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January 2010 Archives


Violent Play

Posted by Patience on January 29, 2010 at 6:41 AM in Raising Boys
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space gun.jpg

"You're down, you're down!" Sam yelled as I rounded the dining room corner. I apparently had accidentally walked into an all out play war. Lego guns and zoob bombs had been constructed and of course, the tiny space gun Jack got the last time we went to Chuck E. Cheese when Aunt Katie was visiting.

It was a playdate, two pairs of brothers and the violent play was pretty intense. They mapped out hiding places and had strategies. Four school age boys running around in our tiny house made it crazy enough, but what about this particular play? Kids have been playing cops and robbers, even the very old cowboys and indians for years but I have to say, violent play has always bothered me.

We have had a pretty strict "no gun" rule in our house, real or toy, up until the space gun. The boys received some wooden swords and shields years ago that seemed okay and gave an outlet for the play. The next christmas they got marshmallow shooters which were actually fun, but other than that we have managed to keep them at bay. Even with all the gun prohibition, lately they just started making their own. I discovered how wildly creative you can be with some cardboard and black electrical tape. Do boys just crave violence?

For whatever reason, I totally surrendered to the play this day, I even pretented to die when I was shot in the hallway and made a joke to please spare the baby. They giggled and ran away, it looked like they were having the time of their lives.

With our recent school troubles and the fact that I grew up in a house of four girls, I wondered if I'm just missing some things about boys. The Raising Boys section turned out to be crazily informative. I found this to be pretty interesting:

"Mothers are always saying to me, 'Why is my son racing around, not talking, and not listening? Why is he obsessed with playing war and shooting? What's happened to my sweet, vulnerable little boy who used to cuddle with me?'" says Michael Thompson, Ph.D. host of the documentary RAISING CAIN and co-author of the book of the same name. "This is a valid question, because no one wants their son to grow up to be violent. But interpreting play as an early indicator of violence is a misunderstanding both of the nature of boy activity and the real journey to violence that some boys undergo."

So now I am off to watch Raising Cain to quiet my mother heart. I'm still not sure about the toy gun issue. What do you think? Do you allow play weapons at your house? What are the rules when it comes to violent play? Share your thoughts about raising boys in the comments.


Celebrating When Things Go Well

Posted by Jen on January 27, 2010 at 7:00 AM in Family ActivitiesParenting tips
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rock on2

What do you do when things go right? When major milestones are reached? When stubborn behaviors give way to great new habits? You could reward your kids, but that can get exhausting after awhile. You could use praise, but research shows that verbal rewards can sometimes end up not being particularly effective. Here are a handful of joyful alternates that will help you as a parent let your child see your relief, delight and pleasure in their very important process of growing up.

Woohoo world! You'll have to test the waters and see if this is something your kids like or not. I learned this little form of celebration from a woman named Kirby who routinely opened windows and doors to shout to the world her happiness. Today Carter found his missing jacket and put it right back on the hook where it belonged. After an agonizing series of weeks where getting Carter to take responsibility for his clothes seemed like a herculean task, I felt a "Woohoo" was in order. I opened the back door and yelled for the whole neighborhood to hear, "Woohoo World! Carter put his jacket on the hook without being told!" Carter thought this was really funny and I felt great having a chance to put some volume to my relief that we are finally making progress in this area.

Let me tell you a secret. My kids love it if I call them over for a little whisper in the ear. I use these occasions to tell them how relieved, happy, delighted I am to see a specific way they are learning and growing. It's not praise per se; just an honest account of how i genuinely feel when I see they are conquering their developmental tasks. Ending my whisper with a hug lets my kids know that I'm noticing all the ways they are becoming people who care about their family, friends and neighborhood.

Total appreciation. Sometimes the nicest way to celebrate an accomplishment is with an old fashioned thank you note. Imagine what you would write if your kid was a co-worker who had really given that last project his best. When kids start to take responsibility for their schoolwork, possessions, living space or relationships, it's time to take notice. Make a list of the things that meant the most of you and close with a special thank you. Leave your gratitude note somewhere it can be discovered with joy.

