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Successful Switch from Summer to School

August 30, 2017
By Nikki Curliss

Last May, I blogged about all the fun, creative, innovative ways to stay busy over the summer and reduce the summer slide. Now, here we are sliding right into the new academic year. How did we get here so fast? Here are some tips from a Scholastic parenting article,,  on how to make the beginning of the school year a success.

  1. Routines. Children thrive on routines. Bedtime and eating routines are going to set your child up for a successful foundation. Help your child get the appropriate hours of sleep and have nutritious meals.
  2. Household Rules. In the summer, your child may have different rules when it comes to TV or electronics. Have a family meeting to discuss the new rules when school is in session and talk about when to focus on school work and when there is time for electronics. The more screen time a child has, the harder it is for him/her to focus at school.
  3. De-stress dressing. Lay out clothes the night before. Uniforms are helpful, but the students have favorites and of course remembering to have the clean PE uniform.
  4. Talk about goals as a family. Were you late most mornings? Then talk about what you all can do to get here on time.
  5. Summer is a fun way to try out new hobbies and venture into camps. If your child thrived being on the swim team or the programming camp, find a way to keep that going during the school year.
  6. Set up a homework station for success. Help your child find an appropriate place with the adequate supplies. Many minutes can be wasted looking for the sharpened pencil!
  7. Get to know the teachers. Attend the Back to School events, read the lesson plans on renweb, and talk to your child first about assignments before talking with the teacher.

I hope your family will slide right into the new school year with minor bumps along the way. Please check-out other articles by Scholastic to help with reading, activities, life and learning, and parenting articles.

Nikki Curliss, Guidance Counselor, has been at StMM for 6 years. She enjoys spending time helping students one-on-one and with whole classroom lessons. 

What's for Dinner

August 02, 2017
By Lydia Binanay

This is the universal question that you hear on a nightly basis. Your kids are hungry.  Again. Every night they seem to want dinner. And you have to feed them. But you also have to help them with homework, shuffle them around to their activities and cajole the crying baby or discipline the tantruming toddler. Don’t forget, they all need a snack and a lunch for school tomorrow, too.  Oh yeah, it must all be healthy and budget-friendly.

So how do we do it? Here’s some pointers for “winning” at dinnertime:

Make a menu.

If you don’t meal plan, there’s no plan. Before the week begins, sit down with all of your schedules and map out when you have time for food prep.  A night here, a morning here, maybe lunchtime there. Then, decide what you have time to make during those time slots (a quick meal, a slow meal or a crockpot meal). If there’s no time for cooking then I’ll decide to pull something out of the freezer, use leftovers, or maybe pick up a pre-made meal from the store (think Donovan’s Dish, Dinner Savvy, Whole Foods, Costco, etc). I write my menu on a chalkboard in my kitchen for everyone to see. That way we all know what to expect and I know what needs to be done when I get home that night.

Maximize your time in the kitchen.

When you have to cook something, cook more than one thing. When you make breakfast Saturday morning, double that batch of pancakes and freeze half.  Boil some eggs for later in the week and bake a batch of granola bars. Same thing with dinner.  While you stir your spaghetti sauce, chop all your fruits and veggies for snacks and lunches, write your lunchbox love notes and fill the water bottles. Make sure every part of that kitchen is working simultaneously. You may spend a little bit more time in the kitchen for that meal, but it’ll save you much more time later.

Your freezer is your best friend.

Three times a year I spend a few days stocking my freezer: in August before school starts, Christmas break and Spring break. I do this at regular mealtimes when I already have to make something (maximizing my time in the kitchen). I make double or triple batches of certain freezer-friendly meals. I serve one batch and I freeze the rest for school mornings, bag lunches (pull it out the night before and it’ll defrost overnight in the lunchbox) and busy weeknights. Here are some things that I find freeze well: muffins of all flavors, pancakes, waffles, spaghetti sauce, chicken broth (for soup bases), bagels (I stock up from the local shop), cookie dough rolled into a log (for that last minute bake sale), sweet breads (like banana or zucchini bread), refried beans, black beans and rice, cooked and chopped chicken for those lunch boxes, hummus, guacamole...the list goes on and on.

