By Ali Langen, Courier & Press, July 28, 2015 –

Summer brings lots of great things like warm weather, pool time and vacations. We’re heading north to Minnesota this year for our family vacation, a 16-hour car ride.

When it was just my husband and me it was a pretty easy drive. Now that we have a wonderfully active 2-year old, the ride will be a little different. My goal for this trip is to limit screen time (TV shows, movies, games on the phone and iPad) and still keep him entertained.

When planning for the drive, the first thing to consider was our son’s attention span and maturity level. He turned 2 a few months ago, and like most other toddlers, he is very high-energy.

Coloring with crayons and markers typically means he has multiple self-drawn “tattoos”. He does tend to color off the page and onto any surface that looks interesting, so it isn’t practical to do a lot of coloring. We will also stay away from any small objects that could be a choking hazard.

Since we live in age social media, I took to Facebook to ask other parents how they entertain their kids on long drives. The response was great and I got a lot of feedback. Popular suggestions were the classic Etch-a-Sketch, travel tunes and a variety of snacks. Some parents mentioned particular brands such as Melissa & Doug ( that carry travel toys and activities for kids of all ages.

While these were all great suggestions, I knew I had to find more travel entertainment for my toddler. My next step was to go back to the drawing board and look up ideas on Pinterest. If you aren’t familiar with Pinterest, you must try this free website that allows users to save — also known as “pin” — inspirational ideas and projects.

After logging in, I typed “toddler entertainment for car ride” in the search bar, and an entire page of creative and easy suggestions popped up. There was even an entire blog post devoted to another mom’s experience from a 16-hour car ride with her toddler and preschooler. Her suggestions included fun window clings and an eye-spy game with handmade binoculars fashioned from recycled paper towel rolls.

In addition to this mom’s blog, there was a surplus of other good suggestions. I considered each, bearing in mind whether or not the idea was age-appropriate and a good fit for my son’s personality and temperament.

Because of the long duration of our trip, we will be making stops so we can get out and stretch our legs. My goal is to plan the drive so we can stop at restaurants that have playgrounds for him to swing and go down the slide. This will help break up the trip and hopefully wear him out while we eat and take breaks.

One of our favorite fast-food restaurants is Chick-fil-A. Their website has an app where you can plan a trip by entering start and end locations, and it will pull up all of the Chick-fil-A restaurants along the way.

The Internet and other parents in your network can be great resources when looking for advice or suggestions. To search for more travel activities, look online or use specific websites like Pinterest. Having plenty of activities to amuse your child will make the time go by much faster.

By Heather Miller, Courier & Press, July 21, 2015 –

“Why do we have to read every day? It’s summer!” protests my nine-year-old son.

Amid groans and moans, the steadfast rule remains — 20 minutes of reading out loud daily. I grow tired of giving my list of explanations and often want to just give in, but the importance of helping my children learn to read and do well is too important to negotiate.

I like to equate reading time to brushing teeth, a preventive measure to help ensure issues later on in life (like cavities) are less likely to occur. My oldest struggles to be at grade level in reading, making it much more important to me to continue encouraging — and at times insisting — that reading practice happens.

According to the National Institute for Direct Instruction, poor reading performance in children may lead to anxiety, depression, inattentiveness, frustration, anti-social behaviors and even aggression. Furthermore, by secondary grades, most children are aware of their difficulties in reading, thus adding low self-esteem and low motivation to the list of issues that may result from poor reading performance.

The following five ideas may assist parents or caregivers with helping their child(ren) improve reading skills:

Make reading a scheduled part of your family’s day. Placing the same level of importance on reading (to your child as well as having your child read to you) as eating dinner will help ensure reading time is completed daily. After a few weeks, reading time will be simply part of your family’s day without thinking about it.

Many books are now movies. Before watching the movie, have your child read the book if possible. If your child wants to watch the Star Wars movies, check out the large selection of Star Wars books available at local libraries first. Paddington is a great selection for younger children. There are many books about Paddington that can be followed by the movie.

Check out Pinterest for ideas. There are many activities and resources to assist with encouraging literacy during childhood. Simple games such as Candyland can be adapted to teach sight words to school-aged children.

Make receiving a new book a treat. For Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Easter, birthdays or as rewards, pick up a book to give as a gift. There are many books at dollar stores that provide an economical way to promote reading. Helping children associate books and reading with excitement will help engage them in becoming a reader.

Model. In this case, it is important to “practice what you preach.” Allow your children to visibly see you spending time reading. Demonstrate the importance of reading over checking Facebook or watching TV. This will provide legitimacy when you encourage your children to make similar choices.

If you believe your child is struggling to read, contact your child’s teacher to voice any concerns and get ideas on how to help. If you are concerned that your child is having behavioral issues or low self-esteem due to reading concerns, your school’s Youth First Social Worker will be equipped to help you address these issues.

By Alice Munson, Courier & Press, July 13, 2015 –

If you have a little one starting kindergarten in a few weeks, you are probably wondering what to expect. Welcome to a whole new world! It’s definitely not your mother’s kindergarten.

I recently reviewed some 8×10 photos of my kindergarten experience. It appears that my half-day classes concentrated on finger-painting, story time, and playing with dollhouses, fueled by snacks to keep up our energy.

For picture day we were all dressed in our Sunday best. Not surprisingly, my family studied these old photos much like an archeologist might study a fossil.

Today’s full-day kindergarten is a world away from the past. Here are some things that today’s teachers would like parents to know.

Academic standards are much more rigorous than in the past due to preparation for standardized testing. Today’s kindergarten work is closer to what used to be expected of first graders. However, most children are better prepared thanks to preschool, public library programs, etc.

School is so much more than basic math skills and reading. These building blocks prepare students for the more complex subjects they will tackle later.

If you are enthusiastic about learning, your child will be too. It is natural to have some fear of the unknown, but you can make this transition a positive experience.

Developing a good relationship with the teacher is a great help. Liz Blek, president of the National Kindergarten Alliance, stresses, “Parents and kindergarten teachers need to get to know each child … to correctly assess needs, abilities, interests, and learning style to provide the optimum learning environment.”

Additionally, local kindergarten teachers from several schools said they would like parents to know the following:

Safety is their No. 1 priority. Please complete all forms distributed at the beginning of school. It is important to keep emergency contact numbers up-to-date as jobs and phone numbers change. If your child has a medical problem such as asthma or severe allergies, ask your health care provider about keeping an EpiPen or inhaler at school. The school nurse should also be notified of any changes.

Don’t let that cute new backpack turn into a black hole. Empty it daily. Lots of important information is sent home, and it is important to check homework to see what your child is learning.

Help your child master hygiene skills such as sneezing/coughing into the elbow, washing hands, and using the bathroom independently. Self-sufficient children give the teacher more time to teach.

Teachers appreciate communication with parents, but the beginning or end of the school day is busy. Email or phone calls work well so that parent concerns can be given uninterrupted time. Always contact the teacher before contacting an administrator. If an issue can’t be resolved with the teacher, an administrator can take it from there.

If something serious has happened at home (sudden illness, death, parental separation, etc.), please let the teacher know as much as you are comfortable disclosing. Your child may demonstrate changes in behavior, attitude, and work habits. Understanding the family situation allows for additional support for both family and child. The Youth First school social worker may also be helpful.

Kindergarten is the beginning of a parent/school partnership. The school staff realizes children come to school with different levels of readiness, and your child will develop in his own way and time as he is educated and nurtured.

It is wonderful to watch your child’s excitement for learning blossom. By the end of the school year, you will be surprised how your little one has grown in every way.

by Dena Embrey – Courier & Press – July 7, 2015 –

During recent months our community has experienced the tragic deaths of several children and adolescents. This tough reality is one most adults struggle to understand, because children aren’t supposed to die. What about the impact a child’s death has on other children (i.e. classmates, teammates, friends, and family)?

The first instinct of parents and caregivers might be to protect their child from the loss and inevitable grieving process, but shielding children from the loss may do more harm than good. According to the National Alliance for Grieving Children, parents should be honest and open with children about the death and not be afraid to use words like “dead” or “die.”

We must also be careful not to be too vague about how the person died. Telling children the truth builds trust and creates an open line of communication for questions they may have later. Children understand far more than we give them credit for, and by withholding details we risk leaving them to process complicated information on their own.

There is no right or wrong way for children to grieve, and their reactions depend on several factors: age, developmental level, relationship with the deceased, previous life experiences, and family and social support. Some children may want to talk about the person who died, while others may have little reaction and act as though everything is fine. It is important to listen and strive to understand the child’s unique reaction and not assume what he/she might be feeling.

As adults we often avoid talking about the deceased for fear that we will intensify our child’s feelings of grief. This, however, might send the wrong message to our children, making them feel that they should not talk about the person who died or that they are the only one grieving.

Acknowledging and expressing our own feelings of grief can give children permission to express their feelings. If your child seems frightened or overly concerned by your expressions of grief, explain to them how you are feeling and reassure them that you will be OK.

Another way to help children understand they are not alone is to encourage them to spend time with friends and peers who are also impacted by the death. Friends and family can be excellent sources of support during the grieving process.

Just as children grieve in their own way, they also grieve in their own time. As a parent you may worry that your child’s period of grieving is lasting too long. As children have the opportunity to express their feelings, share their memories, and process the death, their grief will begin to decrease in intensity.

However, grief is a lifelong journey and has no time limit. It is not uncommon for children to experience grief during different life stages. Be patient, willing to listen, and help normalize your child’s feelings. Grief is a normal reaction to the loss of someone significant in our lives. Grief is not a problem that can be fixed by adults; it is an experience the child is living.

If you have concerns about your child’s reaction to a recent loss and feel his/her grief is not within normal limits or expectations, seek help from a mental health provider in your community. More information about childhood grief can be found on websites for The National Child Trauma Stress Network ( or the National Alliance for Grieving Children (