Tag Archives: military kids

Summertime Backyard Fun for Your MilFam (with tutorials!)

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Camp season is officially here!

This week, I boarded a plane to Calfornia, eager to head off to Operation Purple® Camp in Angelus Oaks. I’ve been a military spouse for 10 years, and spent the last three of them in Germany teaching art to military kids on base. I just love how MilKids are so creative, friendly, and fun-loving. Heading to camp with them is something I’ve been looking forward to for months.

To make it even more special, California is “home” for me. Germany was just too far, and my family was too big, so we weren’t able to afford the trip back during our European tour. I’ve been away from home four long years now, and boy, has the California landscape changed. The first thing I noticed when the plane touched down was how brown California has turned since I left!

Unfortunately a brown, dry landscape doesn’t make for a calm fire season. A fire has broken out in the San Bernardino mountains, right outside of the Operation Purple Camp in Angelus Oaks. The roads to camp are closed, and the air conditions are not healthy for kids… which means NMFA had to make the hard decision to postpone camp.

We’re all pretty heartbroken about it. This is something we haven’t had to do in the past, but at this point, the most important thing is making sure our camp kids are safe.

Camp will be held for these kids in a couple weeks, instead. If I’m this disappointed, I can’t imagine how bummed all our MilKids were when they heard camp was going to be postponed.

In the meantime, we don’t want the fires to hold you back from having a little summer fun. We’ve put together a whole list of fun activities (with linked tutorials on our Pinterest Board) for you to try with the kids while you wait for the air to clear up at camp:

1. Pitch a tent in the backyard
2. Make foil packet dinners
3. Eat Smores
4. Learn how to tie knots
5. Make a miniature bow and arrow
6. Make a marshmallow popper
7. Play with giant bubbles
8. Make a dreamcatcher
9. Learn to identify trees from their leaves
10. Learn about bugs
11. Start a nature journal
12. Go on a geocache
13. Learn the constellations
14. Lay down and look at the clouds
15. Have a picnic

Keep busy, have some “camp at home” fun, and hopefully, we’ll see you soon at Operation Purple Camp!

What are some of your family’s favorite summertime activities?

HeatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager

Beat the PCS Summer Time Blues: Keep Your MilKids Connected

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PCS season during the summer months is a blessing and a curse. For military families with school-age kids, moving during the summer break means your kids will be able to finish the school year and say goodbye to friends. Yet, at the same time, it may be difficult for your kids to make new friends at your new duty location during the summer months when school is out.

So how do you keep your military kids connected and engaged during the summer months and help them make friends before the school year starts?

Here are 5 tips that have helped my kids make new friends during the summer months:

Parks: We have made it a mission to visit a new park each Friday afternoon. We have several parks in our new community, and my children love to play on the play equipment and meet new kids. Visit your community’s park and recreation division for a list of neighborhood parks.

Swim lessons: It’s hot during the summer months and swim lessons are a low-cost way to keep cool, learn or practice skills, and meet new friends. My kids have taken lessons at pools on base and in the community. Check with your installation aquatics department, local YMCA, or city’s aquatics program for swim lesson opportunities.

Grab a book: Local libraries and the Department of Defense (DoD) and Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) both offer summer reading opportunities and hands-on activities to keep your kids engaged. Read to Rhythm is the 2015 DoD-MWR summer reading program theme.

Pinterest: I’m not a crafty mom, but Pinterest has great tips for keeping kids busy during the summer. To find local activities, try combining the following search terms “your location” + “kids” + “activities.” If a local mom’s group has a Pinterest page, you should be able to find it here.

Follow event calendars: Whether you live on a military installation, or in a civilian community, local summer events are bound to be nearby. Find local event calendars and look for activities to entertain your family. Free summer concerts, movies in the park, or annual rummage sales may be the perfect opportunity to engage in your new community.

