Babysitting Games: 4 Fun Games To Play On The Job

Babysitting jobs can seem long and even uncomfortable at times, but these four babysitting games can make the experience fun for the children and for you. Babysitting games are the perfect way to set everyone at ease and to quickly bond with the children you are caring for. While you need to gauge the interests and ability levels of the children before recommending games, below are four options you can consider.

  1. Hide and Seek
  2. One babysitting game that is sure to win over the children you are caring for is hide and seek! Hide and seek is an excellent activity that both older and younger children can participate in. Before you get started, establish ground rules. For example, you may require that everyone stay on one floor of the home and the person only needs to be found rather than tagged. For toddlers, you may simply hide a specific toy and hunt for that item together.

  3. Age-Appropriate Puzzles and Board Games
  4. Chances are several puzzles and games are stored in a closet or cabinet that the children love to play. They may jump at the chance to play with these puzzles with you. Before the parents leave, ask them where they store their puzzles and games and which are the kids’ favorites. Take it another step further and you could even bring a few games and puzzles with you. When children have access to new activities, they are often times more engaged and excited about participating.

    babysitter games, nanny games, babysitter puzzles, babysitter activities

  5. I Spy
  6. This is a quieter game that almost everyone can participate in. You can tailor how challenging it is based on the child’s age and abilities. It can be played outdoors when the weather is nice or indoors at any time of day. An alternative is to bring a search-themed book with you. These books are usually more challenging, so they are better for older children.

  7. Freeze Dancing
  8. If you are looking for a fun, active babysitting game that will help children burn off some extra energy, freeze dancing is the perfect idea. You turn on age-appropriate music. An easy way to do this is through your smartphone. You and the children can do silly dances while the music is playing. When the music stops, every will immediately freeze in the exact position they are in. This can add in a funny balance challenge depending on the dance move that is happening when the music stops.

Engage with Other Exciting Sitter Games & Activities 

Some babysitters will bring a bag of games, books and other activities with them, and others will use the items inside the home. When you actively play with the children who you are spending time with on your babysitting jobs, you can develop great relationships with them, keep them entertained and pass the time in constructive ways. Want more ideas? Here are even more babysitting activities to do. Jokes too are a hit with children!

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How to Prevent Summer Brain Drain? Let Kids Play!

The practice of giving kids a break from school during the summer started in the early 1900s. Doctors thought kids needed a reprieve from sitting still for long hours in a classroom, which they believed made them physically weak. Summer was the perfect time to set them free because classrooms became stifling hot. And because then like now, when the heat soared, those who could afford it abandoned cities for the shore.

Long gone, though, are the days when kids had three months of total freedom from schoolwork. In recent years, some schools have begun assigning more and more summer homework in response to research that shows that kids spend the first part of a new school year relearning what they’ve forgotten during vacation. But “summer brain drain” remains a hotly debated topic among parents and educators alike. Opinion is sharply divided about whether we should we stock up on workbooks and shell out big bucks for academic-driven camps to help keep kids’ skills sharp—or give kids some well-deserved time off after working hard for nine months. Turns out, the answer might lie somewhere in the middle.

“Kids deserve a break,” says Katie Willse, chief program officer at the National Summer Learning Association. “But they can and should be learning, too—in different places, different spaces, and in different ways than they do during the school year.”

She says it’s important to understand the academic loss that occurs while kids are away from school. Although it disproportionately affects lower income students who have unequal access to educational opportunities during the summer months (American Sociological Review 72, 2007) all kids, regardless of economic status, lose about two months of grade level equivalency in math skills while they are between grades. A lot of the loss has to do with what kids are doing during their summer break. Just as fitness levels and nutrition suffer from changes in structure and routine, so do academic skills.

Addressing the loss can be pretty simple—with camp. “Summer gives kids a chance to explore new topics and a chance to practice skills they already have,” says Willse. She suggests seeking out camps that offer exciting learning opportunities—such as digital media technology or computer programming—while also sharpening math skills. Local libraries and museums also often offer project-based learning opportunities and field trips that meet these criteria.

Additionally, Willse says parents can sneak in educational opportunities through family projects: involving older kids in remodeling the house by having them research, create supply lists, keep a budget, and manage a schedule; planting an edible garden; planning a family vacation using maps to plot distances and routes, and creating an agenda that accommodates the budget; and starting a family book club. “The goal is to show kids that learning is a life-long, interesting pursuit,” says Willse.

These learning opportunities minimize the chances that kids will spend the brunt of their summer vacation on mindless pursuits, like watching television and playing video games. But Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way for Parents, says that summer learning need not be so organized and purposeful. “There’s too much pressure on children—in school, in the loads of homework, and in the structured lessons their parents schedule,” she says. “If we pressure them to accomplish and to be perfect, it takes away much of the glee of childhood and pushes them to be an adult too soon.”

Cameron sees summer as a wonderful opportunity to give kids a breather, and “a chance to learn and expand at their own rate.” She advises parents to simply let their kids be bored. “Boredom is a tool to let children just be and to reach into their own psyches to find what speaks to them.” Parents merely provide the necessary raw materials: blocks and building tools, art supplies, dress-up clothes, plenty of books, and access to the outdoors. When kids complain that they don’t know what to do, says Cameron, tell them confidently, “You’ll think of something!”

