Back to School with Literacy

Notebook with child's note

Sometimes my daughter leaves notes in our Family Letter Journal.

It’s that time of year again! The kids are getting geared up to return to school. I’m here to inspire parents to get excited about helping with their children’s literacy development in an exciting way.

I’m not just talking about reading books before bed and sitting with your child when they’re completing their writing homework. Here are two easy ways you can be a part of strengthening your children’s literacy skills.

  • Lunch Box Notes.
    Even the littlest learners love getting notes in their lunch boxes. Whether they’re reading or not, a quick “I Love You” will help them get excited about words.I’ve seen parents use sticky notes to add messages in their child’s lunch box. You can also use pre-printed notes and add your own little message. Here are a few that I have stocked for my soon-to-be kindergartner’s lunch.

  • Family Letter Journal
    This activity is a great way to nurture the relationship you have with your child through the written word. I used to keep a letter journal with each of my students when I taught first grade. I would write back once a week. Some kids would really open up about things that were bothering them at school. Before the letter journals I didn’t hear about these worries.For our family, I let my daughter pick out a special notebook for our journal. It isn’t something we do every single day, but we leave the notebook out on her desk to remind us to write in it. She has written us back a few times too (not a requirement by any means!).
Two journal entries

My husband and I write letters back and forth to our daughter in our Family Letter Journal.

It’s also a great way for your child to learn the five parts of a letter: formal date, greeting, body, closing and signature. Be sure to use each part and remember to print your words instead of using cursive.

– Maria Dismondy, mother of three, reading specialist, fitness instructor and bestselling children’s author living in Southeast Michigan.

Heidi’s Hints: Back-to-School Lunch Ideas Made Easy

Is everyone gearing up for back to school? I know we are! Grayson just picked out his “most favorite dinosaur backpack ever” with matching lunchbox, and it got me thinking … I need some lunch ideas. I already meal plan for dinners so I don’t need to worry about what’s for dinner, but I need to have some good “go to” lunches ready or else I’m going to have “What’s for lunch?” stress on my hands!

Grayson goes to an extended day preschool program and eats lunch at school. Since he’s a picky eater, it can be quite a challenge to find lunch ideas that he’ll actually eat, that are nutritionally balanced, and easy to pack. He pretty much refuses to even look at a sandwich unless it’s a PB&J.

I’m sure many of you run into this same challenge. If you have older children who have the option of packing or buying a lunch, the challenge to get them to eat a nutritionally balanced meal can be even greater.

To help us all out, I put together some delicious, quick and easy lunch ideas. I’m also sharing some of my favorite lunchbox “tools” to make packing a healthy lunch easy. Spoiler alert: this is not a post on bento box lunches; I wish I had time to make a sunshine out of cheese slices but most days that’s just not in the cards. One thing that I try to stick to is preparing Gray’s lunch the night before. I’ve found that it relieves so much stress in the morning when I already have a million things to do just to get us out the door on time!

Photo of filled lunch containers

The Rubbermaid Lunch Blox are so great for packing lunches. You can configure them in different ways to fit into the lunch box and they come with their own ice pack that fits between the containers.

Option 1: Make your own “lunchable”

There’s a reason why these pre-packaged meals are so popular: they’re easy and kids love them! However, they are heavily processed and filled with preservatives, added sugar and sodium. Solution: Make your own! They’re quick, easy to prepare, and you control the quality of the ingredients. I like to use some of the following items:

  • Nitrate free, organic lunchmeat. Applegate Farms has many delicious options (e.g., turkey, ham, salami, etc.) and although a little pricier than their non-organic counterpart, I’m usually able to get three or five lunches out of one pack of lunchmeat, making it around $1/meal for the lunchmeat.
  • Organic string cheese or cheese sticks. Costco carries this for a great price! Sometimes I sub the cheese out for a Kefir squeeze pack. Lifeway Probugs are our favorite. The kids love the flavors! I love that they are a great probiotic source, and they are lower in sugar than most of their yogurt counterparts.
  • Crackers or some other carb. Popcorn is one of Grayson’s favorites.
  • One fruit and one vegetable. Grapes and blueberries are a favorite around here along with bell pepper slices and carrots. Sometimes I add a little ranch dressing for dipping because we love ranch!
  • And because dessert is important, I pack a “healthy” version of one of their favorites. My kids really like Annie’s Organic Fruit Snacks because, well, they are fruit snacks. I really like them because they don’t contain any artificial flavoring or dyes.
Healthy food in lunch containers

Here’s a sample lunch for Gray.

