Five Reasons Why You Should Play Minecraft with Your Child

I know. Your eyes are rolling to the back of your head and you’re thinking, “I’m so sick of my child talking about Minecraft!” That’s all my six-year-old has talked about for the past several months too. On the iPad, he plays Minecraft: Pocket Edition. He watches YouTube videos from a lady called Cupquake. He bought the Xbox360 version with his own cash. He wakes up in the middle of the night, sleep-walking into our bedroom like a Zombie and crying, “But I really like that MOD!” I thought his interest in Minecraft would come and go, just as it had with Angry Birds and Skylanders. But his obsession seems to be coursing steadily through his veins. Having no quick antidote to cure him, I did a parental unthinkable: I took a swig of the poison. I immersed myself into his pixelated world of mining and mobs. And if your child is Minecraft-crazed, you should play with him too.

Here’s why I’m glad I did:

  • I had no idea what my son was talking about 75% of the time: diamond swords, iron ingots, exploding Creepers. All day long, he would tell me about these strange things, and the only contribution I had to those conversations were alternating responses of, “Wow… Sounds neat… Huh?” Who sounds like the zombie now?
Photo Credit: www.minecraftwiki.net

Photo Credit: www.minecraftwiki.net

  • After the first few minutes of playing with my son, I started to get it. I didn’t see validity for the obsession yet, but as he gave me the initial tour of Minecraft I finally began to understand the game. Suddenly, those bewildered half-conversations I’d been having with my child had a new perspective. The pixelated images made me feel a little nostalgic, and the different biomes of the Minecraft worlds are actually somewhat… pretty.
  • The way I pictured Minecraft in my head–based on phrases commonly uttered from my son like, “Whoa! I just blew up that dude with TNT!” or “Oh shoot, there’s a spider comin’ at me! I’m gonna die!”–was so much worse than the game’s actual images. The zombies in my head belonged in Night of the Living Dead. Instead, I found the kinda-cute Minecraft Zombie pictured above. When someone dies the screen gets reddish, but there are no gory death scenes to the extent I had envisioned.
  • It’s an opportunity–albeit a virtual one–to promote teamwork. When my son and I play together, he naturally takes on the hunter/gatherer role and I become the homemaker. Even though it’s not gory I’m still not fond of killing things. I build our shelter, and he gathers our supplies and hunts for food.
  • Most importantly is knowing that my son still wants me involved in his interests. He is my oldest child, and I know that a time will soon come when he won’t really care whether or not I like what he likes. Someday, he may be content to shut the door to his bedroom as he runs amuck in a virtual world. Or to run out the door into the real world with his friends. But for today, his face beams with pride as he escorts me around the Minecraft worlds that he so genuinely enjoys sharing with me.

Are you familiar with Minecraft? Have any tips to share? My son is still better than I am at the game, so I need all the help I can get.

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Themed Play vs. Free Play

When it comes to planning activities for children, one thing that parents, teachers, and children seem to enjoy is a fun theme. Whether we are deciding nursery decor, planning a birthday party, or just a simple craft on a Saturday afternoon, many of us like to utilize a good theme. Right now, Pinterest is full of Valentine’s day themed projects and learning activities for children. Next week, we will start seeing a lot of green art projects and flowered crafts for St. Patty’s Day and spring. I’m no exception. In fact, I’m working on an idea for an activity planner for young children, and how is it organized? By themes!

Themes can make playtime more exciting. Having a theme is a good way to explore one subject in many different ways. That’s especially beneficial for families with more than one young child, or for a group setting like a preschool or child care center. One child may not be too fond of journaling about the weather, but making her own tornado sensory bottles might be most fun she’s had all week! And when your son loves to put together his own mini-pizza for a snack on Little Chef day, your daughter might prefer to create her own restaurant menu with a piece of paper and crayons.

And yet sometimes, our children want nothing to do with a theme. We may have spent a lot of time and effort putting together a Pirate theme day, filled with homemade pirate hats and eyepatches, decorating our own paper towel tube spyglass, following a treasure map using our directional skills, and count and sort our treasure after we’ve found it. We just knew it was going to be the best day ever! After all, little Betty Boop from the Super Happy Blogging Mom.com sure loved it! Instead, our little ones complain that the felt eyepatch is itchy. They slop a little paint on a paper towel tube and announce, “I’m done!” after a record time of 10.8 seconds. They whine that they’re too tired to follow the treasure map, and they’re disappointed when they finally find the treasure and realize that it’s only card stock with gold glitter and not real treasure!

