The Heart of a Parent

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This is not the typical blog that I write for The Learning Child, but I feel that all parents will benefit from hearing this message from the heart of a parent.

The school where my child attends hosted an all school assembly this month on bullying and cyber bulling. Parents and community members were invited to attend, so I took the opportunity to go and hear firsthand what the message was about.  I truly wish every parent could have heard this message from Mark and Joni Adler as they spoke from their hearts to tell the story of their son Reid, who was a victim of cyber bullying.

The Adlers introduced us to their family and told how they always strived to keep their children at the center of their lives. They described Reid as a good kid who followed the rules and befriended everyone he met.  He was the kid who always looked for the next fun thing to do.  Nevertheless, the Adlers also told us that Reid had made a mistake when he was in middle school.  Reid took a photo of himself on his phone that should never have been taken, and sent it to a girl. Reid never told anyone about this mistake, however, the girl ended up using the photo to blackmail and manipulate Reid, threatening to make it public.  The manipulation went on in such a way that Reid ended up taking his own life.

Reid Adler was close to his parents, and they could see that something was bothering their son. They opened the door for him to tell what was bothering him, and they had even sought counseling together after Reid had told his mom that sometimes he wondered if life was worth it. Still, Reid could not bear the thought of embarrassing his parents, friends and community, and did not tell about the photograph.

Suicide, according to the Child Safety network is the second leading cause of death of people age 15-24 in Nebraska. Mark and Joni Adler told me that they talk to student groups as Reid’s parents, not suicide prevention experts.  They hope to share this story to arm students with what to do if they are ever in a similar situation.

Joni told the students that day that we all make mistakes. Even your parents, who might seem to have it together now, have made mistakes.  She said she believes that we all experience different things so that we can learn from one another. As Reid’s mother, she gave this advice to our kids that day; do not take inappropriate pictures.  She also told them to follow their intuitions.  She said that she feels that Reid probably had that moment before he hit send that he second-guessed sending the photo.  She asked students to trust their intuitions, as they are usually what tells us that something is not right.

Joni’s next piece of advice was for students to pause before they say something, ask themselves, is it truthful and is it helpful. If the answer is no, then don’t say it. In her words, “Sometimes the kindest thing we can do is to shut our mouths.”  She said to the group, that some of the kids in attendance might be the bullies. It’s human nature to hurt back those that hurt us, but she asked them to stop. Mrs. Adler stated, “If we keep up this idea of an eye for an eye, we will all go blind.”

This mother’s message is that we all have value and that it does not come from possessions or their family life. She stated, “No matter what has happened to you, or what you have done, you still have great worth, and no mistake is worth your life.” She advised the students that if they ever think of attempting suicide, talk to someone they can trust such as a parent, teacher or other trusted adult. She then said that parents can’t help you if you don’t let them in. She ended by saying that suicide is not the end of pain, but rather the transfer of pain to those who love you the most.

Mark Adler then took the stage to tell the students that this message is about leadership and courage.  Everyone has someone looking up to them, and at school, taking leadership means saying that you will not accept bullying, no matter what.  Courage is being able to step up and tell the bully that we do not do that here, and telling adults if we hear of bullying or someone talking of suicide. Courage is also telling someone if you are having those thoughts. Parents cannot help unless they know what is wrong. In closing, he asked the students to be the leaders and have courage. He asked them to remember that they can always reach a little higher and to go a little farther in kindness, leadership and courage.

I cannot begin to reproduce the powerful story that I heard at the school that day, but what I can say is that it has changed my life as a parent and as a professional.  I tell my parent education groups and childcare providers to be the hands that hold the child, be the hands that allow the child to go out and explore, and be the hands that also welcome the child back in when they are struggling with a need.  Last week in a parenting group I asked this question, “What do you hope for your children someday?” One of the parents said they hoped that their child would always feel welcome to come to them no matter what.

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From the heart of the parent who writes this blog today, my hope is for all families to communicate this openly so that our children will come to us with their joys as well as their struggles.  We have all made mistakes, learn from them and talk about them with your children.  Listen to your children when they come to you in delight, and when they come to you with the struggles, even if it is not comfortable for you.

