Articles for Parents

Everything listed under: summer

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    Free Summer Meals Programs for Kids

    In 2010, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department-STEP One conducted an independent study which found that many Hamilton County students who relied on the breakfast and lunch programs during the school year were going hungry in the summer. 

    “Less than 7 percent of the children enrolled in the food program through the schools were actually receiving assistance during the summer months. Several community leaders, John Bilderback, Carol Ricketts and myself realized what was happening to these children in our community, and it became our mission to do something about it,” says Rush, who is now the director of the James A. Henry Community YMCA in Chattanooga.

    The USDA says that more than 12 million children in the U.S. live in "food insecure" homes. These families don't have enough food for every family member to lead a healthy life, according to No Kid Hungry. This doesn't always mean there is nothing to eat, though. It can mean that children get smaller portions than they need or that parents aren't able to afford nutritious foods.

    To help feed these children, Mobile Fit began in 2011 as a partnership between the United Way of Greater Chattanooga, Hamilton County Department of School Nutrition, the Hamilton County Health Department, YMCA of Metropolitan Chattanooga and the YMCA of the USA. 

    “The YMCA of the USA had just partnered with Walmart to help YMCAs across the country address food insecurity in their community through seed grants," says Rush. "Our group considered this prime opportunity to address the issue here locally. Our first year the YMCA opened seven sites and they served just under 200 meals a day. Through the years, however, the program has evolved and grown like crazy.”

    Kids Count data for 2017 indicated there were 20,840 Hamilton County school children enrolled in the food programs. The YMCA partners with Hamilton County Schools, Northside Neighborhood House, Girls, Inc., the Boys and Girls Clubs and many other non-profit organizations to prepare and distribute 7,000 meals a day from kitchens in Hamilton, Rhea and Bradley counties. There are 130 summer sites and 87 after-school sites, and since launching in 2011, the food program has prepared and delivered more than 2 million meals - 750,000 in the last year alone.

    “The meals get to all of the different sites in a variety of ways,” says senior program director Laura Horne. “In addition to the school-based locations and partner agencies, we have 25 Mobile Fit sites that pick up meals and deliver them to parks and apartment complexes Monday through Saturday. I love that we provide food for the children, but that’s not all we do. Children who come to eat also get to participate in activities, learn about water safety and STEM, and we can connect both children and parents to helpful resources.”

    For example, one mother of four whose husband had recently left her was having difficulty with her two older boys. In addition to feeding the four children, the Y was able to take the boys on a canoe trip and connect them to Tech Town where they attended a camp. 

    Packaging 7,000 meals takes a lot of hands, but it’s not just about the meal; it’s about connecting the kids with the resources they need, building trust and healthy relationships, and providing opportunities for encouragement.

    “It takes about 250 volunteers to make this happen during the summer,” Horne says. “We have some volunteers who have been with us since the beginning. Small groups, churches and school groups have come to help us. What I love about this program is it not only provides for people in need in our community, it also provides a place for people to give back.”

    If you would like more information about this program or want to be a Food and Fun volunteer, call Laura Horne at 423-805-3361 or email her at [email protected].

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on June 28, 2019.

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    6 Ways to Help Children Thrive During Transitions

    At the end of summer, there are many transitions in the making. 

    Kindergartners are attending school for the first time. Last year's fifth-graders will go on to middle school. Eighth-graders who were at the top of the pecking order are entering high school and essentially are now the little fish in the big pond. Then there are the seniors - some of whom cannot wait for graduation, while others want to take their sweet time getting there.

    Some parents can't wait for the transitions to occur. Others, however, secretly grieve as they see time flying by, wishing it would stand still for just a bit longer.

    No matter where you fall on the transition continuum, the air is typically charged with emotions from excitement, fear and anxiety to anticipation and perhaps feeling overwhelmed. Those with middle and high school-age teens get the added hysteria of hormones in the mix.

    As a family, it is possible to have multiple transitions happening simultaneously, each with its own set of expectations and unpredictable challenges which can make any sane parent want to disappear.

    There's good news, though! You can intentionally bring calm to the forefront and help your kids thrive during times of transition.

    • Deal with your own emotions. Sometimes parents can be full of anxiety about an upcoming transition while the child is full of excitement. Be careful not to place your emotions on your child. Find an appropriate outlet to talk about how you're feeling.

