The great outdoors: Identifying poison ivy

It’s camping time again!  Truthfully, even if you never find yourself near a tent this summer, your family could still come into contact with poisonous plants such as poison ivy, oak or sumac in any number of places….even in your own backyard.   Those who have the misfortune of rubbing up against one of these plants may experience a red, itchy skin rash within 24 – 48 hours  (note: contact with any part of the plant, not just the leaves, can cause this reaction).  The rash is a result of the skin’s allergic reaction to the urushiol oil these plants contain (I didn’t realize this before, but not everyone is allergic to this oil, so there are some who may not experience a reaction).

It is a good idea to give your kids some tips on identifying poison ivy (this is the most common), as well as poison oak and sumac, so that they can be on the look-out for them and spare themselves an itchy encounter with these poisonous plants.

Here is a great article about how to identify poison ivy and other poisonous plants, and tips on what to do if you do happen to come in contact with them.


Click on this link to read the full article.

In all facets of life, be it a walk in the woods or an outing with friends, teach your children to be aware of what’s around them and to be able to identify potential dangers.

Now that your children are safe in the woods, what about keeping them safe at the beach?  For all the details, read my post entitled, “Beach Safety“.

Saying thank-you

Where I live, the school year is just wrapping up and it can be a very chaotic time.  There are all sorts of field trips and assemblies going on, and kids receive ‘awards’ for their academic and athletic achievements.  All of that is great, but my daughter’s school does something else that is a refreshing change…they celebrate the school volunteers by formally saying thank-you.

They invite anyone who has volunteered in the school, including members of the Parent Council, those who have attended field trips, individuals who have helped in the classroom, the library or in any other capacity, to the school for an “Appreciation Coffee Hour’.  Coffee, punch and cookies are served and a slide presentation where they have ‘caught volunteers in the act’ throughout the year, is shown.

The best part of the hour though, is when they have the primary kids come in and do a little ‘performance’ and hand out a small gift of appreciation to each volunteer (last year it was a school magnet and this year a school water bottle).  Children in other classes have also drawn pictures showing their appreciation, which are provided to the volunteers as keepsakes.

I have to admit, initially I was not going to go to this special event, as there just seemed to be too many other things to do (isn’t there always?).  However, I was at a Parent Council meeting and the principal of the school said something that changed my mind.  She said that even if you don’t think you deserve to be appreciated (e.g. my daughter’s teacher this year did not want volunteers, so all I did was belong to Parent Council), go anyway, so that the students can learn how to say thank-you.

What a great idea!  After all, teaching kids appreciation is a very worthwhile life skill.  Even if some of the children who participated had very little direct interaction with the volunteers, their teachers had spent time explaining how important volunteers were to the school and why every student should be grateful for them.

Not every volunteer that had been invited could make it to this event, but those of us who did, were very glad that we had made the effort!

Another way for kids to show thanks and to ‘give back’, is to have them go through their toys and give away what they don’t play with anymore, to children who are less fortunate.  For tips on how to make this process a little less painful for both you and your children, see my post entitled “Teaching kids to declutter“.

Thunderstorm safety

Environment Canada estimates that lightning kills about 10 Canadians every year and injures up to 160 more, so storm safety is no laughing matter!  It’s hard to convince kids to stop their outdoor activities when they hear thunder in the distance, but lightning can strike up to 16 kilometers (approximately 10 miles) from a storm, so they should head indoors as soon as they hear the first rumble.  Several sources that I read on this topic, indicated that children should stay indoors at least 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder has been heard.

I imagine that it would come as a bit of a surprise to most people, but there are thunderstorm safety rules for the indoors, as well as the outdoors.  Although kids are vastly safer inside versus outside the house, they should still make an effort to stay away from water, appliances and other things that can conduct electricity, while a lightning storm is in full swing.

See the below article from Environment Canada containing thunderstorm safety tips to follow, both outdoors and indoors.


Click this link to read the full article.

Go over these storm safety rules with your children so that they have the skills to keep themselves safe in a thunderstorm, if they should ever need to.  In addition, make sure that you model safe thunderstorm behavior to your children (how many times have your children seen you continue with your outdoor activities while thunder is rumbling all around you, or sat with you on the porch to “watch the show”?).

If your child gets anxious during a storm, you may also wish to read my post entitled, “Fear of thunderstorms“.




Fear of thunderstorms

It’s storm season again.  Last night we had a thunderstorm that woke up my daughter and sent her scampering into our bedroom.  It’s funny, she used to merrily sleep through storms, oblivious to their wrath.  However, within the last year or two, she seems to have exhibited a fear of thunderstorms and has come into our room for comfort when a storm is raging.

Research suggests that this is not at all uncommon, even for older children (in fact, there are quite a few adults who experience similar anxieties).  After all, it can get pretty dramatic, what with the flashes of light and loud booms of thunder.

