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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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5 Ways to Focus in the Digital Age

September 8, 2015

By Jessica Vician

5 Ways to Focus in the Digital Age | Children are having trouble focusing more than ever, which is affecting more than just their homework-- it's affecting their ability to emotionally develop. Help your child learn to focus with these 5 tips. | A child plays a video game with his headphones on.

Smartphones, tablets, laptops, game consoles, televisions. All of these digital devices make us more connected yet more distracted than ever. As any adult office worker can tell you, constant Internet access grants instant information but also makes it easy to lose focus on the task at hand and enter a digital rabbit hole.

It especially affects our children. With all of these opportunities for information and distraction, students aren’t fully developing their ability to concentrate and focus. That means more than just being easily distracted in class—it means that the neurons in their brains don’t learn to fire in a way that allows them to focus. If their brains don’t fully develop this function, it could affect their successes in life.

“This ability [to concentrate] is more important than IQ or the socioeconomic status of the family you grew up in for determining career success, financial success, and health,” psychologist and journalist Daniel Goleman said during an interview on KQED Radio.

Not only will children be unable to focus on their academics, they might not develop social and emotional skills needed to become well-developed adults. So how can you help your children focus in this digital age of distraction?

  1. Do light exercise.
    Get extra energy out of their system with a quick game of Horse or a bike ride before starting homework.
  2. Turn off all devices.
    While some assignments will require Internet research, make sure all other devices—smartphones, tablets, games, television, etc.—are off or are in another room. Have your child do as much homework and prep work as possible before accessing the Internet.
  3. Have your child make a task list after school.
    With a list of items he or she needs to accomplish, your child might be more focused to cross items off that list. Just as lists help adults, they can help children.
  4. Check in on computer time.
    If an assignment requires Internet research, check in every ten to fifteen minutes to make sure your child stays on task. If he or she is struggling to avoid surfing, sit and help them stay focused.
  5. Take breaks.
    If your child gets distracted after some time focusing on homework, let him or her take a break. Have some fruit or a glass of water, let their mind rest, and then return to that list.

These are just five ways to silence the distractions and help your child focus. By teaching him or her these valuable skills, you are giving your child the tools to succeed in school and in life.

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Save Your Child’s Immunization Records

September 1, 2015

By Jessica Vician

Save Your Child’s Immunization Records | How long should you save your child's immunization records? Until they finish their doctorate. Once your child graduates from high school, they will need those records to apply for undergrad, graduate, and post-graduate school, so keep them just in case. | A doctor fills out an immunization form.

You know you need to save your child’s immunization records for a while, but just how long should you save them?

The short answer? Until your child finishes a doctoral program.

I know it seems extreme, but the reality is that pediatricians aren’t in business forever. While high schools keep records for some time after students graduate, if you or your child moves away, it’s hard to track those records down.

11 years after graduating high school, I decided to go to graduate school and needed to provide proof of certain immunizations. At that point, I had no idea where those records were. My pediatrician had retired long ago, and my undergraduate school wasn’t able to provide them. Luckily, my high school still had my records and my parents still lived nearby so my mom was able to pick them up for me.

However, most high schools won’t keep these records for more than a few years after graduation. To avoid your child needing to repeat vaccines or have extensive blood work done to prove immunity, keep these immunization records until your child is ready to take them for safe keeping.

The vaccines required may vary by state and school, but generally your child will need proof of the following:

  • Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR)
  • Meningococcal meningitis
  • Tetanus/Diphtheria
  • Hepatitis B

While your child might not have plans for graduate or doctoral studies right now, keep those immunization records in a safe place for many years after he or she graduates from high school, especially if you move. It might not seem like a big deal now, but your child will thank you if he or she ever pursues an advanced degree.

To learn more about college and career readiness and supporting your child’s health, read the YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher 3-book set, available on Amazon.

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