Make Plans Ahead of Time to Celebrate July 4th

July 4th is just around the corner.  What plans do you have to celebrate this holiday?  My children’s book It’s Not About You Mrs. Firecracker – A Love Letter About the True Meaning of the Fourth of July is available to help you and your children learn more about this important day in our history.  Why do we celebrate that day? It is not all about the food and firecrackers!  

To learn more and order a copy, please CLICK HERE.

Plan College Visits with Your Children During Summer Vacation

Summer vacation is a wonderful opportunity to visit different colleges during your travels.  Let’s face it – a college degree has almost become a must have for a successful future.  By encouraging your children at an early age to begin considering attending college, they will be focused and ready when the time comes to narrow the choices and make the ultimate selection.

My late husband and I did just that.  When we visited family for Christmas vacation one year, we all went to take a tour of a local university in the city.  We made it a family affair: included our two sons, uncles, aunts, cousins and grandma.  Our oldest son complained about it as he just wanted to “have fun” during his Christmas break, but reluctantly went along.  It turned out to be an interesting and informative opportunity to visit the university, tour the grounds, and talk with various representatives.  Our sons took other campus tours at various colleges with their classmates, but guess where both our sons attended college?  Yes – at that same university we toured during that break!

Be sure to visit the college’s website and find out when there are tours available.  It is best to join a formal tour provided by the college than to just wander around the campus not knowing the area.  During the tour, you can ask important questions about scholarship programs, financial aid, dorm living, etc.  You can always wander about after the formal tour!

To learn more about the benefits of college tours, CLICK HERE.

Service Projects for Children This Summer

Among the many interesting things that your children can be doing this summer are service projects in your community.  These projects teach children gratitude, how to care for others, be kind and helpful, and instill a sense of pride in them.   There are various non-profits that are committed to many different issues so whether you partner with one or do your own project as a family will be up to you.  I have included in this week’s blog some ideas for you to consider.

Start off by talking with your children about what projects they would like to participate in.  The last thing you want to happen is have a car full of complaining children because you are “forcing” them to do something they do not want to do.  Do they like dogs and cats?  If so, consider having them volunteer at an animal shelter.  Of course, check with the shelter and other non-profits first before you plan a service project to ensure that they can accommodate children. 

Do they complain about trash at the park? Organize them and their friends to do a clean-up.   Have they accumulated a lot of clothes that they have outgrown?  Help them gather the clothes together and donate them to a women’s shelter.  I have listed at the end of this blog a couple of websites that suggest a number of service projects.

Before, during and after each service project, talk to your children about the importance of what they are doing.  Encourage them to do more. Praise them for their efforts. 

For ideas on service projects and getting your children ready to serve, please read these two online articles:

Make Sure Your Children Participate in Vacation Bible School This Summer

Churches have developed wonderful programs for children during the summer that have become known as vacation bible schools or VBSs.  Some programs last one week, others up to one month.  They are excellent programs for your children to learn more about the Word of God, develop friendships, and have a lot of fun.

There are many professional companies that produce annual vacation bible school programs, from teaching materials for teachers, to music videos, song CDs, skits, and bible verse memory cards.  Each program differs but they usually follow a format.  There is typically one simple theme and bible verses are selected that support the theme.  For example, a company has as one of its themes this year “Life is Wild – God is Good” with a jungle motif.   Another theme is “Athens – Paul’s Dangerous Journey to Share the Truth” with a Greek motif.

The creativity of these programs is amazing.  The appeal to children exceptional.  No longer do church leaders have to be concerned about creating their own study material and music, as everything is prepared and provided for them to lead a successful vacation bible school.

Importantly, vacation bible school is not a babysitting service.  As a lay children’s minister who volunteered as a leader for many VBSs, I was saddened to see that often parents thought of it as that.   It is instead a wonderful learning program where children thoroughly enjoy themselves. 

If your church sponsors a VBS, please enroll your children in it.  If not, research other churches in your community that do.  Your children will truly be blessed by participating!

