March is National Reading Month – Get some great tips from Olympic gold skater Kristi Yamaguchi (giveaway ends 3/29/15)


Child Reading

Did you know that March is National Reading Month?

Most people know that reading is necessary for a successful future. It’s important to encourage a love of reading, even at a very young age.

I love reading. I read all the time when I was a child and teenager. I loved reading so much that I kept most of my books from my youth. It was my plan to read my beloved books to my own children some day. I am happy to say that I did read my favorite books to my children. I still have them and plan on reading them to my grandchildren some day too.

I also kept my kid’s favorite books. I hope that one day when they are parents they will read their favorite books to their children too.

According to the US Department of Education, only about half of all young children who are three to five-years old are read to on a daily basis by a family member. That’s sad. I know that people lead very busy lives, but surely they can put aside 10-15 minutes once a day to read a story to their child or children.

It makes me sad when I go places, such as a doctor’s office, and see children as young as 3 years old totally immersed in a game on their parent’s cellphone when they should be reading a book.

Reading to a child

It’s up to parents, grandparents and care givers to help nurture a child’s love for reading. If you start when children are young they typically grow up to be active readers as young adults and adults.

I also took cues from my kids. When they showed interest in a book series or subject I would pick up books that would interest them from the library. In fact we used to make weekly trips to our local library. They used to love to pick out their own books to read.

For their birthday, Christmas and Easter they would get books from Santa and the Easter Bunny. Even the Tooth Fairy would bring them book every time they lost a tooth (and a quarter too).

I always made sure there were (and still are) ample books around for my kids. Even though they are teenagers now I still encourage them to read.

Some of my fondest memories with my children are reading them bedtime stories. I miss those days.

LeapFrog and the Always Dream Foundation have teamed up with Olympic gold skater Kristi Yamaguchi to help promote reading for National Reading Month.

Kristi is not only a mother, she is also a published author. She’s published two adorable children’s books – Dream Big, Little Pig! and It’s a Big World Little Pig! – as well as other books.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to ask Kristi a few questions about encouraging reading in children and what parents can do to help children read. Kristi answered my questions in this exclusive video (below). I hope you will take a few moments to check out her replies.

I appreciate that Kristi took the time to answer my questions. I also want to thank LeapFrog and the Always Dream Foundation for making this possible.

To encourage families to read together, LeapFrog and the Always Dream Foundation have a special initiative called the 20/20 Challenge.

During the month of March, parents are encouraged to take the pledge to read to their child/children for at least 20 minutes a day, every day. For every pledge LeapFrog receives they will donate 20 LeapFrog readers to Kristi Yamaguchi’s non-profit Always Dream Foundation. The books will be donated to under-served classrooms. Through this campaign the goal is to donate over 350,000 books to children in need.

Please consider being a part of this wonderful #LeapFrogChallenge. To learn more, or to take the pledge, visit www.LeapFrog.com/Challenge. The challenge ends on March 31, 2015 so I hope you will take the challenge right away.

20/20 Pledge

To help encourage you to take the pledge, I have an AUTOGRAPHED copy of a Kristi Yamaguchi book (at this time the title is not known). It’s an actual autographed copy, not a photocopy of an autograph.

This giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and will end on March 29, 2015 at 11:59 PM (EST). The winner will be chosen at random using a random number generator from all eligible entries. The winner will be notified via e-mail and will have three days to reply or a new winner will be chosen in their place.

To enter please comment on this post and tell me how you help encourage a child to read – OR – what was your favorite book as a child?

For extra entries you can use the Rafflecopter widget (below) but you must complete the initial entry requirement or the additional entries wont’ qualify (I do check). Extra entries are optional.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


*I will received an autographed book in exchange for my participation. There was no compensation. The opinions expressed are my own and not influenced in any way. 

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Can a child have too many toys?

Me at Christmas time with some of my new toys.

Me at Christmas time with some of my new toys.

