Round up for animals

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By Susan Baldani

Ted and Rosey Varna are huge animal lovers. After volunteering with the Cobb County Animal Services shelter for 3 ½ years, they had to give it up due to the emotional toll it was taking. They had seen too many animals euthanized.

Afterwards, they knew they needed to help these dogs and cats before it was too late. So, they started a RoundUp Program at their family-owned and run restaurant, Hook, Line & Schooner in Smyrna, GA in November of 2018. With this program, their customers can choose to have their bills rounded up, with the additional amount going toward rescuing these animals.

So far, they have raised $1100.00, which has enabled them to save 11 animals from euthanasia. By partnering with no-kill rescues, these animals go from death row to loving and permanent homes. They focus on rescuing the neediest animals that are older, sick or injured since they are usually the first to be euthanized.

When dining at their restaurant, patrons get not only a delicious seafood meal, but also the opportunity to help animals in need. Rosey is heartened to see how many of their customers love the idea and chip in whenever they can. They often donate extra money as well. Pictures and names of the animals they have rescued are tacked onto a board in the restaurant, so diners can see the results of their generosity.

People often want to help, but don’t know how to go about doing so. Ted and Rosey have developed a network of people who work in shelters who help steer the money in the right direction. Most of the funds are used to get the animals out of the shelter, with the remaining going to the rescue group that takes them in.

“If we could get other businesses to do it, we could save a lot more animals’ lives. We encourage others to do it,” said Rosey.

One of their goals is to help spread the RoundUp Program in order to rescue even more animals. Ted and Rosey would be happy to give other business owners advice about getting started with this worthwhile endeavor. With every additional $100.00 raised, another animal can be saved.

They are also planning to hold pet adoption days on their pet-friendly patio so people can see the wonderful dogs and cats that are available. One look into their soulful eyes will “hook” many people who are thinking of bringing a pet into their lives.

The couple, who have six cats and a German shepherd, also want to stress the importance of spaying and neutering. And, when looking for a dog or cat, local shelters have some great animals that are waiting for their forever homes. You don’t have to go to a breeder to find the right pet for you and your family.

To see some of the animals they have rescued and to read their stories, or to get involved, go to https://www.hooklineschooner.com/Rescued-by-Roundup-Program and their Facebook and Instagram pages.

Written for Smyrna Vinings Lifestyle magazine in Georgia.

https://www.lifestylepubs.com/SmyrnaVinings/2019/06/01/roundup-for-the-animals/

 

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What does volunteering do for a teen?

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By Susan Baldani

Teenagers can get so caught up in school, friendships, social media, and everyday responsibilities that they can sometimes forget about the broader world around them. The arrival of summer vacation brings more freedom to explore new interests and is therefore a good time to get them involved in some new and worthwhile opportunities.

One way for teens to do this is through volunteering, which has been shown to increase self-esteem, help them gain understanding of issues impacting their communities, and give them personal satisfaction. To make it more meaningful, encourage them to choose a cause they feel is important.

For example, if your teen loves animals, many animal shelters need people to walk and play with the dogs, clean the cat cages, and provide companionship and love to these homeless pets. Or, if your teen likes being around older people, nursing homes are often looking for volunteers to play games, read, or just spend time with their seniors. Churches and other religious organizations are also always looking for help with fundraisers, serving meals to the poor, and various other outreach activities.

Universities also expect students to have experience with volunteering. New York Time freelance contributor Julie Weed wrote recently that volunteering gives your child an advantage when it comes to college admissions. “Most students who apply to college these days list volunteer experience on their application,” said Paul Seegert, associate director in the admissions office at the University of Washington. “The students who stand out are ones who have taken on leadership roles, shown a long-term commitment to service, or brought innovation or creative solutions to their work.”

Of course, having an edge when it comes to getting into a university is a great additional benefit, but if a teen is only volunteering because it will look good on his or her college application, it won’t be as heartfelt or impactful in their lives. So, be sure your teen picks something he or she is genuinely interested in.

“Volunteering is especially beneficial to low-income teens,” Weed said. “According to a 2007 federal study, disadvantaged teens who volunteer feel empowered and are more likely to become politically engaged and to believe they will graduate from college and make a difference in their communities.”

Volunteering has many other rewards, as well. It can help teens learn about the world outside of their own environment by enabling them to come into contact with people they may not normally interact with, such as those from different backgrounds or cultures. It can even lead to a desire to travel and explore new places.

In addition, it can also help teens improve their social skills and form meaningful friendships based on shared goals and commitments. They can also acquire skills that will serve them well in the future, such as planning, organizing, and customer service.

Volunteering can allow teens to try out different careers and help them decide what they want to do in the future. For example, if they are interested in medicine, they can join a local ambulance squad or volunteer at a hospital to see if it’s something that may be right for them. Or, it may make them realize they need to pick another career, without wasting years and money on an academic path that isn’t right for them.

Volunteering is also something wonderful that families can do together. Working for a common goal is a great way to do something good for your community while strengthening family bonds and making memories. Your children may not remember that trip to an amusement park, but you can bet they’ll remember someone thanking them for providing some much-needed assistance.

Finding places to volunteer in your area is fairly easy since there are so many worthwhile causes out there. While some require a volunteer to be at least 18, many others do not. One site, http://www.volunteermatch.org, can help teens find a cause that’s right for them, like taking part in a fundraiser for Goodwill or tutoring a child at Presbyterian Community Center.

Open up a new world for your teens by encouraging them to volunteer their time to help others. It may turn out to be one of the greatest gifts you’ll ever give them.

Written for Roanoke Valley Family Magazine in Virginia

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How to choose the right assisted living facility for your parent

 

Helping a parent make the decision to move into an assisted living facility can be difficult. Knowing the questions to ask and what to look for can make the process easier.

Assisted living facilities vary greatly. Some are made up of actual apartments with small kitchens while others are private single rooms with a common dining area. There are also various levels of care offered. Seniors who can cook and clean for themselves need a much lower level of care than those who have mobility issues and/or memory impairment.

There are many benefits for senior citizens in an assistance living facility. Depending on the type of place chosen, most offer three healthy meals per day so you know your loved one is getting the proper nutrition they need. Laundry and cleaning services are available to ensure that the senior is living in a hygienic environment and has access to clean clothing. Help with prescriptions, such as reminders to take medications at the right time and at the correct dosage, can keep conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure under control. Activities such as crafts, games and dancing, and outings to museums and plays are also planned to avoid boredom and keep seniors’ minds and bodies actively engaged. Social interaction is greatly encouraged to ward off loneliness and deter isolation. For those with more limiting health issues such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, assisted living communities can offer a high level of care in order to keep your loved one safe and comfortable.

Before getting started, help your mother or father set a budget. Make a list of priorities from necessary to desirable and try to find a place that fits their needs and wants. The facility you and your parent choose will be determined by many variables, including location and cost. Seniors should be involved, if possible, in the entire decision-making process.

Once you know the financial situation, the next step is to find some facilities to visit. You can look online, speak with family and friends who have experience with those nearby, and check with your state or area agency on aging. In Fairfax County, Virginia, you can use the following link for information on senior living facilities in the area:
https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/housing/rentalhousing/senior-housing. After you locate a few possible choices, you can then call and find out information about what they offer and price ranges, and to request brochures.

Once you have this information, decide which ones you would like to visit and make appointments to see them. Before you go, put together a list of questions that you and your parent would like answered. For example, can residents have a pet, bring their own furniture, and can they come and go as they please?

For the tour, bring your parent with you if at all possible, since it is a priority for your mother or father to feel comfortable with the facility and also give him or her a sense of control. Besides meeting with the sales person, also meet with staff and residents. Ask the residents what they like and don’t like about the center, and get their personal feelings about the place.

As recommended in the article, “Choosing the Right Assisted Living Facility,” on http://www.senior.org, “After a successful tour, drop by the facility at least once during the day and once at night. During the day, observe the social atmosphere, including activities and meals. A night visit gives you a feel for the atmosphere during quiet hours, and it allows you to evaluate the night staff.”

When you find a facility you both like, be sure to review the material received and have all the answers to your questions. Before signing a contract, take it home and look it over carefully. If there is anything you don’t understand, ask for clarification. If you’re still not sure, you can have a lawyer review it. The contract should specify all fees, services, level of care, discharge policies, and anything else you may have requested.

With the right information, you can be secure in the fact that you’re making the right decision. And your parent can be happy and well cared for in their new home.

Written for Viva Tysons magazine in Tysons, VA

Enjoy the beauty and peace of the outdoors with your own private patio garden

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By Susan Baldani
Homes with outdoor living areas are in high demand, especially in cities where space is at a premium. This is where patios can make a big difference by adding useful, livable space for entertaining or just relaxing.
Many new builds take this into account, such as the J5 condo development in Midtown. “J5’s entire building design is centered around outdoor living for the homeowners,” said Pauline Miller, founder of Brightstar | Compass, which is handling the sales of J5. These condos have oversized terraces ranging in size from 100 square feet to 400 square feet, which provide plenty of space for furniture and gardens.
“We are finding our home buyers are coming from other condos where terraces and green space is not available or limited. These terraces and green spaces also appeal to homebuyers that are leaving single family homes who want the ability to spend time in the garden, and have the opportunity to ‘play in the dirt’ during the many beautiful seasons in Atlanta,” said Pauline.
Incorporating natural, living elements can create an oasis away from the fast pace of city life and bring color and style to this private outdoor space. However, knowing the right elements to use is key.
Matthew Klyn, a landscape designer and owner of Garden, a boutique landscape & garden design firm. He is well known for his designs in and beyond Atlanta and designs beautiful and interesting garden patios of all shapes and sizes.
When planning a patio garden, he stresses that many variables have to be taken into account. The right amounts of sun and water are paramount for maintaining a healthy and vibrant garden, and choosing the right plantings is essential. Since you want the garden to look good year-round, he recommends staying away from annuals and most blooming flowers. These take a lot of work and need to be replaced continually. It’s fine to have some, but he prefers to add colors with textures and containers.
“Lighting is also critical since you don’t just want to enjoy your garden during the day,” said Matt. Evenings are a great time to spend on your patio, especially once the weather gets hot. To enjoy the cooler temperatures and great city views, make sure you have the right illumination.
Gardening is in Matt’s blood. His grandfather owned 600 acres of nursery land in Ohio and had over 1600 varieties of plants. As a kid growing up in a Frank Lloyd Wright inspired house (an understudy of Wright’s actually built the house), his mom gave him the opportunity to create an appealing landscape for the front of the house. Matt took up the challenge, went to the nursery and filled the garden for her. When he was done, he decided that that was what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.
To find out more from Matt Klyn and Garden, go to http://www.gardenatl.com/ or for information about the J5 condos, go to https://www.ownj5.com/.
Matt’s tips:

Tip 1: Know the weight allowance of the patio. Use lighter containers like fiber clay or fiber stone instead of ceramic, terra cotta or concrete. The latter may last longer, but they also add a lot of weight. Cover the base of the planters with gravel for drainage, use packing peanuts for fill and then add soil.
Tip 2: The sun dictates everything. When thinking about a patio garden, first figure out if it has an Eastern or Western exposure in order to calculate how much sun it gets. Evergreens and perennials, such as butterhead black pine and Japanese black pine, work great, as well as boxwoods since these can handle even the strongest sun.
Tip 3: The right amount of watering is crucial. Adding moist polymer to the soil helps hold water and prevents overwatering. To keep things simple, have watering systems with automated timers. Built in planters with irrigation are already integrated into the design of the patios in the J5 building to ensure the sustainability of gardens.

Written for Midtown Lifestyle in Atlanta, GA

Teens Behind the Wheel – Staying Safe on the Road

By Susan Baldani

A rite of passage for most teens is getting their driver’s license. It’s something that they’ve usually dreamed of for years. For parents, however, giving their kids those car keys can fill them with dread. And they have a right to be concerned. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens.”

Instead of living in fear when your teen is out driving, there are things you can do to keep them safe. And parents need to start before the child takes his first drive around the block.

“My biggest concern was obviously their safety,” said Christine Scally, a mother of two sons, ages 16 and 18, who lives in New Jersey. “We have spent a lot of time teaching them defensive driving. Also, we had to have conversations with them about who they let in their car. This became more of an issue once Sean turned 18 and the restriction regarding how many kids he was allowed in the car was lifted.”

Fortunately, laws are in place to make sure teens gain the necessary experience while curtailing how late they can drive, how many people they can have in the car, and in some cases, requiring that a licensed adult is in the car with them. These are called Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) Systems and exist in every state in the U.S. as well as in Washington, DC. And these laws do work. As stated on the CDC website, “Research suggests that the more comprehensive GDL programs are associated with reductions of 26% to 41% in fatal crashes and reductions of 16% to 22% in overall crashes, among 16-year-old drivers.”

Seat belt laws also save lives. The website goes on to state that,” Of the teens (aged 16-19) who died in passenger vehicle crashes in 2016, at least 48% were not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash. Research shows that seat belts reduce serious crash-related injuries and deaths by about half.”

Teens today also have the more distractions than ever. Cell phones are a huge problem with kids talking and texting while driving. According to DMV.org, “Multiple studies indicate using a cell phone while driving is the equivalent of driving drunk―that’s even when using a hands-free phone.”

Texting can be even worse. “Research shows texting―on average―causes a loss of focus on the road for 4.6 seconds. You can drive the length of a full football field in that time. A lot can go wrong while you drive the length of a football field without your eyes on the road.”

Sometimes technology can be an asset, if used the right way. “One of the rules that we have is that they need to enable their GPS function on their phone so we can find them at all times,” said Scally. “If they do use Google Maps or Waze, we require them to use the voice activated feature so that way they don’t have to look at the phone while driving.”

Speeding, of course, is another major cause of crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports, “In 2017, speed was a contributing factor in 26% of all fatal crashes – and 9,717 people died in those speeding-related crashes. Speeders account for every 3 out of 10 drivers, or about 63.6 million drivers. It’s not just aggressive driving, it’s deadly driving.”

The higher the speed, the more severe the crash and injuries will be. There’s an increase in stopping distance and a greater potential to lose control of the vehicle.

Speed should also be adjusted according to the weather and road conditions, such as snow, rain, and fog, traffic congestion, construction, sun glare and darkness. All of these variables, and not just speed limits, should determine how fast or slow people should go. It’s better to arrive late than to not arrive at all.

Parents can also make defense driving courses a requirement for obtaining a license and getting behind the wheel. According to Safemotorist.com, “With defensive driving classes, students learn to improve their driving skills by reducing their driving risks by anticipating situations and making safe well-informed decisions.”

Some states even offer an insurance discount of up to 10% and a reduction of points on your license, which is a great incentive for all drivers. But learning to drive safely with a high level of skill is the biggest reason to take these courses.

Parents also have to be aware of their own driving habits when their kids are in the car. If they see you speeding, using your phone, not wearing your seat belt and driving aggressively, then they might think that it’s okay for them to do those things as well.

Give your teens the tools they need to be safe on the roads. It will give you peace of mind and make it much easier to hand over those car keys when the time comes.

Written for Roanoke Valley Family Magazine published in Virgina

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Mother’s Day Blessings

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What I have learned from my mother

By Susan Baldani

What qualities does one need to be a wonderful mother? Well, let’s see. Kindness, selflessness, a loving heart, a caring personality, an abundance of patience, acceptance and wisdom are just a few necessary qualities. Fortunately for me, my mother has all of these and more.

Even though I never had children of my own, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to be a stepmother and, in the last few years, a grandmother, or in my case, a MeMa. I fell into these roles rather easily, I believe, because I had such a great role model in my mother (and grandmothers). Not that the men in my life haven’t influenced me positively as well, but this article is, after all, to celebrate Mother’s Day.

I learned that my needs have to sometimes be overlooked in order to make others happy. That sacrifice is a form of love and not something to begrudge. I learned that giving to others makes me much happier than any gift I could give myself. I learned how to bring comfort, even when I feel like I’m the one who needs comforting, and that it’s better to get up to help when all I want is to do is lie down. These are traits I have tried to carry over into all of my relationships.

My mom is also one of my very best friends. I can talk to her about anything and she will never judge me, criticize me, or try to make decisions for me and my future. She will give me advice, but knows that I need to make some mistakes to find my own true path in life, and hitting a few speed bumps along the journey is the only way to really find the right destination.

My life has been filled with many successes, both personally and professionally. My mother has encouraged me to take advantage of opportunities that have arisen and has been my tireless cheerleader. I couldn’t have accomplished what I have without the belief instilled in me to trust in my own decisions.

I know I am so very fortunate to still have my mom. Some of my friends have already had to say goodbye to theirs, and my heart truly breaks for them since I know what a hole I would have in my life without my mother. No matter how old I get, I will always need my mommy. Happy Mother’s Day!

Written for The Country Register published across the U.S. and Canada.

United to Fight Homelessness

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By Susan Baldani

Justin Landis, owner of The Justin Landis Group in Atlanta, is passionate about helping his clients find their dream homes. He is also truly devoted to helping end homelessness. “Everyone deserves a dream home. We help our clients find their dream homes, but most nights over 7000 people in Atlanta do not have a home,” he said.

This is why he decided to take the Keller Williams 90 in 90 campaign to the next level. The 90 in 90 goal is to sell 90 homes in 90 days and is a way for agents to grow their businesses. However, Justin decided to make it an even bigger challenge by uniting the real estate industry for a great cause.

In 2018, his 90 in 90 goal was to raise $90,000 in 90 days. He asked everyone involved in a home sale, such as attorneys, lenders, home insurance and moving companies to pitch in with whatever amount they felt comfortable giving.

“A lot of people want to do good, but there was not a vehicle to do it together that multiplies, and that is the key – that it multiplies,” said Justin.

Last year in March, April and May, over $90,000 was raised. The goal was actually met on the last day at 4:09 pm. Money came not only from the parties involved in the transactions, but also from the community.

The Atlanta Mission, whom they partnered with and awarded the money, also asked their donors to match the amount. Another $180,00 was raised, and all in all, a grand total of $270,000 was raised in 90 days. “That’s the power of people doing things together,” said Justin.

The Atlanta Mission uses this money to get their clients off the streets and into programs that provide housing, counseling, vocational training, addiction recovery, daycare, education and other vital assistance.

“The awesome thing is that when people complete a program like this, they’ve rebuilt all aspects of their lives and rarely fall back into homelessness,” said Justin. To find out more about the mission and what they do, go to https://atlantamission.org/services/.

This year, the challenge is on once again. In March, April and May, the goal will be to raise at least $90,000 in 90 days. Other agents and teams have elected to take part this year and a handful of Keller William brokerage offices are doing it as well.

Most promotion is done through word of mouth, and one of his big supporters is Rick Hale, managing broker and owner of Rick Hale and Associates. Rick owns six offices in Atlanta and truly believes in the program. Since the proceeds this year are going to various charities, one that Rick has chosen is Every Woman Works, which helps women and families literally work their way out of homelessness. He also stands in as a father figure for a few shelter children, so this campaign is near and dear to his heart.

“We’re in business with amazing people who are committed to helping the cause,” said Rick.

Justin is now in the process of starting a charity called Good Key. Its goal will be to become a conduit between the industry and organizations that are helping the homeless, as well as to spread awareness and raise funds. “I have a dream that the real estate industry can be united to do a greater good,” said Justin. To find about more or to get involved is this 90 in 90 campaign, go to http://www.justinlandisgroup.com/90-in-90/.

Written for Midtown Lifestyle magazine in Atlanta, GA
http://www.midtownlifestylepubs.com/

A corporation leading the way for a healthier planet

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By Susan Baldani

Many companies today are taking into account the impact their business practices are having on the environment and trying to find solutions that support sustainable growth. One company that has taken this to heart is Mars. A family-owned business that has operations around the globe, they have devised a plan that can improve the world now and in the future.

Mars’ Sustainable in a Generation Plan, launched in September of 2017, is focused on business practices that support the planet and have a positive social impact. In order to do this, they have chosen to apply their five principals – Quality, Responsibility, Mutuality, Efficiency and Freedom – along with scientific findings to tackle the challenges of climate change, scarcity of resources and poverty throughout their agricultural supply chains.

According to the company, “Mars has aimed to act as a good corporate citizen, minimize our impact on the environment and use the natural resources of our planet wisely and efficiently. Mars has always sought to create mutual benefits for our business and the people and communities whose lives we touch.”

They have identified three pillars that are essential drivers of sustainable growth:

Healthy Planet – with the goal of reducing our environmental impacts in line with what science says is necessary to keep the planet healthy, focusing on climate action, water stewardship and land management.

Thriving People – with the goal of meaningfully improving the working lives of one million people in our value chain to enable them to thrive, focusing on increasing income, respecting human rights and unlocking opportunities for women.

Nourishing Wellbeing – with the goal of advancing science, innovation and marketing in ways that help billions of people and their pets lead healthier, happier lives.

One example of this philosophy is The Better Cities For Pets™ program. Piloted in Franklin, TN, in 2017, it assists cities in becoming pet-friendly, thus allowing for more people to reap the benefits of pet ownership. Their four focus areas are shelters, homes, parks and businesses.

Thanks to a coordinated effort between the Downtown Franklin Association and the Williamson County Convention & Visitors Bureau, more than 90 businesses have taken part by having a shared pet code of conduct, consistent signage and in-store education. The city also now has pet waste stations which encourages visitors to bring their pets with them.

Mars US Petcare, currently headquartered in Franklin, will be moving to a new location in town within the year. According to the company, the new corporate office will rely on windmill energy production to compensate for 25% of the facilities’ energy consumption. The new building will also be LEED certified. And all of their Petcare facilities are zero-waste to landfill locally, not just in Franklin.

Making these changes hasn’t been easy, but Mars feels that new, innovative approaches are needed to mitigate the myriad of problems facing the environment. Of course, it also takes cooperation from others to put these ideas into action, so they’re continually building new partnerships and action-oriented coalitions to find breakthrough solutions to sustainable growth.

According to Mars, “We’re focused on implementing changes in a way that has a positive benefit not just for Mars but for the communities where our associates live and work, and for society at large.”

Written for Franklin Lifestyle in Franklin, TN

http://www.franklinlifestyle.com/

Forget your troubles and do a puzzle

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By Susan Baldani

There is always a jigsaw puzzle in various state of completion on my dining room table. I do it on a big piece of cardboard so when people are coming for dinner, I can just pick it up and slide it under the couch. Out of sight, but not out of mind. As soon as the coast is clear, I drag it back out, with the guests never knowing that they were sitting on a sandy beach or snow-covered mountain.

As a child, I always enjoyed puzzles, but as an adult I forgot about them for a while. Then, about 10 years ago, I was planning a trip to the shore to stay in a rental house for a week. I was so looking forward to relaxing. I had all my beach gear, books and magazines, but wondered what else I could do when I was tired of the hot sun and sand. I happened to see a beach-themed puzzle at the store, and just like that, I had my new hobby.

Besides being fun, I find that puzzles are often a great way to overcome anxiety and stress. When I sit down and work on a puzzle, focusing so intently on those little pieces helps me forget about my own problems for a while. It’s hard to worry when you’re trying to complete the whiskered face of an adorable cat. (A lot of my puzzles involve cats, dogs and a variety of other cute animals.)

I am very, very picky when it comes to choosing a puzzle. First of all, I like to occasionally match them to the season, so in the summer I will pick out a beach or floral scene, for example. I also need a busy puzzle; no big blue skies or wide expanses of green lawns. No, the more stuff crammed into that square or rectangular picture the better. I also prefer between 500 and 750 pieces; anything less is too easy and anything more sometimes frustrates me. And I don’t like to be frustrated. After all, I’m doing puzzles to de-stress and enjoy myself.

What I find truly amusing is when people come in, see me doing a puzzle, and remark about what an old-fashioned pursuit it is. However, more often than not, they find themselves wandering over to watch. Then, before they realize what’s happening, they’re doing the puzzle with me.

By the way, I think puzzles are making a comeback. When I went to my local library last week, I noticed that they now have two jigsaw puzzles going at all times. What a great idea!

Written for The Country Register published across the U.S. and Canada.

It’s time for preschool – what you need to know to make the best decision for your child

Preschool

By Susan Baldani

A good preschool has been shown to provide a strong foundation for learning and has also been proven to increase a child’s academic success for years to come. In addition, it’s usually a child’s first experience with structured education and leaving home for hours on end, so parents want to make sure the choice they make is the right one.

Here are some things to focus on when choosing a preschool for your child:

Teachers

The strength of any program is going to depend on the teacher. Requirements differ by state – while one may not require a bachelor’s degree, other states may. Find out what the qualifications are that the school itself requires of their teachers.

What kind of degree or experience do the teachers have? At minimum, they should have a certificate such as the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential. Even better is a bachelor’s or, of course, a master’s degree in early childhood education. Also find out if there are teacher’s assistants or aides in the classroom as well and if so, what their qualifications are.

Size of classes

Many studies have shown that the lower the ratio of student to teacher, the better the academic outcome. To ensure that children get the proper attention, states have strict guidelines in place for how many children a certified teacher can oversee and how many adults, such as aides and assistants, have to be in a classroom.Most early-childhood educators believe that younger children do best in classes with fewer than 15 students.

Educational philosophy

While some schools focus on structure, others allow for discovery-based learning. While structure is important in every grade, many studies encourage more free play during preschool, which allows children to make choices in their learning.

“You don’t want to be telling (the children) what to do all the time,” said Deborah Stipek, a professor and former dean of Stanford’s Graduate School of Education. “You want to make sure there are experiences all kids get because they’re important, but it’s also important to let them bring themselves to the task.”

Parents should also look for schools that welcome parental visits, have open communication, and provide feedback on their children’s day-to-day activities. Even though they are young, this is the age when developmental delays and learning issues may present themselves.

As stated in the article “Tools for Parents: What to look for in a preschool program,” by Lillian Mongeau, “Several well-established assessments of social and emotional growth as well as academic preparedness are available to early childhood educators. These non-academic assessments help parents and teachers measure important developmental traits such as self-esteem; whether children understand what adults are telling them; a child’s ability to keep trying a new task – like rebuilding a tower that’s fallen down; and fine motor skills.”

Classroom set up and safety

Preschool classrooms should have open floor plans with low tables, small chairs and low shelves. Toys, books, blocks and other items should be neatly organized into play centers and within reach of the children.

Look around the classroom to make sure the room and materials are clean and the environment is safe. Stipek stated that “parents should look for general cleanliness as well as safety features such as covered electrical sockets, toys without sharp edges and safe storage of potentially dangerous materials, including paint and cleaning supplies.”

Everyone on staff should be trained in CPR and first aid, and the school should also have an emergency plan in place. Also ask about background checks. Does the school perform those?

Discipline

Find out how children are disciplined and what kinds of rules they are expected to follow. How are children encouraged to follow these rules? Positive reinforcement should be used, such as reward charts or stickers, and praise from staff. If the child does not follow the rules, does the teacher use time-out or redirection or some other kind of behavior modification techniques?

Other things to ask: Do children take naps during the day, and if so, for how long? Who provides the food and snacks? Does a child have to be fully potty trained in order to attend? Can the school provide references or the ability to speak with other parents?

Of course, cost is another factor that parents need to know up front. Some states provide free preschool, whereas many others still do not. However, there may be programs that help offset the cost for low-income families.

Lastly, parents should follow their instincts. Does the school feel like a positive place to learn, do the children look happy, and are the teachers warm and inviting? Would they feel comfortable leaving their child there? If the answer to these questions is “yes,” they can then be secure in the fact that they have found the best place for their child.

Written for Roanoke Valley Family Magazine in VA.