Motherhood, Marriage and Other Wild Rides

Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Mommyhood

Kids Summer Reading and Writing Program – Win Cash Prizes! May 29, 2014

Filed under: Fun Family Weekend Ideas,motherhood,school — rjlacko @ 7:30 am

School is almost out for summer holidays, and our kids are looking forward to time away from the classroom. Whether your children will be attending camp, enjoying a family vacation, or jumping through a sprinkler in the yard, every child will benefit from building (and maintaining!) reading and writing skills all summer long.

Wigu Publishing, the people bringing the popular When I Grow Up books to classrooms and libraries across the US is launching a national literacy campaign, offering over $3,000 in cash and prizes to kids willing to read or write just 20 minutes a day this summer.

As parents, we have a special opportunity to make reading and writing fun for our kids! We can make our own commitment to read, or take an interest in the books or kids choose, and discuss the stories and characters with them. Need ideas for daily writing? Brainstorm alternative scenes, create a new ending, or even a new character for a favorite book! These discussions can encourage fun short-story writing sessions, spin-off tales from the child’s imagination, or a venture into playwriting or dreaming of what kind of career our kids might choose to pursue one day.

Summer Superstars: Reading AND Writing Makes Kids Shine.

It’s easy to sign up and get started!

Did you know, due to “summer brain drain,” teachers spend an average of 4-6 weeks every fall re-teaching curriculum from the prior school year?  In an effort to combat this and keep kids moving forward all summer long, Wigu Publishing’s Summer Superstars program has committed over $3,000 in cash prizes to incentivize youngsters this summer.

Each week throughout the summer, young readers and writers will win cash prizes and books from the When I Grow Up I Want To Be… children’s book series.

There’s more: The Grand Prize winner will receive a $1,000 donation to the school or library of the child’s choice, and the winner will receive a $250 Amazon gift card.

“As parents, educators, and business leaders, we felt it was critical to create a campaign which inspires children to not only keep reading, but also to write, all summer long,” explains Wigu Publishing Co-Founder Kim Ressler.

With Wigu’s partners across the United States, including the Youth Learning Center in St. Louis, MO, Summer Superstars will reach into communities nationwide to engage youth in reading and writing activities throughout the summer months.

Need more information? Visit

Wigu Publishing’s When I Grow Up I Want To Be… book series provides informative and fun titles that help children visualize the abundant range of career opportunities that exist for them to be successful and make a positive difference.

Sign up today and win!

Summer Superstars: Reading AND Writing Makes Kids Shine


Wigu Summer Superstars info page 300dpi


Easy Fundraising for Schools – Deep Discounts on Brand Name Children’s Clothes February 27, 2014

Filed under: school — rjlacko @ 10:27 am
Tags: , , ,

bagThousands of parents across the US are turning kids clothes into cash for their children’s schools.  As schools continue to be hit hard by sharp budget cuts (often eliminating music, art, PE and other programs), parents are taking matters into their own hands with a modern fundraising solution that requires no selling wrapping paper to friends!

Schoola is a national platform that is revolutionizing school fundraising. It sends pre-paid bags to parents so they can donate gently used kids clothing. Schoola then collects, tags, prices and features the clothing online at, where parents can purchase for great deals (think 90% off retail.) The best part? 40% of every purchase goes right back to the school! No cost, no fuss.

Schoola is the creation of Stacey Boyd—parent, former teacher and school principal. In 1997, she built an inner city charter school from the ground up. A year later it was one of the highest performing middle schools in Boston. Stacey recognized how children who struggled in math could come alive in music class. How art, physical education and foreign language could have a profound effect on students. She also saw how hard it was to get funds to support these programs. And how easy it was for the programs to get cut.

Dedicated to putting paintbrushes, books, baseballs and violins back into the hands of children, Stacey launched Schoola in the 2012/2013 school year. A few innovative schools took the call to run a clothing drive during the last (and busiest) week of school. Parents sent in their gently used children’s clothing, which were then listed on the website at amazing prices. Participating schools received proceeds from every item sold—a win for all.

Today, Schoola is 3,000 schools strong, bringing new paints to art classes, new instruments to the orchestra, new books for the libraries. Quality clothes get a second life. Parents help parents. Schools help schools. Schoola makes all this happen by giving children the tools they need to succeed. Using Schoola is easy:

1. A Clean Closet

Step right over here to have a Schoola Bag sent to you. Fill it with outgrown clothes and drop it in the mail. Schoola covers all postage.