How do you help your military kids meet friends and stay busy during the summer months? Share your tips in the comments section!

katie2Posted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager

Educating the Dandelion: Creating Stability in Education During a PCS

Girl-holding-flagDandelions.  Some people may see a weed, but I see resiliency.

Did you know that the dandelion is the unofficial official flower of the military child?  It’s crazy to think the puffy flower you picked in the backyard as a child represents our military kids, but it does.  I found a comparison of the two and it’s startling how similar they really are in definition.  According to an often-cited anonymous poem:

“The plant puts down roots almost anywhere, and it’s almost impossible to destroy. It’s an unpretentious plant, yet good looking. It’s a survivor in a broad range of climates. Military children bloom everywhere the winds carry them. They are hardy and upright. Their roots are strong, cultivated deeply in the culture of the military, planted swiftly and surely. They’re ready to fly in the breezes that take them to new adventures, new lands, and new friends.”

The description above would be even more fitting if dandelions had to receive an education, change grades, take new tests, learn new curriculum and change schools with every gust of wind. Although our dandelion kids are amazingly resilient, sturdy and strong, they face school transition and education inequities with every permanent change of station (PCS). It’s a mountain of emotion with every move.

There a few important facts to consider when you PCS with school-age children.

There are currently 2,000,000 military-connected children in America:

  • 1,381,584 are ages 4-18 years old.
  • 1,105,267 (over 80%) attend PK-12 public schools.
  • Every school district in the country has military-connected students.
  • Approximately 10-12% of military-connected students are served in special education programs.

Military families move an average of every two to three years, meaning that approximately 500,000 active duty military children change schools every year.

  • 517,734 children in preschool (ages 0-5)
  • 516,324 children in primary school (ages 6-14)
  • 186,883 children in high school or older (ages 15-22)

One change of duty station results in a number of cascading changes for a military child:

A change of address
A change of schools
A change in friends
A change in routines
A change in neighborhoods
A change in activities
A change in housing

This list is not complete by a long shot, particularly without the inclusion of a reference to educational continuity. Even many educators do not understand the educational continuity challenges that military-connected children face.

I have two children. My son has attended three public schools and he’s just eight years old. My daughter is seven and she’s moved five times in her short (and well-travelled) life. My kids are young little dandelions but they have already proven their sturdiness through multiple school changes. I recently had an experience that caused me to change the way I view school transitions resulting from a PCS. I no longer hope things will work out; rather, I ensure things will work out. I leave little to chance.

kids-at-schoolMy son is an atypical learner and has unique educational needs. He does not have an IEP or 504 plan, yet he can be a challenge for many teachers and would easily fall through the cracks in a large classroom. My son’s teachers, counselors and principal in our last assignment in Ohio showed great interest in his learning style and really supported his needs. My husband and I embraced their innovative recommendations, including a one-grade academic acceleration.

My son went through an extensive testing and interview process and we were to be assigned to the location for the next two years or more. His educators promised to continue to support him through elementary school, hand-picking his teachers and enrichment program placements. We pulled the trigger to accelerate him after careful and deliberate discussion. The school staff was extremely supportive – amazing, actually — and gave us the option to “undo” the acceleration if it didn’t work out. He would finish out the last few months of school year in the next higher grade.

Then the unexpected happened. We were notified that we had to move and received PCS orders after my son had completed eight weeks in his new grade. He was just getting through the bumpy part. Not only were we moving unexpectedly, but we were moving overseas, and doing so in less than two months.

“What have I done?” I said to my husband when he broke the news to me.

I was terrified. We were supposed to be in this location for at least two years. I trusted this school and now I had to take the leap of faith that the next school could provide the same exceptional level of support. Of course, there was no guarantee. My dandelion kids were being blown in a new direction and I could only worry where they would land.

I felt betrayed, even angry that this transient life we lead might negatively impact my children’s education. I was mad that I couldn’t see this coming; after all, I’m a seasoned military spouse of ten years. I was determined to make it right, to level the playing field for my children and others. It was me, not them, who signed up for this military life, and it was my job to advocate for their education.

