Back-to-School Bonanza


Heading back to school soon? (Schools in Nashville and Chattanooga have already started! Eek!) Here is a round-up of our back-to-school posts here on ParentLife to help you out.

I hope you’ll click through and see some great advice from our varied writers. What’s your best back-to-school tip?

Preparing Your Child for Kindergarten

Can we have a show of hands for those with children starting kindergarten this year?

Ah yes, there you are, the mom or dad with the shaking hands and nervous twitch. I am there beside you, feeling lost and afraid and just a tiny bit ecstatic.

Whether you have just a few weeks or a few years left to prepare, there are ways to help your child (and yourself!) be ready for that first day of the Big K.

  • Read, read, read! Reading to your child is one of the best ways to prepare for school according to kindergarten teachers (source). As you get closer to actually starting school, books dealing with the topic of school might he helpful. Some your child might enjoy: Peppa Pig and the Busy Day at School, I Am Too Absolutely Small for School, Kindergarten Here I Come!, and Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten
  • Don’t Ignore It. Talk about going to school, what the schedule will be like, tour the school, go to orientations. Ignoring the fact that your child is getting older won’t make it go away!
  • Consider Delay. If your child’s birthday is close to the cut-off, consider waiting a year. Teachers say that parents may regret sending a child who isn’t ready to school.
  • Communicate. Talk to other parents, teachers, administration. Familiarize yourself with the kindergarten process if it’s your first year as an elementary-school parent. Calming your own nerves will make it easier for your child.

Any tips from parents more experienced than I?

Summer Spiritual Learning by Brian Dembowczyk

A Simple Way to Build Faith

“Daddy, can we do the questions?” That request is music to my ears. Shortly after our son, Joshua, turned 5, my wife and I began teaching him a catechism, which is a series of questions and answers designed to explain basic biblical doctrine.

Bedtime stories

What We’ve Learned

We began asking Joshua a new question every second or third day as part of the prayer and snuggle time we have with him and his 2-year-old sister. Several things amazed us right away.

  • Joshua was able to answer many of the new questions correctly with little or no help. It is encouraging to see that what we talk about at home and what he hears at church are anchoring firmly in his mind and heart.
  • He was able to quickly and easily learn new questions. Children have an amazing capacity to absorb information. We want to pour the gospel into our children as much as possible to take advantage of this developmental stage.
  • He was eager to “do the questions.” Showing a little encouragement and excitement when he answers questions correctly goes a long way and is helping him have fun as he learns about God.
  • The catechism questions began fueling wonderful spiritual conversations about God, life, heaven, and his unchurched friends. Initiating spiritual conversations has become easier and more natural.
  • Our biggest surprise was that our daughter, Hannah, was learning almost as much as Joshua! Our hearts quickly began to melt when we heard our 2-year-old’s sweet voice articulating biblical truth. It reinforces the principle that you can’t start this process too early.

A Great Opportunity

As a parent, you know that summer is a mixed blessing of free time for your child. Why not invest some of that time into teaching your child a catechism or challenging your child to learn a Bible verse each week until school starts? Or do both and learn a verse with each question. Sweeten the challenge by offering a quality reward at the end of the summer if he succeeds. (God mentions rewards quite often in the Bible; there is nothing wrong with motivating a child similarly!) Let this summer be a life-changing summer for your child. Perhaps you will experience the same change as well!

Sample Questions

Q. Who made you?

A. God.

Q. What else did God make?

A. Everything.

Q. Why did God make you?

A. For His own glory.

Q. How can you glorify God?

A. By loving Him and doing what He says.

Q. Why should you glorify God?

A. Because He loves me and takes care of me.

Ways to Impact Your Child Spiritually

  • Find a church with Saturday evening services and attend a few during the summer. Attending a different church’s worship service may further energize your family’s walk with Christ.
  • Find different ministry opportunities in which to participate as a family (soup kitchens, clothes closets, etc).
  • Make it a goal to invite a friend to church each Sunday during the summer.
  • Encourage your child to keep a prayer journal during the summer.


Brian Dembowczyk is Associate Pastor of Discipleship and Assimilation at FBC Tampa, Florida. He is married to Tara and is father of Joshua (5) and Hannah (3). You can follow Brian on Twitter at @BrianDembo or check out his blog at

Photo used with permission of Flickr Creative Commons. Click on photo for source.

Snack Food Substitutes to the Rescue! by Beth Aldrich

Feeling uninspired this winter when it comes to servings your kids healthful snacks? Here’s an article from Beth Aldrich we originally ran in August 2011 to give you some pointers! Share your favorite snack to serve in the comments!


You might be needing an old-fashioned after-school snack to satisfy your kids until dinnertime. Here are some healthy snacks that you’ll feel good about putting on the table.


Blueberry-Lemon Ricotta Muffins


Old-Fashioned Rice Krispies Treats redux: Prepare this old time favorite recipe, but substitute high-fiber cereal or MultiGrain Cheerios and add some dried fruit to the mix, such as dried cranberries or raisins.

Anything on a stick. Kids love to eat finger food — and if they get to “create” it, even better. Set out bamboo skewers and several bowls of fruit, diced lean turkey breast, cheese, veggies, etc. and let the kids “make” their own snacks. You can control what foods they’ll use for their creations, and they love the decision-making and activity part of the project!

Anything in a Tortilla! Kids will eat almost anything wrapped in a tortilla, so get creative. Smear some low-fat cream cheese and sliced strawberries or pears and cheddar cheese or even just peanut butter and bananas. The kids can also take over and make their own creation.

Make Your Own “Mix”: When you take your child to the grocery store bulk bins, they love the idea of scooping and weighing the items. Let them select a few of their favorites for a homemade energy trail mix with seeds, nuts, popcorn, dried fruit and coconut, and yes, maybe even a small portion of chocolate nibs or drops! Have your child portion the completed mix into snack-sized plastic bags or mini containers and take them on the go for a quick pick-you-up snack!

Bagels, Baby! Nothing says satisfaction more than a bagel. Make it a nourishing snack by purchasing whole grain bagels and top them with organic jam and low fat cream cheese. To make them even more kid friendly, but them in thin slices and arrange like spokes of a wheel around the plate. What looks different and interesting yet familiar usually attracts kids to the plate!

What are your favorite after-school snacks to serve (or eat!)?

Beth Aldrich is a Certified Health Counselor and author of the book, Real Moms Love to Eat: How to Conduct a Love Affair with Food and Still Look Fabulous (New American Library, January, 2012).Twitter: @RealMomsLuv2Eat

Making New Friends

In many cities through the United States the new kid in your neighborhood will as likely be from Bangladesh as from Boston. Here are some tips for your child when reaching out to a kid from another culture.

• Try to learn some of his or her heart language. The child will likely be an eager teacher. Have your children ask the new kid to teach them words like “hello,” “goodbye,” and “thank-you.”
• Learn about the child’s culture. Make it a family activity to study about the customs, religious beliefs and traditions of the child’s culture. Most of your needed research is available right from your computer.
• Encourage your child to be open to new foods. With new friends from new countries comes new foods! This can be tough for a child. It’s also a great opportunity to teach your child how to try new foods. Help them understand how it can feel to his or her new friend to turn down the home-cooked food of another culture. Praise your child when he does eat something new!

How do you make it a family activity?

It’s important you lead the way in reaching out to new people in your neighborhood. Your kids will follow your example. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
• Bring a welcome gift. Take a basket of things the new family can use in their time of transition—like snacks, cleaning supplies or a map of your city. Or cook the family a meal!
• Invite the family over for dinner. New families who are busy preparing their new home will appreciate the break. Your family will appreciate meeting someone new!
• Invite the new family to church. Even if the new family is a church regular, they probably don’t have a church in the community. Offer to let them sit with you at your church service.

Back to School: Homemade Lunchbox Fare




For the first time, I am going to have to pack a lunch for my daughter this year where the teachers won’t heat up food for her. (I know, I’ve been spoiled.) So I’m soliciting advice: what are the best thermos-type containers for lunchboxes? She’s just a preschooler, so she doesn’t have a huge appetite. I’m supposed to try to send milk, too! Help!

Meanwhile, here are some great lunchbox ideas in addition to the prepackaged goodies we shared last week.

Homemade Spaghetti-Os with Sliced Franks are a great, homemade alternative to the canned version. This recipe freezes easily, so make a big batch and freeze in small portions. Then heat one portion the morning you’re packing the lunchbox and put in a thermos container to keep warm until lunchtime.


Likewise, these Toddler Thai Noodles, with kid-friendly peanut-butter sauce, freeze well. This is an excellent meal for kids with dairy intolerance or allergies. And to make it gluten-free, simply use rice or a gluten-free pasta.


If you don’t want to send a hot meal, these Ham and Cheese Muffins might fit the bill! They have protein and dairy all wrapped up in a whole wheat muffin for small hands. I’ve even added a little pureed corn for a vegetable component. My kids won’t eat corn kernels … but I don’t mind hiding a little nutrition now and then.



Homemade granola bars are a good way to think outside the sandwich box for lunchtime. Some of our favorites are these Crunchy Granola Bars, Peanut Butter Pretzel Chocolate Chips bars, and Chocolate Coconut Oat Bars.


What do you like to pack in your kids’ lunches?


Packing Lunch: Prepping for the New School Year



Oh, my. Is it time to think about back-to-school already? In these parts, yes. Public school starts again around August 8th. And that is slowly but surely creeping up!

Maybe you have until after Labor Day … and if so, I’m jealous.

But since we’re all getting there eventually, it’s time to talk lunches and snacks. Here are a few great products as you think about school lunch in 2013-14.

KIND Yellow


KIND snacks have no artificial or secret ingredients and come in 28 varieties. From Maple-Glazed Pecan and Sea Salt bars (for Mom?!) to Peanut Butter clusters, all KIND products are made with ingredients you can pronounce and are full of antioxidants and fiber. A great lunchbox or snacktime treat.



Hadaki Lunch Pods are the fashionable way for your older kids and teens to carry their lunch to school. In a large variety of prints, these pods are insulated, have a magnetic snap closure, and wipe down easily.


Kidz ZonePerfect is a kid-friendly line featuring 23 vitamins and minerals, five grams of protein and three grams of fiber. They are available in Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip, Caramel Crunch, and Yellow Cupcake. Better yet, ZonePerfect asked everyday moms and their kids to help design the new bars. By holding build-a-bar workshops, ZonePerfectwas able to deliver the nutritional needs of moms and the taste preferences of active kids – a win-win! Kidz ZonePerfect bars can be found at retailers like Walgreens, CVS, and Wal-Mart. See their website for a $1 coupon.



Snikiddy is a line of all-natural snacks made from simple, wholesome, real-food ingredients. Snacks now come in 1.5-ounce packages for optimum lunchbox packing!


ParentLife was provided with samples of some of these products. All opinions are our own. 

Keeping Young Minds Active During the Summer

Summer is a time for relaxation and family fun, but most parents would agree that their children should be actively engaged in educational activities and experiences over the school break. To keep your child productive, consider the following ideas, broken down into each major subject area:

1. Heed the Need to Read: Countless studies show the importance of summer reading: Kids who read in the summer outperform their peers in the fall. Avoid the “summer slide” by making sure your kids read often during the summer.

●Most libraries have a summer reading program with incentives and prizes. Visiting the library once a week can be a fun family escape. Research shows that kids who choose their own books (with parent approval) read more.

●Create a time during the day when no TV or electronics are allowed.

● Read to your child and listen to your child read.

●Listen to books on CD  while traveling.

●Model reading.

2. Do the Math! Few would argue the importance of math. Skills that are not used are often forgotten, so practice is essential. Besides specialized math tutoring facilities, which are gaining popularity and producing increasingly impressive results, there are many ways to keep math skills sharp at home. Consider these fun activities that allow your child to practice math:

● Follow recipes

● Read maps, and calculate mileage on trips.

● Use flashcards to practice facts.

● Utilize online math practice sites for kids, such as the following:


3. Invite ‘em to Write! Good writing skills provide evidence of learning and understanding. Writing makes thoughts and ideas visible and gives children a clear way to express themselves. Encourage your children to write using these ideas:

● Keep a journal on trips and at home.

●Write letters and emails, requiring correct capitalization, punctuation and grammar.

●Let your child record her voice telling a story, then dictate that story onto paper.

●Encourage your child to write one short story a week. Keep them in a folder as a keepsake from the summer.

4. Smart Summer Science:  Science helps us to understand the world around us. Besides being educational, science can be lots of fun! The following activities reinforce important science concepts:

●Visit science museums, zoos, and aquariums.

●Dig for fossils.

●Gaze at stars, find constellations and track the moon’s phases.

●There are many fun experiments that can be done at home. Visit the following web sites for ideas:

National Geographic Kids

PBS Kids-Dragonfly TV



5. Make History with Social Studies Activities-Summer provides an escape from  that sometimes-boring history class. Use the summer months to strengthen your child’s interest in things of the past. History teaches helps us learn from our past and prepares us for the future. Geography knowledge is vital, but often over-looked. There are many activities that can encourage your child’s social studies understanding:

● Visit history museums and historical places.

●Research your family tree.

●Make a map of your neighborhood using a GPS .

●Research and report upon the locations (states/countries) that you visit on vacation.


Kelly Wilson Mize is a wife, mother, freelance writer, and fifth grade teacher living in Huntsville, Alabama. She holds a master’s degree in elementary education.

Heroes on the Home Front by Rhonda Hensley

Each year thousands of men and women deploy leaving their spouse and children behind.  Just as those men and women are to be referenced as heroes so are those who battle the struggles of taking care of the home front.

A Call to Duty

Daniel has served in the U.S. Army for over eleven years. He is proud of the opportunity to serve our country. He believes that it his duty not only to protect our country but to provide freedom for his own family. His wife Jennifer and their three children are proud of Daniel’s service to our country but it is not without a cost to the family. Jennifer states, “the most challenging part of the military life is the time our service members have to spend away from us while on a mission or deployment.”

Aiming High

Being a military family for over ten years, the Hall family has adjusted to having dad away most of the time. Chad is a member of the U.S. Air Force and his service requires him to be away on an average of 200 days out of the year. Andrea and her two children have learned to aim high on the independence scale and lower the expectation of having dad around. Andrea states, good friends that become like your extended family help the most during the absence of your military spouse.”

Always Faithful

It didn’t take long for Shaina to gain an understanding of the commitment and dedication it takes for military families to remain faithful. Shortly, after she and her Marine husband, Chad wed, she was sending him off for duty. He witnessed the birth of their daughter via Skype. Shaina expresses that the most challenging part of being a military wife is feeling like a single parent and not knowing if your loved one will return home safely.

Galatians 6:2 states, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” One of the greatest ways we can lighten the burdens of our military is by caring for the heroes they leave on the home front.


Rhonda Hensley  is a writer, speaker, Bible teacher and avid photographer which all provide ample opportunity to share her life experiences as a pastor’s wife, mother and grandmother.

Are You Ratings Ready? Video Game Edition by Mike Nappa

laptop_computer_0515-0909-2120-0444_SMU photo laptop_computer_0515-0909-2120-0444_SMU.jpg

Your preteen wants to play a new video game at a friend’s house—but is that game appropriate for your child? How will you know? Here’s how you can find out:


How are Video Games Rated for Content?

Most video games are given a third-party rating by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). This rating is intended to provide “objective information” to help parents make informed choices about the games their kids play.

An ESRB rating has three parts:

  1. An age-appropriate category designation,
  2. Content descriptors, and
  3. Information about the “interactive elements” of a game, for instance, whether or not a game shares a user’s location or other personal information.


What are the Basic Ratings Categories?

  • EC – Early Childhood. No objectionable content, and a game that was created specifically for young children.
  • Everyone. Fun for the whole family. Cartoon-style violence at best, and generally no profanity or suggestive themes included.
  • Everyone 10+. Generally appropriate for preteens and older. May contain mild violence or mild language, but overall very tame.
  • Teen. This is the gaming equivalent of a PG-13 movie rating. According to ESRB, a game with this rating “May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language.”
  • Mature. A video game comparable to an R-rated film. A game with this rating is likely to include some combination of graphic violence, blood and gore, sexual content, and strong profanity.
  • Adults Only. Consider this the NC-17 rating of video games. ESRB describes these games this way, “May include prolonged scenes of intense violence, graphic sexual content and/or gambling with real currency.”


Where Can I Find More?

A detailed explanation of the ESRB rating system, including specific content descriptors and interactive element designations is online at:

Mike Nappa is an author of more than 50 books. He is also the founder of Nappaland Literary Agency and a former book acquisitions editor. He is featured each month in ParentLife magazine and in Trends and Truth Online on the ParentLife blog.