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    • Five reasons a small apartment is perfect for raising a family.
      Are you, like my husband and me, raising two kids in a two-bedroom condo or apartment? Are you wondering how long your family will fit or wishing you had more space? We do, too. But as parents of two boys (seven and nine years old), we have grown to love life in our little place. We’ve enjoyed living here longer than we thought we would, and you might enjoy several more years, if not a lifetime, in your small home. Here’s why.

      Small homes are easy to keep clean. Spending 10 minutes putting things away leaves our home looking organized and neat. Ten more minutes yields clean bathrooms and kitchen. If I wanted to, I could keep our home looking spotless in 15 minutes each day. As it is, I can usually find 20 minutes to straighten up right before guests arrive.

      Small homes also provide lots of family time. Since our kids are never more than a few short steps away from us, we almost always know what they are up to, even if we aren’t involved. They can do their homework, take a bath and clean up their room while remaining close enough to carry on a conversation with me in the kitchen. When we want privacy, we just close our bedroom doors (which works about half the time).

      The “one toy in, one toy out” rule is part of our routine. Our closets, cupboards and shelves are big enough for what we need and help deter us from keeping too much. I admit we occasionally store unopened cereal boxes on a shelf in our bedroom because there is no room in the cereal cupboard, but that has more to do with my husband’s “unique” grocery list than our lack of space.

      Living without a yard means we never have to do yard work. We’ve never had to clean gutters, reseal a patio or rake leaves. We don’t even have a garage to keep clean. Yes, I daydream about gardening, playing in the yard and not looking for street parking, but I appreciate our mostly maintenance-free life.

      Our boys are learning how to be good neighbors. With reminders (sometimes several in quick succession), they don’t yell in the stairwell, dump out their marbles on the wood floor or jump up and down while playing Wii. Since a baby moved in upstairs, they have been learning to be especially quiet during his naptime. Having other people’s needs top of mind is a wonderful practice (and we practice, practice and practice it).

      Every family has different needs and priorities, and what works for me might not work for you. But if you are living in a small home with children underfoot, don’t despair. Small-space living has unique advantages that can help make life relatively easy and fun. Enjoy the benefits while you have them. After all, living small can be pretty great. 
      Related articles:
      Yes, you can survive parenthood without family nearby
      13 signs you might be a Chicago mom
      Best playgrounds off the El

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    • How one Chicago mom is creating a more inclusive world, one image at a time.
      Photo credit: Sarah-beth Photography
      Rarely do you see a person with a disability in an ad campaign that has nothing to do with his or her disability. Chicago mom, NPN member and photographer Katie Driscoll aims to change that with her charity, Changing the Face of Beauty. Her goal? To convince retailers large and small to include people with disabilities in their ad campaigns. 
      "The common response I receive from the industry is, 'We never even thought about including those with disabilities,'” says Driscoll, whose six kids are pictured, above. "My response is, That's unfortunate, because globally the disability community equates to the size of China. They, as well as their families, are a very brand-loyal community. Our mission continues to remind companies that not only is it socially important to include all people in their advertising, it is actually a good business decision."
      She's had incredible success so far. She’s helped put the first model with Down syndrome, Jamie Brewer, on the runway at New York Fashion Week 2015. She has convinced more then 100 companies to put people with disabilities in their own advertising. She partnered with Tori Spelling and her Little Maven clothing line and created a holiday look book profiling kids with and without disabilities. She has appeared on the Today Show during its “Beauty Is” campaign.
      But there's so much more she wants to do. Read on to learn more about Changing the Face of Beauty and how you can help.
      What is your personal connection to the cause?
      Changing the Face of Beauty is a part of our family now. Six years ago when our sixth child, Grace, was born, she was diagnosed with Down syndrome. At that moment our journey began. During the first couple years of her life if was important to me that I could show our world how thrilled I was to be a mom of a little girl after five boys. Her diagnosis of Down syndrome was secondary to our excitement of raising a little girl.  
      I found the easiest way to communicate just how similar our life was to everyone else's was through imagery. As I started reaching out to small Etsy vendors for images of kids like my daughter, I realized how under-represented children with disabilities were. Imagery speaks so much louder than conversation, so I pushed myself to learn how to use my camera and start capturing kids and young adults with disabilities modeling products. The response was fantastic and gave me the confidence to reach higher. I believe passionately in this mission and it consumes my everyday. I want to leave this world a better place for my children, and that means making sure they are all valued in the world they live in.
      Why is the charity important to Chicago kids? Changing the Face of Beauty is a reminder of how important it is for all kids to be seen and feel a part of the world they live in. The community of people with disabilities is the largest global minority yet remains the least represented in our media and advertising.   No parent wants to raise a child who is invisible to the world around them. Unfortunately that is what is happening to children and adults with disabilities.     I believe it is important for all kids to be exposed to not only others like themselves but to those kids who might be considered different. Advertising and the media have the power to do that. If parents and their children were exposed to all kids of all abilities I personally believe there would be less fears and more opportunity to enjoy life's milestones together instead of separately.   How has starting CTFOB affected you as a parent? I am not sure that starting CTFOB really affected my parenting. Having a child that is deemed disabled by society definitely did.  Before Grace, I was the mother of five boys who were developing typically. Until Grace, I had no exposure to anyone living with  disabilities and I was very uncomfortable with people who were considered different.   Having Grace changed my life. It really changed my whole family's life. She opened our eyes to the world as a whole, and for that I am eternally grateful because I now have friends who have disabilities and they are some of the smartest and kindest people I know. They make my life more exciting and actually challenge me as a person to think outside of society's box.     So my parenting style has changed. I am now more concerned about how my kids treat others. I am also concerned about who they are surrounded by. I want my kids to be in environment that lifts them up as well as gives them the opportunity to help others. Because of CTFOB, my kids have and continue to be surrounded by all kinds of people, and I believe they will look back on their upbringing and be thankful of the opportunity to get to know so many different people. Unlike me, they will start out with less fear because the world is their friend. How can people get involved? CTFOB is a sum of everyone who has believed in, worked for and demanded change in the advertising industry. It is an ever-evolving organization that needs creative and hardworking individuals to nurture it. There are so many ways for people to become involved.  We are scheduling photo shoots around the world!  We are also holding conversations with companies and asking them to make sure to include the largest minority in the world in their marketing message.     Additionally we are looking for companies to partner with our organization to help us fund projects like PSAs to educate the future marketing world, develop a stock imagery database to give companies and organizations a place to go for good and realistic disability stock imagery, as well as create marketing materials to send to marketing firms who are creating and packaging ideas for their clients.   

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    • Adopted kids come to their adoptive families for many reasons, and they rarely involve luck.
      "They are so lucky to have you."
      This is something my family hears regularly from strangers and friends alike. Every time I hear it my heart sinks, because I know the person saying it has the best possible intentions but, really, these babies are far from lucky and it misses the reality of their painful journey. 
      Every single child deserves a loving, supportive home. Luck should have nothing to do with it. But if it did, "lucky" would have been being able to stay with their first families in better circumstances without the pain of significant loss. Each of my children's removal from their first families and placement into our family was complex and traumatic for everyone involved. Describing them as "lucky" dismisses the loss and trauma they have experienced.

      There was nothing "lucky" or "blessed" about how they came to us. We need to remove the word "luck" when trying to describe their stories. 

