Are The Shoes We Are Asking Them To Fill Simply Too Big? How What You Know (or Don’t Know) About Child Development Could Be Affecting Your Child

This article is currently running in the 2014 Annual Family Resource Guide Edition of Child Guide Magazine. Check out the entire issue online at: big

 “Stop running,” says the mother to the 4 year old. “Sit still,” the embarrassed father whispers sternly to his toddler at story hour. “If you don’t know these sight words by Friday, your teacher will be upset,” warns the anxious parent of the new Kindergartener.  We’ve all heard these threats. In all honesty, most of us have made them, or something quite close to them. But if we could take a moment to pause and consider if the demands we place on our children are developmentally appropriate would we continue to make them?


As a pediatric Physical Therapist, I help families determine the functional and developmental skills that their child has challenges with at their current age/stage. Then I provide them with play-based strategies to help them achieve the goals we’ve set together for their child.   Parents help their children meet these goals through practice during play. This method of helping children learn makes perfect sense, yet it is barely used in the context of teaching children at any age or with varied abilities. 


Why do we, as parents and educators, ignore that small voice inside that instinctually KNOWS what our child should learn or how they should behave at their given age in favor of unrealistic goals?


It turns out, it’s not entirely our fault. Society has a lot to do with the faulty message that parents are receiving.  Although the reasons why the message to parents are numerous and complex, there seems to be 3 strong motivators.  First, not surprisingly, is financial.  Toy and “educational” product manufacturers are aware of the pressure parents feel to have their children keep up with the swift race that childhood has unfortunately become and can capitalize by offering products that meet that emotional need, despite the fact that many of these products are not developmentally appropriate.  A prime example of this are the “Baby Reading” Programs that teach young children to identify the shapes of words and match them to the actual word through repetition without actual literary learning.


Second, is a trickle down effect from the education system. As college entrance levels become competitive and our nation falls behind in international educational rakings, panic rises, and pressure increases to “get ahead.” Yet, once again, instead of relying on what solid research says about how young children learn best (through hands on play and in context through multisensory experiences – especially in the first 5-6 years of life), we turn away from methods other countries are using and turn to drill work and standardized tests for younger and younger children. I love the saying that “Kindergartners should be blowing bubbles not filling them in.”   And at the end of the day, knowing that this educational standard is looming in the years ahead, parents of preschoolers and even babies automatically turn to activities that will “prepare” their child for school without regard to developmental need.  A recent poll showed that 65% of parents feel that “flashcards are very helpful in helping 2 year olds develop intellectual intelligence.” Unfortunately 65% of those parents are wrong. Yes, a flashcard can help your child learn to memorize that the letter printed on it is a “B,” but running around a room and sounding out starting letters of various toys and throwing those that start with the letter “B” into the bucket with the “B” on it is an example of REAL learning, in the context of play.


Third is the current belief, held by many adults, that the end product of a child that is gifted in many ways – academically, athletically, artistically, musically etc. is more important than the actual process of childhood.  Think about it. Are you gifted both creatively AND analytically? Me neither. Expecting your child to be sets an unrealistic standard. Filling the schedules, of particularly young children, with lessons, and structured experiences to try and meet that unrealistic standard denies them what is most important for their learning – unstructured playtime.  The consequences are tragic.  Mental health statistics in our young children, particularly tweens, are on the rise, not fully, but in part to a lack of opportunity to “blow off steam” through unstructured free time.   Eating on the go to rush from lesson to game to tutoring and decreased physical education and recess time in our schools have led to the staggering statistic that 1 in 3 American children are obese.  


We need to wake up. By understanding how children learn best at each stage and what is developmentally and neurologically typical, we can foster quality learning for healthy children. I know it sounds overwhelming. Here’s some easy ways to start:


·       Understand Development. Speak to pediatricians, early childhood specialists and educators who have specialized training in what ages children’s bodies are made to learn certain skills. Did you know that the average brain is not ready to accept literacy in the form of actual reading until 6 years of age? This is why it’s not taught in Germany until 1st grade.  Why do pre-K parents feel like a failure if their child can’t read BEFORE they go to Kindergarten? Tune out what the media, the mainstream retailers, and what the “academic preschool” is telling you. Listen to your inner voice and those who have done solid research on child development. Einstein Never Used Flashcards by Hirsh-Pasek & Golinkoff, Play by Murphy, and Brain Gym by Dennison are great places to start if you are interested in the stages and ways children learn specific skills.

·       Understand What Actually Will Make Your Child Smarter. Interestingly, straight IQ is not a measure of future success. Psychologists now talk about “multiple intelligences” as the best measure of true intelligence, with consideration to things like impact emotional intelligence, such as empathy, self-discipline, and interpersonal skills, in addition to analytic abilities. What impacts these? One of the highest indicators is language – especially vocabulary. No matter the age of your child, read to them. Visit the library. Let them read and write to you when they are able. Tell stories and sing to each other. Have dinner conversations.  Also, the environment your child is in matters and can affect IQ as much as 15-20 points. Your encouragement, involvement, and affection matter. 

·       Keep Expectations Real. Once you know what to expect from your child at their current age (or more importantly stage of development if they tend to show delays or have unique patterns in development) and focus on what they are able to do and enjoy doing.  Keeping appropriate expectations will allow your child (and yourself) to be less stressed and more engaged with what they are motivated to learn about. Continuing to challenge your child to learn just outside of their comfort zone will keep them engaged and eager to learn. It is equally important to embrace their given abilities. Only 1.5 out of 10 people will have an IQ over 117. In fact the large majority of people, 86%, will score between 84-116 on an IQ test. Why is “normal” no longer celebrated or embraced but seen as a weakness?

·       Know Your Child And Be An Advocate. This might be the most challenging but the most important recommendation! We all learn differently. Is your child a visual or auditory learner? Does he or she work best independently or in groups?  Is he/she a quick worker or need more time? Keep learning styles, preferences, and abilities in mind when teaching your child and choose activities and preschools that line up with what you believe is best for your child.  Communicate these observations to teachers and coaches. Yes, if you chose formal education or community sports, your child will have to play by the rules set for them, but a great educator and coach will help them do that best by knowing how they learn best.

·       Don’t Stop Playing. Ever. Fred Rogers once said, Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning.” If we take the opportunity to play away, we take away a child’s ability to practice all that they are learning. In today’s world, this might mean saying “No” to an activity or actually looking at your calendar and penciling in down time. Embrace it and swim up that stream. Your children will be happier and healthier because of it.  You are their best example, so remember to allow yourself to play and have downtime as well!