    • Acknowledge that change is afoot. Talk about what will be different. Discuss what is exciting and what might be scary about the change.

    • Celebrate the milestone. While preparing for a transition can provoke anxiety, there is reason to celebrate the end of one season and the beginning of another. Share the ways in which you have seen your child/teen grow and mature. They need to know you believe in them and that you have confidence in their ability to navigate this new adventure.

    • Determine a plan of action. The unknown can be really scary. Helping your child develop an action plan for handling their transition will help build confidence and remove feelings of helplessness.

    • Identify your support team. Coaches, teachers, guidance counselors, pastors, youth leaders, mentors, grandparents, other extended family members and close friends can all be part of this team. Don't assume your child/teen knows who is on this team. Discuss it together and make sure they can identify at least three people other than their parents who are on their team.

    • Talk to other parents and children who have already made this transition. Conversations with others who have successfully navigated the journey can be both encouraging and enlightening, saving you a lot of heartache and stress while giving you pointers on how to avoid land mines. For children/teens, talking with others their own age who have walked the road can be comforting and empowering.

    All of these transitions are a sign of growth for children and their parents. These are great times to teach the life skills that will help your children be resilient. Instead of trying to avoid the changes, embrace them and make the most of them.

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    Outdoor Family Adventures

    When temperatures are extremely hot, it's hard to think about going outside and doing anything except jumping in a pool—and even that feels like jumping into a big bathtub! 

    It’s a shame - because there are so many fun things to take advantage of in the region. When the temperatures cool off a bit and there are only a few weeks before school starts, it's the perfect time to plan some end-of-summer adventures.

    According to the National Wildlife Federation, childhood has moved "indoors” over the past two decades. The average American boy or girl spends just four to seven minutes in unstructured outdoor play each day, and more than seven hours each day in front of an electronic screen.

    Children are out of shape, tuned out and stressed out because they’re missing something essential to their health and development: connection to the natural world.

    An ongoing research project called Child of Our Time follows the growth of 25 children from the time they are born until they become adults. They have documented some interesting findings about children who play outside.

    • One of the benefits of playing outside is that children laugh more. This is good because laughter is a stress reliever and it helps stimulate the immune system.

    • Another benefit of outside play is better health. Researchers found that children who engage in outside play have the potential to have stronger bones and muscles from activities like running and jumping. They also get vitamin D just from being in the sun. When children are active, they are less likely to battle obesity and more likely to do well in school.

    • Additional studies show that children who play outside are more likely to be adventurous and open to new experiences. They tend to be better at making friends and have longer attention spans. Outdoor play fuels the imagination and teaches children how to be resourceful by creating their own entertainment.

    What are you waiting for? Put the iPhone down, pull your kids away from their gaming devices and head outside for some adventure and experience the benefits an active lifestyle can bring while making some great memories!

    If you are short on ideas, here are a few to get your list started:

    • Ride bikes through the Chickamauga Battlefield.

    • Visit the Chattanooga Zoo.

    • Drive up to Raccoon Mountain and hike around the mountaintop.

    • If you are brave and your children are old enough, check out the Zipline at Ruby Falls.

    • Grab some cardboard boxes and go sledding down the hill at Renaissance Park.

    • Teach your children how to play kick the can, hopscotch and freeze tag.

    • Experience the climbing wall, kayaks or paddle boards down on the Tennessee River.

    • Create your own Summer Olympics and get all the neighborhood kids and parents involved. Sack races, egg toss, three-legged race and the wheelbarrow race are excellent backyard Olympic events.

    • Take your teens whitewater rafting.

    • Walk the Walnut Street Bridge.

    Playing outside with your children is not only great exercise, it is a fantastic opportunity to bond as a family. If this is new for your family, your kids may balk at first but once they experience the fun, they won’t want to stop. Are you up for the challenge?

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    Summer Survival Tips

    After a long 10 months, many parents (and kids) are ready to walk away from the usual school-year routines. Who wouldn’t want a break from alarm clocks, the morning sprint, evenings filled with homework, school projects and a set bedtime?

    While this break from the school routine sounds great, most people are creatures of habit who like to have order in their world – even children. Though they may complain about structure, children are used to routines and rituals. In fact, that is the environment in which they are most likely to thrive.