      They didn't choose this. They didn't play a game and win a prize. This is their life and they ended up with parents who are going to screw up as much as the next unlucky kid who thinks his parents are the worst. 

      So, please, think about how your words will hear to these small ears and pause long enough to formulate words that describe what you mean. I think what you mean to say is you're "so glad we are together now" or "we make a great team" or "we look like we're having fun together." 

      Instead of talking about how lucky my kids are, I hope you can say, "I can see how much you love those babies and it warms my heart." 

      I do. I love them more than words can even express, and they deserve that love. They are fully entitled to a love that is big and bold and healing, because they have been through a lot.
      What you’re seeing isn’t luck, it’s the love of a unique and beautiful family. 

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    • One mom's tips for turning off your phone and tuning in to your kids.
      A few weeks ago while hanging out with my boys in their playroom, my four year old looked at me and said, “Mommy, I’m so glad you’re playing with us and not with your phone.” There it was, the punch in the gut that totally and utterly changed my social media habit.   You see, I’m a blogger, so social media is absolutely VITAL to my business. But here’s the thing. I wasn’t keeping my work life and home life separate—it creeped in every day through me checking my phone way too often and not being as present as I would have liked.   Although it absolutely stung to hear my sweet boy call me out, I knew that something had to be done. And let me tell you—it was so incredibly hard to unplug. So what I did was take baby steps to overcome my social media addiction in a way that still allowed me to have my blog thrive. But even more importantly, the happiness of my whole entire family improved as well.     How did I do it? By prioritizing. Like most moms, my family is a top priority. So I straight up asked them how they would like to spend time with me and did what they asked.    Although my initial social media detox was hard, I slowly started realizing that I was accomplishing so much more than I had when I was chained to my phone. I was also having more fun--painting alongside my boys and becoming a kid again. While I’m still blogging away, the majority of my time is spent writing and researching my pieces instead of working like crazy to promote them, and I truly couldn’t be happier.   Unplugging tips that worked for me   1. Keep track of your social media usage for a week. Then make a concrete plan to reduce your usage.   2. Set a schedule for when you will allow yourself to check social media and STICK WITH IT. My favorite ways to limit my stubborn self? Through apps and websites such as Facebook Limiter, Social Network Limiter and Minutes Please.    3. Remove as many social media apps as possible.    4. Turn off notifications.    5. Leave groups. Stick to your favorite few and ditch the rest.   6. Remember that less is more. No one needs to see every cute picture of your kid to know that he or she is adorable.   7. Ditch your phone whenever possible. Leave it at the bottom of your diaper bag, in the other room, turn it face down or even put it on silent mode and enjoy the peace and quiet.

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    • Have an IEP meeting coming up? These tips from a special education attorney and mom will make the process easier.
      After working as a special education teacher for a few years, I attended law school with the sole intention of becoming a special education attorney who represented parents of children with special needs. In 1998—right out of law school—I was lucky enough to get a job doing just that.
      For years, I attended hundreds of IEP meetings involving all types of special education issues. However, about five years ago, my perspective and practice were forever impacted when my own child was diagnosed with a disability. I now better understand the emotions, including the fear, uncertainty and anguish, that can come when your child has special needs.
      Following my child’s last IEP meeting, held at a time when she was really struggling in school, I decided to write down my best advocacy tips to share with anyone who asked. I hope that my varied experiences at IEP meetings can help others navigate the special education world for their own children: 
      Use private providers. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) allows parents to bring private providers to IEP meetings to share their expertise about the child. These individuals, such as an OT, SLP or therapist, can provide the IEP team with great information for the creation of IEP goals, accommodations, modifications and when discussing placement options. The IDEA also allows parents to obtain private evaluations and requires school districts to consider the information at an IEP meeting. If you are looking for an evaluator, find one that has experience with school districts and will accompany you to an IEP meeting. An evaluator who is reluctant to attend an IEP meeting is not one that you want to spend your money on. Educate yourself. Learn your rights prior to attending IEP meetings with district personnel. Know the law, the procedures, and the special education terminology (there are a lot of acronyms). The Illinois State Board of Education’s website is a good place to start as it contains hundreds of informational memorandums. You can also access both the federal and State special education laws and administrative rules on that site. In my experience, district personnel respond more positively to parents they perceive as informed, interested and involved. Begin preparing early. Most school districts are willing to provide parents with draft copies of evaluations and goals in advance of an IEP meeting. Document your request in writing (more advice: always document everything in writing) and send the letter or e-mail a few weeks in advance of the meeting. I usually ask for the paperwork to be provided to me for a client at least five days in advance of the meeting. You can also develop your own agenda and issues for the meeting. Make copies for each member of the team.  Stay focused. The most common mistake we see from parents who have reached an impasse with a school district is that they try to accomplish too many things at one time. Recently, a friend who also happens to be a very successful litigation attorney asked me to review a seven-page letter to the district following her daughter’s IEP meeting. I edited the letter to 1.5 pages! Too much detail waters down your main issues. I’d have been surprised if district personnel could even get through half of the original seven pages. Parents need to determine what they really want. Other issues can be brought up later; you don’t have to worry about waiving them. Under the IDEA, an IEP meeting can be requested at any time. Do not be intimidated. The district IEP teams may, at times, seem voluminous and have a lot of varied or difficult opinions about your child. But who knows the child best? YOU! Parents should listen to the educational team and consider their recommendations, but should not be afraid to disagree. With that said, always be as kind and cooperative as possible. I have seen more parents get what they want with kindness and respect than by being rude and aggressive. Finally, if you are nervous, bring a support person to the IEP (spouse, other family member, friend) and ask them to take good notes.    Lara Cleary is a partner with the law firm of Hansen & Cleary, LLC, a boutique law practice focusing on the representation of children and families, individuals with disabilities, medical and mental health practitioners, private schools, and other non-profit agencies in Chicagoland and throughout Illinois. 

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    • Tips to help your child emotionally prepare for the start of the school year.
      Back-to-school is an exciting, emotional, often hectic time for families. The unending texts about teacher assignments and after-school schedules make this time of year one filled with great anticipation. As we ready our kids for class with new backpacks, new shoes and new pencils, we need to help them emotionally prepare for the year ahead.
      Combat fear of the unknown
      Help your child visualize and practice her first day of school, including how she will get there, who she will see—even what the classroom looks like. Fear of the unknown can fuel anxiety so help keep those concerns at bay by taking part in back-to-school activities like a practice bus ride or “meet the teachers” event. Talk to older kids who are familiar with your child’s soon-to-be teacher to learn about their experiences and what to expect.
      Get to know the teacher
      Regular parent-teacher communication is key to a child’s success, but sometimes it’s hard to know when and how to strike the right balance. It’s ok to ask your child’s teacher his or her feelings about a reasonable amount of communication. Does she prefer email or phone calls, and when does she want to hear from you or the student? Ask the teacher about her take on homework and if parent assistance is appropriate. We might be tempted to help but if the assignment is a review of classroom work, it’s important to resist the temptation so the teacher can have an accurate assessment of your child's progress.
      Make good homework habits
      And while we’re on the subject of homework (cue the moaning!), set up good habits from day one. Involve your children in the process of setting up and stocking their homework stations with supplies. Homework should be done in your line of vision, especially if she’s using the Internet to study, but not in the busiest spot of the house (e.g., the kitchen table). Set up a schedule that works well for your family. After getting home from school, take a 15-minute snack break and then begin homework with the easiest assignment first, then the hardest, then everything else. Be ready to be hands-on—even bossy—during the first few weeks to set good habits early.
      Get help early on
      If you or the teacher notice your child struggling, it’s vital to address it early on. The process of setting up an intervention is emotional and can take months to create and implement. Regardless of your child’s grade level it is important—and within your parental rights—to determine a timeline for help, intervention and evaluation, and then hold the school to it. If pre- and post-testing will be done for evaluation, know when the testing will take place, when data will be available and at what point new learning strategies are implemented. You don’t want to lose precious time—or see your child’s confidence drop—because of issues that are not addressed.
      Preparation, practice and communication are key on the first day and all days of the school year. Together we can make it great!  