It’s not odd to wonder, “How did we even get to this place?” Before the 19th century, childhood wasn’t formally recognized. Children were viewed as miniature adults, preparing themselves for their eventual adult roles. Photographs and artwork of that period even depict them as small adults.  At the end of the 19th century child psychology was born, children were studied, and experts in the field emerged.  These experts, such as Dr. Spock, became influential as more mothers worked outside the home and wanted to make sure that in the time they had with their children, they were doing all they could for them. Today, we dress children as adults. We expect them to sit, be still, stay quiet, read, write, and score well on standardized tests before they are developmentally ready to do so, and we fault them  (and ourselves) when they can’t.  They are stimulated incorrectly mentally and stifled physically. We have turned them into miniature adults again, abandoning much of what we have learned about our children through the years. Are we ready as adults to give childhood back to our children?If we have the courage to do so, I think we’ll find we will have happier, healthier, smarter, and more engaged children.  And nothing makes a parent happier – than a happy child.


Nicole M. Sergent, MPT is a Pediatric Physical Therapist. Because she believes in empowering parents to understand and embrace their child’s unique development and in jumping in and engaging with them through purposeful play, she co-authored a unique tool for families of young children called 1-2-3 Just Play With Me. It is her effort to help give childhood back to children by helping parents understand development and pairing it with play. Find out more at:






BIG INSPIRATION IN A tiny PACKAGE- how a little girl with CAS taught me to believe and persevere.


I received the phone call after recently rejoining the workforce from  maternity leave with my second child.  I remember exactly where I was when the service coordinator called to ask if I would consider joining the team of a  2 year old diagnosed with Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) whose parents are both special educators.  Whoa!  Talk about pressure!  The family was requesting me because of a recommendation they had received from another family I worked with whose son had CAS.  I had recently developed an interest in the speech disorder after serving two other children with suspected CAS.  I took a couple of courses and settled on a therapy kit to address CAS but like they say, “experience is the best teacher” and I wanted some of that.  So I agreed to be Camryn’s speech therapist, anxious to learn more about CAS through my treatment of her.  Although I didn’t know it at the time, Camryn would end up being  MUCH more to me than just experience.

I first met Camryn one Spring evening at her home.  She was a pint-sized toddler full of spunk and cheer.  Our first interactions let me know it was going to be a long road for her.  I explained to her parents that her speech therapy would be more like a marathon than a sprint.  They asked me questions like, “Will she ever talk ‘normal’?“ and “Will this be something she will struggle with for the rest of her life?”.  All valid, good ‘concerned parent’ questions, all of which I could not answer.  And so began my journey with Camryn, me teaching her-her inspiring me!

ASHA (American Speech-Language and Hearing Association) defines Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) as a motor speech disorder where children have difficulty saying sounds, syllables and words in the absence of muscle weakness or paralysis.  The brain has difficulty planning the movements required of the tongue, jaw, lips, etc. needed for speech production.  The child knows what they want to say but are unable to get their mouth to move in a way to produce the words.  These children require frequent, intensive speech therapy to improve and sometimes CAS co-occurs with feeding difficulties and/or cognitive delays/learning difficulties.  There is little data available reporting the prevelance and incidence of CAS however, some sources suggest that 1-10 in 1000 children have the disorder.

When I started with Camryn she could say /s/ and /ah /.  That was it.  Because of her sweet, laid back personality she wasn’t yet experiencing much frustration.  Plus her mom had been very proactive in teaching her sign language, which gave Camryn a way to express her immediate desires.  We started with 2 sessions per week and continued on with this schedule for a few years.  Her improvement was slow and steady with some bursts of progress here and there.  While me being there was important to guide her therapy along, the biggest job was left in the hands of her family.  I stressed to them that her progress would be hugely dependent upon them practicing with her EVERY single day.  Their dedication was obvious when I would come week to week and witness her saying new sounds and syllables with less effort.  Each sound, syllable and word Camryn said was earned.  Repetition, practice, dedication, perseverance and determination were required for her to do something the rest of us take for granted.  Camryn’s challenges were huge.  What I was asking her to do week to week in therapy was extremely difficult but she didn’t give up.  When I think of the challenges Camryn has faced over the years I am ashamed to think how quick I am to give up on much less challenging tasks.  She has never backed down, only risen up.  And her progress and successes are proof of that!


It’s been 5 years since I had the pleasure of meeting Camryn and her family. Today she is an aspiring gymnast who attends kindergarten, speaks in 5 word sentences, ask questions and carries on lengthy conversations.  She has inspired me and challenged me beyond my expectations.  She is my success story; my proof that hard work and a positive attitude can only lead to awesome achievements!  Camryn will go far in this world inspiring others to rise up to whatever challenge they may be facing.  I am proud of her, and her family!  And Camryn will forever remain one of the strongest, bravest, FIERCEST girls I know!


If you are concerned that your child, or a child you know, may have CAS, contact a speech-language pathologist to request an evaluation.  For more information on the disorder visit: and

A Preschool Checklist in Pictures: what you want to see when picking your peanut’s preschool.

Preschool…once a privilege to a few kids is now commonplace for most.  Kids that enter kindergarten without any preschool experience are the minority these days.  Nursery school, as it was once called, was geared primarily toward affording children opportunities to play and build social skills.  Preschools today may mention play and building social skills in their description but more often stress their academic structure and extracurricular offerings such as foreign language exposure and computer skill training.  What?!?! We need to get back to the basics people!  What 3-5 year old kids need is exactly what our ancestors found to be most important:  PLAY!  Because we know that the best way for kids this age to learn is through trial and error, hands on exploration and free play, we must find preschools that stress these things and not other developmentally inappropriate skills.  A wise woman once said, “Preschool is not boot camp for kindergarten.”


I couldn’t agree more!  Why are we expecting 3 and 4 year olds to sit for 30 minutes of tabletop structured writing activities?  Developmentally they shouldn’t be able to do this, so why are we expecting it from them?  There is a lot to be said in trusting a child’s natural developmental trajectory.  How about we don’t become overly excited when standards (set too high for their tender age) aren’t met in preschool and instead expect those skills when they are developmentally appropriate?


My son is blessed to attend a preschool that stresses the most important things for the preschool years:  allowing children opportunities to grow in their independence, develop a strong sense of self, and be able to use their creativity in working and learning as healthy, thinking individuals.  His school offers opportunities for true and creative play.  Reading this might worry some parents because no where in this school’s mission statement is there mention of learning to write his name, label shapes or count to 20.  Funny thing is, he has learned all of that and SO much more.  But the material is presented in a way that is fun, interesting and memorable to him; no worksheets, flashcards or repetitive writing tasks here.  He is engaged through multi-sensory activities that afford him age appropriate access to learning. Absolute perfection in the preschool world!!


