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    • Getting creative with some basic items will encourage hours of play and create lasting memories.
      When Chicago's stay-at-home order began, like many parents I wondered how we would fill so much time at home with my 22-month-old. Even as a stay-at-home mom, this was a daunting task! I decided to get busy using my elementary-education teaching background to create basic plans for exploration and make the most of our time together. As we draw near the fall and probably another step toward increased distancing, I hope to empower parents with ideas for simple play at home. Creating memories at home together is the first step in your child’s education, and can be done with minimal materials.
      I believe in learning through play, exploring child-led curiosities and interests, and exposure to as much language and color as possible! Through the eyes of a child, everything within your home is a learning tool! Getting creative with some basic items will encourage hours of play and create lasting memories. Below are some of my favorite materials for our projects, arts and crafts, all of which are pictured and detailed on the Instagram account, @raisingminimoss.
      [Related: How to keep your kids active inside]
      Pom poms: These fuzzy balls are so visually exciting! Use these for color sorts, toss and catch, or spooning into muffin tins. Tape paper towel rolls to the wall and create a pom pom drop! Squish some into a kitchen whisk and have your little one use their pincer fingers to get them out. 
      Contact paper: This one-sided sticky paper has filled hours of fun and crafting with my 22-month-old! Stick cotton balls to it and make a sheep or bunny. Use tissue paper scraps to make a suncatcher. Feathers can turn the contact paper into a beautiful bird! My little one loves going on a nature hunt and displaying her found leaves, sticks, and flowers on the paper.
      Dot stickers: These are the basic ones you can find at the office section of your favorite store, and they can be used in so many different ways! Fine motor skills are practiced when removing the stickers from their paper, hand-eye coordination is practiced when sticking them on a line. They can be great for color sorts and matching activities by putting uppercase/lowercase letters or numbers on them.
      Bubble wrap: Write letters or numbers on the big bubbles and have your child pop it as you call them out. Wrap a rolling pin with it and roll it through paint—the print is amazing! Paint it and use it as a stamp to make prints of honeycombs or sheep’s wool. My little one’s favorite is to simply put it on the ground and jump. Talk about gross motor skills!
      [Related: How to celebrate kids' birthdays while social distancing]
      Paint: My favorite is Crayola Washable Paint. I love it because it washes out of everything, but I still keep baby wipes on hand for quick messes. We love “random object stamping”: pine cones, dried flowers, or even sticks from outside. The bottom of a celery stalk stamps like a rose and apples and citrus fruits make beautiful prints. Forks make amazing prints too, like lion’s fur!
      Recycling: Take a look at what you are recycling, and upcycle it! Your toilet paper rolls can become binoculars, stamps, or slides for toy cars. Empty tissue boxes can become a bed for dolls, a sorting bin, or with a few rubber bands it can become a guitar. 
      Sensory play: Sensory play encourages motor skills, scientific thinking and problem-solving, and is so much fun for exploration! Shaving cream, popcorn kernels, and even shredded paper can provide a great sensory experience to explore. Toss in a few small toys and have your child fish them out. There are lots of taste-safe options, too: yogurt, Jell-O, Cool Whip, food-coloring-dyed spaghetti noodles, ice cubes and even dried lentils.
      Beyond these projects, reading, singing and sharing nursery rhymes encourage language skills. Your young child’s brain is a sponge! Use books as a springboard for projects and talking about various topics. Include your child in at-home chores such as laundry sorting, stirring and mixing in the kitchen, and pulling out pots and pans to make instruments. 
      Take advantage of this time together and make some special memories. By seeing the world through your child’s eyes, you, too, will develop a sense of wonder and creativity! Allow yourself to be empowered by your own ideas—you and your children will be glad you did! And when in doubt, just dance! 

    • Parents of gifted children encounter unique challenges when it comes to keeping their gifted children engaged.
      Parenting during Covid-19 is a new experience for everyone, but what if you’re the parent of a gifted child? There’s often a misconception that teaching gifted kids is easier, but this isn’t necessarily true. 
      When my own gifted children were young, I was faced with the constant misconception that, because they were gifted, they didn’t need extra support. That couldn’t be further from the truth! Gifted children require just as much time, energy, and understanding as anyone--only in their own, unique way.
      What makes gifted children different?
      Gifted children, like any children, are complex. The National Association for Gifted Children lists the following as common characteristics of gifted children: 
      Insatiable curiosity with constant questioning Advanced levels of moral judgment and a strong sense of justice Independence in academic work High energy, spontaneity, and enthusiasm Passion about topics and perseverance in learning about those topics High standards for oneself and high levels of frustration when those standards aren’t met Emotional sensitivity, empathy, and awareness of being different  How can I support my gifted child during Covid-19?
      Parents of gifted children encounter unique challenges when it comes to keeping their gifted children engaged, active and curious--challenges amplified by Covid-19. Here are a few ways you can support your gifted child during the pandemic:
      Provide space for creative projects. Because gifted children are so passionate, they will likely have strong interests. Find time each day, or at least each week, for them to pursue interests outside of the regular school curriculum. This can be as simple as setting aside 30 minutes for your child to practice guitar, build a model of the solar system, or create an at-home museum. Allow your child to choose the topic and don’t get too involved beyond offering support. 
      Take a step back academically (when appropriate). It may seem counterintuitive, especially if your child is academically focused, but resist the urge to hover. Since many gifted children are independent learners, they likely have school work under control. You may need to occasionally assist with work habits, technology and organization, but hold off on asking teachers for extra assignments or quizzing your child after dinner each night. Allow the extra time in your child’s schedule to be used for creative pursuits that excite them. 
      Also, avoid falling for the misconception that, once a child is labeled as gifted, they’ll never struggle or fail. It’s important to note that “giftedness” isn’t universal. For example, your child could be gifted in math, but struggle with reading comprehension.
      [Related: Easing your child's anxiety about the upcoming school year]
      Focus on effort and growth, rather than success and failure. One major roadblock for gifted kids is that they might give up easily. Since some academic concepts come naturally, they may hit a roadblock when faced with learning a difficult skill. Gifted children often don’t do well with failure!
      Researcher Carol Dweck found that most people either have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. People with fixed mindsets think their intelligence is set, whereas those with a growth mindset believe that they can improve with practice and effort (even if they’ve failed in the past!). They have the perseverance to overcome struggles and look at mistakes as learning opportunities. 
      Take some time to discuss failure with your child, and even cheer them on when their efforts don’t produce the “right” result. Help them reframe success around the effort they put into a task, rather than whether they arrive at the correct answer.
      Intentionally address social and emotional needs. All children are struggling with some level of social isolation and anxiety during the pandemic, but this can be exacerbated for gifted students who often have a natural awareness of other people’s emotions. 
      During this time, it’s important to address these issues head-on. To combat social isolation, try to set up social activities for your child, whether it’s a Zoom session with grandparents or an interactive computer game. 
      For gifted children who experience increased anxiety due to Covid-19, be sure to validate their fears and feelings rather than telling them everything will be okay. You might say, for example, “It’s normal to be scared. I’m scared, too.” 
      Take care of yourself, too. Try to keep your own feelings in check through exercise, mindfulness and plenty of sleep. The more even-keeled you are, the more your child will pick up on it. 
      These are uncertain times, but understanding your gifted child and working to support them at home goes a long way. We’re all in this together!

