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Family Activity: Sunday Meal Prep

August 9, 2016

By Jessica Vician

Family Activity: Sunday Meal Prep | This is a great activity and weekly tradition that you can start doing with your family. | A mother and daughter prepare dinner together.

A colleague recently told me about an activity she started doing with her son every weekend and I want to pass it along:

My son and I started planning our meals for the week on Sundays. After breakfast, we sit down and talk about what we want for dinner that week. He helps me write down the ingredients he remembers and I add the items he forgets.

Then, we go to the grocery store and pick out everything on the list. For him, it’s a shopping bonanza! He gets to choose his box of cereal, help me pick out the produce while learning what to look for—I let him softly squeeze tomatoes to see if they’re ripe and have showed him how to choose a good pineapple.

That afternoon, we start preparing food for the week. We’ll cut up carrots and celery for lunchbox snacks and sometimes we’ll bake bran muffins with fruit in them for breakfast on-the-go or after-school snacks. And we always make Sunday dinner together.

Now that we’ve started this tradition, he gets really excited for Sundays because it’s a day of shopping, cooking, and eating! I’m just glad he enjoys helping and I get a chance to teach him little lessons, like how to measure and pick out fruit and veggies. He values his food more now that he gets to participate in the process.

This is a great activity and weekly tradition that you can start doing with your family. My colleague’s son is four years old, so he can help with basic things like recalling ingredients in favorite recipes, measuring ingredients, and mixing ingredients by hand, but the older your child is, the more responsibility he or she can take on. For example, an 11-year-old could make the salad while a 15-year-old cooks the main course.

Try this activity this weekend and let us know how it goes in the comments below. Will you use it as an opportunity to teach measuring and math skills, or will you focus on the life skills like picking the right avocado and budgeting for your grocery run? Whatever lessons or skills you teach, this activity is also a bonding experience for your family, so have fun and bon appetit!

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Our 14 Best Back to School Tips

August 2, 2016

By Jessica Vician

Our writers and program author have over 150 years of education and parenting experience combined. From all of that expertise, we’ve gathered our best 14 back to school tips and put them in one place—right here!—so you don’t need to look any further. From starting a new school to saving money on school supplies to sending your (no longer a) baby off to college, we have you covered.

Our 14 Best Back to School Tips | From starting a new school to saving money on school supplies to sending your (no longer a) baby off to college, we have you covered. | An elementary school student chooses a pack of pencils for her back to school supplies.

Starting a New School

Starting preschool, kindergarten, high school, or a new school system altogether can be stressful for some children. As parents, we must ease that transition so that their first experience in each school setting is one of comfort and excitement instead of fear and anxiety.

Here’s how you can prepare your child, depending on what new school he or she is starting:

Our 14 Best Back to School Tips | "Back to School" is written on an illustrated chalkboard with paint, rulers, and assorted school supplies in the image.

Back to School Tips

For kids returning to the same school, there are a few basic things you must do before they can start, including:

Once you have checked those activities off the list, relieve some of the anticipation and pressure of the first day of school.

Our 14 Best Back to School Tips | Going Away to College | A father watches his son grab his dorm supplies from the car.

Going Away to College

For teenagers heading off to college, it’s an exciting time. But for many parents and the siblings still at home, the first time a child goes off to college can be challenging. Learn how to prepare your family with these articles.

Whatever your child’s age, when you prepare him or her for school physically, emotionally, and socially, he or she will settle more easily into a successful academic routine. Use these activities to bond as a family before the transition and you’ll create happy memories before the school year begins. 

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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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