Do Nice Moms Have Smarter Kids?

Do Nice Moms Have Smarter Kids?

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The Role of Nurturing Moms in Brain Development

A study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports to have found clear evidence of the link between nurturing mothers and increased brain structures in children. Authors from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis claim that nurturing mothers are

“directly related to healthy development of a key brain region known to impact cognitive functioning and emotion regulation.”

The study looked at 92 children between the ages of 3 and 6 and placed them in a frustrating situation – wait for Mom to fill out a form in a room full of wrapped presents, but you have to wait until Mom completes the tedious paperwork before you can open a gift. The mothers were then observed in their reactions to their children’s growing frustrations. Those mothers who were engaged, offered reassurance, and helped their children work through their emotions were labeled as nurturing. Those mothers who reprimanded their children for their impatience or ignored their growing pleas were rated lower in nurturing qualities.

These same children were then observed at the ages of 7 to 10 years and their brain scans showed on average a 10% increase in the size of the hippocampus of each child with a nurturing mother. This area of the brain is responsible for such keys areas as learning, memory, and responses to stressful situations. It is the first study of its kind to show an actual anatomical change in the brain that could be linked to the nurturing qualities of mothers. The researchers linked to this study are even claiming that the findings have significant public health implications. Interestingly, previous studies with animals have had the same results.

What is a nurturing mother?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has developed a list of what they feel are qualities that are needed in order for parents to be nurturing. This list includes such things as:

  • Make sure your children always know they are loved, even when they do something wrong. (I think especially when they do something wrong is important.)
  • Encourage your children.
  • Spend time with your children.
  • Learn positive, nonphysical forms of discipline.
  • Communicate with your children’s teachers and childcare providers.

While this seems like a completely reasonable list of wonderful and positive things to do with your children, there is more I want to do in order to be a nurturing parent.

  • Know their favorites. Colors, foods, stories, games, songs, jokes – just find out what their favorites are. These are great clues our children give us about their unique souls. If you don’t know – ask them – and tell them your favorites, too.
  • Believe in them, even when your head might be telling you their idea is undoubtedly the most dubious, curious, or perplexing thought. You don’t have to believe in their ideas and dreams in order to believe in them.
  • Be silly with them. Do you remember laughing with your friends from school, or maybe your group that goes for lunch once a month, so hard you thought you would snort and wheeze soda out your nose? Our children need to experience that kind of unabashed joy with us. (Even though tonight my teenage son lovingly jabbed my arm when I snorted with laughter during our family dinner at a restaurant, I know he still loved the laughter we were sharing, too.)
  • Teach them. You don’t have to carry it to my homeschooling extreme, but teaching our children new things teaches us about them and about ourselves. Try a new game together, learn a new hobby together, or explore a new park together.

My Nurturing Mother

I don’t know if I can claim I have a 10% larger hippocampus than my neighbor, but I do know that my mother was and is an extremely nurturing parent. Even at my ripe old age of older-than-29, my mom still emails me little notes of encouragement, laughter, and support, and she has taken on the multifaceted role of mother/grandmother/mother-in-law/best friend with grace and humor. Real nurturing doesn’t go away – it just grows with us. Sometimes we don’t need brain scans to show us what we can feel. Besides, even if my brain is 10% larger, my mom would never take credit for it. She has always had a parenting rule: Don’t take credit for all of your child’s accomplishments and greatness, or you are stuck taking responsibility for all of their garbage, too.

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Risk Taking is Healthy for Kids

Do you ever get that lump in your throat, that tremble in your leg, or that drip of sweat on your palms when you are just about to take a risk? Risks take us out of our comfort zones and shake our senses of self-awareness and confidence. Our children experience risk and the rush it brings in the same way, but it is how we frame it for them that helps determine if they run from risks or run to embrace them. According to childhood expert Tim Gill, the perception of risk as a negative part of our children’s lives needs to be changed. We need to make certain that our children have meaningful opportunities for real, tangible situations that include certain degrees of managed risk.

Why Should Our Kids Take Risks?

When we expose our kids to situations where risks are present, and they have real opportunities to respond to them, our kids receive numerous lessons.

  • They learn how to assess dangerous situations (danger is not equivalent to risky).
  • Risks build self-confidence when kids feel they are able to overcome them.
  • Risk taking builds our kids’ foundations of knowledge, teaching them about how the world really works.
  • Risk taking builds resilience as our children learn how to deal with the consequences of risks and their outcomes.
  • Risk taking helps children overcome their fears as they build their self-confidence.

Why Our Children Are Being Robbed of Risks

The first answer is fairly obvious – we want to protect our children. We feel that by protecting them we are loving them. We worry about their safety and don’t want them to come to harm. Once I accidentally closed the car door as my toddler was reaching back inside because she saw a sticker on the door frame, pinching her fingers in the door. She cried for 5 minutes, while I puked on the lawn and had to call my husband at work because I was so traumatized. First child – I’ve learned a lot about the resiliency of children. We can show our love for them by showing them we are confident in their abilities.

Our children are also exposed to fewer risks in other ways that generations before were not.

There is a tendency toward increased litigation. Our kids can’t go to a birthday party at the ice rink without signing a waiver, releasing the birthday boy of all legal responsibility if my child comes to harm. Playgrounds across American and Europe are removing their equipment that is deemed too dangerous. Back in my day, I fell face first from the high bar onto concrete, scraping my face and cutting my lip wide open. My dad’s response was that I should probably hold on tighter next time. He was right – and I did.

Technology allows kids to lead a passive lifestyle. Instead of skiing down a mountain with snow spraying in their faces, they virtually duck through artificial trees and watch their electronic versions of themselves bounce back up after crashing down a mountainside. The risks are reduced to electronic lives that are renewable at the click of a button.

I’ve been accused of being a helicopter parent, based on the fact that I homeschool. People surmise that I must hover over and direct every move my children make, controlling each lesson and word spoken. Yes – I am present in my children’s lives. However, I don’t have the wingspan or the energy to be a helicopter parent. I also don’t believe that protecting my children from every inch of life helps them to grow into secure, resilient, and independent people. I believe in not only letting my children take risks, but in hoping they do. This is the heart of the phrase live and learn – children should live, so they can learn.

Risks My Kids Take – And What They Can Learn From Them

Fileting Fish
Yes – I give my 10-year-old a freshly sharpened knife and let him filet his own fish. If you’ve never done this, it is not the easiest thing to do, especially on a scaly, slippery creature. The knife might slip through my son’s very small hands and require stitches, but it is a risk I am willing to let him take. He loves to fish, so being a responsible fisherman is something that involves cleaning the fish, and he’s been taught how to do this properly.

Climbing Trees
My kids climb trees – all sorts – and that sometimes means a trip to the ER. One son took a precarious fall that resulted in a scratched cornea and nasty scar on his upper eyelid. But he still climbs trees. He has just learned to test the branches more carefully now before bouncing on them.

Again – another trip to the ER, this time for a lacerated tongue. Now that son has learned the importance of the word “Bail!” when heading toward a tree.

I’ve been questioned numerous times about letting my daughter attend college full-time when she was just 15 – the youngest on campus. We helped her weigh the odds, the campus, the environment, the requirements, and the benefits, and the benefits won over in a landslide. She’s never regretted the decision, and neither have we as parents.

All of my kids enjoy sports – from football and baseball to horseback riding and curling – and there are risks of physical injury, competitive criticism, and just plain poor sportsmanship issues in all of these in some form or another. My daughter’s saddle once slipped on a trail ride and she had to hang onto the mane to stay atop as the horse clambered up the hill. There have been strong disagreements with teammates over curling strategies.

All of these things, from the physical to the social to the emotional, involve risks for my children. I am not unaffected when the risks lead to pain – my heart always feels ready to leap right out of my body and dance around frantically, and I ask myself if there was something else I should have done. But when the risks turn out poorly, I also try to make sure I ask my kids what they can do differently next time. Get back on the horse – you can’t ride off into the sunset if you don’t.

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Hugging Bans Should Be Banned

Hugging Bans Should Be Banned

Be careful – your kids might be involved with …..extreme hugging! This is the dangerous and inappropriate behavior that school officials claim has no place in academic settings where hundreds of children are gathered together, for up to 8 hours a day. They are trying to keep their students safe during the school day, and apparently hugging ranks up there with weapons.

Yes – there are students in high school hallways who are hugging with a little more PDA than Grandma would want. However, when schools begin to forcibly ban a natural and scientifically proven healthy human interaction – physical contact – the problems are about the schools’ reactions more than anything. Schools are missing out on opportunities to teach children about appropriate behaviors.

Hugging Bans Enacted

We aren’t just talking about one school in one rural, conservative, or isolated community. This is happening in schools in America and overseas. Schools from Europe to the United States are joining the endeavor to ban physical contact between students. Some students have been threatened with detention and reprimanded, no matter what was the intention of the hug.

  • One school in Great Britain has banned hugging because it was “happening extensively and becoming the norm.”
  • Superintendent of the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District in New Jersey said that:
    “We have a responsibility to teach children about appropriate interactions and about having a structured, academically focused environment.”
  • Fossil Hills Middle School in Texas has banned hugging, along with what it declares are all other forms of PDA (Public Display of Affection), which includes holding hands.
  • In Illinois at the Percy Julian Middle School in Oak Park, “extreme hugging” has been banned. This means that groups of students can’t greet each other with hugs in the hallways between classes because school officials say the hallways become congested.
  • In Virginia at the Kilmer Middle School the regulations go a step further. All physical contact between students is banned, including high fives.

Ban the Hugging Bans

You don’t teach a child how to behave appropriately by banning a natural interaction, and physical contact is an innate need in children – in people. In an article published in Psychology Today by Ray Williams, the case is made for the scientifically proven value of touch. People are physically and emotionally benefited through touch. Williams goes on to say that “research is suggesting that touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding, and health.”

Yet schools are banning all forms of physical touch, when children are experiencing some of the most rapid and challenging growth periods in their lives. When you add on top of that the fact that some children are more inclined to truly respond to touch and need it, you are depriving them of the opportunity to be the best versions of themselves. In the book The five Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman, Ph.D. and Ross Campbell, M.D., the first “love language” described is Physical Touch. It is one of the strongest ways that people express love, affection, and nurturing behaviors.

  • So many positive emotions and situations are disregarded when children aren’t allowed to express themselves through physical touch – compassion, empathy, sympathy, joy, contentment, and good old fashioned rough housing and friendship.
  • You don’t teach empathy by not allowing children to be trusted with handling their emotions and respecting the emotions of others. You teach it by being present in their daily lives, nurturing them, and helping them to understand the differences between appropriate and inappropriate.
  • Children use words that hurt every day. What is next – a ban on speaking? A ban on looking someone in the eyes (this can be intimidating for some people)? Just like we continually remind children to use kind and respectful words, we need to remind them how to use appropriate touch.
  • When do we wake up and realize that banning all things with the potential for disruption and inappropriateness doesn’t help develop conscious, empathetic, responsible, and independent children? Our children shouldn’t be treated like robots, segregated and stripped away of their individuality and personal needs.

Some of my kids are huggers and hanger-onners – needing physical contact when talking and sharing ideas. They’ve also learned that not everyone operates that way, so they try to be respectful of those differences. Teaching children to respect others doesn’t mean that we should take away a physical need they have, especially when we are expecting them to thrive as they are congested together for 8 hours each day, living and breathing as an educational family. I hope my kids continue to find ways to share their affection for others, their empathy, and their awareness of the world around them. We won’t be banning hugs in our home or our relationships. And we will not use a hug as a weapon by refusing to use an under-arm diffuser.

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5 Favorite Easter Egg Activities for Kids

5 Favorite Easter Egg Activities for Kids

Egg-stra special Easter activities for kids!

OK – sorry – I know that was corny but I couldn’t resist. My children love Easter. For them it holds religious significance, is a time that represents spring, new beginnings, dinner at Grandma’s, time with family, and the biggest and wildest Easter egg hunt in the Midwest. We love Easter crafts and activities (even the boys…), and today I’m sharing 5 favorites we have done over the years.

Teach children about these historic pieces of art, and then help them create their own masterpieces you can use to decorate your Easter dinner table. In the 1880s Peter Carl Faberge began creating what would develop into a collection of 69 eggs, now known as Faberge Eggs. The first, a decorated platinum shell with a treasure inside, with was created as a surprise for the wife of the Russian Tsar, Alexander III. This became a traditional Easter gift among the royal family, and only about 15 eggs were made for outside collectors.


  • Plastic, wooden, or paper-craft Easter eggs
  • Metallic spray paint (suitable for the egg surface – they make special kinds for plastics)
  • Paint (either metallic or other suitable paint will be used to cover the egg surface
  • Sequins
  • Glitter
  • Stickers
  • Scrapbooking supplies (any odd assortment for decorating the egg)
  • Plastic or other fake jewelry (this can be a great time to clean out your jewelry box)
  • Ribbons
  • Any treasure your child wants to hide inside – not all Faberge Eggs held treasures – but this could even be a note they write to someone in the family
  • Glue, scissors, and an empty egg carton (to help hold the egg while your child decorates it)


  • If your child is going to include a treasure in the egg, make sure it is placed inside before you paint.
  • You can add a ribbon to the inside of the egg and have it drape outside of the plastic egg.
  • Spray paint the surface of the egg and let dry. This step can be done the day before the full activity, maybe after looking at pictures of Faberge Eggs. (Use your parenting knowledge of your children to know with which steps your kids need help.)
  • Let your child decorate the outside of the egg with the supplies. Tacky glue works well. If you are working with toddlers you don’t even have to spray paint the egg first – just roll a plastic egg in glue and give your toddler a cake pan filled with glitter and sequins.
  • Let the egg dry. Your child can also create a stand for the egg by cutting apart an egg carton and decorating that as well.

This activity requires a little more patience and dexterity, but with gentle assistance your kids can learn to do this.

  • Take a fresh, uncooked egg and carefully shake it to break up the yolk.
  • Carefully take a pin or small nail and gently pierce one end of the egg. Turn the egg to the opposite end and make a 2nd piercing. You can wiggle the pin slightly to make one hole slightly larger.
  • Hold the egg over a bowl and blow into the smaller hole until the egg is empty (the contents should empty through the opposite hole).
  • Gently run a trickle of water through the holes in the egg to rinse the inside wall of the egg clean.
  • Let the egg dry thoroughly and then use thin glue or craft sealant to seal the holes. This will help preserve the creation.
  • Decorate the eggs with paint, jewels, dyes, or any other craft supplies. They will be incredibly light and delicate. These make great gifts for kids to give their family and friends at Easter.

This fun and unique craft is a great conversation piece and gift for kids to give.

  • Take a large or jumbo sized plastic egg and separate it into two separate halves. The larger/wider half works best for this craft. 
  • Have your child decorate the plastic half with a face, the top hairline being the open half of the egg. You can add wiggly eyes, a pom-pom nose, or any other facial feature. Permanent markers work well for drawing on plastic eggs.
  • Make a ring shaped stand for the egg. Take a strip of paper ½ inch tall and several inches wide and make a stand for the egg-half by creating a circle with the strip of paper that just fits the egg. Staple or tape the strip of paper once you have measured your egg for the right size.
  • Fill the egg half with potting soil.
  • Sprinkle grass seed or catnip seed (great gift for cat owners) over the soil.
  • Sprinkle with water.
  • Set Mr. Egg Head in a sunny location. (don’t forget to water as needed)
  • Kids can have fun giving their Mr. Egg Head a haircut when the grass gets long enough!  

Read classic stories and poems about eggs with your kids.

  • Humpty Dumpty
  • The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg
  • Green Eggs and Ham

Have your child create his own story about an egg and give him plastic or wooden eggs to use as props. These can be oral stories or used as a writing experiment. Your child can take plastic eggs and glue them to wooden craft sticks to create puppets.

Spring (hopefully) means windows filled with sunlight, so capture some of that with an easy stained glass craft. Your child might need help with the crayon shavings and ironing, but they will love the finished product.

  • Cut two egg shapes of the same size from waxed paper.
  • Shave old crayons by using a pencil sharpener, a cheese grater, or a food processor (it will be tough on some blades).
  • Place one of the egg shapes on paper towel that is already resting on the ironing board (it saves on delicate transferring).
  • Take the crayon shavings and cover one of the waxed paper eggs. Kids can experiment with patterns, colors, and designs.
  • Take the 2nd waxed paper egg and cover the first, sandwiching the crayon shavings between the two.
  • Place a paper towel or old linen cloth over the egg shape and iron on dry. Avoid sliding the iron as it can cause the design to move. Pressing for just 5 seconds might be enough – check your egg and use your knowledge of your iron.
  • The wax shavings should melt enough to create a stained glass effect.
  • When the craft has cooled, punch a small hole in the top, thread a ribbon through the hole, and hang the stained glass egg near a window.

Creating and building traditions with our kids help them develop identity and is a great way to share family history. This spring, as every Easter for the past 15 years, my family will gather to have the blowout of all Easter egg hunts. Some eggs will never be found until my father unintentionally mows them over sometime in August. But my kids will also create and give gifts, like the Faberge eggs, to their family and friends at our Easter dinner. Everyone looks forward to see what new creations the kids will come up with for their Easter gifts. Do you have any unique Easter traditions with your children?

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Old School Education

Classical Education – An Effective Method for Teaching Kids in a Modern World

Are our children being educated well enough to lead the world, or barely well enough to lead their friends down the bike path? Education is a hot topic right now in politics on local and national levels. One of the interesting discussions that has been taking place in academic circles is about the methods used to teach children. With the advances in technology, many schools and families are pursuing digital educations. However, there is also a renewed interest in old school ways – Classical Education.

What is Classical Education?

Classical education dates back to the Greeks and Romans, where the Romans are credited with creating a system of study known as the seven liberal arts. These seven arts are then further divided into phases: the trivium, which represents the intersection of three roads, and the quadrivium, which represents four roads.

Modern classical education models focus on the intersection of three roads, or trivium. This model focuses on three core stages of grammar, logic, and rhetoric. One of the main premises of classical education is that all knowledge is interrelated and that our children need to acquire certain sets of tools at specific stages of their lives in order to make the best use of that knowledge.

Classical education is a language driven method, and language is explored through speaking, listening, reading, writing, and finally applying logic and rhetoric to these ideas. This approach to education is also usually done with a strong emphasis on history, using a cyclical approach. Doing this allows for kids to be able to understand how different topics they are studying, such as scientific inventions, the author of their favorite book, or technology advancements, all intertwine with history.

An example of a history outline includes 4 separate periods in history, studies on 3 cycles. This would take a student from kindergarten through 12th grade.

  • Study of the Ancients
  • Study of the Middle Ages
  • Study of the Renaissance and Reformation
  • Study of Modern Times

The Three Stages of Classical Education

Stage 1 – The Grammar Stage (grades 1-4) – This stage is all about students learning basic facts. A great deal of time is spent concentrating on memorization, with everything from math facts, to dates, to spellings of words. Even though this is called the Grammar Stage, it does not mean that it is all about language. In this sense, Grammar refers to the idea that in order to have a full academic experience our children need to learn the foundational facts across all subjects, just like they need to understand grammar to communicate well.

Children at this age really are like sponges, soaking up all of those facts, even when they don’t understand the connotations or meanings behind them. That is OK. Those understandings will come later in the next stage.

Stage 2 – The Logic Stage (grades 5-8) – At this stage in Classical Education students are at a point in brain development that allows them to start applying cause and effect to the basic facts they have acquired. This is the stage where analyzing texts, solving complex problems, and beginning the skills sets for forming arguments begins.

This does make logical sense. Think about your kids. If you have young children, they might just want to stay up later and beg for 15 more minutes. If you have kids in upper elementary grades, they might begin to tell you why they should be allowed to stay up later. Classical education relies on the natural tendencies and capabilities of our children’s brains. Just wait until your teens start formulating rhetorical arguments you have a hard time countering!

Stage 3 – The Rhetoric Stage (grades 9-12) – This is what I think of as the action stage. It is the time where students who have successfully developed skills through stages 1 and 2 get to apply those skills to real life and really engage in life. They get to experience things like travel, apprenticeships, exploration, interest led studies, and more. They get to test all of those ideas and theories that they have spent years considering. Now is the time for action and reaction – they get to explore their passions and are ready to do so.

Students of Classical educations develop skills of rhetoric in this 3rd stage, where they are able to use speech and communication to further their ideas and plans. Students get to attempt to persuade, motivate, and enlighten others.

How Can I Help My Kids Pursue a Classical Education?

Classical education does not need to be designated to specialized schools and homeschooling families. It is important to know that Classical education is an active, language driven approach to education. Passive learning techniques, such as online lectures, videos, and computers, do not exercise kids’ brains as much as the active learning of language.

This doesn’t mean you can’t utilize technology. I embrace much of the Classical Education model, but my children are also very technology savvy and use these tools in their education. Technology has its place, just don’t forget about the old school ideas, either.

If you’re interested in Classical education methods, try the following:

  • Read to your children every day.
  • Talk about what you read.
  • Ask your children questions about their surroundings.
  • Listen to your children’s questions and help them look for answers.
  • Help your child learn to write. Writing is one of those lost arts we are losing to the shorthand of texts messages.
  • Take advantage of the power of the young brain and help your young children learn basic facts – you don’t have to invest in flashcards for everything, but find games and activities that help establish math facts, phonics, historical dates and names, and more. Board games are great ways to help kids learn their facts without boring them.
  • Encourage your kids in grades 5-8 to write, and help them form good thesis points. Ask them: what is your message?
  • Talk with your kids about the difference between right and wrong, and how you in your particular culture and community define that.
  • Encourage your older children to find active ways to pursue their passions. Volunteer with them, help them find clubs that support their hobbies, and search for mentors who can support their specialized interests.

When I first began homeschooling, I heard of Classical education, and I backed away from the intensity of it. I admit that it intimidated me. Then throughout the years I have had people repeatedly assume that we were using this approach. Why? We are literature based in our explorations, we love to study history, and my kids actively pursue their passions. Classical education is natural education. If you take it to the full extreme extent, it can be a rigorous approach to academics. But if you take it as a learning tool for your own Stage 4 – Teaching Your Child to Love Learning (no – that’s not a real stage, just the one I hope I am building), it can be a great resource for your entire family.

Also check out A Well-Trained Mind  – it has some great resources and detailed explanations of Classical Education.

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Are Colleges Robbing Our Children?

The Business of Education and For Profit Universities

When President Barack Obama was elected, he vowed to make education a top priority and claimed that in order for America to be successful every high school graduate needed to go on to achieve some type of higher learning. The case was made by FRONTLINE in an episode titled College, Inc. that for-profit colleges and universities are taking advantage of this type of thinking and creating a new generation of college graduates with enormous student loan debts and minimal actual educations to match. Our children are being told they can’t succeed without college (that argument is for another time), and they are being increasingly pressured to attend higher education schools, no matter what the cost.

Not all students have equal academic backgrounds and capabilities, however, and not all colleges are created equally.

  • Traditional non-profit colleges tend to have higher tuition expenses than state run colleges.
  • Traditional non-profit colleges are often funded by wealthy alumni and private donations.
  • State run college systems offer less expensive 4-year degree programs.
  • Community colleges are popular for specific and focused degrees.
  • For-profit colleges are owned by investors and run as businesses.
  • All types of these colleges are experimenting with online offerings for classes and degrees.

A report by FRONTLINE explored the growing business of owning colleges and how these moves affect the direction of higher education, as well as the debt-load for college students and graduates. You’ve probably seen the popular University of Phoenix advertised online, on billboards, or perhaps in your community. These advertisements might catch your eye because the business owners of Phoenix spend approximately 25% of the school’s budget on marketing (but only 10% – 20% on teachers’ salaries).

The Dangers of For Profit Colleges

In some instances, such as charter schools, when centers for education are run as businesses it seems to benefit the students and therefor the communities. However, when it comes to higher learning centers, business is getting a bad name.

High Pressure Recruiting
There is concern that these for-profit schools are using high pressure tactics for recruiting, and bringing in students who are simply not prepared academically, financially, or even emotionally for the stress on resources and life that college can cause. Congress has even launched investigations into allegations that these for-profit schools are using incentive programs for recruiters who bring in the highest numbers of new students. It appears that student loans are handed out like candy, enticing students to sign up and take the risk – after all, they wouldn’t offer them a loan if they weren’t fairly certain they could pay it back – right?

High Debt Levels
College is not cheap, no matter where you attend. For-profit colleges that operate with convenient schedules for non-traditional students are also surprisingly expensive. These schools are 5 to 6 times more expensive than community colleges, and twice as expensive as most state run universities. Students are eager to attend them, however, for two basic reasons:

  1. Convenience – The classes and degrees are geared toward individuals who are employed and trying to improve their careers by becoming college graduates. The classes are at night, online, anytime.
  2. Accessibility – For-profit colleges tend to cater to students who might not otherwise attend college for academic and financial reasons. They are more likely to be able to gain admission to these universities.

The students who attend these for-profit colleges also seem to be more likely to require student loans, and less likely to be able to repay them. In America the student debt situation is getting so dire that the total amount Americans owe on student loans, more than $750,000,000, rivals the national credit card debt.

The claims made by Frontline are that the for-profit schools pressure students into taking classes without preparing them for the financial responsibilities that go along with student loans and financial planning. Places like Phoenix dispute those claims, stating that they strive for “financial literacy” when it comes to working with their students to manage their college funds well.

Low Academic Preparations
You would think that after all of that money has been spent that you would be as well prepared as possible for the job-world. Frontline claims, however, that students who graduate from for-profit schools have less preparation for the job market. There seems to be a real question about whether or not students can be gainfully employed when they achieve a degree without ever stepping into a tangible classroom.

Even nursing students from some for-profit schools are claiming they never had worthwhile classroom and practical experiences working in hospitals, so their degrees are meaningless to potential employers. An overwhelming number, 90%, of students from Grand Canyon University are enrolled in online classes. While there is evidence that online education offers effective learning modules, there are just some things for which real-time and –world interactions are necessary for students.

Which College is Right for My Child?

We are in the midst of searching for those answers right now as our daughter prepares to graduate in 2013. However, when she does graduate high school she will also be completing her sophomore year through dual enrollment at a private college, thanks to our state offering a Post-Secondary Enrollment Options program at no cost to her (or us). The search is on for scholarships and programs that will give her the best education, prepare her for application to veterinary medicine school, and leave her with little or no debt. It just doesn’t look like for-profit colleges fit any of those criteria.

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5 Easy Recipes Your Kids Can Make

There was a strange but wonderful transition in our home a few years ago when my children began to want to prepare meals for us. I’m not talking about imaginary or Play-Doh meals where we indulge our kids and consume various delicacies they serve at tea parties. I am talking about full blown, look up the recipe, shop for ingredients, type of cooking. Perhaps it is because I love to cook and bake that some of my kids take to this more naturally, but I am convinced that all kids should be encouraged to get creative in the kitchen and learn how to make something more than just a microwaveable meal. Cooking teaches kids about:

  • Healthy eating options
  • Science and math
  • Survival skills (Ramen noodles might allow you to survive in college, but not very well.)
  • Hobbies and careers

Here are 5 easy recipes for kids that will satisfy both their desire to be Master Chef for an evening as well as the hunger growl in their stomachs. Remember to let your child do as many of the steps as safely possible (oven and general kitchen safety is a must). My own young boys have experimented with and recommend these recipes, and can prepare them on their own (and even serve me!).

Mini Breakfast Pizzas

mini bagels or whole wheat English muffins, split
deli ham
favorite cheese, shredded (works well with cheddar, Colby, etc.)
broccoli florets (washed tops of broccoli) or other additional toppings like onions, chives, or black olives

Preheat the oven to broil. Take the split bagels or muffins and place them on a cookie sheet, cut side up. Chop the ham into small pieces. Sprinkle the cheese, ham, and broccoli (or other toppings) on the bagel or muffin. Place in oven and broil just until cheese is melted. Kids can create faces with the toppings on their muffin pizza before broiling, using broccoli for hair and olives for eyes. Serve warm.

Go Bananas!

Popsicle sticks, skewers, or chopsticks
peanut butter
raisins, slivered or crushed nuts, dried, diced fruit, etc.
Cheerios (or other similar cereal)
crushed pretzels (gives the salty for the sweet-n-salty flavor)

Peel the banana and place a skewer through it from one end, at least ½ the way up into the banana. Combine the last 4 ingredients. For each banana, place 1 tablespoon of peanut butter in a dish and microwave until the PB is soft. Add honey and stir well. Have your child take a very clean paintbrush (kitchen utility types work well) and paint the PB honey mixture over the banana. Roll the coated banana in the dry mixture, pressing down as needed to get the pretzels, cereal, and dried fruits to stick. Place them on a tray lined with waxed paper and place in the freezer for at least 2 hours.

Sweet Tortilla Rolls

6 Soft tortillas (in our house we like whole wheat ones, or even lefse if available)
1- 8 ounce package of fat free cream cheese, softened
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 cup brown sugar
1/8 cup white sugar or sugar substitute equivalent

Combine all but the tortillas in a bowl, mixing well. Spread the cinnamon cream cheese mixture in a thin layer on each tortilla. Roll the tortilla into a tube shape. Use a sharp butter knife to cut wheel shapes for these sweet tortilla rolls.

Smoothie Smackers

2 cups fat-free plain yogurt
1 cup skim milk
½ can frozen lemonade concentrate
1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries

Blend all ingredients together in a food processor or blender and serve with a straw and a smile, and everyone will be smacking their lips! (serves approximately 4)

Anything in a Blanket

This twist on the famous Pigs in a Blanket will get kids busy in the kitchen creating their own concoctions. Open a refrigerated package of crescent rolls and separate into triangles. Place a filling (see suggestions) on the short side of the triangle and roll as you would for the crescent roll. Bake as directed and serve warm.

Suggested Fillings
Veggie dogs cut in ½ both directions
slices of lunch meat cut to fit
crushed peanuts (use jelly as a dipping sauce)
chopped veggies like spinach, broccoli, or kale (can use a cheese sauce for dipping)

My kids love to experiment in the kitchen, and sometimes substituting processed ingredients (like refrigerated crescent rolls) is a concession I’ll make in order to make the process easier for them. They are much more likely to try new foods when they have had a part in the creation, and I never turn down help in the kitchen when making meals. Turn on some good tunes, laugh a little, and let your kids enjoy the magic of making a meal for you!

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10 Ways to Ease Ear Infections

10 Ways to Ease Ear Infections

Help You and Your Child Survive Painful Ear Infections

If you have ever awakened to a screaming baby, only to search for the source of the distress and be baffled by an apparent lack of it, you might have experienced your child’s first ear infection. Ear infections are painful inflammations that can be caused by viruses or bacteria, and children tend to suffer more from middle ear infections than other age populations.

Your child is reacting to the pain caused by the swelling and possible infection. The following is not intended to be medical advice (please see your child’s doctor or medical caregiver for all of those related questions), but practical, experience driven ideas from a mom (me) who raised 4 children who had ear infections, my youngest suffering the most through severe bouts of pain and discharge. At the age of 9 months my youngest went from being an extremely happy baby, even nicknamed Smiley by many, to a sad, frustrated, and aching baby with recurring ear infections. We tried more routes and remedies than I thought possible, each with their own merits and success rates.

  1. Warm Packs – Alleviate some of the pain your child is feeling by holding a warm washcloth or pack to the outside of the ear. This can sooth the ache and keep your child from scratching at the ear.
  2. Sleeping Positions – Often babies and children will be in more pain when lying down because of the pressure on the ears, which is why night-time can be so trying for everyone. Look for safe and age appropriate ways to help your child sleep in a reclined position (always follow doctors’ safety guidelines). My toddler spent many nights in my arms as I sat in the recliner or on the sofa, allowing his head to be raised and resting on my chest.
  3. Antibiotics – Again, check with your doctor. There are specific cases when antibiotics are warranted, but not every ear infection is a call for medication.
  4. Good Health Care – I know this is easier said than done sometimes, but I still have regrets from not listening more closely to my intuition. My son’s doctor kept telling me that even though my toddler was suffering from almost constant ear infections, this was “how we get averages” and that by the numbers it would all even out in the end. I didn’t want my son to be the leader on this scale, so I demanded a referral (which our insurance required) to an audiologist or face a letter to the clinic board from one very irate mother. The referral came and the audiologist confirmed my son should have been in there a year earlier.
  5. Ear Drops – There are medicated ear drops available that help relieve the pain of ear infections. If your child is suffering from the relentless pain of recurring infections, talk with her doctor about this option.
  6. Ear Plugs – Water in the ear can aggravate sensitive ear canals. Instead of just grabbing inexpensive plugs from the store, go to an audiologist’s office and request a specially fitted pair. They can cost $20 or more, but are well worth the investment (and often available without a prescription).
  7. Diet – Yes – I breastfed my son, but for him that did not seem to deter his rate or severity of ear infections. Many studies do show that breastfed babies tend to have lower rates of ear infections than do bottle fed babies. As he became older and developed a more encompassing diet I experimented with limiting dairy and other possible trigger foods with no effect on his ear infections.
  8. Natural Pathogen Doctors – These specialists go beyond the possibilities of basic dairy and wheat allergies and can assess your child for extensive ranges of triggers. Insurance coverage varies for these programs, and it is often necessary to complete the assessment and work through possible treatment plans on a gradual time schedule.
  9. Tubes – This surgical option was the one that we finally reached when our son was 2 years old. He suffered from so many ear infections, sometimes transitioning from one ear healing, but having the other one become inflamed and infected without even a day between the two. I knew that tubes were really his only option when he began to lose his speech he had already acquired – he hummed instead of speaking those ever-important words and phrases that toddlers are usually working on at this stage. Even after his surgery his doctor came out and told us that his ears were still so inflamed and infected from constant fluid build-up that he saw no other option than to help create a drainage passage for the fluid through the tubes.
  10. A Break – If your child is suffering from recurring ear infections, you are more than likely getting less sleep, dealing with the emotions and pain your child is enduring, and feeling the stress of it all. Just as with any stressful health issue, don’t forget to take time to care for yourself so that you can be a better caregiver for your child. Maybe Grandma can come and snuggle for a few hours with your baby, or your neighbor can do a load of laundry for you. Take a bath or go for a walk, but give yourself permission to take a break from the situation. You will all feel better for it.

The sometimes excruciating symptoms of ear infections in children can make life very frustrating and filled with pain for your child. I’ll never forget the day my husband called me at the salon at said I needed to meet him in town and take our son home – he was screaming and my husband thought it was caused by diaper rash. By the time I got my son home I thought I would be peeling back skin along with the diaper because he was so miserable. But lo and behold, I saw no significant sign of a diaper rash, and instantly realized the pain and screaming must be caused by an ear infection (or an invisible elephant stepping on his toes).

Seeing your child in pain for any reason can be difficult, and finding a solution is not always easy. My biggest regret is that I did not switch doctors sooner and that my son had to suffer pain and the effects of sensory overload and misperceptions as a result of reduced hearing, at a time in a child’s life when it is so crucial to development. No matter which options you pursue, make sure you talk about them with your doctor or medical professional, and you find an approach that helps your child live a healthier, happier life.

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5 Dangerous Shortcuts for Kids

5 Dangerous Shortcuts for Kids

Shortcuts are good, right? We can get to our destinations faster, reach our goals with speed, and mark one more thing off of our lists. But what if in the process of taking shortcuts we teach our kids a dangerous approach to life? While there might be an app for just about everything, instant gratification and shortcuts can lead to children who might get things done, but have no idea why they did them. Shortcuts are nice for paths through the woods, but sometimes we just need to show our children the long way so that they have time to see on which road they are travelling.

(And sometimes go along for the ride, too.)

I’m not referring to the path from your house to the park, or just sweeping around the rug instead of shaking out the rug and getting rid of the hidden dust-bunnies beneath. I am referring to those things in life that for whatever reason (often technology), we have developed shortcuts to save time, energy, and money. These are all good things to save, but the danger is that our kids aren’t understanding some key foundational components in life because they just download an app instead. Some of the shortcuts are just not safe, either.

  1. Cell Phone Numbers – I recently had the frightening realization that without my cell phone contact list, I could not tell you the phone numbers of my children’s cell phones, and I doubt they could do the same for me. It is time to get back to memorizing a few of those important phone numbers by heart for the inevitable time when technology fails.
  2. Manic Meals – No wonder children in America are facing an obesity epidemic. We are taking shortcuts with the very things that are supposed to be sustaining them and building healthy people – their diets. I admit I’ve hit a drive thru more than once because it would “save time” – but what are the long-term costs to our kids? Consider bulk preparations of meals in advance to help rescue you from falling into this trap. My husband does a great job of this each week, taking frozen veggies and combining them with seasonings and chicken and storing them for his workday lunches. Pack healthy snacks ahead of time to diminish the likelihood that you will take the drive thru or vending machine shortcut with your kids.
  3. Family Time – If you consider “family time” to be the hours you spend each week commuting together, be careful you aren’t trading in real quality time. Driving together can be a great way to have quiet moments to talk, but make a concerted effort to turn off the tunes and get a real conversation going. Sitting in front of the television together as each family member randomly does homework, checks email, and texts friends doesn’t qualify, either. Family time needs to be real, dedicated time – and no time for shortcuts.
  4. Academics – There is the age-old debate over whether or not kids should use calculators to solve those unending long division problems. True – so many things in life are now automated and the need is decreasing for these skills on demand. Technology advances give our kids tools, such as calculators, that enhance learning. An interesting study even makes the case for why our kids should use calculators at all grade levels. However, we need to be absolutely certain our children understand the basic concepts before we let them utilize these types of shortcuts.
  5. Manners – TIA for not allowing your child to use abbreviations and codes for communicating with me, even if it is faster. I miss the days when kids used full and complete sentences, void of any confusing acronyms. Encourage your kids to write thank you letters, put away the cell phone when conversing with people, and stop running through their days like their pants are on fire and they can’t stop to acknowledge their family, neighbors, or even peers. It might be faster and more productive to move through life with lightning speed, but sometimes the road itself is more important than the time it takes us to cross the finish line.

I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference. – Robert Frost

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Are You Raising a Poor Sport?

Would you ever consider telling your 5-year-old to shove the ballerina next to her in the recital to give your daughter the advantage? Or would you smile if your 3-year-old son poked the soccer goalie in the eye so he couldn’t see the ball anymore? Of course (hopefully) not! But somewhere between teaching our children basic sportsmanship etiquette when they are preschoolers, the messages are getting lost, until gradually they sometimes disappear entirely. While the recent scandal in the NFL where players are accused of intentionally injuring opponents in exchange for bonuses might be an extreme example, it does highlight the emphasis that our society places on winning above everything, and the downfall of sportsmanship.

As a mom of 4 very active children I am surrounded by sporting events, quiz bowl competitions, and academic contests, during which I have witnessed amazing sportsmanship, as well as a profound lack of it. There are two underlying themes I see when watching the engagements of kids during competition.

  1. The behaviors of parents are fairly accurate indicators of the sportsmanship that will be displayed by the child.
  2. Children who have never lost or failed tend to be the least equipped with sportsmanship skills.

Power of Parents

If you doubt the power of parents when it comes to developing sportsmanship skills, just sit and observe a typical, upper elementary or high school athletic event, but pay more attention to the adults in the stands than the kids on the field. The children who sneer at their opponents, play dirty, and gloat when victorious will most often have the parents who trash talk, applaud dirty plays, and take personal pride in the victory of their children. You know the ones – they appear to be missing their own high school days immensely and want to vicariously live through their kids.

Power of Losing

My oldest son once shared a very insightful thought with me.

I am so glad I lost so many matches when I first started wrestling. It taught me how to be a better winner.

As much as parents and children alike want the big W – Win – by their name, the lessons in losing are powerful. It often isn’t until a child has lost a game, match, or contest that he truly understands how it feels to be at the bottom of the list. I admit it was hard for me to watch my son struggle through his matches, competing against far more experienced athletes. But I too saw the lessons it taught. When he finally earned his first win his internal reaction was not evident on the mat – it was subdued and respectful of the other wrestler and coach. While he was shouting with excitement on the inside, he understood how hard the other wrestler had worked and didn’t want to take away from that effort by being outwardly boastful. Win, lose, or draw, his reactions on the mat were the same – a handshake and pat on the back to the opponent with the words “Good match”, and a “Thank you” to the opposing coach and referee.  

Teaching Kids Sportsmanship

Start young. When you play checkers, Go Fish, or tag in the front yard, always end the game with a smile and handshake. Focus on the experience you had – That was fun playing kickball with you, even though I fell at 2nd base!

Don’t always just let your child win. You are setting her up for disappointment and frustrations if she never experiences loss. While you might think that beating her at Memory is unfair, it is actually much better that she experience loss in a safe and secure environment where the loss is insignificant.

Watch your own reactions. Children will soak up our sportsmanship skills (or lack thereof) faster than they can kick a soccer ball. Even when you’re playing in your own adult league softball, make sure that your kids see you practice what you preach.

Help them right the wrongs. If you witness your child displaying poor sportsmanship, immediately step in and correct the situation. This can be done smoothly and without harsh confrontation, with even a simple reminder such as: I know you are frustrated you lost. Now you need to go back and shake that boy’s hand with dignity.

Set clear expectations. Kids don’t always realize their behaviors are displays of poor sportsmanship. Make sure they understand that there are many subtle ways they can be acting as “poor sports” that won’t be tolerated (even if the team coach doesn’t seem that affected or concerned).

  • Name calling or trash talking
  • Dirty plays
  • Blaming teammates for mistakes/bad plays/etc.
  • Arguing with referees and coaches
  • Over-the-top celebrating and showboating
  • Temper tantrums

Learning good sportsmanship skills is an evolutionary process for kids, but it will make their experiences in athletics and competitions more rewarding for everyone. This last weekend I saw that in full when I watched as one of my children competed in his first curling tournament. His was recognized as the youngest team to participate, but they were clearly some of the kids displaying the best sportsmanship. After every shot the boys gave each other knuckles – even when the shots failed. Yes – their inexperience showed and they left the tournament placing 2nd to last. But as I listened to others who were watching them curl say “Look at those little kids – they know how to be on a team,” I knew that my son’s team had won that weekend at developing character through sportsmanship.

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