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Seeking Santa Claus: Help for Christmas

September 17, 2015

By Jessica Vician

Seeking Santa Claus: Help for Christmas | If you struggle to afford Christmas presents for your kids, register for these Christmas assistance programs in October or November. | A box of toy donations awaits their giftees!

It’s only September, but some stores are already putting out Christmas decorations. If you are one of the many families who struggle to afford Christmas presents each year, thinking about the holidays can be especially stressful.

While health and quality family time are more important than presents, it’s still nice to be able to provide a little something to see your child smile that day. Now is the time to seek out Christmas assistance programs, as several organizations require registration as early as October.

Use this list to get started:

Toys for Tots
Toys for Tots, operated by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, aims to provide children with a new toy for Christmas. Through that toy, they aspire to deliver hope that will help these children become “responsible, productive, patriotic citizens.”

Some locations cannot donate directly to single families, but rather to organizations that will then distribute the toys to those families. Contact your local Toys for Tots for the application deadline. For reference, the Chicago deadline is November 28, 2015.

The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree
You have likely seen a tree decorated with paper angels at your company or local shopping center over the holidays. These angel trees are part of the Salvation Army’s program that provides new toys and clothing to children at Christmas.

Donors choose an angel that has the first name, age, and gender of a child registered for the program and shop for that child, giving the gifts to the organizer to be delivered to the child in need.

Families typically apply in October and November, but please call your local Corps Community Center to get more information.

The Lion’s Club
Several Lion’s Club locations provide Christmas assistance for children as well. Contact your local branch in October to see if they provide help for children during the holidays.

Once you have reached out to an organization for help, set expectations for the holidays with your children early. You know them best and know what explanation will help, whether it’s about Santa or your family’s financial situation. Emphasize family time over gifts and focus on the true meaning of the holidays. If they understand that, then they will be grateful for the gifts they receive and for the time they get to spend with you and your family.

Tags :  earlyelementarysocialemotionalbudgetholidays
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Whistle While You Learn: How Learning Music Can Improve Your Child’s Brain

September 15, 2015

By Jessica Vician

Whistle While You Learn: How Learning Music Can Improve Your Child’s Brain | Learning to play music by age seven can help a child's brain develop stronger, help them learn a better vocabulary, teach them to focus, and more. | A girl practices guitar.

Music is a powerful thing. When we sing or play an instrument, it’s a form of expression. When we listen to it, it stirs up emotions and memories. From the song you listened to on repeat after your first breakup to the song you and your partner first danced to at your wedding, music is a key part of our memories.

Music can also teach our children valuable emotional and academic skills that they can’t learn in the classroom. It engages both the right and left sides of the brain—the creative and logical sides—and it helps children learn to focus, improves their critical thinking skills, and helps nurture their emotional maturity, according to VH1 Save the Music.

The earlier a child learns to play music, the more it will help his or her brain development. Playing music also helps children:

  • develop a better vocabulary and reading skills 
  • learn to focus, especially if they have learning disabilities or dyslexia
  • avoid alcohol and drug abuse

As someone who took piano lessons from ages seven to 14, I can personally attest to the importance of learning music. Here are several qualities and skills that I developed from it:

Confidence, Humility, and Modesty
I’ve never been the most athletic human. Growing up, my parents signed me up for sports to stay active. I also learned, in my mother’s words, “to be a good loser,” since my teams rarely won. So in fourth grade when our class learned to play the recorder, it was nice to finally excel in a fun, non-academic school activity.

I had been taking piano lessons for a year or two, so I already knew how to read music, which made it easy to pick up a new instrument. Finally I was one of the best students at an activity, which made me feel really good (the other students who excelled were also piano players, for the record). And of course, my mom was there to teach me modesty and how “to be a good winner,” too.

Hand-eye Coordination
I might be giving away my age here, but in sixth grade we learned how to correctly type on a keyboard. Once again, my trusty piano lessons came in handy. Since I had learned how to read music while making my fingers move to the appropriate key, I had unknowingly already nearly conquered typing. I was able to quickly learn the QWERTY keyboard and type efficiently—a skill that has saved me throughout my life, from churning out papers in undergrad to transcribing interviews when I worked in broadcast news.