Party down. When things are going well, it's totally worth it to you as a parent to make sure your kids know. Too often we wait for the wheels to fall off the wagon before we communicate how important things are to us. Go out for pizza, eat ice cream together out of the carton--do whatever it takes to communicate to your kids that life (and learning!) are worth celebrating.

These are just four ways to let your kids know that you notice all the ways they are learning, growing and engaging in the world. What else can we add to this list?


Living in the Moment as a Parent

Posted by Kristen on January 25, 2010 at 8:09 AM in Raising Boys
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IMG_5898.JPGThis weekend I was in Boston for work. Since Mason is by far the best date ever, I took him with me. That and I am nursing him still so it's not like I could leave him for four days.
The weekend was nearly all work but there were a few moments away from the hustle and bustle.

Early Sunday morning I met Derek's cousin Peggy, her husband Duane and their brilliant son Will for breakfast. I think I only spoke five words for the first five minutes in the restaurant because I was so incredibly tired. Work was stressful and Mason had gotten up twice during the night. It took two cups of coffee before I was even a semblance of my chatty self.

We had such a delightful time catching up over breakfast. Peggy held Mason across the table from me and as he systematically threw everything onto the floor, I offered to take him back. I looked under the table and the chunks of bread were piling up on the floor. I sighed as I thought about cleaning up under yet another table. She chided me slightly and said she was having a ball. I guess when your youngest is 17, you once again find baby antics at public restaurants to be cute.

We laughed and talked and Peggy told stories about her boys growing up. She told me about trips they took hiking and camping. I told her all my obsessions with safety and danger, which seem to always shock everyone. I asked her if parenting teenagers was really ten times more difficult that parenting preschoolers. Peggy reminded me that every stage of mothering has its unique difficulties and stresses, but she also reminded me that each stage has its unique joys and happy moments.

It made me laugh. It doesn't matter where you are in your parenting, it always seems that people are quick to tell you how easy you have it if they are struggling with children at some other age or stage. It was nice to be reminded that you are where you are and now is the time to enjoy these moments. It was nice to hear stories from someone who had grown up with my husband and who could remind me that the apple does not fall far from the tree when it comes to my children being adventurous.

As I sat across from a very grown up college freshman Will, I saw for the first time in my five years as a mother that it might just be okay. I realized that while every day today seems like a constant balance between taming the wild beasts and keeping them from jumping too high or too far or frankly, too loudly, there are so many firsts that are happening now that bring me such joy and happiness. I realized that no two days are the same. Isn't that what keeps parenting interesting?


School Troubles

Posted by Patience on January 22, 2010 at 10:13 AM in Kid problemsSchool
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jack waiting room

I have a confession. I really, really don't like school and I'm afraid even against my best efforts, I am passing this on to my children. I have always loved to learn, but school settings weren't exactly my first choice. Here's the kicker, I am a former teacher.

After a half hour of crying and trying to sort out what our current school troubles are I finally asked Josiah, "Do you like to learn buddy?"
"No! I hate it, I hate it so much!" he replied. I know this isn't exactly true as he is constantly asking me to show him how to do things, but I winced as the words left his mouth. Should he push through or do we have a real issue here?

Once again I found myself trying to reframe things for him so he can continue for the next 6-8 weeks when it happens again. I go over in my mind what the factors might be:

Third grade is a notorious year for things getting more serious and kids starting to struggle.
Our public school is lovely; it's one of the best in the city, still in a city very much struggling with their education system.
His teacher is nice but hard, I get the impression she is just doing her best to prepare them for the state testing.
As parents, we aren't super focused on grades, achievements and the like, not really our style.

I don't really blame the system as I understood what I signed up for. I know the teachers and administrators hands are tied to a certain structure and the standards of learning. I also see their effort to bring some creative and alternative learning into the classroom, but what happens when it just isn't enough? What do you do when your kid is losing his love for learning? I know every kid dislikes school at some point but what do you do when it seems like it is coming up more frequently?

Private education? This is when I become incredibly aware that I have four children. While the option isn't completely out, it is an incredible reach.

Homeschool? It always sounds great in theory to me, but if I'm totally honest, I just don't want the total responsibility for his education. My homeschool friends tell me it is complete crisis of imagination on my part and there are all kinds of ways to get support. I'm realizing the root of my resistance might be deeper as it would also alter my life dramatically (insert selfish feelings here). It is still an option.

Extracurricular activities? Supplemental learning has seemed to help alleviate the drudgery of the everyday. Extra art classes, tree climbing courses, even long park days help. It might be just the dead of winter blues?

So super people, what do you say? Have you ever had this type of education dilemma? Do you have a kid that dislikes school and is struggling to stay engaged? What do you do? Give your advice in the comments.


How to Connect with a Quiet Kid

Posted by Jen on January 20, 2010 at 7:00 AM in Connecting with kids
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jonah crawls

If you are a talkative, social parent like myself, it can be hard to know what to make of the one child at your house who can go through his days virtually silent, except for the sound of pages turning. I'm overstating the case, but you know this kid when you see her--quiet, reserved, shy even--that is until you she starts to warm up. How do you connect with this kind of child--especially when your preferred style of relating is active conversation? Here are some tips from my experience with my very introverted son Carter:

Hit the books. If you're like me, introversion can be a bit of a mystery. I needed a better understanding of this personality type before I could fully engage Carter on his terms. You can do your research by reading books such as The Introvert Advantage or engaging quieter friends or family members about what helped them feel connected when they were children. An unexpected visit from a much loved (and rather introverted) aunt was key in helping me understand Carter on a deeper level.

I'll have the regular.
Since Carter is less likely to bounce into the kitchen and announce how he's feeling on any given day, it's essential that we have regular time together alone without interruption. For a few years now, we've made it a habit to go to a local pizza parlor together to enjoy a slice. We sit at the same table, facing the same direction, and we order the same thing from the same server. As an introvert, Carter can be easily overstimulated, so the familiarity of this routine makes the space he needs to relax and feel most like himself. Now that we've been doing this for awhile, Carter knows he can ask for "mother/son time" anytime he needs to feel more connected. It's his way of letting me know--without too many words--that's he needs a little extra attention. For those times we can't get to the pizza place, a simple bowl of yogurt by candlelight will fix him up just fine.

Silence is golden. I can not emphasize enough how essential sharing quiet time is for your relationship with your introverted child. It's a phenomenon that I don't quite understand, but Carter totally fills up when he and I are sharing anything in silence together--a car ride, a night time snuggle, a quiet snack. Something about proximity plus tenderness minus conversation equals nurture for my quiet boy. I have learned that some of our most important connecting times happen when no one says a word.

Still waters run deep. Understand that these kids are emotional sponges for every word spoken at your house. I've learned to check-in with Carter whenever there's been a lot of chaos in the house--either due to change in schedule, sibling rivalry or marital unrest. Little questions like "How're you doin', bud?" or "How 'bout a hug?" are sometimes all Carter needs to melt into my arms. Reflective listening is a big connector, too. All I have to say is "Buddy, you look like you might want to cry" and there go the flood gates. Since introverted kids sometimes need time to process their feelings, hugs and kind gestures are great for helping them let go of bottled up emotion.

We get there when we get there.
Quiet kids sometimes need more time to make transitions. Change can be draining and use up extra energy, so make sure you have plenty of down time built into the schedule. Carter hates to be rushed and simply shuts down if you apply too much pressure. I've learned that giving him a little bit of space on the onset is all he needs to speed himself up, just in time.

Say that one more time. During our mother/son outings, I've made it a point to introduce Carter to the art of conversation. Since some introverts struggle with making small talk on the fly, I want to give Carter the skills he needs to feel comfortable later in life. When Carter was very young, I asked simple questions like "What's your favorite animal?" or "What's your favorite color?" in order to keep the conversation going. Doing this at every outing helped him learn the rhythm of conversation; he's now a very reciprocating and pleasant conversation partner. I know that learning how to chat has been a confidence-builder for Carter, and a skill he can use now without reservation.

These are just a few suggestions from one extroverted mom who's needed to learn a lot about introversion living in this particular household. Are you an introvert? Are your kids? I'd love to hear your feedback in the comments below.


How to Talk to Your Kids About the Earthquake in Haiti

Posted by Kristen on January 18, 2010 at 9:58 AM in Kids Around the World
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TRL2009-09-08_559.jpgWe have all been riveted to the television. I'll admit there are moments when I thought I should turn it off but I could not.

How do you talk to your children about Haiti?. You are the parent and you know your children. Most parents have a good idea about how much their children can and should see of the news. PBS Parents has a great post here with more tips.

Be proactive. In our house, we decided to see what we could do to help 900 children in the process of being adopted by U.S. citizens that are now in orphanages in Haiti. This is close to our hearts because we have dear friends living in Haiti and working with Heartline Ministries and World Wide Village who have already adopted two children and are in the process of helping family members adopt two more children.

We contacted all of our elected representatives and then started a Facebook page explaining to others how they can contact their members of Congress about getting humanitarian paroles for these 900 children so they can come to the United States to live with families that already know them and love them. It took only 10 minutes and we believe it will change the lives of 900 children. It won't help everyone in Haiti but it's a start. It is something you could do with your children today that will provide a tangible result. We watched seven Haitian children get off a plane last night in Kansas City. Was it a result of our letters? We will probably never know. My kids think it was because of them and that's all that matters to me.

Find a worthy cause and give. There are the big names for donation such as the Red Cross and the Bush Clinton Haiti Fund, but there are some lesser known charities that are doing great work helping the Haitian people. We like World Vision because you get a chance to have a "say" in where your money goes. You can ask that your money go provide PUR water packets, a family survival pack or even have your money go to shipping the much needed supplies. Your children have an opportunity to visually see how your money is helping.

Find out what you can do in your area to help Haiti. Right now there are lots of areas having relief drives, collecting infant formula, tents, tarps, clothing and lots more. Check out your local news station and newspaper to find them in your area. Having your child pick out the items helps them feel included in serving those who need the most help.

Show your child where Haiti is on a map
. There are great resources for teaching your kids about the country of Haiti, about how earthquakes happen and what you can do to prepare for a natural disaster yourself.

Please let us know how you are helping. We would love to hear.

UPDATED: On January 18, 2010, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano authorized humanitarian paroles for Haitian children being adopted. Unfortunately many of these children are still in orphanages that have received little or no humanitarian help yet. They have no food, water or safe place to wait to be evacuated from Haiti. Our focus has shifted now to contacting our members of Congress to get help to these children, to find a safe place for them to wait and to speed up their document processing.

Photo by the great Troy Livesay. Godspeed, my friend.


The One Year Old Crazy

Posted by Patience on January 14, 2010 at 8:55 PM in Babiesbehavior
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As dreamy as this child is, she has been making me a little crazy lately. The push and pull of toddlerhood has me watching the clock starting mid-afternoon waiting for Jorge to stroll through the door so I can hand her off.

The crazy parts:

She wants me to hold her 90% of the day, but then she wants to be down, she's not sure which.
She has spent a serious amount of time perfecting her dumping skills. Especially when I'm cleaning up.
Some days I feel like I a spending my days with a foreign national as she talks all day so intently, sure I should know what she is saying.
She wants to nurse when she's bored, and twiddle, which sends me totally overboard, the twiddling, not the nursing.
She's got a tiny violent streak, the hitting thing is new for me as a parent.
She shares almost all her food with the dog and is obsessed with placing his food in his water bowl.
She climbs on every table known to man.
She is just old enough to give Lucy a run for her money and start the occasional girl fight.

Just when I'm almost exasperated...

She leans over and gives me a giant open mouth kiss, or hurls her entire body on top of me to hug me.
She starts to dance like nobody's business, this kid has some serious moves.
She brings a book to me and forces herself into my lap.
She leans in to let the dog lick her.
She finds a new game to play with one of her siblings and has a special laugh reserved for this level of fun.
She entices me to chase her and loves to be surprised.
She claps her hands wildly and cheers when Jorge walks through the door.
She "talks" to me all day long, like her best girlfriend.
She loves to get her coat on and always cooperates.
She looks right into my camera and shows me all of herself with the greatest confidence.

I realize after four kids, I am still learning. They continue to teach me over and over again that you can be all the things. Tired, happy, exasperated, proud, angry, loving, sometimes all at the same time. Just when I think I'm the only parent going crazy, I head back to read up on child development to discover, once again, that all of these things are completely normal. For some reason I forget every time, or maybe it is because each child is so different and I need a reminder.

So now when it's 4:00pm and she has cleared every single last book from the bookshelf, I smile and sigh.

Is there an age or stage that drives you a little crazy? Feel free to confess or give words of wisdom in the comments.


Homework Havoc? Go Back to the Basics

Posted by Jen on January 13, 2010 at 7:00 AM in Kid problems
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carter's hands

My kids both are dealing with a lot more homework this year. As a result, I'm seeing a gradual slide away from the years where they just came home and finished fast to knock it out so they could get on with playing. One kid will start and then leave the table. The other feigns that it's finished when it's never left the backpack. A few tearful conversations about homework and I'm reminded that it's time to get back to the basics.

Here are the things that always take me out of the homework hassle and back to homework heaven:

Hold a family meeting. Over heaping bowls of ice cream, ask your kids to tell you what works when they are trying to get their homework done. Take notes as they explain how they work best. If problems arise in the discussion--such as difficult relationships with teachers or trouble in a subject matter--make plans immediately to talk to whoever is involved. Make sure your kids know you are more than willing to help them get the help they need to do well. If your kids feel like they're working more than playing, take that seriously as well. Make plans to reduce after school activiites, so your kids can play hard and blow off steam.

Make a homework plan. Decide together about what time homework will be done and where in the house. You can give your kids lots of freedom in making this plan without sacrificing your own sense of what will work for your family. I decided I didn't care where my kids decided to do their homework as long as we could all agree that we'd tackle homework before going out to play. Every family will decide that one differently, but my kids quickly agreed that in our case, that made sense. Be honest about what kind of atmosphere you need to feel positive about homework. For example, I know complaining and whining really wears me out when the kids are doing homework, so as part of our plan we included quiet and cooperation. We also talk about making requests for help versus freaking out as part of our family homework strategy.

Get prepared. Make it a point to make sure your child has everything she needs to do her work without unnecessary delays. Go on a special outing to buy all the supplies you need to do schoolwork at home. Let her choose glittery pencils, adorable erasers and anything else she might need to complete her assignments. Put your supplies some place permanent in your designated homework area and reserve the use of these things for homework only. Our junk drawer recently got a homework supply makeover from Madeleine and Carter's dad, and it's helping a lot.

Avoid shame. Every parent knows when they're getting the homework runaround. These moments are real tests for me as a parent. I want to let them have it, declare their universal laziness and call it like I see it. I've learned that everything gets worse though if I attribute what's happening to who they are as people instead of what they're doing as students. No one likes to feel blamed or judged, and everyone knows deep down if they're behavior is off. Better to stick with the facts and leave the character analysis for when your kids are old enough to decide who they are for themselves.

Welcome your kids to the homework table. Sitting down and actually starting to do homework is so much easier if there's a snack and good conversation waiting. We start our homework hour with something yummy to eat and catching up on the news of the day. This helps everyone transition. Another way we stay on track is by inviting friends to do homework with us. My kids enjoy welcoming their friends to our table and our guests enjoy having some company while they do their work. I've found that the drama around difficult subjects dissipates when the children can work in pairs to tackle the harder aspects of a particular assignment.

Keep going until good homework habits become part of your daily routine.
I've learned that it takes time to learn how to be a good student, and that my children really needed my presence in these early years while they learned to do their work more independently. I'm discovering that now that work is getting harder, they need my presence even more. Since I'm a full-time working mom now, this is tricky, but it still needs to happen. Amend your plan as needed (your kids will love all those ice cream laden family meetings!) but stick with it.

Celebrate! Before long your kids will be doing their homework all by themselves--without all the nagging, poking and prodding. Celebrate each tiny baby step of progress. Throw spontaneous dance parties in the kitchen to show your delight! Let your kids know how much you love to see them do well in school and how much you needed to know they could learn to be responsible for their work. Thank them for their progress and encourage them to keep going. Even the smallest bit of cooperation and initiative needs noticing.


The Lessons Unlearned

Posted by Kristen on January 11, 2010 at 6:37 AM in Raising Boys
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I'll admit I was surprised we made it as long as we did before going to the emergency room with Nate. By one month shy of his third birthday, Ethan had been twice.

