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Yard Sale Life Lessons

May 28, 2015

By Ana Vela

Yard Sale Life Lessons | Yard sale season is in full swing. You may be aware that yard sales are an excellent way to get bargains, but did you know that they are also a great avenue for teaching your child valuable life lessons? | The graphic shows parents and kids hosting and attending a yard sale.

Yard sale season is in full swing. You may be aware that yard sales are an excellent way to get bargains, but did you know that they are also a great avenue for teaching your child valuable life lessons?

My father, being a yard sale fanatic, had me tag along with him every Saturday morning. That time together holds some of my fondest childhood memories with him: hunting for bargains. He would look for tools and electronics while I would look for toys. He may not have known it at the time, but I learned so many lessons from those experiences that have shaped my habits as an adult today.

According to Infographic Journal, there are an average of 165,000 yard sales held each week in the United States. That gives you plenty of opportunities to spend quality time with your child. 83 percent of people take their children with them when going to yard sales, and 94 percent buy items for their kids during these trips.

Make these trips a routine with your kids and take the opportunity to talk to them about school, their friends, and what’s going on in their lives. In addition to spending quality time together, there are many lessons you can teach your child at yard sales.

Teach about budgeting and saving money.
Give your child a budget to spend at the yard sales and help him or her stay under it. With 42 percent of sellers expecting to come down on prices, encourage your child to negotiate to further save money. You can pull up the retail price of the same item online and compare it to the yard sale price to teach your child about savings. With the average price of a yard sale item being around $0.85, it’s sure to be a shocking price difference!

Guide critical thinking skills and prioritizing.
When deciding what to buy at yard sales, guide your child to think about value. What items are worth buying used and at a bargain versus brand new (clothes, toys, electronics, etc.)? Help your child carefully inspect items to determine if they are good quality and safe. Guide your child to think through his or her decisions.

Promote being green and less wasteful.
Buying used products from yard sales is an excellent way to help the planet. Through this process, teach your child to simplify and be less wasteful.

Encourage being charitable.
Most items that are not sold at garage sales are usually donated to local charities. Teach your child about helping someone in need by donating. Suggest that your child donate any money saved during these trips to a worthy cause. The experience might also inspire your child to donate his or her infrequently used toys or clothes to charity.

As a parent, there are constantly opportunities for you to teach lessons. It just takes some planning on your end to turn a fun shopping trip at a yard sale into a valuable moment in your child’s development.

For more opportunities to teach life lessons, check out our YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books, now available on Amazon


10 Ways to Promote Learning at Home

May 19, 2015

By Maureen Powers

10 Ways to Promote Learning at Home | Learning can happen anywhere. In fact, the most important learning happens outside the four walls of a classroom. One of the best things parents can do for their children is to offer experiences beyond those that normally take place at school. Here are 10 activities you can use to promote learning at home.

Imagine two children in the same classroom. One child has never cooked a meal with his parents and one has been cooking with her grandmother at least once a week since she was old enough to stir with a big spoon.

The class reads a book about a family preparing tamales for a holiday meal. The child with no cooking experience has difficulty understanding the words used in the story and building a picture in his mind as he reads about what the family is experiencing.

The child with cooking experience pictures and understands the vocabulary very quickly and easily.

Learning can happen anywhere. In fact, the most important learning happens outside the four walls of a classroom. One of the best things parents can do for their children is to offer experiences beyond those that normally take place at school.

Psychologist Lev Vygotsky found that learning happens when children interact with their communities. New experiences can build vocabulary and give children more knowledge about their world, which is called “prior knowledge.” Children need this prior knowledge as a foundation for learning new things and making sense of them. It affects how easily they can learn and organize new information, according to the author Marilla Svinicki.

Now that you know how important it is to provide learning opportunities at home, how can you create those teachable moments?

  1. Cook with your children. PBS Parents gives great ideas and instructions to get you started.
  2. Allow children to help you make minor, age-appropriate repairs around the house. Name the tools you are using and talk about what you are doing and why. Let your kids tinker, using this website to find free repair manuals for just about everything.
  3. Go outside and mark off a two-foot area of the ground. Watch for any insects that enter or exit the area. Talk to your children about the insects you see and take pictures to look them up later at the library or on the computer.
  4. Attend free experiences offered at the local library. Libraries are a great resource for learning activities designed for children of all ages.
  5. Many communities offer free concerts in the park during the summer months. Check with your local parks and recreation department and let your children experience live music. Point out the different instruments, encouraging them to find the sound each one makes in the song.
  6. When your child wonders about something out loud, talk to him or her about it. Then research it on YouTube. You can learn how to do just about anything by watching videos and tutorials.
  7. Khan Academy is a free website and a great resource for learning just about anything, even HTML coding for kids.
  8. Get an annual pass to the local zoo or science museum. Many museums offer reduced or free admission once a week. Let your kids touch any interactive displays and talk about the animals or exhibits.
  9. Visit the closest national park. Consider purchasing an annual pass that will get your family into all the national parks for a reduced fee. Military families can get a pass for free.
  10. Travel, try new things, explore your community and remember to talk, talk, talk to your children about what they are seeing, hearing, experiencing, and thinking. Ask questions and listen to their answers. You will end up learning something, too!

For more tips to develop your child's academic skills at home, check out our YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books, now available on Amazon


Dad’s Story: Planning the First Mother’s Day

May 7, 2015

By Mario Vela

Dad’s Story: Planning the First Mother’s Day | Once you have a family of your own, the meaning of Mother's Day changes a bit. Here's a first-time father's story of what he's planning for their first Mother's Day with a baby, and how it's not just Mom and Dad who he has to plan for. | The author, his wife, and his daughter pose for a selfie in the snow this past winter.

Photo of Mario, Ana, and Mariana (clockwise from top) courtesy of Mario and Ana Vela. 

My spouse and I decided to have our first child after being married for 10 years. This month, our daughter Mariana will turn 11 months old and we will celebrate our first Mother’s Day as a family.

This first Mother’s Day is especially important to celebrate because I want to thank and appreciate my wife for our new partnership and commitment now that we have a daughter. Being new parents requires a stronger focus on our relationship and how we collaborate in raising our daughter. Because of that, we’ve developed a new kind of friendship and I’ve learned that she has the ability to show a new kind of love that I wasn’t aware of that she offers to our daughter. I appreciate her commitment to our partnership and our daughter, and want to make sure I plan a special day. 
Typically I would take my wife to dinner to celebrate an achievement, anniversary, or birthday, but this is an event where Mariana’s needs and preferences will be important to our experience as well. For our first Mother’s Day, I’ll have to consider the opinions and preferences of both my wife and daughter.
Since we live in Chicago and it’s warming up, we definitely have to appreciate the ability to be outside. Gone are the days that I would choose the trendiest restaurant. Instead I will base my choice on having the option for Mariana to walk around. We make an effort to have her try different cuisines, new visuals and stimuli, and give her opportunities to interact with people, so the restaurant will need to accommodate those things.

We’ve also learned that Mariana loves—not surprisingly—ice cream, so I’ll need to find a dessert place within walking distance.

Ana, my wife, also prefers that all our plans are seamless and in order before we go out, so I will surprise her with the day’s activities as well—carefully planned so she has a stress-free day. One of the best things I can do for Ana is to listen for anything she’s been missing the last few months. Since we haven’t been able to go out as much due to the winter and having a newborn, I want to make sure we take advantage of Mariana being a little older to appreciate the food and the ability to be outside and enjoy the springtime weather.

A key lesson I’ve learned in this first year of parenthood is that there are times when you might be overextending yourself, but when that happens you can simply adjust your responsibilities. So instead of celebrating this milestone as I would have in the past, with a nice dinner for my wife and me, we can adjust our expectations and keep it family-focused.

The important thing is to show gratitude to my wife for what she’s accomplished this past year with our family. Our friendship and partnership has been strengthened and revitalized, and that’s something worth celebrating.

Do you want to learn about nurturing your child's core areas of development? Check out our YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books, now available on Amazon


Teaching Children Empathy with a Family Pet

April 30, 2015

By Ana Vela

Teaching Children Empathy with a Family Pet | Mariana and her dog strike look-alike poses for the camera. Having a pet can teach both babies and even teenagers empathy.

Photograph of Manitas and Mariana (left to right) by Ana Vela. 

No matter how much my siblings and I pleaded while growing up, my parents did not allow us to have a dog. Which is why I was shocked when my parents decided to get my younger sister a dog once I left home for college. I guess you could say Cookie was “replacing me” so my sister wouldn’t feel alone after my departure. At first I was a bit upset, but I quickly saw the positive impact Cookie was having on my sister—she was teaching her empathy.

There are many ways to define empathy, but according to a review in the International Journal of Caring Sciences, “empathy is the ‘capacity’ to share and understand another’s ‘state of mind’ or emotion.” Empathy is a component of Emotional Intelligence (EI). EI can be critical to your child’s success in school and later in life because it includes skills, as described in this review, in “perception, expression and control of emotions, self-control and empathy, communication, conflict resolution process, conscience, and perhaps many more.” Many studies argue that a person’s EI can be more important for success than IQ. Educators also see the value of teaching children empathy, as demonstrated in the wave of new school programs that help promote this skill in the classroom.

