More to Know

Articles and expert advice to help you guide your child to educational success.
Have a topic you'd like covered in a blog post? Submit here.

Want to Make Your Own Baby Food? Read These 7 Tips First

January 12, 2016

By Jessica Vician

Want to Make Your Own Baby Food? Read These 7 Tips First | Making baby food is pretty easy; after all, most of it consists of steamed and puréed vegetables or mashed-up fruits. Before you give it a try, read through these seven considerations to ensure you take proper precautions. | A baby looks at her food before eating it.

Before having a baby, many parents idealize what life will be like with the baby. From all-natural births to cloth diapers and organic creams, expectant parents fill their registries with products that suggest that we can do it all ourselves.

Then the baby comes and we realize that we’ll do anything to make raising our child easier and less painful. But one of those idealized visions can remain a reality: making your own baby food.

Not only is making baby food more economical than store-bought food, you can also control the nutrients and eliminate added chemicals and preservatives in your baby’s diet. And it gets the baby used to eating the same foods as the adults, which will make your transition to solid foods easier.

Making baby food is pretty simple; after all, most of it consists of steamed and puréed vegetables or mashed-up fruits. Before you give it a try, read through these seven considerations to ensure you take proper precautions.

1. Wait until your baby is 3-6 months old.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends waiting until your baby is six months old to introduce finger and puréed food. If you follow proper sanitary guidelines, they say you can introduce baby food along with breast milk or formula as early as three months old.

Check with your pediatrician before changing your baby’s diet at any point, and talk to him or her about potential food allergies in advance.

2. Get the right equipment.
For the basics, you’ll just need a steamer and a food processor (or blender). If you want to splurge, there are plenty of all-in-one products that can aid in the whole process from peeling to steaming to blending.

This article breaks down the types of equipment you can use to make baby food.

3. Wash. Wash. Wash.
Wash everything that will come into contact with the food. Wash your hands and the surfaces you’re using to chop, dice, mash, etc. Wash the equipment and the food, even if you’re going to peel it. Keep everything clean to prevent the spread of bacteria to your baby.

4. Limit nitrates in the food.
Nitrates are found in plants, soil, and well water. If your baby is exposed to too many nitrates, he or she could develop a type of anemia known as “blue baby syndrome.”

To limit the amount of nitrates your baby ingests from homemade baby food, do the following:

  1. Consume or freeze baby food immediately. Nitrates develop in food the longer it sits, so if you’re not going to cook fruits or vegetables right away, use frozen versions. If you’re not going to use all of the prepared baby food within a few days, freeze extra portions the day you make it. You can defrost it later in the week or anytime in the next three months.
  2. If you have well water, test it for nitrates. If the levels are more than 10mg per liter, use purified or bottled water for all baby food (including formula).

5. Never sweeten baby food.
Babies don’t need extra sweetener. They get all they need from naturally occurring sugars in fruits and vegetables. It is especially dangerous to add honey to baby food, as it can cause botulism in babies under a year old.

6. Avoid any unpasteurized dairy products.
Raw or unpasteurized milk can contain dangerous bacteria that can cause illness, so just as you avoided it during pregnancy, you should avoid it when making baby food.

7. Have fun!
While it’s important to be diligent and cautious when making your own baby food, have fun experimenting with different flavors and textures to see what your baby likes. This website has great recommendations for starter fruits and vegetables, like peas, mangoes, squash, and more.

Do you make your own baby food? Share your favorite recipes in the comments below!

Tags :  early childhoodbabyphysicalhealthbudget

5 Must-Read FAFSA Facts

January 7, 2016

By Jessica Vician

5 Must-Read FAFSA Facts | If your child is planning to go to college in the fall, complete the FAFSA as soon as possible to see what kind of funding he or she qualifies for. Once you know, your family can decide whether or not to accept the aid.  While time is of the essence, it’s also important to ask questions so you know what your child needs to do. | A piggy bank with a graduation cap sits on top of a pile of cash.

On January 1, 2016, students planning to attend college during the 2016-2017 school year became eligible to complete the FAFSA. FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. If your child is planning to go to college in the fall, complete the FAFSA as soon as possible to see what kind of funding he or she qualifies for. Once you know, your family can decide whether or not to accept the aid.

While time is of the essence, it’s also important to ask questions so you know what your child needs to do.

What is Federal Student Aid?
Federal Student Aid is a part of the U.S. Department of Education and serves as the largest provider of student financial aid in the U.S. They distribute over $150 billion annually in federal funds for college, career school, and work-study programs.

What kind of funding do they provide?
Federal Student Aid provides three types of funding:

  1. Grants, which are funds that don’t need to be repaid if your student remains in class
  2. Loans, which are borrowed for school and must be repaid with interest once the student is out of school (regardless of earning a degree)
  3. Work-study, which is a work program that helps your student earn money to pay for school

Is my child eligible for aid?
Students must meet at least eight eligibility requirements, including:

  • Demonstrate financial need
  • Be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen
  • Have a valid Social Security number
  • Be enrolled or accepted as a regular student in an eligible program
  • Sign the FAFSA certification statement
  • Demonstrate qualification to obtain college or career school education
  • Maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) in college or career school
  • Be registered with the Selective Service if your child is male

See the full list and details to these requirements on the Student Aid website.

When does my child need to apply?

The sooner your child applies for the FAFSA, the more likely he or she is to receive grants (if eligible) and other funding. Technically, the federal deadline is on June 30. However, many state and college deadlines are sooner.

For instance, many states have deadlines in early March. Illinois students are encouraged to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1, as the awards are available on a first-come, first-served basis in the state.

When does my child need to repay the loans?
It’s equally important that you and your student understand when and how to repay the loans.

After leaving school (with or without a degree), a student must start making payments on some loans immediately (like PLUS loans), while other lenders allow a six-month grace period before payments begin. Visit this page to learn more about repayment options.

Do you have other questions about Financial Aid? Ask in the comments below.


Activities for a Fun Family Fall

October 22, 2015

By Nikki Cecala

Activities for a Fun Family Fall | From pumpkin carving to hayrides, try these fun family activities while embracing the weather and colors of fall. | A little boy poses in front of a patch of pumpkins.

Ah, my favorite season: autumn. I don’t know about you, but here in the Midwest, fall could be a very short season for us. That is why as soon as the leaves start changing colors, I have most of my weekends booked for family fun. From Halloween baking to carving pumpkins to hayrides, I put together my favorite adventures so you can try them with your family.

Whip up some Halloween treats
Halloween treats are so fun to make… and to eat! Check out my article, 5 Healthy and Creative Halloween Party Foods, for Halloween-themed recipes to make with your family. Impress at a party with these Pinterest-worthy designs.

DIY fall décor
Instead of buying decorations for fall, spend a Friday night together making kid-friendly art. A Spectacled Owl has a great list of fall crafts you can make with the family.

Carve pumpkins
Carving pumpkins seems to have decreased in popularity, which is pretty sad because it’s awesome! Put down the technology and get your hands dirty with this fun adventure. The Pumpkin Lady offers how-to videos and hundreds of pumpkin-carving stencils to choose from.

Take a trip
Depending on where you live, a pumpkin patch or apple orchard could be anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours away from your house. Plan a day trip with the family—you wont regret it! Many have hayrides, petting zoos, pony rides, and more.

If you are tight on cash, visit for a sightseeing trip instead. The scenic views of the red and orange-hued trees are worth your while and even serve as an opportunity to teach your child why leaves change colors.

Create traditions
Whatever you choose to do for the season, make it a tradition with your family. What starts as a small event one year could be an everlasting memory for your child for years to come.

What are your favorite fall family activities? Tell me in the comments below!


Seeking Santa Claus: Help for Christmas

September 17, 2015

By Jessica Vician

Seeking Santa Claus: Help for Christmas | If you struggle to afford Christmas presents for your kids, register for these Christmas assistance programs in October or November. | A box of toy donations awaits their giftees!

It’s only September, but some stores are already putting out Christmas decorations. If you are one of the many families who struggle to afford Christmas presents each year, thinking about the holidays can be especially stressful.

While health and quality family time are more important than presents, it’s still nice to be able to provide a little something to see your child smile that day. Now is the time to seek out Christmas assistance programs, as several organizations require registration as early as October.

Use this list to get started:

Toys for Tots
Toys for Tots, operated by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, aims to provide children with a new toy for Christmas. Through that toy, they aspire to deliver hope that will help these children become “responsible, productive, patriotic citizens.”

Some locations cannot donate directly to single families, but rather to organizations that will then distribute the toys to those families. Contact your local Toys for Tots for the application deadline. For reference, the Chicago deadline is November 28, 2015.

The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree
You have likely seen a tree decorated with paper angels at your company or local shopping center over the holidays. These angel trees are part of the Salvation Army’s program that provides new toys and clothing to children at Christmas.

Donors choose an angel that has the first name, age, and gender of a child registered for the program and shop for that child, giving the gifts to the organizer to be delivered to the child in need.

Families typically apply in October and November, but please call your local Corps Community Center to get more information.

The Lion’s Club
Several Lion’s Club locations provide Christmas assistance for children as well. Contact your local branch in October to see if they provide help for children during the holidays.

Once you have reached out to an organization for help, set expectations for the holidays with your children early. You know them best and know what explanation will help, whether it’s about Santa or your family’s financial situation. Emphasize family time over gifts and focus on the true meaning of the holidays. If they understand that, then they will be grateful for the gifts they receive and for the time they get to spend with you and your family.

Tags :  earlyelementarysocialemotionalbudgetholidays

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.

1 2 3 4 5 Next ... Last