1. Halloween Decoration on a Budget

    Decorating your home for Halloween can cost you next to nothing. Plus, creating some spooky crafts as a family is a sure way to get everyone in the Halloween spirit. Check out five of our favorite DIY Halloween decorations – easy to make and guaranteed to scare!

    Tombstones: All you need to make a homemade tombstone is a piece of cardboard and some paint. Just cut the cardboard into a tombstone shape, paint it grey, and compose a chilling epitaph (or a simple “RIP”). Put them up around your house or in your front yard. Speckle your tombstone with some fake blood for an extra spooky effect – “look, this one’s recent!”

    Specimen Jars: Turn your home into a mad scientist’s lab with some spooky specimen jars. Take glass jars or other clear containers and fill them with water and, if you want, food coloring or other dye. Add spooky stuff to the water, like toy bugs and creatures, filled latex gloves (“a severed hand!”), or even a real beef heart (see your local butcher and keep the raw meat away from the kids). For a haunting glow, buy non-toxic glow sticks, activate them, and spill the liquid into the jars.

    Spider Webs: You can make your own spider webs by folding a garbage bag and cutting away sections, just how you would make a paper snowflake. Small spider webs can be used inside your home, while larger ones are suitable for outdoors. Decorate your webs with some plastic spiders, or cut a spider silhouette out of black construction paper.

    Floating Ghosts: Making an ornamental ghost is easy as rubber banding some white cloth over a helium balloon. Draw a spooky ghost face on the cloth (remember, the ghost should look like they’ve been dead for hundreds of years and very upset about it) and tether the balloon to something to prevent it from floating away. When it gets dark, your ghost will look like she’s eerily hovering. This decoration looks great on your front yard or floating in your window.

    Shrunken Heads: Peel the skin off an apple and let it sit out for a few days until it becomes brown and soft. Then carve a spooky face into it with a knife. You can use googly eyes, beads, or anything else you may have around the house for extra decoration.   


  2. Getting Extracurricular Activities Right

    Most kids don’t have enough schoolwork to occupy all their afterschool time. This can be great – if they have stuff to do. Most parents don’t want to see their kids come home and sit in front of the TV until bedtime. But with all the options out there, picking the right extracurricular activities for your child can be tricky. Read on for some tips on how to get extracurriculars right.

    First, don’t choose for them. Signing your child up for something that doesn’t interest them can cause behavioral problems, resentment, and anxiety. Instead, try offering your child a range of options: school-based activities, sports, cultural activities, volunteering, and outdoor groups. Besides an online search, your local library usually has information about activities, a jam-packed bulletin board (not everyone has a website), and their own afterschool programs. 

    There’s tons out there, but only your openmindedness and guidance will help your child find the right pick for them. “Sports” doesn’t have to mean “football”: it can include activities as diverse as fishing, bowling, luge racing – let their imagination run wild. The more specific and esoteric, the better: if they’re really into tall ships, let them nerd out on tall ships. If they aren’t interested in becoming a violinist or a painter, they might still appreciate culture; symphonies and art museums often have children’s programs in music and art appreciation.  

    Be sure to make it clear to your child that they will have the last word in picking what they do after school – as long as it’s not “the stay-at-home video game club.” Whatever they do, a social aspect is important. If they have close friends who do a certain activity, that can be an incentive to sign up, but also assure your child that they’ll make new friends no matter what activity they pick.  

    If you want your child to stick with their activity of choice, show an interest and praise their progress. Remember that young children are just growing into themselves, so it may take a few different attempts to find something they truly enjoy. Make sure they try a given activity for at least a week, but let them quit if they’re miserable.

    Once they find their extracurricular activity, do all you can to get your child to stick with it. Who knows? It could become a lifelong passion.  



  3. Fall Family Fun

    The arrival of fall can sometimes mean less time to spend together as a family. With kids in school, parents back in work-mode, and the days growing shorter, this time of year can indeed be a lot busier than summer. But that doesn’t mean you should let this magical season slip by without doing some fun stuff as a family. Here are some ideas for activities that will make your family “fall” in love with the new season:

    Get Outdoors: Crisp weather and foliage in transition make fall one of the best seasons to take advantage of the great outdoors. Whether you go apple picking, hiking, or just enjoy a campfire on a brisk evening, make sure to spend some time outside. And don’t forget that the weather can change quickly, so take along quality kids’ outerwear.

    Tailgating: Even people who aren’t huge football fans can appreciate the cooking, comradery, and excitement of a fall tailgate. If NFL tickets are out of your price range, check out the local collegiate or semi-pro team for some great deals.

    Make a Halloween Costume: Halloween is the highlight of the season for many youngsters. Rather than cramming all the fun into the week before October 31st, starting now will give you and your family the chance to create some truly incredible costumes.   

    Fall Cooking: Fall is a great time to do some family cooking. The bounty of in-season items at your grocery store can inspire budding cooks and help you expand the palates of picky eaters. Traditional favorites like spiced cider and chili are simple to make and can be stored for weeks of future enjoyment.

    Fall Crafting: Show off fall’s vivid colors with some seasonal crafting. Dry leaves, pinecones, Indian corn, and other seasonal bounties can make for eye-catching crafts. Take a trip to the park to collect items, then combine them with the crafting supplies you already have at home. Better yet, invite some craft-savvy friends over to share in the fun. 


  4. The Best Ways to Praise

    There’s a lot of information online, in parenting books, and elsewhere about the right way to discipline kids, but what’s the right way to praise them? Meting out praise can be tricky. Check out these guidelines to ensure you praise your child in a way that nurtures their developing talents.

    Parenting experts agree that you should praise your child for the effort they put in as opposed to the end result. If your child is naturally good at math and doesn’t need to study much for tests, you may want to hold off on showering them with math-related compliments. Instead, encourage them when they tackle the subjects they find challenging. This promotes hard work and lets your child know it’s okay to leave their comfort zone and try things that don’t come naturally.

    Be as specific when as you can when complimenting your child. If you see them working on their layups before a big basketball game, compliment them on layups after the game – better yet, let them know exactly why their layups were looking so good, and in what ways their layups have improved since last week. Vague compliments can leave your child confused about what exactly they did that warrants praise. Highly specific complements let kids know you were really watching, sound more sincere, and help your child identify their unique skills.

    Whatever you do, don’t praise kids only for succeeding. Praising kids for trying and failing is important because sticking with things is a sure way to be successful. Anything from a new hobby to tying their shoes for the first time can be a chance to praise them for taking on something new. This will help them develop both perseverance and open-mindedness.

    When it comes to rewarding a job well done, avoid giving a material reward, especially money. It’s important for kids to understand that not all work yields a tangible reward. Instead, spend some quality time with your child eating ice cream, doing something fun, or just unwinding together. Let them develop personal pride in what they accomplish – that’s a quality that will stay with them forever.



  5. Student-Teacher Conflict: What’s a Parent to Do?

    With a new school year comes new teachers. Getting to know a new teacher is usually fun and exciting for kids, but every now and then teacher and student clash, and the results can be troubling. What do you do if your child doesn’t get along with their teacher? When and how do you, as a parent, step in to mediate?

    First off, take time to determine how serious the conflict is. Kids tend to report on teachers in vague terms, something like “My math teacher hates me,” or “Mr. Smith is mean to me.” Ask your child to name more specific mistreatment. Determine if the problem is related to schoolwork, or has more to do with the way your child and their teacher interact personally.

    Once you have an idea of what your child’s take on the situation is, talk to the teacher. Schedule a one-on-one meeting and bring your best non-confrontational language. Open the discussion with something like: “I know my child is having a hard time in your class. What do you think we could all do to change that?” There’s a good chance the teacher has considered the problem and can offer some specific and thoughtful advice.

    If the problem is serious, parent, teacher, and student should come together to discuss the issue and make a plan to move forward. It can be worthwhile for your child to be present, just to let the teacher know that they want to make an effort to get along. And for the most part, kids walk away from these kinds of meetings with a much clearer idea about what they need to do to move ahead.

    Avoid taking sides in a student-teacher conflict. Taking the teacher’s side alienates your child and doesn’t validate their potentially serious claims of bias or mistreatment. Siding with your child may boost their confidence, but it won’t help them solve their own problems or learn to work with people they don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye with. With older kids, it may be wise to let your child settle their student-teacher disagreement on their own. Here, try to offer advice from your own experience. Ever have a disagreement in the workplace? How did you get over that?

    Student-teacher conflicts present teachable moments and promote inter-personal skills. It may be the first time your child comes into contact with an authority figure, but it won’t be the last. Only your guidance can help them find a solution to their conflict – and make sure they develop the conflict-resolution skills for a harmonious life.


  6. Bye, Bye Baby Bed!

    One of the first milestones of toddlerhood is making the transition from crib to big kid bed. It’s a switch everyone makes, but how do you know when your child is ready? And how do you make it easier for them?

    Most kids make the switch between ages 2 and 3, when they are about 34 to 36 inches in height. When they can stand in their crib and potentially get out, you know it’s time.

    The first part of a smooth transition is making sure the idea appeals to your child. Toddlers tend to crave the familiar and are just starting to assert their individuality, so you don’t want to just surprise them with a big kid bed out of the blue. This is especially true if the crib is being vacated for a baby sibling. Let your toddler know they’ll be getting a big kid bed soon. Let them get involved in choosing the bed and bedding; it will up the excitement. Tell them about all the benefits: more space, no more bars, fun characters on the sheets and pillowcase.

    Don’t get rid of the crib the moment the toddler bed arrives. Having both the crib and the bed in the same room can lead the child to naturally make the move, whereas seeing the crib gone can create a bit of a shock. If your child is hesitant at first, have them simply use the bed to nap before transitioning to using it for a full night’s sleep. Move the crib out of the room only once you’re sure your child is comfortable in their new bed.

    Besides the new bed, try to keep the rest of the bedtime routine familiar. Too much change will overwhelm your toddler. Sing the same songs, read the same stories, and otherwise stick to what you have always done to get your little one in the mood for sleep. Your child may be resistant at first, but after a few weeks (at most) the crib will be a far off memory.


  7. Keeping a Journal

    Journaling can be both educational and therapeutic for kids. It’s more than just a way to practice writing; it allows kids to reflect on their emotions, an important process and something they might not ordinarily do.  

    Getting a kid to start a journal, especially if they aren’t crazy about writing, can be a tough sell. Emphasize the open-ended nature of the project. It’s their journal and they can fill it with anything they want. If they want to write about things they saw on TV or their favorite videogame, let them. It doesn’t have to be full sentences. There can be doodles. No limits or minimums on entry length. The only rule? Date all entries.

    When first introducing the idea of journaling to your child, it can help to show them a few inspiring examples. There are many great children’s books on the subject of journaling, and even more fiction books, for all reading levels, written in diary format. If you kept a journal as a kid, dig it up and show it off to your child; it might be more inspirational than you think. Also, having a cool journal can be a booster to get started.

    Although you should encourage your child to share their journal with you if they want, be sure they know they can also choose to keep it private. Part of growing up is deciding what problems to share with parents and which ones to tackle yourself. A journal is a safe space to grapple with those problems and deliberate over solutions. It’s also a space for thoughts they might never say aloud to anybody, not even a parent. If a kid fears their journal may become public, they will not be honest, which defeats the point of journaling.

    One of the best things about journaling is that it can become a lifelong project. Some people start keeping a diary in first grade and by the time they graduate college have a thorough record of their lives. Other people return to journaling in times of stress, as it helps them work through difficult times. Even if your child doesn’t keep a diary every day for the rest of their lives, you will have taught them an important lesson on recording and organizing their thoughts and emotions. 


  8. Let’s Make Back-to-School Better

    Making the transition from summer to back-to-school season can be stressful for your entire family. The change in scheduling, navigating a new academic environment, and other stressors often add up to a tense situation that puts everyone on edge. But back-to-school doesn’t have to be stressful. They key to success is giving your kids the right kind of support at the right time. Here are some helpful tips for easing them into a new school year.

    With younger kids, especially those starting in a new school or building, help familiarize them with their routine and surroundings before the first day. Drive or walk by the new school and point it out them. If possible, go inside. Show them where their classroom, lunchroom, and closest bathroom are located. They’ll be more confident on the first day if they’re already familiar with their environment.

    As a parent, you also need to project confidence. Being nervous on behalf of your kids is only going to make things worse. Tell stories about how much fun you had starting a new grade. Emphasize the perks of being older, having more responsibility, and going on to bigger and better things academically.

    Though we’re biased, we recommend getting back-to-school shopping done 2 weeks or more before the first day of school. This not only gives you ample time to find exactly what you need, it also give your kids time to mentally prepare for the new school year. The moment you take them shopping, back-to-school ceases to be a far off specter and becomes a tangible event. Plus, if you go early, the hottest new trends aren’t sold out yet.

    Make sure to schedule any dental or medical appointments for at least 2 weeks before school starts, and ensure your child is up to date on their vaccines. Discovering medical issues before the start of school allows you to deal with them before your family starts juggling back-to-school responsibility. It can also help your child avoid getting sent to the school nurse’s office on the first day.    

    A successful back-to-school season is all about making kids feel excited or at least comfortable about the transition. Make the most of what remains of summer with your kids, and let them know that you’re there for them no matter what may come during the school year. 


  9. Plug Up the Summer Brain Drain


  10. Preventing Childhood Obesity

    Although the childhood obesity rate has dropped in recent years, it still hovers around 17%. That number is far too high, especially considering that childhood obesity is linked to adult obesity, diabetes, and a host of other medical conditions. What is the best way to prevent your little one from starting down the path of unhealthy eating?

    The best strategy is a long-term one that aims to increase physical activity and improve diet. Unless otherwise advised by a doctor, a growing child typically does not need to lose weight; a better strategy is to help them stop any weight gain and let them grow into their current weight.

    Your efforts should start at the kitchen table. Go online and find recipes that are healthy, enjoyable, and nourishing (hint: we post a lot of these on our Facebook page). It’s a lot of work, but the more meals you prepare at home, the healthier the food will be. Outside foods from restaurants will often be loaded with sugar, salt, and empty calories. Furthermore, try to get your child in the habit of sitting down to a real meal; constant snacking is an easy way to sabotage a diet.

    One thing you will want to greatly reduce, or even eliminate entirely, is sugary drinks. A large soda can pack the same caloric punch as a filling, healthy meal. Even things like 100% orange or apple juice, while healthier than soda and fruit drinks, can contain a lot of calories and sugar. Get in the habit of checking the nutrition facts on the back. When it comes to dessert, choose a healthy option like peanut butter on apple slices or fruit salad. You can still occasionally have cake or other sweets, but try smaller serving sizes.   

    What’s the most important thing you can do to help a child improve their diet? Make healthy eating a family project. Losing weight is easier when you have a support system. It’s also a great way to bond as a family.