As a parent you always fear the accidents you cannot control that are out of your line of vision or happen when you turn your head for just one second. In our family, you would think by now we would have learned that we don't even need to turn our head for disaster to strike.

All three boys were in the bathtub. This gives Derek a nervous breakdown but he continues to do it night after night. He started out just giving the baby his own bath but he couldn't keep the bigger boys from asking exactly one million times "canwegetincanwegetincanwegetin?" Ethan is pretty vigilant about putting a barrier of protection around the baby who acts like he needs no protection. He tips over, gets a stunned look on his face and slowly manages to right himself as fast as a buddha-bellied baby can move, that is.

Nate? He's the one that consistently pretends he has the entire tub to himself. He squirms his way to sit under the warm running water. He shoves past the other two to climb up the side and try to slide down it, regardless of who is sitting below him. He can usually get one good slide in before he gets yelled at for bowling into his brothers. It's an offense that is grounds for instant removal from the tub. It didn't stop him the other night (or any night, really), but this time his chin slammed down hard as he slid.

His father instantly took him from the bathtub for violating the clearly posted "No Sliding" rule and he began to cry. I noticed his hand was bleeding. I rubbed it dry and the blood was gone. Then I saw it was coming from under his chin. He continued to wail pitifully about the injustice of having bath time cut short as we began to do first aid and did not seem to care less about the gaping wound in his chin.

We debated whether or not this required stitches, but once he took off the butterfly bandage 20 seconds after Derek put it on, it started to bleed again. He kept sticking his fingers in it. I normally wouldn't panic but I know where his hands have been. He is not winning any awards for cleanliness. Stitches it is!!

One trip to the emergency room later, Nathan got glued instead of stitched, he spent two hours getting his parent's undivided attention, he got to play with a really cool helicopter while we waited to check out and the nurse gave him Batman stickers.

K: Nathan. Do you understand now why Dad tells you not to slide in the tub?
N: What Mom?
K: Nathan, are you listening?
N: MOM!!! A Rescue Truck!!!! (pointing to the flashing lights)
K: I don't think he got it.
D: No. No, he didn't.
K: Who are we kidding? Ethan got his stomach pumped for eating 40 vitamins in just under four minutes when he was two and he was still calling them candy six months later.
D: He didn't get it.

You don't want your children to ever get hurt or feel pain but there are moments in parenting that you think that just maybe they could get the life lesson if you are going to get the $650 emergency room bill. Wouldn't you agree?


Winter Fitness For Kids

Posted by Patience on January 8, 2010 at 7:00 AM in Family Activitieshealthplay
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sunset play

We are headed straight into the dark of winter. It is the time after the holidays when the dreaminess of snow and celebration is officially over. We instantly all come down with a wicked cabin fever, especially the kids. If you have small people bouncing off of walls at your house, here are few ideas to burn some of that built up energy.

Run the course. Build an obstacle course out of pillow cushions, dining room chairs, table cloths over tables, etc. Have kids, climb, crawl, cross over at their own pace and then time them to really get them going.

Dance Party. Shake what yo mama gave ya! Clear the furniture in your living room to create an instant dance floor. Turn on some music way too loud and get moving. Dancing is a great way to connect and burn some calories together.

More is more. When it isn't bitterly cold, the right weather wear or an extra layer might be the only thing keeping us from a winter walk or quick game of tag. Break out the gloves and scarves, give your kids a chance to run around in the fresh crisp air even if it is just for a few minutes.

Old school fun. Bring back the simple and fun games of your childhood and play with your kids. Play an indoor game of hide-and-seek, twister or have a tickle fight. Simon Says is great way to have kids doing jumping jacks or jogging in place for crazy amounts of time. It's like your own kid aerobics class.
When all else fails, you can break out the hula hoops in the garage.

Break out. If everyone is about to go looney, head to your local children's museum. They almost always have at least one gross motor skills exhibit. Winter is also the perfect time to enroll your kids in a karate, gymnastics or swimming class at your local community center.

What are your fitness tips for kids surviving until the warmth returns? Give us all your best ideas in the comments.

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