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Creative Ways to Volunteer at School When You Can’t Join the Parent Council

Like you, I only have so many hours in a day. While I had the best of intentions about joining my school’s parent council, the meetings were held on a night I had to take my older son to skating and my younger son to tutoring. Short of cloning myself, it just wasn’t going to work into my schedule.

Thankfully, there are many other ways to volunteer at your child’s school, and not all of them take a lot of time.

Note: Before you raise your hand to volunteering, check with your school about the requirements. Most need you to have a police background check before you’re allowed to volunteer.

When You Have No Time To Spare: Bulk Up
The next time you’re out shopping, grab a couple of extra boxes of tissues, some glue sticks, or whatever else the classrooms may need. Teachers spend a lot of their own money on supplies, so anything extra is always appreciated.

When You Have 30 Minutes to Spare: Get Crafty
Junior/Senior Kindergarten teachers do a lot of prep work for daily crafts and games. When my boys were in kindergarten, I arranged with their teacher to leave her craft prep work in the school office. I would pick it up, do whatever needed to be done, and drop it off the next day. It mostly consisted of cutting and gluing, so I could binge-watch my favourite shows at the same time. Win/win.

When You Have an Hour to Spare: Buddy Up
Reading opens up a whole new world for kids. Spend one-on-one time helping them learn to read, or volunteer to be a guest reader for the class.

When You Have Two to Three Hours to Spare: One-Off Events
Fundraisers, school fairs, book fairs… throughout the year there are many one-off events that take place in schools. These are usually large undertakings and many volunteers are needed. Assistance is always welcome.

When You Want To Volunteer But Need To Know in Advance The Exact Time and Date: Get in the Driver’s Seat
Transportation to and from school field trips is typically done by bus. But when it comes to school sports like volleyball, basketball, and cross country, the teams are too small to warrant the expense which means it’s up to parent volunteers to get the kids where they need to go. This is a bonus win for parents because you hear what the kids are talking about while you ferry them to and fro.

What You Should Make Time For:
For the most part, teachers only hear from parents when things go wrong, so if there is a teacher who went the extra mile for your child, or just did something nice, send a quick email to let them know.

We all like to feel appreciated.

 

Written by: Sharon DeVellis, YMC.ca

Easy Packable Lunches to Make the School Year Awesome

After five years, I think we’ve just about got this school lunch thing under our belts. We’ve learned a bunch of tricks to make the making easier: 1) night time is lunch prep time, because mornings are always chaos; 2) a veggie and a fruit must go in every lunch to keep it balanced and make planning simple; 3) kid packs!

Hey, you can never teach responsibility too early.

But then the question is… what to pack that helps your child get a well-rounded lunch without fuss? There’s dozens – hundreds – of easy packable lunches depending on what works for you and what your kids like! Here’s 5 categories to help find the right fit for you!

The Leftover Lover

Got a kid who loves leftovers? Up your dinner game (and double your recipe) with meals that shelve well. Soups, casseroles, and stir fries are great hot-choice picks. Recipes like German Sausage & Potato Salad are perfect served cold!

Breakfast for Luncher
Have a child that loves breakfast? Mini quiches or fritatas can easily combine protein and veggie! Sliced waffles, mini pancakes, hardboiled eggs, sliced fresh fruit, cooked sausages, and even breakfast bars are great options that kids can help pack by themselves.

The Snacker
Does your little one love to nibble? Cut some pre-sliced cheese into four pieces and pack with crackers, sliced deli meat for a DIY Lunchable. Add their choice of fruit and veg, and they’re good to go!

The Classic Sandwicher
Bless the child that is the classic sandwicher; they seldom need any additional help from us. Keep it fresh for older sandwichers with some more exotic deli meat options available at the counters. Just remind them to pack a fruit and veg to round out.

The Funster
If your kid loves to get funky in the lunchbox, then grab some tortillas and teach them about fruit sushi! Spread one side with a peanut butter substitute, and then load up the middle with bananas, cut grapes, or other fruit of their choice. Roll it up tightly and slice for a fun nibble!