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    • Let's upend the myth that new moms and their childless friends must drift apart.
      Hi, remember me? Your friend who doesn’t have children? I’m still here. I still love you and want to be part of your life. But I can see that your life has undergone a huge change that I can only partially understand and relate to. If we were to follow societal norms, our friendship would fade over time as I keep inviting you to social events that you can’t attend, and your friendships would deepen with others who are at a similar stage of life.
      Here’s the truth: I want to support and help you in this next phase of life, but I don’t know how. I think I have had a pretty average experience for a woman growing up in American culture. I’ve seen babies before, I’ve even held several for short periods of time. I’ve pinched their cheeks and fought the urge to eat up those chubby thighs. I moved out of the house as soon as I graduated high school, went to start my independent life at university, entered the workforce and got my first real grown-up job working in an office. University and work had a lot of new things for me to experience, but neither of them had any babies. My experience with children is tragically limited. I blame it on a loss of communal spirit in our society.
      I don’t know at what point the myth emerged in our individualistic society that needing help makes you weak or that charity is only for those who are destitute. We have been receiving and giving help to each other our entire lives. So why do we have such a hard time asking for help? I’m terrible at it, truly terrible, but I have noticed, as you no doubt have, my quality of life has been significantly higher when I have made myself more open to receiving and giving help.
      So, please, let me help you. It may be hard at first; I won’t know what will be helpful to you, and you’ll have to explain it to me. You’ll have to articulate your needs and be vulnerable. I will be intimidated and feel out of my element as I watch you navigate motherhood with what feels like some kind of magical prowess that I do not possess.
      There will be times when I still won’t get what your new life means. And there will be times when I’ll see something you wish I hadn’t. But you will be helping me, too—and not just in the way we all grow when we help others and are helped by them. You will help me gain exposure to what it means to be a mother and a chance to develop those capacities.
      Fingers crossed, I will be a better mother for it when the time comes. And that’s got to be better for everyone, right?

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    • Before you grab the kids and go, consider these 10 steps to help you through the pain of an affair.
      You have discovered or have been told that your partner has been having an affair. You’ve been hit by a ton of bricks engulfed by a tsunami of emotions ranging from anger, resentment, wanting to seek revenge to sadness, despair and helplessness.     One of the first questions that may arise is “Should I stay or should I go?” While the answer is there and is different for everyone, you may not have an immediate answer or you unequivocally have the answer and are already in the height of your action plan. Whether you do not know the answer or are in overdrive planning every detail of your action plan, let me suggest hitting the pause button and consider these steps.       1. Do not make any immediate decisions regarding your marriage. You are experiencing one of life’s most devastating and traumatic events, which flood you with emotional intensity overriding judgment and reasoning. Acting now may entail regrets later. Remember your relationship with your spouse and family has developed over time. Your marriage and children are one of your life’s biggest investments, which warrant time to determine this important decision and its lifelong impact.     2. Experience your feelings and sit with your values. Experience your feelings as they arise. Take note of how your upbringing, values or religious beliefs may play a role in figuring out what to do. Grab a journal and write it all out.   3. Talk with those you trust. You will want to obtain support from others. Select a few people you truly trust. Telling everyone can be very damaging by creating more confusion and chaos. Not to mention, if you and your spouse decide to stay together, some family and friends may not be able to recover and re-integrate into your family.     4. Begin a self-care program. Taking care of yourself is vital to your well-being during this time. Tune into the basics, such as a getting adequate sleep, eating a healthy, balanced diet, and exercising. You may want to shift your focus by picking up a hobby or enrolling in a fun class.    5. Remain committed to other areas of your life. Continue to be present by focusing on your children, going to work and taking care of your household.   6. Confront your spouse. Find the appropriate time and environment to ask your spouse general questions about the affair. Do not engage in "pain shopping" by demanding nitty-gritty details that will only be more traumatic.    7. Become educated. Read some books about infidelity and begin to understand the various contributing factors that can lead to infidelity.     8. Get counseling and therapy. Meet with an individual therapist for guidance and support during this time, especially given the risk of depression and anxiety. Seeking couples therapy will be important if the goals are to explore and understand the contributing factors to the infidelity; to repair, heal and rebuild the marriage; or to transition to separation and divorce.      9. Consult with a lawyer. You may want to obtain general information about your rights and the legal process.    10.  Consider whether to tell the children. Infidelity does affect children. Whether you tell them what's going on depends on various factors, some of which include the type of infidelity, whether children know or are at risk of discovering, age of children, and whether parents remain together or divorce. A therapist can guide parents as to what to and what not to share based on these factors.     Experiencing unfaithfulness in marriage is one of the most crushing experiences a person can go through. Engaging in these steps will help you get through the pain in the best way possible with integrity. They can also help you gain greater insight and awareness into your marriage and determine the answer and the best course of action for you and your family.
       

