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Ask the Expert: How to Enhance Your Child's Language Development

I'm a speech-language pathologist (SLP). That's my official title anyway. People often call me "speech therapist" or "speech teacher." I'm not a huge fan of the official or unofficial terms to be honest. First of all, saying speech-language pathologist is such a mouthful that people usually give me a deer-in-headlights look after I've finally finished saying the whole thing. I'd rather be called a "communication specialist." I mean, "Pathologist?" Really??!! Sounds like I'm trying to make the deceased speak. 

Photo from iStockphoto.The reason I'm bringing this up is because parents often ask me about their child's "speech," meaning that they believe that speech solely consists of how sounds and words are pronounced. But speech is a lot more than that. It's not just about articulation. It's about total communication, i.e. language structure, vocabulary, pragmatics, intonation, and more. In fact, by improving your child's overall communication skills, articulation may be improved indirectly since the child is actually verbalizing more often and thus, able to practice different articulation patterns more often. 

So, when parents ask me what kinds of products (or, nowadays, apps) can improve their child's "speech," I tend to shudder. Before I had children, I made tons of flashcards, games, etc. for parents to use at home. Now that I have two wonderful children, the fact that we're all just trying to make it through the day with as few tantrums, melt-downs, and messes as possible has hit me square in the face. I have found that parents tend to want "stuff" in order to prove they are doing something. I fall into this trap all of the time.  “Oh,” I think, “my boy will love to color if I just buy him these really cool crayons.” (Yeah, he could care less.)  There is nothing wrong with trying some games at home, but children tend to be put off by the fact that Mom or Dad is now trying to push them into doing something that is really tough for them. Both parties may get frustrated or the presentation of material could be inauthentic. 

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Ask the Expert: What to Expect at an Elementary Parent-Teacher Conference

My sister Bridget is not only an awesome sister, she's a wonderful teacher. For those readers who will be attending their first parent-teacher conference this month, I asked Bridget to type up some advice. Because I'm her older sister, she had to do what I asked. -- Tara

Parent-Teacher Conferences can be scary for parents and teachers. As a first grade teacher for five years, and a kindergarten teacher for five years before that, I can honestly say that I am nervous every year meeting with my students’ parents. What I never took into consideration before I had my own children was that the parent on the other side of the table was just as nervous as I was! 

Photo by istockphoto.Before conferences, think if you have any specific concerns that need to be addressed. Some subjects that you might want to bring up are:  Homework, social skills and what you can do at home to support the learning that is taking place at school. The teacher will most likely appreciate your concern and the fact that you care! 

Keep in mind during the conference that school isn’t the same as it was when we went to elementary school.  Personally, I went to half-day kindergarten with a snack and rest time. Now, most children in my area go to a full day of kindergarten with no rest time. They leave kindergarten reading books. First grade is what second grade used to be and so on. The curriculum at most schools is quite aggressive and fast paced. Keep this in mind or you will get overwhelmed! 

Subjects that I address at conferences are whether or not a student is at, below, or above grade level in reading and math; behavior; speech or language concerns; and whether or not they are getting along with other classmates. If a child is below grade level in any subject, I discuss interventions that may be used in the classroom to help the students reach their potential. If a student is above grade level, I discuss ways that I will differentiate instruction to challenge the student. I also like to show work samples to parents so that they can see how much progress the children have made since the beginning of the year.

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Ask the Expert: Camping Under the Night Sky ... By a Warm Firepit and in a Cozy Tent

Last week, guest columnist Karthika Gupta shared with us her tips for how to hike with young children. This week, she urges you to think about camping with your family. 

The word “Camping” often conjures images of picturesque backcountry spots accessible only by foot, carrying your supplies and disconnecting from civilization. You can almost see the isolated tents among tall trees and steep cliffs and food stored in bear-safe containers!

Camping in California's Sequoia National Park. Photo by Memorable Jaunts.While this is very desirable, it is not always practical - especially for families with young children. How much do we carry, how long can we walk, what about food, what about wildlife?

