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A Kid-friendly New Year’s Eve

December 31, 2013

By Amanda Gebhardt

Kid-friendly New Year's Eve

Every year I am amazed by how quickly midnight rolls around on New Year's Eve. There have been quite a few that we’ve missed because we were distracted by a conversation or a game with family and friends. It wasn’t always like that, though. I remember when I was growing up and it felt like the night stretched on forever. There were many years where even though my parents said I was old enough to stay up to watch the ball drop on TV, I still ended up sound asleep well before midnight.

The last three New Year’s Eves have been quiet evenings at home with friends as our young daughter slept her way into January. This year, while she’s still much too young to stay up until midnight, she’s not too young to be introduced to the fun and excitement of the New Year. They say that the people you start the New Year with will be the ones who stay with you throughout the next twelve months, so why not make sure this New Year’s Eve is one that helps bring your family together?

  • Watch an earlier ball drop. Young children need their sleep no matter what day of the year it is. In order to keep disruption to a minimum but still let your child enjoy the spirit of the holiday, make time to watch an earlier countdown. Throughout December 31, people will be counting down to midnight in places around the world. Whether it’s airing on TV, or you find a live stream of it, you may be able to watch the ball drop as early as you want. For those on the east coast, Paris and London will hit midnight at about six or seven o’clock, respectively. For those on the west coast, you can tune in to the ball drop in Times Square at about eight o’clock.
  • Keep snacks healthy. Serve fresh vegetables and fruit salad instead of potato chips and try out some healthy salsa or hummus recipes with baked tortilla chips.
  • Serve sparkling water. A touch of bubbly makes New Year’s Eve special, but it doesn’t have to be a sugary drink like sparkling grape juice or sparkling apple juice. A small sip of club soda can provide the fizz without a sugary overload. For older kids, have some fun by finding recipes online for them to try mixing their own kid-friendly drinks for the night.
  • Set family goals. Talk to your child about the upcoming year. Share things you are looking forward to and goals you want to accomplish. Encourage him or her to do the same. Use this time to reflect on the past year, any joys or sorrows your family went through, and make plans to start the next year off on a positive and productive note.

Whatever you do this New Year’s Eve, remember that the traditions you put in place with your children will be carried with them the rest of their lives. For me, it never feels like New Year’s Eve without nachos and board games. With so many options for healthy nachos, I’m so excited to begin passing these traditions on to my daughter this year!

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The Gift of Reading

December 30, 2013

by Dr. Bruce Marchiafava

A father reads to his children

Of all the subjects that we learn during our education—from kindergarten through graduate school—the single most important is reading. Because reading is the key that opens the door to the accumulated knowledge of our civilization, whatever line of work we pursue, we’re likely to depend upon reading to some degree. College professors read constantly, while electricians need to read technical manuals. We read in our daily lives, from shopping to insurance policies to road signs.

Learning to read is a complex process. For several decades, reading experts have argued over the various techniques to teach reading; phonics or whole language or some combination of both, or even some other method. Parents don’t need to understand these techniques or take sides on which is best. Your role is more basic, and more important: to introduce your child to reading by reading to him or her.

When to start reading? Shortly after our first child was born, a friend of ours—a teacher and principal—gave us a gift for the baby. It was a little plastic “book” of eight pages, mostly pictures but some words. I asked him when we should start reading to our son and he said, “Now. Six months is not too soon!” We followed his advice with both children, reading to them right up to first grade. By then, they were able to read some stories to us.

As your child’s first teacher, you will be teaching him or her many lessons. Reading should be at the top of this list. Here’s a little lesson plan for doing this:

  • When and Where. Set aside a regular time. Just before bed is good; this is a great preparation for going to sleep. Whatever time you select, make certain it’s a quiet time: no TV, no music, no talking by other family members. Try for at least three times a week.
  • What. Stories that will interest and entertain your child. At the beginning, the stories should have lots of pictures and simple stories, with basic words. Later, you can introduce longer stories, with more action in them. The vocabulary should grow and the pictures become more elaborate.
  • How. As you read a story, you can point to figures in pictures (“duck,” “cow”) while saying the word. Then point to the word and the picture, to link them. You could show how two words that sound alike (“duck,” “truck”) mean different things. When you finish the story, ask your child questions about it. What did you like? What did the pig do? What does the fox say?
  • Who. You can begin with infants; although they will not understand (and have a very limited vocabulary), they can listen to your voice and can look at the pictures. Each month, they will understand more and acquire more words. Gradually, they will recognize some written words, identifying the sounds and explaining the meaning. By kindergarten, your children are likely to be reading on a very basic level, or at least have acquired pre-reading skills.

Teaching reading by reading to your child is enjoyable and very effective. It is also one of the greatest gifts you can give your child. Books contain the knowledge, dreams, ideas, imagination and fantasies of our world. They open the doors to science, to mathematics, to history, poetry, literature, and to careers in the adult world.

