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5 Must-Do Holiday Family Activities

December 3, 2015

By Jessica Vician

5 Must-Do Holiday Family Activities | Try these free or low-cost holiday activities with your family this season to start a new tradition and inspire wonder and holiday magic. | A photo of the Zoo Lights at Lincoln Park Zoo, courtesy of Lincoln Park Zoo.

Photo courtesy of Lincoln Park Zoo. 

Children make the holidays magical. They open our adult eyes to wonder, hope, faith, and a jolly good spirit while reminding us to take a few moments to really appreciate everything we have.

Spark your family’s joy and wonderment with these holiday activities, which are some of my favorites. Then share yours in the comments below so we can all try something new this year!

Many towns offer a traditional German holiday market, inspired by the one in Nuremberg, Germany that started in 1545. These markets often feature local artisans, shops, and traditional German food, while some, like the one in Chicago, even have vendors visiting from Germany.

Bring the kids for the food, music, culture, and the opportunity to speak a little German. Teach them how to say good day (guten tag), goodbye (auf wiederschen), and thank you (danke).

Zoo Lights
Get several families together, bundle up, and visit your local zoo for Zoo Lights this season. While the animals might be sleeping, many zoos turn on their holiday lights at dusk, which will warm your hearts and give your kids something to dream about that night.

Holiday Windows
Every December, my family would drive to the Marshall Fields (now Macy’s) on State Street in Chicago to take in the holiday windows and music in the brisk winter air. With a different theme every year, I was always excited to see what magic would be dancing around in the windows.

Check with your local Chamber of Commerce to see if your town decorates holiday windows or head to the nearest city for adorned windows, music, and other special events for kids.

Holiday Giving to Kids and Charities
When I was in elementary school, every year my family would take an angel from the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree. We would go shopping together for that child’s Christmas gifts. Not only was it fun to shop for someone my age, but it also taught me that the holidays aren’t just about Santa and receiving gifts. They are about giving to those who need help.

Once I was in high school, my student council hosted toy drives. After we organized all of the toys, we would deliver them to the families’ homes. Witnessing the pure joy in the children’s faces was the greatest gift we could ever receive. Ask your middle school or high school student to help organize a toy drive at his or her school this year.

Even if your family can’t afford to sponsor an angel or donate to Toys for Tots, save a little extra change for the Red Kettle program. Before you enter or leave the store, give your child that change to put in the red kettles and explain how that money helps other children. You’re teaching the spirit of giving, which is one of the most important parts of the holiday season.

Snuggle Time
One of the best activities you can do with your family over the holidays is also free! Cuddle up on a cold morning or evening in bed or on the couch. Make some hot chocolate, light a fire, and watch a holiday movie or play a game together. After all, what are the holidays without family and love?

What are your family’s must-do activities and traditions over the holidays? Share your ideas in the comments below.


5 Ways to a Healthy Immune System This Holiday

December 1, 2015

By Jessica Vician

5 Ways to a Healthy Immune System This Holiday | December is a busy time for families. With the school parties, vacations, and family visits, it’s especially important to make an extra effort to keep the family healthy. Make sure you're doing most of these things to keep your child’s immune system healthy for the holidays.

December is a busy time for families. With the school parties, vacations, and family visits, it’s especially important to make an extra effort to keep the family healthy.

You might be thinking, “I can’t add anything else to my plate this month!” Don’t worry: you’re probably doing most of these things already to keep your child’s immune system healthy for the holidays. Check the list and add whatever you’re missing.

Teach Them to Avoid Germs 
Remind your kids that it’s especially important to wash their hands and avoid germs during the holidays. Every time they come inside, before eating, and after playtime, ask them to wash and dry their hands.

Discourage your kids from sharing drinks, food, or utensils with anyone during the holidays, too. Even with the best intentions, we all have different germs and can get each other sick.

Settle the Stomach
If your child has a party to attend or you know grandma makes lots of cookies for holiday dessert, ensure the day’s first meal healthy and packed with nutrients. Make a spinach, egg, and cheese sandwich on a whole-wheat English muffin, and include yogurt rich in probiotics.