Numerous studies show the importance of unstructured play. It not only positively impacts language development and builds social and physical skills, it also predicts academic success and mental health. “Through play, children develop the ability to become self-achievers and learners,” says David Whitebread, a developmental cognitive psychologist at Cambridge University. Kids develop the ability to think for themselves, control their impulses and emotions, organize tasks, problem solve, and learn from their experiences and mistakes. “Children in play are often setting themselves challenges—climbing a taller tree, riding faster on their skateboard—and through this they are learning their limits and regulating themselves,” says Whitebread. “There’s a decline in this unstructured play and a lack of opportunity for it,” he says. Summer is the time to catch up.

Whether your child’s playtime this summer is organized or self-initiated, all our experts are agreed that what’s really important is just that they stay engaged and learning—with an emphasis on fun.

Experts say kids deserve a break in summer


Here are few ideas for fun summertime activities from that don’t necessarily feel like learning:

  • Tackle a fun cooking project, such as baking a cake. Shopping for ingredients, using coupons to determine discounts, reading a recipe, and measuring all sharpen math skills.
  • Volunteer at a local school, park, shelter, or soup kitchen to build life skills and compassion.
  •  Get creative juices flowing by making sock puppets or turning cardboard tubes into rockets.
  • Record memories and practice writing skills by keeping a summer journal. Kids can write about books they’re reading, new friends they’ve made, and fun trips you’ve taken as a family.
  •  Plant a window box or herb garden to promote healthy eating.

Photographs by UrbanSitter

How to inject Family Fun into a Summer of Work & Camp

four out of five of the miller & friedlander kids playing cards

Summertime, which we’d so love to think of as carefree fun-time, can too often be an extended period of regret for those working moms and dads who can take few vacation days to spend with the family. But do the post-school hot months necessarily have to translate into drudgery for kids, and a guilt-fest for parents?

Not in the slightest, say Lisa Friedlander and Ilene Miller, DC-area moms who are the founders of class- and camp-booking site Activity Rocket, and between them, parents to five kids. Fun for all might just start with an attitude adjustment: one that enables you to see the summer camp you might inevitably have to enroll your kids in as something exciting and enriching rather than an unfortunately necessity.

According to Miller—mom to sons Mark, age 13, and Max, age 10—“The beauty of summer is it gives kids the opportunity to do something new, that they don’t get exposed to in school, like Claymation camp, or rock band camp, for example,” she says. “But in our area, there are also kids who spend the summer at the community pool, taking swim lessons and being pool bums.” Either way, she says, when kids are happy and tired at the end of the day, that goes a long way toward minimizing parental guilt. Which makes for happier family time all around, when you do manage to wedge some in.

This doesn’t have to be an elaborate or expensive prospect, Miller maintains. “I really value the longer days in the summertime, when the kids can stay up later,” she says. “My husband, Craig, and I try to spend a lot of unstructured family time in the evenings with them. We can barbecue outside, have family tournaments that can last the whole weekend—the kids are huge card sharks. We just get back to basics.”

The basics certainly extend to weekends, when camp and work are finished for the week. Says Miller, “We’re so lucky that in the DC area, we have hiking trails, and a lot of rivers that are accessible to us within 10 minutes, that we can kayak on with the kids.” She’s also a big proponent of finding community events, most of which are free. “In the Potomac area, we’ve got all the Smithsonian museums, book fairs, concerts in the parks, festivals—often they have no admission and the only money we’ll spend is on food once we get there.”

Friedlander and family spend weekends at a river house on the Chesapeake (if you don’t have your own, make friends with someone who does, she jokes!). “It’s very much no screens, no electronics, a lot of time spent tubing and water skiing and playing beach tennis and fishing and crabbing the old-fashioned way, with a piece of chicken tied to a rope.” With her oldest child, Jaclyn, age 14, set to head off to sleepaway camp for the entire summer, she says she’s also relishing the opportunity to spend a bit of quality time with Cole, age 11, and Camryn, age 9. As well as taking her own breather from the usual grind. “Those eight weeks of summer go by so fast, it’s important to give yourself a little bit of a break,” she says. “Whether that means not cooking every night, or not cleaning up every day, or just enjoying a walk around the neighborhood—things you wouldn’t do on a regular basis. Just slow down and enjoy the pace of summer.”

Also critical for Miller, “I need time with my husband, too, whether or not the kids are away. We’ll take a picnic and a bottle of wine somewhere, and focus on our time alone.”

But absolutely the biggest opportunity afforded even to working parents and camp kids in the summer: the fabulousness of being outside. “We get really active,” says Friedlander. “We have swimming races, and we bought a Kanjam—literally a Frisbee you throw into a slot, a team game that’s tons of fun; we all love it.”

Says Miller, “Friends helped us build a Gaga pit, which is Israeli dodge ball in a confined space. On weekends we’ll have friends over and sometimes it’s just adults in there. It’s a great way to be outside, get competitive, and work out a little aggression.” Let the summer games begin!

3 Misconceptions About Birthday Parties, Busted!

Photo by Elton Harding

There’s a lot of contradictory and downright erroneous parenting info floating around out there. We’re not afraid to tackle it head-on! 

