Nona Evans of Whole Kids Foundation Wants to Turn Every Kid Into a Passionate Gardener—And Eater


By Lela Nargi

Nona Evans calls her latest job, as Executive Director of Whole Kids Foundation (WKF), penance for the past working lives of her ancestors. “My grandfather on one side of the family owned an Italian restaurant, and my grandfather on the other side started a candy store. They put a lot of sugar and calories out in the world!” she laughs.

Evans started her own work life in a conventional grocery store, in marketing and PR, before she found her way to organic specialty market chain Whole Foods. There, she headed the company’s foray into educating its customers about what children across the country were eating for lunch, and how it affected how they were performing in school. Response to the program was so successful that it became larger than her job description. So, in 2012 she went to the company’s powers that be and they voted to translate her work into WKF, to provide schools with grants to start gardens and salad bars. Evans has been its fearless and passionate leader ever since.

What were you hoping to get out of this project when you started the Foundation four years ago? 
We fully believe that a school garden is the most reasonable investment a school can make. We did lot of research and found that a grant of $2,000 is adequate for a school to implement garden for first time, or for a school with an existing garden to make meaningful transformation: triple it so every class can have bed, or add an outdoor classroom, or add irrigation. But when we started, the idea of gardening at school was just beginning to become something parents and teachers and administrators could consider. Today, awareness of its impact and importance is so much greater, and there’s an openness to the type of learning that can be accomplished with it. I don’t think we’re at the tipping point of being mainstream just yet—the USDA did a survey at end 2014 and found there are only an estimated 20,000 school gardens across the US—but I’m encouraged by the experience of Whole Kids so far.

Well, what are the benefits of a school garden?
The most important thing that school gardens do for our kids is add a hands-on, nature-based learning environment. There are three types of learners: visual, artistic, and kinesthetic. One and three learn best in school garden, so it enhances educational effectiveness for two-thirds of the population. It actually makes the academic portion of what a school is challenged to do more effective. We know from research, and from what Alice Waters did with her Edible Schoolyard Project, that when kids know where their food comes from, they’re more willing to eat a new vegetable. They want to understand the connection between what they eat and how their bodies work: how it helps them perform on the soccer field, or whatever they’re passionate about. The most powerful ingredient we activate is curiosity.


Do you do garden experiments on your own kid?
I have a 12-year-old son, Patrick. He’s best case study I could ever have been given. He ate absolutely everything till he was 4 years old. Then one day he came home and said word “yuck,” and I almost fell out of me chair. His girlfriend at daycare, Summer, had said “yuck,” and he became a picky eater, because he could. He would pick the green stuff out of everything. We live in Texas, where we have Tex-Mex rice with everything, and he would pick out every iota cilantro. So, we started gardening. Funnily enough, he decided he wanted to plant cilantro . And he started eating it by handful, because he had that connection. He had grown and nurtured it himself. Even now, I bought some cilantro seedlings a few weeks ago and I found him sitting at the kitchen table, with every leaf picked off it. My caterpillar son!

That experience is very similar to what we find and advocate for with Whole Kids. Give kids a choice and the world opens up. Implement a salad bar at school, and kids are empowered to pick what they want for lunch. They may begin by picking lettuce and carrots and croutons, but by end of the school year, they’re experimenting because of positive peer pressure. They’re eating garbanzo beans.

greens-in-gardenHave you always been a gardener?
Actually I have to credit my husband, John Spillers, who’s a police officer. He was a gardener long before it was fashionable; he was a fan of Square Foot Gardening, that PBS show. He really enabled us to garden as family. Once, for Valentine’s Day, he gave me two new raised beds with spectacular soil in them, a mix of compost and vermiculite and peat moss that produced beautifully. Four years ago, when we moved so we had more room to garden, he moved my dirt.

We make a good team. I’m laissez faire and he’s meticulous. I had the good fortune three years ago to visit the White House garden—talk about meticulously cared for! I came back with every intention of having a pristine garden. But no matter how much time I have to spend in garden, nature is an amazing thing and so much grows, both literally and figuratively. We make sure to take care of our pollinator friends, so this year I planted zinnias for them, and we always put in milkweed for the monarch butterflies, which are experiencing a lot of habitat loss. Last year, we had so may caterpillars, they made a chrysalis across our front door. We saw so many butterflies emerge, which is like it’s magic.

How’s your neighborhood for gardening?
We live in Shady Hollow, which has lots of the old-growth oak trees that are native to area, which is wonderful. But in terms of gardening, I think we were the original catalyst in the neighborhood. There’s a wonderful young man next door, Caulden, who when he was 3 years old wandered into our yard. He tugged on some greens and out came carrot. I still remember the amazement on his face. His mom said he’d never eaten that before and in 10 seconds, it was gone. The kids around here expect them, now. I’m constantly delivering fresh greens and tomatoes to people. I always have bountiful rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, parsley, enough for everyone. And we’ve created a neighborhood share; these days, we’re a wonderful gardening community. Our next door neighbors just started raising chickens. All the kids around here benefit.

Do you also cook from your garden every night?
We’re a two-parent working family. Cooking is my therapy, and I specialize in getting dinner on table 15 minutes or less, and whatever I make it always has lots of herbs from my garden. I love to cook with herbs. But it’s important to have go-to paces for dinner when don’t have energy or time to cook. We try and find places that serve locally-grown ingredients. Anything that has a vegetable combo on the menu, it’s definitely on our list.

What’s your advice for starting a garden for other Austinites, or for anyone who wants to plant something in the ground?
Start with what you love to eat, and don’t be afraid to experiment. There are tons of places in Austin for seeds and seedlings: there’s The Natural Gardener, which promotes native species. There’s a nursery called It’s About Thyme that’s locally-owned; I love anyplace where you can get to know the owners. And we love High Mowing Organic Seeds, which is one of the best seed suppliers in the country—you can order seeds online. But it’s also important to remember that you don’t have to have a huge back yard. Your garden can be as small as a windowsill or a pot you put on your patio. Just give it a shot!

Photographs of Nona and Patrick, and bed of greens, courtesy of Nona Evans.

18 Ways to Volunteer Outside of the Classroom

Finding time to volunteer in your child’s school or classroom can be tough, especially for working parents and those who are home with infants and small children. Rather than wreak havoc on your schedule by attempting to squeeze in classroom visits or hiding from the Room Parent who’s looking for volunteers, opt for a way to help on your own time. There are many ways you can help from home, contributing and making a difference just as much, if not more, than you would be if you were in the classroom.

Here are ideas for lending a hand outside of the classroom:


  • Volunteer to update the classroom blog, website or social media
  • Offer to help with projects that you can take home, just such as cutting, pasting, assembling booklets, or copying materials
  • Help make decorations for the classroom bulletin boards or parties
  • Organize and head a campus Clean Up Day
  • Bake or buy treats to send in for a class party
  • Help at weekend event, such as a School Carnival
  • Make a digital flier for a class project
  • Recruit parents and coordinate volunteers for events and field trips
  • Handle Scholastic Book ordering for the class
  • Find out what supplies the teacher needs and collect from parents or purchase them (don’t forget to submit receipts for reimbursement)
  • Make phone calls or send emails to coordinate field trips or speaker visits
  • Create a Walking School Bus by coordinating with families to walk by and pick up kids who want to walk to school with a parent-led group
  • Collect funds and purchase teacher appreciate gifts, including gifts for the holidays, teacher’s birthday and Teacher Appreciate Week
  • Make play dough
  • Wash dress up center or dramatic play clothes and art smocks
  • Make a scrapbook for the year
  • Organize a food or clothing drive to help a less fortunate school
  • Conduct research for the teacher, such as finding a craft on Pinterest to coincide with a topic or unit

There are so many ways to share your time and talents to support your child’s teacher and school. For the times when you’d really like to be in the classroom or chaperone a field trip, call on UrbanSitter for childcare back up for little ones at home.

Helping Your Child Adjust to Preschool

You’re a few weeks into the new school year and your preschooler is still struggling to adjust to school. It’s heart wrenching and frustrating to leave your child sobbing at the door of the classroom each morning, even if you know he’ll soon recover and have a fun time without you. Here are helpful tips to help ease separation anxiety and make the transition a bit easier on both of you.



Prepare yourself for leaving your child at preschool.
Children can pick up on nonverbal clues, and will sense your anxiety or uncertainness about the classroom, teacher or decision to leave him at school. Portray a sense of calm and confidence. You are making the right decision. Preschool is a wonderful place for your child to grow, learn and develop new and fulfilling relationships with caretakers and friends outside of the family.

Create a consistent routine.
Children thrive on routine. They need to know what to expect and what is expected of them. Create a consistent morning ritual – having breakfast together, packing his lunch, preparing for school, happily departing home and saying hello to the new teacher before saying goodbye to each other.

Make a prompt departure.
The first few days of school, you may have stuck around a little longer to help ease your child’s anxieties and help him to feel safe and comfortable in a new environment. Now that he has a few days or weeks under his belt, it’s time to say a prompt goodbye. Give a loving hug or kiss, assure your child that he’ll have a wonderful time at school and that you will return shortly… and promptly leave. Your child will soon come to accept that that’s how the separation plays out. Sticking around to comfort your child only prolongs the goodbye, making it tougher on everyone involved.

Don’t sneak out.
Leaving without saying goodbye with hope of avoiding a tearful farewell or a full-on meltdown, only makes the separation worse. You don’t want your child to feel abandoned or tricked. You also want them to know what to expect, including a loving goodbye.

Send along a little love.
Some experts recommend giving a child a transitional object to take to school for comfort. This may be a picture of the family, a favorite stuffed animal, doll, a lovey or blanket. Make sure your child’s teacher is ok with bringing things from home before you commit to sending in a favorite. Some teachers have a policy of leaving the item in a cubbie or school bag and allowing your child to visit it when needed.

Involve the teacher.
Talk with your child’s teacher about his reluctance about going to school or his anxiety to leave you. If she knows how your child feels, she’ll be ready to help you with the separation and provide extra comfort. Teachers have lots of effective strategies for helping little ones adjust to the goodbye, such as having a special activity ready for your child, putting aside a favorite toy for him, having a helper on hand to provide extra attention or creating a ritual for starting the day at school.

It’s reassuring to remember that starting school and being away from a parent is often a tough transition for preschoolers and their parents. Kids adjust to the change at their own pace, some needing a little extra time to feel comfortable and excited about their time away. Your patience, reassurance and consistency will help them to make the transition and embrace a rewarding new experience.

How to be an Awesome Room Parent

image via flickr
image via flickr

You’ve signed on as room parent for your child’s class. Huge props to you! Your willingness to take on added responsibility is admirable and your mad organizational skills appreciated. As a classroom parent, you’re charged with serving as the main source of communication between your child’s teacher and all of the parents in the class.

Your duties likely include keeping everyone informed and up to date on class news and events, coordinating class parties, collecting money for teacher gifts, and recruiting volunteers to help meet the teacher’s needs. It’s a big responsibility, but you can do a stellar job and keep it manageable by following these helpful tips.

Don’t go it alone. Rather than handle it all, recruit another parent as a co-room parent and split the duties. One of you can handle email communication and calendar updates, and the other coordinate parties, field trips and events. Having a partner will keep you from becoming overwhelmed with ongoing tasks.

Have a sit down meeting with the teacher to synch expectations. This is your chance to understand the needs and responsibilities of the job, get a list of events for the calendar, obtain a class contact sheet and agree on how you and the teacher will communicate. Ask about any allergies or special needs in the class that you need to be aware of. Also get a sense of her style and ask about her favorites and preferences so you’ll be ready to choose the class gift.

Go digital. Keep an updated class calendar, whether it be on the classroom blog, school website or a site such as Shutterfly. Also make use of volunteering services like Volunteer Spot for communication. The sites will keep everything up to date and allow you to recruit volunteers, request things like extra supplies or snacks, and collect money for field trips and group gifts without sending countless emails. Using these services also helps to eliminate the dreaded Reply-All communication strings.

Help families get to know each other. One of the nicest things you can do for your child’s class is to help their families build relationships with each other. Sometime at the beginning of the year, long before holiday chaos consumes us all, send a welcome letter and schedule an informal meet and greet. There’s no party planning involved. Simply invite whoever is interested and available to meet somewhere local for coffee after school drop-off or for drinks one evening. It’s a wonderful opportunity to get to know your child’s friends’ parents, put faces to names, and compare notes on how the year is shaping up. You may end up finding a new carpool buddy, and you’ll certainly improve your chances of recruiting volunteers later in the year.

Make it a family affair. Involve the kids and your spouse by sharing duties. Your child will get an up close view of what you are doing for his classroom, and come to appreciate the work that goes into having a well organized and fun filled school year. It’ll also help take a lot of work off your to-do list.

With a little planning and upfront work, you can take the stress out of your duty as room parent and turn the experience into a rewarding opportunity for you to contribute to your child’s education and build lasting relationships with other families in the school. Congrats to you for stepping up to the job!

10 Ways to Tackle Reading Homework

Most school-aged children are required to read as part of their daily homework. It’s typically not much, 15-40 minutes of reading, but busy families with limited after-school time can have a tough time squeezing it in. It’s difficult to find time in their busy schedules and convince tired kids, especially early readers, to hit the books each night.

Rather than fighting with your little one to get the work done, why not help by making reading a family affair? After all, there’s no disputing how important it is for new readers to get consistent reading practice. Here’s how to help your child clock the time by doing it together as a family and by expanding his reading materials beyond the books he brings home from class. You’ll be surprised at how much your child enjoys the time and how quickly the reading minutes add up.

image via mytudut at compfight


Tips for Logging Reading Time:

  • Read a recipe and cook something together. Check out the UrbanSitter Cooking with Kids Pinterest board for delicious recipes that are just right for cooking with kids.
  • Make sure the books you have at home are the appropriate reading level. Experts suggest using the five-finger rule. Open a book to a random page and ask your child to read it to you. Put one finger up every time your child does not know a word on the page. If you have to put up more than five fingers before turning the page, the book is too hard for your child.
  • Play a board game together. Start by having your child read the instructions aloud. Fun, educational options include Scramble Junior and Boggle Junior, but any board game with cards to read will work.
  • Take a family trip to the library and have your child choose books that appeal to his or her interests. A reluctant reader may change her tune when she dives into a story she can relate to or that piques her interest.
  • Create a comfortable spot in your home for lounging and reading, and hang out there together as a family. No electronics allowed.
  • Have your child help you make the grocery list and read it aloud to you if you are shopping together.
  • Task your child with reading the menu at a restaurant.
  • Keep plenty of reading materials in your home, including books, magazines, newspapers and comic books. Make it a habit of having your child grab something to read while in the car or while waiting at an appointment or at his sibling’s soccer practice.
  • Commit to making bedtime stories a regular part of your nightly bedtime routine. Even older grade schoolers enjoy being read to and appreciate hearing a story they may not be able to tackle on their own. You might take turns reading, switching every page or every chapter.
  • Try interactive literacy websites, such as Starfall, Speakaboos and Spelling City for fun games that promote literacy.

The next time you have a sitter, be sure to share your reading tips and requirements and encourage her to read with your children and to supervise independent reading time. How do you encourage your kids to read each and every day? We’d love to hear your tips!

Packing Delicious, Nutritious Lunches Your Kids Will Love

What is it about packing school lunches for our kids? For most of us, packing good food that our children will eat while they are away from us quickly becomes a stressful, daily challenge and a dreaded chore. Of course, we want to take care of our children by filling their bellies and nourishing their growing minds and bodies, but it’s no easy task to come up with appealing, healthy food that’s fast and easy to pack, and readily eaten. This school year, make it easy on yourself in the lunch packing department by following these helpful tips for packing lunches and turning to 3 effective formulas for creating tasty lunches with minimal time and effort.

Tips for Taking the Stress out of Packing Lunch

  • Recruit your kids to help pack their own lunches. This is crucial to your sanity and schedule, and just as beneficial to your kids. It fosters independence, builds confidence, and improves the odds of the lunch being eaten. It’s also a great opportunity for you to teach your kids about nutrition and help them to make healthy choices.
  • Insist that lunchboxes are packed the night before. The morning rush before you leave for carpool or kids race to the bus stop is no time for debating what to pack. Many families find it helpful to move right from clearing the dinner table to making tomorrow’s lunch. Others swear it’s best to make a week’s worth of lunches, together as a family, on Sunday afternoon so they are set for the week.
  • Double dinner recipes so you’ll have plenty of leftovers to pack for lunch.
  • Prep fruits and veggies when you get home from the grocery store or farmer’s market. It’s much easier to throw together a fruit salad or crudités and a dip when the washing and chopping is already done.
  • Kids love a good surprise. How about breakfast for lunch? Waffles and pancakes pack well, as do mini quiche cups and fruit and yogurt parfaits.
  • Skip the juice boxes and assign everyone a reusable bottle to take to school each day.

3 Winning Formulas for Better Lunchbox Lunches

1. The Classic: A sandwich, fruit/vegetable, something savory (crackers) and a taste of something sweet. The tried and true pairings pack nicely in a traditional lunch box along with reusable sandwich and snack bags like these rounded up by Red Tricycle . If your child isn’t a sandwich kinda kid, give kebabs or wraps a try. You can cut wraps into pinwheels to be even more appealing to kids. Here are sweet and savory wraps – Greek Salad Wrap, Banana Nut Butter Roll-Up, Turkey Spinach Wrap and Strawberry Cream Roll-Up – to tempt the taste buds of even the staunchest sandwich hater.

Round-up of Reusable Snack and Lunch Bags via Red Tricycle
via Red Tricycle

Good for you lunch via Pinterest


2. Leftovers: Basically a bit of last night’s dinner balanced with whatever it takes to make it just as appealing as it was for dinner. If your kids turn their noses at leftovers, disguise last night’s dinner by easily turning it into something brand new, such as a pasta or rice dish. A small thermos jar is handy for warm or cold meals. We love these leftover ideas for appetizing lunches:

Fried Rice via Epicurious
Fried Rice via Epicurious
Tortilla Soup via 100 Days of Real Food
Tortilla Soup via 100 Days of Real Food


3. The Bento:  It’s the concept of a little bit of this, and a little bit of that. This is a great way to please and feed picky eaters, sneak veggies into a lunchbox and provide your kids with more variety than the traditional sandwich and an apple lunch can provide. There are plenty of eco-friendly, very cool bento boxes to choose from, such as these from Laptop Lunches, or you can use a variety of smaller containers.

Bento lunch via Momables
Bento lunch via Momables
Creative Bento lunch via Meet the Dubiens
Creative Bento lunch via Meet the Dubiens

You’ll be into the lunch packing groove before you know it! Need more ideas for lunchbox lunches your kids will love? Check out our Pinterest Board – Awesome Lunchbox Lunches

Tips for a Stress-Free Homework Routine

Many parents dread their kids’ school homework as much, if not more than their kids do. It’s not easy to squeeze homework into schedules packed tight with after-school activities, family and work responsibilities, dinner and still get the kids to bed on time. Plus, it’s never easy to convince tired, hungry kids to tackle homework after a day at school. Here are effective tips for kicking off the school year with a stress-free and productive homework routine.

photo via Woodley Wonderworks, flickr
via Woodley Wonderworks, flickr

Make it top priority.
Make it a routine to tackle homework before the afternoon slips into late evening and leaves you with tired, cranky kids. For most families, it works best to do homework after school, once kids have had a snack and a few minutes of chill time. If you wait to do it later, it’s easy for it to get lost in the shuffle of after-school activities, outside play and friend time then ends up interfering with bedtime. Having it done and out of the way frees up the evening for family time, avoids meltdowns, and helps keep everyone on schedule.

Provide a healthy snack or meal.
Kids can’t do their best when they are hungry or filled with sugary, processed snacks. Make sure your child has a satisfying, healthy afternoon snack before digging into homework. Some parents even swear by feeding their kids dinner when they get home from school, and a lighter snack later in the evening. Seems unorthodox to eat dinner at 3 pm, but it makes a lot of sense! Check out our Cures for the Snack Attack Pinterest Board for healthy snack ideas and Easy, Kid-Friendly Dinners for Busy Parents to rev up your dinner repertoire.

Create an appealing homework space.
Designate a comfortable space for your child to do his homework each and every day. Rather than doing homework on the couch while watching TV or in the back seat on the way home from soccer practice, get in the habit of doing it an environment that is conducive to doing good work. Whether it’s the kitchen table or your child’s own desk, make sure it’s a spot that’s free of interruptions or temptations, and is well lit. Have tools and materials handy, such as sharpened pencils, markers, and a dictionary.

Schedule ample time for homework.
Young children may only need a few minutes to copy spelling words or trace letters, but if possible, turn off the rush. It helps to give older kids time to work through tougher homework without the added stress of squeezing it into the schedule.

Keep homework anxiety under control.
Kids have less anxiety when they know what to expect and when to expect it. You can reduce any anxiety they may have about homework by sticking with your routine, making sure your child understands your expectations and reminding him that mistakes are a part of learning.

Stay connected with teachers.
Open communication with your child’s teacher is important. Let her know if your child has anxiety about the homework, or if you feel there is too many assignments for a young child. Also ask her for suggestions on how to help your child understand and complete assignments, and for feedback on your child’s performance.

Recruit your sitter to help with homework.
If you depend on a sitter for after-school care, ask her to spearhead homework and be available for assistance. Helping a child with homework means clarifying directions, providing additional explanation, and reviewing the finished product.

Consider hiring a tutor.
If your child continually struggles with the work, consider hiring a tutor. It might be the solution that takes the stress off both of you, and allows you to spend more enjoyable time together.

With a little practice and consistency, these strategies should help you tee up a successful, stress-free routine to start the year off right.

Take Note! Tips for the New School Year

Back-to-school time is nearly here, which means parents everywhere are bracing for the frenzied shopping, new schedules, and busy days that are soon to come. With so much to do and buy for the kids, you likely haven’t given much thought on how you can prepare yourself for a fresh start, too. With a little planning, upgrading, and a bit of strategic shopping (and downloading) you can set yourself up for a less stressful, more organized, and stylish new school year. Before the school bell rings again, check out these 6 helpful high- and low-tech ways to prepare yourself for a fantastic start.

1. Get your correspondence in order
Undoubtedly, there are times when you can’t depend on a text or email to communicate with your child’s teacher or coach – and these times are typically of the last-minute variety. Rather than wasting precious morning minutes scrambling to find a scrap of paper, be prepared with stationery made for the job. We love these jazzy, customized envelopes that’s especially handy if you have more than one child, since you can include multiple kids’ names in your customization, along with your contact info so it’s as easy as checking a box and including a quick note, check or signed form. ($14 via Hedoe Paper)

Screen Shot 2014-08-01 at 2.46.14 PM

2. Let someone else decide “what’s for dinner”
We’d all like to get a healthy, tasty, home-cooked meal on the table, but who has time to search for all the preparation? An online meal planning service can make it a whole lot more doable. Of all the meal planning apps out there, Cook Smarts is one of the most popular. It’s praised for its quality of recipes, interesting foods and tutorials. For $6 per month, you get weekly dinner menus customized to your family’s food preferences (gluten-free, Paleo, vegetarian). It also teaches you how to cook them and creates a grocery list so there’s no more nightly trips to the store to get what you need. A meal planning service will save you time, money at the grocery store and will help you to get healthier food on the table for your family.


3. Prepare to be mobile
Chances are a new lunchbox, backpack and maybe a duffel for after-school activities are on the back-to-school list for your child – and for good reason. We all need a way to have what we need away from home, when we need it. Make sure you are prepared for your day, too, by choosing the right carry-all for your needs. You’re more likely to pack yourself a healthy lunch when you have someplace to keep it fresh, more likely to hit the gym after work if your easy-to-carry gym bag is locked and loaded, and you just might feel a little more confident in your abilities to juggle it all when you have just the right travel or work bag. This lunchbox from Poppin ($20) is grown-up worthy and the Toss Audrey Bag would make a great go-to bag – perfect as a carry-on, weekender, or business bag ($120).

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4. Tee up childcare
It’s almost guaranteed that you will need backup childcare during the school year. Whether your child is home sick, the nanny calls in sick or your regular sitter who covers you for date night is unavailable – you’ll need backup. Take the time to spell out your childcare plan. Know whom you will call for backup during the year (nearby family, a helpful neighbor) and have a network of reliable sitters at your disposal. If the UrbanSitter app isn’t already a favorite on your phone, you are missing out on a big lifesaver. The free app gives you the peace of mind of knowing you will always have a trusty sitter at your disposal, and can easily book her anytime, anyplace.



5. Boost your motivation with a new pair of shoes
Because shouldn’t a new pair of shoes be on every back to school shopping list? Whatever your workout, shake it up with a new pair of sneaks. You’ll kick start your motivation and even improve your workout when you put on some snazzy new shoes instead of those sweaty old things you’ve been wearing for way too long. We love these Nike Free TR Connect 2′ Training Shoe ($72.90) via Nordstrom.

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6. Upgrade your calendar
Whether you’ve been depending on your trusty, old-school day planner, consider upgrading for better efficiency. Busy parents juggling activities and commitments for the entire family would find Mynd helpful. It’s essentially an intelligent mobile calendar that acts like your own virtual assistant. Not only does it keep you organized, it also keeps you on time and prepared by reminding you of appointments – and even provides drive times and weather forecasts for specific meetings. There’s no time wasted transitioning to a new calendar and getting up to speed. Download the app and you’ll instantly be asked for access to your current calendar so all events are immediately available in Mynd. Available free from iTunes.

Screen Shot 2014-08-01 at 2.59.38 PM

With a few downloads and a little shopping, you’ll be ready to sail your family into a well organized, promising new year.

Jumpstart Your Child’s Pre-Education

Whether your preschooler is just starting to learn her letters and numbers or she’s gearing up to start kindergarten in the fall, there are simple ways to help her learn and practice reading, writing and arithmetic – three of the key learning aspects of early childhood development that teachers use to gauge kindergarten readiness. Consistency and practice are essential to mastering these skills, but fear not, you can easily incorporate these fun learning opportunities into your child’s summer routine and encourage your sitters to do the same.



  • Research has shown that the single most important thing that a parent can do to help their child acquire language, prepare for school, and to instill a love of learning is to read to them. Check out the Scholastic Reading Recommendations List for Ages 3-5 if your bookshelves need some replenishing.
  • Schedule a time every day to read to your child and talk about the letters and words, characters, and what happened first, next and last. It’s helpful to children if you use your finger to follow the words as you read so they can follow along.
  • A rich vocabulary and strong language skills are building blocks for learning to read. Engage your child in regular conversation, avoiding baby talk in order to enrich their vocabulary.
  • Enrich language by singing songs and reciting nursery rhymes together.
  • Encourage your child to tell stories by giving you a puppet show, playing dress-up, and playing other make-believe activities.
  • Have your child put photos of herself at different ages into the correct sequence.
  • Let her play with magnetic letters on a cookie sheet or other magnetic surface. Practice the sound each letter makes.
  • Cut out letters from magazines to spell her name and other simple words.


  • Tracing helps kids to make the precise movements necessary for forming letters and improving hand/eye coordination. Very young children can trace a straight line – have them trace from left to right to mimic the process of printing from left to right. Ages 3 and 4 can handle tracing zig zags and curves, and by age 5 most children can trace letters and numbers. Here are several printables to help with tracing.
  • Help your child practice writing his name, ABCs and numbers 1-10 using different tools to make it fun – colored pencils, chalk on the sidewalk, shaving cream, sand and finger paint.
  • Keep a summer journal. Ask her to draw a picture of something she did each day, and with your help writes a word or more to describe it.
  • Let little ones help with writing grocery lists or making cards for friends. This helps to see the different ways we use writing in our daily lives.
  • Make labels for belongings, such as an art box, notebook, or cup so that your child routinely sees words she can start to associate with objects.

Numbers and Counting

  • Take advantage of warm summer days by spending time outdoors on a nature walk. Turn your walk into a scavenger hunt where you not only find but also count the items on your list. Go Explore Nature has a good scavenger hunt list and guidelines.
  • Encourage kids to think of the world in terms of numbers by consistently getting them to see and recognize numbers in their world. For instance, say, “Let’s get out three crayons to color with today,” or “Will you help me put five plates on the table for dinner?”
  • Use coins or items around the house to experiment with adding, subtracting and the use of “more” and “less.”
  • Look for and point out numbers in her world, such as addresses, page numbers, recipes, and price tags.
  • Read stories and sing songs about numbers, such as “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed.”
  • Cooking with your child offers many opportunities for practicing numbers. Count your ingredients, measure and talk about how ingredients are added together to make a whole.

With a little help from you and your sitters, your child will master these important skills and be ready to tackle kindergarten. Check back with us for simple ways to help your child adopt the other key aspects of early childhood education, including physical, social and emotional development.

Teacher Gifts to Show Your Thanks

meg_son_flowerWith the end of the school year in sight, it’s time to think about teacher gifts for your children’s tireless educators. Teachers have one of the toughest jobs on the planet. Each September, families hand over their children, and entrust teachers to nurture, enrich and fill their minds with knowledge and responsibility to help prepare for the world.

How do you show your appreciation and gratitude? Whether you’d like to give a homemade gift or something practical, or you’re charged with buying or creating a gift from the whole class, we have thoughtful gift ideas that will go easy on your time and budget.

Group Teacher Gifts from the Class

If you’re the lucky parent charged with collecting contributions and choosing a class gift for the teacher, choose a collectively built gift that’s simple and sure to be loved. Choose a theme and assemble a gift basket or package that everyone in the class can contribute to fill.

To avoid the flurry of email communication that can flood your inbox when coordinating for a large group, rely on services such as Sign Up Genius, which will handle a lot of the coordination and help avoid duplicate purchases. To hold all the loot, use a cute bag or tote, which you or another family in the class can contribute.

Here are cute ideas for the class-contributed contents for a summer-themed package:

via Tidbits and Twine
via Tidbits and Twine
  • Beach towel
  • Gift certificate for Mani/pedi
  • Magazine
  • Paperback book
  • Journal
  • Small photo album
  • Insulated tumbler and drink mix
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm
  • Summery nail polish
  • Gift card to department store, a sunglasses or sport store
  • Monogrammed Frisbee
  • Cute drinking straws or drink stirs
  • Cocktail napkins
  • Reusable ice cubes in a fun summer shape
  • Outdoor tumblers and a pitcher
  • Deck of cards or a game

Quick and Easy “Homemade” Teacher Gifts

Looking to go beyond a store bought gift, but have less time than inspiration? Rather than tackle a big DIY project, you can add an extra, homemade touch to a store-bought (or homegrown) gift of flowers or a potted plant. Personalizing an always appreciated gift of green shows you’ve gone the extra mile to show you care. Here are three sweet and simple ways to embellish a potted plant or bouquet of flowers.

1. Chalkboard Pot from The Idea Room on Skip to My Lou you can customize with a personal note to your child’s teacher.

via The Idea Room
via The Idea Room

2. Handmade Container from Love of Family and Home.

via Love of Family and Home
via Love of Family and Home

3. DIY Succulent Terrarium from That’s Quirky.

via That's Quirky
via That’s Quirky

Picking Up a Practical Teacher Gift and Packaging It Just Right

Save yourself the agonizing and shopping for the perfect gift. Nothing is more useful to a hardworking teacher on a limited salary than a gift card to a favorite store, café or restaurant. A gift card allows him or her to splurge or spend as they like. These fun, free gift card holders to print will personalize a gift that may seem a bit impersonal. There’s one for coffee, a book store, the movies and good ole Target.

gift holder hip2save
via hip2save

No matter how you choose to thank your child’s teacher, remember that a personal note of thanks from you and your child is often the most important gift of all. Find the perfect babysitter for summer break at UrbanSitter.