Monthly Archives: December 2011


The time after the first winter holiday surge and before New Year’s has always felt a little depressing to me. The allure of vacation quickly grows old, the thrill of having nothing to do becomes boredom, and the mess of the holidays seems impossible to clean up. It’s appropriate, then, that the new year looms right around the corner, bright and shiny with promise.

I used to think that however the new year started was somehow indicative of how the year would go. If my family was irritable and crabby and fighting when the ball dropped, the rest of the year would follow. If the stars aligned and the new year came in with joy, then that would mean a great year was forthcoming. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that it doesn’t particularly matter how the new year is brought in, and more and more it seems as though New Year’s Eve is simply an arbitrary moment in which people try to get rid of the baggage of the previous year and start a bright and shiny new year. It isn’t that simple, of course. You don’t just get to have a fresh start when the ball drops and leave all the baggage of the old year behind. New Year’s Eve doesn’t bring with it some sort of magic.

The only thing magic about New Year's Eve is the fact that adults are willing to wear funny hats! (Image Credit:


However, millions (if not billions) of people across the world still ring in the new year with celebration and a magical sort of thinking called resolutions. Some people are so convinced in the magical powers of New Year’s Eve that they create lists of things that they want to change in their lives or that they want to continue doing into the new year. It is as though this one night offers a true fresh start, and the next day you really will get out there and start training for that marathon. Resolutions, however, are not that simple either. Just writing a wish down on a piece of paper doesn’t make it real.

The Oxford English Dictionary online records the first appearance of the phrase “New Year’s Resolution” as occurring in 1850, and defines the phrase as “a resolution made on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day to do or to refrain from doing a specified thing from that time onwards, or to attempt to achieve a particular goal, usually during the coming year.” However, the OED also tellingly offers two quotes out of five that address the ease with which these resolutions are broken.

I think that most people truly mean to follow through on their resolutions. After all, resolutions are rarely spontaneous. A resolution usually comes from a long-held wish or desire. The problem is that often, resolutions are broad goals that don’t necessarily have steps in place to make them achievable. Rather than saying “I’m going to get an A in history!”, try saying, “I’m going to study 30 minutes each day for history.” Of course, the latter statement doesn’t necessarily sound like a New Year’s resolution, and it lacks the excitement of the former exclamation. It is, however, a clearly defined goal, which may help improve its odds of success.

The malaise of the post-holiday season comes back, for me, in full-force on New Year’s Day. This phenomenon is probably closely related to my deification of New Year’s Eve, and my subsequent disappoint when the world hasn’t changed in just one night. The truth is, New Year’s resolutions can only do so much, and giving one specific day so much importance can backfire. Any day can be New Year’s Eve. If you commit to a new course of action, you can start a new world for yourself whether it’s December 31st or April 17th.

Maybe we lose sight of our resolutions because of all the sparklers and fireworks on New Year's Eve! (Image Credit:

While many of my own New Year’s resolutions have failed, I have made changes in the past that have been just as momentous. After biting my nails from the time I had teeth, I finally stopped in the summer of 2010. One day, I just decided that I was done, and with a few minor relapses my nails have been bite-free since that day. Sometimes, the pomp and circumstance of New Year’s can distract from the intent behind the resolutions, which may very well be good. If I had declared on New Year’s Eve that I was going to stop biting my nails, I probably would have woken up the next morning, realized the world was the same as it had been last year, and continued with my bad habit.

Maybe the thing to remember is not that New Year’s Eve isn’t special, but that every day has the potential to be as special and full-of-promise as we make New Year’s Eve. It’s interesting that the word “resolution” is only one letter away from “revolution”. A revolution implies action, while a resolution connotes less action and more hot air. Why not start a revolution in your life in those moments when you inspire yourself to do so? Don’t be dependent on a date on the calendar to make changes in your life that you want to make. If you want to take French lessons or be kinder to strangers or grow out your hair, start doing it that day. Use the power and energy and inspiration inside of you to make it happen.

Maybe my relative apathy toward New Year’s resolutions stems from the fact that I’ve never successfully kept them. Oh, sure, I try. I kept the journal I swore to write in every day for a week before I lost it. Of course, on the off-chance that this whole “New Year’s Eve magic” idea has merit, I’m going to make a few resolutions, just in case. Who knows? They might even stick.

Wishing you and your family a very happy New Year from all of us here at Tutor Doctor WNY!