Option 2: The “Not Peanut Butter” & Jelly

PB&J is actually a very healthy lunchtime option if you use natural peanut butter, an all-fruit spread, and minimally processed bread. However with so many schools being nut-free, the old lunchtime staple of PB&J is no longer an option. Fear not! There are many great peanut butter substitutes out there. If your only restriction is peanuts, then other nut butters such as almond or cashew butter are great alternatives. If your school is completely nut-free, then Sunbutter (made with sunflower seeds) is a great option. Once again, look for these in a natural form without added sugars and salt. They’re easy to recognize if you look at the ingredient list because the only thing you need to see in the ingredients is the actual product itself (i.e., almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds) and nothing else.

For some reason, Grayson is much more likely to eat his sandwich when I cut it out with a cookie cutter. I’m not much into the”crafty lunch thing”, but I do get a little creative sometimes.

Option 3: Leftovers

My favorite! I love packing leftovers for several reasons:

  • They’re easy; you already made the meal! When storing leftovers after dinner, just put them directly into lunch containers. Voilà, lunch is ready!
  • You can offer a lot of different variety by using your leftovers. You can serve them in the same preparation as last night’s dinner or spice them up. Just change/add a few ingredients and you have a completely different meal. For example, chicken from dinner can become a chicken roll up sandwich the next day.
  • Leftovers for lunch reduce food waste. I always saved our leftovers, but we rarely ate them either because we didn’t feel like eating the same thing for dinner twice or there wasn’t enough left over for a full meal for all of us. At the end of the week, I was throwing away a lot of small amounts of leftovers. That was until I realized that these smaller portions are really the perfect lunch-sized portions. If your kids don’t have access to a microwave at school, purchase a small lunch-sized thermos to keep meals hot. These are my favorite for the kiddos.

I hope this helps give you some quick and easy lunch ideas that you can feel great about serving, and your kids will love eating!

Meal Planning Advice? Questions? Recipes? Resources? Feel free to email me at

– Heidi Wilson, Heidi’s Hints: Meal Planning Made Easy

The Face of Beaumont Parenting: Dayna Datta

Dayna Datta with her husband and 4 kids

Dayna Datta with her husband, Rob, and their children: Neal (3) and triplets Anjoli, Gabriel, and Julian (17 months).

At the heart of the Beaumont Parenting Program are the beliefs that there is strength in numbers, the knowledge that a burden shared is a burden lessened, and a joy shared is a joy increased ten-fold. No one understands these ideas as well as our program volunteers, because at the heart of the BPP we find those dedicated men and women who help new parents build the community of support where they will lessen their burdens and expound their joys—people like one of the BPP’s new volunteers, Dayna Datta.

Dayna, 32, is a mother of four and resides in Rochester Hills with her family. The triplets give her great experiences to use as she leads a multiples group for the BPP. A volunteer for six months, Dayna says she loves all of the babies. She explains, “being in a room with new babies makes you really stand back and admire how amazing and beautiful they all are!” She also enjoys meeting the other volunteers in the program, and feels that she’s learning a great deal from them. She feels that “what a volunteer gets back is so much more than they could ever give—it’s immeasurable and unexpected.”

In addition to being a volunteer for the BPP, Dayna is a pre-med student (with four kids under 4!). She laughs when asked if she has any hobbies—but says she used to enjoy taking baths, reading and travel. Now, however, she admits that she’s “secretly ecstatic when all are in bed, nobody needs me, and it’s quiet.” (Don’t worry, Dayna; it doesn’t need to be a secret. All moms long for a little quiet time—even if there’s not enough of it to soak in the tub!)

One of the things Dayna hopes to accomplish with her work for the BPP is to show her children the importance of giving and caring for the world and communities to which they belong. She also hopes to foster that community of support for new parents. Dayna says, “becoming a parent is essentially the start of your own community. We know how important it is at home to help and strengthen each other, so it must be equally as important to do so outside the home in greater communities, as that is where we will one day be sending our children off to. I volunteer with the Beaumont Parenting Program because I think family, in the many definitions it may hold, is the foundation to a community.”

With foundations such as those being built by Dayna, the Beaumont Parenting Program will surely continue to strengthen our community of family. Thanks, Dayna!

– Nicole Capozello, Parenting Program Volunteer

Well Rested and Ready for a New School Year

School-age boy sleeping

Cropped image. SantaRosa, CC License.

As pencils are sharpened, backpacks are selected, and the last few trips to the beach are made, it’s no doubt that back-to-school season is upon us. While the longer summer days may have pushed bedtime back and the subsequent mornings have started a bit later, it’s not too difficult to get back in the swing of things with time in order to make sure that kids are well rested and at their best for the academic rigors that await them.

While experts recommend not moving the bedtime back by more than an hour on weekends, and the same goes for the waking time, it’s understandable if a new norm established itself over the summer. That said, it’s best not to wait until the night before the first day of school to adjust your child’s sleep schedule in preparation for the new school year.

Reestablishing the school sleep schedule

  • Try to adjust the bedtime/waking time gradually until the child is back to a regular school sleep schedule. For example, the bedtime and waking time can be moved in 30-minute increments every few days until the child’s schedule has returned to the appropriate school-year sleep schedule.
  • Keep the bedtime routine consistent and without stimulation just before bed. Books are great but avoid electronics and television 30 minutes prior to bedtime.
  • It’s best to avoid sugar and caffeinated beverages in preparation for a good night’s rest.
  • During the school year, it’s best to follow that hour rule of thumb for weekend bedtime and waking time.

Ensuring proper rest will assist your child in paying attention, learning and retaining new information. Studies show that a lack of sleep can hinder these processes, so making sure that your little one is well rested will certainly help the learning process in school.

How much sleep does your child need?

While the best rule of thumb is that a happy, healthy child is usually a well-rested child, some suggested norms are:

  • Toddlers between the ages of 1 and 3 will sleep 12–14 hours in a 24-hour period.
  • Preschoolers between the ages of 3 and 5 usually sleep 11–14 hours per day and drop their naps by 5 years of age.
  • School-age children between the ages of 5 and 12 need 10 or 11 hours of sleep.
  • The average adolescents will sleep about 9 hours a day as their sleep physiology changes.

With the increasing demands of a new school year and the extracurricular activities that go along with it, it’s never too early to prioritize sleep. August is the perfect month to get that back-to-school routine established in order to be well rested and ready for the new school year that awaits.

– Melissa Rettmann, M.S., PA-C, has a background in pediatrics and allergy. She is the mother of a toddler and volunteers with the Parenting Program.


Resources:  National Sleep Foundation and Nelson’s Essentials of Pediatrics


Introducing Beaumont’s New Natural Birth Workshop

Dad holding mom's hands over birthing ball

Cropped image. Sonya Green, CC License.

Beaumont’s Community Health Education Department is happy to announce a new class: Natural Birth Workshop.

This class was developed in response to feedback from expectant families who expressed an increased interest in birthing in a more natural manner, with little or no medical intervention, while maintaining the comfort and safety of a hospital setting.

The goal of Beaumont’s Natural Birth Workshop is to provide mom and her support person with the knowledge and skills needed for a natural birth experience. The workshop will increase mom’s confidence and assist her in developing a personal plan for her baby’s birth.

This is a “hands-on” class where practice will include positioning, breathing for labor and birth, and learning a variety of comfort measures, such as ways to handle labor challenges. The expectant mom’s labor partner will learn how he/she can support mom and the natural birth process. The goal is to help mom work with her body to increase comfort, enhance the birth process, and decrease or eliminate the need for pain medications.

During the workshop, moms will receive information on natural birth, post-partum care/newborn baby care and breastfeeding information. Expectant parents will also receive a natural birth book and a web-based resource for further learning and review.

The workshop is taught by a registered nurse/ childbirth educator. Mom and her support person should attend this Natural Birth Workshop together and plan to complete it about 4–6 weeks before baby’s due date.

Workshops are scheduled in two formats: One full Saturday session or three weeknight sessions on consecutive weeks. The class fee for mom and support person is $120 and includes all materials.

A follow-up session of the workshop is held 4–8 weeks after baby is born. The new family, including baby, is invited to attend a Beyond Birth class where postpartum adjustment, time and priorities, infant massage, and parenting myths and realities will be discussed. The fee for this class is included in the cost of the Natural Birth Workshop.

For dates, times, locations and registration, visit us online or call (800) 633-7377.

Please contact Mary Anne Kenerson, RN,, (248) 273-6323 with any questions about this class.

We hope to see you in one of our Natural Birth Workshops very soon!

– Mary Anne Kenerson, RN, Coordinator, Community Health Education, Beaumont Health System

10 Ways to Make Summer Homework More Fun

During summer vacation, you may be struggling with keeping your children motivated to do work when all they want to do is play. Or maybe it’s hard to come up with educational ideas when they say “I’m bored!” Don’t worry; motivating kids is not impossible in the summertime!

Speech pathologists use a variety of tricks to keep kids motivated to work during treatment sessions. Children are learning to tolerate structure, improve their attention skills, and increase their motivation, so keeping work fun is a great way to help. Some strategies are as simple as keeping track of how many items are left, while others involve turning the work into a game.

These tricks don’t just work for speech and language treatment. They’ll help with academic flashcards, sight words for reading practice, and completing those awesome “Get Ready for ___ Grade” summer bridge workbooks.

Here are a few of our favorites:

  1. Hide flashcards around the room. Have your child find them with a flashlight while the lights are off.
  2. Place a snack on practice items, and eat it when you finish each one.
  3. Create a “bean box” by filling a box with beans then hiding pictures inside. Search for the pictures by digging in the beans.
  4. Attach a paperclip to each flashcard, and “catch” them with a magnetic fishing pole.
  5. Switch roles and have your child be the “teacher,” helping you, the “student” with the task.
  6. Write practice words on a dry-erase board, and erase them as you go. When the board is clean, you’re done!
  7. Write words with sidewalk chalk, and spray them away with the hose.
  8. Make two copies of picture cards, and create a Memory (matching) game.
  9. Become a movie star by recording production of practice words.
  10. Try an iPad app that keeps track of accomplishments (such as iReward).

Try some out and see which one is your child’s favorite!

Kellie Bouren, M.A., CCC-SLP, Speech and Language Pathologist, Children’s Speech Pathology Department, Beaumont Children’s Hospital

Road Trips are Memory Makers

Lady holding a young girl with 3 older girls in front standing in front of a rock.

One of many stops along the way with my mom, my sisters and our friend.

Road trips were a tradition for my family growing up. Each summer, my parents chose a destination, grabbed an atlas, and tuned up our 1979 motor home to hit the open road. We traveled from Michigan all across the U.S.—from New York to Washington state and everywhere in between. I loved the unobstructed view from my perch in the bunk over the driver’s cab. It was so fun and super safe, I’m sure. ;)

Man holding map.

My dad plotting the course pre-GPS.

However, my best memories from these vacations aren’t seeing the Statue of Liberty or Mount Rushmore but what we did while we were getting there! Something magical seemed to happen when there was nothing else to do; we talked, laughed and connected. We chatted about everything: weather, music, our itinerary, our hopes and our dreams. Sure we played the License Plate game a thousand times and argued over who got to sit in the front seat while Dad drove (again, I think that was safe for an 8 year old in 1986!). We even created our own game, called 35, to encourage each other to follow Michigan’s freshly inked seat belt law of 1985 and avoid the $35 citation that would be issued should we be caught without our seat belts fastened. We must’ve played the Bruce Springsteen and Cyndi Lauper cassettes more than anyone ever. And while the music played, we joked, talked and wondered aloud all the things that kids wonder.

Girl holding child by monument sign

On our trips, there was always room for one more person! I’m holding our family friend at the World’s Largest Buffalo monument in Jamestown, North Dakota.

It’s so easy to bring our technology along with us on trips today. Screens are everywhere and accessible in places that the 1980s never could have imagined! I think we all can appreciate a well-timed animated classic on a long car trip. But when you head out on the road this summer, I encourage you to take some time away from the cell phones and tablets to engage with your kids about the things that boredom stimulates in our brains. Even our little toddler travelers have something to share and are usually quite quotable while doing so. Not every conversation will be a memory-maker, but the feeling it evokes just might be!

– Nichole Enerson, MA, LLPC, CPST


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