KAT’S CORNER: What’s up with those Bento Lunches? A Spark! Salute to ALL Parents.

            Everyone's seen the blog post comparing lunches in the 70s and lunches today.  I was tagged or forwarded that post over a dozen times.  For those who haven't seen it, it compares the crazy bento lunches parents today make vs the ol' PB&J we all used to have in our little metal lunch boxes, as well as a big hoopla made for 1st day of school and every minor achievement of today's youth.  I was tagged or emailed quite a few of those bento lunches and crazy shaped pancakes this week,too, which my friends made.  I applauded all of you, as I sat cutting little hearts out of carrots.  Still others sent me awesome artwork you can make with the painted hand and footprints of the little ones.  I don't know if I was proud or embarrassed that I had done most of them with my little guy when he was younger, and even yearn to do it now.

            I know some posted because it made them think of me, and my crazy antics.  Some posted because they knew I would be applauding the effort.  Some posted knowing I'd sincerely appreciate an influx of ideas, because seriously… I'm getting tapped out here!   Some, I know are left shaking their head every time I post a scene from The Lorax made completely out of food or the Mona Lisa I framed and hung that Shaye painted (under the direction of Spark! Art teacher extraordinaire, Fabiola Hansenhttp://sparkec.net/classesevents/art-program/).

            All this led to me to think about the impression I give out by all this.  Is it that I'm an over indulgent mom? (At times, I admit, but anyone who spent more than 4 hours with us can see I ask a lot of him).  Is it that I'm wildly creative? (Though I admit to some creative juices, many of my creations pay homage to those who actually created the ideas and posted on Pinterest.).  Am I seeking validation, praise or mom of the year awards…. hardly.  Am I making others feel less of a "good mom" or inadequate? (Lord, I hope not, but I have been told by good friends that they have felt this way, and for that I am truly sorry).

“I know every other parent out there is making choices based on THEIR life circumstances, situation, experiences and budgets, just expressed in other ways. “

 

 

 

 

 

Many lessons have come my way growing older, and being among the "older" parents with kids as young as mine.  One of the lessons is, thankfully, I've learned I don't need validation from others.  My efforts, as a parent and a person, are driven by trying to be the best I can be, and challenge myself to keep learning and improving.  My motivation isn't for the feedback or the "likes", because for every one, I know there is someone else thinking I'm out of my gourd.  My reasons are many, first and foremost is my miracle; this 7 ¾ year old little man who has taught me so much.  This unexpected gift, to a woman who, because of life choices as well as a body that was left with a single, scarred up ovary, never thought she'd experience having children of her own.  That carved watermelon in the shape of the "Death Star" is for him, and represents thanks.  The knowledge that life is so precious, and can be gone in a moment, that started with a baby born then whisked to the NICU not breathing, to then watch him enduring painful treatments and 5 surgeries before his little body turned 5.  That tooth fairy door, back to school and elf shenanigans are for him, and represents humility.  The circumstances of his allergies that necessitate a little creative culinary presentation for him to try new foods he isn't allergic to.  The angry birds and batman lunches are for him, and represents perseverance.  The acceptance that, while I am thankful for the opportunity I was given by having brain surgery, I have a lot of long term or short term memory deficits that are compounded by age.  I want to give cherished childhood memories, because unlike other parents, he's going to have to remind me of many of these.  And so photographing and sharing them is a way I capture tomorrow's memories today.  So all the pictures and posts I do are for him, and our family, and me to help me preserve some of these memories.  And represents a  profound gratitude for all the gifts I have been given, and all the people who are helping to mold my boy.

            I've also learned that comparing ourselves to others rarely leads to positive feelings or better life choices.  And though, if I'm going to be honest, I can be a fairly judgmental person, parenting, except in cases of abuse or neglect, are just one of those things that I do not judge others.  Because as great and wonderful a mom as I try to be, I know every other parent out there is making choices based on THEIR life circumstances, situation, experiences and budgets, just expressed in other ways.  Some do it by driving 2 hours each way, on a regular basis, to get their kids to a better doctor.  Some do it by working when they'd rather stay home so they can afford piano and dance lessons.   Some do it by staying home when they'd rather work because their child has an illness or disability that requires more attention.  Some do it by taking a paycut and moving because they know it will give them more quality time with their child and family.  Some do it by choosing homeschooling (and/or partnering with Spark! Creative Community School) because they feel it will offer their child a better educational experience.  Some do it merely by getting up in the morning when they'd rather go to bed, or will stay home instead of going out to watch Frozen yet ANOTHER time.    It's the single parent, who when he has an opportunity to go out and use a babysitter, decides to take his guy to Universal to get some good "boy time" in.  And still others are amazing "parents", even though they do not have children themselves. They are the aunts, uncles, grandparents, babysitters and friends who help us or them when we need it (and even when we don't).  It's the ones who show up, who call, who do the little things that leave impressions on our children that help mold them to grow up to be caring, competent citizens who make a difference.

And so to all of you, I say thanks for inspiration.  Thanks for all you do.  Thanks for the sacrifices you make. Thanks for the parent, aunt, uncle, friend you are.  Have confidence in the choices you make, because know they are all out of love.  And if your little one is one of our Sparkmakers, I say thanks for letting us tag along in your journey.  

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to carve go a watermelon.

 

Kat Ventura is a Master’s prepared social worker who specializes in children and families.  She currently serves as CCO and Franchise Director of Spark! Worldwide, the Franchising arm of Spark Family Enrichment Center.  To find out more about Spark! and their Franchising opportunities at low start up costs, please go to http://sparkec.net/franchise/ .  “Build a business by Making a Difference”™ with Spark! Family Enrichment.

KAT’S CORNER: Summer to School Success! You seriously want me to start NOW?!?

KAT’S CORNER:  Summer to School Success! You seriously want me to start NOW?!?

Can you believe there is less than a month before school starts back here in the Sunshine State?!   Whether your child is in traditional school, homeschooled or partner for education with Spark! Creative Community School™, the end of lazy summer days will soon be coming to an end. Some parents cannot wait, and some wish summer could last forever.  Whichever parent you are, the transition to get the kids ready and prepared for school is never easy!  Chaos and confusion will happen, but there are things you can do to reduce anxiety and make this the most successful school year yet!  Over the next few weeks, your friends at Spark! will be blogging about a few things that will make the transition for everyone.  Gradually making these changes will make the school year start more successful for EVERYONE!

 

The most important tip we can offer is to start NOW, especially when it comes to reestablishing routines and reviewing school requirements! 

I TO GO TO BED WHEN?????

As the summer seems to be ending, we’re inclined to make the most of it, with late bedtimes, lazy mornings, and embracing the lack of structure and the end of the day.  But this is sure to make the first few weeks of school unbearable. With many schools starting in three weeks, starting to re-establish routines in Morning, Afternoon AND Night beginning NOW will be a key to success.  

The first step should be resetting your body clocks to get kids back on track for school day bedtime.  Move their bedtime back 15 minutes every 3-4 days until they have reached their school-night bedtime.  Do the same in the morning, easing your child into slowly waking up earlier for school.  Many studies suggest it takes about 21 days to create a new habit, so starting now will help prevent grumpiness and squabbles at school time, and encourage healthy sleep habits that encourage active learning.  

So how much sleep do they really need?  The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines recommend that:

Preschoolers get 11-13 hours of sleep per night,

School-aged children (1st through 5th grades) get 10-11 hours,

And Teens get at least 9-10 hours per night.  

 

A study published in Pediatrics, found that , “a modest addition of sleep each night – an average of 27 minutes among children ages 7 to 11 – resulted in significant improvement in their ability to regulate their emotions, including limiting restless-impulsive behavior in school”. ( see more at http://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/More-Sleep-Linked-to-Improved-Child-Alertness-Behavior.aspx#sthash.wFbEm7A5.dpuf

Anyone who knows me knows I’ve always been a stickler for early bedtimes.  Even I have been lackadaisical this summer, and my little man has stayed up longer than he ever has this summer.   But in the attempt to “practice what I preach”, my own efforts started last night, putting my monkey to bed a few minutes early.  It started a discussion of, “c’mon it’s so early” and ended with him going to sleep 90 minutes after he went to bed!  Here’s hoping by school time, we’ve all adjusted back to a reasonable bedtime peacefully!

Another good tip is to start eating breakfast lunch and dinner around the times your child(ren) will eat when they are in school or in their “Creative Community School” classes at Spark!.    Some children in school will have lunch at 10:45a.m., while others not until 1!  Find out now when your child will be having lunch and have their bodies get used to the timing so they’re fueled up at the right time.

Finally. It’s important to have the kids up, dressed and out early over the next few weeks.  That may be a challenge for you, but it will make school time so much easier. If they’re not already signed up, Participating in camp is a great way to reestablish this goal!  In the next few weeks, Spark! has a few spots left in their morning camps.  Not only will this help with establishing a morning routine, but it will get their brains and their bodies moving!  We have Reading and Writing workshops, Drama Camps, Bricks for Kids™ Lego Robot camps, as well as Art of the Masters, by the fabulous Miss Fabiola!  Learn more about our camps or sign up at http://sparkec.net/classesevents/kids-camps/summer-break-camp/summer-camp-2014/ .

 

REVIEW REQUIRMENTS FOR SCHOOL WHILE YOU STILL HAVE TIME!

It seems like summer just started for me, but the summer supply lists are coming all too quickly.   That means there will be a mad dash for school supplies, doctors’ appointments, and paperwork.    That also usually means a lot of money flying out of your wallet!   Starting now can not only help spread out the costs, but it could also decrease headaches at the beginning of school.  Make sure you know your school’s requirements for health, immunizations and physicals.   Most schools require a copies of current physicals and vaccinations before they will let the child start school.   If your child will participate in any after school activities, they also often require copies of physicals, too.  Schedule the appointments now, to reduce the stress of long lines and full schedules. 

 

Don’t forget to include an examination of your child’s eyes, even if they don’t wear glasses or seem to have issues.   The American Optometry Association (AOA) estimates that 1 in 4 children has a vision-related condition.  Many children don’t know to share that they are having vision problems, but left untreated, vision problems can lead to learning, reading or attention problems.   Have your child checked before school starts to give them the best of every opportunity to succeed.   Parents should also check with their local community clinics for free or low cost immunizations. During back-to-school events, many local drug stores may also offer discount immunizations or other specials.  Check out your local Department of health for more information! (in Seminole County: http://www.floridahealth.gov/chdSeminole/immunizations-Childhood.html;  in Orange County http://orchd.com/personalHealth/immunizations/ )

 

Finally, make sure your child is on his way to completing any summer reading requirements or suggestions!   All you need as the last week of summer approaches is to struggle

with reading and homework requirements before school even starts!  Save some time now for your little one to do their requirements, or brush up on some math and reading

sheets at the time you would normally have them do homework.  It’s just another opportunity to reinforce those ever important routines.  One of my favorite free websites for math drills  is http://www.superkids.com/aweb/tools/math/ .  Do you have a favorite you can share?

 

More tips coming in a few days, but until then, enjoy the weekend, your family time, and the rest of your summer days!

Spark! it forward™,

Kat

Kat Ventura, MSW

Kat Ventura has a Masters in Social Work and worked in the clinical field for about 10 years, focusing mainly on supporting and advocating for the needs of children and families.  She then took her skills to focus on proactive prevention-focused program development, program management, and curricula development on issues across the age span.  She’s done an extensive amount of teaching, research, and presentations in these fields, presenting at the many national and international conferences including the International CDC conference.  She worked with CT Governor's office and Departments of Public Health and Children and Families to improve programs and services to children and families.  Mrs. Ventura, as a college professor, taught Sociology and Child Development before joining Spark! as General Manager.  

In the Spark! Franchising System, Kat serves as a positive, steady resource and liaison for our Franchisees as Chief Compliance Officer. If you’d like to learn more about franchising with Spark!, please call Kat at 1.844.SPARK.WW (1.844.772.7599) or email her at Kat@SparkWorldWide.net.  http://sparkec.net/about-us/franchise/

 

 

We have a Playdate with Kindermusik!

Spark has a Playdate with Kindermusik! Happening February 24th, Monday 6:30pm -7:15pm right here in your very own neighborhood Spark. Classes are 45 minutes long and fun for parents and kiddos! Join in the fun with the little ones you love as you cuddle, dance, read a snuggly story, play scarf peek a boo, shaker instruments and so much more! 

CLICK BELOW TO LEARN MORE ABOUT PLAYDATES!

Kindermusik Love Somebody Playdate

 

Open House Parent Appreciation Day

Open HouseIt's Time to Cheer the Parents

In the name of parent appreciation everywhere, Spark is throwing the first Open House of the year Friday, February 14th. Thanks to imaginative parents like you, the next generation of kiddos will be creative critical thinkers and dream doers! Come and meet the Homeschool & Montessori-Based Learning staff as well as the After School Program Sparkmakers. Enjoy a breakfast blast and perhaps a message by Pam! We want you to feel right at home in your learning community.

Then, on the evening of Feb 14th, experience Valentine's Day with your spouse or friends while the kiddos live it up at our Valentine Parents' Night Out.

Save the date, Open House Parent Appreciation Day, we are grateful for you! See you there.

Open House Schedule

10am – 1pm Homeschool & Montessori-Based Learning Open House

4pm – 7pm After School, Tutoring, Music Programs Open House

 

Revolutionizing Education with New Creative Community School

Spark Creative Community SchoolIt's been a long time waiting…for the offiicial launch of our full-fledged Creative Community School!

Many of you have requested that Spark expand our current Homeschool and Montessori-based Learning programs to 100% capacity year round. We are proud to announce that school will be in session as early as Fall 2014.

Core classes will be Monday through Thursday and elective enrichment classes will be every Friday.

Make way for a Creative Community School that your kiddo will love to learn and grow in.

CLICK HERE TO RESERVE YOUR SPOT

Thanks for making this creative learning community possible! We'll see you soon!!

Jingle Your Wallet! How to Thrive and Provide as a Family this Season

Children Shopping

The sheer cost of raising a family today can be overwhelming when you realize that from baby bottles to graduation parties, it costs the average, middle class family about $222,360 to raise a single child who was born in 2009 from birth to age 18.  We know that’s a BIG number but let’s look at ways to save money.  

For me, the mere thought of holiday shopping causes more stress than anything else.  Lines are long, people are tired and let’s face it, do we really want to see Santa in October at the mall?  Holidays aside, certain times of the year are more challenging but they don’t have to be.  I’m not a super coupon kind of gal but those who are swear they are racking up free items all the time.  However I am a savvy shopper who loves a good deal and rarely pays retail.  Here are my personal favorite tips, tricks and opportunities to save on nearly everything.

Groceries and More

Groceries are a big deal for me.  We have the most beautiful (yes beautiful) grocery stores where I live (hint: they are employee owned), which also have good sales. How do I maximize them you ask?  I always pick up a circular and try and plan my meals around the sales.  BOGO (or buy one, get one) deals are a good way to stock the pantry with those non-perishable items.  I tend to shop the perimeter of the grocery store meaning produce, meat, dairy and deli.  For dry goods I watch Target sales and for bulk BJ’s is my go-to place.  I do look for coupons in the mail, on existing packages, Sunday newspapers and local sales circulars whenever possible.  Overall I’ve seen a decrease in monthly grocery costs of about 22% since I started paying more attention.  In fact I now enlist the help of my 7 year old who gets a practical lesson in math and budgeting.

