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Smart Parenting
Practical advice about raising children

Spring Stay-in-Place Activities for the Family

In our part of the Midwest the wind from the north has been fiercely blowing since early morning, swaying the evergreens and rattling the windows in our old farmhouse. The calendar says April, but somehow, it feels more like winter.  When the afternoon came around, it finally sounded as if the wind had slowed, but a quick look outside and I knew I was wrong. That fickle north wind had stirred up a dust cloud in a newly plowed field, and as I watched, the cloud whirled, went higher, quickly turned, and then raced out of sight toward the woods.  

 Yes, it’s windy and there’s a lingering chill in the air, but after all, it is an April wind and somehow it hints of spring…of planting, of freshly-turned fields, of cheery daffodils, and the scent of just-mowed grass. Flowers are popping up, puddles are drying, grass is growing…it’s a gentle reminder of springtime.

 However; this spring is like no other…like all of you, we’ve altered our school and work routines and we’re learning how to better care for ourselves and minister to others. While distance learning for our kids fills most of the day, there should also be time for fun, for exploring, for curiosity, and not only for the kids, but for parents, too!

 Last week a friend asked me if I would share some of the things our family has been doing to pass the time. I jotted down a list of what we’re doing now, then added a few ideas of what our kids did when they were younger (they’re both teenagers now.)

And since Spring + Stay-in-Place = Activities for the Family, I hope some of my ideas will give your family something new to enjoy together…play in the dirt, make bubbles, plant a pizza garden!  It doesn’t matter how young or how old we are…there’s still joy in celebrating the simple things.

1. Spring means rains showers…perfect for making rain paintings.

Oh-so easy…paint a picture using watercolors or poster paint (any water-soluble paint will work) then set the picture outside…the raindrops will soon make all sorts of pretty patterns. Leave it outside as long as you’d like, but not so long that the picture washes away!



2. Whip up homemade bubbles…kids big & little love blowing bubbles, and this DIY recipe is ready in no time.

Combine 6 cups of water with 1 cup of liquid dish soap; stir slowly, trying not to let bubbles form. Add 1/4 cup corn syrup, stir gently. No wands?  No Problem! You can use cookie cutters or twist pipe cleaners into clever shapes.

3. Amazing oobleck slime – is it a solid or a liquid? You decide!

Our kids had a terrific 5th teacher (thanks Mrs. White!) who shared this “recipe” with her class…it’s great!

Add 1 cup of cornstarch to a bowl; slowly add 1/2 cup water. Mix with your fingers…you might want to wear gloves! And food coloring may stain some surfaces…so mixing it on a paper plate is perfect. Soon the slime should begin to feel like a liquid. If it feels too dry, add a little more water, if it’s too wet, add more cornstarch. When it’s just right, pick up the slime and roll it between your hands until it becomes a solid ball, but watch out…if you stop rolling, it begins to drip!

4. Grow a yummy pizza garden.


Whether you have a roomy back yard or an apartment patio that’s just right for container gardening, you can grow your favorite pizza toppings. Kids will love this! Start off with easy-to-grow onion, bell pepper, plum tomatoes, or jalapeno plants. Why not grow your own salad, too? Scatter seeds for lettuce, kale, tomato, cucumber, carrot, and spinach.


Finish off your pizza garden with some fragrant herbs…chives, basil, coriander, then pull out paints or paint pens and create a sign. We always seem to have scraps of wood from a leftover project, or for this one, I found some old pieces of slate a friend had given me.

5. Create a rainy-day cupboard.

It can truly be a cupboard, or a plastic tote, or a big basket…it doesn’t matter what it is; it’s what’s inside that matters.  There’s just something kids love about opening up a door or lid and seeing all the magic right at their fingertips.

Fill the cupboard with all the things that make imaginations run wild…colorful paper, sketch pads, wrapping paper, tape, glue, stickers, buttons, scissors, beads, pipe cleaners, Popsicle sticks, fabric scraps, yarn, colored pencils, crayons, watercolors, markers, and finger paints.  Kids big & little love looking through all the goodies and coming up with their own creations. Trust me…you’ll wonder how you ever got along without one!

I hope these ideas will spark some fun in your own family. I’ll be sharing more in the days to come!

Photos by (top to bottom): Unsplash; Mary, Windy Meadows Farm; Mary, Windy Meadows Farm.

