Conquer the Back-to-School Blues

Summer is winding down, and school is fast approaching.  While this time of year brings excitement, it also triggers stressors in parents and children alike. Children wonder so many things: What classroom will they be in? Who will be in their class? How will their teacher handle their idiosyncrasies? Parents also have their own set of questions regarding their children’s return to school. Follow the tips below to help ease the whole family into the new routine of school and to help everyone conquer the back-to-school blues.

Steps to Conquer the Back-to-School Blues:

  • List the positives of each possible classroom assignment and teacher. The mere mention of your child’s classroom placement may cause him, and you as parents, concern. Instead of worrying about it, come up with a list with your child about the positives of each classroom option. Be creative and help your child explore the small (but potentially positive) details of being in every classroom available to him. For example, one classroom may be closer to the washroom, or one might have a door to the playground. Listing the positives of each potential teacher/teacher’s aide is also recommended. This can help put you and your child at ease by recognizing that there are great things about any classroom possibility.
  • Remember that there are opportunities to see friends outside of the classroom. When the class list is posted and you and your child find out that he may not have many friends in his classroom, remind him that he can see his friends before and after school, at lunch, at recess, and in elective-type classes.  Also, if there are children of concern in your child’s classroom, it is also helpful to remember that there will be some opportunities throughout the day to mingle with other kids. Listing the positives of some, or all, of the kids in your child’s class is also recommended here. This will prepare your child for the school year and for how he can get along with the peers in his classroom. Read more

The Benefits of Ride-On Toys

Today our guest blogger, Full Throttle Toys, Inc. owner Matt Westfallen, gives us the 411 on benefits of ride-on toys.

Around Chicagoland, summer is in full swing. Along with the extra hours of summer fun and sun comes the worry thatfull throttle our kids are losing the skills they acquired during the school year. Worksheets and flash cards will help, but there is another fun way to help kids with some of the “intangibles” of learning.

When used safely and properly, battery operated, ride-on toys have been proven to provide children with opportunities to practice many early learning skills that are rarely taught in school yet are vital for balanced growth.

Skills that Can Be Developed by Using Ride-On Toys:

  • Gross and Fine Motor Skills: Battery-operated, ride-on toys provide many ways to develop gross and fine motor skills. By operating the vehicle on various types of terrain, opening and closing doors or manipulating the dashboard, children will be using both fine motor skills and gross motor skills.
  • Exercise and Exploration: While playing with a ride-on vehicle toy, not only will children be burning calories, they’ll be outside exploring their world.
  • Sense of Balance: While operating ride-on toys, children will also develop an improved sense of balance. Children who have played with ride-on toys find it easier as they grow older to ride bikes, and to use roller blades and roller skates, because they have learned to distribute their weight while operating vehicles on various surfaces.
  • Spatial Play: It is also important to note that spatial play is stimulated when your children are out exploring the outdoors in a ride-on vehicle. This type of play will improve observation skills and stimulate their imaginations. Read more

5 Chicago Performing Arts Programs to Encourage Speech and Language Development in Children

Performing Arts programs provide an excellent avenue to encourage speech and language skills in children.  LearningChicago performing arts happens best during fun and engaging multisensory experiences, such as acting out a story, dancing to music, or singing a new song.  Through performing arts programs, children gain opportunities to socialize with other children, follow directions, engage in pretend-play, further develop creativity and imagination, build narrative language skills and cultivate expressive language skills.  This blog highlights 5 top performing arts programs in the Chicago area for children of all ages, including a program designed for children on the Autism spectrum.

5 Top Performing Arts Programs in Chicago for Speech and Language Development:

  1. Dream Big Performing Arts Workshop: Dream Big offers a variety of performing arts camps and classes for children ages 2 through 18.  Classes encourage children to explore dramatic play, creative movement, music, team-work, self-expression and creativity while having fun singing, dancing, and playing games.  Classes are separated by ages: “Spotlighters” (2 years), “Mini Showstoppers” (3-5 and 4-6 years), “Moving Stories” and “Creative Drama” (3-5, 5-7 years).  Programs also include customized, age-appropriate parties that include singing, dancing, theatre games and other drama fun! Read more

Zumba for Kids

We all know the many benefits of exercise for people of all ages: physical fitness, endurance, strength, coordination, and zumba for kidsmotor planning.  However, making physical fitness a regular part of daily routines can be a real challenge not only for adults, but also for children.  Many children who live more sedentary lifestyles require more motivation to get moving, since it has become their habit to be still.   So what is the trick to increasing kid’s enthusiasm for fitness and getting sedentary kids off the couch?  It’s simple: FUN!  Fitness for children, just like any other children’s programming, should be fun, socially appealing and inviting!

A common activity that many families find enjoyable for all ages is Zumba!  Zumba is a dance-fitness combination that includes culturally diverse music and various elements of dance and cardio, including Hip Hop, Latin dancing, and traditional aerobics.  Zumba is a wonderfully unique fitness program that is set off by its enjoyable, party-like scene.  The bright, bold wardrobe colors, loud music, and rhythmic beats create an energetic and enticing place to get fit.  Zumba is also great for kids! Read more

Debunking Dyslexia Myths

Dyslexia is a word that often stirs up fear and misunderstanding. In addition, it is awash in myths. Often, people think of adyslexia person with Dyslexia as an individual who confuses b’s and d’s or reads backwards. Others may think of a troubled reader who is confused by basic letters.  This simplistic and incorrect understanding of Dyslexia often causes people, especially parents, to feel a series of negative emotions when their child has trouble reading and a Dyslexia diagnosis is given. In reality, as many as 1 in 5 children are diagnosed with Dyslexia, which is defined a deficit in the phonological processing component of language that results in trouble reading and decoding words. Read on for the truth about Dyslexia.

Dyslexia myths and the truths behind them:

  • Myth: “Dyslexia means readers see letters and words backwards.”
  • Fact: Letter reversals are a symptom of Dyslexia; however, this is not the condition itself. Dyslexia is a much more complex phonological processing disorder in which the reader has difficulty associating the letters and the resulting sounds. Read more

Creative Ways to Teach the Meaning of Independence Day to Children

Teach your children the meaning behind Independence Day and instill pride to be an American through these fun red, independence day white and blue activities. Through creating these crafts, you can talk with your child about Independence Day and why it is such an important holiday.

Meaningful Independence Day Crafts:

Trace Pictures of Famous Americans: Find pictures of Americans who have played an important role in our history and in the independence of America such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and others. You can use any picture from a book or print from the internet for this activity. For tracing, simply place tracing paper over the picture, and trace the outline of the person’s face. Include as much detail as you want.  Talk with your child about the person and their role in the founding of our country. Read more

Fun, Free Father’s Day Activities

With Father’s Day right around the corner, it’s time to think about how the kids can celebrate that great guy in their lives: Dad.  For those of you looking to honor Dad without breaking the bank, consider these  fun, free and meaningful activities that kids and dads can do together this Father’s Day.

Fun, Free Father’s Day Activities:

Create a family picture train.  Many fathers find themselves with a little train lover or two in the house.  Build on thisFun Free Father's Day Activities passion by creating a family picture train.  Cut out rectangles from paper and decorate as rail cars.  Cut smaller circles and add for wheels.  Then, find family pictures that are special and glue them onto each train car.  Connect the train cars with yarn or paper.

Bake.  Whether Dad dons the chef’s hat in the family regularly or not, Father’s Day is a great day to choose a recipe and dig in to creating something tasty to eat.  Kids can do the measuring, adding and tasting.

Take a nature walk.  Dad and the kids can take a walk down the street or around the backyard in search of interesting natural items.  Collect these to take home and create a collage or a terrarium.  If you’re in an urban area, head to an area park.

Create caricatures.  Put the family’s art skills to work and have each family member draw a funny picture of Dad or each other.

Do yoga. There are many resources for family yoga online such as rainbow kids yoga.  Take a look at fun poses that dads and kids can do together for fun and fitness.

Have a great Father’s Day and enjoy the special man in your life!

The Importance of One-On-One Time with Your Child

One-on-one time you spend with your child is priceless. It says to your child, “You are special.” It symbolizes your unconditional love mother and son togetherfor your child. There is nothing that can replace your undivided attention. Special time works best when several guidelines are followed.

Guidelines for One-On-One Time with Your Child:

  • Call the reserved time a certain name that the child understands, such as “special time.”
  • Set aside this time every day regardless of your child’s behavior that day.
  • Never take this time away as a punishment.
  • Give one-on-one time separately. One day mom and son can have their time together. The next day dad and son can have their time. Make this time for each child in the family.
  • Use this opportunity to do a fun, interactive activity. Do not use the time for watching TV or other passive activities.
  • Don’t interrupt this time by taking phone calls or attending to other distractions that take your attention away from the special time.
  • Be consistent with one-on-one time. Stick to the scheduled time and end when the time is finished.

If your child refuses to engage in “special time”, continue to pursue. You are conveying to your child that you are sincerely interested in him/her and want to have this time together.

Howard, BJ. 2002. Guidelines for special time. In Jellinek M, Patel BP, Froehle MCV, eds., Bright Futures in Practice: Mental Health-Volume II. Tool Kit. Arlington, VA: National Center for Education in Maternal and Child Health.

Are you Happy? How can you increase your happiness?

I’d like to think that I am generally a happy individual.  I greet people with a smile, share a laugh and look to the positives when happy familyconfronted with a challenge.  I too have fallen into the pitfall of thinking “I’ll be happy when…”.  This is dangerous thinking because once I have achieved filling in that blank, I am already thinking about the next thing or maybe that blank does not live up to my expectation of what I wanted to achieve. With that being said, how can I break this type of thinking and learn how to be happy in the present moment?  How can I increase my happiness now?

Research on Happiness:

More and more research is being done into the positive gains from happiness, optimism and positive emotions.  Research has shown that a happy brain proves to be a better functioning brain.  When we are focused on positive emotions, we tend to achieve more, are engaged in building deeper relationships and experience greater satisfaction with life.  Harvard researcher, educator and author, Shawn Achor, states that “people that work with a positive mindset, performance improves on nearly every level – productivity, creativity, and engagement”. (1)

The keys to happiness:

  • Getting more pleasure out of life (savoring sensory experiences)
  • Becoming more engaged in what you do
  • Finding ways of making your life feel more meaningful

The goal then is to spend part of every day engaging in positive exercises to increase happiness. Achor recommends spending 21 straight days engaging in any of the below exercises:

Tips to be more engaged and happy:

  • Gratitude journal- write three things that you are grateful for.
  • Write a positive message to someone in your social or professional network.
  • Exercise for 10 minutes each day.
  • Take two minutes of your time to describe in a journal the most meaningful experience in the past 24 hrs.

Others include:

  • Acts of altruism or kindness – can be random (let someone in line in front of you at a busy store or paying for the next person at a highway toll) or systematic (bring Sunday dinner to elderly neighbor).
  • Gratitude visit- write a letter expressing your gratitude towards a grandparent, mentor, friend, etc. Go visit that individual to read the letter to them.
  • Take 10-20 minutes a day to do something you truly enjoy. For me, this means making a fresh healthy juice to start my day.

As an experiment, I am currently engaged in increasing my happiness by writing a daily gratitude list, exercising 10 minutes a day and taking  10-20 minutes to make a healthy juice. At this point, I have already noticed a daily shift in my overall happiness.  Keep in mind that it is the simple and small steps that lead to big results.

1) Achor, S. (2012). Positive Intelligence. Harvard Business Review. January-February 2012. http://hbr.org/2012/01/positive-intelligence/ar/1

Help Instill Balanced Thinking in Your Child

Our goal is to help train your child’s brain when they make assessments about specific situations.  We need to make them aware that it girl thinkingis not the event or person that makes them feel a certain way; it is their thinking behind it. The more we are able to help children challenge their thoughts in an empathic manner,  the more often they will challenge their own thoughts automatically.

STEP ONE:   Gently challenge extreme or dramatic language:

  • If your child says something like, “Everyone at school hates me.  Respond with, “Hmmm.  That doesn’t sound realistic.  How can we make that a more realistic (balanced) statement?”
  • Help them replace extreme words with balanced words and refer to the specifics. Instead, they could say, “Sometimes I feel like kids like me at school  when we work on group projects, but they don’t talk to me on the playground.”
  • Help your child focus on actions they can take in order to remedy the situation and avoid feeling like a helpless victim:  “And I bet if we practice joining kids in talking to them about what they like, you’ll get better at making new friends.”
  • Provide opportunities to empower your child through practice: “How about you try introducing yourself to kids at the park?  If they are mean and reject you, we won’t take it personally and just try again until you get it.”

STEP TWO: Use and teach coping statements to your kids, such as:

  • This is hard, and that’s OK.
  • I have done what I can; now it is out of my hands.
  • One day at a time.
  • It’s a pain in the neck but it’s not a disaster.
  • Could be worse.
  • It’s not life-threatening; it’s not important.
  • If it’s beyond my control, let it go.
  • I’m not going to let this unhappy person spoil my day.
  • I only need to compare myself with myself.
  • S/he is not perfect and neither am I.
  • It takes two to tango; there must have been something I did to encourage this situation. What can I change?
  • People aren’t born evil; what is going on that makes this person treat me this way?
  • Justice is in the eye of the beholder.
  • I can learn life lessons (good or bad) from this situation.
  • In 5 years, will this even matter?

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