Creating Downtime Is Important for Growing Healthy Bodies and Minds

Children having picnic

Downtime Is Important for Growing Healthy Bodies and Minds
Summer is an ideal time to create new habits of downtime for kids of all ages. Has downtime been a concern in your family? It seems like every month there are more studies about the detrimental nature of too much screen time or over-scheduling on children’s health. It should concern all of us that children at younger and younger ages are being seen for adult sized problems like stress and insomnia.

How do you know you have a problem with overscheduling?
Your children may have started complaining about their activities across the board—even things they always looked forward to. If your child is having trouble sleeping or is complaining about headaches, stomachaches, anxiety, or feeling tired, you probably have an over scheduled child.

What is considered healthy in Traditional Chinese Medicine?
Traditional Chinese medicine views childhood with a view to the future. “According to Chinese philosophy, jing (essence) forms the material basis for the whole body. Stored in the kidneys, jing serves as the deposited capital for reproduction, growth, development and maturation.”  Childhood is the time that jing is generated and stored in the kidneys. Jing ensures our bodies resistance to illness and promotes vitality. What is important to know, is that as we get older, we no longer produce an abundance of jing and begin to rely on the reserves in our kidneys. Therefore, it is vital that we maintain a healthy childhood environment in order to be healthy as an adult. Another foundation of long-life health established in childhood is sleep. Sleep replenishes the body and ensures a proper balance of yin and yang. Balanced yin and yang means healthy body systems and a strong immune system. Insomnia is a burgeoning problem with youth. Research has shown that exposure to bright lights and excessive screen time in the evenings can disturb the biological clock, causing problems with sleep in both youth and adults.  Children and teens, however, need more sleep than adults and should be establishing life-long, healthy sleep habits.

What can we do?
There are many different ways you can incorporate more downtime into your children’s lives. You may need to have your children choose one or two extra-curricular activities to do in a school year, like soccer and piano rather than soccer, band, individual music lessons, dance, and gymnastics, for example. After you have defined your extra activities, you can work start to build a structure that allows for downtime. Some families decide on a certain number of screen hours per day and some decide on no screen time on school nights. Only you can decide what works for your circumstances. You could then fill your “extra” time with outside play earlier in the day and quiet activities like drawing or simple crafts, reading, and playing games. It’s important to quiet your environment and lower lights an hour before bedtime so the body can begin to wind down. It is helpful to develop nighttime rituals that help signal to the mind that it’s time to sleep.

Summer is an ideal time to try out limiting screens because there are more opportunities to play outdoors and read or listen to books on tape for pleasure, rather than assignments. If you have anxiety about providing enough learning opportunities for your children, summer will give you time to work on that for yourself. Remember that downtime is important for the development of the brain. Ease your concerns by reading research studies like this one that found, “Some of the most important scientific breakthroughs ever made by scientists including Einstein and Newton came about as the geniuses allowed their minds to wander, researchers say.”

Downtime can be a healthy, conscious choice for your family. In our next post, we will have a round up of more resources to help you develop your own ideas for downtime in your family.


Keep Warm to Store Energy in Winter

Kids Nest Winter

© Holly Abney for The Nest

In the winter, bears store up energy by cuddling up in a warm place and going into a hibernation sleep. It’s in their nature to nurture themselves so that they are ready to play again in Spring. Traditional Chinese medicine believes that responding properly to our environment each season will help us gain health. We have to be like the bears and stay warm and cozy in the winter.

It is important to cover our head and neck to protect ourselves from cold winds. Traditional Chinese medicine says that a person can get sick from something going out of balance on the inside of our bodies or from something in the environment affecting us from the outside. Covering up and keeping warm will help our body defend itself from environmental influences.

The place between our lower back and our lower belly is where our vital energy is stored—the energy that makes our bodies go—so it is also important to keep our lower back and bellies warm. We can do that with clothing and by eating warm food like soups and stews.

Click on the image for link to the recipe for Crockpot Vegan Lemon Blueberry Oatmeal

Click on the image for link to the recipe for Slow Cooker Vegan Lemon Blueberry Oatmeal

Your family can try this recipe for vegan Lemon Blueberry Oatmeal that cooks overnight in the crockpot. Your kitchen will smell like someone was baking muffins overnight and you will have good, warm food to eat.

We can restore our vital energy and store it up for Spring by making sure it doesn’t get wasted fighting off the cold. Protect yourself from the cold! Cover your head, neck, belly, hands, and toes!