Click this link if you would like to hear more of  The Adler Family Story

Another great resource on bullying from Nebraska Extension is this Cyber Bullying Neb Guide

The University of Nebraska has also been a part of the Born This Way Foundation.  Check out this link for more information as well as the related articles on bullying available here.

LYNN DEVRIES, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Sarah Paulos, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Leslie Crandall, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Nothing Can Compare to my County Fair

The sights, smells, tastes of the county fair will forever be a magical memory for the children and parents in my community.  I had the privilege as an Extension Educator to be a part of it all, working with Clover Kid 4-H youngsters from 5-8 years and their families at the Adams County fair in Nebraska.

What is a Clover Kid?

Clover kids are our youngest 4-Hers that enroll in the program at age 5.  At this age level, the focus is on helping the children to grow and develop physically, emotionally, socially and intellectually.  They learn by doing and can get involved in a variety of project areas including cooking, crafts, gardening small animals and livestock projects such as rabbits, poultry, bucket calves, or lambs to name a few.

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Involvement at the fair

In Adams County, I offer a Clover Kid day camp where the children can learn by doing as they create a few projects to display at the fair. This year the children made their own stick horses, hand print t-shirts, painted a hummingbird feeder, planted seeds to make a plant person, and created a spiral painting with a pendulum.  These fun activities offered a variety of sensory experiences, as well as encouraging problem solving and creativity.  I included a literacy component by sharing the books, “A Place to Grow” by Stephanie Bloom, and “In the Tall, Tall Grass” by Denise Fleming. The children also made their own lunch by rolling biscuit dough to make pigs in a blanket, spreading “wow” butter on celery for “ants on a log”, and building a “campfire” using grapes, pretzels and cheese.

 

The Clover Kid exhibits are non-competitive and are for exhibition only.  I was at the fair on entry day to greet the children as they entered their projects.  The children could “show and tell” by visiting with me about what they learned and sharing their favorite part in creating the project. Each child received a ribbon award.

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Parent/child activities

A family tradition at our county fair is making ice cream in a bag.  Parents help the children read the recipe instructions, measure and mix ingredients in a zipper baggie that is placed inside a larger bag of ice and salt.  The giggles and smiles say it all as everyone has a ball tossing the bag back and forth.  The best part is tasting the yummy ice cream together with their family.

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The day would not be complete without the stick horse races! The children go to the exhibit hall to collect the horse that they made and then bring it to the “race track.”  I had one of the 4-H Junior leaders demonstrate how to weave in and out of the cones for the “pole bending” race and how to maneuver around the buckets for “barrel racing.” I don’t know who had more fun, the parents or the children. I definitely had a fabulous day at the fair with my Clover Kids!

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If you would like to know more about 4-H or Clover Kids in your county, be sure to check out the Nebraska Extension website and click on Nebraska 4-H or check out the Learning Child website

Image Source: Lynn DeVries, Extension Program image

Lynn DeVries, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Linda Reddish, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Parents Ask Questions about Feeding Young Children

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This week a local parenting home visiting program invited me to present a short program on feeding infants and toddlers to a group of teen parents.  The topics requested included“picky” eaters and family meal times. I was asked to keep the program short and to the point.  I decided to turn to a trusted resource for feeding young children.  I first became aware of Ellen Satter’s work through my involvement in the Head Start Programs years ago.  What I like about her research, is that she translates it into simple terms that parents and childcare providers can easily understand and apply.

Questions parents ask around feeding younger children include:

  • How often should I feed my child?
  • Am I feeding my child enough?
  • Am I feeding my child too much?
  • What should I do about my picky eater?

Begin with the Division of Responsibilities:

Satter explains the parent is responsible for what, when and where, and the child is responsible for how much and whether they choose to eat.  According to Satter, “Fundamental to parents’ jobs is trusting children to determine how much and whether to eat from what parents provide. When parents do their jobs with feeding, children do their jobs with eating: – See more at The Ellyn Satter Institute

 What about picky eaters?