Got a crock pot?

Not all people are fans of the typical meat-in-sauce meals that crock pots usually deliver. But don’t give up on it yet. Beans are super easy and affordable and they love a crock pot. Pinto beans are my favorite but we also do black beans and beanie weenies. Throw some in with some aromatics and some homemade chicken broth (also made using your crockpot: just throw your bones, mirepoix and water into your crockpot and cook all night/day, strain and freeze). Of course, you can always do the ribs with bbq sauce, chicken with salsa, etc in the crock pot and serve it with a side anytime. But I like using the crockpot to keep my food safe and warm until ready to serve. For instance, I sometimes can come home at lunchtime, so I will make chili or soup or sloppy joes for dinner but then I’ll toss it all into the crockpot so when we get home for dinner, it’s piping hot and ready to serve.

Delegate the cooking to your kids.

There are five people in my family. If we each cook a night, that’s only one weeknight per week that I have to worry about. So spend the summer (when there is no homework) teaching your children (and your husband) to each perfect a different meal. Then come August, your whole family will be helping out at least occasionally. Having your children in the kitchen will teach them a wide range of skills: the science of cooking/baking, mathematics of measuring, fine motor skills for those little ones who are scooping and pouring and stirring and pinching and early readers can practice reading recipes aloud. Creating a new meal can also help the rigid child learn flexibility. Change up the cheese sometime! Or the kind of noodle! It doesn’t have to be big change.

Got a kid that doesn’t eat?

For those picky eaters, having them involved helps them to branch out and try new things. Have them watch a youtube or food network episode (Chopped, kids!) that interests them. Then make your list, have them shop for ingredients at the store and then come home and make and taste it. If they are afraid to taste still, serve their new food out of a shot glass or small medicine cup.  It’ll be such a small amount to taste that it’ll be kinda funny and like a novelty item. Those small tastes will slowly change their taste buds over time. Even Daniel Tiger (PBS) has a good song for trying new foods for those smaller chefs.

Sit down for dinner.

There have been all kinds of studies that show the benefits of eating together. But hey, it doesn’t have to be around the dinner table. It could be on the soccer field or in the parking lot of the dance studio or the park next to your music lessons. Just find time to all eat together so you can reconnect with your family and rehash the day. Treat your out-of-house meals as a picnic and plan in advance so you don’t have to use the drive-thru.

So what’s for dinner tonight? Hopefully less stress, a happy family and a belly full of healthy, delicious food. Bon apétit!

Some resources to help you along the way:   (episode 116)

Avoid Brain Drain Over the Summer

July 19, 2017
By Nikki Curliss

In an article on avoiding the summer slump, The Washington Post reports that The National Summer Learning Association, says kids lose as much as two to three months of math and reading skills over the summer. Yikes!

What can parents do to help? Get to know your child.  Enjoy some relaxed time and just play with your child. Enjoy the down time with less running around. Find out what your child enjoys.

If she enjoys reading, take her to the library so she can pick out travel books before the family vacation. Does she enjoy cooking? Pick out cookbooks and have the child plan, budget, shop and make dinner. Want to work on math skills? Invite neighborhood kids to create a lemonade stand and run a business.

In addition to games and activities, here are some online resources. Just make sure you are keeping a close eye on what your child is doing online.

