Tag Archives: motivating kids

Monday Musings: Got M&M’s?

28 Apr

If you have M&Ms and a messy house, host an M&M Cleanup!


As I look around my living room at this very moment, I see laundry in two big piles waiting to be folded, leftover birthday party paraphernalia on the table, today’s pajamas from someone on the floor (those might even be yesterday’s now that I think about it) and I think to myself, “We need an M&M Cleanup!”

The M&M Cleanup is my husband’s invention, I must give him all the credit on this one. He started it when our kids were little as a way to entice them to clean up quickly with a little chocolate for motivation. Because it’s chocolate related, it still works even when they’re big. In fact, if you offered me an M&M right now (I prefer Peanut M&Ms,) I might just clean it all up myself.

Let me tell you a little bit more about it.

First and most importantly: You don’t need to have M&Ms to do this. You could use Skittles, fruit snacks, my personal fave-chocolate chips- or whatever you think is extra special, would motivate your child best and you’re comfortable rewarding them with. In fact, mini M&Ms work just as well as full size. Other than Halloween and maybe Easter, our kids don’t get M&Ms on a regular basis, so if we have them on hand, they work well because they don’t get them often. Conveniently, Santa always leaves them in the stockings and the Easter Bunny usually leaves them in the baskets, so we often get restocked around the holidays.

Second: We only save the M&M Cleanup for big messes, and only periodically do we use it. Otherwise, it’d lose its motivating factor. If you do it all the time, it’s not special. If our downstairs playroom is a huge, overwhelming mess after a multi-kid play date, for example, rather than yell and demand over and over that they clean up, and them whine that it’s too much or they don’t want to, or my favorite, “That’s not mine, I didn’t put that there,” we just announce an M&M Cleanup and they literally run to the mess and start cleaning up.

How it works: You can do it a variety of ways. Sometimes it’s one M&M or chocolate chip for each “thing” they pick up and put away, or for each trip they take from the living room to the bedroom for example, to put something away. Or, you could do an M&M per handful so that they’re not picking up a tiny scrap of paper and getting an M&M for each one. Really, the details and logistics are up to you. And, once that’s determined, how many rewards they get is up to them and how hard they work. If everyone works equally as hard (and in our house that is NOT always the case,) you can give a final little handful to all when the job is done just to make sure it’s fair all around and that no one who worked just as hard, is neglected for being a little bit slower, or whatever the case may be.

Most importantly: Make sure you are the one holding the M&Ms. This allows you most importantly to treat yourself as they clean up. I’m sure you worked just as hard about your day, without reward, so now’s the time. Secondly, this allows you to make sure no one is digging into the reward without doing their job first, or that no one is sneaking any more than what’s due them (such as the one for you and three for me routine.)

Although you can’t use this all the time and nothing is 100% foolproof when it comes to working with kids, The M&M Cleanup has worked wonders for us. It leaves us all smiling at the end and feeling rewarded for our hard work, and everyone needs that every once in a while!


Photo credit:

M&M image for the public use:

Monday Musings: And then there was the time….

8 Apr
Many of our stories are told at family gatherings.

Many of our stories are told at family gatherings, a chance for several generations to be together, a chance for memories to be shared and created.

“Tell me a story!”

“Remember the time….”

“What about that day when….”

My kids have always loved hearing stories from when we were kids, stories from when our parents or their parents were kids, even stories about themselves when they were babies. They laugh at the funny ones and they’re mesmerized by the stories about people they never met or of days before their time.

They liked these stories so much that at one point many years ago, I’d typed up all the ones we could think of, and I put them into a word document that I called, “And Then There Was the Time….”

My goal was to add to them as I remembered more or heard more, or as things happened that we wanted to remember in the future. At one point though, I had a computer crash and that’s when we found out that Carbonite, the system we were using for backup “on the cloud,” had lost everything too. So that document, along with so much else, is gone.

But, the stories remain, nonetheless. They are in our memories and in our hearts and the girls still ask for them and laugh about them and they know some of them so well themselves that they can retell them now.

We’ve always placed an emphasis on the sacredness of dinnertime in our house, and so many times our dinner conversation turns into us telling them a story from the past. Larger family gatherings are perfect for telling stories. I grew up hearing the stories about my dad’s dog, Trixie and all the crazy things she did when he was a kid, a teen and even when he was  dating my mom.

In fact, I recently read a quote from chef Charlie Palmer, owner of restaurants in Manhattan, Las Vegas and San Fransisco. When asked by Family Circle magazine whether despite his busy travel schedule his family (four boys ranging from 14 to 18) still has big family dinners, his answer was this:

“Absolutely. In fact, my wife Lisa and I go out of our way to make sure of it…..The conversations that go on would never happen if we weren’t all around the table.”

I have to agree with Charlie.

Recently a friend posted a link on Facebook to a New York Times article, “The Stories That Bind Us” that told of the importance of knowing one’s family stories, and the importance of telling family stories–the good and the bad. You can read the article yourself, but in a nutshell, it speaks to the importance of developing a family narrative. The article cites several studies, which all point to the same thing:  “The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.”

The article goes into the fact that families who have a strong foundation, a strong knowledge of their family history were better able to get through tough crises.  It even recommends developing a family mission statement of sorts, in other words, letting everyone in your family unit know what your core values are, what your family stands for. And I think we’ve done that over the years.

No matter what your take-away from this article is, mine is simple, and I have had a sign over my door for years which states it: Home is where your story begins. As my family leaves each morning, that sign reminds them that it all starts here. The strength they have with them each day is formed here and whatever they do when they leave this house, they carry with them the core values we’ve instilled in them here. Of all the framed sentiments I could have chosen for the wall, I chose that one because I truly believed it and I live by it still.

The article sums up these important points:  “The bottom line: if you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come.”

And so, keeping that in mind, we’ll continue to spend time together as a close family unit, telling and retelling our stories. We’ll continue to ask those in other generations to tell their stories, so that they are in our hearts, minds and memories.

And hopefully, it’ll continue to be a strength that bonds our family together, because we know that no matter what:

Home is where your story begins

Monday Musings: Seize Every Opportunity

18 Mar
Hearing Olivia Culpo speak in July 2012 had a lasting impact on our girls.

Hearing Olivia Culpo speak in July 2012 had a lasting impact on our girls.

Last summer, we had the opportunity to meet Ms. Olivia Culpo, who was then Miss USA and is now Miss Universe, also an alum from my high school. The girls and I went to hear her speak, they stood with me while I interviewed her for the newspaper, and then we  stood in line for an hour for a quick meet and greet and an autograph.

On the way home, we talked about what we’d just experienced and the girls talked to me about which parts of her speech had an impact on them, as she was such a candid, animated speaker. They laughed about some of her funny stories, but we talked more seriously about one of her messages: don’t be afraid to take a risk.

Having never been a “pageant person” before, Olivia entered Miss USA despite her family’s hesitations, and won on her first time out there. A year later, she was winning Miss Universe too, and it was all because she wasn’t afraid to try something, to be a leader, to take a risk.

One of my favorite photos from our day: Caroline meeting and shaking hands with President Obama.

One of my favorite photos from our day: Caroline meeting and shaking hands with President Obama.

At the time, we didn’t know if Caroline was going to win the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge contest. We were awaiting notification, due the following week. What we did know however, was that Caroline had hesitated in entering because her sister was entering also, and she knew that only one of the two of them, if either of them, could win, and she was afraid of that. We talked that day after meeting Olivia about the fact that this too was a risk, and we’d wait and see what happened, but that at least she’d put herself out there, taken that risk.

And it turns out, she won.

With that, she’s had some of the most amazing experiences of her life, all in the past year, all because she wasn’t afraid to take a risk, to go out of her comfort zone.

She often gets asked to speak to groups of people, both adults and kids, and two of the messages that she always makes sure to emphasize when she speaks, are not to be afraid to take a risk and to always put in 100% effort into all you do.

After she won, a friend said to me,  “Your motto should be ‘Seize Every Opportunity’ because you’re always trying everything. If there’s something out there to do, you’ll do it.”

And she’s right. I think it’s important to reach for the stars, even if you miss on occasion. Most likely you won’t miss every time.

When I was in high school, with my parents’ help, I applied for a grant. I put in a proposal to go to New Zealand to study reading instruction. At the time, New Zealand was tops; on the forefront of reading and language instruction. It was a big risk, a scary thing to apply for, and ultimately, I did not get the grant. But, I’ll never forget applying for it, and receiving that letter stating that even though my proposal wasn’t chosen, it was a strong one, and one of the runners up. That gave me confidence to try again, to take a risk when another future opportunity arose.

Since that high school grant opportunity, I’ve taken on many challenges, reinventing myself in my careers again and again. Sometimes those challenges came through in my favor, and sometimes they didn’t, but each risk and result has made me stronger and more confident. As a journalist, each time I’ve won a New England or Rhode Island Press Association award, I’ve had to take a risk by submitting what I think is my best work, to be judged by others. It’s risky putting myself out there, and sometimes I win and sometimes I don’t. But I never say, “Oooh that’s too scary, I’m not even going to try,” or even “Yikes! That’s a lot of extra effort.”