If parents are consistent with the division of responsibilities, over time, their children will become well-adjusted eaters.  Ellyn Satter says that most children are more or less picky eaters. Their likes and dislikes can vary from day to day, and it may take time to warm up to unfamiliar foods. Parents may need to introduce a new food 15 times or more before a child is willing to try it.  A suggestion offered by Satter is to be sure to offer other options with a meal that are familiar to the child, but not to offer alternatives.  If there is something served with the regular meal that the child can eat, the parent is the one responsible. Let the child pick-and-choose from what is already on the table. The goal is to keep meals positive without putting pressure on the child to eat. Keep in mind that you should also try to stick to consistent meal and snack times, offering only water between these structured times.

 Will snacks spoil the child’s meal?

Growing children need snacks, as their stomach capacity is small and limited.  They need meals that are more frequent.  According to Satter,

Here is what to keep in mind about snacks:

  • Sit to snack, don’t allow yourself or your child to eat on the run or eat along with other activities.
  • Have snacks be sustaining: Include 2 or 3 foods. Include protein, fat, and carbohydrate.
  • Time snacks between meals so that your child will be hungry at the next mealtime.
  • Use snack time to work in foods you didn’t get otherwise, such as vegetables

Click here for more information on Sit Down Snacks

You can also check out The Ellen Satter Institute Facebook page  if you would like to hear more about their research on children’s eating.

What are some of your favorite recipes for children’s meals and snacks?  Comment below

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Lynn DeVries, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Jaci Foged, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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It Can Take A Village to Support Breastfeeding Moms

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I knew the many benefits of breastfeeding many years before having my own child. I taught education classes to soon-to-be parents about these benefits. I shared how breastfeeding is an important practice for both the baby and the mother. During these classes we talked about how breastmilk has nutritional, immunological, and psychological benefits and provides all the nutrition and sustenance a baby needs for the first six months. We talked about how the nutritional benefits continue into the second year of life and how the nutritional components of breastmilk change over time to meet the nutritional needs of the child. I shared how breastfeeding may help reduce the chance that a child becomes overweight or develops certain diseases in the future. We also discussed the benefits of breastfeeding for women. Women who exclusively breastfeed typically lose more weight after giving birth (who doesn’t want that!) than women who use formula, breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer, protects against osteoporosis, and reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Finally, breastfeeding can benefit both mother and infant by helping to create a close emotional bond.

Knowing these benefits, I was completely committed to the idea of breastfeeding when I learned that I was pregnant with my daughter. I was so excited to be able to finally have this experience with my baby. After a somewhat traumatic childbirth I was finally able to hold my newborn baby daughter and excitedly prepared to breastfeed her. Despite her “great latch” as described by the nurses, I was challenged to produce milk. I became anxious and worried. Nurses would come in and “rate” the quality of my continued attempts to breastfeed which only made me feel more anxious. A lactation consultant met with me and I cried. I felt like a failure as a new mom as I was told that I would need to supplement with formula. My husband was a great support and said, “you can keep trying and we can supplement too. You are the best mom.” Then my mom and sister visited and provided some emotional support as well.

I continued to breastfeed with my limited milk supply and extremely sore bleeding nipples. I remember crying with my toes curled under with the first latch. I would nurse for what felt like hours hoping that my daughter was getting the nutrition she needed. Soon I received in home support from a certified lactation consultant who showed me different positions to use to breastfeed. She weighed my daughter and assured me she was healthy and growing. Eventually I was able to exclusively breastfeed and my anxiety dissipated. When I returned to work after 6 months, my in home child care provider provided a quiet relaxing place for me to breastfeed my daughter which allowed me to continue breastfeeding. I was not able to pump enough milk so having the opportunity to come at breaks and for lunch was immensely helpful. I share this experience in hopes that others see the value of serving as support system to moms. I share so that others do not pass judgement on moms as we never know the possible struggles they are experiencing.

I share so that moms know breastfeeding is beneficial and may be easy for some but not for all. I share because support for breastfeeding is important and can come from many different sources, including health professionals, mothers, grandmothers, trusted friends and community members. Think of how you can serve as a support to a mom if she decides to breastfeed. You never know what that support can do for a mom and her baby.