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Recipe Organization

Adults may find it difficult to understand why kids get bored over break. “What I wouldn’t give for a day to do absolutely nothing!” most adults think to themselves, and they quickly get irritated at children who complain about boredom. The times when I’ve felt bored have typically had to do with feeling completely useless. You can only watch so many movies, read so many books, or take so many naps before you start to feel…exhausted. To help give your child some purpose over the holiday season, why not set him or her up with a project?

One project that even young children can help tackle (with a little guidance) can be organizing your family recipe collection. While there are plenty of fancy recipe organizers with index cards included, our family has chosen to take a much simpler approach. All the recipes that we’ve printed from the internet over the years, that have laid in a pile on our countertop, are now sorted into folders and tucked away neatly in a cupboard.

This project is simple, but has far-reaching effects. The first thing we found while sorting out our family recipes was that there was a significant number of duplicate recipes. Rather than taking the time to dig through the mountain of recipes already printed, it was easier to just go online and print off a new copy. By having these tried-and-true recipes right at your fingertips, it also makes our family more likely to mix up our meal plans and get out of the rut that spaghetti and hamburgers often seems to bring.

Sorting your recipes can make planning meals a breeze! (Image Credit:

To begin with, we gathered together all the loose recipes we had floating around, whether they were written on index cards, cut off of food packages, or printed from the internet. For our family, we set up four different piles: Appetizers/Soups/Salads, Main Courses, Desserts, and Holiday Favorites. Categories your family may enjoy might include Kid Friendly Favorites, Family Secret Recipes, or 15 Minute Meals. Figure out what categories make the most sense for your family’s needs. Then, we simply started sorting our recipes into the appropriate categories. The sorting process was so simple that we were able to have everyone help out in the sorting process, and it went quickly. To keep all the categories separate, we found some old school folders and a Sharpie and wrote the category on the front. Rather than using folders, you could certainly use a binder with dividers to indicate which recipes belonged in which category. Ultimately, see what you have available and use what you find to make the project simpler . An unexpected bonus to this project was that it also encouraged us to go through our cupboards to make room for the recipe folders, and it simply proves that being productive can be addictive.

What are some other projects you give to your kids to keep them from getting too bored?

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Holiday Paper Airplanes…Fun with Benefits

The holidays offer a unique opportunity to provide your children with alternative experiences and education. If done properly it can even be fun for both you and the child. Often these experiences can be very inexpensive and done in your kitchen or living room with material you can find in your home. We had an earlier post on Origami Cranes that has been getting a bunch of attention lately so we thought ‘What is another activity that can be done by most children (and caregivers) over the age of 4?’. Origami is great because it promotes following instructions, dexterity, reflection, task completion and creative imagination. Plus, it is a great activity to do at the kitchen table with other individuals and it fosters ‘face-to-face’ conversation (something lacking in texting and Facebook).

So what other activity could lead to great benefits like those? Paper Airplanes of course! This activity has all the benefits of Origami PLUS it teaches science topics like engineering, aerodynamics, and if led properly you can promote the use of the scientific method. In addition, paper airplaning is more easily done with any type of paper, although toilet or nose tissue is not a good option.

There are many good books at and sites on the internet with instructions on making airplanes. Some of the better ones we use are:

10 Paper Airplanes – Great instructions for making 10 types of paper airplanes. Designs also include a ‘spinner’ and ‘ring’ design.

Alex’s Paper Airplanes – A nice UK site that includes instructional videos you can use to duplicate the planes. With 25+ designs it is sure to keep your child’s interest. It includes a design for a paper rocket that teaches surface tension and designs for the ‘worst’ paper airplane. The videos are both informative and a bit entertaining.

Ryan Farrington – Seven designs that are well tested and generally easy to complete.

Paper airplaning is great for both boys and girls and will provide hours of activity to your child. Some of the things you can do with the finished product are flight competitions for distance, time in air, speed and accuracy. Asking questions like ‘if you put a paper clip on the nose of the plane what will happen?’ or ‘what will happen if we make the wings smaller?’ can lead to some great hypothesis generation, discussion, testing and analysis. Judging the final design of the planes based upon things like fold neatness, creativity and originality is also a good activity. There are probably a hundred more questions and learning opportunities that making paper airplanes promotes but for now we think you have a good start. Happy Flying!


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Overcoming Holiday Boredom

Are you asking yourself “What can I have the kids do so they are not bored during this holiday?” If you are an older student do you ask “What should I do during my winter break?” Here are some thoughts from our staff…

The winter holidays are a welcome respite from the busy school calendar. The holiday is typically too short to get a new job or tackle a large project, but they are long enough for you to catch up on sleep and spend some quality time with friends and family members. Although getting some rest and relaxation is important for you to recharge, you can also use this opportunity to prepare for next semester.