    • Anti-racist resources to guide you in your work to dismantle anti-Blackness for your children, and everyone's children.
      Since the pandemic began, it has been hard to deny that racism continues to hinder people of color’s well being. Asian Americans have faced harassment and even violence with the tacit approval of the president, since he referred to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” and later the “Kung Flu.” Additionally, we’ve seen the harmful consequences of our modern lifestyle of convenience on communities of color. People of Latinx and African descent are disproportionately the drivers delivering our meals, stocking our food in the grocery stores, and boxing our online orders. For the first time in my generation, many of us are seeing how our luxury requires that these essential workers risk their health. Coronavirus cases for Black and Latinx essential workers are the highest in the nation compared to whites. 
      [Related: Show some love to these Chicago Black-owned businesses]
      Like most Americans, I have seen and heard of countless incidents of police reacting to Black lives as if they are villains from a Marvel film. Let’s be honest, long before the pandemic, it has become something most Americans have glanced at, chose to be ambivalent about and have found ways to justify the excessive use of force.
      If you have a social media account, you know that the frequency of police brutality is shocking. Every day, residents are documenting footage that has changed the perspectives of millions of people who have never seen (innocent or accused) people treated this way. You, or someone you know, may have tried to find justifications for the brutality aimed at unarmed people of color: their flawed track record (George Floyd); they didn’t follow the police’s commands (Philando Castille); he went through an abandoned building (Ahmaud Arbury). But what can you say about Breonna Taylor who was sleeping in her home with her partner when she was shot by police? What have you told your children about all of the racial trauma and injustice happening to people of color in America? Do you explain to them that the root of racial injustice is white privilege?
      The Rodney King verdict showed me as a child that my skin was not valued in this country as much as white skin. Today, my brown skin children are learning the same harsh truth. Despite the progress of the Civil Rights movement of my mother’s generation to the “post-racial” Obama era of mine, the structures that hold white supremacy in place are as strong as ever. Despite the great efforts I make as a parent to position my child to obtain the American dream, they are still subjected to racial trauma simply because of their skin color. 
      In order to eradicate this 401-year-old virus, we have to acknowledge that anti-Blackness in all of its forms--institutional, interpersonal, covert and overt--is the culprit. White Americans have to step up to take this undeserving burden off the backs of Black people. Non-Black parents of color must also do the work so they don’t become accomplices to anti-Blackness. 
      So, where should you start? Below, you will find some remarkable resources to guide you in your work to dismantle anti-Blackness, for my children and for yours.
      Resources to build your antiracist practice
      For parents of all hues:
      Black Lives Matter
      Antiracism Project
      10 Words and Phrases You Might Not Know Are Racist (Red Tricycle)
      Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America
      Recommended Resources for Supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement (Lecture in Progress)
      For Latinx families:
      Why Every Latino Has a Responsibility to the Black Lives Matter Movement (Repeating Islands blog)
      For Asian & South Asian families:
      Anti-Racism Resources (Asian Women for Health)
      VIDEO: We Cannot Stay Silent About George Floyd (Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj)
      For babies (it's never too early to build their antiracist vocabulary!):
      A Is for Activist board book

    • Discover restaurants, salons, boutiques, bakeries, gyms and more Black-owned businesses in Chicago.
      Looking for a special gift or just a treat for yourself? Check out this list of Black-owned businesses in the city (many of which offer delivery or curbside pickup), where you can get everything from cocktail-themed artisan soaps to kids' toys. 
      Food & Drink
      Batter & Berries: Breakfast/brunch/lunch spot in Lincoln Park
      Berry Berry Sweets: Cakes, cupcakes and cake pop caterer
      Bettie Lou’s: American cuisine in Andersonville
      Brown Sugar Bakery: Cakes and cupcakes in Chatham
      Chicago French Press: Coffee roaster that offers bean subscriptions and beans by the pound
      The Common Cup: Coffee shop in Rogers Park
      Demera: Ethiopian cuisine in Uptown
      Dream Chef: Restaurant, catering, meal delivery in Tri-Taylor
      Eleven | Eleven: American cuisine and to-go cocktails in West Loop
      Ethiopian Diamond: Ethiopian cuisine in Edgewater
      Friistyle: Belgian frites in Bronzeville
      Frontier: Meat-focused restaurant in Bucktown
      Fruve Express Juicery: Cold-pressed juice in Loop and South Loop
      Gimme Some Sugah: Pies, cakes, cookies and more in South Shore
      Good to Go Jamaican: Jamaican cuisine on Rogers Park/Evanston border
      The Grail Cafe: Breakfast and lunch in South Loop
      Ida’s Sweet Tooth: Cupcakes and sweets caterer
      Ina Mae’s Tavern: New Orleans cuisine in Wicker Park
      Justice of the Pies: Pies available in markets and some restaurants
      Kilwin’s: Ice cream and sweets in Hyde Park
      Kyoto Black: Coffee shop in Edgewater currently offering coffee bean delivery
      Lem’s Bar-B-Q: Barbecue spot in Chatham
      Life’s Sweet: Cafe in Rogers Park
      Lizzy J: Catering, cafe and housemade iced tea in Ravenswood 
      The Long Room: Bar/restaurant in Ravenswood currently offering to-go cocktails, beer and wine
      Love Corkscrew: Wine delivery; also available in various retail locations
      Luella’s Southern Kitchen: Soul food in Lincoln Square
      Mr. Brown’s Lounge: Jamaican cuisine in West Town
      Ms. T’s Southern Fried Chicken: Fried chicken and fish in Wrigleyville 
      Pearl’s Place: Southern cuisine in Bronzeville
      Rooh Chicago: Indian cuisine in West Loop
      Shawn Michelle's: Ice cream shop in Bronzeville
      Sip & Savor: Coffee shop in Bronzeville
      Soule: Southern cuisine in West Town
      Surf’s Up Avondale: Seafood and Southern food in Avondale
      Sweet Maple Cafe: Breakfast/brunch in Little Italy/UIC
      Taste 2 Go: American cuisine in West Loop
      Taylor’s Tacos: Tacos for catering or pickup (Tuesdays only) in East Garfield Park
      Teapot Brew Bakery: Tea and treats in Near South Side
      Uncooked: Vegan restaurant in West Loop
      Urban Grill: Burgers and sandwiches in Uptown
      Virtue: Southern cuisine in Hyde Park
      Clothes & Accessories
      The Advocates: Online-only social activist T-shirts
      A’nies Accents: Boutique in South Loop
      Buttonsbyferrai: Etsy shop featuring custom and social activist buttons
      Kido: Kids' toys and clothes in South Loop; online ordering available
      Kiwi’s Boutique: Boutique in Tri-Taylor; online ordering available
      Mimi’s Tot Closet: Shop for girls’ clothes in Auburn-Gresham; online ordering available
      Love Peridot: Accessories shop in South Loop; online ordering available
      Recycled Modern: Vintage, upcycled and handcrafted furniture and home decor shop in Lakeview
      Reformed School: Etsy shop featuring humorous and social activism T-shirts and accessories
      The Silver Room: Jewelry, accessories, clothes, gifts and more in Hyde Park; online ordering available
      Sir & Madame: Fashion brand with a store in Hyde Park
      Standout Style Boutique: Online-only clothes and accessories 
      Beauty/Personal Care/Health
      80th and May: Online-only shop featuring artisan soaps and bath salts
      Blade and Bloom: Etsy shop featuring skin-care products
      Bodi Shak: Group fitness gym in Uptown
      Chatto: Natural hair- and skin-care products in West Loop; online ordering available
      Depart with Art: Online-only shop featuring organic body products
      Eb & Flow: Yoga studio in Bucktown; currently offering live online classes
      Goldkissed Essentials: Online-only shop featuring handmade soaps
      Karyn’s: Vegan restaurant, spa and health products; online ordering available
      Mad Moisture Beauty: Online-only skincare products
      Mango Moi: Online-only mango butter skin and hair products
      Mind Body Defense: Kickboxing gym with private classes in Uptown
      Pear Nova: Online-only vegan nail polish
      Soap Distillery: Cocktail-inspired artisan soaps
      Sweet Beginnings: Beekeeping social enterprise featuring honey and honey-based body care products; online ordering available
      Black Owned Market: Online-only bath and body products
      Urbane Blades: Men’s barbershop in Near North Side
      Wholistic Skincare: Skincare salon in Clybourn Corridor; online ordering available
      Books, Gifts & More
      Helendora Samuels Picture Framing: Custom frame shop in Wicker Park
      Rose Blossom Chicago: Online-only florist
      Semicolon Chi: The only Black woman–owned bookstore in Chicago. Store in River West; online ordering available.
      Thepairabirds: Etsy shop featuring illustrated artwork
      Third Coast Comics: Comic and graphic novel shop in Rogers Park
      This is not an exhaustive list, so we'd love to get your recommendations for awesome Black-owned businesses in Chicago. Tell us at laura@npnparents.org.

