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Encourage creativity

Set up workstation and let child paint

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Connor Lowe, who lives in Glen Allen, Va., likes to work in a number of mediums: clay, paint, crayon and collage. His most famous work, "Boy With Fish," is prominently displayed — on the family fridge. His mom, Hallie, started supplying a range of art supplies about a year ago, right after his second birthday: "It's messy sometimes, but it's worth it when I see what a good time he has."

Creating art is more than just fun for little kids. It improves hand-eye coordination and motor skills and helps build the spatial awareness and finger strength they'll need to write later on, says Sybil Berkey, a pediatric occupational therapist in Redmond, Wash. To introduce the arts to your pint-size Picasso:

1. Set up a workstation. Pick a place, such as the kitchen table or a child-size table or easel. Just spread an old tablecloth underneath to catch spills (don't use newspaper — it may stain your floor).

2. Collect a range of supplies: chunky crayons, washable markers, paint, thick-handled brushes, glue, age-appropriate scissors, different sizes and types of paper (including cardboard, coffee filters and paper bags), old magazines (to tear out photos), items to stamp with (like cut-up sponges), play dough and clay. Store them inside clear plastic bins in a childproof cabinet or on a high shelf. Have your child wear a smock or an old, oversize T-shirt and keep a few paper towels, rags or baby wipes handy (so he can wipe as he works).

3. Join in, but don't take charge. Resist the urge to direct a project or turn your child's creations into recognizable figures. It's fine to show your child how to do new things he can imitate, such as roll dough into a slithering snake, but don't draw perfect portraits while he's scribbling in circles. — Laurie Winslow Sargent

No more TV dinners

Like most parents, you may occasionally let your kids eat a meal while watching a favorite show. But having dinner in front of the tube several nights a week could be hazardous to your children's nutritional health, according to a new study by Tufts University's School of Nutrition. The youngsters who watched TV while eating consumed fewer fruits and vegetables — and more pizza, salty snacks and caffeinated soda — than those who didn't. — Maureen Connolly

Do-it-yourself souvenirs

On your next vacation, skip the ubiquitous store-bought trinkets. Instead, try these almost no-cost ideas that capture family memories.

1. Jump-start a nature collection. On a beach trip, scoop a bit of sand into a zip-lock plastic bag or envelope. Later, pour the sand into a clear bottle and display on a shelf. Label with the beach's name and the date collected.

2. Create personalized place mats. At favorite restaurants that use pretty paper mats, ask for extras. Have them laminated at a copy shop for use at home.

3. Start a travelogue. Grab free postcards at your hotel. Ask your child to write a message about the trip on each and mail them home. — Eileen Ogintz


These articles first appeared in Parenting/Family Life magazine © The Parenting Group