Getting Your Children Involved with Nature

Summer is the perfect time to get your children outdoors and involved with nature - luring them away from mobile devices, computers, and television screens.  In an excellent online article for The Washington Post, 10 Ways to Get Your Kids Out in Nature, and Why It Matters, author Lauren Knight explains why your children’s physical and psychological well-being will benefit in a myriad of ways by exploring nature.

It all starts with the parents, Ms. Knight writes.  If parents are enthusiastic and curious about nature, their children will be too.   Ms. Knight recommends to just “sit and observe” at a specific area.  Don’t have busy distractions.  I typically encourage in my blogs for parents to ask questions and not simply give children answers.  Help your children look at different aspects of nature, ask questions, and search for the answers themselves. 

Try an outing at a planetarium and then lay out on the open grass and gaze at the stars at night.  By first visiting the planetarium, you will get more information about the constellations and what to look for.  When gazing up at the stars at night, your child will have a better understanding and truly get to enjoy and appreciate such spectacular beauties.

Planting a garden is another way to enjoy nature.  From planting seeds to eating the crops, children can have a lot of fun.  Have your children assist in purchasing all the items you will need for the garden as well as planting and watering.  They will learn much more by doing than just watching.

There are many books that she recommends for children that involve nature.  Visit the website link below and see the list of books.  There are some for young children as well as older children.

Find out what outdoor activities are available in your community.  Summer is an especially good time for children to be outside and enjoying themselves. 

Please read the entire article by CLICKING HERE.

Helping Your Young Teens Find Summer Jobs

I don’t usually write about issues relating to young teens but thought a blog post about helping them find summer jobs would be informative.  As a teenager, I wanted to work during the summers to earn that extra bit of spending money and I’m sure that like me, your children are eager to do the same.  Of course, you should first check the employment laws of your state to find out the age that your children can start working at an official job and if a work permit is required.  There are full and part-time jobs that your early teens, especially, may be willing to do.

Babysitting is at the top of the list.  I did that a lot during my teenage years – both during the day, when necessary, but mostly in the evenings.  As I babysat for one family, soon other families heard about how good I was and then I was in high demand.  I eventually limited babysitting to one family who used my services frequently. 

If your young teen enjoys being with children and is mature and responsible, consider babysitting.  It is not all fun and games, though, as the safety and well-being of children are involved.  Your child should be prepared for all that may happen, with you as the parent being available as a backup in the event of an emergency.  A great babysitting training course is offered by the Red Cross in many areas, both in person and online.  The link to the course is provided below.  Being a certified Red Cross babysitter will give your child bonus points for prospective employers.

Being a dog walker and pet sitter are also age-appropriate jobs.  Families travel a lot during the summer so they need someone to take care of their pets.  Again, your young teen must like pets. Have your child become familiar with the pet and the pet familiar with him before taking the job.  Make sure that he understands all the feeding and walking instructions before the family leaves.  Also make sure that the route for the walk is safe for the child and the dog.  Your child should not walk the dog in unfamiliar areas.

House sitting is another job that is available in the summer, as families travel.  The duties usually involve watering plants, picking up the mail and packages, mowing the lawn, and keeping an eye out for anything that is happening around the house.

There are many opportunities for your young teen to get out of the house during the summer and earn some money.  Help him network and prepare.  He will benefit tremendously.

Please check out this website for more information on the Red Cross babysitting training course: CLICK HERE

Should You Take Your Child’s Friend on Vacation?

The summer months are quickly approaching.  What are your family’s summer vacation plans?  Often, parents with an only child consider bringing along their child’s friend.  Please don’t make this decision in haste or just because your child begs you to.  There is a lot to consider and here are a few helpful suggestions.

Who will pay the costs?  This is a very important issue that needs to be addressed with the other parents.  Gather all your information first – such as transportation costs, hotel costs, approximate cost for food, costs for renting equipment (such as swim or snorkel gear), costs for admission to various theme parks and movie theaters, etc.   You might initially think that there would not be much extra cost, but once you sit down and plan it out, the high cost may surprise you.  In the end, you may just decide to bear the entire cost for the friend to make this a more enjoyable vacation for your child. 

What will you do for discipline? Since your form of discipline for your child may not be what the other parents approve of, this is also a critical topic to discuss.  There should be clear guidelines established beforehand.  But, even prior to your discussions with them, how well do you know the child?  Is the child one who is well-behaved and respectful when in your company?  Is this friendship one that you as a parent would like to encourage?  As Christians, we should always be mindful of who our children are friends with and who can influence them.  1 Corinthians 15:33 states “Bad company ruins good morals.” (ESV).

What will you do in the event medical care is needed? Again, this needs to be planned out.  In the event of a medical emergency, you will need to have the authority to obtain and provide medical care for this child.  Make sure you have the legal authority to do so.   Often, a copy of the child’s health insurance card and a letter from the parents is enough. 

When I was growing up, I went on many trips with my best friend as she was an only child.  We all had a lot of fun, parents included.  But, that all stemmed from them knowing me and my parents well, as well as me knowing them well.  I felt comfortable being with them and was not a discipline problem.  It all worked out wonderfully! 

Riddles – Fun & Educational for Your Children

Riddles are often called brain teasers for a reason.  They help your children to think outside the box and in multi-dimensional ways.   When was the last time that you went over some riddles with your children?  Pick up a book at the library or a bookstore, or go to a website listed below to have some fun time.

I love riddles!  When you are driving with your children or spending time with them in other ways, asking them riddles is a great way to pass the time and help them learn.  After asking the riddle, try not to give the answer right away if your children are struggling to find the answer.  Help them on the journey to find that answer.  For example, here is a good riddle to get your children to think logically:

Q: You walk into a room with a match, a kerosene lamp, a candle, and a fireplace. Which do you light first?
A: The match.

If your children do not get the correct answer right away, ask such questions as: can a candle light itself? Of course, the answer is “no”.  Ask that same question for each of the other items – a kerosene lamp and a fireplace.  The answers would still be “no”.  For any of those 3 items to get “light”, you would have to light the match first. 

Please be warned that there are some very difficult riddles out there and some that do not make much sense.  Review the riddles yourself before asking them to your children.  Is the riddle age appropriate?  Will my child learn from the riddle?

Here are some websites that are filled with interesting and challenging riddles:

Helping Your Children Become Entrepreneurs

We should encourage entrepreneurship spirit in our children beginning at a young age.  Children are very creative and having a dream to establish a business and be self-sufficient and successful are very positive goals.

My parents were small business owners.  I saw how they struggled to make ends meet when their business was established and then the benefits they reaped as the business grew.  After I graduated from law school and returned home to practice law, the seeds they had planted in me for entrepreneurship began to grow and I established my own private law practice.  My parents always encouraged me and my sisters to be self-sufficient and follow our dreams.

Later, as a mother with two sons, I hired them to work in my office to do general office tasks after school and on the weekends.  By working with me in that business environment, they were able to experience hands on training about what it is like to own your business and the dedication and hard work it takes to be successful.

Many children do not have the opportunities that I and my children had but parents can still open their children’s minds to the possible business opportunities that are available.   Children frequently ask for money so why not think about ways to help them earn money rather than just giving it to them.  If your children’s school has classes that teach entrepreneurship, encourage your children to take them.  If there are after-school activities and clubs centered on business ownership and development, again, encourage your children to participate.  

Of course, the typical business idea for children is the ubiquitous lemonade stand.  However, there are many websites that have ideas for children’s businesses.  At the end of my blog, I will give you a website with some very creative suggestions.

The key component is the parents’ involvement to help start and run the business, as children cannot possibly do it themselves.  Please do not start a business and then give up because you allow other tasks or activities to take precedence.   Many factors must be considered before starting a business with your children, including the time commitment involved, the availability of financing, and the general logistics of where and how it will be operated.  As the old saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail.  

Please visit this website for some business ideas for children: click here

Helping Your Children Find Hobbies and Sticking with Them

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Do your children have any hobbies?  A hobby is something that is done during their free time for fun and pleasure.  I hope that you did not answer that question with “Yes-they play video games”!  The absolutely last thing we should want our children to be doing during their free time is sitting and playing video games for hours on end.  

According to child development experts, hobbies are important for children for many reasons.  Hobbies help your children to develop creativity.  Is your child artistic?  Then, encourage him to draw and paint.  Several brand stores have huge sections devoted to art supplies.  Does your child enjoy taking photos with your cell phone?  Encourage her to continue to take photos and learn more about that art form.  There are many books that teach about how to take photos and to be very creative in doing so.  If her interest continues, consider purchasing a camera for her.  You can even show some of her photographs to her teacher and ask for suggestions of a club that she can join with like-minded persons.

Hobbies also can help develop skills that may lead to lucrative careers in the future.  If your child enjoys writing stories, help her to learn more about being an author and structuring her work.  It may be that you have a budding Pulitzer prize winner on your hands!

Hobbies further help children with developing intelligence.  For example, by sitting and putting together a jigsaw puzzle, your child will learn how to associate shapes with images as well as patience.  If your child enjoys reading, books will provide challenges to learn new words.  When your child encounters a new word, encourage him to write it down, find its meaning, and then use it in a sentence.  Review the word again with him each day for a few days to make sure that he continues to remember it. 

Lastly, hobbies give children a sense of accomplishment.  They have undertaken a fun task, stayed with it, and completed it.  Do all you can to have your children complete a hobby that they started.  The results can truly be amazing for them and you!

There are so many hobbies to consider.  One of the growing categories is rocketry.  Think about all the science involved with propelling a rocket.  Your children will be learning as well as having a fun time.

Please do not overburden your children with hobbies though. As I have written in prior blogs, your children need to spend time with you and other family members.  Adding too many activities to their schedule, especially during the school year can cause unnecessary pressures on them.

The list of hobbies is almost endless.  Don’t allow your children to waste their free time.  Hobbies will definitely allow them to continue growing and learning.

Some Tips for Parents as Their Children Leave for College

When we dropped off my oldest son at college for the first time, I thought I had prepared myself well.  Unfortunately, I had a difficult time leaving him and then traveling back home.  Even weeks later, I suffered from a very empty feeling of loss.  My late husband and I had prepared him to be independent and confident, yet we struggled with having him leave us and our home. 

I learned a lot from that transition so that when my youngest son was ready to be dropped off at college, I was able to handle the transition much better.  Here are a few tips that I learned that will help parents adjust quicker as their children leave the nest and head to college:

1.    Even though it is a sad turning point for you, please do not let your son or daughter see you too upset.  Remember that this is an amazing starting point for their lives as adults and you have taught them all you could over many years.  Let them know how difficult is it for you to transition without them, but be very encouraging to them.  The last thing that you should want as a parent is for your children to be overly worried and concerned about you when they should be studying and making new friends as well as planning for their future careers.

2.    Contact them to make sure they are doing well but do not be communicating with them too much.  This is the time for them to learn to be on their own and use the skills you taught them to adapt and solve problems.  Calling, emailing or texting too often does not give your children the space they need to continue learning and growing on their own.  Sometimes they must learn from their wrong decisions.  We have all had to.

3.    Help them if they need assistance to deal with a challenge but do not take over control.  Again, guiding them to make the right decisions is critical in their maturing process.  When you take over complete control in solving problems, they can lose confidence in their own abilities.

4.    Assist them with their monthly expenses but do not splurge on them or allow them to spend money frivolously.  They must learn to live within a budget.  After assisting them with establishing that budget, be there for them in the event of a financial emergency, but again, do not allow them to spend frivolously and then bail them out.  This is their time to learn how to manage their allotted money.

5.    Get busy with your own lives.  Spend more time giving your talents and energies to others, such as your church and community organizations.  You still have a lot to experience and contribute, so do all you can to be active.  Your community needs you.

It will always be difficult for parents to transition from having their children at home to an empty nest.  However, this is a time for you to grow too!  Have confidence in the fact that you have done all you can to raise your children well and that you have much more to give to the world.  Get busy doing that!

Some Fun & Interesting Websites for Your Children this Summer

During the summer months, parents struggle to find interesting and creative activities for their children.  The last thing we want them doing is playing mindless video games all day long.  Finding alternatives for them that are fun and still allow them to use the computer can be challenging.  We have done the work for you and found some interesting websites that we believe your children will truly enjoy and learn from:

1.    Science News for Children https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/ - This is an interesting and challenging website full of facts that children will enjoy.

2.     Cool math http://www.coolmath.com/ - There are so many cool math lessons, your children will be amazed.

3.    Is it possible for your child to become a genius? “Make Me a Genius” claims that it can http://www.makemegenius.com/

4.    National Geographic for kids https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/ - This website provides almost everything your child will ever want to know about animals, nature, countries, etc.

5.    Games that help children learn http://thekidzpage.com/ - All kinds of puzzles and other games are featured that will keep your child learning and having fun.

6.    How stuff works https://www.howstuffworks.com/ - This website provides answers to many questions in a variety of areas.  Nothing boring here!

7.    The Old Farmer’s Almanac for Kids  http://www.almanac4kids.com/ - So much fun information for your children that they cannot possibly get bored.

Be Vigilant This Summer to Ensure Your Children’s Outdoor Safety

School is out and our children are outside much more enjoying summer activities.  Their safety should always be of utmost concern for parents.

In a recent online article Summer Outdoor Safety Tips Offered for Child Care Facilities, reporter Eric Tegethoff of Public News Service writes about issues of concern for parents during the summer months especially.  The article is a refresher about information we may have heard in the past, but is updated and reminds us parents about how diligent we must be to protect our precious ones. 

Of course, the number one issue is keeping an eye on our children when they are in and around water.  As parents, we understand this but the tragedy is that even those parents who understand the dangers that lurk for children when playing in and around water, often believe that nothing would never happen to their children.  One of the first considerations is the surface around the water.  Typically, children play around water barefoot so your diligence requires your examination of the surfaces for any potential causes of injuries.  Are there any sharp or jagged surfaces?  Are there any protrusions? Can anything potentially dangerous be hidden underneath the surface, such as under sand at the beach?

Another consideration is keeping a vigilant eye on your children when they are in water.  The article quotes the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s findings that “for 77 percent of child drowning victims, the child has been missing from sight five minutes or less.” Never assume that another adult will be keeping an eye on your children unless you have specifically requested that he/she do so and trust that person. You must be focused and knowledgeable about where your children are all the time.

The article also refers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s  findings that 2 of the 10 drowning deaths that happen every day are to children 14 and younger. It recommends that there should be one adult for every infant in a pool.  As children get older, less monitoring is required:  four children for every adult at pre-school age and six per adult for school-age children.

Please do not forget to put sunscreen on your children before they go to play outside and be sure that they have sufficient hydration.  The sun provides important vitamin D for them but also can cause problems.

You can read the entire article by clicking here.

Keep Your Children Active as Activity Works Out the Body and the Brain

The benefits of physical activity on the body are plentiful and well known. The more you move your body, the healthier you will be and the risk of weight related health issues – such as diabetes and heart disease - diminishes. For children, physical activity promotes healthy growth, improves fitness levels, and boosts self-esteem. Did you also know all the benefits exercise can have on a child’s mind?

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), students who are physically active actually had better grades, school performance, memories, and classroom behavior.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services  recommends 60 minutes of physical exercise each day. Many parents mistakenly believe that if their children participate in physical activities, they will have less time for homework and other school assignments and be too tired to perform their best in school.  Importantly, however, the scientific research data does not support this way of thinking.

Physical activity has been a very helpful as well in improving the behavior of children with behavioral disorders.  In a study to determine whether an aerobic cybercycling  physical education curriculum could benefit children who had behavioral health disorders, the findings showed that this type of aerobic physical activity benefitted children significantly.   A cybercycle is a stationary bike - similar to the ones we see at the gym - with a screen to give the illusion of an outdoor environment.   Often children with these disorders are not encouraged to participate in exercising and thus, suffer greatly as a result.

There are so many benefits that come from living an active lifestyle.  Promoting healthy behaviors today guarantees a better life for your children in their future.

For more reading, CLICK HERE or CLICK HERE.

Encourage Your Child’s Creativity- It Shapes the Way He Views the World

One of my favorite quotes about encouraging curiosity in our children is by Dr. Bruce Perry in his online article “Curiosity: The Fuel of Development” on Scholastic.com: “Curiosity dimmed is a future denied.”  That sentiment holds so much truth.  Curiosity has led to innumerable world changing inventions and innovations, and stifling it not only does a disservice to the individual, but also potentially the world.

Dr. Perry is an internationally acclaimed authority on brain development and children.  In his online article, he discusses how important curiosity is in the development of a child.   As a child grows, he is more and more curious.  If he is encouraged to ask questions, explore, discover new things, and share his discoveries, he will grow in confidence and knowledge. 

Dr. Perry also discusses how we parents can hamper curiosity.  Three common ways are through fear, disapproval, and absence.  If a child is afraid, he will not be curious.  He will not want to take a chance and ask a question.  He will seek comfort with the status quo and conforming. 

If a child hears disapproval from his parents, he will not be curious.  What forms of disapproval are parents using?  Examples begin with the word “don’t”.  Don’t touch that; don’t get dirty; don’t ask questions! When your child knows that you are disgusted or upset when he does a particular thing, he will not want to do it or anything similar to it.  A child seeks approval from his parents and if his parents do not approve of him being inquisitive, he will not be.  Plain and simple!

A curious mind also needs a parent who is supporting and motivating.  A smile, kind words, a look of encouragement – all of these and much more encourage a child to continue asking and seeking. If a parent is absent, the nurturing that a child needs is not there.  

Encourage your children to seek, explore and discover.  Who knows – you may have a budding Einstein in your family!

To read more of the article, CLICK HERE.

Should My Children Have A Pet?

Parents are thinking about purchasing those ubiquitous Christmas gifts and often high on the list is a pet for their children.  Of course, children love the idea of owning a pet.  Who would not want small, fluffy (or scaly) creatures to show them unconditional love at all times? But pets can be much more than that.  In fact, studies have shown that pets can be catalysts for your children’s increased well-being.

Whether a dog, cat, lizard or bird, pets can provide their owners with countless benefits - especially children.  Here are a few great things that these wonderful creatures bring into our lives.

1.    They Teach Companionship. I think philosopher Martin Buber put it best when he said, "an animal's eyes have the power to speak a great language."  Though they do not speak the same language or have the same mannerisms that we do, our furry friends somehow understand us enough to show us love when we want it and comfort when we need it.

In addition, they teach responsibility. They show children that to love something also means to take care of it - to feed and nurture it. From a large dog to a small fish, taking care of pets requires a lot of work. Exposing children to caretaking at a young age develops many critical skills for the future.

2.    Bye-Bye Allergies! Studies have shown that children who grow up with cats and dogs are less like to be sick compared to other children their age, and they are also less likely to develop pet-related allergies. Being exposed to pet dander at an early age reduces their chances of developing these allergies by 33%, according to a study by pediatrician James E. Gern, as it strengthens their immune systems. Before you rush to get a pet though, talk with your pediatrician because it is still possible for your children to acquire allergies.

3.    They Promote Activity. Animals, like dogs, need to be taken out for walks everyday - sometimes more than once a day.  Doing a couple of laps around the neighborhood is nice, but you and your children can use this task as an opportunity to explore so much more and become increasingly active.  Walk to the dog park and meet new people; go hiking with your pet; or have a run on the beach.  Keeping active is essential for both children and adults.

4.    They Make Life a Little Brighter. There is just something about the company of a pet that makes most children and adults happy. It is said that when we interact with animals, our dopamine and serotonin levels increase. In other words, the happy hormones in our brains are released!

5.    They are Learning Companions! Parents oftentimes find their children doing homework with or reading to their pets.  This is because there is no judgement with pets.  The comfort that they provide creates a safe space for children when doing academic tasks (or any task they may not be confident in).

Above all these benefits, the best thing a pet has been known to provide is the strengthened bond between family members.  They bring out the spirits of love and cooperation in people.  So, if your children ever ask for a pet this Christmas, please keep these points in mind when making your decision. Hopefully, it ends in adding a new member to the family under the Christmas tree!

Keeping Children Occupied During Airplane Travel

Soraya Coffelt Airplane Travel

During the holidays, families frequently travel on airlines.  For some of us, it is just a short one or two hour trip, but for others, it can be for many hours.   When traveling with children, there are numerous things to consider regarding how your children spend their time and how they behave toward other passengers.  No person wants to be a victim of a child kicking the airplane seat from behind out of pure boredom or a lack of manners (I have been the victim of this many times) or having to deal with a cranky, restless child.  Parents are encouraged to be prepared.  Here are a few fun-filled activities to keep your children occupied during flights:

1.    Reading. Bring some of your children’s favorite books on board. You can read them to your children or let them read the books themselves. If your child is a fast (or indecisive) reader, it may be best to have a digital version of several books on a tablet or E-reader so they have options from which to choose.  Pop up books are especially entertaining for toddlers, but for smaller children, hard back books and pages are better!

2.    Crafts. Crafts can get fairly messy and many are not appropriate for planes, but one that has garnered a lot of popularity is sticker art. All you will need is a book of stickers and another book with blank paper.  Or, there are books with both stickers and blank sheets of paper together- how convenient! Your children will definitely enjoy making their own creations with the stickers.  In fact, you can encourage them to even leave a little decorative art piece for the crew.

3.    Movies. This is one of the easiest and hassle-free ways to pass the time. Watching their favorite movie - or a brand new one - will keep your little ones entertained for an hour or two.  There are children’s portable DVD players as well as small laptops that can be accompanied with headphones.  You can also search beforehand for episodes of their favorite TV shows and download them.  My sons would often watch the same shows over and over again.

4.    Doodling.  A nice alternative to a bunch of crayons is an Etch-A-Sketch.  It allows your children to create several drawings without dropping (and having to search for) a single crayon.

Bringing along their favorite snacks and drinks is also very important, as it satisfies their hunger and thirst and further prevents their ears from popping during takeoff and landing.  Often, it does not matter if they ate before they get on board a plane, as children always seem to be hungry or thirsty. 

All parts of family travel should be enjoyable experiences for you and others.  The key is to prepare beforehand.   Happy travels!

Choosing the Right Babysitter

As working parents, it can be very difficult to juggle your home, professional and social lives - after all there are only 24 hours in the day.  Parents need to be able to spend time together.  Sometimes, assistance with the children is a necessity and you must seek a babysitter.  Finding the right babysitter is important for both you and your children.  Here are several factors to take into consideration.

Is the person able to work within the rules and boundaries that you set? With a new babysitter in your home, it is critical to set rules and boundaries from the beginning.   What do you want your children to be doing and when?  For example, what time do you want each child to take a bath?  Set out a list of times with corresponding activities, such as reading, homework, having dinner, bath time and sleep time.  If the person balks at following your rules and boundaries, that person will not make a good babysitter.

Does the person understand children and want to spend time with them? Take into consideration the personality types of your children.  Does the person understand that each child has his/her own personality and likes and dislikes? Will the person accommodate them?  Try giving the person tips on how to go about dealing with each child.  Does the person seem willing to accept your suggestions?  What does the person want to do with each child while you are away? 

What is your budget for paying a babysitter?  Typically, parents hire a high school or college-aged student as a babysitter.  These students are usually just looking to earn some extra money for the remainder of the school year. Even so, there can be a risk of underpayment. While there are no strict rules about how much to pay a babysitter, you should do some research on average wages in your area and ask friends and work colleagues.  This information will be helpful in setting a comfortable budget for the both of you.

How do you know if this person is dependable?  Again, ask friends and colleagues for recommendations as to who to hire and who to avoid.  Keep your rules in mind when posing your inquiries. Parents should be very protective of their children, so consulting one who has similar values can be a huge assistance in your search for the right person.

Ask your children about their time with the babysitter.  Parents typically talk with their children about school or social activities, and they should also do so about their children’s time with babysitters.  You are hiring and entrusting that person to watch over your most precious possessions and to follow your guidelines.  Asking your children about their experience will encourage them to cooperate while you are away.  Also, children are notorious truth tellers. Just give them the opportunity to talk and they will let you know everything - from playing games with their babysitter to watching their sitter take a nap while no one was supposedly looking.

The health and happiness of your children should always be your top priorities, whether they are in your presence or not.  The search process for a good babysitter can get tedious, and sometimes feel never ending, but the comfort in knowing and trusting the person who has your children in his/her hands will definitely be worth it.

Explore Your Own Town or City: Have a Summer Family “Staycation”

I have written previously about taking family vacations during the summer.  However, it may be that you are on a tight budget and a family trip may have moved down the list of priorities this summer.  But, you can still have a vacation with your family without breaking the bank or crossing state lines.

“Staycations” are the perfect alternative to expensive out of town trips.  You might think that you have seen everything in your area, but there are possibly  many hidden gems still waiting to be found and this is the perfect opportunity for you and your family to do just that.  In addition, there usually are a variety of local discounts available from museums, historic sites, and other ‘tourist attractions’.

If you want to leave your home, you could stay at an inexpensive hotel to have the full “vacation experience”.  Many hotels give local residents discounts during the summer.  However, there are plenty of ways to have the luxury feel of a hotel in your own home.  For example, one of the best parts of any good hotel stay is the breakfast spread.  Plan on cooking a big breakfast (the kids can join too!), similar to that of most hotels, and serve it buffet style. Set the table with white tablecloths and a simple centerpiece and enjoy your private, yummy breakfast with the family.

After breakfast, select one or more popular tourist attractions to visit.  Try something new and different.  It may seem silly to be a tourist in your own home, but it can be fun and educational.  One of the main advantages is that you do not have to worry about the cost of transportation because you can drive to each destination in your own vehicle!  Try visiting museums, having a picnic in the park, going backyard camping, or just taking a stroll through the city or town.  In the evening, consider talking the family to a drive-in theater.

You can make a day or a weekend out of it. The schedule is completely up to you because transportation, location and the struggle that comes with being in a new place will not be an issue.  By the end of it all, you and your family will have seen, done, and learned so much about your own community that you never imagined you could.  Who knows? It might even become a family tradition.

Finding the Balance between Your Children’s Activities and Their Well-being

In a prior blog post, I wrote about the importance of having your children participate in a variety of after-school activities and the benefits that doing so provide.  Today, I would like to extend a cautionary note that those activities should enhance their childhood experiences, not inhibit them.  Children who are overexposed to activities can suffer from headaches; feel tired, anxious or depressed; and suffer a drop in their grades.  Here are a few tips on how to have your children involved in extracurriculars, while still giving them the chance to be children:

  1. Time: According to most experts, children should not spend more than 10 to 20 hours a week participating in out of school activities. If they spend any more time than this, they will not have enough time to do their homework, adequately prepare for tests, and be with their families. Choosing activities that meet bi-weekly or monthly could be healthier options for children, rather than those that meet once or several times a week.
     
  2. Request: Before enrolling your children in an extracurricular activity, it is best to ask if they want to join in it. This way, it will be an activity that they want to do, not an activity that they are being forced to do. Also, try not to pressure your children to outdo themselves or anyone else in their respective activities. Never compare what they are doing or not doing with other children.
     
  3. Your schedule: Ask yourself whether you or your spouse have the time to drive them to and from each activity.  Adding too many activities can wreak havoc on your schedule too and cause a lot of stress. 

The balance between school, homework, play, and family time can be difficult.  The important issue is that you try to balance all four, with an emphasis on what works for the family unit as a whole.   No activity should take the place of spending quality time together as a family or put too much stress on family life.