Tag Archives: military kids

10 Things to do with Your MilKid on a Snow Day!

This winter has been a little warmer than most, so there haven’t been many snow days in our neck of the woods, but that doesn’t stop me from hoping the cold weather comes soon! Maybe you’ve already has a few snow days where you live? It’s tough keeping kids occupied when they’re not in school, or sports and activities are cancelled because of the weather. Don’t worry, I’ve got a few ideas that will make any snow day one for the books!

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1. Bake
What kid doesn’t love making cookies and eating them, too? Baking with your kiddos is also a great opportunity to practice reading out loud and working through those pesky fractions.

2. Craft
Who doesn’t have a few empty toilet paper rolls lying around? If you don’t, start saving them. There are a ton of cute crafts that require little more than that hollow tube.

3. Clean
Yeah, yeah…I know: who wants to clean on a snow day? No one. But hey, it is a free day with the kids stuck home, so why not teach them this simple method to conquer the dreaded task of cleaning their room? Dusting rags for all!

4. Wanna build a snowman?
Get outside and breathe in the fresh air. Build a snowman, a fort, or have a snowball fight. Just wait until you see their faces when you throw the first snowball! You can even build your own snowman kit as a craft project. No snow?Aren’t you lucky?! Go for a walk around the neighborhood instead.

5. Read
Make some hot cocoa, grab a book and a blanket, and read together in front of the fireplace. Or download one of these free children’s books to read together.

6. Color
Pull out the markers, crayons, colored pencils, your stash of coloring books, and color! Can’t find your coloring books, no problem. There are free printables online for both kids AND adults.


7. Play Board Games
Clear off the dining room table and grab a couple of your favorite board games. Not sure what games your kids might like, check out these top 10 family board games. They are sure to like at least one.

8. Put on a Fashion Show
Play some music, lay down a sheet in the hallway, set up a few folding chairs and put on a fashion show. Get creative. And if you’re brave, you could even make the clothes and let them use your jewelry and makeup!

9. Learn the Cha Cha
Get up and get moving! Learn the Cha Cha.

10. Science Projects
Every kid loves to experiment. Check out these science projects with everyday household ingredients.

What fun snow day ideas have you tried with your kids? Share them with us in the comments!

Lyndy-RohePosted by Lyndy Rohe, Communications Assistant

PCSing During the School Year: Be Prepared and Ask Questions

According to Department of Defense’s (DoD) Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, the military moves roughly 530,000 service members and their families every year. More than half of those moves are during peak moving months of May through August. That leaves more than 250,000 service members and their families moving off season: during the academic school year.

While moving during the summer months may add a heavy workload to the DoD, moving in summer presents an ideal time for families to transfer schools without missing crucial educational requirements for military connected children. In contrast, moving the other 250,000 military members during the school year brings an entire new set of challenges for military members.

When changing schools during the year, there are plenty of hurdles both parents and students face. The important thing is to gather as much information and ask as many questions to school administrators and teachers before (and after) you PCS. Being organized and prepared is key to a successful mid school year transition.

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Here’s a solid checklist and questions for parents with school-aged kids to ask, but we’d love to hear some of your tips and tricks when moving during the school year, too!

Research and Compare Curriculum – Do your research before you move.

  • Will the school be able to meet the educational needs of your child?
  • Compare curricula of your current and new schools.. You need to know if your child will struggle to keep up or be ahead of peers and thus bored in the classroom.
  • Collect and review important schoolwork showing your child’s academic aptitude.
  • Compare current schoolwork to curriculum in new school. What type of math are they teaching? Does the school use Common Core or has it opted out?
  • Plan a conference for your child’s current teacher or counselor to review the new school’s curriculum.
  • Take a picture of your child’s text book covers, websites they use and gather work samples of current work.
  • Ask the new school how new students who are behind/ahead of current grade-level objectives are handled.

The Teacher(s) 

  • Educational continuity is at risk each time a military child – no matter what grade they are in – moves to a new school.
  • Teacher-to-Teacher Letter – A great preemptive idea is to have your child’s current teacher write a letter to the new teacher – even though you don’t know who it will be. This is a perfect venue for teachers to share information about your child’s learning methods or insight into behavior.
  • Meet with the your child’s current teacher before you PCS. Take lots of notes at a parent-teacher conference. These notes will be critical when you advocate for your child’s education or services at the next school.
  • Administrators Ask your current school to explain procedures for withdrawal and forwarding your child’s records to the new school.
  • Ask for a copy of your child’s records to hand carry to your new location.

