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Low-Cost Summer Programs

March 13, 2014

By Kevin Rutter

Children run through a field holding hands and smiling.

Summer seems like a long way off, but it is never too early to start planning things for your children to do when they are off from school. This is a critical time for kids to engage in activities to supplement their learning at school, learn something new, socialize with their peers, and play.

Growing up, my mom gave me the brochure for summer activities at the local park district and told me to choose one myself or she would choose one for me. I am glad she did because it got me out of the house to meet new friends, exercise, and learn about things I would not have encountered in my daily routine.

As a teacher, I am currently getting letters and emails regarding low-cost summer opportunities for my students from a wide variety of institutions. There are many low-cost summer programs available in your community. Here are some places to start looking:

  • YMCA. They offer day camps, specialty camps, and overnight camps, in addition to daily activities for children.
  • Park districts. Many park districts offer summer day camps that include field trips, learning activities, and sports. They can even cost less than $5 an hour per child!
  • Reading camps at the local library. Your child or teen can join others to read together and discuss books. All they need is a library card.
  • Church camps. Ask your church if they offer youth programs in the summer. These are usually free or discounted compared to other organizations.
  • Local colleges. Local colleges and universities offer various programs for children of all ages, from early childhood daycare to teen theatre programs.

There is an equally large assortment of activities to choose from and different levels of time commitment ranging from a couple of hours on the weekend to overnight summer camps away from home. Do not be scared of these longer overnight camps, as they can be incredible experiences for your child.

Over the years I have had several students who were accepted into really amazing summer camps, only to have the parents say no because they were too afraid to let them go overnight. I strongly encourage parents to let their child attend these types of trips for the experience after checking with teachers, counselors, and program administrators about of the details of the camp including itineraries, safety, and ways to communicate while away.

Summer is a great time to step away from school for your child and great opportunities are out there to expand horizons and develop skills. Feel free to use my mother’s motivational technique: your child chooses an activity outside of the house or you do!

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Find Your Child’s Learning Style

March 12, 2014

By Lorena Villa Parkman

Tweens use magnifying glasses to examine objects.

Helping a child with his or her school chores is usually a challenge for parents. There are many things to address in order to help a child be a well-rounded student: time efficiency, best test-taking strategies, smart study tips, and overall helping your child acquire good academic habits.

But even with all of these skills, your child may still need a head start in school, which you can provide through one simple task: understand how he or she learns.

Figuring out your child’s learning style can make his or her education a better experience. Children have different ways of learning, so when parents know their child's best way to learn, they can help him or her more effectively with homework, tests, and overall academic chores.

Test your child

There are many online resources to determine learning styles. Here are some of the best ones:

Study tips for each learning style

Once your child figures out his or her preferred style, you can create a study plan to help him or her understand concepts better.

Include your child’s counselor or teacher

It would be great if each teacher could adapt to the different learning styles that each of their students have, but in today’s school system that is almost impossible. However, sharing this information with your child’s teacher might be useful.

When you talk to your child’s counselor or teacher, let him or her know about your child’s preferred learning style and how this can be taken into account when assigning homework or tests.

If it turns out that even after you have pinpointed your child’s learning style, none of the study strategies are helping, you may want to rule out a learning disability. Seek help from his or her teachers, school staff, or your healthcare provider in order to eliminate this possibility.

Remember that information and engagement is the key to successful education. Knowing your child’s learning strength before you begin a study or educational strategy is important for his or her progress.

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Baby Talk: When and Why to Use It

March 11, 2014

By Noralba Martinez

A baby with talk bubbles says, "bow-wow," "baba," "choo-choo," and "wawa"

Babies begin communicating with us when they are born. Their cries and actions try to tell us everything they need. As babies get older, they need more things and therefore more ways to express those needs. As parents and caregivers, we teach children a mutual language to foster communication, be it English, Spanish, sign language, or another language. It all comes down to expressive communication.

Researchers call baby talk with exaggerated facial gestures “motherese” or “parentese.” This is our baby’s first introduction to communication. I used baby talk with my children when they were babies. It is a way to connect with your child and make words easy to say for him or her. For example, “wawa” means water and “baba” means bottle. As you will soon find out, your child will need to eventually know that “wawa” is not the correct name for water. So when should we stop baby talk?

Working in an early childhood intervention agency, most of the children who receive our services have a speech delay. We encourage the families enrolled in our program to model the use of language during their daily routines and to repeat words every chance they get. We also coach them to use simple words when communicating with their child.

By 12 months, a child should have a vocabulary of at least 10 words. Along with simple gestures, he or she should be able to use them to communicate his or her wants and needs. A recent study shows that baby talk is an effective way to communicate with your child. In the study, babies who heard baby talk frequently had more vocabulary words at two years of age than those who did not.

I encourage you to continue baby talk with your child until he or she begins repeating the words and using them to get his needs/wants. At that point I recommend that you correct the word without making your child feel ashamed or embarrassed. For example, if your child says, “want wawa,” you can respond with, “You want water, I will give you water,” passively correcting the word. With time, those words will be a beautiful memory of the past while your child is talking in phrases and even having conversations.

Remember, baby talk is a form of connecting and bonding with your child. Use it to introduce verbal communication and know when to begin sampling the words your child will need to communicate with others.

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Parenting Through Divorce

March 10, 2014

By Nely Bergsma

A child stands between her two parents, looking at her father.

Our children were 6 and 12 years old when their father and I decided to part ways. Yes, “part ways,” otherwise known as divorce. Now that they are 16 and 23 years old, I can offer my personal perspective of how divorce affected them during various stages of their development. Some moments were more difficult than others. The key is to remain positive, honest, and always put the healthy development of the children first.

Parenting can be rewarding as well as difficult with two parents in the home. It can also be as equally rewarding and difficult when two people decide they can no longer share a home and part ways. It is not an easy decision by any means, and is very personal and unique to all those involved. But just as it is important for two people to parent together within a home, it becomes equally-- if not more important-- to remain in balance during and after a divorce.

How does one tell their children that they may not be seeing one parent every day? Or that they may be going from one home to another? How does one begin to explain the reasons why? It’s not easy, but there are a few things you can do.

  • Remain honest. 
  • Keep your explanations simple, direct, and age appropriate. 
  • Whenever possible, address any concerns and fears your children may have together as parents. 
  • Keep a united front. Both parents should agree to share the same explanations with your children.

As challenging as it can be at times, parents should always remember they remain an example to their children as to how to behave, communicate, and express emotion. If children witness arguing, they will become argumentative. If they witness anger and sadness, they will become angry and sad. Such emotions put them at risk of acting out, making bad choices, and becoming involved in toxic friendships and relationships. Both parents should try to model positive behavior with your children.

While you may have begun to build lives apart from each other, your children will always see you as “their” parents. Their level of understanding of the choices you made or will make as parents can depend on several factors. Their age and maturity may require different methods of communicating with them. Regardless, maintaining a positive and unified front when it comes to parenting will allow children to positively grow and develop successfully within all aspects of their lives.

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Puberty: How and Why to Talk to Your Tween

March 6, 2014

By Amelia Orozco

A preteen boy and girl

It’s unavoidable but something that needs to be done. No, I am not talking about doing your taxes or a getting a yearly mammogram. Albeit, those are much easier to do than talking to your tween about puberty.

Although you may hope someone else does it, you are the best source of information when it comes to talking to your children about puberty and the body and emotional changes that come along with it. Here are a few reasons to consider why having “the talk” with your children is important.

Reason #1 You can control how much you want them to know at that particular time in their life. Break down the talk in phases based on their age, beginning at around age 10. Then determine how much to share with each passing year. This approach will make it less overwhelming for you and your son or daughter.

Reason #2 As children enter their tweens, more than their bodies will undergo changes. It will seem they are on an emotional roller coaster. Their moods will change from one day to another. Their perceptions of others and themselves are altered as they become aware of the changes in their own bodies. Having open discussions with your children will reassure them that what they are feeling is normal and that they should not feel ashamed.

Reason #3 Intercept before the media or their friends do. Skewed images of teens that are unnaturally thin, physically mature, and “perfect” according to media standards are everywhere, from the Internet, TV, and magazines. These images imprint a false sense of expectations, which are difficult or impossible to fulfill. Peers can also be an influence depending on the amount or lack of information they have been given by their own parents or guardians. It is best to well-inform your son or daughter, even using online or library sources to show the biology that explains it all.

How do you get over the embarrassment of talking to your tween? It’s best to find a balance in your role as a parent. Although it may be tempting to be their buddy, it’s important they see you more as a parent and someone who can help them through this difficult time. Depending on the relationship you foster with your son or daughter from a young age, either parent can talk to their tween through this time.

I would recommend asking if they rather talk to their mom, dad, or other relative. In a single parent home, I would recommend this for either boys or girls. Given this choice, children will feel more comfortable asking questions, which should be encouraged so that they do not feel the need to seek answers elsewhere.

I have used The Care and Keeping of You, a book published by American Girl to talk to my daughters about this subject, which includes tips on personal hygiene and feelings. A good book for boys is The Boy’s Body Book: Everything You Need to Know for Growing Up You, by Kelli Dunham.

Amelia Orozco is the senior editor and writer at the Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo and a community and entertainment reporter for TeleGuía Chicago. A mother of three, Amelia also maintains an active role in her community and church by working with youth and promoting education and diversity through her writing and volunteer efforts.

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