The fabulous school I am referring to is Child’s Play, Inc.  Miss Melanie, Miss Liz and Miss Aimee are the extraordinary teachers at this school that I am forever thankful for.  Below are snapshots of what their school days look like.  I felt the learning that takes place at Child’s Play is much better expressed through Miss Melanie’s talented photography (shared on her Facebook page) than any typed checklist I could provide.  Take a look, a close look at what and how the children are learning through the fabulous experiences they are engaged in.  Keep these photos in mind as you decide, visit and attend prospective preschools with your little one.  Give childhood (and preschool-hood) back to our kids.  These years should be when they develop their love for learning, not when we are training them to be soldiers!



If you need something more to read, this article includes a GREAT checklist for parents when exploring options and visiting preschools.  Good luck in your search and may you also be as fortunate as I in finding a preschool as perfect as Child’s Play!

WHAT’S IN YOUR BUGGY? A visual guide to help you dive into Feingold.

I am more of a visual learner.  That being said, I really struggled (and often dreaded) those first grocery store trips when we  started following Feingold.  I knew a lot of the foods we were eating were not on the diet so I couldn’t breeze through the store in automatic mode tossing in our weekly ration like I always had.  It took more planning on my part; making a list and researching the possibilities in my Feingold Food List book all before hitting the store.  Thankfully I was fortunate enough to make those first trips alone…no kids in the cart (or do you call it a buggy?), no distractions from the playing field.  I HIGHLY recommend the same for you.  Being by yourself while you figure this out will equal less frustration and a quicker trip.  My first trip, the one I referred to in this blog, took 2 hours!!!  I’m not telling you this to frighten you, just prepare you!  My husband thought I was in a ditch on the side of the road when in reality I was just blocking traffic in the organic aisle of Martin’s!

Don’t be discouraged, it gets easier, MUCH easier.  I can now recognize labels and items that are Feingold friendly and our family has established our favorites, our go-tos in the weekly meal rotation, that I toss in the cart with ease.  In the beginning I would read my book, try to familiarize myself with the brand and product names prior to grocery store arrival but this really didn’t help me out much.  What I think would’ve helped me is a picture, a real photo of the what the item looks like on the shelf.  Because we all know when you are juggling the baby in the cart who suddenly can unbuckle herself, the 5 year old who insists on grabbing every glass jar off the shelf and the 7 year old who keeps wandering off you don’t have time to read labels in the aisle.  You need to have the visual of that item in your mind so you can quickly glance, grab, and drop it in the cart before the baby gets a concussion, the 5 year old splatters glass and spaghetti sauce everywhere and the 7 year old gets kidnapped!

The items pictured below were (mostly) all on the approved list (The Feingold Approved Foods List Book, Stages 1 and 2) in 2013.  I have yet to receive my 2014 book.  Because food companies change ingredients from time to time I cannot guarantee that these items remain on the approved list.  To be certain you should join the Feingold Association to receive their materials and know for sure that what you are getting is salicylate, preservative, artificial flavor and color free.  The only true way to follow this diet is by purchasing the Feingold materials.  Unfortunately food companies don’t always disclose all ingredients on their food labels.  Feingold has done the work of writing food companies asking them to list all ingredients in their products so that they can place the item on the approved (or not approved) list.  Not all companies participate, but thankfully a lot do.  Variety is always a good thing!  Also, I can’t stress enough the importance of going ALL IN if you want to try this diet.  Feingold is strict and trying to do it on your own will not give the diet a fair chance for success.  Salicylates are found in many fruits and a few vegetables (the Feingold book lists those offenders) and in Stage 1 (the first 6 weeks of the diet) these have to be avoided.  Stage 1 is like detox from foods containing salicylates, preservatives, artificial colorings and flavorings.  In Stage 1 an item that is organic and all natural may not be “safe” because it is colored with berries (berries contain salicylates, therefore they are not permitted in Stage 1).  Another thing to consider is personal hygiene products.  Most soaps, lotions, toothpastes, and shampoos contain scents which are not permitted on Feingold.  Again, don’t be inimidated.  If I can do it, you CERTAINLY can!  I just believe to do Feingold the right way, you need to purchase their materials.

I find the majority of the items listed below at my local Food Lion and Martin’s.  Thankfully, with the growing popularity of eating clean, grocery stores are beginning to expand their organic offerings.  The store that I prefer to go to and satisfies most everything I need (except for O’s favorite hot chocolate that can only be found at Whole Foods!) is Wegman’s.  Have you been to one yet?  Seriously, you should go!  You could spend like a whole day there…it’s AWESOME!


Okay, so now you’re ready!  With these images burned into your mind and your sneakers laced up tight you’re sure to have Feingold success with these items in your BUGGY!

TRUSTING MY GUT. AND HIS. One Mom’s journey in understanding the gut to brain connection.

I always felt destined that I would have a child with special needs.  I felt that because of my love for special needs children it would be completely natural for me to love and raise such a unique child.  This was not a fantasy…I never imagined it would be easy or that I could do it alone, but I felt by the grace of God I could and would handle it.  I knew from an early age I had a special talent or gift in working with children with special needs.  The first thing I told others I wanted to be when I grew up was a special education teacher.  I would spend my recess playing with Lacey and Albert, whom both had Down’s Syndrome, helping them learn to see-saw (I know, I am dating myself!) or play ball.  From an early age I had the gift of patience.  And even then I remember after spending time with Lacey and Albert, I felt full, renewed, satisfied that I had done something that day that mattered.  As I got older my dream of becoming a special education teacher changed to wanting to become a speech-language pathologist, which is what I ended up getting my master’s degree in from WVU (Go Mountaineers!).  This profession has fit me perfectly.  I get to play with children every day that I work all while helping them achieve one of the greatest gifts we too often take for granted, communication.


So after graduating, getting my first job and getting married it was soon time to start discussing children with my husband.  We started our family and after 3 healthy children were born we decided we were complete.  Despite them all being healthy, I still had this urge that I was meant to mother a special needs child.


While my second child, Big O (as we lovingly call him, he was 9lbs. 4 oz at birth!), has never officially been diagnosed with a medical condition, he has taught me A LOT about unique challenges in his short 5 years of existence.  All the things I did right (and had no guilt over) in raising his older sister were all WRONG with him.  He didn’t sleep as well as she did, he nursed ALL the time, he didn’t respond to traditional discipline methods and he wasn’t (and still isn’t) scared of my “angry” voice.  While he stole hearts with his unique look and deep toddler voice, he had a tendency toward ornery-ness and everyone described him as “all boy”.  The day he turned two, something changed in him.  He upped his game.  But I just regarded it as the terrible two’s and didn’t give his acting out much more thought than that.  Then he turned 3…and he upped his game even more.  But I just attributed his behavior fluctuations to the tumultuous threes, and blamed the fact that he was about to become a middle child and that we had just moved into a new house, neighborhood and state.  Then he turned 4.  My third child had just been born a couple of months before so his world had been turned upside down, I was hormonal and definitely more impatient than normal and he was just (very) strong willed.  Needless to say, over the past year or so we (my husband and I) have begun figuring out the puzzle of our Big O.


