10 lazy ways to intellectually stimulate your kids

Everyone says kids are like sponges. Because they’re germy and start to smell really bad unless you wash them well with hot water and soap. Also, because their little minds are growing and expanding at approximately twice the rate of the average American waistline, and that’s saying something. But before you get out the flashcards, and by “get out,” I mean “purchase for the first time,” why not see if one of these more lackadaisical approaches can serve equally well to stimulate your little one’s synaptic growth?

  1. Learn a new language. One good one is “slang from the 90’s.” Girl, that picture you drew is fly! Don’t hate on your sister, Madison. Learning that words have double meanings and that grammar is fluid can really enhance your child’s cognitive flexibility.
  2. Play tic tac toe. Yes, you can always win, but that’s the point. Always losing teaches your child humility, grace, and good sportsmanship — what?  How did you do that? Oh my God, now my four-year-old can beat me at tic tac toe. Before I had kids I was an intellectual powerhouse, I swear.
  3. Learn sign language together. Don’t worry, I’m sure you know some already. Like “Whatever” and “bye bye.” And “birdie.” Yes, I’m sure that’s “birdie.” What do you mean you Googled it and it’s “washing machine?” How depressing.
  4. Use math in real life. Yes, kids, math is super important. Like now, when I have to figure out how much money we can afford to spend on Mommy getting her hair done. It’s our monthly income minus our mortgage, minus our electric bills, minus the car repair bill, minus… you know what, let’s do science instead. Which brings us to…
  5. Baking soda and vinegar volcanos. No, I don’t know why. But I know they work because they can unclog your shower drain. There must be something you can talk about, with pressure, or gravity, or acid, I don’t know. Work with me.
  6. Create modern art. The key word is “modern.” There are no rules here, friend. Just do what you feel. Yes, two scribbles on a piece of paper is art, and it is stimulating your child’s brain like nobody’s business.
  7. Sculpt. Create a three-dimensional figure using only clay? What a wunderkind. No, dear, this thing here isn’t called “a cylinder made out of Play-Doh,” it’s called “pottery that allows your creativity to flourish without us even leaving the house, for the second day in a row.”
  8. Practice self-defense. Physical activity creates new connections in the brain and so does hand to hand combat. So stop telling on your brother for kicking the back of your seat, and go all Krav Maga on his butt. Here’s a YouTube tutorial you can watch on the iPad while I look at Pinterest on my computer.
  9. Guessing games. I’m thinking of an animal that starts with G and has a long neck. What do you mean, “turtle?” What are they teaching you in that Montessori school anyway?
  10. Geography. A cynic may just call this “Where did Mommy leave the car again?” but really it teaches map skills, geography, resilience, and grit. Especially when you’re walking around the parking lot for 25 minutes in the drizzle with a mother who is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and you don’t even have a snack bag of Goldfish. Navy SEALS, here you come, son. Thank me later.

Samantha Rodman is the author of How to Talk to Your Kids About Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family. Rodman is a licensed psychologist, founder of DrPsychMom.comand a happily married mother of three.

What happened when our family created a new holiday (hint: you might want to try the same)

“Let’s make a new holiday,” my older son said one night while we were finishing up with a bath.

“What kind of holiday?” I asked. I was skeptical. Between birthdays and anniversaries, hallmark holidays and days-off-school holidays, candy-laden holidays and gift-giving holidays, our calendar is already pretty saturated with celebrations. Frankly, after a while, they all seem to blend into a blur of sugar-glazed parties to cover up all the inherent stress and chores, unrealistic expectations and shortcomings.

“We’ll draw names and exchange small gifts with each other, spend time together doing something fun,” my son suggested. “And then just continue on with our normal day.”

I stared at him. “Huh?”

“Just small little gifts…like maybe a book or something?”

I stared at him some more. He dried off, put on his pajamas, and wroteGiving Day in big letters on the calendar.

Over the next few days, we talked about what Giving Day would look like. We would draw names and give a small gift, either inexpensive or handmade. We would do something together as family. And we would volunteer or give to someone outside of the family. Giving Day would be about giving, not about getting. As an aspiring minimalist, the last thing I want is more “stuff” in the house, much less another chore on our already-too-long list of obligations. And I desperately wanted to prevent Giving Day from turning into a Buy-Me-Something Day.

Our first Giving Day was about six months ago, and true to form, not once has our new holiday gone according to plan. In fact, in many ways, Giving Day has been a comedy of errors. There were loud grumbles and fights when the boys delivered their homemade cookies to the neighbors in the rain. Our plans to volunteer as a family were derailed when our water heater broke and my husband had to stay home to wait for the plumber. My younger son cried when his brother’s hand-drawn picture wasn’t what he hoped it would be. And when we tried to pay for someone’s meal anonymously, the restaurant blew our cover and the whole thing was more than a little awkward.

In the past few months, Giving Day has slipped off its monthly place on the calendar and become more of a whenever-we-get-our-act-together holiday. It seems that I’m not only failing at the compulsory holidays anymore; now I’m failing at our own made-up holidays too.

In an odd way, however, our Giving Day debacles and snafus seem rather fitting and appropriate. Like most holidays, the reality of Giving Day rarely lives up to the idea of it, but in many ways it represents everything I want to teach my children about holidays, generosity, and family.

Giving Day is flawed, messy, and imperfect. We bump elbows and get on each other’s nerves, but for a day, we show up, bring our whole selves, and spend time together. We fall short of our expectations, but we try again next time. We give awkwardly, but enthusiastically and with a full heart. After all, isn’t that what the holidays are about?

A lawyer-turned-writer, Christine is the author of Open Boxes: the gifts of living a full and connected life. She writes at www.christineorgan.com and you can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

A DIY Project That Makes A Perfect Gift!

If you are like me, then you enjoy giving gifts more than you like receiving them.

I always think of fun cute things to create for gifts.  Last week was one of my girlfriend’s birthday!  I took three photos from Instagram and had the Fed-Ex Office store next to Starbucks in River Park print them out using a laser printer and the thinnest paper they have (they one have one thickness).  I then went to Michaels right across the parking lot and found everything else I needed.  The Mod Podge, sponge brushes, the transferring gel and even the wood to transfer the pictures to (I didn’t have to go to Home Depot)!

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