For lunch, include those nutritious greens, grains, and protein and add a probiotic drink like GoodBelly to make sure your child’s stomach is ready for the heavier food.

Plan Physical Activities
The day after a big party, plan a fun physical activity with your child like sledding, ice skating, or going to an indoor trampoline park. The fun exercise will keep your child in peak physical condition and sweat out all those cookies!

Make Time for Resting
The holidays are a very stimulating time physically, socially, and emotionally. Make sure your child gets a little extra rest this month so he or she has enough time to recover. Even an extra half an hour of sleep goes a long way.

And for those days that you plan heavy exercise, remember that you’ll also need to plan a nap or early bedtime.

Remember The Multivitamins
Even with healthy eating, physical activity, and rest, your kids can still pick up a virus over the holidays. Encourage them to take their daily multivitamin and get plenty of vitamin C and zinc to ward off those viruses.

As always, before starting a new health regimen, check with your child’s pediatrician. These tips should help you and your children avoid getting sick over the holidays, but if your child has any special conditions, talk to the doctor first.


Good Times for All: 10 Thanksgiving Family Activities for All Ages

November 24, 2015

By Jessica Vician

Good Times for All: 10 Thanksgiving Family Activities for All Ages | How can you spark that good energy early and ensure everyone makes the most of the holiday before and after that meal? Encourage your kids to take advantage of their family time this year with these activities for all ages. | A family sits down to Thanksgiving dinner.

Sitting down to the table on Thanksgiving is a great feeling. The cooking is done, the food smells delicious, and everyone is eagerly awaiting that first bite.

So how can you spark that good energy early and ensure everyone makes the most of the holiday before and after that meal? Encourage your kids to take advantage of their family time this year with these activities for all ages.

Kids 3-10

  • Get crafty. Prepare Thanksgiving-themed art projects for your kids to do with their cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Use our Pinterest board to find cute project inspiration.
  • Sing a song. Rent a karaoke machine for the kids to sing their favorite songs after dinner. The adults can sit back and digest while the kids put on the show.
  • Perform a play. Speaking of shows, if you have a group of future Tony Award winners in the house, ask them to put on a play at the end of the day. They’ll spend the afternoon working on the script and rehearsing, and they’ll be so excited to share their talent with the family after dinner.

Ages 11-13
Middle school kids are sometimes difficult to please. If yours like playing with younger kids, encourage them to help with the play or karaoke show. You can also try these conversation starters:

  • Make it a game. Before guests arrive, challenge your child to talk to each member of your extended family by the end of the day. Give them a few questions to ask everyone throughout the day and invite your child to talk about their common threads at dinner.
  • Cook together. Task your tween with a recipe and encourage them to ask an aunt, uncle, or grandparent for help. It will give them a project to work on together and spark more conversation.
  • Have a deck of cards handy. Playing cards can bring the family together, as games encourage us to be competitive and rely on each other to teach and learn the rules.

Ages 14-18
Just like kids in middle school, teenagers might need a little prodding to make the most of the holiday with family. In addition to cooking together and playing cards, try these activities with your teen:

  • Give them talking points. Encourage your child to ask aunts, uncles, and grandparents about their first concert, the first album they bought, or other things that interest your child. While the answers may highlight the age difference, they can also spark conversations about what it was like to live through certain decades that your teen missed out on.
  • Start a new tradition. Ask your teen what kind of holiday tradition they would like to see every year. Assuming it’s doable, have your teen explain their idea to the family at dinner and start right away.
  • Give your teen something to look forward to. If your teen is more focused on seeing friends, host a dessert party after dinner. Your teen can invite their friends over and the family members who are still there can meet the friends and share in that experience.

College students
Your student coming home from college for the holiday will probably be grateful for a home cooked meal and a comfortable bed, so take advantage of that gratitude and encourage them to learn more about their other family members.

Once a person starts college, they start to see the world a little differently. Their studies are more focused on what they want to learn, not what they’re required to learn.

Embrace that shift by encouraging your student to talk to their grandparents. They have lived through a different time than your child and might shed some light on topics your child might be more interested in now.