Rotate at will, and you’ve got this school year covered!

 

Written by: Anne Radcliffe, YMC.ca

Homework Help for Parents and Kids

The debate over the value of homework continues, but it continues to be a common practice in our schools. Homework can be a tool to teach responsibility, diligence and perseverance. It gives caregivers a glimpse into what their child is learning and the type of teaching they are receiving.

If you feel your child’s new school has too heavy a homework load, don’t be afraid to voice your concerns with the classroom teacher. Children are busy these days and they need some time to connect with family and friends, to explore hobbies and sports, and to get outside. If the amount of homework your child receives threatens their ability to do these things, they are getting too much.

Once you feel comfortable with the amount of homework assigned, there are a number of things you can do to set kids up for homework success.

Create a homework-friendly area: set up a place that is bright, has the required school supplies (extra pencils, erasers, papers, pencil sharpener, etc.) and is comfortable. If you know your child struggles with distraction, create the homework spot away from their stash of toys.

Set up a check-in routine: your child is responsible for knowing what they have for homework and for communicating that with you. Many teachers support this through the use of a class website or a school agenda. Have your child explain what they need to do. For many students, articulating their task helps them organize their approach and focus.

Show interest in what your child is learning: ask your child about what they are studying. Have them share what they found interesting or something they liked about school each day. If they have a longer homework assignment, ask them what they think the goal of the assignment is and what are the big ideas they should remember.

Encourage and support but DO NOT DO your child’s homework: There is no value in your child submitting perfect homework, heavily guided by you. You can support your child and praise their efforts with work. You can ask guiding questions like “does that answer make sense?” “is this your best work?” but if your child makes an error and doesn’t catch it, let them turn in their homework that way. This gives teachers valuable information about what the student requires and allows your child to learn from their mistakes.

DO NOT RESCUE: Did your child leave a big project until the last minute? Did they leave their assignment at home? Did they miscopy the instructions? Are they unprepared for a test after cramming? These are all excellent learning opportunities. If your child has a homework disaster, let it happen, then review it with them after the consequences fall. Talk about how they can do better next time. Your children will learn far more from these big mistakes than they ever will from you rushing about buying last minute project supplies or dropping their forgotten items to the school.

Reduce homework stress: homework should not require any tears – yours or your child’s. Tortuous learning tasks only serve to push children away from education. If homework is causing your household undue anxiety, take it up with the teacher and find a solution that works.

With these few steps, you’re on your way to having a great school year! Good luck!

 

Written by: Erin Chawla, YMC.ca

10 Steps to Brighter Mornings

My 8-year-old daughter was born at night and her preference for sunsets over sunrises has never waned. As a result, I’ve had to get creative with our early morning routines so my night owl can get to where she needs to go with minimal fuss. To help ensure nothing is overlooked when the clock is ticking, we refer to our Get Going Morning List, which we keep on the fridge door…

Fortunately, in addition to inheriting my penchant for sleeping in late, my mini me also shares my love of making lists. She helped me craft ours, and because she was part of the process, she is firmly committed.

Splash Some Water
My daughter starts every day by splashing cold water on her face. I prefer a hot shower.

Turn on the Music
Cheerful sounds help everyone feel happy and move quickly. And you haven’t lived until you’ve brushed your teeth while dancing to Taylor Swift.

Nix the Devices
Screens and mornings do not mix because 5 minutes easily becomes thirty-five and poof, there goes the school bus.

Get Dressed
If you’re super organized, you or your child will have laid out clothes the night before. If not, get busy! Also, be prepared for the weather to change. You know what they say about the unpredictable weather in Canada: if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes. So have a sweater ready at the door.

 Feed the Beast
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Fruits, bacon, yogurt, and toast are great, but we’ve also been known to eat reheated leftovers.

When we’re short on time, smoothies are our go-to breakfast. Add a rolled up slice of deli meat, bacon, or some hummus, and a handful of crackers and suddenly, you’ve got a balanced meal.