Throwing a birthday party for your child can feel like anything but a celebration. Instead of rejoicing another year older, parents of even very young children can feel pressured to throw extra-special bashes that rival the ones they see plastered on mom blogs and boastfully circulated through social media. Research published in the Journal of Consumer Culture shows that the pressure to live up to modern-day expectations of what makes a fab party is leaving many parents stressed out and insecure about their ability to pull it off; and likely giving kids the wrong message about what a birthday celebration is supposed to be.

To help parents maneuver party planning obstacles and banish unrealistic expectations, while still throwing a party that won’t disappoint, we spoke with Lisa Gaché, an etiquette expert who often advises on event hosting; and Alison Smith, co-founder of ECHOage, a company transforming party planning by having guests pitch in on a special present or donate to a charity, both chosen by the birthday guest of honor. The two teamed up to set the record straight on three common myths related to planning kids’ birthday parties.

Myth #1: A great party means a mammoth guest list. After all, I have to invite my child’s entire class, and also plan for parents who decide to stick around.

Truth: The etiquette rule, according to Gaché, dictates that if you are planning a big party you really should invite your child’s entire class—at least for grade school or younger kids. You don’t want to risk hurting anyone’s feelings or riling parents by excluding classmates from the celebration. But there are good reasons to keep the party small, including budget, space, and your child’s comfort; many young kids can feel overwhelmed by too many guests, and enjoy a more intimate, lower-key gathering.

The solution, both experts agree, is to host an all-girls or all-boys party, or stick with six kids or fewer. Smith suggests creating a party that specifically lends itself to a smaller group, such as a sleepover or an outing to a special event—think concert, amusement park, or sporting event. If you’re worried about hurt feelings from friends who don’t make the invite list, consider planning a special play date or inviting them to a family dinner.

Regardless of the number of invitees, expect that the parents of kids younger than age five will likely stay, rather than drop-off their tot. “Your goal is to make sure they feel welcome and integrated,” says Gaché. Offer them whatever you’re feeding the kids—chicken tenders and pizza triangles are just fine, she says. Smith suggests setting up a self-serve coffee bar for parents who choose to linger.

And rest assured, once kids hit the middle school years, parties are typically smaller, and the invite list can be left to the guest of honor.

Parents are opting out of over the top parties like these and hosting simple celebrations.

Myth #2: The competition for throwing a fabulous party is intense! I need to match, if not outdo, the birthday bashes my child attends.

Truth: The trend of over-the-top, commercialized parties—parents hiring garage bands or taking a gaggle of tween girls in a limo to a five-star dinner—lives on. But it’s recently been rivaled by customized, personalized parties that impress guests—or more likely, their parents—with hands-on party planning, homemade food, and Pinterest-worthy DIY decorations. “There’s tremendous pressure to be an expert crafter, a professional photographer and a videographer at your child’s party,” says Gaché.

Luckily, plenty of parents are realizing the insanity of both types of this extreme and are moving to simple, age-appropriate celebrations with cake, food, and a bit of entertainment. Opt out of the craziness, and join that party.  Smith suggests skipping the meal, even, and offering only cake and ice cream, which are all everyone really expects at a birthday party, anyway; or picking one wow factor, such as hiring an ice cream truck for the night. Alternatively, take the family out for a special dinner at the birthday boy or girl’s favorite restaurant, and avoid setting big expectations for every birthday to come.

Myth#3: My closets are over-flowing with gifts my child doesn’t need or already has, but I can’t ask guests to forego the gift. People feel so uncomfortable showing up empty-handed.

Truth: “The rule is that ‘no gift’ means no gift,” say Gaché. But guests don’t always comply, leaving those who didn’t bring something feeling awkward. “Society dictates that showing up to any party empty handed is uncomfortable unless there is another plan in place,” says Smith.  So, make just such a plan: encourage guests to contribute to a group gift—something your child really wants or needs—or to give to a charity of the guest of honor’s choosing.  “Everyone feels great about giving without having to show up to the party with a gift in hand,” says Smith.

Gaché, on the other hand, says asking guests to donate to a charity can rub some of them the wrong way (and also risks disappointing your kids). Instead, she suggests asking guests to bring something for an activity the children will partake in at the party; for instance, paint for an art project, or candy for cupcake decorating. This approach also allows you to forego expensive favors by sending kids home with their completed projects instead of a goody bag. Think of it this way: You’re saving parents from shopping for yet another birthday party gift, keeping clutter from your closets, and teaching your child that the celebration is about the company of their guests, and not the gifts they bring. Now that’s something to celebrate!

Photos via Compfight

Meet Stacy and Bailey Katz, Westwood, Los Angeles

They say it takes a village to raise a child. When Stacy Katz became a mom in 2007, she created her own. A single parent of Bailey, now age 8, she left San Francisco, where she’d been working in public relations since the mid ‘90s, and bought a duplex in Los Angeles’s Westwood neighborhood, not far from where she grew up. Then she talked Bailey’s grandparents into moving into the other half of the duplex.

“It’s amazing, like something you’d see in Italy or Spain,” says Katz of her Mediterranean style side-by-side duplex home, where an interior courtyard connects her and Bailey to his grandparents. “He runs back and forth all day, often eating breakfast and dinner with them.” It’s a little bit like how things used to be when her own grandparents moved to the States from Lithuania, and the extended family lived on the same street and even shared houses. “Everyone chipped in and everyone benefited,” says Katz.  “We have a little bit of that here.”

