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Setting Goals for the New Year

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By Kristin Backert-Evans

2023 is officially here! Honestly, I’m still not sure how 2022 is already over…wasn’t it just April last week? But since a new year is indeed upon us, it’s time for a tradition: to set some New Year’s resolutions!

On the surface, setting goals sounds like it should be the easiest thing in the world. Think of something that you want to do differently, say that you want to do it, and boom, you’re done. But thinking about goals in a superficial way makes it a lot harder to actually meet them. For example, one thing that I’ve been struggling with is how specific to make my goals. I know that I want to read more. While I usually read before going to sleep each night, that means that it can take weeks to finish a book since I have such a limited time in which to read. Initially, I figured that I could set a goal to read X number of books this year so that there’s a concrete, tangible number that I’m working towards. However, knowing myself, I would feel as though that number was looming over me, and I would feel soooo guilty if I didn’t meet it. And if I didn’t meet it, I would convince myself that every single other action that I took was wrong (if you hadn’t decided to watch that movie, you could have finished that book! If you hadn’t decided to play on your Switch, you could have finished another book! SHAME!). While I could revise my goal number as the months go by, I think that I would still feel guilty for not being “good enough” to hit that initial goal. Based on this, I’m going to set the specific goal of reading for at least 20 minutes during the day on the weekends. To me, that feels more realistic than telling myself to just magically find a way to read X number of books. 

Another goal that I have is to better my crochet techniques. I’ve made a lot of progress over the last 1.5 years, but there’s still so much room for improvement. With crocheting, I think that setting very specific goals would benefit me. For example, I could improve my ability to crochet in the row; for some reason, this basic technique gives me more trouble than it should. This is something very specific, so I could deliberately choose patterns that use this technique so that I have to practice it more frequently. I could also improve my sewing ability so that when I add limbs to a doll, they go on straight and don’t look like some flailing Muppet. An even bigger goal to work towards would be to write my own pattern, which would basically mean choosing a figure (e.g., a book/TV character, an animal, an object) and creating it from scratch instead of following a pattern that someone else has written. That would challenge me because it would involve a lot of trial-and-error as I figured out how many stitches needed to be in each round, what the design should look like, and more. These types of specific goals (as opposed to a more general “get better at crocheting” goal) will help me to, hopefully, improve at a faster rate. 

When you’re setting goals for this New Year, remember that you can make goals as specific as you want! There’s no wrong or right way to do this – the important thing is that you set goals that you feel comfortable with and believe are realistic. Let us know what you’re working towards this year!

Erica MechlinskiSetting Goals for the New Year

Wrapping Up the Year with Gifts

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By Aileen Choi

Every year, my extended family gathers around the Christmas tree to enjoy a home-cooked meal and exchange gifts. As a child, I always loved our delicious potluck dinners and the joy and merriment of the gift exchange. While I always enjoy the festivities now as an adult, it definitely requires some executive functioning skills to successfully carry out, especially when my extended family includes 15-20 people! While everyone has different holiday traditions, here are a few things that helped me prepare for the gift exchange this year: 

  1. Create lists and brainstorm. I list all of my family members and do a bit of brainstorming before immediately clicking over to Amazon to buy things. I ask myself, “What are their hobbies? Have they mentioned anything recently that they wanted? Have they started a new chapter in their lives (e.g., college, new job)? Do they prefer a practical gift to a fun one? “For example, I know that my best friend has gotten into baking cakes recently and wants a decorative book for her coffee table. I figured that the best gift for her is a nice-looking baking book. Once I’ve decided and bought a gift for someone, I check it off my handy list.
  2. Utilize a hobby or skill. For the past few years, my aunt has been making her own organic creams and soaps. I appreciate a hand-made gift, so I always look forward to receiving one – plus, she can make them in a batch! Similarly, my grandma loves to make jewelry, so she makes necklaces for each of her granddaughters. If you’re stuck on an idea for a gift, see if there’s a hobby or skill of yours that you can put to gift-giving use!
  3. Budget. Gift-giving can be expensive. To make sure I’m budgeting appropriately, I use a Google spreadsheet to keep track of my purchases and pick a limit for each gift because it can be easy (and quick) to spend over budget.
  4. Start early. I usually start buying gifts over a month before the exchange so that I can take advantage of Black Friday sales. Sometimes I even start earlier in the year – summer sales can be the best time to snag a deal for winter goodies.

Of course, the holidays shouldn’t be a stressful time, and there are many ways to make sure it is a fun one instead (luckily, we decided on a White Elephant this year). Regardless of how your family likes to celebrate, there are many ways to help you enjoy the process. Happy holidays, and let the gift shopping begin! 

