Groundhog Day Activities for Kids

By Tracey Dowdy 

Groundhog Day is next Tuesday, February 2nd. At the risk of stating the obvious, many of us have felt like the past ten months have been the real-version of Bill Murray’s classic movie

But, you can make Groundhog Day a little more fun for your kiddos with these fun, family activities. 

  • Start the day with groundhog shaped pancakes. Find a simple recipe and pattern instructions here
  • Then, read Groundhog’s Day Off by Robb Pearlman. Since groundhog is tired of answering the same old question – will there be six more weeks of winter? – ask your kids what they would ask groundhog. Pearlman’s book is a sweet story that, along with being engaging and funny for kids, teaches the importance of friendships and the need to care for our friends.
  • Learn about Punxatawney Phil from the groundhog himself – well, at least the people charged with hosting his website. 
  • Really, could there be a better day to learn about shadows than Groundhog Day? There are a host of shadow-themed activities and lesson plans out there. Scroll through and find the ones that work for your age group and access to supplies (some activities are classroom-based, so there may be elements you don’t have access to).
  • Make Groundhog Day themed snacks – Pinterest has roughly nine jillion suggestions.
  • Kids can also have fun learning about shadows through What’s That Shadow?: A Photo Riddle Book by Christopher L. Harbo. After you’ve read the book, have your kids gather random items from around the house and see who can guess what they are just by their shadows.
  • You could even read Moonbear’s Shadow by Frank Asch and learn about how shadows move with the sun. Trace your child’s shadow on butcher paper or with chalk at different times of the day and show them how their shadow moves similarly to the hands of a clock.
  • Make a peeking groundhog puppet from one of the many templates online (See herehere, or here for just a few examples).
  • Take a few minutes to learn about Groundhog Day’s history, and separate fact from fiction. 
  • Have your kids make their own predictions about whether or not we’ll see six more weeks of winter or whether we’ll get an early Spring. Learn about probability with this fun activity using items you have around the house. 
  • Homeschooling Simplified has a whole Groundhog Day unit with activities, coloring pages, word searches, writing prompts, and crosswords. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Manage Online Learning During COVID-19

By Tracey Dowdy

I don’t need to tell you that the 2020-2021 school year has been a year like no other. I live in Fairfax County, VA, just a few miles outside Washington DC, and to say that things here a bit of a mess would be an understatement. Some schools in Virginia have returned to in-person learning, but compliance with safety measures like masks is an issue and suspected or diagnosed cases of COVID-19 have closed classrooms or even entire schools for weeks. Currently, public school instruction is online, with select private schools opening their doors to in-person learning. To say parents are frustrated is on par with saying the Great Depression was a minor financial setback. 

There’s a reason teaching is considered a calling more than a profession, and let’s be honest, parents who read, ”Your son is a delight to have in class,” on progress reports have learned that is code for “Your child is the reason teachers need summers off.’ 

For many parents, school is a source of stress, anxiety, frustration, and even guilt. “Teacher” is a role few of us were prepared for. Parents are ill-equipped, untrained, sleep-deprived, and frustrated with online learning. 

Take heart mamas and dads who’ve been thrust into the career choice at the bottom of your career assessment in high school. These tips can help you adapt to online learning and ensure you and your children not only survive, but come out the other side.  

First, remember that though we’re all in the same storm, we’re not all in the same boat. That’s okay. You’re not the only parent balancing working from home with supporting their children – in fact, many teachers are trying to find that same balance. Reach out to your children’s teachers for advice and support on how to keep your kids focused and encouraged. They’re invested in your child’s success and have resources and tools that can take some of the burdens off your shoulders. Connecting with them helps you better understand their expectations and gives them insight into what’s happening at home. They are an invaluable resource in helping your child get the most out of online learning. 

Stick to a flexible schedule. That sentence makes no sense until you break it down. Structure is important to helping your student stay focused, but be mindful of when enough is enough. If they’re struggling with long division and you’re both frustrated, sometimes it’s best to walk away and have a snack, a walk around the block, or run around the backyard with the family dog before coming back to math with fresh eyes and a refreshed spirit.  

You cannot over-communicate. Teachers need to know if you’re working full-time, juggling other siblings, trying to accommodate a sibling with special needs, or if English is your second language. Ask for help with subjects or teaching methods you aren’t proficient in – I’m looking at you Common Core Math – so they can support both you and your child. 

