Category: Physical Health and Growth

Family Field Trip: Grocery

Want to upgrade your weekly shopping trip from family struggle time to — at least on a good day — an educational experience? We have four easy-to-use ways to keep your children (fingers crossed!) calm, curious and connected on your next trip to the grocery store.

Shopping list:
Before you head to the store, work together to create a shopping list. For toddlers, ask questions about what fruit, vegetables or other foods they want at the store. Two-year-olds and up can help make the list, either by saying items they want for adults to write or by drawing items. Then, when you head to the store, use the list like a set of directions. All of these actions build language arts skills!

Location, location, location:
On your way to the store, talk about what part of your community the store is in. Is it north? Right around the corner? Downtown? In town? All of these terms help your child explore geography, which is a part of social studies. For preschool and beyond, you can use maps to talk about location. You can use kid-created maps, paper maps or apps with maps.

Family Style Dining

Want to take the fun from the store to the table? Check out our post on family-style dining by clicking this picture!

Going on a food hunt:
As you shop, talk about the colors, shapes and location (under, over, beside, above) of each food item on your list. For toddlers, simply sharing those descriptions helps build math and science vocabulary. For preschool and beyond, you can invite your child to help you find each item with a grocery store version of “I Spy.” “I spy a white vegetable. It’s as big as your head and next to the broccoli.” Cauliflower is more fun if it’s part of a game!

Delicious AND nutritious?:
Build your child’s health skills by discussing what is healthy about items on your shopping list. Here are some easy ways to help your child explore food and nutrition by age.

  • One- and two-year-olds: Ask if a food is new or one they’ve had before. Then, use words together to describe the color, texture or time of day for each food. “This apple is shiny, red and gold. Would you want to eat this for a snack or with a meal?”
  • Preschoolers: Talk about which foods are more nutritious (vegetables, lean proteins, fruit, whole grains are all great options) and which are perhaps better for treats (nearly the snack aisle!). “Those carrots and plums are really healthy, so we can eat them all the time. If we get these cookies, let’s make sure to just have one each. Sweet treats like these have a lot of sugar.”
  • Pre-K: Discuss the link between a food and their individual health. Encourage your little one to consider which drinks, foods and serving sizes are healthiest for them.

Taking the time to encourage children to help plan your trip, staying engaged during travel time, and talking about foods gives you the chance to make the most of your grocery trip. As parents, we also love taking that time to connect. It makes a chore a little more fun, and helps us explore our children’s favorite flavors!

Do you have any tips on making grocering shopping with little eaters more fun? Share them below!


Cover image by Flickr user USACE Europe DistrictCreative Commons license.

Mini Milestone: Ditching the Diapers

You can call it potty training, toilet learning or “big kid restroom time.” But no matter the words, helping little ones graduate from diapers to toilets can be an emotional minefield for families. There are a lot of factors to consider (and worry about) – from getting started to how to approach the whole process. And there are no limits to opinions on the matter. Some people will insist it should be finished by age two, others will argue that age three is the magic number.

But the reality is this: Learning to use the potty is a process that should begin when your child is ready.

Potty Training Positive Toilet Learning

Toilet-time reading can be a great way to help your little one stay calm during their potty learning experience.

So, how do you know when that is?

Experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend looking for these readiness signs:

  • Your child imitates your behavior.
  • Your child is able to put things where they belong.
  • Your child demonstrates independence by saying “no.”
  • Your child expresses interest in toilet training.
  • Your child can walk and is ready to sit down.
  • Your child can communicate her need to go potty.
  • Your child is able to put her clothes on and take them off.

For children, beginning to use the potty and eventually using it all on their own is a part of their developmental process. Want to know more about developmental milestones? Check out our guide!

Partnering with Your Provider

When your child is potty training and going to child care, take the time for ongoing conversations about the process at home and in care. When all the adults are on the same page, you minimize frustrations and confusion. Your child care providers should be culturally sensitive and respectful of possible differences in your beliefs and approaches to every topic – including learning to use the toilet.

In all kinds of early childhood programs, teachers and staff normally provide a routine for children who are potty training. If you and your child’s caregivers use the same routine, methods and words (e.g., potty vs. toilet, bathroom vs. restroom, pee vs. urine, etc.), it helps eliminate confusion for your child and brings a common sense of purpose to the overall effort. Communication is key – for all parties.