A close friend who happens to be a school psychologist and a mother of two dandelion kids helped me create an education binder for my children – a tool to communicate my children’s educational needs and history. We began with my son’s educational binder. I filled the binder with all the information the school counselor needed to place him with the best teacher for him, enroll him in the right programs for him and implement the appropriate accommodations for him. This binder allowed his teacher to know my son even before he walked into her classroom. He was quickly enrolled and identified for enrichment programs and the school asked for occupational therapy evaluations within just a few weeks.

This transition was so much smoother than his previous experiences and I felt as if he was ready to learn on the first day of school. It was an amazing feeling and I credit the education binder; it neatly organized and presented who my child was as a student and conveyed his needs in a way counselors and teachers understood.

I’ve given this binder a special name that reflects my mission: the Operation Dandelion Kids (ODK) Education Binder. The binder does more than exhibit a transcript – it shares the child’s educational story and includes:

  • Work samples,
  • Report cards,
  • Standardized test scores,
  • Transcripts highlighting different curricula at different schools,
  • Teacher conference documentation,
  • Teacher-to-teacher communication,
  • Notes deployments and homecomings, and
  • A picture of my child so counselors and teachers can put a face with a name.

This binder is as professional as it is personal – it’s a military child’s educational life story.

Creating an education binder for your child will help you organize their records, advocate for their needs and communicate their educational story. I want my kids to embrace all the positives of being a new kid in school – the sense of adventure, feeling of excitement when making new friends, and innate enthusiasm for learning and joining new programs. I want to minimize the negative aspects of being the new kid: having to make new friends, learning a new school layout, and absorbing new curriculum. I want my kids to be ready to learn on day one–not lose six weeks to three months spinning their wheels in the wrong classroom while awaiting yet another new set of test results.

When their education falls into place so does their social life. When they are learning, they are thriving academically and socially. And when they are thriving, I can settle down too.

I know I’m not the only military-connected parent that experiences a wave of panic as PCS season draws near and I think of my children having to change schools again. We’re in this together and together as a military community we can help each other through these transitions, educate school personnel and support our little dandelions as they ride the winds of military life.

Visit FamiliesOnTheHomeFront.com to download your free ODK Education Binder and learn how Operation Dandelion Kids will help your child through school and life transitions. We offer parenting advice, school psychologist-approved recommendations and even school and PCS checklists.

Posted by Stacy Huisman, Air Force spouse and Managing Director for FamiliesOnTheHomefront.com

Win a FREE Photo Session for Your Military Family!

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In honor of Military Family Appreciation Month, we’ve teamed up with 25 amazing military spouse photographers to bring you the contest to beat all others! You’re not going to want to miss out on this opportunity!

We’ve got photographers in all corners of the world, ready to offer you a free photo session for your military family! Yes – we’re talking to you, in Germany, and you, in Japan! And entering is as easy as a few clicks. If you’re near any of these locations or installations, we want you to enter!

All of these amazing photographers are military spouses donating their time for this awesome contest. Stop by their websites and like their Facebook pages to check out their work!

Colorado Springs, CO:  Reflections by Rosie Photography
Fredericksburg, VA:  Jessica Green Photography
Washington, D.C.:  Tiny Sparrow Photography
El Paso, TX:  Julie Rivera Photography
Montclair, VA:  Judith Lovett, Photographer
Des Moines, IA:  Britney Brown Design Photography
Newport, RI:  Ellie Lynn Photography
Jacksonville, FL:  Amy Hensley Photography
Pensacola, FL:  DJENNphoto
Sangdahlem AFB, Germany:  Little Bit of Life Photography
Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA:  Simply Immaculate Photography
Naples, Italy:  Athena Plichta Photography
San Diego, CA:  Ashley Langtry Photography
Taunusstein, Germany:  Little B Memories
NAF Atsugi, Japan:  Lina Elyse Photography
Ft. Leavenworth, KS:  Patton Portraits
Charleston, SC:  Haley Hickman Photography
Ft. Hood, TX:  April Kroenke Photography
Huntsville, AL:  Vanderport Designs
Monterey, CA:  Momma Mea Photography
Oahu, HI:  Tabitha Ann Photography
Maine: Neola Photography
Ft. Rucker, AL:  Emily Grace // Photography
Ft. Drum, NY:  Wunderkind Photography
RAF Lakenheath, UK:  Danielle McCown Photography
Ft. Polk, LA:  Chaque Bonne Memoire Photography