Allow me to elaborate:


Owen is strong willed, he was described by his preschool teacher (with 15+ years experience) as the strongest willed child she had ever worked with…thanks, I guess.  He had his own ideas and there was no persuading, bribing or convincing him otherwise.  I found nothing that motivated him consistently, nor did I find a discipline method/punishment that worked consistently.  I searched, discussed, cried, prayed and felt ashamed that I, being a person who works with young children daily, couldn’t figure out my own child.  After my third child was born I hit a breaking point.  I couldn’t do it anymore.  I wasn’t myself.  I had become so impatient with my children and husband, some mornings I didn’t want to get out of bed for fear it would be another “bad” day for Owen/me/us.  He argued with me over EVERYTHING…what to eat for breakfast, what to wear, whether or not he would brush his teeth, leaving for preschool was a fight, drop off at preschool was sometimes difficult, and the list goes on.  At its peak, he began to have small outbursts where he would get upset over something that made no sense to me and there seemed to be no trigger…I couldn’t figure it out.


I started where most parents turn for help – Books. I read books on strong willed children and talked to friends about discipline methods they recommended.  The Strong Willed Child, You Can’t Make Me But I Can Be Persuaded, 1-2-3 Magic (for the 3rd time!) all resonated in me.  I gathered different tips from all of their talented authors but none “fixed” our situation completely.


God bless my BFF and business partner, Nicole and my mother.  They spent hours on the phone with me counseling, encouraging and listening.  Finally during a phone conversation with Nicole on a weekday morning after an awful weekend of trying soccer with Owen, she helped me realize I had to reach out for help.  What was going on was more than I could figure out on my own.  My ego was bruised, but I felt relief at the same time.  It was time to surrender.  Sometimes you just have to know when to fold ‘em.


We started with our pediatrician at O’s yearly well visit.  After O left the room she and I had a lengthy discussion about what was going on with Owen’s behavior.  She was wonderful, attentive and concerned.  She reassured me by saying she felt it was mostly a matter of maturation and that she didn’t believe any diet out there would help transform his behavior. Whew…I was off the hook with the whole diet thing.  I had heard of a diet that could possibly help kids with symptoms similar to O’s but I was afraid to try it.  It would be a lot of work and I mean, seriously, if my pediatrician doesn’t believe in it, then really, it must not be worth even a try…or was it?


So I walked away not feeling like that was the end of the story.  That wasn’t enough for me.  So I decided it was time to reach out to the wonderful women I am blessed to work with every day in my job as an early interventionist.  I contacted Leslie, one of the most awesome and knowledgeable Occupational Therapists I have ever known.  She recommended a brushing program to address O’s sensory needs.


Next, I spoke to Chrissy, the most patient, wise and amazing behavior analyst EVER!  She sacrificed 4 hours on a Saturday afternoon to discuss our concerns and get to know O.  Her suggested behavioral strategies were so simple, yet so profoundly impactful.  She educated me on “the beast” that made it hard for O to listen, follow through, and give up control.  Understanding how his mind was working helped me to understand why what we were doing wasn’t working and why what she was suggesting would work.  I wish she could move in with us!


I knew if we were going to give O (and us) the best chance for positive change, we had to go full throttle.  It was a combination of my years working as a therapist and hearing of parents doing the Feingold diet, Leslie’s experience using the diet with her children and Chrissy’s encouragement (You can do anything for 30 days!) that drove us to give Feingold a shot.


Except for the little I knew about the diet through my work, I didn’t really have a good understanding of the Feingold diet.  I overheard some moms at the local book fair discussing how red dye made their sons “crazy”.  My ears perked up as I eavesdropped on their conversation and the wheels in my head began to turn…could this be something that might help O?  Did he really get that much red and yellow food dye anyway?  In December 2012 my husband and I began reading food labels and eliminating anything that had red dye #40 and yellow #5.  These two food dyes have the worst reputation of the bunch, so it was obvious for us to cut them out first.  After a couple of weeks we noticed a change; O was more in tune with us and what was going on in his environment.  Hmmmm…this is when we began to wonder if there was something to this.


January started out good with preschool and O’s overall behavior at home.  Then about half way through the month things started getting back to his “normal”.  All in one month, his teacher asked me to stay so she could speak with me about O’s day, I broke down in front of his teachers, and I lost my cool with O in the car after a not-so-good note came home from school.  I couldn’t keep keeping on like this…


When I would speak to O about what “bad” things happened at school or at home during the day he would say to me, “But mom, it’s just so hard for me to be nice” or “It’s just too hard for me to do my work”.  And after hearing this a few times I began to believe him.  I finally began to realize there was something in him that he couldn’t control.  He knew he should resist, he knew right from wrong, but something wouldn’t allow him to do the right thing.  Something inside his little mind wouldn’t allow him to give up the control.


So by now it was March.  We were still cutting out obvious food dyes and I had just been in contact with Chrissy, my behavior analyst friend who encouraged me to give Feingold a try for at least 30 days.  Because if I didn’t, I would always wonder, “What if…”.  So nearly kicking and screaming I borrowed the materials from a friend who had done the diet with her boys in the past.  And they sat on my office desk for weeks…then one day I picked them up.  This turned out to be one of the best moves of my life, and O’s.


My first trip to the grocery store was grueling.  Book in hand, Coke (my indulgent beverage of choice!) in cart, and cash, lots of cash in my wallet I made it through the organic aisle and walked out with a cart full of what I hoped were Feingold friendly groceries.  The next day I visited Whole Foods…whoa…cha-ching!  I have only made two trips there in 8 months.  There are certainly a few things I can only get from there, but thankfully my local store can supply most of our weekly essentials and Whole Foods is proving to be only a quarterly necessity.  My budget is thankful for that!


After those first trips my head hurt!  I had decided that for this to work the whole family had to go on the diet in the beginning, for at least the first 6 weeks (stage 1 of the Feingold Diet).  It certainly wouldn’t hurt any of us to eat a little cleaner!  So that’s where we started.  All in.  Feingold followers we were all becoming!


It has been nearly 10 months since we began following Feingold.  We will not turn back now.  With each passing week the food shopping and planning becomes easier and the change in my son is all I need to know we are doing the right thing.  As thankful as I am for the verbal support and encouragement I received in the beginning, I longed for more practical tips, recipes and guidance to get me started.  That’s why I wanted to write this blog.


As moms we all belong to each other, I believe.  What I know about raising kids I am happy to share with someone who is struggling.  And what I don’t know (diet, behavior strategies, sensory help, etc.) I want others to share with me.  That was the motivation behind Nicole and I developing 1-2-3 Just Play With Me; a resource that shares with others what we know helps infants and toddlers grow, develop and build bonds with their families.  As we have pushed forward promoting our product we have remained mothers at home to our collective 5 children, who daily teach us MORE that we want to share.


