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The Benefits of Your Family Getting More Sleep

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Before you can consistently be in the moment with your kids, before you can appreciate the precious details and small treasures of their lives and your lives together—before, that is, you can achieve a level of day-to-day mindfulness—there’s something you and those around you need: sleep. Sleeping is one of the easiest (and most effective) things we can do for our health and general well-being, and yet so many of us act like sleep is a luxury we often can’t afford. Parents especially seem to pay the steepest price, due to the unpredictable sleep patterns of children. But what exactly is the cost of sleep loss to a family? And what are the benefits of good rest?

The National Sleep Foundation’s most recent Sleep in America poll found that only 10 percent of American adults prioritize sleep over other aspects of their daily life—including fitness, nutrition, work, hobbies, and social life. A prevalent attitude among people seems to be that we can catch up on sleep another time, take a nap the next day, or bank hours of sleep over the weekend. But sleep is not an investment that builds over time; rather, the deposits and withdrawals are made daily, and the truth is that if you don’t snooze, you will lose.

And that loss can be significant: “When people get less than six hours a night as their norm, it’s associated with lower immunity response, higher cardiovascular incidents, higher rates of metabolic syndrome; it impacts our hormones, and leads to cognitive dysfunction,” says Michelle Drerup, Psy.D., director of Behavioral Sleep Medicine at Cleveland Clinic. She reveals that the latest research shows a potential link between lack of zzz’s and dementia, because sleep can remove beta-amyloid—a toxic protein linked to Alzheimer’s—from the brain. That protein has been found to be higher in those who get less sleep. Most studies tend to look at sleep deprivation as opposed to sleep loss (as in staying awake for 31 hours straight). “Although these findings do not provide that sleep deprivation causes Alzheimer’s disease,” says Dr. Drerup. “They highlight the importance of sleep to optimize brain health.”

Sleep deprivation certainly takes a toll on children, as any parent who has experienced the mood swings and the, uh, determined behavior of an underslept child can attest. “We typically pay attention to a child’s daytime functions but often overlook what is happening in the child’s body during sleep at night, yet what really happens in sleep is what dictates daytime behavior and function,” says Suresh Kotagal, M.D., a child neurologist and a pediatric sleep specialist at the Mayo Clinic. In school-age children especially, Dr. Kotagal says, insufficient or disruptive sleep will cause their frontal lobes to not work as well. Frontal-lobe function impacts not only mood but also attention and concentration. He sees many children in their sleep clinics with a diagnosis of possible attention deficit disorder, but what the child ultimately needs is to get “good quality sleep.” Even among children who are accurately diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, Dr. Kotagal often finds an additional sleep disorder; if the disorder is successfully treated, the child may experience incremental improvement in daytime alertness and concentration.

Babies and toddlers have their own nuances around sleep patterns. Sally L. Davidson Ward, M.D., division head for pediatric pulmonology and sleep medicine at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, says infants tend to become sleep-deprived due to illness. That makes for a generally cranky infant. Toddlers, Dr. Davidson Ward adds, might manifest their sleep deprivation by being more prone to oppositional behavior. In other words, without proper sleep patterns, the “terrible twos” could be even more terrible.

Sleep loss and parenthood seem to go hand in hand. How often have you heard new parents say they had no understanding of the true definition of tired until being faced with nighttime feedings and not being able to get their infants to drift off? While some of the war stories relayed by exhausted new parents are amusing—say, a mother on maternity leave who gets fully dressed to go to work and even goes out to her car before remembering she is still on leave—the reality of the effects of lack of sleep for new parents is less funny. Dr. Drerup points out that not only can sleep deprivation cause new parents to be more forgetful about things like when they last changed the baby’s diaper, it may also increase the risk of depression for postpartum mothers.

The practical applications of not getting enough sleep can have consequences. The National Sleep Foundation reports that severe sleep deprivation can have similar effects on your body as drinking alcohol. People who are awake for 18 hours straight drive like they have a blood-alcohol content level of .05. (The legal level of intoxication for drivers in the U.S. is .08.)

Across the board, not getting enough sleep can be a detriment to your family’s health, safety, and relationships. At the very least, if you’re foggy because you didn’t sleep well, chances are you’re not going to be present for the everyday. Any parent who for whatever reason missed a first smile, word, step, or other milestone can tell you how important mindfulness and being in the moment is in parenting. And any parent who’s ever lost her temper because she’s cranky from lack of sleep knows that gut-punch feeling of guilt after snapping at her children.

Making sure that your (and your family’s) sleep habits don’t detract from your health and wellness is not as easy as just hitting the hay more. Following the popular advice “Sleep when the baby sleeps” is rarely that simple, especially with a newborn. We all know the drill: You nurse the baby to sleep, but when you go to put her back in her bassinet or crib, she wakes up and can’t fall asleep again until you nurse her or rock her, creating a vicious cycle that results in exhaustion for you and for your infant.

“Imagine if you fell asleep in your bed but you woke up in the car in your garage—what would happen? You would be very distraught, scared, and worried,” explains Dr. Davidson Ward. “That’s what’s happening to your baby every time they wake up in the crib. They don’t know where they are, because that’s not where they fell asleep.”She goes on to explain that you want your baby to fall asleep in the “desired sleep environment”—say, her crib or bassinet—and that you want to put them down when they’re drowsy but not yet asleep.

With toddlers and school-age children, the biggest issue is often getting them to go to sleep. How many times has your child begged you for another story or suddenly had the thirst of a water-deprived camel right before it’s time for bed? Dr. Davidson Ward describes it as the “curtain call,” and says that a predictable routine, verging on boring, done at the same time every night, could help your child avoid behavioral insomnia. “The routines around bedtime have to be for a finite period of time, 20 to 30 minutes maximum. If we keep talking to the child over and over again, what happens is sometimes children actually get excited and activated. Then they cannot sleep at all,” Dr. Kotagal says.In other words, right before bed is not the time for a pajama dance party or a rousing game of Chutes and Ladders. It’s easy to fall into the “wear them out and they’ll sleep better” trap—after all, it sounds logical. But too much physical activity, just like too much mental stimulation, can have the
opposite effect and invigorate the child.

A good, common routine might simply involve a bedtime story (singular) and a lullaby, but this can also be a time to teach a child about meditation and conscious breathing. That may help them fall asleep while also having the potential added benefit of relieving stress or anxiety. Of course, it’s not easy to get little ones to sit still, let alone to focus on something as mundane as breathing. Still, give this simple exercise a try: Start by asking your child to lie down, close her eyes, and breathe normally. Ask her to pay attention to all the parts of her body that move as she breathes. Then ask her to place one hand on her chest and the other on her stomach. Explain that when she inhales through her nose, the hand on her stomach will move upward while the hand on her chest will remain still. Tell her to inhale for four seconds and then hold that breath for four seconds. Then instruct your child to exhale, feeling the hand on her stomach move downward. Once she gets the hang of it, lie next to her and do the breathing exercises together for five minutes. Just make sure you leave your child’s bedroom before they (and/or you) fall asleep.

For both parents and children, one of the key components to ensuring proper sleep is diet. Since carbohydrates burn quickly, eating a heavily carb-based dinner or giving your child carb-based snacks before bedtime will almost guarantee that they become hungry again within a couple of hours—possibly after they’ve fallen asleep. Instead, advises Georgia Ede, M.D., a nutrition consultant and a psychiatrist, a whole-foods diet with adequate protein and fat will go a long way toward facilitating better sleep for the entire family.“Foods that are easiest for most people to digest are meat, seafood, poultry, fruit, and most seeded vegetables,” Dr. Ede says. “Foods that are easy to digest are unlikely to cause heartburn or indigestion symptoms that can interfere with sleep quality.”For snack-loving children, Dr. Ede suggests that a piece of fruit, carrot sticks with almond butter, and cucumber slices with guacamole will do your child and his sleep a much better service than processed snacks with refined carbohydrates.

What we eat, though, is not the only connection to better sleep. How we eat can also have a great impact. Small steps toward mindful eating, such as having dinner together at a table and not in front of a television, can help avoid distraction and, consequently, overeating. Paying attention to how our food tastes and smells while taking time with a meal or a snack can also help our bodies register when they’re full. Mindfulness during mealtimes can go a long way in getting the most mileage from our fuel, giving us the quickest detour to a better night’s sleep.

A staple of parents’ diets usually involves some method of caffeine ingestion, but Dr. Drerup says that while one or two cups of coffee is usually fine for most people, because the “half-life of caffeine is about five to seven hours,” noon or early afternoon is usually a good cutoff. If you still experience the mid- to late- afternoon slump, she recommends taking a walk outside instead of going to Starbucks for a venti never-gonna-sleepuccino. Exposure to natural light can help alertness, and a quick walk will give you a much needed boost of energy afterward. The National Sleep Foundation says that as little as ten minutes of aerobic exercise can also
“dramatically improve the quality of your night-time sleep.”

Another key component to getting a high-quality night’s sleep for the entire family is minimizing screen time, especially before bed. Experts agree that cutting off screen time at least an hour before bedtime is ideal. Dr. Kotagal explains that screen light suppresses the natural sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, not to mention that whatever is being watched might also be mentally activating for both children and adults.

Temperature can also be a factor in getting a good night’s sleep. While babies and children tend to sleep better in the low 70s, the ideal temperature for adult bedrooms veers cooler, hovering in the low 60s, according to Dr. Drerup. Per Dr. Kotagal, there is some research that suggests that because of the body’s natural gradient temperature, the temperature at an infant’s feet should be lower than the temperature around her abdomen, which is naturally higher. Parents might think it’s best to bundle infants in both socks and a heavier sleep sack, but that could make it harder for babies to fall asleep by artificially preventing heat loss from the infant’s body.

No matter what steps you take to help you and your family invest in better sleep, remember that sleep health is a significant part of a much larger overall picture, which is why Dr. Davidson Ward likes to ask her patients what they do for fun: “I think the pillars of good health are healthy nutrition, healthy exercise, a good night’s sleep, and doing something that you are passionate about or love every day. All these things are achievable for most families.” You just need to put your minds to it. *

This article originally appeared in Parents: The Mindful Life available at retailers and on Amazon.

 

This article was written by Lacey Vorrasi-Banis from Parents and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

5 Ways to Soothe Your Kids’ Seasonal Allergies—For Good

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After a long winter of sweaters, snow boots, and Fortnite, the first signs of spring should bring elation for kids and parents everywhere. But for Geri Amera, a mom in Elmhurst, New York, it’s crunch time. “You know that pretty moment when the trees release their flowers and it looks like it’s snowing?” says Amera. “That’s the worst day of the year for us.” Her 11-year-old daughter, Sophie, has had severe seasonal allergies since she was 3, meaning her body treats seemingly harmless spores of pollen like dangerous invaders. When they get into her mouth and nose, they cause her immune system to release histamines, which pump up mucus production. This leads to lots of sneezing, sniffling, coughing, and itching.

Over the past few years, Amera has carefully crafted a regimen involving antihistamines, housecleaning, vaporizers, and lots of Boogie Wipes to ensure that Sophie can play outside without feeling miserable. Staying vigilant is key. Research suggests that with each passing year, pollen is becoming increasingly allergenic, and allergy season is lasting longer, says Jeffrey Demain, M.D., director of the Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Center of Alaska, in Anchorage. (The likely culprit behind this trend: rising global temperatures.) Plus, untreated allergies can lead to irritability and interfere with sleep—which is no good for anyone in your house, says Edith Schussler, M.D., a pediatric allergist at Weill Cornell Medicine, in New York City.

How can you help ease your child’s symptoms? A science-backed plan is coming your way.

1. Get the right diagnosis.

In young kids, allergy symptoms can easily be mistaken for a cold or another virus. The biggest sign that your kid actually has a pollen problem? His symptoms stick around. “A cold usually lasts a week and then goes away,” Dr. Demain says. “An allergy flare, however, could last weeks or months.” And since most people in America with allergies are sensitive to more than one thing—dogs and ragweed, grass and dust mites, for example—sniffles often persist for longer than one season. Other signs of seasonal allergies: a clear drip coming out of the nose (rather than a yellowish or greenish one), itchy eyes, symptoms that worsen outdoors, and what doctors call “allergic shiners,” or dark circles under the eyes caused by nasal and sinus congestion.

Remember, too, that seasonal allergies run in families. If a parent has allergies, her child has about a 50 percent chance of developing them; if both parents are sneezing from spring through fall, the odds are even higher.

The best way to get your child diagnosed correctly is to see a pediatric allergist. After taking a detailed history, she’ll run skin and blood tests to pinpoint your kid’s specific allergies and effective treatments. Once you have a diagnosis and plan, your regular pediatrician can handle follow-ups, Dr. Demain says.

2. Minimize pollen’s presence in your child’s life.

First, consider the fabrics on your floors and windows, especially in your kid’s bedroom and playroom. “Heavy carpets and rugs hold on to allergens,” Dr. Schussler says, noting that you can easily mop hardwood and tile floors and wipe blinds and shutters clean.

“I have all our mattresses and pillows covered in allergen and dust protectors,” says Heather Nelson, of Greenwich, Connecticut, whose 7-year-old twins both have allergies. Washing sheets regularly in hot water can also remove lingering dust and allergens. Other smart ideas: Keep the windows closed during pollen season, run an air conditioner with a HEPA filter, and ask people to take off their shoes when they enter the house so they don’t track in pollen. 

Amera puts her daughter’s hair in tight braids to keep pollen from infiltrating her long locks (a baseball cap does the trick for shorter hair). Immediately showering and changing into “indoor clothes” when everyone gets home helps too. If you have a dog who spends time outdoors, bathe him as often as he’ll let you and keep him off your child’s bed. Some parents also like to keep a bottle of saline nasal spray handy to literally wash the pollen out of their child’s nose throughout the day and before bed.

And don’t forget one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal: your phone. Download Pollen.com’s free app, which delivers the forecast for specific pollen counts in your area. When possible, schedule outdoor activities on low-pollen days. “The day after a rainy day is the best time to be outside,” says New York City pediatrician Alison Mitzner, M.D., whose 7-year-old has allergies.

3. Make medications work for your kid.

Most allergists recommend starting with the simplest over-the-counter treatment and adding more meds as needed. “We want to keep children on the lowest amount of medication possible to control symptoms so they have the least possible side effects,” Dr. Schussler says.

Consider starting with a daily dose of an over-the-counter, second-generation antihistamine such as Zyrtec (cetirizine), Allegra (fexofenadine), or Claritin (loratadine) in a children’s formulation. Unlike first-generation antihistamines such as Benadryl, these drugs were designed not to cross the blood-brain barrier, which means they are less likely to cause drowsiness or hyperactivity. If your child begins taking medication even before his symptoms kick in, he may not produce histamines at all. “I recommend that patients start taking an antihistamine on March 1 for a spring-pollen allergy,” Dr. Schussler says. Take it at night, since some newer medications can still cause drowsiness.

In many cases, an antihistamine should provide enough relief for your child to get through the day. If he needs something more, consider reaching for a steroid nasal spray such as Nasonex (mometasone), Flonase (fluticasone), or Nasacort (triamcinolone acetonide). These daily-use sprays, which reduce swelling in the nasal passages and eyes, take a few days to kick in, and your child may not love the feeling of a spritz up his nose at first. But stick with it. A nasal spray can relieve the same symptoms that antihistamines do and also clear airways. For children with severe allergies that don’t respond to over-the-counter meds, ask about prescription-strength antihistamines and sprays.

4. Protect her eyes.

Itchy, red, teary eyes are one of the most aggravating symptoms of allergies. (The itch stems from inflammation of the mucus membrane covering the whites of the eyes and inner eyelids.) The fix: Keep pollen away from your child’s face. Dr. Schussler advises wearing sunglasses and a hat with a brim. Kids touch their face all the time, but with these accessories on, your child will be less likely to rub her eyes.

You can also use saline eyedrops to wash away pollen. Or ask your child’s doctor about antihistamine eyedrops such as prescription Pataday or OTC Zaditor. “The drops can sting a little, but if you refrigerate them, it takes a bit of that away,” Dr. Demain says. Antihistamine nasal sprays often help with eye symptoms as well.

5. Go for long-term relief.

If you’ve tried pills, sprays, and rinses, ripped the carpet out of your home, and blinged out your kid with rock-star sunglasses, but he continues to suffer, talk to his allergist about allergy shots. “They are still the cornerstone of long-term treatment,” says Dr. Demain. “We have shots for almost every common allergen, and they also reduce the risk for developing new allergies and asthma.” The only real drawback? Getting your kid on board with a plan involving needles. The treatment starts out with two shots a week for up to two to three months, then tapers down to once a week, then every other week, and finally monthly.

After about three years, the allergy may be gone for good. Dr. Schussler suggests allergy shots after a patient has tried everything else and is at least 7 or 8 years old. “Some kids will be completely cured, and some still need to take an antihistamine when pollen counts are very high, but pretty much all children feel much better,” she says.

Is your child mainly allergic to grass? Good news: There’s a new option called sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) that works the same way shots do but without the ouch of needles. Instead, patients take one tablet daily that dissolves under the tongue. SLIT tablets for dust mites and ragweed have been FDA-approved for adults, but grass is the only allergen approved for kids as young as 5. Still, it’s worth checking in with your allergist; the other allergens are under FDA evaluation and may be approved for children soon.

 

This article was written by Marisa Cohen from Parents and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Kids Who Spend More Time Outside Are Happier Adults, Science Says

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Sending the kids outside to play isn’t just a good way to get them out of the house, it’s also beneficial for their mental health. And as a new study from Aarhus University in Denmark shows, children who more spend more time in nature may be less likely to develop various psychiatric disorders as adults.

This scientific research essentially confirms what we’ve always known: Playing outdoors is good for kids’ overall happiness and development. But what this study also shows is having more “cumulative green space” while growing up is associated with a “lower risk of a wide spectrum of psychiatric disorders later in life.”

There are a number of other factors that affect mental health, including family history and genetic predispositions to certain conditions. And the point of this study isn’t to scare city dwellers—it’s to reinforce for the idea that “green space” is good for kids, and integrating natural environments into urban areas has proven benefits as well.

The fact is that kids just don’t spend as much time outside as we did growing up. One 2016 survey from U.K.’s National Trust showed that the average child spent just over four hours a week enjoying Mother Nature, compared to the 8.2 hours their parents logged when they were little. We can chalk it up to our busy schedules and the rise of technology, but that doesn’t change the fact that our kids aren’t getting much fresh air and sunshine.

Many parents are trying to change to this, though. Take Ginny and Jason Yurich, a Michigan mom and dad who started 1000 Hours Outside, an online community encouraging families to (you guessed it) aim to spend 1000 hours a year in the great outdoors.

The Yurichs, who have five children, say that an ideal world, children should be outside four to six hours a day. That’s a lot, we know, and the creators of 1000 Hours Outside are quick to say they’re not spending four to six hours outside every day. Instead, they “aim for 4-6 hours outside at least three to four times a week,” Ginny writes, explaining they do “a little more in the nicer months and a little less in the worse ones.”

There’s plenty of evidence that suggests unstructured outdoor play is key to a child’s development, and we’re of the mindset that every little bit counts. What the Yurichs are saying, though, is that when kids are able to spend longer periods of time outdoors, the benefits are even bigger.

“Children who are allowed this freedom of time outside get lost in nature,” Ginny explains. “They get lost in their imaginations and they get lost in wonder. And then they rapidly develop. There are many factors why but one reason is due to the rich sensory environment that nature always provides.”

Nature also provides the perfect place for kids and parents to be active and explore the world around them. It isn’t always possible to head outside and play, but when the weather’s right and you can carve out some time in the family’s schedule, it’s a wonderful, affordable way to engage those little ones and their developing minds.

 

This article was written by Rebecca Macatee from Parents and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

7 top tips for a spontaneous family getaway

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Like the thought of going on a last-minute family getaway but can’t get your head around the idea of planning and executing a trip away without losing the plot?

You might think a family getaway requires months of meticulous planning and taking everything but the kitchen sink with you, but it really needn’t be that way.

 

Simply by following a few basic steps it is possible to pack up and leave for a weekend away on the spur of the moment – whether you’ve got one, two or three or more kids like me.

Want to know how? Organisation – and the internet – are key!

7 top tips for a spontaneous family getaway

1. Book accommodation online. Thanks to the rise of the likes of Airbnb you can find a fantastic bolt hole for you and your family at the drop of a hat, from cosy country cottages with honeysuckle and ivy around the door to swanky city centre apartments. We’ve used Airbnb several times to visit the Christmas markets in Germany, and it’s great because you can find accommodation with all the necessary for your needs, like cots and highchairs. And if you’ve got pets don’t panic – many websites and properties now accommodate pets so there’s no need to leave them at home or sort out alternative accommodation for them while you’re away.


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2. Book airport parking online. Thanks to a number of helpful sites you can guarantee safe and secure parking both from smaller, city airports like Birmingham Airport to other major departure points. (If you are travelling from Birmingham you can discover more about Birmingham airport parking at this site – it couldn’t be easier!) In many cases you can even drive straight up to the departure building and hand over your keys to a waiting, professional valet who will return your car to you when you return, taking the hassle out of parking the car and herding the whole family onto a transfer bus.


family getaway

3. Turn packing into a game. If you’re the owner of small people who like to ‘help’ like me, try turning packing into a game. A weekend away doesn’t need more than a few clothes and you can easily enlist their help to get things organised quickly. It can be as simple as asking who can be the quickest to bring something to the suitcase, and a challenge like ‘first one to bring me their favourite t-shirt!’ gets them out of your hair for a minute or two. Then if they play nicely, reward them with a treat for the car as you leave.


family getaway

4. Order food online. If you’re staying in the UK for your getaway, consider ordering groceries online before you go. You could order everything you need for the weekend away so you don’t have to worry about going shopping when you get there, plus it saves on some valuable space in the car. Just pick a delivery slot after you’ve arrived and hey presto – everything you need will be taken right there for you.


family getaway

5. Go somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit. A single weekend might not be long enough for lots of activities, but there is plenty of time for one major visit. Is there something you’ve always wanted to do? From visiting a castle or museum to taking the time to do something like a bungee jump or a skydive, a spontaneous getaway is the best opportunity you have to get those things ticked off. Take a look at your bucket list. It might provide some key inspiration about where you want to go and what you want to see. For example, if you have always wanted to climb Ben Nevis, a weekend away in Fort William might be just the ticket.


family getaway

6. Opt for child-friendly activities. Some of the most well-loved attractions around the UK are either geared towards children or have child-friendly aspects to them. For example, a stately manor might have a quiz or treasure hunt for them to take part in while you wander around taking in the historic location. Activities like these are perfect for appealing to every member of the family, and remember you all came away for a reason, so it is only fair that all your interests are catered for.


family getaway

7. Go with the flow. Make sure you spend some of your getaway chilling out. Whether that’s a casual stroll around the city you are visiting, or just curling up by a roaring fire with a good book, it’s completely up to you! Listen to your body, listen to your kids, and just take the time to relax and spend some good, old-fashioned quality time together.

family getaway

Have you been on a family getaway recently? Are you planning one? I’d love to hear about your experience!

The post 7 top tips for a spontaneous family getaway appeared first on Confessions Of A Crummy Mummy.

 

This article was written by crummymummy1 from Confessions of a Crummy Mummy and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Energy Savings for a Healthier Earth

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Sometimes we’re all guilty of leaving lights on, blasting heat, running water excessively and spending countless hours in front of the TV watching our favorite programs.

As our children grow, it is important to teach them to conserve resources to keep our earth healthy for generations to come.

Instead of reprimanding our children for not turning off the lights and the television, we should reward them when they do turn off electrical devices that are not being used. Explain to your child that if he turns off the lights every time he leaves a room, he will receive a reward. For example, he may choose his favorite meal for Friday night dinner, or he can pick a movie for the whole family to enjoy.

In some locations, the outside temperature can drop below freezing in the winter. Be sure to turn the heat down when leaving your house and turn it up when you return home. However, if you turn the heat off completely and then turn it on when you return home, sometimes you may waste more energy than by simply turning it down when you leave the house. You should check with your local energy supplier for best practices for your home.

Encourage everyone in your family to fill his free time with activities other than television. Save energy by reading a book, playing a board game or getting crafty.

What are some ways your family works to save energy?

Five Swaps for Single-Use Plastics at School

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During Root for Earth, which runs from April 1 to April 22 this year, we are focusing on how to reduce the consumption of single-use plastics. Here are five swaps you can make at school to help keep our planet clean.

  1. Reusable water bottles – Whether you prefer a BPA-free hard plastic bottle or a metal one, drinking from reusable water bottles is a great way to cut back on the consumption of single-use plastic bottles, which is also a handy way to save money. Plus, your child can decorate his bottle to make it his own!
  2. Lunch boxes or insulated bags – Instead of filling a plastic or paper bag with foods in zip-top plastic baggies, give your child a reusable lunch box, which will save you money in the long run. You can put each food item, such as carrots or apple slices, into individual reusable containers and pack those containers in the reusable lunch box. You could also pack a bento box, which is a creative, fun way to keep foods separated. Bento boxes are perfect for picky eaters who don’t like their foods to touch.
  3. Reusable eating utensils – Pack reusable metal or plastic utensils in your child’s lunch box or insulated bag. You can also buy reusable sporks, which are two utensils in one.
  4. Reusable baby-wipe cases – Baby wipes often come packaged in disposable plastic baby-wipe cases. Reusing these baby-wipe cases can help cut back on the amount of plastic you use. Just buy baby wipes in bulk, and refill your case when it’s empty.
  5. Reusable wet bags for soiled clothes – Accidents happen. When they do, the soiled clothes are usually put in a plastic bag. This is a good way to repurpose plastic bags, but using a reusable wet bag is a more eco-friendly solution. As a bonus, wet bags come in different designs and colors.

Five Ways to Cut Down on Single-Use Plastics at Home

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During Root for Earth, which runs from April 1 to April 22 this year, we are focusing on how to reduce the consumption of single-use plastics. Here are five ways to use fewer unnecessary plastics.

  1. Scream for ice cream…cones. If you go out to get ice cream with your child, ask for that single scoop in a cone instead of a plastic dish. It will be delicious and eco-friendly.
  2. Bulk up. When you’re shopping for toilet paper, diapers or other plastic-wrapped items, buying in bulk instead of in smaller quantities means you won’t be disposing of plastic as often. Buying in bulk also means taking fewer trips to the grocery store, which saves gas, money and time.
  3. Filter out the plastic by filtering your water. Use a refillable pitcher with a water filter and reusable water bottles instead of buying bottled water. You will use less plastic and save money. There’s also the added benefit of always having cold, filtered water on hand.
  4. Shop ‘til you drop…with reusable shopping bags. The average American family takes home about 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year (National Resources Defense Council, 2008). If you could stack them all up length-wise, they would be as tall as a 254-story skyscraper, which is 94 stories taller than the tallest building in the world! You can reduce the number of plastic bags you bring home by investing in reusable shopping bags, which are usually bigger and more durable. Many stores offer a discount if you bring your own reusable bags.
  5. Say no to plastic coffee cup lids, and say yes to saving moolah on java. Some coffee shops offer discounts on coffee when you bring your own reusable mug. You can save money on coffee while helping save the environment. It’s win-win!

 

 

References

 

Natural Resources Defense Council. (2008). NRDC lauds passage of New York City Council legislation requiring groceries, retailers to provide plastic bag recycling for consumers. Retrieved from https://www.nrdc.org/media/2008/080109

Bento Box Mania!

What is a bento box?

Bento box lunches have been increasing in popularity among families with preschoolers and school-age children. Google the term “bento box lunch” and you will find a wealth of resources, including blogs, Pinterest pages and online retailers selling basic and whimsical options. If a parent is artistic, the child’s lunch can become a work of art.

Why does it work well for school lunches?

Bento boxes work well for school lunches and snacks because they protect food in a sealed container and keep food groups separate. If you have a picky eater who does not like foods touching, a bento box may keep your child happy. Parents can have fun creating different lunchtime masterpieces. Bento boxes are also economical because they are reusable and help keep plastic snack and sandwich bags out of landfills.

What are the nutritional benefits of bento boxes?

Bento boxes are appealing because they provide a creative way to add a variety of foods to a child’s lunch while keeping wet foods separate from dry foods. By introducing different, healthy foods early in your child’s life, he or she may develop a preference for those foods as well as a more diverse palate. You can also turn the preparation of the bento box into a learning activity by asking your child what each food is, where it comes from, how it’s made and so on. Engaging your child in the experience may help to build and reinforce a child’s love of diverse, nutritious foods while fostering a love of learning.

What can I put in my child’s bento box?

The options are endless, but here are some ideas:

  • Sliced hard-boiled eggs;
  • A mini-bagel sandwich with almond butter, jelly or another spread;
  • Sliced strawberries, blueberries and kiwis;
  • Cheese cubes;
  • Pretzels;
  • Sliced grapes;
  • A muffin;
  • Mini-pita sandwiches filled with cheese and pepperoni;
  • Sliced pineapple;
  • Celery and carrot sticks;
  • Cucumber slices;
  • A turkey and cheese sandwich on a Hawaiian roll;
  • Veggie chips;
  • Rice molds;
  • Chickpeas and black beans;
  • Raisins and chocolate chips;
  • Sandwich rounds with ham, cheese and avocado.

Enjoy making bento box lunches!

Gardening with Your Preschooler

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Have you found a summer camp program for your child yet? A high-quality summer camp often has an outdoor classroom or garden. Gardening allows your child to learn about biology through fun, hands-on experiences. Here are a few ways that you can get your child interested in gardening at home.
• With your child, start off by researching which plants will develop best in your area. Let him choose which plants he would like to see grow right in his backyard. Then take a trip with him to purchase the necessary seeds and tools.
• If you want to have a more advanced garden, keeping in mind age appropriateness, help your child plant vegetables. It will be rewarding to eat the vegetables that you and your child have helped grow.
• Talk with your child about the changes and patterns she notices as the plants begin to grow, and ask her to predict what will happen in the future.
• Discuss the different kinds of bugs that she sees in the garden. Determine if certain bugs are beneficial or harmful to the garden and why.
• Ask your child to draw pictures of what he observes happening in the garden and help him write down what he sees.
• Keep track of how tall the plants are, and ask your child to use her math and ruler skills to determine how much each plant has grown each week.
• As your preschooler “digs deeper” into gardening he will retain lasting memories of what he has learned.

National Plant a Flower Day Craft

Materials

  • Construction paper in multiple colors
  • Mixed dry beans (or seeds or beads)
  • Twine or yarn
  • Glue
  • Scissors

Instructions

Cut different flower shapes out of construction paper – stem, leaves and flower. Create the soil by cutting a piece of brown construction paper in half and gluing it to the bottom third of a piece of blue construction paper. Glue a strip of green construction paper where the brown and blue paper meet to create the grass. Then glue a bean or seed just below the grass to emulate planting a seed. Next, glue the twine or yarn below the bean/seed to create roots. Then glue the stem and leaves. Finally, add the flower and glue seeds in the center of it.

Be sure to talk about the growth process with your child as you assemble the craft. “The seed is planted in the soil, and then the roots extend, drinking in water and nutrients. Then the stem grows, which delivers water and nutrients to the leaves and flower. Seeds from the flower can be planted to grow more flowers!”