Archive | Boy’s Favorite Things

Harry Potter Magic

It may sound odd but I only discovered Harry Potter maybe 8 months ago. Funny, because the books and characters are now such a big part of my household. There’s been no looking back since reading the first of 7 novels with my boys. Why am I writing about it? Until my sons (ages six and eight) sat on either side of me listening to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, they had never been gripped by a novel. They loved their picture books when they were younger, but weren’t transfixed by books how I remember being as a child and it always worried me a bit. The Harry Potter books changed all that. To get them to listen to the first book, I promised they could watch the movie after we finished it. This tactic worked and 1/2 way through the book I don’t think they cared about the movie anymore. Each book in the series got better and by the time we got to Harry Potter 7 (Deathly Hallows), I couldn’t’ believe how addicted both myself, my husband and boys were. My 6 year old would beg to read more after already reading for hours at a time. It’s a good thing it was summer when we started the series because there weren’t any sports or homework interrupting us getting through all 7 books. It’s really one of the highlights from our summer and it was such an incredible experience to learn about the magic of Hogwarts and the characters together with my children.

I wanted to mention this series because it’s been such a wonderful journey for my entire family. I became even more bonded with my boys from discovering Harry Potter with them, learning and loving all the characters and of course the incredible author who has the best imagination on the planet. J.K. Rowling created a world where every child (or adult) can escape the stress from everyday life and float into a world where wizards, magic, and relationships develop into such an amazing place to visit. If you are looking for a Christmas gift and don’t know what to get a child….think about Harry Potter books. At one point in their lives, children will read a book from this series and think it’s amazing. Once you get to the books 4-7…they get very long. If you’re having a tough time getting through the books, we take the audio CD books from the library and listen to the narrated story in the car or instead of watching TV, which is brilliant too. The books – of course are best…but I’d prefer my kids listen to a narrated story than watch TV.

We went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part I last night and it was really good. I like to think that the first part of this two part conclusion to Deathly Hallows was a special bonus for die hard fans that will have to say goodbye to the beloved main characters Ron, Harry, and Hermoine. Unlike the other movies, this one was mainly focused on these three and their lovely relationships. The quality of acting was so much higher than other Harry Potter movies – they’ve set quite the stage for the last movie Deathly Hallows part II. I just cannot wait to see how it all ends on the big screen.

I believe J.K. Rowling changed the way children think about reading. . . I know this has been the case at my house. Only since getting through the Harry Potter series is my older son now good with sitting down and reading other books on his own. I watched  J.K. Rowling’s interview with Oprah and one thing she mentioned really moved me and I thought it was worth repeating. In the last part of her interview with Oprah she shares that a girl popped up in front of her on the street and said “you are my childhood”. What an amazing thing to be told and I’m sure she is not the first or last to think this. Harry Potter will always be a wonderful memory for my children and as an adult it took me to a wonderful place to escape and bond with my sons. Ultimate magic – thank you JK Rowling and the Harry Potter empire for the truly magical world you created. There is nothing like the wizarding world and learning that love really is the most important thing of all.

~

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Run Bikes Provide Balance & Confidence For Kids

Riding bicycles hasn’t come easily for any of my children. Tricycles seem to be a waste of time with teaching my kids to pedal and even I would start feeling frustrated. It’s really only after seeing a ‘run bike’ that you understand that tricycles are designed in a way that makes pedalling very difficult. It’s tough watching your child feel unsafe with the tippy motion on a 2 wheeler with training wheels, and I always wished my kids could find confidence and embrace the great past time of bike riding without fear. Once you see a run bike in action, traditional bikes geared for younger children will seem quite primitive.

What is a run bike?  They are two wheeled bikes that don’t have pedals and they are made by a range of companies using metal frames or wood.  This is a great gift for a two year old since the only requirement is the child can walk and is coordinated enough to hold onto the handles and ‘walk’ the bike.  As the child’s confidence grows, they learn to lift their feet and coast, while balanced on two wheels. The result of this is voila – they are actually balancing a bike and the fear of balancing without training wheels or an extra wheel on the bike is removed.  Don’t rule these bikes out for older children (ages 4 – 6) that are very timid or fearful on traditional two wheeler bikes.  These bikes give children confidence because they’ll always feel their feet on the ground – my first son has never felt confident on a bike and I wish run bikes were around when he was younger because he’s discovering the joy of feeling balanced on a bike now at 7 years old.

I needed to write this article today, because we had a milestone in my household this week. With having 4 kids very close in age, it’s always been tough to balance all of the needs and ages so certain activities like taking them all on a bike ride myself was impossible.  Well – not anymore!  I can put my oldest boy (7 years old) on his regular bike, my next son (6 years old) on a run bike and my twin daughters (3 years old) on their pink run bikes and everyone is okay.  I’m not running back and forth checking on everyone like a mad woman because they are all balanced and walking/running/riding at their own pace and speed.  We could never do this with tricycles or bikes with tippy training wheels. Kids really have the confidence to feel safe and learn to just stand up and abandon the bike if they are going to wipe out or crash. Watching my tentative little girls become what we now call ‘red baron’ on these bikes is amazing.  They have been the best investment to date as far as bikes or outdoor products for my younger kids.  When I purchased my bikes from Monkey Business Kids Boutique, they were nice enough to offer me a discount since I was purchasing them in bulk.  If you are in the market to purchase a run bike, I’d recommend you canvas your friends and try to get a group discount from a local store.  They are approx. $115 and up, but also remember the re-sale value is probably quite high because little kids will outgrow them (although don’t tell my 7 year old that rides his younger siblings bikes with absolute glee!). The fun factor is huge with these bikes.

I write this article ecstatic that my girls get the freedom to enjoy their bikes, but wished I had known about them earlier for my boys. They missed out on many years of enjoying bike riding, but it just means we’ve got lots of biking journeys to make up for and discover this year. I can’t wait!  If you want to view videos of kids riding run bikes, click on this link from runbikes.com – there are some great videos that parents have uploaded via YouTube.

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These pictures are of the Norco models that my children ride and love.

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Is Your Child’s Bed or Crib Toxic?

A disturbing subject and confusing topic for parents is the toxic sleep environment their children’s mattress or pillows might be creating. I’ve avoided writing this article for many months because I wanted to properly research and frankly, my head couldn’t take any more surprises. I regret procrastinating for so long because once you read this article, you’ll want to make changes.  After spending hours talking with Chelsea, the co-founder of Sleepy Sheep, I have valuable information that can help you determine, rectify, and shop for healthy alternatives if you want your beds to become a truly healthy place where your children, babies, and family can get a restful sleep.

If you are purchasing duvets, mattresses, pillows or simply checking labels on current products in your home, 3 main categories need to be looked at – especially with researching mattresses and pillows! Questions to ask include what materials are used in the production of the ‘outside’ of the product, ‘inside’ of the product and ‘treatment’ of the product – and I don’t mean asking it how they are feeling… <grin>  I mean if the product has been chemically treated.

Outside:

The slippery coating on the outside of a crib mattress could be PVC, otherwise known as vinyl. This coating will off-gas because phthalates and plasticizers have been added to the PVC to make it bendy.  Phthalates are problematic within your baby or child’s bed because they are toxic to human health, can cause reproductive complications (developmentally in boys and fertility in both genders), and cause life-long allergies or asthma problems that begin as babies.

Inside:

What is your mattress, duvet, or pillows filled with? A popular material inside all mattresses, including crib mattresses is polyurethane foam.  Don’t let another long ‘p’ word from the plastics world confuse you. Just think of polyurethane foam as plastic, made with petroleum that is highly flammable. I was having a hard time picturing this material and then I knew how to explain it to parents.  Most or you have received or purchased a Disney licensed foam chair or fold out couch. We’ve had a Pooh Bear chair for years and once had a Sesame Street foldout couch. The foam chairs are fuzzy on the outside, and then you notice the breakdown of yellow chunks coming out the bottom as the foam breaks down… this is polyurethane foam and it’s really disgusting. Not only highly flammable, polyurethane foam off gasses VOCs (volatile organic compounds), especially toluene, formaldehyde which are toxic chemicals found in stinky nail polish.  And with the flammability issue being a problem with fire regulations and the government – question number 3 comes along about what the filling is treated with.

Treatment:

Now that we’ve determined that the filling is flammable, what is it treated with? Besides the chemicals that are already in the filler (polyester, polyurethane foam, etc.) it is now also treated with flame retardants. We are protecting our children from a flammability issue by adding very toxic chemicals to our bed. Our mattresses and pillows are off-gassing us while we sleep. Exposure to flame retardants are so toxic they are a known cause of cancer – just Google brominated flame retardants and ask yourself if these chemicals should be anywhere near a child – especially a baby.  I was shocked to find out from Chelsea that wool is naturally flame retardant and therefore is not subject to chemical flame retardant treatments when it’s used to create mattresses, etc.

I know, I’ve stressed out every parent reading this. If it makes you feel better, I flipped over the queen mattress my younger son has slept on for the last 4 years and everything I’ve just written about was confirmed with reading the mattress tag…polyurethane foam as the only material listed. I also rounded up pillows until I found one with the tag still on it and saw 100% polyester. My nemesis of late – polyester!  Meaning we’ve all had our heads on plastic that has flame retardants in my house!  So trust me that I feel your pain and have equally stressed myself as well.

But all is not doom and gloom since I had several light-bulb moments while talking with Sleepy Sheep’s co-founder yesterday.  Chelsea gave me two very easy and low-cost steps you can make right away that will assist every bed in your home to become a healthier place….without having to budget for a wool mattress (not yet anyway).

Did you know that wool is naturally anti-bacterial, naturally flame resistant (!!), naturally breathable, and a natural allergen prohibitor because it’s a bad host to irritants such as dust mites?  Wool is the superior material used in organic or natural bedding, mattresses, and pillows because of these wonderfully natural properties. I find it so hard to believe that chemical flame retardants could be eliminated in our beds if they simply contained wool, rather than synthetic materials. I loved learning that if Chelsea could recommend one change for a family to improve the ‘health’ of their bed it would be to replace your pillows with wool batting interior. And really, that makes a lot of sense. Think of the hours you spend with your nose and mouth inhaling the material of whatever your pillow is made from. Most pillows are made with polyester fill (plastic) which is not healthy and Sleepy Sheep sells pillows made with wool balls called knops. These are little balls of wool and you can choose your level of fullness and voila ~ you’ve made a very inexpensive change to creating a healthier sleep environment.

Another great insight from Chelsea was that their number one selling product are organic mattress toppers for crib mattresses and adult size mattresses. That tells me that people at some level know how disgusting the inside of a mattress is and want a barrier between their bodies and a traditional mattress.  Check out this awesome tidbit from Chelsea – organic mattress toppers allow airflow around your body and because the interior of the topper contains wool, it’s fibers wick away a person’s sweat, and this moisture actually absorbs toxins that are off-gassing from a traditional mattress and causes the toxins to evaporate. I thought this was cool! The seal between your body and the traditional mattress is not 100% of course, but this alternative is obviously better than continuing to sleep on a mattress that is toxic to your heath. These toppers are a great alternative for parents just not ready to commit to the financial investment of an organic mattress.

When talking about a crib or child’s mattress, I really believe there is no financial compromise with their health. When new parents are spending $500 easily on strollers, I don’t think $250 is expensive for a healthy crib mattress where your baby will spend most of it’s time. Especially for a first baby – I think an organic mattress needs to be at the top of the list for people having baby showers. What better gift for a baby than the gift of health and a truly restful place to sleep.

I have more information that I will save for Part II and III of this series of toxic beds. There is a lot to learn and I encourage you to post comments to this article and share what you discovered once you started reading mattress, pillow, and duvet tags.  Let’s try to get through the information together.

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Boys And Fun Alternatives To Electronics

I have to start this article on a personal note and I don’t very often so please indulge me.  I have two sons and my feelings for them are unique to anything in my life. I honestly believe I could stare at their faces all day.  I could sit in a chair and watch them play for hours and they bring me more joy in life then I ever thought imaginable. I’m sure this is true for most mother/son relationships because as moms we try so hard to understand these little wild things from the moment they enter our life and it’s not always easy and doesn’t come naturally like it does for dads.  We know they are different from us and it’s a beautiful feeling to just accept and embrace those differences.

From the time my boys were young, being active outside, running off massive amounts of energy was my connection and way to engage my guys.  Now, more and more I find them craving anything electronic.  They could bounce from the TV, to computer, to handheld devices all day and go to bed happy. Why the pull to electronics for boys?  Starting at the age of 5 and 6 I’ve really noticed this behaviour and it worries me. I find as a parent I need to stand on my head to entertain them enough to leave these games.  Part of me knows that boys need to be stimulated constantly to stay engaged with activities. What activities are effective with keeping them entertained and away from the screen? Here are a few ideas I can share that effectively keep their brains and hands busy:

Wood-nails-hammer.  It’s really that simple. Put a pile of wood outside, different size nails and a kid friendly hammer and trust them to not break a finger. My 7 year old even made a Halloween decoration out back this year with wood and was so proud of himself. To encourage this healthy activity, Santa will be bringing my boys their very own toolboxes. This gift idea is a great price point and something practical that will get used. A hammer, variety of nails, tape measure, screws, and scrap wood can all go inside.

If your child is pre-school age and too young to handle real nails, my sons’ preschool had an incredible idea that introduced 3 year olds to the idea of hammering.  They collected the packing foam that comes with a new appliance and put out golf tees and little hammers for the kids. The golf tees slide into the packing material like butter and they can’t hurt themselves.  Pretty smart and the kids love it!

Drawing and crafting. Nothing keeps hands busy like paint, glue, and markers. My boys love to draw and craft.  It can sometimes be daunting to come up with great ideas on the spot, so here it’s always nice to receive a great craft kit to bring out when boredom strikes. My little guinea pigs loved building the wooden rocket Green Planet Parties just got in. It includes paint, stickers, glue, 15 wooden parts, and boys had a blast putting it all together!

Playdough – so easy to make at home!  Best ever play dough recipe found here and read the comments at the bottom of the article – there are some great ideas.

Ink pads and stamping. Great for boys that get easily frustrated drawing. I picked up a fantastic knights stencil and stamp set from Dandelion Kids and the brand is called Dejeco. It’s amazing and I can’t wait to try the stamp kit that consists of all robot parts. So you stamp robot parts together to make full robots which all boys love. Aliens, robots, wild animals are great bets that boys will want to draw and a stencil set can really benefit a child just learning how to draw.

Writing and story and illustrating. A great way to help with writing and drawing, my boys love to sit and create little books. When they are young, we write the story for them and they draw pictures. Now that they are older, they get to write and illustrate.  These little books also make a great keepsake!

Dress up. Yes, boys love to dress up and a good cape is a magical gift for any young boy. Pirate gear or masking a caped crusader is wonderful to watch a boy transform. Try to purchase the cape without any shiny decals because it screams PVC.  And if a treasure gold hunt accompanies these costumes, why that’s even better!

Kids and bird watching.  Borrow a pair of grown-up binoculars, purchase a bird book of bird species local to your area, grab a pencil and notepad and you’re ready to bird watch. The small winter birds are out and hungry so it’s easy to put out a bird feeder and watch and record their activity for hours. A fun craft that we did today is making bird feeders out of pinecones, peanut butter, rolled in seeds. For full instructions click here.

Empty box. I hate to say it because you hear it so often, but my boys have the best time with oversize appliance type empty boxes.  Cutting out their own windows, decorating with stickers or words is just the best feeling in the world. My 5 year old made his own Christmas house out of a box last year and I still have it in my garage. He worked so hard on it and it sat in my living room for months before we finally put it away. The best thing is these boxes are free and can be recycled at your curb when the boys are done decorating and playing in it.  Here was the result with led lights and a christmas welcome sign attached by a craft tube that he thought of himself.

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Do you have more ideas for keeping boys (and girls) entertained and unplugged?  Please post a comment and share your ideas.

Related articles:

Eagle Cam Eco-Activity

Join The Great Backyard Bird Count ~ Eco Fun!

Resources to Get Parents and Children Outside Enjoying Nature

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A New Spin On A Classic Toy – Building Blocks

Tree Branch Blocks:

The creativity of nature is abundant with this next set of blocks. Made from Alder trees, these blocks are kiln dried with a wax finish. I love that Natural Pod has sourced this product local to their home base on Canada’s West Coast ~ Vancouver Island. These blocks are sold in 3 different sets of sizes – with a great scale in price. Tree branch blocks are like functional pieces of art for children.  A magical gift idea for kids of any age.

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A Little World

Here is a little gem that reached through my monitor and just made my heart so happy.  These blocks are truly special and creative, made by an Etsy artist that is simply brilliant with their design concept of little Christmas house blocks made with felt.  Are they not just the cutest?

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Obviously for the younger crowd, but what a wonderful, heirloom, unique gift these would make for an expectant mom or baby’s first Christmas this year. While you are at A Little World’s Etsy shop – check our the mobiles for babe (the sheep are my favorite). . . simple, modern, and fun designs!

Whether you prefer traditional, nature, or artistically inspired designs, building blocks are a classic, timeless gift for all children. If you are looking for ideas this Christmas – these three featured products are just the ticket. And yes with Halloween only hours away, it’s officially time to start Christmas gift planning for 2009 – Santa has started listening.

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