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    • A lactation consultant preps pregnant moms for breastfeeding challenges.
      When you're pregnant, how breastfeeding will work for you won't be apparent until after your little one greets the world and screams for food. You won't know whether your baby will latch easily, how much milk you'll produce, or whether it'll hurt a lot or not at all. But there is still plenty you can do while pregnant to get prepared and educate yourself about how to feed your baby.   Barbara Hardin, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) with The Mother's Milk Company, clears up some of the myths about breastfeeding, as well as how to overcome the typical stumbling blocks.   [Related: What to expect when you're expecting a Chicago baby]   What are some things an expectant mom can do now to make breastfeeding easier when the time comes? It can be good to talk with other new moms about preparing for motherhood. If you ask them about breastfeeding, here are some things you may hear:   1. Take a breastfeeding class. The workshop I'm leading at Preparing for Parenthood is a great place to start. 2. Read a good book about breastfeeding, such as Nancy Mohrbacher’s Breastfeeding Made Simple: The Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers. You will learn about baby’s instinctive behaviors and what normal breastfeeding looks like. 3. Learn about the benefits of being skin-to-skin with your baby. It’s a wonderful way to care for him (or her) in the early days after baby’s birth and also supports breastfeeding. 4. Identify one or more IBCLCs who provide in-home care just in case you need help once you are home with your newborn.   5. Contact your insurance company to learn how to get coverage for IBCLC services and how to obtain a breast pump. The Affordable Care Act mandates that insurance cover these services.   What are the biggest stumbling blocks moms have when it comes to breastfeeding? It’s important to realize that babies expect to be held most of the time, and they feed frequently—8-12 times a day! Thinking of yourself as baby’s habitat and having unrestricted contact with your baby in the early days and weeks after birth can go a long way toward making breastfeeding easy. Also, having a supportive network of family and friends to help take care of you, the new parents, can ease the transition to parenting.    Many cultures have a “lying-in” period when mom is relieved of all responsibilities except for caring for her baby. In our culture, moms are usually expected to maintain their pre-baby responsibilities after baby is born. So, help those around you learn how their support is vital to helping you achieve your infant feeding goals. And go easy on yourself! There are breastfeeding support groups, as well as NPN New Moms Groups, available. Find them, and connect to your tribe or your village to give you the information and ongoing support you need.    [Related: 12 truths about giving birth from an OB nurse]   Do you think moms put too much pressure on themselves to breastfeed? Is there a point at which you recommend a mom stop if she’s having a lot of trouble breastfeeding? While most moms are able meet their breastfeeding goals, as an IBCLC, I often see moms with difficult breastfeeding challenges. Sometimes these difficulties seem to be or can be insurmountable. It is always ok for a mom to decide that she wants to stop breastfeeding and to feel supported in her decision. It is the IBCLC’s role to give a mom information, strategies and options about her breastfeeding situation. It is the mom’s choice to decide how to go forward.   While exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months is recommended, breastfeeding does not have to be an all-or-nothing process. Partial breastfeeding or partial breastmilk feeding can be viable options. Knowing this helps some moms continue to do some breastfeeding. I always support a mom’s decision about how to feed her baby, whatever choice she makes. My role is to help make it an informed choice.   What are your thoughts on the recent findings that there’s no need to “pump and dump” when you’ve had a drink or two? The last thing we want to do is put unnecessary restrictions on what a breastfeeding mom “must do” or “cannot do” which may cause her to shorten the duration of breastfeeding. It is widely accepted in the medical literature that moderate and responsible use of alcohol does not cause harm to infants. There are, however, some cautions moms should be aware of. You can find a number of reliable sources of information to turn to for guidance on alcohol use and breastfeeding.    What recommendations do you have for expectant moms who are planning to work full time but also want to continue breastfeeding?  First, keep in mind there is plenty of time to prepare for going back to work after baby is born. In the early weeks, focus on getting breastfeeding off to a good start and establishing your milk supply before you begin to store milk for your return to work.   You’ll find it helpful to talk with other moms in your workplace who have continued to breastfeed after returning to work. These moms will be able to share some of the ins and outs of your workplace. Find out if there is a designated area for pumping milk. If there is not, ask your employer to provide a suitable place to pump. Know that you have rights under the law to provide milk for your baby once you have returned to work. 

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    • Northwestern's Dr. Rebecca Unger drops some serious knowledge on newborn and infant care.
      As an expecting parent, you are rightfully overwhelmed with all that's ahead for you when your little one greets the world. This tiny creature will depend on you for everything, and you want to be prepared to do the best for her, right?    Dr. Rebecca Unger, a pediatrician at Northwestern Children's Practice, answers some pressing questions about newborn care below.   What are some things that happen in the first month of a newborn’s life that many parents are unprepared for? Newborn babies do not come with an owner’s manual, so it is common to feel unprepared for what you experience during your first month as a new parent. Since older babies often have predictable feeding and sleeping schedules, one of the things that many parents are unprepared for is the unpredictable rhythm of newborn life. Newborns have patterns that can help provide some structure, but there is no such thing as a schedule to the day (or night) until a baby is several months old. Add parental fatigue to the mix and it can be overwhelming to make sense of how to know how to meet your baby’s needs. Once you learn that the best way to figure that out is to trust your instincts, along with depending on your pediatrician and trusted friends and relatives for information and support, you will grow to have more confidence and understanding about meeting your baby’s needs. Luckily it is a very steep learning curve!   What are some things that parents overprepare for? Depending on the parenting style, some parents will read and read and read about caring for a newborn. Although it can be helpful to read ahead of time about how to feed, bathe, diaper, and sleep train your baby, you will learn all of those skills very quickly when you have your baby in your arms, regardless of what parenting resources you have already studied.    What are the most common behaviors or concerning symptoms that you should look for in your infant in the first week home?  Right from the start, babies have unique personality traits. Your baby might be quiet, calm and watching everything around her or she might be active, intense and fussy. All of these temperament traits are normal. You will learn to respond to your baby’s personality traits and know when and how to meet her needs.    Newborn babies can see close faces, large shapes and bright colors. Vision develops rapidly over the first year. Babies have a social smile by 6-8 weeks and even before that they will pay attention to your smile and facial expressions, your voice and being held. Within a few months, babies may even imitate and engage in your facial expressions.    Babies can have irregular breathing patterns, active startle reflexes and fussy times, all of which are normal. Concerning symptoms would be excessive crying or inconsolability, lethargy that results in poor feeding, lack of eye contact, significant vomiting and lack of urine output.    What are the most common questions you get from new parents? 1) How do I know if my baby is hungry? 2) How do I know if my baby is getting enough to eat? 3) How do I know when my baby is ready for sleep? 4) When can I go outside with my baby? 5) When can I travel with my baby? 6) How often should I bathe my baby? 7) How warmly do I dress my baby? 8 ) Can I use a pacifier?   Answers: 1) Feed your baby every 2-4 hours, as a general guideline. Healthy babies can feed on demand—they are the boss! 2) If your baby makes at least four wet diapers/day he is getting enough to eat. 3) Your baby should sleep frequently—the sleep pattern should be up a little, down a little. Remember that sleep begets sleep so a well rested baby will sleep better than an overtired baby. Sleeping well at night will promote sleeping well in the daytime, and vice versa. 4) You can go outside with your newborn baby anytime, as long as the weather outside is not too frightful for you. 5) You can travel anytime with your baby. There are no restrictions, however once your baby is older than 6-8 weeks of age, there is less concern about development of fever. 6) You can bathe your baby as often as you like but often babies are bathed several times/week. 7) You should dress your baby as warmly as you dress yourself. 8 ) You can use a pacifier anytime. If you are breastfeeding and have some problems, you might want to wait until breastfeeding is going well.   Dr. Unger has been working with the Northwestern Children’s Practice for over two decades. She also works at Lurie Children’s Hospital as an attending pediatrician in the Lurie Wellness and Weight Management Clinic. Dr. Unger has enjoyed raising her children, Emily and Joey, and learning from both of them every step of the way. 
       

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    • Does your family live far away? One mom offers tips on how to build your own support team.
      Maybe you always knew you’d wind up in Chicago. Maybe Chicago is the last place you thought you’d be when you started raising a family (insert raised hand here). In either case, Chicago is home now, and for me, the distance to my own family never felt as great as when I started having kids of my own.
      While I still feel pangs of jealousy when I hear another mom talk about dropping off her kids at her sister’s house for impromptu afternoon cousin playdates or romantic long weekends away while doting grandparents coddle a new baby, I’ve come to terms with living in the city with no local family.
      Besides doing a lot of Facetime with family all over the country, I’ve found a few strategies that have helped make the transition to parenthood in the city a bit more manageable.
      Create your own local support system. Find other new parents! I do not know what I would have done without my mom friends in the early days when milk and poop and sleep (or lack thereof) consumed my life. It can be isolating having a baby (especially during a long Chicago winter), but don’t isolate yourself. Whether you plan to stay at home or return to work, take advantage of those early weeks and months of parenthood to seek out new friends through NPN New Moms Groups, Park District classes, and “mom & me” yoga classes. The bond you share is universal, and fellow new parents could become friends for life—and willingly dine out with you at 4:45 p.m.!
      Save the date. Make plans to see your family. I always like to have my next family visit on the calendar, even if it is months in advance. Although I don’t see my family every week, or every month, it helps knowing my own little family will reunite with my larger family at some point in the foreseeable future. 
      Take care of you. When there’s no “easy” child care around in the form of longtime friends or family, it’s easy to stop prioritizing activities that require leaving your babe. Don’t neglect yourself or your pre-baby relationships because you feel like you can’t get out. You can. And you should! Swap favors with those new mom friends. Find a mother’s helper to give you a break during the day to shower or check email. Build a bench of trusted babysitters that you and your child/ren feel comfortable with. Take care of yourself and make time for yourself so you can better take care of the ones who depend on you!
      The city has endless resources to offer new parents. Whether you’re making a home here permanently or just stopping along the way, you’re not alone! As the saying goes, “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” In some ways, being forced to build your own support system when you have a new baby can be a blessing in disguise!

