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  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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 laura@npnparents.org. And add your voice to the lively discussions happening right now 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
  4. 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] Chatterbox 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. I hate the discourtesy of being late. I hate running from place to place. I hate to keep people waiting. With three little ones in tow (ages 2, 4 and 6), though, it kind of comes with the territory. But does it have to? These are some of the tools I’ve tried in my endeavor to avoid tardies at school, hold down a full-time job, keep stress and tears at bay, and even enjoy going about our day together. (Full disclosure: We don’t have this subject mastered, but we are committed to keep trying!) [Related: Purge alert! Enlist the kids in sorting and donating unwanted stuff] Countdown app When kids are very young and have no concept of time or the workings of a clock, you need a different mechanism to help them gauge how long they have to complete tasks. There are some good countdown apps that can provide the visual assistance they need, and in an entertaining way. We use Tico Timer, with its disappearing shapes or diminishing circles easing the transitions from home to daycare and daycare to school. Play 'Beat the Clock' As youngsters get older and become more interested in mastering telling the time, you could try instigating a "Beat the Clock" game. A traditional timepiece with hands and a child-friendly face makes this a more appealing activity. A little competition can be a successful motivator, and you can't beat the euphoria of starting the day off on the right foot. Superhero game Giving family members superhero alter egos that can be called upon during the morning madness can be an imaginative way to generate the positive results you’re seeking. Task your team with accepting a mission: Operation Dash to School. After all, who’s heard of a superhero that doesn’t want to zoom into action? Playing teacher Implementing roleplay can provide some relief from always being the parent-in-charge, doling out instructions only to have them questioned. Children pretty quickly determine the steps that need to happen in order to get out the door or to prepare for bed. Have a kids takeover day and allow them the opportunity to play teacher (with a little guidance, of course). To-do chart As children get bigger they are able to take on their own chores. Creating task lists for each member of the household can be effective. Have specific morning and evening to-dos and utilize stickers or colored pens for a more tempting check-off. My daughter created “to-do” and “done” chore jars at Girl Scouts, which has provided some motivation for taking greater ownership of what she needs to accomplish. In our household, we continue our love-hate relationship with time but are always seeking that timely perfection nirvana. While a routine is helpful for kids so that they know what they need to do and when, having a few tricks up your sleeve can help keep them moving, or provide some much-needed motivation when the going gets tough.
  8. In a world dominated by likes and emojis, how do you encourage a love of writing in your kids? My traditional, British self has been pondering just this question. Writing provides the means for children to communicate and to express themselves. There are many ways to help your child feel not only the empowerment that comes from writing but the fun that can come with it, too—at any age. [Related: Enlist the kids in sorting and donating unwanted stuff] The very young A child is never too young to embark upon their writing journey. To set the foundation, develop a culture that embraces stories and words. We’ve all heard the directives that we should read with our kids daily. That’s because it’s effective in allowing them to develop in all sorts of ways, including seeing the power of words. There are many free book readings at local libraries and bookstores to take advantage of. Playing "spot the letter" games can occur just about anywhere: at the store, on a road trip, or in a restaurant. It’s amazing how quickly a toddler catches on. Making an activity of "writing" letters allows little ones to scribble "words" on notes to family. Allowing them to help purchase stamps for their own mailings makes this a multi-faceted activity. Emerging writers To engage your emerging writer’s interest, make writing a fun, creative project. Starting with a simple ‘thank you” and signature on a card, then adding the recipient’s name, and building up to more complex notes of gratitude, is a satisfying transition. Lists of all kinds can boost your youngster’s confidence as they quickly fill a page with words: shopping list, menu, or what to take on a trip to the moon. Keep cheap notepads handy for when the inclination arises. Allow your budding writer to choose some special writing tools. Luminous gel pens and sparkly stickers make projects especially appealing. Start to introduce youngsters to the players in the book world. The annual Printers Row Lit Fest has many child-friendly activities. Don’t underestimate the power of meeting a real, live author. [Related: A British expat mom on teaching kids manners] Budding authors Writing poetry is a way to allow youngsters to express themselves without the restrictions of conventional prose. Chicago has a wonderful resource in the Poetry Foundation, with a children’s library to encourage all manner of verse. Creating comics is a less intimidating way of developing writing skills. Even those who do not identify themselves as writers can be swept up in this storytelling medium, and before long, they’ve assigned a substantial amount of words to a character and fleshed out a plot. Task your child with filing a news report. It could focus on a school event or a call to save the planet—whatever they feel passionate about and want to share. Finding an outlet for their piece can bring their story to life: send it to grandparents or submit it to a school magazine. Encourage fictional stories as a way not just to build formal writing skills, but to develop imaginations and explore ideas. Use story prompts (objects found around the house or pictures from magazines) to kick-start the process. Story maps can be a good first step to determining what they want to say, and eliminates the overwhelming presence of a blank page. However you choose to develop your child’s writing skills, the important thing is to create excitement around words. To begin with, accuracy is not the primary goal, but instead, simply encourage your pupil just to put pen to paper. Seeing the results of their work will build confidence and encourage more practice, which in turn will allow youngsters to hone their skills. Above all, share a love of words and the writing will come.
