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Graduation Gifts on a Budget

June 9, 2014

By Judy Razo

A graduation card sits on top of a wrapped gift.

Sometimes the end of the school year can mean more than just the start of summer; it can also be the peak of graduation party season. Often, adults are expected to bring money or a gift that will help the graduate when starting school or a new job. This can be a problem when you’re on a budget or have your own child to send off to college. On the one hand you want to give an impressive gift that truly makes an impact on the recipient, and on the other, you don’t want that gift to eat up your bank account.

So how can you strike a happy medium? I suggest you set your budget for each gift at no more than $25 dollars and use some of these ideas.

If you want your gift to have an impact on the recipient, make a sentimental connection to the gift or give something the graduate will find useful in his or her new life.

  • Start by asking if the graduate is registered anywhere to remove the guesswork. If he or she is not registered, you can always give something practical such as a backpack, dorm bedding, or even a shower caddy with flip-flops for the dorms.
  • To make it more personal, give a journal or guidebook and write a dedication on the inside cover. Great guidebooks include The Freshman Survival Guide by Nora Bradbury-Haehl for college students and Effective Immediately by Emily Bennington and Skip Lineberg for someone starting his or her first job.
  • Check Groupon in the city where the graduate will be living. Buy him or her a nice meal or fun experience that is out of the ordinary. You’ll end up getting a bigger bang for your buck.
  • Shop online. You can sort the items by price, which will help you stay within your budget. Order your gift with plenty of time to have it delivered to you, or browse online before going to the store to buy the gift in person.
  • If you’d like the gift to be bigger but can’t stretch your pennies, you can also pool your money together with other parents for a large item like a one-cup coffee maker or dorm refrigerator.

The end goal is that you are thoughtful in giving your gift but don’t break the bank along the way. And remember, extra points always go to the creative.

Tags :  budgetcollegehigh schoolsocialacademic
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Top 5: Affordable Family Vacations

May 27, 2014

By Kevin Rutter

Top 5 Affordable Family Vacations

Growing up, my dad regularly took our family on summer vacations and instilled in us the joy of exploring new places. There were five kids, so he had to be pretty good at finding affordable places to go. Based on the places he brought us, combined with what I’ve learned in traveling myself and with my students, here are my top five suggestions for affordable family vacations.

  1. Camping. Staying at hotels or motels was out of reach financially for many of the trips we took as a family, so we invested in tents and later on a pop-up camper that allowed us to travel all over the country and stay at campgrounds overnight or for a couple of days. It was great fun setting up camp, cooking, and learning about the outdoors.
  2. State and National Parks. Parks maintained by the federal and state governments are a great, affordable, and local option. Near Chicago, where I live, there are many different places to visit, from Lincoln’s boyhood home to the Indiana Dunes. For more information, check out your state’s tourism board or the National Park Service. 
  3. Washington D.C. I have taken students to Washington D.C. many times over the years and have found it to be a great place to visit for the following reasons:
    • The D.C. Metro system is clean, inexpensive, and easy to navigate. Therefore you do not have to stay overnight near the main attractions, but can stay somewhere less expensive and hop on the Metro.
    • Admission to all of the national museums and popular sights like the Washington Monument, White House, and Capitol Hill, are free.
    • The main attractions are also centrally located on the National Mall, making it easy to plan a day of events without spending much time or money traveling.
  4. Visit Out-of-State Relatives. To save money on family vacations, my parents would have our family visit relatives and close friends who lived far away. It was a great idea because they often would coordinate activities and meals for the planned visit and we did not have the expense of staying at a hotel or campground. Plus, we were all glad to see each other.
  5. Caribbean. If you’re wishing to step out of the USA, I would suggest giving the Caribbean islands a look. Many of the hotels offer family and budget-friendly options with lots of activities, beaches, and relatively short flying times.
Tags :  Top 5socialfamily funbudget
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7 DIY Rainy Day Adventures

May 22, 2014

Article and Photograph by Nikki Cecala

The author's one-year-old son and her 11-year-old step son play in a DIY fort.

Most people look at rainy days as sad, gloomy days, but for families, they can be an enjoyable bonding experience. Rainy days are a great opportunity to shut off phones, cancel plans, and just stay inside and catch up on family engagements. There are wonderful low-cost adventures that are great for children of any age. Here are some examples and the benefits these simple games have that you may not have recognized.

Build a fort or an indoor obstacle course
If you don’t have boxes lying around, grab a bed sheet and throw it over the kitchen table. You can also put blankets and pillows under the table and tell stories or read a book together. If you have furniture you can easily move around, create obstacles using pillows, blankets, and sheets.

Play hide and seek
You are never too old for this game and it gets better as you get older! Be creative with your hiding spots but also accessible if you are playing with younger children. Hide and seek is a great game to get children wildly excited and physically active while indoors.

Imaginary playtime
Children love playtime and it assistances with brain development. You are giving the child an opportunity to be imaginative and artistic all by themselves. By letting them play “grown up,” they are unconsciously making life decisions and choices based on pure observation. Warning: this can be extremely adorable to witness.

Make some noise
Have a dance party! Kids are full of energy, so what better way for them to release it than through music and dance? If you aren’t the dancing kind, make instruments out of household objects like macaroni in a plastic soda bottle or use wooden spoons as a drum set. Either way, turn up the music and get silly!

Indoor scavenger hunt
Make a list of 30 or 40 harmless, nontoxic objects and hide them throughout the house for your child to find. You can time the scavenger hunt or attach points to it to make it more challenging and exciting, depending on the child’s age and skill level.

