Archive for November, 2012

Making a List, Checking it Twice

Friday, November 30th, 2012

20071220_122620_9735 Vaughan Nelson via Compfight

Around the holidays, it’s not unusual to have lots of lists on hand, including honey do, gift wishes and even naughty and nice lists.  There’s one list, however, that may contain the best present idea parents can give to their kids. It’s a Life Skill check list that defines age-appropriate responsibilities. Culled together from practical and professional advice, the  list of life skills from Busy Kids=Happy Mom’s  is more like a set of guidelines than actual rules. It does, however, give you a good idea of when to get your kids involved in basic self care. It may seem like a tall order for nervous helicopter parents or those unwilling to clean up after the inevitable mess of kids’ do-it-yourself attempts. We’ve all been there at some point, but experts agree; The best thing we can do for our children is teach them skills for independence.

According to the list, a typical five year old should have the skills to clean a toilet, which seems odd to me considering that my husband has yet to master this skill.  How do you and your family rate against this Life Skills list? Do you have your own list? What additions would you make?

Age 2

  • Undress self
  • Put own pajamas away
  • Wash face and hands
  • Comb or brush own hair (with help)
  • Brush teeth (with help)
  • Pick up toys
  • Tidy up bedroom
  • Clear off own place at table
  • Be able to play safely and alone for a set period of time (1/2 to 1 hour) in own room.  (Under supervision.  Children need to know that they can be alone and still have fun.)

Age 3

  • Dress self (with help)
  • Make own bed (use comforter)
  • Wipe up own spills
  • Help set table
  • Snap, zipper and button
  • Put dirty clothes in hamper
  • Start swim lessons

Age 4

  • Help gather laundry
  • Use a handheld vacuum
  • Pick up outside toys
  • Dust and clean bookshelves
  • Empty wastebaskets
  • Know own phone number
  • Know own address
  • Help empty dishwasher
  • Help bring in groceries
  • Sit quietly in the doctor’s office, religious services, etc. (looking at books or drawing quietly is okay)
  • Next level swim lessons

Age 5

  • Put clean clothes away neatly
  • Swim (goal – swim independently)
  • Leave bathroom clean after use
  • Clean toilet
  • Feed and water pets
  • Get mail (if in a safe place) and put it in the proper place
  • Receive a small allowance (if used)
  • Money Management:  saving, spending and charitable giving
  • Know how to make emergency phone calls (911)
  • Dust low shelves and objects (consider using a Swiffer)
  • Empty bathroom trash
  • Organize bathroom drawers
  • Learn to roller skate
  • Learn to jump rope
  • Learn to ride a bike
  • Begin learning how to tie shoes

 Age 6

  • Organize own drawers and closet
  • Empty dishwasher and put dishes away
  • Wash and dry dishes by hand
  • Straighten living and family rooms
  • Rake leaves
  • Help put groceries away
  • Make juice from a can or mix
  • Make a sandwich and toast
  • Basics of spending, saving, and giving
  • Pour milk into cereal
  • Pour milk or juice into a cup
  • Wash out plastic trash cans
  • Clean mirrors
  • Bathe alone
  • Clean windows
  • Empty kitchen trash

Age 7

  • Use a vacuum cleaner
  • Clean pet cages and food bowls
  • Use a broom and dustpan
  • Sweep porches, decks, driveways and walkways
  • Take a written phone message
  • Learn basic food groups and good nutrition habits
  • Cook canned soup
  • Read and prepare a simple recipe
  • Be familiar with cooking, measuring tools and their uses
  • Make Jell-O and boil eggs (hard and soft)
  • Money management (earning money and saving for a goal)
  • Pack own sack lunch
  • Cut up own meat, pancakes, etc.
  • Water outside plants, flowers and garden
  • Arrange refrigerator or bulletin board “pictures”
  • Weed flower beds and vegetable garden
  • Strip bed sheets
  • Carry dirty clothes hamper to laundry room
  • Sort clothes for washing by color and fabric and check pockets
  • Straighten book and toy shelves
  • Begin music lessons

Age 8

  • Fold clothes neatly without wrinkles
  • Remake own bed with clean sheets
  • Clean interior of car
  • Vacuum furniture (ie., chairs and couches), especially under cushions
  • Water house plants and lawn outside
  • Clean bathroom sink, toilet, and tub
  • Load and turn on dishwasher
  • Trim own nails and clean own ears
  • Learn model making
  • Set table correctly
  • Mop floor
  • Peel carrots and potatoes
  • Begin teaching time management skills, assignment deadlines, or short blocks of time
  • Money Management:  Spend, Save, Give principle