Support Kids Health For the Whole School Year

Student carrying backpack and books At the start of the school year, we have hopes of  keeping our kids fortified against the onslaught of colds, flus, and stress so that they can excel in their studies and just enjoy learning. To that end, we’ve made a round up of the best supportive measures for your child’s basic health and well being over the school year. HEALTHY LUNCH

Gluten free sandwiches on a stick—appealing & an easy way to add veggies! From Ingredient's Inc. blog.

Gluten free sandwiches on a stick—appealing & an easy way to add veggies! From Ingredient’s Inc. blog.

You don’t have to go for full bento cuteness to get the best of what bento boxes have to offer:  bite sized options! Kids are more inclined to eat a wide variety of healthy food if they are bite sized. Sandwich skewers can be put together quickly if you have cherry tomatoes and pre-chopped veggies on hand. You can add any combination of sliced cucumber, leftover grilled veggies, pickles, olives, protein like deli meats, leftover roast chicken or other meats from dinner, or non-dairy rice or nut cheese. These are also a great option for teens who might go for a more sophisticated caprese salad on a stick. They are easy to make and eat and a great way to avoid grain allergies. Another lunchbox win is dip. Children are also more inclined to eat vegetables when they can dip them in something but why send hummus when you can send rainbow dip?

Spring Dips from "the green lunch"

Spring Dips from “the green lunch”

The creator of green lunch acknowledges that she would never be able to get her pre-school aged daughter to eat fava beans on their own, but she loves her Fava Bean Dip! Click on the photo to get the recipe for Fava Bean, Carrot, and Beet Dips. We think giving small portions of all three and calling it “Rainbow Dip” would be extra appealing for little ones. ACUPUNCTURE & ACUPRESSURE FOR STRESS RELIEF Ladies Home Journal reports about the stress-fighting benefits of acupuncture in the article, “The Acupressure Advantage”. Acupuncture can bring levels of stress hormones back into balance while simultaneously releasing endorphins, for an all over sense of well being. They quote Dr. Brian Berman, MD, Director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland as saying, “If you know you are about to embark on a stressful event, you could also have acupuncture done preventatively,” Dr. Berman says. “Most people start having it done once a week for about 30 minutes, but as your body adjusts, once a month is usually enough to keep in balance.” Wouldn’t it be smart to do this for your kids before standardized testing and/or finals? It’s also helpful during times of transition or social upset, like problems with friends. Follow the link to the article to find out how you can apply acupressure to some of the points used in acupuncture to get some of the same stress-relieving benefits. They are easy enough to teach to your kids so that they can support themselves through a stressful day. ATTACK COLDS AND FLU AT THE ONSET herbs We recommend keeping a Cold & Flu Preventative Formula on hand. This blended herbal Chinese medicine is meant to be taken at the first whisper of a cold or flu. If taken at the onset of illness, you will only need to take it for up to three days. This formula will give your body the strength it needs to overcome the imbalance, thus preventing you from the drain of full sickness. At the first sight of symptoms, you’ll be ready to strike. For more about this formula, check out our blog post, “Medicine Cabinet Must-Have: Cold & Flu Preventative Formula”. Let us know your ideas for keeping your kids healthy in the comments or feel free to contact us with any questions. We wish you a healthy and happy school year!

Kids Can Learn the Theory of the Five Elements

ChineseMedecineThousands of years ago (476-221 BC) in China, a doctor devised a theory for understanding illness and health called The Theory of the Five Elements. His name was Zou Yen. After much observation and study, Zou Yen saw that everything in the world from the tiniest parts to the largest, have an influence on each other. In the body, your internal organs like your heart and your stomach work with your blood and energy to keep you going. In a similar way, humans are a working part of the environment and things like the seasons and weather have an effect on our bodies.

Zou Yen, along with others, wrote down all the details of his complex theory and today, Practitioners of Traditional Chinese medicine use it to help them recognize patterns of illness.

The five elements are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. They help to show how natural states work together in cycles. Sometimes this theory is called the Five Phases because it describes these cycles better. The creation, or generation, cycle shows how one element nurtures the other to help it grow. Zou Yen said it was like a mother tending a child. Wood feeds fire, or wood is the mother of fire, fire creates earth (by turning wood to ash so it can return to the soil), earth bears metal (like how you can mine for gold in a mountain), metal enriches water (that’s why people always want water with minerals in it!), and water nourishes wood (think of how rain helps the trees to grow). If you look at the chart below, you can follow the arrows from one element to the other.

final Child Five Elements copy

When it was seen that the interactions of the organ systems of the body made a circle of five things, Zou Yen mapped them onto the Five Elements. Well, now I need to talk about the organ systems for a minute. The internal organs work in buddy teams according to their function. Each team has a yin organ and a yang organ. Yin and Yang is a big idea which says that opposite properties complement each other and work together to keep harmony in the world. The grouping together of internal organs into a system is called Zang Fu. Zang is Yin and Fu is Yang.

