Category Archives: Alyssa Chirco

Alyssa Chirco with Parenting Squad

Alyssa Chirco is a freelance writer, parenting blogger, and mother of two from St. Louis. She has a degree in English Literature and Film and Media Studies. She spends her days playing Legos, diffusing sibling rivalry and hoping her house will magically clean itself if she ignores it long enough. And no, she does not believe she is wasting her education.

5 Out-of-the-Box Ways to Celebrate Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day, unfortunately, tends to be more about selling greeting cards than about the genuine expression of heartfelt love. But we all hold the power to make the holiday whatever we want it to be, so this year, think outside the box and celebrate in a way that feels right to you.

1. Spread the love.

Love doesn’t have to be of the romantic variety. Maybe this is the perfect year to gather a group of your favorite girlfriends for a girl’s night in. Quality time spent together is one of the best ways to say “I love you” to all the people who really matter in your life — not just your significant other.

2. Help those in need.

Skip the fancy, overpriced meal this Valentine’s Day and, instead, volunteer to make the world a better place. Need ideas? Check out The Huffington Post’s round-up of Valentine’s Day Ideas: 7 Volunteer Dates.

3. Support your national parks.

The National Parks Foundation has developed an “I ‘heart’ parks” line of apparel, which makes a unique gift for the nature enthusiast. In addition, they’ve also compiled a list of romantic national park getaways — perfect if you’re looking for a bit of outdoor Valentine adventure.

4. Protect your heart health.

February is American Heart Month, so celebrate this Valentine’s Day by protecting yours. Take this opportunity to have your cholesterol and blood pressure checked, and make a commitment to a heart-healthy diet and regular exercise.

5. Commit random acts of kindness.

Did you know that Valentine’s Day falls during Random Acts of Kindness Week? Even small, random acts of kindness can be acts of love, and they have the power to brighten days — and sometimes even change lives.

25 Holiday Book Recommendations for Children and Adults

holiday reading.jpg

‘Tis the season to enjoy the December holidays, and whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or simply the Winter Solstice, there’s nothing like a good book to get you in the holiday spirit. From timeless favorites to recent releases destined to become instant classics, there’s a book for every reader on this list of 25 holiday books for children and adults of all ages.

Holiday Favorites for Audiences of All Ages

1. The Night Before Christmas. Clement C. Moore’s classic tale is a Christmas Eve tradition.

2. The Christmas Story. If you celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, then this beautifully illustrated story of Christ’s birth (excerpted from the King James Bible) should be at the top of your holiday reading list.

3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Yes, there’s a movie (or two), but the original Dr. Seuss book is full of not-to-be-missed holiday fun.

4. Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus. The perfect book if you need to remind your children — or yourself — to believe in the magic of the holiday season.

5. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Barbara Robinson’s chapter book is geared toward readers in grades 3-6, but readers of all ages will enjoy the horrible (and hilarious) antics of the Herdman kids.

6. The Nutcracker. It isn’t just a ballet — there are multiple literary adaptations of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s original story. The version illustrated by Maurice Sendak is by far one of the best.

7. The Polar Express. This 1986 Caldecott Medal Winner has become a children’s classic, and is also the inspiration behind the beloved holiday movie of the same name.

8. The Elf on the Shelf. Parents seem to have a love-hate relationship with this fairly recent addition to the holiday bookshelf. Only time will tell if this new tradition is here to stay.

9. Llama Llama Holiday Drama. The Llama Llama books are a favorite among the toddler set, and since Christmas is never specifically mentioned in this holiday addition to the series, it is appropriate for families of any belief.

10. Christmas in the Big Woods. This picture book, which tells the simple story of a Laura Ingalls Wilder Christmas, is the perfect introduction to the magic of the Little House series for young readers.

11. A Hanukkah Present. Award-winning author Mark Binder’s collection of short stories is a wonderful choice to read aloud as a family, and will help readers of all ages remember the true meaning of Hanukkah.

12. Eight Winter Nights: A Family Hanukkah Book. Learn how one family celebrates the eight nights of Hanukkah. Young children especially will love the playful rhymes.

13. Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins. Eric A. Kimmel’s story offers a unique twist on the traditional Hannukah tale, and is sure to be a favorite among children of all ages.

14. A Hanukkah Treasury. This illustrated treasury (also by Eric A. Kimmel) contains all the recipes, stories, songs, poems, and legends you need to celebrate the holiday.

15. The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story. Despite the title, this is not a Christmas story. It’s a satirical (and spot-on) story from Lemony Snicket that reminds readers that Hanukkah is not the “Jewish Christmas.”