Education Binder – Compile a binder that is home to all of your child’s important documents, including:

  • Report cards – all of them, even ones from previous schools.  It allow teachers to know the educational history of your child.
  • Schoolwork samples
  • Assessment results
  • Teacher comments and conference notes
  • Individual Education Plan
  • 504 plan
  • Shot records
  • Speech or occupational therapy evaluations/summaries
  • Letters from teachers (to teachers), including specialty teachers (music, coaches and art teachers, for example) if applicable
  • Test results (Cog AT, Iowa Assessments, reading readiness, SAT)

Families On The Homefront offers a free downloadable Operation Dandelion Kids Education Binder to help parents advocate for their child and help tell their child’s education history.

Know Your Rights

Military families have rights and responsibilities regarding children’s education. It’s up to you to understand these rights and responsibilities. Don’t leave your child’s right to a good education in the hands of a stranger. Own it!

  • Interstate Compact – Start here! Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission  is fighting to level the playing field for military family education.
  • The School Liaison Officer’s job is to help parents navigate the local school system, every base/post has one, contact them for insights about your school or if you have problems with placement of services.

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Information About Your New School

  • School calendar – Ask for the new school’s calendar right away. It will list important dates you need to know.
  • Registration requirements – Every school is different but most schools require PCS orders, proof of residency and immunization records.
  • Holiday hours – Call the new school and learn when the school will be open to register and take a tour hours.
  • Appropriate placement – Gifted and Talented and special needs programs often differ between schools. Understand what the school offers and how placement works for your child.
  • How does the new school handle new students with IEP/504 plans, documented academic struggles and/or academic discrepancies?
  • How do they program for Gifted and Talented students? Not all schools are equal when it comes to curriculum or testing.
  • Speak with a grade-level teacher and/or counselor to get a feel for the school climate and available programs.
  • Does the school offer a way for your child to connect with a peer school is back in session?
  • Secondary students: understand transferring credits, graduation requirements, ranking and how to determine appropriate academic placement.

Contact Your New School – Once you arrive, get on the phone and be ready to get to work.

  • Register and tour the school as soon as possible. Bring the education binder with all your important documents, share your education binder when you register so staff can place your child accordingly.
  • Ask about the school’s procedure for reviewing and implementing a new student’s IEP or 504 plan. Schedule any necessary meetings to review your child’s IEP or 504 plan.
  • Ask about procedures for parent/teacher conferences, schedule on within the first two weeks of school and share your education binder with the teacher as well.
  • Don’t be shy. Parents need to be involved within weeks of arrival at their new location. There will be a ton of information and insights you WON’T have access to unless you make yourself available and start connecting.

Organization and preparation are keys to a smooth school transition, especially one during the year. The loss of support, routines, and social networks associated with changing schools can be challenging for both children and parents. Being prepared for this transition is your best chance to ease the anxiety of changing schools. Start early and be sure to follow up when you arrive. We all know that as parents, we aren’t happy in a new location until our children are happy and settled.

Have you recently moved during the school year? What is the best piece of advice you have for others?

stacy-huismanPosted by Stacy Huisman, National Military Family Association Volunteer, Air Force spouse, mother, and freelance writer. Stacy was published in the popular book “Stories Around the Table – Laughter, Wisdom, and Strength in Military Life.” She is also a judge for Operation Homefront’s Military Child of the Year 2015. 

Parenting Military Kids: It’s Time to Get a Babysitter

I need to get something off my chest: lately, I have been feeling like the odd-man-out, and I am completely bewildered! None of my friends ever get a babysitter and go for date night with their spouse…EVER!

Do people think they aren’t good parents if they leave their kids with someone for the evening? I’m not sure, but listen to me on this one: I think leaving your kids and heading out for some personal time will make you a better parent! And for me, getting away from the house and the kiddos is crucial for my husband and I to reconnect. When we are home, we could go days without actually connecting because of busy schedules, housework, honey-do lists, kids, and all the other distractions! Not to mention, I work from home, so I’m with our kids all the time!