Don’t Skimp on Protein
When making breakfasts, snacks and lunches, don’t forget the protein. Protein is important because it keeps blood sugar levels stable and makes your kids feel full longer ensuring they can make it through the activities of the day. Adequate protein also helps with attention span, memory and concentration. Chicken is an excellent source of lean protein and is a favourite at our house.

Brush all the Things
After a healthy breakfast, it’s time to groom (to music, of course).

Grab all the Things
Reduce morning stress and save valuable time by preparing lunches and filling backpacks the night before.

 All for Hugs and Hugs for All
No one leaves the house without a hug. That’s our rule, and we’re sticking to it.

Good Nights make for Great Mornings
There’s no denying the benefits of a good night’s rest. So when your kids need to be up with the sun, make sure they hit the bed early. As a rule, school-age kids need 9-11 hours of sleep a night. As we all know, a rested child is a happy child and a happy child makes mornings brighter for everyone.

Written by: Andrea Mulder-Slater, YMC.ca

Breakfast Quick Fixes for the School Year

Imagine a scene that encapsulates the feeling of kids and moms on mornings during the school year. Doubtless you envisioned a busy household, a kitchen on the brink of breakfast disaster, and several children stuffing granola bars into their pockets as they’re pushed out the door to catch the school bus. It’s not entirely inaccurate, because quick and healthy breakfasts are one of the biggest challenges parents (and kids!) face from September to June. Here are some quick fix, easy-prep breakfasts that hit the marks both for filling bellies, and meeting school bells!

You-Do-It Yogurt Snack Bar
Offer a selection of yogurt toppings in easy-to-open containers at a kid friendly height – you can even put small individual containers in a basket and keep on the counter for ease. Yogurt can be portioned out in servings in small clean jars with lids in the fridge for the week – and the jars allow you to leave plenty of room “up top” for delicious fillings. Here’s a list to get you started in building your yogurt snack bar: dried cherries, raisins, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, granola, sliced almonds, walnut pieces and maple sugar sprinkles. These toppings also work well on steel-cut oatmeal – which you can cook in the crockpot overnight for easy mornings!

Wonderful Waffle Sandwiches
Store bought freezer waffles are filling and economical, and waffles can be eaten by hand when turned into sandwiches! Add fillings like nut butters or cream cheese and sliced fruit such as bananas, strawberries, of kiwi, and top off with a sprinkle of chia seeds and a dollop of yogurt before adding the top waffle. Wrap in a paper towel, and presto! A filling and healthy breakfast meal your kids can eat on the go.

Excellent Egg Wraps
Cooked eggs freeze beautifully. Beat eggs in a bowl and add favourite fillings like chicken deli, shredded cheeses, chopped peppers, or onions with salt and pepper. Cook omelet style in a small pan in thin layers. Stack each egg “round” on a tortilla shell and roll up, before sealing with plastic wrap and freezing. On busy mornings, unwrap plastic and transfer to paper towel lined plate. Microwave for 45 seconds for a grab-and-go high protein breakfast.

Freezer Friends
Homemade pancakes, waffles, and French toast are not just for weekends anymore! Double cook a large batch when you have time, and freeze in freezer zip-style bags for delicious school day breakfasts. Pop in toaster, add some fruit and syrup and all of a sudden, Wednesday feels like Saturday! Slice waffles and French toast into “sticks” to make dipping fast and easy just in case it’s one of those “eat in the car” kind of mornings.

Superfruit Smoothies
Drinkable breakfasts are super-fast and a saviour some days. Freeze fruit, a dollop of Greek yogurt, and a bit of fruit juice in single size portions in labelled zip-style freezer bags. Kids can pop the frozen contents into a blender with some fresh milk (cow, almond, coconut, or soy) to quickly whirl up an incredible, sippable morning meal.

Spend an hour on Sunday prepping some meals to get you through your hectic week a little more smoothly. Enlist your kids to help and cut the work time in half, as well as building some independence skills!

