Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

I Hope You Brought a Second Piece of Luggage

Friday, November 11th, 2016

America

Our son is preparing for high school this year and, in our district, that means choosing a field of interest he might want to explore at college and selecting what option might fit his needs best. It was quite the process because it was really important to us that we pick the right thing for him. We went to hours and hours of meetings, we poured over the information that was sent home and spent lots of time talking to parents about how it all worked and their experience with the school. After all that time vested this year, we were relieved to find a school that would fit his needs perfectly. We can’t wait for this next chapter with him!

For me, the election season was like that. I never go into voting lightly and this year, I believe, was my most informed voter decision that I had ever made. I took unbiased quizzes to try to figure out what issues aligned with me most, I watched each of the debates, I spent hours reading articles from both sides of the coin, and I talked endlessly with my husband about what we were looking for in this presidential election. I was very vested when I placed my vote, as I know many of you were, and the person that I thought would do a good job did not win.

I expected what I saw on social media, but it’s been an awful scroll from both sides.

I hope you will humor me for a moment and envision the voting process a little differently than maybe the way you did before. I want you to imagine that when each person went to vote they carried behind them their luggage of issues. Maybe you came with an overnight sack of a couple of things that were important to you and placed your vote or you just had a week’s worth of stuff that was easier to roll and to manage while you were voting.

Others though were backing up moving vans of issues and trying to haul that in with them when they voted. That van was loaded, heavy, and packed to the brim.

When we got home, maybe your overnight bag was easy to unpack and you felt good about the outcome of the day. Even if it didn’t go your way, you felt good about unpacking and moving on to the next chapter.   You went about making your coffee, feeling good, and you gazed out your window and saw your neighbor with all this stuff just strewn all over the lawn.

It was a mess over there.

They looked overwhelmed and they were just sitting in the middle of it looking bewildered at how they were ever going to put all this crap away.

What is your knee jerk reaction to this view?

Do you roll your eyes and tell them to declutter? You laugh and head to your computer to make a hilarious meme on hoarding- your friends are going to LOVE this!

Do you head into the house and message them a helpful article that outlines why they should have hired a moving service? They should have known this was going to happen. You always saw it coming and had shared with them lots of articles before they moved about outsourcing this. I guess they did not read them.

Do you yell out the window, “Get up and put it away! You look emotional and you need to get over it and make your lawn look like mine!”

Do you put your coffee down, get your coat on, and tell them you want to help? You’re overwhelmed with their mess, but you know it might lighten the load if you did something. You know you are good at praying, listening, and organizing. You know they are hurting and and you are good at many of these things. You can’t do the unpacking, but wouldn’t it be nice to tell them that you are their friend.

What I worry about is that some of us may have forgotten a second piece of luggage in baggage claim. It was the bag with the empathy in it that helps you see your neighbor with love. Some people unpacked those bags and used them, but I fear that others of us forgot them. That second piece of luggage was really important for both sides to be able to work together. That second piece was the key to helping unpack the first one.

I’ll admit, this family still has some stuff on their lawn so I apologize for the view. We are hoping the view will change, but we haven’t gotten everything put away yet. We will get there, but we are trying to distribute that second piece of luggage to our friends while still unpacking our own. It wasn’t a moving truck size, but it wasn’t an overnight bag.

The silver lining to this story is that I know that we ALL want this country to succeed and this is the common theme that I am choosing to focus on.  I love our people and our country. I am praying that the transition is a good and hopeful one. We need it!

If you are feeling in the dumps right now, I hope that this will be an enjoyable scroll as I highlight the good in the world.

Good In Action

3 Ways to Encourage Creativity in Our Kids

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

3 Ways to Encourage Creativity in Our Kids from MomAdvice.com

We’ve been practicing a lot of basic math facts at our house this month. My older daughter has lost that loving feeling for math (a subject she’s run hot and cold on throughout elementary school), despite my repeated declarations that math is everywhere! and yes, she really WILL use this in real life! And somehow, between second and third grade, she’s apparently forgotten all the subtraction facts she memorized last year.

So it’s been pop quizzes over dinner, practice tests after karate, and flashcards in the car for us. Because I’ve read what feels like a million articles about the importance of emphasizing STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) with our kids — and especially our girls. It’s why I’ve enrolled my daughter in science and robotics classes the past few summers and why we have engineering blocks and doll sets stacked up in her room.

But it’s also why we play dress-up and pretend at our house (and why she also goes to theater camp every summer). I’m no researcher or education professional, but as far as I can tell, having the ability to think creatively is just as important to school (and life) success as memorizing facts.

As I watched my daughter try to figure out another math problem on the worksheet her teacher sent home one night, I realized she was so frustrated and confused that she wasn’t even using common sense. In a bit of a fit, I grabbed her most recent timed test and flipped it over. I drew a tic tac toe board, a carton of eggs, and a hand. “That’s nine!” I exclaimed. “And twelve! And FIVE! You KNOW five!”

My daughter had gotten so worked up, her brain had frozen. She had stopped using common sense or thinking creatively — two things that are crucial for solving any problem! (And, to be fair, I had neglected to help her with math up to this point because she is being taught in a totally different way than I was taught three decades ago. Whether or not I like this “new math,” I respect her teacher and was afraid of confusing my daughter even more with my lack of understanding of the strategies she’s being taught.)

Since that homework session, I’ve bought flash cards and begun reviewing math facts with my daughter on a regular basis. I’ve taken time to read the worksheets she brings home, in an effort to understand the way her teacher approaches math. But I’ve also looked for opportunities to encourage problem solving, to think outside the box, to help my daughter use common sense to figure out something new. It’s reminded me of the importance of creativity and the things we can do to encourage it in our kids.

As I said before, I am no expert. I have not conducted research. I’m merely a mom who’s connected a few dots for what her two kids need as they learn and grow. Perhaps creative thinking isn’t the missing piece for your kids. But if it is, here are a few easy, fun ways you can encourage it:

3 Ways to Encourage Creativity in Our Kids from MomAdvice.com

3 Ways to Encourage Creativity in Our Kids

Play dress-up. I’m a girl mom, so you will probably not be surprised to learn that we have princess dresses and a Minnie Mouse costume in our house. But we also have costumes that turn my girls into firefighters, chefs, doctors and veterinarians. Not to mention the animal hats and clown noses floating around in the toy box. And, really, anything laying around can be used for dressing up.

My girls’ current obsession is running around the house, rescuing each other, while wearing capes. Or putting on Dad’s hat or Mom’s shoes and pretending to be a grown-up.

When I first began encouraging my oldest daughter to play dress-up, it was solely a girl power, “you can be anything you want to be” thing. But eventually I realized the additional value of this playtime activity. Simply by asking a few pointed questions, I can set my girls on a journey of learning and perspective-shifting.

“What would a doctor want for snack?”
“How would a princess pick up her toys?”
“Do you think a firefighter would like to wear these shoes or those shoes?”

Thinking outside the box, developing empathy for others, learning about different types of people (not just different careers, although that’s a place to start): all of these can be outcomes of a simple costume party.

Play pretend. Last night, my two-year-old left the dinner table (we were mostly finished and just talking for a minute). She walked over to her play kitchen and then came back, saying, “I need the pink screwdriver.” I stared blankly at her for a moment before realizing what we were doing. I mimed handing her a tool and said, “Here you go!” She thanked me and ran back to her toys.

She has a giant basket of toy food and toy dishes in that kitchen, but she wanted to play mechanic. She actually has a play toolkit in our basement, but she’d rather use make-believe tools for her projects.

And so, just like the days when her sister would lay under our dining room table and pretend to “work on the car,” I play along. When she hands me a plate of that play food and tells me it’s hot, I put it up to my mouth and act like I burned my tongue. I take tiny sips and big gulps of the “tea” she serves me, and I make up scary spiders I need to be saved from so “Super Adrienne” has a reason to run to my rescue.

I sometimes think about that scene in Hook, the Robin Williams movie about a grown-up Peter Pan, when Peter and the Lost Boys get into a pretend food fight. No, I don’t think that pretending her imaginary pink screwdriver is real will make it appear in my daughter’s hands. But I do think that when we pretend we expand our minds and our world so that more is possible than would ever be in real life.

That’s fun — and it also helps us think creatively later when we’re trying to solve problems that seem impossible.

Don’t forget to say, “Yes, and…” Using the most basic rule of improv, whenever I can I try to say, “Yes, and…” when my girls play dress-up or pretend. By extending the pretend game or story, I encourage their imaginations to run wild and their brains to keep growing. [You can read more about this strategy here.]

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not always game for imaginary friends or pretend games. For the past several days my oldest daughter has been carrying on a game of “balloon ball,” a highly competitive [made-up] sport of which she is, reportedly, the world champion. I love seeing her creativity and confidence, but OH MY WORD am I ever tired of listening to her drone on with the play-by-play of this pretend game!

So, even though I love pretend and dress-up and all things imaginary, I have my limits, too. So I say yes when I can, and then I pull out the flashcards or a basket of books when I can’t stand it anymore.

How do you encourage creativity in your kids?

Brain Food: Trail Mix Energy Bites

Monday, October 3rd, 2016

Trail Mix Energy Bites from MomAdvice.com

I’m partnering today with Workman Publishing to chat a little more about our family’s genuine love for the new Big Fat Notebooks series, perfect for your middle school child, and to share a fun brain food snack to pair with these fun books!

Trail Mix Energy Bites from MomAdvice.com

Last month I shared with you my car organizing strategies (I can’t believe it still looks REALLY good, you guys!! Miracles DO happen!) and how we have incorporated these books into our car time as a great activity to make the most of those moments. Just like I love to take in a good audiobook or a podcast while I am driving, I love that this pocket of time is perfect for some fun learning on the way for my kids. Why not make the most of all those wasted minutes?

Trail Mix Energy Bites from MomAdvice.com Trail Mix Energy Bites from MomAdvice.com Trail Mix Energy Bites from MomAdvice.com

I know I have said it before, but these books are F-U-N. I am actually going to include these in our holiday gift guide because I think they make an incredible gift for any kid. As you can see, they are adorably illustrated and even the font choice makes it not feel like a textbook, but more like a Diary of a Wimpy Kid escape.

Do you remember that show, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? Since my daughter has been asking me questions about the things she has been learning from this book and reciting trivia on different subjects, I can tell you that I am, indeed, NOT.

Hey, I can’t be good at everything!

There are five books in this fun series and each is the only book you need for each main subject taught in middle school: Math, Science, American History, English Language Arts, and World History. Did I mention that they meet  Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, and state history standards?

Yup, pretty awesome stuff.

You can find these fantastic books at AmazonBarnes & NobleIndiebound, or Workman.

Here are 4 fun free Big Fat Notebooks worksheets to get you started! 

Thinking Like a Scientist

How to Take Great Notes

Displaying Data

Ancient Egypt Timeline

Trail Mix Energy Bites from MomAdvice.com Trail Mix Energy Bites from MomAdvice.com

In honor of fueling our brains, I wanted to create a brain food treat that the whole family will enjoy and requires ZERO baking. Holla!  I am a big fan of energy bites and this little bite is filled with a protein-rich trail mix that is bound together with peanut butter, oatmeal, and quinoa.

I loved these plain, but I thought they could benefit from a little crunch so I toasted up quinoa in a skillet (watch out, it pops!!) and rolled these trail mix bites into the toasty quinoa for a crunchy coating that reminds me of sesame seeds or even rice cereal.

What Makes These Trail Mix Bites Good Fuel for Your Brain?

Nuts and seeds contain omega-3 essential fatty acids, a major building block of brain cells that are critical for a good memory and stable mood (AKA, they fight the HANGRY!). They are also rich in B complex vitamins, vitamin E, iron, zinc, and magnesium. It takes all these important nutrients to help keep your brain functioning well.

Quinoa is our binding agent and our crispy coating and it also contains vital nutrients for your noggin. Quinoa is so easy to prepare in a rice cooker (this tutorial should help!) and happens to be one of my favorite gluten-free indulgences. Quinoa, pronounced (KEEN-wah) is a very nutritious gluten-free seed that originates from the Andean region of South America. It also is a fantastic source of protein, contains all eight amino acids, is a good source of dietary fiber, contains B Vitamins, and iron. All such good stuff to help your brain!

I hope you can share this delicious brain food (both the treat AND the incredible Big Fat Notebooks with your kids. They truly make learning fun and I’m so happy our family got to share about these with you!

Trail Mix Energy Bites from MomAdvice.com

Trail Mix Energy Bites
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 24
 
Fuel your brain with these delicious energy bites that provide vital nutrients and vitamins. Packed with quinoa, these gluten-free treats are satisfying and filling!
Ingredients
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • ½ cup honey
  • 2 cups cooked quinoa (check the post above for cooking directions or follow packaging)
  • 1-1/2 cups quick cooking oats
  • ½ cup almonds
  • ½ cup pistachios
  • ½ cup dry roasted peanuts
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • ¾ cup uncooked quinoa
Instructions
  1. In a dry skillet, heat it to medium heat and toast the uncooked quinoa for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. You want the energy bite to look golden. Be careful, quinoa does pop!
  2. In a large bowl mix together all the other ingredients until they are incorporated well.
  3. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and then begin scooping & rolling the balls (I like a cookie dough scooper for this).
  4. Roll each ball into the toasted quinoa, coating all sides evenly. Place on the parchment lined cookie sheet and repeat until all of the batter has been used.
  5. Place the cookie sheet in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Remove and then place them in an airtight container for snacking.

 Recipe Adapted from The Baker Mama

 This post was sponsored by Workman Publishing and Big Fat Notebooks. All thoughts and opinions are my own! Be sure to follow the Workman Blog for more great ideas!

How to Make Elephant Toothpaste

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

How to Make Elephant Toothpaste from MomAdvice.com

This post was sponsored by Bayer. All thoughts and opinions are my own!

If we are only doing science with our kids when the science fair rolls around, I feel like we are missing the boat. Every day is an opportunity to teach something about science with our kids through simple routine moments throughout our day. From baking bread to why their bath tub toys float to how swinging at the park really works…that’s all science (and pretty amazing!).

Simple daily activities are a great way to incorporate science into our daily routines and most parents have a desire for that. In fact, in Bayer’s recent back-to-school survey, nearly all (95%) parents surveyed agree that it would be helpful to have tips for turning simple activities into science learning opportunities for their children, which is why Bayer decided to create a program to address this need.

So many of these teaching moments are overlooked in our house so I am excited to partner with Bayer as they work to improve science literacy in kids through their award-winning program, Making Science Make Sense (MSMS). In this program, Bayer creates hands-on lessons to kids to seriously think about science and fostering the seeds of science in our kids even when they are small. It inspired our family to take a science challenge of our own and gave us a TRULY fun moment with our daughter while teaching her a really important science lesson in the process.

I honestly don’t know who was more excited- my daughter or my husband.

Who doesn’t love a crazy chemical reaction?

If you don’t want to take on our experiment, you can tackle so many easy and fun experiments through the MSMS science library exploring topics like what happens when water boils, where the light from sun comes, and why do oil and water not mix. Not only are these fun things to talk through together, they could also definitely round out a homeschool curriculum.

Since we have middle school kids, we have found it takes a lot to wow them so I wanted to create some science fun that they had never seen before. Grab your safety glasses and dive into a fun science experiment with us as we make Elephant Toothpaste and learn a heck of a lot of science in the process.

How to Make Elephant Toothpaste

 

How to Make Elephant Toothpaste from MomAdvice.com

How to Make Elephant Toothpaste from MomAdvice.com

Supplies Needed:

1 Cookie Sheet

1 Empty 2-liter container

1 Tablespoon of Dry Yeast

3 Tablespoons Warm Water

Small Cup For Mixing

Liquid Dish Soap

1/2 cup 20-volume hydrogen peroxide liquid (20-volume is a 6% solution and not available at drugstores so make sure you get the type we are linking to)

Food Coloring

Rubber Gloves

Funnel

Safety Goggles (we bought these and they fit perfectly)

How to Make Elephant Toothpaste from MomAdvice.com

 Directions for Making Elephant Toothpaste

 Please note: We advise parents do the pouring of the hydrogen peroxide as it can irritate the skin and eyes.

1. In a clean 2-liter bottle add 8 drops of food coloring. We picked blue to look like toothpaste!

2. Next have an adult add the hydrogen peroxide to the mixture. A funnel really helps with this step!

2. Add one tablespoon of your liquid dish soap to the bottle. Have your child swish the bottle gently.

3. In a separate cup, mix together the dry yeast and warm water. Mix, mix, mix for 30 seconds.

How to Make Elephant Toothpaste from MomAdvice.com

4. Place the funnel on top and then pour the yeast mixture into the bottle.

5. Watch in amazement as this starts foaming and overflowing from the bottle. Be sure to put your gloved hands around the bottle to feel the heat that the bottle is giving off.

How to Make Elephant Toothpaste from MomAdvice.com

Doesn’t that look like toothpaste? We were all amazed at this chemical reaction.

What’s the Science Behind This Elephant Toothpaste?

Each foam bubble is filled with oxygen. The yeast acts as a catalyst to remove the oxygen from the hydrogen peroxide. Since we did this process so fast, it created lots of bubbles quickly.

How to Make Elephant Toothpaste from MomAdvice.com

 

We also created an Exothermic Reaction which means you created heat with this reaction. How cool is that? We thought that part was almost as amazing as the foam that we created!

How to Make Elephant Toothpaste from MomAdvice.com

She was absolutely miserable.

Clearly.

Science is awful.

Just look at that face!

Just kidding, she was in science heaven in our backyard lab.

Although experiments are grand, I hope the takeaway is that we have the opportunity to share science with our kids every single day. I hope this idea and the many, many ideas from Bayer’s Making Science Make Sense give you lots of chances to talk about science each and every day.

Do you have any tips on how to share science at home with your children? What hurdles do you experience in encouraging STEM learning beyond the classroom? I would love to hear them!

This post was sponsored by Bayer. All thoughts and opinions are my own!

Life is What Happens To You While You’re Busy Making Other Plans

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

how-to-consume-more-books-5

(I like this skirt because it hides that knee brace right now)

I knew something was wrong over the holidays, but didn’t want to admit it to anyone. As I wrote the addresses of our loved ones on the envelopes, my hand would lose grip of the pen, cramp up, and spasm. What should have been a simple task done with joy became something that had to be split up over a week that resulted in embarrassingly scrawled envelopes that I resented. I also resented Tiny Prints for sending no back-up envelopes so I could throw out the really bad ones. I left our return address off, for the first time, because I didn’t want to see those cards again. Feliz Navidad.

A week later as I headed to the grocery store, I put my car into park, and my foot curled in and would not sit flat in its shoe. A painful cramping left me sitting in my car for twenty minutes so I could walk around and get the family groceries. As if I didn’t dread the task of grocery shopping enough, now I could barely make it through the aisles, dragging around this foot and worrying that it would happen again while I was trying to check out or while I was driving.

Then the pain started in my hands in such a debilitating way that I could not even type, shoot a camera, knit, flip a book page without pain, or do any of my usual routines that are expected of me as a mom.  Pain shot through my fingers so badly that I sobbed and called my Dad like a little girl again, hysterically sitting in a corner of our bedroom sobbing and wondering why this was happening again when I was doing all the right things with my health.

So You Like Being a Hypochondriac

I was in denial that this was coming back. In college, after a routine dental procedure that went bad (as all procedures with me do), my parents had a battery of tests ran on me that included the usual blood work and more serious tests like a spinal tap for Lyme and MS. Everything came back normal, but I was anything but a normal college student when it came to my health. Muscle cramps, spasms, and numbness plagued me, particularly when I was overworked or tired…and I was constantly tired.  I later saw a rheumatologist who gave me the diagnosis of fibromyalgia and treated it with antidepressants that aided in muscle relaxation, but I knew that I had never really been satisfied with that diagnosis.

I could go on and on about all the weird and quirky things in my medical history like being a klutz and chronically tired child covered in self-created bruises from walking into things. Every medical surgery that never went as expected. Weird scarring on my body from things that never healed correctly. A shocking placental abruption with the birth of my child that was like a really bad crime scene in our home. Menstrual bleeding that made me finally seek relief through an ablation procedure (that also went badly).  Poor recovery from every routine procedure and struggles with anesthesia. Reacting to all medications. Dental issues and excessive gum bleeding.  A recent hearing loss that lasted for months and months and months that threw off my balance.  The snap, crackle, and popping of bones shifting each time I would go up the stairs and worries that something was going to pop out with all the sound effects. The stomach issues that plagued me my entire life. Old lady back pain that had me seeking relief at the chiropractor. Constant dislocations of random joints that left me rocking a brace on some joint on my body almost weekly at my gym classes.

I headed to the doctor with my hypochondriac list again and the routine tests were all performed along with an EMG to rule out radial tunnel syndrome.  The follow-up visit revealed that, other than a few minor things, all was normal.

Of course.

“How are your hands and fingers today?”

“Well, they are feeling a little better, but now my knee. My knee is out and it hurts really bad too.”

We had double booked our doctor for the morning and my son sat on the examining table for his routine ADHD follow-up. I requested that while we were here, he take a peek at the poor circulation in his hands. As the doctor began to examine him, Ethan said the magical question that started the ball rolling on the real answers.

“Are you going to ask him about our flexibility, mom?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I wonder if he has EDS. I have a friend that was diagnosed and it sounds like us.”

eds-test

The doctor started giving us The Beighton Score test and we, of course, could do all of this and more. You should see us at parties or just a fun night at our dinner table showing off with our bendy fingers.  After we passed this test with flying colors,  he pulled my son’s skin on his neck and watched it stretch to an unnatural amount.

“Look at the stretch in his skin.”

“Oh, I think mine is like that too,” and I pulled out skin farther than Ethan’s.

We finally have our answer.

We had Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

Oh, and my kid had scoliosis and Raynaud’s syndrome.

And the other one, she should be looked at too since she is bruising all the time and run down.

My head was spinning as I clutched a million handouts, appointments were made, tests duplicated for the specialist, x-rays done…in two hours I felt like our entire life had changed.

ehlers-danlos-syndrome-causes

What is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome? And How Quickly Can We Get Over This?

Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) is a group of inherited connective tissue disorders, caused by various defects in the synthesis of collagen. EDS is known to affect men and women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

There are six distinct types of EDS currently identified. All share joint laxity, soft skin, easy bruising, and some systemic manifestations. Each type is thought to involve a unique defect in connective tissue, although not all of the genes responsible for causing EDS have been found.

These six types are defined according to the signs and symptoms that are manifested, in a set of major and minor diagnostic criteria for each type. Each type of EDS is a distinct disorder that “runs true” in a family.

Different subtypes of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome are associated with a variety of genetic causes, some of which are inherited and passed on from parent to child. If you have the most common varieties of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, there’s a 50 percent chance that you’ll pass on the gene to each of your children. Thus, the demonstration made by my crew means that we will all need a diagnosis to see if we all have it.

To receive a formal diagnosis of what type we all have and the treatment required for that type, we have to seek the help of a specialist and one of the leading people in this field just so happens to be rocking a practice in our town. Her research on EDS and how it relates to our GI system really helped to explain why I have had so much relief from removing gluten from my diet, as all of this is connected to our connective tissue. Instinctively, I had been doing many of the recommendations to seek relief for my numerous issues, never knowing how much I had been helping my body. It is probably why I have been doing so well for so long.

Dr. Collins counseled our doctor on the new regime we should follow until we could see her.  It involves a really ungodly amount of supplements that should help with joint pain and digestion. You can see her recommendations for diet and supplements that have worked so successfully for many of her patients, diminishing symptoms with this disorder.

Unfortunately, we can’t get over it. It’s something that we will be dealing with our whole lives and that was devastating to me especially in the middle of a bunch of injuires.

ehlers-danlos-syndrome-diagnosis

We Have Answers And I’m Sad & Still in Pain

I would have loved to skip out of that office with prescriptions for us all and immediate healing to my body. That doesn’t happen though and it takes some time to figure out exactly what will work for me and for our kids.

I have wept more tears than I can count for the pain that I have been in this week and hearing that we have this is heartbreaking for us all.  I told my mom yesterday, as she came to be with her weepy daughter, that  I could handle all of it if I wasn’t in so much pain with my knees, hands, and fingers. If it would have come when I felt strong and fit, I would have done the whole pull myself up by my bootstraps routine and just killed it like I always do, but right now I feel really broken.

I’m heartbroken our kids may have this and I feel like a crappy mom for passing down such crappy genes.

I’m sad how this has impacted my workout routine of hitting my dance class each week. It was the one class that brought me inexplicable joy and I know that it is the worst thing I can do for my joints right now. I miss the routines and love I get from each of those ladies in that dance crew. They have become like a family to me and I hate not being there.

I can’t knit to curb the stress because of hand pain and the need to brace things to help relieve it.

I’m heartbroken to see my husband so sad and feeling helpless about what is happening to us all. To be honest, that hurts almost worse than the pain.

debbie-downer

Silver Lining? Maybe Someday!

I am not in that silver lining stage and I cringe when people try to put a positive spin on this. My body and heart are in terrible pain right now. I guess the silver lining is that it could always be worse and there is always someone suffering and struggling with something bigger than something this minor.

As the four of us curled up on the couch together on Friday night, all on a single couch, I wrapped my two in my arms as tight as I could and alternately kissed each of their heads while we watched an episode of Shark Tank and chatting about if we would invest in people’s inventions. It was a simple moment, but we all needed it and craved it in this mess, the comfort that can only be found with one another. This situation is another team building exercise together and I’m glad I have this team and these people.

I’m also thankful we have an incredible village who are letting me be the weepy mess that I am and still want to be with me in spite of being the Debbie Downer of friends right now.

I’m ready to take the next steps towards healing.

In the meantime, the site may suffer, my workload will need to be lightened until I can get the hand pain under control, and I’m sharing this to buy some grace if things feel off here or if I don’t respond to your emails.  I’m not myself right now, but I’m thankful we finally have an answer.

If you want to learn more about EDS check out the Ehlers-Danlos Foundation page!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parenting a Child With ADD: Working With Your School

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

Parenting a Child With ADD: Working With Your School

With my son’s blessing & permission, we are sharing our story of what is like to have & be the parent of a child with ADD in this continuing series. To read Part One of our diagnosis story, click here.  Part 2 continued the diagnosis and treatment process!  Today we tackle working with the schools! We welcome your comments and hope our story helps other families facing the same challenges.

I think one of the biggest challenges for me as a parent wasn’t just the treatment process, but more the stigma and worry about what having a label like ADD can do.  Before we dealt with this, I had always thought of this as kids being crazy (and probably indulging in too much sugar), but ADD/ADHD can be so different for each kid. Maybe you had an idea for that label too? It isn’t always necessarily hyper kids- I don’t think I would have identified my child as that. In each child, it looks a little differently with similar characteristic traits.

Today I want to talk about how we tried to set Ethan up for success at school.  I already told you, this kid is SMART (he gets it from his daddy!), but we needed to get certain tools and people in place to help him be the star that we know he is!

Parenting a Child With ADD: Working With Your School

Start Talking Early

We knew that Ethan was struggling at school and we felt like we needed to let our teacher know that we were working really hard to improve things for him and hopefully for her too! I set up a meeting with the principal and his teacher and tearfully explained that we were working with our doctor and were in the process of figuring things out and asked for a little patience until we had some answers. They both were genuinely kind and sympathetic as we were floundering to figure out how to help Ethan.  Looping them in early bought us a little grace during the diagnosis process because they knew we were trying very hard to make things better for all the parties involved.

Once we had a diagnosis, we were able to begin making the accommodations necessary through our public school system and our principal explained how we could get a 504 for Ethan in place once we had this paperwork. Depending on your needs, you may need an IEP or a 504.  If you are trying to figure out what you need, I love this table that breaks down what each of these means on Understood (a great resource for parents!). At times, with speech services we needed an IEP. When speech was dropped, we just needed the 504. It depends on what type of accommodations your family needs to determine which type of paperwork is filed.

What The Heck is a 504?

Once we had the official paperwork from the testing with our diagnosis, we put a plan in place for Ethan.  We set up a meeting with the principal, his teacher, and with someone who could set up something called a 504 plan for him. A 504 is basically a blueprint or plan for how a child will have access to learning at school that is written together.  It provides services and changes to the learning environment to meet the needs of the child as adequately as other students and is provided at no cost to you.

Here is the thing… I did not want to ask for special favors or inconvenience our teacher, but I knew that there were things that really needed to happen so that Ethan could perform successfully at school. It pained me to ask for “favors” (I am a big people pleaser and hate being a bother to people), but I knew this could help him so much!

Our 504 has pretty much remained the same since elementary school with a few tweaks here and there for his accommodations.

We Need To Be In the Loop- Our biggest issue was that we felt in the dark about what needed to happen during the day and if the teacher needed something from us. We asked that Ethan write in his agenda daily what needed to happen and requested the teacher initial to verify everything so we weren’t missing important papers and deadlines anymore. We also asked that any further communication that she wanted to do with us also was on the agenda so we could be sure not to miss anything.

We Need Access to Quiet Spaces Sometimes- Some classrooms are rowdier than others. He had a hard time focusing when there was a lot going on and we wanted to be sure that he could take advantage of a quieter room if he needed it. This is something we only have cashed in on once, but it’s nice to have in place.

We Asked for A Little Grace on Late Papers- This is never to be abused, but sometimes our disorganization has caused us to be late on assignments. We just asked for grace, particularly transitioning into our new school routines since having zeros for late assignments could really lower his grades.

We Need Extra Time At the End of the Day- This was particularly important as we headed into middle school so that he had enough time to get his books and papers gathered and organized before getting on the bus. That extra 5-10 minutes made an enormous difference in our organizational level and our grades. I think this was the best thing we asked for!

Where Does the 504 Go?

For us, one of our biggest transitions was going from an elementary school setting to a middle school setting. Although we had communicated with his teachers that he had ADD, we did not know that we need to communicate with the middle school that he had a 504 from elementary school and that we wanted to make sure everything was set with it moving forward into our new school. If there is one thing we learned through this process, we learned that we need to check in every year about this and make sure that it is communicated with his teachers. The first year of middle school taught us a lot about making requests known as we were struggling to even pass because the accommodations weren’t there.

What ends up being the difference in the grades if the 504 is not addressed?

We went from barely pulling C’s to High Principal’s Honor Roll!

That’s an incredible difference for a child and for their family.

It’s also an incredible difference in my child’s confidence about himself.

Parenting a Child With ADD: Working With Your School

How Can I Continue Making His Day Better?

Not only do we have the 504 in place for Ethan, but we take advantage of anything that the school offers that can continue improving those grades and helping him feel confident.

Confidence is such an important thing for a kid.

When our middle school offered free tutoring, we took advantage of that so he could stay after school and tackle that homework with help. We found that he was more productive in that environment than he was riding the bus trying to work on his homework when he got home.

We also looked into ways that he could burn off energy in a positive way. We were lucky enough to have gotten the scoop on cross country in middle school from another mom and this helped Ethan burn off some energy and be a part of a team that really fit with his personality.  I love that his coach focuses on each child doing their own personal best and that he has managed to find fun ways to encourage my child to run with a system of great rewards that Ethan finds motivating. We also love that running is an activity he can always do when he needs to burn off a little steam at home. What a great gift!

I wrote a special note to his coach to thank him for all he does to encourage our son because it has meant so much to us and to Ethan. His positive influence has been a big gift to our family.

How Can I Set My Kid Up for Success?

Success at school starts at home. I can do all of these incredible things for him through the people he interacts with at school, but if I am disorganized at home, those repercussions follow Ethan and make his day hard. It’s a team mentality and I struggle each year as the new school year starts. I can barely keep myself organized most days, let alone stay on top of someone else’s stuff too!

As a parent, I have to make sure that I communicate with his teachers from day one, I have to make sure the appropriate paperwork is filed on his 504, and I have to be the one to stay on top of everything with his homework and projects.

Being organized at home is important because it can be the difference between a good day and a bad day for my son.

As he gets older though, I am trying to push a little more back to him. Someday he will be an adult and he won’t have a mom setting everything up for him in his workplace and in his home. I want to raise a self-sufficient child so I have to do my part to help him do that. Sometimes he will do great with it, sometimes he won’t.

We don’t expect perfection, we are proud of him for trying and doing the best he can.

We certainly aren’t perfect either.

Parenting a Child With ADD: Working With Your School

The Nagging Mom Transformation

I needed to work on my nagging as much as Ethan needed to work on better habits.

In the morning, the routine was the same:

Do you have your papers?

Did you get your agenda signed?

Did you do your homework?

Do you have your gym clothes?

(said in a nagging mom voice)

I started utilizing a checklist that I would sit by his backpack to go through and would just remind him to check his checklist in the morning instead of the daily nag. I turned off my own distractions and just focused on a good breakfast and building that kid up at the bus stop. I made more time for hugs and less time for Facebook-checking. I tried to tell him one thing I was proud of him each day. All of this has become such a part of my routine that I don’t think about it anymore.

I don’t think this makes me an amazing mom and I don’t say this to brag, I just say this because part of the transformation of this diagnosis is the transforming I had to do on myself.  I had to see the psychologist so I knew how to respond to my child better. I have to invest the time monthly in check-ups and making sure his medical needs are addressed. I have to communicate with the school staff so they know I care. I have to make room in our schedule for activities that make my son feel confident.

It has all been worth it.

Every.

Single.

Moment.

I hope that sharing this story offers some encouragement to you. As a blogger, there is a difficult balance that we have to deal with when sharing about our families. I shared this because I felt so very alone in this process and I know our story can help others.

If you are working through this with your child, I want you to know that you are not alone and that you are a good mom.

The process of discovery, diagnosis, and treatment can be transformative for a family.

Your process might look different than mine or you might explore other avenues than we did. Each family must figure out what works best for them.

I have found I was a much harsher judge of other moms before this experience. Now I just look at all of our different paths (with all those winding turns) and say, “I am so proud of you for doing what’s best for you!”

If there is anything I have learned from this experience it is that it takes a village.

I am so thankful for mine.

xoxo

Parenting a Child With ADD: The Diagnosis (Part 2)

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015

Parenting a Child With ADD: The Diagnosis (Part 2)

With my son’s blessing & permission, we are sharing our story of what is like to have & be the parent of a child with ADD in this continuing series. To read Part One of our diagnosis story, click here. We welcome your comments and hope our story helps other families facing the same challenges.

Testing day could not come quickly enough, but it first required a session with the psychologist to explain our concerns. We didn’t just talk about his inability to follow through on tasks and disorganization (although that was frustrating). Our biggest concern was the emotional outbursts and anger that we were dealing with. We knew we weren’t handling these situations well and were concerned that not only were we dealing with a possible ADD diagnosis, but that maybe something emotionally was wrong too.

I remember that the doctor said that often by treating the ADD that these emotional outbursts lessen because the child is not so frustrated.  I certainly didn’t want to pin my hopes on that, but wouldn’t it be incredible if we were able to help both elements of our struggles as parents?

He said he would get us scheduled with some weekly visits for the anger issues though so we could get that under control.

Good, we needed it!

Testing, Testing

Testing day had finally arrived. We had lots of questionnaires to fill out and even ones to pass on to our teacher to share about how our son performed in the classroom.

Testing can be done in a variety of ways (every family needs to explore those options with their own doctor/psychologist)  and the psychologist we chose diagnosed through an IQ test. I remember nervously dropping him off with a big snack and a kiss for the morning.

