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How can we start a holiday tradition for our own family?

December 6, 2016

By YOU Program Facilitator

How can we start a holiday tradition for our own family? | A young girl helps her mother make holiday cookies.

Question: My 6-year-old daughter wants to start a new holiday tradition. She said she wants one that's just for our family. I'm stumped on ideas. Can you think of an activity we can start that will grow with our family as we get older?

Answer: It's wonderful that your daughter takes pride in your family and wants to do something that will bring you closer. Her request reminds us that even though the holidays are busy, it's important to dedicate some time or an activity to your immediate family, and in this case, your daughter.

We have a few ideas for traditions that will hold up as she matures—they might even stay with you if you become a grandparent one day!

Ornament Exchange
Choose a date during the holidays for an ornament exchange. Each family member can spend the week prior making or buying an ornament. After a special lunch or dinner, put the wrapped ornaments in a pile. Draw numbers, and let the person who drew number one choose the first ornament. In order of their number drawn, each person unwraps an ornament, keeping it for him or herself or trading it for another one. Then, the family puts their new ornaments on the tree together.

Holiday Market Visit
Set a date each year, like the first Saturday in December, to visit a holiday market as a family. It might not be the same market each year—if you have a lot of options in your area, you may want to make a rule to never repeat. While your daughter is young, choose a market with activities or shops for children. The activities might change as your daughter grows up, but the warm feeling of being surrounded by holiday traditions, smells, and your family will stay the same.

The Nutcracker
See a performance of The Nutcracker every year together. There are many performances in various price ranges, from professional ballets in big cities to college performances to dance school recitals. Choose one in your budget and expose your daughter to a dance form not often shown on television or YouTube these days.

Borrow Traditions from Other Cultures and Religions
Do you celebrate Christmas? Borrow the candle-lighting tradition from Hanukkah and teach your daughter about why Jewish families celebrate Hanukkah. Do you celebrate Hanukkah? Borrow the principals of Kwanzaa to teach your daughter about community. SheKnows has a great list of global traditions that you can incorporate into your new family tradition while teaching your daughter about other cultures and religions.

Do our readers have suggestions for fun family traditions that grow with your kids? Share in the comments below.

For more family-focused holiday fun, read our 5 Must-Do Holiday Family Activities article.

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Parent Engagement in Elementary School

November 22, 2016

By Jessica Vician

Parent Engagement in Elementary School | How to guide your child through school, encouraging good study habits and healthy friendships while providing emotional support. | A father plays cards with his son and daughter.

As your child begins elementary school, your role as your child’s primary teacher transitions to his or her official teacher at school. While the school will now lead your child’s formal education, you still need to guide him or her through school, encouraging good study habits and healthy friendships while providing emotional support.

Here are some ways you can practice parent engagement while your child goes through elementary school.

Encourage Friendships
As your child starts spending most of the day at school, he or she will primarily be socializing with peers. According to Sunny P. Chico, author of YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher, “These early friendships teach your child how to interact with the world.”

Encourage your child to develop friendships with classmates and children from the neighborhood by arranging play dates outside of school, like inviting a classmate over on the weekend. Teach your child what being a good friend means: being kind and considerate of each other’s feelings.

Listen to Your Child
Think back to your childhood. Are there times when you tried to tell your parents something but they didn’t listen or didn’t understand the severity of what you were telling them?

Sometimes when our children reach out to us about problems, we dismiss them as trivial childhood quarrels or tattling. But it’s important for your child to know that he or she can express an issue and you will hear it. Listen to what your child is saying, ask questions about how he or she feels, and think about whether it might be a symptom of a greater problem, like bullying. If so, contact the teacher and work together to resolve the situation.

Eat Healthy
What are the typical breakfasts, snacks, and dinners your family eats during the week? If your refrigerator and pantry have healthy foods and limited junk or processed foods, your family is more likely to eat healthy, have better nutrition, and perform better at school and work.

Make slow transitions to healthier food. For example, the next time you’re at the store, instead of buying potato or tortilla chips, buy crunchy carrots and hummus to dip them in. Small changes can help your child transition to a healthier diet over time.

Address Struggles and Developmental Delays
If your child struggles with learning in any capacity, speak with his or her teacher about being tested for special education services. These services can range from speech therapy to additional help for disorders like autism or dyslexia.

By working with the teacher to determine what struggles your child is having in school, you will find out if there is a greater issue that you and the school can address to help your child learn and succeed. If so, start the process for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that defines what services, programs, or accommodations your child will receive from the school.

For a mother’s story about her son’s experience with an IEP, click here for Part I and here for Part II.

As your child grows, you will still nurture his or her social and emotional well-being, physical health, and academic development. Your role will change, but you are still your child’s strongest advocate.

