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5 Ways to Prepare Your Child for Preschool

July 5, 2016

By Nikki Cecala

5 Ways to Prepare Your Child for Preschool | Start preparing your child for preschool about a month before the first day of school. Keep these five tips in mind to ensure you and your child are ready for the big day. | An empty preschool classroom is filled with small tables, colorful plastic chairs, and artwork taped to the walls.

They say time flies when you’re having fun. Parents know that time flies faster once you have a child. Whether you are transitioning from daycare or from home, preschool marks a new beginning in both the child and parents’ lives.

Start preparing your child for preschool about a month before the first day of school. Keep these five tips in mind to ensure you and your child are ready for the big day.

1. Establish a routine.
A new schedule or routine may take a few days or weeks to truly stick, as transitions in a child’s life take time. Create a bedtime routine and a morning routine so your child knows what to expect every night and day.

Be patient and stick to the routine you establish, no matter how difficult it seems at first. Your child will adjust and soon come to expect and need that routine.

2. Visit the school.
In the weeks leading up to the first day of preschool, visit the school with your child and meet the teacher(s) who will be involved in his or her schedule. Becoming familiar with your child’s new classroom will reduce his or her anxiety in the weeks leading up to school.

3. Read books.
There are so many children’s books about starting school. Read a variety of these books together so your child can learn what to expect in the first few days and months. He or she will also start to look forward to the fun activities and new friends illustrated in the books.

4. Get organized.
Nothing excited me more as a child than getting new clothes and school supplies. Get your child excited to start preschool by letting him or her choose a special backpack and new clothes. Check with the preschool for a list of other classroom supplies your child might need.

5. Talk with your child.
It’s normal for your child to be nervous before starting something new like preschool. Talk with him or her about the school, the fun activities, and the new friends your child will make. Ask questions, like how your child feels about starting preschool or what he or she is most excited about or scared of.

By learning how your child feels about starting preschool, you can figure out how to best address any fears, answer questions, and prepare him or her for a structured classroom environment. Establish school-year routines in advance and the whole family will be ready to go on Day One!

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Backyard Summer Learning for Toddlers

June 21, 2016

By Nikki Cecala

Backyard Summer Learning for Toddlers | Learning opportunities exist right in your backyard! Try these fun activities with your toddler. | A young boy and his brother play with a water toy in the backyard, wearing matching plaid shirts.

I love summer. The season allows my son and I to have lots of adventures, creating bonding opportunities and memories for a lifetime. Although sometimes I get so wrapped up in planning these adventures that I forget he can get just as much out of playing in the backyard exploring as he could on a field trip with mommy and daddy.

Outside time is golden time for discovery, development, and growth. Children can learn on so many levels: basic, fundamental, and even about the universe. And they’re more likely to remember what they learned because it was a memorable and personal experience.

Take advantage of the summer for learning with your toddler by trying these backyard lessons.

Ice Block
Freeze a few toys in a block of ice overnight. On a warm, sunny day, bring the block of ice onto the porch or sidewalk and lay kid-friendly tools next to it.

Explain to your toddler that that the toys are frozen in ice and he or she needs to break the ice to get the toys out. Your toddler will see how frozen water melts, and you can answer any basic questions he or she has about liquids and solids (and even gases if you talk about evaporation).

Gardening
My son loves to garden so I picked up gardening tools at the dollar store. He was so excited to pull weeds, dig holes, and plant seeds.

Gardening is a great opportunity to teach your child how trees and food grow from seeds. Now that my son has played in the garden, he has an appreciation for plants and their importance for our survival in the world.

Bugs
There are a lot of neat bugs that come out during the summer, like worms, ladybugs, and fireflies. Why are these bugs so important and why do they only come out in summer?

The next time you see a worm, teach your child the importance of a worm’s role in increasing the amount of air and water that gets into the soil. When you see a caterpillar crawl by or a butterfly land on a flower, teach your child about the insect’s lifespan and how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly.

Space
For children, there is something magical and special about the night sky. The next time your child is up late enough, explain what the moon and the stars are. If you’re lucky you will see a shooting star!

Parents and relatives play a crucial part in advancing a child's learning, health, and well-being, so prioritize and have fun with these backyard lessons!

What are some activities you do with your child in the summertime?

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What questions should I be asking on college visits?

June 21, 2016

By YOU Program Facilitator

What questions should I be asking on college visits? | A group of parents and students gather during a college tour to listen to the tour guide speak.

Question: My daughter will be going to college next fall, so we’re visiting schools this summer. What questions should we be asking during these college visits so that she makes the right choice?

Answer: First, your daughter should make a list of schools she would like to attend and discuss these choices with her guidance counselor. The counselor may help her narrow down her choices based on which schools offer strong programs relevant to her intended career choice, offer potential scholarships for her academic and/or extracurricular strengths, etc.

Class Size
As you research the schools, including asking questions during a visit, find out the average class size for incoming undergraduates. Think about your daughter’s learning style and evaluate whether she will succeed in that size of a class. For example, if she needs extra attention from the teacher, a large school with classes of 300 students might not be the best fit for her.

Financing
If you are concerned about financing college, meet with a financial aid counselor during your visit. Discuss work-study programs, potential scholarships, and funding options for your family.

Living Arrangements
Ask about typical living arrangements for an incoming freshman, including meal packages. Do freshman usually live in residence halls? Does the school have requirements for students to live on campus? If so, for how many years?

Visit some of the dormitories so that your daughter can see what her living situation will be like. Is it clean? Is it safe and well lit at night?