Catch up on your reading during your holiday break. Ask your teachers for reading lists and get started on reading you will struggle to find the time to do next year. Read books you are interested in so that you can still relax. Reading a couple of books during your break will really help take the pressure off you in the new year and leave you with more time to pursue other interests.

If you are working on your college or university applications, consider using this time to volunteer. There are many volunteer opportunities as people who usually volunteer may be away on holiday. Consider a volunteer job in the field that you wish to study. Not only will this help with your college application, but you will also find it a hugely rewarding activity and an avenue for personal growth.

Have your kids create, produce, and rehearse a play they will present on New Year’s Eve. It is a great way to help them understand the dynamics that make up a performance and it will spark their creativity, not to mention help them use their memory as they learn their lines. The more children involved the better but remember to keep it manageable for both you and your children. Ultimately you will be amazed at what they put together and it can become a great holiday tradition for your family and friends.

Get moving! Healthy bodies mean healthy minds and if you don’t have much time for your favorite sports, use your break to catch up on exercise. Winter break gives you the opportunity for skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing, skating, hiking, or indoor sports. Have some fun, get a little exercise, and help your body to reduce toxins and build muscle.

Visit a local cultural institution. The break is a great time to catch up on new art or learn more about older artist’s works. Going to the zoo is always a fun family event. Local museums are also a great place to go and learn at an enjoyable pace. The WNY region offers some great opportunities in museums like the Strong Museum of Play, Buffalo Museum of Science, Rochester Museum of Science and a host of large and small art galleries.

Get a hobby. Whether your hobby is building model airplanes, cooking or learning a new language, participating in a hobby that interests you will give you the opportunity to learn new skills and meet new people. Hobbies make you a more interesting, well-rounded individual and reduce the stress you have accrued during the school term. If you are not sure what hobbies suit you best, try the list of 101 hobbies or the world’s largest list of hobbies. If anything these lists will amaze you and perhaps give you a chuckle as you look through the suggestions.

Christmas clean ups help you to sort through your closets and get your room in order. You won’t have time to get your living space organized during the school year, so take this opportunity to go through your closets and collect everything you don’t need or use. Encourage the rest of your family to join in and then donate the stuff you don’t want to a charitable organization. If you have valuable items, sell them on eBay and use the money to buy Christmas meals and gifts for those less fortunate.

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Holiday Volunteering: Promoting Your Childs Development

Volunteering is one of the best ways to give your child new perspectives and teach them to be generous, caring individuals. In addition, volunteering is an activity that gives your child a sense of community and social responsibility. You can even make volunteering a family event that strengthens interpersonal bonds. Volunteering can also a great way to explore potential careers that teenagers are interested in pursuing.

Volunteering helps to create well-rounded individuals and encourages them to be grateful for the fortunate circumstances of their own lives. Volunteering should be rewarding, so take care to choose an activity that suits your child’s interests and age in order to maintain his or her interest. The activity should also be something that you can appreciate as well since you may need to supervise your child. Remember that volunteering does not have to be emotionally draining either; every small act of kindness is usually met with such positive feedback that your child’s confidence and self-image will be bolstered by the experience.

Volunteering teaches your children responsibility and commitment and makes them feel needed. Holidays are an especially good time to spread the spirit of the season through helping others. There are many activities to choose from. Remember that it often takes time to gain a volunteer position. The volunteer application process can often include applications, background checks, and extensive training before the volunteering can begin. I know this to be true especially at larger institutions like science, art, and history museums. Below are some general areas you can look at helping. You can usually find information about your volunteer interest by doing internet searches, checking with your local religious or community center, or a volunteer organization such as United Way.

Toy Drives
Many children live in circumstances that render it unlikely that they will receive gifts for the holidays. Get your children to donate toys to a worthy cause. Some of the bests options are Toys for Tots and the Salvation Army, while toy retailer Toys R Us usually does a drive. Most toy drives begin planning for next Christmas in January or February and get into high gear in October. You can get your child to donate some of the toys they got for Christmas to the toy drive while still in the packaging. Your children can also ask family members to donate money that they would have spent on Christmas and birthday gifts to a charity of their choice. Your child can help to sort and label or wrap toys for distribution or they can work with teachers and classmates to organize a school toy drive. A great resource on the web is the Volunteer Guide.

Homeless Shelters
Most shelters appreciate volunteers who can cook, clean, organize, and serve the individuals that come in for meals. Those that offer accommodations also have additional needs. To find local services there is the Homeless Shelter Directory.