2. Amazing Savings

Find adorable pre-loved clothes from around the country on Schoola’s site at dramatically-discounted prices. Have a look!

3. Your Child Wins

40% of proceeds from each sale are donated to your child’s school, helping to keep and expand important programs for your child.

Interested? Request a bag here and clean out your closets!


3 Fresh Approaches to Educating Boys in School December 13, 2013

Filed under: health,school — rjlacko @ 2:59 pm
Tags: , ,

Dixon bookBoys have fundamentally different learning patterns, says pioneering expert

The problem of boys in education is not a new one. I printed pages of studies for my sons’ preschool and kindergarten teachers, begging them not to compare my boys’ abilities to sit criss-cross-apple-sauce or write the alphabet as prettily and patiently as their female counterparts.

A recent study from researchers at the University of Georgia, which followed 10,000 students as they moved from kindergarten to eighth grade, indicates that though boys scored well on tests, indicating mastery of material, girls got better grades. Researchers account for higher scores in girls because they comported themselves better than boys while in the classroom.

“Boys and girls have fundamentally different learning needs; girls are better at  sitting still and listening, whereas boys learn better via kinesthetic learning,  which involves more physical activity,” says Edmond J. Dixon, Ph.D., who has more than three decades experience as a teacher and is a parent of boys, and is the author of “Helping Boys Learn: Six Secrets for Your Son’s Success in School,” ( He also has a teacher’s edition titled “Helping Boys Learn: Six Secrets for Teaching Boys in  the Classroom.”

“There are many other studies, however, showing boys underperforming in school; now, it’s a matter of what we’re going to do about  it.”

Dixon, a cognitive-kinesthetics specialist, discusses why his first three “secrets” are so important in helping boys with active minds and bodies.

• Movement matters: The student most likely to disrupts the class because they cannot sit still is a boy. Research reveals that young boys’ brains develop a tremendous amount of neural wiring to facilitate movement and sensitivity for how things “fit” together.
When a boy is a toddler, we would never think that a sedentary child is a good indicator of health, so what makes us think that he should change while in grade school?
TIP: Allow a boy to use his “movement wiring” by allowing him to use his body as he learns to represent the topic.

• Games work: Testosterone makes males naturally competitive. If you want them to become suddenly engaged in something, make a game out of the lesson—it’s just like flipping a  switch on. Just look at sports talk shows with analysis such as “Pardon the   Interruption;” each expert has a clock clicking down to make his point. Little gaming tricks like this works on the male brain.
TIP: Create clear rules to help boys understand victory, and add legitimacy to the lesson. Games also serve as an excellent method for male bonding, too.

• Make them laugh: Observe a group of males; whether young or old, they bust each other’s chops. Not only is it okay, they enjoy it! Everyone has a positive chemical reaction with laughter; boys, however, often use humor as a form of communication, an asset with which most girls do not have a problem. Research has demonstrated that boys’ emotions are processed initially in the more primitive parts of the brain and come more indirectly to the speech centers. That’s why making a crude joke is easier for males to communicate sensitive feelings.
TIP: Before starting homework or an assignment, ask a boy to consider what might be funny, weird or strange about it; his mind will be more focused on the topic afterwards.  

About the author: A pioneer in the field of cognitive-kinesthetics for learning, Edmond J. Dixon, Ph.D., is the founder of the KEEN Differentiated Learning Group, an organization dedicated to helping struggling learners, and the creator of  KEEN 5X, a series of strategies for classroom engagement and learning that have been used with more than 50,000 students and teachers. His previous books, “KEEN For Learning” and “Literacy Through Drama,” have been used by educators to improve classroom learning.

Dr. Edmond J. Dixon’s book Helping Boys Learn: 6 Secrets for Your Son’s Success in School

This easy-to-read book gives parents what they need to help  their songs become successful learners at home, in school, and beyond. Discover how to use these six secrets to help boys:

 Sit still and stay focused
 Avoid distractions and stay on task
 Complete homework without nagging
 Put forth their best effort in schoolwork
 Become passionate, successful learners in school

I’ve had too many encounters with teachers which have ended in heartache for all parties. Most boys want to do well in school, and that means they want to move. When the teacher expects a class to sit still, and perform as well as the top (female) performer, everyone, the teacher included, is left frustrated, and disappointed. What experiences have you had in your son’s classroom?


Try a Twist on the Advent Calendar Tradition, Free Printable Christmas Stories November 27, 2013

Filed under: Fun Family Weekend Ideas,Lacko Family Chronicles,motherhood — rjlacko @ 4:21 pm

adventcalendarAs a child, I loved advent calendars. The countdown to Christmas Eve was marked on a calendar sent to me each year by my Auntie Janet. Growing up, I was happy to open a little paper window each day to see what Christmas-inspired image lay behind. She never missed a year, straight through to college.

When I married my husband, he bought a beautiful puzzle version, in the shape of a Christmas tree, with drawers hiding chocolate treats. My children can’t wait to open it year after year. To strengthen the tradition, when my children were born, my mother sewed this  fabric one (see left) with pockets.

So our family displays two calendars each year. Being an obsessed chocoholic, I love treating my children to fine dark chocolate during the holidays. (You can never have too much chocolate in the house!) By age four, my youngest son could tell the difference between a Valrhona and a Scharffen Berger.

But two calendars means too many sweets. Rather than put away one of my beloved calendars, I’ve decided this year to fill my mother’s fabric pocket calendar with miniature scrolls, each printed with a part of a Christmas story.

I collected a series of free short stories from the web, and created a document so that I could cut out each “mini scroll,” marked with the day it is to be read, and roll it and tie it with a ribbon. Each day they’ll receive a new part of a story, until they finish with a little book.

There are three stories in all, followed by two poems.

If you’re interested in trying a new tradition, please feel free to print my Christmas Stories PDF.

**It’s important to note that I altered the stories a bit. Everything I found was ancient–and many of those old Christmas tales have surprisingly tragic endings!  I felt compelled to sweeten them up somewhat, and I did try to make the language easier to understand–but be assured the overall messages remain intact and preserved.  Merry Christmas, one and all!


Top 10 Reasons the Hello, World book is the Perfect, Personalized Baby Gift October 11, 2013

Written by Jennifer Dewing and illustrated by Holli Conger

Written by Jennifer Dewing and illustrated by Holli Conger

My neighbors recently welcomed home their first child, a beautiful baby girl. My husband and I didn’t falter; we bought the biggest box of newborn-sized diapers we could find. Babies need to be changed an average of 12 times per day–a practical gift makes sense.
We were stumped about choosing a more personal gift to offer. The transformation of becoming a parent is life-changing. The overwhelming love that blooms within the heart deserves to be honored, nurtured, and celebrated. But how?
Hello, World! delivers on the top 10 list of what to look for in a baby gift. Written by award-winning author Jennifer Dewing and illustrated with adorable animals by artist Holli Conger, Hello, World! comes personalized with the new baby’s name and photo (optional). If you provide the parents’ names, the city where the baby lives and the baby’s birth weight, the book will include that optional personalized information as well. Like all I See Me personalized books and gifts, this new title makes a special gift and lasting keepsake.

1.     Make it a Keepsake. Personalizing this book with baby’s thoughtfully selected name will be something that baby (and the new parents) will treasure for a lifetime.

2.     Educational. Babies learn and develop right before your eyes. This gift is educational and helps to fuel the new baby’s brain development.

3.     WOW Factor Hello, World! is sure to get a lot of “OOOHS” and “AAAAHS” when opened by the new parents.

4.     Growth Potential. This gift grows with the baby. A special book is a gift that baby will use for years and keep forever.

5.     Picture Perfect. Any gift that can be customized with a baby’s photo is sure to be a hit with new parents. And, baby will delight in seeing himself or herself on the gift. (My “big kids” STILL loving seeing photos of themselves as infants. Me too!)

6.     Drool Over It. We’re talking “baby gift” here. Hello, World! is colorful and something baby will literally “drool” over.

7.     Cuddle Factor. Both parent and baby will love snuggling up with this story.

8.     Built to Last. Let’s face it, babies have curious and exploring little hands and mouths! This book is a quality gift that is built to last.

9.     Easy-to-Order. Hello, World! can be delivered to your special delivery within a couple weeks of birth.

10.  Made in the USA. Feeling patriotic? Hello, World! is made right in the USA.


*I was not compensated for this recommendation. Hello, World! is a high-quality, charming keepsake.


Inspiring Kids to Read & Write Stories – 4 Fun Tips November 13, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — rjlacko @ 6:18 pm

Words are the foundation of any great story. Whether eloquent, blunt, allusive or rudimentary, words are the playthings of those new to the alphabet and MFA students alike.

photo by David Browning

I have two children, ages 5 and 7; both alphabet aficionados and no strangers to playthings. Like any book nerd, I do my best to feed their literary minds-in-training, beginning with picture books, and moving onto chapter books. I’ve had success; they can’t go—won’t go—to bed without bedtime stories, no matter the hour or my exhaustion. But I want them to love books, and—dare I dream?—writing, as much as I do. I figure my best hope is to reveal the magic of words.

