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How to Keep Your Child Interested in Learning and Reading through the Summer

Childrens'_books_at_a_library

Choices, choices! Photo Credit: ProjectManhattan

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

When I checked my email this morning, I saw a message from my son’s lower school principal titled – “Summer Reading and Enrichment Resources.” Ah, yes, it took a moment for my former elementary school teacher brain to register … just because it is summer does not mean we stop reading and learning!

I wonder if any of you share the following experience raising your children:  My son is an enthusiastic learner who loves school and absorbs so much around him like a dry sponge soaking up water. However, usually if I try sitting him down for more structured learning – as in, “We’re going to learn about the – ch diagraph now;” I find him balking at this “academic” time.

Even at such a young age, my preschool son takes school very seriously and loves to learn.

Even at such a young age, my preschool son takes school very seriously and loves to learn.

I get so much more from his young mind if we learn through play; or at the very least, weave learning time into playtime. One afternoon, we were drawing pictures on our sidewalk with chalk. My son began making the –sh sound for the beginning diagraph he learned last week, as we wrote our last name and talked about the sound that starts it. When I casually wrote “ch” on the sidewalk next and asked if he had learned this letter-sound combination (which I knew he had), he immediately rattled off a long list of beginning –ch words he had learned!

My parents were leaders in the field of education and learning was of great value in our household. Yet, it was a fairly structured experience and my mother’s school teacher job continued through the summer – if you know what I mean. I don’t think I lost any interest in learning because of this. In fact, many times I even enjoyed it since I was born loving to read and write. However, now I do admit that sometimes it could be a drag.

My little boy just turned 5 years old, and he had a very successful preschool year. This was due to several factors. For one, he has very supportive and involved parents – go us! Second, the philosophy of the private school he attends is grounded in just letting children “be” and grow into who they will be – of course with the support, guidance and nurturing of amazing teachers. Third, between school and home he was not taught, but not “pushed” to the point where learning became stressful and not fun anymore. Of course, there is a structured academic program and curriculum at my son’s school; and the education actually is fairly rigorous – just through a different approach. As in: Struggling with a weak pencil grip and forming your letters? We’re certain that with a little breathing room and some practice you’ll be writing with no problem as you fill out your college applications!

So, how do you keep your child from disconnecting from all he or she learned throughout the school year? How do you get them to want to read? How do you decide which books are best for a young reader – a “pre-reader” as they are commonly referred; and how do you find books that will spark your child’s curiosity and imagination, and keep your child interested in the world of books … without any “nagging” on your part?

Don’t let reading and learning – no matter what time of the year,

become an overwhelming experience for your child.

Read on to learn more!

Parents genuinely want their children to have an interest in books and learning; however, sometimes accessing those pathways to learning can be daunting – even in a place as seemingly benign as a library.

In libraries and bookstores, the children’s sections can actually be overwhelming, especially when your child is just beginning to show an interest in books. This can be especially tough during the summer when other activities and experiences beckon your child to take part – summer camp; swimming lessons; “pee wee” (insert name of sport here); weekday playdates; parties and picnics; vacations and day trips; etc.

The question parents need to ask themselves is:

How can I generate, support, and nurture a love for reading and learning in my child

without it becoming overwhelming?

Even a Superhero needs to know how to read!

Even a Superhero needs to know how to read!

Below are several ideas and tips for how to choose, or help your child choose, books that will engage them; and have them seeking time to read, think, and learn!

In their online Week of January 6, 2014 edition, ‘Baby Center’ published an article called “How to choose the best books for your pre-reader,” which shared six suggestions from reading specialists, teachers, and experienced parents. Here they are below:

Read rhyming and word pattern books. Preschoolers love to hear books with rhymes and word patterns, especially ones that are easy to memorize. They love to join in when they know how to finish a sentence: “One fish, two fish, red fish, BLUE fish!”

Look for books with short, rhyming sentences and predictable structure: Nursery rhymes, counting books, alphabet books, and poetry books. Books by authors such as Dr. Seuss, Eric Carle, and the poet Shel Silverstein are good choices.

Share your childhood favorites. Winnie-the-Pooh, Goodnight Moon, and Go, Dog, Go!: Yes, they’re still around!

Browse through the library or bookstore and look for the books you loved when you were starting to read. Find out whether your parents still have your first books packed away. The classics never go out of style.

Encourage your child to read about his favorite characters or topics–even your childhood favorites such as Pooh and Piglet!

Choose books with colorful illustrations. Words aren’t the main attraction for pre-readers. Pick out books with vibrant colors and beautiful pictures, and talk about the pictures with your child.

When you’re reading the story to your child, stop once in a while to discuss the picture and how it relates to the story. This prepares your child for the early reading stage, when he’ll use pictures for clues about what each page says.

Pick books that fit your child’s interest. Choose books about his favorite subjects: Cars, trucks, zoo animals, kids his age — even television characters such as Dora the Explorer or Elmo. The idea is to develop a love of reading, not a love of reading a certain kind of book.

Take your child along with you to the library or bookstore. Don’t restrict your child to one age group or subject. With reading, anything (within reason!) goes.

Look for books your child can manipulate. Pre-readers are drawn to books that do things. Show them how fun reading can be with bathtub books, pop-up books, big books (oversized books are often sold in teacher supply stores), squeaky books — anything to keep your child turning the pages.

Seek expert advice. Librarians and preschool teachers know from experience what kinds of books preschoolers love. Ask for their recommendations.

What experiences and advice can you offer our Off the Merry-Go-Round parents and community for capturing and keeping your child’s interest in books, reading, and learning? Was there a time in your childhood when you recall your love of books started to develop? Whether you are a reading specialist, a parent, an educator, or even a grandparent who reads with their grandchild – we will appreciate hearing your thoughts!

 

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Saying Goodbye to the Baby Years

Final school concerts, awards assemblies, graduation ceremonies… chances are your family calendar is dotted with these events over the next week or so (maybe longer, if you’re making up lots of snow days, ugh!). Along with these milestones and rites of passage, come lots of welcome changes but also bittersweet moments for us as parents. We thought it was the perfect time to revisit Jennifer (Smith) Schuler’s blog post “Saying Goodbye to the Baby Years.” Sniff….

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

If You Have to Say Goodbye

When you are only able to have one child (for whatever reason), simply put–you treasure him extra much. It’s not that I love my child more than anyone else loves theirs, it’s just that there is no little one coming behind him as a distraction from my sadness at seeing him grow up and move forward in his life. I think I just hold him a little tighter sometimes because of that.

I have always relished snuggle time with my little boy.

I have always relished snuggle time with my little boy.

This fall is going to be so incredibly difficult for me because I do not want to let my “baby” go. Although I was able to stay home with him and have a lot of quality time together, I don’t think parents ever feel as though they have had enough time for that. And no matter how hard you try to slow time down, it still won’t stop.

Kalli Dakos’ “goodbye poems” can bring comfort to children and their parents during difficult times of loss and change. Still, I can’t freeze my son in time. This fall, he is beginning a Pre-K program at a private school where he will attend through 12th grade. Don’t get me wrong – we found an amazing school that incorporates all the educational and personal philosophies we want for our little boy. Once we looked at the benefits to our son having a whole-child education in a smaller classroom and campus environment, it was a no-brainer.

My son’s new school also offered a 5 full day summer camp program with different weekly themes. What a great way for him to adjust to his new school in such a fun way! Perhaps the fall, then, would be less of a shock. We chose two sessions separated by a week between. The beginning of the first week was somewhat hard for my son to acclimate to, especially the first day. He was in a new environment and experiencing a rather long day even though rest and quiet time was built in. After a couple of days, he adjusted fine yet every once in awhile he would fuss at morning drop off–wanting me to walk him to his group’s classroom meeting place instead of going through the carpool line.

I was so torn in these situations. I knew that having him become comfortable with this drop off routine would benefit him for the fall, yet he is still so young and I didn’t want to force him nor upset the start of his day. I decided to go easy and help him adjust slowly over a two week camp experience. After the two weeks we had an opportunity to enroll him in the final two weeks of camp, and he was very excited! He had done it. He had successfully adjusted, and enjoyed his time at camp and on the school campus! This Monday, drop off was a snap…for my son.

It was me who did not fair so well. Sigharen’t you going to miss me? Luckily my fellow blogger, Chris, wrote a wonderful piece on adjusting to the “emptying nest” and I found her tips applicable to my situation too. Her blog also offered fresh perspective on what these early years have really been about – and they weren’t always easy for sure!

Let me add a few suggestions for those of us sending young children off to Pre-K or kindergarten this fall. We can do this!

Saying “Goodbye” with Grace

* Pack plenty of tissues! Don’t leave home for that first day of school without them, or walk your child to the bus stop without a wad stuffed in your pocket.

* Try hard to wait to cry when your child is out of sight. This is something I likely will not achieve, yet it is a noble goal. I am pro showing-your-feelings-in-front-of your-children (within reason), yet at such a young age kids sometimes still confuse emotions. And, you really can’t explain “bittersweet” to them. The more cheerful, upbeat and excited you are, the more likely they will follow suit in their responses to going off to school.

* Establish sacred alone time. Carve out time for just you and your child amidst the busy school week in any way you can. Sneak in a moment of reading time cuddled up on the couch, sing songs while your child sits in the bathtub, listen to their school experiences while you’re cooking dinner. You don’t have to spend large blocks of time staring into your child’s eyes to have spent quality time together.

* Use weekends for “regrouping.” Spend some quality family time together – better if it doesn’t involve big plans or a lot of running around since the school week will have held plenty of that. Just be together.

* Make your child’s bedroom a haven. No matter how much money you have to spend on your child’s bedroom design, there are many things you can do inexpensively to keep their room current to their age-specific interests. It also doesn’t take a lot of effort to keep it organized and clutter-free. If your child has a clean, calm place to retreat to for quiet rest, reading and play he will know where he can go to relax and recharge his energy.

My son is relaxed and comfortable in "outer space!"

My son is relaxed and comfortable in “outer space!”

* Get involved in your child’s education. There are many ways to do this, even for busy working parents. If you can’t volunteer in your child’s classroom or serve on the PTA, you may be able to take off a day from work to go on a field trip or offer to prepare learning materials at home. You are supporting your child’s learning experience as you sit down together to review homework assignments and prepare for the next school day.

* No matter how many children you have…You’ll always be sad when they leave the “nest.” There are many phases of your child’s life. You will say goodbye to them all.

One morning, I went into my son’s room to make up his bed with clean sheets. As I smoothed out the covers and neatly arranged his soft pillows, I realized that although he seems to be growing up more every day he still needs me. And in one respect or another he always will. So I might be saying goodbye to my son’s “baby” years, yet he will always be my baby.

No matter how old my son gets, I will never stop holding him and rejoicing in who he is becoming.

No matter how old my son gets, I will never stop holding him and rejoicing in who he is becoming.

What was it like for you saying goodbye to the baby years? Did you find some ways of coping that we can all benefit from? If so, please share them with our OTMGR community!

50 Ways to Spend a Snow Day

By Karen Hendricks

Snow day

Sledding in our backyard is always a hit!

From working parents’ perspectives, snow days throw a big wrench into our schedules. Meantime, stay-at-home parents often rejoice at the chance to spend snow days with their children. Snow days are like “found treasure.”

I’ve experienced both extremes, and now that I’m a “work-from-home” parent, I think we’re in another category altogether! I’d like to enjoy this unexpected gift of time with my children, but snow days or not, my freelance work piles up on my desk and the emails continue to gather in my in-box. It’s hard to strike a balance, but I feel as though my family takes priority and I can work extra-hard, nose to the grindstone, to make up for it tomorrow (assuming school reopens)!

What to do?

It’s usually at the END of the snow day, that I think of a great project or fun activity that we SHOULD have done, to make our snow day extra special. So that I’m prepared for the next snow day (and  you are too), I’ve compiled a list of activities to jump-start the next snow day:

  1. Let the kids sleep in!
  2. Make a special breakfast or brunch together–pancakes, waffles, etc. Add chocolate chips!
  3. Stay in your pajamas all day. Sneak a few pictures if you have the chance! (If you decide on this option, then #4 is out, LOL.)
  4. Have fun outside–build a snowman, go sledding, have an epic snowball battle, etc. If your creative juices are really flowing, create a snow sculpture.
  5. Bring the snow in: Cut paper snowflakes and decorate the house.
  6. If the roads are cleared, visit a ski resort for a day of fun on the mountain. Click here for our blogger Mary Ann’s tips.
  7. Make the official beverage of snow days: hot chocolate with marshmallows. If you chopped and froze your Halloween candy, sprinkle some atop the mugs! Click here for our previous post on this.
  8. Or, make a big pot of tea. Add honey and lemon… or add milk. But not lemon AND milk. Gack.
  9. Snuggle up and watch a favorite movie together. Add popcorn!
  10. Read a pile of books together (if you have elementary school aged children), or camp out in the family room, for separate but “together” reading time. Add blankets and a cozy fire in the fireplace.
  11. Be active… indoors! Rediscover your ping pong table, foozeball, or Wii sports games.
  12. Catch up on homework, school projects, music practice, etc. Enjoy “study time” together.
  13. Look at family photo albums together.
  14. Enlist the kids’ help to organize family photos on the computer, even putting together a movie featuring favorite photos using Windows Movie Maker.
  15. Look through last summer’s beach vacation photos and create scrapbook pages together–either by hand or online. Click here for a previous post, with lots of inspiration for beach scrapbooks.
  16. Summer dreaming: Brainstorm and identify potential summer vacation plans. Do some online research together to find fun summer travel ideas, beach rental houses, etc. Click here for our previous post on family vacation tips.
  17. Plan an indoor scavenger hunt.
  18. Baking! Whether you create cookies or cupcakes together, baking warms up the house as well as your tummies. Click here for our easy PB Chocolate Chippers recipe–only 5 ingredients!
  19. Make an extra batch of goodies to deliver to neighbors and/or package and freeze them to add a homemade touch to school lunch boxes.
  20. Have fun discovering entertaining YouTube clips together.
  21. Organize! Tackle a home organization project together–clean out one of the kids’ drawers, closet shelves or bookshelves. Bag up outgrown clothes, toys or books to donate to another family.
  22. Do some birthday party planning for the next family member’s birthday.  Create invitations, by hand or online. Consider planning a “pie party” and make a list of all the delicious pies you’d like to make, tracking down all the recipes. Click here for our blogger Ruth’s tips on hosting a pie party.
  23. Play a marathon game of Monopoly!
  24. Pull out a variety of board games and play the afternoon away. Pledge to unplug and stash all devices away for the afternoon.
  25. Be artistic. Have fun creating with paints, origami paper, beads, or other art supplies.
  26. Sharpen your pencils and write poems about the snow. Post them on your refrigerator or bind them together for a keepsake.
  27. Make an ice “sun catcher.” Click here to see our post, with directions.
  28. Tackle a huge puzzle together! Put fun music on while you piece it together.
  29. Invite neighborhood friends over for a fun play day.
  30. Plan your summer garden with the kids’ input. Go online and order all the seeds.
  31. Make a big pot of soup together. Click here for a delicious homemade version of Tomato Rice Soup–especially yummy if you have canned or frozen tomatoes on hand from your summer garden.
  32. Pamper your pet. Work together to brush/comb your dog or cat. Wash their bedding/blankets, and scrub their pet food dishes. Whip up a batch of homemade dog biscuits in the oven. Take pictures of your pets. Take turns taking the dog out to do his business in the snow, LOL.
  33. Family talent show! Put on your favorite music, and dance… or sing your hearts out.
  34. Still have Christmas cards laying around? Click here for one of our most popular posts ever–a fun art project that “recycles” Christmas cards.
  35. Once the snow stops, head outside to shovel or use the snow blower to clear all walkways and driveways together. Lend a hand to your neighbors (and tap into your kids’ energy) by shoveling their walks too.
  36. If you’ve been outside playing or shoveling, chances are you’ll all be ready for an early bedtime. Pull out your bubble bath soaps and let a few family members indulge in warm, sudsy bubble baths before bedtime.
  37. Spa day! If your household contains girls, treat each other to manicures and/or pedicures at home.
  38. Heartfelt activities: If Valentine’s Day is approaching, get a jump start on your children’s valentines for school exchanges. If your children are older, create home-made valentines for grandparents, friends or other special people in their lives.
  39. If you have high school aged kids, it’s the perfect day to begin researching college decisions: potential majors and potential college choices. Bookmark  favorite college and career websites on your computer.
  40. Have apples on hand? Slice them up for a healthy snack and whip up our recipe for Peanut Butter Dip–click here for the recipe.
  41. This idea may not win you “Mother-of-the-Year,” but enlist everyone’s help to catch up on laundry. Have everyone sort their laundry and let the sudsy marathon begin! Plan a family treat to celebrate, once the last piece of clothing is clean.
  42. Assuming you’re wearing snow boots if you’re going outside, no one will need to wear their sneakers today. Gather all stinky sneakers and clean them, running a few pair through the washing machine at a time. Sit them by the fireplace or by a heater vent to dry. Whew!
  43. Get crafty with magazines. Rescue a stack of magazines from the recycle bin and create some artwork together. Younger children can create montages of favorite photos they find, while tweens and teens can create posters filled with inspirational words cut from the pages.
  44. Pick up the phone and call a relative or family friend who lives far away. Put the phone on “speaker” mode so the whole family can enjoy the conversation. Or, use Skype!
  45. Retell your favorite family stories. Roll a video camera to capture the juicy details!
  46. Ask each family member to plan an upcoming family dinner menu. Whether using tried and true family recipes or brand-new recipes, have each person make a list of groceries needed. Your next trip to the grocery store is planned! Click here for our blogger Jen’s awesome recipe for Chicken A L’Orange.
  47. Play vacuum cleaner tag. Have each family member vacuum one room of the house, then “tagging” the next person with the vacuum cleaner to clean another room. By the end of the game, the floors are clean. Mops work too! Have a treat in mind for everyone to enjoy when the last room is completed. It could be the family movie idea (#9) or reading time (#10)… not necessarily an edible treat.
  48. Look through your school yearbooks together–yes, your yearbooks as well as your kids’ yearbooks. Thank me later for all the laughs you’ll have.
  49. Create a playlist of your family’s favorite songs on Spotify. Or, have each family member create their own “top 10” list of favorite tunes.
  50. Hug often. Today is a gift.

And now that I’ve made this list… we probably won’t have another snow day all winter. Oh well, I’ll be ahead of the game for next winter!

What are your favorite ways to spend snow days? Add your ideas by commenting below!

Feverish Far From Home: When Your College Kid Gets Sick


Get well
By Chris Little

It wasn’t long after my son got to college that I felt that primal urge to speed halfway across the state to rescue him. He was at the first home football game with some friends when early in the first quarter he began seeing those weird visual disturbances that signal an oncoming migraine. Now, he gets one every month or so, so he knows the signs and he’s got medicine that helps—which sadly he didn’t have with him at the game—no backpacks allowed. Still, he got himself home and slept it off and basically managed things fine. But then, just a couple days later, he felt another one coming on—he’s never had them that frequently, so I was more concerned. What should I do? Should I drive out there? But what could I do once I got there? In the end I suggested he go to his school’s student health center, which he did. The doctor adjusted his medicine and made a few other suggestions, and things are going better.

But I know this isn’t the last time my kid will ever have health problems far from home. You know, college kids live crammed together in those dorms, not getting enough sleep and sharing all kinds of germs. What can I do to support my kid—and his independence—when he’s sick at school? I did some reading, and here’s what I found:

First aid kitPreparation

  • Teach them to keep themselves healthy. Before they move out, we need to make sure our kids know all about healthful eating, sufficient resting, frequent hand-washing, and scrupulous sneeze-covering. Now’s your chance to nag!
  • Arm them with antibodies. Send your student off to college thoroughly vaccinated—her school will tell you what shots she needs.
  • Equip them with a first aid kit. Keep it simple: a thermometer, acetaminophen or ibuprofen, some antibiotic cream and bandages. You might also toss in some liquid soap or hand sanitizer.
  • Encourage them to get a flu shot. If her school doesn’t offer them, suggest that your student check the nearest pharmacy. I took advantage of my son’s recent Fall Break visit to have him vaccinated. Yes, it’s a hassle, but it’s less of a hassle than having the flu over exam week!
  • In case of emergency. Suggest that your student program her school’s emergency numbers into her cell phone. It’s also wise to know the location of the nearest urgent care center or emergency room.

TylenolTriage

No matter how hard your kid tries to stay healthy, she’s likely to get sick at some point during her college years. What should she do? For the most part, she should do just what you’d tell her to do if she were home, of course!

  • Shelter in place. If she’s not too sick, your student can just rest in her room and treat her symptoms with plentiful liquids and acetaminophen or cold medicine. It’s also a good idea for her to let her resident assistant know how she’s doing.
  • Get some help. If she’s very sick or has diarrhea and/or vomiting that doesn’t resolve in a couple hours, suggest that your child head to her school’s student health center. But don’t rely on the school to tell you how she’s doing—privacy rules prohibit them from discussing your student’s health unless she gives express permission.
  • Send a bulletin. If your student is sick enough to miss classes, remind her to notify her professors.

StethoscopeIn the Waiting Room

But what about us parents hovering at a distance — is there anything we can do? Sure!

  • Be available. Let your student know you’re there for him if he needs you, but don’t rush in to rescue him (but see below).
  • Be attentive. You might check in a little more often than usual via text or phone. But be sensitive to signals that your “a little more” is perhaps “a little too much” for your kid.
  • Be thick-skinned. Taking care of our sick offspring is a strong instinct! It’s hard not to take it personally when said offspring wants to take care of herself. Still, try to take her cold (though perhaps feverish) shoulder for what it is—a sign of healthy independence.
  • Be generous. That is, when it comes to mailing a care package and/or get-well card. Now’s your chance to indulge your nurturing impulses by packing that box full of tea, soup mix, tissues, favorite snacks, the works.
  • Be wise. If you’re worried that your student is in real trouble, such as struggling with depression or other serious emotional or physical difficulties, it’s probably time to step in more directly. And of course, if you fear your student is in danger, call the school and/or the local police immediately.

More Than a Common Cold?

Recovering from a more serious or longer-term illness like mono in a dorm room can be rough. What then?

  • Move in-house? Some student health centers are equipped with an infirmary where your student can rest apart from the ruckus in the dorm. Ask your student if this sounds like a good option.
  • Come home? Some families live close enough to bring their student home for a short break to recuperate—sometimes a few days of home-grown TLC is all it takes.
  • Keep the school in the loop. If you and your student determine that it’s best for him to come home for more than one or two days, make sure he notifies his professors, resident assistant, and academic advisor. Most professors will work with a student to accommodate a medical absence—if they know it’s happening.

I hate to think of my college kid suffering from an illness while he’s away from home, but I know it’s part of letting him grow into independence. What are some other strategies for supporting a sick kid from a distance?

Oatmeal: It’s What’s for Breakfast

As the temperatures drop on fall mornings, we need warm breakfasts to help us get moving! The re-post below is one of our most popular articles of all time, thanks in great part to Pinterest. Originally published in March of 2013, if you haven’t experimented with Mary Ann’s recipe for crock pot oatmeal yet, maybe these cool, fall mornings will provide the perfect opportunity!

By Mary Ann Filler

My Breakfast This Morning!

My breakfast this morning! There’s nothing like the warmth of home-cooked oatmeal to start the day!

If you love oatmeal but for convenience sake find yourself grabbing the pre-made packets with the high amounts of salt, sugar and who knows what else, this post is for you!

If you want to lower your cholesterol, boost your immune system, protect your heart, stabilize your blood sugar, lower your risk of diabetes, prevent cancer, or want a gluten-friendly/free meal this post may also be for you!

One of my highest priorities as a mother of two teens and a tween is to provide them with healthy meals. For several months, my oldest son has been reporting to school daily by 6 a.m. for early morning workouts with the baseball team.  I really wanted him to have a healthy breakfast before heading out the door in the wee hours of the morning.  However, waking up at 5 a.m. to prepare him breakfast was not too appealing.  Oatmeal made the night before in the crock pot was a perfect solution.

Apparently, crock pot oatmeal recipes are quite popular these days, but my recipe is one that I have developed over time.  I just love waking to the aroma of baked apples and cinnamon and a hot, healthy breakfast that takes no time at all to scoop in to individual bowls.   Of course you can add the fruit, cinnamon and nuts or a splash of cold milk after the cooking cycle or not at all.  You may even allow the “kiddos” to top the oatmeal as they wish.

MA’s Crockpot Oatmeal

Place the following ingredients in a slow cooker, stir and cook on low 6-8 hours.  As long as you have enough liquid in the crock pot you may vary the cooking time.  Also, I’ve noticed other crock pot oatmeal recipes recommending that the crock pot be greased prior to adding the ingredients.  I personally have not done that, and have not had issues with clean up.  If you typically prepare the surface of your crock pot to avoid sticking use butter or coconut oil for a healthy “lube  job.”

  1. 2-2.5 Cups of Liquid such as Water, Cow’s Milk, Almond Milk or Coconut Milk (I use Almond Milk)
  2. 2-3 Tbsp. of a sweetener such as Sugar, Brown Sugar, Honey, Maple Sugar (I use either Raw Honey or Maple Sugar)
  3. 1 Tbsp. of Butter…the REAL stuff!
  4. Pinch of Salt
  5. .5 to 1 tsp. Cinnamon (or more)
  6. 1 Cup Oatmeal (I use Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Old Fashioned Rolled Oats)
  7. Fruit such as Apples (1-2), Bananas (1-2), Raisins or Dried Cranberries (a sprinkling to taste)
  8.  Chopped Nuts such as Almonds, Pecans or Walnuts (the amount here is a personal preference…1-2 Tbsp or more is a good start)

Other add-in/topping ideas may include but certainly are not limited to:  nut butters, cocoa powder, coconut, chia seeds, ground flax meal or seeds, blueberries, peaches and chocolate chips!  Isn’t this exciting, folks!  You can top your oatmeal just as you would your ice cream!

