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Our son turns 5 in August. My sister suggests we hold him back a year from kindergarten. He’s shy and not as academic as her 5-year-old daughter, who reads picture books. Will the school give him a readiness test? What factors determine if we should hold him back?

Some parents hold back a child to give “the gift of time” to catch up to today’s higher levels of kindergarten readiness. A few do it to give a child a leg up for later participation in sports. But don’t do it because your sister tells you to.

There is no clear data on the academic, social and emotional benefits of holding a child back. After reviewing studies, Deborah Stipek of Stanford University concluded that whatever gains might exist in the early elementary years disappear by the end of upper elementary school. There is data from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggesting that an average kindergartner actually benefits from exposure to more mature peers.

Consider the following factors, says Robin Obey, an experienced K-1 teacher in North Bellmore, New York:

– Each child develops cognitively, socially, physically and emotionally at a different pace.

“Kindergarten teachers expect a wide range of ability and behaviors in each class and are prepared to accommodate each learner,” Obey says.

– Kindergartners aren’t expected to be able to read when they enter school. A few may be emerging readers, but most are not.

“Don’t compare him with his cousin,” says Obey. “She’s the exception, not the norm.”

– If your son is in preschool, consult his teachers.

“Their observations can be invaluable in your decision,” Obey advises.

– A kindergarten screening is essential.

“Each school has one and he’ll be assessed for speech or cognitive delays,” says Obey. “The results can offer guidance.”

– Accelerate your son’s readiness.

“Parents don’t realize how much they can do with simple activities, says Obey. “The most important? Read to him every day. Include some of the wonderful books about starting kindergarten.”

Play word games such as, “I say cat. You say rat.” Play I Spy and Categories: “Let’s think of things that are red …” Encourage storytelling: “Tell me what happened when we went to the zoo.” Take photos and have your son dictate captions. Have him draw a story; dictate what’s happening while you write the words.

Give your son simple tasks, such as sorting laundry or setting the table, to build one-to-one correspondence, number sense and independence. Provide multistep directions to develop listening skills and ability to focus.

Boost his fine motor skills: Sculpt with Play-Doh; tear up junk mail; use scissors; draw.

Provide opportunities to socialize in small and large group settings.

“His shyness can be a personality trait or just how he is right now,” Obey notes. “One year, the youngest child in my class barely spoke. She’s now the president of her high school class.”

Unless the screening tests reveal a problem, Obey advises you to focus your energies on getting your son excited about going to kindergarten this fall.

“Reinforce simple readiness skills every day,” she says. “Your school can provide a list of those skills, or find them online at state education department websites.”

Our fifth-grade son has “writer’s block,” and his teacher says he should expand his vocabulary. Can you suggest useful worksheets and online vocabulary drills?

Children’s author Ralph Fletcher says vocabulary building is all about helping students fall in love with words.

Nothing will kill a budding love for lexicography like handing your son some boring worksheets. Help him fall in love with words by finding joy in learning new words with him. Try these teacher-tested suggestions:

– Dinner served with words! Family dinners have positive social and academic influences on kids; having a daily discussion that allows them to hear new vocabulary is one of them. Choose topics to discuss at each meal (such as a recent school event or plans for a family vacation) and ask everyone to weigh in.

Model and encourage rich vocabulary.

For example: “To plan our vacation, let’s look up state and national parks within a 200-mile radius of where we live. A radius is the distance from the center of a circle to its edge. On a map, we will estimate a distance of 200 miles from our house and draw a circle around it. Then we will pinpoint and investigate parks we could visit.”

Encourage dialogue, but even if kids don’t chime in, don’t worry. They’re still absorbing the words and making them their own.

– Let pictures launch a thousand words: Find great images from “photo of the day” websites or calendars to get kids talking. A photo of diver encountering a shark generates words like scuba, equipment, adventure, conditions, saltwater, gear and so on, and piques interest in a wondrous ocean species.

– Have some pun fun, and kick off word play.

“I found ‘Pun and Games: Jokes, Riddles, Daffynitions, Tairy Fales, Rhymes, and More Word Play for Kids’ by Richard Lederer (Chicago Review Press, 1996) at a yard sale. My son thinks it’s crazy-funny,” says Anita Burnham, a California math teacher. “We play word games in the car, from how many homonym pairs we can think of in a minute (prey-pray, rain-rein, slay-sleigh) to 20 Questions. We try to ‘out pun’ each other, too, to keep it fun.”