So what can we do?

Here’s my best plan:

-Have a plan. I’ve found that if I don’t have a plan and the materials for the activities ready to go, interest on the children’s behalf fades fast. From a child’s perspective, nothing is more boring than waiting!

-Start the activity as planned, but then hand over the reins to the children whenever possible. If you offer your child the opportunity to draw their own treasure map, but they prefer to draw a football field instead, let him! I recently borrowed an idea from Arlee at Small Potatoes to make homemade play dough and add some animals and trees for a fun winter animal play scene that I was sure my six-year-old would play with for hours! (Yes, I can be a bit delusional at times.) He was completely uninterested. He wanted to go back to playing floor hockey in the living room, which I reminded him was a bad idea since his dad and little brother were taking a nap. In an attempt to keep him at the table longer spark his interest, I started shaping a cave out of the play dough. “Great idea!” my son said. “Can you make another net on this end so I can play soccer with the animals?” For a moment, I was disappointed that he didn’t enjoy the activity in the way I had imagined. But I realized that he was enjoying the way he imagined instead, and that it was a much more memorable and valuable play experience for him. He played for quite a long time, whereas he would have whined and complained and shut down in about two minutes had I insisted on him playing my way.

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-Be adaptable. That’s one of the best qualities that a parent or teacher can have. Children are so unpredictable. From the time they are first born until who-knows-when, just when we think we have them figured out, they change. It’s the ebb and flow of growing up, of a child’s discovery of who they are going to become. Our job as parents and teachers is not to determine WHO they will be, but to help them learn HOW they will get there. If our child wants to be a ballerina, but we are pushing them to be a soccer player instead, we’re not doing anyone a favor. If we’re trying to teach them to kick, pass, and shoot when they just want to twirl, bend, and leap, there is going to be a constant struggle. And they will probably still end up being a ballerina.

Now this isn’t to say that children should just have free rein of their world. Certainly, some limits need to be in place–for their benefit and ours. I certainly don’t mean that if a child isn’t interested in practicing math at home that we should ban math from our routine. It just means that if they want to make up a subtraction story about a basketball team rather than about spring chickens, let them! Another option is to let them know that as soon as they have completed the planned learning activity, they may have free play to explore the items any way they choose. They might just end up surprising you by how much they learn through their own free play.

Which do you prefer, themed play or free play? Which do your children prefer?


Guest Post: Top Five Books on Child Development

**I am so pleased with today’s guest post written by freelance writer, Naomi Esterly. She contacted me a short time ago about a guest post for Close Families, and she came up with a very informative post featuring five books for child development. I hope you enjoy it! Thank you for contributing here at Close Families, Naomi!**

About Naomi:

Naomi Esterly is a stay-at-home mom to two rambunctious, yet adorable, little boys and a newborn baby girl. In her spare time she balances writing freelance for 1800Wheelchair.Com and coaching her community’s little league.

Top Five Books on Child Development

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The health and development of a child will be established in their early years. It might seem unlikely but it’s within these formative years that the child develops the foundation of the person he or she will be. There will be milestones, tell tale signs, that parents, family and health professionals may need to note in order to ensure a child reaches their full potential through adulthood.

Here are five books on child development that could be beneficial in this arena.

How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor
By Robert S. Mendelsohn

A renowned pediatrician and author, Dr. Mendelsohn looks to demystify the medical profession. In this book, he hopes to give parents practical advice about relying too heavily on pediatricians and how they should take a stronger role in their child’s care. Subjects include Protecting Your Children Before They are Born, The Mythical Menace of Strep Throat and The Child Who Never Sits Still.

Baby Sign Language Basics: Early Communication for Hearing Babies and Toddlers
By Monta Z. Briant

Studies have demonstrated that signing babies will talk sooner; maintain a stronger bond with parents; have larger vocabularies; show a greater interest in reading; show less frustration and spend less time crying and throwing tantrums; and will have increased IQs. This book hopes to encourage parents to explore these possibilities with their child through fun and easy steps to signing together.

Power of Play: How Spontaneous, Imaginative Activities Lead to Happier, Healthier Children
By David Elkind

Children are going to play. The Power of Play explores the idea of how imaginative, unscheduled play has a significant, long term impact on a successful social and academic career. Play is as important as learning and parents may need to curb those beliefs that a child should be constantly engaged in educational activities. The book combines research and personal anecdotes to make its argument.

What to Expect the First Year
By Heidi Murkoff

Considered a milestone in guides for child care, this book covers the first year of the relationship between parent and child. It incorporates advances in pediatric medicine in an exemplary user friendly manner. Topics include the expanded role of the father, sleep problems, causes of colic, SIDS, returning to work, siblings, weaning, sippy cups, how to give a bath and much more.

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting Book
By John Gottman

With an intent of increasing self confidence and contributing to greater mental, social and physical health, this book explores coaching your child to regulate their emotions. The author believes doing so will have long lasting benefits in school performance and beyond. Subjects include empathetic listening and validation of feelings, solving issues in rational manners and labeling emotions with words children understand.

Children are spontaneous and mercurial. Their reactions are actually natural, if not considered acceptable. They do grow out of it, but how they do so is an important consideration. Parents should see these formative years as the perfect opportunity to help the child’s emotional growth. They should use them to engage with the child in emotional, physical and educational manners to ensure the best possible outcomes. The five titles above all have tremendous potential in that area.


Feel Good Friday: Cherishing The Last of My Twenties.

I’m 29 today. Every year since I can remember, I look forward to Christmas in December, and after it’s over, I have my birthday to look forward to. The New Year just slips on by, because the start of my “new year” begins just a few days later. As for celebrating my birthday, I keep it casual with a favorite meal for supper and dessert and maybe a movie or a good book and a glass of wine. I keep it simple, because I’ve learned that those are the moments when I am happiest. That being said, I do still get excited, a bit giddy even, over my birthday. It’s turning the page to the next chapter of my life, and that’s something worth celebrating, no matter how old I get. Each year is to be cherished, and while I fail at cherishing every single moment, I cherish the ones that matter most. When I look back at my 28th year of life, my first year of blogging, I notice how my stats dipped when I needed to pull out of the blogging world and spend more time cherishing those very moments.

They dipped back in April, when I developed gestational diabetes. I spent the extra time nourishing my body, taking care to track what I ate and when and how much and to check my blood sugar afterwards. Our after-supper walks as a family were some of my favorite moments that month, because my husband and son knew it was what I needed to stay healthy, and they willingly jumped on board.

My stats stayed low for the following month of May, when my sweet baby boy was born. By far, this was the biggest blessing of my year. He came unexpectedly, just as I had hoped for (I did not want to be induced, like I was with my first pregnancy!), and he was a beautiful, perfect little boy. He looked just like his older brother. He snuggled and nursed and bonded with me immediately. He made us parents all over again, and he made our oldest son a brother.

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All of the images above were taken by the lovely Heather Hoch!

There was a final dip in August, when I cherished the last few days of my son’s summer at home with me before he started Kindergarten. He is so smart and talented in so many ways.

With the exception of those months, my blogging stats have been on a steady upward trend. My blog is growing and changing with every post I write, and although I started Close Families with a general idea of what I wanted it to be, it was the readers, the followers, the comments, the feedback… all of that has helped to shape Close Families (and the writer inside of me) into what it is today, almost a year later. I want to thank you all for your kindness, your support, your friendship. It means so much to share the bits and pieces of our separate lives that are joined by one common thread: family. And not just any family, but a family that wants to be close and connected. To have a lasting, enduring bond that is strong enough to face the harsh realities of the world. I’m still learning what that means and how to achieve it, and I hope you will continue to follow our journey.

One last thing: when I started this blog and gave it a name, I was a little over halfway through my pregnancy with our baby boy. Five months away from him being diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. It wasn’t until months after that diagnosis that I made the ironic connection: Close Families… CF… Cystic Fibrosis… CF. Strange, huh? It’s a weird coincidence… or possibly a whisper of a bigger picture at hand.

Cheers to all of you for giving me a wonderful first year of blogging. I couldn’t be more excited about what my 29th year of life has in store.

Thank you, friends!


I Shouldn’t

I got out of bed at 6:30 this morning. I went to the kitchen for a cup of coffee, only realizing in the absence of the familiar smell of Folger’s that I hadn’t set the coffee maker the night before. Drat. I poured a glass of Cherry Pepsi instead and sat at the dining room table for my daily Bible reading. When I finished reading, I ended my morning quiet time with a prayer, asking God to wrap his protective arms around the schools throughout the country today.

I made a couple of frozen whole-grain waffles and a glass of orange juice for my six-year-old son. I took it into the bedroom and gently woke him up.

“Hey, Mister Sleepyhead, it’s time to get up. I made some syrupy-sweet waffles for my sweet big boy,” I said. I stroked his soft, blonde hair and kissed his cheek.

He opened his eyes and asked excitedly, “Waffles?”

“Yep, get up and out of bed so you can eat them!”

He jumped out of bed and sat on the floor with his waffles. I left him and went back to the kitchen to put his lunch together.  A Lunchable and a Fruit Roll-Up, two of his favorite treats. I set his lunch bag next to his backpack and went to check on him. His eyes were glued to the TV with an empty plate at his feet.

“Wow, that was fast!” I said. “Okay, get yourself dressed now, please. I’m going to go get your brother.”

As I headed out of the room, our dog started jumping and dancing at the front door. “Okay, okay,” I said. I opened the door, and she bolted past me. The click-clack of her toenails on our hardwood floors woke up the baby boy, and he started to fuss but ended it with an abrupt smile when he saw my face. “Good morning, baby boy,” I said as I picked him up and snuggled him close. “Let’s go see Bubby.”

I carried him back into the room where my oldest son should have been getting dressed, only to find him snuggled under the covers again and watching cartoons. “Son, please get dressed,” I said.

He stared at me. I stared back at him. No one moved. “Let’s go! You need to get dressed for school!” I said.

“Okay! I am!” he said, making his way slowly down to the edge of his bed where his empty clothes rested in a heap.

I left the baby boy to play on the floor and went to get myself dressed. I threw on a sweatshirt and a pair of flats, brushed my hair and teeth, and went back to check on my son’s progress.

Still wearing his PJs. Clothes still in a heap. The only change in the entire scene was bare feet instead of socked feet. I turned off the TV. “Let’s. Go. Get dressed. Now you need to hurry, or you’re going to be late for school.” I picked up the baby boy, stopped at the front door to call the dog back into the house, and got the baby boy dressed and his diaper changed. I hurried back to the room. No shirt. PJ pants. No socks.

“SON! Seriously, this is getting ridiculous! Why does it take you so long to get dressed in the mornings? I hate starting our day with me getting angry with you!” I said. Don’t do this. Don’t let this be the last conversation you have with him. I offered more gently, “Can you please just hurry and get dressed so that I can get you to school on time today?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Thank you.”

He finished getting dressed (somewhat) quickly, brushed his teeth in a reasonable amount of time, and then gave the dog food and water before we headed out the door.

“I love you,” I said on our way to his school.

“I love you too.”

We pulled up next to the sidewalk leading to the entrance to his school, and I asked him for a hug and kiss. I squeezed his little body tight and gave him a quick peck on the lips.

“Have a great day, buddy. I love you so much.”

“I will. Love you too.” He slammed the door shut, and I watched every one of his steps toward the school building. His gym teacher greeted him at the door, opened it for him, and when it closed, I lost sight of my son. Tears that I hadn’t known were forming started to flow down my cheeks in long, fast-moving streams. My heart ached. Even as I drove away, I wanted him in the car with me again. I hadn’t been sad the day I dropped him off in Kindergarten for the first time, but I was sad this morning. Sad for the world.

I shouldn’t need to pray for God to protect our children at school. I shouldn’t feel guilty about yelling at my son for taking an insane amount of time to get dressed in the morning, fearful that those might be the last words that I say to him. I shouldn’t feel terrified as I watch my son walk through the doors of his school. But I do. And if I do, I can not even imagine what a school morning feels like now to the families of Sandy Hook Elementary.


