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Black Friday: Family-Friendly Alternatives

November 25, 2014

By Jessica Vician

Black Friday: Family-Friendly Alternatives | Cartoon images of people fight over items in a store, stack shopping carts full of goods, and race toward the front door of a store.

Black Friday. Those two words probably evoke a strong emotional response from you, whether you shudder in disgust or your heart flutters with excitement.

It’s easy to see that Black Friday has become a cultural phenomenon, with some national chains now opening on Thanksgiving evening. My Facebook feed on Friday morning is filled with photos and stories of how many cups of coffee people drank to stay up all night shopping, battles over the last $200 giant flat screen television, police interventions, and more.

We all love good deals, but what kind of impact does your participation have on your child? Are you at home the Friday after Thanksgiving enjoying breakfast together, talking about the fun times you had with family the day before? Are you decorating the house together for the upcoming December holidays? Or are you just getting back from a night out shopping, trying to hide presents before your child sees them and then heading back to bed to catch up on all that sleep you missed while your son or daughter plops in front of the television?

Black Friday deals are a great opportunity to save money on gifts you may need to purchase for the holidays, but they also prompt us to buy “gifts” for ourselves that we might not otherwise buy. If you come home with a new television or other adult “presents” that you start using right away, you start to model negative behavior to your child.

Stepping away from the family during a holiday to shop demonstrates the importance of materialism to your child and can devalue the significance of family and spending time together. And you don’t want to interrupt your child’s sleep routine to bring him or her with you on this shopping trip. That can leave your child cranky and a bit off all weekend.

While there is value in potentially saving hundreds of dollars on your holiday gifts and getting the shopping out of the way early, there are other ways to do both without giving up quality family time.

Small Business Saturday
As a response to Black Friday, which is dominated by big-box stores and national chains, local businesses and American Express founded Small Business Saturday in 2010. It has grown significantly in the past four years and is worth checking out in your town.

Bring your child with you on Small Business Saturday to local shops and let him or her help you choose gifts for family and friends. Not only is this a safer shopping experience (I haven’t heard of police needing to get involved or fights breaking out), but you don’t have to interrupt anyone’s sleep to shop during normal business hours, and you can use it as an opportunity to teach your child why you buy gifts for others at this time of year.

Cyber Monday 
Small Business Saturday sounds great, but if you ditch Black Friday and bring your child with you on Saturday, how are you going to buy him or her gifts on the sly? Cyber Monday is your answer. Larger stores keep the deals going on Cyber Monday, which is the first Monday after Thanksgiving. Order those gifts online and get significant savings, special products, and sometimes even free shipping.

These are just two alternatives to Black Friday, but I’ll bet there are many more. I don’t want to discourage you from holiday shopping, but these options can help you maximize family and parent engagement time while providing teachable moments with your child—instead of caffeine-fueled fights in the fluorescent-light glow of a store in the middle of the night.


Why Parent Engagement Month Matters

November 24, 2014

By Sunny Chico

I heart my child. I am an #EngagedParent. November is Parent Engagement Month.

I love that the entire month of November is dedicated to parent engagement. It brings awareness to the critical role of parents in our homes. Every day should be Parent Engagement Day, because each day your child is learning and growing. Parents need to be present and aware of what’s happening and nurture positive development.

But what does this engagement look like? Many times we focus on what’s happening in the classroom and rely on the school to take care of the child’s needs. Parent Engagement Month helps remind us that it’s not just about academic needs.

A child’s development occurs in four core areas: social, emotional, physical, and academic. In order for the child to succeed in school—and in life—he or she needs to possess strong social and emotional well-being, have his or her physical needs met, and engage in learning for cognitive development and academic success.

A teacher in a classroom cannot nurture all of those areas in a child. If the parents are engaged and understand the development of a child and how to provide support, the child will be better prepared to learn. Then the teacher can do his or her best to help the child academically. Remember that while children change teachers every year, they do not change parents. Parents must be consistently nurturing those core needs in their child.

I often hear from parents that they want to be more involved in their child’s development, but are afraid that they are doing it wrong. They think the school can do a better job with their child. But the school can’t do everything. 92 percent of a child’s life from birth through high school is spent outside the school, and much of that time is at home. Only eight percent is spent at school. Eight percent! It’s impossible for the school to do everything with only eight percent of a child’s time. But when parents are supportive of a child’s development, the teacher is most effective helping the child academically.

As parents and as a society, we depend a great deal on schools to help our children. We spend billions to educate children. If we truly want education to help our students compete in a global economy, we must rely on the parents. It’s the parents who encourage the child with homework and learning activities, guide the child to develop self-confidence and self-esteem, and nourish the child with healthy food and exercise, and yes, love.

