New Year’s Resolution

As we start looking to the New Year, many of us come up with resolutions to get 2014 off to a great start.  We sit down and start our lists: lose weight, work out, spend more time at home, and travel more.  The lists can go on and on.  This year, why not take this opportunity to sit down with your child and come together to make achievable academic goals.  Here are some ideas to help create and reach those academic goals together:

  1. Be a good role model:  Many times, as parents, we have little audiences who are taking notes from their greatest role model; their parents.  What a great way to show our children how to make and keep goals.  Model the process for them.  When things get tough, how do you keep going?  How do you succeed when faced with obstacles?  Take this time to teach your child how to set goals and find ways to keep them!
  2. Make good choices:  When sitting down to come up with academic resolutions, help your child to make good decisions.  When we as adults make resolutions, we need to make them reachable.  For example, I will lose 20 pounds in a week and go to the gym 2 times a day for 30 days.  These goals are more than likely unreachable.  In the same respect, help your child make clear, achievable, and measurable goals.  As you move forward, goals can always be adjusted!
  3. Help your child reach their goals:  This might look like making a quiet space available for studying and doing homework.  Another way would be to help set times to do homework.  By doing those things you can take guesswork out of the equation.  Finally, keep healthy snacks available for brain breaks.
  4. Give your child a reason to reach their goals:  It always helps to have an incentive to reach our goals.  That doesn’t have to cost money!  A reward could look like a favorite dinner meal or a family movie night.
  5. Finally, take time to connect as a family:  Share your experiences with resolutions.  Take the time to share how you find success.  And lastly, just have fun!

As we look to reach our academic goals this year, we here at Sylvan would love to help in any way we can!  As a partner in the New Year, let us work together to help your child reach their goals!!!

Top 10 Educational Gifts for Kids

Before you head out to buy a lot of Christmas toys this year, ask yourself — what happened to the toys from last year? Forgotten? Bottom of the toy box? Never taken out of the box? Interesting for only two days? These are common mom observations, and it can be a challenge to find meaningful Christmas gifts.


No surprise, I look for gifts that are fun and encourage learning, so here is my list of the top 10 educational gifts for kids this year:


1)      Building Blocks — For the younger set, there is no better toy for developing imagination and fine motor skills than wooden blocks in various shapes.

2)      Books — Remember your favorite book when you were the child’s age and give that to him. Give it a personal touch by signing the inside cover with a message that tells the child why it was special to you.

3)      Brain Builders — Find challenging workbooks and kits, such as Sylvan’s Kick Start or Sylvan’s grade level reading or math workbooks, to keep brains busy during the holiday break and make tough subjects fun for months after the holiday.

4)      Brain Games —

Blokus, for ages 5 to adult, is a great strategy game.

Word Winder, for ages 8 to adult, is a combination of Scrabble and Strategy created by puzzle guru David Hoyt.

Rush Hour is a classic stocking stuffer for kids ages 8 and up.

Tapple is a word skill builder for ages 6 to adult and moves quickly for kids who lose patience with slow board games.

5)      Marbles — The store, that is. I love everything they sell in that store! It has brain teasers for kids ages 3 – 100. Be prepared to lose yourself playing in the store. They also have online retail.

6)      Educational Video & App Games — Leap Frog and VTech both do a great job of matching fun, curriculum- and age-appropriate form factors for great learning toys.

7)      Building Sets for the Older Set — LEGO® building bricks, the Goldie Blox Spinning  Machine and a classic bird feeder construction set all give kids the satisfaction of creating their own piece of art.

8)      Sketch Pad and a Set of Pastels — Even the non artist child will be delighted and inspired to create a masterpiece.

9)      Gifts of Experience — Tickets to a museum or a play are both gifts of experience. (The Broadway in Chicago tickets that Santa brought my family years ago changed our lives!)

10)   Academic Confidence —Gift cards for academic programs to ensure kids are excelling in school and confident in their ability to learn are gifts that pay the greatest dividends.


There are a lot of lists of top 10 educational gifts for kids, but make sure you avoid toys where “no child is required.” If the gift is all electronic and has no interaction, the average child will tire of the toy within two days. And remember, with all of the games, toys and experiences, the best gift is one that allows you to spend time with your child.


If you had to pick the No. 1 educational gift for kids, what would it be?


Happy Holidays!

A Holiday Craft Science Project

In Mexico, Santa doesn’t bring gifts at Christmas. But don’t feel too sad for the kids, because Santa has his helpers, the Three Kings, and they do bring gifts on Jan. 6. Kids put their shoes out on the evening of Jan. 5, and gifts appear next to their shoes in the morning. Of course, these are the same three kings who followed the star and came bearing gifts on that very first Christmas.