Don’t be afraid to lean on neighbors and friends for encouragement and support. As I said, we’re all in the same storm, but we’re not all in the same boat. Buddy-up with another parent who is trying to manage home or online schooling and trade off your strengths. Are you a grammar queen? Help the parent whose child is lost in diagramming sentences or mastering the parts of speech. Is Algebra your jam? Help the mom who can’t tell the difference between a quadratic equation and an isosceles triangle. You’re not the only one that feels like they’re drowning. 

Finally, be kind to yourself and give your children and teachers grace. None of us signed for this, and most are making it up as we go along. Teachers, principals, and educators at every level understand that our children have not had their most successful academic year and that many will need additional support going forward. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter. 

Anti-Racism and Social Justice Programming for Parents and Children

By Tracey Dowdy

Much of the news over the past year has centered on issues of race in America. Facing your child’s questions through open conversation is the first step in raising an anti-racist child. 

It’s essential to address these complex and sensitive issues in age-appropriate ways. If you’re unsure how to initiate the conversation or put current events in their historical context, these programs can help. 

Sesame/CNN: Standing Up to Racism

CNN’s Van Jones and Erica Hill partnered with “Sesame Street” for Coming Together: Standing Up to Racism,” a town hall for kids and families. Split into two parts and geared to parents and kids, the videos feature leaders like Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Sesame Street friends like Big Bird and Abby Cadabby. The videos tackle complicated concepts like racism, protests, and speaking out against unfairness in language children can understand. 

(Best for ages 3+)

Kids, Race, and Unity: A Nick News Special

Alicia Keys hosts discussions with leading experts on race and racial injustice. The panel looks at movements like Black Lives Matter and examines the language around systematic racism so that kids can get past euphemism to find clarity. Parents should be aware high profile deaths of Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor are briefly discussed, and the n-word is addressed but not spoken. As usual, Nick does a remarkable job balancing facts with age-appropriate information. (Best for ages 8+)

We Are the Dream: The Kids of the Oakland MLK Oratorical Fest

Hundreds of pre-K through 12th-grade students perform a mix of published and original poetry and speeches in the Martin Luther King Oratorical Festival in Oakland, CA. The documentary follows students in the months leading up to the 40th annual competition. “We Are the Dream” is a beautiful portrait of young people embracing their history and dreaming of a better future through social justice, immigration reform, and the fight for equality. (Best for ages 8+)

Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story

This unscripted six-episode documentary looks at the life, death, and legacy of Trayvon Martin. Through interviews and home videos, family photos, and news footage, it’s an unflinching look at cultural and societal issues reflected in his death and verdict. (Best for age 14+)

When They See Us

A four-part dramatized series, “When They See Us,” is based on the 1989 Central Park jogger case. Five male suspects were falsely accused, then prosecuted though later exonerated through DNA evidence and a confession from convicted rapist Matias Reyes. Charges against the five men were vacated, and they eventually received a $41 million settlement. (Best for age 15+)

The Loving Story

Richard and Mildred Loving’s interracial marriage in 1960s Virginia sparked a legal battle that ended with the Supreme Court’s historic 1967 decision Loving v. Virginia. This documentary transforms their story from two-dimensional newspaper clippings and brings their story to life. (Best for age 14+)

13th

13th takes an in-depth look at the American prison system and exposes our history of racial inequality. The documentary discusses uncomfortable truths like the fact that the U.S. has just 5% of the world’s population but has 25% of the world’s prisoners. (Rated TV-MA)

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

How to Get Your Children to Wear a Mask

By Tracey Dowdy

By now, wearing a mask when we leave the house has become second nature for many of us. We know that wearing a mask is important and can help stop the spread of COVID-19 as it protects the vulnerable. And with the U.S. continuing to report record numbers of coronavirus casesdespite the vaccine rollout, we’ll all be wearing masks for the foreseeable future. 

While your older children have likely been wearing masks for nearly a year, little ones may be transitioning back to in-person learning and daycares that require one. For some children, this transition is easier than for others. If you’ve ever tried to keep mittens on a toddler or have your preschooler wear a hat for more than 30 seconds, you know what I mean. For children with anxiety, sensory differences, and autism, the challenge can be exponentially greater. They may be particularly sensitive to how the mask feels on their face, head, and ears, and some children may even feel panicked when forced to wear a mask. Some will resist just because “I don’t wanna.”

It may help if you involve the child in the choice of which mask to wear. They may not be interested in a plain blue, disposable mask, but one with Disney characters, superheroes, or a favorite sports team may make them more willing. Let them shop online with you, and choose the style of the mask carefully. Consider over the ears, around the head tie-straps, or even those that attach to a headband with buttons or snaps (check on Etsy). If the mask feels tight, invest in ear savers that put the pressure on the back of the head (like straps for glasses) instead of on the backs of the ears. Having a choice can be empowering and, “It allows them to feel like they have some ownership or control over the process,” says Allison Tappon, a child life specialist with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia — herself a mom of two young kids. 

Practice wearing the mask around the house, even for a few minutes at a time, so your child gets used to the feeling and experience. Modeling good behavior is a technique we all use with our children in other areas, and mask-wearing is no different. If you can find pictures of people they look up to – older cousins, celebrities, athletes – wearing masks, that may help normalize the experience for your child. Remember, “If you act as though the mask is an annoyance or a source of anxiety, your kid will notice. If instead, you emphasize that it’s a simple thing you can all do to help keep others safe, your kid will very likely adopt a similar attitude,” Tappon says.

As a parent, one of the best places to start is to show your child how you wear your mask. Watch for their reaction and comfort level – are they avoiding looking at you or seem upset? Are they acting out, or do they seem distressed? If so, try redirecting them as you would any other time they’re upset. You could also role-play with dolls or action figures and have them make masks for their toys or talk about how superheroes wear them. Explaining that we wear masks to protect others can make them feel like superheroes too. 

If your child is still struggling, try these steps: 

  • Let them touch and hold the mask and don’t forget to praise them for their efforts. “Don’t underestimate the power of positive reinforcement,” says Dr. James Lewis, a pediatrics professor at the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine at Marshall University and author of “Making Sense of ADHD.” Reward them with a little treat, create a star chart, or simply use your words to praise them. Small victories are big victories in these situations. 
  • Have them touch the mask to their face without putting it on. Make it a game by saying, “Touch your nose with the mask! Now touch your ears! Touch mommy’s nose with your mask!” and so on. Again, the goal is to take any anxiety out of mask-wearing, so keeping things light takes away some of the fear factor. 
  • Once they’re comfortable with steps one and two, have them put the mask on, even if it’s just for a few moments. Build up to wearing it for more extended periods. You can use a timer to make it more of a challenge-like game. As always, praise and reward positive results and be kind and compassionate if progress is slow. 
  • At this point, have them practice wearing their mask for more extended periods around the house. Have them wear it while they play with toys, a video game, or watch a movie.
  • Remember, they may need breaks, so be mindful of their emotional state and when they’ve had enough. Help them use their words or come up with a hand signal to indicate when they’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed. 

 Wearing a mask is hard even for many adults, so it’s no wonder it can be difficult for our children. As the parent, you know what works best for your child, so pick and choose what tips will work for them. If they have special needs, talk to your child’s therapists and healthcare providers for advice on how best to help them adjust. 

Licensed psychologists developed these tools at the Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Set Your Child Up for Success in 2021

By Tracey Dowdy

By now, “2020 was a year like no other” may be the most overused phrase in recent history, becoming the written equivalent of saying “like” in every sentence. Millions of American children haven’t been in a classroom or on a playdate since last March, some have lost loved ones, had quarantine birthdays, learned to live with uncertainty and disappointment, and the knowledge they’ll be among the last to get the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Still, they’ve shown resiliency and courage through it all. Our children have adapted to virtual schooling with varying degrees of success, submitted to wearing a mask better than some adults, and figured out creative ways to connect with family and friends via technology. 

With so many of the challenges of 2020 still lingering in 2021, here are some ways to help your kids charge into the new year with confidence, courage, and a cheerful heart. 

Lead by example. If you frequently complain about what a dumpster fire of a year this has been, your children will adopt that attitude as well. Be careful about projecting your struggles on to your kids, which is easier said than done at a time when parental burnout is at an all-time high. There’s no question whether or not we’ve all struggled but focus on the victories, not the losses. You don’t need to pretend everything’s okay – your children aren’t blind to what’s happening – but by teaching them to find the good in every situation, you’re not just helping them get through today; you’re setting them up to be leaders and culture changers whatever their future holds. 

