Monthly Archives: May 2012

Let’s Get Swimming!

My undergraduate college had a swimming requirement that students had to fulfill in order to graduate. During freshman orientation, you could take a swim test that involved swimming two lengths of the pool and treading water for three minutes that would satisfy the requirement and exempt you from the Introduction to Swimming course, and luckily I passed the test on the first attempt. As a mark of my naivety, I assumed that nobody would have trouble passing the swim test. By 2007, I thought, who the heck didn’t know how to swim?

Who knows? Maybe your water baby will grow up to be an award-winning swimmer! (Image Credit:

Of course, the answer was quite a few people still didn’t know how to swim. This realization made me think more about my own privilege in knowing how to swim. While I did grow up only a short distance from the Great Lakes (although sometimes the thought of swimming in Lake Erie is less than enticing), my swimming knowledge came from the fact that my local high school had a pool. My parents enrolled me in a water babies swim course as a child, and this knowledge was reinforced as part of my school’s PE curriculum involved swimming from grades 3 to 12. For many students, however, the reality is quite different. Pools are expensive to build and maintain, and also require quite a bit of dedicated space, especially for school districts that may have limits on these resources. Some are lucky enough to live close to a place with a pool, such as a YMCA, but many more are not. Some kids may have pools in their backyards, but many more do not.

So is the ability to swim important? I definitely think so, not matter how far from the ocean you live. So how can you teach your child to swim if you don’t have your own pool?

Seek out a family-friendly gym that has a pool. A great option is often the local YMCA. Invest in a family membership, and ask if there are any swim classes available for children. For a cheaper option, look at local school districts to see if they have a pool. Many districts that have pools also offer swim classes for children of all ages. If you’re close to a college or university, it’s a good bet that they too will have a pool and offer lessons or, at the very least, open swim times. University at Buffalo offers eight 40 minute lessons for only $50.



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Filed under Learning Events, My Experiences, Parenting

Let’s Get Political

There’s a popular rule when it comes to polite society: never talk about religion or politics at the dinner table. I, for one, would like to challenge that particular notion. If we don’t talk about religion or politics at the dinner table, then how can we ever learn how to deal with differences in a way that’s respectful and educational? As a kid, I don’t really remember my family discussing difficult topics at the dinner table. Most extended family dinners consisted mostly of gossiping and sports, neither of which I was particularly educated or interested in. In some ways, this lack of discussion allowed me to develop my own views on religion, politics, and other controversial and heated topics. However, to form these opinions, I had to take the bulk of the initiative.

Taking your child to a political rally may be a little extreme, but having political conversations and demonstrating your own political engagement are certainly positive! (Image Credit:

Some kids will be interested and engaged with touchy subjects from a young age, while others may take a while to mature. However, one of the things that makes me most nervous about American politics today is lack of voter education. Part of being a member of a democracy is having an understanding of the party system and the issues at hand, and it seems as though many of my peers (young voters) are not necessarily engaged. In fact, many voters don’t even take advantage of their right to vote.

So what is a parent’s role in the political education of children? I think the ideal role is that of educator. Of course you should share your own opinion with your children, but you should also present other viewpoints. Expose your children to both MSNBC and Fox News. Have discussions with people from the opposite political party in front of your child, and make sure that you demonstrate the importance of respectfully disagreeing. Modeling these kinds of good behaviors will make your child a better citizen, and a better person. It’s also important to be supportive of your child as he or she becomes more politically engaged. You may disagree with your child’s beliefs, but rather than saying “You’re wrong” or “That’s stupid,” engage in an open dialogue.

What are your tips for exposing children to politics?

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Sunday Morning Shout Out

Young Americans and Americans in general are experiencing a health epidemic. It’s called obesity and the rates are soaring in this country. During this past week, HBO aired a documentary called “The Weight of a Nation” that looked at obesity and its consequences on American society. Consequences According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 68.8% of Americans are overweight or obese. One segment of the show looked specifically at the consequences of obesity for children. This is where I would like to focus.

According to the statistics given in the documentary, childhood obesity rates have tripled in one generation. Over 18% of children today are obese.  When this occurs, it becomes much more likely for an obese child to become an obese adult. Obesity places children and adults at a much greater risk for diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, asthma, liver disease, and many other health problems.   One in three children born in 2000 will acquire diabetes.  According to the documentary, one in two African-American and Latino children born in 2000 will acquire diabetes. This generation of children maybe the first generation to have a shorter life span than their parents

So what is occurring?  Part of it is what we eat. American children, following adults’ leads, eat more unhealthy food than healthy food. Part of this can be explained by parents buying foods that their children desire, want, and will eat based on habits and marketing. Children eat what is before them. If their parents are unhealthy eaters, children will follow suit. As part of this problem, children are bombarded by television messages telling them, showing them why they should eat xyz; how fun it is; how it will make them feel;  or because their favorite cartoon character, pop star, or athlete endorse it. Many children ask for it and many parents acquiesce.

Certainly convenience, cost, and false marketing that states “how good” certain foods are for children is also to blame. The documentary pointed out that the food industry has very little oversight in how it markets its product. For example, sugary cereals can state they are a good source of fiber or certain vitamins, while still being a way too sugary cereal for healthy breakfast consumption. Beliefs that a product extension from what one believes to be a ‘healthy’ product can also become an issue. I fell into that trap when I though a V-8 product known as Splash would be good for my child. Wow, was I wrong once I read the label at home! Unhealthy school lunches and sugar or corn syrup laden juices and ‘sports drinks’ are also part of the unhealthy foods our children regularly consume, adding up to excessive, excessive calories.