Play board games or cards
Board games play a crucial role in recognizing numbers, shapes, grouping, letter recognition, and reading. It also enhances visual perception, color recognition, and hand-eye coordination. Depending on the game, you could also be teaching your child life skills such as decision-making and showing the cause and effect of one’s choices.

Puzzles
Puzzles teach your child critical thinking and concentration skills. A younger child will learn shape recognition, from more basic shapes such as triangles and circles to more complex shapes used in jigsaw puzzles. Puzzles also enhance a child’s memory as he or she tries to remember the shape of pieces that don’t fit or will fit somewhere else later on.

Invent a family rainy day adventure yourself!
Take this opportunity to invent a tradition with your family that you all can do when it’s gloomy outside. The list is never-ending! It also gives you and your child something to look forward to on rainy days instead of moping around the house trying to find something to do.

Tags :  physicalfamily funactivitiesDIYbudget
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The Gift of a Card – Free Download

April 23, 2014

By Sunny P. Chico

Card illustrations by Leah VanWhy

Today is my birthday, and while I don’t normally tell everyone that, I wanted to share it with you for an important reason: to share a story of why cards are so important. To celebrate and help your children share cards with their loved ones, the YOU Parent team created these card templates that you can download and print for your use.

Now, for my story:

I was recently visiting with my beautiful 81-year-old mother and came upon a colored box, which she kept near her bed. I asked her about the box and she told me that its contents helped her relax when she got anxious, helped her go to sleep when she couldn’t sleep, and helped put a smile on her face every day.

Is it a magic box? No, but it’s a very special box! It was full of birthday cards, Mother’s Day cards, and retirement cards. I asked her which ones brought her the greatest joy and she said that she only kept the ones with handwritten words inside. Greeting cards come with beautiful and thoughtful messages pre-written, but the most special cards are those that have an extra handwritten message by the people you love.

I immediately realized that I had been mimicking this behavior ever since my children were born over 30 years ago. I have an old hatbox that I keep my cards in! Anytime I receive a handwritten card, I put it in my hatbox instead of throwing it away. My mother helped me realize that there is still joy and comfort that these cards will bring me in the future.

We live in a very busy world that is dominated by technology. We text, we email, etc. It makes us more efficient in many ways—I know it helps me a great deal—but this communication cannot take the place of the very special messages inside my hatbox.

After finding my mom’s box of cards, I took a look inside my hatbox. I was surprised at what I experienced. I laughed, I cried at the beautiful memories, and I also felt like I touched many people’s lives. It was a journey looking back. I particularly paid attention to the handwritten messages and I have to say that those became more meaningful.

I quickly started searching for only those that had handwritten messages. Reading the cards made me pause and think. It made me slow down for a short time and reflect.

I believe I will go through my hatbox from time to time but I now know that it will be one of my prized possessions by the time I am 80. It will help me relax, it will help me go to sleep, and it will put a smile on my face every day.

Take those extra minutes to write your thoughts in the cards you give, and encourage your children to do the same. Those handwritten cards will be a gift that lasts a lifetime.

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Teen Pregnancy: Prevention and Support

April 17, 2014

By Nely Bergsma

A pregnant teen holds her baby belly.

All stages of a child’s development have its challenges and the teen years are, by all means, no exception. By now, you have introduced life to your children, guided them as they explored and tried new things, and stood in support through the challenging times they faced. All in hopes that they will make good choices, be successful, and reach their life potential: Plan A. That is all a parent wants for his or her child.

Now that your child is a teenager, you continue to introduce, guide and support his or her growth. You talk about the importance of making good decisions. You’ve discussed topics such as drugs, alcohol, and sex. What about the topic of teen pregnancy?

How do you help prevent your teenager from becoming pregnant or getting someone pregnant? In my personal quest for direction, both as a mentor to teenage girls and a parent, I went straight to the source with these questions: teenagers themselves. The main theme in all of their responses was honesty. They want their parents to be honest with them. They don’t want to be lectured or threatened. They want realistic information. They welcome parents having ongoing conversations (examples below) with them about the challenges of parenting:

  • Becoming a teenage parent means you will be responsible for another human being for the rest of your life, even before yourself.
  • It means you may need to leave school, perhaps not go or hold off on going to college. You may have to delay or give up on the career you chose
  • You will need to find the means to financially support your child. What job can you get as a teenager that will allow you to do this?
  • You will need to decide where you want to live. Is the expectation to marry? Is the expectation to live with your parents?

So you’ve done everything you feel you could have to prepare your teenager. How will you, as a parent, address this issue, should it occur? Again, I asked. The overwhelming answer was again that they wouldn’t want to be lectured or threatened. They would want love, support, and understanding. They know they have disappointed you. They again welcome parents having conversations with them about Plan B:

  • Show him or her what a supportive parent you can be.
  • Help him or her to stay in school. Education is key to your child’s success.
  • Help your child create a budget to manage the care of his or her child. Can you help?
  • Help him or her determine where is the best place to live and where is the best place to raise a child. Can she or he remain at home until graduation?

While U.S. teen pregnancy rates are decreasing, teen pregnancy is a reality that parents need to consider. Just because you speak to your child about pregnancy does not mean that you are encouraging sexual activity. Your teenager may appear not to want to hear your perspective, but having ongoing conversations may prove successful in getting him or her to the finish line.

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