  1. The Word Hunt: I picked up a book about palindromes and quite unexpectedly, ignited unbridled excitement for this surprising word configuration. Most children are intrigued by puzzles, and even early and pre-readers can get in on the action. Have your child scan the patterns of letters comprising a sentence; if they find a word or series of words that reads the same forward and backward, it’s a palindrome! Once my kids got the hang of it, they would spontaneously shout from the back seat of the car if they overheard me using a palindrome while talking to my husband up front. (*note: kids listen to everything you say. The only words which fall on deaf ears are your instructions and/or rules.)
  2. Compound words: My kindergartner is always on the lookout <<see? for two words glued at the middle to create a new word. Again, strong reading isn’t necessary to begin, but do point out compound words when you come across them in a book, or on signs and buildings during car rides. The one who finds the most compound words wins! (Note, my older son prefers instead to find words with prefixes and suffixes. My kindergartner doesn’t get this concept yet. To each his own.)
  3. Synonyms: This is another game we play in car or the grocery store, or anytime I need to keep the boys occupied. Choose a word they really like, and have them think of as many synonyms for it as they can. (Mistakes will happen—they will rhyme, for instance, or come up with a homonym without knowing it, but that’s fun too!) My children have a giggly blast thinking up synonyms for vomit, I regret to admit. Whatever it takes.
  4. The Human Condition: As a small child, I used to think stories were merely series of events. I didn’t think much about character  motivation, but understanding why a character responds one way or another when faced with conflict is essential. For young kids, character motivation can be taught simply by getting on the floor with them and asking questions during imaginative play. My boys have a Fisher Price jungle toy with an orienteering type action figure we’ll call Hemingway and a bucket of miniature animal figurines. They wanted to play a game where the Hemingway character searches for lost gold treasure in the jungle, and another action figure was to assume the role of “bad guy.” Awesome, we have the beginning of a plot. I asked the boys, “How will Hemingway find the treasure?” Boys: “The animals in the jungle are his friends! And they know where the treasure is!” I love their positive outlook, but here is the moment when an OK story gains momentum—with character motivation. Me: “How did the animals become his friend?” Boys: (thinking I’m crazy but trying to come up with a reason) “…he helped them find the baby tiger when she was lost and brought her back to her mommy?” To gain a clearer vision of the animals’ friendship and desire to help Hemingway find gold, we acted it out. We hid the baby tiger, the Hemingway action figure was posed through many heroic and dangerous stunts to save her, all the while the rest of the animals in the jungle fretted and cried out for the lost baby. Such gloom and doom among the animal kingdom, when wait! Hemingway returns with baby, safe and sound! The tiger mommy and daddy are forever grateful and vow to help whenever they’re needed. At the tiger’s homecoming celebration, my sons got the idea that the animals tell Hemingway about the bad guy hunting them. This was fantastic, because it added another stake to the race to find the gold, and further invests the animals in helping Hemingwat achieve his goal and overcoming the bad guy/hunter.

Create a balance of fostering independence while demonstrating interest in their activities by asking questions and brainstorming ideas. Throw your own palindromes, synonyms and compound words into the ring. Most importantly, have fun and laugh. Words are for play!

What games or techniques have you used to inspire a love of words in your children?


Twelve Tips for Handling Conflict with a Coach (Part II) October 16, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — rjlacko @ 10:03 am

Last week we talked about spotting coaches and teachers who are negatively affecting, or, in fact, harming children using bullying tactics in an effort to “motivate.” (Part I: When Your Child’s Coach or Teacher is the Bully – What Makes a Good Leaders) At some point over the course of your child’s athletic career, it may become necessary to confront a coach with a problem. Todd Patkin suggests twelve things to help you turn “the talk” into a score, not a fumble.

Understand that it might be stressful. This may sound obvious, but the fact is, people are often surprised by how stressful a tough conversation with a coach can be. Especially if the coach gives vehement pushback or is less than civil, something as seemingly simple as, “Since I’m around him all the time, do you mind if I share with you how my son best receives feedback?” can turn into a tense, nerve-wracking confrontation. Just be prepared for the possibility!

Let your child go to bat first, if possible. If the situation isn’t too serious, and if you and your child are comfortable, allow her to talk to the coach before stepping in yourself. For instance, it’s realistic for a child to approach her coach on a simple issue such as, “Hey, Coach, what can I do to get more playing time?” It may even be the case that the coach will respond more constructively to her than to you. (As always, it’s appropriate to still keep a close eye on the situation to make sure that your child isn’t in over her head and that there are no adverse effects.)

Get your child’s permission. If you think it’s best that you be the one to approach your child’s coach, get the go-ahead from him before you have “the talk.” You don’t want him to feel blindsided or embarrassed, and it’s smart to get his take on how the conversation might affect his relationship with his coach and teammates.

Keep the focus on your child. Even if your day job happens to be sports-related, it’s best to limit the conversation to issues that concern the well-being of your child. For instance, you’re well within your rights to talk about your daughter’s mental and physical treatment, as well as to offer insight into what motivates her. However, try to avoid giving general advice regarding how the coach manages the team, determines playing time, or relates to other  players. And (as is common knowledge in the relationship realm), always use “I” statements like “I feel” or “I think” instead of “you always” and “you never.”

Walk a mile in the coach’s cleats. It’s true: There really are two sides to every story, and coaching can sometimes be a tough and thankless job. If you’re having an uncomfortable conversation with a coach, make a sincere effort to understand his perspective. Try to listen as much as you speak. Remember, some coaches are volunteers who don’t get paid. Others may have to answer to bosses or administrators. And still others may have been placed in a tough position while trying to accommodate other parents and/or players.

Don’t be impulsive. In virtually every situation (not just those that involve your child and his coach!), it’s best to think before you speak and act. Give the coach a chance to get to know your child before stepping in, and try not to speak up until you determine that the undesired behavior is a pattern that doesn’t seem to be changing—unless, of course, it is harmful. Not being impulsive also means refraining from making snide comments or yelling criticisms during games. Handling yourself appropriately will set you up to receive respect and civility when and if you do  have the talk.

Say no to gossip. Especially if other parents have similar grievances, it can be tempting to criticize the coach as a group behind his or her back. Resist this urge! You don’t want the coach to hear your complaints from someone else; and remember, gossiping does nothing to change the situation for the better. If you have shared grievances with other parents and decide to confront the coach directly, refrain from listing off the names of other moms and dads who feel the same way—you don’t want the coach to feel that all his players’ parents have ganged up on him. And along these lines, don’t get involved in issues that concern other children and their parents.

Especially if it’s serious, schedule the conversation. Don’t assume that your child’s coach has time just before or immediately following the next practice or game. At these points, the coach may be preoccupied or stressed, and the conversation might accidentally become a public event. Instead, let the coach know that you’d like to discuss something important, and ask her to suggest a good time. (Remember, face-to-face is usually best, as email exchanges and even phone conversations can foster misunderstandings.)

Be polite. You’re always reminding your child to be polite and respectful, so make sure to model that advice yourself! Remember, this is not an excuse to be aggressive or to attack the coach. Instead, think about what you’d like the ideal outcome to be, and tailor your words and actions to help achieve that end. Also, don’t make threats—including threatening to quit the team! (In fact, if there are aspects of the coach’s leadership that you admire, it’s a good idea to start the conversation with those sincere compliments so the coach knows you aren’t just “out to get him.”)

Be sure to explain the problem. Asking a coach to stop a certain behavior or to relate to your child in a different way is important, but it’s also wise to explain why the current behavior isn’t working. Make sure the coach knows that your child is being adversely affected, and how. In many cases, the problem may simply be that the coach doesn’t realize that her way of doing things is causing harm.

Offer solutions. After talking about the problem, offer solutions if you feel comfortable doing so. A coach who truly cares will want what is best for your child too, and he’ll probably appreciate your advice if it is offered in a nonaggressive and respectful manner. Also, be sure to give him a chance to apologize and fix the problem after your conversation.

If you have to turn in the jersey, do so respectfully. Sometimes, your child’s relationship with a coach might not work despite your sincere efforts. Don’t make a hasty decision in the heat of the moment. But if, after taking some time to think and discuss the situation with your child, you feel that your last resort—quitting the team—is the only option left, have a private meeting with the coach to explain why.

Have you had “the talk” with a coach or teacher? What were the results?

Todd Patkin is the author of Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In. Todd lives with his wonderful wife, Yadira, their amazing son, Josh, and two great dogs, Tucker and  Hunter.