 

Written by: Jen Marinucci, YMC.ca

The Terrible, No Good Story of the First Day of School No One Will Forget

It was a hot Tuesday a few years ago, towards the end of the summer holiday. School was starting in the next day or two, and I had planned an afternoon of back to school shopping, but I needed to fill the morning with some activities for my kids. Add to that I had missed our biweekly garbage and recycling pickup, and so a trip to the local transfer station was also in order. It was going to be a busy day.

Here’s where – if this was a TV show – the dramatic foreshadowing music would begin.

I thought I’d get a jump on the day early on, so I called the home of my son’s best friend to see if I could arrange a playdate in order to get some time to get things done. My son’s friend’s mom answered right away, but stayed quiet for a minute after I suggested the boys play together for the day.

“Jeni,” she replied. “Eli can’t play; he’s… on the bus.”

I told her I was surprised that his day camp ran this close to the start of school and so she clarified, “No; he’s on the SCHOOL bus. School starts TODAY.”

Well, this was a surprise.

I checked the school calendar; I was certain the kids started a day later, but she was right. I glanced at the clock and found I had exactly 15 minutes to get these kids ready for their first day of school. In no way were we close to ready; we had no lunch foods, no one’s hair had been cut, there were no fresh clothes or backpacks, and there was nary a sharpened pencil in sight. Plus, the van was chock-full of garbage bags and recycling bins headed to the dump.

I launched into “Mom: Panic Speed” (all moms have this setting) and made pitiful but functional lunches, found two pencils in my purse, and shook last year’s crumbs out of weathered backpacks. The kids – fighting the momentum the whole way – were unwillingly loaded into the van and driven to school, protesting loudly. (And in their defense, this was not exactly an Instagram-worthy “Back to School” first day photo shoot – in looks or spirit.) We pulled into the school parking lot at the top of the hill and my son bolted, lest he miss making a good locker selection… except his hasty exit caused the entire recycling bin headed for the dump to tumble out of the car, spilling its contents onto the asphalt. The contents promptly rolled down the hill, coming to rest in the school garden’s rosebushes.

So, rather than celebrating in peace with a quiet coffee on a warm patio, I plucked tomato cans and empty yogurt containers from prickly rosebushes while children’s sweet voices serenaded me with the morning rendition of “O Canada” and school administrators looked through the office window, stifling grins. I smiled back; life with children is never boring.

Here’s to some wonderful (mis)adventures for you and your family this school year!

 

Written by: Jeni Marinucci, YMC.ca

Back to School Tips for New-to-this-Parents

Making the transition to school can be quite a change for kids, but it can also be a challenge for new-to-school parents, too!

It’s definitely an adjustment for families, but with each passing year you’ll learn new tricks. Until then, here are some to get you started:

Keep It Simple
It’s easy to get caught up in the back-to-school hoopla. From early August, stores shelves are lined with backpacks, pencils, notebooks, math kits, markers… the list goes on and on. It’s hard to know exactly what it is that your child will need. Just repeat: keep it simple. Most teachers will send home a list of required school supplies during the first week of school, so wait on some things. Send your child to school with a backpack and lunch kit on the first day and teachers will let you know what else they need.

Stay Organized
During school, weekdays tend to be chaos, so staying organized is important. Keep bins handy to contain hats and gloves so mornings aren’t completely bonkers, and have a tray for permission forms and school newsletters so they’re easily accessible. Keep pencils and a sharpener near the homework area so you aren’t searching. Many families rely heavily on family calendar apps, because they help everyone stay on top of what is going on. Find a system that works for your family early, and stick to it.

Plan Ahead
The last thing you’ll want to do after a busy day at work is pack lunches. But as hard as it may seem, doing as much as possible the night before is always best. Pack lunches and leave them in the fridge. Make sure books and homework are in school bags and have your child choose tomorrow’s outfit before bed, because the less you all have to worry about in the morning, the better. Plan your weekly dinner menus every weekend. It will not only help when grocery shopping, but it eliminates the nightly “what’s for dinner” debate.

The key to making the school year run smoothly is routine. Find the system that works for your family and stick to it. The most important advice new-to-school parents can get is this: have fun! The more your kids see you enjoying their time at school the more fun they will have, too.

Written by: Natalie Romero, YMC.ca