Don’t stress over bad habits. I’ve heard so many parents lament the amount of screen time their kids are subjected to through virtual schooling or simply as a way to pass the time when playdates are out of the question. Others are concerned they’ll never get back on a schedule after sleeping till five minutes before their Zoom class starts or ever be able to hold a face to face conversation again. Julie Ross, executive director of Parenting Horizons and author of “Practical Parenting for the 21st Century,” says, “Many of the habits that children are developing now that their parents are ‘worried’ about are ones that serve them well in this bubble we’re living in. What concerns me, to tell you the truth, is that because parents are worried, they’re putting pressure on to their kids and not acknowledging how resourceful they are being.”

Instead, ask yourself whether your child is eating and sleeping well, getting some exercise, still spending time with family and whether they’re pretty much on top of their schoolwork. If the answer is yes to most – doesn’t have to be all – of these questions, don’t stress about what’s helping them cope now – like excess screen time. 

Offer concrete praise. While empty praise does little other than guarantee your child will one day be among the first round of contestants on a reality show they’ll later regret, recognition for actual accomplishments, big or small, is life-giving. Recognize when they push through a challenging class or assignment, finish their chores, or show kindness to a sibling. “Acknowledgement is specific, and acknowledgment is not overblown,” Ross says. 

Be intentional about downtime together. While many parents and children have spent more time together over the past 12 months than they ever have before, much of that time has been structured or in some way instructional. Claire Nicogossian, a clinical psychologist and author of “Mama, You Are Enough: How to Create Calm, Joy and Confidence Within the Chaos of Motherhood,” suggests taking stock of how much time you spent together throughout the day, then adding a few minutes for relaxing and reconnecting. “This is not to make you feel more guilty, but give you perspective. Often, we as parents spend so much time in the supporting roles of parenting, we lose out on the fun, quality-time moments.”

Finally, although self-care may seem as out of reach as getting back into your pre-quarantine jeans, find ways to take care of your mental health. You can’t pour from an empty bucket, so ignore the laundry so you can take a bath after the kids are in bed, treat yourself to an overpriced coffee on your grocery run, disconnect from social media, or go for a run before everyone is up. If you’re overwhelmed and can’t seem to catch your breath, reach out to friends and family, and ask for help. 

While we can’t make COVID go away and get things back to normal tomorrow, we can take steps to ensure we all get there eventually. Give your children and yourself grace. Remember, you’re your own worst critic – unless you have toddlers who are brutal and give savage performance reviews. I promise you’re doing a great job, sweetie. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

Talking to Your Kids About the Events at the Capitol

By Tracey Dowdy

Regardless of where on the political spectrum you fall, I think we can all agree that the events in Washington D.C. yesterday may be disturbing to our children. Seeing or hearing about a mob of violent protesters storming the U.S. Capitol Building coupled with the stress of a global pandemic and the challenges it has created for families may generate fears and questions you’re unsure how to address. It’s perfectly normal for children to have difficulty processing these events – it’s difficult for us as adults. 

Honesty is crucial. Don’t be tempted to gloss over or lie about what has occurred. Deception leads to distrust, and your children need to know that above all else, they are safe with you. Cassidy O’Brien, a family therapist at San Diego Kids First says, “Parents are often tempted to lie as a first response, because they don’t want their child to worry or that they shouldn’t be burdened with this, and that’s a bad approach. It’s bad to overwhelm children with too much information, but you can tell them the truth in simple ways and use their questions to guide you on how much to share.” 

Remind your children that as a parent, your primary job is to protect them and that you will always look out for them. Validate their feelings by sharing your own. Let them know you too were unsettled by yesterday’s events but that these feelings are normal. 

Open the conversation by asking them what they’ve heard. Though your children may not have sat down to watch the news with you, there’s every possibility they’ve overheard your conversation or heard about it from classmates or older siblings. Be calm, approachable, and open-minded. And because you’re trying to frame the discussion by considering their maturity level and what information they may have, let them take the lead. Clear up misconceptions or misinformation, and if you don’t know the answer, simply say, “That’s a good question. Let’s figure it out together.” Refer to Common Sense Media’s list of age-based news resources for kids that puts current events in language and context that is appropriate for them. 

