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5 Ways to Keep Skills Sharp Over Break

December 16, 2013

By Kevin Rutter

Keep Skills Sharp Over Break

The upcoming winter break offers a welcome respite from the daily routine of school and a chance to visit with family and friends. While even teachers appreciate time to relax, we know how important it is to take the time to pursue our own interests and refresh our own love of learning. This time off provides opportunities to learn, develop, and retain academic skills for teachers and students alike. Here are my top five tips for parents to keep their students on their academic toes during break:

  • Visit a museum. 
Local museums often have reduced or free admission to students who present a valid school ID. Take advantage of the extra time during winter break and visit one. It is a great chance for students to see new things and explore.
  • Read a book. 
This may seem to be a lame idea to teenagers, but research shows that the number one way to improve tests scores is by reading. I advise my students to read and read often. Set some time aside during break for your child to read about something they are interested in. The act of reading requires concentration and imagination, which are great skills to reinforce during break.
  • Work ahead
. Students can use the time over break to work ahead in their classes, especially the ones they are having trouble with. Teachers often have the next assignment posted on the school’s website and you can help your student get a jump start on what is coming next in the classroom after break. Even just a preview of what’s to come can be helpful.
  • Play board games. 
In my family we regularly play classic board games, especially during the holidays when we are all gathered together. These games can help improve a number of skills relevant to academic success: teamwork, problem-solving, spelling, thinking on your feet, etc. A couple of my favorites are Bananagrams, Scrabble, and Monopoly.
  • Watch current events. 
Watch a documentary or news program with your students. Sometimes classrooms can be disconnected from what is happening in current events. With the extra time available during winter break you can choose to watch something on television regarding current events. This can be a way to help you student connect the classroom to the outside world.
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Gift Idea for Students: the Gift of Saving!

December 11, 2013

By Kevin Rutter

Gift Idea for Students: The Gift of Saving

As a teacher of personal finance I regularly tell my students the most important thing about building a healthy financial life is to save. Expert financial advisors say that 5 to 10 percent of your income is a good number to shoot for, but the more you save, the better. 

There are three basic principals in being successful at saving money:

  1. Pay Yourself First (PYF). This is a strategy to stay disciplined in regularly contributing to a saving plan by paying into it first. Every time a paycheck is earned, take 5 to 10 percent off the top and add it to the savings plan.
  2. Save for the long term. The true power of saving money can only be unleashed when money is saved over a long period of time in an interest-bearing account at a financial institution. Money deposited at a financial institution is also insured by the federal government through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) up to 250,000 dollars per account. So, the savings cannot be lost or stolen no matter what happens to the bank. 
  3. Start ASAP. The sooner you start to save, the sooner that money will grow. 

This holiday season provides a perfect opportunity to start educating your student on the importance of savings. Use part of any gift money to open up a savings account for your child and encourage relatives who wish to buy something to do the same. 

Additionally, state governments across the country are encouraging parents to save for their children’s college fund by creating special investment opportunities called 529 plans. There are significant tax breaks for those participating in these plans and other benefits depending on which state you live in. In Illinois, the 529 plan is known as Bright Start. For more information about opening this type of account and the benefits of having one, see Bright Start Savings.

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A Time for Giving

December 11, 2013

By Amanda Gebhardt

Toy Donations

Yesterday was International Human Rights Day, a day that commemorates the monumental statement of what it means to be human adopted through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. This holiday season it’s important to remember those around us who struggle for their basic rights to a standard of living that ensures their health and security. In the rush of the holidays, it’s easy to forget that giving doesn’t just mean gifts, but also giving of ourselves to those in need.

Earlier last month, my husband passed a giving tree in the lobby of a building here in Chicago. Each tag had the gender and age of a child and what he or she was asking for. Standing there in that lobby on the way in between workday appointments he read the card for a three-year-old little girl. The request was for sweaters.

This past November, our daughter, Abby, turned three years old. I can’t imagine the sheer amount of clothes, toys, and general things she will be gifted this holiday season, not just by us, but by grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. Here in the same city, though, another little girl will be lucky if a stranger helps her keep warm. My husband saw that card and felt for that little girl, knowing how much we have to be thankful for and remembering his own childhood and the way his mother struggled to raise two boys on a cashier’s pay. 

The holidays are a time of celebration and togetherness, but mostly, they are a time of giving. We give love and kindness to those in our lives and community who need it. Our daughter is just getting old enough to understand what the holidays are and what she can expect. We want her to always be more willing to give of herself than to take for herself. Such a value can be developed at every age. The following are some of the ways I’ve been able to find to help begin teaching children the importance of giving. 

Preschoolers and Kindergarteners

  • Talk to your child about giving to others and why it is important.
  • Work together to choose unused toys and clothes to donate to those in need.
  • Create a special donation bank where children can put loose change and have them choose a charity to give it to.

Elementary Students

  • Have your child pick out a special toy at the store to donate to Toys for Tots or a similar organization. 
  • Send a package to an American soldier through one of these organizations.
  • Visit a nursing home or a hospital.

Middle and High School Students

  • Volunteer as a family at a local food bank or soup kitchen.
  • Help organize a food drive at school.
  • Sponsor an impoverished child or family.

With each new generation learning to give to each other, hopefully we will help create a world where no little girls ever go cold. For now, at least, our family was able to help one more stay warm this winter. Find out more about what you and your family can do at organizations like Chicago Cares, the United Way, and the American Red Cross

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Modeling Good Behavior to Prevent Bullying

November 25, 2013

By Sunny P. Chico

Model Good Behavior For Your Child

Whenever I think about bullying, I can’t help but think about what kinds of things we may be unintentionally teaching our children. As an educator, parent, and grandparent (as well as an aunt, a sister, a daughter, and a friend), I’ve seen how closely children model their behavior after their parents. How we treat each other and those around us will be how our children treat the people around them at home, in school, and well into adulthood.

This is why, as parents, it’s so important to think about what values we model at home. First, we have to show how to communicate respectfully, whether it’s with our children, our partners, or with our own family and friends. There’s a respectful way to have a disagreement where nobody is wrong, where you agree to disagree. We all lose our cool, but it’s important that when that happens, you go back and explain to your child why you lost your cool and that this was not a good way to behave.

It is also important to remember that the behaviors we allow in the home are behaviors that our children will practice out in the world. Recently I’ve seen how my daughter models this with my grandson, David. He says to me, “Nana, I don’t like it when your voice is raised.” I tell him, “I’m not raising my voice, it’s a different tone, David.” But still, I see that my daughter has instilled in him a sense of how our words, actions, and even tones, affect each other, and that it’s always important to be aware of how we’re treating each other.

As parents and grandparents, this awareness can help us guide and shape our children in a way that can prevent bullying later in life, but we can’t always prevent it at first. All we can do is deal with it as best as we know how.

If you ever learn that your child is bullying or being bullied:

  • Talk to your child. Try to understand the situation.
  • Seek assistance from the teacher. Find out what the teacher has observed and what he or she recommends.
  • Review the school bullying policy. Many schools are legally obligated to follow their stated bullying policy exactly as written.
  • Work with the school to make an action plan. Determine what steps will be taken, what the ideal outcomes are, and when to assess progress.
  • Sometimes, it may be best to call the other child’s parents and say, “I need your help.” You should make this discussion as positive as possible, and not angry or negative. Let them know what is happening. Tell them, “My son told me about this today, and I was wondering if I could seek your help with it.” 

We all want the best for our children and want to protect them from any pain or heartbreak, but so often the best protection—and prevention—is to be a positive role model for them.

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Teaching Your Child Language and Culture

November 11, 2013

By Amelia Orozco

ExpertAdvice_TeachChildCulture.jpg

As a parent, you have the power to control most of your child’s education. You can broaden the way your child interacts and learns in a primarily English-speaking school by exposing him or her to different languages and cultures at home.

To help your child understand another language, start by integrating words from the second language into English sentences. Work the new language into your child’s vocabulary by considering: 

  • Same and Different
    Point out similarities and differences in the words. 
  • Fun Sounds
    Sound out words that feel fun to say. Like singing, this helps your child learn the word’s meaning and the reason to use the word. 
  • Use the Senses
    Let your child touch, taste, smell, feel, and see things that relate to the word. It will help your child permanently remember the words better. 
  • Connect to Culture
    Connect the word’s cultural meaning by taking a field trip, leafing through a magazine, or listening to a song.

By naturally incorporating another culture’s practices—not just its language—into your child’s life, he or she develops not only a bilingual vocabulary, but also a comfort in the unfamiliar and a taste for adventure. To help your child learn more about different cultures: 

  • Eat
    Try new foods unique to a different culture. Explain which cultures eat that cuisine and show your child where the food comes from on a map.
  • Dance
    Learn a traditional dance routine with your child and talk about where the culture performs that type of dance. For example, your child can learn the different reasons that people dance by showing your child la plena, where the dance and song act as a live newspaper for the town. 
  • Listen
    Listen to traditional music connected to that language’s culture. Your child will learn different sounds. If you know the instruments that make those sounds, you can also teach them about music. 
  • Surf and Watch
    Many online sources feature videos that teach children other languages. Children’s television stations offer programming that teaches children vocabulary in other languages and exposes them to different cultural traditions, like Dora the Explorer. Start with stations like Nickelodeon, The Disney Channel, or PBS. 

Finding cultural meaning expands your child’s worldview. The varied environment you provide at home will establish a strong foundation for the learning experiences ahead.

 

Amelia Orozco is the senior editor and writer at the Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo and a community and entertainment reporter for TeleGuía Chicago. 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.

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