Family Files Facts for All Ages Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 Back to school! Ease those First-Day Blues! A tip sheet from the Illinois Early Learning Project Tue, 14 Aug 2018 08:51:00 +0000 Ease Those First-Day Blues!

A tip sheet from the Illinois Early Learning Project!

Separations, sadness, fears, and tears—a young child's first day in your program can be challenging for children and adults! These strategies can help teachers and caregivers make it easier for children and parents to get through those first-day blues.

Help families prepare.

  • Make home visits before the first day—that way the child and the parent see a familiar face when they arrive.
  • Send welcoming notes or e-mails with pictures of staff. Children like to get mail, and the photos help them recognize their teachers on the first day.
  • Schedule an open house for children and parents outside of regular program hours.
  • Offer families a list of strategies that may help children deal with being in a new place away from parents.
  • Involve children in making a book about your classroom to share with new families. Include pictures of staff members, parts of the room, and children engaged in everyday activities.

Help children "ease in."

  • Shorten the first day so child and parent go through a full day's schedule in just a few hours.
  • Invite parents to stay in the room for extended periods the first week, gradually reducing their time each day.
  • Show every child where to find bathrooms, cubbies, coat hooks, cots, soap, paper towels, and facial tissues.
  • Let children know that you understand that they might wish their parents were there. Assure them that they are safe with you and that you believe they will soon find something they like to do.
  • Teach cooperative games so children can enjoy each other right away.
  • Sing songs that use children's names (for example, "Willaby Wallaby" or "Pawpaw Patch") to help classmates get to know each other.

Welcome the child who starts after the year has begun.

  • Ask the group to discuss ways that they might help "new children" adjust to being in your program. Even if the year has just begun, the other children are veterans compared with "the new one!"
  • Assign a caring "partner" to help a new child find his way around.

Thanks to our partnership with the Illinois Early Learning Project we can share their wonderful resources with you. To learn more about the work the IELP does click here.

Take a Stand to Prevent Falls Thu, 09 Aug 2018 16:00:00 +0000 Image result for balance classes for elderly


Did you know that 1 in 4 Americans aged 65+ falls every year? Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans and are costly - in dollars and quality of life.

However, falling is NOT an inevitable part of aging and many falls are preventable. The first official day of Fall is September 22 and is National Falls Prevention Awareness Day. Stay safe with these tips from the National Council on Aging:

1) Find a good balance and exercise program - look to build balance, strength and flexibility. The A Matter of Balance: Managing Concerns About Falls program is available in many parts of Illinois. This program focuses on exercise, awareness, and prevention.

2) Talk to your health care provider - ask for an assessment of your risk of falling. Share your history of recent falls. Your physician won't be able to help you manage any health-related causes for falls if she doesn't know about them!

3) Regularly review your medications with your doctor or pharmacist - make sure side effects aren't increasing your risk of falling. Take medications only as prescribed.

4) Get your vision and hearing checked annually and update your eyeglasses - your eyes and ears are key to keeping you on your feet.

5) Keep your home safe - Remove tripping hazards, increase lighting, make stairs safe, and install grab bars in key areas.

6) Talk to your family members - enlist their support in taking simple steps to stay safe. Falls are not just an older adult's issue.

This article was originally written in 2015 by Extension Educator Cara Allen. Source: National Council on Aging. To learn more, visit

Back to School, Back to Bullying? Wed, 01 Aug 2018 15:57:00 +0000 With the start of the new school year, I thought I'd re-share a blog post on bullying I wrote in 2015.  This timely information is a great reminder for us all in how to tell bullying apart from peer conflict.

A concerned parent once approached me with a myriad of questions on bullying. Why was her child being excluded from the peer group? What about name calling – is that bullying? Why is her child being picked on? What can she do to help? As the questions went on, one in particular stood out to me: "Is this normal?" It became clear: this parent was having difficulty distinguishing between "normal" peer conflict and bullying.

Parents have a plethora of resources to consult in the area of bullying. A google search of the term "bullying" will yield 94,200,000 results in a matter of milliseconds. While there is no doubt a wealth of information on bullying, parents may ask themselves, "How do I tell the difference between bullying and normal peer conflict?"

One approach parents can use to distinguish between peer conflict and bullying is using the acronym RIP. There are generally three components of bullying:

RRepeated. The action of the bully is generally a repeated action, occurring time after time.

IIntentional. The target does not knowingly provoke the bully and, as such, the bully is intentional with their behavior/actions.

PPower Imbalance. In bullying situations, there is a real or perceived power imbalance between the two parties. This imbalance can be physical strength, access to information, or even popularity.

In contrast, "normal" peer conflicts differ from bullying situations in the following ways:

  • The children involved are of equal power or are friends.
  • The conflict that occurs is occasional or often accidental.
  • There is an equal emotional reaction to the conflict to both children and power or control is not being sought.

Having disagreements with peers is a normal developmental task of childhood; bullying, while it may be a common childhood experience, should not be tolerated. Trying to discern between the two may be difficult as a parent. It may be helpful to assess the situation closely – asking ourselves if the action is Repeated, Intentional, and involves a Power Imbalance.

Using the RIP concept is a great tool to help parents distinguish between bullying and peer conflict as response to each differs. Conflict can be a good thing for children to experience – helping them to learn how to resolve conflict, how to give and take, how to come to an agreement, and how to problem solve. Developing conflict resolution skills in children can teach how to listen to and work with others.

Parental response to bullying takes two main forms: support and report. Supporting your child means maintaining open lines of communication with your child, actively listening to their experiences, avoiding blame, and empowering him/her. Informing your child's teacher or school of bullying incidents is also key.

For more information on responding to bullying situations, visit these excellent resources:


Responding to Bullying

A Parent's Response to Bullying

Stop Bullying Now: Advice for Parents and Guardians

School and Homework Tips for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Tue, 24 Jul 2018 11:45:00 +0000

With the beginning of school fast approaching, I thought I would share this article that I originally wrote back in 2015.

August is the time of year when parents are busy getting their children ready to go back to school. Registering, shopping for school supplies, providing emotional support. But what about grandparents that are raising their grandchildren? It might have been awhile since they raised their own children, and for their "second time around", I have some practical ideas and tips from U of I Extension "Parenting Again" website that will help make the school year a success!

  • Prepare your grandchildren for school. Make sure they go to school fed and well rested.
  • Limit outside activities to avoid burnout. Children can only do so much. If they have too many extra-curricular activities, they may be too tired to do homework.
  • Take time to read. Children are more likely to read if adults around them read. Take your grandkids to the library and bring home some books for them and yourself. Also read together aloud. Ask the children what the book was about and why the characters acted as they did.
  • Encourage sharing. Ask your grandchildren about school. Listen closely and respond with empathy when things aren't going well. This interaction fosters better students and stronger relationships.
  • Monitor screen time. Limit the amount of hours that the television and video game devices are on. Choose TV shows and watch together - use it as an opportunity to share your family values.

We all know that home life affects children's success at school. So what can you do to help ensure that your grandchildren succeed?

  • Start by creating an environment that encourages learning. Provide a special space for homework that is quiet and away from distractions. Keep the area supplied with frequently needed items like paper, pencils, tape, paper clips, ruler, calculator, and a dictionary .If a separate desk or table isn't feasible, use part of a dining room or kitchen table. A box with school supplies can be brought to the table when it's study time.
  • Talk about homework. Help the children manage homework by breaking it into smaller segments. Help them to learn how to pace their work. Check homework for completeness, but don't do the assignments for them. Complete one or two examples together and let them do the rest. If they don't do their own work, they won't do well on tests and other assignments.
  • Have the grandchildren write down the name and phone number of one student in each class to call for help or missed class notes.
  • Pay attention to how your grandchildren learn. Some need a quiet private area, but others need coaching. If the children aren't doing well in school, ask for help. Early diagnosis of learning difficulties, vision problems or hearing loss reduces their risk of failure in school.
  • Establish a homework routine to make it part of everyday activities. Emphasize that homework is not "optional." Study time could be when the children get home from school, before supper, or before television or playtime. Let them help set the time.
  • School is not only stressful for children, but it can also be stressful for you. Memories of past school experiences may cause a bias. Realize that schoolwork has changed and may cause you to feel uncomfortable. Remember that it's okay to tell the children you don't know the answer - but, then work to find the answer. What you then teach the children are valuable problem-solving skills.
  • Support the teachers. If you think teachers are assigning too much homework, make an appointment to discuss the matter - without the children. If you complain to the teacher in front of the children, it encourages them to question the teacher's authority - and that can lead to discipline problems.
  • And last but not least, be a role model. When children see you reading or enrolling in an adult education class, they get the message that learning is important. Visit the public library as a family and take advantage of the books, videos, audio tapes, Internet access and educational programs that are available. Just remember, reading, writing and math are important skills. But other skills like setting priorities, managing time, and solving problems also impact children's ability to succeed in school and in life.
The Search is Over: Sweet Summer Memories are Closer Than You Think! Fri, 20 Jul 2018 10:20:00 +0000

I originally posted this in July 2015....but it still holds true today.  Enjoy!


I have some special childhood Summer memories that seem to stick out in my mind.  I can remember boating with my Dad. I can remember riding along in a car and singing Eddie Rabbit's "I Love a Rainy Night" with my Dad and sister. I can remember riding in the very back of our red station wagon (with no seat belts) in the Rocky Mountains and stopping to play in a creek. If I close my eyes I can still see the sights and hear sounds of the Indianapolis 500 parade. The pace car was a black and gray corvette…with T-Tops!!   I am sure you can relate to some of these. Our brains are amazing things and what we remember has a great deal to do with our emotions. Think about it…..If I asked you to recall a time when you were sad, happy, mad, disappointed, excited, can do it with no problem. I know I can.