This week we received notification that a grant Elizabeth had applied for, the Disney Friends For Change grant, a proposal she’d submitted on behalf of her class, was not going to be given to them. She was so disappointed. She and several friends had started a school newspaper, and this grant was going to improve what they’d begun, take it to the next level. However, the notification didn’t just say that she didn’t get it, it said that her efforts and dedication in applying for the grant were to be commended and that she shouldn’t give up on her particular project.

It was positive reinforcement, recognizing the fact that she took a risk, went the extra mile, seized an opportunity that not many would take the time to do. The very first thing she said was, “I think there’s another one. We can try again.”

I love that.

Congratulations to Alexandra. She took a risk, entered a contest and came in second place!

Congratulations to Alexandra. She took a risk, entered a contest and came in second place!

On Wednesday night, Alexandra competed in a cooking contest of her own. She had entered the recipe for her Sunshine Salad into the Sodexo Future Chefs competition in our city. Out of 17 elementary schools, ten students were chosen to compete, making their salads and having them judged by real chefs from our community.

She took the risk, entered the recipe in February and was chosen to compete in March.

She competed Wednesday night and took Second Place. Second, out of ten, in our whole city, at seven years old.

That’s taking a risk. That’s seizing an opportunity.

And that’s a memory she, and we, will never forget.

Childhood is a journey, as is parenthood. I hope that we are teaching our kids to be confident, to be leaders, to try everything and to take risks. I hope that the bursts of success that they experience  when they take the risks will encourage them to keep going and trying again when they don’t necessarily see that success. I hope that they learn that putting in the extra effort, taking the extra time, going the extra mile, really does all pay off in the end.


First One In Bed

22 Oct

Nighttime means bedtime.

During the summer, bedtime is a free-for all. It doesn’t matter who goes to bed when and there’s usually no reason to get up early in the morning, so everyone can sleep late if they need to.

The school year is a whole different ballgame though.

Recently on Facebook, a lot of my friends have been venting about the tough job of getting kids to bed on time, in a reasonable manner. My kids are older now and our routines are pretty set at this point, but I *so* remember those days.

Setting a bedtime routine is so tough. You have to determine a bedtime, first off and then stick to it. You have to determine what you’re willing to do at bedtime (read a story? Watch an episode of something? Have a tickle fight?) and what you’re not. You have to make sure the kids do their jobs at bedtime (“bathroom, hands and teeth” is our mantra to this day) and still make sure they’re in bed on time.

Sometimes it seems like you need to start at noon in order to get them in bed, on time, with everything done, and staying in bed.

Early on, when we just had Caroline, we’d watch one short video (on a video TAPE) before bed. That worked well for her, as a wind-down routine, and we’d read a story.

With Elizabeth, we found that watching TV wound her up, instead of winding her down.

With Alex, I think most nights we practically threw her in (figuratively, not literally), shut off the light and shut the door, she was so easy.

But there came a time when we had preschoolers and toddlers that getting all three in bed on time just seemed hopeless. We had three kids with three different bedtime routines and we needed to figure out what one thing would work for all of us. It didn’t seem possible.

Until we came up with The First One in Bed challenge.

I don’t even know which one of us came up with it, to be honest.

Let’s just say it was me, for now. 😉

It probably wasn’t though. Don’s always better at creating a challenge.

In a nutshell, here’s how it worked:

Each child had a sticker book (which was a small notebook of some sort, I remember two of them had Strawberry Shortcake on them at one point) and we parents had a big ole’ pile of stickers. All different kinds of stickers worked best, rather than just one kind.

The challenge was to be the First One in Bed. If you were, with all your jobs done, you got three stickers. Second one in bed got two and the last one in bed got one. Or maybe it was four, three and two. I don’t remember, but you get the gist.

You had to be in bed, under the covers in order to pick out your stickers. You had to already have done the whole “bathroom, hands, and teeth” routine.

You had to yell it from your room, really loud: FIRST ONE IN BEEDDDDDD!!!!!!

The others would follow, yelling out that they were in bed too. Ties were allowed. We didn’t want to start a fight or make anyone cry, rather we wanted to get everyone in bed and fast, so we could go out in the living room and sit down for more than three seconds at a clip.

Elizabeth in particular is VERY competitive and loves a challenge. She wanted to win EVERY time. She was known to leap over a smaller child and roll the rest of the way down the hall, in order to get into that bedroom first. (Well not really, but she’d race down that hallway and leap into bed, for sure.)

