Want To Raise Independent Kids? Get Them To Help With This

Smart Tips, Plus An Easy Hummus Recipe To Get You Started

Want To Raise Independent Kids? Get Them To Help With This

Want To Raise Independent Kids? Get Them To Help With This

Independence is a big issue around here. My daughter is 4.5 going on 15 and she's starting to exercise her right to independence. From putting together her own outfits and balking at any input I offer, to instructing me to walk ahead of her on the sidewalk so she can do her own thing without me watching—she's trying to figure out how much she's capable of doing on her own.

"It's okay, it's okay Mommy," she'll say. "I can do it by myself. You don't have to help me."

(This is where I start to cry because *sob* my baby doesn't need me anymore.) Since I've already established that I'm not so comfortable in the world of free-range parenting, granting her this independence has been a challenge.

Here are 5 strategies I have been using.

1. Use independence for good

Since she's mostly eager to do things on her own, I figure there must be something positive I can direct her energy toward. It's fine that she wants to run off at the park or walk ahead of me in the mall, but I think it's time we focus on really doing something grown up. I'm starting with an area that I could really use some help in—the kitchen.

Have you ever considered that meal preparation is actually the perfect activity to start developing a child's independence while also spending quality time together? It's also an amazing opportunity to solidify things they're already learning like counting, following instructions, and doing things systematically.

Talking about recipes, experimenting with different ingredients, and tasting different flavours helps nurture independence—and might actually turn your kid into a good cook (which I could certainly use!).

2. Cook up independence

Despite my fear of my daughter growing up too fast, I do want to nurture her desire to spread her wings. The look on her face when she does something on her own and succeeds is priceless. I want her to take safe risks, to explore, and to know what it feels like to really help out and have responsibilities. The more I encourage her to do—the more she'll believe she's capable of doing.

Because cooking is such a valuable skill for kids to have, Minute Maid has partnered with the Canadian Living Test Kitchen to create a new line of easy-to-make recipes that allow kids to take on the role of head chef.

My daughter has been helping us in the kitchen for almost a year now, but I am guilty of all-too-often rushing through meal prep, not even offering her the chance to help out.

  Safety Tip: Be sure to ALWAYS supervise your little ones while they are using appliances or sharp utensils!

3. Make magic (and a mess!) in the kitchen

There's nothing quite like cooking with a kid. I'm a bit of a control freak, but I know that letting my daughter have independence means sitting back and letting her learn how to do things on her own. This is a HUGE challenge for me. Obviously it's much easier to do everything for her—but that won't go far toward giving her the skills she needs to grow up in the kitchen. So, before you start cooking with your kids (or letting your kids gain independence in any area for that matter) consider the following tips:

1. Just breathe. Whatever mess they make, you can always clean it up.

2. Have some fun! The more you laugh, the better the experience will be for everyone, and the more your child will want to participate.

3. Let go of your need for control. If your kid makes a mistake, she'll learn from it. If she dumps in half the bottle of olive oil into the processor, you can quadruple the recipe and make a lifetime supply of hummus. Be there to oversee the project, but keep your hands behind your back as much as you possibly can.

4. Slow down. Let your kids participate in meal prep when you're not in a rush. Don't worry if he/she wants to take a juice break. Let your child go at his/her own pace and don't feel the need to rush them.

5. Finally, be an observer. As you cook together, really watch your child. You'll be amazed by what she's actually capable of—yum!


This summer while on vacation, my daughter and I took over my mother-in-law's kitchen to do some early morning cooking and mommy-daughter bonding. We chose Minute Maid's Apple Hummus recipe because it sounded delicious, healthy, and fairly impossible to mess up! Here's the recipe we used to help you get started. 

  Apple Hummus


** Allergen alert: sesame seeds **

1 can (540 mL) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2/3 cup Minute Maid Apple Juice
3 tbsp tahini
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp salt

 In food processor, combine chickpeas, Minute Maid Apple Juice, tahini, oil and salt

  Purée until smooth.

  Recipe Note: The next time I make this recipe, to switch thing up, I am going to try reducing the amount of tahini and adding a clove of garlic to suit my family's tastebuds!

Makes: 2 cups
Hands-on time: 15 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes

PER 2 TBSP, RECIPE MAKES 2 CUPS: about 74 calories, 2 grams protein, 3 grams total fat (trace saturated fat), 11 grams carbohydrates (2 grams dietary fibre, 5 grams sugar), 0 mg cholesterol, 110 mg sodium, 52 mg potassium. %RDI: 2% calcium, 4% iron, 2% vitamin A, 2% vitamin C, 8% folate.


Why Live Music Is So Important For Your Kids

The Family That Rocks Out Together Stays Together

Why Live Music Is So Important For Your Kids

I don't know about you, but I find music to be the best cure for almost everything around here. Kids have a case of the grumps? Turn on the Mini Pop Kids and rock out! Stuck in the car as a family for what seems like an eternity? Pop Sonshine & Broccoli into the CD player and sing like no one is listening! Feeling exhausted but having trouble winding down? There's nothing more calming than a little Jewel: Lullaby.

I believe music is one of the best ways to connect with your kids—which is why I've taken both of my girls to countless music classes (we love Kidville's Rockin' Railroad and Rainbow Songs) live concerts (Raffi, Sharon, Lois & Bram, Kayla) and even stage musicals.

One of the best musical experiences we've had was sharing the holidays (Halloween and Hanukkah) with the amazing Sonshine & Broccoli. My daughter fell in love with Lisa Sonshine almost instantly—and they've been friends and pen pals ever since. (My daughter sent Sonshine & Broccoli a picture by mail and Lisa, who was traveling at the time, sent her a postcard back from India!) What's so awesome about Lisa is she's not only a dynamic, talented, high-energy performer who can really sing—she's also totally genuine, amazingly kind to all of her little fans, and so so passionate about music! She and her best friend Brock (Broccoli) Burford started out, after completing musical theatre school, doing parent-and-tot classes and birthday parties across the GTA. In the decade since, they've traveled across Canada performing at all kinds of events, touring schools and summer camps, recording three albums, and developing an amazing program for kids ages 7 to 12 called Pop Stars, where kids get to write and record their own songs.

Their music is a little bit rock and roll, a little bit Broadway, and a whole lot of fun. It's silly and totally catchy and you'll find yourself singing their songs in the shower when your kids are nowhere to be seen. Sonshine & Broccoli concerts help all kids (introverted and extroverted) find their inner rock star.

How To Use Music To Connect With Your Kids:

"What's so amazing about music is it allows kids to express themselves in so many different ways," Lisa tells me. Perhaps your child loves to dance and will develop his/her own steps; or maybe your child takes more to musical instruments and will play whatever they can get their hands on be it a drum, a toy guitar, or some shakers. Some kids, like my daughter, are really into making up lyrics to their own songs, while others love to sing along with whatever's on the radio.

"Children respond to music in very different ways" says Lisa. "An introverted child might sit mesmerized through a concert but then come home and sing all the songs, while a more outgoing child will be up as close to the stage as possible, dancing and singing along." No matter how your child responds, it's almost impossible to get nothing out of a live musical performance. Just being there is enough to create lasting memories. 

Lisa says, young kids don't have to listen to "Wheels On The Bus" all the time. "If you expose your kids to all sorts of music, you'll find the genres or types that they respond best to." Watch to see what music your kids connect with, and then play more of that. Often the music that parents love most, be it pop or the classic rock, kids tend to get into that as well. So don't be afraid to share your musical preferences with your kids, even if they're only 2 or 3 years old. 

Putting kids in music lessons, teaching them to play an instrument, signing them up for dance classes, having them join the school choir, or enrolling them in something like the Sonshine & Broccoli Pop Stars class is amazing for boosting self-confidence.

While all of this can be expensive, not all musical exposure costs money. Consider making your own instruments, hosting family talent show nights, having impromptu dance parties, finding free concerts in your city, and borrowing music from the library to determine what your kids like best. Remember, no matter what you're doing, be it formal lessons or DIY instruments, make sure your kids are having fun!

Does All This Talk About Music Make You Want to Rock Out?

If you're in Toronto, Join Sonshine & Broccoli in celebrating their 10th anniversary, this coming Saturday, September 21 with a live concert (including dancers, a children's choir, special guest appearances, and much more!). Tickets are available at

If you're not in Toronto, keep an eye on their website because Sonshine & Broccoli just might be coming to your city sometime soon.

And, if you can't make it to their concert this weekend, you can hear Sonshine & Broccoli live at the Mount Sinai Hospital Rock N Stroll fundraising event on September 28. My family will be there rockin' out—will you?

If you liked this post you're sure to like How Dance Class Gave My Little Girl A Big Self-Esteem Boost and How I Introduced My Kids to Sharon, Lois, and Bram!