For additional information and resources, look at:

Kelly Mom Parenting and Breastfeeding http://kellymom.com/category/bf/


HOLLY HATTON-BOWERS, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

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Screen Time: Create Your Family Plan

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“Mom, in the old days did you have T.V?” The “old days” often come up in conversations with my 7 and 11-year-old daughters. Of course I had television growing up, but it was more difficult to access in my childhood! When I was growing up we had two televisions. One in our living room, a 19-inch dial activated television and another 27-inch (that was big back then you know) in our family room which could be operated using a remote. We lived in the country near a small town in western Nebraska where you could get 2.5 channels, (one was always fuzzy so that one only counts for half). We didn’t have access to the internet or a computer with a modem until I was 10 years old and the internet was quite a bit slower and less reliable back then.

Screen time wasn’t something that needed to be discussed. We looked up information in Encyclopedias. We called people on a telephone, which was attached to the wall by a cord. We wrote letters using paper and pen. We played games with the whole family on boards and with cards. We watch T.V. on Friday nights (TGIF) and woke up early Saturday morning for 6:30 am cartoons which ended by noon. Children played outdoors in all types of weather and didn’t come home until dark.

Its 2017 and my daughter doesn’t even have a “real” science book that she can bring home to study with. Instead, we have a sheet of paper with a log-in for a website. This means she spends time looking at a computer screen when she could be reading a book. She spends time asking Siri what an igneous rock is rather than looking it up in a dictionary. What does all of this mean for us in 2017? This past October, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released new recommendations and resources for families regarding screen time. Screen time includes activities done in front of a screen, such as using an app on your phone or watching music videos on a tablet.

Infant and toddler’s brains are growing at an exceptional rate during the first two years of life. It is important for these children to have positive social interactions with the people caring for them. Therefore, the AAP recommends children younger than 18 months participate with screens only for video chatting. For children 18 months to 24 months only high quality programming (such as PBS or Sesame Street) is suggested. It is vitally important for an adult to be with the infant during the video chat and while watching the program to help them better understand what they are seeing and hearing. Research shows that unstructured playtime is more valuable for a young child’s developing brain than electronic media. Young children are more likely to remember doing an activity than watching an activity be done. Children ages 2 to 5 years should be limited to 1 hour of screen time per day. Again, the programs watched should be of high-quality, and be viewed with parents. For children 6 years and older, screen time should not interfere with time spent doing other activities. Sleep, physical activities, and mealtimes should be of top priority. Studies show a relationship between television viewing and young children being overweight. Caring For Our Children states that children 3-5 years who watch 2 or more hours of television per day have an increased risk of being overweight.

What does this mean for adults? It means that we need to be good role models for our children. Put the phone down and play with your child when they are at the park. Make it a rule to turn off the T.V. during meal times. Silence phones and charge them outside of your child’s bedroom at night.

To help families navigate the evolving digital world, the AAP has developed a guide for creating a family plan for screen time and media use. The plan is broken up into 9 areas: screen free zones, screen free times, device curfews, choose & diversify your media, balancing on-line and off-line time, manners matter, digital citizenship, safety first and sleep & exercise. There are examples and suggestions pre-populated and areas to write in personal guidelines. Create your own family plan by going to http://www.healthychildren.org. Delight in the company of your family, and treasure every moment.

Additional Resources:

Nebraska Extension NebGuide “Brain Development and Learning in the Primary Years” (G2198)

“The Importance of Outdoor Experiences in the Primary Years” (G2202) 

Nebraska Extension NebGuide “Enjoyable Time Together: A Journey of Happy Memories” (G1882)

Nebraska Extension’s The Learning Child Blog “Family Game Nights, a Win-Win for Everyone”

JACI FOGED, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

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COST OF CHILD CARE

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According to the New America study child care for a child age 4 or younger now costs on average $9,589 a year. This is greater than the average annual cost of college tuition which is $9,410. The cost for an in-home caregiver averaged $28,353 annually. One-fifth of families use a “patchwork” approach to providing care for their children such as relying on family or friends to provide care, looking for unlicensed care, or cutting back on the number of hours worked. Some parents have delayed purchasing a home or saving for college for their children. According to the report, quality as measured by accreditation and user reviews, and availability as measured by the ratio of childcare providers to young children, is also inconsistent across the country; no State scores well across the board for cost, quality and availability.

