Keeping Kids Occupied With Tech: The Right Way

Katie-Pennington-Kids-Technology

It’s hard for kids to stay occupied during the winter. Being stuck inside during a snowstorm is rarely fun for anyone, especially bored kids! In my home state of Michigan, snow is unavoidable and is often the reason why kids don’t want to venture outside. Of course, they would rather hold an iPad in front of the fire instead of freezing their toes off sledding.

I love technology and I embrace the endless possibilities it brings to the classroom. However, we must be mindful about how children use technology. Although it can enhance their communication and hand-eye-coordination skills, it may inhibit other skills. Here are a few ways to implement proper technology use with the kids.

Determine What Needs to Come Before the Technology

Screen time is a privilege, so you must establish your child’s responsibilities beforehand. Let your child know what needs to be accomplished to earn screen time. If you have a young child, something as simple as putting their toys away can help them learn about responsibilities. If your kids are older, having them make the bed or dust the furniture can help as well. Both ways will establish technology as a reward for finishing chores, not something that gets taken away if the chores aren’t done.

In addition, you may want to implement technology-free family time for everyone. You can set aside time each day for no texting, internet surfing, social media checking or email sending to talk about how everyone’s day went. You can also plan a technology-free evening such as a game night or a walk in the park.

Set Time Limits

Too much exposure to a screen isn’t good for anyone, especially young children. According to Psychology Today, too much exposure to electronic media leads to delayed cognitive development in young children. Although technology can do wonders for your child’s education, it’s wise to set a time limit. This can vary depending on their age and self-management level. A recent report from CNN provides some guidelines about how to limit media use for young children.

However, the guidelines for older children and teenagers vary depending on the child and the parent. You can factor in how much sleep they should be getting, their homework load and their maturity level. If your child can self-regulate the technology use on their own, you can give them more flexibility. If you believe your child doesn’t have the self-discipline to regulate use, you may need to step in.

Use Controls

Some video game consoles and smartphones have parental controls built in. These can allow you to restrict internet access, restrict the ability to make purchases and restrict downloads of games with mature ratings. Some devices can be programmed to shut down after they have been powered on for a certain time period.

Technology is a wonderful, but challenging tool. The world is changing so quickly, and therefore it may be hard to accommodate our parenting skills to keep up. We didn’t have all this technology when we were growing up! But I can assure you these tips can help you navigate the complicated mix of parenting and technology.

Surviving Cold Season: Here’s How You Can Keep Your Family Healthy All Winter Long

How To Survive Cold Season

Cold season has officially arrived. How do I know? To start, I have two children who attend public school. Whether they’re infected with a case of the sniffles or they’re telling me about the latest virus to hit their class; as a parent, cold season is no picnic. And to add fuel to the fire, it’s not just my kids who spend their days in school. As a high school principal, it’s clear: viruses hit early and often.

No surprise here–one of my top goals as a parent is to keep my family healthy all season long. While we’re all affected by some small bug or cold eventually, I’m a firm believer that the right preventative care can go a long way to warding off the common cold. Take a look at my list. For our family, these rules are an absolute necessity.

The Parent/Educator’s Guide to Staying Healthy:

Prioritize Sleep


Nothing is more important than adequate rest. This goes for my children, for me, my husband. Nobody in the family gets to bend the rules of rest consistently. Consider the important processes that happen when we take 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Our brains recharge. Our bodies refuel. We rise ready to tackle all of the cognitive, physical, and emotional tasks of the day.

Like most healthy habits, teaching our children the value of sleep is an essential part of the process. Be a model for them and you all will benefit from this important habit.

Say No to Easy Fixes


I’m talking about fast food, candy as a tide-over, the sugar pacifier, too much TV. We all have busy lives but building healthy habits into our lives is essential to our health. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional fast food dinner or allowing our children to enjoy screen time. What’s most important is that we’re consciously evaluating the way we fill our days and evenings.

Try Really Hard with Nutrition


This one’s a hard one. It’s hard because if both parents (or just you) are working, it’s hard to come home and whip up dinner after a long day. You might have more work to complete. Housework is no doubt piling up. Try where you can to squeeze in those extra healthy meals to make up for nights where mac and cheese is the obvious and welcome answer. A few ideas? Weekend meal preps. Delivery food boxes. Enlisting the help of a family member or even hiring somebody to help with your meals.

Hike, Bike, and Play As Often As Possible

Sleep. Healthy food. Fresh air. I consider these the foundational elements of a healthy immune system. It’s why I push my kids out the door on warm days and am out on the sidelines on game nights. If activity is hard to fit into your weekly schedules, consider adopting weekend traditions. Go out for a family hike. Take a bike ride.

Swoop in When in Counts

No matter how well you prepare for the eventual cold, they will strike. And when they do, you’ll want to be on the ready to swoop in to help curb its lifetime. What’s the best way to do this? Extra sleep, extra veggies, extra water.

What are your go-to tricks for helping your family stay healthy during the colder seasons? Send your ideas my way!

Katie Pennington is the Principal of Holland Schools in Michigan. As a leader in the ed-tech field, Katie’s always on the lookout for bringing innovative ideas into the classroom.

Busy Mom Secrets: 8 Ideas for a Spooky & Safe Halloween

Busy Mom Secrets: 8 Ideas for a Spooky & Safe Halloween

One of the constant battles of working full time as a parent is missing out on the small moments that make up each day. Holidays have a way of enlarging these small moments, leaving parents to feel inadequate. What do I mean by small moments? You might miss out on the costume party at school. Chances are, you won’t be able to cross off all the items on your family’s fall bucket list. But that doesn’t mean you can’t sneak in the best parts of the holiday when it counts.

Take it from me–a working mom who loves both of her jobs, it is possible. All it takes is the right mindset and a willingness to let the perfectionist in you slip away.

Halloween is right around the corner. While this list may differ for you and your family, the strategy behind the list can remain the same. Choose the activities that your family loves the most. Focus on quality time. And above all, have fun! I’m willing to bet that it doesn’t matter what activity your family decides to do; what matters is the memories, the love, and the laughter that is shared during that time together.

Here’s my list. It’s spooky, it’s fun, and it allows me to celebrate this festive holiday with my family without making crazy sacrifices!

  1. Decorate the House

What better way to spend a Saturday afternoon than digging out the spooky decorations and letting your kids help you transform your house into a ghoulish destination? I love this activity because the memory extends far beyond the time it takes us to hang a few cobwebs and stick on the pumpkin adhesive. Each day leading up to Halloween, you and your family will wake up to a house that screams “Halloween!”

  1. Pick Your Pumpkin Poison

Each family has their own traditions when it comes to pumpkins. Choose your mark and stick to it! While it may seem ideal to tackle all of the projects: picking, carving, painting, roasting, etc., it may not be realistic! Remember, as the parent, you’re the guide. Set the rules, prepare the supplies, and let your kids go wild.

  1. Trick Your Senses

I love a cozy house. And there’s nothing cozier than an apple pie baking in the oven. Unfortunately, pie baking days are rare. But that doesn’t mean you can’t invoke the same sort of feel in your home! My go-to cozy trick? Heat 2-3 tablespoons of cinnamon and 1 cup water in a small pot on the stove. Before you know it, your home will smell like the warmth of the season. This is a great way to add that cozy character while your kids are doing homework in the evening.

  1. Hold Fast on Trick or Treat Traditions

If you’re like my family, you’ve adopted certain traditions when it comes to the actual night of trick or treating. Hold fast to these events! These will be the memories that your children remember! Maybe you pose outside on the porch each year. Maybe you visit that one neighborhood that always hands out the best candy bars. If you’re brave, you might even enact a free-for-all candy buffet that night (Just kidding, no parent is that brave.)

The point is, your traditions are special. Make new ones. Keep the old. Your family’s foundation is being built on these very same events.

3 Ways to Succeed at Family Meal Time

3 Ways to Succeed at Family Dinner

The start of the school year means a shift in the way you family operates on a daily basis. One of the first things that may fall off the wagon once September hits, is your evening meals together as a family. We’re all aware of the benefits of this time together. It strengthens the family unit. It’s correlated with higher GPA’s, lower risks of depression, and may even boost your toddler’s vocabulary more than reading aloud.

That all sounds great, but it’s still difficult to make it happen! With jobs, after school activities, sports, the logistics of the evening hours can be challenging to control. Here are a few ideas to help you make more of your evenings dedicated to this important event.

Don’t Set Yourself Up For Failure

The first rule of thumb when starting a new habit is to not bite off more than you can chew. All puns aside, don’t set yourself up for failure by mandating that your entire family must be seated at the table at 6pm each evening. That doesn’t sound fun or reasonable! Instead, start with finding a few nights a week where calendars align. Then, make the most of these nights together. Over time, you can hope to increase the frequency. But by starting small, you’ll be able to succeed in your goal, giving you the boost you need to continue on with the habit.

Dinner of steak and potatoes

Get Creative

If dinner time just won’t work for your family, why not change the hour of the day you spend together. Mornings may seem hard, but even spending 15 minutes together at the table while you eat your breakfast can change the course of your day in a positive way.

You could also consider taking the dinner in shifts. You may have a child running out the door while another one is returning home. Think of your kitchen having ‘open hours’. Keep meals simple–a crockpot is great–that will allow for multiple eating times. Strive to eat with somebody at each meal. You may not be able to all gather for the meal; but eating with at least one other person in your family will certainly work.

Find Shortcuts

Is the hardest part of dinner making it? If you’re like me, there are days after work that I don’t feel like cooking, eating, cleaning up. The process can seem so daunting that it scares people away! Don’t let it. Figure out what part of the process is hardest for you. Hate to plan and shop for meals? Consider getting a weekly food box delivered. Can’t seem to muster the energy to cook after a long day? Fire up that crockpot before work. Hate doing dishes? Assign the task to a person who’s not doing the cooking!

With the right mindset and a large dose of creativity, you can find ways to make family meals a tradition in your home. Stay positive. Cook and enjoy the foods you love.

What are your best secrets on dining together as a family? Send them my way!

Plate with fish

Grandmothers: Our Evolutionary Heroes

Unlike many other species, humans have the unique ability to live well past their child-bearing years. Biologically, these women can no longer reproduce yet their roles have become embedded into our species. What is the role of a grandmother? How exactly did she benefit our evolution?

Thanks to a team of researchers and a computer simulator, the “grandmother hypothesis” offers an exciting perspective on the unique role of grandmothers in our evolutionary history. According to the study, grandmothers held more than an instrumental role in caring for their communities. Their presence may have helped our species develop better social skills, larger brains, and increased our lifespan.

“Grandmothering was the initial step toward making us who we are,” says researcher Kristen Hawkes in a recent article published by the Smithsonian. Kristen and her team provide mathematical evidence for their hypothesis by simulating what would happen if menopause was introduced to 1% of the females in a primate species. While this may seem like a small sample, the introduction of a human life-span to the group led to amazing discoveries. Over the course of 60,000 simulated years and thousands of generations, these females, gifted with the unique ability to live past child-rearing years, were able to lengthen the life spans of their own families.

Photo of monkey family

In short, creating the role of a grandmother to the group, increased the lifespan from an average of 40 years to 60.
Why does this happen? To start, from an evolutionary standpoint, the grandmother is an instrumental member of the family unit. The grandmother acts as primary care provider, helping her daughter look after and feed the children in the family. While it may be easy caring for one baby, a mother faces serious time constraints as soon as she bears a second or third child. Her focus revolves around the new baby; providing more care to the infant and less care to the older children.

But what would happen to these older children if a grandmother was not present? They are not capable of finding food. They’d receive far less attention. Their odds of surviving childhood would decrease dramatically.

And when it comes to social interactions, the grandmother mandated that humans rely on each other and engage each other more frequently. While you may not associate engagement with the ability to increase brain size, these types of social interactions are what separates humans from other species. It’s the constant adopting of new skills that led to our larger and more flexible brains.

The role of a grandmother is unique. It’s powerful, selfless, and continues to help our species develop. While we may not face the same harsh living conditions as our ancestors, I’d like to think our need for their role is still as pressing as it was thousands of years ago.

Playing piano