    • The Covid pandemic could be an opportunity to create more equity in your partnership.
      Even in the best of times, being great at both parenting and partnership requires deft maneuvering. Throw in a global pandemic, and many of the struggles two-parent households are experiencing shine in glaringly bright light. 
      But it’s possible this time could forever redefine our roles in the home and our relationships with our partners. Simply put, sheltering-in-place together has answered the question around what we do in a day. We’ve always juggled a lot but there’s less curiosity about what the other parent has done, is doing, and will do for the family. Still, I’d like you to ask yourself:
      Who’s the default parent in your child’s eyes? Are you happy with how well you work with your partner to tackle the never-ending list?  Do you fairly split the domestic work in (and out of) your home?  Your time should be valued equally to your partner’s. You shouldn’t have to feel resentful or like you’re nagging to receive help from your spouse. If things feel inefficient at home or you feel like you’re secretly keeping score on what they do versus what you do in a day, there’s an opportunity for improvement.
      [Related: Will my relationship survive this virus?]
      My husband and I share two children, five and one and a half years old—both boys. I run two companies. He works full time and is the breadwinner of our household. We’re making it work during the pandemic by having clear discussions, separate tasks and respect for each other’s roles. Here’s how you can get started on the path to equity in your partnership. 
      Have a direct conversation. Changing the dynamic with your spouse is a difficult conversation to have, but it’s worth having. Most folks will react positively to a direct approach, an explicit and collaborative request for help. Consider your approach. How you communicate directly affects the way you are heard in the world. This also holds true in your own home. It’s important to be thoughtful in your approach. Deliver your ask for help in a way that engages and invites your partner to have a conversation with you. To start you might say, “All this time at home has me thinking about how we run our house and manage the kids. I think we both see how much it takes. I’m wondering if there’s a way to make things feel easier, so we can get stuff done faster. Want to make some time to talk about later?” Know your intention going into the conversation so you can manage the outcome. You’re asking for a true collaborator in the system, so put some value behind it. Give them a reason for buying-in to the plan so there’s mutual understanding. For example, your partner may be really happy to hear that buying into this will bring you more happiness, that you’ll be a more fulfilled spouse. Or they may be happy to hear that they’ll finally be taking the lead on certain things. Keep tasks separate. There needs to be a clear division of who’s doing what, and when, to maximize efficiency and minimize disappointment. Trust matters, so give your partner space to take care of things from start to finish.  In my family, important dates and details are added to a shared calendar so the person responsible for that to-do has all they need to pull it off without bothering the other person for information.  Continue the conversation. This is an ongoing conversation. It’s about teamwork and the mutual respect you have for one another. My partner and I talk household/kid-stuff regularly so nothing is left up for interpretation. We do this every day while making the bed in the morning or while we’re having breakfast. While it took time for both of us to fall into this way of life, we now unapologetically rely on it, and as a result, are less exhausted by day-to-day adulting.  [Related: What it's like to be a parent with Covid]
      When couples habitually choose to divide and conquer their to-do list, they are choosing a new way to talk about what they need. They’re recognizing that time is precious and by creating household efficiencies, there’s space in the day for what matters. Like laughing and having fun. And lots of snuggles.
      For me, that means I see my partner raising two boys without any stereotypes of toxic masculinity. In turn, my kids see his full, vulnerable heart and this helps their emotional development. They also see two dependable people managing the mundane to the outrageous for our home, while juggling their careers and hobbies. This is valuable modeling for their future, one where there isn’t a helper parent but an equal partnership while parenting. I’d even dare to say we’re creating new patterns to make life a little more fair one day. At least that’s my hope.

    • Try these kid-friendly recipes and easy-pack gear for your next family picnic in the park.
      My boys and I want to spend every waking minute outside in the summer, and that includes meals. Picnics are a favorite activity and over the years we have become alfresco experts. With a little planning, you too can enjoy the great outdoors and some great food, too.
      I like to keep these essentials in my picnic basket so we’re ready to go:
      Picnic blanket. In my opinion, you have to go big here. A large, water-resistant blanket made for this purpose is an investment in fun and practicality for years to come. Put this in your basket last because you always need it first when unpacking.
      Hand sanitizer. Packets of wipes are perfect when kids have been digging in the dirt and come running back for a snack.
      Bug spray. Keep a small bottle in a zip-top plastic bag in your picnic basket. Nothing ruins a lovely outdoor event like vicious bugs attacking you or the kids.
      Dinnerware. Plates, napkins, eco-friendly disposable silverware. What’s a picnic without food? One secret to family-friendly picnic fare is to stick with what your kids know and love, in portable form. For kids, the novelty is in the outdoor experience—not the food. That’s not to say that grown-ups can’t enjoy tasty treats, but there are ways to appeal to both kid and adult palates. Making food in advance leaves more time to play and less time trying to assemble at the picnic. Try this pasta salad recipe your whole family will love!
      [Related: How to celebrate kids' birthdays while social distancing]
      Pasta salad for everyone
      The night before your picnic, cook, drain and chill 8 oz of your family’s favorite pasta (rainbow fusilli is great but if your little person will only eat macaroni, go for it). In a 2 qt container, put a generous ½ cup of ranch dressing (or your favorite) in the bottom. Add 1 cup of shredded cabbage or kale on top of the dressing, and top with a variety of diced raw vegetables of your choice such as carrots, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers. Diced apples and dried cherries or cranberries are also great additions. Lightly salt this layer if desired. Top with the cooled pasta, seal and refrigerate. At the picnic, serve plain pasta and raw veggies to your kids, then mix up the rest of the salad, grown-up style. [Related: Summer camp in Chicago: Where, when and how to sign up for summer fun]
      More picnic tips
      Use egg cartons to transport mini-muffins or cupcakes Freeze juice boxes and yogurt packets overnight to keep things cool, and of course the kids can drink/eat them as they thaw Wraps travel better than sandwiches. Assemble in advance, slice and wrap in plastic wrap as a “log.” Place these side by side in small plastic containers. Try these easy combinations and use flour, spinach or wheat tortillas as the wrap: Sun butter or nut butter and jelly or honey Cream cheese with thinly sliced cucumbers Hummus and olive spread Thinly sliced meats (such as turkey, ham and salami) with American or Havarti cheese Small bags of chips or crackers are not only fun, but make portioning easy Use small muffin tins to organize food for little fingers and help avoid (almost inevitable) spills Mini containers of fruit (mandarin oranges, blueberries, strawberries, grapes) travel well and fit into muffin cups perfectly See you at the park!

    • New moms often deal with lower back pain and urinary leaking due to a weak pelvic floor. Try these at-home exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor.
      Pelvic floor strengthening is a great way for new moms to improve symptoms of urinary leaking or low back/pelvic pain. Plus, they can be done anywhere! Before you jump right into exercises, let’s learn a little about the pelvic floor. 
      Your pelvic floor is a group of muscles that span your pelvis and act to support your organs, maintain normal bowel and bladder function (going when you want to—not leaking when you don’t want to!), and sexual function.
      First, it is important to perform a pelvic floor contraction correctly. When contracting your pelvic floor, you should feel the muscles close in and up, like an elevator rising towards your ribcage. In order to feel if you are doing the exercise correctly, you can feel just inside your sits bone and gently feel the muscles pull in and away from your fingers as you contract, you should not feel muscles bulging out.  
      [Related: Breastfeeding inequality: It's time to end the mommy wars]
      Kegels (pelvic floor isometric contraction)
      Kegels should be performed with “quick flicks” and long holds.  The quick flicks should be a complete contraction and complete relaxation of the muscles quickly 10 times.  The long holds should be about 3-5 seconds long with an equal duration of rest in between for 10 repetitions.   Both “quick flicks” and long holds should be performed 2-3 sets per day. You can do this sitting, standing, or laying down. Abdominal bracing
      We are adding the contraction of your transverse abdominis, an abdominal muscle that acts like a corset to the contraction of your pelvic floor. Start with a pelvic floor contraction (kegel) and then engage your abdomen by bringing your belly button straight into your spine.   You should feel the contraction of the correct abdominal muscle (your transverse abdominis) by placing your fingers gently halfway between your belly button and the bony part of your pelvis.   Hold the contraction for 3-5 seconds with equal rest in between repetitions for 10 repetitions. Most important is to make sure you maintain normal breathing and do not hold your breath. You can do this sitting, standing, or laying down, 2-3 sets per day. [Related: Signs and symptoms of postpartum depression]
      Hip bridge with adduction
      For this exercise, you will need a pillow, ball, or rolled-up towel.   Start laying on your back with your knees bent and the object squeezed between your knees. Maintaining pressure on the object, lift your hips up squeezing your butt at the top. Pause for 5 seconds with your hips lifted, then slowly lower down and repeat.   Performed 10 times, 2-3 sets per day. Squats
      Start standing and engage your pelvic floor engaged, up and in Maintain the pelvic floor contraction as you squat, pause at the bottom, and return to standing To squat with correct form, it should feel like you are sitting your butt back on a chair and maintaining your knees directly over your toes. Performed 10 times, 2-3 sets per day.