    A Review of 50 Years of Research on Naturally Occurring Family Routines and Rituals: Cause for Celebration?, conducted by Barbara H. Friese, Ph.D. and colleagues at Syracuse University, concluded that rituals are powerful organizers of family life and the presence of family routines and rituals in general is beneficial. The review of 32 studies showed that family routines are associated with:

    • stronger academic achievement,
    • better health and adjustment in children,
    • a stronger sense of personal identity for adolescents,
    • better-regulated behavior in young children,
    • greater marital satisfaction, and
    • stronger family relationships.

    With summer right around the corner, now is a great time to think about a more relaxed summer schedule that includes routines and rituals to help you keep your sanity.

    You may decide to give your children the first week or so to catch up on sleep and celebrate the year's accomplishments. Beyond that, your family will most likely have a better time if everybody understands the summer playbook. If you haven't done this before, here's how you can start.

    • Set the stage. Before talking with your kids, consider what you are willing to do this summer. Will your kids go to camps? Do you expect them to do chores before they go out to play? Will you take a family vacation? Is it OK to sleep until noon? What about technology usage? Is going to the pool every day an option? What is negotiable and what is not? The whole conversation will be easier if you already know the answers to these questions.
    • Call a family meeting. Pull everybody together to discuss the summer months and plans. Clearly define your expectations and establish guidelines. Cover things like picking up after themselves, having friends over, raiding the refrigerator, family meals, bedtime, etc. Being on the same page will hopefully decrease the potential for chaos and unnecessary drama.

    Most parents want a happy, healthy and relaxed home, especially during the summer months when everyone is there. Routines and rituals are great tools to help create that type of environment. Children and adults do best when they have consistency in their world, even though they may fuss about it.

    Children are less anxious and whiny when they know they can count on things being a certain way every day. Establishing a structured environment may be more work for parents initially, but over time it makes life much easier for everyone.

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    Should Your Child Stay Home Alone?

    When summer approaches many youngsters get excited and look forward to attending camps. And many middle-schoolers are pleading their case for staying home alone.

    But exactly how old is old enough?

    Surprisingly, only three states have laws regarding a minimum age for leaving a child home alone. Basically, the parent decides if their child is mature enough to be unsupervised at home.

    Many parenting experts agree that it is not a good idea to leave a child under the age of 9 home alone, but how do you know if your child is ready for this responsibility?

    For starters, assess whether your child:

    • Is physically and mentally capable of caring for him/herself.

    • Obeys the rules and makes good decisions.

    • Responds well to unfamiliar or stressful situations.

    • Feels comfortable or fearful about being home alone.

    When it comes to safety:

    • Is there an emergency plan and does your child know how to follow the plan?

    • Does your child know his/her full name, address and phone number?

    • Make sure your child knows where you are and how to contact you at all times.

    • Does your child know the full names and contact information of other trusted adults in case of an emergency?

    After answering these questions, if you feel confident that your child is ready, here are some tips to help him/her feel comfortable and confident about being home alone:

    • Have a trial period. Leave your child home alone for short periods of time to see how they manage by themselves.

    • Role-play potential scenarios. Act out possible situations, such as how to manage unexpected visitors or deliveries and how to talk on the phone without revealing that a parent is not home.

    • Establish rules. Make sure your child understands what is permissible and what is not. Be clear about expectations concerning technology, having friends over, going other places, how late they are allowed to sleep, chores that need to be done and exactly what is allowed while you are away. For example, should they bake cookies in the oven when you are away?

    • Discuss emergencies. What constitutes an emergency in your eyes and in your child’s eyes? Would they know that an overflowing toilet is definitely an emergency? Have you established a code word to use for emergencies?

    • Check in. Have established check-in times in addition to random times that you call to make sure all is going well.

    • Talk about it. Talk with your child about staying home alone and encourage him/her to share their feelings.

    Staying home alone is a big deal. Even if you stayed home alone as a child, it is a new day and age. Your child may not be mature or confident enough to handle this type of responsibility right now. If not, look for inexpensive alternatives such as volunteering, community center programs or faith-based organization opportunities. Or perhaps a neighbor or fellow parent would be willing to help out.

    Remember, although your child may seem smart, 9 is just 9, and 12 is not considered a young adult. The executive function of the brain, which is responsible for decision-making and self-control, doesn’t completely develop until the mid-20s.

    While leaving your child home alone may seem like the logical and most cost-effective thing to do, preparing your child for this kind of responsibility takes time. It isn’t too soon to begin the preparation process.

