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What are kids' favorite parts of school?

March 14, 2017

By Jessica Vician

What are kids' favorite parts of school? | The photo shows what kids wrote: lunch! yummy, language arts, reading, science, recess! math...

We asked. They answered.

What is your favorite part of school?

Math came in at number one. Are you surprised?

Tied for second place were:

  • Art
  • Lunch
  • Making jokes with teachers
  • Music
  • Reading
  • Recess

The answers—from a poll we informally conducted during a past Cesar Chavez Day event at the Brookfield Zoo—give us a glimpse into what really makes our kids tick.

While many of us think that math is hard, these kids are up for the challenge. Find ways to incorporate mathematical concepts into daily learning opportunities to keep your children excited and engaged. Encourage them to pursue activities, clubs, and classes that expand on basic mathematical principals. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) careers are in demand, so encouraging a love of math and science could lead to a great job in the future.

We also learned that kids love learning and socializing, even outside of their peer group! Six topics tied for second place, and of those six topics, three are opportunities for socializing. Use that knowledge to motivate your children to go to school and study hard. If your children are struggling with studying, remind them that doing well in school affords them time to see friends and favorite teachers.

If they like their teachers, encourage them to ask for extra help if they need it or extra activities to do at home for fun.

Lastly, kids love using their senses and imaginations. Let their minds run away in a good book, encourage them to listen to and learn music to boost creativity and cognitive abilities, and express themselves while creating art.

Use this glimpse inside our children's brains to foster a love of learning and desire to connect with friends. Celebrate with an outdoor concert, a trip to the art museum with friends, or even a camp or special class outside of school on computers, coding, or mathematics.

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March into a Big Month

March 7, 2017

By Jessica Vician

March into a Big Month | Besides bringing spring-like weather, March is bringing important awareness days and weeks that we should pay attention to. See what's lined up and what you need to know this month. | A girl poses with her biceps flexed while she wears a superheroine costume.

Besides bringing spring-like weather, March is bringing important awareness days and weeks that we should pay attention to. See what's lined up and what you need to know this month.

International Women's Day—March 8
March 8th is International Women's Day and March is National Women's History Month. What better time to remind our girls how valuable they are to this world?

Teach your daughters how women can make a difference by sharing inspiration from female history makers featured in this post.

National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day—March 10
Later this week is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. This annual, nationwide observance reminds us of the impact HIV and AIDS continue to have on women and girls. Read this post to learn how and why you should talk to your daughters (and sons) about the illness.

St. Patrick's Day—March 17
Make St. Patrick's Day a magical holiday for your kids by sharing the mystery and wonder of old Irish tales, then send them on a treasure-hunting adventure.

National Poison Prevention Week—March 19–25

Did you know that 50 percent of all poison exposures happen to children under age six? Most poisonings occur from ingesting products that you probably have sitting around at home. Read these tips to learn how to prevent your kids from unintentionally consuming poison.

Cesar Chavez Day—March 31
Cesar Chavez spoke up for what he believed in and rallied for change for the betterment of individuals and society. We believe that every child should have access to a strong support network so that he or she can succeed in life and give back.

Use this day as inspiration to make a difference in your community starting with your own child. We offer tips to get started in this post.

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4 Brain Breaks for High School Students

January 17, 2017

By Jessica Vician

4 Brain Breaks for High School Students |  When your teenager starts learning about complicated topics, brain breaks can help them focus and can even enhance the learning experience. | A teen girl takes a brain break with a cup of milk.

Once your teen enters high school, he or she will be learning important foundational knowledge that can be built upon in future years of study. For example, learning the basics about RNA and DNA in biology class could lead to studying genetics. Learning about the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand could lead to a desire to learn more about international politics.

When your teenager starts learning about complicated topics, it can be difficult to wrap his or her head around them and can lead to an exhausted brain. But brain breaks can help your teen focus and can even enhance the learning experience.

Dr. Judy Willis discusses the science behind brain breaks in this Edutopia article. Basically, if your teen takes a 5-minute break from studying every 30 minutes, and uses that time to relate the learning to his or her life or even just gets the blood flowing again through exercise, it will help him or her retain the knowledge.

As your teenager starts studying a new topic that may be challenging, try one (or all four) of these brain break ideas. 

  1. Research the topic your child is learning about and share an interesting fact about the topic or about one of the leading minds on the subject. For example, if your teenager is studying Albert Einstein's theory of relativity, take a brain break to talk about how Einstein said that he often thought in music. Your teen likely loves listening to music, and knowing that he or she has something in common with the person who developing this complicated concept might help alter the way he or she thinks about learning it.
  2. When taking a break from reading a novel, spend five minutes role-playing as a character from the story. Ask your teen questions and have them answer as they think the main character would.
  3. When learning about eyesight or perhaps learning about a person who is blind, blindfold your teen during the brain break and have him or her try simple, everyday tasks so he or she can appreciate the sense of sight more. It's slightly removed from learning about lenses and corneas and only gives a minor example of what it's like to live without sight, but it might spark more of an interest in the subject.
  4. Is your teen learning a foreign language? During a brain break, do jumping jacks together while counting in that language. For more advanced work, conjugate verbs in that language during the jumping jacks.

Do you have any favorite brain breaks that you use with your kids? Share with us in the comments below.

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Parental Engagement: When Your Ex Remarries

January 10, 2017

By Amanda Alpert Knight

Parental Engagement: When Your Ex Remarries | A mother shares what she has learned about her kids as they get used to their dad remarrying. | The photo shows a man cutting through a paper family.

Typically when I use the term parental engagement, I’m talking about how involved parents are in schools and their children’s lives. I’m referring to the depth and the breadth in which a parent is engaged in a child’s educational, social, emotional, and physical activities. This article is not about that.

My ex-husband is engaged. Less than two years after we divorced, my ex-husband emailed me that he is engaged. My feelings aside, I remembered an article I wrote about striving for a kinder divorce for the kids—something I have since discovered is somewhat of a unicorn. As an educator and a mother, I have observed my children through this process and can offer my thoughts on what I think can lead to the greatest success as this transition continues.

1. Kids come first—bottom line.
In the process of dating, engagement, and wedding planning, it's critical to let your kids know that they are always number one.

Even if they aren’t directly expressing that they are feeling replaced, left out, or simply concerned, your kids need your attention, affection, and positive reinforcement. As the families are blending (and even thereafter), children need time with their parent. I recommend making one-on-one time a priority with each of your kids without the soon-to-be spouse.

2. It’s not about the party.
The day after my ex got engaged, he told my oldest about how much fun the wedding would be—tuxedos, a tropical location, the dancing—it sounded like a dream; who wouldn't be excited? But each night thereafter, I heard about the concerns, the worries, the long term: Where will I sleep? I don't get along with my stepsibling. I don’t want the wedding to happen so soon.

While the newly-engaged parents are in bliss and excited, the kids are full of emotions. It's important to see and hear those emotions and concerns, as children need space for them. They need to know that those emotions are okay and are going to be addressed, both by the engaged parent, the soon-to-be stepparent, and the other one. There is real life after the party, and while it's okay to get the kids excited about the wedding, you also need to address the day-to-day changes that will occur.

3. Respect your child's parent and your past relationship.
Not everyone will agree with this, but I think respect for the past relationship is critical when approaching a second marriage when kids are involved. You created children together and are co-parenting, so it's important to speak respectfully to and about the other parent, especially when speaking to your kids.

As I stated in my previous article, I have always envisioned a time when my ex and I could be friends, where we could work together to better one another in our new paths and not destroy each other. If we can each respect and appreciate the relationship we had—even though it's over—we can move forward happy for the other person and therefore create a better environment for our children. Constructive behavior is better than destructive behavior.

4. A new spouse isn’t a substitute for the other parent in your child’s life.
Remember that each person is a parent seven days a week, not just when you each have custody.

I recently met a man who dated a woman with children for about five years (he doesn’t have children of his own). He knew he had approached the situation in the right way when the children introduced him to people as their friend, John. He wasn’t trying to be a substitute for their father or play a fatherly role. He understood that wasn’t his place nor did he need that to feel part of their lives. I had so much respect for how he explained his approach to dating a woman with children. He respected the parenting relationship and didn’t try to break that or interfere. He was simply the children's friend, which was of immense value to him.

These four rules are the result of going through this process with my kids. Each situation is different, but I think everyone can agree that respect for your parenting partner, regardless of your relationship status, goes a long way during and after a divorce.

While my dating process is slow and calculated—a casual jog where I watch my footing and carefully select my paths— when I find the right partner, I will reflect back on what I have learned about putting the children first and respecting my children's father. Regardless of divorce, my ex and I are still engaged in each other's lives as co-parents of two of the most amazing children I’ve ever known. I hope our actions fill them with love instead of worry.

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What is your pledge for 2017?

December 27, 2016

By Jessica Vician

What is your pledge for 2017? | Pledge to encourage your child to do one small thing each day to make his or her world, and in turn, the greater world better. | Two kids sit on their parents' shoulders as they happily watch fireworks.

As we embark upon a new year and say goodbye to 2016, it's important to focus on small things we can do everyday to make the world better. Sometimes it's hard to believe that one person can make a difference in the world, but if each person does one small, kind thing—for him or herself or for others—the effect can snowball so that more people will be affected by those small acts.

Before focusing on larger resolutions, make a pledge to encourage your child to do one small thing each day to make his or her world, and in turn, the greater world better. You can also pledge to do small things that make your life and your family's life better. Here are some ideas:

Be patient and teach kindness.
When you've had a hard day but your child wants to talk or play, resist the temptation to walk away. Take three to five minutes to listen to your child and watch his or her face light up when sharing a happy story or playing with his or her favorite toys.

By doing so, you are practicing parent engagement and modeling positive behavior, and it will probably make you feel better!

You can also teach kindness to your child by using small teachable moments throughout the day to show your child what kindness, acceptance, tolerance, and common niceties look like in practice.

Smile every morning.
When you see your child for the first time in the morning, no matter how old he or she is, smile and greet them happily. Ask your child to smile back. This small action puts everyone in a better mood and helps them start their day positively. If it's hard to keep a 2017 pledge for you, start with this one.

Eat together away from the screens.
If your family doesn't share at least one meal a week together, or if meals are shared in front of the television or with phones in hand or on the table, start this ritual once a week. If you already do it once a week, try for two times a week, and so on.

Coming together over food is a happy, comforting tradition all over the world. Who knows what you will learn about your partner and your kids when there aren't any distractions?

One fruit, one vegetable per meal.
When you or your parenting partner prepare meals, do you actively plan at least a serving of each food group? Personally, I tend to focus more on vegetables than fruits, and recently realized that my lack of fruit might be responsible for craving less healthy sweets like cookies or cupcakes.

If you or your child doesn't like vegetables, try one of these tricks to incorporate them into your meals. Take an apple, banana, or cup of washed berries with you for a morning or afternoon snack, and give the same to your child. It's an easy way to make sure you and your family get the nutrition you need.

Spend 15 minutes talking about homework each night.
Let your child explain the homework that he or she has already done. It reinforces your child's learning and gives you an opportunity to understand the lessons. Take it further and tell your child a story about a real-world application of the lesson.

Not only is this activity great for parent engagement, it also keeps you on top of your child's homework without seeming too strict and allows you to determine your child's strengths and opportunities for improvement so you can engage those with activities outside of school.

What pledges are you and your family making for 2017? We'd love to hear your ideas, so please share in the comments below.

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