Category Archives: Parenting Tips

Raising Our Children in Manhattan – So Many Choices!

I raised my daughters in Manhattan. When they were young (my youngest recently graduated from Northwestern University) there weren’t a lot of programs to choose from, and mostly we young parents just hung out at playgrounds and in each other’s living rooms and let our children play freely. When I first started offering Music Together classes on the UWS and UES in 1992, there wasn’t much else around. These days, you are inundated with choices from art to music to soccer to cooking and on it goes. I can’t possibly imagine how challenging it is, the dilemma that you must face making the decision about what class or classes to enroll your child in. What’s best? What’s the most fun? Which one will my child love the most?

I can’t speak to any of the other programs that are out there because I don’t attend them, but I can speak to Music Together. As a mom in a Music Together class first, I was struck by how grounded it was, how well thought-out it was. It made sense for the child. Sure, the teacher asked me to sing with strangers – who later became friends – and dance around even if I wasn’t holding my child. I didn’t get what good that could possibly do my infant daughter. What I learned, though, is that just like all the other habits our children learn from us through observing, watching, emulating, and generally wanting to BE us as they grow, the same holds true for making music. It’s simple. When they see us doing it, they want to do it, too. And that cycle sets up a life-habit.

At Music Together we provide a classroom setting where children can thrive and grow, with music that isn’t dumbed down but is rich, interesting, stimulating – and FUN. Story songs; train songs; songs in Spanish, Japanese; songs from a diverse array of cultures; songs without words at all; and so much more. Music Together is award-winning music that even you can listen to. Our teachers are trained educators, excellent musicians, and understand what your child needs to grow musically. There is a method to our madness and your child’s music development is our top priority. 

The landscape of children’s programming in Manhattan has changed dramatically since I started ESWS Music Together all those years ago and we are proud that we have thrived despite economic downturns, the ebb and flow of families in and out of Manhattan, and the phenomenal increase in activity choices for families with young children. Parenting in New York City is a unique and beautiful thing. Make Music Together a part of your family’s journey. It’s a solid choice.

Written by Deanna deCampos, Director of Eastside Westside Music Together

Music Matters: Benefits of Music for Young Children


By Pam Wolf, Founder & CEO, NY Kids Club

I became pregnant with my first child in 1991, the year the “Mozart effect” sent millions of ambitious parents running to CD stores. The theory was coined by psychologist Frances Rauscher, who claimed that listening to classical music boosts a child’s brainpower. As a mother-to-be I joined the cult following, holding headphones with twinkling and melodious sonatas to my belly.

Now, the question is: Did it work? Did Mozart make my daughter smarter? While studies since have shown mixed results on Wolfgang Mozart’s particular brain-enhancing qualities, the link between music and childhood development is indisputable.

According to Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, a child’s musical intelligence is of equal importance to their logical and bodily intelligence. Gardner states that engaging with music and sound play heightens a child’s day-to-day cerebral abilities such as language, numerical skills, memory, attention, and problem-solving.

Since babies and toddlers perceive the world around them through colors, shapes, and sounds, Gardner’s theory on music intelligence holds significant truths. Think back to being taught that blaring sirens warn of emergency, a dog goes “woof”, and a doorbell ringing signals an arrival. Music and sounds are a relatable medium from which a child can recognize rhythmic patterns, melodies, and the diversity of instruments—skills that set the foundation for everyday activity and elevated brain functioning.

A further study at Northwestern University’s Auditory Neuroscience laboratory concluded that music particularly enhances speech and communication. The study found that the level of precision used in processing music (discerning, pitch, key, and instruments), is even higher than that of processing speech. Therefore, musical studies can lead to earlier literacy and the ability to communicate at an earlier age, whether that be through language, body signals, or sounds.

I used music as a means of communicating emotion with my children. With my baby in my arms, I would dance around the living room to The Beatles to convey upbeat happiness, a Bob Dylan ballad to communicate sadness, or a James Taylor tune to evoke contentment. These were unique moments with my children where we could connect emotionally on a non-verbal level. As my children grew older I encouraged them to make their own music on pots and pans, produce at-home renditions of Les Miserables, or have a dance party with friends. They used music as a means of expression.

I built NY Kid’s Club from the experiences I had with my own children. Since music was an integral part of my parenting method, I infused NY Kid’s Club curriculum with dance and sounds. In our Musical Tots and Musical Kids classes, a professional guitarist and talented singer introduce children to jazz, rock and roll, nursery rhymes, and sing-alongs, for example.

Take every opportunity to introduce your child to music early in life. It not only contributes to future success—it makes for a more joyful journey.

From the Enrichment Experts at NY Kids Club:

Pamela Wolf founded the NY Kids Club and NY Preschool in September of 2001, which have grown to become the premiere enrichment centers for children two months to12 years. Ms. Wolf has been recognized as a Business Mentor of the Year, Best Entrepreneur, and one of the top female entrepreneurs of the year by Entrepreneur magazine. Ms. Wolf’s extensive business background and simultaneous experience as a mother of four have allowed the NY Kids Club to successfully expand to sixteen locations in New York and twelve in China. The company received INC 500/5000 list recognition in 2014. Of the several successful businesses Pamela Wolf has owned in New York, she is most proud of the NY Kids Club.

It’s OK to Be Scared: Tips on Helping Your Child Brave a Vaccine

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It is natural for children as they get older and understand more to be afraid of shots—it’s uncomfortable to receive vaccines. Here are some tips to help your little one get through vaccines at well visits:

1. Try to stay calm yourself. Even though it is upsetting to watch your little one cry, as an adult you can understand that they are getting vaccines to keep them healthy. Your child will look to you for your reaction; if you are calm and reassuring they will handle things better. Of course, once the shots are over, cuddle your little one and empathize with older children that you know it can be painful. You can also reward them with a small toy or sticker afterwards for doing a good job.

2. Don’t say things like “that mean doctor” or “that bad doctor.” While shots are uncomfortable, the doctor or nurse doesn’t want to make your child cry either. Both you and your pediatrician are doing your jobs to keep your child healthy. For older kids, explain that shots do hurt and you don’t like getting them either, but they are important to keep your body healthy. You can say things like, “Thank you Nurse Stephanie for helping keep Sarah healthy.”

3. Be honest. If your child asks if they are getting shots, tell them the truth. You can tell them it will hurt a little bit and afterwards they will get a small prize. It is important not to lie or your child will not trust the doctor at the next visit. If you know your child will be anxious, schedule the appointment early in the day to get it over with. That way they can move on and enjoy their day.

4. It’s okay to cry. Shots hurt and it’s okay for your little one (or big one) to be scared and cry. If a child is upset, I will often tell them it’s okay to scream even before the vaccines start; the screaming often distracts them during the actual vaccine. Some older kids like to roar like a lion during the shots, which can work too.

5. Give them a choice. While most pediatricians have child-friendly Band-Aids, if you think your child will benefit from having chosen their own Band-Aids beforehand this can be helpful. This allows your child to feel some level of control and ownership over the process.

6. Provide a distraction. This works best for younger children. Sing songs or play a favorite video. If your child has a lovey or a favorite toy, bring that along. Distraction can work for older children as well. Older kids can be told to cough during the vaccines or imagine they are blowing out birthday candles. If you want to get fancy, you can bring along a pinwheel for your child to blow during the vaccines.

7.  Play doctor at home. Toddlers love to pretend play. Before the visit invest in a doctor’s kit and have them give you a “check-up.” When you get a shot in this pretend visit say “ouch” and move on from it. You can say thank you doctor for keeping me healthy. Children often work out anxieties and fears through play so this can be very helpful.

NYULMC-2011_2CP_RGB_300dpiFrom the Real Experts at NYU Langone Medical Center:

Deena N. Blanchard, MD, MPH, is a clinical instructor in the Department of Pediatrics at NYU Langone Medical Center and a partner at Premier Pediatrics.

Equation Motivation for Kids: The Importance of Math in Everyday Life

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By: The Kumon Team

“When will I use math?” This question is often posed by students, who wonder how topics like factorization and algebra will play a role in their everyday lives. What many people don’t realize is that we use math in everyday activities like making purchases, tracking cellphone minutes, and even baking.

Looking for a few ways to motivate your child to enjoy math? Encourage him or her by discussing the importance of math for snagging potential dream jobs. Here are few ideas to get started:

• Animator. An animator uses linear algebra to show how an object is rotated and shifted and made larger and smaller.

Computer Scientist. Creating the next generation of gadgets and apps involves more math than one may think. Theoretical studies of algorithms are just a small part of the process.

Fashion Designer. Fashion designers use area, perimeter, and diameter as well as mathematical algorithms to create designs and calculate the amount and cost of fabric required.

Astronaut. Astronauts use math to make precise mathematical calculations, from how a spacecraft leaves Earth’s atmosphere to how astronauts pilot the craft.

Architect. Architects use math to calculate the square footage of rooms and buildings, to lay out floor space dimensions, and to calculate the required space for other areas such as parking, plumbing, etc.

Many careers require a solid foundation in mathematics. Whether your child dreams of becoming a math professor, research analyst, Pixar animator, or fashion designer, give him or her the tools needed to succeed. Ranging from basic counting to advanced calculus, the Kumon Math Program enhances problem solving techniques and improves mental calculation and reasoning skills—tools that can help your child find lifelong success.

Interested in Kumon’s math program? Check out all available NYC programs and locations here!

Smart sunscreen choices

Sunscreen tips for New York kids
With summer upon us, we know everyone will be spending a lot more time in the park, at the beach, and outside in general. In addition to making sure you have cool drinks and a beach blanket, your first priority should be applying sunscreen – early and often. It’s important for the entire family but especially for kids. It’s easy to forget in New York City, but kids can get some serious sun just in an afternoon of shopping with their parents or shuttling between playdates.

Many of us turn to ewg.org for their guide to sunscreens, this year in its 10th annual edition. They offer helpful categories such as best sunscreens for kids (and worst sunscreens for kids), best beach and sport sunscreens, plus tips for other ways to protect yourself from the sun. It’s our first stop every summer! Check out the guide now.

An Important Milestone: Reading Proficiency in the Third Grade

Kumon_GroupBy: The Kumon Team

Reading proficiently by the end of third grade is considered one of the most important benchmarks in a student’s academic journey. Students who are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade start falling behind in their knowledge and comprehension across all subjects. This effect “snowballs” as these students often fall further behind each year.

This is significant because the national average percentage of public school students reading proficiently in the beginning of fourth grade was only 34% in 2013. The other 66% of students are considered basic readers, and are four times more likely to drop out of high school. This finding comes from research conducted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which linked factors in students who drop out of high school. Many states have cited this report when making changes to their educational policies.

The Kumon Reading Program strengthens students’ reading abilities by building many essential literacy components such as vocabulary, grammar, and comprehension. It’s important for students to read often and be exposed to a variety of genres to maintain reading proficiency throughout school. Getting into good study habits and developing strong reading skills as early as possible sets an important foundation for school success. Studying ahead of grade level enables Kumon students to read proficiently and be confident in their reading abilities.

Interested in Kumon’s reading program? Check out all available NYC programs and locations here!

Ready, Set, Play: The Importance of Raising Active Children


By Pam Wolf, Founder & CEO, NY Kids Club

We live in an age of digital dominance, where children abandon their bikes and tree houses for the comfort of indoor entertainment. Media’s rapid advance is accompanied by urban growth and the associated precautions, leaving behind the carefree days when parents allowed children to roam their neighborhoods and playgrounds unaccompanied. According to the University of Michigan’s Institute of Social Research, in the last two decades, childhood has moved indoors as 43% of adults believe a child should not play outdoors unsupervised. Given this, the average American boy or girl now spends fewer than 30 minutes a day engaging in outdoor activity, leaving nearly 11 hours for electronic engagement.

While safety is of utmost concern, childhood independence and outdoor exploration are key in promoting a sense of well-being and raising active children. This shift toward indoor activity profoundly impacts a child’s emotional and physical health. It is scientifically proven that physical fitness boosts confidence, social interaction, and academic motivation while reducing stress levels. Physical movement also leads to a healthy and fit body, which promotes sound sleep, lower anxiety levels, and greater feelings of happiness. Encouraging outdoor activity from an early age will help your children build a foundation for healthy habits moving forward.

Despite the complexities of modern parenting, there is still opportunity to re-introduce your children to the joy of fitness and outdoor play. Doing so effectively requires understanding a few things:

standard_Copy_of_IMG_3135Encourage curiosity. Young children have a knack for finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. To them, everything is new. They are naturally inquisitive and instinctively seek out physical activity; if you ask them questions about the world around them, they will likely respond by developing questions of their own. When my children were toddlers, I would ask them questions like, “How many of these steps can you climb?” or, “How far can you throw this ball?” Encouraging them in this way made them unafraid to explore, imagine, and play.

Find age-appropriate activities they enjoy. Choosing activities that coincide with a child’s age keeps him or her interested and focused. While adult-led, structured activities are important for young children, unstructured playtime is proven to increase creativity and boost the brain’s imaginative properties.

Unstructured playtime time allows toddlers and preschoolers to develop the fine and gross motor skills they need and lays a foundation for more advanced skill sets. Activities such as examining nature; playing tag or follow the leader; throwing and kicking a ball; jumping and running; riding a tricycle; blowing and chasing bubbles; singing and dancing; and engaging in simple obstacle courses; are ideal age-appropriate learning scenarios. Although unstructured, older children enjoy these activities too and can use the experience to further develop their skill sets to include more traditional sports such as tennis and basketball, as well as specialized activities like yoga, skateboarding, and hiking.

Remember, your child does not have to be an intense competitor to enjoy physical fitness. Casual participation is healthy and beneficial!

Age-appropriate activities keep children emotionally, intellectually, and physically challenged and engaged. With each new learning experience, children further their skills and advance to new phases.

Make time for fun at home. Though having an electronic device at the ready keeps children content, carving out screen-free time each day is essential to a child’s well-being. Your home, backyard, and neighborhood are ideal arenas for adventure or projects. Consider planting a few different types of herbs and vegetables in the spring (this can double as an educational activity or a lesson in responsibility), or exploring nearby parks, playgrounds, and museum exhibits. Let your children build Legos or make abstract art in a space where they are unconfined and free to draw outside the lines. My children loved to build pillow forts with my couch cushions, and though I took pride in a tidy house, I found that allowing them to be a little boisterous and messy made them happy and wholesome kids. Make it a priority to have fun together at home.

Be active yourself. Almost as soon as they come into the world, little ones modify their behavior based on the actions of those around them.  Because children emulate what they see, modeling an active lifestyle and a kind and caring attitude will encourage them to do the same.

There is no greater charge than playing a positive role in your child’s early experiences. Setting the foundations for a healthy, dynamic life begins with encouraging curiosity and embracing fun in the form of physical activity.

From the Enrichment Experts at NY Kids Club:

Pamela Wolf founded the NY Kids Club and NY Preschool in September of 2001, which have grown to become the premiere enrichment centers for children two months to12 years. Ms. Wolf has been recognized as a Business Mentor of the Year, Best Entrepreneur, and one of the top female entrepreneurs of the year by Entrepreneur magazine. Ms. Wolf’s extensive business background and simultaneous experience as a mother of four have allowed the NY Kids Club to successfully expand to sixteen locations in New York and twelve in China. The company received INC 500/5000 list recognition in 2014. Of the several successful businesses Pamela Wolf has owned in New York, she is most proud of the NY Kids Club.

Why Reading Aloud to Children from Birth is SO Important

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Reading aloud to children is a critical part of the learning process, one that will help them develop the vocabulary and skills necessary to read on their own. In fact, a recent New York Times article discussed the announcement of a new policy from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) which stresses the importance of read-aloud time for infants and their parents. The AAP now urges parents to read aloud to their children from infancy to help build the pre-literacy skills needed for preschool and kindergarten. Studies have shown that children who have developed these pre-literacy skills tend to have larger vocabularies than students without them. Similarly, students with advanced pre-literacy skills perform better academically once they enter elementary school.

The new policy encourages reading, as well as talking and singing, to help increase the number of words children hear during their first few years. The article also suggests that reading should be a fun, daily family activity from infancy on.

While this new policy by the AAP is a recent development, the importance of early childhood education and the development of pre-literacy skills is a crucial concept that has been ingrained within the Kumon Program and the teachings of Toru Kumon. Toru Kumon promoted this idea of reading and developing pre-literacy skills at an early age with the phrase “reading before the age of three.”

In an essay written by Toru Kumon it states, “Children can easily learn to read before the age of three if you have children listen to songs and read to them.” Through the memorization of songs, children can increase their vocabularies and develop the ability to learn by heart, which in turn helps form the basis for self-learning. By exposing children to songs and books at an early age, parents can provide them with opportunities to build their familiarity with reading and help increase their vocabularies. In doing so, children also develop their abilities to think actively while listening to stories and picture the scenes described. By singing songs to your children and reading aloud to them, you can help strengthen their pre-literacy skills and prepare them for their academic futures.

How Exposure to Literature Develops Essential Reading Skills

By: The Kumon Staff

The Kumon Reading Program aims to cultivate a high level of reading ability while introducing a variety of literature to children. Whether the stories are authored by Maurice Sendak or William Shakespeare, the excerpts featured in the books’ worksheets are intended to provoke thought and imagination. In his autobiography, Give It a Try, Toru Kumon said, “I believe that the ability to think is developed by reading books.” By encouraging a love of books early, parents can help their children develop inquisitive minds full of purpose and imagination.

As Kumon students progress through the various levels of the reading program, they enhance their reading abilities by moving from words to sentences to paragraphs and longer passages. The Kumon Method develops academic ability, as well as the mindset and skills needed for students to become critical thinkers. Through continual study and practice, children develop skills that lead to critical thinking. As they reach more advanced levels in the program, they begin developing summary and critique skills.

As students progress into the higher levels of the Kumon Reading Program, they are challenged to look closely at the context of a passage and develop an understanding of the writer’s intention. The ability to observe text closely and discover the subtle meaning in words is an essential part of students’ growth and development. Through the program they’ll develop reading skills that will enable them to become even more thoughtful and inquisitive people. Ultimately, these skills can lead to success in whichever path in life our students decide to take.

To learn more about Kumon’s programs in NYC, click here!
Enjoy 50% off reading program registration, a $25 value, when you contact your local Kumon Center for an orientation before March 31st.

The Power of Practice

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By: The Kumon Team

“It is a mistake to think that the practice of my art has become easy to me. I assure you, dear friend, no one has given so much care to the study of composition as I. There is scarcely a famous master in music whose works I have not frequently and diligently studied.”  ―Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

The Kumon Program can be compared more accurately to sport and music training than to traditional tutoring. When children learn how to play the violin or baseball, results aren’t expected to happen overnight, although they are asked to practice often. Becoming good at the piano, tennis, math, or reading requires a commitment to steadily practicing and not giving up. Instructors are academic coaches that guide children to improve their skills through practice and to reach specific goals.

There are two stages of learning a particular skill: the thinking stage and the knowing stage.  When children learn how to play basketball, they need to think about how to correctly shoot the ball. But if all the players have to think about it each time, they cannot win a game.  You have to know how to shoot to win a game.  The transition from the thinking stage to the knowing stage is achieved through practice. Practice enables us to know how to do things automatically, and it decreases the risk of making a mistake. This is why, despite being the greatest basketball player in the game, LeBron James stays late after the team practice to deliberately practice his free throw shots. Continuing to practice the fundamentals is how you become and stay excellent.

“Basketball is an intricate, high-speed game filled with split-second, spontaneous decisions. But that spontaneity is possible only when everyone first engages in hours of highly repetitive and structured practice ― perfecting their shooting, dribbling, and passing and running plays over and over again―and agrees to play a carefully defined role on the court. . . . spontaneity isn’t random.”  ―Malcolm Gladwell

To learn more about Kumon’s programs in NYC, click here!