Erica MechlinskiWrapping Up the Year with Gifts

Moving Across the Country 

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By Katarina Yngente

About three months ago, my husband, our 15-month-old daughter, and I set out for our biggest adventure as a family to date: moving across the country. My husband had just landed his dream job at a university in California, 3000 miles away from Washington, DC, where we lived at the time. My husband and I were no strangers to the stresses of moving. In five years, we had logged five addresses in three different states. Having each also completed a cross-country move once before, we were seasoned. The wildcard in this move was our fiery, newly-toddling toddler. 

Moving is inherently stressful. While physically laborious and emotionally demoralizing, moving also requires executive functioning and project management skills. Some of the logistics we had to deal with included finding a new rental in California, securing childcare, establishing the date of our move, working within a budget, finding a moving company, filing for change of addresses on important documents, and shipping our car. Like any large undertaking, moving is actually made up of many parts that can further be chunked into a number of smaller tasks. Once my husband and I identified the “smaller projects” required to move, we established a plan of attack. Here are a few things that helped us get through the move: 

  1. Teamwork (with division of labor): In order to get through the laundry list of tasks and projects, my husband and I opted to divide and conquer, to play to our strengths and approach the move with a clear division of labor. For example, I’m more of a people-person, so I took on tasks related to calling various moving companies and servicers so that we had data to compare prices. My husband is a minimalist and Tetris master, so he tackled the purging and packing. 
  2. Asking for (and accepting) help: We’re so fortunate to have friends and family who offered ways to support us during our transition. Many friends offered their stories and recommendations for similar moves. Our families also offered to help us pack. The biggest barrier for us was knowing when to accept help. This was especially beneficial with our daughter because, as we learned, it’s very difficult to pack boxes around toddlers who enjoy unpacking and climbing into boxes. 
  3. EF tools: For the two months surrounding our move, our household was controlled by spreadsheets, calendar events, and lists. The very apps and programs that I encourage my students to use were the same that helped us manage our move. Our top tools were Excel, Trello, and Google Calendar.

Three months later, I admit that we’re still not fully moved in – we still need to put up artwork, and each closet has 1-2 boxes that still need to be unpacked. Regardless, the hours spent planning and strategizing were all in service of a fairly well-executed move. We found a great daycare just blocks from our new rental, and aside from a couple of arguments, everyone made it through relatively unscathed! 

Erica MechlinskiMoving Across the Country 

Celebrating Spooky Season?

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By Kristin Backert-Evans

It’s October, which can only mean one thing: it’s FINALLY spooky season! Yes, that’s right, dear reader; I am indeed one of those cringe millennials who celebrates the spooky atmosphere as much as possible. This year, I’m aiming to inject a new type of spookiness into my world. About a year ago, I shared how I was learning to crochet. I’ve learned (and failed) a lot since then, and one of my goals for spooky season is to make some Halloween-themed crochet critters!

While it sounds easy – “oh, just make a ghost! Or a witch!” – it’s a little bit more complicated for one such as I. I’m one of those people who need a pattern to follow. Some people, like my sister-in-law, can look at an object, visualize how they would create a crochet version of it, and then just freehand it like BAM! At this point in my crafting life, I’m nowhere near that skillful and need to follow a pattern that someone else has written out. So first, I researched different patterns of critters that I might be interested in making, like Oogie Boogie from A Nightmare Before Christmas, a Frankenstein’s monster jellyfish, etc. Then, I compared patterns. Patterns can be written in all sorts of ways, so it was important that I find ones that I understood. Once I had that sorted out, it was time to begin crocheting!

Or was it? As I pondered which piece to make first, I started thinking about creating pieces with a spooky twist. For example, I’ve loved the Pokémon franchise since I was a kid, and my nephew recently became obsessed with the show (I am a good influence, as you can tell). So to celebrate spooky season, I figured that I could make a Bulbasaur…but with a pumpkin on its back instead of its usual bulb! 

My next step, after locating and choosing Bulbasaur and pumpkin patterns, was to set a goal for myself. With a full-time job, it can sometimes be hard to find the motivation to do something fun when you feel like you just don’t have the time. But crocheting is something that relaxes me (and frustrates me to no end, which makes for a lovely paradox), so I knew that making time for this hobby was important. Knowing myself, I decided to set some weeklong goals. For example, I wanted to create each piece of the project (e.g., head, body, legs, pumpkin, etc.) in a week’s time. Crocheting is something I can typically do while the TV is on or if I’m listening to a podcast, as the background noise helps me to better focus. My next goal was to sew all of the pieces together in 2-4 days. Sewing is probably my least favorite part of crocheting…mostly because it’s so difficult and time-consuming. My sewing technique has gotten better recently, but this is definitely a step that takes a lot of my concentration. For example, this is NOT something that I can do while watching House of the Dragon, nor is it something that I can do at night; natural light makes it a lot easier for me to see what I’m doing. So knowing those limitations, I set a goal to sew everything together in less than a week’s time. That meant that most sewing took place on the weekend when I’d have longer blocks of time to attend to my darning needle.

So you might be wondering: did she succeed? Is her apartment filled to the brim with spooky critters? Well, yes and no. I’m writing this at the end of September, so I still have quite a way to go. But I can update you about my little pumpkin Bulbasaur! After crocheting his head, I ran into a problem – where should his eyes go? It sounds like a silly question, but this was the first time that I was making a critter that stood on all four as opposed to sitting on its butt, which impacted the angle and location of its head. I ended up placing the eyes in the wrong spot, but I didn’t let that discourage me! Okay, maybe it discouraged me a little. I managed to find a workaround, though. After that, I somehow made one ear almost twice as big as the other! Honestly, I have no idea how that happened. Maybe some ghost came and messed up my stitches. Regardless, I made a new ear that was the proper size. Once all of the pieces were made, it took forever to sew them together. Well, okay, maybe not forever, but it took a few hours to get that darn pumpkin sewed on. 

Here’s what the little spooky lad looks like!

Are there things that I could have done better? Absolutely. Am I proud of this little guy? You bet. You don’t magically become better at a new skill overnight, and I’ve come a long way since I first started crocheting. We still have weeks to go in spooky season, and I’m excited to continue making scary critters!

Erica MechlinskiCelebrating Spooky Season?

School Year Traditions

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By Madeline Albertine 

The school year is officially in full swing! As students transition back into school mode, it can be a time that is both exciting and challenging. Getting to see friends daily, meeting new teachers, and participating in school clubs/sports are all aspects of the school year that can be enjoyable for many students. For students who love their summers, though, it can be hard to get back into the routine of waking up early, going to classes for several hours, and completing homework. Growing up, my family had many traditions that helped make the transition from summer to school more exciting. 

The start of a new school year often brings about back-to-school shopping, whether it be clothes, shoes, backpacks, binders, etc. My family held a “fashion show” for us to model all of our new gear, and we absolutely loved it! Some years this consisted of many new outfits that we modeled for the family: cool T-shirts, fancy overalls, and sweet new shoes. In other years, we showed off our new backpacks and all of the new school supplies inside them. I highly recommend trying this out and that you get creative with it – take pictures, play music, put up scorecards, and more! 

Being back in school may also mean packing lunches ahead of time. Growing up, my mom often placed notes in our lunchboxes that brightened our days in elementary school. These ranged from simple “hello” messages to more creative mini games. I remember my mom once put a paper maze in my lunchbox, and my friends and I sat around it trying to figure out how to go from point A to point B. Whenever she put games in my lunchbox, it made it a lot easier for me to talk to the person sitting next to me. Who doesn’t love connecting the dots, solving riddles, or playing tic-tac-toe?

A new school year also means that you aren’t with your family 24/7 the way that you might be during the summer. When I was younger, my family used dinner as a time to check in and ask each other about the day. We went around the table, and each family member talked about either the best part of their day or one thing that they learned. As we got older, we didn’t always have the opportunity to eat dinner together due to crazy sports schedules. When that happened, we tried to spend 20-30 minutes each evening playing a boardgame that gave us that time together and opportunity to talk as a family. My family often played Monopoly and set the timer for 30 minutes. This helped ensure that we got to spend time together without taking away from the need to do homework or get to bed on time. We also tried to have a monthly dinner out or special meal at home to celebrate each completed month of the school year! 

Make this school year the best one yet for your family. Devise new family traditions and get your kids involved in the process! 

Erica MechlinskiSchool Year Traditions

Transitioning from Summer into the Academic Year

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By Colette Hapi

Summer is a time to play, to explore, to be outside, to have fun, and to carelessly throw caution to the wind. During summer vacation, time and structure often lose their meaning, and academics can be thrown to the side (right now, hundreds of kids are probably insisting that they’ll get to their summer homework eventually). With all of these things at play, it’s no wonder that the transition back into school can sometimes be physically, emotionally, and mentally hard for both kids and their parents. We’re about a month out from the start of a new school year, and as stores begin putting out their “Welcome Back to School” supplies, parents might be Googling “best ways to get my kid ready for school without losing my mind.” While every child responds differently, here are some of the methods that my mom used to help me get ready for that inevitable return to school.

  1. Fix sleeping schedules. About a week or so before the first day of school, my mom established new bedtime rules. No longer could I stay up according to my whims and wake up late; instead, she started to adjust my bedtime and wake-up time by about 15 minutes each day. I grumbled, but it did help my body’s internal clock readjust to school times. That first week of school wasn’t as bad as it could have been since my mom made me essentially practice waking up and going to bed early. 
  2. Establish a routine. I don’t know about you, but my summers were usually unstructured. For the weeks that I didn’t have camp, I was free to sleep in as late as I wanted, go see my friends when I wanted (within reason, of course), etc. School is all about structure, so it can be hard for kids to get back into the habit of needing to transition from one class to another to sports to music practice and more. About a week or two before school starts, it’s helpful to have your kiddos practice a weekday routine. Even if it’s something as simple as having breakfast by X time, walking the dog at Y time, and doing chores at Z time, establishing a routine before school starts can make it easier to readjust. 
  3. Reduce screen time. Back when I was a kid, screens weren’t nearly as prevalent as they are now. Sure, I occasionally played on the computer, but I had strict limits since doing so meant that I tied up the phone line. Nowadays, kids are on screens all the time, both for school and for fun, and they may use technology as an avoidance technique. With a new school year approaching, this is a good time to establish limits on weekday TV and technology use. Instead of limiting screens too quickly, try making a gradual transition, such as by switching out a video game or TV series for a non-screen hobby. This will be simpler than forcing kids to abruptly stop using TikTok or Minecraft! Incorporating board game nights with the family is another terrific approach to reduce screen time.
  4. Review ground rules. School might be the last thing on many students’ minds, but it’s something that they’ll have to grapple with sooner rather than later. And with that grappling should come a discussion of ground rules. Kids can feel blindsided if too many changes are made at once, so using those last few weeks of summer vacation to establish ground rules can help reduce resistance that they might muster. For example, my mom and I discussed whether I could watch TV once my homework was done, how late my friends could stay on school nights, and what chores I had to finish in addition to my homework. It’s not a fun conversation, but setting rules and discussing them together will ensure that everyone is on the same page once school begin.

The transition from summer vacation into the new school year can be hard, but there are steps that you can take to reduce extra stress! Let us know which method worked for you and how your kiddos are preparing to take the 2022-23 school year by storm. 

Erica MechlinskiTransitioning from Summer into the Academic Year

Limiting Screen Time

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By Madeline Albertine

I recently – and not by choice – spent some time without a phone. My phone was stolen, and due to traveling, work schedules, and other obligations, it took about three days for me to replace my phone. THE HORROR! 

Prior to losing my phone, it was easy to forget how reliant I’ve become on constantly checking it. This reliance became glaringly obvious to me within minutes of not having a phone. It was a weird sensation; I found myself constantly reaching for a phone that wasn’t there, if for no other reason than to check the time. Don’t get me wrong – some of it was refreshing. I took a much-needed break from social media and had a wakeup call on just how much of my day I spend staring at my phone. There are so many wonderful uses of a phone, but there are also negative impacts to being so dependent on these devices. Here are some personal positives that I noticed about not having a phone:

  • I finished work faster. Without a phone to distract me with incoming calls and texts, as well as “quick” social media breaks, I powered through longer work responsibilities in a shorter amount of time. 
  • I was more present. I spent my evenings having in-person conversations with friends and roommates whereas before I would eat a meal while scrolling through apps on my phone. 
  • I put my executive functioning skills to the test Without a phone, I realized rather late in the evening that I had no alarm to ensure that I woke up on time for work. I problem-solved this issue by setting the oven time for eight hours. This countdown occurred all through the night and woke me up right on time in the morning!

Learning to self-regulate screen time is a constant endeavor. I know that many parents struggle daily with their children to get them to put the phone, tablet, etc. down in order to complete homework or simply spend time in conversation, play outside, read, and more. As a Speech-Language Pathologist who works on improving executive functioning skills with students each week, I found it eye-opening to see how I, too, can improve with balancing screen time and responsibilities. 

My phone alerts me weekly as to how much time I have spent on it. Going forward, I strive to cut two hours off this time each week by setting personal limits to the number of times that I check social media or sit on my phone each morning/night. Let’s do it together! 

Erica MechlinskiLimiting Screen Time

Planning to Travel this Summer?

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By Aileen Choi

Summer is almost here, and I’m sure everyone has been itching to travel. With COVID restrictions easing up, my friend and I decided to finally take the trip that we’ve been planning since 2020: we’re traveling to Morocco!

It took a while to warm-up our travel muscles, but we started by looking up sample itineraries and creating a to-do list for everything that we had to check, book, and confirm. Here’s what our to-do list looked like:

First, we looked up the COVID situation/CDC recommendations and the political situation in the countries that we were interested in visiting. Once we decided on the countries that we wanted to visit, we searched for itineraries to see how many days we wanted to stay, while playing around in Google Flights/Skyscanner to find the most affordable flights.

After booking our tickets, it was time to figure out accommodations. While building an itinerary is important, the highest priority on our to-do list was to make sure that we wouldn’t be homeless in a foreign country. We looked up blogs to research where we could stay in the city and found recommendations. Two helpful ways that I found activities was by reading travel books or by searching “___ [insert number of days here] day itinerary in _____ [country name]”(for example: 7-day itinerary Morocco). As we found accommodation options, they were all added to our handy Google Sheets for organization. This Google Sheet acted as our one-stop for all our travel plans (activity ideas, food/restaurants, trains, accommodations). Since it’s difficult for my friend and I to find time to plan together (she lives on the West coast), we decided to do some research on our own, create lists of activities that we wanted to do, and then hop on weekly calls to reconvene. As a huge foodie, I made sure to research the best food options. 

Last but not least, I looked up the logistics, like phone connection, conversion, the average cost of things (so I don’t get scammed, especially by taxi drivers), weather, and cultural norms. I made a to-do list of things that I needed to do prior to leaving for the trip, as well as a packing list. This time, the list included: 

Phew! Traveling takes a lot of executive functioning skills, especially planning, time management, and forward thinking. At the end of the day, I remind myself that I can only plan so much. If a trip isn’t in the cards for this summer, you can still help your children strengthen their executive function skills! They can research a country, plan a trip, and maybe even cook a dinner based on what they learned. Happy Travels!

Erica MechlinskiPlanning to Travel this Summer?

The Power of Why?

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By Stephan Nazarian

I’ve always been curious, to the point that my mother nearly lost the last bit of her sanity during my childhood as I demanded explanations for everything that she told me and wandered off to satisfy my curiosity whenever her back was turned. While I might have been more inquisitive than most, all children can drive their parents and teachers up the wall with their curiosity. There are few things more humbling in the world than being asked to explain how or why something works and having to admit that you either don’t know or can’t begin to explain. 

As I’ve pondered how best to help parents build strong executive functioning and logical thinking skills in their children, I think that turning the tables may be one of the most powerful methods for parents. During sessions, I ask my students “why?” a lot. If I want to find the y-intercept of a quadratic or linear equation, I just have to plug in 0 for the x term. Great! Why? The overly punitive provisions of the Treaty of Versailles crippled Germany’s economy and set the stage for World War II. Interesting. Why?

I think that this technique is incredibly powerful for a number of reasons, but I think the most important is something that I emphasize to my students constantly: it’s easy. There are countless ways for parents to help their children grow as students and as thinkers, but many are more time-consuming than we can manage. Asking your children to explain what they’re learning in school and then asking them to dig deeper into why those things are true is simple. And yet, this one question will encourage your children to process the information that they’re learning at a much deeper level. Everything we’re learning about the science of memory teaches us that our ability to remember information we hear or read once is very low. The simplest method of increasing that retention is repetition. We’ve all repeated a series of numbers in our head ad nauseum to ensure that we remember them. But the most effective method of retaining information is elaboration, where we take the information and add something to it that is already in our memory. Comparing the events of World War II to the latest episode of Naruto embeds that knowledge much more deeply in our brain than simply repeating the key events ever could.

By asking your children to explain things themselves and create personal connections between the material, they must process the information in a new way. By encouraging them to create analogies, explain how one thing leads to another, put the same thought into different terms, and push past surface level facts, they have to elaborate on the information in new ways, which will help them improve their retention. At the same time, they have to think for themselves, to look for connections, to consider alternative methods, and to interact actively with the things that they are learning. This kind of deeper thinking will help them learn to make the simple inferences that are at the root of good critical thinking. By encouraging them to make inferences regularly, you will be strengthening skills that are at the foundation of all the education they will receive as adults, where understanding is infinitely more important than memorization. 

Erica MechlinskiThe Power of Why?