The figures show that child care is expensive even though caregivers make poverty wages; that care can be difficult to find; and only a handful of centers and family homes are nationally accredited for quality. What are parents of young children to do when they can’t afford or find suitable care for their children? The answer can be leaving the workforce completely which doesn’t bode well for labor force participation. The authors of the study list four policy recommendations: universal family leave, better cash assistance programs, high-quality pre-kindergarten, and more programs aimed at dual-language learners.

Source: Financial Advisor

LEANNE MANNING, EXTENSION EDUCATION | THE LEARNING CHILD

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Easing the Goodbye’s at Childcare Drop-off

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Perhaps one of the hardest tasks of parenthood for working parents is separating from their child upon arrival at the childcare home or center.  This can be a time of heightened anxiety for both parent and child.  I remember well when my children were in the infant toddler stages, the sadness I felt as a parent saying good bye at our childcare home. I had formed a strong attachment to my baby and my baby was forming just as strong an attachment to me.  It was through the skilled, compassionate, and trusting relationship with my childcare provider that we all adjusted smoothly through this new separation routine.

How childcare providers can ease the separation:

Nancy Balaban offers five tips for creating a curriculum of trust in the NAEYC publication, Spotlight on Infants and Toddlers:

  1. Use a primary caregiving system by assigning each care giver a small group of three to 4 children in which they would be the consistent person to provide feeding, changing, napping and play time activities and interaction. Of course other caregivers on the team will help if more than one child needs attention at a time. This primary caregiver is also the one to greet the family and child and ease them into the transition by reassuring parent and child.
  2. Institute a gradual easing into the program for the family and child together. This is done by implementing a slow entry process, where new parents come to the center with their child and stay there together for a short time on the first day, the time is increased each day for 2-3 days, then the adult says good bye. According to Balaban (2011), “An easing –in process isn’t simple when parent must go to work, but trying to facilitate it is worth the effort. The payback is a happy child and trusting parent.”
  3. Be there to support the everyday goodbyes. Teachers can support the feelings of the child by emphasizing that mom or dad will be back as young children are not always sure this is true.
  4. Anticipate and be prepared for regressions or shifts in behavior. Beyond the developmental periods where separation anxiety peaks, there are also times when a child’s behavior may regress and they are clingy to the parent again, go back to thumb sucking, or resist going to sleep for example. Teachers can facilitate trust by being accepting and offering help.
  5. Offer children tangible reminders of their parents. Teachers can read books about hello’s and goodbyes, offer the child’s favorite comfort toy or blanket, and display photos of the child’s family in the center.

Check out the entire article on Everyday Goodbyes for more ideas on easing separation times.

High quality infant and toddler programs serve to foster the development of the whole child including social emotional development.  According to the Early Learning Guidelines established by the Nebraska Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services,

Strong positive, secure relationships are the key to social and emotional development. Infants and toddlers need consistent, nurturing adults who are supportive and responsive. Caring adults provide safe, stable and predictable environments that support young children’s growing independence. Such environments promote a healthy sense of self and connections with others.”

You can access the Early learning guidelines for children Birth to Three and Three to Five year olds for more helpful ways to promote healthy social and emotional growth.

How do you handle separation time at your childcare home or center?

LYNN DEVRIES, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

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Go Green This Christmas

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Americans generate an average of 25 percent more waste, or 1 million extra tons per week, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, with the trash almost doubling right after the holidays. Isn’t it possible to celebrate without leaving a trail of trash that will stay in the landfills long after the season has passed?

Picture the bags of garbage you put on the curb last year and visualize what was inside. Then identify areas where you can prevent waste before it starts.

Holiday Waste Audit

What are all the waste-generating activities?

  • Food waste (serving too much at parties)
  • Energy waste (incandescent lights)
  • Tree and other decorations
  • Paper waste (cards, wrapping paper, and boxes)
  • Plastic waste (drink containers, packaging)

Now consider durable items that turned out to be anything but—the new stuff that ended up in the trash or forgotten in a closet over the year. What broke, wore out prematurely, or was never really used?