It’s the holiday season. Parents are scrambling to pick up the most sought after toys of the season (no doubt one of the products is related to the movie Frozen). Parents and grandparents will go to great lengths to ensure the child in their life has “the hottest toy.”

I’m a mom. I admit that I always wanted my kids to have great toys for Christmas, but never once did I go out of my way to get the “must have” toy. First and foremost I refuse to stand in long lines or fight people for parking spots at the mall. It’s not worth it. If it’s a toy my child MUST have – eventually – I’ll get it for them when it’s not the holiday season.

I’m guilty of over indulging my kids on toys. More so my daughter (my oldest) then my son. I think it’s a common first time parent “mistake”.

For our daughter’s first Christmas – and even for her first birthday – we gave her A LOT of toys. We wanted to give her everything she’d want or need. But she was one. One year olds don’t need a room full of toys. Not only that they won’t have any recollection of those toys when they are older. It’s kind of sad when you think about it. The only memories your child will have of things like their First Christmas and First Birthday is what they see in photographs.

My son playing with some toy and puzzles at Christmas time.

My son playing with some toy and puzzles at Christmas time.

I was reading an article on Yahoo! Parenting about children and toys. The article is called  Does Your Child Have Too Many Toys? and it’s by Melissa Walker.

In the article the author talks about a play date she went on with her child where the other child had two toys – some blocks and a doll. That might be taking it to the extreme (my diaper bag had more toys in it then that) but having a room full of toys that rival a toy store is also too much. There is a happy medium and it depends on the child.

Growing up my kids were totally different than one another. They still are in a way. My daughter would go from one toy to the next and get easily bored with things. Our son on the other hand had a great assortment of toys but always played with the same few toys. He would literally play with Matchbox/Hot Wheels type cars for HOURS and do nothing more than drive them back and forth on the carpet and park them in different ways.

My son's FAVORITE toy growing up. He took his plush cat "Bear" everywhere we went.

My son’s FAVORITE toy growing up. He took his plush cat “Bear” everywhere we went.

I agree with the article that you need to observe your child and see how they play to adjust accordingly.

I work with little children in a room full of toys. It always amazes me how some children can come in – even when it’s their first time there – and make a bee line to specific toy and play with it the entire time they are with us. Other children go from toy to toy to toy, dumping things out, taking things apart, and then moving on to another toy but not actually playing with them. I’m not sure if they are just overwhelmed or this is how they are at home. They don’t actually play – they just like to create chaos. I’m leaning more towards we have too many toys and they don’t know where to start.

The article also mentions how you should keep play areas simple. It also mentions that you should rotate toys. We used to do that with our kids. We would keep some of their toys and books in the closet and let them play with and read the rest for a few weeks then we’d gradually rotate things around. We would never do all toys and books at once but rather rotate out the toys and books they use the least with different ones. We do the same thing at my job – we rotate toys around whenever possible.

My son could play for HOURS with just a few cars/trucks.

My son could play for HOURS with just a few cars/trucks.

I’m “on the fence” when it comes to the “bells and whistles” toys that the article mentions. While I do see the entertainment and educational value of these toys, I tend to go “old school”. I prefer toys that engage a child’s imagination. I’m not saying that I don’t like educational toys. I do! And my kids had plenty. I’m just saying when it comes to play time I like my kids to have imaginative fun too.

I didn’t have educational toys when I was a little girl, and I certainly didn’t have toys with bells and whistles. I grew up with dolls, plush toys, blocks, cars/trucks and my all time favorite toys – my Fisher Price Little People (the wooden ones!). I also made forts out of blankets and pillows, explored the woods behind my home and spent many hours doing fun things with my cousins like swimming, biking, sledding and plenty of games of “hide and seek”.

Even though I didn’t have educational toys growing up I turned out perfectly OK. In fact I’m very smart. You should see me answer the questions on Jeopardy. :-)

What are YOUR thoughts about toys? Are you a minimalist who feels that children just need a few toys or are you someone who feels that the more toys the better when it comes to your child? Or are you like me and fall some where in between?

There are plenty of great parenting articles found at Yahoo! Parenting.



I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

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Heading off to college



Our oldest child is a senior in high school this year. In just a few short months she’ll officially be a high school graduate. How did that happen? It seems like yesterday she was performing in her 3rd grade class holiday concert and bringing home the artwork she made in class. Instead of helping her with her ABC’s my husband and are helping her to prepare for the next step – college!

Our daughter wants to go away to college – as in far away. It has nothing to do with us. She would like to spread her “wings and fly”.

We live in a tiny condo. We also do EVERYTHING together as a family – even if it’s not exactly what the kids want to do. I can totally understand why she wants to go away – so she can find herself and become her own person. We also cannot afford to travel. Our vacations are mostly day trips where we are back home by the end of the day. Our daughter is a lot like me – she wants to see the world and travel. Life is an adventure and she wants to relish every moment of it.

When I went to college I was supposed to go away too. No too far – just 3+ hours from home. My parents had other plans. They wanted to see how well I did in college before spending a small fortune to send me away. They told me to attend our local community college for a year. If I did well I could go to any college I wanted to. That sounded like a great deal to me.

I hate to admit it but my parents were right now to send me away.

My first semester I did “ok”. The second semester I pretty much failed every class. I enjoyed my new freedom a little TOO MUCH and barely attended class. I would rather hang out in the lounge or go to lunch with friends.

After that fiasco I quit college and got a full time job. It wasn’t for many years later when I matured enough to return to college and ended up graduating with honors and moving on to an accelerated Bachelor’s degree program. I was simply not ready to go to college when I first graduated. It happens. Sometimes students just need to take a year or two off before going to college.

Our daughter wants to go away to college, but we are making her go to a community college first. It has nothing to do with her not being ready – she IS ready for college. It’s simply a money issue and the fact that she has no clue what she wants to go to college for.

Where did the time go? They grow up TOO quickly!

Where did the time go? They grow up TOO quickly!

If our daughter had her own way she’d go to a college in California when she graduates in June (we live in New York). That is fine and dandy but the problem is she has no clue what she wants to go to college for. She keeps bouncing around ideas…

  • Lawyer
  • Paralegal
  • Forensic Psychology
  • Criminal Investigator
  • Teacher
  • Fashion Merchandising

She simply cannot narrow it down. There is a huge difference between a lawyer and a fashion merchandiser and a Forensic Psychologist and teacher.

Our daughter is currently taking all college classes in her senior year of high school. That means when she graduates she’ll already have college credits and probably one semester of college already done. Therefore she’d only need to attend three more semesters to graduate with an Associates Degree.

Our “game plan” is for her to either go to our local community college for three semesters and then she can transfer anywhere she wants – or – attend the community college where her grandparents live and live with them. That way she’d be away from home but still with people who can help care for her. The only problem is my father has no clue what he and my stepmother are going to do next year. They might move, downsize or ???

Sadly our daughter might not have a choice. She might have to go to our local community college.


Money is a factor too. Our kids have a trust fund from their grandfather and currently our daughter has about $15,000 in her accounts. That is not a lot when it comes to college. Many colleges are double that amount – per semester! And that doesn’t include books or the dorms.

Until she figures out what she wants to go to college for we feel that it’s better if she goes to a community college which is cheaper (about $1,500 per semester) the go away to college and have her get into debt with student loans and have to pay $10,000++ for her to living in a dorm – money we don’t have. If she goes to community college it will give her time to figure it out while she gets the basic classes done and out of the way. She hates that idea but we don’t see any other way around it aside from her taking a year or two off to work and figure out what she wants to do with her life.

If you and your child are having a hard time figuring out going to college check out this FREE download helpful – 2014-2015 KapMap College Planner.

To find out other ways Kaplan can help your college bound student visit www.Kaptest.com/College-Prep. They can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Is your child heading off to college soon? Do they know what they want to major in? Do you know what college/colleges they are looking to get accepted into?

