Can you relate to the picture above?  If so, read on.  If not - if your house is a clutter free zone, then maybe you should be writing this instead of me!!

Besides reducing clutter, adequate storage space for toys makes the job of clean-up easier for you and your child.  Some ideas:

Hang Them Up
     Laundry bags - Attach hooks or pegs to the wall and hang the bag within your child's reach.  Use bags with short cords for safety.
     Hammock suspended between 2 walls can hold stuffed animals.

When you think of the word stress you can probably easily identify the areas of stress in your daily life - from balancing your family and work, to dealing with finances, to handling family and relationship issues – daily stress is all around us! It is also likely that you can effortlessly identify how stress affects your physical and emotional well-being. You may think of sleep problems, heart disease, and weight gain that are typically associated with stress. But have you considered the effect stress has on your brain?

When someone asks you to think about health, wellness and fitness, you usually think about physical health, exercise or nutrition. As people age, they often concentrate on improving and maintaining their physical health, when they should also be working on their cognitive or brain health. Since Brain Awareness Week is coming up March 16-22, I would like to share a few things you can do to maintain a healthy brain. Getting enough good, quality sleep is important along with eating a heart healthy diet and exercising regularly.

Summertime for kids usually means fewer routines, later nights and sleeping in more, compared to during the school year. However, there are signs everywhere to show us that school is just around the corner. It is evident by the store ads, the school supplies that are spilling out in to the middle aisles of our local stores and by seeing August on our calendars. With the school year beginning soon, you'll want to make sure both you and your kids are starting to get back into your school time routines.

November is National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month and National Caregiver Month.

After working in the field of aging for sixteen years, I have found that this is a topic no one wants to learn about until it affects them. Here are some facts about Alzheimer's disease:

"I remember when I was your age I would…" We all have stories to tell. We are the authors of our own life stories. The longer we live the more stories we accumulate! There was a time when story sharing by elders served as a community building function. It was a way for younger people to learn about past history, their heritage and the heritage of others.

What do you do the stay intellectually engaged?  Do you complete the daily crossword puzzle?  Do you watch trivia game shows on television?  Do you help your grandchild with her "times" tables?  Whatever it is, it is important to keep doing it!

Current research indicates that challenging the brain is one of several things you can do to contribute to your own brain health as you age.  So, if you've been saying things like, "I'd like to learn to play the piano," or "I'd like to learn a new language," what's stopping you?

Today's blog entry is taken from the award winning Extension series, Your Young Child.

When your child is between 1 and 3 years old, she will probably be interested in everything and everyone, especially if it's new or different.  She will want to be part of whatever you do.  She will try to imitate you.  She will also insist on trying to do many things by herself.  Sometimes she will strongly resist your help.  Here are some common ways that young children explore their world:

According to the 2010 Census, there are currently 40 million Americans over the age of 65, with Illinois as one of the top nine states where they reside. Although today's generation of older adults is living longer, healthier lives, 80% of them are living with at least one chronic health condition. Chronic health conditions include diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, COPD and hypertension.

Since May is Older American's Month, wouldn't it be great to get our younger generations involved with our older generations in fun and meaningful ways? When children, teens and younger adults spend time with older adults, there are many benefits to everyone involved. Older adults can be great role models for children, while also passing on family stories, historical information and teaching the rituals and traditions of earlier times.

August is the time of year when parents are busy getting their children ready to go back to school. Registering, shopping for school supplies, providing emotional support. But what about grandparents that are raising their grandchildren? It might have been awhile since they raised their own children, and for their "second time around", I have some practical ideas and tips from U of I Extension "Parenting Again" website that will help make the school year a success!

"What did the grapes say when they got stepped on? Nothing – they just gave a little w(h)ine." Just a little brain teaser in honor of Brain Awareness Week (March 16-22), which we have dedicated all of our posts to this past month. We have covered how sleep, a nutritious diet, physical exercise, decreased stress and challenging your brain all contribute to optimal brain health. But just as important, social interactions and emotional support also enhance brain functioning.

Falls Prevention Awareness Day is September 23 (the first day of fall).

Did you know that 1 in 3 Americans aged 65+ falls every year?  Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans.  Falls are costly - in dollars and quality of life.

However, falling is NOT an inevitable part of aging and many falls are preventable.  Stay safe with these tips:

"My baby has slept through the night since he was 2 weeks old." This is something that all tired parents have heard, longed for, and even envied, yet a peacefully sleeping child seems a far off dream.

At the start of each new year, many of us resolve to make some kind of change in our lives, whether it is to lose weight, quit smoking, save money, or exercise more. Very few of us add to our lists that we will dedicate ourselves to brain fitness. Yet, concerns about memory problems as we age are common for all of us. This year, why not resolve to be more mentally active on a daily basis? Engaging your mind in intellectual challenges by doing new and interesting activities is one of several things you can do to support brain health and function.

One school year has ended, and I hate to tell you, but it is time to think about next school year!  For those of you with children entering school for the first time, here are some tips on what children should know as they enter kindergarten.....

One of the most renowned researchers in the area of brain health is Dr. Art Kramer, Director of Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. When he was asked what are two to three lifestyle habits that we can execute to improve our brain health his reply was to:

  1. Be active by engaging in 30-60 minutes of aerobic activity three days a week
  2. Participate in intellectual activities
  3. Engage in social interaction

And for optimal benefit combine all three!

As a Family Life Educator, I am asked to do many types of programs that cover the entire lifespan. This can become quite interesting when you find yourself teaching young mothers about separation anxiety, retired adults about motivation, and working families about balancing work and home life – all in one day! There is one topic that is commonly requested and applies to all ages and stages in life, and that is effective communication.

Mommy, can I help? may not always be music to your ears when you are trying to get a meal on the table.  (Take advantage of your child's interest when they are little; when they get to be teenagers their only question about meals may be "Is it ready yet?")

One of the seven developmental stages that infants and young children must go through that is especially stressful for parents is crying – especially unexplained crying. All babies cry. They cry because that is the only method they have of communicating with us. They are usually trying to tell us that they are hungry, cold, wet, tired, bored or uncomfortable. Most studies show that babies will begin to cry more often around two weeks of age, will peak around six to eight weeks of age and then decline noticeably around the fourth to sixth month.

Reading is, and always has been, an important source of enjoyment for me.  When I was growing up, we always had books around. My parents, who didn't always have much extra money to spend, would even let me subscribe to a child's magazine.  (Anyone else remember Jack and Jill magazine?  I just dated myself, didn't I?!)

My parents did a lot of things right to encourage me to read, but there is even more that can be done.  The best way to help children become good readers is to read with them.  Research consistently shows that children who are read to become readers themselves.

Today we have a guest blogger, Leia Kedem, Nutrition and Wellness Educator, talking about the impact nutrition has on brain health.

Don't Forget…to Remember!

I must remember to…

  • Call my grandson tomorrow to wish him a happy birthday
  • Drop off the dry cleaning before work
  • Pay the electric bill by Friday
  • Lock the front door at night
  • Pick up my daughter at the airport on Tuesday at noon

Each of us can relate to these everyday demands where we need to rely on our ability to remember something we intend to do in the future. This is called prospective memory. Quite simply it is "not forgetting to remember."

Older adults are a vital part of our society. Since 1963, communities across the country have shown their gratitude by celebrating Older Americans Month each May. The theme of this year's celebration is "Get into the Act," to focus on how older adults are taking charge of their health, getting engaged in their communities, and making a positive impact in the lives of others.

Family mealtimes are a key experience for a family whether they stop and think about it or not. With both parents and children having busy schedules, parents may worry what can they actually accomplish with a sit down meal? The answer is a lot actually.

There are many benefits to eating a sit-down meal together as a family. It offers parents a time to share good habits through modeling healthy nutrition choices as well as a time to teach children table manners.

Have you ever driven home and when you were parking the car, you realized you couldn't remember anything about the drive home? Have you ever read a book and after a few pages, you can't remember what you just read? Maybe you were thinking of a conversation you just had, or an upcoming trip – your mind was so involved in something else that you weren't really in the moment, experiencing what you were actually doing. Distraction is becoming more commonplace in the busy world today, especially when you figure in all the technology we also have at our fingertips.

Well, it's that time of year again, when we not only reflect on how fast time really does fly, but also ponder the things we've done and the things we've left undone in 2015. It is likewise a time when we start to think about the upcoming year and perhaps things we'd like to accomplish. Often times, people will begin the year by making New Year's resolutions to better themselves in ways like eating less or exercising more.

A concerned parent once approached me with a myriad of questions on bullying. Why was her child being excluded from the peer group? What about name calling – is that bullying? Why is her child being picked on? What can she do to help? As the questions went on, one in particular stood out to me: "Is this normal?" It became clear: this parent was having difficulty distinguishing between "normal" peer conflict and bullying.

As we wrap up the holiday season, I am guessing there is a good chance children may have received some kind of tech or electronic gift. Whether the gift be a tablet, cell phone, TV or gaming device parents need to be mindful about how much time and where children will be using these items. In addition, it would be good to monitor the use of these devices as well. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) posted an article last year about the importance of having Family Media Plans.

Have you been monitoring what your child is engaging in on the computer?

After the holiday season, it may feel like (and look like!) your house is just one huge toy box.  Also, does it seem like your child is just going from one toy to another without really stopping to play with any one thing? 

When a child has too many toys to choose from, she may have trouble picking one.  Instead, she may go from toy to toy instead of settling down to play with one for awhile.  We want kids to INCREASE their attention span through playing with toys, not increase their distractibility.

It's Fall…..don't fall into a Flu trap or any other medical misstep for that matter. Are you up to date on your vaccinations? There are many preventable diseases that can cause people to have long term health effects, unnecessary pain, hospitalizations, medical costs and even cause death.

Mom and Dad, can I come back home for a while until I'm back on my feet again? or, "I really don't want to leave home until I save enough money to buy my own place."  Sound familiar?  This is a common living situation for many families, as more and more adult children are returning or remaining in the "nest."  This type of family living is a growing phenomenon creating what some call a "full" or "cluttered" nest. 
If I asked, "what's on your bucket list?" most people would know what I mean. If not, a bucket list is a list of things that you want to try, experience or accomplish in your lifetime. There are many benefits to creating and working on your own bucket list.

A few benefits of living your Bucket List include:

A new University of Illinois study reveals that distracted dining may be as dangerous to your health as distracted driving is to your safety on the highway.

"Being distracted during meals puts kids at added risk for obesity and increased consumption of unhealthy foods. In this study, we found that noisy and distracting environments affected parents' actions, and we know that parents set the tone for the quality of family mealtimes," said Barbara H. Fiese, director of the U of I's Family Resiliency Center (FRC).

School has been in full-swing for a while and…ready or not…the report cards will be coming home soon! Do you remember how nervous you were? Did you run home and joyfully hand it to your parents or did you want to feed it to the neighbor's dog? The anxiety caused by a piece of paper can be overwhelming, but it is not the paper that your child is worried about… is your reaction to it!

Here are some tips on what you can help ease the anxiety at home:

November is national Caregiver Awareness month.  Most of us are aware of someone who takes care of a friend or loved one.  If so, then this person may be in need of a "lift."  The October/November 2015 edition of AARP The Magazine lists 100 ways to do an act of kindness for a caregiver.  Some suggestions-
What's your greatest worry about your toddler's eating?  Not trying new foods?  Only wanting to eat certain foods over and over again (the "food jag")?  Refusing to eat entire groups of foods such as vegetables? 

All of these behaviors by your toddler are very common and normal (although EXTREMELY frustrating!)  Toddlers are beginning to show their independence and one way that they do this is by deciding what and when they will eat.

Many families are faced with the care of multiple generations. There are 43.5 million people in the U.S. providing care for someone aged 50 and older. Caregiving is often done with little understanding of the emotional strain it has on relationships. Caregivers may say they are managing okay, but often feel more stress than do those who are not caregivers.


"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." - Winston Churchill

The value of volunteerism for older adults is two-fold.

First is the value to society.  According to the Corporation for National and Community Service (which oversees AmeriCorps and SeniorCorp) 20.7 million adults ages 55 and over contributed more than 3.3 billion hours of service to their communities, valued at $75 billion in 2014.

How do you and your family spend time in the car? Does it matter whether you are driving across town or driving somewhere for a vacation or weekend road trip? Should it?

American's spend a lot of time in the car. Looking at national statistics it is a little shocking at first. On average a person spends:

To continue this month's highlighting of Brain Awareness week (March 16-22), this week's topic is on the benefits of slumber. Sleep affects both mental and physical health. According to Dr. Merrill Miller, a sleep expert and neuroscientist at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), "Sleep services all aspects of our body in one way or another: molecular, energy balance, as well as intellectual function, alertness, and mood."

April 12th - 18th is the National Week of the Young Child, sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).  The Week of the Young Child is a time to recognize the importance of early learning and early literacy.

Each weekday during the Week of the Young Child has a learning "theme:"
     Music Monday - Sing, dance, celebrate, and learn
     Taco Tuesday - Healthy eating and fitness at home and school
     Work Together Wednesdays - Work together, build together, learn together