For instance, did a grandparent serve in Vietnam? What were politics like when the grandparents were growing up? What types of shows were on television?

Not only will the grandparents want to share about their past, but your child will gain great perspective and learn something about their family that they might not have known before.

Do you have tried-and-true activities that foster family bonding over the holidays? Share your secrets below so we can try them this week!


12 Winter Exercises to Keep Your Kids Fit

November 19, 2015

By Jessica Vician

12 Winter Exercises to Keep Your Kids Fit | These are 12 easy and fun ways to keep the kids fit through the winter. Don’t let the weather stop your family from getting at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. | A young child and mother have a playful pillow fight with the father on the bed.

As the weather cools, it can be difficult to keep your child physically active indoors. While summers are full of playing outside, riding bicycles, rollerblading, and even hoverboarding, the cooler temperatures and wet weather puts an end to the outdoor fun.

But just because the kids are inside doesn’t mean the exercise and fun should stop. Exercise is critical to your child’s physical development and must continue in every season to help your child:

  • Strengthen his or her bones and muscles
  • Reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes
  • Lower his or her blood pressure and blood cholesterol (yes, it’s important for kids, too!)
  • Reduce and cope with stress

Kids ages 5-12 should have at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day, according to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education.

While your school-aged child should get some of that 60 minutes during recess, fill in the extra time (and get the full 60+ minutes on the weekends) with these fun activities both in and out of the home.

In Your Home

1. Crank up the tunes and throw a dance party. Practice routines from YouTube videos.

2. Hop on the bed and have gentle pillow fights.

3. Host hallway races, encouraging the kids to beat their best times.

4. Have a big basement? Play crab soccer.

5. Run to find the best hiding spot during a physical game of hide and seek. 

Outside the Home

6. Visit a trampoline park for bouncing basketball, dodgeball, or just jumping.

7. Find an indoor laser tag center for running, hiding, and fun in the dark.

8. Roll your little ballers into a family bowling night.

9. Kids can practice their swings at an indoor golf center in the off-season.

10. Swim their energy away at an indoor pool.

11. Practice a single lutz or play hockey at an indoor or outdoor ice skating rink.

12. Have a snowball fight after each big snow.

These are 12 easy and fun ways to keep the kids fit through the winter. Don’t let the weather stop your family from getting at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Join in on the fun for your health and fun family memories.

What activities do you do with your family in winter? Tell us in the comments below.


How to Address Bullying in Elementary School

October 13, 2015

By Jessica Vician

How to Address Bullying in Elementary School | During National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, take some time to talk to your child about these bullying symptoms. | A group of children whisper and give dirty looks to another girl.

Every October during National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, we focus on how to prevent bullying and how to address it when it happens.

But in order to prevent and address the behavior, we need to understand it. What is bullying? According to this guide from the Department of Education, it is “when a person hurts, embarrasses, or frightens another person on purpose over and over again.”

Every parent can agree that we don’t want our children bullied and we don’t want our children to be bullies. But how can we prevent both parts of this behavior? When is it bullying and when is it just young kids working out social differences?

One challenge in bullying prevention is teaching a child to stand up for him or herself but also teaching them when to seek help from an adult. We don’t want to coddle our children or encourage “tattling,” but we do want them to resolve bullying when it happens so that it doesn’t have a long-term effect on their emotional or social well-being.

You can set a good foundation with your child by watching this “Happy to Be Me” segment from Sesame Street together. Talk to your child about whether he or she has felt like Big Bird.

  • Has your child been made fun of because of how he or she looks or talks?
  • Has your child been left out of activities intentionally?

Then ask your child what he or she did when that happened. Use the discussion tools that accompany this clip. By learning how your child dealt with a previous issue, you can determine if you need to step in and talk to the school or if your child seems to be handling it well.

Remember that this is just an initial discussion. Even if you discover your child faced bullying and handled it well, you still need to check in regularly to ensure the bullying doesn’t continue and his or her self-esteem is developing.

For more information on how to address bullying at the elementary school level, pick up the YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher books, available on Amazon. 

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