    • A child's birthday during Covid doesn't have to be a solitary affair. Check out these ideas for having a fun kids' birthday during the pandemic.
      With a new vocabulary that includes “shelter in place” and “social distancing,” get-togethers seem destined to remain a little different for a while. But that doesn’t mean we can’t mark the special occasions—we just need to re-imagine how we celebrate them.
      Virtual parties
      If you’re uncomfortable meeting up in person just yet—given that keeping kids apart is a challenge—virtual parties can solve the problem. We’re all now up-to-speed using Zoom, so with just a little imagination, you can create a party atmosphere. Asking everyone to dress up in a fairy or superhero costume and coordinating a themed dance-off takes very little effort.
      Movie premiere
      If you’d rather not coordinate schedules, have friends send a video message instead. We’ve used Apple TV to make an occasion out of watching home movies. Alternately, VidHug is an affordable service that will collate video clips for you. Then dress up, add some photo props, fashion a red carpet, and order some Oscar lookalike statues, and you’ve just brought the Academy Awards into your house.
      [Related: No-gift birthday party ideas]
      Character videos
      If you’re suffering from Zoom fatigue (a real phenomenon), or never know how the days will pan out, keeping things really simple takes the pressure off. Now Mickey Mouse, Ariel and many others will either FaceTime with you or send a pre-recorded greeting. This is infinitely cheaper than a traditional party—a real consideration during these financially challenging times.
      Giving drive
      Or maybe combine your desire to maintain your social distance with your inherent belief in being a good citizen. Have your child post a video encouraging friends to decorate their own "birthday boxes" that they can fill with items to donate. Then have everyone regroup (sharing photos or through a virtual meet-up) to unveil their creations and where they plan to send their donations.
      Cupcakes stroll-by
      A friend of mine organized a stroll-by-and-grab-a-cupcake celebration for her daughter’s birthday. This still keeps contact to a minimum yet offers the in-person connection we’re all craving. Our children were thrilled for the sugar fix, and it gave us all a focus for a stroll as well as providing some welcome fresh air.
      [Related: 4 unexpected spots for your kids' next birthday party]
      Backyard bash
      If you’re fortunate enough to have a backyard in the city, take advantage by hosting your social circle at your place. Adding a fun activity (such as decorating your own water bottle or snack bag) to each seat can help keep youngsters in place. Games like charades also prevent children from running around in a pack.
      Picnic in the park
      If you don’t have your own outdoor space, plan a get-together at a local park. Encourage guests to bring their own blankets and use those to delineate each grouping. Sharing food remains a no-no but sending a menu ahead of time that guests can pull together themselves works well, ensuring no child is tempted to sample off a plate elsewhere.
      Movie night
      Pin up a sheet outside and project a kid-friendly movie. Invite families to bring their own lawn chairs and congregate with their clan. Providing individual packs of popcorn adds to the ambiance while keeping away from communal bowls.
      After being cooped up for so long, there’s no need to deny ourselves any joy. As long as you follow sensible guidelines (being sure to keep up with current recommendations), you and your family do not need to miss out on celebrating those important occasions. Nurturing our souls with a little human interaction is now more important than ever.

    • These books, websites, podcasts, articles and more can help you facilitate conversations about racism with your child.
      It may not be easy to talk to your kids about the realities of racism, but it's a critical part of making positive change in our city and our country, and helping your child develop into a thoughtful, aware and kind adult.
      Here are some resources to help parents facilitate these conversations. We'll keep adding more as we find them. If you have resources to add to this list, email sitaara@npnparents.org. And add your voice to discussions on our forum about racism and current events. 
      Great list of children's books to support conversations on race, racism and resistance from the org Embrace Race Round-up of podcasts, books, articles and toys compiled by infographic designers Pretty Good. This chart Pretty Good created about when to talk to your kids about race is...pretty good. An essay in The Atlantic by a Black woman who now understands why her parents were so strict Tips on having conversations about race, broken down by age, from CNN How not to raise a racist white kid. Enough said. Talking to your kids about riots and protests from Red Tricycle Children's book round-up featuring books about racism and white privilege, and books that simply have a non-white protagonist, divided by age, from the New York Times Huge list of articles, advice and other resources from the Center for Racial Justice in Education A blog devoted to raising race-conscious children Facebook group called Books for Littles: Raising Luminaries Kidlit that discusses kids books that "instill values of compassion, equality, and smashing the kyriarchy in the next generation of leaders" 10 diverse children's books from Mommy Nearest

    • This Chicago mom and her husband both contracted COVID-19 and still had to care for their two preschoolers.
      My husband brought it in. At least, that’s what we think. We still have no idea where exactly he picked up the coronavirus, but it came into our house around mid-to-late March and upended our newly sheltered-in-place world. 
      He first went down with extreme fatigue. He would occasionally shiver, and he had a cough, though not an entirely dry one, so we played multiple rounds of “allergies, flu, or COVID?” Tests were still in very rare supply at this point, reserved for only the sickest, most at-risk, and – apparently – famous. His doctor informed him to isolate in our house and call them if he got worse. Isolating in a condo in the city without a spare bedroom proved challenging. And by “challenging,” I do, of course, mean “impossible.” 
      [Related: Will my relationship survive this virus?]
      His sickness lasted about three days before he recovered. I was responsible for getting supplies, entertaining/feeding our 5- and 3-year old kids, trying to keep them away from my husband, and monitoring how my husband was doing. 
      During this time the kids were just...off. They were cranky, displayed some behavior regressions, and were generally lackadaisical, but they never had fevers, nor did they complain of sore throats or aches. We attributed it to adjusting to the new “shelter-in-place-no-school-no-friends-more-screens” life they were suddenly living. We watched a lot of Frozen 2. (This behavior, it might be worth noting, has yet to change.) In hindsight, they most likely had (generally) milder, kid versions of the virus. 
      As my husband recovered, I went down. I first got a sore throat, a headache that made my brain feel like it was about to explode out of my skull, and felt extremely achy. The fatigue then set in. I started coughing a dry, from-the-lungs, deep cough that got progressively worse. The second day I felt...better. A lot better. I was up and about, energized and convinced I had just contracted a gross spring bug, and nothing to worry about at all. Anecdotally, this one-day early recovery is common early on with the coronavirus, and some people even recover fully from this point. I wasn’t so lucky.
      I went down again on my third day of symptoms and didn’t get back up for another five days. I was so tired I could barely sit up. I would cough so hard I would almost throw up. The chills and aches were so bad I would lie in bed physically shaking, even though my fever never went above mild at most. I started to get out of breath going 10 feet from my bed to the bathroom. If I happened to do something that required a lot of exertion – say, going 15 feet to the kitchen for water – I would be out of breath for a few minutes. My lungs started feeling like they were burning if I did anything more than lie down, or if I had just had a bad coughing fit. I slept a lot. And when I couldn’t sleep anymore, I would just lie in bed and stream episode after episode of Love Island: Australia, an activity that required fewer brain cells than sleep. 
      [Related: 4 tips for managing your kids' coronavirus anxiety]
      We ordered a lot of delivery foods during this time, since our whole house was under strict quarantine. My husband carried Lysol with him when he took the dog out, so as to try not to infect our upstairs neighbors using shared doorknobs. I burst into tears with feelings of guilt wondering if I had infected anyone when I had made an essential run to the grocery store in the week prior to any of us being sick (masks at this point were not available, let alone common). 
      We had always been very clear with the kids about the virus, and why they were home from school and why things like their soccer class was suddenly being held via video. While they wanted me to hang out, or watch Frozen 2 with them, they seemed to understand I couldn’t. I wanted nothing more than to squeeze them. 
      Both my husband and I were supposed to be self-isolating. Unfortunately, there is no guide on self-isolation when both parents are still both sick and presumably infectious and you have two preschoolers in the house who need to eat, play, and be put to bed. Because my husband was functional and I was not, we had to make the choice for him to continue caring for them.  
      Around day five my doctor told me I had a presumed case of COVID-19. At this point, she said, most people recover. Some people – and there was no telling who, or why – would not, and would take a nosedive. If that nosedive happened I was to go straight to the hospital because I would need oxygen. My husband and I had a distinct talk about what my wishes were if I were to go into the hospital and need to be put on a ventilator. We talked calmly about end-of-life decisions. 
      Luckily, I started to recover. The isolation period our doctor suggested was 10 days from the start of symptoms, though we all isolated for longer. I started to have periods of feeling semi-functional, only to crash later. Those times of feeling better started to get longer and longer, and my husband resumed working from home again as I “watched the kids,” which mostly consisted of – you guessed it – watching them watch Frozen 2 or Star Wars. After about two weeks, I felt like myself again. I started exercising, even. 
      It’s been several months since we went through this. We’ve learned a lot about the virus, but also about how fallible the testing is, even when you do get a test. (There are almost no false-positive tests, but worryingly up to 30% false negatives.) The antibody tests seem just as fallible, only with the opposite problem of over-predicting positives. We continue to follow the protocols: we wear our masks, socially distance, and bake an absurd amount of banana bread. 
      My family came through this relatively unscathed and I realize just how lucky we are. I’ve let a lot of things I thought were important go. My house is a mess, but my kids are happy, healthy, and able to play. I will never again take for granted this time when my kids are playing happily and I’m able to watch them. 