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    • The women in NPN's New Moms Groups rely on each other for advice, support—even babysitting.
      “It takes a village”—an over-used phrase when it comes to raising children, but it’s true.
      Day one: More like day 40 of being a new mom and a new stay-at-home mom, I decided I needed to take control of my new career. If I was going to be happy and “good” at this, I had to make some new friends. This decision led me to join NPN and enroll in an infant music class. I also decided to join an NPN New Moms Group for stay-at-home moms (SAHM—I didn’t even know what the acronym meant when I was looking at the options).
      Two weeks later, I attended my first meeting. Upon entering the hostess’s building, I met another mom coming to the group; we both looked stressed. Getting showered and out of the house in the cold and taking our babies by ourselves to an unknown location was a little overwhelming. Another mom, with twins, had one of her babies completely blow out a diaper, poor girl. Out of the 10 of us, perhaps two had it together. I went home and told my husband I wasn’t sure I’d go back.
      Year one: Looking back after a year, I can’t believe I almost didn’t go back! In fact, almost half of us went home after that first meeting not planning to return. But we all did! The first year of my son’s life, my moms group met almost every Tuesday. We helped each other through the challenges of being a new mom. Sleeping, illness, solid foods, teething, walking—you name it, we experienced it together. After a year, I had nine new friends and my son had 10! I have no idea what I would do without my moms group. We help each other in many ways; we even took a weekend trip to Kohler!
      Year two: The last year with my moms group has been just as great as the first. As our kids approached age two and became mobile, we started meeting at parks and other fun locations around the city. We still meet every Tuesday, and now our conversations are more about how much TV is okay and when and where we’re thinking about preschool. Our kids know each other, and they call each other by name, now that they’re starting to talk. A couple, including my son, have become older siblings. It’s yet again great to have a support system to lean on—lending a hand, bringing meals and sharing clothes and other baby items. On occasion we watch each other’s kids and share babysitter information. More than half of us use the same person to clean our homes.
      Year three: Looking ahead, I am grateful to have such a wonderful group of friends. I do believe it takes a village to raise a child, but that village can include anyone you choose. Without my NPN New Moms Group as part of mine, I truly would be lost.
      Check the NPN calendar to find upcoming New Moms Groups!

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    • If your child calls a yard a "forest," knows the ins and outs of Divvy bikes and rides the CTA like it's no big deal, you might be a Chicago mom.
      Our friends at the Huffington Post wrote a great list, 13 Signs You Might Be a Suburban Mom. We couldn't get away without creating one of our own about Chicago moms, too!
      So, you might be a Chicago mom if... 
      1. You know how to navigate public transportation with a diaper bag and a stroller. Oh, yeah, and a child. 
      2. Sometimes you get lost in Whole Foods, for hours. 
      3. You purge your baby stuff, almost immediately. Who's got the room for it?
      4. You are flexible. If there is a Cubs game, you know which parks are away from the traffic pattern.
      5. You know when the museums won't be swamped with out-of-town tourists (spring break and holidays). 
      6. Riding a train is no big deal to your kid.
      7. Your child prefers a scooter to a bike and so do you.
      8. You run into friends at the park, and you are never the only one there.
      9. You've held a birthday party or play date in your "outdoor space," the sidewalk.
      10. You've become a Wiggleworm groupie and follow your favorite kindie performers from stage to stage during summer festival season.
      11. Your child knows every Divvy location within a 2-mile radius and can explain to out-of-towners exactly how it works.
      12. When you child comes into contact with "nature" (i.e., a yard), she is awestruck and refers to trees as the "forest" while you chuckle to yourself.
      13. Your child has NO idea the lengths you go to get him signed up for Park District programs, but you happily do it anyway.

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    • Going back to work soon? Follow these steps to make sure you're choosing the best nanny for your family.
      Of course we all want to have a relationship with our nanny that is both personal and professional. It’s a fine line and it’s in your hands to get the relationship off on the right foot. An ideal nanny will ask us about our weekend but refrain from asking details of our night out. How can we establish this relationship and not get in too deep?   When hiring a nanny… Make sure you share the same values about children as your nanny. Talk about expectations, values and education. Communicate what a day would look like when your child is with your nanny. Be clear on your ideas. Be on the same page with discipline. Talk to the nanny about past experiences and how they handled the situation. Ask the nanny about their family. Do they have a close relationship with their brothers and sisters. Are they close to their parents? Get an idea about their social life. Are their weekends packed with going out, or are they more of a homebody? Personality can be just as important as experience. I always tell parents that it’s a gut feeling. Sure, we all feel nervous about going back to work and having a stranger take care of the most important person in our lives. When you meet the right person, you just know. You get a sense of security and those worries slowly melt away.   Before jumping the gun and hiring on the spot, make sure you… Call all references. We at Olive.You.Nanny call at least three childcare references. It’s always a good idea to call a potential nanny's friend, too. You’d be surprised what comes out! Have a trial day with the nanny. Have the nanny come back for at least a few hours. Have her change a diaper, give a bottle. It’s important for you to see the interaction. Run a background check. No matter what. Have a nanny/family agreement you go over to make sure you’re all on the same page. Talk about expectations. And lastly, make sure you set aside time every few weeks to catch up with each other. Talk about how things are going and always keep the lines of communication open!

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    • This dad found a way to make his daughter more open-minded about eating new foods.
      We tried a million ways to get our daughter, Soleil, to try new foods, eat what was in front of her, and stop saying she didn’t like something before ever having tried it. And then we came upon this way of planning, preparing and eating meals that not only eliminates those problems, but actually gets her excited about dinner.
      There are a lot of steps to getting a meal on the table, from deciding what to eat, making shopping lists, going to the supermarket, making the meal, setting the table, eating it and cleaning up. Here are some tips to get everyone involved and excited about meals:
      Decide what to eat
      When you wake up on Saturday morning, get the kids involved with what you’re going to have for dinner. Ask them what they want, making sure to include all of the food groups.
      Make the shopping list
      Have the kids make the list. If they’ve started to write, have them write the list on paper. They’ll get to practice their penmanship and spelling. If they want to do it on the phone, that’s cool, too.
      Go to the supermarket
      Have the kids hold the list and show the parents where to go and what to get. They’ll be less bored, it’ll feel more like a scavenger hunt than a task and it’ll be more fun for everyone.
      Make the meal
      Have everyone involved in every step, as much as possible. Obviously, there are activities that little kids shouldn’t undertake, but let them try stuff out and get comfortable with being in the kitchen.
      Set the table
      Use the cloth napkins that you’re saving and never use. Get a little dressed up. Use the fancy plates or think of how to serve the food in a nice way. Make the meal feel more important than just shoving food in your mouths.
      Eat the meal
      We serve the meal in courses, like at a restaurant. First an appetizer, then vegetable, main course and dessert. If kids have four things on their plate, they’re going to choose what they like best to eat first and the broccoli gets left behind. If you front load the broccoli at the beginning and it’s the only thing in front of them, they’re more likely to eat it.
      This is not a method to get healthy meals on the table quickly. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s a way to elevate the importance of the meal and get everyone to feel ownership in it. When you give kids ownership over what they're going to eat, they'll eat anything. Adults, too.