Because children’s lives are rule-based and directed at learning what’s right and wrong, seeing adults behave as we observed yesterday might be confusing for your children. Part of becoming a mature adult is learning how to manage our emotions – the good ones and the bad ones. Explain that sometimes adults have feelings that they allow to spin out of control, and when that happens, bad things can happen, and poor choices are made. Remind them that good people sometimes make bad choices, and who we choose to associate with can get us into trouble as well. This is an excellent time to discuss accountability for one’s actions and the consequences of breaking the law. Do try to avoid editorializing unless your children are old enough to have a more in-depth discussion. Your goal is to inform and reassure, not persuade and recruit. 

Be aware some children are reluctant to acknowledge negative emotions. “A lot of kids are growing up thinking anxiety, anger, sadness are bad emotions,” says Stephanie Samar, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. But naming and accepting these emotions is “a foundation to problem-solving how to manage them. For younger children, describing your own feelings and modeling how you manage them is useful. They hear you strategizing about your own feelings, when you’re nervous or frustrated, and how you’re going to handle it, and they can use these words,” she says. Beyond conversation, help them identify events or conversations that spike their anxiety. Be mindful of what you say in front of them and be vigilant about what they see online. “It’s not keeping it from them but making sure you’re part of it,” Cassidy O’Brien, a family therapist at San Diego Kids First says. “That way, you can keep control of the conversation and be aware of what they’re getting.” 

Finally, remember this isn’t a one and done conversation. 2020 was a year that seemingly moved from one disaster to the next. Your child’s emotions may already be running high, so stay in tune with changes in mood and behavior and be willing to unpack current events and their impact on your children again and again. If you feel their struggle is more than you can manage together, reach out, and have them talk to a trained child therapist. Their mental health is no less important than physical health. If you’re not sure where to begin, Psychology Today allows you to search for a therapist or psychiatrist in your area, and Mental Health America has resources to ensure both you and your child can move forward unafraid. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

How and Where to Recycle Cell Phones and Laptops

Suppose you’re one of the millions of Americans who purchased or were gifted electronics over the holidays. In that case, you may be wondering how to best dispose of or recycle your old devices. We all have a drawer crammed with old phones, chargers, cables to a VCR you haven’t used in years, and accessories for devices you stopped using years ago. 

There’s a right way and a wrong way – well, many wrong ways – to dispose of electronics. Before we get into that, let me remind you to ensure you’ve wiped the device of any personal information before you toss it. All it takes is a charger for a bad actor to access any data you’ve left on your device before disposing of it. The best way is to back everything up then do a factory reset. 

The EPA has a list of Certified Electronics Recyclers to ensure the site you’ve chosen is reputable and not going to dump your device in a landfill. 

Did you know batteries fall into the same category as used electronics? Don’t throw them in the trash once they’re spent. Instead, collect them in an old shoebox or another container, then take them to Best Buy, Whole FoodsHome DepotLowes, or Staples, each of whom has free drop-off spots for dead batteries. Earth 911 is an eco-friendly resource for recycling, and they will help you locate the nearest recycling location based on the type of battery you need to dispose of (e.g., alkaline, lithium, zinc-air).

Old cell phones – depending on how old – can often be traded in against a new device’s price. If it’s too outdated, wipe it, then choose from one of these options:

  • Best Buy accepts three phones per household per day,
  • Lowes has recyclables collection centers at stores across the U.S.
  • Staples accepts mobile phones along with many other electronics.  
  • Home Depot accepts phones up to 11 pounds.
  • Whole Foods, Navy Federal Credit Union, and ShopRite partner with Secure the Call to get 911 emergency-only phones to senior citizens and individuals in domestic violence shelters. Check local listings for participating stores or send your phone directly to Secure the Call
  • Cell Phones for Soldiers accepts used phones enabling troops to call their families at home for free.

When it comes to laptops, there several options. Earth911 allows you to search for “laptop computer,” enter your ZIP code, and it will pull up a list of the nearest drop off-sites. If the device is older or broken, Dell’s Goodwill Reconnect Program is a good option. If it’s less than five years old, there’s a good chance someone can use it. Many local nonprofits and libraries accept used laptops after refurbishing; just remember to bring the software and accessories that came with them (charger, mouse, printer).  

Happy recycling! 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.