Age 9

  • Load and operate washing machine and dryer (clean lint trap and washer filter)
  • Time management (get activities done in a block of time)
  • Fold blankets neatly
  • Straighten and organize kitchen drawers
  • Help clean out refrigerator
  • Prepare hot beverages
  • Prepare boxed macaroni and cheese
  • Cook hot dogs and scrambled eggs
  • Brown hamburger meat
  • Dust all household furniture
  • Count and give monetary change
  • Compare quality and prices (unit pricing)
  • Oil bicycle

Age 10

  • Replace light bulbs and understand wattage
  • Distinguish between good and spoiled food
  • Bake a cake from a mix
  • Cook frozen and canned vegetables
  • Make pancakes from scratch
  • Understand the importance of ingredient and nutrient labeling
  • Plan a balanced meal
  • Know how to select and prepare fruits and vegetables
  • Bake cookies from scratch
  • Repair bicycle tire and learn basic adjustments
  • Know basic emergency first-aid procedures
  • Understand uses of medicine and seriousness of overuse
  • Wipe down kitchen cupboards
  • Be able to do family laundry completely
  • Mow lawn
  • Know how to handle a pocket knife
  • Sew simple crafts on a sewing machine (pillows, bean bags, etc.)

Age 11

  • Replace fuse; know where circuit breakers are
  • Clean and straighten garage
  • Bake muffins and biscuits
  • Make a green salad and dressing
  • Do simple mending and sew on buttons
  • Wash the car
  • Learn basic electrical repairs
  • Know a variety of knots
  • Understand basics of camera use

Ages 12 to 15

  • Take a babysitting course through the local hospital
  • Make deposits and withdrawals at the bank
  • Volunteer at the library or food bank
  • Perform basic first aid and CPR
  • Time Management (should be able to manage an entire day of activities/assignments)
  • Check and fill all car fluids
  • Type with proficiency
  • Money Management:  Budgeting basics, Charitable Giving, Spending Plan, Saving for a car, Saving Money, Emergency Fund
  • Have a work experience (paid or unpaid) with responsibilities and set hours.

Ages 16 to 18

  • Plan well-balanced meals, including shopping and cooking
  • Pass a driver’s test
  • Write checks and balance a checkbook
  • Fill out a job application
  • Make one complete meal (nothing gourmet, just make sure they can feed themselves)
  • Money Management:  Budget / Cash Flow, Debit cards vs. Credit Cards, Fraud Protection, Teaching Investing
  • Prepare a resume

A note from Busy Kids – This list was compiled after consulting many resources and other moms.  I am not able to do everything on this list nor do I expect my children too!  I do feel; however, that helping to prepare your child for life with some basic skills will make them a more independent, productive adult.  I enjoy teaching them when they’re young and interested!


Give Fitness: Keeping Kids Active and GeoPalz Giveaway

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012
Lower School Jumps Forward Together

Lower School Jumps Forward Together by Santa Catalina School (CC BY-NC 2.0)


Exercise matters. But since after school team sports don’t capture every child’s interest, having a variety of alternative healthful ideas is important. Parents might promote healthy habits during weekends and evenings by structuring fun, active play together. Think walks around the neighborhood or spontaneous dance parties. There are plenty of products, too, that encourage children to adopt fitness habits. Yoga DVDs, participatory video games, and energetic music make exercise irresistible. Another way to make exercise exciting is to turn it into a game, one complete with points and prizes. GeoPalz, an activity tracking pedometer, can help parents do just that.

The GeoPalz activity tracker is a Parents’ Choice Award winning pedometer for kids that comes in all sorts of cute shapes such as a butterfly, peace sign, basketball, and skateboards. The company frequently adds new designs that will appeal to both boys and girls. GeoPalz are powered by a 3D tri-axis accelerometer that can be worn on a child’s shoe or hip. The device gauges MVPA (Moderate to Vigorous Physical Activity) throughout the day, making it easy to tell how much activity your child is actually getting.

Children can go to the Geopalz website each day to log in their steps. Using a Google Maps interface, children can view how far they have walked from their zip code on a map. Each time they log in a specific amount of steps (25,000 steps) they earn a point, and once they have earned enough points they can claim small prizes.

GeoPalzGeoPalz strives to educate children about the benefits of exercise, too. When you log on to the tracker site, it will give you different health facts. We learned that it takes about 11,000 steps to work off a large size order of French fries from McDonalds. Our parent testers liked having a source that informs kids about their eating choices and how they affect their health. This is a great way to teach children about the importance of exercise in a fun and low key way. Parents of school age children will get a lot out of using this product. Aside from the useful health facts and activity ideas on the site, GeoPalz sends a weekly progress report to parents.

There’s a reason the toy is listed in our Holiday Gift Guide.With physicians recommending that children be active for an hour each day, finding new ways to make exercise engaging and fun for young children is important. As such, we are very excited to be able to give three GeoPalz Activity Trackers to our readers. Healthy habits might just be the best gift you give your children this year.

Enter below to win a GeoPalz Activity tracker. Entries will be except until 3:00pm EST on 11/28/2012.

Parents’ Choice’s review of GeoPalz reflects our evaluators’ opinions of the product based on their use and their children’s use of the product. Product samples for giveaway were provided for free by GeoPalz. For more information about how the Parents’ Choice Awards program operates, please visit our About Awards page.

Time Shift Your TV – Inventions USA

Monday, November 26th, 2012


Invention USAInventions are the theme this week – on TV and in real life.

Our son is applying to the engineering school at the University of Virginia, and one of the questions on his college application is something along the lines of: If you were given funding for a small engineering project, what would you make? Everyone in the family has piped up with ideas. We have spent many dinner-table conversations having fun brainstorming with him.

On Wednesday, Nov. 28 (10 p.m.), History Channel is premiering a new series, Inventions USA. Host Scotty Ziegler, a product designer and car fabricator, joins scientist/engineer Reichart Von Wolfsheild to travel the country hunting down inventions and putting them to the test to find the best. Among some featured on the eight-episode series: a new eating utensil for wings, ribs and other messy foods; a survival pod for people caught in flood waters; a device to protect cars during hailstorms; a first-down football measuring system; and a backpack device that makes water out of air. It promises to be fun – and fascinating.

The second invention challenge comes from the USA Network, the cable channel that airs Burn Notice. On the spy show, the characters often face challenges that involve covert communications, surveillance and weapons. The show and network have just announced a new competition, The Burn Notice Science Challenge. The first round of the competition runs from Nov. 15 2012 to Feb. 15, 2013. High school students – individually or teams of up to three (backed by an adult advisor) must solve one of three science challenges set up by the show. They must submit a 1500-word essay describing their invention and the scientific principles that would make it successful. Up to 25 finalists will be selected to go on to a second round in which they will create a video demonstrating their plan. Winners will be selected and notified by June 1, 2013. Grand prize includes a $10,000 scholarship, as well as on-air and online recognition and a meet-and-greet with the cast and creators of Burn Notice. Start thinking!

Cold Turkey: Baste on True Story

Monday, November 19th, 2012

Kids love tradition. Especially around the holidays. It’s a little difficult though, to recount the good old days,  when your first holiday hosting gig has become a cautionary tale. The first time I cooked a turkey, it was nothing short of a disaster. But like so many other things, I blame my mother.

She made cooking Thanksgiving dinner look easy. As the youngest of five kids,  I had seen my mother host the big meal for no less than an average of 20 people for 17 years running. Never in that time did I see her call a hotline. To my knowledge, she never collected advice from relatives and friends. She didn’t subscribe to the latest turkey cooking fashions and would never entertain the thought of deep-frying. Instead, she roasted the biggest bird she could find, carefully and early in the day. I always awoke Thanksgiving morning to that delicious aroma of a basting bird.

Our family ate early, at 2 p.m.–a practice that I’ve since discovered is considered extremely unhip.  Really, it’s very practical. An early dinner doesn’t interfere with kick-off time. In fact, there’s something about watching gridiron while nursing a full stomach and contemplating pie. Also, feasting early gives you a chance to clean up and get ready for the 7 p.m. second round buffet, when all of the cousins and relatives who didn’t make the official dinner cut can share in the day.

My mother’s Thanksgiving dinner was no potluck affair either. Maybe, if you were lucky or had a particular need to feel included, my mom would assign extra rolls or pie or, if you seemed particularly incompetent, the nebulously defined “relish tray.” This practice of trying to include others, however, came to an abrupt halt when, one year, my aunt brought hamburger buns by mistake.

Over the years, my mother loosened her grip on the big day, as the family scattered about the country. When I finally was able to enjoy Thanksgiving as an adult and guest of my mother, it was with bruised pride that I came with my assigned dish–the inconsequential relish tray. I must have spent at least $50 on that tray, scouring the local gourmet stores in search of the finest pickled products so I could present what surely had to be the best relish tray in the history of crudités.

So when it was time for me to cook my first Thanksgiving turkey, I approached it with a somewhat defiant can-do attitude. Granted, I wasn’t cooking for my family. I wasn’t completely insane. I was cooking for friends in my tiny, first apartment. It was a quaint little two-bedroom with crooked floors situated above a nail salon. I wasn’t sure if the smell of roasting turkey would drown out the toxic chemical smell that often emanated from the salon below, but I had watched a master at work. Surely, I could recreate a fraction of her feast.

A friend had received a 10-pound frozen turkey as a gift from his employer, so we sent out the invites for the big dinner. A few days before Thanksgiving, my friend brought over the turkey and presented it with a look of pride and what at the time I thought was a little trepidation. It wasn’t a lack of faith in me, I later learned. Apparently, he had strapped the turkey to the back of his motorcycle with a bungee cord and somewhere between downtown and my apartment, the turkey had fallen off the bike and bounced onto the shoulder of the highway. He went back and retrieved the turkey, which was still carefully wrapped, frozen stiff  and, shall we say, completely tenderized.   I defrosted the bird as instructed and made my shopping lists. I chopped. I prepared. I had a timing chart. When the big day arrived, I started cooking my turkey, accounting for enough sitting time before a 2 p.m. carving. A dozen of our closest friends arrived, bringing only smiles. The apartment smelled wonderful with just a whiff of nail polish.

Everyone had a place to sit in my cramped little living room. The side dishes were aligned with color-coordination in mind.  With a borrowed knife, I started to carve the turkey. It was a picture perfect moment. The skin was a beautiful caramel brown; the breast meat was moist and inviting. However, about four inches in, the bird was practically raw.

It was the neck of the turkey. I forgot to remove it.

I had removed the little bag of innards and thought I had made a clean sweep. But the turkey cavity was so cold, it must have been still partially frozen and jammed inside the bird (perhaps from bouncing on the pavement) when I started cooking.

Luckily, my guests had come with rather low expectations. Perhaps they knew about my relish tray status, or else they just didn’t have the same standards set by their families. We cut off as much of the cooked breast meat as possible, put the rest of the turkey back in the oven and moved on to the side dishes.

The turkey wasn’t the only wash out. The football game was a blow out,  so we turned on “A Very Brady Thanksgiving,” discarding the chance of creating new, mature memories in favor of quick fix of Gen X nostalgia. It wasn’t until Alice marched proudly out of the Brady kitchen displaying her picture perfect turkey that I remembered my own bird was still in the oven. A friend brought out the dried, gray carcass. One guest took pictures. Others cried tears of laughter. I opened more wine.

That was several years ago and I’ve cooked turkeys without (much) incident since.  Now, our tradition is to tell my daughter this story, in hushed voices under dim lighting. Always check for the turkey neck, we warn. Or better yet, just be thankful you were assigned the relish tray.

Time Shift Your TV – Mankind

Monday, November 19th, 2012


We’re getting epic this week with History Channel’s Mankind: The Story of All of Us.

In 12 hours of television — two hours airing over six consecutive Tuesday nights at 9 p.m., Mankind starts with a bang (the Big Bang theory) and moves on to the plains of Africa and our original ancestors. The first episode (available online now) quickly addresses survival, showing the killing of animals to provide food and the creation of fire to cook it. The series tries to show how one development leads to another, following our evolution.

The show uses numerous professors, experts and media types (NBC news anchor Brian Williams, for example) to add information and explain history, addressing topics such as love, problem solving and man’s desire to “leave a mark” on the world. Episodes cover the ice age, the advent of farming, the discovery of the New World, pyramid-building, the Industrial Revolution and more.

Because there’s so much to cover, it’s interesting to see what gets explored. Unfortunately, Josh Brolin’s narration borders on monotone-boring, but the show’s pace is quick, and the footage portaying moments in history with actors in full makeup, while a tad cheesy at times, does give it a hip, movie-like feel. The result: The kids in the house might find it an enjoyable way to get a history lesson.

Cat in the Hat ChristmasAnd for the little ones in the family:

On Wednesday, Nov. 21, PBS is premiering its first Cat in the Hat Christmas special. The one-hour special, Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot about Christmas! (check local listings for time) follows the cat, Nick and Sally on a journey around the world as various animals help a lost reindeer find his way home.