Languages
Learning to read music was my first formal introduction to learning another language. Similar to language, the characters don’t offer much information until they are placed on the staff, when they become notes to read. A letter alone isn’t much, but when combined with other letters it becomes a word, which then becomes a sentence when combined with other words.

Reading and playing music at a young age developed my ability and interest to learn new languages. I studied French from seventh grade through college, can read and speak some Spanish, and between those two languages can figure out enough Italian and Portuguese for travelling. With English as my first language and music as my second, learning French was easier than if I had never learned a second language.

Ask anyone who knows how to play music if they regret learning. Much like having children, most people will tell you that it is one of the most rewarding things they have ever done.

Get your child started by listening to music and asking which instruments he or she is drawn to. Talk to the school’s music teacher about how to introduce that instrument into your child’s education. The school may offer a class or the teacher may recommend group or private lessons.

Your child will learn so much more than just a few chords. It will change his or her education, brain, and life.

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Why It’s Okay to Cry

September 10, 2015

By Sandra Braceful-Quarles

Why It’s Okay to Cry | Children cry from the moment they are born, which is a good thing. They convey many emotions through crying. Learn how to understand your child's tears and why it's okay to cry. | A mother comforts her crying daughter.

Waaaah! Waaaah! Waaaah!

That sound is expected, welcomed, and provides the first form of communication from the moment your child enters the world. Infants cry to signal a need: hunger, feeling uncomfortable, tired, frightened, etc. Parents are eager to comfort and console, listening to the sounds, tone, and inflection of the cries, which help you learn what your child needs or the message trying to be conveyed.

As children grow and develop language skills, the expectation to use words, appropriate behavior, and problem solving skills increases. The U.S. National Library of Medicine defines crying as “an emotional response to a distressing experience or situation.” Helping your child confirm, discuss, and overcome a crying experience lays the foundation for how he or she will cope and resolve issues as an adult.

Confirm and Validate
If your child is crying, there is likely an issue. Be careful not to say, “Don’t be sad,” or “Don’t be scared.” Those statements send the message that it’s not okay to cry. Instead, say, “I see you are crying. Is everything okay?”

You can also use comforting words in a tone that confirms you recognize there is an issue that your child needs to discuss. This initial validation provides the comfort that a child will need when developing problem-solving skills. Your child may need a hug or a period to just cry until he or she is able to say what is wrong.

Discussion
The next step is moving from tears to words. Getting your child to say or articulate his or her feelings is important for many reasons.

  1. You learn the reason for the crying and can begin to address how your child can handle or cope with his or her feelings.
  2. You are teaching your child how to talk through the emotions. As your child’s guide and teacher, you can show him or her another way to address the feeling.
  3. If you’re not talking about the problem, then it could affect how your child deals with his or her feelings. Discussion is meant to help your child work through issues.

Resolve and Overcome
It will take a lot of practice for your child to begin resolving issues on his or her own. Every time you have a discussion, reinforce your child’s problem-solving skills. Your discussions can then gradually shift to the child doing the talking.

There may be times when the same feeling or issue will arise and you can say, “How did we handle that last time?” Ask for ideas or suggestions to resolve the problem to help your child think about how to feel good again.

This is not an overnight process. As your child develops, your reinforcement will help him or her master these issues alone.

Crying is what humans do naturally. It is the first sign that all is well when we are born. As children mature and develop into adults, the expectation is to work through their feelings. Crying is the beginning of that stage as your child learns to understand, accept, and manage his or her emotions. Of course, it’s okay to cry.

The YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher books and program include valuable strategies and information on how to help you talk with your child through each stage of development. You can purchase the books on Amazon.

Sandra Braceful-Quarles is an educator, community liaison, and tutor working in the south suburbs of Chicago. As an active member of her worship community, she is passionate about giving back and volunteering to help others. She and her husband have three children and two grandchildren.

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Think Before You Share: Protect Your Child’s Privacy on Social Media

August 4, 2015

By Noralba Martinez

Think Before You Share: Protect Your Child’s Privacy on Social Media | When you share photos of your kids on social media, those photos can fall into the wrong hands. Read on for how to protect your family. | A mother and father take selfies with their two kids while on a carnival ride.

This summer, as our kids are having a blast being out of school, we parents are trying to capture every fun moment to treasure it forever. Smartphones have made it easy to snap photos and immediately upload them to social media accounts for all our family and friends to see.