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    • A physical therapist lays out the most common ailments pregnant and new moms suffer that few people talk about.
      As a women’s health physical therapist (PT), I see many women during their year of childbirth. Popular culture often depicts pregnant women effortlessly exercising into the third trimester, then “magically” back to their pre-pregnancy shape and activity soon after delivery. The female body goes through much transformation during this year, but for many women, it does not feel so “magical.”
      Many of my patients say they wish they had known to look for some of the issues I treat them for. Here are the 5 most common ailments women should be aware of during and after pregnancy—and how physical therapy can help.
      1. Severe back pain is not normal. Although some minor back pain during pregnancy is common, pain that limits your ability to function, move, exercise or sleep is not normal! Studies show that back pain during pregnancy may become chronic if it is not treated. If it hurts to move or do your daily activities, ask your doctor/midwife for a referral to PT—most pain can be easily treated.
      2. Your abdominals may split. Diastasis recti abdominis (DRA) is a common condition during pregnancy where the “six-pack” abdominal muscles separate down the middle. After childbirth, some women may notice there is either a gap or a bulge in this space that comes up when they try to do a sit up. If you see this, stop the sit ups and see a PT to get the right abdominal exercises to strengthen effectively.
      3. Doing kegels is important. Our pelvic floor (kegel) muscles take a huge hit during pregnancy and vaginal childbirth. We can’t always predict delivery complications but the healthier these muscles are at the start, the better the recovery. Research shows kegels may decrease urinary leakage during pregnancy and after delivery. A women’s health PT can help design the right exercise program for you.
      [Related: Give yourself time to get back in shape after baby]
      4. Childbirth does a number on your pelvic floor. For a baby to emerge, muscles in the vagina stretch an incredible amount, and some tearing may occur. The muscles may be very weak, painful, and difficult to control. Pelvic pain, urinary or bowel/gas incontinence can result. If you tear a muscle in your shoulder, it is likely you would consider rehabilitation to get stronger, more flexible and functional. Your pelvic floor deserves the same attention! Pelvic floor rehabilitation can help you recover and get back on track.
      5. Having sex may not be easy. Fatigue, time constraints, lack of privacy and changes in libido commonly hinder the sex life of new parents. For many women, pain is an important limiting factor. Remember No. 4 above? Scar tissue and injured muscles may be the culprit for much of the pain symptoms. During your six-week OB visit, if the pelvic exam is painful and the idea of sex seems scary, ask your OB or midwife to refer you for pelvic floor PT to improve the health and flexibility of the tissues.
       

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    • An infertility expert offers tips on getting through December.
      When you have fertility issues, the holidays can feel like a punch to your heart every time you open up a card with tons of adorable children or see the many social posts of holiday traditions for children.
      Every year, I tape the holiday cards to the front of my refrigerator. My first round of IVF failed around November of 2008. I got pregnant and miscarried six weeks later. So, with that first holiday, taping the cards up on the fridge was a bit painful. And then, trying to rise above feeling pity for myself, I kept the cards up until the end of January as usual.
      When trying for my second, the cards-on-the-fridge tradition became a game of pain-and-torture. I had three holidays of taping up those cards and feeling finger-flicks of pain in my heart with every card I put up, and then staring at them for a month.
      Don’t make the mistakes that I made. Be kinder to yourself and put yourself first—because you deserve it.
      Here are some techniques that I have gathered and created throughout the years to help my clients deal with Holiday Infertility Pains.
      1. Hide the holiday cards except for the ones that make you smile when you open them.
      2.Get off social media until January 5. Removing social media is a freedom like no other.  And the time you will get back in your life can be used for Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6 instead.
      3. Create an appreciation log. This log is simply the gratuity journal that Oprah has been telling us about for years. If you are often on the go, use a cloud-based organizational app like Evernote to keep the log. Research has proven that those who write about things they appreciate every day are healthier and happier. So, if the holidays are extra hard due to infertility, this is a great way to reverse some of those feelings. It is harder to be sad and feeling like your life is missing something when you actively notice and record all of the good people and events that surround you.  And if the people around you are not making you a better, happier person, you now have your New Year's resolution completed.
      4. Meditation feels like Valium. Download the Headspace app for a 10-minute guided meditation. Plan this into your schedule so you cannot skip it. If you do skip, you need a new time during the day to do it. And if you are very anxious, do deep breathing (into the nose for 8 seconds and out of the mouth for 8 seconds) for 2–5 minutes. Set your phone, so you do not have to check the time. And then do regular breathing, or guided meditation, for another 5 minutes.
      5. Create a vision board. Include a positive pregnancy test, a picture of a baby ultrasound, a picture of a pregnant woman’s belly, a picture of someone in the hospital holding their baby for the first time (remove any faces), and a family picture with as many children in it that you ultimately want. Keep this in a place where you will see it multiple times a day. You can either cut and paste pictures from online or use Pinterest. Look at this board often and imagine you in those pictures. Feel what it feels like to be that person.
      6. Talk to your BFF (Best Fertility Friend). If you keep all of this pain and negativity inside, there will not be enough room for your baby-to-be to grow. You need a completely clear mind and body. Call or text your BFF as often as possible to talk, vent and create strategies for your next journey to getting one, or another, child. And if you do not have someone like this in your life, I would be honored to be that person for you.

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    • Going on a trip with your extended family and kids? Here are 5 tips to make sure the vacation goes smoothly.
      My family of five loves to travel, so we escape Chicago as often as humanly possible. We began our journey vacationing with our extended family after having our third son and officially being outnumbered by our children. Now, five years later, extended family vacations are a regular part of our lives, and we often travel with grandparents from both sides. So, how do we all get along? If you’re the cruise director for your family, listen up! With these tips, paradise is closer than you think.
      Get on the same page 
      Be proactive about sharing travel details in advance by writing the trip details in one mass-email to everyone, so that there won’t be any misunderstandings about the plans. I email the extended family two months before the trip, then again when we’re one month out, and finally the week before blast-off. I make sure I am super clear about what the core itinerary is, while at the same time asking the grandparents if there is anything they’d like to add. It’s so much easier to accommodate everyone with early, consistent communication!
      Set financial expectations 
      Money talk makes most people squirm, so before your big happy clan hits the road together, be sure to agree on who is paying for what. Traveling is expensive, and even the best-laid plans can result in some unanticipated expenses, so the clearer you are about financial obligations, the less stress your group will have when the bill comes.
      Keep it loose 
      Remember why you’re all on vacation together: to sloooow down and be together. If you’re traveling with children, they don’t want to be cooped up on a tour bus traveling for hours to see ancient ruins. Keep the vacation activities centered around meals and local activities. If anyone wants to venture a little further to do some sightseeing, they can do that on their own.
      Have your child’s back 
      Keep the focus — first and foremost — on your child’s needs. He will be overstimulated by this fun, new environment, and it’s your job to make sure he doesn’t go off the deep end. Do your best to maintain your routine feeding and sleeping schedule when you’re away. And, yes, this means standing up to Grandma when she suggests a late dinner at 8pm.
      Have grown-up time-outs 
      Make sure to set aside daily breaks for the grandparents because they’re not used to the extreme pace of daily child rearing. You don’t want to wear them out after only three days — plus, not everyone wants to be together all of the time. Family vacation is not a sprint; slow and steady wins this race.
      As I sit next to my dad on the beach watching the sunset and talking about our many trips together, we agree that family vacations are not all rainbows and unicorns. However, we have figured out the best formula for our family so that we want to keep traveling together again and again.