16. The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice. Want to steer clear of religious holidays entirely? Use this book to help explain and celebrate the Winter Solstice.

17. My First Kwanzaa Book. Children will easily relate to this story, since it is told from the point-of-view of a little boy celebrating Kwanzaa for the first time.

18. Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story. This traditional folktale will help children understand the Seven Principles that are celebrated during the Kwanzaa holiday.

Holiday Reading for Adults

19. The Gift of the Magi. Although its plot revolves around Christmas, O’Henry’s short story about the true meaning of love and selfless generosity should be required holiday reading for all.

20. Chrismakkuh: Everything You Need to Know to Celebrate the Hybrid Holiday. This humorous book for interfaith families is filled with clever tips for combining Christmas and Hannukah into the perfect “hybrid holiday.”

21. A Christmas Carol. Dickens’ classic tale has been adapted into countless books and movies, but have you ever read the original? It’s a quintessential holiday read.

22. Skipping Christmas. John Grisham proves he can write more than just thrillers in his novel about a couple who decide to ignore the holidays. The Tim Allen film Christmas with the Kranks was based on Grisham’s work — though as usual, the book is better.

23. Being Santa Claus. The recently released collection of stories from real-life Santa Claus Sal Lizard will warm your heart.

24. Miracle on 34th Street. Yes, it’s a classic holiday movie times two, but the original book by Valentine Davies is, of course, better than either film.

25. Holidays on Ice. Don’t miss this smart collection full of dark holiday satire from humorist David Sedaris. Because at some point, we all need a break from the holiday cheer.

When (and How) to Get Help for Your Struggling Student

No matter how many hours they spend in the classroom, there will always be students who need extra help with their homework. Sometimes these are kids who have learning disabilities, but academically advanced students can struggle with certain subjects too. Concerned about your child? The following information can help you decide when (and how) to seek outside help.

Signs Your Student Is Struggling

A poor report card or consistently low test scores are obvious indications of a struggling student, but sometimes the signs are harder to see. Other, more subtle behavior indicators to look for include:

  • Spending longer than indicated on assignments.
  • Not completing homework.
  • Getting easily frustrated or distracted.
  • Skipping school.
  • Poor conduct in the classroom.
  • Becoming anxious at the mention of school.
  • Making careless errors.
  • Not working at grade level.

How to Help Your Struggling Student

While difficulty in school can be frustrating for both children and parents, there are steps you can take to ensure that your struggling student gets the help he or she deserves.

Find the problem areas.

Students struggle in school for a variety of reasons — an undiagnosed reading delay, the need for stronger study skills, or a poor understanding of basic math concepts, just to name a few. Consider diagnostic testing if you aren’t sure where your child truly needs help.

Look for underlying issues.

Bullying, disappointments, undiagnosed illnesses, or recent changes in family dynamics like births, deaths, or divorce can all affect school performance. If this is the case, academic intervention won’t fix the problem — and you may need to seek help from the appropriate professionals.

Talk to the teacher.

Teachers are a wealth of information. They can offer insight into your child’s behavior and performance at school, as well as valuable recommendations of educational books and websites that can provide extra guidance for you and extra practice for your child.

Get more involved.

Parental involvement in education is a key predictor of academic success. If you aren’t sure how to get more involved, you may benefit from a Parent Coach, an individual who has been specifically trained to help parents capitalize on learning opportunities in everyday life.

Hire a tutor.

One-on-one instruction makes a tremendous difference for a student who can’t keep up in a class of 20 or 30 other kids. You may be able to find a competent classmate or older student willing to help, but if your student is really struggling, a professional tutor may be worth the expense.

Compare online tutors, large companies like Sylvan, and locally-owned tutoring companies in your area to determine who can best empower your child to succeed.

Take advantage of community programs.

Many community organizations host educational camps, classes, and after-school programs, which can be a great opportunity for kids to participate in fun, learning-based activities outside of the classroom.

Enroll your student in a class or camp in a subject where he struggles, or choose one where you know he will excel. The former will provide extra practice and instruction, but the latter will boost self-esteem — and serve as a positive reminder of how much fun learning can actually be.

by Alyssa Chirco

Alyssa Chirco is a freelance writer, parenting blogger, and mother of two from St. Louis. A graduate of Washington University with degrees in English Literature and Film Studies, she now spends her days playing Legos, diffusing sibling rivalry, and hoping her house will magically clean itself. Alyssa is also a contributing editor for, and a Guest Perspectives Blogger for

6 Steps to a Safer Family Medicine Cabinet

Your medicine cabinet may contain life-saving medications, but it can also pose serious health risks to your family. Ensure your family’s health and well being by always followng these 6 key steps to better medicine cabinet safety.

