10 Tips to Help Your Kids Do Better in School

Help your kids.jpgNow that the kids are back in school, here are some tips that may help promote a greater enthusiasm for learning this new school year.

  1.  Set an Example:  One of things we know, from years of observation, is that the family environment makes a huge difference in forming good attitudes toward school success in youth.  Let your kids see you involved in learning and reading.  Take a class online, go with them to the library, read to them at night, study their topics with them or learn a new language.

  2.  Promote Study Time:  Have a quiet place and perhaps set time to study every day.  Make sure youth are taking a short break during their study time.  Provide a simple snack or divergent activity for them during the break.  Be as consistent as possible about when it is study time.  Work with them on being as organized as possible in their homework and studying.  Have bins and shelves for completed assignments to make the process as systematic as possible.  It is also helpful to teach your children about keeping their school papers and assignments organized before they get home with them.  Help them learn how to break assignments and studying down into more manageable tasks.

  3.  Let Them Talk:  Studies have shown that children have higher IQ’s when given the opportunity to talk often about many different topics.  Provide a chance around the dinner table to discuss events of the day, concerns they have, or something they heard on the news.  Ensure that there is emotional safety in expressing themselves.  Let them tell you about their ‘high’ and ‘low’ points of the day.

  4.  Support a New Interest or Enrichment Activity:  Children who have a love of enrichment activities have a release from the doldrums of school.  These activities provide an added purpose to their studies and to their day.

  5.  Remain Supportive When They Get Low Grades:  True achievers seldom get perfect marks all the time.  Unconditional acceptance is the rule.  When your children are getting low grades, do your best to work with them, beside them, and for them.  This may mean getting tutoring help, working with the teacher more closely, and talking to the child about his or her roadblocks on the subject.  Be willing to hear them out, and do not compare them to their other siblings or peers who may be doing well in that subject.  Be sure to find the balance of encouraging better grades and putting undue pressure on them.  Be as constructive as possible on ways to do better next time.

  6.  Set Standards of Expectation and Goal Setting:  There is nothing wrong with parents defining a level of expectation for school performance.  Parents are to be parents, which sometimes means taking a proactive stand when children are not striving to do their best in school, which may mean disciplining for laziness, lack of hard work, and effort.  Encourage your kids to set their own performance goals for the school year.  Have them put them in writing and evaluate with them on a frequent basis.  Checking on their progress toward goal accomplishment shows them you care and are playing an active part in their success.  This also means attending back to school nights and parent/teacher conferences.

  7.  Engage Your Student in Learning, Not Just Reading:  It is really easy for us to read something, but do we remember the idea or concept before moving on to the next paragraph?  To help bridge the gap with your children between reading and learning, have them explain the concepts to you every few paragraphs.  Quiz them at breakfast the next morning. Help them realize that employers in later life do not want to have to repeat things over and over again to their employees.  Now is the time for them to understand they are responsible for their own learning.  Just as parents go to work every day, their job for now is learning.  Observe and encourage different learning styles. Are they visual learners, auditory learners, etc.?

  8.  Let Them Figure Things Out on Their Own:  Sometimes, in our goal to get study time over with, we jump in too quickly with the answers.  Encourage youth to look things up on their own, to read something again, or to learn from their mistakes.  Set up scenarios where they have to use some aspect of what they are studying to solve a problem.  Driving my kids to and fro was a great time to pose a math problem to them, or throw out a social studies issue that is current today for them to think on, or ask them their opinion on the life of some person in history.  Often as parents we are too quick to offer our advice on life’s problems to our kids.  We want to prevent them from making mistakes rather than letting  them learn the art of figuring things out.

  9.  Volunteer at the School:  Not only do teachers and faculty appreciate help at the school, but volunteering helps you get to know the teachers, the administrative staff, the lunchroom staff, other parents, AND it also sends a message to your children that their school experience is important to you.  This can also be helpful in having conversations with your child about things at school generally.  Maybe you will see why your child is less than impressed with a certain teacher, or that there are issues with others in the school setting.  Even if you work full-time outside the home, contact the PTA/PTO President and let him or her know you are interested in helping plan and implement activities at the school when you are not at work.  (As a working mom myself, I know how difficult this can be, but it has paid off so many times throughout the years, that I cannot omit mentioning it.)

  10.  Eat Together as a Family at Least 5 Meals a Week: Studies show that the more times a week children eat together with their family, the better they do in school, the more they stay clear of anti-social behaviors, and the more articulate they are in their communication skills.

Being actively engaged in the overall school experience does take time, thought, and energy.  But the rewards are worth it, for both them and you.

This article was written by Teresa Hunsaker, USU Extension family and consumer sciences educator, Weber County


Ask an Expert // Graduation Gift Ideas and Ways to Say Thank You

GraduationWondering what to get that graduating guy or gal in your life? We’ve got some great ideas for you.

16 Gift Ideas for your Grad

It’s graduation time, and announcements will soon be arriving in mailboxes. Graduation often brings the question of what you can do for or give to graduates to help them take steps toward their future. Here are some gift ideas to get you started:

  • A toaster, blender, waffle iron or panini maker.
  • Wireless headphones or speakers.
  • A bean bag or banana chair.
  • A label maker.
  • A new journal to document all the experiences ahead.
  • A recipe book of favorite family recipes.
  • A gas card or car wash punch card near where they will live.
  • Car supplies, including oil, washer fluid, filters, air fresheners, window shields or an emergency car kit.
  • A new printer, since they are continually changing and becoming better.
  • Gift cards to favorite stores and restaurants where they will live.
  • An office supply kit for college or a future job.
  • A college survival kit, which can include things such as cleaning, kitchen or bathroom supplies, towels, bed linens or necessary treats and food items.
  • Work out equipment based on what they like to do, such as a yoga mat, pull up bar, adjustable dumbbells, free weights, etc.
  • Creative money crafts. One idea is to put money in place of chocolates in a chocolate box with a note that says “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” Thecraftyblogstalker.com is full of many ideas for crafty money gifts.
  • Games are great for social events and stress relief. Board or card games such as Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Ultimate Werewolf, Uno and Phase 10 are good options. You can also check out Google’s top 10 best-selling games.
  • Books. One idea is to have friends and family sign the book with encouragement or advice. Great books for graduates include:
    • Be Happy! A Little Book for a Happy You and a Better World by Monica Sheehan
    • Reach for the Start: and Other Advice for Life’s Journey by Serge Bloch
    • What Do you Do with an Idea? By Kobi Yamada
    • How Big is the World? By Britta Teckentrup
    • Oh, the Places You’ll Go! By Dr. Suess
    • Yay, You! Moving up and Moving on by Sandra Boynton
    • The North Star: Ask Yourself Where It Is You Want to Go… by Peter H. Reynolds
    • The Treasure by Uri Shulevits
    • Only One You by Linda Kranz
    • Little Tree by Loren Long
    • The Knowing Book by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

Say Thank You

Now advice for the graduate: Don’t forget to say thanks! Ideas include:

  • The traditional hand-written letter, which is a classic way to thank others. This may be the most appropriate for grandparents and those who appreciate the tradition.
  • An e-mail. This is a very informal option but is still a great way to share feelings of gratitude.
  • A visit. For those living near enough, you can make a trip to say thank you in person. This is a great option for staying connected.
  • An e-card. ThankView is one that allows you to make personalized videos to send a thank you message to friends and family. Many other options are available.


By: KJ Lamplugh, Utah State University Extension family and consumer sciences program assistant, kirsten.lamplugh@usu.edu


The Crafty Blog Stalker: 20 Ideas on How to Give Cash for Graduation Gift – http://thecraftyblogstalker.com/20-ideas-on-how-to-give-cash-for-graduation-gift/

ThankView – https://thankview.com/

“Mom, What Can I Eat?” // Nutritious After-school Snack Ideas

Snack Ideas




All family members can benefit from planned healthy snacks.  Planned snacks provide more nutrition and energy for work, growth, learning and play.


Prep Your Pantry

Build a weekly snack menu and that “what is there to eat?” question won’t be heard as often.

Here are a few snack ideas that can add good nutrition to your family’s diet.

  • Fruits and berries
  • Low fat chips and salsa
  • Grape tomatoes and vegetables
  • Frozen banana chips
  • Low fat yogurt smoothies
  • Cereal mix
  • Whole grain crackers and breads
  • Applesauce and cottage cheese
  • Graham crackers
  • Mini pizza on English muffin or pita
  • Low fat cheese
  • Low fat pita and hummus
  • Fruit juice pops
  • Light popcorn
  • Ants on a log (stuffed celery)
  • Cheese sticks

Fruit Peanut Butter Pizza

1 pizza crust

1 cup peanut butter

3 sliced bananas

¾ cup raisins or dried cranberries

½ cup chopped apples


Bake crust according to package directions. Spread peanut butter on crust and add the fruits.  Bake at 350 until the peanut butter melts.

This article was written by Carolyn Washburn, Utah State University Extension associate professor, carolyn.washburn@usu.edu.

Ask an Expert // Healthy School Lunches on a Budget

Healthy School Lunches Graphic

The carefree days of summer are quickly coming to an end. Soon parents and kids will have to return to the routine of homework, alarm setting and packing lunches. Here are some tips for packing healthy school lunches on a budget.


Use My Plate.

Packing lunches according to My Plate recommendations will ensure your child is getting the nutrition he or she needs to thrive during the school day. Check out choosemyplate.gov for more information on what your child needs from each food group.

Involve the kids.

School lunches are only economical and nourishing if your children actually eat them. Have children help plan or even pack their own lunches. For younger children, set out a few options in bins for each food group and have them choose one thing from each bin to incorporate into their meal.

Plan ahead.

When planning your dinner menu for the week, consider dishes that make good leftovers to pack for your child’s lunch. Contact your child’s school to see if there is a microwave available for reheating food in the cafeteria.

Prep ahead.

While you are cooking dinner, cut up some extra carrot sticks or slice more strawberries. Or while you are putting away leftovers, pack them directly into containers that can be sent for lunch. Packing lunches the night before, rather than during the hectic morning, will increase the likelihood it will actually get done.

Pack your own snacks.

While items like prepackaged trail mix or individually wrapped snack cakes are very convenient, they also often come with a high price tag. Mixing your own trail mix or bagging your own pretzels will not only save you money, but allow you to choose items that are lower in sugar and sodium than many prepackaged items.

Try reusable containers.

Reusable containers are handy for keeping food from getting squished, but they can also save big bucks at the grocery store. When used daily, disposable sandwich bags get costly for both your wallet and the environment. Don’t forget to write your child’s name on the container so it can be returned if misplaced at school or on the bus.

Keep it fun.

It is easy to get into a rut with school lunches. Changing it up with something as simple as cutting sandwiches or cheese into fun shapes can really brighten your child’s day. Finding new, tasty recipes can also keep your children excited for the lunch bell and eager to refuel their bodies and brains. Check out extension.usu.edu/foodsense and eatwellutah.org for some great recipes ideas for this year’s lunch sack.

This article was written by Casey Coombs, RD, CD; Policy, Systems, and Environments Coordinator, Utah State University Food $ense, casey.coombs@usu.edu.


Getting Back into the School Routine

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Ten tips for helping Families get back in the groove as they prepare for the upcoming school year.

1. Reset the Clocks

Start practicing your daily routine including wake up time and bedtime before school starts so your student can get plenty of rest in order to tackle the school day’s demands.

At least a week before school starts, move up bedtime by 15-30 minutes. Then be sure to wake them up earlier as well.

Give them a reason to get up earlier. Plan some fun activity outside in the early morning sunshine to help reset their internal clock. They will gradually fall asleep earlier and wake up earlier.

Reset their homework clock. Start by setting some time aside in the evening to go to a “homework station” and practice numbers, reading or other skills

2. Establish Goals

What does your student want to accomplish this year? What would you like your student to accomplish this year? These are things to consider when setting goals.  In order to set reachable goals, it is good to know the S.M.A.R.T. way to set goals. S.M.A.R.T. stands for:

Specific: Be clear and don’t leave room for guessing,

Measurable: Make a goal where the progress can be tracked.

Attainable: Ask yourself if your goal is attainable within your time frame.

Relevant: Make sure your goal is meaningful to you.

Time-bound:  Set a “due date” for your goal.

3. Get Calendars Aligned

Parents and kids should review schedules together before school starts.

Find out what time school starts and ends.

Find out times and dates of extracurricular activities your kids will be involved in.

Include on the calendar vacation days and other special events. Parents should make a plan for who will handle any carpooling, childcare and taking children to all after-school activities.

Plan who will prepare dinner, help with homework, pack lunches and handle bedtime preparation and other needs. Record this on the calendar for easy reference.

4. Create a Routine 

Set times for different activities your family takes part in, whether it be chores or family game night, make a routine of it.  Involve kids in the planning and decision-making.  Have them help you decide when to do homework, chores or other activities.  If they feel they had a part in the decision, they may be more likely to follow through and cooperate.

Set mealtimes, wake up and bedtimes, leaving and returning home, homework time, extracurricular activities, chores and bedtime activities.

Prepare for the next day. This could include setting out clothing to wear, making lunches, gathering homework and signed permission slips, etc. to take back to school and loading backpacks.

Set up a place for homework time where there are supplies needed for homework.

Create a place to store artwork, school keepsakes, certificates and other special school memorabilia.

5. Brainstorm Meals and Snacks

Start now collecting ideas for fun lunch box meals and after-school snacks.  You can even start gathering supplies, and trying some of the recipes out to see how well the meals are received.

Create an afterschool menu or list of the snacks available that day and make sure children can easily access it so they know what is available to them.

6. Hunt for What You Have

Check for clothes packed away and in dressers to assess the amount of clothing your student has for school.  Then check you drawers, offices and closets for school supplies that you might already have. After everything is gathered, bring it all together and make a list of what you need.

7. Gather What You Need

After you have hunted for the supplies you need, start looking through ads to find coupons or deals on school supplies and clothing. Then venture out to gather what you need. The earlier the better so there is a good selection and to guarantee you will get what you need.

8. Follow the Rules

Go on your student’s school website or visit the school and ask for forms, applications and a list of rules they have in order for your student to attend.

Don’t forget to find out the dress code and get the needed physicals and immunizations.

Update your student’s emergency contacts.

Pay any fees needed for your student(s) to attend school.

9. Participate in Back to School Activities 

Find out the dates for Back to School night or a meet and greet with teachers. This can help your student acclimate to the change school will bring and give you a chance to become accustomed to the school, teachers and other staff.

10. Take Time to Play

Make sure you plan free time for your student(s) before they start on t homework.  Helping them decompress can help them have fresh minds when starting their studies.

This article was written by Marilyn Albertson – USU Extension Associate Professor- Family and Consumer Sciences, and Fayth Bushman – former USU Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Program Assistant, Salt Lake County.

Study Up! // Back to School Shopping the Smart Way

Back to School

Head back to school in style without breaking the bank.

Here’s the Deal

It’s hard to believe that it is “back to school” time again!! Just look in the malls and “super” stores and you will see kids and families getting ready. As you prepare to “bust your budget” for these extra expenses this month, consider the following tips to help you weather the budget surge, as well as the shopping wars.

1. Prepare a list. Use the supply list that the schools may provide but also consider each child’s needs. Not everything on the school’s classroom list has to be purchased, and not everything the kids want should be purchased. Take inventory of what is already on hand at home. Have a discussion with each child about the items being placed on the list. Allow them to have some say, and some decision making power in the process.

2. Do your ‘homework’. Shop the ads and online. Know prices, know features in electronics, know what’s in fashion, etc. Children can even shop the ads for the best buys and see how they can make their money go further.

3. Set a budget. Kids need to know there is a limit and there will need to be choices. Have the children involved in pricing and deciding. Would they rather have 5 outfits at a less expensive price, or one pair of expensive jeans? Besides giving children a voice, making decisions also teaches them how to prioritize, how to manage money and how to learn the difference between needs and wants.

4. Consider options. Are there some things that can be picked up ‘second hand’, like clothes? Tees, sweaters, and jeans are usually great bargains at second hand stores. Are there some items that can wait until part way through the school year, like clothes going on sale later in the fall? Buy in bulk—usually there are “3 for ____”, etc. type sales that can help extend your budget.

5. Set boundaries before shopping. Having a talk with the kids about behavior, ground rules, etc. makes a big difference. Review the list they have helped create, and remind them this is not going to be a battle of wills, that we want this to be a fun time together. If you have a chance to go individually with the kids, that is even better, but either way, be rested and fed before going.

How to be a Good Consumer

a) Save the receipt. This should be a matter of practice for most of our purchases anyway—but especially when we may very well need to return an item, or at least the potential for returning is there.

b) Know the return policy. Sometimes in our frenzy to get the kids outfitted we don’t take the time in advance to really check sizes or needs, and end up making purchases just to get done with the shopping. We figure we will just get it now, check it out when we get home, and then return it if we need to. Be careful of falling into that thinking. Sometimes you don’t make it back to the store in time to meet their return policies to get cash back—or any refund at all.

c) Make sure the advertised offer is legit. That means watching out for bogus “sales” by knowing the standard price of common back to school items. It also means not being sucked in by the old “bait and switch” tactic some stores use. On items where you know quality counts—such as in back packs, insulated lunch boxes, or school electronics—know why you want the “higher” price.

d) Understand any warranty options and “extended warranty” on school electronics. Study this carefully, know why you want the warranty, or if you even do. Often, it is not worth the added cost.

e) Be careful if shopping for back to school items online. Clothing size, fit, quality, servicing, or any other problems, are often more difficult and time consuming to take care of when items have been purchased online.

This article was written by Teresa Hunsaker