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If I had my choice I would be poolside all summer. There is something about the smell of chlorine, the cool water, and that cement that nearly blisters your feet. It just feels like summer when I’m at a pool. My days at the pool have most definitely changed over the years. Goodbye baby oil, hello sunscreen (and lots of it). Beyond that I have learned that swimming with kids means being involved and aware, not just in making memories, but in keeping my kids safe. If you are looking for ways to make your time at the pool fun for your kids, no matter their age, keep reading.


Babies and Toddlers

The younger a child is when she starts being in the water, the more comfortable she is likely to be in the pool.The American Academy of Pediatrics wants parents to know that because children cannot voluntarily hold their breath for significant amounts of time until the age of four swimming lessons for infants and toddlers do not protect children from drowning. The AAP suggests that pool time for this age should be about exploration and joy. Keep your little one within arm’s reach at all times. Begin slowly, first dripping water on your little one’s toes, then putting feet into the water. If your child is receptive keep going, if not slow it down. Follow your baby’s lead. Try to schedule pool times around nap times, otherwise tears are inevitable. Toys that squirt water are also a big hit for little ones, especially as they develop the muscles necessary to squeeze the toys themselves. As always check with your pediatrician before you introduce your child to the water. He/she may have recommendations based on your child’s individuality and circumstances.


Young Swimmers

At this age children are usually trying to assert their independence. The shallow end, or even a wading pool, is still best for this age group. While they may be feeling confident, it is important that parents are vigilant and completely aware of what their child is doing at all times. Pool games are a great way to interact with your young swimmer while she enjoys the water and you ensure her safety. A few great pool activities for this age-group are:

Ring Toss- Using the classic colored stacking rings game that most toddlers enjoy, set it up to float on the water by using an upside down frisbee. Seated on the edge, they can take turns playing a ring toss game.

Ping Pong Ball Blower– While holding your preschooler have him place his face just above the water and blow the ping pong ball to the side of the pool. This is a great activity to teach kiddos about breath control when in the water and blowing the top of the water/the ball is a precursor to blowing bubbles under the water. 

Sing Along-Whether it be Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, or The Wheels on the Bus holding your child and engaging in a song and repeated movements is a great way of easing them into the water and developing swimming skills with support (floating on their back, kicking their feet, blowing bubbles, etc.). 

Traffic Lights–  Place your child by either a stair or one of the walls – they’ll want to be holding onto something. Once they’re ready, start calling out the colors of a traffic light. Red Light means to stop kicking and simply float there. Yellow Light means to kick slowly and steadily. Green Light means to kick as hard as they can.


Older Swimmers

This is where some of my own very best pool memories were made. Pool games are the gold standard for kids in this age group. Even at this age, swimmers need you in the water with them during the games, so you can act fast if needed. Keep the kids on the shallow steps, and evaluate each swimmer’s ability and comfort level before beginning any swimming games. Keep a close eye on the games to avoid bumps and bruises. 

Call and Respond The swimmer who is “it” must close their eyes and try to find the other swimmers. When “it” says the name of an animal, all of the swimmers must make the noise of that animal. For example, if the animal named is a lion, all the other swimmers must roar.  Once someone making an animal sound is tagged, they become the new “it.”

Sharks and Minnows The person playing the role of the shark stands in the middle of the pool. When that person says “Go!” all other swimmers (the minnows) swim away as fast as possible. Any minnows that are tagged become sharks and must try to help turn other minnows into sharks.

What Time Is It, Mr. Fox?– One person is Mr. Fox. Mr. Fox stands at the end of the pool. All other swimmers are at the other end of the pool. Swimmers yell “What time is it, Mr. Fox?” Mr. Fox gives a time and swimmers must move that many steps forward. For example, giving the time of 5 o’clock means everyone must move five steps forward. At any time Mr. Fox can respond “lunchtime!” All swimmers must then try to swim back to their starting line. Whoever gets tagged is the new Mr. Fox.

Simon Says: Have children spread out in the pool. The supervising adult will be “Simon” of the game. Simon will call out an action, like “Simon says, float on your back”, everyone should do what is asked. When he calls out an action without saying “Simon says”, the player to do the action will be eliminated from the pool. The winner will be the last standing kid in the water.



A day at the pool is a day filled with fun, but it is important to remember that, with kids in tow, it isn’t going to be you poolside relaxing with a book or magazine. A day at the pool with children requires your full attention and engagement. When you look at it as quality time with your children, a time when you are free from technology and can enjoy being outdoors… It can be pretty magical. Plus, your little ones are sure to sleep like rocks after a day in the water.

Here are a few additional safety tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics to help you keep your children safe while swimming.

Swim Safety Tips

Swim Programs for Infants and Toddlers

Tailored Guidelines for the Prevention of Drowning

It’s right around the corner… that glorious time for staying up late, kicking back, and doing nothing at all. Make certain your children get all the summer that’s coming to them by including some of these ideas, even just once.

1. Have at least one real picnic. You know, the kind where you spread a blanket on the grass and eat food with your fingers. It doesn’t have to be fancy – in fact, the best picnics are not fancy at all. The best picnics are casual, fun affairs. Be sure to have at least one this summer.

2. Watch fireworks at least once. Maybe it will be on the Fourth of July, maybe sometime else. But make sure you and your kids watch one professional fireworks display sometime this summer. Yes, I know, it makes the kids stay up late and, yes, I know, these events are crowded and buggy. But take a blanket to claim your space and some bug lotion and have a great time.

3. Get back to nature at least once. Take a walk on the seashore, row across the lake, explore the woods, or hike up a mountain. You don’t have to go far – with small children you might not get very far at all. But take time to really look at things, especially things down at your child’s level. Bring along a baggie for the pretty rocks and interesting sticks that will need to come home with you.

4. Enjoy outdoor entertainment at least once. Maybe it’s a ball game or outdoor concert. Maybe it’s a drive-in movie or a Renaissance fair. Sometime this summer, get out with the crowds and have a good time. Many of these events are free or low cost if you check around for what’s happening in your community.

5. Take at least one road trip. Go by car, by bus or even by bicycle, but get out on the open road and travel from here to there. Use a map to plot your route and be sure to stop at historical markers and roadside lemonade stands. Remember it’s not the destination that matters but the getting there.

6. Camp out at least once. Even if it’s just in the backyard, sleep outside (or let your children sleep outside) sometime this summer. If you can have a campfire and roast hot dogs and marshmallows, even better! If you can stay up long enough to see the stars, double-good! Listen to the night noises and enjoy the peacefulness of the dark.

7. Play in water at least once. Go swimming, run through the lawn sprinkler, toss water balloons or shoot squirt guns. Be ready for the first really hot day of the year with whatever you need for water play.

8. Just once, do something you’ve never done before. Maybe you’ll go panning for gold or gems. Maybe you’ll visit an archeological dig. Maybe you’ll watch a demolition derby or a horse race or a dog show. Find out what’s happening in your area and do something new-to-you.

Anchor your family’s summer activities with just one simple event every week. Don’t be too busy or too sophisticated for downhome summer fun. The more you do, the more fun you’ll have and the more memories you’ll make.

Good summers are full of good memories.

With summer approaching, your child may ask to host a sleepover. This is usually not much of a problem for the under-10 set, who do eventually wind down and fall asleep. A movie, some popcorn or ice cream, and space for sleeping bags and usually everyone’s snoring by midnight, including you!

But if your child is a preteen or older, sleepovers may be a bit more complicated. If you’re planning on hosting a sleepover this summer, here are some tips to make the evening and the middle of the night go more smoothly.

Invite the right number. Sure your child has lots of friends and no one wants to be left out. But better to host several sleepovers with one or two other children than to host one sleepover and invite 10 kids. What is the most children you care to have responsibility for? Fewer is better than more.

Plan the right activities. The first word here is “plan,” and that’s a good place to start. Even if your child and her friends are fine without your planning, having a couple ideas ready will smooth things over if people get bored. But make certain what you have ready are “right activities.” You don’t want anything that’s too juvenile but you also don’t want anything that’s too adult or too dangerous.

Set the ground rules. Be nice about it but make your expectations clear right from the start and make gentle reminders throughout the night:

Good rules for children, yes, but there are also a few rules for you:

If your child is not the sleepover host but a sleepover guest some night soon, review with him ahead of time what your expectations are for his behavior in someone else’s house. Let him know that you will always come pick him up, no matter what the time, no questions asked, if he feels uncomfortable with what’s going on. Make certain the adults are responsible and plan to be on hand – which means you’ve got to ask them how the party will go. A too-casual attitude on their part should be a red flag. Don’t let your child fall into a situation that gets out of hand.

Sleepovers are fun but they take some thinking through. Imagine what can go wrong and take steps to head it off ahead of time.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

The great thing about summer is the sense of possibility. The long stretch of unencumbered time. Nothing one has to do. Everything one could do.

I hope your son or daughter can capitalize on the possibilities summer offers. There are some key skills your child can develop if given the chance and some guidance. By following these five steps, you can provide some great opportunities for your child to set a goal and reach it. What a great learning experience for summer!

Step #1: Think of things to do. Being bored is a good thing. It is the beginning of all new ideas. So becoming comfortable with a gap in the day is the key to creating something really exciting.

Support this by making certain there is unscheduled time in your child’s day. Don’t prohibit daydreaming! At the same time, step in if boredom turns to despair or destructiveness.

Step #2: Set goals that are achievable. Sometimes a child’s great idea, the one that makes him rouse from his boredom with a shout of “I’ve got it!” – sometimes it’s an idea too large, too dangerous, or too expensive to pull off. Learning how to adjust the plan to meet logistical constraints is indeed a key skill.

Support this by first being accepting and supportive (“What a great idea?’) and then inquiring (“But tell me… where will you get a rocket ship? Do you know someone who has one?’). Notice that you don’t need to throw cold water on the entire idea. Just help your child to herself tailor her ideas into something both satisfying and achievable.

Step #3: Make a plan to achieve a goal. Kids are great at envisioning the finished product or event but not quite so good at planning the steps to get there. Doing this is practice of a key skill

Support this by asking “What will you do first?” You can suggest your child outline the steps and try to think of everything he’ll need to do and all the supplies or equipment he’ll need to source. Don’t do this for your child, but you can certainly provide some guidance if he asks.

Step #4: Work within a timeframe. Time is part of any plan but it’s something children struggle to imagine. Consider how kids often underestimate how long their homework will take! So imagining a finish-date and backing up the steps to today is a good practical exercise.

Support this by making certain your child has time to work on her plans. Again, a child with too-tight a schedule is severely limited in her creative opportunities. Do what you can to support your child with the gift of time.

Step #5: Learn to deal with setbacks. No plan runs smoothly. There almost always are setbacks, detours, and just plain mistakes. Can your child stick with his idea, managing difficulties along the way, and come to an acceptable outcome at the end? This key skill is essential for life success.

Support this by lending a sympathetic ear. Setting something aside for a while is often helpful. Sometimes giving up on an idea is the only sane choice. But usually, conferencing together helps a solution to bubble up and leads to success. Give your child the emotional support she undoubtedly will need.

Your child’s summer can be inspirational and skill-building. It all starts with a little time to be bored and some guidance from you!

© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

Summer is officially here but maybe you’re already out of ideas for cool things to do with the family! Here are five great ideas that might spark a fresh thought in your head and a wonderful day together.

What’s within an hour’s drive or two from your home that you haven’t seen yet? A little investigation might uncover really interesting opportunities you’ve overlooked. Check especially for opportunities for…

A trip to a museum.

Search out a new and interesting museum, including funky roadside ones. Be sure to look for…

A day at a fair or community event.

There’s nothing to do in your area? Nonsense. Find out when one of these events is happening nearby and mark your calendar to be sure to attend.

Sporting event

You can be a spectator or even try your hand at being a participant. Choose a sport that’s different and fun. Here are some new possibilities…

Service Project

After all that, do you and your family still have a day or two free? If so, there’s an organization near you that would love your help. Look for things like…

Still bored? I thought not! Have a great summer!

© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

Every family needs a few simple ideas for a good time that cost no money and require no equipment or even skill. Here are five all-ages ideas to use through the summer.

Treasure Hide and Seek. Use any object that’s handy and easy to spot to use as the “treasure” in a game of hide and seek. While the seekers hide their eyes and count to 30, the hider finds a good place to hide the treasure. Then everyone looks for it. Whoever finds the treasure is the new hider. Everyone enjoys this game and preschoolers can play too. Play outdoors or inside.

Scavenger Hunt. Draw up a list of things to look for at the park or on a hike, then look for them. Simple enough. Make the hunt more interesting and challenging by first generating a list of about 100 possible items (a feather, a soda can, a red leaf, a caterpillar, an empty chip bag, whatever…). Cut apart the list and put all the slips of paper into a jar. Draw out 20 slips and use those as the list for your hike. Or, each person can draw out her own set of 7 to 10 slips. This game is different every time.

Star Gazing. City kids hardly ever see the stars, so if you go camping this summer or find yourself out in the country at night, look up. But you can go star gazing any evening, even in town. Take a blanket or two to the park on a warm, clear night. Since it will be late, you can even bring the kids in their pajamas. Lie down on one blanket (use the other to cover the kids if they get cold) and see what you can see. Bring along some snacks and just chill out together.

Progressive Story-telling. This works well in the car, on the bus or airplane, or even standing in a long line somewhere. Start a story – just make up anything – but only talk for a few sentences. Then pass the story on to the next person, who takes the story on from there. Start with an agreed-number of turns (no more than 3 per person) before the story comes to an end. But then, of course, someone can start another story and around you go!

Left-Right-Straight Hike. You and the kids want to get out of the house and just take a walk in the neighborhood. But that seems so boring. Here’s a way to make it more interesting: take turns saying “left,” “right” or “straight” at the end of every block. You might find yourself going past houses and businesses you never saw before when you’ve stuck to your “regular route.”

Having fun is free and takes only a little imagination and a willingness to play along with the kids. Make sure the car is packed with a tennis ball or two, a Frisbee, and an empty ziptop bag or paper cup with lid (for catching or saving interesting things). Add in a sheet or blanket to sit on and a couple BandAids and you’ll always be ready for family fun!


Is your family sticking close to home this summer? Plan a Family Stay-cation and have all the fun you could have in another town and spend a fraction of the cost, right in your own locale. Here are some tips and some suggestions for things to do.

Begin by blocking off a week (or two) for your stay-cation, just as you would if you were going to Disney World instead. Put this on your calendar, don’t accept competing appointments, and take the time off from work. This is a stay-cation, not just random things to do. Put yourself in the mood for fun by letting life go to vacation mode.

Then plan each day’s activities. Keep in mind that even at a theme park, you would eventually want a quieter day, so don’t commit to one “big” event after another. The best vacations have a rhythm of high-interest and lower stress activities.

Keep in mind the ages of your children and their stamina levels. Teens will feel the pull of their friends and may want to skip out of the family plan some days. Decide ahead of time how you will handle this: a reluctant, unhappy teen can smother the fun for everyone but so can worry about what your teen is doing on her own while you’re out with your other children. Consider bringing along your teen’s best friend, so your kid has someone to be with.

At the same time, remember that little kids need their naps. Plan your activities to have the best chance of making everyone happy.

Finally, feel free to skip the high-priced tourist destinations in your area in favor of low-cost or free destinations. Depending on the ages and interests of your children, choose from this list of ideas or be inspired to come up with your own.

Playground tour. Spend a day visiting four different playgrounds. What could be more fun? Be sure to take along a book, so you don’t get bored, but remember to “Look at me!”

Factory field trip. In my town, a bread bakery offers a tour of their factory. What businesses in your town do something similar? Reserve your family’s tour now, since these do fill up.

Backyard camping. Pitch a tent in the backyard, gather up the flashlights and sleeping bags and have a wonderful time. If you can start the evening with a campfire and toasted marshmallows, so much the better!

Farm visit. Many farm families supplement their incomes by offering barnyard tours during the summer. These can be a bit of an expense but less if you bring your own picnic. Find out what farms near you offer this.

Hard Hat Hangout. Scope out a local construction project with as much heavy equipment at work as possible and with a good view from a safe distance. This can create an exciting and memorable day for bulldozer-obsessed kids.

Recycle Action Day. This is pretty easy: get some small-size trash bags (quicker to fill and not so large that they trip children), some child-size work gloves, and get to a park or beach that needs a bit of a clean-up. If you’re concentrating on trash, you can make super long tweezers with strips of wood wrapped together at one end around a slice of cork (to create the hinged end). If you’re looking for recyclables, have separate bags for cans and plastics.

Room Re-do Day. This is great when outdoor plans are rained out. Pick a room – maybe the playroom or garage – clean it out, rearrange the furniture, and even paint the walls! You’ll need trash bags, paint, rollers and paint shirts. Great fun!

Library tour. This is another good rainy day activity. Visit four or more local library branches in your library system. Spend time in each children’s room, checking out the toys and puzzles. Bring along your card and check out good things to read or DVDs to watch later.

One more thing. Observe these basic rules as seems good to you:

Remember the fun starts before you leave the house. Make your departure unstressful, unhurried and pleasant. Vacations are fun and stay-cations even more so!

Have a wonderful summer!


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

It’s every parent’s nightmare: your child isn’t where you thought she was. In fact, she’s nowhere to be seen.  Even if being lost lasts for only a minute or two, you want to save yourself the anxiety and protect your child from what could happen when she’s lost.

From the moment a child is able to walk, he has places to go, things to see. His ability to keep track of where he is and how far he’s wandered doesn’t develop until much, much later. His ability to retrace his steps to get back to safety is even slower to develop – it’s something even we adults struggle with sometimes. Children often don’t even realize they’re lost. Many times, they’re just moving ahead, absorbed in whatever they’re doing.

Keeping toddlers under your eye is important. Use the seatbelt to keep your little one securely in place in a shopping cart. Hold hands or pick her up when you walk through a crowd. At the playground or children’s museum, keep your phone in your pocket so you’re not distracted. Many a parent has looked up from a phone after “just a few seconds” reviewing updates to discover the child has disappeared. It’s amazing how far away children can get when you’re not looking.

Preschoolers and older children are a bit more of a challenge. They are more independent of adult oversight as they play with each other at the park or walk along with the family on an outing. With picnics, street fairs, and water park visits coming up this summer, what can you do? You may not always keep them from getting lost but you can make it more certain they’ll be quickly found.

Here are some strategies to keep you and your kids safe.

  1. A child who realizes she’s lost should stay put and yell. Once a child realizes she’s become separated from her parents, she should stop moving and make a lot of noise. Running to find you or even just continuing to walk around hunting for you is more likely to lead her further and further away. Teach her to call loudly, “MOM!”  Most of all, children should know to not go to the parking lot to find you. Your child must know you would never leave without her.
  2. The lost child should enlist the help of a woman who has children with her. A mother is likely to be helpful and sympathetic… and safe. A store clerk or other employee can help, too, but the child should stay close to where they first realized they were lost. Teach your child how to speak up clearly, saying “I’ve lost my parents. Can you help me?”
  3. A child should never be more than a few steps away from you. Make it clear that your child should always keep you in sight. Make certain your children know they must tell you when they want to stop to look at something.
  4. Forbid playing hiding games in unfamiliar locations and unbounded spaces. Hide and seek is a great game, but what are the boundaries if you’re playing at the park? How far can a child go? How will you recover a child who hides so well that you can’t find her? At the very least, assign yourself thejob of “watcher” whose job is to know where every child is hidden.
  5. Know where you’ll meet and when. If you’re at an event with older elementary children and you want to let the kids go on their own, set a time and place to reunite. The place should be something very obvious – something tall that can be seen from a distance is a good location. If your child has a cell phone, then insist he answer your texts and calls. Make sure the notification volume is loud enough to be heard in a noisy situation.
  6. Make your child easily identifiable. To people not their parents, all children look alike. Before going out with your children, notice what they’re wearing today. Take a group photo before setting out at the fair.

Think ahead, you and your kids together, and have a lovely time!


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Join Dr. Anderson in an online conference for teachers and parents. Find out more at Quality Conference for Early Childhood Leaders.