  9. I’ve always told my daughter Hayley that she was smart and beautiful, and I felt that I adequately prepared her for school with a healthy but not over-the-top sense of self-confidence. That all changed one day in preschool when the teachers participated in an innocent activity that had major consequences for Hayley. During a classroom redecoration, they hung a growth chart on the wall and placed a piece of tape next to the measurements to show the height of each child. While her friends landed at the top and middle of the chart, Hayley’s name was at the very bottom, with no other names in sight. “I’m the worst because I’m at the bottom,” she told me. “Everyone is taller and better than me.” Being 5’1″ on a very good day (with heels and volumized hair), I related to her predicament. Growing up, I was always the shortest kid in class, but it never seemed to bother me the way it did her. “I don’t like being called a munchkin,” Hayley said. I scoured through books, movies and television shows to point to a short character who Hayley could relate to that was a heroine. Much to my surprise, not only couldn’t I find one, but I found tons of characters who had special abilities precisely because they were tall. At the end of the day, I thought the best way to tackle this situation was head-on—validate her feelings and give her a lesson on acceptance. “Worry about being the best Hayley,” I frequently told her. While I certainly didn’t want to give her false confidence, my philosophy was simple: teach her to stop comparing herself to other children—physically, socially and academically, and focus on herself and what made her special. For example, she was the last one to get wet when it rains, and she can fit on our tiniest couch! I’ll be honest—changing her mindset was no easy feat, but over time, it got easier because I modeled that behavior. Hayley takes cues from me. She watches me get ready every morning, and I know there have been times I’ve told her I needed to wear my high heels because I had an important meeting to attend. While I have never believed that height equates to self-confidence, here I was, basically telling my daughter to stock a closet full of pumps because that is how I was conditioned to think. Now, at 35 years old, I am retraining my brain to put the notion of short and tall on a level playing field. Now, at age 6, Hayley fully embraces being the shortest one in her kindergarten class. I took her to the school playground a few weeks ago, and it all came full circle for me when she proudly showed me how she could squeeze into the coolest hide-and-seek spots—all because she was small! Do you have a young daughter or son who is what society deems too short? Talk to them about how to accept themselves, point out their advantages and celebrate their differences. While Hayley measures about three inches below the growth curve for a child her age, I know that she does not fall short on confidence. Lori Orlinsky is a children’s book author, a regular contributor to Chicago Parent and marketing director who lives in Chicago. She is the mother of two little ladies. Her book, Being Small (Isn’t So Bad After All), is available to order now.