Learn More 2 Year Old DevelopmentLow-Stress Potty Time

Taking a “no pressure” approach typically leads to the best results. Helping your child notice when it’s time to potty, and helping them learn the signs can make a big difference. This allows your child to become comfortable with and responsible for her own potty needs. Here are the kinds of phrases you can use to guide that awareness:

  • I noticed that you’re doing a little dance. Is your body telling you it’s time to go to the restroom?
  • We’re about to leave the house. I always like to take a potty break before I go. Let’s make sure you get to go before you put your coat on.
  • It looks like you have the toilet wiggles. Is it time for a trip to the restroom?

If your child experiences a fear of the loud noise of the toilet, the toilet seat itself or falling in, taking a moment to reassure them and responding with care to their concerns goes a long way. Reading books and watching friends or family members use the potty can help normalize the experience and curb any fears.

And remember…accidents are inevitable and should not result in punishment. Remaining calm and accepting that not every day will be a dry pants day helps your child stay on track. Every child is different and learns at her own pace. If your child isn’t ready, it’s best to put diapers back on for a few weeks and try again later.

A Few Final Things to Remember

It’s important to keep these key points in mind:

  • There isn’t much evidence that supports any specific methods of potty training – so, every child may benefit from a different strategy.
  • Learning to use the toilet is a process that should begin when both you and your child are willing and able to participate.
  • A positive, consistent approach to potty training creates a good experience for everyone involved – and helps your child feel supported.
  • Don’t forget to celebrate the small victories in the process – a happy high five after washing hands or a hug to tell your little learner that you are excited about their dry undies builds a sense of excitement around their wins.

Are you and your little one ready to begin? Good luck!

Last reviewed: February 2018

Photo credit: Flickr user VintageChica

“Pass the peas!” Family style dining helps little learners grow and thrive

Family Style Dining

Way back in the olden days or maybe not so long ago, families regularly sat down together at a table for meals. They passed the food around, talked about their day and learned from one another. Generations of family members all ate together, sharing their family culture and history. Fast forward to 2016, and we are in a different place. Families are not the same. Food is not the same. Our lives are faster paced, and many children spend most of their days in an early learning setting. The lessons learned from eating together “family style” are no less important than they were a century ago, but our lifestyles have made it harder to implement on a regular basis.

What is “family-style” dining?

Simply put, eating “family style” isn’t just about your family gathering together, though that’s an undeniably positive practice – it’s about passing food, serving ourselves and communicating with one another in the process. Something as simple as putting out bowls on the table, instead of serving from the stove, can actually have a big impact on your little learner’s skills and sense of connection to you.

Family-style dining has many benefits including teaching little ones about having conversations and building relationships. Just by saying, “Sweetie, can you pass the bread to me?” you can give your child the chance to be a helper and learn how to make polite requests from your example. Family-style dining also slows the pace of a meal, creating the space for children to take their time, try new things, learn table manners, gain coordination and increase their food vocabulary. Eating family-style also gives you the chance to share what an appropriate serving size is and what kinds of foods they need to grow up healthy. By supporting a relaxing and calm meal time we encourage a lifetime of healthy eating behaviors.

Can this approach solve mealtime power struggles?

In short, the answer to that is a solid “maybe.” If children see family members, young or old, trying unfamiliar foods, they are more likely to try them as well. Children gain independence as they scoop, use tongs, pour their own beverages and use forks and spoons, all with appropriately sized equipment of course. Sometimes, giving a child that sense of control with the details allows them to feel freer to experiment with new foods.

Family-style dining is about the connection – not about perfection!

Want to make family-style dining successful? A few key practices will make it a good experience for both your child or children and the grown-ups in your family. Removing distractions such as televisions, phones and other screens can help everyone really focus on and engage with the meal time. Conversation around the food can flow easily – is it crunchy, salty, and smooth, where did it grow, what country is it from…the possibilities are endless!

Using sturdy and not-too-heavy bowls, spoons and utensils helps children feel truly included in dishing up dinner. Select bowls with wide lips to make it easier for children to pass the items to their neighbor. Tongs and appropriate-sized tableware encourages small motor development – which are the skills that allow children to color, write and manipulate small objects over time. Moms, dads or grandparents should also be prepared for the inevitable spills and mishaps. Having cleaning supplies close at hand and not losing our cool with spilled milk or a sneeze into the bowl of peas puts everyone at ease.