So parents, I’m calling on you to think hard about your relationship with your child during Parent Engagement Month. Are you paying attention to your child’s social and emotional well-being? Are you making sure he or she is living a healthy life? Are you coordinating with your child’s teacher to foster academic success outside of the classroom? Are you modeling the behavior you want to see in your son or daughter outside the home?

This is what parent engagement looks like. If every parent is dedicated to becoming an engaged parent, our children will grow up and contribute to making this the world we want to see. Let’s all become engaged parents this month and every month hereafter.


5 Thanksgiving Activities for Kids

November 21, 2014

By Amelia Orozco

5 Thanksgiving Activities for Kids | A multi-generational family sits at the table during Thanksgiving dinner.

Holidays can provide abundant opportunities for kids to learn, and Thanksgiving is no different. From the story of its origin to emotional and social activities that will become cherished traditions, even family who don’t live in the United States can learn about the holiday and connect with your children in meaningful ways.

Try these five activities with your children and extended family this Thanksgiving:

  1. Tell Stories
    Share the story of the English settlers and Native Americans’ first Thanksgiving dinner. This story can help even your youngest child remember the true meaning of the holiday. Use words like “exploration,” “feast,” “celebration,” “families,” “neighbors,” and “sharing” when discussing the story.
  2. Give Thanks with Notes
    As the holiday approaches, hide thank you notes for other members of your family to find, and encourage your children to do the same. These notes can say anything from “Thank you for taking out the trash” to “Thank you for being a good listener.”
  3. Draw Pictures
    If your children cannot read or write yet, they can still participate by creating a special picture by tracing leaves and then coloring in the shapes. You can leave them notes with smiley faces. These will remind your children how much you appreciate them.
  4. Donate to Charity
    Thanksgiving is also a wonderful time to donate to charity. Your children can help organize a drive for food, toys, or clothing at their school or playgroup. Inspiring them to take action will make them conscientious citizens who aspire to help others. It’s exciting to see how these activities awaken a desire to ask more questions.
  5. Share the Cooking Process
    Making a list of ingredients, shopping, and preparing a favorite Thanksgiving recipe will give you quality family time and many learning opportunities, from measuring exercises to a test in patience while waiting for the food to cook.

These activities can help your children and family create positive memories that will keep the happy thoughts coming until next year’s celebration.

What are your favorite Thanksgiving activities to do with your children? Tell me in the comments below.

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.


Helping Your Child Choose a College

November 20, 2014

By Kevin Rutter

Helping Your Child Choose a College | Graduates toss their caps in the air.

Every year I work to support my students in finding the right college or university for their future studies. The most important thing I emphasize is that it is a process. It requires a great deal of planning, determination, and adult encouragement.

There are three areas in the college application process that cause the most trouble for students and provide the greatest opportunity for parents to assist.

Personal Statements 
A personal statement is a short and focused essay where a student writes about who he or she is and where he or she wants to be. These statements are often required as part of the application to a college or scholarship, as they help the selection committee get a better idea of the student’s academic and personal strengths. It is a great chance for the student to demonstrate who he or she is beyond what the transcripts show. Writing a good personal statement is also a process that needs plenty of time for thinking, writing, editing, peer review, teacher feedback, more writing, and more revision.

Parents, encourage your student to write a personal statement during junior year so he or she can get used to the process. Writing about oneself can be very difficult and I often have students who have no idea what to write about. As a parent, you are uniquely qualified to help define your child’s best qualities and provide a few examples of where you have seen your child using his or her positive characteristics.

FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It is the most important part of the college process because it will determine how much grant money will be available to your child. A grant is the amount of money a child can receive toward educational expenses without having to pay it back. There is a limited amount of government grant money and it operates on a first come, first serve basis. If you submit the application too late, the money will be gone.

Parents, you have a critical role in completing the FAFSA. The forms will require you to provide evidence of your family’s income by using your tax documents, W-2 and 1040 forms. You will be able to submit the FAFSA sooner if you have this information available. All schools offer free services to parents to help prepare these documents, so take advantage of them.

Comparison Shop
Students have no idea about how much things cost and often fall in love with a school or program without regard to the price tag. Shop around! For example, community colleges sometimes offer the same certifications at a very discounted price.

Before your child decides which school to attend, look together at every option and have a serious discussion with your parenting partner and child about costs. Taking these first steps should help get your child on the right path to choosing a college and financing his or her education.


My Story: Parent Engagement in Action

November 19, 2014

My Story: Parent Engagement in Action | Jairo, Beatriz, Tizoc, and Moctezuma sit in front of a Christmas tree.

Photo courtesy of Beatriz Castro

Parent Engagement Month serves as a reminder to boost our parenting efforts toward helping our children become successful, happy adults. During a recent visit to a California school district that has implemented our YOU Program, we met Beatriz Castro.