    • Divorced parents who are co-parenting during the Covid-19 pandemic can use these tips to keep their relationship civil and productive.
      Co-parenting can be complicated enough without additional factors that throw a wrench into the system you and your co-parent have developed. The presence of coronavirus will alter the way that you co-parent. Here are some tips on how to be successful co-parents while dealing with coronavirus. 
      Stick with the routine where you can. During this stressful time, there will be adjustments that have to be made. However, it is important to keep consistency in the places that you can. Children thrive on routines, so keeping small things consistent will help them remain calm and make a scary situation more predictable. Try to engage in similar activities with your child as you have in the past. If your child is out of school, try to incorporate academics into their day. School subjects can be incorporated into the daily routine with activities that you have done in the past such as reading their favorite books, practicing their favorite school subject with writing or math exercises, or even at home science experiments. Also, coordinate with your children’s teachers, as many are sending excellent resources for you to do at home. 
      Accept that you may have to interact with your co-parent more than usual. Communicating during this time is going to be more important than ever. Communication tools such as Our Family Wizard and Google Calendar can help increase communication while also keeping it civil. Pickups and drop-offs may have to be face-to-face if school or your usual spot is no longer an option, so minimize all unnecessary interaction when you exchange your child. Try to keep these communications as short and efficient as possible. Do your best to be as responsive, understanding and civil as possible as you communicate and interact with the co-parent.  Be flexible. It is not surprising to know that parenting schedules and systems are not always set in stone. Things come up that require changes to be made. During this time, there will have to be adjustments to the parenting system that you have developed over time. It is important to be flexible and work with your co-parent in order to keep things running smoothly for your children. If you are uncomfortable with the current custody agreement due to coronavirus, openly communicate that with your co-parent and attempt to come to a temporary agreement. Make sure you know which battles are important for you to fight, and which battles you are able to concede. At the end of the day, both parents will have to compromise and work together in order to continue functioning. 
      Accept help. During the practice of social distancing, children have seen a decrease in their typical events, including extracurricular activities, playdates, school and sports. However, you may still have to work. This can create issues if you are unable to watch your child at certain times. Accepting help from your co-parent or other third parties will be extremely beneficial to you and your child. Accepting help will decrease your stress levels as well. Putting personal issues aside and accepting help from a step-parent or extended family may be necessary in order to act in the best interest of your child. 

    • Tips and advice for maintaining a healthy relationship or marriage during COVID-19
      Many of us are in a relationship that was already taxed before being quarantined and ordered to stay at home — for the foreseeable future. Some of you are in the process of divorce and now that courts have halted, you are feeling stuck. Others with children are now having to work even more as a team, which was already difficult pre-Covid-19. 
      This isn’t easy. 
      More time together in a pressure cooker of tight spaces and new stresses is rough. Maybe your partner has some really annoying habits or doesn’t handle stress well. Or perhaps your children are more likable when they go to school and wear off some energy before you hang out together. I get it. 
      No matter what, there are things you can do to make things better. Research shows that if even one person in a relationship makes a positive change, it can have lasting effects on the relationship as a whole.
      I think of the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding when the mom says, “Let me tell you something, Toula: the man is the head, but the woman is the neck, and she can turn the head any way she wants.” 
      Hang with me. I’m not suggesting the obvious here. Instead, I’m suggesting we have control to turn our own neck during this time. If we want five reasons that drinking is good for us, we’ll find five. If we want five reasons drinking is bad for us, we’ll find five. Therefore, despite feeling out of control in so many facets of life right now, we still have choices. 
      Choice #1: Turn toward or away
      Relationships are difficult, but choosing to turn toward your partner rather than away can make things better, even if the relationship is ending. I know social distancing and turning toward seem like an oxymoron, but it’s an emotional turn to build emotional intimacy. That means sharing your feelings, avoiding blame, and taking responsibility for yourself. Feelings will be all over the place in the next few months and naming them is the only way we can validate and make space for them. If we don’t do this, the feelings will come out sideways in anger, distancing, addiction, etc. 
      Choice #2: Making space for each other–LITERALLY
      Everyone needs to have their own space. This means kids need their own space and each of you need your own space. This might mean one person at a time taking a nap or a few hours to work on a personal project. Today my husband built a stool and I took time to write this blog. During each of our projects, we took turns with the kids. 
      Choice #3: Move your body
      Thoughts have a tendency to get stuck and cycle on repeat. One great way to get out of this pattern is to physically change your location. If you are on the couch dwelling in despair, then go to the kitchen and grab a healthy snack. If you are in bed tossing and turning, go take an epsom salt bath to reset. Also, 30 minutes of exercise a day can boost your immune system and raise endorphins to help you feel better. Helping each other take this time is an act of kindness.
      Choice #4: Love Mapping
      The Gottmans, a therapist team known for their insights into healthy relationships, ask that couples “remap” every six months. After years of knowing each other, we start to think that we know everything about our partner and begin to predict what they will choose, say, and do. However, things change. People change. Asking each other random questions and listening to their answers as though you don’t already know them can be a helpful reset. Remember when you were first dating and you would stay up late talking about your favorite artist, musician, food, etc. Let’s do this again as a way to connect. Check out the Gottman Institute’s Card Decks free app for questions to get started. 
      Choice #5: Appreciate each other’s Enneagram number
      If you haven’t heard of this personality measure, you now have all the time it takes to complete the assessment. Go to www.enneagraminsititute.com and take the test for $12. Once you both take the assessment, google “numbers ____ and ___ in a relationship.” This will provide you a brief description of your strengths and weaknesses as a couple. This new awareness will really be helpful during this stressful time. 
      Acceptance is what we are searching for here. If we know that we are in a relationship with a 3 and they need to make a list and be productive, then we can accept that. If we know that we are in a relationship with a 7, then we will better understand their need for adventure and impulsivity. It is always better to accept your partner rather than try to change them. Know that change only happens if the person is seeking to change on their own. 
      Choice #6: Random Acts of Kindness
      This works for any kind of relationship. It shows care, concern, love, and respect. It fosters happiness and joy for all. I know that sounds flowery, but we can choose this new lens every day moving forward. A few things to try: take a task off of someone’s to-do list, buy them flowers, send an email or text with a detailed expression of love, have a favorite food delivered, watch what they want to watch, read out loud to each other, sing to them, tell them to take a break, or make them dinner. 
      My wish is that everyone will grow closer during this time, focus on what’s important, and love each other. Even if your relationship is coming to an end, you have a choice to be respectful and leave that person with a little more closure and understanding.
      Crystal Clair is a therapist and mom of two littles. During the summer you can find her and her kids mostly outdoors either at Foster Beach, Lincoln Park Zoo, or any local park with a water feature. She strives to find the joy in parenting even in the tough times.

    • Here are some tips for how to best support your child when presented with worrisome information such as the coronavirus pandemic.
      The coronavirus can be scary for kids. Kids pick up on information and emotions from the adults around them, and some kids may become worried or anxious about this information. Here are some tips for how to best support your child when presented with worrisome information.
      Focus on what you can control
      In a society overwhelmed with news and information, worry around COVID-19 can make us feel helpless and out of control. It is hard to believe or find a way to gain some sense of action and control. 
      What we can focus on is what we can control: ourselves and those we care for. You can be an active participant in stopping the spread of illness and germs by washing your hands regularly and well and avoiding touching your face. Thorough hand washing is proven to reduce the spread of illness and germs. Read more science behind handwashing.
      Read evidenced-based material
      In a time of pandemic, we are quick to absorb all the information we can find. Unfortunately, not all information we find is rooted in factual and/or evidence-based information. To ease anxiety, it can be helpful to refer to sources that are objective and evidenced-based. Some sources include but are not limited to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Chicago Department of Health
      These sources are frequently updated and reviewed by individuals whose roles are to ensure this information is accurate and updated. The CDC’s responsibility is to keep the public healthy and safe. Outlining the CDC’s role in health and safety for children will help your kids understand that there are professionals who are monitoring what is best for the public.
      Practice self-care
      Self-care is not only beneficial for getting our minds off of worry-provoking ideas or situations, but it also helps our overall well-being. Self-care looks different for each child; teaching your child to understand what they enjoy and seek out these activities is the first step to consistently practicing self-care. 
      Self-care can be physical, mental or emotional. 
      Ideas for physical self-care:
      Eating healthy Going for a walk, bike ride or scooter ride Drinking lots of water Sleep! Stretching or yoga Getting a hug Taking an extra long bath Playing with your pets Dancing  Playing a fun sport Ideas for mental self-care:
      Being silly with a friend over video chat Coloring or making art projects Alone time Playing a board game Reading a book Singing Helping others Being in nature Ideas for emotional self-care:
      Make a list of things you’re thankful for Telling a joke Cuddling with your family and pets Writing thank-you notes Practice positive self-talk Saying "I love you" Talking about feelings and emotions Stock up on fun activities
      Since large activities are being canceled, having a stock-pile of fun home activities will help keep you and your child occupied. Some ideas to stock up on:
      Save scraps of newspaper and paper for crafts Save your boxes, strings, and other materials to make musical instruments Create homemade Playdough using flour and water Make a playlist of your family’s favorite songs for a dance marathon Take pictures of your family treasures and create a virtual scrapbook Gather dish soap and bubble wands to make homemade bubbles Create a dress-up box Write a story, or play to perform, or play charades Guest authored by Annie McGunagle, MSW, LCSW, and Leah Dunleavy, M.A., BCBA, OTR/L, OTD.
      If you’re noticing your child continues to express worry more than other children, reach out to a health care professional for further support. Eyas Landing offers social work services for children with worry. Check us out at eyaslanding.com. 