Spiritual Sunday: Love One Another

The Connecticut school shooting on Friday was devastating to parents and teachers throughout the country. I can not begin to imagine the amount of hurt and fear that it has created among Newtown, CT community, and my thoughts and prayers are with the families and teachers and emergency professionals (especially those children that survived and witnessed that horrible, shocking tragedy). I pray for their healing and strength to move forward that will likely be a slow and difficult process.

I’m still finding difficulty wrapping my head around what happened and why and how, and from several states away, my perspective is hardly important or relevant. However, one thought keeps coming to mind that I felt the need to share: We need love.

Our world seems to be increasingly violent, hateful, impatient, and intolerant towards one another. So much so that it’s being taken out on innocent and precious children. Because I know that God is so good, these kinds of gut-wrenching, terrible tragedies leave me no doubt that today’s world belongs to Satan and his evils that can creep into the minds of people and take seed.

We can argue all we want about gun control or the amount of security implemented in schools, but one thing for certain is that as long as this is Satan’s world, there will be wicked people who will find a way to do wicked things.

The only way I know to counteract such evil acts is through love. It won’t make the damage go away or take away the pain that those families and school staff are feeling in Newtown today, but if we demonstrate love to as many people as we can, as often as we can, we can show the world (and Satan) that we will not succumb to such wicked ways. We won’t let us break us. We will keep on loving and finding the good that still exists in this world. We won’t find a better example of that love than we found in Jesus Christ:

A new command I give: Love one another. As I have loved you,

so must you love one another. -John 13:34 (NIV)

It doesn’t matter what your religious or spiritual beliefs are. Just love your neighbors. It’s what the world desperately needs in these sad and wicked times.

Show someone a little love today.


Munchkin Meals: We Need More Protein!

It’s the first Thursday of the month, and that means I’m hooking up with Brittany at A Healthy Slice of Life for her Munchkin Meals linkup. If you’ve never read about Munchkin Meals, you really should click that link and check it out, especially if you have little eaters!

A proper CF diet is vital to my almost-seven-month-old’s growth and development, and I really want to get him off to a healthy start. We are still doing pureed fruits or baby cereal at breakfast, and we recently discovered that the baby boy loves avocado! He slurps that stuff right up. I mixed pureed avocado with pureed banana, and he ate a big bowl of it!

Banana and Avocado-Frozen Form

Banana and Avocado-Frozen Form

Add a little salt.

Add a little salt.

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"Mmm... Good stuff."

“Mmm… Good stuff.”

I’ve also started giving him small samplings of the foods that I eat throughout the day (as long as I’m eating during the one hour time frame when his enzymes are good!). I give him little pieces of the whole wheat bread from my sandwich or small bites of banana that he sucks off of my finger. He does really well with solid foods as long as it’s mushy. We discovered on Monday that even though he can hold a cracker and easily get it to his mouth, he still chokes on the pieces once he breaks them off. I don’t want him to have too many bad experiences that make him frustrated or scared of eating, so we will stay with the mushy foods for a bit longer!

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Dinner has been a bit of a struggle lately. He was doing well with vegetables by themselves: carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, green beans, etc. However, per our dietitian’s request, we needed to start adding in the meats: ham, chicken, turkey, and beef. We have been using the Gerber brand with the meats and mixing it with homemade pureed veggies, but he doesn’t seem to like the meats at all. (Have you smelled those? They smell exactly like canned cat food. I’ve tasted them too. Bleh!) We are able to get him to eat them, but he definitely doesn’t enjoy it like he used to love the plain ol’ veggies. Sometimes it takes my husband, my older son, and myself all dancing and clapping and acting like complete weirdos to get him to eat without fussing about it. I have thought about making my own meats in a pureed form, but I’m not sure how to do that! Do I just cook the meats, add water, and blend it all in a food processor? I will most likely give it a try with some chicken soon to see if he will eat homemade meats better than store-bought. His body really needs that protein!

"Get that crap away from me, Mom."

“Get that crap away from me, Mom.”

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It's a good thing he's cute. :)

It’s a good thing he’s cute. 🙂

We will continue to work with him on the meat issue this month, and I hope that by the next Munchkin Meals, we will have better success! If you have any ideas or suggestions, I would LOVE to read them in the comments! Thank you!

Happy and healthy eats to you and your family! 🙂