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Parental involvement, happy parents, benefits of reading, fun for kids, free economics seminars for ages 14-26

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Lorna Sheridan/Index-Tribune Education Editor

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If you are always looking for fun things to do with your kids, bayareakidfun.com is a terrific resource. It compiles a weekly list of the dozens of plays, musical performances, exhibits and more being offered in our area each weekend and you can even sign up for a weekly newsletter giving you the highlights.
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Do you know of a student ages 14-26 who is, or might be, interested in economics? Last summer my teenage daughter attended an economics seminar put on by the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). She lived in a dorm at St. Louis University and attended workshops with dozens of other high school students. Best of all, the seminar was free (room, board, books and tuition all covered, you just have to get there). FEE has just posted their summer 2014 seminars, and topics include: “Making Innovation Possible: The Role of Economics in Scientific Progress”; “Are Markets Just? Exploring the Social Significance of a Free Economy”; and “How Economic Thinking Can Create a Better World.” The closest campus being offered for the program this year is Chapman University (near Los Angeles). Schedules and applications are at fee.org/seminars. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis, so apply early.
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The Sonoma Community Center will launch three classes in its “Fun for 5 and Under” program this month. Jaime Love will offer “Exploring Movement through the Senses,” for children ages 2 through 5 on Saturdays, Jan.11 through Feb. 15 from 10 to 11 a.m. Krissy Marchus will lead “Dance from Around the World,” introducing children to international music and dances on Thursdays, Jan.16 through Feb. 20 from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. In “Making Music,” Kathryn Del Chiaro will introduce a special instrument each day to explore music, creative expression and coordination on Mondays, beginning Jan. 27, from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Parents and children are welcome to attend the first class free. The cost is $75 for a six-week session. To register, call SCC at 938-4626, or stop by to register in person. These programs are made possible by the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Foundation.
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A happy parent raises a happy child (in most cases). Here are 10 science-based ways to be happier, courtesy of Beth Cooper (at Buffer.com)
1. Exercise: Exercise has a profound effect on our happiness and well-being. It can help you relax, increase your brainpower, and even improve your body image, even if you don’t lose any weight.
2. Sleep more: Sleep helps our bodies recover from the day and repair itself, and that helps us focus and be more productive. It turns out sleep is also important for happiness.
3. Spend more time with friends/family: Social time is highly valuable when it comes to improving our happiness, even for introverts. Several studies have found that time spent with friends and family makes a big difference in how happy we feel.
4. Get outside more: Spending time in the fresh air can improve your happiness. Spending 20 minutes outside in good weather not only boosts positive mood, but also broadens thinking and improves working memory. Interestingly, studies have also found that happiness is maximized at 57 degrees, so there is even an upside to winter.
5. Help others: To make yourself feel happier, you should help others. In fact, studies suggest that 100 hours per year (or two hours per week) is the optimal time we should dedicate to helping others in order to enrich our lives.
6. Practice smiling: Smiling can make us feel better, but it’s more effective when we back it up with positive thoughts, according to this study. Smiling can also improve our attention and help us perform better on cognitive tasks.
7. Plan a trip: As opposed to actually taking a holiday, simply planning a vacation or break from work can improve our happiness – the effect of vacation anticipation can boost happiness for eight weeks.
8. Meditate: Meditation is credited with improving focus, clarity and attention span, as well as helping to keep you calm. It turns out it’s also useful for improving your happiness as well. Meditation literally clears your mind and calms you down.
9. Move closer to work: Our commute to work can have a surprisingly powerful impact on our happiness (or lack thereof).
10. Practice gratitude: Taking note of things you are grateful for each day can improve your mood. Research suggests that a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits. http://tinyurl.com/kx4nozf
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Last year was a big year for the Mentoring Alliance, as 64 additional youth were matched with a mentor in 2013, bringing its total to 458 mentor/mentee pairs in the Valley. Of those, 30 are currently attending college (many thanks to scholarships from the Mentoring Alliance scholarship endowment fund). More than 75 enrichment activities were offered and mentor and mentees visited 10 local businesses and college campuses through the Mentoring Alliances’ Road Map to Your Future’ program. Up next? The Mentoring Alliance is launching a speaker series in February. Interested in learning more? The community is invited to a mentor recruitment reception at McArthur Place, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 5.
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New research indicates that parental involvement is more important than any other factor in positively influencing the health, growth and even IQ of children. Involvement and family time also plays a huge role in decreasing the stress in a child’s life. While this sounds like another plug for family dinners, what researcher Gail Gross found is that academic and social performance in 3-to-17-year-olds increases significantly with even small increments of focused time with parents. The key, she says, is not the activity you do together, it is simply being fully present. http://tinyurl.com/n53f9dg
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Reading has a positive impact on the brain that researchers are only just now beginning to understand. In a recent experiment, students brains were scanned each morning after having read sections of a thriller novel over nine nights, and then again daily for five days after they finished the book. The scans revealed increases in connectivity in the students’ brains following the assignments, which persisted for the five days after finishing the novel. The parts of the brain associated with language comprehension, sensations and movement benefited the most. http://huff.to/1dkcBoD
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If you have a student who is interested in the environment, save the date of Friday, Jan. 24, for a screening of “A Fierce Green Fire” in Andrews Hall at the Sonoma Community Center. The film is the first, big-picture exploration of the environmental movement – grassroots and global activism spanning 50 years from conservation to climate change. The 7 p.m. event is hosted by Transition Sonoma Valley. No rsvp required.
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Coming up next month is the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley’s big annual fundraiser, the Sweetheart Gala, on Saturday, Feb. 8. The event is in its 29th year and the theme this year is a steamy night in the casino on the Sonoma River Queen. The party will honor Dale Downing and Don Shone. Tickets are $200, and include dinner, dancing, the auction and fun in the “casino.” bgcsonoma.org.
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The Sebastiani Theatre is offering a great family-friendly puppet show, called Songs & Stories, at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 12. Local, award-winning puppet theatre, Images in Motion, unites with children’s entertainer Courtney Campbell for a fun afternoon of puppets, story and song.
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The Presentation School is hosting a Winter Celebration open house at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 16. Classrooms will be open and prospective families are invited to join the school community in visiting classrooms to celebrate student work. At 9 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 25, the school is hosting an experiential admissions tour, during which attendees can meet the teachers and participate in a hands-on classroom experiences. Both parents and students attend. Visit presentationschool.com to rsvp.
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Less than four years ago, the California Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson, declared a fiscal state of emergency in K-12 education. In a recent interview, Torklakson indicated that things are looking up. He says that today, California schools are in better financial shape, are better prepared to meet new education standards and computerized testing, and better able to prepare students for college and careers. His outlook reflects much of what I have seen here in Sonoma: a greater sense of optimism and a vision of rebuilding programs thanks to increased funding. He and our local administration also share a sense of excitement about the potential of the new Common Core State Standards. You can read his entire interview here: http://tinyurl.com/kd8eec3