The Importance of Reading to Kids

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There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island. Walt Disney

Reading to Kids
my kindergartner, pills Maya

I’ve written before about the importance of reading to kids on my blog here and here. Reading opens up a whole new world to children, there and it is definitely best to start them young. My kindergartner is learning to read on her own now, find and it is so exciting!

Mabel’s Labels knows that reading to kids is important for their growth and development, and also one of the most rewarding and heartwarming activities we can do with our little ones. That’s why they created this adorable video of Mabel’s Labels staff reading with their kids. After you watch it, be sure to check out the great personalized books for kids they have available to make reading with your kids even more special this holiday season.

Discover all the great new products Mabel’s Labels has for the holidays. There are all sorts of ways to be merry with Mabel’s this year!

Sweet Little Stocking Stuffers, Festive Labels, and New Personalized Books!

Five Important Reasons to Make Music with Your Family This Holiday Season

Me and Acting Surgeon General Moritsugu, adiposity 2007

Today is Veterans Day, a day to salute those who serve and have served our country in uniform. Most people are familiar with the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and U.S. Coast Guard, but don’t know about the other two uniform services: Commissioned Officer Corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (USPHS). I had the honor of serving as a nurse officer in the USPHS from 2005 – 2012.

On the USNS Comfort, 2007, with one of my patients somewhere off the coast of South America
On the USNS Comfort, 2007, with one of my patients somewhere off the coast of South America

For more than 200 years, men and women have served on the front lines of our nation’s public health in what is today called the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service.

Spraying my uniform with permethrin to protect against insects, on USNS Comfort, 2007
Spraying my uniform with permethrin to protect against insects, on USNS Comfort, 2007

The Commissioned Corps traces its beginnings back to the U.S. Marine Hospital Service protecting against the spread of disease from sailors returning from foreign ports and maintaining the health of immigrants entering the country. Currently, Commissioned Corps officers are involved in health care delivery to underserved and vulnerable populations, disease control and prevention, biomedical research, food and drug regulation, mental health and drug abuse services, and response efforts for natural and man-made disasters as an essential component of the largest public health program in the world. (from 

PHS vet officer
PHS dental officer

USPHS officers come from a variety of backgrounds such as doctors, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, vets, environmental health, and more. If you have kids thinking about a health-related career, I encourage you to look into the USPHS. In some cases, they can get their student loans paid back for serving at an underserved location like a Native American hospital or a federal prison. There are also opportunities with other federal agencies like the CDC, FDA, and NIH.

Deepwater Horizon oil spill crew, 2010

USPHS officers serve day to day at one of these federal agencies and train to deploy to public health emergencies. Colleagues of mine provided public health expertise after 9/11 and the anthrax attacks, Hurricane Katrina, and more recently the ebola outbreak in West Africa. I deployed on a humanitarian mission to South America on the USNS Comfort in 2007, as well as to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill emergency operations center in 2010.

Besides getting to help people, one of the best parts of being in the USPHS was my fellow officers. Some of my favorite people in this world I met in the USPHS.

Me, Dan, Laura, Thomas, 2009
Me, Dan, Laura, Thomas, 2009


By Susan Darrow, remedy
CEO of Music Together LLC

This time of year, music often plays a bigger role in many people’s lives than it does during the rest of the year. School concerts, religious choir performances, seasonal community events, holiday hits playing on the radio — all offer abundant opportunities to take advantage of the physical and emotional benefits of music.

The magic of music shines exceptionally bright during the holiday season. It is important to encourage people to use this wealth of musical opportunities as a springboard for making music throughout the entire year.

Music can help families on many levels. It promotes development in babies and young children, bonds families across generations, and stimulates areas of the brain involved with motivation, reward, and emotion. Making or listening to music can actually result in increased levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that stimulates the brain’s reward system.Here are five reasons you should be making music with your family this holiday season:

  1. Music-making is beneficial to development. Music stimulates social, physical, cognitive, and emotional development and promotes language and concentration skills, confidence, and self-esteem. During the early years, active engagement with music promotes brain development and naturally supports growth essential to life and learning, as well as increasing the bond between children and their caregivers. It’s easy to get started making music with children during the holidays: Sing your favorite carols in the car, dance to holiday songs, take children to a holiday concert or musical.   A 2014 Harris Poll commissioned by Music Together revealed that only a low 17 percent of parents sing to their child daily. Music development is similar to language development. Imagine if you only talked to your child once a day! We teach children language by continuously talking and reading to them. Similarly, the best thing parents can do to support musical growth is to sing and dance with their children, as often as possible. And what better time of year to bring more music into your child’s life than the holidays, when music is in abundance?
  1. Music helps us create and recall powerful memories. Music can spark the recall of past experiences. It helps the past “come alive,” giving us access to deep feelings as we remember an event or moment from the past. Singing while you decorate the tree, at a holiday party, or at a religious celebration can help form memories and bonds with extended family and friends that will be recalled for many years to come.
  1. Music relieves stress. The holidays, while joyful, can also be stressful. Singing can actually relieve stress. Studies show that singing has the ability to slow our pulse and heart rate, lower our blood pressure, and decrease the levels of stress hormone in our bodies. Play music in the car while navigating the mall parking lot or sing along to a holiday recording while getting ready for company. It will help you stay calm and, most importantly, model for your children a healthy way to deal with the stress of everyday life.
  1. Music connects us. The holidays can be lonely for some people. Singing, especially in groups, can relieve this loneliness by connecting us to others in ways that no other activity can. Recent research indicates that music-making as a shared experience can activate and synchronize similar neural connections in all those participating. This synchronization can result in feelings of empathy and shared intention that can promote positive social interaction and bonding. When you sing with others this holiday season, whether it’s during a religious service, at a community event, or at a family gathering, everyone benefits.
  1. Singing is intergenerational. Music is an ageless way to connect with older relatives and create ties between youngest and oldest family members. Plus, music supports the aging processes. In later years, participating in music activities helps keep the brain active and engaged and supports us physically, socially, and emotionally. Sharing memories of holiday music-making from their past and teaching those songs to future generations can be joyous for both the elderly storytellers and the family members listening, forming new, pleasurable memories.

Susan Darrow is the CEO of Music Together an internationally recognized, developmentally appropriate early childhood music and movement program for children birth through age seven. First offered to the public in 1987, the Music Together curriculum, coauthored by Kenneth K. Guilmartin and Dr. Lili M. Levinowitz (Director of Research), is based on the recognition that all children are musical. All children can learn to sing in tune, move with accurate rhythm, and participate with confidence in the music of our culture, provided that their early environment supports such learning. Music Together offers programs for families, schools, at-risk populations, and children with special needs, in over 2,500 communities in 41 countries. The company is passionately committed to bringing children and their caregivers closer through shared music-making and helping people discover the joy—and educational value—of early music experiences. More at and  

Math, Reading, & Cooking: How Cooking Can Help Your Kids

The FTC requires me to tell you that I am compensated as a Brand Ambassador for Arkansas Better Beginnings. As a Brand Ambassador I do receive payment for being part of their program, myocarditis but most of all, pharmacy I receive the information I need as a “new again mother” to our foster baby, as well as for my older children to help them become the best they can be.

photo 1(54)Fortunately my daughter Maya has always been an adventurous eater. It’s probably because we lived in the DC area and ate out several times a week — Cuban, Thai, sushi, you name it. Her favorite food is still dumplings.

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Now that she’s five years old, she has decided that she wants to be a cooker (aka chef) when she grows up, so we’re working together in the kitchen more often. Not only is she trying new foods and honing her future craft, she’s improving her math and reading skills too.

photo 2(53)Cooking with your children has many benefits including:

  • Build basic math skills. Counting out eggs or following 1, 2, 3 instructions helps reinforce the basic math she’s learning in kindergarten.
  • Help young kids explore with their senses. photo 4(34)Forming meatballs with her hands, licking the beaters, cracking the eggs, and smelling the fruit of her labor all stimulate her senses and help promote fine motor skills.
  • Build basic literacy skills. As we’re cooking, I have her follow along as I read the recipe aloud. Sometimes I ask her to identify one of her sight words from school or sound out a word. My daughter struggles some with letters and sounds, so this is a non-threatening way to help her in this area.
  • Boost confidence. Not that Maya needs any help in this area — she is full of spunk and confidence — she does enjoy seeing her finished creation and showing it off to her adoring

For older kids, cooking teaches valuable life skills, helps develop healthy eating habits, and assists with learning fractions.

photo 1(52)My oldest will be leaving for college in less than 2 years, and I don’t want her relying on fast food and the college cafeteria for her nutritional needs. (I remember that freshmen 15!)

bubblewrappaintFor more ideas on fun activities you can do with your kids at home to stimulate their growth and development, check out the Arkansas Better Beginnings Pinterest boards. One of my faves on there is the bubble wrap stomp painting — think we’ll have to do that this weekend!


See more at:

Sleep when baby sleeps… and other fairy tales

The FTC requires me to tell you that I am compensated as a Brand Ambassador for Arkansas Better Beginnings. As a Brand Ambassador I do receive payment for being part of their program, what is ed but most of all, I receive the information I need as a “new again mother” to give our little angel the best chance to get her on her way to being all she was created to be.

We are fostering a newborn in our house now. It’s exciting and rewarding and totallphoto 1(48)y exhausting. Complete strangers now feel the need to share their words of baby wisdom with me in the middle of Kroger. This weekend, a lady told me that pure vanilla extract can be used in place of Orajel. She stated that she has a slew of grandchildren, so according to her, she is an expert.

“Sleep when the baby sleeps.”

That’s a popular piece of advice, and it sounds very logical. But I’ve got stuff to do! I’ve got laundry and dishes and a high-maintenance five-year-old to contend with. I’d love to napping right now (Baby is asleep in my arms as I type this), but Momma’s gotta make a living! Luckily, I have some really good health supplements and a supportive husband, so I’m surviving.

Baby experts are EVERYWHERE. I appreciate their interest, really, but I prefer to get my advice from a trusted, evidence-based source like Arkansas Better Beginnings website.

betterbeginningsTheir website has valuable information for parents such as “Your Child at Birth”, “Your Child at 2 Months”, “Your Child at 2 Years”, etc. that highlight what’s happening at each stage of your child’s development. Each downloadable sheet outlines what to expect at the well-child visit for that age, as well as information about age-appropriate nutrition, sleep, behavior and safety. And information is provided in English and Spanish.

Screen shot 2014-10-06 at 1.44.05 PM

I was relieved to read on the “Your Child at Birth” sheet, “For the first 6 weeks, your baby will not know day from night. So her sleep will not have a schedule.” So Babywise moms, back off! Let me just enjoy this cuddle time and maybe I’ll sneak in a quick nap later.

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High quality child care and early childhood education sets the stage for how well our children learn, how they think of themselves and how they interact with their world. We as parents, child care providers, educators and citizens have a responsibility to make sure all of our children have the very best experiences they can. Better Beginnings, Arkansas’s Quality Rating Improvement System, has been developed to do just that. – See more at:

Better Beginnings: Reading to Infants

The FTC requires me to tell you that I am compensated as a Brand Ambassador for Arkansas Better Beginnings. As a Brand Ambassador I do receive payment for being part of their program, visit this but most of all, I receive the information I need as a “new again mother” to give our little angel the best chance to get her on her way to being all she was created to be.

Our hophoto 2(43)me was recently opened up as an approved foster home. We are preparing for a newborn, and I’ve been in full nesting mode this past week — even trying to teach myself how to sew. (I succeeded in making curtains, as well as a pair of pajama pants for my five year old, Maya.) One of my most treasured items that I put in the nursery is a little Peanuts art piece that was mine as a child. Snoopy was (and still is) my favorite cartoon character.

As I was sorting through baby things, I came across some of Maya’s baby items: a newborn onesie, a doll, and books that I remember reading to her over and over. photo 2(44)Two of my favorites were Whose Toes Are Those? and Whose Knees Are These? by Jabari Asim. I read them to her so often that I had them memorized. The books were a gift from a dear friend, Treopia. Since I was a single white woman raising an African-American daughter by myself at the time (this was before I met my husband), Treopia wanted to ensure I had books for Maya that illustrated people that look like her. That started a wonderful library of children’s books full of diversity for my daughter.

photo 1(45)
photo 3(34)One thing I have learned from Arkansas Better Beginnings is that reading to your baby (even a newborn) aids in the child’s language development. Babies whose parents frequently talk to them know 300 more words by age two than babies whose parents rarely speak to them.

Some of the tips that I picked up from the Better Beginnings website include:
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1. Talk about what’s going on. Whether I’m changing a diaper, bathing my baby, or taking a walk, I should use words that describe the actions and the things around my baby. This will help her develop vocabulary before she can even talk.

2. Sing songs and nursery rhymes over and over. My baby will find the sound of my voice calming and enjoy the playful rhythms of the music (even if it’s off key).

3. Babies babble. It’s how they learn to make sounds with their own voices. I can repeat these sounds and turn them into real words. This will help my baby recognize which sounds form language.

4. Read to baby. I can make storytime a part of my baby’s routine, such as before naps and at bedtime. Even just talking about some of the pictures is enjoyable for young babies.

Soon I will have a newborn at home and reading Whose Toes Are Those? to her just like I did with Maya. It’s reassuring to know that as I’m reading to her, she will be learning and developing a love for books and words too.

For more tips to boost your baby’s language development and other helpful tools for parents, visit the Resource Library at the Arkansas Better Beginnings website. Don’t miss the checklist to help you choose a quality child care facility for your child. Save it for later, pass it on to a friend, or both. You will be glad you did.