Tag Archives: children’s education

Read All the Books…Even When a Parent is Deployed

At my kid’s elementary school, reading homework is mandatory for every grade—at least 30 minutes a day for the older kids and 20 for the younger ones. As a mom of 3, whose kids are in everything from soccer to ballet, it’s hard to find the time! And shhhhh, don’t tell their teachers but, sometimes we don’t get to it. And my husband isn’t on active duty anymore, so he’s here to help.

But what about currently serving military families? Contrary to popular belief, deployments are not ending—so military spouses are holding down the fort at home, reading homework and all.

Of course reading homework isn’t about the homework or the 20-30 minutes… the point is that reading together as a family has a critical impact on literacy.

Nobody understands this better than United Through Reading (UTR), a wonderful nonprofit with 200 locations around the world offering service members a chance to get video-recorded reading books for their children.

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Today, UTR released a report on “Nurturing Literacy Skills for Children in Military Families through the Read-Aloud Experience.” The study begins by citing a series of troubling reports on the state of literacy in our country. A third of American kids go to Kindergarten unprepared, and about 20% of high school graduates can’t read. What??? Kids are graduating high school unable to read?

There’s no simple answer to this monumental problem for our country, but UTR has an amazing program that tackles one of the primary, proven remedies: reading aloud to children.

The United Through Reading program provides regular availability of the read-aloud experience to military children who otherwise may find this experience harder to come by with one deployed parent and one busy parent at home taking on the full weight of running the household,” the UTR report explains.

Of course there’s Skype and Facetime and other online video options—but those often cut out due to poor connection when I sit on the wrong side of the house, so how reliable can they be from the other side of the world? What UTR provides are clear recordings of a parent reading, without interruption. Their child can follow along and get that important read-aloud experience regardless of whether their mom or dad is in Djibouti, Afghanistan or their living room.

Some reminders from UTR’s report that military families live every day, but much of the world forgets:

  • Military families relocate 10 times more often than civilian families — on average, every 2 or 3 years.
  • Since 2001, more than 2 million American children have had a parent deployed at least once, and more than 900,000 children have experienced the deployment of one or both parents multiple times.
  • A RAND Corporation study even found a strong association between children who have endured separations from a parent due to deployment and lower achievement in reading and math.

Some kids watch their recorded story hundreds of times during their parent’s deployment. How many days of homework does that add up to??

Has your family taken advantage of UTR? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.

besa_2016Posted by Besa Pinchotti, Communications Director

10 Reasons Parents Happily Say Goodbye to Summer!

School is back in session. You can’t see me, but my arm is raised with a fist pump! It’s been a great but loooooooooooonnnng summer. I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve been looking forward to this day since mid-July. Of course, having the kids home for almost three months has given us a chance to sleep in, extra snuggles and tickles, parent-child bonding, travel and adventures. I love them so much my heart wants to burst, but my house has been bursting with kids, noise and stuff all summer. There are a few reasons I’m happy summer is in my rear-view mirror.

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  1. Rediscovering the foreign sound of silence.
  2. Not doing other children’s laundry. Yeah, that’s right. The random socks, t-shirts, shorts that are left over after an all day of play or sleepovers. It was cute in June…annoying by August.
  3. Cereal boxes opened by a T-Rex. The cardboard box top is ripped to shreds, the plastic bag that holds the cereal has a hole where one should not exist, and there is more cereal on the floor and the counter than in the bowl. I’m attributing this chaos to the unfortunate small arms of the cereal eating T-Rex that lives sight-unseen in my home.
  4. Finishing a sentence. This one needs little explanation.
  5. The appearance of my mud room/entry way. For most of the summer it looked like the shoe department in a thrift store that just had their red tag sale.
  6. The daily clean up of unfinished art projects. Seriously, it’s like my daughter leaves a trail of art supplies and paper all over the house from morning to night. If I can’t find her, I follow the endless art droppings around the house to find her napping with crayons still in her grip.
  7. My living room strangely resembled a frat party or a cheap KOA campsite this summer. By the end of the day there are multiple blankets, solo cups, plates, bits of food, books, games, clothes and strange inventions. I pick it up at night, only to return to the same party site again the next day.
  8. Talking on the phone without interruptions. All summer my work and personal phone conversations have been interrupted for emergencies such as, “He looked at me,” or “She touched me,” or “Can I have your lipstick because I can’t find my red marker?” and the true emergency of, “I’m bored.”
  9. Finding juice boxes and freeze pop wrappers in sneaky, lazy places like in between my couch cushions, under my planters outside or just “near” the trashcan. Over it.
  10. The daily fly massacre with my most lethal and accurate fly swatter at 6 pm nightly when I finally discover what door was left open all day.