Empathy should be promoted at home, and having a family pet such as a dog can be a great avenue for teaching this skill to your child. Other benefits include building responsibility and living a healthier lifestyle. Here are some practical ways you can guide your child’s practice of empathy with your family pet:

Take care of a pet’s needs.
Your child can learn empathy by taking care of a pet’s needs, such as feeding, bathing, vet visits, providing medicine, and caring for the pet when it is sick. He or she will become considerate of the pet’s scheduled needs, and feel compassion when the pet is not well. My sister quickly became Cookie’s advocate and made sure she had everything she needed, which led to her eventually advocating for others.

Show the pet affection.
Your child can learn to express his or her emotions through affection with the pet. Teach him or her to gently pet, hug, and if you are okay with it, even kiss the pet. A dog will naturally reciprocate, which will validate your child’s self esteem and help him or her express affection with others.

My parents were not very affectionate people, but once Cookie entered our lives, it was amazing how quickly affection just flowed out of everyone in our family. She became an avenue for us to express ourselves without feeling judged.

Provide everyday joys for the pet.
Your child can learn what makes their pet happy. Most dogs love walks and playing games such as fetch. Guide your child to safely play with the pet and encourage making it happy. Your child will be able to better read others’ emotions and will develop a desire to make others happy. I remember my sister would find the most creative ways to play with Cookie and developed positive social skills when playing with other children.

Encourage communication with the pet.
Your child can learn to develop positive communication skills with the pet. Guide your child to practice communication by being polite, describing and talking about their day, talking during play, and even reading to the pet. Because a pet will never judge, children can develop confidence in communication and learn to listen to others. When I would talk to my sister over the phone while I was away in college, I noticed how her communication skills had improved as she described her adventures with Cookie.

Remember that as parents, we set the example for how a child should treat the family pet. I had three dogs in my home prior to the birth of our now 10-month-old daughter. Although I wasn’t directly teaching her how to interact with the dogs, I quickly realized how much she was learning from observing me. I was surprised when I first saw her gently pet one of the dogs on the head when she was about four months old. Eventually she was giving them hugs and laughing with them. And now she is learning to play with the dogs.

With a family pet, always practice safety with their interactions with children. Cookie is 15 years old now and still bringing joy to my sister and our family. I, too, am enjoying using the three furry members of our family to teach my infant empathy and am looking forward to creating long-lasting memories.

For more ways to foster your child's emotional and social well-being, check out our YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books, now available on Amazon


Deal a Royal Flush of Family Fun

March 19, 2015

By Jessica Vician

Deal a Royal Flush of Family Fun | Playing card games is a great opportunity for family bonding with kids of all ages. Try it this spring break and see what you learn about your kids. | A photo shows a father playing cards with his daughter and son.

It’s spring break time, and you know what that means: lots of time with your kids. Whether you’re taking a vacation or a staycation, there’s probably a lot of down time and the kids could quickly be complaining, “I’m bored!”

Fret not. I have the solution to all of your problems. Okay, maybe not all of them, but to the boredom problem. Card games. That’s right. That simple deck of 52 cards or a box of Uno can go a long way. The genius of playing card games with your kids lies in the process.

You start by trying to teach them a game. Explain the rules and try a few practice rounds to help each other learn. This first part makes everyone a little uncomfortable, because you’re trying to remember the rules. And if you’re playing with teenagers, they’re getting over the fact that this is so uncool but also kind of fun.

Then the real game begins. Each person is strategizing, using his or her brain, reading other players’ faces and interpreting their strategies, and the competitive drive to win is building. You’re getting to know each other in a different way—seeing how each of you learns, how you act when frustrated or happy, and how competitive each of you is. You’re bonding.

And that, my friends, is the goal of the game. Card games can be simple or complex, but they’re inexpensive conversation starters for your family. They’re learning opportunities for young kids—building fine motor skills, learning math and colors, participating in social interaction—but can adapt as your kids age. You can learn new, more complicated games together as your kids grow, and by the time they’re teenagers, you’ll be aching for some good old-fashioned family fun.

As a teen, I played card or board games with my family when the power went out and we had nothing to do but hang out in candlelight. And even though I was always hammering to get out of the house to see my friends, I genuinely had a good time.

Even as an adult, card games remain a great opportunity for bonding. When I first met my now father- and stepmother-in-law, I felt awkward because I didn’t think we had much in common. Toward the end of our week-long visit, we started playing card games after dinner and I left that trip having a strong understanding of who they are as individuals, as a couple, and as parents to my partner. Everyone loosened up and I learned that we have much more in common than I had imagined. My only regret is that we didn’t play cards on the first night—I would have been much more relaxed if we had.

So during this spring break, or any future vacations or electricity-free nights due to summer storms, gather your kids around the dinner or coffee table and play a card game together as a family. Invite your kids’ friends if you want to get to know them better. You’ll all learn a little more and appreciate each other by the end of the game.

Find more ideas on spending quality time with your kids, no matter their age, in the YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books. 

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