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Backyard Summer Learning for Toddlers

June 21, 2016

By Nikki Cecala

Backyard Summer Learning for Toddlers | Learning opportunities exist right in your backyard! Try these fun activities with your toddler. | A young boy and his brother play with a water toy in the backyard, wearing matching plaid shirts.

I love summer. The season allows my son and I to have lots of adventures, creating bonding opportunities and memories for a lifetime. Although sometimes I get so wrapped up in planning these adventures that I forget he can get just as much out of playing in the backyard exploring as he could on a field trip with mommy and daddy.

Outside time is golden time for discovery, development, and growth. Children can learn on so many levels: basic, fundamental, and even about the universe. And they’re more likely to remember what they learned because it was a memorable and personal experience.

Take advantage of the summer for learning with your toddler by trying these backyard lessons.

Ice Block
Freeze a few toys in a block of ice overnight. On a warm, sunny day, bring the block of ice onto the porch or sidewalk and lay kid-friendly tools next to it.

Explain to your toddler that that the toys are frozen in ice and he or she needs to break the ice to get the toys out. Your toddler will see how frozen water melts, and you can answer any basic questions he or she has about liquids and solids (and even gases if you talk about evaporation).

Gardening
My son loves to garden so I picked up gardening tools at the dollar store. He was so excited to pull weeds, dig holes, and plant seeds.

Gardening is a great opportunity to teach your child how trees and food grow from seeds. Now that my son has played in the garden, he has an appreciation for plants and their importance for our survival in the world.

Bugs
There are a lot of neat bugs that come out during the summer, like worms, ladybugs, and fireflies. Why are these bugs so important and why do they only come out in summer?

The next time you see a worm, teach your child the importance of a worm’s role in increasing the amount of air and water that gets into the soil. When you see a caterpillar crawl by or a butterfly land on a flower, teach your child about the insect’s lifespan and how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly.

Space
For children, there is something magical and special about the night sky. The next time your child is up late enough, explain what the moon and the stars are. If you’re lucky you will see a shooting star!

Parents and relatives play a crucial part in advancing a child's learning, health, and well-being, so prioritize and have fun with these backyard lessons!

What are some activities you do with your child in the summertime?

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Plan a great Mother’s Day with these 5 ideas

May 3, 2016

By Nikki Cecala

Plan a great Mother’s Day with these 5 ideas | What does a mother want for Mother’s Day? Show her that you love her and truly value everything she has done for you and your kids with these 5 ideas.

What does a mother want for Mother’s Day? While cards and flowers are a nice gesture, she would genuinely appreciate something original—and originality is more fun and heartfelt for you and the kids!

Show her that you love her and truly value everything she has done for you and your kids with these five ideas.

1. Ask her what she wants
Some mothers may want to spend the day with family, while others might like a day to themselves. Ask her what she would like to do. Maybe she wants to sleep in but would like to go out for dinner with the family. Perhaps she wants to go to a movie by herself. The best gift is one she truly wants and needs, not what someone else wants for her. Let her do what she wants on Mother’s Day.

2. Create a photo album of memories
Support family time by sharing happy memories on Mother’s Day. Gather photos she hasn’t seen in a long time and ask extended family to share photos they’ve taken over the years. You can even make a quick photo book from your Facebook and Instagram accounts.

3. Plan us time
When you have children, me time and us time often is pushed down the list of things to do. But it’s good for the soul and helps maintain a healthy relationship. Grab a sitter if possible and make dinner reservations for a date night.

4. Start a fun tradition
With the kids, brainstorm unique and fun activities you can do for Mom. Need a starting off point? Think of a Mother’s Day sing-a-long with her favorite songs or a scavenger hunt for her to find little gifts the kids made. Check out our Pinterest page for more activity ideas.

5. Teach your kids to appreciate Mom
This one is sure to bring a happy tear to Mom’s eye. Encourage your kids to think hard about all the things Mom does for them. Put it in their perspective: what if they had to wake up early every day and make breakfast and lunch for Mom, get her dressed and ready for work, then go to school themselves, come home, and make dinner for everyone? And then on the weekend, they have to do her laundry, clean the house, and take her to sports practice. When would they ever relax?

If they can imagine how hard it would be for them to take care of Mom, they might appreciate what she does for them. Once they understand, ask them to write a list of what they are grateful for and give it to Mom as a gift.

Whatever you decide to do, celebrate her individuality and demonstrate how much you and the kids appreciate everything she does for your family. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to impress her, but spend time and put thought into showing her how much your family loves and appreciates her.

We’re always looking for more ways to celebrate moms. What have you done in the past for Mother’s Day?

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Plant a Tree for Earth Day 2016

April 19, 2016

By Jessica Vician

Plant a Tree for Earth Day 2016 | A group of teens plant a tree.

As your family watches the plants, trees, and flowers wake up this spring, say thank you by celebrating Earth Day on the 22nd.

This year, Earth Day’s global theme is Trees for the Earth, as they are working toward a goal to plant nearly 8 billion trees by Earth Day 2020—the 50th anniversary of the day.

Rally your family to help Earth Day reach its 2020 goal by planting one or more trees this year. Not only is it great for the environment—after all, it takes about 96 trees to remove the carbon dioxide produced by one person in a year—it’s a great opportunity to teach your kids about the benefits of trees while watching it grow over the years.

After checking to see what trees will grow best in your area, let your kids pick one out from your local nursery or home improvement store. If you have the space, choose a small one to maximize the growth your children will see over the years. My family planted a small tree when I was in middle school and that tree is over 30 feet tall now. Every time I visit, I’m amazed by its magnitude. That small tree grew so much in size while I was growing up and becoming an adult.

While you’re planting your tree (and creating your own memories), teach your kids about the value of trees with these facts from EarthDay.org:

Your family will also get a good workout by digging the hole for the tree and planting it, so celebrate afterward with lots of liquids and a delicious meal!

If you’re planting a tree for Earth Day this year, snap a few photos and share them with us on Facebook or Twitter. We want to see the beautiful trees your family chose!

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Do You Want to Build a Snowman?

February 23, 2016

By Jessica Vician

Do You Want to Build a Snowman? | This month's exercise is building a snowman! Bundle up the family, hit the snow, and burn an average of 285 calories an hour. | A family runs around a snowman they just built.

It’s the end of February and winter hasn’t fully released its grip on us just yet. And while we tire of the snow and cold, upcoming March reminds us that spring is near. With that in mind, I challenge you to embrace the winter and take advantage of the next snowfall—which could be your last of the season—for this month’s exercise: build a snowman!

Building a snowman is so much fun. Kids young and old love it and you can burn an average of 285 calories an hour, so bundle up and hit the snow. Toss in a friendly snowball fight to burn an extra 319 calories an hour.

You can even turn this exercise into a learning opportunity by trying to build a mathematically perfect snowman. Teach your kids about the golden ratio and get your ruler out to follow Dr. James Hind’s instructions, found here.

Regardless of whether your family attempts or succeeds at the mathematically perfect snowman, snap a pic and share it on our Facebook page. And most importantly, have fun with this winter exercise challenge!

Check out last month’s exercises here.

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3 Easy Exercises for Kids

January 26, 2016

By Jessica Vician

3 Easy Exercises for Kids | Did you know that kids need at least an hour a day of physical activity]? While they might get some of that at recess, try these three exercises with your kids at home to help strengthen their muscles. | A group of kids stretch on colorful mats.

While many New Year’s resolutions focus on adults losing weight, a health focus is just as important for kids. Did you know that kids need at least an hour a day of physical activity? While they might get some of that at recess, try these three exercises with your kids at home to help strengthen their muscles.

1. Plank for core strength
If you’ve ever taken a yoga or core strength class, you probably know how to do a plank. Have your child lie on his or her stomach and then push up with the forearms and toes on the floor. Keep the body straight, sucking in the belly and tightening the glutes (butt muscles). Start by holding the pose for 30 seconds, resting for 30 seconds, and then holding again. Try it three times.

After practicing for a few weeks, work up to holding the plank for 45 seconds and eventually a minute. Make it a competition for more fun—who can hold it the longest while still keeping their body straight?

2. Push-ups for arm and core strength
If your child is younger or overweight, start these push-ups with knees on the floor. Keep the arms just wider than shoulder-width apart, and keep the knees in line with the hips. Suck in the belly and push up and down, bending the elbows. See if your child can do 12-15 push-ups in a row. Try three sets of these 12-15 reps during each session.

When 15 reps become too easy, have your child do push-ups with toes on the floor (no knees), and eventually increase the number of push-ups he or she does each time.

3. Walking lunges for leg strength 
First, start with a regular lunge. Stand straight with feet together and step forward with your right foot, bending both knees to about 90-degree angles. Your back knee will be closest to the ground but won’t touch, and the front knee should be lined up with your ankle.

To move into the walking lunge, step forward with your left foot, moving into a lunge with the left leg (same as the instructions for the right leg lunge above). Keep moving down the hall for 20 total steps (10 with each leg). Do this exercise of 20 steps three times.

Once this exercise becomes easier for you and your child, add small hand weights of one to three pounds for an additional challenge.

Regular exercise helps your child regulate stress, feel happier, and be healthier. Take the challenge and do these three easy exercises with your child every day for a month and see how much better both of you feel.

Do you have a favorite exercise to do with your child? Tell us in the comments below.

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