Try it out! Let us know how it goes – or if you have other tips for mealtime magic!

Mini Milestone: Crawling

Babies begin their lives without much coordination and with little muscle management skills. But it doesn’t take long until they get moving — and you have to chase them. One of their big leaps from a sedentary lifestyle to little movers is crawling.

Most babies begin working on crawling between six and ten months. And, just like their personalities, they all have their own style. Little ones may rock back and forth on all fours for a while or they may take off like tiny racers. Some start in reverse and some use a crab walk. No matter their crawl style, there are several things you can do to help them reach this mini milestone.

Tummy Time Is Key
Be sure to give your baby the chance to lay and play on their bellies from birth. Spending time on their tummy lets each baby develop neck, shoulder, arm, back and stomach muscles. And those muscles help them crawl.

Let Your Baby Move Freely
Wide open spaces help your baby learn crawl is to provide lots of opportunities to move their little body. Time spent in open, safe spaces (baby proofing is essential) allows your child to experiment with arm and leg control. On the other hand, you want to use baby seats, carriers and walkers less often.

Tiny Nudges to Tiny Feet
If your baby seems to be ready to crawl, but just has a little trouble getting started, place your hands behind their feet. The chance to “push off” of your support can sometimes help little ones get the traction they need to move.

Little Moves Take Litte
A secret to getting a nearly-there crawler to try to crawl is putting a favorite toy just-out-of-reach. Put that treasured stuffed animal or ball nearby and cheer on your little one to move right on over. “Hey sweetie, do you want to the ball? Come on over!” Remember, though, if your baby has trouble, keeping things calm and positive will make the experience better for both of you!

Crawling is just one of many, many milestones your child will achieve. Like all major and minor achievements, each child grows and learns at a different pace. Remember that a baby’s size, interests, natural inclinations and environment can all impact what skill comes when. If you have concerns, contact your pediatrician or check in with the CDC’s guidance on developmental milestones.


Cover image by Flickr user Donnie Ray JonesCreative Commons license.

Preventing Illness this Winter

Welcome to October!  As the weather changes, be sure to take extra steps to help prevent illnesses like the flu.  Wash your hands and the hands of your children often and make sure to scrub with soap for at least 20 seconds. Be sure hands are washed after blowing noses and sneezing. You may want to wash pacifiers and toys more often in the coming months as well. Another step is to have your children vaccinated with the Influenza vaccination. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older should get the flu vaccine every season. Call your pediatrician today to learn more.

If your child comes down with a fever of 101 or higher please be sure to see your pediatrician and make other arrangements for child care. Many child care programs have a sick policy. You may want to follow up with your child care and refresh your memory of this policy. Some policies include but are not limited to the following:

  • A fever above 101 degrees taken orally (102 degrees taken rectally or 100 degrees taken axillary – armpit)
  • Diarrhea, vomiting, or rash of unknown origin
  • Cold or other illness causing breathing difficulties or other symptoms that prevent the child from participating comfortably in activities
  • Positive reaction to tuberculin skin test
  • Ringworm
  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye)

If your child has any of the following symptoms, you will need to wait 24 hours after the symptoms have subsided–without the aid of medication–before returning him or her to child care.

Take additional steps like drinking plenty of water, getting as much sleep as possible and eating a healthy diet along with the vaccination to prevent the flu. You also may want to wash down table tops, door handles, and other surfaces more often to stop the spread of germs.

Click here to view tips for proper hand washing in child care centers. All child care centers follow this policy. View tips for sanitizing toddler and baby toys here.

Cover image by Flickr user Brandon OttoCreative Commons license.

Going Back to Work: What does that mean for Breastfeeding?

Going back to work or school can be challenging for nursing mothers. Mothers are not sure how many ounces of milk to send in each day, getting baby to take a bottle can be difficult, and finding a provider that understands breastfeeding can be a challenge. Here are some tips to make it go more smoothly.


It will be rare that a breastfed baby ever takes an 8 ounce bottle. Typically, divide 24-30 ounces by the number of feeding in a day. So if baby nurses 10 times a day, then each bottle will be roughly 2.4-3 ounces. It is best to send less milk than more milk. You don’t want all that hard work to go down the drain!


Finding time to pump at work can also be challenging. I always pumped when I knew my baby would be eating, so every 2-3 hours. The more you take out, the more milk you make!