  10. Do you find yourself already planning your child’s summer? Are you anxious at the thought of hearing those three words, “Mom, I’m bored!”? Do you feel like your child has to be busy and engaged in social activities all the time otherwise they get into trouble or display negative behaviors? Believe it or not, boredom is beneficial. In a day and age where we are accustomed to little wait time, instant gratification, and constant visual entertainment, it is no wonder that our children do not rely on their own imaginations to keep themselves occupied. Boredom allows for exploration of their world Unscheduled time allows children to tune into their inner world as well as the world around them. It is extremely important for children to be with and learn to cope with their own emotions and thoughts especially while they are in an environment where they can ask questions about the things that they feel. In my private practice, I often hear parents say, “If I don’t put my child in activities she gets very anxious.” I’m not suggesting that we expose our children to excessive or unnecessary anxiety. What I am suggesting is that our children be taught to tend to their anxiety — not avoid it. This will allow them to learn how to cope with it later in life. Tuning into their environment can also teach children empathy, safe boundaries, connection, and increase emotional intelligence. Boredom awakens passions and interests Free time allows children to discover what they are truly interested in and passionate about. Consequently, it allows them to figure out what they are not interested in. Allowing our children to find what excites them, leads to satisfaction and increased self-esteem. It also leads to autonomy and independence, which is something we strive to teach our children as this enables them to be productive members of society Boredom increases creativity Having the freedom to explore their own imaginations allows our children’s creativity to awaken and thrive. Instead of turning to a computer screen or tablet, your child can create his own imaginary world or game that encourages large motor skills which enhances development. Creativity allows our children to become inventors and problem solvers. So we know why boredom is beneficial, but what can we do to encourage our children to embrace it? Turn off technology Explore the creative arts (music, art, dance, drama) Get back to nature Get moving: move your body to move your mind! Take time to talk Create a to-do list “Remember that boredom can also be a sign that our children just need some positive attention and love. Engage with your child and try to figure out why the boredom exists in the first place. Join your child in a game or imaginary play and not only will they be engaged, but your connection will become stronger.” — Nancy H. Blakey, parent educator and author Erica Hornthal, a licensed professional clinical counselor and board-certified dance/movement therapist, is the founder and CEO of Chicago Dance Therapy. As a psychotherapist in private practice, Erica is devoted to using movement in conjunction with traditional talk therapy to facilitate awareness, empathy, enhanced quality of life, and greater mental health for individuals and families.
  11. Many of us learn about sexuality from our friends, textbooks, health class, movies, or...the internet. Parents, guardians and caregivers are their children's primary educators, yet many pre-teens report they do not learn about sexuality from their own caregivers, leaving many of their questions unanswered. In this video, Jennifer Litner gives a straight-forward approach on how parents can start these conversations with their kids. Why is talking to your preteen about sex and sexuality important? What if you are terrified of talking to your preteen about sex? How do you even begin this conversation? Licensed therapist and sexuality educator Jennifer Litner answers these questions and plenty of your own, describes the benefits of sex-positive parenting, and debunks some of the myths surrounding sexuality. Download Ms. Litner's handout of resources to help you approach the topic with your child.
  12. Parenting in Chicago is hard. Two recent events reminded me of this. The first, running our two daughters out to the car parked in front of our house in what seemed like biblical rains — no attached garage to keep us dry. And the second, wading into the Chicago Public Schools application process. After reading about three different ways to apply to preschool, I realized this was the first step in a nebulous 18-year-plus journey. These are surface examples of a subtler thought that has gnawed at me for the last couple of years: This is not how I grew up. In many ways, my childhood was idyllic. I grew up in a nice suburb and have fond memories of it. That’s why I always planned to raise my children in one. If the suburbs worked for me, why wouldn’t I raise a family in the same way? Marrying a Chicago native changed things. And while we’re committed to living in the city, a review of the news headlines on any given day makes Chicago seem like the least family-friendly place to be. I’m slowly, sometimes reluctantly, learning the city is a great place for a family. What I know now is that the childhood my two daughters experience is not going to be the one that I had — and that’s okay. In fact, I’m glad. Here's why: Empowerment My daughters will not be intimidated by the “big city” things that scared me. They will know how to get from point A to point B and all the way to Z. And they’ll do it by understanding the CTA routes and schedules. This ability will open up the city to them and make so many experiences instantly accessible: visiting other neighborhoods, biking by the lake, enjoying countless festivals and museums, and soaking in the world-class culture Chicago offers. Diversity The diversity of cultures, learning and day-to-day experiences my children will encounter will provide a perspective — and, I hope, understanding — that’s hard to come by in the suburbs. From trying elotes at the park to neighbors who speak a different language, their close proximity to others different from them raises an opportunity to know people and their cultures better. Social justice My girls will have a chance to see and respond to the challenges of the city. They can be part of making Chicago not just the place where they live, but the community where they thrive. For us right now it looks messy. We cart our girls to homeless shelters and imperfectly prepare meals for guests once or twice a month. But our hope is that one day they’ll lead us to the problems they seek to fix in our city and commit to serving our community. Chicago reminds me on an almost-daily basis that the things that are worthwhile are often challenging. Raising a family in Chicago is a worthwhile challenge, and one that will leave me thankful that my daughters experience a different childhood than my own.
  13. Children and teens interact with internet using a variety of social media and apps, and each presents its own safety concerns. In this 37-minute video Dr. Kortney Peagram of Bulldog Solutions discusses popular apps, the meaning behind emojis and how to keep kids safe online. This 37-minute video will help you better understand how to keep your child safe online. You’ll learn about the pros and cons of internet safety apps and monitoring systems, how to detect and prevent cyberbullying and cyberdrama, and the many online trends and how they may affect your child. We also discuss the latest social media apps and how kids use them. Visit Dr. Kortney Peagram's Parent Hub via GoogleDocs for additional resources and handouts on this topic: Parent Hub
  14. “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice.” Does that quote sound familiar to you? If you don’t remember those words, they were spoken by our current president two years ago during Black History Month. The clip went viral because Trump used present tense to compliment the famous abolitionist, which suggested that he thought Frederick Douglass was still alive. Unfortunately, for the president, Douglass has been dead for over a century! While this mistake was both laughable and depressing, we as a nation do not always know that essential part of U.S. history known as Black History. For too many parents in Chicago, this 28-day celebration of Black contributions to the U.S. is just another month, but with fewer days. Given the profound influence Black people have had on this country, it's quite sad that more of us are not informed about their contributions. More important, “us” includes parents. Our city, Chicago, is filled with Black history, and should be known by every parent that is a proud Chicagoan. For example, how many of these Chicago Black History facts did you or your school age child not know? • The first non-native permanent settler in Chicago was Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable, a Haitian man. • The DuSable Museum of African American History is the second oldest, independent, nonprofit Black History museum in the country and was co-founded by Dr. Margaret Taylor Burroughs and her husband in 1961. • Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., lived on the West Side during his fair housing fight in North Lawndale. • Along with Frederick Douglass, nationally-known activist Ida B. Wells-Barnett (for whom Congress Parkway was recently renamed) organized a boycott against the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition for its exclusion of Black people. • Chicago was one of the main stops for southern blacks during the Great Migration. • The name “Bronzeville” was coined around 1930 by a theater editor for the Chicago Bee newspaper, who was inspired by the “bronze” color of African American skin. How did you do? How did your child do? Did it spark any curiosity? Good! For families that may not know where to start, check out your local library. Librarians can offer information on African American history events, documentaries and books that fit your child’s level of interest. It’s also an excellent place to explore stories you never knew existed. In our current climate of ignorance and hatred, we cannot afford to ignore difference and pretend to be color-blind. Teaching your children about Black history before a misinformed public figure does is important so they learn to value people's differences. We, as parents, have the ultimate influence on how our children view our segregated city, our world, and how they fit into it and relate to other people. Culturally-aware children grow up to be culturally-competent adults who can help bring more equality and justice into the world. Wouldn't it be nice to have more people like that in the future?
  15. Another holiday season is over, leaving many with sweet memories of “joy to the world,” while for others there is a bitterness of “bah humbug.” Some of those feelings derive from the surplus of things and loved ones we were surrounded by—or not. Our materialistic culture gives us both the illusion of abundance and the pressure to replace our possessions with the latest and newest version. Our motivation to consume is to make us happier. But is that what it’s actually doing? As a child, I grew up learning hard lessons about the value of money because my family had a tumultuous relationship with financial stability. The inconsistency in having things—both that I needed and wanted—taught me how to be disciplined in saving and savoring. My partner, on the other hand, grew up in material privilege. Despite those differences, we agree on shaping our children’s thinking about store-bought items as complementary and not essential to a meaningful life. People of all ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, races, and genders highly value what our society has placed on a pedestal—smartphones, designer clothes and shoes, or other status symbols. When it comes to feeding the soul, these things mean very little. Instead, the false and temporary sense of importance they give us disappears as soon as hot new items hit the shelves. The holidays are often a hard time for parents. Once the parties are over and the gifts have been opened, all of our possessions, old and new, can make us feel both overwhelmed and empty. Given this bottomless pit of consumer (un)satisfaction, what is a parent or a shopaholic to do? A lot, if you’re striving for unshakable inner peace. It is definitely a long journey to change certain habits, but here are some steps we can all take while we and our families are on that road: Let go of old stuff. Donate smartphones, toys, and clothing to local organizations serving those in need; a school STEM program could utilize your old phone to build an app. A domestic violence shelter could benefit from the use of your unused phone. Don’t just wait until the holidays to volunteer; people are in need all year round. Share your creativities with those who value you—it could feed your soul and others. Playdates rule! The more positive human interaction, the better. Play board games together as a family. It’s a favorite routine for our family after a stressful workday. Listen to music. Name all of the instruments you hear, or play along with your own. As a mother who is aware that my personal growth benefits my entire family, I stay motivated by their watchful eyes. I am hoping that what I am planting will grow into something that will reflect our core family values. So, when my partner and I hear our oldest say that she wants to be rich so she can give money to end homelessness, my partner and I see this as a small achievement. Surrounded by our relentless consumer culture, we do our best to feed our children unconditional love, a sense of community, and the importance of justice as the things truly worth “consuming” every day.
  16. Chicagoans don’t need to wait for spring cleaning time to come around. With months of cold, inhospitable weather, there’s plenty of time to fit in a January purge beforehand. After the abundance of the holidays and the resolutions of the New Year, this is the perfect time to clear out the old. I enjoy this enforced home time to reassess what our family has and needs, and to get organized. However, while clearing out can seem like a great idea when you start, it can quickly become overwhelming. To prevent being left with heaps of random objects and fraught family members, I implement these steps to keep the project under control — and even enjoyable. [Related: How to counter consumer culture with your kids] Involve the whole family. I use these purges as an opportunity to speak to my children about giving. This is the perfect opportunity to highlight how lucky we are and to emphasize the positive qualities of generosity and empathy. Ensuring all members of the household have a say in what is donated and where, there is ownership and a willingness to participate. Set aside some time. Find a time to embark upon your purge when you’re not going to be rushed. Fitting something in between appointments is asking for trouble. Things do not always go to plan and your younger helpers might not work as quickly as you’d like. Allocating a longer stretch on the calendar keeps everyone relaxed. Then if you have some time to spare, you can reward your team with a well-earned snack. Gather bags and boxes. When you’ve set a date, the next step is to ensure that you have enough bags and boxes to sort unwanted items into. Especially now that stores aren’t giving out bags so readily, these may not be on hand. You don’t want to be left with piles of stuff that you need to deal with later. Assign tasks. Determine which areas to be purged can involve children and which might be best dealt with alone. Clothes could be an easy one to enlist help with. Little ones can understand the concept of giving away pieces that don’t fit. Toys you might have to sort through yourself, to avoid emotional outbursts. [Related: A British expat on teaching kids manners] Divide your donations. As you go, divide things into separate bags or boxes depending upon type. Having all books together, toys together and clothes together makes it easier to donate things to the right place. You don’t want to have to re-sort later. Determine where to donate. Think ahead about where you want to send your chosen items, and be sure to check that they’re accepting donations. Some places only take seasonal items or are already heavily stocked in certain areas. Another crucial thing to keep in mind is drop-off hours. Loading up your chosen items, and be sure to check that they’re accepting donations. Some places only take seasonal items or are already heavily stocked in certain areas. Another crucial thing to keep in mind is drop-off hours. Loading up your car to find that your preferred destination is closed is a waste of precious time. I keep a list of resources to donate to. The schools and church we belong to have donation drives throughout the calendar year, so we store items specifically for those. We also know which charities take clothing, toys and books, and which places we can make year-round donations to when we’re ready. Resale stores can provide another outlet for higher-end items. Then there are of course resources where you can post and sell items online. For the more creative, organizing a swap social for friends can be fun and a great bonding opportunity, too. As they say, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure!
  17. We all know how much kids like to receive. You only have to mention Santa, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy to understand how true that is. So how can we teach our children to appreciate that the holiday season is primarily about giving, not getting, and to understand how lucky they are? Start early. Although giving and gratitude are hard concepts for really little ones to grasp, it’s never too early to start building a culture that embraces them. I’ve heard that by the age of 4 habits for life have already been formed. So as well as teaching your kids that they should brush their teeth twice a day, you could also use this time to establish positive behaviors around generosity and thankfulness. Use their language. While some of the language around this subject may be too sophisticated for the smallest members of the family, using words they can relate to helps encourage familiarity early on. Taking advantage of the wealth of children’s books on this subject can help. Favorites in our family include Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed by Emily Pearson, Thankful by Eileen Spinelli and Have You Filled a Bucket Today by Carol McCloud. There really is something to suit all ages. Involve them. You can also introduce youngsters to philanthropy at a tender age, involving them in donation drives at school, daycare, community center, or wherever your family is connected. It’s obviously more meaningful to have your children select something to donate for themselves, although it can be hard for them to give away something of their own (even a toy they no longer play with). But if you’re out shopping for something for them, try having them pick out something for someone who has less than they have. Or start with a less emotive food drive and turn a mundane grocery run into something more like a treasure hunt. Utilize tools. Another way to bring in the concept of charitable giving is to use a philanthropy piggy bank. We have a charming one that has a larger mama pig for saving and a smaller, nestling piglet for giving. It’s easy then to suggest birthday money is divided up between them. Finding a charity that your youngsters feel some affinity toward (a school initiative or an animal charity, for example) can help make this idea easier to relate to. Then let them know how proud you are of them for doing this. It is said that children are more highly motivated by feelings of self-worth than tangible rewards. Harness creativity. Of course, the physical act of giving something can be an enjoyable project in itself. Labeling gift tags can be good writing practice, while glitterizing or bedazzling a package is what kids truly do best. Setting up a creativity station and putting on some holiday music can make this a fun afternoon activity for the whole family. Play mail carrier. Finally, have your kids deliver gifts with you. Recipients will be touched seeing a child hand over a present, and that joy is something your kids will get to witness first-hand. Making a connection between giving and joy is a powerful tool. Giving can be pleasurable for a child too, it just takes a little effort.
  18. When I met my now-husband, he introduced himself using his middle name, Cyriac. “Cyriac” was especially difficult for me to pronounce because it was completely foreign to my ears. I remember being tongue-tied every time I attempted to say his name. Because of those earlier awkward, yet amusing, moments, I always give others grace when they have the same experience hearing his name for the first time. Because of that expected awkwardness, in certain situations, my husband sometimes chooses to offer his first name, John. Most people expect him to have a longer and more “difficult” name because his parents are from India. However, most of his family members have short, biblical names. I was intrigued and perplexed to learn of the prevalence of Christian names (both first and surnames) in the region of India where they are from. When Cyriac’s father immigrated to the US, he switched his surname from Madathikunnel to Mathew, which was his middle name. He and other family members made this change to make it easier for those they would encounter in the States. Many immigrants make similar choices when they immigrate here and start a family. Some parents are inspired by their favorite American TV characters or chose a name that will hopefully assimilate their offspring into their new society. But not every new American chooses that route. Sometimes they make another choice that aligns with other values they have. It is a freedom of choice and a privilege some of us forget we have in America. For those Americans—whether “new arrivals” or “born on American soil”—who have names or choose names for their children that are “ethnic,” “unique,” or assumed to be “made up,” they sometimes encounter people who show disrespect, sometimes unconsciously, when they introduce themselves. When this occurs, it can be described as a microaggression. According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, a microaggression is “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (such as a racial minority).” For example, asking to call someone by a nickname because it’s easier for you to pronounce is considered a microaggression. I understand that asking for an easier way to identify a person could be seen as an effort to meet them “halfway.” But avoiding someone’s birth name instead of training your tongue to learn it could be taken as an insult. It took time for me to finally pronounce Cyriac with ease. Today, when I perfect a new name, the smile I sometimes see on a person’s face is worth every minute I spent practicing their name. It is especially fulfilling for a child to see me, as a school staff member, make the effort to learn their name. By doing that, I show them that I value them as a whole person. Since my goal is to build relationships with people, simply pronouncing a person’s name properly is a good first impression and sets a positive foundation for future interactions. As parents, Cyriac and I chose unique, yet culturally rich names for our children. We teach our children to educate anyone they encounter to properly pronounce their names because they have great meaning and were chosen to inspire them. So, the next time you, a loved one and/or your child encounters a person with a “difficult” name, please remember that names tell a story, hold power and contain a legacy. The effort that we make to humble ourselves and seek guidance on mastering new names makes a world of difference in showing respect and building relationships with others.
  19. This 45-minute webinar offers information and resources about the special education process once your child enters school. Parents will learn special needs laws, terms and acronyms, timelines and strategies for advocating for your child. Watch the above video. Whether your child is in Head Start, Pre-K or Kindergarten, you'll benefit from this overview of the processes and procedures necessary for your child’s education. Topics include parent rights and responsibilities, the special education process, special education options, and where to find resources and support.
  20. As a parent and a long-time resident of Chicago, I often feel a great deal of conflict toward my changing city. Its natural and man-made beauty, as well as its diversity, are what makes many locals feel so proud to live here. Yet and still, there are things that cause feelings of shame and anguish to surface in many residents, myself included. I like how Chicago blends modernization and world-class charm with our simple family values. It’s why so many transplants come here. In one part of town, we have our chill, lakefront vibe and a surplus of fun to be had, while other parts are riddled with dilapidated buildings, underfunded public centers and schools, and conflict stemming from unresolved and ongoing trauma. It leaves many residents of this city feeling mixed emotions. When I think about these things, I feel a range of emotions in the same way Chicagoans feel a range of weather on any given day. [Related: 3 reasons I'm glad my kids aren't growing up in the suburbs like I did] I was born and raised mostly in Chicago. If it weren’t for my shy, but adventurous mother and her nomadic lifestyle, I would not have had the privilege of growing up around so many vastly different people. My beginning years were spent in Englewood. Despite what many outsiders may assume about Englewood, it provided so many wonderful childhood memories. My sense of self was influenced by the strength of community I was surrounded by in Englewood. Unfortunately, everything changed with the infiltration of narcotics. I, like so many other residents, witnessed the decline of a community that no longer looked, sounded, or felt like home. Fortunately, my mother had the means to leave an undesirable living situation, which changed my world as a child. Rogers Park and Uptown were our next places of residence. The level of diversity on the North Side was like tasting a new flavor that made me wonder why it took so long to experience such euphoria. The children in the neighborhoods where I lived were the most open-minded and kind-hearted humans I had ever met. As a result, my transition to the North Side was smooth despite the differences. I grew up learning about so many different customs, foods and religions through my friendship with classmates and neighbors. Through our relationships, my new friends and I expanded our parents’ worldview and made them realize that there were very few differences between us. We were members of the human community. It wasn’t until I moved into my first apartment in South Shore that I stopped calling the North Side “my side.” After living on the South Side for many years, I repeated history. In 2016, my partner and I took a leap of faith and relocated to the “North Pole” (my side). This time it wasn’t out of fear for our safety, but because of the difficulty in finding a reasonably priced home close to a diverse, level 1+ neighborhood school. Unfortunately (and fortunately), parts of the North Side were still incredibly diverse and economically stable compared to the “prestigious college neighborhood” on the South Side where we lived. I wanted our children to experience the ”world-class diversity” we Chicagoans pride ourselves for having. [Related: Why I didn't move after a nearby shooting] Fast forward to now: My daughter has so many friends from different countries, all of which she can identify on our world map. She pronounces their names and countries with ease. As we walk around our neighborhood, seeing a hijab, braids, a spodik, saris, locs, or a burqa is normal to her and a comfort to me. I wish all Chicagoans could experience this harmonious diversity. It might encourage us to easily identify as citizens of the world.
  21. It was February 2016—less than three months before our son was born—when my wife and I attended NPN’s Preparing for Parenthood: Workshops & Expo at the Erikson Institute. Among the people we spoke with during that event was someone from Bright Start College Savings. As we flipped through the pamphlets on the table separating us from this man in a bright orange shirt, he explained how 529s (“tax-advantaged savings plans that help put money toward your future student’s education” if you’ve never heard of these) work and the benefits of starting to save for our son’s college tuition and fees as soon as possible. I had heard of these plans, but I never put much thought into them because, well, I never had anyone’s education to save for until a couple years ago. So after the event, this frantic father-to-be who was—and I suppose still is—obsessed with finances, starting crunching numbers to determine if we could afford another hit to my paycheck (adding a child to your employee health insurance isn’t cheap). “How much biweekly paycheck deduction would I need to take so we could save X amount of dollars by the time our son reaches college age?” was the question that kept bouncing around in my head. But now, with our son quickly approaching his 2nd birthday, we’ve long stopped worrying about how we’re going to pay for his college. And it’s not because we don’t care about education (keep reading) or that we’re rich (far from it). It’s because we’ve decided not to save a penny. Why, you might be wondering? Because we would prefer to spend money on travel. My wife and I have advanced degrees—and the student loan debt to prove it—and I've been a college English instructor for nearly a decade, so we completely appreciate the value of education. But from our perspective, us not starting a college fund will not prevent our son from attending the college of his choice or earning a degree or becoming a happy and successful adult. If he decides to go the college route when high school ends, he’s free to take out loans like Mommy and Daddy did, get a job to help pay for school or, better yet, earn a scholarship. Some may consider that a harsh approach, as our son could end up going into more debt because he doesn’t have the resources to meet rising educational costs, but we refuse to stare at reports of rising college costs and panic about whether he will have the funds to cover tuition and fees starting in 2034. Our focus is on the now and teaching him that the world is much more than just the street, city, state and country where he lives. We could never fully explain to him the wonders of Paris, my wife’s hometown, by reading him a book about the Eiffel Tower or making a crêpe recipe. So we took him there. We couldn’t fully explain what it feels like to attend a luau in Honolulu by clicking open a YouTube video. So we took him there. We couldn’t fully explain what it feels like to play on the beach in the Dominican Republic. So we took him there. We understand our son probably won’t remember these trips, but by continuing to make travel a priority in our lives over the next 16 years—or however how much longer he lives with us—we’re hoping to provide a valuable education that can’t be obtained by attending a lecture, cracking open a book or firing up the Internet. There is nothing like experiencing new places and cultures, trying new foods and better understanding other people’s perspectives on the world. We would much rather see that type of growth from our son than to see a college fund grow.
  22. It was a Sunday afternoon last month and I found myself doing something I rarely get the chance to do: laying on the living room couch in a silent house. With our young son asleep in the other room, I was mindlessly flipping channels looking for something, anything, to keep my mind off the fact I had no workout planned. For the previous six months, I started every day looking at my workout log and preparing myself to meet that day's challenge. I followed that routine as close as the rest of my schedule would allow, as I missed just five workouts during that 26-week stretch. Each time I crossed off that day's scheduled exercise, I gained more and more confidence. Yet here I was, exactly one week removed from crossing the finish line alongside my wife at the Honolulu Marathon in what was one of the most exhilarating and proudest moments of our lives, and I suddenly had nowhere to run. I felt like a failure. While I know this isn't true, as I am blessed in many ways, the importance of setting/striving for personal goals became crystal clear for me in that moment. I can't just have my life revolve around my son and his activities. He will always come first, but I need to move me-time up my list of priorities and be running toward something—and it doesn't need to be the finish line of a marathon or any other athletic endeavor. It could be learning an instrument (which I'm considering), a foreign language, how to paint, or something else. It just needs to be something because: Whether I achieve my goal or not, just taking the steps to achieve my goal will help me experience personal growth and keeps me energized, both physically and mentally. Setting goals brings balance to my life. Not everything can be about my son. It just can’t. It gives me something to look forward to that doesn’t involve walks to the park, Wiggleworms or my son’s Saturday morning French class. It sets a good example for my child. By trying to better myself and staying focused on my personal goals, my hope is that my son will one day learn the importance of goal-setting and trying to improve himself—in whatever way he feels is necessary.

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