I hope this blog encourages all those that can identify with our story.  I pray that you too reach out for help, lighten the load on your own shoulders, stop blaming yourself for what you can’t fix and find support in those you call upon.  In the weeks to follow I will be posting more from our Feingold journey thus far.  If you are on a similar journey, we would love to hear from you.  We all belong to each other…we are all in this together!


O enjoying a red Hug Jug pre-Feingold!

O enjoying a red Hug Jug pre-Feingold!


To learn more about the Feingold Diet and The Feingold Association of the United States please visit

You Really Are What You Eat & So Are Your Children: The Effect of Nutrition on Development

This article was originally written & published for Child Guide Magazine, which provides excellent resources and activities for families. The January 2014 issue can be found in it’s entirety HERE.

You are what you eat. How many times have you heard that? As adults, we certainly have considered this when considering our own food intake, but what about our children?

One local family has been considering every bite of what enters their son’s mouth.  Finn Csordas is 2 ½ years old, who is affectionate, silly, and quite the charmer to his 3 older adoring sisters, but this was not always the case. Shortly after his birth, his parents, Jennifer & Alex, noticed how frequently Finn was fussy. His original pediatrician initially felt this was simply colic, but as Finn grew older, his parents’ concerns also grew. Finn spit up more frequently than other babies.  He had frequent hives in many places on his body that the family was told were eczema patches. He was fussy more than he was content and could not find a way to self-soothe or to be soothed by his parents. More concerning, Finn seemed “spaced out,” and had significant delays in social, language, and motor skills that became more noticeable the older he became. The most alarming observation though, was head banging.  It started at night when Finn would bang his head against his crib to fall asleep but progressed to banging throughout the night, and then even during the day, while playing.  Finn would find the corner of the wall and bang his head until a bald spot appeared and didn’t seem concerned by the discomfort.


Jennifer & Alex persisted in their belief that these symptoms had to be more than eczema or colic – but their journey wasn’t an easy one.  After switching pediatricians, they began a search for what was going on with Finn. He started medication for acid reflux, which helped somewhat with spitting up, but not with other symptoms. Because he did have a history of reoccurring ear infections, he had tubes placed in his ears.  Shortly after this procedure, he did start to walk, but the communication and social skills continued to become more delayed and the head banging intensified.  The Csordas’ worked with a team of early interventionists from West Virginia Birth To Three, including speech, physical, and occupational therapists that offered strategies from sensory integration and balance activities to teaching basic imitation skills during play as a basis for eventual language development.  A developmental specialist with experience in behavior observed Finn and worked on providing self soothing options and deterring techniques for the head banging. A service coordinator helped link the family to specialists to help find a solution. When sensory strategies weren’t very successful, an MRI of Finn’s brain revealed no concerns, and he passed a detailed screening for Autism at Children’s National Medical Center, the team called on a registered dietician through the West Virginia Birth To Three Program.


Finn was evaluated by a gastroenterologist to determine if he had an allergic inflammatory condition of the esophagus called Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EE). When it was clear that he did not, a final referral to a pediatric allergist was made. After blood testing and 3 days of extended patch testing, the Csordas’ finally got their answer – Finn is allergic to soy, wheat, dairy, oats, and has a significant phenol intolerance (Phenol is a chemical found in many natural foods and in common artificial preservatives).


While some of their larger fears were put to rest, Jennifer & Alex had a whole new world to learn about.  Finding foods that were safe for Finn and that he would actually eat while maintaining the required calories and nutrients for his age is no easy task, but was one that they took on without reservation. Jennifer shares, “To be completely honest, I wasn’t sure that I believed all the diet changes would help, I prayed that they would, but deep down I was skeptical. To think a handful of goldfish crackers or a couple grapes could cause him to struggle for days and completely alter the course of the entire family is something I would have never thought possible, had I not lived it! “


After 2 weeks of eliminating the foods Finn was allergic to, there was a dramatic change in his demeanor and development. His mother recalls, “We had food journals and had to document everything he ate, all his skin reactions, behaviors, and try to make sense of all the parallels. About two weeks after we had changed his diet, he went from having about 5 words to over 70 words, and no longer needed weekly speech therapy!” Within 5 months of changing his diet, Finn has made over a years worth of progress with development.  He is walking, running, and climbing, talking in complete sentences, initiating social greetings, and is most importantly – he is a happy 2 ½ year old. While his speech is still slightly behind for his age and the head banging still remains in smaller amounts (it is likely more a learned behavior, which was originally caused by the allergic reactions), Jennifer and Alex are thrilled that they can finally get to know the little boy he actually is and not the one who could only react to pain & discomfort.


Finn is not alone in his diagnosis of food allergies. According to a study by the Center for Disease Control, food allergies increased 50% from 1997-2011. And while the number of people who have a food allergy is growing, there is no clear answer as to why.  And while many “traditional” allergic symptoms, such as facial swelling and hives, are well known and well recognized, those such as the ones that Finn experienced are often misdiagnosed as something other than a food allergy or intolerance.


Georgeann Freimuth, MS, RD, LDN, is the Registered Dietician who spearheaded solving Finn’s developmental puzzle. Freimuth, a Licensed Dietician Nutritionist and a part time professor at Shepherd University, works with children and families through the West Virginia Birth To Three Program and privately through consultations.   She sees more and more children having behavioral and developmental consequences from what they eat. When people question the relationship between the two, Freimuth jokes, “Think there’s not a gut to brain connection? Come have a glass of wine with me!”  In all seriousness, the connection of nutrition’s affect on the body should not be ignored. Freimuth says, “The gut to brain connection should not be overlooked when dealing with a child who is sensitive to emotion anger, anxiety or who has behavioral concerns. This is important because the brain and the gastrointestinal system are intimately connected. Certain foods and food intolerances or allergies can adversely affect a child’s behavior and attentiveness, while certain nutritional deficiencies can cause aggressiveness disorders and behavioral disorders as well as subtle and occasionally dramatic effects on the child’s behavior.”


Some food allergies are severe with defined noticeable reactions, like Finn’s, but others can be subtler.  Either way, nutrition should be included in the complete list of possibilities when assessing a child’s well being. Freimuth says,  “Food allergies or food intolerances can affect the nervous system causing the brain to have alterations in brain chemistry which then can affect a child’s behavior. Understanding if a child has food allergies and/or food intolerances along with nutritional imbalances could be helpful when trying to help a child’s behavior or development.” Often elimination diets (where certain foods are removed one by one) are suggested to determine what is the potentially offensive food.  However she cautions, “It is recommended if a parent wants to try a trial and elimination diet at home to see if their child’s diet is related to their behavior they should consult a Registered Dietitian. The caution used with trial and elimination diets are sudden nutritional deficiencies when certain food groups are removed.”