Find word fun in portmanteaus and eggcorns, says Brenda Power, founder of the teacher website Choice Literacy (choiceliteracy.com‬). ‬

A portmanteau combines two words and their meanings into one new word. Some trendy examples are snowmageddon, emoticon and frenemy.

“Discovering a new portmanteau is like finding a buried treasure in a text,” Power says. “An eggcorn is a substitution for a word or phrase that may shift its meaning, but still makes sense in the context and is usually accidental on the part of the speaker.”

Think cold slaw for cole slaw or bread and breakfast for bed and breakfast. Go egghorn hunting at eggcorns.lascribe.net.

While your son’s teacher has identified weak vocabulary as the source of your son’s “writer’s block,” I’ll bet that there are other contributing factors. Children’s author Fletcher has a book for young writers, “A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You” (HarperCollins, 2003), which will give your son techniques to add to his writer’s toolbox.

Better understanding the writing process will motivate him to fall in love with words.

We’ve read to our kids almost nightly since infancy. The oldest, now a fourth-grader, is a good reader, but sometimes still listens in when we read to her little sister. Isn’t this unusual? What does she get out of it?

It’s not unusual at all. While fourth-graders probably won’t sit still for a reading of a picture book, many would love to hear more complex books read to them, such as the “Harry Potter” series, “The Princess Bride” or “Because of Winn-Dixie.”

Scholastic’s recently released 2015 Kids and Family Reading Report shows that 40 percent of children ages 6 to 11 whose parents no longer read books to them at home say they wished their parents still did.

“Parents are often surprised to learn this,” says Francie Alexander, chief academic officer at Scholastic.

Reading aloud offers many educational and emotional benefits to older children.

“Tweens whose parents still read aloud to them are more likely to view reading as a pleasurable activity — something we do to relax at the end of a busy day,” says Alexander. “They become more interested in books and are more likely to read for fun on their own.”

Reading researcher Dr. Michael Milone touts these academic benefits.

“Reading aloud to kids stimulates language development, boosts their listening skills and models fluency and vocabulary,” he says. “As students move up the grades, the vocabulary gets harder. When parents read challenging material aloud, students learn new academic and content-area words and how they are pronounced.

“For example, if you read aloud an article about weird winter weather patterns, you might find words such as ‘barometric pressure,’ ‘cumulonimbus,’ ‘El Nino,’ ‘Fahrenheit,’ ‘precipitation,’ ‘meteorology.’ These are all fourth-grade science words that are easier to learn and less threatening when a student hears them in context.”

A busy parent might be thinking, “So we have to set aside time for two read-alouds? One for younger children and one for older kids?”

Not necessarily. It depends on what text you choose.

“A good story or article read with expression can attract the interest of kids of all ages and hold the adult reader, too,” says Alexander. “A 6-year-old may not be able to read a news story about a dog that saved its owner, but she can follow the story line and enjoy listening along with her older sister.”

There’s an art to reading aloud, and “The Read-Aloud Handbook” by Jim Trelease (Penguin, 2006) has taught many parents how. Check out his advice on reading books you don’t really want to at trelease-on-reading.com. (There’s a YouTube link that offers videos that model techniques.)

Look for recommended read-aloud book lists at many library websites and on readaloudamerica.org. Literacy expert Steven Layne has compiled suggested titles and tips from K-12 teachers who read aloud daily to their classes in his book, “In Defense of Read-Aloud” (Stenhouse, 2015).

Choose age-appropriate stories by popular authors with male and female characters, strong character development, interesting plots and themes and positive messages, says Scholastic’s Alexander.

“If a book isn’t working, move on,” she says. “While the goal is to promote literacy, the benefit is enjoyable family time together.”

My daughter graduates from college in May. Her adviser suggests she take an exit test called the Collegiate Learning Assessment Plus. He says it will help her get a job. I thought that’s what a four-year diploma was for. What is this test and why should she take it?

The Collegiate Learning Assessment Plus (CLA+) was developed by the Council for Aid to Education (CAE), which, according to its website, focuses “on providing educational assessment services to educational institutions.”

Some call the CLA+ a test of “21st-century workforce skills.”

It’s relatively new and gaining traction as an objective, benchmarked report card that measures intellectual growth in critical thinking, analytical reasoning, document literacy, writing and communication — areas many companies view as more important for professional success than subject-area knowledge.

The CLA+ is open to any student and costs $35 (though many colleges waive the fee). It’s given during the spring of senior year.

Your daughter has nothing to lose by taking it. With so many recent grads living jobless at home, she should use every tool available to present herself to prospective employers. (And it will help you learn whether all those tuition checks were worth it!)

Potential employers use the test to determine whether students’ abilities match their college credentials and GPAs. Some colleges use the tests to grade themselves — a key thrust of the Obama administration’s push for higher education accountability.

Recently, CAE analyzed CLA+ scores of 32,000 recent U.S. college graduates and that found 4 in 10 lacked the complex reasoning skills to manage white-collar work.

Jessalynn James, a program manager at CAE, says many students begin “college at such a low level in these skills that they may still not be proficient at the point of graduation.”

Richard Arum is a New York University sociologist and co-author with Josipa Roksa of “Aspiring Adults Adrift” (University of Chicago Press, 2014). He says parents, colleges and students share the blame for this “failure to launch.”

Arum believes that parents must start early to show kids the relationship between discipline, learning and success later in life. When they begin thinking about college, orient them so “that they understand that college is a time when one needs to invest in rigorous academic coursework” — that the social aspects are a complement, not the main attraction.

When looking at a college, Arum says parents should ask tough questions. Go beyond the recruitment brochures and sales presentations at a visit. Ask for evidence of outcomes. What are student scores on tests of critical thinking such as the CLA+? How many recent graduates have jobs, and what type? How effective is the college’s career office? What kinds of internships and services such as practice interviews does it provide?

M.J. “Chip” Block, a retired business leader who mentors students in Palm Beach County, Florida, says, “A few can construct a cohesive argument, think logically and write a clear explanation of their ideas. But many don’t have the analytical and organizational skills to show potential employers they can excel in a job. The truth is that these key skills are not just essential for one’s career — they are critical if you’re going to be an informed, effective citizen and productive member of a community.”

Do schools still teach civics? My middle school-age daughter has no clue how government works. How can I help her develop civics knowledge in an interesting way?

Middle-schoolers aren’t the only ones who can’t tell a senator from a representative. The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania finds alarming civic illiteracy among adults. In a recent poll, only slightly more than a third of Americans surveyed could name the three branches of the U.S. government. Thirty-five percent couldn’t name a single branch. (Test yourself at civicseducationinitiative.com/take-the-test.)

Social studies, which include civics, suffered with the passage of No Child Left Behind. “In an age of high-stakes testing, teachers are under immense pressure to teach what’s tested, and science, math, reading and writing are what we test,” says Dr. Emma Humphries at the Bob Graham Center for Public Service at the University of Florida. “Nowhere is this truer than at the elementary level, where teachers report mere minutes devoted to social studies instruction.”

Most states require at least one high school semester of American government. Some now require civics instruction earlier. Tennessee and Florida have embedded more civics into their curricula in recent years. In addition, Tennessee’s legislature is considering a bill that would make high school students pass a civics test to graduate.

No one has done more to reboot civics than retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. “In 2010, Florida unanimously adopted the Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Civics Education Act to improve civics instruction and assessment,” says Humphries. “The act requires that students successfully complete at least one semester of civics for middle school promotion and take an end-of-course examination that constitutes 30 percent of their final grade. Most of Florida’s 67 school districts have implemented yearlong civics courses in seventh grade to prepare students for the high-stakes exam.”

In 2010, O’Connor founded iCivics.org, a free, interactive website with award-winning games and other digital activities that place students in different civic roles and give them agency to address real-world problems and issues.

“It’s a great resource for home or school,” says Humphries. “Since its launch, students have played iCivics games 27 million times.” (Humphries recommends floridacitizen.org/resources/other for more resources.)

Bill Laraway, a fifth-grade teacher in San Jose, California, encourages parents to use current events to get kids excited about civics.

“There’s always something meaty to discuss — from banning sodas in schools or climate change, to measuring the effectiveness of protest marches,” he says. “These talks give kids a chance to polish critical thinking and language skills.”

Laraway uses news apps such as NPR, USA Today and CNN to prompt conversation. He also directs parents to age-appropriate discussion guides at CNN Student News, Channel One News, Scholastic News, Newsela and Time For Kids.

Florida congressman Patrick Murphy meets often with students in his district: “A student recently asked about Ben Franklin’s advice: ‘It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.’ I replied that to be an effective citizen, you must first know what citizenship means. It’s exciting to see a renewed emphasis on civic education in our schools.”

Our district is shifting from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) to STEAM, adding Arts, supposedly because they will help students do better in STEM subjects. I’m for bringing arts back into the curriculum, but do they really help kids score better in math and science?

A growing group is advocating for a STEAM approach — from parents and teachers who think that integrating arts into subjects motivates students, to business leaders who say that an arts education produces more innovative thinkers and better problem solvers.

Many cite the work of the late Stanford University theorist, Dr. Elliot Eisner, who identified 10 lessons the arts teach. (See arteducators.org/advocacy/10-lessons-the-arts-teach.)

There are good reasons to “bring back” arts to a STEM-heavy curriculum, but improving math and science scores is not among them.

Eisner rejected research purporting to show that music, dance and painting boost test scores. He promoted arts study for arts’ sake. His Discipline-Based Art Education (DBAE) stresses four aspects: making art, appreciating it, understanding it and making judgments about it. He thought that the critical thinking required to create artistic works is relevant to all curriculum areas and helps students learn that problems can have more than one solution and that questions can have more than one answer.

University of Arkansas education professor Dr. Jay Greene agrees that there is “almost no rigorous evidence” showing that arts improve test scores. However, his recent research shows that the arts can have important positive effects on students.

He and his colleagues randomly assigned 11,000 students from schools in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma to two groups. One took a series of field trips to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. The other group did not.

The researchers were “careful to focus on outcomes that could plausibly be altered by the arts,” says Greene. They measured whether field trip art experiences had an effect on student values, such as tolerance and empathy, and whether students’ ability “to engage in critical thinking about the arts was affected by these experiences.”

The results showed that not only did the cultural experiences improve students’ knowledge about the arts, but the exposure also affected students’ values, “making them more tolerant and empathetic,” Greene notes. “We suspect that their awareness of different people, places and ideas through the arts helps them appreciate and accept the differences they find in the broader world.”

The museum experiences also boosted critical thinking. Students took “the time to be more careful and thorough in how they observe the world.” (For more on the study, see educationnext.org/the-educational-value-of-field-trips.)

“Arts integration is a powerful tool for engaging students,” says John Ceschini, an arts education officer in Prince George’s County, Maryland. As past principal of Seven Oaks Elementary School, a STEAM school in Maryland’s Anne Arundel County, he saw firsthand how integrating the arts into STEM lessons can motivate kids and “foster critical-thinking skills — analyzing, assessing, categorizing, classifying, predicting, justifying, interpreting.”

The arts may not guarantee top grades in STEM subjects. But the other benefits to students — learning to view the world from multiple perspectives, to empathize, create, collaborate and problem-solve — are good reasons for arts integration to go full-steam ahead.

My third-grade son would rather play video games than read. He’s motivated by his allowance, so we’re thinking of giving him a dollar for each book he gets through. Is there any research that shows this works?

Save your money. The research shows that extrinsic rewards aren’t effective in developing a love of reading. In his book, “Punished by Rewards: The Trouble With Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise and Other Bribes,” educator Alfie Kohn shows how “a reward buys us a behavior — in this case, the act of checking out a book and reading it. But at what price?”

He says that quality learning declines significantly when kids are extrinsically motivated.

We want children to be motivated to read because they love to, not because they might get a reward, says Pat Johnson, co-author with Katie Keier of “Catching Readers Before They Fall” (Stenhouse 2010). Keier says that when we reward students for the number of books they read, they often choose books well below the difficulty level of what they could be reading.

Students’ motivation to read is influenced by four interrelated factors, says reading expert Linda Gambrell, distinguished professor of education at Clemson University. They are:

– Their experience with books: If kids have struggled or view books as something they only use in school, they’re more likely to “hate reading.”

– Their access to books.

– Their social interactions about books: Do they see that books can bring pleasure or more knowledge about topics they’re interested in?

– Their ability to choose the books they read.

“Letting your son choose his reading is very important,” says Carl Harvey, library media specialist at North Elementary School in Noblesville, Indiana. “Start with what interests him. Check out an armful of books; don’t worry if some selections look like junk to you. Work with your children’s librarian to find a book with characters like those in a favorite video game or a series with a hero your son identifies with.”

Children’s author Bill Doyle thinks boys often choose games over books because the titles on recommended lists often lack “the action boys look for in games — bad guys and battles, and descriptions of technological derring-do.”

Doyle’s humorous “Scream Team” series features werewolves, vampires and zombies.

“At bedtime,” he says, “let boys read stuff that doesn’t exactly lull them off to sleep. We want them to keep turning those pages.”

Another Doyle series, “Behind Enemy Lines,” a collection of true adventures from military hotspots like those in the Middle East, “gets a lot of fan mail from young boys, including those whose parents are deployed in these wars,” he says.

“Think beyond books,” Harvey reminds parents. Point out the many ways we use reading each day, he advises, “whether pulling up directions on your phone, finding a blog about a new video game your son might like, or sharing a ‘Star Wars’ comic.”

Show your son that reading isn’t just about school — that it informs us, entertains us and connects us to people and ideas that make our lives richer. In time, he’ll see that those are priceless rewards.

My son’s fifth-grade teacher says he’s been lying to me about school. I’m devastated! He’s always been honest with me. I’m trying hard to instill trust and good values in him. How can I teach him not to lie?

It’s an ongoing process, and you’re wise to focus on it now.

“Fifth-graders approaching middle school are moving slowly from an external locus of control — where significant adults in their lives chart their path — to an internal one, where they take the wheel and navigate decision-making, covering all sorts of critical life events, including those connected to health and safety, such as underage drinking and other drug use,” says Stephen Gray Wallace, a school psychologist and director of Susquehanna University’s Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE), in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania.

In truth, your son has probably lied for several years. Studies show “that by their 4th birthday, almost all kids will begin lying to avoid getting in trouble,” says Wallace. “Research shows that many kids learn to lie by observing their parents lie or at least shave the truth. Some parents encourage children to tell ‘white lies’ to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.”

What can you do establish truth and trust?

Express disappointment, not “devastation,” says Wallace.

“Getting emotional gives your son’s lies too much power,” he says. “Behavioral therapist James Lehman’s studies show that some kids will lie because of the excitement factor.”

Don’t call your son a liar; distinguish between the person and the behavior. Labeling him puts him in a corner.

Establish and enforce consequences for lying that make the child uncomfortable in some way.

“This discourages future lying,” says Wallace.

For many families, an apology is one effective consequence.

“If he’s been lying to you about homework, have him pen a note to you and one to his teacher promising to be forthcoming in the future,” Wallace adds.

Communicate that consequences are about enforcing family rules, not morality. “Make it clear that lying is wrong, but make enforcement about meeting behavior standards you expect,” says Wallace. “It’s more effective to say: ‘You broke a law we have agreed you will follow. When you break rules, there are consequences.’”

Make time to talk often. Listen without being judgmental.

“Kids are more likely to tell you the truth if they’re not afraid you’ll overreact,” says Wallace.

If your son knows that you do not ever want him to smoke, for example, “You have to be willing to listen calmly when he tells you that a friend’s older brother is offering him e-cigarettes,” says Wallace. “This kind of listening takes patience and time.”

To set the stage for listening, “One mother frequently picks up her 12-year-old from school, rather than have him ride the bus,” notes Wallace. “She takes a long way home to hear what’s on his mind. It gives them opportunities they rarely have at home.”

As your son becomes more independent, Wallace says these conversations continue to be important.

“When you aren’t there to listen or react, you want to be able to trust that he will make safe choices and be personally accountable for his actions,” he says.

For more, visit eCAREforkids.org.

One of my partner’s and my New Year’s resolutions is to become more involved in our kids’ school. Our work makes it impossible to volunteer or attend meetings during the school day. What other activities make a difference in helping them succeed?

It’s useful to have met with your children’s teachers at least once during the school year, preferably early so you can build a relationship. But the most important things you can do to boost your children’s school success happen within your family — in the attitudes you foster and activities you pursue with your kids on nights and weekends.

“Research gives us new ways to think about parent involvement,” says Bill Jackson, founder and CEO of GreatSchools.org, a national organization dedicated to guiding parents in getting a great education for their children.

“What this couple should resolve is more involvement in their kids’ education,” he says. “There’s a difference. There’s nothing wrong with active parental participation at school, but the real drivers of school success are the things parents do outside of school — the standards you set and the beliefs you hold about achievement.”

Jackson outlines the drivers that matter.

– Prepare children for learning. “This means making sure that kids get good nutrition, exercise, quality sleep, are on time for school and have good attendance,” says Jackson. “You can’t learn if you’re absent. This may seem like a no-brainer, but there’s a lot of learning lost when kids are tired or hungry in class.”

– Partner with teachers. Solve problems collaboratively. Don’t automatically accept your child’s version of every issue.

“Seek out great teaching, too. It’s OK to request the best teachers,” Jackson advises.

– Support literacy and numeracy development. “There’s not enough time for adequate math and reading skills practice in class, so supplement at home,” says Jackson.

Cultivate key skills early. Read and talk with children daily. Engage in number talk and problem solving. Ensure math-fact mastery. Guide kids to higher-level math.

– Build knowledge. “This means model curiosity; talk about new information, books and ideas,” says Jackson.

“Make connections to topics children are studying. For example, use the spelling list to build vocabulary by spotting the words used in various contexts. Discover and feed kids’ interests. Do they love ‘Star Wars’ movies? Take them to NASA.org to explore past and future Mars expeditions. Show your kids that learning is fun by being a lifelong learner yourself.”

– Build character. Help kids become emotionally intelligent and resilient.

“Promote enduring values kids can fall back on,” suggests Jackson. “Foster a growth mindset, the belief that our most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work — that brains and talent are just the starting point. This keeps kids from giving up and thinking, ‘I’m just not good at that.’”

– Advocate for excellence; choose great schools. “Speak up for high standards,” advises Jackson. “Know school strengths and weaknesses. Choose high-performing, good-fit schools for your kids.”

– Put college on your kids’ radar early. “Talk about post-secondary pathways,” says Jackson. “Set the expectation as early as elementary school that they will go to college. Don’t wait until they’re freshmen and discover that they should have worked harder at algebra.”

I don’t look forward to this holiday break. Our four preteens from a newly blended family like the structure of school, but fall apart on weekends: bickering and competing for attention. In January, they have state testing, so I plan to do some homeschooling during vacation. Are there any good online test prep sites?

You want to turn the holidays into a study hall? You’ll get the Grinch of the Year award!

“I understand the desire to replicate successful routines during stressful times, but practicing math facts over Christmas is likely to backfire,” says Marissa Gehley, founder of KNOW (Kids Need Our Wisdom). “Kids need a breather, so forget the test prep. Focus on family-building activities. Everyone will be emotionally stronger and go back to class in a fresher frame of mind.”

Develop new family traditions: Rituals add joy and structure to holidays. Since you’re a newly blended family, create new traditions to observe. For example, the family might decide to create a holiday recipe book and add to it each year. Or have a family movie night, enjoying classics such as “Elf,” “The Polar Express,” “The Muppet Christmas Carol,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Discuss the themes and lessons in these movies.

Create a New Year letter: When two families come together, there’s news to share. Let kids create the family’s holiday greeting. It could be an email, an annotated slide show posted online for friends, or a printed card. Ask everyone to contribute an original piece of writing, art or a photo.

Give back: There are plenty of opportunities for families to volunteer this time of year, from collecting for Toys For Tots to stocking food pantries. Check doinggoodtogether.org to find a good fit. Or use the search tool at networkforgood.org to find projects for families.

Make a 2015 family resolution: What can the family do together to foster enjoyment and take the stress out of everyday life? It might be planning a family pizza and movie night each month; check commonsensemedia.org for reviews. Alternatively, “you might decide as a family to train for and participate in a 5K run or a bicycling event for a charity you all can support,” says Gehley.

That resolution might also include scheduling regular family dinners. What kids really want, says Gehley, is more time with their parents. Meals are a good place to find it. Studies show that when families regularly eat dinner together, kids eat better, have fewer eating disorders, get better grades and are less likely to abuse alcohol and drugs.

“Dinner-table conversations give parents opportunities to check in on academic, behavioral or physical changes. You gain more insight than simply asking, ‘what happened in school today?’” says Gehley. “Whatever activities you choose to enjoy together over the holidays, your newly expanded family is likely to be grateful for the opportunity to learn, grow and play together. Nothing allows the brain to work at full capacity like a loving, healthy and engaged home environment.”

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