If you have a child currently in college, or recently graduated from college, feel free to share tips, suggestions and advice. It will not only help me but others who have children heading off to college.

You can also check out the hastag #JourneytoCollege to see what others are saying.

College Graduation


*This is a compensated post from She Speaks and Kaplan Test Prep however the opinions expressed are my own and not influenced in any way. 

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Teaching life lessons to children



In the next few weeks many children across the country will be returning to school. They will trade lazy days by the pool with ABC’s and 123’s. Such is the “circle of life”. LOL!

Academic learning is very important as we all know. It’s difficult to get through life without knowing the basics. Not only that you need a good education if you want to make something with your life. As much as children whine and complain about tests and homework in the end they will realize that it was all worth it.

In addition to a good education children should also be taught some important “life lessons” too. Things like showing others respect, accepting people for who they are including all their quirks, and be kind to one another.

I am a firm believer, and practitioner, of Random Acts of Kindness. I try and do at least one random act of kindness daily. I have encouraged my children to do that same.

It’s important for me that my children accept people in all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, abilities and differences. Just because someone looks or acts differently doesn’t make them any less of a person. I also ask my children to think about the other person and try to imagine being in their shoes. No matter our differences are we are all people who live, breath, laugh and love.

Netflix has an original series called Derek. It’s from the creative mind of Ricky Gervais. This mockumentary-style comedy-drama is all about acceptance, no matter age, abilities or quirks. Ricky plays the role of Derek, a nursing home employee who is able to see the good in everyone. He’s almost too kind. Derek himself is socially awkward. One might think that there may be something “wrong” with him but the reality is that he’s just a gentle soul who cares about the people he cares for in the nursing home and his fellow employees.


I’ve watched a few episodes. It’s funny but at the same time kind of sad. It’s more along the lines of  “dramedy” (drama/comedy).

So far my favorite episode is episode 3 from season one when a teenager comes to fulfill some community service at the nursing home. My favorite line from that episode is when she’s asked “Do you read?” to which she replied “Yes”. She was then asked “What do you read?” and the teen replied “Twitter”. LOL! That sounds like a teenager.

In that episode the teen girl was initially put off by the elderly people at the nursing home. She seemed disgusted by them (such as changing their bed sheets). You could tell she did not want to be there. Then one day one of the elderly residents complimented her on her nails. That made the young girl warm up a bit and soon she found herself enjoying her time with the elderly people. She found them fun and interesting where as originally she saw them as gross and pathetic. She learned to open her eyes (and her heart) and accept the residents for who they really are and not what she assumed they were.

I don’t think this show is for young children. There are a few crude parts that I’ve seen thus far (rarely but there are parts not suitable for  young children).

Netflix has plenty of great films that help teach children about acceptance and empathy. Here are a few examples you might want to consider watching with your child. I think these films are a great way to get a conversation going about accepting, kindness and empathy towards others.

Big Kids

Films/Shows for older children.

1. Rudy – Great movie!
2. Mulan
3. A Mile in His Shoes
4. Radio – Love this movie!
5. Good Luck Charlie: Down a Tree
6. Glee

Little Kids

Films/shows for younger children.

1. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Vol. 1 Ep. 6: Friends Help Each Other
2. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Season 3, Ep. 4: One Bad Apple
3. Arthur, Season 15, Ep. 8: Muffy’s Classic Classy Club / Best Enemies
4. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
5. Super Why, Season 1, Ep. 61: The Ugly Duckling: Becoming a Swan
6. The Fox and the Hound

Why not pick a few of these shows or movies and have a family movie night?

No family movie night would be complete without a yummy snack. Try something different. Instead of popcorn why not bake Salted Caramel Monkey Bread. Mmmm! This looks so good!

Monkey Bread

It’s always fun to do a family activity together. Check out this Kindness Punch Box. This is a fun way to introduce acts of kindness to your children. Plus doing a craft together is a great bonding experience.

Punch Box


To learn more about Netflix and their programming visit www.Netflix.com. You can also find the brand on social media.

How do you teach kindness, empathy and acceptance to you children? Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences.



*I was not compensated for this post. I receive a free membership in exchange for my participation. The opinions expressed are my own and not influenced in any way.

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Fed Up – A food documentary that the food industry doesn’t want you to see in theaters and on VOD today (May 9, 2014)

Fed Up Movie Poster

I have to admit that I enjoy watching documentaries. They are a wonderful way to learn about things you might not otherwise have the opportunity to learn about. I also find them very “eye opening”.

Many times when I watch a documentary I end up with strong feelings – angry, sad, scared or happy. Especially after watching ones that expose what goes on “behind the scenes” that many people don’t know about or are blissfully unaware of.

I recently had the opportunity to screen the documentary Fed Up. It will be shown in select theaters and on VOD (Video on Demand) TODAY (May 9, 2014).

For the past 30 years, everything we thought we knew about food and exercise is dead wrong. FED UP is the film the food industry doesn’t want you to see. From Katie Couric, Laurie David (Oscar winning producer of An Inconvenient Truth) and director Stephanie Soechtig, FED UP will change the way you eat forever.

Wow. Simply WOW! I learned A LOT from watching this film.

While it is important to eat healthy and exercise it is NOT the #1 thing you should be taking into consideration – it’s sugar.

The number of Type II Diabetes has skyrocketed over the past 30 years. More and more children are developing this diasese than every before. Type II Diabetes was mostly seen as something that effects adults. These days it’s almost effecting more children then adults.

Today’s generation could possibly live SHORTER lives than their parents.

Why is this happening? One word – sugar.

Today people around the world consume sugar more than ever before. It’s in almost everything we eat and drink (except all-natural products) and it comes in various forms.

Even foods that are supposedly “better for you” like low-fat products are actually WORSE then their regular counter parts. In order to make low fat or reduced fat products taste better they add sugar. So you might be saving a few grams of fat here and there you are actually consuming MORE sugar than your body can deal with.

When your body is fed to much sugar your liver has to work overtime to process it. The easiest thing for it to do is turn it into fat. If you eat so much sugar your pancreas has to release insulin to help deal with it. Insulin also turns the sugar into fat.

Fed Up

There are approximately 4.2 grams in every teaspoon of sugar. The World Health Organization recommends no more than 6-8 teaspoons of sugar per day (24-32 grams per day maximum). I believe the film said that is equal to 5% of your daily totals. Due to politics and government bullies that was changed to allowing you to have 25% of your daily dietary intake as being sugar. That is a HUGE difference.

Go to your pantry right now and grab any food product (soup, cereal, cookies…) and look at the nutrition facts. You’ll notice that there are NO PERCENTAGES listed next to sugar like there are other things (fat, cholesterol…). That is because the big companies and government people who regulate this kind of stuff DOESN’T want you to know the real percentage of sugar you are ingesting when you eat those products.

In the film they showed a typical diet for one day (pancakes, orange juice, PB&J sandwich, spaghetti with sauce…). The meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) were things that most people might eat during the day. The sugar came to well over 40+ teaspoons! Not the 6-8 that the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends. It’s no wonder their is an obesity and diabetes epidemic, not only in this country but around the world.

Processed foods (those with the most sugars) are cheap so people purchase them over healthy, natural foods. School budgets have been cut so much that all they can afford is junk foods to serve students. Some schools even rely on meals from Taco Bell and other fast food places to serve lunch to kids. What kid is going to pass up on a slice of Pappa John’s pizza and opt for a garden salad with grilled chicken instead?


When I was in school the lunch people made the meals. Now they serve processed, pre-made, frozen meals. Yuck! I’m grateful my kids bring lunch.

The documentary highlights several teenagers with weight issues. They are doing the right thing (eating low fat foods, excercising…) but remain overweight. That is because those “reduced fat” foods and the foods they are served at school are loaded with sugars.

Even Michelle Obamas “Get Moving” campaign was discussed in the film and how she emphasizes moving over eating healthy. That is because she cannot risk ticking off the powerful food companies by emphasizing that kids need to eat natural foods and not processed foods.

I also learned from the documentary that you shouldn’t eat foods with more than five ingredients because it’s not healthy for you. I took that to heart and recently looked at the label on some chicken that I served my son for lunch one day. The chicken had only four ingredients – which I was thrilled about – BUT – the bread crumbs (coating) had about 20+ ingredients. And it was just bread crumbs! UGH!!!!

Now when I shop for foods I am cautious of the label. I read the grams of sugar and take them to heart. I am also looking to replace foods we normally buy with those that are made with less ingredietns, are more natural and contain less sugar.

If you would like to learn more look for Fed Up at a theater near you or on Video on Demand services. You can also visit www.FedUpMovie.com. The film can also be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Here is the film’s trailer.



*I viewed an online screener in order to do this review. There was no compensation. The opinions expressed are my own and not influenced in any way.

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Financial Literacy Month: How to Have the Money Conversation with Your Kids



As a parent you are constantly helping your children develop an understanding of the world around them.  As your children grow older, the conversations evolve from teaching your children basic skills, like manners, to more complicated topics, like financial management.

April is Financial Literacy Month, so it’s a great opportunity to try and make a point to talk to your kids about money and how to manage it. Maybe you bring it up while you’ve got them in your backseat on the way to school or while handing out allowances; as long as you get the conversation going, that’s what matters.

Financial literacy is the ability to understand the language of finance. Taking the time to introduce even simple concepts about what financially-related words mean can help your children greatly in the future. Financial literacy or financial education will allow your kids to make informed decisions regarding the management of their money and gain greater understanding of how money works in the world around them.

You may be surprised to learn that teens are anxious to have more of these money-related conversations, as well. According to a Teens & Personal Finance Survey conducted by Junior Achievement USA (in partnership with The Allstate Foundation) more than half of all boys and girls surveyed stated that, “when it comes to financial literacy, parents/guardians do not spend enough time talking to them about money-related topics.”

Helping your kids understand money at an early age doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Below are some simple tips to help get you started!


With your younger children, bring up money conversations in everyday life to help them understand the value of the dollar. Some examples of how to do this may be to discuss wants versus needs when watching various commercials on TV or talking about how much things cost when you are at the store. Here at Oink, we love the lessons and milestones offered on moneyasyougrow.org!


One of the ways to enforce the knowledge on the value of a dollar is helping them plan for things they want. Some ideas of how to do this include making a wish list. This gives your kids an opportunity to earn money and save for big items. Another option is to give your kids a budget for birthday presents so that your pre-teen experiences finding the best deals on different gift ideas for their friends.


As kids get older, open a bank account that will let them pay for things and learn how money comes in and goes out in a tangible way. As an extra incentive, you can even work with them to plan a vacation together and teach various budgeting lessons throughout the planning experience.


Preparing for college or the workforce is an excellent time to introduce terms that your young adult will need to understand in the near future. If your child is taking out a student loan, be sure to discuss interest rates with them and go over repayment terms. If your child is opening their first credit card, be sure to discuss borrowing mechanisms, such as APR and credit limits. Make sure your soon-to-be adult understands credit scores and the difference they can make on an APR in the future.

You don’t have to be a money expert to have these conversations with your child. Just introducing simple money concepts will go a long way towards fostering financial wellness. It’s also important to remember that you, as a parent, don’t have to be in an excellent financial situation to still be helpful in your child’s financial literacy. Don’t be afraid to talk about your own money struggles – it can be a good way to learn and grow together. What’s important is instilling a good knowledge of how money works so that children are eventually able to make smart and informed decisions on their own.

Happy Financial Literacy Month!

Piggy Bank

About Rebecca Howell

Rebecca Howell is the Marketing Manager for Oink.com, the first e-commerce solution that enables teens to manage, spend, and give their money within a parent-controlled environment. The technology offers parental controls and a budgeting dashboard for the entire family.

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