Mary is a Midwest farm girl who will tell you, “I love simple, old-fashioned ways ... tying on an apron for Sunday dinner, barn sales & auctions, farmers' markets, county fairs, porch swings, and slow train ridhes. Add to these the laughter of children, and I couldn't be happier!” You can visit Windy Meadows Farm here, Windy Meadows Farm.

8 Ways Parents Can Promote a Healthy Lifestyle in Their Children

Today, nearly one in three American children are overweight or obese. This extra weight can put kids are at risk for diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea, high blood pressure and numerous other health problems. Parents, however, have the unique opportunity to change these statistics and promote healthy lifestyles in their kids once again. By encouraging — and modeling — a healthy diet, a regular exercise routine and plenty of sleep, you can help your children create a happy, healthy life for themselves. 

healthy family photo

1. Keep Healthy Snacks on Hand 

If your after school snack consists of pizza rolls and cookies, it's time for a change. Cut up some celery, apples and whatever other healthy vegetables and fruits your kids love most. And, when they get hungry midday, offer them up as a snack. Keep some peanut butter or hummus on hand for dipping. You might also keep these pre-made snacks in containers or bags in your refrigerator door for easy access throughout the week. Moreover, keep the cookie jar and any other sweet items tucked away out of sight. 

2. Make Them the Chef

Forego fast food and make dinner together instead! Invite your kids into the kitchen and let them help you prepare the evening meal. Make them the head potato peeler or carrot chopper and explain how to make the dish as you go. If you follow a recipe, let them measure out the ingredients and mix them all together. The process of making a meal will teach them about nutrition and the importance of cooking. As they grow older, they may even begin making meals all by themselves. 

3. Take Them Grocery Shopping 

Another way to promote healthy eating is to bring your kids along to the grocery store. Let them pick out fresh fruits and veggies and avoid the frozen foods aisle. Teach them how to read labels, pointing out the sugar, sodium and fat content on each. Looking over the ingredients in canned and packaged foods is also a good learning opportunity for your little ones. Discuss the importance of natural ingredients and ones you should avoid, like high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors and colors. 

4. Limit Screen Time 

On average, kids spend seven and a half hours each day staring at a screen. Whether it be a mobile phone, a tablet, or the TV, electronics are replacing playtime. This has promoted an extremely sedentary lifestyle in many children, resulting in obesity, delayed development, behavioral issues and a number of other problems. To minimize these effects, parents should limit their children's screen time to no more than one to two hours per day. And dedicate the rest of the day to unstructured play and other activities like reading, coloring and dancing. 

5. Exercise Together

You can also replace the kids' screen time with family exercise. Head to the gym — or make your own at home — and pump some iron together. Or, if your little one isn't too keen on simply standing around lifting heavy stuff, you could sign up for a yoga class or maybe even a Zumba class together. These activities will get you and your child moving around and breaking a sweat. And the best part is it won't even feel like work, just pure fun. 

6. Explore the Outdoors 

Unstructured, outdoor play is also an important component in promoting a healthy lifestyle. When you take them to a playground or park, you give them space to use their imagination and get some physical exercise. In fact, for every minute a child spends outside, they're 1% less likely to become obese. Make outdoor exercise a family affair and make the most of your time outside. Swing on the playground with your kiddos or choose a hiking trail to explore. You could even bring along bikes, rollerblades or skateboards for some fast-paced fun. 

7. Enforce Bedtimes

But a healthy lifestyle isn't just about activity and diet. Children — and adults — also need their rest. And getting enough of it is the key to optimal health. The American Academy of Sleep recommends children three to five years old get 10 to 13 hours of sleep on a regular basis and those ages six to 12 get nine to 12 hours. Meanwhile, teens 13 to 18 years old should get eight to 10. You can help your kids get the sleep they need by setting and enforcing a bedtime each night. 

8. Set the Example 

Of course, the most effective way to encourage a healthy lifestyle in your kids is to set an example. Whether you realize it or not, your children watch you quite closely. They want to be just like you! Make yourself someone worth emulating by choosing a healthy diet, plenty of exercise and a regular sleep schedule. Once your kids realize that you follow the same guidelines and rules, they'll be more willing to follow in your footsteps. Eventually, a healthy lifestyle will be less of a choice and more of, well, a lifestyle.

6 Tips for Raising a Vegetable-Loving Kid

Once your child transitions to solid food, you hope that they develop good habits. By good habits, we mean no processed foods and more veggies. But it’s notoriously difficult to get kids to eat the good stuff. How do you teach them not to dread or refuse healthy meals? Don’t worry. Below are tips to turn your kid into a vegetable lover.

happy young girl carrying tomatoes
Photo by OSPAN ALI via Unsplash

1. Use Spices

Many parents are under the impression that kids’ food should be bland. If you don’t enjoy eating flavorless veggies, then why would your kids? Instead of serving up some carrot or celery sticks as a snack, you could try making a flavorful stir fry.

Making an effort to make vegetables taste good makes a difference. You might be surprised that your kid could change their mind about a vegetable they dislike just by changing how it’s prepared. Introducing new flavors to your kid’s palate will also make them willing to try unfamiliar foods in the future.

2. Don’t Hide the Vegetables

Sneaking vegetables into your kid’s meals by grinding them up or slathering them with sauce sends the wrong message. You’re implying that vegetables are undesirable and are not to be eaten by themselves. By highlighting the healthy elements of a dish, you’re training your child to think that healthy food can also be yummy.

Remember to add in more tasty stuff, like good fats and proteins, to make the dish more appealing. Over time, your kid won’t shy away from healthier food options because they’re used to it. It’s important that children know exactly what they’re eating to make them more aware of their eating patterns as they grow older.

3. Liven Up Salads

Salads don’t have to be boring! Handing your child a bowl of shredded lettuce is not a good idea. You want to add in more textural elements to make the salad more interesting. Experiment with different kinds of dressings and make your own vinaigrettes. Toss in multiple ingredients like nuts, cheese, croutons, raisins, or apples. Introduce new flavors to your child by varying up salads. Get inspiration from different countries and take your kid on a culinary journey right in the comfort of your home.

4. Don’t Force It

There are some days when your kid would rather go for something meaty. It’s important that you don’t pressure your child to eat vegetables if they don’t feel like it. Forcing something on your child makes them think that it’s an unpleasant thing that they’re obligated to do.

It’s also helpful to give your kid the power of choice. If he/she asks for specific vegetables prepared in their favorite ways, don’t hesitate to grant the request. Try hard not to judge their choices even if you’d rather make something else.

You also shouldn’t be disappointed if your kid doesn’t like a vegetable the first time they try it. That doesn’t mean the vegetable has ended up on the no-eat list. Try to serve it again after some time has passed.

If you need more nutritional tips on what vegetables are good for your kid, can help.

variety of fresh veggies in produce section of store
Photo by Alexandr Podvalny via Unsplash

5. Introduce Vegetables as Early as Possible

Start them young. If you have an infant who’s just starting with baby food, make a habit of preparing homemade vegetable purees. This will acclimate your child to the taste of vegetables. Processed baby food is often blander than their homemade counterparts. Once your child makes the switch to real solid food, the strong flavors of vegetables might overwhelm him/her. So as early as infancy, get your child to eat the real thing.

6. Explain the Benefits of Eating Vegetables

It’s good to have a healthy dialogue about food. Let your child know that eating vegetables comes with a lot of benefits like:

  • Strengthens bones
  • Keeps your hair, skin, and nails shiny
  • Makes you less susceptible to diseases
  • Regulates bowel movement

When your kid is aware of why vegetables are a necessary part of a balanced diet, they’ll treat it as a reward.

It’s stressful to have to deal with a picky eater. As a parent, you need to make sure that your child is getting all the nourishment that he/she needs. So train your child to think that vegetables aren’t a punishment and are meant to be enjoyed.

These Tips Will Help Teach Your Child to Be Green

Going green, or learning to live and work in a way that's friendlier to the ecosystem, isn't just a fad anymore. With irreversible climate change looming on the horizon — within 11 years, if we don't start making changes — going green has become a societal necessity. As parents, that means we have an obligation to teach our children how to take care of the planet before they're old enough to move out on their own. Here are some tips and tricks we've picked up along the way to help teach your children to grow into green-friendly adults.

child, green, field

1. Be An Example

With children — and you've probably experienced this yourself — the fastest way to get them to do something is telling them they're not allowed to do it. Raising children and teaching them anything means that you need to become a master in reverse psychology — or you need to set an example for them to follow. Kids tend to do as we do, rather than as we say. If you want your children to grow up to be green adults, start making changes in your own life. Be the example that you want your little ones to look up to. If you start walking instead of driving or composting your food waste, they'll want to do the same.

2. Leave The Car in the Driveway

Speaking of walking, start leaving your car in the driveway if you live close enough to walk for your errands. Now we're not saying to sell your car and hoof it everywhere — no one wants to try to haul home a full load of groceries on foot — but saving the gallon of gas that you'll burn driving to the grocery store can reduce your carbon footprint by 20 pounds of CO2. If you're just going for one or two things, or live close enough to school that you can walk with your kids instead of taking the bus, you'll be working to reduce your carbon footprint. This will also teach your children that they don't need a car for everything. Make sure you break out the stroller for young children, and bikes or scooters for older ones to make the trip a little easier.

3. Reinforce Water Conservation

We get it — getting your kids to brush their teeth twice a day is a challenge in itself, but it's also a good time to teach them about water conservation. While we're not facing a water shortage — yet — more than 780 million people around the globe don't have access to clean water. People living in sub-Saharan Africa collectively spend 40 billion hours a year just collecting water.

Teach them to wet their toothbrush and then shut off the water while they're brushing their teeth. This little tiny action can save up to 200 gallons of water a month. Reinforce this as often as possible and it will become a habit that they'll carry with them into adulthood.

4. Teach Them The Three R's

You know the three R's we're talking about — reduce, reuse, and recycle. We've been hearing this mantra since grade school, and it's become more pertinent than ever. Include your children in separating out your plastics and other recyclables. If your city has a curbside recycling program, all you need to do is move your bins out to the curb. If not, take a family trip to the recycling center every week to drop off your plastics, glass, and other recyclable items.

Look for things that are made with recycled plastic or other materials. They're easier to find than you might think. Some companies have even started making playground equipment out of 100% recycled plastic and steel to reduce the environmental impact of your neighborhood playground.

5. Ditch the Paper Towels

Paper towels are convenient, but you're throwing away non-recyclable paper every time you clean up a mess. American's use 13 billion pounds of paper towels every year soaking up spills. While you can compost these towels, you're still wasting paper and your kids will learn those same habits. Ditch paper towels, plates, bowls and napkins in favor of reusable options. Sure it means you have to wash the dishes and throw your cloth towels in the washing machine now and then, but you'll stop contributing to the death of 110 million trees a year.

Lead By Example

The best thing you can do to help your children grow up into green adults is to lead by example. Make the changes in your own life that you'd like to see them learn. They'll mimic you and turn those behaviors into habits that they'll carry with them throughout their life.

Sustainable Travelling: How Travel Teaches Kids Respect

Nowadays, more and more buildings are being built in mass-populated cities and it is no wonder that taking care of our planet while travelling is vital. Trying to contribute to keeping our beloved planet intact and protected from pollution is not an easy task, especially if you are a parent. As parents, we should strive to teach our kids the best values in life, one of which is teaching them how to protect planet Earth and showing respect toward our natural habitat. Along your riveting journey, you can easily do that in a fun and educational way.

Opt for Environmentally-Friendly Transportation

Before you head out to your vacation, sit down as a family and carefully consider where to go. Choosing the ideal place that won't harm the planet should be your mutual decision. Explain that it is beneficial to go somewhere near home if they are going to go by car. Planes, buses, and cars release emissions that are extremely harmful to the planet, and if you cannot go anywhere exciting by bike, by using public transportation or on foot, the car might be the best option. You can search for ecotourism options, as well, that support sustainable development. Whatever you do, be environmentally conscious.

While In Motion

Going on an eco-friendly trip by using public transport may be the best solution since you’ll be protecting the planet by not emitting negative gas and not promoting air pollution. However, if you have small kids, who require a lot of attention, then you had better go by an electric car. While travelling it is important to keep a watchful eye on your kids so as not to throw garbage and food leftovers from the car and pollute the soil. For that matter, you might want to find useful baby mirrors that are great for both small and big toddlers, enabling you to keep their behavior in order. What is more, while you are in motion you can talk to your kids about the importance of being respectful toward the planet, and you can play road trip games that will help them learn about endangered animal species.

Choose Destinations That Lessen the Negative Impact on the Planet


Cars are still better than planes, and there are an abundance of locations to choose from. Make your kids invested in the trip by asking them about their preferences, and then come to the most effective green conclusion. Tell them that they should pick a less crowded travel destination, where they can see animals and wildlife in its natural habitat, and where they can protect the natural areas. Every year the World Health Organization issues World's Best Ethical Destinations list where you can see what are the ideal eco-friendly places for your family to go to. These ethical destinations are perfect for teaching your kids the values of respecting the Mother Nature and for teaching them the basic rules of respecting wildlife while still having loads of fun doing it.

Do Fun Sustainable Activities

Children tend to get bored easily, and when you are aiming to teach them the values of respecting the planet while you are travelling you should make it interesting. Whether you are at the beach or in the mountains, you can do numerous sustainable activities as a family. Make recycling a fun activity for kids and get them involved by sorting out garbage diligently. If they sort out the trash accordingly, they are in for a reward, or whoever finishes faster gets to choose what is for dinner. You can have thrilling outdoor showers together instead of separately taking long baths inside. You will save water and cut energy costs. Have fun walking instead of using transportation, and get off the beaten path and immerse with the locals in order to learn about a different culture. 

Immerse With Nature


Kids absolutely adore spending time out in the open. Teach them to respect the park rules when they are playing, specify the importance of staying on trails, and that they should not climb trees or pluck flowers. Explain why certain natural areas are protected and why they can only indulge in its beauty by looking at it. Boost up your sustainable travelling while playing entertaining games that benefit the planet. As you walk you can play Planet Earth trivia or Bingo, or they could name the animal or plant species that start with a certain letter.

Teaching kids the severity of respecting the environment should be done both on the road and at home. Sustainable travelling gives them the opportunity to see how they should live with respect and compassion towards nature.

Do Not Let Parenting Stress You Out

Parenting does not always have to be a stressful job. There are ways to take care of your kids and your family without always getting stressed out on a regular basis.


Here is a list of techniques that a parent can use to help manage the anxiety of taking care of the kids.

1. Share the responsibilities of being a parent with your spouse: Do not try to do everything all at once. If you and your spouse can learn to work together then parenting will not be as stressful. Your stress will decrease when you share the responsibilities in taking care of the kids.

2. Do not put off tomorrow what you can do today: Things have a tendency to build up if you keep putting them off. Do what you can do today. If you have to help your kids with a school project, then try to get started today instead of waiting until the end of the week.

3. Learn to pace yourself: Do not try to do everything all at once because you will get burned out. A person can only do so much in a particular day. Stay organized and focus on one task at a time. This will help you to manage your stress.

4. Take some time to relax: Taking part of the day off to go shopping or going for a walk in the park will help you to relax. Let a babysitter or your spouse take care of the kids for part of the day while you do something that will help you to relax.

5. Learn from other parents: It is a good idea to talk to other parents on how they manage taking care of their kids and other family issues. Getting advice from other parents can help provide different ways on how you can take care of the kids.

6. Learn how to manage your stresses and anxieties: Instead of worrying about how you will get through the rest of the week or coming month, try to focus on today. Being a parent does not have to be that stressful. Finding ways to cope with your stresses will help you to enjoy taking care of the kids. If you have trouble doing this, then seek the services of a professional.

How Parents Can Help Their Children Deal With Today’s Mental Health Issues

Do you worry about how your son or daughter can handle today’s mental health issues such as bullying, peer pressure, depression, and addiction?

Here are six suggestions a parent should follow in helping their children overcome the pressures of being a teenager in today’s stressful environment.


1. Talk To Your Teenager On A Regular Basis: One of the most important things a parent can do is to talk to their children about the current issues that they may be dealing with. Do not bombard your son or daughter with endless questions and do not get argumentative. Establish some kind of dialogue between you and your children so they will be willing to talk with you.

2. Education Is Key: Both parents should be familiar on the issues of bullying, suicide, addiction, and other mental health issues. Every teenager should be aware of the resources that are out there to help them and they should be aware of where to go for help.

3. Watch Out For Any Red Flags And Do Not Assume Anything: If you notice any changes in your teenager’s moods or behavior, do something about it by discussing these changes with your son or daughter. If things get serious, then talk to a counselor for some advice. Do not assume that your teenager is going through some kind of phase or they will snap out of it.

4. How To Encourage Your Children To Talk To You: Many teenagers are reluctant to talk to their parents because they are afraid their parents will get angry and take it out on them. Some teenagers may think their parents won’t be able to understand their situation. With this in mind, try to establish a sense of trust with your teenager and encourage them to come to you when they are struggling.

5. Get Advice From Other Parents: If you have trouble getting your teenager to open up to you, try talking to other parents to see how they talk to their sons and daughters. You may get some helpful insights on how you can successfully engage your children.

6. See Things From Your Children’s Perspective: Many parents engage their children from their own point of view. Another helpful suggestion is to try to see things from your teenager’s perspective when dealing with their problems. Once you see things from your teenager’s point of view, you will be better able to get your teenager to open up to you.

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