What's your family look like?

I love my son's drawings. He creates rocket ships with lots of windows so the astronauts can see into space, city buses that also act as street sweepers, and recently, he started drawing castles.

But he rarely draws pictures of his family (probably because we are not as exciting as his other subjects). And that is OK for now, but I will definitely ask him to draw pictures of his family when he turns six.

You see, researchers have determined that the drawings of six-year-olds speak volumes about their home lives. Children who come from cluttered, loud homes will draw themselves as smaller in size and at a distance from their parents. Or they will draw themselves with indifferent faces and drooping hands.

Although this is not an exact science, the researchers who led the study believe they have come up with an objective way to look at children's drawings and measure them for happiness within the home.

But why at the age of six? The team indicated that younger children still have difficulty drawing or creating an accurate picture of home life, whereas older children may have the notion of a "perfect family" in their heads and draw that instead.

While I wait for my son to turn older so I can see what he really thinks about his home life, I will continue to cover my refrigerator with rainbows, flying cars and dinosaurs. Because, to me, those pictures are a very accurate depiction of our home life right now.

What kind of artwork covers your refrigerator? Tell me in the comments.

Dear Mom love letters

I was standing in the kitchen cleaning up after dinner when I heard my son's "serious voice" behind me.

"Excuse me, Mommy. I need you to read this."

He handed me a notepad, and on it he had written:

I WUD LIK FOUR YU T WRK WTH ME

Clearly I dropped everything to follow his message (I would like for you to work with me). I followed him upstairs where he wrote a note to his cousin - he wanted me to come because he wanted to make sure he got all the spelling correct.

As I watch my son sound out words and write down the corresponding letters, I can't help but be proud of him. I am not sure if I was turning out such well-thought missives at the age of four, but I do recall writing lots of notes when I was little.

And, it turns out that letter writing is a very good practice to encourage in young children. (Thanks, Mom!) Children who practice writing before they get into a formal classroom have been found to have better vocabulary and literacy rates, according to research published in the Early Childhood Research Quarterly.

Even more intriguing is the way parents can help nurture those writing skills by encouraging children to sound out the way they think words should be spelled. Once I read that research, I started encouraging my son even more - I don't care what the spelling he comes up with is like as I am only interested in the sounds he associates with each letter.

And since then, I have a drawer of handwritten notes from my son. What could be better than that?

Have you ever looked back at your childhood handwriting against your child's handwriting? How do they compare?

Stay in school, kids

As my son and I waited way too long to get a prescription filled the other day, an older gentleman started chatting with us. He remarked that my son was being very patient, and he asked my son how old he was. My son replied politely. (Proud Mommy moment.) My son then volunteered the information that he was allowed to talk to strangers but not leave with them. (Proud/semi awkward Mommy moment.)

The gentleman asked my son about school, and my son replied that he had fun at school and went every day, and he liked it when Mommy was able to come and get him early. The gentleman replied that when he was little he only attended school for half-days until first grade.

And that was true of me as well: I went to half-day preschool and half-day Kindergarten. (I have fond memories of the Kindergarten, because my Mom took me to work in the library with her in the mornings and I would help put away books and read for hours.)

As it turns out, recent research suggests that full-day preschool is the way to go. The study took a look at students who attended different length programs and found that students who attended the seven hour program (versus the three) could outperform their peers in language, math and social skills. Those students also had better coping skills when it came to Kindergarten.

I like this study, but wish it delved more into the curriculum. Obviously not all of my son's school day now is spent on learning activities, but the extra time spent with children his age is helping him with social skills needed for life.

Does your child attend a half-day school program or a full day program? Which do you think is better? Let me know in the comments.

Yes, of course your phone is hurting your relationship

On the (sadly) rare occasion that I leave my desk for lunch, I take my phone with me. I know I cannot successfully walk and text, but I will usually type out a brief note to my husband on the escalator ride through my building, and maybe another note as I am waiting in line to order food. I am thankful for those few interactions with my husband on an otherwise rushed day.

Fast forward to being at home.

I don't want to see his phone at the dinner table, but sometimes it is there anyway. He doesn't want me to catch up on my games when I could be talking to him while making dinner, but I do. And sometimes both of us are ingesting alternative content while we are "watching" TV together.

Our phones are keeping us apart. And we're not the only ones.

Penn State researchers have released a study indicating there is a relationship between frequent technology interruptions and low satisfaction within couples. In other words: We need to turn our devices off.

Easier said than done, right? So, let's start with some rules that you can discuss with your partner and move forward from there:
  1. No devices at dinner time. Take back your family dinner and talk to each other.
  2. People in front of you come first. The ringing phone can wait - that is what voice mail is for.
  3. One screen at a time.
Yes, I know, it's hard to put the phone down. But I'm pretty sure your family is worth it. (I know that mine is.) Start small, forgive yourself for slipping up. And enjoy life in real time.

What's the one thing about your phone you really hate? Share with me in the comments.