Safety
Ask about the safety measures the campus takes to protect students both during class times and after class. Your daughter needs to be safe walking to and from class and on nights and weekends when living in the dorms.

Create an agenda for your visits with a list of questions you need answered, people with whom you’d like to meet (schedule those appointments in advance), and places on and off campus you would like to see. With that agenda, you can ensure you hit all the important points while still having time for fun together as a family.

For more information on choosing a college, college admissions, and preparing for college, see the third book in the YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher 3-book set.

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6 Summer Activity Ideas for Every Age

June 7, 2016

By Jessica Vician

6 Summer Activity Ideas for Every Age | Once your child finishes school for the summer, it’s time for less traditional and more fun learning. Keep your child’s mind stimulated throughout the summer to prevent them from losing the knowledge they gained over the past year with these activities.

Once your child finishes school for the summer, it’s time for less traditional and more fun learning. Keep your child’s mind stimulated throughout the summer to prevent them from losing the knowledge they gained over the past year.

To avoid the summer slide, ask your child’s teacher for a list of learning outcomes they accomplished this year and think of ways to incorporate that knowledge into your activities throughout the summer.

Your kids can also try these activities for additional stimulation this summer.

For toddlers

  1. Plant seeds and watch them grow. 
    Teach your child how plant life begins.

    Buy a packet of seeds—try an herb that you cook with frequently (basil, mint, and cilantro grow quickly with minimal human effort)—and some soil. Follow the directions on the seed packet and they’ll be growing in no time.

    This activity teaches your child that plants need food to grow just like kids do. The seeds need soil and water to nourish them, like kids need water and healthy foods to nourish them.

    Get excited with your child when the first sprouts break through the soil—it’s a big accomplishment for both the plant and your child!

  2. Develop their fine motor skills.
    Fine motor skills involve the movement of muscles in smaller actions. According to Baby Center, “it's equally important that kids work on their fine motor skills—small, precise thumb, finger, hand, and wrist movements—because they support a host of other vital physical and mental skills.”

    To help your young toddler develop these skills, prompt your child to stack toy blocks, sing songs with hand movements like “Wheels on the Bus,” and go to the playground and let them figure out the play equipment.

    For more activities that will develop your child’s fine motor skills, read this article.

For elementary students

  1. Join a summer reading program.
    Your local library likely has a summer reading program for your child’s age group. Encourage him or her to be social and read by enrolling in a free or low-cost program.

    You can also create an independent summer reading program. Challenge your child to read two books a month (at his or her reading level) and offer a reward, like a family dinner at your child’s favorite restaurant. Remember Book-It? It still exists and you can set up an at-home version.

  2. Create a DIY summer. 
    Teach your child how to make common things like lip balm, lotion, exfoliating scrubs, and even household cleaners. The American Girl YouTube channel has great video tutorials and Pinterest has an endless supply of ideas and directions.

    Your child will learn math skills, like how to measure and a practical application of fractions, as well as learn what goes into these products.

    Supervise your child and use natural ingredients instead of potentially dangerous chemicals, as there may be an unexpected reaction combining different liquids and solids.

For teens and tweens

  1. Learn an instrument.
    Enroll your child in a music class this summer. Learning to play and read music can teach your child valuable emotional and academic skills by engaging both the right and left sides of the brain. It also helps him or her learn to focus, improves critical thinking skills, and nurtures your child’s emotional maturity, according to VH1 Save the Music.

    If your child already plays an instrument, register him or her for a class in a different musical style. For example, if he or she knows how to play guitar, enroll in a blues or jazz guitar class, or a class modeled after your child’s favorite artist. If your city or town doesn’t offer those types of classes, find YouTube videos that focus on learning new songs.

  2. Learn to code.
    Your child should learn to code for many reasons. For one, there are so many jobs out there that require a minimal knowledge of HTML and CSS. And like learning a foreign language, it increases brain mass.

    Let your teen learn and invest in his or her future this summer with these free online resources that teach coding.

Do your kids have favorite summer activities that keep them learning in a fun way? Share them in the comments below!

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Plant a Tree for Earth Day 2016

April 19, 2016

By Jessica Vician

Plant a Tree for Earth Day 2016 | A group of teens plant a tree.

As your family watches the plants, trees, and flowers wake up this spring, say thank you by celebrating Earth Day on the 22nd.

This year, Earth Day’s global theme is Trees for the Earth, as they are working toward a goal to plant nearly 8 billion trees by Earth Day 2020—the 50th anniversary of the day.

Rally your family to help Earth Day reach its 2020 goal by planting one or more trees this year. Not only is it great for the environment—after all, it takes about 96 trees to remove the carbon dioxide produced by one person in a year—it’s a great opportunity to teach your kids about the benefits of trees while watching it grow over the years.

After checking to see what trees will grow best in your area, let your kids pick one out from your local nursery or home improvement store. If you have the space, choose a small one to maximize the growth your children will see over the years. My family planted a small tree when I was in middle school and that tree is over 30 feet tall now. Every time I visit, I’m amazed by its magnitude. That small tree grew so much in size while I was growing up and becoming an adult.

While you’re planting your tree (and creating your own memories), teach your kids about the value of trees with these facts from EarthDay.org:

Your family will also get a good workout by digging the hole for the tree and planting it, so celebrate afterward with lots of liquids and a delicious meal!

If you’re planting a tree for Earth Day this year, snap a few photos and share them with us on Facebook or Twitter. We want to see the beautiful trees your family chose!

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