    • Get outside and enjoy winter in Chicago with your kids, whether it's skiing, tubing, ice skating or hockey.
      While almost everyone I know east of the Mississippi dreads the winter, my family and I look forward to it. There is so much to do that can’t be enjoyed at any other time of year. Here are some of our favorites.
      Chicago may not have the Rockies, but it’s a great place to learn how to ski. Wilmot Mountain, on the Wisconsin border, offers plenty of beginner runs. They have a great and affordable ski school. For little more than babysitters cost, you can put your kids in group classes and enjoy adult time on the mountain.
      A few tips for Wilmot:
      Register online in advance, particularly for equipment, as rental lines can be long. If you think skiing could potentially be a family hobby, invest in equipment. It pays for itself quickly. Buy boots online and join a trade-in community at the end of the season. Wilmot has a large food court and a nice tavern called Walt’s. Make a reservation at Walt’s as soon as you arrive for later in the day. In February, check out Ski Girls Rock: a 2-day program that mirrors the best ski programs in the country. Alternatively, venture to the Wisconsin Dells. Cascade Mountain offers free skiing for kids and a bit more challenge. If you wind up staying at Mt. Olympus, in addition to the free indoor waterpark and amusement park, skiing and tubing are free for all guests at Christmas Mountain. I recommend going for the winter carnival. In fact, all the mountains above have a winter carnival that includes bounce houses, night-time ski parades, fireworks, live music, and silly ski competitions. Finally, The Grand Geneva resort in Lake Geneva also has its own ski hill and carnival.
      Tubing is offered at all of the resorts above. Wilmot has 22 long lanes, while Christmas Mountain has Cyber Tubing at night. Not far away is Camp MacLean in Burlington, Wisc. (approximately 1.5-hour drive), which opens its unique toboggan run to the public on Sundays. Villa Olivia in suburban Bartlett also has fun tubing runs.
      Ice skating & hockey
      Chicago Park District rinks, including the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park and the Skating Ribbon at Maggie Daley Park, offer free ice skating (with rental fees). Gallagher Way in Wrigleyville operates an affordable skate program, and skate exhibitions as well as parties throughout the winter.
      Like skiing, investing in skates pays off. For toddlers, get Bobs — double-bladed skates that attach to shoes. Many skates for kids are adjustable up to four sizes. Many rinks offer free lessons. Just ask!
      Lastly, the Little Blackhawks Learn to Play Hockey program (held at various rinks around the city) provides first-time participants FREE head-to-toe equipment, including skates. Be on the lookout for events at all of the above locations. The Skating Ribbon hosted a Fire & Ice Festival last year including an exhibition, pyrotechnic performers, and free s’mores. How can anyone dread a season that involves s’mores?
      Winter is in fact too short to enjoy everything the Chicago area has to offer, not to mention time for sledding and snowball fights. Winter is a time to be a kid with your kids! So bundle up, grab some hand warmers and embrace it. It’ll be over before you know it.

    • To stay active while not having to leave your house, we’ve put together some fun ideas to help your family stay sane and survive inside.
      Inactivity during winter months can have a negative effect on a family’s physical and mental health. Research has shown when kids don’t get enough activity, it could result in difficulty sleeping, behavior problems, and inattention for academic tasks. That’s why it’s important to keep your kids active all year round, especially during those long winter months. And no one understands this more than Chicagoans! To stay active while not having to leave your house, we’ve put together some fun ideas to help your family stay sane and survive inside.
      Living room warrior course
      You can create gross motor obstacle courses in your home using everyday items. Use step stools to step up and down — or, even better, jump to stay off of the “hot lava” (which is the carpet, of course); walk along a tightrope (aka a taped line on the floor); practice balancing while stepping across floating islands in the ocean (better known as couch cushions). Other great ideas to add to your obstacle course: animal walks (such as bear walking or frog jumping from one point to another), skipping or hopping on one foot, or crawling through stacked up pillows or under blankets. Encourage your child to follow this path in order to retrieve pieces for a puzzle from one end of the room to another, or see how long it takes them to finish the obstacle course. Have them “beat their personal best” without stepping off of any obstacles along the way!
      Dance party!
      Turn up the music and move your bodies to your favorite tunes. Ask your child for their request and DJ their own personal dance party. Instead of sitting to watch a movie, play your children’s favorite soundtrack from the film and have a dance off or act out the movie. Another fun dance game is to try a “copy dance.” Each participant teaches their favorite move for the other family members to master. Some older children may even want to make up their own routine and put on a performance for the family. Announce them to the stage and encourage costume changes! You can also practice listening skills with a game of freeze dance. The rules are simple: dance when the music plays and freeze when it stops. First one to move is out!
      Lights, camera, action
      Kids can use their imagination to put on a play for family members. They can recreate their own version of their favorite book or movie, or write an original script. Encourage your child to design their own costume using their clothes or by making a costume with paper, fabric and the universal sewing machine — a stapler! To add even more fun, they can use items to create a “stage” such as hanging a sheet for a curtain or finding props for their performance.
      Find your chi
      Teach your little yogis some kid-friendly poses using premade yoga cards. YouTube has great yoga practices, as well, that are frequently “themed” and set to music. (Can you say Star Wars yoga poses, my young padawan?) Yoga practice can keep your kids moving while improving their balance and flexibility. It’s a great way for all ages to play together and help stretch away the winter blues.
      Hopscotch it down the hallway
      In order to play hopscotch inside, use construction paper, stickers or tape on tile or hardwood to make the hopscotch game pattern almost anywhere. Encourage kids to skip areas by throwing a stuffed animal at a square to skip over.
      Family game night
      Instead of sitting to play a board game, try choosing a family game like Twister or Charades to encourage more gross motor movement! This is a surefire way to stay active and add a lot of laughs to an evening. Bounce your sillies out A mini trampoline is great way to keep moving that does not take up a lot of space. Many fold up and can fit neatly under the bed until the next jumping emergency. Find your happy sensory place Make sensory bins for your child to experiment with. Fill up plastic contains with water beads, dried food goods (corn kernels, rice, beans, pasta etc.), kinetic sand, or cornstarch and water. Allow kids to put their hands (and maybe even feet?) in them. You can hide toys in the bins and go on a treasure hunt! Hopefully, we’ve got you started with some good ideas to get your creative juices flowing, your kids movin’ and groovin’, and everyone’s lives a little saner to survive the winter blues. Happy motoring!