  • Kids toys
  • Clothes
  • Appliances
  • Other

If you receive gifts that you will never use consider re-gifting them, or donating to your favorite appropriate charity. Communicate your gift-giving preferences ahead of time to your family to avoid ending up with gifts that end up in the waste stream or need to be re-gifted. According to a national survey, more than 3 in 4 Americans wish that the holidays were less materialistic. Nearly 9 in 10 believe that holidays should be more about family and caring for others, not giving and receiving gifts [New Dream]. Yet the average U.S. consumer plans to spend more this year—$805.65—on holiday shopping. Think about these facts and decide what type of gifts you want to give and receive this year.

Recycle your old holiday lights. The annual recycle holiday light drive sponsored by Eastridge Elementary School in Lincoln is being held again this year. To find all recycling locations, visit the Eastridge website at: http://wp.lps.org/eastridge/pto/.

Low-Waste Gift Wrapping

Tearing open a gift always brings a thrill, but wrapping with virgin paper and plastic ribbons spends a lot of resources on those few seconds’ thrill. Consider that 38,000 miles of ribbon alone is thrown out annually—enough to tie a bow around the Earth. Don’t send any wrapping materials to the landfill this year. Consider the following alternatives to store-bought gift wrap:

  • Wrap with comics or paper bags decorated with markers, potato stamps, or drawings
  • Use maps, fabric pieces, thrift store cloth, old calendars, or other repurposed materials
  • Reuse gift boxes from last year or repurpose other boxes around the house (cereal, etc.)
  • Give the gift of reusable gift bags: sew simple bags that can prevent waste year after year
  • Decorate with old ribbons, ties, scarves, beads, and paper snowflakes
  • Skip the wrapping altogether and opt for a scavenger hunt with clues

Source: Center for a New American Dream (www.newdream.org)

LEANNE MANNING, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

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Essential Oils, What You Need to Know…

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It seems as though everywhere you look today, there is a new display of essential oils products available to consumers.  I have seen these displays in the major discount retailers and pharmacy stores as well as high-end department stores, beauty salons, and dollar thrift stores.  The products all have the same message for the consumer, emphasizing the natural remedy to many ailments. Many people enjoy the natural aroma and have faith in the healing or behavior changing claims of these products.

As a former classroom teacher, I was always careful to not wear perfume or cologne around my students.  I was cautioned of this by my college advisor before student teaching because of the concern for any students with respiratory problems or asthma.  I was also made aware of the dangers of aerosol sprays and air fresheners for the same reasons, so when I became aware of some classroom teachers using essential oil diffusers in their classrooms, I naturally wanted to see if the same was true of these fragrances.

I found out that there are two possible concerns with essential oils, one being toxicity, and the other as mentioned above, respiratory complications.  With any product in the home, it is important to keep essential oils out of reach of children.  Oils are highly concentrated, and according to the Tennessee Poison Center at Vanderbilt, the primary route of poisoning is by ingestion, but it may also occur by excessive or inappropriate application to the skin.  Justin Loden, Pharm. D., certified specialist in Poison Information (CSPI) at TPC states, “Children are at risk for poisoning because they may try to ingest essential oils from the container. Most have a pleasant smell but bitter taste, so children easily choke on them and aspirate the oil to their lungs. Children are also at risk because their thin skin readily absorbs essential oils, and the protective barrier that covers their brain is easily penetrated.” This has also raised concerns about the use of oils by prenatal mothers, as they can cross the placenta to the unborn baby.

Clinical studies are underway in the United States and many other countries on the benefits of essential oils used for their healing properties as well as safe use. Check out this article for more information on the toxicology of essential oils. Rise in Children Ingesting Essential Oils. Another article on the safety of essential oils by a board certified pediatrician cautions on the use of oil diffusers around children. What Does The Research Say, also provides more information on the difficulty in conducting research on essential oils and the concerns for toxicity in use with children and prenatal mothers. I encourage you to explore more on this topic and to seek advice from your trusted pediatrician or OB/GYN to help you make well informed decisions for you and your family.

Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator | The Learning Child

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16 Tips For Cutting Family Food Expenses

Cutting food expensesDoes your lettuce turn to mush? Mushrooms start to grow fuzzy? Do your bananas blacken before your family can eat them? In the US, the average family of four, loses $1,500 each year to food it has to throw out. This is like tossing one bag out of every four purchased at the grocery store.