Katz now owns her own public relations and digital marketing agency, Stacy Katz Communications, specializing in digital entertainment, immersive media, and consumer technology clients. After she walks Bailey to school, she often heads back home to work, or meets up with a client—or sometimes even squeezes in a workout. When we caught up with her, her head was freshly cleared from a morning spin class. She talked to us about how she’s creating a balanced life, and shares a few secrets to how she makes it all work.

Other than your parents being (very) nearby, is Westwood a family-friendly neighborhood choice?
Stacy Katz: Very! UCLA, my alma mater, is in Westwood, so there’s an eclectic mix of students and faculty from all over the world. It’s smack in the middle of Los Angeles, which means easy access to both downtown LA—where’s there’s a big resurgence happening—and the beach.

Do you spend much time at UCLA?
Stacy: There’s a lot to do there. Bailey loves to stop for donuts at old-school favorite, Stan’s Donuts, in the heart of Westwood Village, on the way to the Fowler, a cool museum on campus with tons of free or inexpensive kids’ activities on the weekends; or to a basketball game at Pauley Pavilion. There’s a great little secret garden on campus, too. You can easily make a day of it.

Eight is such a great age—still full of wonder, yet old enough to hang out a little later. What else do you like to do together? 
Stacy: I love this age. I grew up going seeing shows at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood, and Bailey’s nearly old enough to make it through a show without me having to feed him Starbursts to keep him quiet! We have a pretty good weekend routine, starting Saturday morning with a martial arts class at Little Beast Gym, or sometimes he’ll take a class at Rolling Robots, where he’s learning how to code in a really fun way. We also love a day at the beach—Helen’s Bike Rental staff is awesome at making sure our bikes are in working order for the bike path. We’ll stop for lunch at Back on the Beach and play at the Annenberg Beach House.

We’re also fans of going to the movies—not the big fancy multiplexes, but the traditional, local Westwood theaters, like the Regent or the Fox, that have been around forever and are famous in L.A. for hosting movie premieres because they look like old school Hollywood. Sadly, they are losing customers to the fancy book-your-seats theatres so we’re committed to giving our business to them.  If it’s a movie night in Westwood, or a matinee, we like to grab a meal at TLT, which used to be a food truck and has made its home as a restaurant right in the heart of Westwood.

With so much to do around town, do you ever stay home? 
Stacy: We love to stay home and play badminton in our backyard—it’s our thing. We’re really big Harry Potter and Percy Jackson fans, so we often read or stream a video on M-GO, which has all the newest releases. We’ll invite friends over, bring in food from Garlo’s Aussie Pie Shop or Panini Cafe, and have dinner on the patio.

Stacy and Bailey with his grandfather, Ronald Katz, in their shared courtyard

Having family around to help must be incredible. Are Bailey’s grandparents his built-in nannies?
Stacy: No! My parents both work full-time as lawyers. I’ve found an incredible male kid sitter who stays with Bailey after school while I work. Bailey adores doing macho things with him, like go-carting, playing dodge ball, or learning to play tennis.

How about when you need a little solo or adult time? What do you like to do?
Stacy: When Bailey is at a play date or with his grandparents, I get a bit of time to myself. I usually head to yoga or Pilates, or to a 30-minute meditation class at Unplug Meditation, to unwind. For a special treat, I’ll get a facial or massage from Nerida Joy at the Bel Air Hotel near Westwood. If I get a night out, I love to go salsa dancing with girlfriends, out to dinner at Taninos for great Italian or to Fridas Mexican Restaurant—where Bailey loves to go, too.

Do you think you do things differently as a single parent than you would if you lived with a partner?
Stacy: There’s no dad in our house, but I remind my child that there are all kinds of families, and we get to live with his grandparents. I try to create experiences and expose Bailey to different kinds of people doing cool things that I might not be so inclined to do myself. We rented a two-person kayak, which was a lot of work—and I ended up in the water, which he loved! I took him to a Tough Mudder race, where people train and show a lot of character and grit to get through it. It had a “Mini-Mudder course,” which he did and loved testing his physical abilities on the obstacle course like the fit adults. It would be awesome to say I did it with him, but…

Last year we learned to ride bikes together. I’ve had a phobia of bikes ever since I fell head first into prickly bushes full of spiders when I was a kid. I learned that sometimes the best way to teach your child how to do something is to realize you’re not the one to teach them. It’s important to be able ask people for help or bring in a coach or expert if you are able to once in a while.

It can’t be easy running your own business, being a mom and finding time for yourself. How do you do it?
Stacy: I aspire to go beyond just being a professional and a mother, but I don’t always succeed. My secret is personal training with Natalia. She has a sweet energy that pushes me when I have it in me, and does a great Thai massage or stretching when I’m exhausted. I don’t even have to tell her what I need.

My other key to keeping it together is the two hours of private time I give myself every morning. I wake up at 5:00 am, make my favorite Bullet Proof Coffee and a smoothie and usually read, meditate, or listen to a TED talk. I realized that I’m not very productive during the time after Bailey goes to bed at night, so I go to bed early and get up early. It helps me be present when Bailey wakes up, rather than trying to play catch up, because at 7:00 am, it’s on!

Photographs by Kyle Monk

10 Healthy On-the-Go Summer Snacks You Kids Will Gobble Up

The end of the school year doesn’t necessarily mean the end of rushing around. And on-the-go summertime families need quick, easy, healthy snacks to keep them energized as they dash from camp to playdates to the pool. “There are good and bad packaged options for your kids,” says Kimberley Grayson of the all-natural online shop, Abe’s Market. She’s helped us round up some of the best treats out there. They come in properly portioned sizes; contain wholesome mixes of fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy; contain little sugar; and are non-GMO wherever possible. Happy snacking!

These toddler-friendly bagged snacks are “filled with 100% organic fruits and veggies in bite sized and easily dissolvable pieces,” raves Grayson. “The produce is harvested fresh and quick-dried to lock in essential nutrients. And the flavor combos contain just the right amount of natural sweetness and engaging color.” ($3.50, Abe’s Market)

Two varieties of granola—Caramel Apple and Chocolate Banana—are surprisingly light, easy-to-chew and not-too-sweet. Perfect for those busy mornings when your kid’s got to eat breakfast in the stroller or the car seat, since they’re delicious even without milk and provide plenty of fiber and carbs to get tykes fueled up on the fly ($4.50, Target).

What snack’s more classic than popcorn? If you don’t have time to pop it yourself, or just don’t feel like shaking a pot over a hot stove on a sweltering afternoon, grab one of these handy snack-size bags for a low-salt, high-yum treat ($5/bag of 6, available at Whole Foods).

Maybe you have time to spread some nut butter on a slice of toast; maybe you don’t. Either way, Justin’s has you covered with these 1.15-ounce squeeze packs that get some high-quality protein into your snack-needy child’s afternoon—even if it means squeezing them right into his hungry little mouth ($1.30, Justin’s).

This nutrient-packed bar will give kids and parents alike a wholesome, high-energy, low-calorie snack that’s also vegan, gluten free, organic, and non-GMO. All you’ll notice is its vanilla deliciousness ($22/pack of 12, Pure Bar).

Unlike certain yogurt tubes that shall here remain nameless, Siggi’s squeezable yogurts, in blueberry, raspberry, and strawberry, are low in both sugars and ingredients—no frightening-looking dyes, no weird fillers. And while they’re also low in fat, they sure don’t taste like it, thanks to the Icelandic method of straining yogurt into rich skyr. Also great frozen ($4/box of 8, available at Whole Foods).

Especially well-suited to tweens, these easy-pack bars are perfect for any time of the day and fit neatly into lunch boxes and glove compartments for after-camp pick-me-ups. Says Grayson, “Made with five wholegrain super-grains with mix-ins of flavors kids love, I am in love with the chewy texture and nutrition of these bars!” ($5/pack of 5, Abe’s Market)

These smart snacks were developed by two moms to make eating healthy a fun adventure while boosting the brain power of growing minds, according to Grayson. “As the world’s first fruit and vegetable smart cookies for kids, Bitsy’s provides new palette introductions while providing the nutrition active kids need,” she says. Bonus for kids with allergies: they’re also made in a nut-free facility ($6, Abe’s Market).

A sweet, chewy twist on that old nature-lover’s stand-by, gorp. A little bit sweet, a little bit salty, these little bars are the perfect tidbits to munch on as you make your way to all your kids’  summertime activities ($13/pack of 6, Amazon).

This is puffed fruit that crunches, in bite sized clusters active kids can snarf right from the bag.  “Here’s a snack that spans the ages” says Grayson. “It’s got fewer than 75 calories per serving and is made without refined sugars or preservatives. It can do double-duty as a yogurt or ice cream topper, and mixes well with nuts to create a custom-made snack of your own choosing.” ($5.50, Abe’s Market)

Start the School Year Right With an Eye Exam

By Dr. Gabriel Taub

The American Optometric Association (AOA) estimates that up to 80 percent of learning occurs through a child’s eyes. That’s why, as we find ourselves at the beginning of another school year, your child’s eye health should be as important as your annual visit to the pediatrician. An eye exam by an optometrist or ophthalmologist can help prevent potential vision issues that could impede your child’s progress both in school and during extracurricular activities.

With the amount of time children spend looking at smart boards, tablets, and computers, it is important to make sure that they entering the classroom without any vision issues that may prevent them from doing their best. Schedule regular eye exams just prior to the beginning of each school year—and if you haven’t made an appointment yet, don’t fret—it’s never too late to look after your kid’s eyes!

You should also schedule an eye exam at any time of year if you notice that your child is experiencing any of the following:

  • Squinting while reading or watching television
  • Losing his place when reading
  • Avoiding reading and other close-up activities altogether
  • Headaches
  • Blinking
  • Rubbing eyes constantly
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Redness and tearing of the eyes
  •  Tilting his head to one side when viewing something
  • Holding reading materials very close to his eyes

Some children might be stressed or frightened about a pending eye exam. Below are a few things you can tell them to expect, to alleviate some of their anxiety.

With a little knowledge beforehand about what is involved, eye exams don’t have to be stressful or scary for either the child or the parent. They should know that none of these tests are painful or difficult!

  • History:  This will cover any complaints and pre-existing conditions
  • Age-appropriate visual acuity testing: Using an eye chart, the doctor asks the child to read letters or name pictures
  • Cover testing: This test detects misalignment of the eyes. While the child focuses on a target, the examiner covers each eye one at a time to look for a “shift.”
  • Motilities:  The child is told to follow a target over a circular path.  Tracking problems and head movements are noted.
  • Stereopsis:  Testing the ability to see a 3-D image with polarized lenses.  A fun test that children enjoy that also reveals important information about their vision.
  • Color Vision Testing:  This is especially important for boys, since 8-10% of males have color vision deficiencies.  Less than 1% of females have such deficiencies.
  • Retinoscopy:  While the child looks at a far target (picture chart) the optometrist uses a retinoscope to measure the amount of myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness) and astigmatism (an oval shaped cornea).

Finally, sports injuries resulted in 20 percent of emergency room visits for kids aged 5 to 9 and 41% of visits for children aged 10 to 14, according to a recent study.

Thankfully, protective eyewear can prevent 90 percent of eye injuries. Children’s sports glasses, which are traditionally made from impact-resistant polycarbonate lenses, feature a goggle shape in plastic or polycarbonate with padding to absorb impact. Be sure to ask your optometrist about options that are just right for your little sports star!

Dr. Gabriel Taub has practiced at Cohen’s Fashion Optical for 18 years. Throughout the month of September, the store is offering free eye exams to kids ages 5-16 at participating locations. 

Photograph by Ernst Vikne via Creative Commons

Got 1 Minute? 3 Art Games to Boost your Kid’s Strategic Thinking, Problem Solving and Visual Recall

By Ruthie Briggs-Greenberg

It’s Monday. You have to get your kids to school, and you’re only on your first cup of coffee. What can you do that will help them think better and not annoy you? An art activity! What, you ask, is an “art activity”? It’s something that exposes kids to art. Why should you do it? According to the National Endowment for the Arts, kids with more art experiences had higher GPAs than kids who lacked those experiences. How do you start? Pour that second cup of coffee, set the timer for 1 minute and do one of the following:

GAME 1: (The timer is set, right? Did you pour that second cup of coffee?) Ask Junior “How many things can be done with spoons?” Now wait. If Junior hasn’t had breakfast, they might say, “I don’t know.” But, if Junior just had a bowl of sugary goodness, the answer may be, “You can eat with spoons, dig with spoons… Uhhhhhh…..” Then Junior may fall silent. This is where you say, “Keep going…”  Junior may come up with one more answer, something involving “you can fling a spoon.” The minute will pass.

What’s the answer? An unknown number of things can be done with spoons. Think outside of the box, or in this case, the silverware drawer.  This idea of thinking beyond what is obvious frees your child’s mind to use their imagination.  Imagination leads to solutions. Let’s get back to the spoons.  If you weld spoons together, you could build skies, or a wall, and then you could make a house of spoons, (no, it’s not cheating, I never said, “a spoon,” or that the spoons had to remain in their original form). The question leads your child, and you, to think strategically to solve a puzzle. This method of thinking creatively frees up your mind to design, imagine and build ideas that don’t exist. That’s how art starts. You’ve spent a minute and engaged in strategic thinking.

GAME 2: Grab a pencil and a piece of paper. Ask Junior to draw a bicycle with circles, and lines. Did you set the timer for one minute? If your coffee has kicked in, you can try it too. What does this game do for Junior? It makes them think about design principles of how shapes fit together for practical use. If you want a hint, a very basic bike can be drawn using 5 circles and 11 lines. Wait a minute, how is this art, you ask? It is art because it involves organizing shapes and lines and creating a design. So you’ve just covered design, which fits under problem solving.

GAME 3: Open the cupboard and let Junior look at it for 8 seconds. This is not the time to obsess over the fact that there is high fructose corn syrup in half of the breakfast cereals. Close the cupboard. Ask Junior, “How many colors can be made from the colors on the boxes inside the cupboard?” You’ll probably get this, “I don’t know”. Who thinks about cereal boxes and art? Ask Junior to open the cupboard and see if there is red, yellow and blue inside, if so, you have the three primary colors. All colors can be made from the three primary colors. Play a color addition game (go on, the first part wasn’t even 20 seconds). What is red plus yellow? Orange. Was there a yellow box on your shelf? A blue one? Sure there was, everyone has that blue box of pasta on the second shelf, so now you have yellow plus blue. You get the picture. Now you’ve covered visual recall.

Wow, look at you, covering strategic thinking, problem solving and visual recall all before your 3rd cup of coffee! Junior used art, or thinking about art, to fire up those synapses before class. Thinking about art will carry over into other areas of study, such as math, language, and science. Ultimately art allows individuals to create something from nothing by strategically analyzing a problem and solving them. If you have five minutes, tour the world’s greatest museums online. This may lead to conversations about the historical context that art was created in, or the purpose of art. If you ask Junior what they think about a painting they are looking at they may say, “I don’t know”. That’s ok, school doesn’t train our kids to think of possibilities, it teaches kids to have answers. Get Junior thinking and they will come up solutions to all kinds of life situations. 1 minute art games lead Junior to strategic thinking, problem solving and visual recall, and you did it all without a 4th cup of coffee.

Photograph by D Sharon Pruitt via Flickr/Creative Commons

Kristin Groos Richmond of Revolution Foods is Recruiting Kids for a Healthy Eating Revolution

Kristin Groos Richmond, CEO and co-founder of Revolution Foods

By Dawn Van Osdell

On her early morning drive to her Oakland, CA, office Kristin Groos Richmond is already thinking about lunch. Not her own, but the more than 1.5 million fresh, wholesome meals her company will lovingly distribute throughout the week to schoolchildren across the country. She’s also thinking about the small details that make the difference between kids gobbling up the food or leaving it untouched on their cafeteria trays. Details like white cheddar rather than orange cheddar in a quesadilla, and the red kidney beans Louisiana kids expect to find in their jambalaya.

No one knows food and kids quite like Richmond and her business partner, Kirsten Saenz Tobey, two moms who met at the Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley 10 years ago and together co-founded Revolution Foods. Their now-burgeoning company, ranked #5 in food by Fast Company magazine in 2012, provides nutritious snacks and meals to schools and stores, often in communities where children have limited access to them.

Fresh lunches are made daily at Revolution Foods Culinary Centers

As if it weren’t hard enough to get wholesome food into the hands of these kids to begin with, the company also has to get them to eat it. “If kids are turning up their noses, we’re not doing it right,” says Richmond, explaining that they provide affordable meals using real foods with no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives —and, just as importantly, educate kids about proper nutrition, helping them build healthy eating habits that will hopefully last a lifetime. The best way to do this, says Richmond, is to bring kids into the kitchen and into the discussion.

“We’ve found that when we not only give kids healthy food and tell them why it’s better, but also give them a voice, together we can come up with what works.”

— Kristin Gross Richmond

That discussion—or at least, the core values behind it—has its roots in her time volunteering with kids in New York while working in corporate finance, a career path she knew she wouldn’t follow forever. When a friend mentioned that she was starting a school in Kenya, Richmond, who grew up caring for animals on her grandparents’ cattle ranch in the hills outside San Antonio, TX, found herself quitting her banking job and signing on to head to the African savannah.

With her friend, she co-founded the Kenya Community Center for Learning in Nairobi and taught there for two years before her then-boyfriend, now-husband, Steve, finally talked her into moving to the Bay Area. There, working at the nonprofit Resources for Indispensable Schools and Educators (RISE), she heard teachers complaining repeatedly that their students didn’t have access to proper nutrition. That critical complaint stuck with her, all the way to the inception of Revolution Foods.

Today, Richmond lives in Mill Valley with her husband and her very own research and development team: sons Caleb, 8, and Watts, 5. “I am so lucky to get an inside look at what kids want and what they think,” she says, mentioning that Caleb and Watts have first tastes of just about everything Revolution Foods serves. “I ask them if the food is too spicy, too strong, about how the bread looks or how big a meatball should be.” Recently, Caleb asked, “Mom, do you really listen to everything we say about food?” Yes, she does.

Revolution Foods provides schoolchildren with delicious, healthy meals to fuel their growing minds and bodies

Richmond says her company prides itself on being culturally relevant. San Francisco has a large Asian population, as well as many Hispanic communities, and Revolution Foods also serves school districts in 11 states and Washington, DC.  Meeting local taste expectations is an important part of what Revolution Foods must accomplish.  And, she says, “We ask kids to help us get it right.”

Their culinary centers—really, massive commercial kitchens— are regionally located so food can be made fresh and sent directly to the 1,000-plus schools Revolution Foods serves. The meals they create must comply with the National School Lunch Program, a federal assistance program that subsidizes schools to provide low-cost or free school lunches. On visits to the culinary center kids can watch non-stop deliveries of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and meat free of nitrates and nitrites, all of which is prepped and prepared by real people, not machines. “It’s important for kids to put faces behind food, so that they don’t think it just comes from packages,” Richmond says.

Kristin Groos Richmond at Revolution Foods headquarters in Oakland

Here, kids are allowed to get in on the action, chopping and mixing and creating their own healthy dishes in Iron Chef-like competitions in which they’re judged on taste, aesthetics, healthy balance, and nutritional content— even the name they create for their masterpieces. “It’s about making it fun, so they respect food,” Richmond explains.  Recently, kids at the culinary center in Oakland helped name an Asian-inspired breakfast bowl.

They can also help tweak dishes. For instance, Revolution Foods always uses brown rice in their many Latin-inspired meals— a healthier grain that’s new to many kids. “We get that it’s different,” Richmond’s team tells them, acknowledging the denser texture and nuttier taste. Then they ask the kids to tell them how to make the flavor of the overall dish more like what they’re accustomed to. “We’ve found that when we not only give kids healthy food and tell them why it’s better, but also give them a voice, together we can come up with what works,” says Richmond. It turns out, brown rice isn’t an issue for most kids when it’s colorful from a mix of minced veggies and seasoned the way they expect.

Across all markets, kids help to nix ideas, too—recipes made with good intentions but ultimately not what kids want to eat. They also have the power to vote on the best-of-the-best dishes, so the company knows what will work nationwide. Some kid favorites are unsurprising: whole grain spaghetti and meatballs, chicken tenders, oranges, kiwis, and pasta alfredo with white beans. A more unexpected hit: salads. Kids especially dig Revolution Foods’ chef, taco, and sesame chicken salads, proving that pushing the envelope really can pay off.