Beatriz is an extraordinary example of an engaged parent. A proud mother to her two sons, Moctezuma, 4, and Tizoc, 3, she and her husband are expecting a baby girl in December. She immigrated to the United States from Morelos, Mexico when she was 7 years old with her parents and three siblings for a better education and opportunities. While she struggled with balancing work and college herself, she has prioritized her children’s education so they will have a successful future.

When Beatriz enrolled her sons in an Early Head Start program in 2011, she took a big step toward prioritizing their education. The next year, she boosted her parent engagement efforts by getting involved with the Policy Council Committee at her Early Head Start school. During this time she learned more about the program, the financials, and the critical role parents play in a child’s education. She has brought that knowledge into her daily life with her kids and currently serves as the treasurer for the State Preschool Policy Council.

When Beatriz and her husband first planned to have children, they wanted to ensure their kids would have love, attention, communication, discipline, and an education. In her own words below, she tells us how she gives those things to her children everyday. These daily activities are a great way to bring learning into your home. Even the smallest efforts make a difference.

Getting Dressed
A typical day in our home is a consistent routine. We get dressed, but we make getting dressed a learning experience. The boys love to match clothes, so we discuss colors, shapes, stripes, and lines. As they get dressed, we also talk about the letters. What letter begins with sock? If they don't remember, I make the sound of the s. Sometimes, we do it by singing scissors, scissors sssss, sssss, s.

Both boys know the sounds of the letters already, so that's why they catch on fast. I'm still practicing the ABCs and sounds with my youngest, Tizoc, but he’s learning quickly.

The next thing we do is have breakfast. Depending on what we eat, we discuss the benefits of the food. What does milk give us? Calcium! What does calcium do for us? It makes our bones strong and healthy.

Brushing Teeth
After breakfast, we brush our teeth. Although the kids start the process, I help them at the end. We say front teeth, right side, left side, back teeth, molars, and lastly tongue. Then we rinse while cleaning our toothbrushes with water and putting them back in our cups.

Tying Shoes
We then prepare to start the day outside. They put their shoes on, and I tie Tizoc’s shoes by showing him how to do it first. Moctezuma knows how to tie his shoes already so he does it on his own. I taught him when he was 3½ years old.

Driving to and from Preschool
We put on our seatbelts when we get into the car. Sometimes Tizoc cries because he is having trouble.  If he says he can’t buckle it, I say that I can't help him until he tries first. However, I let him know that I can help him if he cannot do it. He always tries, and then he says, "I did it mommy! I'm a big boy!" So I acknowledge him by telling him what a good job he has done!

On the way to school, we listen to their favorite songs like "ABC Rock," "I am a Pizza," "Slippery Fish," and "Letter Sounds."  Then I drop them off at school.

Later, when I pick them up, they are so happy to see me and share their wonderful day. They tell me what they ate, what they learned, and what activities they worked on that day. On the way home, we listen to favorite songs again.

Lunch and Playtime
When we arrive home, we eat lunch if they have not already eaten. It is a tradition that we always try to eat every meal together as a family. The boys help me set the table and put out the food, and then we sit down and discuss our day in more detail, one by one. We also talk about the type of foods we are eating (like we do in the morning). After the boys are done, they clean up their plates, bring them to the sink, and I give them another chore, liking cleaning the table and drying the dishes. As they do that, we sing the ABCs or count 1-20 together. Then they do chores, make their beds, and take out their trash from their room. I reward them with a piece of candy and a sticker.

After that, they play for one hour. These activities range from Legos, puzzles, reading books, or playing with toys. During this time, I usually do my cleaning.

Afterward, we do homework from school and homework from home, which are alternative assignments that are different from the school. I bought them their favorite activity book, which they love to do. Moctezuma likes to connect the dots, and by doing that he practices his ABCs and numbers. Tizoc is learning numbers and letters right now.

Post-Homework Playtime
Then we play outside together, and a little after, they play by themselves while I get ready for dinner. They usually play soccer, or golf with their father when he gets home early from work. When the kids shower, I teach them about hygiene and the importance of staying clean and healthy.

At the end of the day when they are ready to sleep, my husband and I read to them. We read together so that they can learn efficiently, then we choose another that they read by themselves. While reading, they recognize things we are already learning about in everyday life: colors, shapes, places, settings, numbers, and more. Anything you see everyday in the street, we practice. That is how I taught Moctezuma to read at 4 years old: anywhere you go, you see numbers, letters, colors, shapes, etc. It's so practical and easy.

I love it, because they surprise me in how much and how quickly they learn. We do the same thing when we go out hiking—we talk about the environment and the importance of caring for it. They also know how to sign basic words and their names. Spanish is their first language, as we speak it at home, and English is their second language.
Beatriz has said that the YOU Program taught her how easy and practical it is for parents to teach their children throughout the day. As she mentions above, children absorb information quickly—all you have to do as a parent is provide the small lessons for them to pick up. A huge thank you to Beatriz, who is an inspiration to parents everywhere and a great example of an engaged parent.

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