By the way, did you know that Target rewards you for paying cash?  They’re hip to not wanting to pay the credit card companies for each transaction but how does that affect you?  Simply bring a voided check to any register and you will be the proud owner of a Target Red Card, which is a debit card.  From then on, all your purchases paid for this way give you 5% off your total bill.  Shop online for the same perk and if you’re an AAA member you also save 10% so you can benefit from both discounts when you shop Target online.  My recent score were 2 boxes of Pampers Diapers.  I had two $4 manufacture coupons, a Target coupon for $10 off two boxes and their weekly flyer, which gave me a $15 gift card if I bought 2 boxes.  So 2 boxes of Pampers normally $70 cost $37.

The Other Necessities

Your children are growing every few weeks or so it seems.  Nothing makes me more exhausted than taking my daughter shopping for clothes.  Neither one of us enjoys it and one or both of us usually end up in tears.  For me, I work better alone or online.  I’ve come to know and trust certain brands for their wear factor and will buy ahead during a good sale.  My top personal favorites for both genders are:

Zulily
Naartjie
Boden
Hannaandersson.com

When they have a sale, they have a SALE.  I can honestly say my children have worn items for more than a year and they still retain shape, color and fresh look.  I’m not shy to buy a size up in shirts and pants with adjustable waists are my friends.  I am almost guaranteed a good year or more of wear time.

Online Shopping Tips

Regardless of what you’re buying, do you shop online?  I do and it has made life easier.  Not only are decisions quick but also so is the return process if needed.  The truth be told, I enjoy the extra time I don’t have to haul unhappy children shopping for things so boring as new pajamas.  My top picks for online shopping savings programs are:

Ebates This gets its own category because I’ve been using this site for more than three years and have received over $600 in cash back.  All you do is sign up, shop with your favorite retailer through their site and you earn cash back on your purchases.  Not all retailers participate but more and more are added each day.  Each quarter they pay me through paypal.  It’s like Christmas in July!  Now who doesn’t want some extra cash?

Coupons

Retailmenot and Coupon Cabin are the top two online coupon finders.  Let’s say you want to buy your son a new backpack for the new school year.  Go to the main site and type in “ promo codes for Kohls”  Retailmenot will pull up all related codes which you can enter upon checkout.  Some will have expired but you can almost always find a special for free shipping or % off.  This is especially true if it’s your first time shopping with a particular company.  Now don’t forget to go through ebates so you can benefit from sales, free shipping AND cash back.

A Final Thought

So now that’s you’ve found all these great ways to save, what happens when your children outgrow their favorite robe or the roller skates they only wore twice?  If you don’t have a sibling to hand it down to, that’s okay because I have the solution.  As the seasons end go through the kid’s clothes and purge.  Anything with stains or holes are still worthy of donating to your local organization who distributes items to those in need but what about those gentle worn items or perhaps the shoes you almost forgot about that show little wear.  Two words for you.  Consignment Shop!  “Once Upon A Child” is a national chain.  You pack your clean and folded items and bring them into your local store.  Workers will go through your items and select which they would like to purchase.  You get paid on the spot for your items, which gives you some pocket money for your next shopping trip.  Most stores accept clothes newborn through 14 as well as toys, videos, books, baby equipment and more.  The only two things, which they cannot buy, are car seats and personal hygiene items such as baby baths and potties.  Your area may also have other independently owner consignment shops.

Celebrate Spark’s 6th Birthday Party!

Spark has had a blast these last nearly six years empowering the next generation to have a love of learning. Now it's time to celebrate with you! Come and enjoy some free studio classes, raffles, chair massages, bounce house, crazy giveaways, and yummy cake at our Spark 6th Birthday Party! For all the latest event details on this sparktacular celebration, go here

Spark 6th Birthday Party