Actually, I’m going to miss my kids after a few weeks of being by myself again. Grown ups will be too serious, and my job will begin to pick up intensity again. The silence will grow too long, the house will be too clean, the quietness will be too much for a busy mom who loves her children and their friends. I’ll miss being the Kool-Aid house where everyone is welcome to stop by, grab a treat, get a hug and play until it’s time to find their way home – some just stay.

But, until it does, I’m going to bathe in the stillness of my house with my coffee in hand while alone watching the school bus drive away. Next year, we will PCS again, so this was our last summer with friends from the neighborhood. I’m really going to miss the summer….sometime near the October.

What do you rejoice about when school starts again? Share it with us!

stacy-huismanPosted by Stacy Allsbrook Huisman, National Military Family Association Volunteer

Preparing our Military Kid (and Our Bank Accounts) for College

This month, my family will reach a milestone: our last first day of school with two kids at home. Although it’s hard for me to believe, our oldest will be a senior in high school and this time next year we will (hopefully) be preparing to send him off to college. Like rising seniors across the country, he is already busy completing the Common Application, working on his essay, and researching colleges. Meanwhile, his dad and I are trying to figure out how to pay for it.

It’s not that we haven’t saved for our kids’ college education – we have. In fact, we’ve been contributing to our state 529 plan for years and have accumulated what we thought was a good-sized nest egg for each of our two kids. It’s just that college costs are going up faster than we can save. According to the College Board, a “moderate” budget at a private college averages $47,831 annually. Multiply that by four years and two kids and you arrive at a figure that exceeds some people’s mortgages.

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Luckily for us and other families, there are options to make college more affordable. One is to attend school in a state where we qualify for in-state tuition. Because my husband is still active duty, our kids will be eligible for in-state tuition in the state where he is stationed, as well as the state where we maintain our permanent residence. In-state tuition at public colleges is often less than half of what is charged at private schools, making it a great option for many families.

Many military families are also able to use the Post-9/11 GI Bill to help pay for their kids’ college tuition. The GI Bill provides up to 36 months’ tuition at the in-state rate, as well as a stipend to cover housing and books. It’s an incredibly valuable benefit that has the added bonus of being transferable to a spouse and/or kids. There are strict rules covering transferability, so it’s important to read the fine print and make sure you meet all the requirements. Most significantly, the service member must have been in the military for at least 6 years before transferring the benefit and must agree to serve an additional 4 years. Service members can transfer all or part of the benefit and can divide the benefit among a spouse and children. Just remember the service member cannot transfer the benefit after leaving the military and transferring the benefit does incur an additional service commitment.

If you are using the GI Bill to pay for your child’s education, it’s important to know it covers tuition at the in-state rate. That’s great if your child is attending a state school in a state where you qualify for in-state tuition. If not, you may be in for some sticker shock. My son, at one point, considered applying to a school in North Carolina. However, the GI Bill will only cover the in-state tuition rate, leaving us to cover the difference between the much higher out-of-state rate – in our case, that would have amounted to more than $25,000!

If your child’s heart is set on an out-of-state or private school and you are using the Post-9/11 GI Bill, you should know about the Yellow Ribbon Program. Under the Yellow Ribbon program, schools award additional funds to help offset the difference between tuition and what the GI Bill will pay. Those funds are matched by the VA. Not every school participates in the Yellow Ribbon program, and the number of awards and the amount awarded varies by school.

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In addition, the Veterans’ Access, Choice and Accountability (Choice) Act, passed in 2014, mandated that public colleges and universities charge in-state tuition to “covered individuals” using the Post-9/11 GI Bill. However, the law defines “covered individual” as a veteran or dependent using the benefit within three years of the veteran leaving the military. That means currently serving families are not covered by this law; nor are those using their GI Bill benefits more than three years after transitioning out of the military.

Of course, there are other ways to make college more affordable. Your child may be eligible for loans or grants from his or her college. In order to be considered for financial aid, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Even if you think your student will not qualify for financial aid, experts advise completing and submitting the FAFSA.

Finally, there are dozens of scholarships available to military kids heading to college. Many local spouses’ clubs offer scholarships. The Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) operates the Scholarships for Military Children Program, which awards hundreds of grants annually. You can find a partial list of scholarships available for military children at Military OneSource. While the amounts of individual scholarships may seem small, they add up quickly and every little bit helps!

The process of applying to (and paying for) college can be overwhelming at times, at least to this stressed-out mom! There are so many details to manage and forms to fill out. With luck and a little perseverance, though, I’m hopeful the effort will pay off and my son will be able to attend the college of his choice.

Have you sent your military kid to college? How is your family paying for it? Share your stories and tips below!

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director

I’ve Known You For Five Minutes: Will You Be My Emergency Contact?

It’s almost the first day of school and I’m faced with a stack of registration forms. I have my smartphone with me and slips of paper tucked into my purse with names and addresses. Truth be told, I even need to look up my own mailing address because we just moved and the old address 3,000 miles away is what I recall.

I feel pretty on-top-of-it for putting our new address and phone number into my cell phone. That’s a win. Thankfully, I remembered to print out the pediatrician’s contact information. I have a copy of my son’s birth certificate and feel, for a moment, I’m rocking filling out these registration forms.

Then, comes the tough request: Please provide the name, address and phone number of two local emergency contacts. The emergency contact must be within 25 miles of the school.

Oh, dear. Beads of sweat form above my brow. I nervously glance around the school office and watch the other parents filling out their child’s forms. I look for the tell-tale sign of another military spouse, parent – someone who appears to be stressed by the requirements for a local emergency contact. I’ve only been in town a week. I can’t navigate myself around the base let alone have I had time to meet anyone who might be willing to let me add their name to a form as my child’s emergency contact?

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Why can’t I add my mom’s cell phone number and skip the address part? Because, the receptionist politely handed back the forms to me and said, she understood I may be new to town, however, the school has had more than one occasion where neither parent has been available and they needed to contact someone local – not someone several states away- who could immediately pick up a child. Other well-meaning parents had provided contacts out of the local area and the kid was sent to child protective services.

Fast forward three schools later and I’ve become a pro at spotting a potential emergency contact. Before we move, I check with my network of friends and ask who is the area or knows someone in the area. I exchange emails, Facebook messages, and text messages with people who I have never met screening them as potential emergency contacts. If there is a school event, such as a registration day, I chat nervously with folks in line and try to find someone in my situation – another non-local eager to make friends and willing to be an emergency contact for my child in exchange for me being a contact for her child.

The key, I’ve found, is offering to be a contact for someone else.

I know it can be nerve-wracking to ask a near stranger to be an emergency contact. I find that most moms are relieved when I offer to be a contact for their child as well. After I establish a network in the area, I update the registration emergency contact information. I keep a list in my smartphone and on a virtual drive and make sure each emergency contact has a copy of my list and specific information related to my child. If I’m listed as an emergency contact, I ask the parent for contact information and specifics about their child, just in case.

I remain cordial with emergency contacts and several have become great friends. It turned out there was a flash flood in our local area and another parent couldn’t make it to the school in time to pick up her child. Her spouse was deployed and she didn’t have anyone else in the area. I told her not to worry; I was listed as her emergency contact and my path to the school wasn’t washed out by the flash flood. I was happy to help and she was relieved she didn’t have to worry about her child’s safety.

In our mobile lifestyles, it isn’t uncommon to ask a near stranger to be an emergency contact. What other tips would you offer to military families?

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Issue Strategist

Dear New Teacher, It’s My Military Child’s First Day of School

Dear New Teacher,

Today my child enters your classroom for the first time in a new school. It might be the first day of the school year, or it might be inconveniently smack-dab in the middle of a grading period. He likely knows no one in his homeroom class, likely no other children in the school.

Every child has a story to tell, and mine is no different. I am hoping to share a bit of his story with you since you will be with him, teaching and guiding him, this year. His story includes attending preschools in three different states. He will be in second grade next year. And he will be preparing to move again to a new school, his third elementary school since Kindergarten.

His daddy deployed to a combat zone when he was very young, and has been home for the past few years. But my son knows what soldiers do. He knows that someday his daddy will likely deploy again to a place he can’t yet find on a map for more days than he can count, for reasons nearly impossible for a child to understand.

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He didn’t choose this life.

But I asked him if he ever wishes that he weren’t a military kid, and he said, “No, why? What would Daddy do if he weren’t in the Army?” You see, this is the only life he knows. He is a happy, resilient, funny, sweet kiddo. I’m so proud of each obstacle he has overcome.

We do have bad days, though. He misses his old friends, our old home, our old church, and our old routines. He occasionally asks when we can go visit our old houses, and the restaurants and parks in a town we used to live in. To be honest, military life is downright difficult sometimes. But this is one thing I’ve learned: military children are so very strong. And so very brave. Military children are resilient. They simply don’t know how to be anything less.

Please keep in contact with me and let me know if he has any difficulties in school during (and after) this transition. The purpose of this letter is not only to inform you of my son’s background but to affirm our family’s commitment to support him, and you, his teacher.

Thank you for answering the call to educate the children of our great nation. What a truly noble and worthy profession you have chosen! Thank you for loving children who aren’t your own, and shaping their lives forever. And thank you for supporting our military-connected child, during yet another transition for him. Because of your support at school and the support of our community, my spouse is able to commit fully to his own calling: serving our country.

Sincerely,
Mama of a Military Child

What would you tell your child’s new teacher? 

teresa-bannerPosted by Teresa Banner, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer

Turning Pages When Turning Corners: Using Books to Start Conversations With Kids

I can’t stand the smell of cardboard boxes. Or saying goodbye to friends. Or living out of a suitcase. However, moving is an inevitable part of military life, and preparing my kids for our move later on this year is coming up on my mom-radar. When facing several pivotal childhood moments, like potty training, making friends, and starting elementary school, my husband and I enlist the help of children’s books to help us begin conversations. As we prepare to turn another corner and encounter our next relocation, these are the children’s books that we’re reading at my house:

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Boomer’s Big Day by Constance W. McGeorge

My son loves this book about Boomer and his big move to a new house, as told through a the eyes of a dog. One day Boomer suddenly realizes all of his favorite toys are packed up in boxes. He’s not quite sure what to think of the boxes and movers. When he arrives to the new home, he learns that lots of new friends are waiting to meet him!

The Berenstain Bears’ Moving Day by Stan and Jan Berenstain

Who doesn’t love the classic Berenstain Bear family? Brother and Sister are moving to a new house, and don’t know quite what to expect. The Berenstain family says goodbye to old friends, watches the movers load their household goods, and then finds new, exciting experiences waiting for them at their new home.

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

Chester’s nervous about starting school, and his mama, Mrs. Raccoon, shares the perfect remedy to assuage his fears. Together, they find a routine that helps both raccoons cope as Chester starts attending a new school. Hands-down, this is my favorite new school book! I think The Kissing Hand is perfect for talking about first day jitters.

My Very Exciting, Sorta Scary Move by Lori Attanasio Woodring

The title was the first thing that drew me to order this book. Written by a licensed psychologist, the ideas in this collection of activities are carefully developed with knowledge of how to help small minds through transitions. This book provides several parent-child conversation starters and the pages are filled with activities to help children and parents understand change and emotions.

Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney

Though Guess How Much I Love You does not necessarily relate to moving, it’s a sweet book that I find myself reading to my kiddos regularly, especially during times of transition. Its reassuring message offers parents an opportunity to start meaningful, reassuring conversations with their children.

Though PCSing is difficult, but moving to a new community brings new beginnings, new friends, and new opportunities. Best wishes for your next PCS!

Do you use books to help your child through milestones or transitions? Which ones would you recommend?

teresa-bannerPosted by Teresa Banner, National Military Family Association Volunteer

Month of the Military Kid FREE Printable Activities!

It’s officially the Month of the Military Child, and while we hope your community has some fun activities planned, we wanted to provide some additional resources for you to make this a special month for the military kids in your life.

These printables were designed for kids at our Operation Purple® camps. What’s Operation Purple Camp, you ask? It’s a completely free camp for military kids designed to help them connect with other children who understand the unique challenges military children face. We want them to feel comfortable connecting with their peers and taking about their experience, and these tools help them open up with each other and our camp staff.

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You can use these printables at home with your children, with your church group, scouts, youth center, or school groups. Anywhere where you can find military children!

Military Kid Comic Strips

Some kids may not want to talk about their experience, and most probably don’t want to write an essay about them, either. These worksheets take the pressure off and allow kids to draw and express their experience in pictures instead of words. When they are finished, you can display their work (with their permission) or use it as a jumping off point to discuss their experience.

Military Kid Mad Libs

This light-hearted activity is a good way to help kids open up about their moving experiences. Come up with the word list as a group, and then read the story aloud. Ask the children to tell their own moving stories. Did they have an easy time making friends? Are they homesick, or did they get settled right in?

Military Kid Feelings Search

Sometimes military kids don’t really want to sit down to talk about their feelings. No big deal! This word search is a quiet activity and includes many different feelings, positive and negative. After the kids complete this activity, you can ask them, what feelings were not on the list? Which words would they use to describe military life, or their parents deployment, or the idea of moving? Are they happy or excited? Are they nervous, sad, or mad?

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Military Kid Ice Breaker Bingo

If you have a large group of military kids to work with, this activity is a wonderful ice breaker. Simply print off one game board per child, find a cool prize for them, and set them free to chat with each other. If they can find a kid who matches the description in the game box, they have their new friends autograph the square. The first child to get a BINGO can get a prize! You could have a second prize for the first child to get a “Blackout” on their game board, too! Ideally, when you are done playing, all the children will have had a chance to talk to each other and learn something new.

Download these awesome FREE printable activities for the military kid in your life! Be sure to take pictures and tag us on social media if you try them out!

HeatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager