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How to bring out your child’s yogi bear

Kids have a lot of energy and it can often be difficult to know how to channel those hyper moments into healthy activities. I often take my five-year-old daughter to a family-friendly yoga class ad she adores it. Best of all, its a great way to help her become more centered with herself and to get some exercise at the same time.

Doing yoga with kids can be a challenge, but it can also be quite enjoyable if it is done with your child’s interests in mind. The most important factor is making it fun and not too slow-paced. Kids naturally have shorter attention spans so keep the practice quick and easy. If children are forced to do one activity for an extended period of time, it becomes very frustrating and can lead to crankiness.

Yoga can have a number of benefits for younger children, including lengthening attention span, stretching the body, and understanding the power of breath. The best part is that children are naturally flexible, so they often excel at the activity. Yoga is also very non-judgemental and helps kids feel good about themselves, especially if they aren’t great at other sports.

One of the biggest challenges is helping them understand the movements. Kids have a hard time imitating yoga stretches with long and difficult names, and oftentimes, they can’t tell their right foot from their left. A good trick is to put two different stickers on each foot to remind the child which is which.

Before you get into a routine, it’s essential to get your child to focus. Help them get all the sillies out by dancing, jumping, or even jogging around the room. Once that is complete, start with Child’s Pose. It will center and focus the kid into a little yogi. A fun way to move out of this first pose and begin the series of exercises is to move into Tree (Vriksasana). I always get my daughter to wiggle her toes, move her arms, and slowly begin to grow into a large tree that stretches nice and high. This is a good stretch to prepare for more difficult moves, and helps to center a child so they can practice yoga more effectively.

Making the yoga practice a storytime opportunity will help keep your child attentive. Turn the different exercises into a journey involving a mermaid traveling through a sea or another animal going on a journey.

Many yoga positions are named after animals, so it is fairly easy to create a routine that is kid-friendly. Cat and Cow are common yoga positions as well as Downward Facing Dog. It is nice to end the yoga practice with Butterfly, which is a calmer sitting pose. Have your child put their toes together and hold their ankles for a nice stretch. If your child hasn’t lost interest by this point, try adding a short meditation.

Doing yoga with my daughter is a great way for us to spend time together and do something that inspires a healthy attitude. It is a good nighttime activity because it helps to calm her before bedtime. It is also fun to create new and hip ways to bond with your child.

Have you done yoga with your kids? What are your tips? Post in the comments below.

Separate parental leave for dads could become a Canadian reality

Having a newborn is a life-changing and miraculous experience, but can leave parents exhausted if they are forced to split their time between work and taking care of an infant.

Luckily, the Canadian government is looking into granting new dads separate parental leave so that both parents can help raise a new baby together. Currently, the government splits employment insurance (E.I) benefits for new parents, which puts unnecessary stress on the first year of a child’s life. Maternity leave is 35 weeks and is most often taken solely by the mother.

The system of splitting parental leave allows the mother to take the first 17 weeks of maternity leave and the father can take the remaining 18 weeks of leave if desired with E.I benefits. This leaves both parents in a tough position and most often, the mother will continue to stay home during the second half of parental leave.

Quebec is the only province that has a different parental leave arrangement set in place for families. Quebecois dads can take an extra five weeks of parental leave and will continue to make up to 70 per cent of their pay check while they do so. Seventy-eight per cent of dads decided to stay home in 2012 . Federal Labour Minister, MaryAnn Mihychuk will be opening discussions to obtain similar standards for every province in the country.

Changing these standards and encouraging paternity leave more would benefit families, and women. First of all, both parents could take parental leave together. Raising a baby is hard work, especially in the initial years, and removing the need to work right way would lower stress for both parents.

Parental leave is also beneficial for women because it would reduce the stigma that men are more dependable employees because they don’t take parental leave as a mother is expected to. Having equal opportunity for both parents to stay at home would even the playing field in the job spectrum.  Any opportunity that increases gender equality in the workplace and at home is a welcome one.

Furthermore, discussions around parental leave will also potentially allow parents to have 18 months of parental leave rather than 12 months. When a child is only one year old, it is very difficult to  leave them in someone else’s care to return to work. At 18 months, toddlers have reached more substantial milestones such as walking and beginning verbal skills. From experience, it is much easier to leave a child that can walk and communicate at childcare than a baby who is still crawling.

Even if the necessary approvals for separate parental leave lie well in the future, it is exciting that these discussions are occurring at a federal level. The Canadian government is finally moving away from monetary solutions, such as childcare benefits as a replacement for extended parental benefits. Instead, the liberals are seeing the value in staying at home with your kids. This quality versus quantity approach to governing feels like a fresh start for Canada and, hopefully, these discussions will become realities for families in the future.

Totsapalooza: being hip and happening with your kids

The 2016 Small Print Totsapalooza was hip and happening as kids dancing their little hearts out, ate delicious cupcakes, made innovative crafts and costumes, and listened to great storytellers.

On Feb. 6, the Revival Nightclub near College and Ossington hosted a different type of dance party, catering to trendy young urbanites in the two-to-eight year old bracket.

The annual event is run by Small Print, a local non-profit dedicated to children’s literature and providing opportunities for kids to take part in literary programs. By providing indie dance music and a cool way for families to have fun, Totsapalooza is dedicated to little readers and provides fun ways for children and authors to interact and have fun with the kids.

“It is always a whirlwind,” said Shana Hillman, board member of Small Print Toronto. “At the end, instead of beer bottles, it is cheesestring wrappers that are left on the floors. It is an opportunity to hang out with your kids in a really cool way.”

“Small Print is about doing interactive literary events with children. All of the events have a component where they get to interact and create, which helps innovate kids to become storytellers.”

Totsapalooza attendee, Aurora, playing dress-up.

Finding Winnie was one of eight children’s books sold at the event and was read by author Lindsay Mattick, the granddaughter of Harry Colebourne who discovered the real life bear, Winnie. Her son attended the event as well and took part in the reading.

Finding Winnie started from a personal place because it is in my family,” said Mattick. “It has been incredible to share the impact of the story I wanted to share as a mom.”

Finding Winnie is a story about Colebourn, the Canadian war veteran, who found Winnie, the bear that inspired the classic tale of Winnie the Pooh. Winnie was a black bear found in White River, Ontario in 1914. Colebourn brought him to the London Zoo, where he met a little boy named Christopher Robin.

“This experience for me is a dream come true. [Totsapalooza] is a very awesome event. It embodies so many things the kids should be doing dancing and enjoying books,” said Mattick. “I think as a parent, we all want to teach our kids to appreciate and be aware of great books and stories.”

All of the storybook authors at the event were Canadian, and parents, and their kids, had an opportunity to meet them first-hand. What made this particular event unique is that it catered to a specific demographics — kids and parents who were interested in the indie scene.

Being an indie parent means you are invested in preserving the tradition of books in place of Ipads, supporting local music and literature, and rejecting large corporations such as Disney in favour of smaller enterprises. Snacks were provided by local vendors, in addition to craft beer for the parents. Totsapalooza featured Bellwoods, a local indie band that graced the stage in the afternoon.

“It is an event with indie music, craft beer, and no Disney content in site,” Hillman said. “It definitely gives them exposure to an audience, and a chance to directly connect to their customers and future fans.”

Author, Lindsay Mattick reading to the kids.

From crafts to dancing to dressing up in costumes and taking fancy photos, Totsapalooza had something to offer everyone big and small. The event was an overwhelming success and is worth attending in the future. My own daughter didn’t want the Totsapalooza party to end and we will definitely be returning next year.

Barbie vs. Lottie: the issue of gendered childrens’ toys

Over the holidays, my daughter received many gifts for Christmas. I was grateful for them and honoured to have love surrounding us. On the other hand, the choice of toys given to her did not inspire a great sense of happiness. Almost every present was pink, directed towards my daughter female status and unequivocally sexist. Toys can be great tools for child play; yet, connecting the meaning behind the toys we give our children needs to be seriously considered.

Most of the time we are given two options: girl toys and boy toys. Girl-oriented toys often emphasize beauty over action and caretaker roles. Purses, dolls, barbies, and play dresses are common examples. Boy toys are more focused on active activities such as building, and they promote a rough and tumble ideology. Toy guns, action figures, and building blocks are typical. Both extremes of gendered toys have detrimental effects on how children associate with their gender and create a sense of self that is enforced by societal rather than individualized values.

Baby dolls or pet animals indicate that little girls should focus on caring for the toy they are given, while barbies place emphasis on the importance of beauty and downgrade other skills. Toys targeted towards boys often challenge cognitive abilities by getting young children to create structures or address problem-solving skills using building blocks. The National Association for the Education of Young Children spoke with Judith Elaine Blakemore, a professor of psychology and associate dean of Arts and Sciences for Faculty Development at Indiana University−Purdue University, who said that gender-typed toys might encourage behaviour that parents may not want associated with their children.