Try having someone other than mom introduce a bottle first (around 4 weeks old). Try daily with a few ounces each day. Don’t stress out…some babies will take it just fine and others will take it eventually.


As you interview prospective child care providers, you want a provider that is open to you coming in and nursing whenever you get a chance, supports feeding on demand and not on a schedule, and won’t push you to send in more milk than you know your baby needs. Trust yourself as the expert on your baby, especially when it comes to breastfeeding!

Additional information, including a milk calculator, can be found on

Cover image by Flickr user U.S. Department of Agriculture’s photostreamCreative Commons license.

Preventing Childhood Obesity

As a parent in today’s hurry-up society, I recognize how easy it can be to succumb to unhealthy habits that are responsible for creating an overweight child.  For the sake of convenience and budget, we all have all been guilty of these habits. My vice? Swinging by the closest fast food joint when the evening hours fade away after extracurricular events or running errands. At some point in time, most of us have relied on a computer screen to keep a child occupied. It sure makes things easier to handle issues, cook dinner, or just sit down and take a deep breath.

If we take time to look at the potential long term effects, it can help families become empowered to make small changes that will make big impacts.


Statistics says that nearly 1 in 3, or over 30% of Hoosiers are overweight or obese*. Unfortunately, this trend is getting worse, and the numbers are increasing each year.  What can you do to make sure that your family is not among these statistics?


Childhood presents an opportunity to instill life- long healthy habits with regards to physical activity and healthy eating. I find these some ideas helpful:

  • Plan meals for the week.
  • Pack healthy snacks for kids in between meals on busy days.
  • Limit screen time.
  • Set aside time for physical activity.

Staying active and eating healthy is the key to helping combat this ever growing problem.


Do your child and yourself a favor. Role model behaviors. Incorporate healthy behaviors as often as you can. Eat right. Keep moving. Little changes will render big gains.


For more tips, check out these resources:

Cover image by Flickr user University of Delaware Alumni Relations, Creative Commons license.

*Harper, Jake. “Report: Nearly 1 In 3 Hoosiers Obese.” WFYI Public Media, 21 Sept. 2015, Accessed 15 Sept. 2017.

Making Meal Times Positive

Family Style Dining

I know your schedule is jam-packed with work, child care drop-offs, sports, lessons, and play dates. But what about meals as a family? It’s easy to rush through them, but meal times are an important part of child development. Meal times are more than just feeding your child; they are a chance to learn socialization, healthy eating habits, independence, and table manners. As a monitor for the Child and Adult Care Food Program, I often remind providers they are shaping children’s eating habits for the rest of their life, and parents can often benefit from similar advice.


To begin with, serve meals family-style, and try to follow consistent times for each meal. Children need predictable patterns. Knowing when to expect breakfast, lunch, and snack helps set the stage for their day. A routine of washing their hands, setting the table, and knowing what to expect during the mealtime will make the meal run more smoothly. When children use child-sized utensils, cups, plates, and serving dishes, it sets them up for success when serving themselves. I know it can get messy for children to serve themselves, but think of this as a learning experience. Sometimes a mess is going to happen while learning. Just keep a positive attitude about it.

During the mealtime, sit with your children, and interact with them. Talk about the food you are eating. Help the children learn to serve themselves. Take the chance to introduce table manners. All of these actions help children learn how to socialize during the mealtime. You set the tone for the entire meal. If you are rushed and stressed about the meal, the children will feel the same way. Encourage healthy eating habits and manners by modeling them for your children.

  • Have your children help. Assign the children jobs, such as cleaning and setting the table. This allows them to feel more engaged about the mealtime, and it will be less work for you.
  • Serve children appealing foods. Think about the texture, color, and temperature of the foods. Try to offer a variety of colors to make the meal more interesting. Serve familiar foods along with something new.
  • Let children lead. Remember – you set the mealtime scene and offer healthy foods. Children should have the freedom to choose what they eat and how much. Don’t buy into the clean plate club. Children are very good at self-regulating how much food they need. However, you can encourage them to try new foods.
  • Start small. Changing the way your serve your meals can be scary, but start small. Perhaps you begin by starting a routine before the meal, or just have the children serve themselves the fruit or vegetable. You do not have to change everything overnight. Set goals and slowly integrate a positive, family-style dining routine into your day.

Cover image by Flickr user Phalinn OoiCreative Commons license.