Food is a necessary expense but there are ways to save money. Check out these tips!

1. Use a Grocery List

Keep a grocery list where it’s easily accessible, such as on Use a grocery listthe fridge, and take it with you to the grocery store. Always shop with a list. Stick to your list for added savings, but do stay flexible if you encounter a sale. Gas for an extra trip to the store easily can add a dollar or more to your grocery bill. And the less you shop, the less likely you’ll buy something on impulse.

Examples:

  • Gas to drive four miles for an extra trip to the store: $1.00 (or more!)
  • Impulse purchase of snack crackers at the store: An additional $2.50 spent.

2. Garbage Check

We lose money whenever we toss food because it spoiled before we got around to eating it. If leftovers get the “heave-ho” because they’re left too long, we’re putting money in the garbage can. Plan to avoid tossing foods.

Consider: If wilted lettuce frequently goes in your garbage can, serve more salads at the beginning of the week. If extra mashed potatoes get tossed because they’ve lingered too long in the fridge, make less next time. Some other ideas: Use ripe bananas in banana bread; add juice to smoothies or make popsicles; freeze leftovers for another meal.

Example:

  • Tossing a half bag of “tired” lettuce: $1.00.

3. Avoid Shopping When Hungry

Everything looks good on an empty stomach. And it’s all too easy to buy something to tide us over in the car until we make it home. Eating before going shopping not only helps forestall impulse buys, it may save calories. If you’re shopping with your kids, feed them in advance as well.

Example:

  • Buying an energy bar at the grocery store to tide you over until you get home: $1.50 more spent.

4. Brown Bag It

If you normally eat out at noon, consider brown-bagging it at least one day a week. The typical fast-food meal out easily can cost $5.00 or more. Take food left over from an Brown bag it and bring your own lunchevening meal to work the next day. A peanut butter sandwich and a piece of whole fruit can be quickly packed from foods on hand.

Note: You may save money on your children’s lunch by having them participate in the school lunch program. They can eat a balanced meal that is offered at a reasonable price.

Examples:

  • Eating a sack lunch once a week: Save $2.50 (or more!)
  • Eating a sack lunch five days a week: Save $12.50 (or more!)

5. Coupon Common Sense

Use coupons only for foods you normally would eat, rather than for “extras.” Don’t miss out on potential sources of valuable coupons. Check your grocery receipt — sometimes there are great coupons on the back that help save money. Also, if you have access to a computer, check online for coupons. For starters, check the Web site of the store coupon common sensewhere you shop or for products you use.

Often the Web site address for many foods is given on the product label.

If possible, shop on double- or triple-coupon days when a store increases the value of coupons. Grocery store loyalty cards may be another source of savings, offering in-store discounts to cardholders.

Examples:

  • Not buying that NEW dessert mix just because you have a coupon: Save $2.00.
  • Using two 50-cent coupons for items you do use: Save $1.00.

Check expiration dates6. Check Expiration Dates

Avoid buying a food that is past its prime. If it’s on sale and near its expiration date, use it soon.

Example:

  • Avoid dumping a half gallon of soured milk down the drain: Save $2.50.

7. Small-Scale Experiments

When trying a new food, buy the smallest size package. If your family doesn’t like the new food, you won’t be stuck with a big quantity.

Example:

  • Buy a small amount of an exotic spice until you discover if your family will eat it in the new recipe: Save $1.50.

8. Costly Convenience Foods

How much time do you really save when you buy a convenience food? It takes just a fewPre-cut vegetables seconds to mix your own sugar and cinnamon rather than buying it pre-mixed.
Microwaving a bowl of regular oatmeal rather than pouring hot water over the contents of a pre-measured package adds only a few minutes.

You’re likely to save by cutting fruits and veggies yourself. Plus, the precut ones won’t keep as long!

Example:

  • Buying one carton of old-fashioned or quick oatmeal that provides 30 servings vs. buying three boxes of instant oatmeal that contain 10 packets each: Save $5.50.