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    • Did you apply for seats for your child at Open Enrollment, Magnet, Magnet Cluster and Selective Enrollment Chicago Public Schools? Here's what to expect.
      As with all things pandemic, it’s been quite the year for Chicago parents who have applied for Chicago Public School (CPS) seats at Open Enrollment, Magnet, Magnet Cluster and Selective Enrollment Elementary Schools for the 2021-2022 school year. CPS has announced that first round notifications for three magnet preschools (Suder, Drummond and Inter-American) and all lottery-based and selective enrollment elementary (K-8th grade) results will be released after 5pm on Friday, May 28, 2021. This is over a month after the results are typically released, prolonging an already unusual application year. An email and a robocall will be sent to the contact information in the student’s online application file with directions on how to access the online notifications and how to accept an offer, if applicable. Let the nail-biting begin!
      Are you a first-time CPS applicant, or just curious about the process? Here’s a quick run-down on what to expect from your notification(s):
      Magnet, magnet cluster and open enrollment lottery applicants: Once results are available, online applicants at GoCPS will see a “View Application Status” button next to each student’s name on the Student Dashboard. The results screen will list all of the schools you applied for and next to each school’s name, an indication of whether your child was offered a seat or waitlisted. If waitlisted, there will be a number indicating your child’s waitlist number. It is possible to receive offers from more than one lottery school, and it's also possible to be waitlisted at every school. If your child is on a waitlist that is not the general waitlist, this will be indicated as well (e.g., sibling, proximity, tier). You can also click on “View & Print Notification Letter” to see the traditional CPS letter showing the same information. Note: proximity and tier waitlists are only for the Entry Year of CPS Magnet programs (typically K only).
      Selective enrollment elementary school (SEES) applicants: All SEES applicants who have completed the testing requirement for the program(s) they have applied to (Classical and/or Regional Gifted Center) will receive either ONE offer or no offers. No multiple offers are given to SEES applicants applying to early elementary grades. Thus, the GoCPS portal will include your child’s test score(s) and which, if any, SEES program to which your child has been offered a seat. It will also indicate if your child has not been offered a seat yet and additional information regarding subsequent acceptance rounds. You can click “View & Print Notification Letter” to see the traditional CPS letter showing the same information. Waitlist numbers are not given for SEES applicants as open seats are filled based on test scores. Tier information is only shown for the Entry Year of a SEES program.
      For all programs, your GoCPS portal will indicate a deadline by which you must accept or decline your child’s seat at any of the offered schools. As of this writing, CPS has yet to release the deadline to accept a first-round offer, but in the past, families were given about two weeks to make their initial decision. The waitlist process then opens a few days after the first-round acceptance deadline. You should use this time period to virtually visit or re-visit those schools to help make or confirm your school choice. Schools should post virtual info session dates for accepted students and parents on the event calendar at the CPS website, go.cps.edu, or check each individual’s school website for more details.
      For lottery-based (non-selective enrollment) schools, acceptance at one school does not remove your child’s name from the acceptance and/or waitlists at any of the other lottery-based schools. In other words, you may accept an offer you received and if you later receive an offer from a school where your child was waitlisted, you may accept that offer instead and notify the previous school of the decision to withdraw.
      For those accepted to a SEES program, accepting your child’s seat at that program will remove your child’s name from the applicant list at all other SEES programs ranked on his/her application. If you decline an offered seat, your child’s name will remain on the applicant list(s) for all other schools ranked on their application. Accepting or declining a seat in a SEES program has no bearing on your child’s separate non-selective lottery application, if applicable. 
      Bear in mind that after this initial notification period, waitlists will continue to move and offers will be given via phone and/or GoCPS (not mail) through the spring and into summer (and sometimes fall). It’s also important to note that when parents of waitlisted students are contacted, they are given only 48 hours (or as little as 2 hours in late summer) to accept or decline a seat. A second-round application process (formerly known as End-of-Year Citywide Options Program) will also be available (no dates released yet) to fill any open seats at magnet, magnet cluster and open enrollment schools. Please note that selective enrollment schools are NOT typically part of this “remaining seat” process with the exception of new programs or attrition years.
      Updated Spring 2021
      Want more info? Visit go.cps.edu to learn more about CPS acceptance and notification and follow the CPS conversations on the NPN Discussion Forum. Plus, check out School Resources Map to help you make your final school decision. New to CPS applications? NPN members can watch a 4-part video on everything you need to know about CPS.
      Grace Lee Sawin is a co-founder of Chicago School GPS (ChiSchoolGPS.com). Chicago School GPS helps Chicago families navigate the often confusing world of public and private school searches, from preschool to high school, so that they can arrive at their school destination, no matter when they begin their journey.

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    • It's time to start applying for CPS preschool! But which program is right for your child, and how do you apply? We have answers.
      Preschool in Chicago is not required, but many families consider enrolling their children into a local preschool option when their child is 3 years old. To attend a CPS-based preschool, however, requires understanding the differences between the options.
      If you’re thinking about CPS magnet schools for preschool next fall, the time to look into those programs is…now! Because you apply one year before entry, this is the fall to apply if your child is 2 by this past Sept. 1st for programs that start at 3 years old. Applications for the 2021-2022 school year for 3 magnet preschools (Suder, Drummond and Inter-American) open on October 12, 2020, are due January 8, 2021. Parents can create their student’s CPS ID at Go.CPS.edu. If you are thinking about other preschool programs hosted in CPS schools (Tuition-Based PreK or Chicago Early Learning Programs), the deadline varies as outlined below.
      [Related: Getting into Harvard doesn't need to start in preschool]
      Here’s a quick rundown of the programs and application requirements for CPS preschool programs:
      Tuition-Based Preschool (TBP): Full-day programs that provide childcare in addition to preschool (10-hour day; hours may vary by school). Housed in seven elementary schools, children must be age 3 or 4 and potty-trained by September 1. Applications are processed one year before entry either first-come, first-served or via selection criteria directly through each school. Priority for open seats goes to returning students and their siblings. Tuition for 2020-2021 is $15,275, which includes a $700 non-refundable deposit required to hold your child’s spot in the class, if offered. Visit the CPS Tuition-Based Preschool page for a list of school locations and to print an application.  
      Chicago Early Learning Preschool (CEL): Either half-day (2.5–3 hours) or full-day (7 hours) programs housed in select elementary schools, with tuition determined by a sliding scale or waived (announced pre-pandemic). Children must be age 3 or 4 and potty-trained by September 1. Typically, 3-year-olds are hosted by community-based sites while 4-year-olds can be in CPS school-based locations. The application process is completely online, with a limited number of application support sites. Applicants are typically added to a waitlist until the number of open spots is determined. Visit www.chicagoearlylearning.org for application information and updates; the application period will begin in spring 2021 for Fall 2021 entry, but some sites may have rolling availability.
      Magnet Preschool Programs: CPS offers Montessori preschool programs at two magnet elementary schools: Drummond and Suder; children must be age 3 and potty trained by September 1. CPS also offers one dual language-immersion (Spanish/English) preschool program at Inter-American; children must be age 4 by September 1. Seats in magnet programs are awarded via a computerized lottery, with priority given for applicants who are siblings of current students. In the entry year of a magnet program, priority is also given to those who reside within 1.5 miles of the school and then any remaining entry year seats are distributed evenly by CPS Tier. Inter-American Magnet School also requires applicants to indicate their dominant language as part of the application process, and a language screening is required after an applicant is admitted.
      The Choice Elementary CPS application is required for the 3 magnet preschool programs; the online application period for 2021-2022 opens on October 12 and closes January 8, 2021, at 11:59pm. Go to go.cps.edu to apply. Acceptance into the 3 magnet preschool programs does guarantee admission into the school’s K-8 program, making spots in these programs highly competitive.
      [Related: What's up with Universal Pre-K? Here's what we know.]
      COVID has shifted tours and open houses to virtual formats this year and it’s always best to call each school you are interested in to get the details on how to apply and/or get on their waitlist; some programs have not yet determined the number of seats that will be open for next fall. 
      A couple of important notes regarding CPS preschool programs: Residing within the neighborhood boundaries of an elementary school that offers a preschool program does not guarantee admission into that school’s optional preschool program; an application is required from all entering students, and acceptance into a CPS preschool program that is not your neighborhood school does not guarantee admission into the school’s K-8 program (except for the magnet programs described above). 
      Want more info? Visit go.cps.edu to learn more about CPS acceptance and notification and follow the CPS conversations on the NPN Discussion Forum.