Web Resources for Online Learning: : articles, worksheets, tips for preschool – high school math, reading, puzzles, games $$ preschool-high school, math, languages, study skills, a global classroom, k-8th games, activities, lessons for elementary and middle school computer training, technology, lessons, career, and life lessons free summer reading program for all age

  • Fun and Interactive Ideas and Games:
  • Deck of cards: used as flashcards/game of war
  • Sidewalk chalk to write out math problems, spelling words
  • Library programs, free books, audio books
  • Museum programs
  • Board games: Yahtzee, Boggle, etc
  • License plate game: addition, subtraction, math and states
  • Crafts for fine motor skills
  • Workbooks: inexpensive books at 5 Below
  • Kids cook night: theme nights learn about different countries
  • Daily journals about summer vacation
  • Volunteer programs and community service
  • Research High Schools for future visits
  • Parks programs: visit parks, register for programs
  • A-Z games: items in the grocery store
  • Missing items games
  • Plant a garden

Nikki Curliss, Guidance Counselor, has been at StMM for 5 years. She enjoys spending time helping students one-on-one and with whole classroom lessons. 

Preventing the Summer Slide

July 05, 2017
By Lydia Binanay

Do you love the days when you can put your toes in the sand and not micromanage your kids’ homework or study habits? You aren’t alone. Everyone is ready for summer. As a teacher, I encourage you to let loose, relax and be free….for a full week!

Sweet, sweet summer lasts about 9 weeks.  That’s equal to a full quarter of your child’s school year.  If your child takes a complete break for a quarter, the transition back to school will be a rough one. Instead, continue honing the skills they learned this year. Read, do math facts, write and draw.  Learn some new facts. Socialize with friends.

I have some tips to share with you on how best to plan your anti-summer slide:

Prepare: Take that first week of summer to let the kids relax while you plan out your summer goals and don’t be afraid to get the kids involved.  This is the time to acquire materials, print sheets, plan themes and outings.

Make a bucket list with your kids of what they want to achieve or do over the summer.

Review their assessments (if they are little) or their report cards to see what areas of learning need some attention.

Here are a few ways to keep the learning fun all summer:

  • Make a weekly theme that excites your kids.
  • Young kids:  dinosaurs, space, animals, their favorite Disney character, a sport, art, science, farm life (we’ve visited a dairy farm, a honey farm, goat farm, etc)
  • Older kids: book-based themes (like Magic Tree House, Harry Potter, Captain Underpants, Little House on the Prairie, Percy Jackson, Narnia, The Hunger Games, or any other book or series that your kids love), Finance, Manners, Cooking, Religion, Talent show, art show, or my kids’ favorite--Lunch around the World (Cultures)
  • Have a weekly library day to get books based on said theme or just that next book in their favorite series. Don’t forget those audiobooks! They work well to quiet squabbling siblings for both long and short drives. It’s also a nice way to introduce a new/different series to your less flexible child.
  • End the week with a fun culminating event or field trip with some friends. For example, when we learn about finance, we end with a lemonade stand. When we learn about manners, we have a tea party and when we do lunch around the world, we invite friends to share a dish from another culture and lunch with us.
  • Have them journal about every fun event they do, including a picture to go with it.
  • For older kids, write a compilation of short stories or design and complete a comic book.
  • Make a scrapbook of your summer trips.
  • Traveling a lot? Complete a travel journal for all your fun excursions and call it a “passport”. Make a map of your travels and have your children mark all the places they visit.
  • Spend a lot of time in the car? See my article “The Learning Car”.
  • Set up a puzzle table for the whole family to work on together.
  • Learn some life skills: laundry, dishes, yard work, tying your shoe, going potty.
  • Older kids could create a blog all about their adventures.


Struggling to motivate the sun-kissed student chillaxin’ on the couch? Make a trade.  You do a little work, I’ll give you today’s wifi password/remote/your technology. They’ll hop to it quick!

Enjoy your summer.  Have fun with the kids while they are home. But don’t forget to hit the water slide, not the summer slide!

Lydia Binanay is a mother of three Catholic schoolchildren (one being a preschooler, herself) who currently teaches in the Pre-K-3 classroom at St. Mary Magdalene in Apex, NC

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