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My Story: Parent Engagement in Action

November 19, 2014

My Story: Parent Engagement in Action | Jairo, Beatriz, Tizoc, and Moctezuma sit in front of a Christmas tree.

Photo courtesy of Beatriz Castro

Parent Engagement Month serves as a reminder to boost our parenting efforts toward helping our children become successful, happy adults. During a recent visit to a California school district that has implemented our YOU Program, we met Beatriz Castro.

Beatriz is an extraordinary example of an engaged parent. A proud mother to her two sons, Moctezuma, 4, and Tizoc, 3, she and her husband are expecting a baby girl in December. She immigrated to the United States from Morelos, Mexico when she was 7 years old with her parents and three siblings for a better education and opportunities. While she struggled with balancing work and college herself, she has prioritized her children’s education so they will have a successful future.

When Beatriz enrolled her sons in an Early Head Start program in 2011, she took a big step toward prioritizing their education. The next year, she boosted her parent engagement efforts by getting involved with the Policy Council Committee at her Early Head Start school. During this time she learned more about the program, the financials, and the critical role parents play in a child’s education. She has brought that knowledge into her daily life with her kids and currently serves as the treasurer for the State Preschool Policy Council.

When Beatriz and her husband first planned to have children, they wanted to ensure their kids would have love, attention, communication, discipline, and an education. In her own words below, she tells us how she gives those things to her children everyday. These daily activities are a great way to bring learning into your home. Even the smallest efforts make a difference.

Getting Dressed
A typical day in our home is a consistent routine. We get dressed, but we make getting dressed a learning experience. The boys love to match clothes, so we discuss colors, shapes, stripes, and lines. As they get dressed, we also talk about the letters. What letter begins with sock? If they don't remember, I make the sound of the s. Sometimes, we do it by singing scissors, scissors sssss, sssss, s.

Both boys know the sounds of the letters already, so that's why they catch on fast. I'm still practicing the ABCs and sounds with my youngest, Tizoc, but he’s learning quickly.

The next thing we do is have breakfast. Depending on what we eat, we discuss the benefits of the food. What does milk give us? Calcium! What does calcium do for us? It makes our bones strong and healthy.

Brushing Teeth
After breakfast, we brush our teeth. Although the kids start the process, I help them at the end. We say front teeth, right side, left side, back teeth, molars, and lastly tongue. Then we rinse while cleaning our toothbrushes with water and putting them back in our cups.

Tying Shoes
We then prepare to start the day outside. They put their shoes on, and I tie Tizoc’s shoes by showing him how to do it first. Moctezuma knows how to tie his shoes already so he does it on his own. I taught him when he was 3½ years old.

Driving to and from Preschool
We put on our seatbelts when we get into the car. Sometimes Tizoc cries because he is having trouble.  If he says he can’t buckle it, I say that I can't help him until he tries first. However, I let him know that I can help him if he cannot do it. He always tries, and then he says, "I did it mommy! I'm a big boy!" So I acknowledge him by telling him what a good job he has done!

On the way to school, we listen to their favorite songs like "ABC Rock," "I am a Pizza," "Slippery Fish," and "Letter Sounds."  Then I drop them off at school.

Later, when I pick them up, they are so happy to see me and share their wonderful day. They tell me what they ate, what they learned, and what activities they worked on that day. On the way home, we listen to favorite songs again.

Lunch and Playtime
When we arrive home, we eat lunch if they have not already eaten. It is a tradition that we always try to eat every meal together as a family. The boys help me set the table and put out the food, and then we sit down and discuss our day in more detail, one by one. We also talk about the type of foods we are eating (like we do in the morning). After the boys are done, they clean up their plates, bring them to the sink, and I give them another chore, liking cleaning the table and drying the dishes. As they do that, we sing the ABCs or count 1-20 together. Then they do chores, make their beds, and take out their trash from their room. I reward them with a piece of candy and a sticker.

After that, they play for one hour. These activities range from Legos, puzzles, reading books, or playing with toys. During this time, I usually do my cleaning.

Afterward, we do homework from school and homework from home, which are alternative assignments that are different from the school. I bought them their favorite activity book, which they love to do. Moctezuma likes to connect the dots, and by doing that he practices his ABCs and numbers. Tizoc is learning numbers and letters right now.

Post-Homework Playtime
Then we play outside together, and a little after, they play by themselves while I get ready for dinner. They usually play soccer, or golf with their father when he gets home early from work. When the kids shower, I teach them about hygiene and the importance of staying clean and healthy.

At the end of the day when they are ready to sleep, my husband and I read to them. We read together so that they can learn efficiently, then we choose another that they read by themselves. While reading, they recognize things we are already learning about in everyday life: colors, shapes, places, settings, numbers, and more. Anything you see everyday in the street, we practice. That is how I taught Moctezuma to read at 4 years old: anywhere you go, you see numbers, letters, colors, shapes, etc. It's so practical and easy.

I love it, because they surprise me in how much and how quickly they learn. We do the same thing when we go out hiking—we talk about the environment and the importance of caring for it. They also know how to sign basic words and their names. Spanish is their first language, as we speak it at home, and English is their second language.
Beatriz has said that the YOU Program taught her how easy and practical it is for parents to teach their children throughout the day. As she mentions above, children absorb information quickly—all you have to do as a parent is provide the small lessons for them to pick up. A huge thank you to Beatriz, who is an inspiration to parents everywhere and a great example of an engaged parent.


Early Intervention: Part II

October 14, 2014

By Jennifer Eckert

Early Intervention: Part II | A young boy sits on the floor, reaching up.

Last month I wrote about the early intervention program that is required by law in every U.S. state and territory to provide services to qualifying infants or toddlers with developmental delays or disabilities. After going through the intake and evaluation process with my son, my husband and I learned he had a 33 percent delay in expressive language, and we opted to enroll him in a speech therapy program.

After attending several therapy sessions, I have the following advice for parents who want to get the most out of their child’s therapy sessions—whether they are for speech or any other type of developmental delay:

Recognize that therapy is “play.”
According to my son’s speech therapist, many parents go into the sessions expecting worksheets and an intensive drilling of skills. They may be a little surprised when the therapist pulls out a variety of toys and starts to play with the child. However, each toy and game serves two specific purposes: it grabs the child’s attention, and it relates to a specific skill.

For example, one toy my son’s therapist used was a simple coffee can with holes punched in the lid. My son was entranced as he spent the next five minutes putting different-colored straws through the holes in the lid. However, he also practiced making d-sounds as the therapist guided him to say “drop” each time a straw went in the canister and then “dump” when he poured them all out again.

Be present at therapy sessions.
If at all possible, sit in and observe multiple therapy sessions. You will soon pick up on some of the techniques the therapist uses with your child, which you can then apply on your own. I was amazed by how many simple-yet-effective communication skills I learned. For example, instead of letting my son point to the sippy cup he wanted to use each morning, I learned to prompt him so he’d have to give me a verbal response: “Do you want the blue cup or the green cup?”

Communicate with the therapist.
If you are not able to be present for therapy sessions, ask your child’s therapist to call or e-mail you after a session to provide a brief progress report. Find out what specific skill your child worked on and what accomplishments your child made. Also keep the therapist apprised of any gains or setbacks you notice in your child. This will help the therapist monitor your child’s overall progress.

For instance, after he’d completed a few speech therapy sessions, I suddenly noticed that my son was becoming much more vocal in terms of repeating what my husband and I said—without any prompting. Communicating this information to the therapist helped her determine that our son had achieved one of the goals in his development plan—unprompted imitation of language.

Practice with your child.
Just like playing an instrument or riding a bike, the main way a child makes progress with developmental skills is through practice, practice, practice. Look for ways to incorporate the techniques you observe into your child’s everyday life. My husband and I have turned elements of our son’s daily routine into opportunities for practicing speech. During diaper changes, we sing songs with repetitive phrases that he’ll repeat. At bath time, we offer him two different toys and prompt him to verbally respond with his choice. At bedtime, we read books about animals and he mimics their sounds.

I am amazed at the amount of progress my son has made in such a short amount of time, and I am grateful that the affordable services of my state’s early intervention program are available to him. I would definitely encourage parents who suspect their child has a developmental delay to take advantage of this program. It is a valuable resource that, along with parental engagement, can be the key to a child’s success.

Jennifer Eckert is a supervising editor at National Geographic Learning and a freelance writer. She lives in Chicago with her husband, son, and three cats.


Old Wives’ Tales in Parenting

October 9, 2014

By Ana Vela

Old Wives' Tales in Parenting | Baby Mariana has a red thread on her forehead to stop the hiccups.

I recently had my first baby, and I must admit I didn’t know what I was getting into. Fortunately, my mother flew in from out of state to help me care for my baby for the first three months. I was so desperate and grateful for her help that I pretty much believed and followed anything she said. I mean, she had three kids of her own and has helped raise my two nieces. Why wouldn’t I?

I started sharing some of my mom’s guidance with friends. They questioned, and even laughed, at some of the things I shared with them. That’s when I started to realize that they might just be parenting old wives’ tales. Perhaps my vulnerability as a new parent caused me to believe anything she said at the time.

Out of curiosity, I posted some of these on my Facebook page and asked people if they believed in any of them. I was amazed with the feedback I received. Many people grew up with these same stories and believe in them. Of course, there were many who were skeptical, regardless of the fact that their own family members follow them. There were even people correcting each other in how the tales go.

These are a couple of parenting old wives’ tales that I have encountered since becoming a parent. I’ve since learned that these are prominent in the Latino culture.

Ojo or Evil Eye
My mother was very serious when she sat me down and talked me through how to cure “ojo,” because my baby was sure to experience it one day soon. Ojo is sort of like the evil eye. The story varies, but generally it occurs when someone really admires and/or is envious of your baby. If they don’t touch your baby then the baby will develop a fever and will cry uncontrollably when you get home. It could last for days if you do not perform the cure, which involves rubbing an egg on your baby, reciting prayers, and cracking the egg open to release the ojo.

My mom even said I constantly contracted ojo as a baby (apparently I was quite adorable), and at some point she would avoid taking me out in public to not deal with it anymore. I later learned that there is a special bracelet you can have your baby wear that will block them from ever getting ojo. Sounds crazy, I know. And yet, I grew up with family and friends swearing that their babies had ojo and that the cure worked.

Curing Hiccups
This one came from my husband. Our baby had hiccups that wouldn’t go away. He asked me in a serious manner if I had tried using red thread to cure her hiccups. I had no idea what he was talking about. My mom overheard jumped in, agreeing that red thread cures hiccups. She couldn’t believe she had forgotten about it. My husband found red thread in our drawer, cut a piece, placed it in his mouth to wet it with his saliva, then stuck it onto our daughter Mariana’s forehead. And then we waited. After what seemed to me like a very long time, the hiccups went away. My husband proudly claimed that the red thread cured the hiccups. Sounds crazy, I know. And yet, several of my friends swear it works, too.

And there were more! Do not have the baby roll her eyes back at me or she will become cross-eyed. Do not eat eggs, beans, or pork while breastfeeding for the first month or else my baby will get sick and become colicky. Don’t let the baby see my dogs poop or pee because she will get red eyes.

For the most part, these old wives’ tales are harmless. They were likely pure coincidences that were then declared factual, and were passed down from generation to generation. As crazy as some of these old wives’ tales sound, when you are a parent, following these tales can make you feel like you are helping and protecting your child. As long as we are not risking harm, whatever makes us feel at ease is worth following. So although I don’t believe in these tales, you won’t find me ignoring an opportunity to help my baby by using any of these!

What old wives’ tales have your heard from your family and friends? Tell me in the comments below or start a thread in the forum. 



My Story: Postpartum Recovery

September 19, 2014

By Ana Vela

My Story: Postpartum Recovery | The author, Ana Vela, holds her newborn baby, Mariana, against her chest.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Shaffer Photography

I spent so much time planning for my first baby, from reading books and articles to talking with my doctor to talking with friends and family. Yet I didn’t take the time to learn about the postpartum recovery process. Perhaps it was because I was a bit scared. Or perhaps it’s because I assumed I was stronger than most women and would recover quickly. I completely underestimated the challenge this recovery period would be.

The postpartum recovery period is defined as the six weeks after delivery. An article in the Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health discusses postpartum effects lasting until 18 months after delivery. A woman will experience physical, emotional, and mental challenges during this time.

As someone who was unaware of what to expect during postpartum recovery, here are some tips I would like to offer for anyone about to go through this process:

Focus on your physical recovery.
Pregnancy and delivery was hard work for your body, and there is a whole list of symptoms you will experience afterward. Although you want to take care of your baby, it’s important that you focus on your own physical recovery.

At first, I felt very guilty that I was relying on my mother and husband to care for the baby so much in order to sleep (my mother stayed with us for the first two and a half months of our daughter’s life). Do not feel guilty. If you do not take care of yourself, you will not be able to care for your child later.

One of the ways you can take care of yourself is to avoid going out to public places with your baby during the first weeks after giving birth, as you are both vulnerable to getting sick. Although I was going crazy from being indoors, knowing that my child was healthy at home was worth it.

Learn to ask for and accept help.
If you are like me, independent and in need of being in control, be prepared for the opposite. I have never felt so helpless before. I needed assistance with everything: bathing (extremely embarrassing for me), cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, getting groceries, and taking care of my pets. Family and friends will offer to help, and it’s okay to accept it and depend on them. Although it was difficult for me to feel so vulnerable, I realized that it was more important for me to spend my energy on what mattered most—the baby.

Prepare to continue feeling emotional.
I wasn’t very emotional during my pregnancy, but certainly was during my postpartum recovery. I wasn’t expecting to feel such a range of emotions—sensitivity, sadness, anxiety, regret, anger, impatience, etc. Once I even cried with my baby in my arms because I couldn’t help her get rid of her hiccups.

It’s okay to feel this way. In fact, 70 to 80 percent of women experience these types of symptoms. Talk to your doctor if you experience more serious symptoms that prevent you from caring for your baby, as these may be signs of postpartum depression.

Acknowledge that everything will change.
I was obsessed with wanting to be the same person I was prior to having a baby. I wanted to continue being dedicated to my career, my social life, my hobbies, maintaining my household, and even my weight and active lifestyle. Everything changes when you have a baby. I became stressed out that I couldn’t balance everything in my life anymore, and didn’t want to be criticized for it. After talking with friends and family, I learned to come to terms with these changes. Reconsider your priorities in order to enjoy your new life.

Follow all your health care provider’s instructions during the recovery process to ensure you avoid complications to your health, and enjoy the time with your new baby. Keep these tips in mind to help better prepare for the postpartum recovery process, and good luck!


Fun in the Sun Facebook Contest Winner

September 17, 2014

Fun in the Sun

This summer we held a contest on our Facebook page, asking parents to post a photo of their child having fun in the sun. The parent whose photo had the most votes (and met all of the eligibility requirements), won an Amazon Kindle Fire, the YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher ebook in English or Spanish, and a YOU Parent tote bag.

We spoke to the winner, Camy Lopez, about her family’s summer, parenting moments, and what she’s looking forward to this fall.

YOU Parent: What was the best part about this summer for Josue?
Camy Lopez: Last summer I enrolled Josue in swimming classes. He loved it so much and learned very quickly. He was disappointed when summer came to an end and he spent all year wishing it was summer again. This summer, he has spent most of his time swimming in our pool with his friends. He absolutely loves swimming. I am very glad he does since this is a great activity for exercising and is better than him staying inside playing video games or watching TV.

YP: Do you have a favorite summer tradition for your family?
CL: My favorite family summer tradition is getting together with all my family. We have a cookout at our house with games and music. I like this tradition because I am able to see all of my family, which is hard to do when school is in session and with everyone's busy schedules.

YP: What is your proudest moment as a parent?
CL: I have had numerous proud moments as a parent but I would have to say the most proud moment was when I battled breast cancer. After my surgery, my sons Josue and Jonathan took care of me. They would help me bathe, dress, and would cook for me. They did it with so much love that I was able to recuperate very fast. I had the best doctors in my house!

YP: What has been one of your most difficult moments as a parent?
CL: The most difficult moment as a parent was when my daughter, Carmina, passed away. She was only 15 years old. I had to live with the pain of her loss but had to remain strong for my sons. I knew they needed me during this difficult time. I taught them that they could overcome any situation no matter how difficult it may be. 

YP: How has YOU Parent helped you and your family?
CL: YOU Parent has made me realize how important it is to spend time with your children. It has made me want to spend more time with them and do the fun activities I find on YOU Parent has also helped me with parenting issues. I love all the advice I find on the website.

YP: Now that summer is ending, what is your family looking forward to this fall?
CL: The cooler weather. We live in California, so the summers here are very hot! We are also looking forward to Josue starting another school year and my other son Jonathan starting his senior year in college. My husband and I are so proud of them.

Congratulations, Camy, on winning the YOU Parent Fun in the Sun Contest! You deserve it. We wish you and your family a happy and healthy fall.

Stay up-to-date on future contests by following along on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram.

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