Jennifer Csordas agrees. “Before we knew all Finn was allergic too, it was like having a toddler with colic. He was always unhappy and no matter what we did, we couldn’t change that. Now he smiles all the time, laughs and plays, things that I took for granted when my girls did them. It takes a lot of planning and can be a challenge at times keeping up with his diet, but to know he isn’t in pain is a huge blessing. “

While eliminating aversive foods can be helpful in some cases, increasing particular nutrients and minerals that are lower than typical are necessary in others. For example, in some cases, increasing zinc levels can improve symptoms associated with ADHD.

As the trend for extremely busy families continues in America, so will the market for convenience foods, which are often full of too many ingredients to count and enough preservatives to frighten any parent. While it does take pre-planning and self-packaging on the part of parents, ensuring children have whole foods (ones your great grandmother would recognize. Yes to the apple. No to the bright orange cheese puff) is a great place to start.  Remember that whether your child has a diagnosed condition or developmental concerns or not – foods that we all eat certainly affect us in some way.   The effect of nutrition on an individual is certainly more far reaching than allergies alone. An individual can have developmental or behavioral concerns from intolerances to certain foods or reactions to the chemicals and preservatives found in many foods children are fed, or from low levels of essential vitamins and nutrients.  Freimuth advises, “Intolerances to foods, food additives or looking into food allergies may have a crucial role in your child’s behavior. Behavior and cognition in children and adolescents can be influenced by what they eat and their nutritional statuses.”

While nutrition is not the culprit for all developmental or behavioral concerns, it certainly is a possibility. If you have concerns about the role nutrition is playing with your child, speak to your Pediatrician or a Registered Dietician who specializes in pediatric care. Prepare for the conversation by logging 3 days worth of everything your child eats to share specific intake (including medications) and list frequently observed behaviors or developmental concerns for discussion.  Each parent may have individual standards for what they are able and comfortable to provide their child to eat, but all parents wish for happiness and health for their child. Let’s help our children live out “You are what you eat.” We can do this first by remembering that what they put in their bellies has a huge impact on their brains.  We can also start with small changes to provide nutrition that helps them to be happy and healthy for many years.


Georgeann Freimuth is dedicated to helping families learn more about the gut to brain connection and how it could be affecting their child. She can be reached at: The author thanks her and the Csordas family for their contributions to this article.


Nicole Sergent, MPT is a Pediatric Physical Therapist & co-author of 1-2-3 Just Play With Me. Her favorite processed food is a Reese Cup, but she feels happier & knows she is smarter when she eats her many favorite non-processed foods – especially nectarines & brussel sprouts!



Toddlers Need Tweezers

Hi friends. Happy 2014.

Wishing you health & happiness in the new year. We know that our Milestones & Miracles friends KNOW that regular PLAY (for kids and adults) contributes to keeping us all happy and healthy.

So if you are planning on spending time in creative play this year – we wanted to take a moment to share a fun way to shake up regular play and to make it purposeful play with very little work/effort!

Remember toys that looked like this?




They made us exercise our hands without even knowing it. They strengthen tiny muscles in the hand that help with handwriting, pinching, poking, pointing, sewing (so I hear?), crafting, cooking, or whatever we use our hands for in our work (hammering, typing, drawing etc.).

Toys that are more prominent in our stores today – like the one below, don’t challenge tiny hands in big ways.


But have no fear. Just because it’s not easy to find in a store – doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek it out. Think of all the ways your child plays. How many of those activities could you add a set of plastic tweezers to? Tweezers are fun for kids (“Really Mom I can use this TOOL?”) and can add that needed fine motor attention that many toys lack.

This set can be found HERE on Amazon.



A quick glance at our MOTOR PLAY BOARD on Pinterest, shares ideas we found through a quick search, like these.




tweezer nut sort

tweezers play doh

tweezers bugs

tweezers nature


I personally love the bug option! But think beyond these examples…

Why not let your child eat snack with their tweezers?

Picking weeds with tweezers is helpful and fun!

So is sorting socks into matches (and you’ve thrown in a cognitive skill too!)

For larger items – use salad tongs – why not clean up the playroom this way?

Like these suggestions? We LOVE adding purpose to play! That’s why we filled this sweet box with detailed developmental milestones paired with purposeful play ideas that are perfectly matched for your child’s interest at each step along the way! We’d love to send you 3 years of PLAY today – visit us here!

open box

Have you ever used tweezers with your child? Or a child you work with? What creative ways do you like to enhance play with fine motor work with tweezers?




Growing Your Own Virtual Village

I’m a big believer in the concept that a village raises a child. Whether it’s your Mommy Posse of friends that become family or your actually family, in my mind, the more people loving a child, the better for that child.

My family is big (in numbers and personalities). Growing up I believed it typical that everyone’s grandmother watched them daily (along with most of their cousins) and cooked dinner for 10 or more people many weekday evenings, 15 or more on weekends, and 40+ on holidays. Everyone does that, right?

Growing up, I also knew there were MANY eyes on me. Eyes that read me stories, eyes that smiled when I had a birthday, a sporting event, or a good report card, and eyes that were watching if I chose to make a bad decision. It was like having many sets of parents — the good and the bad parts (coming from a child’s view) but now, as an adult,  I know it was all good.

My mom has a much younger sister (a surprising joy to our family) and her children were born when I was in my late teens. They moved to Canada but that did not stop the family village. We spoke regularly enough to know, celebrate, discuss, & analyze most of their childhood and teen years – from first steps and words, to first dates, to first day of living in new college apartments. We drove them crazy, but I loved really “knowing” them, despite the geographical distance. (p.s. my hunch is – they will agree with me one day).

As our family grows – and grows – and grows (our next baby is coming in February!), and spreads out across this beautiful world, it could be harder to stay in “the know” with the family, but it hasn’t been…because of the two miracles we call FaceTime & Skype.

As ignorantly irritated as I get when I don’t have wi-fi or our home server is down (how impatient and obnoxious is that?), I am incredibly awed by the fact that I can share a conversation with my cousin Tania in France while she gives her baby a bath at night and I prep dinner. I adore the fact that we get to see Halloween costumes and Christmas gifts live with my cousin Nina’s boys in Colorado. We are able to see my newly married cousin’s exciting house renovations and weigh in on tile and paint choices. I’m amazed that my 83 year old immigrant grandmother spends many hours a day warmed by the virtual presence of her cousins across the globe (literally).  Years ago, they might be luckily to have 1 phone call a year!