    • Whether you're searching for a CPS school or a private school, you can keep track of school-search tasks with this monthly checklist.
      The winter is a great time to take a well-deserved break after having done your research, visited schools, and sent in your family’s applications. Enjoy the lull before the next wave of school decisions and second-guessing creeps in! While deep down we know it’s out of our hands until notifications come in the spring, we can’t quite help but think that there must be something more to do as we wait. Fear not: There are plenty of things to do to keep you busy if you desire!
      If your child needs to test for CPS Selective Enrollment schools or do their private school playdates and observations, keep things light and stress-free; a nervous parent feeds into a nervous child. You want your children to be as relaxed as possible as they head into their evaluations, so stay calm, Mom and Dad! The same can be said for parent interviews at private schools which can occur this month. Be relaxed and yourselves, but let the schools know what you love about them.
      [Related: How to apply to a CPS school in 5 easy steps]
      While CPS may be winding down its testing for Selective Enrollment seats, some private preschool programs begin notifying families as early as mid-February. For most, it’s a quiet month, which can be a great time to attend any school tours you missed in the fall.
      Private elementary schools begin notifying in early March (many simultaneously on March 1), with an opportunity to ask any final questions before signing on the dotted line and submitting your year’s deposit. Unfortunately, most private school enrollment deadlines occur before CPS notifies families, so while one may submit a non-refundable deposit at a private school to “hold a spot,” check your enrollment contract for any penalties if you decide to break your contract. NPN’s popular Discussion Forum heats up this month with parents asking advice of fellow new and veteran parents.
      This is the month that CPS families will be stalking their GoCPS accounts to see if any of their lottery-based offers (aka Choice; up to 20) were made, or if one of their Selective Enrollment Elementary Schools options (aka SEES; out of six max) were awarded. The notification date is typically toward the end of April. CPS typically has 2 weeks after first round notifications set aside to tour schools to help parents decide which to choose. Some parents may now be deciding between one or more private and public school offers, and the NPN Discussion Forum can be a great place to get experienced advice. Remember that you can’t send your child to multiple schools, but you also aren’t stuck for the next nine years if the school you choose doesn’t work out as expected.
      [Related: How and when to apply to Chicago preschools and elementary schools]
      CPS waitlists begin in earnest. Families can get offers for other CPS Choice schools or, if they didn’t hear from or accept a CPS SEES offer prior, they can hear from those programs throughout the summer as well. Accepting a Choice school will not take you out of the running for any other Choice school, but the SEES process is “single offer,” meaning if you accept one of your Selective Enrollment schools, you will no longer be in the pool for the other SE schools. Only the entry years for magnet and selective enrollment programs use a tier system for awarding seats, with magnet schools devoting a higher priority to incoming siblings. The entry year of a CPS SEES program has 30% of seats set aside for high scorers from any tier, and then each tier has 17.5% of seats set aside for their high scorers, at least through the first three rounds of selection. Attrition year spots do not consider tiers, however, and neither do Open Enrollment or other neighborhood-based programs.
      Summer through early fall
      CPS conducts many rounds of waitlist calls, emails and portal updates to let families know that waitlists are moving. Subsequently, private school waitlists may move as families tell their private schools whether they will be staying or making a change. The process continues throughout the summer into the new school year, so don’t be surprised if you get a call even after your child has made new friends early in the school year.
      While the Chicago public and private school admissions process may seem overwhelming, know that in the end, you really do have many school choices at your disposal. If you haven’t found a great school fit yet, remember that the process begins again in October to apply for the following year (and NPN’s School Fair comes around again in early fall). Good luck to all!
      Updated October 2021

    • Looking for a summer camp in Chicago? Use this guide to start your search and get ideas from parent recommendations.
      Believe it or not, now’s the time to start thinking about summer camps. Many have already opened up registration with early-bird discounts, while others don’t offer placement till spring...only to sell out in hours.
      We’ve pooled advice and information from our members and staff to help get you started.
      [Related: Preparing for your child's first overnight summer camp]
      How old does my child have to be to go to camp?
      Most camps cater to kids aged kindergarten and up, though there are many camps for preschoolers. The majority market to elementary and middle schoolers, with some reserved for high schoolers and college prep.
      What kinds of camps are out there?
      If you can imagine it, it probably exists. From sewing to STEM, cooking to circus arts, Chicago really does have it all — and they’re all over town. 
      When are they?
      Most summer camps start the week after CPS lets out — for 2020, that’s June 22. Several camps around town — including Chicago Park District’s Day Camp — have multiple sessions throughout the summer. Camps are typically offered in week-long sessions, though some offer drop-in days (or even half-days), or a full-summer commitment.
      How much are they?
      The range is wide. Chicago Park District’s famously affordable Day Camp costs as little as a few dollars per hour, while others charge thousands. We know of a handful of camps that offer sliding-scale tuition, too. On average, though, most weeklong day camps fall in the $500 range.
      [Related: How to tell if a summer camp is a good fit for your child]
      Summer Camp 2019 parent reviews
      NPN members on our forum discuss which camps their kids liked (or didn't). 
      Steve & Kate’s Camp
      “I have no idea WTH goes on in there, but she had fun even though she didn’t know anyone.”
      RetroActive Sports Camp, Menomonee Club
      “Seems very basic and takes place in a gym all day, so I don’t really get it, but the kids are wild for it.”
      Dream Big Performing Arts Camp
      “Their ‘performances’ are really cute — if a little chaotic.”
      Summer at Latin, Latin School of Chicago
      “Kids did all 7 weeks and loved it as always.”
      East Bank Club Summer Camp
      “Daily swimming, tons of gym time and specialty classes like tennis and soccer.”
      Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum Summer Camp
      “Between the family open houses and the email communication, I actually felt like I had a good idea what was going on.”
      Game On! Sports 4 Girls Camp
      “Learned a ton of sports and gained major self-confidence.”
      The Laboratory Collective Summer Camps
      “AMAZING! I’ve never heard my daughter talk about a camp so much.”
      Sew Crafty Studio Summer Camp
      “I’m always so impressed how they can learn in such little time."
      Read more summer camp parent reviews on our discussion forum. 

    • How to make 2020 presidential election season educational, and hopefully less stressful, for kids of any age.
      From casual conversation to heavy TV ads, the 2020 presidential election is unavoidable and your kids are likely drawing conclusions. Let’s explore how to make election season educational, and hopefully less stressful, for kids* of any age.
      [Related: A British expat mom on teaching kids manners]
      What do they already know? What have they heard from friends, at school, on TV and online? Kids may or may not realize that elections have the potential to change their lives. Assess their knowledge, fill in the blanks, clear up misconceptions and prepare them with coping tools.
      Give them the vocabulary
      Talk about what it means to live in a democracy—a place where the people choose (vote) how they want things to work by making official (election) decisions. We all have rights, and to keep these rights we have responsibilities. Our laws are the rules and our representatives legislate, meaning they make the rules official based on our input.
      Don’t judge a book by its cover
      Who are the candidates? What assumptions are made because of media, T-shirts and yard signs? Consider the campaigns your kids are exposed to and discuss how the messaging is or is not ok. Is a candidate’s behavior as important as their ideas? Is the color of their necktie or style of their hair important? What are the important characteristics of a President?
      [Related: Help kids choose kindness and respect]
      Respectful debate
      Ask your kids what issues they care about using questions free of your opinion to keep the conversation open. Respond with invitations: “Tell me more about why you think that,” or “Can you give me examples of what you mean?” Dissent is a tremendous learning opportunity. Teach them to voice their opinion with conviction and respect. Share your top interests while supporting their right to their priorities. Explore how opinions are sometimes supported by facts and other times by emotions. When we disagree with another person’s stance, can we get into their shoes to find a kernel of shared interest?
      Bring it home
      What rights and responsibilities do family members have at home? How were the house rules established? Do any of your kids’ rights infringe upon anyone else’s (e.g., is one child relegated to the back seat while another has exclusive access to the front?)? A democracy must balance the needs of all its members.
      When I grow up...
      Ask your child how they feel about voting. Is it important? How might they prepare for their first election? Talk about what happens when someone who doesn’t use their vote is disappointed and what they could do differently. Wherever you stand, we likely agree: We want our kids to be confident, kind, independent thinkers. Open the dialogue. Keep listening. Raise a responsible citizen. And vote.
      * This includes us, the adults.
      Also written by Kristina Betke of wishcraftworkshop.com.

