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Zest for LearningA child’s brain is an extraordinary powerhouse that makes new connections with each bit of knowledge and experience. Creative and cultural opportunities empower children to find their niche and make sense of this amazing world. By encouraging creativity and imagination, we can help kids develop a healthy brain and a well-rounded personality.

In today’s ever-changing world, it’s important for children to discover and embrace a lifelong passion for learning. Here are seven ways we can help our kids love to learn.

  • Make learning exciting and fun. Don’t be afraid to step out of your intellect and into your imagination. Inject excitement into every day.
  • Encourage kids to explore ideas independently and at their own pace. Provide experiences that build confidence and boost self esteem.
  • Teach capacity, not just skills. When children see they have the capacity to do and to think, all things become possible.
  • Make a game out of brain exercises. A few fun exercises can integrate both sides of the brain, improve coordination, and enhance learning. You can find many good sites online. Here is just one example: Brain Gym Exercises for the Classroom
  • Teach a global perspective. Pick one evening a month for a family culinary world tour dinner. Check out library books and discover the cultural traditions and diet of this month’s country. Your kids can study cook books, and write a grocery list, decorate, and help prepare the world tour dinner.
  • Role model a zest for learning. Read. Explore. Take an active interest in your child’s projects. Your enthusiasm for knowledge is contagious. 
  • Be a passionately curious, creative, and resilient family. Dare to make mistakes. Take Risks. Embrace challenges. Resist editing and don’t judge. Think of learning as a process of growing and changing. And always try to see the bigger picture.

K.J. Larsen’s Cat DeLuca Mysteries, are published by Poisoned Pen Press. Larsens’ debut novel, Liar Liar, was awarded Library Journals Best Mystery, 2010. Liar, Liar, Sticks and Stones, and Some Like It Hot are available at the Seattle Mystery Bookstore and on Amazon. Cat’s fourth adventure, Bye Bye, Love, was released April 2015 and is available now.

We all want our kids to become creative adults. People who think outside the box have an edge. Creative people are more successful. And studies show they are happier as well. A curious, creative mind is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children.

What is creativity? Creativity is the ability to generate new ideas and connect them together to solve problems. Highly creative people have made friends with their right brain. They’re open to new and unconventional solutions. Fresh ideas come easily to them. They’ve learned to connect to a source that is within each of us. And while some people are more creative than others, the good news is that we can all learn to tap into that source.

Creativity isn’t all about poetry and paintings. It’s role playing, baking brownies, launching a new business, or building a spaceship with legos.  Children develop and express creativity when they draw, collect seashells, and climb trees. When we’re fully engaged in a project, we say we’re in the “flow”.

Children require “think time” and unstructured time to imagine. Daydreaming helps us discover the path to that place within where we find inspiration.

Here are nine ways you can help your kids find their “flow state” or “muse”.  

  1. Be magical. Encourage a wealth of imaginative, playful ideas. Make a game of asking difficult questions and coming up with silly answers. Look for images in clouds and mosaics and patterns.
  2. Ease up on restrictions. Creative people have a need for originality and can resist rules and conventions. This is not a bad thing.
  3. Embrace flexibility. Rigid thinking will suck the creative juices out of your kids. Creative people are able to see different aspects of issues and come up with fresh solutions.
  4. Be an innovative, goal-oriented family. Set personal and family goals. Tackle difficult issues. Provide kids with opportunities to perform and recognize successes.
  5. Give your kids learning experiences. Use curiosity and creativity to solve problems that have no clearly defined answers. Creative people require a broad knowledge background to draw from. So haunt museums. Get a membership at the zoo. Frequent the library. Hike. Leave the city and stare at the stars. Ride the steam train to Mt. Rainier.
  6. Play an instrument. There are many ways to increase divergent thinking and music is one of the best. The brain is divided into a right and left hemisphere and the corpus callosum acts as a bridge between the two halves. Playing music increases the activity in the corpus callosum. This allows information to travel faster and through more diverse routes, increasing the number of creative ideas. Music also improves math skills.
  7. Value and reward curiosity at home. Engage your kids in meaningful conversation about the ideas and interests that mean the most to them. Reinforce curiosity when you see it in action.
  8. The power of art. Visual art and music strengthen learning and divergent thinking.  Paint a picture. Hang out with your kids at the art museum. Dance to music at home and add a little Beethoven or Tchaikovsky to the mix. Catch Seattle’s free Summer Concert Series.
  9. Imaginative play. Invite your kids to tell a story and write down what they say word for word. Then gather the family around and act out the story together.

 K.J. Larsen’s Cat DeLuca Mysteries, are published by Poisoned Pen Press. Larsens’ debut novel, Liar Liar, was awarded Library Journals Best Mystery, 2010. Liar, Liar, Sticks and Stones, and Some Like It Hot are available at the Seattle Mystery Bookstore and on Amazon. Cat’s fourth adventure, Bye Bye, Love, was released April 2015 and is available now.

It is the time of year when many of us, as adults, reflect on the past year and make resolutions to improve our quality of life in the New Year.

As parents of young children, we should now include our family in this process.

A good way to get started is by reviewing pbsparents.org recent article titled, “Making New Year’s Resolutions with Your Child”.  They discuss how making resolutions an annual family tradition can be a fun and fulfilling activity by gathering as a family in December and reflecting on the past year, discussing each of your accomplishments and goals. Each family member will have a turn to share something they are proud of and something they want to improve.

Resolutions can be for the individual or for the family as a whole. One key consideration is that different aged children should, of course, have different resolutions. The following New Year tips by age are from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The article can be viewed in its entirety here at aap.org.

 

Healthy New Year's Resolutions for Kids

 

Preschoolers

  • I will clean up my toys and put them where they belong. 

  • I will brush my teeth twice a day, and wash my hands after going to the bathroom and before eating.I won't tease dogs or other pets – even friendly ones.

  • I will avoid being bitten by keeping my fingers and face away from their mouths.

  • I will talk with my parent or a trusted adult when I need help, or are scared.

  • I will be nice to other kids who need a friend or look sad or lonely.

 

Kids, 5 to 12 years old

  • I will drink reduced-fat milk and water every day, and drink soda and fruit drinks only at special times.

  • I will put on sunscreen before I go outdoors on bright, sunny days. I will try to stay in the shade whenever possible and wear a hat and sunglasses, especially when I'm playing sports.

  • I will try to find a sport (like basketball or soccer) or an activity (like playing tag, jumping rope, dancing or riding my bike) that I like and do it at least three times a week!
     
  • I will always wear a helmet when riding a bike.

  • I will wear my seat belt every time I get in a car. I'll sit in the back seat and use a booster seat until I am tall enough to use a lap/shoulder seat belt.
     
  • I'll be friendly to kids who may have a hard time making friends by asking them to join activities such as sports or games.
     
  • I will never encourage or even watch bullying, and will join with others in telling bullies to stop.

  • I'll never give out private information such as my name, home address, school name or telephone number on the Internet. Also, I'll never send a picture of myself to someone I chat with on the computer without asking my parent if it is okay.
     
  • I will try to talk with my parent or a trusted adult when I have a problem or feel stressed.
     
  • I promise to follow our household rules for videogames and internet use

 

Tomato Salad and KidsMy husband always laughs when I talk about how much money we’ll save by growing our own food, and he has a good point! Planting a garden isn’t a cheap activity between soil, compost, fertilizer, seeds and starts!  Not to mention watering…

Anyways, I still consider myself a gardening novice having only started doing this about 8 years ago, but I learned this money-saving tip from a friend and it works great! This year I’m including my kids in this family fun process. I’m focusing on growing more food from seed instead of using starts, since it’s both cheaper and fun for the kids to see the whole growing cycle.

Also, while my kids will sometimes eat store-bought tomatoes, when the tomatoes are growing in our garden I can barely keep them on the branches because our kids eat them so fast! Garden fresh tastes so much better!

With just some soil and a salad you can join us in this family fun activity – it’s a good time for planting!

Materials:

  • Large plastic clamshell salad container with lid
  • Potting soil
  • Tomato (one or more varieties, I do cherry tomatoes because they are fun to pick and eat)
  • Spray bottle
  • Shovel

 

Directions:

  1. Poke about 8 small holes in the lid of the plastic container using a knife or scissors, to let air flow.
  2. Fill about 1/3 of container with soil.
  3. Cut tomato and remove seeds. The seeds are easier to handle if they are dried on a paper towel (probably would be even easier if they are left out overnight, but I never plan ahead enough for that).
  4. Poke seeds about ¼ inch deep into the soil, at least ½ inch apart.
  5. Spritz soil with water using spray bottle to moisten.
  6. Place in sunny window.
  7. Watch them grow! Keep soil moist by spritzing with water when needed.
  8. When plants are about an inch or two tall, transplant each to its’ own container (at least 3” big), filled with fresh potting soil. Dig a small hole for seedling. Using a spoon or fork gently lift root ball while supporting plant with other hand and place in new pot.
  9. Keep inside until night temperatures have warmed up to the mid 50’s.
  10. When ready to transplant in your garden or an outside container, acclimate your plant by placing it outside for a few hours in the sun. Do this for about a week, increasing the time outside each day until it is out all day.
  11. When planting, set plant into hole so that the stem is covered up to where the leafy branches begin.

Enjoy!

Kid Reading"There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all."

          —Jacqueline Kennedy

The love of reading is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children. Children who read well succeed in school and in life. They have better language skills and a better sense of the world.

Here are eight tips that can empower kids to become super-readers.

  1. The most effective way to raise good readers is to read aloud with your children. Reading aloud stimulates language development. Begin at birth and keep reading together through grade school. Brain imaging shows that reading aloud to young children literally wires brain cells together in networks that facilitate independent reading.
  2. Read with your kids, not to them. Use your voice and your tone and the way you say the words to engage your kids in the story. Stretch your child’s imagination. Encourage her to think beyond the words written on the page. Ask open-ended questions and draw on teachable moments.
  3. Reading is about language. Talk often with your children. Encourage them to share their thoughts and develop their ideas.
  4. Be a role model for your kids. Love to read. Your kids will see that you value books and treat them with respect. Set aside time for yourself to read each day. Kick-start those little, grey cells. Try out a new genre or subject you haven’t explored before.
  5. Start a home library for your kids, even if it’s just a few shelves. Children develop more positive attitudes toward reading and learning when they have greater access to books and printed materials.
  6. Make frequent trips to the library. Teach your kids how to find and select books. If you need help, the Children’s Librarian will assist you.
  7. Take your kids to a book-signing event that features a favorite children’s book author. Ask your school to invite one of our amazing local authors to class. Writers enjoy talking with kids and hearing them share their own story ideas.
  8. Create a fit, active lifestyle at home. Over the past decade, numerous adult studies have discovered a direct link between fitness and healthy brain function. The connection is true for children as well. A study by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that children who are physically fit have “faster and more robust neuro-electrical brain responses” than their less-fit peers. Fit children also have better language and cognitive skills.


So turn off the TV and scoot the kids outside to play. Run and tumble and dance with them when you can. You’ll laugh more. Bike along Alki and hike our West Seattle trails together. Play every day. Your family will be fitter and you just might be a little smarter.

K.J. Larsen’s Cat DeLuca Mysteries, are published by Poisoned Pen Press. Larsens’ debut novel, Liar Liar, was awarded Library Journals Best Mystery, 2010. Liar, Liar, Sticks and Stones, and Some Like It Hot are available at the Seattle Mystery Bookstore and on Amazon. Cat’s fourth adventure, Bye Bye, Love, will be released April 2015

Creative Art for KidsCreativity is a highly prized and sought after human ability. Children are, by nature, wonderfully creative creatures. But unless that creativity is encouraged, much of a person’s capacity for rich, innovative ideas will be lost by the age of eight.

For today’s parents, nurturing creativity is a top priority. Studies show that highly creative people grow up in homes that value and cultivate creativity. In fact, family is the primary force behind creative behavior.

Here are eight characteristics of highly creative families.

  1. Independence. In highly creative families, there’s a tendency to stress freedom and autonomy. At an early age, children are given unusual freedom to make their own decisions and explore their world. There’s an extraordinary expectation that the child will choose and act responsibly.
  2. An enriched learning environment. Children are provided with a variety of artistic supplies, tools, and raw materials. They’re encouraged to be self dependent; to pursue independent projects and to problem solve. Imagination, divergent thinking, and deferred judgment are family values.
  3. Nix the rules. Highly creative families use values to manage behaviors rather than rules or discipline. Self discipline replaces an outside imposed discipline. If there are rules, they usually deal with how we treat people and animals.
  4. Respect for the child. These parents show a high level of support and awareness for their child. In studies involving highly creative adolescents, parents were very interested in their children’s behavior but rarely intervened with rules.
  5. Children are encouraged to take risks, explore, and embrace new experiences.
  6. The value of being different. The highly creative family sees being different as an advantage and encourages each child to embrace individuality.
  7. Humor. Highly creative families have fun. Regular family interactions include humor.
  8. Intrinsic motivation. Children are motivated by internal rewards such as joy and satisfaction rather than extrinsic motivation which involves outside rewards or to avoid punishment.

Every child has something special to give. If we want super-creative kids, we might want to loosen the reins a bit. Maybe we could rethink some of the conventional wisdom and celebrate the unique creative gifts of each child.

K.J. Larsen’s Cat DeLuca Mysteries, are published by Poisoned Pen Press. Larsens’ debut novel, Liar Liar, was awarded Library Journals Best Mystery, 2010. Liar, Liar, Sticks and Stones, and Some Like It Hot are available at the Seattle Mystery Bookstore and on Amazon. Cat’s fourth adventure, Bye Bye, Love, was released April 2015 and is available now.

Creative KidsThe most certain way to raise creative kids is to be a role model. In short, be creative for yourself and watch the creativity in your child flourish! 

We humans are creative by nature. In fact, creativity is our birthright. It’s like breathing.

If your creative battery needs a charge, here are some tips to shake things up.

 

Exercise and a healthy diet

Jump start your creative juices with exercise and a wide variety of living fruits and vegetables. Try to include every color in the rainbow!  And don’t forget to share how great it makes you feel with your children!

It’s not rocket science. Kids like to do what they see adults do. Eating unhealthy and having a sedentary lifestyle is not the way to encourage a creative and healthy lifestyle for our children. 

 

Meditate

It’s a fact. People who meditate are healthier and happier. Meditation calms the mind by shifting stressed-out brain activity to the calmer left frontal cortex. Ten short minutes of meditation can clear the fog and super-charge your creative edge.

Meditation for kids can also be beneficial. We have all seen our children as they try to work through emotions. Being able to calm the mind is a necessary capability for a happy and fulfilling life.

As you “role model” meditation, take note of your personal benefits and of your kids as they learn from you.

 

Try something new 

It’s a no-brainer. Curiosity regenerates the brain. Spending time and energy with the new, can increase the shape, size, and number of neurons in our brain, and weave new connections between them.  

Virtually everything is new to your kids of course. But encouraging a little more is always a great thing to do, whether it’s a new artistic venture or trying a new food or trying to count the animals they can see in the clouds! (By the way, how many did you see?)

 

Be curious

Step outside the box. Ask “what if” questions of yourself every day and practice divergent thinking.  Be sure to encourage your kid’s creativity with open ended questions as well!

 

Walk twenty minutes every day

Breathe deeply and let everything just be. Watch and smell everything. When you walk, channel your inner child (either literally or vicariously as you watch your child!). Enjoy the feel and sounds of the rain. Stomp through a puddle (if you dare!).

 

Dance around the house

Put on some old time rock ‘n roll or disco or Bon Jovi and shake some serious booty. Turn the music up and sing loud. Lose the cool. Laugh. Boogie with your kids. Can you dance like them? That’s creativity at its finest.

 

Go to a play. Visit an art gallery. See a live concert.

Get out of the house and soak in other people’s creative energy. Creativity is contagious. You’ll be inspired and so will your kids!

 

Kill the TV

Or at least stuff a sock in it. Read a book about something you’ve never been interested in before. Stir up those little grey cells.

 

Create time for yourself. Every day.

Creativity is part of who we are. It’s how we’re wired.

So create something you love. Write. Paint. Journal. Make music. Sculpt. Do what brings you joy. And each day find a few moments to be still. Listen to your heart beat in your chest.  And one day when you feel a little nudge on your shoulder, you’ll know your muse is smiling.

As for your kids, when they see you write, they will write. When they see you paint, they will paint. When they see… Well, you get the picture. Be creative for yourself and watch the creativity in your child flourish! 

K.J. Larsen’s Cat DeLuca Mysteries, are published by Poisoned Pen Press. Larsens’ debut novel, Liar Liar, was awarded Library Journals Best Mystery, 2010. Liar, Liar, Sticks and Stones, and Some Like It Hot are available at the Seattle Mystery Bookstore and on Amazon. Cat’s fourth adventure, Bye Bye, Love, will be released April 2015

Use this fun activity to make a beautiful display of your kids original Valentine’s Day art and those adorable Valentines they get from their classmates! 

 

Step 1: Collect Branches with Your Kids

Together, search outside for fallen branches and collect however many you need to fill a vase.  If the branches are wet, let them dry for a few hours to a day.  Brush any dirt or very loose bark off of branch.  It doesn’t have to be completely smooth because having some branch show through the paint enhances the natural look. 

 

Step 2: Fun Painting Time for Your Kids

Have your kids paint the branches using white paint.  We used kids’ washable tempura, and it has held up well for over a month.  Allow to dry.  Sparkles or glitter might be a nice addition too!

 

Step 3: Arrange in Vase 

Arrange painted branches in vase. 

 

Step 4: Display Your Kids Valentines

Using a hole puncher, punch holes in artwork and/or Valentine’s cards.  Attach a ribbon or string, and hang on branches. 

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