Although I have compassion for her anxiety, ultimately I would like to teach my daughter how to overcome her fear of thunderstorms and learn ways to comfort herself when a storm is brewing (doing so, teaches her valuable life skills and helps her gain confidence in herself and her abilities).

This article outlines some things that you can try to help alleviate your child’s fear of thunderstorms.


Click here to read the full article.

Many of the articles I read related to this topic, suggested that a better understanding of thunder and lightning and why they occur, can lessen a child’s fear of thunderstorms.  I’ll admit that science is not exactly my forte, so I decided to call on the experts for this one (I also wanted an explanation that a child could understand, so that made it a bit more challenging).  Click on this link to watch the Bill Nye episode on Storms (it’s a little long at 23 minutes, but your kids will love it!).

Click here to see the Bill Nye episode on Storms on YouTube.

A little bit of knowledge can go a long way, but so can a little bit of imagination.  Sometimes, the best solution is to get creative and ‘make a game out of it’.  Pretend that there is a band playing and that thunder is a drum solo (have them join in on their pillow), or that someone is taking pictures with a flash (have your child imagine what the other person could be taking pictures of, or have them think about what pictures they would like to take).  These “games” can distract the child and help associate the scary sights and sounds of a thunderstorm, with more calming ones(e.g. drums and cameras).  Be creative and see what the two of you can come up with!

If you’re interested in helping your child overcome their fears and anxieties, you may also like my article on “Dealing with nightmares“.




Beach safety

Thousands of families will be heading to the beach this summer for some sun, sand and surf, but a day of family fun can turn into a tragedy in the blink of an eye.  Follow these beach safety tips to make sure this doesn’t happen to you.

Choose a beach where there are Lifeguards on duty.  These people are trained to spot dangerous situations and handle them when they occur.  Having said that, they are not babysitters…parents should always be responsible for their children’s safety.

Supervise your children at all times.  I imagine that you would rather be sunbathing or reading a good book, but water conditions on large bodies of water can change so quickly and you can’t afford to be lulled into a false sense of security.  If your children are young and/or beginner swimmers, they should wear life jackets and be within an arms-length from an adult at all times.  Also, remember that inflatable toys and noodles are not reliable safety equipment and should not be counted on to keep your children safe (they are not attached to your child and can easily float away).   Even if your children are more experienced swimmers, choose a spot to sit that is close to where they are playing in the water and watch them closely.

Observe any signs re water quality and safety.  Before you go in the water, read any posted information with respect to water quality and/or known dangers.  Also, if there is a Lifeguard on duty, talk to them to get specifics (known rip currents, undertows, etc.).

Teach your children about the different kinds of water dangers and what to do to protect themselves.   Knowing what to look for and what to do if you find yourself in a dangerous situation, are truly “life skills”.  The three most common dangers are as follows…

Undertow – “a current in the sea or ocean that is below the surface and that moves away from the shore” (  An undertow may pull swimmers under the water for a short distance (to the next breaking wave), but does not pull them offshore into deeper water.  This type of current is the most dangerous to small children who are too small to fight against the pull.

Rip Tide – a strong current caused by tidal flow in confined areas such as inlets.  Many use this term and the term ‘rip current’ interchangeably, but they are actually different phenomena.  The powerful, reversing current that can be found in inlets, makes them a very dangerous place for even swimmers of advanced skill levels.

Rip Current – a relatively strong, narrow current flowing outward from the beach through the surf zone.  Check out the below video to learn more about rip currents and how to escape them.

Watch ‘How to Escape Rip Currents’ by Ocean City Surf Report, on YouTube.

Before you head to the beach this summer, take a bit of time to prepare yourself and your family – after all, better to be safe than sorry!  Now, let’s hit the beach!

If you feel that it is important that your children have basic water skills, you may also want to check out my post on Water Safety.

Water safety programs

Thousands of deaths each year are attributable to unintentional drownings and many of the victims are children.  That’s why, countries such as the United States and Canada are starting to take this issue seriously and implementing water safety programs as part of their school curriculum.

In Ontario, Canada, the provincial government offers a grant to schools who give their students “Swim to Survive” training.  This water safety program was developed by the Lifesaving Society and is offered to Grade 3 students.  Kids are taught the “minimum skills needed to survive an unexpected fall into deep water”.

My daughter just went through this program.  The kids were taken to the local Y, where they participated in two sessions of one and a half hours each.  In addition, prior to the program, my daughter’s teacher spent some time in the classroom, talking about various aspects of water safety (e.g. always wear a life jacket while in a boat).

Watch this brief video by the Lifesaving Society, talking about the three skills children need to learn as a first step to water safety.

Click here to watch this video on YouTube.

Another program, this one offered in northern Michigan, is aimed at teaching water safety skills to high-school students.  Surrounded by large bodies of water, this community felt that teaching water smarts was almost as important as teaching safe driving skills, so they decided to do something about it.  Check out this brief video for further details.

Click here to watch this video on YouTube.

Water activities can be a lot of fun, but they can also be life-threatening if your children don’t have the skills they need to keep themselves safe.  Please sign your children up for swimming lessons this summer and encourage your school boards to implement programs like the ones in the above videos!  Let’s all do whatever we can to keep our kids safe!

For more tips on how to keep your children safe in and around water this summer, check out my post on Water Safety.

Water safety

It’s that time of year again!  The weather is getting warmer and people are starting to get their pools ready for the summer.  The local beaches are also preparing for the summer crowds (however, after the long winter, it might be a while before the water warms up enough for swimming).

Thousands of children die every year in pool or open water drownings and boating accidents.  I am a big proponent of swimming lessons for children, but I know that this is not always possible.  Having said that, before you allow your children near a body of water any deeper than a bathtub, they should learn some basic water safety rules.

This YouTube video is a good place to start because it stars some characters that most kids will recognize (Minions from the Despicable Me movies).  Watch it together and then you can talk about it afterwards.

Click here to watch the video on YouTube

This video is only the beginning…teaching your children water safety skills is truly a matter of life and death!

If keeping your children safe is a priority for you, check out my post entitled “YouTube Safety“.

Managing anxiety (during tests and other stressful situations)

So, your child has employed effective study skills, implemented various memory enhancement techniques and has gotten a good night’s sleep.  By all standards, they are ready for the test, but what about the inevitable ‘test jitters’?  What are some tips for managing anxiety?

Most of us have heard of the benefits of deep breathing to calm our nerves (slowly inhale through the nose, hold it for a few seconds and then slowly exhale through the mouth).  I’ve also heard that counting backwards can deliver a calming effect.

The brain is a powerful force and it can be hard to stop it, once it sets its course.  So, when fear kicks in and the brain starts to panic, it’s tough to rein it in (e.g. what if I fail this test and my parents don’t let me get that new video game, then I look like a loser to my friends, then…).  Some say the answer is pure and simple distraction…interrupting your thoughts to break the pattern of panic.

The below video proposes a fast and easy approach to managing anxiety by distracting the brain.  Check it out!

What I love about all of these anxiety management strategies, is that they can be used in any anxiety-inducing situation throughout a child’s lifetime (e.g. during a test, right before they are up to bat, before a presentation at work, etc.).  After all, I’d like to be able to make the claim that anxiety doesn’t exist in adulthood, but we all know that’s a load of hooey!

If you’re interested in teaching your children some strategies on how to take a multiple-choice test, read my post on Test Writing Strategies.  If your children would benefit from better study habits, you may wish to read my posts on “How to study effectively“, “Preparing to study“, “Mnemonic Study Strategies” and “Good Study Habits“.

Test Writing Strategies

Recently, my daughter was part of some standardized testing at school.  These tests are given to grades 3, 6, 9 and 12, in an effort to discover if curriculum expectations are being met.  In truth, I remember doing something similar “way back when” (we called them “bubble tests” because you had to pencil in a circle/bubble beside the correct answer).

The tests consist of multiple-choice questions (a machine ‘marks’ them, so essay questions are not a viable option) and draw on skills and knowledge the kids have acquired up to the current point in time.  Prior to her writing the first test, I tried to give her some basic test writing strategies, but I was pulling them off the top of my head, so my instructions were not as effective as they could have been.

This YouTube video created by ‘MrBuchynski’, does an excellent job of talking about multiple-choice test-taking strategies and providing some examples, so that you and your kids can actually see some of the strategies in action.

Click this link to watch this video on YouTube.

There are many times in their academic lives that our children will be faced with multiple-choice questions, so it’s great to have some strategies that they can draw on when the need presents itself.   However, the even more important life lesson to be learned, is that choosing the correct answer and/or making the right decision, regardless of when and where it takes place, requires careful consideration and a heavy dose of logic!

If you’re interested in teaching your children better study habits, you may wish to read my posts on “How to study effectively“, “Preparing to study“, “Mnemonic Study Strategies” and “Good Study Habits“.

Start preparing your children for academic success today!


Mnemonic Study Strategies

My last post outlined various memory techniques, but I thought it might be helpful to provide more detailed information about the group of memory enhancers that are often referred to as “mnemonic study strategies”.  These memory strategies are most beneficial when information must be learned in a particular order (e.g. number sequences or lists).

When people think of mnemonic devices, they typically think of the ‘acronym’ approach, where the first letter of each word to be remembered is put together to create a word (e.g. Return On Investment = ROI).  However, there are a number of other mnemonic strategies that can be utilized to improve retention of information.

Watch this video for some great examples of mnemonic study strategies.

Show your kids this video and get them thinking about ways they can use mnemonic strategies to study more effectively!

For more memory-enhancing strategies, go to my post entitled Memory Techniques.