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    Summertime Family Adventures

    The summer months offer a unique opportunity for families to escape the rat race, enjoy each other’s company and make great memories together.

    Instead of business as usual and letting others determine your summer schedule, consider making your own agenda - one that's full of adventure and fun. This might sound like a pipe dream, but many families know it doesn’t have to be just wishful thinking.

    Your first step to summer fun is to consider all of your options. It's easy to take for granted what is right outside your door when you have lived in the area for a while, but the Tennessee Valley has some real gems that are perfect for family adventures. Here are some ideas to get your list going:

    • If you want an easy drive, check out the Mayfield Dairy or Sweetwater Valley Farm.

    • If your family enjoys the outdoors, your choices are endless. The Tennessee Valley has some of the most beautiful recreation areas around. You could spend the summer exploring parks in the region and probably would not be able to see them all. From Bald River Falls, Cloudland Canyon and Big South Fork to Fall Creek Falls, Chester Frost Park, Lula Lake Land Trust, Chickamauga Battlefield, Pigeon Mountain and the Smokies, whether you love the challenge of a rigorous hike or an easy walk, primitive camping or glamping, or just want to learn about the history of the area, there is something for every skill level and taste.

    • Replace technology with bike rides, swimming, volleyball in the sand, nature walks, beautiful sunsets that are hard to see from inside your house and the opportunity to make new friends. Even if you can’t do this overnight, consider going for the day.

    • Try to visit some of the local attractions that often get overlooked because they are right under your nose. Consider riding the carousel or playing in the fountain at Coolidge Park. Got to the zoo, attend a Lookouts game or play at the Warner Park Splash Park (Families are $5 on Mondays after 5 p.m.). Attend Nightfall or picnic at Movies in the Park at Coolidge Park in July.

    • Gather with friends. Have you ever talked about getting together with someone but didn’t set a date? The next thing you know, the summer is over and nothing ever happened. Make a plan!

    • Read the same book as a family. Let your children choose a book for the whole family to read and talk about it over a family meal.

    • Make a summer scrapbook. Each family member can be responsible for scrapbooking one of your summer events. Or, everyone can do their own thing for all of the summer’s activities.

    Don’t be afraid to jump off the merry-go-round of life in order to provide restoration for your family. Spend time this summer with the people who mean the most to you, because life is short. Instead of wishing you had, you’ll be glad to say you did.

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    Summer: Screen Time or Memories

    Think back to summers when you were a kid. You might recall getting up, doing a few chores and then heading outside to play, only taking a break for lunch. Your mom or dad’s call for dinner was probably met with complaints about coming inside.

    In an informal survey of adults about their childhood summer memories, people recalled catching fireflies, climbing trees, fishing and playing outside with friends. They also mentioned riding bikes, running through the sprinkler and lots of other activities. As they thought about their response, they usually smiled and laughed as the memories replayed in their mind.

    Most would agree that times have dramatically changed, but not necessarily for the better.

    Instead of spending time playing outside, various studies indicate many children will get up and head straight to some type of screen. In fact, 8- to 10-year-olds spend on average between five and seven hours playing games, watching movies or television. For teens, this number increases. This is a stark contrast to the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation that children 10 and older spend no more than two hours a day watching a screen.

    Too much screen time can increase a child's risk of having trouble sleeping at night, experiencing attention issues and developing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Additionally, numerous studies have shown that children eat more unhealthy food while watching screens, which can lead to weight gain.

    While many parents grow weary of this battle, it is definitely one worth fighting.

    When children move away from screens and interact with others, it helps them develop communication skills. They also learn how to get along with others and problem-solve when there is disagreement over a kickball game score. Play helps build a child’s imagination and enhances their ability to entertain themselves.

    So, here’s a challenge: Unplug from the screens and encourage your kids to spend their time in other ways.

    Initially, you will undoubtedly get the usual push-back, but stand your ground. Know that you are setting the stage for your children to create some great memories. If they say they are bored, offer them some ways to work around the house. They'll probably find something to do in order to avoid chores - and it teaches your child to entertain themselves.

    The American Academy of Pediatrics actually says that doing nothing at all is better than staring at a screen. For example, car rides without DVDs allow a child to look at their surroundings and let their imagination run wild.

    While unplugging might not be the most convenient thing to do, see it as intentional preparation for launching your child. Moving away from screens gives them the chance to learn necessary skills to help them navigate through life. Who’s up for the challenge?