9. Staple Food Stock Up

Invest in staple foods when they’re on sale. Buying a boatload of bananas (or other perishable foods) isn’t a very good long-term investment. Stocking up on staple items such as reduced-price canned tuna or tomato sauce might be. Remember to check expiration dates.

Example:

  • Stocking up on 10 cans of tuna reduced by 20 cents apiece: Save $2.00.

10. Bulking Up When the Price Is Right and You Can Use It

Bulk of orangesFirst, do the math and check to see if you actually do save by buying a larger package.
The cost of two foods of a smaller size may be a better price than the larger one. Plus, will you
use the food while it is still tasty? Always check it out and if the larger size meets your criteria, go for it!

Example:

  • Buying a 5-pound bag of rice instead of a 1-pound bag: Save $1.50.

11. Store Brand Savings

Store brands are comparable in nutrition to name brands. And taste-wise there may be Store brand Mountain Dewlittle difference. In some comparisons, they have been preferred over the name brands.
Some store brands may vary more in size, color, or texture than the name brands. However this may be unimportant, depending on their use. A less-than-perfect-appearing vegetable may be just fine if used in a casserole or soup.

Don’t shop just at eye level. Store brands and lower-priced brands tend to be positioned on the top and bottom shelves. The national brands are more likely to be on the middle shelves.

Example:

  • Buying just two store brands and saving 50 cents on each: Save $1.00.

12. Prevent Food Flops

Check preparation methods for unfamiliar foods. A tropical fruit may look enticing at the store, but if you’re not sure how to prepare it or where to find more information once you bring it home, think again. Or that new cut of meat — do you slowly roast it or can it be grilled? Either way, find out or risk having a food flop.

Often the produce person or the meat manager at the store can give you some tips. Many produce departments have books with descriptions of all items, what they taste like, how to prepare them, etc.

Example:

  • Purchasing a bag of self-rising flour without first reading the recipe’s directions and discovering it won’t work: Lose $2.50.

13. Beware of Snack Attacks

Unless you’re fairly active and need the calories, limit snacks such as chips, cookies, Junk foodcandy, etc. You’ll save money and may lose unwanted pounds at the same time.

Example:

  • Buying one less bag of chips weekly: Save $2.00.

14. Shop the Specials

Plan your menus around sale items, especially more expensive purchases, such as meat. Buying several packages of meat on sale and freezing them may save quite a bit.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture advises that it is safe to freeze meat or poultry in its supermarket wrapping but this type of wrap is permeable to air. So, unless you plan to use them within a month or so, overwrap packages of meat for long-term storage using airtight heavy-duty foil, freezer plastic wrap or freezer paper, or put the packages of meat inside freezer plastic bags. Use these materials to repackage family packs of meat into smaller amounts.

While raw ground meat maintains optimum quality in the freezer for 3 to 4 months, larger cuts of meat like steaks or chops will maintain optimum quality for 4 to 12 months. At 0o F, frozen food remains safe indefinitely. The safest way to thaw meat is in the refrigerator on a plate on the bottom shelf so it doesn’t drip on other foods.

Example:

  • Buying meat on sale: Save $2.00.

15. Think Before You Drink

re-usable water bottlesBuy a reusable water bottle and fill it with tap water. Your investment soon will pay for itself. Limit consumption of soft drinks and fancy coffees. And if you do buy drinks occasionally, try to buy returnable bottles.

Example:

  • Drinking tap water vs. buying a 12-pack of bottled water: Save $4.00.

16. “Check-out” Temptation

As you wait in line, think twice about buying some last minute temptation at the check-out counter.

Example:

  • Resist that magazine: Save $3.50.

Grand Total

The more of these tips you use and the more foods you use with them, the family cutting expensesmore you save.

Case in point: If you were able to use each of the preceding examples in one shopping trip, you could save as much as $40 that week.

Multiply that by 52 weeks and the savings would be… over $2,000 yearly!

Note: Prices in this NebGuide were rounded to the nearest 50 cents and may vary by store and location.

Alice C. Henneman, Extension Educator, Nancy G. Frecks, Extension Educator, and Kathy Prochaska-Cue, Extension Family Economist 

(This article was originally published by the authors as a NebGuide. It is re-published here with their permission.)

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