5 Simple Ways To Engage Your Child In Play-Based Learning

Curriculum-Based Advice & Activities from the Experts at Wee Watch

5 Simple Ways To Engage Your Child In Play-Based Learning

5 Simple Ways To Engage Your Child In Play-Based Learning

Have you ever stopped to watch your kids just play? It never ceases to amaze me how vivid their little imaginations can be when left to their own devices. Just this afternoon my four-year-old had all of her dolls lined up outside our powder room giving them “manicures” by rubbing soapy water on their hands and faces. At the same time, her 16-month-old sister was snatching up the dolls, plunking them into her toy high chair, and feeding them lunch. Whether they realized it or not, my kids were operating a full-service day spa in our living room and I had no part in any of it. 

According to the article, Let The Children Play: Nature’s Answer to Early Learning, written by PhD Jane Hewes, “Children need time, space, materials, and the support of informed parents and thoughtful, skilled, early-childhood educators in order to become ‘master players.’ They need time to play for the sake of playing.”

Cathy Power, a Registered Early Childhood Educator and business owner, is the area supervisor for Wee Watch and agrees. Wee Watch is a licensed home-based child care organization with agencies across Ontario. They have been caring for infants and children up to 12 years of age for 30 years. Cathy and the other Wee Watch supervisors across Ontario work with each home childcare Provider to help train and monitor their exclusive “Wee Learn” educational program which is based on each child’s age, developmental stage, and interests—all with a focus on learning through play.

We’ve heard the phrase “learning through play,” but what does it really mean? Well, according to Cathy, the key is to harness the child’s natural curiosity and explore it in a way that’s enjoyable and fun. She says play-based learning is flexible—it’s about following the child’s lead. “When kids are interested in something and having fun doing it, they’re more likely to remember it; they’ll learn without realizing they’re learning.”

Here are Cathy's top five ways to engage your child in play-based learning:

1. Create opportunities for sensory play

This can be as simple as getting a large plastic bin and filling it with various manipulatives (i.e., cornmeal and coffee grounds, dried beans, sand, macaroni noodles, shaving cream, water, etc.) and then adding other materials (i.e. rocks, combs, vehicles, funnels, shells, spoons, buckets, bath toys, etc.) that encourage the child to interact with the bin’s contents in different ways.

In my house the sensory table is a sand box and I’ve loved watching my daughter collect rocks, stones, leaves and other things she’s found in nature and integrate them into her sand and water play. With caregiver involvement the sensory bin can lead to language, social and emotional, physical, and creative development.

2. Set the stage for dramatic play

When children take part in dramatic play (i.e. playing house, trains, school, etc.), they use their imagination and develop storytelling and problem solving skills, Cathy explains. These skills will help them learn to read, write, and communicate verbally. When children pretend by using objects in their play, they learn that symbols such as letters represent a spoken word (ie. when they play “store” and use objects such as shopping lists and price tags, they learn that the letters and numbers on these objects have meaning).

My kids transition easily into dramatic play thanks to the huge costume and prop collection we've gathered together. You don't have to buy expensive costumes—things like old clothes, jewelry, hats, glasses frames, and scarves work perfectly.

3. Don’t worry if your toys get all mixed up

While some classrooms might have a ‘blocks station’ and a ‘dolls station’ and a ‘balls station’—the best way for kids to learn through play is to mix up their toys and integrate them as they see fit. Perhaps that will mean building a city with blocks and driving cars through that city, or it might mean ‘bowling’ a block tower down with a ball. Perhaps blocks won’t be used to build anything at all, but rather will become food for a doll picnic. Give your children the freedom to explore the toys available to them and gravitate toward those toys and activities that they’re most passionate about—you’ll notice amazing results when they’re fully engaged in whatever it is they’re playing.

This one is great for moms like me who find it impossible to organize their kids' toys. The chaos, in some cases, can actually be educational!

4. Choose open-ended activities and have the right materials on hand

Fill a box with craft supplies and let your child pick the materials she’s interested in and use her imagination to create something beautiful, rather than buying a craft kit with a set of instructions and a final product that’s pre-determined. The process of making the craft, mixing colours, exploring textures, seeing how things fit together, is much more important than the end result, Cathy says. Having the right materials on hand; craft supplies, puppets, costumes, etc., will lead to imaginative play and more learning than could ever be accomplished sitting down with a workbook and pencil.

Tip: Before you go to an expensive craft supply store to fill your bin, take a look at your local dollar store—ours is filled with amazing arts and crafts supplies and they're all super cheap.

5.  Step back but remain engaged

Take an interest in your child’s play, ask questions, and offer suggestions, but don’t feel you always have to be on the floor playing with him/her. Sometimes there’s great value in stepping back and allowing your child the freedom to play on his/her own. Let your child’s imagination guide the play, give him/her lots of uninterrupted time to be creative, and see what transpires.