“For girls, this would include a focus on attractiveness and appearance, perhaps leading to a message that this is the most important thing—to look pretty. For boys, the emphasis on violence and aggression (weapons, fighting, and aggression) might be less than desirable in the long run,” she said.

5568057827_a50bdc8c94A 2013 study conducted by the University of Derby says that values embedded into children’s toys and play can affect career choices later on in life. Women are directed towards more caretaker roles whereas men fill the role of the engineer or lawyer. These defining gender gaps cause imbalance in society and initialize in values that are presented to humans at childbirth.

The study also indicated that 81 per cent of parents wanted more gender neutral toys in stores; but there were only limited options available. Pink and blue marketing strategies make money and promote an early sense of consumerist desires through specific ad campaigns directed at children. In simple terms, gender sells.

Toys directed specifically at boys are ideologically harmful as well. Limiting young boys to action toys and promoting the rough and tumble lifestyle excludes more creative and sensitive children, which can open doors to bullying. Boy toys also define action as an essential male skill, which can undermine the progress of academics. The lack of caregiving boy-oriented toys also takes away from an emphasis on playing a compassionate role in a family.

downloadThere are initiatives that have been launched to educate people about the effects of gender-oriented toys. Pinkstinks is a popular campaign in the United Kingdom that advocates against toys that marginalize girls. #caringboys is a twitter feed that allows parents to post photos showing young boys playing with dolls. Several innovative toys that promote gender-positive messages have also crept up on the market, including the crowdfunded Lottie Dolls which have garnered over 12
international awards for being a toy with a positive message. Lottie Dolls have a range of designs, from a robot to the animal protector, allowing girls to play with dolls that have empowered career roles in society.

Women and men have fought for equality for generations. We live in a society that claims gender balance and embraces the dual power of having both women and men involved in career and family-building scenarios. It is only sensible that children’s toys should reflect this hard-fought need for gender equality. Dolls are welcome to stick around, but I have a dream that my daughter can play with a mechanic and mobile Barbie with a realistic waist, who doesn’t wear makeup. Let’s create that, shall we?

 

What’s in your child’s lunch?

With public school students across the country already back in class, the release of Good Food to Go could not have come at the better time. Co-authors Brenda Bradshaw and Dr. Cheryl Mutch, who also wrote The Good Food Book for Families, are here to show that packing a healthy lunch your child will enjoy does not have to be difficult. Together they’ve create the ultimate resource in lunch packing, including recipes, tips, and the latest in health research, and medical studies. From using lettuce as a barrier against soggy bread to a demystification of the Canada Food Guide this book includes all of the knowledge necessary to make any parent into a lunch packing expert. And Bradshaw insists this is something everyone can do, no matter how busy their schedule is. All it takes is some time spent on meal planning and a weekly trip to the grocery store.

Research has shown that children are more likely to eat food that they have helped prepare. Bradshaw suggests involving kids in every stage of the process, including meal planning. Talk to children about the different food groups and help them brainstorm a list of foods that they like from each category. Let them pick out a few of these foods at the grocery store each week and find ways of involving them in their preparation, whether it be washing veggies or mixing up sandwich spreads.

Packing an age-appropriate lunch increases the likelihood that it will get eaten. For young children Bradshaw suggests picnic-style lunches, which incorporate small pieces of different foods that their short attention spans are less likely to find overwhelming. For older children sandwiches, wraps, soups and salads offer endless possibilities for variety.

Although it can be tempting to opt for processed options to save time, Bradshaw insists that homemade is always better. A recent study shows that 89 percent of foods marketed towards children are poor in terms of their nutritional content. They are usually high in sugar, low in fibre and almost none of them live up to the nutritional claims designed to entice health-conscious parents. Instead Bradshaw encourages making foods from scratch whenever possible. However, she explains that there are healthy grocery store options for some foods, like hummus, but notes the importance of always reading the labels.

Not only are most processed foods unhealthy, they all generate a lot of waste.  With the average school-aged lunchbox producing 67 pounds of garbage, Bradshaw and Mutch promote packing litterless lunches. This means that the only thing leftover when your child is finished eating is compostable, meaning that it will breakdown over time rather than spending decades or centuries in a landfill. By buying a reusable lunchbox and filling it with packaging-free, homemade foods parents can create lunches that are healthy for their children and the environment.

Although it may seem overwhelming, Bradshaw and Mutch have put together a guide that makes packing a child’s lunch fun and you might even find some inspiration for your own lunchbox.

This article was previously published on September 12, 2011.