The good news is that you can still experience camping and all the pleasures it has to offer even if you don’t want to do backcountry camping. Instead, go local, camp for a night or two sleeping under the stars in a state park or even in a private campground. You can even camp in your backyard - just promise not to sneak back into the house in the middle of the night to the comfort of your bed! The kids will have a blast and you will come back with a better appreciation of nature. Who knows? You might even get enough confidence in yourself and your family to try the backcountry camping in exotic/picturesque locations.

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Ask the Expert: Hiking & Camping for Families With Kids

Yes, you did read the title of the article correctly – I am talking about hiking and even camping with kids. And I don’t mean teenagers, but young kids, toddlers and even infants.

Hiking in Glacier National Park. Photo by Memorable Jaunts.If you have a sense of adventure and a positive attitude, you can have an enjoyable experience of hiking in forest preserves, state parks and even national parks. Camping is just as easy with a few simple rules and guidelines. You have to prepare a bit more for a camping adventure but the rewards are just as great as a good hike. The objective of this article is to give you basic hiking tips, how to prepare for an outing of this nature and what to pack so that you may try it out and yearn for even more adventure. Look for my camping tips next week.

Hiking - Get Up and Go

Dictionary.com defines the word “hike” as “to walk or march a great distance, especially through rural areas, for pleasure, exercise, military training, or the like.” 

Our family loves it. We love to go for long hikes “for pleasure” in state parks, national parks and even local forest preserves. We love hiking in summer, in winter and even in the rain. We have done short hikes as well as alpine hikes gaining 1,500 feet in elevation. It’s an amazing feeling and our kids have a blast looking for different wildlife, flora and fauna. There is very little you really need to prepare for if you want to hike. If you can walk comfortably, you can hike. That being said, it doesn’t hurt to follow some basic rules and prepare for a great experience.

If you are hiking short distances and within local areas: 

  • Good walking/hiking shoes
  • A day pack. This can be a regular back pack. Pick one that you can carry comfortably on your back while you hike.

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Ask the Expert: A Bargain Hunter Gives Her Tips on Children's Resale Events & Garage Sales

Today's "Ask the Expert" feature comes from one of our regular contributors, Edith Tarter of Geneva. "I shopped my first club resale when my triplets were 10 days old," Edith says. "I remember this because it was the first day I was cleared to drive, and I chose to swing by the local multiples sale on my way to visit the babies still in the NICU!  From that first sale, I was hooked on resale shopping for the kids, and still get a thrill every resale season -- eight years later!"

Many years ago, shopping for used clothing and toys was almost looked upon as something to hide. If your family did not have the money to shop at the mall or at the department store, you certainly did tell anyone. In fact, you'd do whatever you could to avoid anyone knowing that your clothes came from the Salvation Army or Goodwill store. Well, the days of secretly shopping a thrift store or rummaging through used clothing at resales and garage sales is over for most people. 

Photo courtesy of the Tri-Cities Mothers of Twins and Triplets Club.Green is in! The 3Rs of conservation -- Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle -- take on new meaning when outfitting growing kids! You can find consignment shops and resale events, along with the typical thrift stores, widely available in the western suburbs. Whether you’re looking for upscale labels or basic play wear, you’ll find it at great prices if you’re willing to clothe your darlings in gently-used items.  The savings can be astonishing if you’re open to using like-new equipment, such as strollers, high chairs and bouncers.

One-time resale events, such as those hosted by multiples clubs and school PTOs, usually occur in March/April and August/September.  Most of the spring sales have concluded, but check out the club/school websites for fall dates. Add your name to their mailing list, if possible. (Editor's note: Of course keep an eye on Go West's Garage Sales, Etc. page, too!)

As the weather gets nicer in our area, signs start popping up for neighborhood garage sales and church sales.  Our local area is fortunate to have several resale, consignment shops and thrift stores, which offer bargains throughout the year.  Buying clothing and equipment at these events, stores and within the local neighborhoods can save a lot of money, obviously. But, you still have to be careful to make sure that you are getting a good deal. Here are some important tips to keep in mind:

Make a shopping list of must-haves: Take an inventory of what clothing, equipment and toys your kids will need for the coming season.  Spring resales focus on warm weather apparel and outdoor gear, while fall resales offer costumes, coats, boots and heavy clothing. Did the kids outgrow their bikes over the winter?  Are you ready to introduce new toys that will challenge their budding skills? Do you have a special event coming in the months ahead where you’ll need a dressier outfit? Do you need a few ‘rainy/snowy day’ items, such as DVDs, games and books, to help pass those frequent indoor play days? Having a shopping list helps you focus on what you really need and avoid being overwhelmed at the volume of items for sale.

Know your sizes. Know the basic tag size your kids will be wearing for the season, but also know inseam and waist measurements and how to eyeball a piece of clothing for fit. Many used clothes may have size tags missing, or they may be faded, so if you can eyeball a shirt and tell if it will fit your child, so much the better. Knowing inseam and waist measurements will be helpful in determining if a pair of pants will fit. Used clothing usually runs smaller than new items, since it’s been laundered many times. I like to bring along a pair of pants and a tee that fits my child to use as a measurement against the resale items.  Just make sure the shop owner or the resale/garage sale organizer is aware you’ve brought personal items.

Photo courtesy of Bugaboo Children's Consignment Sale.Know your prices:  What’s a good price for used clothing, equipment and toys?  You need to know the full retail value in order to know if the used price is a deal. Some resellers mark their merchandise at nearly full price, especially if it is a piece from a clothing label in high demand or is worn once or twice. This is particularly true for some of the teen resale shops. Make sure you know what the clothing sells for regularly so that you can decide if something is a bargain or not before you purchase it. In the end, buy what you like if you really need the item, even if you think you can find a better bargain elsewhere. Don’t pass an item up while you think about it because it probably won’t be there when you return to buy it. 

Note that club resales frown on negotiating a price, so don't try. Save that approach for garage sales, where it's usually expected to haggle a little. In a retail resale store, you may have some success getting a discount if you're buying in bulk or you point out a visible flaw, stain or such.

Check every garment and every toy:  Look at fabric in good light, searching for stains and holes. Test the seams for strength by gently tugging at them. Make sure that the pockets do not have holes in them and that any belt loops are complete. Test the zippers, snaps and button holes. Check that used equipment appears to have the required parts. Bring along common battery sizes to try out electronics. Resellers are not knowingly trying to sell you faulty items, but when there are lots of items, things get missed. Most one-time resale events and garage sales do not accept returns, so it is especially important to inspect the items carefully before you buy it.

Ready? Set? Shop!  Most one-time resale events are heavily attended in the opening hours so be prepared to arrive an hour or more early to get a good place in line.  If the event opens at 8 a.m., it’s not unusual to see shoppers start lining up at 5 a.m.  By 9 a.m, the place will look pretty picked over, so take me seriously if you really want to get some good bargains!! Make a morning of it, much like planning to tackle Black Friday in late November. 

Some large resales specifically disallow kids, strollers and laundry baskets so check for restrictions before heading out. It's best to leave the kids at home to avoid distraction (the mission is shopping, not negotiating for this toy vs. that toy). Space is usually tight, so strollers can be difficult to manuever.

Instead, bring a friend along for companionship while you wait. Some events offer coffee and goodies for sale, but if coffee is your morning ritual, bring a large cup to savor while in line.  Some events charge a small admission fee (a few dollars at most) and almost all only accept CASH. A few may take a personal check, but very few will take plastic.  Check the payment terms ahead of time.  If you plan to snap up large items, come with transportation. There are usually people who will help load the larger items, but it’s up to you to get it home. 

Garage sales work in a similar manner. While there is no waiting line, it’s best to hit the sales early on the first day of the neighborhood sale. Again, know what you’re after, so you can quickly scan the items scattered around and move on if you don’t see something that catches your eye.  I’m not a big garage sale shopper, but I a friend who attacks them all summer!  She looks for those houses that have lots of brightly colored kid toys in the yard.  Where there is a stash of kid toys, there is sure to be related items, like clothing, games, books, DVDs and the like.

Happy bargain hunting!!  See you in line!


Ask the Expert: Attorney Sandra Young on Collaborative Divorce

When Naperville attorney Sandra Young joined the Go West Mompreneur Directory, I noted that one of her main focuses was "family law/collaborative practice." It's a sad reality that a Go West reader -- or her sister, friend or neighbor -- will likely be faced with a divorce in the coming year. I asked Sandra to write an article explaining the process and benefits of collaborative divorce, so that readers dealing with the dissolution of their marriage can better understand one option open to them. -- Tara

There is a right way to divorce and then there is the wrong way. We’ve all heard horror stories from people who have been through a destructive divorce. It is time to take the animosity, hostility and aggression out of the equation and move forward with warmth and support.

Photo by kanthalion on Flickr.If you are considering a divorce or having difficulties with your ex-spouse post-divorce, then you owe it to yourself and your family to learn more about collaborative law.

Collaborative law is client-centered and is settlement-focused. Approximately 95% of all divorces cases are settled without a trial in court. Save yourself time, money and the emotional distress - invest the time to determine what the best solution is for you and your family. When you are involved in a collaborative case, your concerns and well-being are at the center of the discussion.

Collaborative law is different than traditional litigation; each spouse hires separate attorneys that have been collaboratively trained. The two spouses and their attorneys then work as a team to settle the issues. Through a series of team meetings, we work hard to get the best resolution possible. The team is able to brainstorm and customize the agreement to meet your family’s needs holistically; then all the necessary court documents are drawn up and signed. Only when there is a complete agreement will the case be filed. The attorneys only have to go to court one time to have the divorce finalized. That means no unnecessary court appearances and lots of money saved on attorney fees that would have been wasted giving status updates to a judge or fighting over discovery issues in a typical litigated case.

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Ask the Expert: Dreaming of Spring With Landscape Designer Meagan Provencher

With nearly 2 feet of snow outside our doorsteps, spring seems a very long way off. So I asked Meagan Provencher, landscape designer for Wasco Nursery & Garden Center in St. Charles, to share some thoughts about how we can use winter to think about the types of landscaping and gardening we'll want to do when the weather warms up. It will warm up, right? Right? -- Tara

I have a sunroom attached to my house and I spend almost every day sitting in my husband’s my leather chair looking out the windows at my garden. Some days I only get a few minutes to reflect, other days I can actually sit and read and watch the birds flit about or the snowfall.

A view of the author's garden in winter.I have learned by sitting and just staring out the window to appreciate every season that we have here in northern Illinois. I know you are all moms and are wondering how a mother of two crazy boys can actually get a minute, let alone several, to sit and stare out the window. I just do it, and you should take time to do it, also: I’m the mom and I said so! It also really helps to have a nice view to spend that minute looking at.

I always tell my clients to consider the view out their kitchen window when planning a garden. Where do we spend most of our time, almost 365 days a year? I know that I look out the window above my sink every single day so that is the view of my garden that I love the best.

I can see a background of graceful, weeping Serbian Spruce that serves as a screen to hide my neighbor’s driveway. (No offense, Tammie … I planted them before you moved in!) In front of them I have a birdbath that is frequented by some faithful robins. When they tire of my birdbath they head for my Mini AquaBasin Fountain and sit in it like it’s their own personal spa. I sometimes find myself staring at them and creating a dialogue in my head of how the bird world works. Do they worry about their kids? Did they volunteer one too many times to bring snacks to preschool? Are they having a girls’ day out or just trying to sneak a shower before feeding the kids? :) 

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