Clean, Green Environment
If your children enjoy the outdoors, contact local agencies for parks or trails that need to be cleaned. For a more informal volunteer opportunity, your children can go on hikes and pick up trash as they go. This will not only help to beautify your area, it also helps to protect wildlife.

Food Banks
Food banks need volunteers to sort food, check expiry dates, and assemble food packages. Kids can also collect coupons from newspapers and magazines to help food banks stretch their budgets. Work with schools or other community institutions to collect food for foods banks, especially over the festive season.

Animal Shelters
Your local SPCA is usually in need of help with their feline and canine guests. Annual fund drives are another great way to help the animals in need.

A study by the Search Institute found that children who volunteer for one hour a week are 50% less likely to use drugs, alcohol or cigarettes. Remember, volunteering is a great activity to do together as a family. Encourage your children to volunteer and spread some joy this festive season.

For some other points on volunteering there are some great on-line resources like Charity Navigator, Class B, SheKnows, and Kaboose. Don’t forget that volunteer opportunities are also prevalent in Girl and Boy Scout organizations your child maybe interested in joining.

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Sunday Morning Shout Out

The magic and experience of Christmas changes as we age. As a parent our children are my Christmas. The sparkle in their eyes that only children’s eyes know; the dash of color as their little bodies dart across the room; and the uniqueness of their personalities that fill our lives, are the Christmas lights in our home. The red of baby cheeks after a nap and little girl cheeks after playing outside, hues of holly berries that invoke Christmas.  Green, their innocence, their newness, their early life beginnings, and mix with red, elaborate tapestries of little lives in motion. Beauty and mystery, epiphanies, before us.  Laughter, squeaks, baby sighs, happy babble and sounds at play, our carols, our parade of Christmas song.  -Breathy silence of little ones asleep, quiet contentment of thoughtful play, stillness upon us.

Yes, I believe in wonder. My children, your children, are the wonder that abounds before us today and every day. In their discovery, lies our own.  In the magnificence of their early life experiences, magic and joy. Christmas is for children. Christmas is our children. Our children lead us back to Christmas.  Merry Christmas!

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Holiday Cooking Fun and Learning

Cooking with your kids teaches valuable skills such as the importance of nutrition and what vitamins and minerals they can find in the foods you prepare. Leaning to cook gives kids control of their nutrition and calorie intake while imparting skills that benefit their ability to work in a lab and perform complex experiments. Baking is a science and not following a baking recipe can often lead to disaster! Working with recipes is also a great way to teach and support the value of math skill such as multiplication, division and fractions.

The first step is to get your kids to look up recipes on the Internet or in a cook book. Watch YouTube videos which demonstrate different cooking techniques.  Once you have agreed upon a recipe, get them to make a list of all the ingredients. The next step is to set out all the implements and ingredients. This helps to reinforce the importance of preparation before starting an experiment in the lab.

Check that everything is in good working order. Discuss stove, machinery and electricity safety. This is an excellent way to learn how to safely handle potentially dangerous equipment in the lab.

Ask your child to read the recipe from start to finish. Reading and following recipes teaches them how to follow instructions; a skill that will help with exams, lab work and experiments at school. Get your child to read the instructions out loud so that they can practice reading at the same time.  When encountering unfamiliar cooking terms such as folding, whisking or beating, ask your child to use the index where they can find definitions. This will help to reinforce the idea that unfamiliar words should be looked up.

Teach your child to measure accurately. Accurate measuring techniques will ensure success with both baking and experiments. Older children can investigate the chemical reactions that take place as the ingredients combine.

The most important thing is that everyone has fun. This is not only an excellent learning opportunity, but it is also a great activity to share with your children. This is the one time your kids can have fun playing with their food.  Here is an easy recipe for sugar cookies that are perfect for the holidays and for the beginner chef. For Math skill development have your child increase or decrease the recipe. Doubling it is pretty easy but cutting it in half is going to be a challenge since your child is going to have to figure out how to get half an egg.

Holiday Sugar Cookies

·        1 cup butter, softened
·        1 cup granulated sugar
·        1/2 teaspoon baking powder
·        1/2 teaspoon salt
·        1 egg
·        1 teaspoon vanilla
·        2 1/2 cups flour

In a large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar, baking powder, and salt. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg and vanilla until combined. Stir in the flour.

Divide dough in half. Shape each half of dough into a 6-inch-long roll. Wrap in plastic wrap or waxed paper. Chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

Roll out and cut with a cookie cutter. Bake in a 375 degree F oven for 6 to 8 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Carefully transfer cookies to a wire rack; cool. Decorate with icing sugar and candy.

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