And as a mother now myself, I am so thankful that my family stays connected with my daughters and that they learn what life is like all over the place in a “real time” way. My cousins in Kuwait have shown them sand storms out the window of their home. Australian cousins have shared their view of winter even though it is blazing hot summer here in WV at the same time (this BLOWS the kids minds!). My Teta (grandmother) shares live cooking shows of what she is making. My girls read books and share art projects and lost teeth with my in-laws. My Aunt Lisa watched my daughter’s entire 4 year old birthday party via her laptop (yes she’s awesome). Skype and Face time bring those we love and miss right into our living room and next to us at the dinner table.

The aspect that I love the most about the endless opportunities of “virtual visiting” is when it comes to babies. I LOVE my family and I LOVE their new babies even more. It’s actually painful at times not to be able to scoop up those babies, bring over a lasagna and do a load of laundry, or babysit in a pinch when distance forbids it. But visiting through the web is the next best thing. I want the babies in my family to KNOW me and my family. I want to be a part of their village. I want to be the eyes that celebrate, love, and watch out for them.

Our newest baby for the moment is sweet Lilie Rose, who lives in the lovely South of France (lucky her).  (Side note: if you are interested in how having a baby in France differs from the US — Read HERE – it’s our personal family observation). We saw her last April and won’t see her in person again until July.  She has and will change incredible since then, and thanks to Face Time, I haven’t had to miss much. I’m sure I drive my cousin crazy at times, but when I Face Time with her I also do some of the same things, (most of which are act like a total lunatic) because I want her to recognize and know me too. I always sing her the “Itsy Bitsy Spider” (it’s our thing) and she now smiles as soon as I start despite the fact that I am a HORRIBLE singer. Family loves you no matter what, right? Here is Lilie and I sharing some time together (excuse the appearance – ehh – It’s because of the time change 🙂


Banana Phone Call For Miss Lilie Rose



Imitation – she can open her mouth like me (luckily she is not as scary!)



Washed the Spider Out! (her favorite part!)


If you have family (or friends that are like family) spread out, do you spend time visiting them via the Internet? What are fun ways you engage with them? If not, I encourage you to give it a try. There are many ideas to connect and play with babies and young kids even if you can’t be in the same room.

Here are some to try:

  • READ – chose the same bedtime story to share repetitively (make it YOUR thing) or introduce new ones.
  • SING –  (even if you are bad – like me). Young children love songs and finger plays (and they really enhance language development).
  • BABBLE AND PLAY – babies learn imitation before they learn conversation (more on that HERE). Be a part of the team that uses purposeful play to start that first conversation.
  • SHARE – Your meal, your home, your yard, your day. Children learn through exposure. Your environment is certainly different that theirs, so play show and tell online!
  • QUESTION – if they are old enough to talk, ask questions. How was their day? Where is their favorite toy? Can they jump yet? Ask them to show you!

Need more ideas to enhance purposeful play in person or online? Click here! (We ship for free and can include a personal gift card when sent as a gift!) 


I am Physical Therapist. I don’t have extended formal training on how the minds of young children emotionally develop. I am not a child psychologist, but I am a daughter, a mother, a niece, a sister, a granddaughter, a daughter and sister in law, a cousin and a BELIEVER that growing the number of people who love and are involved with your child can only be a good thing.  It was for me. I know it will be for my girls.








Rethinking & Repurposing: Ways to Entertain (and Contain) the Kids

So recently I’ve noticed a big push for repurposing things.  No, I haven’t been living under a rock for the past 8 years…just a little busy with some other things I prioritize above craftiness and “green” living.  So maybe this push has been around for a while, but I’m just now getting the motivation to make the move!  Anyway, in an effort to be more “green” and “crafty” I decided to create some toys for my kids and some toy containers by repurposing some household items.  With the help of my way more creative, crafty and green friends and Pinterest, I have done just that.


My first creation is a shape sorter.  Sure there is only one shape to sort, but my 19-month old loves this game.  She will sit for quite some time slipping the lids into the hole and then requesting I open it again so she can get sorting some more.  A great way to model some verbal (“oh” for open) or nonverbal (sign ‘open’ or ‘please’) communication for her to imitate to have her request met.

juice lids


Blocks!  These blocks are made from pushing one empty milk/juice ½ gallon carton inside another.  They are amazingly sturdy and build one heck of a fort, car, boat or _____.  Let your kids fill in the blank!  While building my little one practices saying, “up, up, up” as we build the wall up and “more” or “again” to have it built up again.  My older one just gets some exercise and works on his fine motor (and gross motor) skills all while having some fun!



Containers, containers, containers!  I love repurposing plastic lidded containers to contain all the little, tiny things that need harnessed out of baby girl’s reach.  Most recently LEGOS have entered our house and believe me, they need to be hidden under a lid, or better yet behind a closed door to contain the chaos!  But because I don’t have an extra room to dedicate to just LEGOS we are storing them up in these old popcorn buckets for now.  We have also repurposed a marshmallow fluff and Crystal Light container to hold colored pencils, paintbrushes and markers up out of baby girl’s reach too!



GIANT plastic containers…leftover from cheese balls, animal crackers, pretzels, etc.  The Hot Wheels…*ouch*…the darn Hot Wheels!  I was tired of stepping on them so I contained them!  Once again I figured out a way to harness the fun of these metal/ plastic wheels by giving them a home up on the shelf and off the carpet.  Big O does a pretty good job of keeping them picked up when he’s not playing with them.  My feet thank him!



And through the years we have saved old food containers to mimic the real thing in the kids’ play kitchen.  They love “pouring” cereal from a real miniature box or “squirting” soap in the sink from an old soap container.  Kids want their kitchen to be as much like mom and dad’s as possible, this helps them get there and bolsters their imaginative play even more.


So if I can do it, you can do it!  And be sure to check out our Pinterest board “DIY Play” for more do it yourself toys.  I’ll be the first to admit that creative, out-of-the-box thinking is not a gift of mine….but even I, non-crafty mom, have figured out a few easy ways to keep play simple, fun and GREEN!



Invite Your Kids (Even Babies) To Sunday Dinner! Why We Need To Fight Against The Extinction Of Family Meals.

It’s Sunday. Are you having Family Dinner? What does it look like for you?

Is it this?









Or this?








Or even this?









Is your table where you serve your food, or your back seat?

Let me start by saying that a friend of mine recently commented that she felt guilty that her son had to eat dinner on the way to soccer practice and I reassured her of her Mommy-Awesomeness by revealing the impressive fact that my daughter ate Mac-N-Cheese for dinner on the way to dance that was served in a glass measuring cup because all the bowls were dirty! (Who can beat that I ask you?)

The strong current of society pushing the average family (mine included) so swiftly that it somehow keeps up from remembering the importance of how a family meal contributes to a child’s development and frankly, the health of all of us.

Before we had children, my husband and I are at the kitchen table at times, but more often than not, we ate in front of the good old TV. Not a proud admission, but when there is just two of you, setting the table seems a bit – much. Or at least it did for me EVERY night. When we started having children, that shifted. MANY of my memories of childhood centered around the table. From secrets at the “kid table” (which I sat at until a few years ago) with my cousins to reading the morning paper with my parents over breakfast, sharing a meal together was part of our regular existence and for good reason. I wanted the same for my daughters.

Children who eat at the table with their parents learn many things, and I am not talking about what fork to use first. At family meals, children learn to make EYE CONTACT. They learn to use MANNERS. They practice the fine ART OF CONVERSATION (with actual voices and not just text messages). They learn SOCIAL ETIQUETTE such as taking turns when speaking and LISTENING to what matters to someone they care about. The greatest part of all of this – they get to practice all of this in the safety net of the people who love them most in the world – their parents and siblings! The family meal is where children can take a stab at the something besides the entree – they can explore social relationships with people of various ages and learn from real experiences how to connect with others over a meal. And guess what? As adults – this is a skill they will NEED.

Do you know how early this starts? Ready for it?… IMMEDIATELY.

Here are some ideas to make this look real for our families.

A newborn can be held during dinner or placed in a safe place near the table (this may be my only endorsement of what I call the “baby container.” Usually I am not a fan, HERE’S WHY). Hearing the voices of his/her family members and smelling new smells are important SENSORY EXPERIENCES.

An older baby will watch you eat before he/she does. Yes, sucking is a natural reflex, but chewing is a learned one. I remember a bright and loving parent, whose daughter was blind, ask me how she could teach her to chew and spit out toothpaste. (With help – we found a way, but the example illustrates that activities as simple as chewing must be modeled). If a baby is not given a place at the table, he/she is denied the modeled example of many DAILY SKILLS, like chewing, but also drinking from a cup, using a spoon etc.

An even older baby, learns to IMITATE at the table. The meal provides opportunity to mimic behaviors he/she views. In addition to the chewing example, the baby learns to self feed using both hands and utensils. Yes, this is MESSY, but that’s what wipes are for. Babies don’t learn to feed themselves (or do anything else) without PRACTICE first. (Plus one day that spaghetti face picture will be really funny). Did you know that once a child can imitate a motor behavior (sometimes as subtle as sticking out his/her tongue), he/she can imitate language? Think about it,modeling simple movements (blinking eyes, clapping hands, banging toy on tray) all come before language. Family meal times are a great place to practice this essential skill. More about that HERE.

Children learn WHO THEIR PEOPLE ARE at the table. Receptive language (understanding) comes before verbal language (expression of words). Ask your baby where his/her sibling, parent, dog are – they’ll surprise you by looking right at them, before they can call them by name. Practicing this at meal time with people or objects (where is the banana?) gives baby an opportunity to recognize and  eventually verbalize to “their people.” Think of it as your 1st family conversation. Soak it up!

Children develop a variety of PREFERENCES for food at the family meal. Experiment with different textures, colors, smells, tastes, and temperatures (all as your pediatrician advises) and you will quickly learn even more about your child. My 9 year old is not a fan of meat – and in true form, at her first taste of the baby food version of chicken, she promptly vomited it right back out at me.  Meat clearly was not her preference. Note taken. (Pass the wipes please, Honey).

Meal times are also a place to share early information about NUTRITION. If I let my daughter make her own decisions, she would chose noodles, rice, pizza, and bread every night. It’s not been an easy road to her seat at our dinner table, but she finally understands that she needs all of the food groups at each meal and why. This can start at an early age for any child. Keep it simple and in terms children can understand at their age – “Fruits provide vitamins that help keep you from getting sick. Dairy keeps your bones and teeth strong. Vegetables are important for your eyes, skin, and hair. Protein helps build muscles so you can lift heavy things and complex carbohydrates give you energy to run for a long time.”  Trust me, kids understand this much more than “clear your plate because I said so.” Let’s be real – they come out selfish little people and if they realize there is something in it for them, they are often more motivated.  (My latest attempt for my vertically challenged offspring is that to get out of the booster seat like their pals, they’ll need to eat well to grow. I’m hoping this works before I drop them off at their first junior high dance.)  Teaching this can be fun! Have younger kids? Model balanced nutrition with pretend play foods! We use My Plate. I keep a copy on the side of the fridge and they need to compare their plate to this example.


If they don’t want the salmon I made, that’s fine with us, as long as they 1) choose another healthy protein (nuts or peanut butter are popular choices in our house) and 2) I don’t have to make it. (Nope, I do wear many hats but short order cook is not one I claim).  I wish my children were more adventurous with foods, but I gave up the battle for a wide variety long ago and focused on healthy balance. I hear variety should increase with age – I’m not holding but breath but found this information on answering the question of “Is your Child a Picky Eater or Problem Feeder” helpful.  More ideas for including kids in mealtime HERE.  I love this idea for hands on learning about food!


In addition, exposure to varied food can teach kids early on about different CULTURES and WHERE AND HOW FOOD is grown. Visit local farms to show them how real food actually grows on trees and in the ground. Enjoy self picking if you have orchards that provide the option or garden if you have the talent that I do not! Do you have a dairy farm near by? (We have one that delivers milk in old fashioned glass jars to a cooler in our driveway. Our girls love him and call him the Milk Fairy. I call him HEAVEN SENT because I am no longer running to the store all the time!)  Learning about the process of getting food from garden to table helps children value their nutrition and take ownership of it. I love this idea pinned on our Pinterest Board to share where different foods come from.


So meals are important, but let’s keep our focus on reasonable goals. Maybe one person in your family works late. Yes, you might have to feed the kids early, but they could sit with the spouse that works late while he/she eats and have a small dessert. Maybe your kids have activities or practice many nights a week. Aim for sitting together 2-3 times a week. And breakfast on a weekend can count. Maybe you don’t have time every night to cook or plan — in my humble opinion, a quality family experience together over bowls of cereal, outweighs anything alone in front of a screen any day. Two thirds of American families eat dinner with a T.V. on. Think of it as the T.V. robbing you from the limited number of conversations you can have with your 3 year old (there are fewer than you realize). Let’s change that statistic and together raise children who can share the highlights of their day while asking to pass the cereal (oops, I meant, quinoa with tilapia and asparagus).

Family meals are too important to become extinct. We need them to raise independent and healthy children. So, get to thinking about some practical, realistic ways, you can invite your favorite little guest to dinner! Here are some from our Pinterest Board – PLAY With Food to get you started.  Share your ideas with us here or on Facebook! Bon appetite!

Like these ideas? We believe that linking child development to PLAY makes both parents & children smarter and happier. So we offer hundreds of examples of just that. Bonus is – they come in card form so while you can have time to digest that family dinner together because you can learn about your child while only digesting small bits of specific information at EACH stage of infant/toddler development. Want to hear more? Check out 1-2-3 Just Play With Me (great as a baby gift! and WE SHIP FOR FREE!)