Fresh meals made by hand, not machine

The process of involving kids, Richmond says, means kids are eating better and educators are starting to see improved test scores, fewer behavioral problems, and declining obesity rates. Time-pressed parents can get in on the action, too. Revolution Food’s ready-to-eat lunchbox kits are now available in more than 2,000 stores like HEB, Safeway, and Fresh and Easy.

“One of the nicest surprises to come out of Revolution Foods has been the job creation,” says Richmond. Mostly at its local culinary centers, the company has created more than 1,400 jobs, hiring the fathers, mothers, uncles, and cousins of the kids they feed. “It’s not just about fresh food,” Richmond says, “but about how we can have an even bigger impact on the community.”

Photographs by Bonnie Rae Mills and courtesy/Revolution Foods.

Meet Amy Rodriguez, Adam Shilling, & Ryan, Orange County, California

Adam, Amy, & Ryan, enjoying some rare family time.

By Lela Nargi

With the Women’s World Cup of soccer kicking off in Canada this coming June, two-time Olympic gold medalist and FC Kansas City forward Amy Rodriguez has been spending the winter getting in shape, in the hopes she’ll make it on to the final roster. That’s meant grueling weeks away at training camp with the rest of the potential team. She alternates these with time at home with husband Adam Shilling—a former All-American water polo player for the University of Southern California and now an athlete-focused physical therapist—and their 2-year-old son Ryan, under balmy skies at their home just east of Laguna Beach.

“Adam is trying to get Ryan to be a swimmer—with my full support!”




“When I was pregnant, we wanted to find a community with a lot of kids,” says Rodriguez of her and Shilling’s choice to settle in mountain-rimmed, ocean-close Ladera Ranch. “My best friends in my wedding were the friends I met when I lived at home in Lake Forest. I wanted that for my son: a happy childhood! And there’s a good vibe here for raising a family.” The town’s proximity to Rodriguez’s parent’s house, Shilling’s PT office in Rancho Santa Margarita, and all the amenities of the OC—from beaches and parks to play spaces and yes, Disney—make this the perfect base in the hectic life of a professional-athlete family.

What’s a normal day like for you?
Amy Rodriguez: It is chaos! Even when I’m not at training camp, Adam is working 11-hour days, so it can be hard for me to find time to do my job, which is to work out. Right now, I’m doing two, sometimes three team workouts a day. We get these sent to us and follow the regimen, mostly of weightlifting and running. A lot of times, I drive to my parents’ house in Lake Forest, drop Ryan off, work out, then pick him up in time for him to have lunch and a nap back at home. I’m always stressing about the clock for what I have to do, but I try to keep him on a pretty consistent schedule.

Adam Shilling: I drive to my PT office, where I see many athletes: high schoolers from Santa Margarita High School, college students from USC and UCLA, professional baseball and football players. I usually have Thursdays off, though, which I spend at home.

Ryan and mom kick the soccer ball around.

What does each of you do for fun with Ryan?
Amy: Having a boy is mostly about getting active and outside, so he can burn off a lot of energy. Mission Viejo has an awesome lake I pull Ryan around in the bike trailer. The city of Lake Forest just built a new sports park with a tot lot. I’m trying to teach Ryan to kick the soccer ball. He does quite well! If the weather is bad, we’ll go to the Big Air Trampoline Park in Laguna Hills. We also have a membership to the Gymboree Play and Music Center in San Juan Capistrano and Ryan loves to crawl and climb on everything there. He used to have a biting and hitting problem and it’s been great for him to learn to socialize with other children.

Adam: I like to take him to the parks, and jogging in his stroller, or take him to the pool in our community.

Amy: They’re a cute pair! Last summer, Adam took Ryan swimming at the pool every day. One day they came back and Adam had taught Ryan to do a back flip in the water. He’s trying to get him to be a swimmer—with my full support!

Adam: I want him to be as comfortable in the water as possible, if for no other reason than safety. If he happens to decide he likes water polo one day—that’s great!

Swinging by the lake.

What do you do on those rare days the three of you get to be together as a family?
Amy: We just got over an issue with eating sand so we’re taking Ryan to the beach more—we’re really blessed with great weather here. Aliso Creek Beach is a fun one to go to; we’ve had a few barbecues there. And Strands Beach is great for biking, since it has a paved pathway along the beach. We don’t really eat out much, because I’m in training, so we tend to cook a lot. Although I think Ryan has to learn how to dine out at some point, and experience that world outside our home. But we do have Disneyland passes—Ryan is learning the names of all the characters, and he can run there, and get all that energy out.

Adam: In the afternoon, we hang out with neighbors.

Amy: We have a street full of kids. Our neighbors had a baby boy exactly one month after us, so our boys have become great friends.

What about grown-up time?
Amy: My schedule is so tough during a World Cup year—training camp for three weeks, then maybe 10 days at home, then back to camp for another three weeks. And this is a very crucial time for a player like myself; I haven’t solidified my World Cup spot. Luckily for me, Adam is in PT. Probably the last thing he wants to do when he comes home is more of that. But I’ll say, “Can you rub my calf? I’m in pain.” And he will, he’s great!

Photographs by Kyle Monk