    • If you think there are only a handful of acceptable choices for CPS high schools it may be time to adjust your perspective.
      We’ve just closed the door on that stressful season when high school students-to-be partake in applications. My wife and I have been talking about high schools for our 6th grader for a couple of years, so we empathize. Fortunately, your choices are much better than what you might realize.
      For families stressing about which school is “right” for their child, likely the anxiety is caused by the selection process to get into the “best” high schools. You might believe there are only a handful of acceptable choices for high schools, requiring astronomically high test scores, and all the rest are less than adequate. But it may be time to adjust your perspective.
      [Related: This CPS resource makes high school search so much easier]
      Our city boasts some of the best schools in the country. These schools, like Walter Payton and Northside, are ranked in the top 1% nationally. If that’s your thing, game on! For those with kids who don’t enjoy high-stakes tests or who want other choices, CPS has 24 high schools ranked in the top quartile of the nation—meaning they are better than 75% of the schools in our country.
      Of these 24, six have a neighborhood enrollment policy, so if you live in a specific boundary near the school, your child cannot be denied enrollment. Over the past six months, the average price for a 3-bedroom, 2-bath home near these schools ranged from $145,000 to $1.4 million.
      If you’re willing to accept a school that is merely in the top 50th percentile in the nation you can add 21 more CPS high schools to your list, for a total of 45 to consider. Ten of these additional schools have neighborhood components, starting with an average price of $159,000 for a 3-bedroom 2-bath home. Another ten of these schools give preference to students living in proximity. For example, the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, on the far South Side, or Von Steuben on the North Side, are magnet programs requiring students to score in the average range on the NWEA MAP, but students are given additional preference if they live in proximity to the school. So why even consider moving to the suburbs, when you can make a shorter move across town?
      [Related: High School Admissions 101 (member-only video)]
      If you are open to considering options that are merely better than half the schools in the nation, you have an even greater number of choices. If I can’t convince you, I highly recommend the book How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims, who describes how pushing kids to only believe they are successful if they get into top schools is causing lots of issues—and worst of all, it will not allow children the space to become who they are.

    • The Montessori approach to dealing combat bullying helps children develop respect and empathy from the moment they begin interacting with the world
      According to statistics reported by StopBullying.gov, between one in four and one in three students will face bullying at school this year. As a parent, this is a statistic that I do not want my child to be a part of—from either side of the fence. And as a Montessori school administrator, this is a topic that I navigate with families at least once every year. I believe that this statistic can change if we focus on empathy and community.
      Our daughter is almost 5 and has attended Montessori school her entire life, and we have a 10-month-old who is following his sister’s footsteps. Prior to having children and prior to becoming head of school, I was the lead teacher in a Children’s House classroom, which gave me ample experience in conflict resolution the Montessori way. Montessori schools are no exception to bullying behavior, of course, but the Montessori approach to dealing with these issues helps children develop respect and empathy from the moment they begin interacting with the world.
      [Related: Protecting Your Child From Bullying (member-only video)]
      Transferring this practice to our home environment is a continuing process! Their father and I are both Type A personalities and maintaining a home environment that clearly reflects the values our child is learning at school takes mindful practice on our part. Our daughter will often remind us to be more empathetic and clearer in our communication. We celebrate the kind confidence she conducts herself within such moments.
      As a parent, these are my key takeaways for how to create and support a culture of community in my home — to help combat bullying before it begins. 
      Celebrate differences
      Most Montessori schools are extremely diverse — whether culturally, physically, or cognitively. Playgrounds and group classes (music, dance, etc.) are also great avenues for finding a diverse group of people to connect with.
      Grace and courtesy
      The Montessori curriculum includes building social skills and confidence, which at home translates into having an expectation of clear, respectful communication. Conflict resolution At our daughter’s school, the teacher will take the students who are having a conflict somewhere private and guide them to use problem-solving skills they’ve learned, such as using “I” statements. In my experience, the way a caregiver handles a conflict is key to providing a healthy example of how to deal with such interactions on their own in the future.
      [Related: 3 steps to make your child bully-proof]
      Frank, honest conversations about behavior happen regularly in our family — whether it is while we are “debriefing” our day over dinner or during bath time. We also have a clearly stated expectation that our child will treat everyone with kindness, use grace and courtesy, and use the skills she has acquired in conflict resolution. Additionally, it is important to us that she not only conduct herself with kindness, but that she stands up for her peers. In these small ways, through developing empathy and community, we hope to contribute towards a change where every child has the opportunity to learn joyfully and safely.

    • Help your kids develop the patience and manners to make a meal out more enjoyable for everyone.
      Does going to a restaurant with kids fill you with apprehension? Do you cross your fingers and hope for the best, or do you load up on digital toys and promise yourself it will be different next time?
      We’ve had some wonderful meals out…and ones we’d prefer to block from memory. But we like eating out too much to dispense with this pastime—children and all. Here's how we've helped our kids develop the patience and manners to make a meal out more enjoyable for everyone.
      Prep work
      I’m a big advocate of the public library, so this is often my starting place for any activity. We found the book Manners at a Restaurant by Bridget Heos on one visit and it has been engaging for the whole family.
      Start as you mean to go on
      Taking the time to have a family conversation before setting foot outside the door is extremely helpful. Set the expectation of the behavior you want to see, ensuring everyone understands the role they are required to play.
      [Related: A British expat mom on teaching kids manners]
      Go casual
      Then set yourself up for success by picking somewhere low-key, where you won’t be shush-ing the little ones at every excited whoop. Silver service can be rather too rigid at any age, while loud(ish) music can be a savior for blocking out bickering.
      Start small
      You may have ambitions of a leisurely French multi-course meal with wine pairings, but being realistic can alleviate anxiety. Mid-morning croissants might be an easier place to begin, while still keeping on theme.
      Set the ground rules
      Maybe you feel strongly there should be no electronic devices on hand, or that getting up from the table should be discouraged. Whatever embodies your ideal mealtime, make sure your team is on board before you sit down to dine.
      Bring diversions
      While you might not sanction video games, it is wise to have a few tricks up your sleeve. Our go-tos include digital drawing boards and mini sticker books. (Crayons just keep rolling off the table and are a distraction for our crew.)
      Be sociable
      If you want your youngsters to engage with their fellow diners, show them how to converse at the table. Modeling behavior for them to follow is invaluable. We’ve tried conversation starters at home, making a fun game of it.
      [Related: Kids always making you late? Try these tips for on-time arrivals]
      Keep it short
      When dinner is going well, it can be tempting to order that second drink. However, keeping outings short to begin with can help keep things positive. You know that old adage: Always stop while you’re winning.
      Make it a regular thing
      Like all activities, dining out as a family also takes practice. Keep the momentum going by making eating out a regular thing. This helps take the pressure off each occasion having to be perfect; there is always another opportunity coming up.
      Don’t be deterred
      Don’t let setbacks set you back. If you have an all-out fail (as we all have), just take a break and come back at it again in a few weeks. Or else just try something different. If tacos failed to impress your youngsters, maybe chopsticks will keep them entertained. Or if dinnertime is a consistent miss, brunch might be your sweet spot.
      Above all, have a plan…then be prepared to be flexible. And don’t give up—the rewards are too high.

    • Is it possible to take time for yourself and be a good parent? Of course! Self-care is key to avoiding parental burnout. Here are 5 tips to beat burnout before it happens.
      If I possessed one superpower, I would disregard flying, teleporting or telekinesis. I would simply want to stretch our 24-hour days to have more time. That was one of the most surprising transitions for me as a new parent: clocks no longer mattered because you can’t finish all the things that are on your list — and there’s even less time to unwind.
      But I’m a firm believer that we were each a person before we were a parent, and maintaining some semblance of your interests is core to avoiding burnout. Remembering the activities that gave you energy before you had kids is an important first step. The harder next step is carving out time to do those activities. But I think both things are possible: making time for yourself and being a good parent.
      [Related: Working mom hacks: Tips and tricks to make your life better]
      How can we be a light to others if we’re burned out? From one parent to another, here are my five tips* to beat off burnout before it happens:
      Be honest with yourself. Do you feel on the brink of flipping out about something tiny? Not being your best self with your kids? This is typically a good sign that you need a break. Even a short one can make a difference. Parenting can feel as if you’re on a hamster wheel. Stop running. Understand that self-care isn't selfish. Caring for yourself is necessary, not indulgent. Reading for 15 minutes in bed or enjoying a cup of coffee you didn’t have to re-warm 9 times can be self-care. While a trip to the spa is wonderful, self-care doesn’t have to be luxurious, expensive, or time-consuming. It just has to be for you. Take the pressure off of social media. When you see on Instagram that another mom baked homemade cookies or DIYed all their kid’s birthday decorations, remind yourself they may enjoy baking or crafting. Or they may hate it and are just doing it for likes. In either case, don’t compare yourself. [Related: To the moms running on fumes, here's how to refill the tank]
      Don’t commit to things you don’t care about. You have the right to say no to activities you don’t want to do, and I encourage you to try it. If you dread that party you said you’d go to, kindly bow out. Be honest with others. The most rewarding conversations I’ve had with friends and family are the real ones. The ones where you talk openly about your lives and are vulnerable. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a village to support a parent. Be that village for others and you’ll find the favor is returned. Hats off to the moms and dads who magically make it happen every day — minus sleep and superpowers to pull it off.
      *I am an amateur parent, and only marginally and intermittently qualified to offer advice.


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