Are you ready to win? ENTER HERE!

Entries are being accepted until midnight on May 31, 2015. Winners will be selected June 1, 2015.

Have trouble viewing the entry form? Visit our Facebook page and click the “Enter to Win!” tab.

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Sick and Tired: Military Kids Need Better Access to Same-Day Care at MTF

Child-at-MTFRecently, when a military spouse at our Association told me she had to take her baby to the emergency room when there were no appointments at their Military Treatment Facility (MTF), I thought my head was going to explode.

I flashed back to one of many similar situations I faced when we were on TRICARE Prime, and my daughter, Kate, was in her ‘ear infection phase.’ On one memorable occasion, Kate started a fever on a Friday night (of course, after the MTF was closed for the weekend). By Saturday, the telltale ear tugging and crankiness were in full swing. I kept my fingers crossed that we could keep things under control with Motrin and Tylenol until the clinic reopened on Monday. Unfortunately, by Sunday she had a 104 degree fever, obvious signs of a ruptured ear drum (I’ll spare you the details), and was crying inconsolably.

I knew we couldn’t wait until Monday for an MTF appointment, so with a newborn crying to be fed and a 20 month old wailing in pain, I braced myself for an uphill battle to find medical care that TRICARE would cover.

I consulted the TRICARE website where it seemed like our only option was the emergency room. This concerned me; did a ruptured ear drum constitute a threat to life, limb, or eyesight? I was terrified of having to foot the bill for an ER visit.

Not willing to risk it, I called TRICARE. They told me to take Kate to a network urgent care and call our primary care manager (PCM) on Monday to request a referral.

I think you know where this story is going…

On Monday, I called our PCM, who refused to give me a referral because the appointment had already taken place. When I called TRICARE back, their hands were tied. Without a referral, they could not pay the urgent care provider. We were at an impasse, and eventually paid out of pocket for that visit.

The reason this particular incident is burned into my memory is because it occurred while I was recovering from a c-section, and we were about a week away from PCSing. My husband’s new unit had orders to Iraq, but the departure date kept moving, causing second and third order effects… most notably on our temporary housing plans. Oh, and we had just learned (from CNN – surprise!) that Army deployments were being extended to 15 months.

Military families lead complicated lives full of uncertainty. Getting a sick child appropriate medical attention should NOT be complicated.

The National Military Family Association has advocated for years to fix this problem.

And, in fairness, things have improved.

Sometimes.

At certain locations.

For instance, our old MTF in Virginia, the Woodbridge Clinic, is gone now. It’s replaced with the Dumfries Clinic, which has improved appointment access by adding Saturday hours.

Yet, we still hear of too many instances where families can’t get same-day appointments at the MTF, are refused referrals to urgent care, and are left with no option but the emergency room for their sick kids.

This is just wrong.

As the health care subject matter expert for our Association, this issue is not only my job, it’s personal. Now is the time to fix this problem once and for all. Military families deserve access to the best care, including same-day appointments for urgent issues.

Please help us by signing our petition and sharing your experience with access to same day appointments in the comments below.

karen-rPosted by Karen Ruedisueli, Government Relations Deputy Director

Since When Does MTF Mean ‘Might Take Forever?’

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Did you know garlic is a powerful antibiotic?

I didn’t either, until I had lived in Germany on an Army post for a couple months.