1. Keep your medications and supplies organized.

In an emergency, you don’t have time to rummage through old bottles of poorly labeled medications to find the one you need. Always keep daily prescriptions within easy reach, and be sure to keep children’s medications separate from adult medications to prevent dangerous mix-ups.

2. Check expiration dates routinely.

Medications can lose potency once they expire, so expiration dates should be checked routinely — once a year at least. Storing medications in a warm, humid environment may shorten shelf life, so if in doubt, consult with your doctor or pharmacist.

3. Dispose of medications safely.

There are many options for disposing of expired or unused medications safely, including flushing the medicine down the toilet, or mixing it with kitty litter or coffee grounds before throwing it in the trash.

4. Don’t play doctor.

Even if your medicine cabinet is stocked with natural remedies like homeopathics or herbal supplements, it is still a good idea to consult with a doctor or trained specialist — particularly if you’re using these in conjunction with prescription medications.

5. Use a secure lock.

According to WebMD, “more than 60,000 young children in the U.S. are treated in emergency rooms each year for accidental overdoses.” Most of these cases occur when children find and ingest medication that has not been locked up safely.

A secure lock is also essential to keep teens out of the medicine cabinet, as this demographic is increasingly likely to abuse drugs that they have access to in their own homes.

6. Keep your medicine cabinet well-stocked.

The WebMD Medicine Cabinet Makeover video includes tips on which over-the-counter medications to always keep on hand. Basic products you’ll want to have include:

  • Bandages and other first aid supplies.
  • Antihistamines (useful for treating allergic reactions).
  • Pain relievers and fever reducers.
  • Antibiotic ointments.
  • A thermometer.
  • Rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide.

By securing and organizing your medicine cabinet, you’ll be able to meet all of your family’s medical needs quickly and safely. Medications that save lives can become deadly if they make it into the wrong hands, so don’t delay — take these potentially lifesaving steps to a safer medicine cabinet today.

by Alyssa Chirco

Alyssa Chirco is a freelance writer, parenting blogger, and mother of two from St. Louis. A graduate of Washington University with degrees in English Literature and Film Studies, she now spends her days playing Legos, diffusing sibling rivalry, and hoping her house will magically clean itself. Alyssa is also a contributing editor for, and a Guest Perspectives Blogger for

6 Ways to Work on ABCs With Toodlers and Preschoolers

Fancy flashcards and “educational” toys may be appealing, but the best ways to introduce alphabet letters and sounds to toddlers and preschoolers remain the ones that involve simple and creative play. Ready to work on pre-reading skills at your house? Try some of these fun ideas for incorporating the ABCs into the normal routine of your day.

1. Choose a “Letter of the Day”

Sesame Street has one, so why can’t you? Choose one letter or sound and make it the focus of your day (or week, depending upon age and ability). Point out apples in the grocery store and look for acorns on your nature walks. Show your child how to use his finger to make the letter A in shaving cream on the side of the bathtub.

2. Use a “Movable Alphabet”

Many of us grew up playing with refrigerator magnets, but probably didn’t realize that we were learning to read through a Montessori method known as the “moveable alphabet.”

You can make your own “movable alphabet” out of materials like pipe cleaners or smooth rocks. Another fun option? The Alphabeasts — a collection of 26 plush characters (think stuffed animals) who each represent a different letter of the alphabet.

3. Create an Alphabet Sensory Tub

Younger toddlers will enjoy scooping and pouring the contents of an Alphabet Sensory Tub (and will gradually become familiar with letter shapes), while older children who already know some letters can work on finding and identifying the various letters and their sounds.

This is a great indoor activity for a rainy day, and also a nice way to keep little hands occupied when you need a few minutes of peace to accomplish an important task.

4. Read Aloud

Don’t underestimate the value of simply reading to your children. Alphabet books are a simple and fun way to introduce letters and sounds, but also think of all the other letters and words you encounter throughout the normal course of your day. Point out the giant letters on store signs during daily errands, for example.

5. Eat Your Words

Mealtime happens every day, so why not work in some ABCs? Serve alphabet soup or pasta, and make it a game to see who can identify the sound of the letter on their spoon.

For a more hands-on activity, head into the kitchen and bake your very own alphabet pretzels. Shaping the letters out of the soft dough is so much fun that kids won’t even realize they’re learning too!

6. Sing Songs

Children love to sing songs — the sillier, the better. Rock out to The ABC Rap or the Fisher Price-Little People ABC Sing-Along while completing routine tasks like laundry. Extra points, of course, if you dance around your living room while jamming with your pint-sized MC Hammer.

How did your children learn their ABCs?

by Alyssa Chirco 


Alyssa Chirco  is a freelance writer, parenting blogger, and mother of two from St. Louis. A graduate of Washington University with degrees in English Literature and Film Studies, she now spends her days playing Legos, diffusing sibling rivalry, and hoping her house will magically clean itself. Alyssa is also a contributing editor for, and a Guest Perspectives Blogger for

How to Get a Good Night's Sleep: Tips for the Whole Family

There’s no part of parenting more exhausting than sleep. It seems ironic given that sleep is meant to be restful and restorative, but when you’re raising a family, everything from infant feedings to bedtime battles to missed curfews can disrupt the sleep rythyms of the entire household.

The good news? Sleep doesn’t have to be so stressful. Use these key tips to get your family back on track and finally get the peaceful night’s slumber you deserve.

1. Get the Right Amount of Sleep

Sleep requirements vary by age, so if you aren’t sure how many hours of sleep different members of your family require, refer to the chart in the WebMD article on Sleep Tips for Kids of All Ages. And remember, adults need to get enough sleep too — 7 to 8 hours is considered ideal.

2. Be Consistent

You’ll sleep better on a routine basis if you consistently go to bed and wake up around the same time each day. Consistency can be challenging in a large household with family members of different ages on different schedules — but it is a goal worth striving for.

3. Make Bedtime Peaceful

Bedtime battles are common in households with young children and can easily become worse than any nightmare. Try to establish a calming bedtime routine that includes a relaxing bath, stories, and maybe even a massage. And once the kids are asleep, do the same for yourself.

If you still struggle with insomnia, you may find some relief from SleepAid, which includes a small dose of melatonin, a natural hormone believed to help with mild sleep disorders.

4. Avoid Caffeine

Caffeine is best avoided in the late afternoon and evening, for both children and adults. Skip the afternoon cup of coffee, and consider a “no soda with dinner” rule.

5. Encourage Daily Exercise

By getting at least 20-30 minutes of exercise a day, you can almost guarantee yourself a better night of sleep. The really good news? This works for kids as well, so if you have a night owl who can’t fall asleep or wakes frequently, add more physical activity to their day.

6. Log Off

Screen time is stimulating, so turn off the television at the end of the day, and encourage the entire family to log off of computers, video games, and yes, even cell phones. This one can be hard for teens who want to stay constantly connected, but it can also lead to better sleep for the whole family.

Does your family sleep well? What sleep problems do you face in your home?

by Alyssa Chirco with Parenting Squad


Alyssa Chirco  is a freelance writer, parenting blogger, and mother of two from St. Louis. A graduate of Washington University with degrees in English Literature and Film Studies, she now spends her days playing Legos, diffusing sibling rivalry, and hoping her house will magically clean itself. Alyssa is also a contributing editor for, and a Guest Perspectives Blogger for

How to Stay Fit When the School Year Starts

As summer draws to a close and kids head back to school, families are slowly adjusting to new routines and rediscovering the joys of homework, science projects, and extracurricular activities. But don’t let a full fall schedule prevent you from reaching your personal fitness goals — these simple tips will  help you stay fit once the kids have headed back to the classroom.

1. Skip the Carpool

Leave the car in the garage and try walking the kids to and from school when weather permits. Not only will you burn calories, but the kids will benefit from the fresh air — and get some much needed physical activity themselves. If you live too far from school to walk, try riding bikes.

2. Make a Commitment

It’s easy to skip a workout when your only plan is to “fit it in” when you have free time. Realistically, how often do you actually have free time? A better plan would be to register for a Zumba class, join a volleyball league, or schedule a weekly run with friends who expect you to show up.

3. Get Involved

Youth sports teams — particularly community-based organizations — are almost always recruiting volunteer coaches, so when you sign your little one up for soccer, why not head out on the field too? Coaching may not be the most strenuous physical activity, but you’ll be in better shape than if you spend practices sitting in the stands with your Blackberry.

4. Wear the Right Shoes

Shoes that can help you exercise simply by wearing them? Maybe. The Stepgym toning shoes, recently featured on Lifetime Television’s The Balancing Act, are meant to tone and firm your muscles while you walk so that ven with a jam-packed daily schedule, you can still find time to stay fit.

5. Exercise as a Family

Quality family time is frequently in short supply during the school year, so make the most of the time when you’re all together. Go hiking on weekends and enjoy the beautiful fall foliage, or replace traditional family game night board games with an exhilarating family dance party on the Wii.

6. Set Goals and Track Your Progess

Staying fit involves more than just regular exercise — you have to be motivated to achieve success. Set concrete goals, like working out daily or replacing fries with salads, and then track your progress in a journal or with a health and fitness app.

7. Make Fitness a Priority

Children emulate the behavior they see from adults, and letting your exercise routine fall victim to the busy school year can send your kids the message that fitness doesn’t matter. Be sure to make health and fitness a priority in your life, so that it will always be a priority in the lives of your children as well.

How do you stay fit during the school year?

Please make sure you check with your physician before you embark on new fitness goals. We want you to be fit, but we don’t want you getting hurt.

by Alyssa Chirco

A freelance writer, parenting blogger, and mother of two from St. Louis. A graduate of Washington University with degrees in English Literature and Film Studies, she now spends her days playing Legos, diffusing sibling rivalry, and hoping her house will magically clean itself. Alyssa is also a contributing editor for, and a Guest Perspectives Blogger for

23 Family "Staycation" Ideas for a Spectacular Summer

summer staycation ideas.jpg

Photo: D. Sharon Pruitt

Mention summer vacation, and you probably start daydreaming about exotic locales and sandy white beaches. If you’re lucky, you have the time — and the resources — to start planning that luxurious trip today. But for most of us, a fancy summer vacation doesn’t fit into either the schedule or the budget.

Staycations: The Summer Vacation Alternative

We can’t all jet off to Tahiti with a Mai Tai in hand, but there are still plenty of ways to relax this summer. Get inspired with these 23 summer staycation ideas, and enjoy the the good, old-fashioned family fun that’s waiting for you right outside your own front door.

1. Go fishing. If you’re lucky enough to live near a lake or ocean, rent a boat and spend the day on the water.

2. Visit a local waterpark. Forget the plain old pool — head to the biggest, coolest waterpark that’s within a reasonable driving distance.

3. Go on a float trip. If it’s a family float trip, you might want to leave the jello shots at home.

4. Camp in the backyard. Pitch a tent, roast some marshmallows, tell scary stories, and look for constellations. Added bonus: indoor plumbing is only a few feet away when nature calls.

5. Recreate the tropics in your own home. Decorate your house with fake palm trees and bright tropical flowers. You could even add an aquarium filled with tropical fish.

6. Book a room at a local hotel. Swim in the pool, order room service, and pretend that home and all the responsibilities of everyday life are more than just a few minutes away.

7. Visit a pick-your-own farm. Fruits and vegetables are ripe for picking during the summer months. Pick some of your own, then bake a fresh cobbler to enjoy together as a family.

8. Organize a block party or neighborhood picnic.

9. Don’t underestimate the value of a blow-up pool. A few inches of water in the pool, water balloons for the kids, and summer cocktails for mom and dad make for simple summer fun.

10. Tour the world from home. Can’t travel abroad? Go virtually instead! Bring another culture to life by reading books, practicing the language, and cooking authentic dishes.

11. Turn your home into a spa. Light aromatherapy candles, turn on soothing music, and pamper your family with massages, facials, and other relaxing spa treatments.

12. Plan a family field day. Go old school with games like tag, kickball, and of course, relay races.

13. Be a tourist in your own town. What popular attractions draw visitors to your city? Explore the parks, museums, and dining destinations that your hometown has to offer.

14. Host a family game tournament. Whether you play board games or cards, make it more fun by having awesome prizes.

15. Bike along local trails.

16. Go geocaching. All you need is a GPS to participate in this popular global treasure hunt.

17. Visit a local winery or vineyard.

18. Have a movie marathon. Drama? Romance? High crime? Whatever your family’s favorite genre, pop some popcorn and curl up on the sofa to enjoy the films together.

19. Take advantage of local festivals and carnivals.

20. Throw a luau. Or a Mexican fiesta. Whatever it takes to make you feel like you’ve actually traveled to some exotic destination.

21. Visit historic landmarks. Sure, you can fly to Washington D.C to see the White House, but there’s probably history right outside your front door. Challenge your family to find it.

22. Start a family book club. Spend time hanging out at home, reading the same books, and having discussions over snacks and treats. This is a great activity for families with tweens and teens.

23. Have a pajama party. Take a break from the fast pace of life, and let the whole family lounge around the house in pajamas. Warning: this may be the most relaxing vacation you ever take!