IMG_0213Or… Let Your Refrigerator Do the Work:

In the last couple of months I was introduced to a new “make the night before” oatmeal recipe.  Believe it or not, this oatmeal is made in the refrigerator!  The basic premise is to place all ingredients in a jar or bowl, stir and refrigerate overnight.  The next morning, you may eat the oatmeal hot or cold.  If you find yourself unable to eat breakfast prior to leaving the house in the morning, this is a great take along meal idea.

Here is the link to help you begin discovering the world of refrigerator oatmeal!  Who knew?!?

Click here for “Smart Sweet:  Chia, Choco and Banana Overnight Oats.”   Ladies, if you love chocolate…try the recipe!!

For more info on the health benefits of oatmeal, check out this link to Mother Earth Living.

Have you experimented with any of these alternative ways of preparing oatmeal?  We would love feedback!

Updates from the Emptying Nest: Getting Ready for Fall Break and Thanksgiving Vacation

4042911267_a4124b6191By Chris Little

This morning it’s just 23 days until my beloved first-born, now a bona-fide college freshman, comes home for his first Fall Break. And after that, just a month or so until Thanksgiving. It seems like I’m only beginning to get used to setting one less place at the dinner table, and already I’m thinking about how soon he’ll be back. (Hooray!) Here are some things I’m doing to get ready:

1. Talking with him about travel arrangements. I’m not looking at bus tickets though—he’s a big boy and he’s got a credit card, so he can do the actual planning and ticket buying. But I know he’s got his mind on other things (his studies, right?), so I’m doing a little friendly reminding (read: gentle nagging) so he’ll take a look at transportation options sooner rather than later. After all, bus seats fill up fast for weekend and holiday travel—not to mention plane seats, for those whose kids are further afield—and I’d like to avoid having to drive out to pick him up if I can.

2. And appointments. Okay this doesn’t matter so much to my son, who’s happy to slip into pretty much any friendly neighborhood barbershop when he needs a trim, but if you’ve got a suave son or daughter who’s committed to a particular hairstylist, you might remind him or her to call soon for that Thanksgiving-weekend appointment. The same goes for the orthodontist, physician, or dentist … we all know freshmen who get their wisdom teeth pulled the day after Thanksgiving—if yours needs to be one of them, getting an appointment early will save a hassle later.

photo (3)3. Planning a few favorite menu items. I know my son loves my chicken potpie and baked spaghetti casserole, and those lemon bars I make in the summertime, so I’m beginning to think about when I’ll be making them over his break. And I think I’ll pick up an extra set of food storage tubs so I can send him back to school with some leftovers to heat in his microwave…

4. Talking about activities. I certainly don’t want to fill up all his time, but is there anything special he’d like to do as a family, or as an extended family, while he’s home?

5. Managing my expectations. I’m pretty sure my dear freshman will be happy to see us when he gets home—but he’ll also be eager to check in with his high school buddies, and to sleep late in his own bed. Chances are we won’t spend hours and hours sitting cozily on the couch together with mugs of tea talking about his feelings and hopes and dreams. I can daydream about those conversations, but I’m trying to stay realistic: He might spend the weekend asleep or out of the house! I have to be okay with that, and so far I am.

It’s going to be great to have him home — to set four places around the table again! — but I’m sure it won’t be exactly how I imagine it. And it’ll go by so fast, and then he’ll be gone again. So these days I’m  enjoying looking forward to his visit, and doing what I can to make sure things go smoothly.

Of course I’d love to hear how more experienced empty-nesters approach vacations. What do you do to plan? How do you prepare? What are the best parts? The most challenging parts?

First image: Some rights reserved by lynn dombrowski. Second image: My dinner plates!

Real Estate Negotiations: What to do with your child’s room (and her stuff) after she heads to college

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By Chris Little

If you’ve got a new college kid, by now she’s off at school. You’re likely adjusting to the quiet, doing a little less cooking and laundry—and walking past her empty room a couple times a day.

About that room: It’s no longer in active use—at least her half of it, if your kids share. So what are you going to do with all that space? And all the stuff in it?

Maybe you’re one of those parents who was tempted to stop by Sherwin Williams on your way home from dropping your freshman off at orientation, so you could set right to work repainting that room and converting it into a home office. Or maybe what you really want to do is shut the bedroom door and leave your kid’s room completely intact, as a memorial to his early days.

I suppose most of us fall somewhere in the middle. As for me, I wanted to leave my son’s room more or less the way it was, so he’s got a comfortable, familiar space to come home to at Thanksgiving. But to be honest, his room was too much of a mess to leave untouched. (No, that’s not his room up above, but you get the idea!)

Over the years I’ve been pretty laissez-faire when it comes to the tidiness of my kids’ rooms. My stance has been that the kids’ rooms are their domain, so they should get to decide how tidy to keep them—within limits, of course! So once the kids got old enough to help, I expected them to pitch in with the house cleaning when I asked them to, but I didn’t clean their rooms for them, and I pretty much let them decide how much or often to clean them—but no dirty dishes or uneaten food allowed!

As it turns out, my daughter is pretty fastidious, but my son is, well, not. Certainly he’ll clean up if he needs to (like when his grandmother is coming to visit), and he vacuums his carpet regularly enough—but the place hadn’t been dusted in quite awhile. I have to admit that part of what got me through sending him off to college was the thought that I could finally get in there and wipe down his bookshelves!

Tidy bedroomNow to be sure, we talked about it beforehand—I told him my intentions, because I didn’t want to invade his space unannounced. And so last weekend, armed with dust rags and wood polish, I addressed myself to his room, dusting off his dresser, bookshelves, and desk, carefully replacing his books and treasures where I found them, and resisting the urge to do much organizing or discarding. I kept in mind that this room is still his room, and the decision about whether to throw away those old movie ticket stubs is his to make, not mine.

I also did some reading about what other parents have decided to do with their kids’ rooms. It seems like there’s a consensus that rushing into renovations is a bad idea. Here’s what I learned:

1. Leave their room intact, at least for a while. For at least the first semester, it’s probably a good idea to leave your college kid’s room pretty much as-is, if you can. Of course it’s a different story if you’ve got younger siblings eager to expand into the empty space (see below). But otherwise, go ahead and do some dusting and tidying, but don’t change things around too much. They’ll be home before you know it for fall break and Thanksgiving, and you want them to feel like they’ve got a home to come home to.

2. Before you toss it out, talk it over. I’m a stickler for privacy and boundaries, so I won’t pick up anything more than a wet towel in my kids’ rooms without making sure they’re okay with it. More reasonable parents might have a great routine for how much cleaning they do in their kids’ rooms. But regardless, before you go in there and start tossing out old school work or donating their Legos to the homeless shelter, it seems respectful that you’d check in with your college kid, preferably before she leaves home or during a break from school. You want to make sure you don’t accidentally throw out something precious to her—and you want to give her a chance to stash her journals, love letters, and anything else it’s really not your business to find.

3. Same goes for big changes. If you’ve got younger siblings who need the space your college kid has vacated, or if you really need to convert that room into a home office, be sure to talk it over with your college kid before you break out the paint brush. And make sure you reserve some closet space and a corner for her bed, or at least a sofa bed, so she’s got a place to sleep and stow her stuff when she comes home for winter break.

4. Be patient. Chances are that when your college kid comes home for Thanksgiving his room will already feel a little alien, the posters a little juvenile, and the old ticket stubs less meaningful. It could be that your kid will even help you do some decluttering over the winter holidays!

5. If you can, let them bunk with you until after graduation. While we don’t want our homes to become storage units for our absent children, letting our kids keep their claim to their bedroom real estate until they’re settled into their own apartment after graduation can pay off for you. It’ll make visits home less stressful—and more likely to be repeated—if your kid has a comfortable place to stay. It may also help your kid make smart choices knowing she’s got a safety net if she needs it, rather than rushing into just any housing situation because she needs one. And keep in mind that even though today it might feel like your college kid has moved out for good, the reality is she probably hasn’t—some studies find that well more than half of college graduates move home for at least a little while after commencement while they’re looking for work.

How about you, empty nesters? What did you do with your college kids’ rooms after they left? And how soon did you do it? I’d love to hear your advice!

Images: Messy room: Some rights reserved by Rubbermaid Products; Tidy room: Pottery Barn Teen.