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“But I can’t afford a babysitter.”

“We live so far from family, I don’t trust anyone else.”

Stop it right now! Do a swap with a friend; you watch their kids on Friday nights, and they will watch your kids on Saturday nights (or whichever days works best). You don’t have to pay someone, you can trade babysitting for favors. Have your elderly neighbor watch your kids, and in return, your husband mows her lawn.

You can make it work!

And the date doesn’t have to cost money either. Go for a run together, have a picnic, take the dog for a walk. I don’t care what you do, just get out and do it!

I promise you that disengaging from your home life for a short ‘break’ can only help your mental well-being! I feel like it’s made me a better parent, and it’s been good for my kids, too! They get to stretch their wings, and have a little time away from mom and dad. I promise, they are just as annoyed by you, at times, as you are by them! And it’s good for your kids to meet new people–expand their horizons; let them learn to trust people other than you! It will build their confidence and teach them how to behave in the world. They need to know that there are other people out there who do things differently, and that there is more than one way to handle a situation. These are life skills that they are missing out on if you take the burden all on your own. It takes a village, as they say.

The feeling I get when I come home and my little guy runs to me for hugs and kisses is the best. You have to go away for them to miss you! Not to mention, I think you set a good example for them by showing them how to lead a healthy and balanced life, especially with your spouse. I don’t think it’s too healthy to be completely and totally consumed by one area of your life, but neglect another. You have to nurture and care for yourself in order to properly nurture and care for others!

So, I beg of you, please go. No more excuses, just go.

Do you think it’s important to use a babysitter so you can take time for yourself and your spouse? Share your thoughts with us!

alicia-steelePosted by Alicia Steele, military spouse and blogger at Two Kids and a Blog

TRICARE’s Breastfeeding Policy: A New Mom’s Experience

Recently, TRICARE implemented a new breastfeeding support policy including coverage for breast pumps. Our Association is generally pleased with this new policy because it gives families flexibility in terms of when, where, and how to purchase breast pumps and supplies.

But we wondered how this policy is panning out in military communities as families try to use it. So we asked Jaclyn, a Fort Benning Army Spouse, while she was expecting her first baby. Jaclyn had just purchased a breast pump.

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I heard about TRICARE’s new breast pump policy from an online moms group.  I called TRICARE even before the policy went into effect and they were able to answer some of my questions.  They were at least aware that the policy would go into effect on July 1.

Back in August, I started to think about buying a pump again, so I needed to learn about the process for getting a pump covered by the new policy. At that point I was only seeing my midwife once a month for appointments.  I wasn’t sure if I would need to get a prescription before buying the pump. I checked my online Army Moms group and saw a post about how to buy a pump at Target so I decided to give that a try.

I called the 800 number for the Target breast pump program. They collected some basic information about me and my TRICARE coverage and then they took it from there. They sent me an email with three choices of pumps that would be fully covered by TRICARE. They also provided some options where I would have to pay part of the cost out of pocket. I chose the Medela In Style Advance (retail price approximately $200 at Target.)

It turns out that I didn’t even need a hardcopy prescription – Target followed up with my midwife directly to get the prescription. Target emailed me with a list of locations where I could pick up the Medela pump. I chose one and went to the store. I stopped by the Target customer service desk and the pump was there waiting for me.  I didn’t have to pay anything given the pump I selected!

My experience was pretty easy, but my friends on TRICARE Prime seem to be having a more difficult time. Some of them are having trouble getting a prescription from their OBs. It seems like Pediatricians are more aware of the policy and will provide a prescription without a problem. 

How does Jaclyn’s experience compare to yours? What worked well and what did not? Share your story with us in the comments section below.

And don’t forget about lactation counseling! We talked with Jaclyn while she was still expecting, so her story doesn’t touch on breastfeeding counseling. Have you tried to use TRICARE’s new coverage for lactation counseling?

Your stories will help us understand if TRICARE’S new breastfeeding supplies and support policy is working as intended.  Thank you for helping us advocate for military families!

karenPosted by Karen Ruedisueli, Government Relations Deputy Director

Setting Our Kids Up For Success: Are We Pushing Too Hard?

On our way to my daughter’s hockey practice, my 12 year old son boldly states that he is going to take a year of ‘self-exploration’ after high school, instead of heading straight to college.

My heart starts pounding and my vision becomes blurry. I think to myself, is this what it’s like before you pass out? Pull yourself together, woman…you are driving!

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I took a deep breath and made sure I heard him correctly, “What did you say?”

He slowly repeats his statement with a distinct pause in between his words to ensure I was fully aware of his annoyance. Now my blood is boiling, “Um, no…YOU, my son, are NOT taking a year off after high school. YOU are getting a scholarship, playing your favorite sport, and most definitely going to college IMMEDIATELY following high school.”

My head is spinning. Did that really just happen? Is my 7th grader stressing about college and what he is going to do in his adult years, or am I the one stressing? Do I place too much pressure on him? Are my expectations too high? Of course, the answer to these questions is not simple. At times, I do feel like my expectations are too high. He’s only 12. We rush from this to that, and that to this, and before I know it he’s going to be driving and getting his first job with real responsibilities!

All I want is to raise well-rounded, happy human beings that will make a positive contribution to society.

I’m not alone in my concern for my kids. We all want them to grow up happy, healthy, and successful. I know I can’t always protect him, and I can’t make decisions for him, but I want to do everything in my power to set him up for success.

How do you know if you are helping them, or pushing too hard?

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First, when it comes to sports and extracurricular activities, ask yourself: is  this for you, or your child?

Did they ask to participate or did you have to convince them? Do they complain about it constantly, and is it affecting their overall mood? Reevaluate your schedules and stress levels every once in a while. Let them be a kid and allow for “free” time.

Second, give them a chance to share their thoughts.

Are the lines of communication open? Are you approachable? Do you make time for one on one conversations? Are you asking questions other than “How was school today? When is your science fair project due again?” Do you listen when they ask questions? Make your home a safe place to express their emotions. Find ways to reach them. They are more likely to open up and engage in conversation when there is less pressure and they can relax.

Third, support them no matter what.

Be their biggest fan! You are their number one cheerleader. Let them know you love them unconditionally. Offer positive encouragement. They are receiving plenty of instruction and criticism from their teachers and coaches.

I don’t always succeed at being a laid back mom, but I strive to be understanding and supportive by taking the time to listen, providing positive encouragement, and most of all, being available when he does need me.

As for that year off? Maybe he can convince me when the time comes.

What are some important ways you support your kids? Share them with us!

Lyndy-RohePosted by Lyndy Rohe, Communications Assistant

 

Unchained: Being a Military Kid Taught Me Something Amazing…

As I began to grow up, I truly started to realize how different each person’s life can be. Our childhoods, our experiences, and, most importantly, our definition of “normal” vary considerably. In many respects, I had what many would consider a “normal” childhood: two loving parents, a sibling, a cycle of various different pets, and a family that was able to put food on the table, buy school supplies, and take an annual vacation. However, there was one aspect of my life that separated it from many, and that was being a military “brat.”

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Being the son of a father who is active duty Air Force, my life came with everything you would expect from a military household. Every time my dad had a permanent change of station, it was time to move again. This meant new schools, new friends, new surroundings, and even new social norms and subcultures. These moves were not even consistent, although most happened after a period of one to three years. Many occurred during the summer months, although a few occurred in the middle of the school year. Some occurred with more warnings than others. Most significantly, many of these moves brought with them a new way of life. Constant transitions occurred, including living on base versus living in the city, atmospheres changing from being surrounded by many children my age to living in a house that almost felt isolated, to even the simple changes of climate, which required changes to everything from your clothing to your daily routine. And, worst of all, this is all in addition to having to build new friendships, new social circles, and essentially, a new way of life. Nearly every day I would read a book or see a TV show where a character would reference being “friends with somebody since kindergarten,” something I was never able to have.

From my experience, this comes across as sounding virtually unbearable to somebody who has never lived through this kind of life. Many of my friends have lived in the same house since they were born, and have had the same or a similar circle of friends for nearly as long as they have been alive. Their extended family lives within an almost trivial driving distance, and their family has lived in the same area for generations. What they consider to be “far away” is no greater than my daily commute to work. They look at me with awe, as if they could never imagine any good from coming out of this life.

However, as I grew older, went to school, entered the workforce, and started to build a life for myself, I started to realize how thankful I am for this, as some would say, “abnormal” childhood.

Being a military brat came with its number of benefits. For example, living on a military base provided a level of safety, and it was normal as a young, elementary aged kid to grab your friends, grab your bikes, and ride around the area with relatively little worry. Military amenities, such as shoppettes, pools, and the BX food court were all within short biking distance. I got to experience F-15’s flying over my house as a normal daily occurrence. And, to top it off, I even received my own unique ID card at age 10, which, for some reason, was the coolest thing ever back then.

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However, the greatest benefits came as a byproduct to what many people consider to have been the most difficult obstacle of all: moving. As you move around, you have the opportunity to see different subcultures, different ways of life, and different geographical areas. Small towns? Been there. Large suburbs? Been there. Each coast? Been there. I’ve seen the canned, carbonated drink that I refer to as “soda” be called by more different names than I knew existed. You can tell fascinating stories, and be told, affectionately, that you have an interesting life. For some of us, the constant moving develops a very outgoing nature, a de facto requirement for constantly making new friends. I credit this trait with finding success in my first sales job during college, and ultimately leading to securing a job as an account executive with a multi-billion dollar firm.

Ultimately, though, I thank my military brat childhood for leaving me with what I consider to be my most important trait: feeling unchained. I have lived in six different states, moved regularly, and on average, see my extended family twice per year. To me, this is “normal.” There was no hesitation in my mind with going to college hundreds of miles away from my family. When people ask me if I miss my family, I tend to look at them rather dumbfounded, and reply with, “Well obviously. I definitely miss my family. But it’s 2015. I can call them anytime, and Skype and Facetime are always an option.”

When I look at where I would potentially want to move, important factors tend to include anything from climate to job markets to local recreation. Factors such as, “How far away are my parents/sister/grandparents?” or “Do I know anybody here? Have I lived here before?” are essentially just added bonuses if you will. In fact, in my personal opinion, living in the same place as to which I grew up would almost drive me crazy.

To this day, it still surprises me how many people are unwilling to relocate or pursue new opportunities due to fear of losing everything they are attached to. To be honest, I find this completely understandable. However, when you grow up with a very mobile life, seeking new opportunities and pursuing passions in a new area becomes attractive. You feel a sense of freedom, and have a unique ability to be able to dive headfirst into something new. This mentality is ultimately to what I credit my education, experiences (such as receiving a skydiving license this past summer), and virtually everything on my resume. I have found myself applying for jobs anywhere from Washington D.C. to Atlanta to San Mateo, California. When you hate the concept of feeling “stuck,” your only other option is to move forward. Moving creates a sense of self-confidence, proving to you that you can overcome obstacles and build things up for yourself.

You realize what is truly important, and manage to hold it dear to yourself. The house I spent a few years in before moving off to college? It’s just a house. The school I went to for 7th grade? It’s just another one of many. However, the experiences you gain, the friendships you build, and the family you go through hardships with are things that you realize can never be taken away from you. A good friendship doesn’t get destroyed by you living somewhere else, and I have friends that I have seen on and off for years. Being able to see every corner of the country, gain a wealth of knowledge regarding many different ways of life, and developing the ability to adapt to ever-changing situations are things that very, very few people are fortunate enough to share in.

At 22 years old, I have lived across the country, built up lasting friendships nationwide, and have nurtured an adaptable, ambitious character capable of handling change and overcoming obstacles. I am a military brat.

Are you a military kid? What do you think is the most meaningful thing you learned?

Posted by Matt Jackson, Air Force military kid

The World is Your Military Kid’s Classroom…Take Advantage!

Military life can give kids amazing educational opportunities. In fact, these experiences can often offset the challenges that, all too often, get much more airtime when it comes to schooling.

Yes, there are difficulties. Since it’s common for military kids to move six to nine times during their school years, this lack of continuity due to Permanent Change of Station (PCS) moves is probably the biggest challenge. When your education is interrupted up to three times more than your civilian peer’s, can you still get a quality education?

For many children, the answer is “yes,” especially if we stop viewing education as just what happens inside of the classroom and start viewing ‘changes’ as positives, rather than negatives. It’s about time we turn the tables on how we view a military child’s education.

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Here are a few ways we can re-frame some of the issues common to a military kid’s education:

Stop with the labels
Issue: Moving away from a ‘great’ school.

We are moving to a ‘worse’ school; you are getting the ‘best’ teacher. All too often, we set a child’s mind (and our own) to what is ahead before we even arrive at a new duty station. A child should be given the chance to explore and figure out where they fit in without a preconceived notion of what the educational experience will provide.

Maybe your quiet child will blossom in a small-town school. Or your high school athlete will finally make the football team at his new school and get straight A’s. Both will boost their confidence more than feeling like a ‘mediocre’ student at a great school.

Takeaway: Change your focus from one of searching out the negatives, and instead, point out the good in the situation to your kids. This change in mindset can go a long way in not only helping them seek out opportunities in school, but also in life!

Focus on quality versus stability
Issue: Frequently changing schools.

Moving. Yes, it’s hard, but remember that quality and stability are not necessarily the same thing. Stability does not necessarily equate to a quality education. While a move from a school with a super teacher and great program that fits a child’s needs might feel discouraging, the opposite can also happen; you just might be moving into a better situation.

The chances of keeping a stable level of quality through many moves are slim; however, the chances of finding different pockets of quality educational opportunities at every duty station are very high.

Takeaway: Parents play a large part in becoming the stabilizing force of quality in their child’s education. They must seek out the best opportunities at each duty station. And advocate for change in the places where there aren’t programs in place that meet the needs of their children. Because stability is not an option for a mobile military kid, the next best option is to find the best situation possible where you land.

Use moving as a chance to reevaluate
Issue: Having a child with special concerns.

Moving forces reevaluation. Children change and so do their needs. While it is burdensome to have to re-do the same help you have sought at other duty stations, you also have to seek out the opportunity in each situation.

Here’s one family’s take on it: “When our family moved to Kansas for just one year, it proved to be very unsettling for many of those months. But if we hadn’t moved, we might not have met the specialist who recommended the eye doctor who diagnosed our son’s vision disorder, which was having a huge effect on him academically and emotionally. When therapy improved his vision, his grades and his behavior improved too.”

Takeaway: A new set of eyes on an old issue can mean an opportunity for your child. Yes, repeating the same laundry list can be tiresome, but so is running up against the same walls at a school you go to for years.

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Recognize the possibilities
Issue: Feeling limited in what a new school can offer.

Each military base brings together people from all walks of life, diverse cultures, and distinct groups. Everyone your child meets could have a story to share or something to teach. This is part of your child’s education.

Assigned to another country? Go beyond the social studies book with family field trips that will enhance the lessons your kids learn in the classroom. The Eiffel Tower, Kilauea Volcano, the Matterhorn; military kids are the ones who read about these places and then casually say, “Yeah, I’ve been there.”

With proactive parents as their tour guide, a military child’s education can be full of opportunities a civilian child might only dream about. The world truly is a military kid’s school. What an education!

Takeaway: Education isn’t just something that happens in the classroom. Military life means an opportunity to explore different areas of our country, or world, without having to pay for a hotel or airplane ride for a vacation. Apply what your child has learned in the classroom to life around them in the world.

Remember, learning doesn’t stop when you leave a ‘good school’ or move to a ‘small town.’ Learning also happens when we have to rise above our adversity, meet people from diverse backgrounds, and adjust to a new way of learning at our fifth school in five years.

We need to start looking at things differently…

Military kids are doing some pretty awesome things in this world! They have grown up to be Olympic athletes, astronauts, teachers, soldiers, and so much more. They managed to succeed, even with all of the moving..or maybe all of that moving allowed them to succeed!

Let’s keep our military kids on the road to feeling empowered to succeed by focusing on the opportunity for education as a military child. Yes, we need to continue to build up a system that gives them opportunities no matter where they move. But we also need to re-frame challenges so they don’t become roadblocks to success.

How do you make the best of your child’s education, regardless of where your family is stationed?

Posted by Amy Crispino, Army spouse, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Chameleon Kids, publishers of MILITARY KIDS’ LIFE magazine