the over-the-top advertisements we came across.
When we sit down to update our boards this year, I want to talk about what we accomplished, what we changed our minds about and what will be different in the year to come.
On her site Kiddie Matters, LCSW Yanique Chambers writes:

“Children are more likely to work towards their goals when they see progress. They can track their progress by using a sticker chart, graph with tally marks, a spreadsheet, etc. Make sure the child can readily see the progress they are making towards achieving their goal.”

Since it was her first time doing a vision board last year, I didn’t really think about using a way to measure her goals because I simply wanted her to enjoy the process. Now that she’s in third grade and has some consistent extracurricular activities she’s into, I plan on choosing a date every couple of months to “check-in.” Again, I want to make sure it’s something she gets excited about, so it’ll be kid-friendly with fun treats and maybe some Taylor Swift in the background.
After all, a quarter of the time, she still wants to be a pop star.

8 Cool Things Kids Can Get in the Mail

Want your kids to see the mailbox as an invitation to adventure? Here are seven of the best opportunities we could find.

My husband and I can go weeks without checking our mail. All the good stuff gets dropped on our porch at all hours of the day and night by Amazon’s new delivery fleet, so we rarely need to trudge down to the box. When we do, we’re usually rewarded with print copies of bills we’ve already paid online, zombie catalogs for garden trinkets that keep appearing despite our cancellation requests and lack of garden, advertisements for half a dozen window cleaning companies, vague recruitment pitches for jobs in some “sizable Midwestern city,” or notices from our alma mater that continue to refer to us as “Dr. and Mrs. [husband’s name],” even though I graduated first and we are both doctors.
My childhood forays to the mailbox were not dutiful grudge work. They were independent adventures that could lead anywhere. There could be anything in there! The next installment from the Dr. Seuss Book Club. An issue of Highlights. A sample of Cracklin’ Oat Bran. Letters from friends who had moved out of state. Columbia House stamps.
I wanted my son to see the mailbox as that same invitation to adventure, so I Googled around for “free mail for kids.” I would discourage you from doing the same. Free sample sites abound, but many require product reviews and social media promotion, which means you would be receiving “free” stuff in order to nag your friends about how great that free stuff is. There are tons of “free” books, toys, and clothes, as long as you’re willing to pay hefty shipping and handling fees.
I wanted to find freebies that would introduce my son to something new while not compromising my integrity or depleting my bank account. Here are seven of the best opportunities I’ve collected, as well as one paid one that is worth its price.

1 | Posters

Want to get your kids free mail and inspire them toward greatness? The Government Printing Office has a number of posters for download or delivery, including a 22 x 34 inch wall poster telling your kids everything they’ll need to do should they wish to climb to the highest job in the land. If they don’t have their sights on the Executive Branch, this poster can teach them about all three branches.

2 | Stickers

Loads of companies offer free stickers to promote their products. (Annie’s enormous cheddar bunny is particularly fun). The problem with these stickers is two-fold. First, you have to time your request just right. Many companies only release stickers once per month, and the time you wasted trying to get free stickers probably cost you more than just buying stickers. Second, branded stickers don’t expose your kids to anything new.
PETA solves both parts of the problem with their ever-available stickers, which help teach kids about various threatened animal populations. The stickers arrive on a postcard, so if your kid gets to the mail before you do you may find “Let Them Be Free” messages festooning your walls. Our accidental field tests suggest that the stickers won’t destroy paint or furniture.

3 | State tourism packets

Visit your state’s tourism website to request brochures that can help you plan out mini adventures to parts of your home that you never knew existed. Or pick a state far from your own and plan an imaginary trip to help teach your kids about different people and places.

4 | Books

Depending on where you live, your zero- to five-year-olds can get free books once per month from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Since its launch in 1995, the program has mailed nearly 100 million books. The library’s website also offers activity sheets to accompany its books. You can check here for availability. If there is no program in your area, consider starting one.
Read Conmigo is a English-Spanish book program that prioritizes bilingual learning in kids from preschool through fifth grade. All kids may join the program and download free e-books. Kids in Florida, Texas, and California can also get free print books every four months.

5 | Catalogs

Many of us, understandably daunted by the phone book size of Restoration Hardware’s catalog, are putting ourselves on “do not mail” lists. But a few printed catalogs are still a delight to receive. Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer includes funny product write ups as well as a shopping planner your kids can use for your next outing. The Zingerman’s Mail Order Catalog features drool-worthy subscriptions like a bacon of the month club, but even if you don’t shop it’s a terrific educational resource about foods from all over the world.
Parents of teens take note: While your younger kids might find it boring, The J. Peterman catalog, made famous by Seinfeld, still exists. It’s as over-the-top as ever, including its Merry Christmas 2017 catalog and this introduction to a women’s Edwardian Blazer: “One of the chimneys on the left wing topples into the greenhouse overnight, let’s say, and Spencer and the cook haven’t been paid for six months.”

6 | LEGO Life Magazine

If your children are between five and 10 years old, and you are willing to expand your LEGO budget to accommodate all the new things they will learn about from it, LEGO Life Magazine is a great piece of free mail. It features obvious product placement, but it’s also tons of fun.

7 | Letters

This will sound crazy, but bear with me. The best way to get mail for your kids is to just write a letter to someone. Kids can write to grandma. They can write to their favorite authors. They can write to Disney characters. They can write to NASA’s astronauts. They can write to the president. They can write to complete strangers.
You can also help your kids make new pen pals. Do you follow a parenting blogger on Instagram who you wish was your pal in real life? Reach out and send them and their kids some actual mail.

8 | Nature boxes

All of the other items in this list have been free opportunities, as long as you don’t count all the extra treats and LEGOs you’ll buy after reading about cool new products. Nature Pal Exchange, started by bi-coastal homeschoolers in 2015, will cost you, but it is a great way to view the world from other kid’s eyes.
Each exchange comes with a fee, as well as the cost of shipping your nature finds, but a look at the amazing things sent around the country, as well as the charities that are benefited by your purchase, makes the price well worth it.
You can sign up for updates about upcoming exchanges. While you’re waiting for the next exchange, check out some of the amazing things sent around the country on previous exchanges here.
Do you have any ideas to add to the mix? Let us know in the comments below!

How a Positive Relationship With Grandparents Can Shift Views of Aging

This recent study shows that the benefits extend beyond your child when they have a positive relationship with their grandparents.

Watching my children with their grandparents is one of my favorite parts of parenting. It was something I decided early on to foster because I could see that the grandparents felt almost as much love for my children as I did. They looked at them with a love and interest no other adults did. I wanted my children to have as many people in their life to look at them with adoration.
This recent study shows that the benefits extend beyond your child when they have a positive relationship with their grandparents. Published in the journal Child Development, the study investigated the relationship between grandparent contact and ageism. Children as young as three have been found to have prejudiced beliefs about older people. The current study wanted to investigate what, if any impact, grandparent relationship had on ageist views in children.
The study found that ageist stereotypes in children generally decrease around ages 10 to 12, and that children who say they have very good contact with their grandparents have the lowest levels of ageism. “The most important factor associated with ageist stereotypes was poor quality of contact with grandparents,” says lead researcher Allison Flamion. “We asked children to describe how they felt about seeing their grandparents. Those who felt unhappy were designated as having poor quality of contact. When it came to ageist views, we found that quality of contact mattered much more than frequency.”
1,151 children and adolescents ages seven to 16 from a range of socioeconomic statuses participated in the study. The researchers obtained children views’ about the elderly and getting old via questionnaires. Information about the health of the youths’ grandparents, how often the two generations met, and how the young people felt about their relationships with their grandparents was also collected.
The study found that opinions about ageing expressed by the children were mostly neutral or positive. Girls held less ageist views and had a more favorable view of their own ageing. The most prejudice was found in seven- to nine-year-olds and the least by 10- to 12-year-olds. This outcome is consistent with cognitive developmental theories. At the age of 10 perspectives taking skills build and this reduces prejudice in general. However, prejudice was also high in the 13- to 16-year-old age group.
Quality contact with grandparents was found to be the most important factor influencing youths’ views of the elderly. If children rated the contact as good or very good, defined in the study as feeling happy or very happy when they saw and shared with their grandparents, the children tended to have more favorable feelings toward the elderly than those who described the contact less positively. Meaningful contact with grandparents resulted in the most positive views and the most negative views of ageing.
Quality of contact mattered more than frequency of contact but frequency did have an effect. 10- to 12-year-olds who saw their grandparents at least once a week had the most favorable views toward the elderly. This is likely due to the multiplying effect of frequency with quality according to the researchers. Grandparent health also impacted on ageist views. Children with grandparents in poor health were more likely to hold ageist views than children with grandparents in better health.
“For many children, grandparents are their first and most frequent contact with older adults,” notes Stephane Adam, professor of psychology and co-author of the study. “Our findings point to the potential of grandparents to be part of intergenerational programs designed to prevent ageism. Next, we hope to explore what makes contacts with grandparents more rewarding for their grandchildren as well as the effects on children of living with or caring for their grandparents.”
When grandparents offer grandchildren a safe, loving and quality relationship, it seems the benefits extend beyond the child and the family relationship. Seeing grandparents more often can also help, but only when the relationship offered is a quality one. These important relationships can help shift views of ageing which is important in our society as people live and work longer.

The Self-Regulation Skills That Boost Academic Success

A new study found that adding a daily self-regulation exercise to a kindergarten readiness program significantly boosted kid’s early academic skills.

Self-regulation is a psychological term that means being able to manage your emotions and behaviors. A big part of the parenting role is helping children learn to self-regulate as they grow. As a psychologist, helping children and adults increase their self-regulation skills is my day to day work.
This new study published in the journal “Early Childhood Research Quarterly” and led by Megan McClelland of Organ State University found that adding a daily 20 to 30 minute self-regulation exercise to a kindergarten readiness program significantly boosted children’s self-regulation and early academic skills. I’m keen to share this study with you because the types of games included in this study are games you could easily include in your parenting or teaching repertoire.

Breaking down the study

Dr. McClelland’s program focused on developing skills to help children pay attention, follow directions, stay on task and persist even when it’s difficult. These self-regulation skills are vital to a child’s success in schooling and life in general. In Dr. McClelland’s program the children learned and practiced self-regulation skills through developmentally appropriate music activities and games.
The program was delivered in a “real-world” setting, where teachers, rather than researchers, led the students through self-regulation activities. Teachers were trained to deliver the intervention. They then led the movement and music-based games that form the basis of the intervention as part of the kindergarten preparation program.
One of the games led by the teachers was “Red Light, Purple Light.” The teacher acts as a stoplight and holds up construction-paper circles to represent stop and go. Children are required to respond to the color cues, such as purple is stop and orange is go, and then switch to the opposite, where purple is go and orange is stop.
Another game included in the program was “Freeze.” In this game teachers encouraged children to do the opposite of the teacher’s instructions. The game “Sleeping,” is a game where children pretend to sleep and then wake up as a different animal or character and must remain in that character was also part of the intervention.
These games teach self-regulation because they require children to listen and remember instructions, pay attention to the adult leading the game and resist natural inclinations to stop or go. To increase the complexity of the games, additional rules were added once children understood the game.
The findings based on the data of 150 children participating in the program over a three year period, suggest that after three weeks of the program there was a significant improvement in the children’s self-regulation skills. Impressively, other school readiness skills, including early math and literacy skills, also improved as a result of the program. The researchers found the improvements continued after the program with greater-than-expected growth in the child participants skills in the months following the program.

What did we learn?

The research team was excited by the results, especially as they showed the benefits of self-regulation skill training in a natural environment. “It was a test to see if the results of this intervention look similar in a less-controlled environment, and it appears that they do,” said McClelland, “It helps demonstrate the feasibility and scalability of this kind of program.”
This outcome adds to the increasing body of research indicating the benefits of teaching self-regulation skills to children in the early years. Dr. McClelland hopes that schools will increasingly adopt self-regulation programs such as this. She indicated that it could be particularly important for those children who are at higher risk of struggling academically in school.
Do you play these kinds of games with your children? In my experience, these types of games are fun to play with children and they will join in readily. If you are looking to increase your child’s self-regulation, games like this could be an enjoyable and creative way to start.

8 Peculiar Chapter Books for Inquisitive Kids

If your child is particularly adventurous or curious, consider stories with unusual characters or plots. Need some help? Check out these titles!

Jacqueline Kennedy once said, “There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.” A good book can feed a child’s imagination and desire to learn. When the time comes, chapter books add depth to this reading experience. Unlike picture books for younger readers, a chapter book tells a story primarily through prose, rather than pictures. Yet, unlike books for older readers, they still contain lively and poignant illustrations. If your child is particularly adventurous or curious, consider stories with unusual characters or plots.
Need some help? Here are eight peculiar chapter books for inquisitive kids:


Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes

by Jonathan Auxier

Peter Nimble is a thief. And a blind orphan. One day, he steals a box from a mysterious traveling haberdasher. Inside are three pairs of magical eyes. He thinks this could be his lucky day. But after trying a pair, he is transported to a strange hidden island where he must complete a quest: to rescue the people of the Vanished Kingdom. Can he complete such a complicated task? Will he use his new eyes or his trusted instincts to save the day? “Auxier has a juggler’s dexterity with prose that makes this fantastical tale quicken the senses,” says Kirkus Reviews.


The Wild Robot

by Peter Brown

Can a robot survive in the wilderness? This wonderfully curious book sets out to answer this question! Roz is alone when she firsts opens her eyes, alone on a wild and desolate island. She has no idea how she got there or what her purpose is being on the lonely stretch of land. All she knows is that she needs to survive. Soon, she encounters raging storms, ferocious bear attacks, and unforgiving surroundings. She endures, and soon makes friends with the animals inhabiting the island. It finally feels like home, until her past comes back and changes her world.


Mirette on the High Wire

by Emily Arnold McCully

Mirette, the daughter of a widow, lives at a boardinghouse where life becomes a little humdrum. One day, a mysterious stranger arrives. Mirette discovers him crossing the courtyard on air, and pleads with him to teach her how to do it too. She doesn’t realize that the strange gentleman was once the Great Bellini, a master wire-walker. Now, after an accident, he is filled with fear. Can Mirette teach him to believe in himself again? The text is accompanied by “sweeping watercolor paintings carry the reader over the rooftops of 19th Paris and into an elegant, beautiful world of acrobats, jugglers, mimes, actors, and one gallant, resourceful little girl.”


The Contagious Colors of Mumpley Middle School

by Fowler DeWitt (Author) and Rodolfo Montalvo (Illustrator)

Something very peculiar is happening in sixth grade, and student scientist Wilmer Dooley is determined to crack the case. Wilmer notices his classmates changing color. Some are green. Others are orange. And a few have turned chartreuse-fuchsia polka-dotted. Now, using his keen sense of observation, he’s set out to find the cause and cure this strange illness. Does he have what it takes to save sixth grade from the mysterious case of the contagious colors?


The House of the Scorpion

by Nancy Farmer

Matt was not born. He was harvested. His DNA came from El Patrón, lord of a country called Opium. Matt was grown in a petri dish, and then his womb was placed inside of a cow. Although he is an ordinary boy, so he thinks, most consider him a monster. As he grows, Matt struggles to understand his existence and place in the world. Escape is his only hope. But soon he discovers his differences are more profound than anyone, including himself, could imagine.


The City of Ember

by Jeanne DuPrau

It is always night in the city of Ember. But there are no moon or stars. The city is illuminated by floodlamps that cast a yellowish glow over the streets 12 hours of the day. Ember is the last refuge for humans. Now, 200 years later, the lights are flickering. When friends, Lina and Doon, find an ancient message, they’re sure it holds a secret that can save the city. But have they run out of time?


The Extincts

by Veronica Cossanteli (Author) and Roman Muradov (Illustrator)

“Fans of unusual animals and mythology will enjoy this exciting mix of fantasy and realistic fiction, and Muradov’s swoopy spot illustrations make most of these cryptids and other creatures more cute than menacing,” says “Publishers Weekly.” George wants a new bike, so he sets off and tries to find a job. A help wanted ad at Wormestall Farm catches his eye. He decides to take a leap of faith and go for it. Much to his surprise and delight, he gets the position. But what awaits is not what he was expecting. Extinct creatures, mythological beings, new friends, and a maniacal taxidermist will keep him busy.



by Andrew Clements and Brian Selznick (Illustrator)

Nick Allen might be a troublemaker; a troublemaker that loves to egg on his teachers. One day, he decides to show his vocabulary-obsessed fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Granger, that if he wants to, he can invent a new word, and that word will end up in the dictionary. He’s sure of it. With the help of his friends, Nick succeeds in renaming a “pen” a “frindle.” Although Mrs. Granger acts annoyed, secretly, she’s rooting for frindle, and, Nick, despite his typical time-wasting schemes.
Which peculiar chapter books for inquisitive kids would you add to this list? Share in the comments!
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The Sting of Being the Uninvited 

Doesn’t everyone know what that feels like, some personal version of Annie and the birthday non-invitation heard round the world?

My oldest daughter, 11 now, was waiting for me when I walked in the door from work. Before I had set my bag down, she was sobbing, her face crumpled under the stress of crying out whatever she had been holding in.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, a ticker tape of terrible images flashing through my head as I waited for her to catch her breath enough to be able to manage speech.
“A party,” she started, pausing to wipe her nose on her sleeve. “I’m not invited.”
And just like that, all the parenting badges and medals I had earned, all the honors of having birthed four children (and the last one on the bathroom floor), all the wisdom of more than a decade’s worth of dealing with every flavor of crisis that could come along and reduce one of the six of us to a messy pile of tears flew out of me in one long exhale.
Because right then, I was eight again, still convinced that a girl we’ll call Annie was my best friend. I knew it had to be truth because I’d proclaimed it as many times as anyone would indulge me to listen, and then I’d sealed the deal with those chunky best friend necklaces that together formed one heart.
I was awkward and unpopular and a little jacked up, but the weight of that half a heart against my chest comforted me. No matter what the world took from me, I always had Annie.
That is, of course, until I didn’t. Until I realized I never actually had had Annie at all. Come to think of it, she’d never worn her half of the interlocking heart necklace, and I’m certain I’d never heard her mention me as her best friend. Hell, I’m not sure I’d ever heard her mention me at all.
And she definitely forgot to mention me when she gave her mother the list of people she wanted to invite to her extra super special mega blowout birthday bash at the skate n’ place roller rink, because out of our entire third grade class, I was the only one not invited.
You can imagine the heartbreak.
So I stood there in my foyer, 30 years later and very much an adult, still in my adult heels and my adult coat, and trying my adult best to summon words to make everything better for the little love of my life who stood before me as brokenhearted as my sad unrequited necklace. But I couldn’t.
The ticker tape was back, except this time, it flashed ideas of what I should say here to fix it. “People are terrible” seemed harsh. “Never trust anyone” was likely a little too bleak. I had nothing, I realized.
Except that wasn’t exactly true either.
What I had was the sadness of a 30-year-old heartbreak that I could still feel if I closed my eyes, even though I had grown up to feel wholly loved. I knew there had to be a lesson in this, a teachable moment maybe, but I hadn’t found it yet. What I found was my compassion.
So I stepped out of my heels and the shadow of my past. I shed my coat and the weight of the grudge I might have still been carrying against Annie – not a bad one, like I was going to boil her bunny or send her a horse’s head, but more the kind where if I saw her in the grocery store and her hands were full and she needed to reach the good ice cream on the top shelf of the freezer, I would reach in for her and grab it and then run away cackling with it tucked under my arm.
I got down to where I could be eye level with my bleary-eyed girl. I wrapped her in my arms and rocked slow and said the two words I did know to be true: “I know. I know I know I know I know.”
Because didn’t I? Don’t you? Doesn’t everyone know what that feels like, some personal version of Annie and the birthday non-invitation heard round the world? Who would ever wish such pain on their kid?
It was later, after the sting of both our wounds had settled into a dull ache in the background and we had words again, when I asked her what she thought she could do to make things better. And I saw the lesson had been there all along.
“What can I do? Maybe nothing,” my daughter said, “at least not about the party. But I could try really hard to make sure I don’t ever make anyone else feel like that.”
That’s when Annie rushed right out of my heart once and for all. There just wasn’t any room left for her, what with all the love and gratitude swelling up in there.

7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Put a Mobile Spy on Your Kid’s Cell Phone

Before you fall for a company’s “You MUST monitor your child’s cell phone” scare tactic, consider these things.

You can find an app for pretty much anything these days, and there’s definitely no shortage of options when it comes to cell phone surveillance. Whether you want to call it mobile spy, spyware, surveillance, or mobile monitoring, there are plenty of companies out there that will sell you their software, claiming to “keep your child safe” or assuring you that it’s “for their own good.”
Now the question “Should kids have cell phones?” is a whole other article. The truth of the matter is they have them. The Center on Media and Child Health shows that 22 percent of kids ages six to nine have cell phones. As they get older, the numbers rise – 60 percent of kids ages 10 to 14 and 84 percent of kids ages 15 to 18.
If you’ve read your child’s text messages, you’re not alone. According to the Pew Research Center, about 50 percent of parents have admitted to doing so. Far fewer have used an actual spy tool, but more than 60 percent say they monitor websites their teen’s visit and check their social media profiles. (Let’s be honest – this is probably the biggest reasons parents have Snapchat.)
I have friends that fall on both sides of the question “Should you monitor your child’s cell phone?” For some, it’s a given – they see having a cell phone as a privilege that they pay for, so they make their child hand it over every night for review. For others, they wouldn’t dream of opening up their kid’s phone unannounced because they remember what it was like to have their privacy disturbed as a teen.
While this is a very personal choice – whether or not to use a mobile spy – I’d challenge you to ask yourself a few questions before you say yes:

1 | Do you suspect they’re up to no good?

Is your child suddenly being dodgy or secretive? Did they go from being on their phone sometimes to constantly checking it, and going out of their way to keep you from seeing the screen?
Before you get too concerned, think about it logically. Perhaps they have new crush or friend. Maybe they are at a really high level in the latest app game craze, and they can’t get enough. Before you assume the worst, think about other scenarios.
And finally, just ask them. You have this right as a parent, even if they do try to roll their eyes and shut down.

2 | Are you worried they are in danger?

This is one you don’t want to overlook. If you truly suspect that your child is in danger, then it’s time to have a real heart-to-heart conversation with them.
Better yet, make sure to have these tough conversations with your child before you suspect anything. Sure, it’s awkward to talk to your kid about child predators that pose as teenage girls and people in other countries trying to dig up security details. However, it’s a lot better that they know about these things. This way when that little alarm goes off in the back of their head, they’re comfortable enough to come and talk to you first.

3 | Do they already have a poor track record?

This is where the privilege part truly comes into play. If your child has been caught sending inappropriate messages, photos, or going on websites they shouldn’t, then it’s your job to stop the behavior. This is a case where having random cell phone checks could be in your best interest until they earn back trust.
Remember, they’re not going to like it. They’re probably even going to despise you for it, but stay strong!

4 | Is it actually for your own curiosity?

Be honest – do you just want to know if Sabrina is dating Jake or if Tristan broke up with Megan (yet again)?
If you find yourself getting sucked into tween and teen gossip, then you need to have a little chat with yourself and find a way out. This also goes for constantly monitoring what they do. Sure, you can watch on the sidelines as a silent observer and occasional commentator, but don’t be the first person that always “likes” what they post or comments on their status.

5 | Are you just bored?

If you said yes to the above, then this one might be true as well. Maybe you just have a habit of checking your phone – most of us check our phones 85 times a day! If this is the case, try to break this habit. Everyone talks about kids have a problem and addiction with technology, but adults are just as bad – or worse.
Let your mind get lost in something else. It’s good for the brain.

6 | Do you want to lose their trust?

Before you use a mobile spy, this is a really good question to ask yourself because you will lose your child’s trust. Some parents might say that you should be your child’s parent and not their friend, and I agree. But trust is a two-way street. If you absolutely need to monitor your child’s activity, just know that this could affect that.

7 | Are you just doing this because other parents are?

Have other parents convinced you that this is the thing to do? Before you buy into someone else’s parenting method, step back and think of your own. If you have a trustworthy kid that has never given you any reason to question them, then maybe it’s good to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Technology is a wonderful, crazy, and sometimes scary thing. And it’s undoubtedly going to change and evolve faster than we can imagine. Before you fall for a company’s “You MUST monitor your child’s cell phone” scare tactic, try having a conversation with your child first. There are so many things you can do before taking it to that level. After all, even though “there’s an app for that,” it doesn’t mean you have to use it.