One day, my daughter woke up with a fever. It was just high enough to have me worried, so I waited for the appointment line to open for the day, and called as soon as the clock rolled over to 7:30am.

We know how this goes, so of course, I had the number programmed in my phone. All the better to dial quickly. By 7:31am I had navigated (like a pro) through the menu options and found myself on hold, waiting to talk to a representative.

“There are seven calls ahead of you.”

Seven.

My heart sank. Seven isn’t great. Seven means it’s likely that the appointments for the day will be filled before they get to me. But, being the optimist I am, I hung on the line.

After all, my baby daughter had a fever. She’s never sick, and even after being trained as a nurse, fevers in infants worry me. The hold music starts playing, and I pulled out the thermometer again. I held my breath and hoped.

Nope, the fever was still there. She’s was flushed, and clammy, and crying, again, because I just had to take her temperature one more time.

“There are four calls ahead of you.”

It’s now 7:45am and I am losing hope. I’m bouncing the baby and waiting.

Finally, a representative comes on the line, gets my husband’s social security number, and asks me to explain the problem. I do, and the baby screams, filling in the gaps of my story with her own frantic song.

“The earliest we can get you in is Friday. There is an appointment at two.”

Today is Monday, and we need seen now. Friday won’t work. On Friday, she’ll be fine. Or, as my overly worried Momma brain starts thinking, she’ll be dead.

The only other option is to take her to the emergency room. Germany doesn’t have an urgent care system, and other than the small clinic on post, there isn’t an American facility to go to. However, the German children’s hospital is amazing, if your child needs a hospital; if you have an infant with a fever, it’s really not that great. What I needed was antibiotics for an ear infection, and the reassurance that I was doing the best I could by hydrating and comforting my child at home. What I got was excessive testing in the German hospital, hours of waiting, the stress of not being unable to understand the system, and the flu (probably from the arm rests in the waiting room).

Unfortunately, this situation happened to me again, and again, for the three years we were stationed in Germany.

During our tour there, I was only seen ONE time for an urgent matter in the pediatrician’s office, and that was because I sat in the office and refused to leave until someone could help me.

I learned quickly the best I could do was attempt to help myself. I learned that garlic is a powerful antibiotic… in large doses. And believe me: you really haven’t lived until you’ve tried to get your five year old to swallow four cloves of fresh garlic to treat a suspected ear infection.

I learned Germany has an extensive alternative medicine culture, and in a pinch, I could go to a pharmacy off post and communicate my problems (in terrible German) to their pharmacists. I learned essential oils can help, and sometimes, you just have to suck it up and spend two nights in the German hospital for an issue American doctors would treat as urgent care, and send you home.

This has to change. Our military children deserve better. As wonderful as alternative medicine and emergency rooms are, we shouldn’t be forced to use them because there aren’t enough appointments, or doctors, to go around.

In the meantime, I’m stocking up on garlic.

Have you had problems making an MTF appointment for a sick family member? Please tell us about it and include the approximate time frame (we are most interested in recent situations to show this is a current problem). We will compile your stories and share with Congress and senior DoD leadership.

heatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager

Win a Bedroom Makeover for Your Awesome MilKid!

MilKid-Bedroom-Makeover

We’re having a blast celebrating the Month of the Military Child, and this month just got a little more awesome! NMFA is teaming up with top design firm Laurel & Wolf to give a special military child a bedroom makeover! You may remember the contest we did with Laurel & Wolf, where we surprised a deserving military spouse with a master bedroom makeover…now, it’s time for the kids to win!

Military kids are resilient, endure change like champs, and in some cases, are the glue that holds the family together while a parent is deployed. They’re strong 365 days a year, we’re excited to work with Laurel & Wolf to give back to our nation’s smallest heroes.

Would your MilKid love a bedroom makeover? Are they in need of a space that’s all theirs? Enter to win today! Tell us why your child is one-of-a-kind and he or she could be chosen as the winner on April 17th!

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager