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Reflect + Reenergize with These Back to School Activities

August 13, 2015

By Amelia Orozco

Reflect + Reenergize with These Back to School Activities | Regroup and gather your thoughts and emotions before the school year starts with your family with these 4 activities. | A girl blows bubbles in the park.

You are on top of your game. You have registered your child for school, taken him or her to the doctor for a yearly physical examination, and shopped for uniforms and school supplies. It’s all done. You’re ready for back to school. So why does it feel like something is missing?

It may be time to regroup and gather your thoughts and emotions in anticipation of another school year. It is also a great time to gather the family to do a few simple yet calming activities to help recharge everyone’s batteries.

1. Blow Bubbles and Make Wishes
Take a blanket or beach towel to the park and a couple of bottles of bubbles. Lie on your back and blow bubbles into the air. Make wishes for the new school year as each bubble flies away toward the horizon. Emphasize to your child that these are more than wishes left to chance, and that he or she really has control over the outcome of what they wished for based on the effort they put in.

2. Create a Sidewalk Masterpiece and Let Go of Summer
With giant sidewalk chalk, create a mural on a sidewalk. Take pictures of the finished design because it will soon wash away in the rain. Use this time to reflect on how the summer has come and gone, too, but that the memories you have will remain. The school year is another opportunity for all new adventures. You can print out a copy later and make a “first day of school” card for your son or daughter. 

3. Play Frisbee and Have Fun
It’s a low-impact and inexpensive sport that does not require much agility or skill, but will have everyone running around, letting go of stress, and giggling.

4. Role-play Teacher and Student to Prepare
You can do this at the kitchen table. This is a great time to role-play situations that may come up at school. For example, mom can play a student who is unruly and distracting, and someone else can play along to see how to remedy the situation.

Do you recommend your son or daughter change seats? Should they tell the teacher? Think of different scenarios than can come up in places like the school cafeteria, hallway, or gym class. 

Prepare for kindergarten, high school, or address new school anxiety.

These are only a few examples of how to spend the last few days of summer winding down and revving up for the school year ahead. Each family is different, so you may want to think of fun, simple games and activities you did as a child and make those part of your back-to-school tradition each year. A quick pause from the busyness of it all will give your son or daughter time to reflect and refuel for their demanding schoolwork and extra-curricular activities ahead.

Having an impact on your son or daughter does not have to cost tons of money, nor does it take much time. You will appreciate the sweet memories you are making when they have outgrown their desire to hang out with you on a lazy afternoon. 

Need more suggestions on preparing your family for the school year? The YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books provide activities and checklists to help.

Amelia Orozco is the senior editor and writer at the Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo and a community and entertainment reporter for TeleGuía Chicago and Extra Newspaper. A mother of three, Amelia also maintains an active role in her community and church by working with youth and promoting education and diversity through her writing and volunteer efforts.


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


How to Prevent the Summer Slide

July 14, 2015

By Sandra Braceful-Quarles

How to Prevent the Summer Slide | The summer slide occurs when children don't practice any academics during the summer vacation, often leading to over two months' of learning loss. Here are some tips to prevent that learning loss. | Three students approach a teacher's desk, frustrated.

Summer break is a time to relax, have fun, and enjoy these lazy days. Students are given a break to spend more time with family and friends, go on vacations, and discover something new. As your child’s first teacher, you should be aware that not participating in any learning activities over the summer might cause the dreaded summer slide.

The Research
The U.S. Department of Education defines the summer slide as the loss of learning that takes place during the summer months when children are not engaged in educational activities.

You may think, “how much learning could possibly be lost over a few summer months?” Over 100 years of research shared by the National Summer Learning Institute suggests that score two to three months lower on the same standardized test given at the end of summer compared to the beginning of summer vacation. After a few summers, those months can easily add up to a loss of one school year.

The Solutions
So what can you do to reverse or prevent this anticipated loss? Good news: there are many options available for you and your child. Remember to focus on their interests and having fun while they learn during summer vacation.

The Library
Your local library is a great place to start. Many libraries have summer reading programs to encourage students to read over the summer. Kids usually receive a reward at the end of the program based on the number of books they read.

Encourage your child to choose a book he or she enjoys reading, and not the one you want your child to read. Turn to a page in a book and use the Five Finger Rule for mistakes while your child reads as a guide: 0 – 1 = too easy; 2 - 3 = perfect choice; 4 = okay to try with an adult; 5+ = too hard.

The Kitchen
Cooking is a fun way to incorporate reading, math, and art into a learning activity. The reading part comes with following the recipe, which makes the dish taste delicious. Have your child—the chef of the day—read instructions aloud as you act as his or her assistant.

The math is the measurement part of the recipe. Instead of using 1 cup, use 1/3 cup (pour three 1/3 cups into 1 cup) to show that they are equal.

Children can show artistic skills when plating and presenting the meal.

Hobbies are the perfect opportunities for reading and learning. If your child shows an interest in a particular topic, suggest he or she learn more about those activities. For example, if your child is interested in swimming, read about how to become a better swimmer, convert laps in pool meters into miles, or learn about famous swimmers.

Already planned a vacation? Create before, during, and after vacation activities. Read brochures or books together before you leave. While on vacation, point out locations and cultural qualities that you learned about in those reading materials. During the vacation or upon your return, encourage your child to write about the activities in a summer adventure journal.

Enjoy your summer of learning and relaxing. Your child has many resources available to prevent any learning loss. With these tips, the only summer slide your child will ride is at the local playground or amusement park.

What other lessons do you incorporate throughout the summer to keep your child’s skills sharp? Tell me in the comments below.

Looking for more ways to improve your child’s learning experience outside of school? Pick up a copy of YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher 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.


ADHD or Lack of Movement?

June 23, 2015

By Jessica Vician

ADHD or Lack of Movement? In an article published on, a pediatric physical therapist found that many children in the classroom aren't moving enough. | A girl plays hopscotch.

You’ve heard the stories, or maybe you’ve experienced them yourself—children are having trouble focusing and sitting still in school. Teachers are having trouble holding students’ attention and are recommending that some parents have their children tested for ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder).

There are many valid reasons for recommending these tests. From a parent’s perspective, it’s important to know if your child is struggling in the classroom so that you can help identify and address the problem. Once your child learns to manage whatever the issue may be, he or she will be better prepared to learn. recently featured the article, “Why so many kids can’t sit still in school today,” by a pediatric occupational therapist who has been fielding frequent calls regarding childhood ADHD.

But what this therapist found through a day of observation in a fifth grade classroom wasn’t a bunch of kids with ADHD. She found kids who had poor core fitness—their abdominal muscles weren’t strong enough to support proper balance. That’s right—the same reasons adults go to the gym to exercise our abs and use stability balls as chairs at work are just as important for our kids. Because of the students’ restricted movement throughout the day, they weren’t ready to sit still and learn.

You can read the article in its entirety here. This therapist’s experience isn’t unique—it’s likely happening with your kids, too. There are many questions we should be asking:

  • What can parents do to address this lack of mobility inside the classroom?
  • How can you spend this summer helping your child build core strength and improve his or her fitness
  • What will you do when your child starts school in the fall to keep him or her active and fit for the classroom?

Help other parents and share your ideas in the comments below or in the forum. We want to hear your solutions.


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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