Not bad for a few minutes each night with your child.

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I Am Because We Are: Celebrate the Principles of Kwanzaa

December 26, 2013

By Jessica Vician

Happy Kwanzaa!

As we near the end of the holiday season, it’s nice to reflect on the various holidays celebrated in December. Through different religions and cultures, many people spend the season trying to be kind and compassionate to others, spending time with loved ones, and giving to those in need. In that holiday spirit, Kwanzaa closes out the month (and the year), overlapping with New Year’s Eve and Day, as the final large religious or cultural celebration.

While Kwanzaa was established to celebrate African heritage specifically in African-American culture, the holiday is now celebrated internationally. Taking place over seven days, each day focuses on a principle that reflects tradition and reason. Regardless of religion or culture, as we look back on the holiday season and prepare to embrace a new year, all of us can incorporate many of Kwanzaa’s principles in our families’ lives.

  • Unity. This principle is rooted in the belief that we are all united. In fact, it stems from an African saying, “I am We” or “I am because We are.” Talk to your children about your family, your community, and the connections that bind you all together. Share your family’s history. Did your family come from Africa, Europe, Asia, South or Central America? Are you native to the United States? Explain your ancestry to your children to help them understand their heritage and take pride in it. Help your children see how fluid the world is, always changing and moving, but always connected.
  • Self-Determination. Teach your children the importance of speaking for themselves and determining their own path in life. There are many children’s movies that feature a main character finding his or her own path and standing up for his or her personal beliefs. Watch the movie with your children and talk to them afterwards about those lessons.
  • Creativity. Help your children understand that as humans, we must help better and beautify our communities through our talents and contributions. If you live in a warmer climate, demonstrate this principle by planting flowers or a tree. In cooler climates, create snow sculptures or work together to make blankets for senior citizens or the homeless. Remind your children that caring for their surroundings and community and bringing beauty to the world is important.

These are only three of the seven Kwanzaa principles, which also include Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, and Faith, all of which you can incorporate into your family’s life. Use this opportunity to bring the holiday’s principles into your New Year as you continue the holiday spirit through practicing compassion toward others and honoring your strengths as an individual, as a family, and as a community.

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True Meaning of Christmas

December 25, 2013

By Sunny P. Chico

Merry Christmas to you and your family! From, YOU Parent

For some families, Christmas is lost amid all the shopping frenzy, party throwing and the sounds of the cash register as they rush to buy gifts for all their loved ones. Let’s not forget that the true meaning of Christmas for Christians is about celebrating the gift God gave us through the birth of his son. I look at it as a new beginning every year. It’s a time to reflect on how blessed we are despite the bad moments we faced throughout the year, such as deaths or sickness in the family. Christmas is for strengthening family ties and sharing with others. Being generous and giving ourselves to others comes with the holiday spirit.

Here are some things that I do personally to give back. These can help reconnect you and children of any age to the true meaning of Christmas:

  1. Toy drives. Organize a toy drive at your work place. Set a toy bin at the entrance of your office and ask people from your company and from the whole office building to cooperate with toys for children in need. You will be amazed by the positive response you will get! Buying children toys is one of the most gratifying things you can do to celebrate Christmas.
  2. Donate to a charity. There are hundreds of charities across the country that support everything from environmental causes to children’s welfare. Pick one and donate what you can, whether it’s with money or with your time through volunteering. Commit to the cause and make sure to follow up periodically to figure out how the organization is fighting for the cause of your choice.
  3. Encourage family members to give. Every year I ask my children ten questions targeted to what I’m going to get them: what do you need for your house? What is your favorite color for a sweater? This year I’m asking them about their favorite charity because as a gift to them, we are donating to the one they pick.

Gifts and parties are important and fun, but we need to remember that giving and receiving cannot be measured in dollars. Aiming to spread cheer and gratitude with your Christmas gifts is what counts. The more we do this, the more love and compassion will carry us through the new year. God Bless and Merry Christmas, from my family to yours.

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Ho Ho Ho! Where’s Santa? Find Him Here!

December 24, 2013

By Jessica Vician

Santa tracker

It’s Christmas Eve and Santa is somewhere out there delivering gifts to girls and boys around the world!

While your child is still young, it might be difficult to understand just how big this world truly is. Use the Santa Tracker websites to help show that even at 1:00 pm where you live, Santa is heading down someone’s chimney across the world because it’s nighttime there. This is a great opportunity to teach social studies skills and global awareness, but most importantly, you can use it to inspire a little Christmas magic and wonder.

We like the Official NORAD Santa Tracker and the Google Santa Tracker.

If you have a fun story to share about your child’s experience with the Santa Tracker, tell us in the forum.

Merry Christmas from all of us at YOU Parent, and to all a good night!

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