Zang organs manufacture and store energy and blood and the purpose of Fu organs is to digest and transmit energy and body fluids.

Zang Organs

  • Heart
  • Spleen
  • Lung
  • Kidney
  • Liver


Fu Organs

  • Small Intestine
  • Stomach
  • Large Intestine
  • Bladder
  • Gall Bladder


The Buddy Teams Together With the Five Elements

  • Heart & Small Intestine are placed with Fire
  • Spleen & Stomach are placed with Earth
  • Lung & Large Intestine are placed with Metal
  • Kidney & Bladder are placed with Water
  • Liver and Gall Bladder are placed with Wood


If you are healthy, like if you have enough healthy food but not too much, all the elements work together to nourish and balance each other. But, for instance, if you eat too much heavy, rich, or overly sweet foods, you can get a condition called Damp Spleen which means you have too much Water. Too much Water puts out the Fire and the Fire is what helps your body have enough energy. This means your digestion can become sluggish so you get stomachaches or you may have low energy. This is just one example. A Practitioner of Traditional Chinese medicine can help get these systems back in balance so that your body works in better harmony.

When modern doctors and scientists describe the body, they speak in a straightforward way but in ancient times, doctors like to make pictures or stories when they talked about body processes. They often are talking about the same thing, but in different ways.

Looking at the Five Elements is just one way to learn how all the parts of your body work together to give you a healthy and happy life!



I Resolve to Have Fun, Learn, and Help in the New Year

Kids and Families Make Resolutions

You have a brand new year ahead of you! There are so many things you can do and learn in a year. Now is a good time to get together with your family to make plans and goals. Each family member can contribute ideas for fun activities and think of ways to help each other reach your goals.

You can print out our 2013 planning sheet for each member of your family. Write your name at the top and as you go down the list, brainstorm ideas for each category. Then, write down your best choice for each. If you need help getting started, we’ve listed each category here:

What are you itching to learn? Maybe you or a brother or sister would like to learn long division, how to shoot a basket, ride a two-wheeler, or tie shoes? Pick one and have your family help you break it down into small steps you can work on.

Do you have a favorite place? Is there somewhere you have heard about you would like to go? You might want to go to the beach in the summer, or to a soccer game, or to the Planetarium to look at stars. Choose one and make it a family goal to schedule these visits on the calendar for the coming year. Now you have fun things to look forward to.

Doing good for others makes us happy and healthy. What is something you could do to help your family or others? Maybe you can help wash the dishes or fold socks. Do you have an older neighbor that could use help shoveling the snow outside their house? Ask your parents to share stories about people they know about who are heroes or helpers. Those stories are inspiring and they may give your family an idea of service you can do together.

What can you do this year to improve yourself? You could ride your bike for 20 minutes every day, you could learn how to cook healthy foods, you could practice the piano, or you could teach your younger sibling how to do something you already know how to do, like a dance routine, or fractions, or a really good pitch. How could you be a brighter and stronger you?

The New Year is a good time to think about ways to make life happy, rewarding and fun. We wish you a very happy 2013!

Kids NY Goals PDF

Healthy Holiday Baking With Your Kids

There are innumerable benefits to cooking with your child.

Are you aware that learning to prepare and cook food can help children:

  • Learn to recognize food in its raw state, how it is grown, where it comes from, and the different ways it can be prepared
  • Develop their brains through sensory learning — using sight, smell, taste and texture to learn helps build neural pathways in the brain
  • Hone language and math skills by reading recipes and measuring ingredients
  • Gain confidence and self-mastery through learning a long term life skill and feeling that they contribute to their family
  • Enjoy family traditions and togetherness


The holidays are a perfect opportunity to spend time with your children building family traditions and enjoying the leisurely communication that occurs when you work side by side. We’ve gathered recipes for holiday desserts that provide ample ways for little hands to measure, cut out and decorate delicious traditional treats. We found recipes that are either gluten free, grain free, or have low/no refined sugar so that families with special diets can enjoy this form of sweet togetherness as well.

Photo courtesy of Gluten Free Bay



I’ll bet no one will know the difference with this gluten free version of the Hanukkah favorite, Sufganiyot (Jelly Doughnuts)!

Photo courtesy of The Urban Poser





These Raspberry Hamantaschen from The Urban Poser are grain free, made with honey and beautiful! Little fingers will have no problem pinching the corners and older children can be in charge of spooning in the raspberry filling. They can also be made vegan.




Nourished Kitchen is one of our favorite blogs. Kids will love decorating and eating these grain

Photo courtesy of Nourished Kitchen

free/sugar free Gingerbread Men!


Enjoy adding sweetness to your holiday spending time together.

Building Stories With Nature’s Materials

In our last post, we talked about the pleasure and importance of being outdoors. We suggested you could collect leaves and other natural materials while on a hike with your family. If you collected stones, you are ready to make Poetry Pebbles! You can also purchase pebbles at a craft store. This would be a fun activity for a party.



You will need:  pebbles, tempura or milk paint, brushes, and markers (optional). We asked our friends, Elijah and Asher, to show us how to make Poetry Pebbles.

First, if your pebbles are very smooth, rub them with sandpaper.

Next, paint the surface of the rock with colors you like. Elijah picks blue.

Asher paints his pebbles green. It’s his favorite color!

After we painted all the pebbles, we put them on a cookie sheet covered with wax paper and put them up someplace high to dry.

When the pebbles are dry, write a word on each one using paint or markers. It’s fun to think of a combination of people, places, things, action words, and descriptive words. Even little ones can help. Then, make a poem or tell a story by arranging and rearranging the pebbles.

This one says, “The cat runs fast on Friday.”

This craft is fun. Elijah shows us you can make poems and stories inside or out in the garden.

Making crafts with supplies found in nature is fun! It’s a good way to remember the adventurous walk you had outdoors. Did you collect leaves on your walk? You might like this selection of beautiful leaf crafts.

Enjoy your time outdoors!




Be A Part of Reaching the Goal to Get 10 Million Kids Outdoors!

From Leo Tolstoy’s illustrations of “The Three Bears”

“To combat today’s “indoor childhood” trend, National Wildlife Federation has a new goal to move 10 million kids from their indoor habitat back into the outdoors, at home, school, and parks, anywhere there is green space.

Spending time in Nature has many benefits that have been explored and proven in over one hundred research studies. Hiking in the outdoors can reduce depression and anxiety, reduce risk of disease, heighten mental awareness, and provides us with a sense of connectedness and meaning.

As little as ten years ago, children used to spend an average of three hours a day playing outdoors and now, with many schools cutting recess time, that is down to minutes. Larry Schweiger, the President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation has said that they are “committed to helping parents, policy makers, educators and child-serving organizations so that children can get the outdoor time they need”. They understand that mothers (according to surveys they conducted) want their children to spend more time outdoors but are often overwhelmed with their busy schedules and don’t know how they can fit in the time. Rep. Ron Kind (WI) and Senator Mark Udall (CO) introduced the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act in Congress to bolster state initiatives that will help parents and schools give children more outdoor time. Read more about 10 Million Kids Outdoors aims and steps to success in this article and more about the wondrous effects of nature in this article.

How will you get outdoors? Even in the city, natural spaces are closer than you think. Bookmark this great resource to find all manner of spaces close to your home. We suggest going on a little hike to collect Fall leaves. Check back next week when we will show you a craft activity to do with objects found in Nature. Enjoy your time outside! Let’s meet the goal together!


Acupuncture for Kids: A blog for Kids and Parents

Acupuncture for Children at The Nest in Chicago

Acupuncture for Children at The Nest in Chicago. Photo: Nicole Radja, for Time Out Chicago Kids

Welcome to The Nest Kids, our new blog for kids and families! We created a space specifically for families and children so that kids have a space to hear about acupuncture from other kids and where they can find fun activities that enhance their health and well-being. We believe that stories from mothers and fathers about how acupuncture at The Nest, in Chicago,  helped them face or heal their child’s health challenge is invaluable.

That is why, for our inaugural post, we’d like to share the Liz Plosser article for TimeOut Chicago Kids , Alternative medicine for kids, Local families are finding powerful healing options beyond the pharmacy. It leads with a personal story from one of our Nest moms who describes how TCM at the Nest helped her sweet son and features a photo slide show of another fabulous Nest family. We know stories of the challenges families face and their successes are inspiring and helpful for others and we just love seeing our families shine!

Read the inspiring stories and find out more about other alternative health resources for children here: