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4 Things You Can Learn From Parenting Blogs

You might not have time to read the newspaper while sipping your morning coffee—if you even have time for a morning coffee—but you probably have a few minutes to skim an article or two. That’s the logic behind parenting blogs, at least. They contain short, engaging posts that provide bite-sized pieces of wisdom you can consume at your leisure.

What can you learn from some of the most popular parenting blogs out there? Read on to find out!

1. How to Boost Your Children’s Confidence

On JigsawParenting.com, Emma White writes about her six children and how all but one of them are comfortable with public speaking. Though there’s nothing wrong with having a fear of public speaking—indeed, many adults will admit they have one—children who are comfortable speaking in front of crowds tend to be more confident and successful later in life.

In this particular post, titled “Embodied Minds Helps Build Your Child’s Confidence,” White discusses two licensed therapists who started a company that runs public speaking groups for kids. It’s never too early—nor too late!—to introduce your children to public speaking. With a program like Embodied Minds, kids can boost their self-esteem while improving their interpersonal skills.

2. How to Talk to Your Children About the Tough Stuff 

It’s no secret that kids like to ask questions. A lot of questions. And most parents will admit they don’t always have the answers, but they try their best. Whatever your stance on gay marriage, you would probably agree that sexuality is a tough topic to tackle.

John Kinnear, who runs AskYourDadBlog.com, claims that it doesn’t have to be, though (at least not some parts of it). For example, if your child asks why two men or two women are getting married, a simple “because they love each other” may suffice. (Of course, if your kids are the type to follow up with 19 other questions, it may not. But it’s a start.)

3. How to Save for College

Saving for college is the largest expenditure you will likely have when it comes to raising kids. Considering the fact that tuition is rising faster than inflation, saving can be a daunting task. AMomsTake.com offers some great tips and tricks for parents whose saving accounts could use a little boost. It covers everything from scholarships and employer programs to 529 accounts. You can research each option more thoroughly on your own, but this particular post offers a great place to start, especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

4. How to Start Your Own Parenting Blog

Think you have what it takes to run your own blog? It’s a lot more work than it looks, but it’s also incredibly rewarding, especially if you find a niche you really love. OhSoAmelia.com has some great tips for busy mums who want to try their hand in the blogosphere, including how to pick a great name and why photos are so important.

There’s a lot of information on the Internet, but you need a good filter to find it. Luckily, the growing popularity of blogs mean you can typically find what you want all in one place. A quick Google search is all it takes to yield some witty, fresh content. Happy reading!

dad reading to his two children and smiling

5 Surprising Benefits of Reading to Your Children

It’s no secret that reading is critical for cognitive development, but a lot of parents don’t realize that it’s never too early to read to their children. According to Parents, even infants can benefit from story hour because it means they get to bond one-on-one with mom or dad. Here are five more benefits of reading to your children:

1. Improves Mathematical Skills

It’s probably not surprising that children who read a lot (or who have parents read to them) have a much larger vocabulary than those who don’t. What most people don’t realize, though, is that reading boosts overall brain power, and not just functions related to reading and comprehension. Following along to stories–and discussing them afterward if you have the time–can improve problem-solving skills and analytical reasoning. That means children who spend a lot of time around books also tend to be better at the more technical subjects, too, like math and science.

2. Boosts Emotional Maturity

Children’s books may not be feats of literary genius, but most of them rely on the same basic storytelling techniques. And when they’re successful, readers see the world from the narrator’s perspective. This is a form of empathy, and children who have empathy tend to be more emotionally mature than those who don’t.

3. Increases Their Chances of Being Successful Later in Life

Countless studies have indicated that children who get a quality early education are far more likely to graduate from college and succeed later in life. Though reading is just one component of that, it’s a large part, and it’s never too early to start reading to children. According to PBSNewsHour, a child is less likely to graduate from high school if his or her reading proficiency remains poor by the end of the third grade.

4. Improves Attention Span

Getting your child to sit down and listen to you read may seem like a challenge, but with time, reading can actually lengthen his or her attention span. If your child struggles to concentrate, start small, and let him or her choose the books you’re going to read together. When children take an active part in choosing what they read, they’re far more likely to stay engaged and take something positive away from the experience.

5. Boosts Their Confidence

Older children often gain confidence when they read along with their parents, but if your child is too young to read, he or she can still gain confidence during story hour. Children thrive on predictability and routine, so if you make it a habit to read with your family every evening, chances are your kids will notice and feel more safe, secure and confident about their place in the world.

Reading to your children might take a little planning, but it will be worth it once you settle into a routine. Start by taking the whole family to your local library, and let each of your kids select a book that interests them. You may even find that picking out books and spending a few hours together one afternoon is just as much fun as reading together in the evenings.

young girl drawing on floor with colored pencils

4 Ways to Encourage Creative Thinking

Children tend to express creativity in everything they do, and it often catches adults off-guard. People don’t necessarily become less creative as they age, but they do gain more inhibitions.

Fostering creativity is one of the most effective ways to ensure your child’s academic success because it encourages him or her to look at problems from all different angles. Read on for four ways you can encourage creative thinking at home:

1. Do More Than Just Talk About the Future

Adults love asking children what they want to be when they grow up because the answers are almost always heartwarming, insightful and a little entertaining. You can foster creativity by doing more than just asking your children what they aspire to be, though. Take their answer–whether it’s a fireman, ballerina or architect–and do something with it.

For example, if your child wants to be an architect, Parents recommends heading to the local playground and talking about what makes a good park. Then, when you get home, dig out all your craft supplies and help your child design his or her own “dream playground” using pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks and anything else you happen to have on hand. Tackling a tangible project that relates to a child’s passion is one of the easiest ways to inspire the motivation needed to pursue it.

2. Read the Paper Together

Your children might not be interested in the election or what’s happening on Wall Street, but they’ll likely enjoy the comics. Read the paper together over breakfast and see which comic strip makes your kids laugh out loud. The next time you sit down together to work on an art project, suggest that you draw your own comics, and watch what everyone comes up with–they may be more creative than you realize. Don’t get the morning paper? There are tons of digital comics online that you can access for free, and of course every Panda Pals subscription box comes with a story about Nikos and his friends!

3. Bring Books to Life

There are so many great children’s books in print that the whole family can enjoy. If your kids have a fairly large age gap between them, check out the Harry Potter series or books by Roald Dahl, so you can keep the older kids entertained, too. Read a chapter or two every night before bed, and when you finish, plan a weekend afternoon where you can bring the story to life.

For example, if you read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, you could organize a quidditch game in your backyard. Just finished James and the Giant Peach? Make a peach themed dinner, complete with mango peach salsa as a starter and peach pie as dessert.

If you incorporate aspects of the stories you read together into your daily activities, your children will start looking for ways to bring the books to life, and they’ll become far more attentive, which will ultimately improve their overall comprehension skills.

4. Learn a New Language

NBCNews explored why children seem to pick up new languages so quickly and determined that it’s easiest to do so between birth and the age of 7. That doesn’t mean it’s too late for adults to learn new languages, though. Studying a foreign language has countless benefits, including improving a person’s grasp on his or her native language. If your child wants to be a writer, being bilingual is only going to help.

Much like reading books, you can encourage your whole family to study a new language by incorporating it into your everyday life. Want to learn Italian? Find a few pasta dishes that you’re eager to try, and go over some new vocab every night at dinner.

Creative people tend to be more successful because they develop strong analytical thinking and problem-solving skills. You can foster creativity in your home on a daily basis, and chances are, your family won’t even realize you’re doing it!

 

people on a boat petting gray whale in lagoon in mexico

Gray Whales: Man’s Best (Underwater) Friend

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to pet a whale? If your family travels to Mexico around this time of year, you may be able to find out.

In late winter and early spring, gray whales swim in lagoons along the coast of Baja California in Mexico. They migrate from Alaska to the warm waters there to have their babies, and they seem to love people. The locals call gray whales “friendlies” because they swim right up to the boats. Sometimes the whales even get close enough to let people pet them or give them kisses!

No one knows why these whales are so friendly, but scientists and fishermen have a few theories. Whales are highly intelligent animals, and many people think they like interacting with people because they’re curious. Some people think the whales just like being patted, and others are certain the whales actually enjoy visiting with humans. What do you think?

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons, User Ryan Harvey 

Happy Grandmother with her granddaughter working in the garden

3 Lessons Kids Can Learn From Working in the Garden

Now that the snow is melting and February is behind us, it’s a good time to start thinking about your lawn and garden again. After spending all winter inside, a little fresh air will do everyone some good, and you can enlist the whole family to help.

Landscaping might sound like a chore, but with the right approach, you can get your kids excited about helping in the yard. The best part? They’re going to learn a thing or two in the process.

1. A Little Work Can Go a Long Way

Gardening is one of the few activities that illustrates synergy with tangible results. For example, you need soil, water and seeds to plant tomatoes. With enough sunlight and a little TLC, you could have snaking vines running up a stake in a matter of weeks–the whole is greater than the sum of its parts!

This concept is hard to demonstrate on paper, but when kids experience it firsthand by munching on crisp, fresh green beans, they learn and appreciate the value of hard work. BetterHealthChannel reminds parents that gardening encourages self-discipline and responsibility, which are qualities that impact other aspects of life, as well.

2. Cooperation Is Key

You don’t need a huge backyard to start a family garden. If you don’t have the space to give everyone their own small plot, start with potted plants, and let everyone pick a few items that they want to grow.

The great thing about gardening is you can make it both an individual and a group activity.For example, if each of your kids wants to plant something different, coordinate so you can use the harvest in a single dish at the end of the summer. One child could plant butternut squash for ravioli while another could plant lettuce and tomatoes for a tasty side salad.

By planning the meal in advance, you’ll know exactly when to plant each item so you can harvest them at the same time. It will also give the kids something to look forward to, and they’ll likely help each other to ensure they have everything they need for the special meal.

3. Math and Science Extend Beyond the Classroom

There are countless ways you can use a garden to illustrate basic mathematical and scientific principles. For example, if you’re working in a limited space, your children can help measure out the plots for each group of seeds and learn about spatial awareness and basic geometry in the process. And once the plants start taking root, they’ll be able to witness the different life cycles of certain plants firsthand.

Kids are visual learners, and gardening is a great way to demonstrate some of the more complicated scientific concepts. If you have the space, try to plant a few flowers that you can use purely for learning purposes. Sunflowers, for example, can grow to be fairly large, and their roots, stem and leaves make it easy to see the different processes that occur as plants grow. They also produce lots of seeds, which can be a tasty family treat once autumn comes!

bat at night in cave

How Do Bats See in the Dark?

Batman might not be able to fly, but the animal he’s named after sure can. In fact, bats are the only mammal that can fly.

Bats live in all parts of the world, and most of them are insectivores. That means they eat insects. The bats that live off fruit are called frugivores. (Side Note: If you eat meat and vegetables, you are called an omnivore.)

Bats have powerful lungs that help them breathe when flying at high speeds. They’re most active at nighttime, which means they’re nocturnal, and they usually hunt right after the sun goes down. Even though their vision is not as good as ours, bats can fly in the dark because they use echolocation.

With echolocation, bats can “see” their surroundings by emitting sounds that bounce off things before coming back to them. Bats then use the echo to guess how close the object is to them so they can avoid it. Have you ever been in a wide open space that echoed? Do you remember what it sounded like?

If you want to learn more about bats and the other animals who live on Sock Island, be sure to check out our Panda Pals monthly subscription box!

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons, User batwrangler

family cleaning and organizing together mom and toddler with cleaning supplies

Staying Organized: How to Get the Whole Family to Pitch in

It might only be February, but if you get a head start on spring cleaning now, guess what you won’t have to do once the snow melts? Staying organized isn’t actually all that difficult once you’ve established systems to help you do so. It’s getting there that presents challenges, but if the whole family pitches in, your house will be ready for unannounced guests any day of the week.  

Start Small

If the thought of getting started overwhelms you, it’s likely your family feels the same way. Keep your expectations low when you’re first starting out, and encourage your kids to help you clean up in just 10 or 15-minute increments. Remember to tackle the problems behind the clutter, too, and not just the mess itself.

For example, if your children always leave their shoes in a muddy pile by the back door, don’t just ask them to line up their shoes day after day. Get a small wicker basket (or cubbies if they’ll fit), and encourage your kids to put their shoes in the basket, instead. You’d be surprised what a big difference the little changes can make.

Give Everyone a Heads up

Kids thrive on predictability and routine, and no one wants to wake up on Saturday morning to hear Mom say that they’re going to spend all day cleaning. Give your kids a heads up if you want their help on the weekends so they’re prepared when the time comes. Better Homes and Gardens even encourages busy moms to add cleaning tasks to the family calendar.

You shouldn’t have to bribe your kids to help around the house, but they will be far more agreeable if they have something to look forward to once they’re done. Let them know you appreciate their help by getting frozen yogurt or seeing a movie after you’ve finished for the day, so you can still salvage some of that weekend fun.

Make It Fun

Okay, so maybe cleaning and organizing isn’t exactly “fun,” but there are steps you can take to make it a bit more enjoyable. Put on some music, come up with silly timed events–who can pair the most socks in 2 minutes?–and just try to keep things light. You may feel like you’re on a tight deadline, but in reality, whatever you don’t finish this weekend can always wait until next weekend. Plus, your family will be far more inclined to help out in the future if they feel like they have a little wiggle room.

Take the Lead

You can’t expect your family to stay organized if you don’t make an active effort to do so yourself. Take the lead on spring cleaning this year, and remember: Even the little things count. For example, make sure all your paperwork is squared away before your ask your kids to clear their art supplies off the table for dinner.

At the end of the day, keeping the house organized is going to be a group effort. Have a family meeting and talk about the ways everyone will benefit from staying tidy. Then discuss the steps you’ll need to take to get there.

When kids feel like they actually have a say in the decision-making process, they tend to be more eager to help. Give your kids a chance to show just how proactive they can be, and tackle the clutter together this spring.

mother cooking with two kids in the cozy kitchen

I Ate My Homework: Teaching Math Concepts Through Cooking

If your kids are like most students, they probably grumble and groan when it comes time to do their homework. What parents don’t realize, though, is it’s often a lack of understanding, and not laziness or downright stubbornness, that’s causing this frustration.

For example, your child might know that 2 x 3 = 6, but he or she might not understand why that’s the case (2 + 2 + 2 = 6, as does 3 + 3). When it comes to mathematical concepts, teachers must contextualize functions before children can feel confident applying them. Kids are visual learners, and it helps to teach them new concepts using tangible objects and concrete analogies.

Whether your child is learning addition or long division, you can illustrate many of the basic concepts by using kitchen math–and getting dinner ready in the process!

Addition and Subtraction

One of the easiest mathematical concepts to illustrate, addition has always had a place in the kitchen. For example, if you’re making fettuccine alfredo for dinner and the recipe calls for three cloves of garlic, you can ask your child how many cloves you’ll be using if you add two more. Likewise, you can illustrate subtraction by asking your child how many cloves you need to add if you want to use five cloves total ( 5 – 3 = 2).

You can help your child contextualize the lesson by letting him or her actually handle some of the cooking tasks. Young children may not be able to mince garlic, but they can certainly help you count out each clove and peel them.

Multiplication and Division

Through multiplication and division are a little more complicated than addition and subtraction, they essentially use the same principles. The next time you’re baking cookies together, ask your child what would happen if you wanted to double the recipe. If the measurements include halves and quarters, this will provide a lesson in working with fractions, as well.

Fractions

There are tons of hard and fast rules when it comes to using fractions, but students who simply memorize these rules rarely succeed. By breaking down the principles behind the rules–and illustrating why they work using tangible objects, like food–you can help your child comprehend fractions, ratios and even decimals.

For example, if you’re making a two-layer cake and the recipe for a single layer calls for 1 ¼ cup of flour, you can literally show your child how 1 ¼ x 2 = 2 ½ by measuring 1 ¼ cups of flour each into two separate measuring cups and then combining them into one.

When you illustrate math’s basic principles with food, you’ll start to realize that math, like cooking, is as much an art as it is a science. You’ll also get to spend more time with your kids, making tasty dishes and cherished memories at the same time.

If your children are older–or eager for a challenge–you can teach them some of the more difficult math concepts through cooking. According to Wired, Eugenia Cheng has written a book on that very subject. “How to Bake Pi” is a tasty exploration of advanced concepts in mathematics. Pick up a copy the next time your family visits the book store, and you can study kitchen math together.

American Independence Day celebration with cute little kids holding national flags on patriotic background

Celebrate Presidents’ Day With Macey Hensley

This Monday is Presidents’ Day, and few Americans know more about the presidents than Macey Hensley. Macey’s not a history teacher, though. In fact, she’s just 5 years old!

Macey told Ellen DeGeneres she first became interested in the presidents after her grandmother bought her a set of flash cards. She has learned a lot about the presidents since then, and she has even visited the White House (with a little help from Ellen).

If you’re interested in something, Macey proves you’re never too young to start learning about it. Whether it’s airplanes, robots or foreign countries, you can find books and TV shows about your passion. Ask your parents to help you start there, and before you know it, you could be an expert just like Macey!

Click below to watch Macey visit the Ellen Show for the first time.

And here she is visiting the White House!

Parents playing pirates and wearing costumes outside with their kids

4 Tips for Making the Most of Long Weekends

If your company grants paid holidays, you may have a three-day weekend coming up; President’s Day is Feb. 15. And if you’re like most Americans, it probably feels like those three days fly by. You might clock out on Friday evening with all the time in the world, but before you know it, it’s Monday night and you’re getting the kids ready for bed. Read on to learn how you can make the most of your time off.

image of electronics with a red line through it1. Unplug So You Can Unwind

Working hard might be the path to success, but even Bill Gates told The Wall Street Journal that he takes at least one week off per year to regroup, meditate and contemplate what he wants for his future. If you struggle to unwind on the weekends, try turning off all your devices for a set period of time every Saturday. Only after your phone stops buzzing will you finally be able to relax, instead of trying to respond immediately to everyone who contacts you, work-related or not.

2. Make Plans Ahead of Time

It may be tempting to spend the holiday weekend on the couch, but chances are you’ll regret it when you go back to work Tuesday morning.

It should come as no surprise that people on vacation are far happier than those who aren’t, but scientists found that it’s not actually the trip that people enjoy most; it’s the planning. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, vacation-goers were happiest when they were anticipating their trips to come.

How can you use this information to your advantage? Call your favorite restaurant on Wednesday night to make reservations for the following Saturday. Then you’ll have three days to dream about that mouthwatering pasta dish accompanied by a glass—or two—of a full-bodied red.

couple together doing chores at home

3. Stay Productive During the Week

It’s easy to postpone all your chores until Saturday, but chances are you’re not going to want to do them when the weekend rolls around, either. Instead, try to tackle as many chores as you can during the week.

Doing just 20 minutes of cleaning per evening works out to logging more than 1.5 hours by the time the weekend rolls around. If you’re efficient and have all the supplies on hand, you can clean the whole house in an hour and a half. Try to squeeze in your grocery shopping on a weeknight, too. The store will be much less crowded so you can finish faster, and you’ll have even more time to play on your days off.

4. Put Your Family First

There’s an old adage about raising kids: The days are long, but the years are short. That’s a good reminder that the best way to make the most of your time off is by focusing on your family. That doesn’t mean picking up after them, though; the dishes and laundry can wait.

Instead, focus on doing things together. Sign up for a pottery class, go bowling or turn up the music and dance around the house in your socks “Risky Business” style. Doing things with the people you love is the only surefire way to guarantee you won’t regret how you spent your time off.