Thinking about the three kings following that star got me to consider all the different ways the star is represented during the Christmas season. First, it was the inspiration for the original piñatas. These were seven-pointed stars, and my family still uses them for the traditional Posadas celebrated during the nine days leading up to Christmas.


Of course, in addition to these other stars, there’s that star on the tip-top of the Christmas tree too. We can’t forget that one.


All these stars got me thinking that a holiday craft project for the kids featuring a star would be great for them to do over winter break. It connects all our family’ Christmas traditions, including the Posadas, the Christmas tree and Three Kings Day.


So I went looking for a project, and what I found was all these great videos about making origami Christmas stars, which excited me because of the extra learning bonus origami delivers.


It’s easy to write off origami as just a hobby for passing time or, at most, a stress reliever. But that would be missing both the serious scientific applications and the mathematical insights it can produce. If you’d like more on this, I found a great article about how origami is being used for all kinds of scientific applications and how an ex-Cal Tech physicist from the NASA jet propulsion laboratory used his considerable knowledge of origami to come up with some cool solutions to some real problems.


As for the origami star videos, there are many on YouTube, but here are a few in case you want to try one with your kids. These are more appropriate for older kids, but you should be able to find simpler projects for younger kids on the YouTube sidebar for these videos:


1. I like this first one because the creator shows both how to make the star and how to fold it back up to put away for storage for next year.


2. I like this second one because it’s beautiful and is thoroughly explained by the young artist. It’s in two parts —part 1 and part 2.


3. This one is billed as a falling star, but I think it would adapt pretty well as a Christmas star. I like this video because, while pretty complicated, the demonstration is well done. I turned down the volume on my computer to mute the musical soundtrack, though.


So there you have it, the Christmas star, Three Kings Day, Posadas, Christmas tree stars, and origami all tied together with a bit of cool science thrown in for good measure.


What holiday craft projects do you do with your children?

The Gift of Experience

I swear I’m not a holiday Grinch. I enjoy the warm “fuzzies” that come from giving the perfect gift to a loved one, but I’m tired of the stuff — the piles and messes that clutter my house. My boys may be hoping for cool new clothes or additions to their favorite collections, but this year I want to focus on gifts of experience. In the end, stuff is just stuff, no matter how shiny or trendy it may appear fresh out of the box. Granted, when it comes to kids (and even some adults), it can be hard to get them to see the true value of a gift of experience, rather than things they can wear or show off to their friends.

It’s not just a holiday thing. We’ve long focused on the value of experiences. When my boys were young, we stressed that trips to the zoo, theater or museum were treats, leaving the kids to use gift money or chore money to buy souvenirs on our frequent visits.

On a holiday trip to Puerto Rico a few years ago, we took the boys on a kayaking trip to see the bioluminescent algae — something only visible in a handful of spots on Earth. It was a magical experience. The touristy, gold-plated figurine that my younger son bought broke shortly after we returned home, and the souvenir stuffed animal is making friends with dust bunnies under his bed, but he’s certain to remember our boat trip for years to come.

My boys have come to accept our way of doing things. Maybe someday they’ll actually appreciate it. Right now, they just think we’re stingy and mean.

Gifts of experience create more than memories. For middle and high school students who are exploring their world with increasing independence, the right experiences can open doors. At that stage of life, they are ripe for discovering that thing — that passion that might shape their future career or lead to a lifelong hobby.

Build a Skill

  • You can’t go wrong with a cooking class. Your child will eat for the rest of his life, right? Never mind becoming a chef, knowing how to make a delectable dish or two might help your child woo that special someone.
  • Spending a day at a rally driving school was one of the most fun experiences of my adult life. Sending your recently licensed teen to a special driving school where they can practice skid control and emergency breaking might be a lot of fun for him, and it might help you earn a discount on his auto insurance as well.
  • Follow your child’s lead and choose a class, camp or outing based on her interests. Think photography, rock climbing, sports camp, space camp or computer camp.

Launch a Career

For kids who are beginning to explore careers, consider a behind-the-scenes tour at a favorite museum or zoo, a tour of the local television station, or whatever aligns with the job of their choice. If such a tour does not exist, perhaps you can arrange a job shadow day with someone in their chosen career field.

When I was a teen, my parents arranged for me to spend a day with our dog’s veterinarian. It made me realize that I didn’t want to be a vet. Eliminating potential careers can help lead to the right one.

Help a Community

Teens can get so caught up in their own worlds that they lack an understanding of the world around them. They get caught up in comparing themselves to their peers rather than focusing on their own fortune. Travel blogger Jen Miner has taken “volunteer vacations” with her family that combine interesting travel with volunteer work in communities abroad. She shares tips on selecting the right opportunity for your family.

A gift of experience might be hard to wrap or place under the tree, but it’s something your child will never forget. Do you think your child would enjoy a gift of experience?