A much more sedentary lifestyle is also part of the problem. Americans are eating and consuming more calories than they burn. Children are watching more television than ever before with the documentary citing 4.5 hours of television consumption as the norm. This does not take into account overall media consumption, with computer, cell phone, and video game usage, included. Children are not as physically active as generations past, who jumped rope; walked to school;  came in from outside when the street lights came on;  or had required gym class, not mandatory in most states  in the country.  Many parents fear what will happen to their children if they play outside out of site or walk to school by themselves. Very bluntly and frankly stated, maybe parents need to be more afraid of what will happen if their children become obese?

The cost to individuals and our country as a whole are high. If this trend continues, health and economic costs will disable the nation, both figuratively and literally. Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, liver disease, strokes, and sleep apnea will be the norm not the exception affecting more and more individuals, families, businesses, communities and the entire nation.  The documentary suggests that some of the  answers may lie in self-control; increased exercise; further healthy regulation of school lunches and marketing of foods, particularly marketing of foods to children; and emphasizing local foods and farms over the large corporate model. Part of the problem is also that healthy food tends to cost more (or is it that profits are inflated?) thus fewer people can afford it. Obesity is definitely a complex problem. What this documentary clearly shows is that to continue to ignore this problem as a country will do us in.

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Filed under My Experiences, Nutrition Education

Promoting the Magic of Reading

So by now you might have guessed that all our writers love their books and will stop at nothing to pass along the reading bug! Looking at my inbox today I found that Barnes and Noble are offering free books to young readers. According to the BN site you need to:

Step 1. Read any 8 books and record them in the Reading Journal
Step 2. Bring the completed Reading Journal to your local B&N store.
Step 3. Choose a FREE BOOK from our selection on the Reading Journal list at the store… Enjoy reading!
Another great spot for free rewards for your readers is your local library. Often they have programs sponsored by organizations like Applebee’s Bookworm Reading Club and Pizza Hut’s Book It. If you know of any other programs please send them along!
Rewards for reading are a great way to get children reading. Plus it helps keep them busy over summer and reduces ‘summer learning loss’


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Filed under Academic Advice, Improved Learning, My Experiences

Family Book Club

Let’s face it: children’s books are in right now. From The Hunger Games to Harry Potter to Twilight, young adult fiction is not just for young adults anymore. While some may bemoan the fact that maybe this means reading ability has decreased and that good fiction is dead, I personally see this as a triumph. What could be better than getting more people interested in books and reading than getting people interested in books that can involve an entire family?

Find books that appeal to family members of all ages to help increase your odds of book club success! (Image Credit:

Unfortunately, my younger brother was never much of a reader, and both my parents seemed to always have their own reading they wanted to do. I worked my way through all the Harry Potter books on my own, and this past February, when I worked through Suzanne Collins’ trilogy, I did so alone. However, after giving rave reviews, my mom decided she was interested in reading the novels. Her enthusiasm quickly caught on, and my stepmom started reading the books as well. Good book recommendations can catch like wildfire, and our Nooks made it simple for us to share our reading material. While this unintentional group reading was great, I can’t help but wonder how much more fulfilling it would have been if we had all read the books at the same time, and started our own impromptu family book club.

Could a family book club work? I definitely think so. Finding the books may not always be as easy as The Hunger Games proved for my family, but having each member bring a recommendation and then having a discussion/vote could be helpful. For those seeking alternative entertainments that don’t involve television, this could be the answer. So what do you think? Would you start a family book club? What books would you recommend for such an endeavor?

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Filed under Academic Advice, Improved Learning, My Experiences

Homemade Summer Popsicles

As a kid, one of the things I remember most about summer is the sudden explosion in homemade foods and drinks. Maybe it was because the garden was in full bloom, and my dad would frequently send my brother and I out to snip some herb or another for dinner, to pick lettuce for a salad, or to check if any tomatoes were ripe. My dad also made iced tea in the sun, which I remember as tasting excessively bland to my childish palate. As the summer is now warming up, however, my mind is definitely heading to the cooler side of food.

My personal favorite is strawberry! (Image Credit:

Of course, one of my favorite homemade treats in the summer were homemade popsicles. We had a set of popsicle molds, and my family frequently experimented with different combinations of fruits and fruit juices. For extra creaminess, you can add yogurt (I recommend Greek yogurt). These popsicles are an easy way to get young chefs into the kitchen, and an easy way to experiment. After all, it’s hard to go wrong when it comes to popsicles!

And homemade popsicles are great because you control what goes into them! Want to use all organic ingredients? Go ahead! Want to try and sneak in some veggies for picky eaters? Popsicles can handle it!

So gather up some fresh ingredients and get…freezing? What are some of your favorite homemade popsicle combinations?

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Filed under Improved Learning, Nutrition Education

Lessons from Glee

I used to be a big fan of Glee, but lately I haven’t been tuning in. However, tonight’s episode really struck a chord with me.

Why the HECK would ANYONE apply to only one school? Why would ANYONE have only ONE plan for graduating from high school?

And then, I had a horrible realization. had only applied to one college during my senior year of high school. Luckily for me, I was accepted. For many students, however, including the fictional Finn and Curt, those kinds of risks do not pay off. Spend the extra hundred dollars and have at least two schools you’re applying to. If you don’t plan to continue your education, at least have a few potential jobs or careers in mind.


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Filed under Academic Advice, My Experiences