But what if more than just your family and friends are seeing the photos of your kids? How safe are those photos? According to an infographic published by Go-Gulf, over “600,000 Facebook accounts are compromised every day.” How would a social media hack affect your children’s privacy?

My friends and I were talking about how we can protect our children’s innocence as long as we can in the age of social media. One of my friends told me to Google our names. Luckily only one picture popped up of me (the one used for this website), but my friends and their kids were not as lucky—some of their personal and private pictures were on the Internet for everyone to see because they weren’t taking proper precautions.

Use these quick and easy tips to keep your children (and entire family) safe from being overexposed and away from dangerous people like pedophiles and hackers.

  • Keep all social media accounts private. If you feel your accounts are not safe enough, delete the information you don’t want shared or stored and close the accounts.
  • Only share your pictures with family and close friends. Keep in mind that once you post an image on many social media platforms, that company owns the photo and can use it for marketing purposes. Even when sharing with people you trust, only share what you don’t mind others seeing.
  • Change passwords regularly and be creative with them to avoid having your accounts hacked. Don’t use birthdays, anniversaries, or your children or pets’ names, either.
  • Back up photos to your computer or an external hard drive and then remove them from your phone.
  • Always lock your phone, in case someone steals it.

Remember that memories of your children will be around for a long time, even if you don’t post a photo of it on social media. Some of the best ones are preserved in your heart. Cherish the moment—don’t lose it because you are looking for your phone.

To learn more about proper technology use for your kids, see the YOU: Your Child's First Teacher 3-book set

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10 Ways to Promote Learning at Home

May 19, 2015

By Maureen Powers

10 Ways to Promote Learning at Home | Learning can happen anywhere. In fact, the most important learning happens outside the four walls of a classroom. One of the best things parents can do for their children is to offer experiences beyond those that normally take place at school. Here are 10 activities you can use to promote learning at home.

Imagine two children in the same classroom. One child has never cooked a meal with his parents and one has been cooking with her grandmother at least once a week since she was old enough to stir with a big spoon.

The class reads a book about a family preparing tamales for a holiday meal. The child with no cooking experience has difficulty understanding the words used in the story and building a picture in his mind as he reads about what the family is experiencing.

The child with cooking experience pictures and understands the vocabulary very quickly and easily.

Learning can happen anywhere. In fact, the most important learning happens outside the four walls of a classroom. One of the best things parents can do for their children is to offer experiences beyond those that normally take place at school.

Psychologist Lev Vygotsky found that learning happens when children interact with their communities. New experiences can build vocabulary and give children more knowledge about their world, which is called “prior knowledge.” Children need this prior knowledge as a foundation for learning new things and making sense of them. It affects how easily they can learn and organize new information, according to the author Marilla Svinicki.

Now that you know how important it is to provide learning opportunities at home, how can you create those teachable moments?

  1. Cook with your children. PBS Parents gives great ideas and instructions to get you started.
  2. Allow children to help you make minor, age-appropriate repairs around the house. Name the tools you are using and talk about what you are doing and why. Let your kids tinker, using this website to find free repair manuals for just about everything.
  3. Go outside and mark off a two-foot area of the ground. Watch for any insects that enter or exit the area. Talk to your children about the insects you see and take pictures to look them up later at the library or on the computer.
  4. Attend free experiences offered at the local library. Libraries are a great resource for learning activities designed for children of all ages.
  5. Many communities offer free concerts in the park during the summer months. Check with your local parks and recreation department and let your children experience live music. Point out the different instruments, encouraging them to find the sound each one makes in the song.
  6. When your child wonders about something out loud, talk to him or her about it. Then research it on YouTube. You can learn how to do just about anything by watching videos and tutorials.
  7. Khan Academy is a free website and a great resource for learning just about anything, even HTML coding for kids.
  8. Get an annual pass to the local zoo or science museum. Many museums offer reduced or free admission once a week. Let your kids touch any interactive displays and talk about the animals or exhibits.
  9. Visit the closest national park. Consider purchasing an annual pass that will get your family into all the national parks for a reduced fee. Military families can get a pass for free.
  10. Travel, try new things, explore your community and remember to talk, talk, talk to your children about what they are seeing, hearing, experiencing, and thinking. Ask questions and listen to their answers. You will end up learning something, too!

For more tips to develop your child's academic skills at home, check out our YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books, now available on Amazon

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