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    • The holidays can be sensory overload for special-needs kids. Try these Chicago activities that take care of your kids, and parents, too.
      With all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, our special kiddos can get lost in the "sensory-overload shuffle" and may not feel very festive. Here are a couple of suggestions to keep parents and kids full of the holiday spirit.
      A sensory-friendly version of A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theatre offers lower sound levels, the house lights left on and the opportunity for kids to walk around as much as they please. The theatre is also providing a designated area to retreat for those that need some quiet time. Dec. 30 at 2pm.
      Are the holidays just too much overall? Step back and just take in a movie with your kiddo to relax without all the holiday pressure. Check out AMC's Sensory Friendly Movies and Studio Movie Grill's Sensory Friendly Movies.
      Or take them to a museum where they can let off some steam and not be bombarded with the holiday hustle. Try The Children's Museum, Kohl Children’s Museum or Dupage Children’s Museum, all of which have sensory-friendly days.
      Create a holiday tradition. My daughter, Lia, loves the twinkling lights of the holiday displays so we pick one night put on her coziest holiday jammies and pack snacks and a thermos of hot cocoa and go for a car ride to see Sauganash's holiday lights. It’s become such a wonderful tradition in our family! 
      For those kiddos who thrive on the excitement, like mine does, go all out and do Winter Wonderfest at Navy Pier (tons of rides and ice-skating rink) or the CTA Holiday Train or Bus! Lights, crowds and fun for all! Yes, it's complete sensory overload, but some kids really love this and then maybe you can get a great night’s sleep out of the routinely sleepless child. Check Groupon and Living Social for special offers. For both Winter Wonderfest and the CTA, mention to the employees that your kiddo is special needs so you do not have to wait in those long lines. It works—we’ve done this every year. 
      Shopping is not always easy for our kiddos. Try to do the bulk of your shopping while they are in school, on a play dates or at family member's home. Don’t be shy to ask your family or friends for help. Like they say, it does take a village! Call in those favors now. You are going to need all the time you can get! Locally owned The Sensory Kids Store is a wonderful place to get your kiddos something extra-special online!
      Try to create an opportunity to get some much-needed alone time for you and your significant other. Check out Free Parents' Night Out offered by CST Academy. You can have three hours all to yourself! Be sure to register in advance. 
      Don’t forget about yourself. All the running around making sure everyone is happy can kill anyone’s spirit. You need to make sure that you are taking care of yourself as well. Get a small treat for yourself every time you get something accomplished from your list. Get a mani/pedi, get a latte and sit down somewhere to read an article from your favorite gossip magazine, or take a few minutes to enjoy some of the beautiful holiday decorations around you. You get the idea. Breathe!
      And finally, the holidays are about being together and cherishing all we have. Remember to try to give back however you can by volunteering or donating to a worthy cause. Misericordia, KEEN, Easter Seals and Ronald McDonald House are just a few of the many wonderful organizations that help our special family members. There is always a need for volunteers at most organizations that give us all so much! Check out the volunteer opportunities near you.
      No matter how you celebrate this holiday season, I hope you all are able to enjoy your loved ones to the fullest! 

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    • A thriving public neighborhood school is one of the biggest drivers in making a community great.
      This Trib article outlines the impact school choice has had on CPS neighborhood schools. While I haven't seen updated numbers, it's unlikely the trend has changed: Less than half of CPS students attended their assigned, in-boundary neighborhood school last year. The proliferation of charters is just one cause.
      Every spring on NPN we see the frenzy around trying to decide whether to take a spot at Awesome Elementary School or gamble on the wait list for Super Awesome Elementary School. Many of us elect to skip the CPS maze altogether and seek out the best private school option. While I don't intend to deprive anyone of all that fun, I just want to make a plea to anyone preparing for the next school year to consider your CPS neighborhood public school. 
      It's easy to follow discussions on the NPN forum about school applications and individual schools and draw the conclusion that there are only a few good options for educating our kids. There are so many little neighborhood school gems that barely get airtime on this site and one of them may be walking distance from your home. Last year I posted a question about my neighborhood school, New Field in Rogers Park, and literally had zero responses from NPN members. I also looked on the Great Schools site and saw nothing. So I decided to visit and absolutely fell in love with this amazing school that was on no one's radar.
      We've since gotten really involved with a beautiful school community and my son is thriving, loves school, and has a classroom experience that is every bit as great as the pricey private school he attended. I wish someone had suggested to me what I'm asking of you: if you're currently fretting about what to do about school consider your neighborhood public school, too. 
      Opting out of your neighborhood school has a real impact on that school. Funding is driven by enrollment—your child brings what is likely a substantial per-pupil dollar amount to whatever public school he or she attends. An overwhelming majority of CPS schools lost enrollment last year resulting in reduction of resources and for some, the threat of underutilization and closure. A school's success is driven, in large part, by the community that rallies around it. A supportive and engaged parent group and LSC means the world to administrators, teachers and students alike. And a thriving public neighborhood school is one of the biggest drivers in making a community great!
      I fully support anyone making the choice that's best for their children and family. I know there are religious reasons, special needs and other important considerations that drive where you send your kids to school. But if you're weighing your options, please make sure you pay your local neighborhood school a visit, talk to your neighbors who have children attending, sit in on an LSC meeting. Please to go forward fully informed.
      You may find your own little neighborhood school gem and have a big impact on that school community!
      This article first appeared as a post in the NPN discussion forum. Become an NPN member to join conversations Chicago parents are having about school choice, parenting, relationships and more!

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