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Fun and Safe Websites for Kids

August 16, 2016

By Jessica Vician

Fun and Safe Websites for Kids | How do we allow our toddlers, our kids under 12, and our teenagers to use the internet for all of its benefits while keeping them away from its dangers? | A laptop sits on a table with the article title, "Fun + Safe Websites for Kids" on the screen.

Your kids are digital natives, which means they have always lived with the internet and digital devices. For those of us who remember the exciting yet frustrating sound of AOL connecting to the phone line, it’s a part of parenting that we don’t have our own stories to model after.

How do we allow our toddlers, our kids under 12, and our teenagers to use the internet for all of its benefits while keeping them away from its dangers?

There are fun and safe websites out there for kids of all ages. When in doubt, I recommend checking Common Sense Media, as they are constantly rating and evaluating various media to give parents the information they need to determine if the TV show, app, or movie is appropriate for their kids.

Toddlers
If you’re going to give your toddlers screen time, limit them to TV cartoons, movies, and apps made for their age range. Most of the apps designed for toddlers focus on learning in a fun way, so try some of these.

Elementary School
For younger elementary school kids (grades K–3), focus on their favorite TV shows and topics they’re interested in. PBS Kids has great options that include cartoons and learning activities for varied interests, including science, engineering, and nature.

For older elementary school kids (grades 4–6), games that reinforce the learning they’re doing in school, like Minecraft, can be great opportunities to keep learning at home. As a parent, you need to enforce playing in moderation and not physically meeting up with people your kids might meet online in the game.

Use game time as a reward for completing homework. You could even use coding games and apps to teach your kids how to code.

Preteens and Teenagers
It’s important to know what apps and sites your teens are on so that you can set guidelines for safe usage. Again, Common Sense Media has a great breakdown of the apps your teens are using now and what you need to know about them.

The good news? The most popular sites and apps that teens are using are pretty safe. As with all screen time, it’s important to enforce using it in moderation and after homework is done. And make sure you require these privacy tips on your teen’s social networks.

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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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How to Teach Your Kids and Teens Gratitude

July 12, 2016

By Nikki Cecala

How to Teach Your Kids and Teens Gratitude | Gratitude is a learned behavior. If your children are grateful for what they have, they are more likely to be happy now and later in life. | A child holds a chalkboard sign that says, "Thank you."

Have you ever heard the phrase, “No one is born grateful?”

Gratitude is a learned behavior, which can be tricky with toddlers as they are a bit selfish by nature. Instilling gratitude in young children will help them remain grateful as they age, but it’s not too late to influence your teenagers, too.

If your children are grateful for what they have, they are more likely to be happy now and later in life. In fact, according to a Harvard Health Publication study, “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

So, how can you teach your children gratitude?

In Early Childhood and Elementary School
Children model their behavior after their parents’ actions, so it is important to lead by example. 

  • Are you are saying please and thank you when you are around your child?
  • Are you reminding your child to say please and thank you to others?

The earlier you model gratitude with your child, the more successful your child will be at both demonstrating and feeling it.

  • Practice daily.
    To teach my son the concept of gratitude, I started asking my son what he was thankful for before we went to bed every night. He won’t necessarily say, “I am thankful for blah blah blah” because he is young, but he will express what made him happy that day. For example, he will say, “I liked my popsicle,” or “My cousin came over to play,” or “Mommy made pizza for dinner!”
  • Point out gratitude in action.
    When your child is watching a TV show or reading a book, point out when the characters show gratitude. “Did you see how Big Bird said, ‘thank you?’ He is grateful to Elmo for helping him.”
  • Include in playtime.
    Another great way to get children to acknowledge gratitude is to include it in their role-playing or imagination time.

In Middle School and High School
Teaching a teenager gratitude can be a bit more difficult. As teens embrace their individuality, they also distance themselves from their parents. Sit down with your teenager and discuss the difference between a person’s rights and privileges. It’s easy to forget how lucky we are to have what we do.

For example, you can explain that in our country, your child has a right to a public education, but it’s a privilege for him or her to participate in afterschool programs, events, and social functions.

Here are some other ways to introduce gratitude to your teenager:

  • Encourage volunteer work.
    Whether it is participating in community service through the school or volunteering through a local church or community center, the opportunity can teach your teenager to be thankful for what he or she has and to give back to the community and help others who are less fortunate.
  • Thank their teachers.
    Is there a teacher who goes the extra mile for your child? Ask your teen to write his or her teacher a thank you note. Explain to your teenager that the extra effort the teacher put in was out of the kindness of his or her heart to see your child succeed.

Regardless of the age of your child, be patient. Children are constantly growing and changing, but the investment you make now will be worth it in the future.

Do you have a routine, approach, activity, or conversation topic that has helped instill gratitude in your child? Please share what has worked for you in the comments below.

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