She was also known to get in there and not be 100% honest about whether her teeth were brushed, and have to get back up, losing her First One in Bed spot.

Their goal was to fill their notebook pages with stickers. Lots and lots of stickers.

This went on for months and months, until somehow we phased it out. I don’t remember how or when, but it was a while ago.

The point is, it worked for us. We were able to create a bedtime routine that worked for all of our kids and let us keep our sanity at the same time. It only cost us a few stickers and a few notebooks.

Hopefully this will help someone else with that particularly challenging time at their house too. I hope so. If not, maybe it’ll spark a different idea that works for you and your child/children at bedtime.

And in our house, to this very day, there are still some occasional nights when we hear someone yell out from their rooms, “FIRST ONE IN BED!!!!” just for the fun of it.

What we’re doing for fun this summer: The Great Playground Challenge

16 Jul

Making a mountain out of a molehill isn’t always a bad thing.

They say not to make a mountain out of a molehill, but oftentimes at our house, we do, and we do it on purpose.

When I was a teacher, I always found that if I really talked something up, like an upcoming unit of study, the kids would be super-enthused about it, just because I was. Their response was all in how I presented something to them. They followed my lead. With our own kids that’s often what we do.

We make mountains out of molehills.

Today’s post about our Great Playground Challenge is one example of how you can present something to your kids in such a way that you can get them enthused about a simple thing, and have fun with it.

Here’s how it started:

It was the girls’ first day home from school for the summer. Don was at work and it was my deadline day for the newspaper. Sometimes I can type ahead of a deadline day to get things in early, but the end of the school year was so crazy that I could not. I had to spend their first day off, typing. They got their own breakfast, they played on their own and watched some TV. Not the way I normally like to kick off the summer, but when you work from home, sometimes that’s how it has to be.

The zip line at this playground is what they loved most. Five stars….

As a reward, I decided to stop by one of the city playgrounds on the way to the grocery store later that afternoon (also not a fun first day off task, but one that had to be done if we were to eat dinner that night.)

This playground is one we’d been to years ago, but not recently, and I remembered it as being a particularly fun playground with some unique equipment. It was on the way, so I stopped off there for an hour or so. I brought my book to read, my camera (which is almost always with me) and a bottle of water.

I wasn’t thinking of making any mountains out of molehills yet.

They had a blast. They played for the hour and when we got in the car to go to the store, they were chattering away about this particular playground and how it compared to other ones they’ve been to. Just the day before on the last day of school they’d played on the city playground that’s adjacent to our school, so they were comparing it to that one as well.

All their conversation got me thinking. I thought of all the playgrounds in our city and surrounding areas. I thought of all the different types of equipment on the various playgrounds we’ve been to in the past. I remembered waaayyyy back to The Blizzard of 1978 when my dad made up a game to keep us busy when we had no electricity for a week. He called it The Great Race. I was seven and I still remember it.

My wheels were turning for sure.

Overall opportunities for fun are part of the playground experience, not just the equipment.Shady spots are great for just hanging out.

The Great Playground Challenge was born, right there in my car, on the way to Aldi’s.

I said to the girls, “We should spend part of our summer going to all different playgrounds and rating them to see which ones you like best. Then by the end of the summer we can see which one is your top favorite of all of them.” I asked them to think about how they’d rate the one we’d just been to.

They thought this was a great idea and they were very excited to get started playing on different playgrounds right then and there, but we had to wait.

We did our shopping and when we went home I took our big roll of white paper and made a poster for the wall outside their bedroom. I used bright colors and made it look exciting. I made a chart where we could put the names of the playgrounds and spaces for them to rank each one themselves as well as a space for an overall rating.

A “fancy” new poster to record our findings makes it that much more exciting, and it’s something we can look back on for years to come.

I wrote in the names of the playground near our school and the playground we played on that day. I showed the girls how the chart would work and I let them rank the two playgrounds we’d done so far. A quick lesson in averages and we figured out their overall ratings.

Game on.

Practically every day they ask if we can go to a playground. Sometimes we can, sometimes we can’t. Even if we’re driving at night, they spot one and ask if we can stop. Usually we can’t.

But, the point is, this is such a simple thing. Playing on a playground is not an expensive outing. It’s free. It’s beyond Caroline in a lot of ways but oftentimes she’ll come for the ride just to see the playground and hang out, even if she’s too big to play on the equipment. It gets them outside, active and thinking. It keeps them enthused, and I’m pretty sure it’s something they’ll remember for years to come.