Now, my goal right now is not to go into great detail about how you store memories and tips on remembering. My goal is to get you to stop and think about creating Summer memories with your children that have a lasting impact. Life is unpredictable and tough at times. Sometimes as a parent I have blown it. What started out as a grand plan ended up with an argument over minor details and ended with a slam of a teenager's bedroom door!! Not exactly the "Summer Family time" I dreamed it would be.  Definitely not the memory I was hoping for. But then again, life is unpredictable  and many things are out of our control.

Let me go back to my childhood Summer memories, in particular the one when I was riding in the car singing "I Love a Rainy" night. Part of the chorus is ……." the windshield wipers slapping at a tempo, keeping perfect rhythm with the song on the radio"…..We sang. All of us. I will never forget that moment. A moment that was not planned, it was rather unexpected. Spontaneous. You cannot control what is on the radio and you certainly cannot control the rain. It was fun and that moment I was just happy to be…there. In that moment. A sweet summer memory.

As the summer draws to an end, don't panic about not taking that trip to Disneyland. Live in the moment. Live unplanned. Live spontaneously. Live fully and love your family. It is way better than Disneyland!


Are you Engaging Your Brain? Wed, 27 Jun 2018 15:45:00 +0000

Since June was Alzheimer's and Brain Awareness month, I wanted to mention one of the brain health programs that family life educators facilitate called Wits Fitness.  The goals of Wits Fitness brain training classes are to educate participants on healthy brain contributors, and to present cognitive or mental challenges to participants in a highly social setting. Participants are not tested for Alzheimer's Disease, and there are no claims made that memory will be regained or that the classes prevent the onset of dementia. Wits Fitness class is simply engaging in interactive activities that challenge thinking and therefore help participants stay mentally active – which can contribute to maintaining and improving brain function.

According to the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH), "Cognitively stimulating activities over the life course, such as engaging in formal or self-initiated informal educational activities, continuing to engage in work experiences, learning a new skill, or engaging in leisure activities that are mentally challenging, provide benefits for adults' brain health. Cognitively stimulating activities are mentally-engaging activities or exercises that challenge a person's ability to think. These activities can help you maintain your brain and cognitive abilities, such as your memory, thinking, attention and reasoning skills as you age."

So what types of cognitive stimulating activities are beneficial? Researchers are still trying to figure that out. Many programs and activities that are advertised as "brain games" help people to get better at playing those particular games, but the improvements in performance have not been seen to transfer to everyday cognitive abilities. And if these games are being completed online and alone, this causes concern that the games could be interfering with a person's physical activity levels and their level of socialization. GCBH does report that cognitively stimulating activities should be new, interesting, challenging, enjoyable, and encourage social engagement. Learning a new language or any new skill, taking a class on something you enjoy, creating art, gardening, volunteering – are all great examples of activities that challenge the brain. And those activities that also incorporate social engagement are beneficial for brain health. One thing I really love about the Wits Fitness classes is the fellowship that I witness each time – and the laughter! These classes provide a great opportunity for participants to have fun while learning and trying new things. It's all about the activity and not how well you perform it!

GCBH says "seeking out cognitively stimulating activities is a powerful way for a person to positively influence their brain health as they age." So why not seek out and attend a Wits Fitness class or other brain health opportunity near you?  Check with your local Extension office by phone or online at

For the full online report from the Global Council on Brain Health:

How to Have a Successful Summer Wed, 20 Jun 2018 18:14:00 +0000 Ah, the lazy days of summer. Around my house, summer is a cherished time of year – for both the kids and parents. Routines are more relaxed, the pace is slower, and the "rules" are bent a little. Even though we are all enjoying a little more freedom from the frantic school year, by this time of the summer, everyone is also ready for a little more "normal."

What does having a successful summer mean to you? Fulfilled kids, relaxing days, a break from the norm? Have you ever thought what a successful summer looks like? While each family will individually define what this term means to them, I think it's safe to say that most parents want their children and family to enjoy all that summer brings.

Before long, the chorus of "I'm bored" will ring through my house and in an effort to prevent that, I thought it would be helpful to share a few tips on how to have a successful summer with kids.

Stick to a Schedule

While summer certainly offers opportunities to sleep in and stay up late, children (and adults!) generally function better with predictability. As humans, we are conditioned to want routine and structure – it helps us feel safe and secure. Children are no different! Oftentimes, when structure is thrown out the window, negative behaviors increase and chaos ensues. According to Dr. Mollie Grow, a pediatrician at Seattle Children's Hospital, structure is critical for children's growth and development.

While it's not necessary to engage your children in a schedule with military precision in the summer (or at any time really), simple routines like regular waking, bed, and meal times are often enough to ensure structure and stability, while maintaining the carefree spirit of summer that we all love.

Stay Involved in Activities

Summer is a great time to cut back on your child's activities, but be sure to keep them involved in something. As more and more parents are concerned about overscheduling children during the school year, summer can be a precious three months with fewer activities. It is important to stay involved as activities can provide a sense of structure and routine. Research indicates that children who engage in learning opportunities in the summer maintain math, reading, and spelling skills over children who do not. Consider having your child try a new sport, activity, or club. Parents can even offer summer learning activities like enrolling in a class, introducing an online educational game, or even providing commercially available educational workbooks. Summer camps are another popular summer activity and there are many opportunities to volunteer during summer festivals, community events, and county fairs. The key to staying involved is summed up in one word: balance. Resist filling your child's schedule to the brim and embrace "free" time for play, exploration, and good old down time.

Set (and stick to) Screen Time Limits

If your children are like mine, screens are very popular! The t.v., computer, tablet, and hand-held games are the choice activity on most sweltering summer days. While we have guidelines for screen time that we are pretty rigid about during the school year, I've noticed my kids stretching those limits (and me letting them) over the past few weeks. It's a good idea to set screen time expectations in your home and to stick with it throughout the year. While the expectation may be relaxed somewhat during the summer, parents are strongly encouraged to keep some sort of limit on screens. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one or two hours on screens per day for children above the age of two. Families should aim to find balance in screen time and develop a digital use plan that works for them. Maintaining the limits you set on screen time year round provides the structure that helps kids thrive! While it may be difficult to set and keep screen time limits, there are plenty of other ways to engage your children this summer, like…

Tackle Chores and Responsibilities

At the beginning of the summer, I kindly informed my 10 year old that my summer goal for him was to learn how to make five meals and to do his own laundry. Summer is an excellent time to teach children to take on (or continue) their household responsibilities. Even very young children can help with simple household tasks and all children can grow their confidence and skills in helping out around the house! Assign chores that are developmentally age appropriate for your child's skills and abilities. It is also important that parents ensure children have all of the tools and knowledge they need to successfully complete the chore. The University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service has an excellent resource for parents, Kids Can Do Chores,as well as an excellent handout listing age appropriate chores.

Read, Read, Read

Children who spend time reading in the summer have been found to make gains in their reading achievement over children who do not read during the summer. Many public libraries offer summer reading programs with incentives and prizes to encourage and entice children and families to keep reading! Take a weekly family trip to your local public library and read in front of your children. Consider making reading a part of your daily family routine and make sure that you are modeling good reading behavior yourself by showing interest in reading. Michigan State University Extension has a great article on How to Support Reading Skills During Summer.

Get Outside

Summer offers plentiful opportunities to get out and enjoy the great outdoors. No matter your age, it is important to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine. Experts recommend at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day for children. Families should aim to spend time together outside for maximum benefit. Family bike rides or walks, trips to the beach or pool, gardening, visiting playgrounds or parks are great ways to get out and get fit together. While the heat and humidity of Midwest summers may prevent some outdoor physical activities, there are plenty of options to stay physical indoors including indoor playgrounds/jump centers, bowling, visiting a recreation center, or even walking around a museum. As your family gets out and about this summer, it's also important to…

Stay Safe

Trips to the park or the playground, fun family outings, swimming, and attending community festivals are all at the top of my children's' summer bucket list. As summer naturally brings about many more opportunities to get outside, the risk for accidental injury increases. Keep your children safe by implementing common safety measures. Wearing sunscreen and staying hydrated are especially important on hot summer days. Supervise your children in all outdoor activities – especially water activities including swimming and water play. Prevent heatstroke in vehicles, ensuring that you "look before you lock". Ensure that everyone in your family enjoys community festivals and fireworks displays by following these tips Safe Kids Worldwide is a great resource for summer safety topics.

Keep It Fun

Whatever your plans are for a successful summer, make sure it remains fun! Everyone, including children, needs down time in life – time to relax, unwind, and restore – and summer offers a perfect opportunity for kids to do just that. Many families create summer bucket lists to keep the summer fun, interesting, engaging and, perhaps, unscheduled. The University of Illinois Extension has fantastic information on summer bucket lists and unscheduling your child.

Whether your family is breezing through these summer days or are experiencing the boredom that summer can bring, your family can have a successful, fun, engaging, and rewarding summer!

Your turn: What are your tips for a great family summer?




Six Tips for a Smooth Summer with Your Children, Michigan State University Extension

Summer Routines Help Keep Kids Thinking and Moving While School's Out, Seattle Children's Hospital

Family Life Friday: Kids Can…Do Chores!, University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service

How to Support Reading Skills During Summer, Michigan State University Extension