Once the test results were done, we got to come back in and chat with the psychologist about the diagnosis.

What did the results show us? He was incredibly smart (you don’t have to tell us that!), but his memory/processing/sequencing (I apologize that I don’t remember the specific category) was extremely low. Since those numbers don’t correlate, he had every characteristic listed on every ADD site we ever visited, and the questionnaire filled out by us and by his teachers supported this theory, the psychologist said that he felt confident that our son had ADD.

Parenting a Child With ADD: The Diagnosis (Part 2)

He has ADD, Now What?

Hallelujah! We have an answer!  In my mind, someone gives us a prescription and we go along on our merry way and live happily ever after.

It wasn’t like that though.

The psychologist gave us the paperwork and we had to set up an appointment with our physician and then the doctor had to outline the treatment and then we had to go back to the psychologist.

Of course, we haven’t even touched the anger issues so we need to set up appointments for that.

Oh, and loop in our teacher and the school system.

Instead of relief, it felt like a million more pounds of stuff I needed to do.

First, we contacted our doctor and he had a complete physical that gave us information about where we were starting at (particularly his height & weight) and then she recommended a medication that we could try, letting me know that we could start a small dose and then increase the dosage based on what we needed. Since I know nothing about medication or dosage, I left this piece of the puzzle in the doctor’s hands.

She assured me she would keep a close eye on things since I would be seeing her once a month now.

WAIT, HOLD UP. I have to go to the doctor with my kid every month for this?

Granted, I know other moms who have had a much harder time with their kids and medical issues so this feels really ridiculous for me to feel like this is a burden, but the idea of going to the doctor monthly for physicals and having to have a handwritten prescription every month that I could not just get filled annually, but have to bring in a physical prescription every four weeks seemed like a lot to deal with on top of our counseling appointments.

It goes without saying, but the cost of all of these tests, medications, and physicals were also unexpected.

Pass the wine!  But just the boxed stuff because BILLS.

Treatment Begins

This is probably the hardest part of our journey and this journey can look so differently for so many families.

This was the part of the journey that Ethan wanted me to share specifically with you.

The struggles with figuring out the right medication and the right dosage for our child were extremely difficult as were the side effects that he experienced. Remember how I said I left the medication piece of the puzzle up to our doctor to figure out? We had no idea that the dosage was too high for our son because we had no idea what an appropriate dosage would be.

Although it is typical to experience side effects from medication as your body adjusts to it, our child did not even resemble my child anymore.

He could not sleep at night.

He barely ate.

He seemed like a robot.

After the first day in school on his medication though, he told me something though that nearly brought me to my knees.

“I finally feel smart.”

This beautifully bright boy had never felt smart until now and that just about broke me.

I was still riddled with the guilt of yelling at him and feeling like I failed him as a mom. What if I would have caught this sooner? What if I could have helped him feel smart years ago?  The guilt and the part I played in this story really bothered me.

We headed to our weekly therapy appointments to deal with anger.

Guess who sat out in the waiting room?

The kid with the anger management issues.

Guess who went to therapy?

My husband and I!

Oh, that made me so mad…

I wonder where he got those anger issues from.

As the doctor had suggested though, Ethan wasn’t angry anymore. We didn’t experience emotional outbursts, but we wanted to be prepared if they started back up again. My husband and I headed to anger management class and my son sat out in the waiting room reading his book, unaware how cool we were going to be after all this training.

Parenting a Child With ADD: The Diagnosis (Part 2)

nancy lary studios

Go With Your Gut

Even though Ethan felt really smart, I did not love the side effects of this medication he was on. I went along with the the plan despite my misgivings.  I regret that I did not speak up sooner for him and for our family.

After a year of living with a zombie, we ended up needing to switch doctors and I got a referral into one of the best doctors in our town. He immediately put him on the lowest dosage available and also selected a pill that would have very few side effects. Instead of changing my kid, it would just act as a little aid to help him tap into those smarts that he already possessed. I started to see my boy again and I knew we were on a better path.

What I learned from that experience was that I may not be a doctor, but I need to always be an advocate for his treatment.  If I’m not comfortable with how things are going, I need to speak up about it.

Since he is growing like a weed now and doing so well with this pill, we don’t have to meet with our doctor monthly, but we still have several meetings a month where our doctor talks to him about school and learning to tune in to the things that he experiences with his medication and learning how to utilize those cues as life skills if he doesn’t want to continue a medication later in life.  This is a conversation that the two of them have and I chime in as needed. It’s a good place to be in when you have such a great dialogue with your physician.

Now that we got through our biggest hurdles, we still had to address how we handled everything at school. Next week I’ll share what it has been like going to bat for Ethan in the school system and what I have learned from this experience together!

 

 

Parenting a Child With ADD: The Diagnosis (Part 1)

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

Parenting a Child With ADD: The Diagnosis (Part 1) from MomAdvice.com

I am sure if you have been a reader here, you know how fiercely I guard the privacy of my children. Over the years I have struggled a lot as a mom and one of my biggest struggles was my son’s diagnosis with ADD. Through his diagnosis and treatment, we have had the opportunity to help so many parents locally who have been going through the same difficulties and  point them to doctors and resources that have helped improve their lives.

It is with his blessing and permission that I share our story today, in hopes we can help someone else going through the same struggles.

I am so proud of our boy for sharing his story to help other families! I hope you will leave him a little note to tell him that! 

Parenting a Child With ADD: The Diagnosis (Part 1) from MomAdvice.com

When Your Kid Doesn’t Fit in the Box

Ethan was the kind of kid that never fit into the box and this is just one of many reasons why I love him. From his shocking entry into the world (early and complete with a placental abruption that could have killed us both), I should have known he was going to challenge everything I thought about parenting.  Ethan hit most milestones normally with the exception of one… speech.  He was a silent baby and did not make any noises at all.  He rarely made eye contact with us and never turned to us when we said his name. Since he was my first baby, I had no expectations of what he should be doing, but others in our family and our pediatrician were concerned about his lack of speech. At ten months he qualified for early intervention speech therapy in Massachusetts. When my husband lost his job, we relocated around that time to Indiana, and I decided to hold off on the speech therapy and see if Ethan might blossom in his new location.

At eighteen months, he still made hardly any audible sounds and still would not turn to me when I called his name. We were placed into the First Steps program where he benefited from an incredible therapist who helped us both with Ethan’s speech delay and sensory issues. I remember thinking how ridiculous this all seemed as she played with playdough and blew bubbles with him on my kitchen floor. Clearly I knew nothing because not only did he start speaking, we couldn’t get this kid to shut up! The ability to speak helped curb some of his frustrated outbursts and baby signing helped us until he could communicate fully.

Instead of speaking like a baby though, he went full-out sentences and would fixate on one particular thing and talk about it nonstop. It began with trains and then later it was dinosaurs. This child who could not even say mom now said Ankylosaurus and had memorized an entire dinosaur dictionary. It was so wild to me!

Parenting a Child With ADD: The Diagnosis (Part 1) from MomAdvice.com

Everything is Fine Until You Have to Go to School

Since Ethan was an only child, our therapist thought he might benefit from being around other kids his age more, so we looked into a school program for him when he turned two. He loved school so much and I loved seeing his vocabulary growing. I remember that he was so busy and I couldn’t believe all this big energy that could be in such a little body!  Socially, we were struggling. Ethan would only do things he wanted to do, preferring to not interact with other kids at all unless they played his games. He never listened to anyone else- and only talked excessively about what he was into. In circle times, he did not sit like he was supposed to, preferring to get up and do laps instead of sitting.

To help improve our circle time at school, I took him to storytime at the library. As the kids sat in their mama’s laps and sang songs and listened to the librarian, my son refused to sit with me and spent the entire time lapping the room, ripping open the cabinets behind the librarian, and screaming if I tried to hold him in my lap. I sobbed in the parking lot and vowed I would NEVER do that to myself again.

We held Ethan back a year to see if he might benefit from an extra year of preschool before we put him in elementary school, thinking he had some social issues to work through. That year of Pre-K was one of the worst years of my parenting life. Ethan was bored in school and every morning to take him there was a battle and not the kind of battles I had ever seen any of my friends deal with. He kicked and screamed. He hit me. He would stretch his arms and legs as wide as they would go and refuse to get in the car. Many days, I took this five year-old kid and left him outside of his classroom, kicking and screaming. I would walk away and be glad I didn’t have to deal with him for a few hours.

It wasn’t my proudest moment as a mom.

I screamed at him.

I was embarrassed by his outbursts.

These moments of frustration were peppered throughout the years until he turned nine. He would have toddler-like tantrums about doing homework.

One night he barricaded his door with all of his belongings just to keep us out of his room.

He was always disorganized.

He would not bring home papers for me to sign, he would do work at school and just fizzle out at the end of worksheets for no reason, and he was always angry and frustrated with us.

Harder than that though, were the apologies after the outbursts and the crocodile tears down his face as he told us he was sorry and didn’t know why he was doing this.

I became a broken nagging record every single day, begging him to just, FOR THE LOVE, do your homework and bring your stuff home. HOW HARD IS IT? IT’S SO SIMPLE.

In fourth grade (for lack of better words), the shit hit the fan. As his teacher was preparing him for middle school, our frustrations got bigger and the homework got longer and the outbursts were out of control. He was so mean and so angry.

I was so mean and so angry.

As I shared my frustrations with a family member, she said, “That reminds me of so-and-so in our family.”

That so-and-so in our family had ADD.

Wait…what?

ADD- Is that Even a Real Thing?

I didn’t think ADD was a real thing, but was an excuse for disorganization and lack of discipline. Feel free to throw rotten tomatoes at me! I tend to believe that good exercise, a healthy diet, and vitamins are the cure for anything that ails you. The idea that my son had something that might require a doctor’s care and treatment baffled me.

I also felt ashamed that it made me feel relieved too to know there was something wrong and I wasn’t just a terrible mom.

If there is something wrong and we can figure it out, I can help us all.

As I clicked through website after website, these things that I thought were problems that only Ethan had, were actually characteristics of someone who had ADD.

  • Constantly fidgets and squirms
  • Often leaves his or her seat in situations where sitting quietly is expected
  • Moves around constantly, often runs or climbs inappropriately
  • Talks excessively
  • Has difficulty playing quietly or relaxing
  • Is always “on the go,” as if driven by a motor
  • May have a quick temper or a “short fuse”
  • Doesn’t pay attention to details
  • Makes careless mistakes
  • Has trouble staying focused; is easily distracted
  • Appears not to listen when spoken to
  • Has difficulty remembering things and following instructions
  • Has trouble staying organized, planning ahead, and finishing projects
  • Gets bored with a task before it’s completed
  • Frequently loses or misplaces homework, books, toys, or other items

It was as though someone knew our family personally and the struggles we were experiencing. Not only that, but when I flipped through his report cards, the teachers had even said some of these same exact phrases on his report card. Were they trying to clue me in?

Now that I thought I might know what the issue was, I was more determined than ever to get a proper diagnosis and not a quickie questionnaire in the doctor’s office. I wanted a true capture of what we were dealing with and how we could help our child.

We reached out to a psychologist in town for an evaluation and waited an excruciating two weeks until he could come in for testing.

That test changed our lives and our interactions with our child forever!

Come back next Tuesday for the continuation of our story!

 

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Do You Really Need That Degree? College Loans, Options, and Savings

Monday, October 27th, 2014

From our money & finance contributor, Kelly Whalen.

College debt has reached an all-time high in the United States. Collectively, we owe over a trillion dollars in student loan debt. Yes, trillion with a capital T. It’s actually over $1,200,000,000,000. Ouch.

Is that degree really worth it

Student loan debt is unlike most other debts though in that it is nearly impossible to get rid of, known as forgiveness or discharge. This means even if you fall on hard times, lose a job, or your life circumstances change drastically it’s extremely uncommon to have that debt wiped away – you’re pretty much stuck with it. For some adults this means they will be carrying debt from choices made in their teens and twenties well into their middle age and often they’ll still be paying off those debts while paying for their children’s education.

When considering our finances it’s important to look at the impact student loan debt has since many readers are impacted by college debt. It’s likely you still owe for your college education if you have one (and often even if you don’t have a degree!). Others may be considering college costs for their children whether they’re toddlers or getting ready to head to college. Finally, there are many adults who go back to school when they change professions or need additional education to improve their earning power.

Since there are a lot of scenarios to cover here I’ll break them down, and you can head to the subsection that applies to you.

Already in Student Loan Debt

You already have a degree and the debt to prove it. While you may owe anywhere from a few thousand to tens of thousands the advice to not get into debt doesn’t apply. You need solutions and advice on getting out of student loan debt.

Consolidate

If you have multiple loans look into consolidation. You can consolidate loans with your spouse as well. This may allow you to get a lower interest rate or lower monthly payment, but it also makes it easier to manage than several loans.

Pay More than the Minimum

While it’s common sense, paying more than the minimum means you will pay it off sooner. Some ways you can ‘find’ more than the minimum in your budget include: slashing expenses (like dropping cable or getting a cheaper cell phone plan) or adding any pay raises to your loan payment.

Work a Side Gig or Second Job

Need to earn extra money to meet your loan payments or increase your payments to pay it off quicker? Get a side gig or work a second job to earn extra money to put towards your college loans.

Investigate Options

If you’re really struggling financially like having no job call your student loan company before you skip a payment. They may be able to hold or defer payments or offer some other options to help keep you from defaulting on your loans.

Getting Ready or Going to College

If you or someone in your family is headed to school or back to school for a degree it’s the perfect time to consider all the options.

Do you Really Need That Degree?

While a college degree is still statistically going to increase your earning ability over time it’s not always a necessity in every profession. Some professions simply don’t require a degree, and many trades are desperately seeking qualified and well-trained individuals.

Additionally, the job market has changed drastically to allow small businesses with little overhead to thrive. In an age of consulting, freelancing, and startups a degree is nice-but it’s not exactly a requirement. Depending on your skillset you may not have the need for a traditional college diploma.

Check Pay Rates and Rental/Home Prices

Whether you’re going back to school or headed to college for the first time you need to consider the cost versus the income you will earn in the future. While we all know there are no guarantees of future income checking pay rates in your area and investigating the cost of housing will help you get a general idea of what you’ll have to spend on student loan repayment.

For instance, it doesn’t financially make sense to spend $150,000 on a degree if the average entry-level earnings are $35,000 per year and average rentals cost $750/month.

The math would show you it would take an awfully long time to pay back your loans, and in the end it’s unlikely to be worth the added stress and costs when you could get a solid education and degree for 1/4 that cost.

Exhaust Scholarship and Grant Options

Grants and scholarships are plentiful, but it takes some hunting and some time to getting the most money you can for school. If you dedicate the time upfront though you could end up saving thousands of dollars. There are scholarships and grants that are high value and competitive, and there are smaller scholarships and grants that are for less money and more obscure.

Consider Starting Small

Instead of diving into a 4 year college with big expenses consider a local, smaller school to get your initial credits out of the way. You could even consider an online education if you’re an adult or need to work full-time to fund your education.

Saving for Future College Costs

Saving for your children or family members who you hope to help go to college is a great gift, but you have to consider all the options before you start saving.

It’s vital to be sure you aren’t locking up money that is needed for an emergency fund or for retirement first and foremost.

However, if you have a healthy emergency fund and are (mostly) on track with retirement savings here are come options to consider:

529 Plans

529s are a great option since they offer no taxes when withdrawn for qualified education expenses like tuition. Many states also have no tax on withdraws.

There are two types:

  • Pre-paid plans: You pay for college costs at today’s rates even if costs go up when your student goes to school.
  • Saving plans: Savings plans are based on the stock market with a mix of investments that get more conservative as your child nears college age.

The downside: Funds that aren’t used for college are taxed fully and a 10% penalty is tacked on. While it’s hard to tell when they’re infants, it’s not exactly ideal if Junior decides not to go to school or ends up with a full scholarship.

Roth IRAs

Roth IRAs are a retirement savings vehicle, but they also offer the option of withdraw for college expenses. This can offer the best of both options for families who need to get the most out of their long-term savings.

With a Roth IRA you can use funds for educational expenses OR retirement meaning if your child doesn’t need all the funds you can continue to grow them for retirement without paying penalties.

The downside: Current Roth IRA limits mean you can only save $5,500 each year or $6,500 if you’re over 50 in these accounts.

Note on investing for college: You can encourage family members to add to your little tyke’s college fund (for instance in lieu of gifts for the holidays or birthday presents). For instance grandparents can gift funds to each child, currently you can give $14,000 per year without penalties. 

When Should You NOT Save?

If you’re in debt or struggling financially saving for college shouldn’t even be a consideration. High interest debt (i.e., not your mortgage or your own student loans!) should be tackled before you consider saving for college. If you’re paying 14.99% on your credit cards the math is against you saving for college costs…for now.

Parents often make the mistake of saving for college funds over retirement thinking they have less time to ‘catchup’ on college education costs, but if they aren’t maxing out their retirement savings they could be in major trouble later in life.

While it is a great goal to make sure your children enter adulthood debt-free it shouldn’t come at the cost of your own savings and financial stability-that will impact your children now.

What it comes down to is this–take care and consider all your options whether you’re paying off college costs or saving for your children’s future.

What are your thoughts on student loan debt and college savings? Do you still owe for your education or are you worried about financing your children’s education?

 

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Celebrating 4th of July Heroes With Kids

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Celebrating 4th of July Heroes With Kids

As my children grow older, I strive to find more meaningful ways to celebrate holidays. The 4th of July has always been a burst of red, white, & blue through our home, but I can’t say that we have ever spent time together discussing the importance of this day and getting to know the heroes behind what makes the 4th of July so special. Today I want to share with you a fun way you can share about the 4th of July Heroes in your home and a fun way to incorporate their images in your home to make the day more meaningful and festive.

I partnered with Walmart on this project and all the materials you need for this can be found at their store.

To begin, you can select your 4th of July Heroes that you want to talk about. I found this great list for kids that I used to select our heroes to focus upon. I then headed to Wikipedia and found images of each of our heroes and converted them to black & white and saved them on my computer. If you would like to use the same heroes as us, here are the heroes we selected for our project.

George Washington

George Washington

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

John Hancock

John Hancock

Crispus Attucks

Crispus Attucks

John Adams

John Adams

Abigail Adams

Abigail Adams

Celebrating 4th of July Heroes With Kids

Once you have your heroes selected, head to the Walmart Photo Site and upload the images there. In addition to having 1 of each image printed in 4×6, also add 1 set of wallets for each person.  If you send these to the one-hour lab, it will be less than $6 for all of them. While you are there, you can also pick up a package of mini-clothespins, a set of notecards for your kids to write on, supplies for this easy flag bunting, and this burlap wreath to decorate with. Since I already had these things in our home, it helps cut down on cost and storage for us this year.

Celebrating 4th of July Heroes With Kids

Once you have your images, have kids select which person they are interested in discovering and have them find information about their 4th of July heroes. I challenged my kids to find one or two facts about each hero.  We also read about the first 4th of July and how different is from how we celebrate today.

I am embarrassed to say that I was learning right along with my children and soaking it all in as much as they were. Abigail Adams, for example, was one of our favorite people we learned about. Did you know that she had five kids that she cared for and homeschooled while her husband was away serving his country?  Not only was she passionate about women’s rights, but she was also passionate about equality for all people, whether they were black or white. She helped care for the soldiers in her home (feeding them and treating their injuries), and she even learned how to make her own gunpowder. Emily and I are big fans of Abigail Adams now and all she did for our country.

Celebrating 4th of July Heroes With Kids

Likewise, my son loved John Adams and his fun fact was that he thought his teachers, “held him back.” Despite being held back from his true potential in grade school, he passed his entrance exams to Harvard and his parents, who were farmers, gave up several acres of their own farm land to pay for John’s schooling. And, boy, did that pay off! John Adams strongly supported independence from Britain, signed the Declaration of Independence, and negotiated the treaty ending the Revolutionary War. He later became the nation’s first vice president and second president.  This led to a great discussion about recognizing our true potential when sometimes others do not.

Did you know that Dr. Martin Luther King referenced Crispus Attucks in one of his speeches? He held him up as an example of black patriotism at the beginning of our nation’s history. Yet, we never knew anything about what he did for our country. I’m so glad we know now.

Celebrating 4th of July Heroes With Kids
Celebrating 4th of July Heroes With Kids

If you have smaller kids, you can share simple facts and have them draw pictures. Clearly, the fact that Abigail Adams rocked it as a mom and had five kids was worthy of a picture. Make this time fun for your kids while acknowledging the sacrifices that so many gave up for our freedom.

Celebrating 4th of July Heroes With Kids

Once we were done discussing our heroes, I incorporated these pictures into our holiday decor. I pulled some of the flags off of our bunting and switched them with pictures of our heroes.  I took the items off of my burlap wreath and clipped the wallet images with mini clothespins on the wreath. I hung this in the center of our mirror and added the flag & hero bunting around the frame of the mirror.

Celebrating 4th of July Heroes With Kids

I love these touches to our 4th of July decorating, but I love even more that my kids know about these patriotic heroes.  I hope this idea inspires you to learn more about this holiday and the heroes who made this day possible for all of us.

Happy 4th of July, friends!

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