I have no idea how many we’ll get to over the summer. I made spaces for ten playgrounds, but there’s plenty of room for more if we get to them. We’ll see how the summer goes. There’s lots of other fun stuff to do, so The Great Playground Challenge is often for those days when there otherwise would be “nothing to do.” Alex has made it a personal goal to be able to master the monkey bars by summer’s end, so this will help her achieve that goal, hopefully, before school starts.

It’s just one example of a time when you *should* make a mountain out of a molehill.

There are playgrounds all over the state, just waiting for us to come and try them out.

What we’re doing for fun this summer: Summer Memories Timeline

25 Jun

If you’ve been a reader of my blog since last fall, you may remember my post about our Summer Vacation banner. It was not something I’d started on purpose and it turned out to be so much more than I expected. The kids loved it.

I had not thought of doing anything like it this summer, but then a few weeks ago I was reading a blog and clicked from that blog to another blog, and saw something that caught my eye: a summer memories clothesline-timeline.

Only problem is: I can’t find that blog I’d landed on, anywhere. I didn’t think I was going to do it, so I didn’t save it. I’ve searched the internet like crazy but can’t find it.

Anyway, after seeing this, it stuck in my head and as I drove around these past couple of weeks, it kept popping into my head. (When I drive from story to story, place to place, I drive in silence–I get a lot of thinking done this way.)

I decided to try a summer timeline for my kids, I thought they’d love it, but I didn’t want to use a clothesline because I didn’t think I could put it up very well in our house nor could I store it well afterwards. (I save everything.)

Instead, I chose to use banner paper ($1.99 roll of Doodle Paper from Christmas Tree Shops) and decorative packing tape ($2 at CVS) along with some little square pieces of paper for them to write their events on the timeline ($1 at CVS).

They saw me buy the Doodle Roll last week before school ended and right away they knew something was up. Alex asked me every day why I bought the Doodle Roll. They wanted to know when they’d be let in on my Top Secret project.

Finally, the last day of school came. With my work schedule I only had one hour in which to create my timeline but I’d planned it out pretty well so I knew what I wanted to do.

Here’s how it looked, I know you’re dying to see it, right?

Our timeline: a blank slate ready to be filled up with a record of our summer memories.

The only disappointment was that I wanted to print out a photo to put on the timeline of them from that morning on the last day, but my printer was broken, not working AT ALL so I couldn’t. However, the “blank slate” aspect of their timeline seemed very appealing to them; the fact that they had this entire space to fill up with things we were doing, places we were going, people we were seeing.

When they walked in on that last day of school, they gasped and ran up the stairs–it’s right at the top of the stairs– to see what the new project was. (We’re a very project-based family!) They were immediately so excited, and I was so thrilled.

Their biggest concern: what if the timeline isn’t big enough? Then what? My solution: we can easily add a section to it and remove the last square I put at the end as an example. They were pleased with that answer.

So we’re off and running with our timeline. Throughout the summer I’ll try to remember to post an update so you can see how it’s looking.

I have no idea how it will turn out, but isn’t that half the fun?

Taking advantage of the things around us

12 Jun

Of the six hours we spent at the Great Outdoors Pursuit event on Sunday, I think four of them were probably spent in the spray park, a huge hit with our kids.

Summer gives us a great opportunity. The weather is nice and we get the chance to be outdoors more and to explore the places around us that we don’t often have the time to explore during the hectic school year.

Our parks and recreation department has something each summer called “The Great Outdoor Pursuit,” and it consists of outdoor family events from May through August. Each event is free, lasts the day, and the locations change. Families will visit seven different outdoor state parks and forests throughout the summer if they participate in all of the events.

The Great Outdoor Pursuit “seeks to connect families with outdoor public spaces and inspire active outdoor lifestyles while educating them about environmental and health issues,” and as a recent participant in one of the events, I can say that they definitely achieved their goals!

We were able to attend an event this past Sunday and we were there from 11 am to 5pm, outdoors and active the entire day. There was swimming, boating, a spray park, archery, bounce house, and more, all day long. You could turn in any electronic devices you no longer use, in a safe and eco-friendly manner. There was plenty to do and even though the event officially ended at 3, we stayed on location for two more hours.

The day cost us nothing other than a few dollars for hot dogs but we had such a great day. The kids were exhausted by bedtime, always a good thing, and they can’t wait to visit again or to try out the next event.

We may not be able to do all of the events due to schedule conflicts during the summer, but the events are there and open to the public and free.

It’s just another example of how you can have tons of family fun on a small family budget and not be sitting inside in front of the TV, computer or video games all day long.

With just a little bit of looking around, you can find events near you that can keep your family busy and active all summer!