SAT Test Prep? Yes, Please!

Written on March 6, 2014 at 10:45 am , by


Big news about the SAT was revealed today. Even though my oldest kid is just 9, quite a few years away from applying to college, I took note. According to the  College Board, the company that administers the SAT, the exam is being majorly revamped for spring 2016. More specifics and extensive sample items for each section will be released on April 16 of this year, two years before students take the “new” test. Some highlights:

• The essay portion will be optional.
• The math section will focus on three essential areas: problem solving and data analysis, algebra and passport to advanced math.
• Students in need will receive four fee waivers to apply to college, eliminating a cost barrier faced by lower-income students.
• Print and digital versions will be offered. (At present, the test is given only on paper.)

But perhaps most newsworthy to bottom-line-oriented parents is that the College Board is partnering with Khan Academy, a well-respected education nonprofit, to provide free (yes, free!) test prep materials for the redesigned SAT. (Critics have long insisted that students whose parents were able to pay for pricey test prep had a large and unfair advantage over poorer kids.) And we’re not talking workbooks here—the College Board and Khan promise sophisticated interactive software for extensive practice, plus how-to videos. This coproduced material is scheduled for release in spring 2015.

Seems to me these new test prep materials—provided they live up to the hype—could really help level the playing field for kids in lower-income families. What do you think?

Categories: Momster | Tags:
No Comments

Teaching Your Teen to Drive Just Became Less Stressful

Written on March 5, 2014 at 11:43 am , by

My daughter recently got her learner’s permit. My son has been driving for about a year. That means when we go on a road trip, my husband and I can sit in the backseat, bicker, snarf down snacks (leaving Goldfish crackers all over the seat), watch movies and ask—every three minutes—“Are we there yet?” So you better believe we’re planning some road trips!

In fact, that’s my sneaky way of teaching my two teens some essential driving skills not covered in driver’s ed: budgeting, route planning and time management. And Google has stepped in to make those all easier, by completely updating the web browser planning tool Google Maps, which is now better than ever. Here’s how:


Is driving the best idea?

Teenagers don’t have a lot of life experience, which is why my son recently assumed the best way to go on a weekend trip with friends was by car. I spent 20 minutes calculating time, distance and cost with him before he understood that driving would be expensive and he’d spend most of the trip getting there and back. The updated Google Maps would have simplified this conversation. Ask for directions to your destination and it weighs all your options. If flying is a possibility, it will do a quick calculation—based on actual flights—and include the time and price in your directions. I would still have to calculate the cost of gas for driving, but seeing all that info spelled out quickly is an easy reality check for a teen.


Deciding what to do

We often spend a lot of time deciding on activities and restaurants when we get to our destination. Google Maps has stepped up to improve this conversation too. For example, if we’re planning a trip to D.C. and search for a museum, Maps quickly grasps what we’re doing and highlights all the museums in the area to help us make more informed decisions—and include the kids (who probably don’t know what the options are) in the discussion. Search for Indian restaurants and it will focus on those too.


Taking public transportation

When we ask for directions from, say, our hotel to the White House, Maps will display not only various driving routes but any public transit choices. Just choose the bus icon and click “List All Times and Options.” It will show you a grid of possibilities so you can see how far you’ll have to walk. This is a quick way to explain to a teenager that sneakers will be a necessity, no matter what the Pretty Little Liars are wearing.


What’s going on?

Want to make sure there’s a ballet or concert worth seeing while you’re in town? Locate a venue on Google Maps and click “Upcoming Events” to see what’s scheduled for the coming week. Quick and simple—so the kids stay focused on our trip planning instead of sliding headphones on and disappearing again.


Sharing plans

Once we come up with an itinerary, I can share it with my entire crew so they can’t claim I never tell them anything. The updated custom map section of Google Maps is super powerful. Learn how to use it by clicking “My Custom Maps” from Google Maps. Next, click “Create” and select the gear icon in the top right-hand corner. Then go to “Take a Tour” for an introduction to creating a map.


Map to go

After I’ve created a custom map, I only have to save it from Google Maps on the web and it will automatically be saved to my smartphone (as long as I sign in from my phone with the same Google email address I use for Google Maps online). So when we get in the car to leave, I can simply turn on Google Maps and tell it to navigate. Then my husband and I can put on headphones and watch True Detective till we arrive at our destination.


Christina Tynan-Wood has been covering technology since the dawn of the Internet and currently writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle. You can find more advice about buying and using technology at

Categories: Technology, Travel | Tags:
No Comments

We Really Need to Just Stop Throwing Around the R-Word

Written on March 5, 2014 at 10:00 am , by

One of my college sorority sisters has a 12-year-old son named Jack with autism. (She also has two younger sons, ages 9 and 7.) In the years following Jack’s diagnosis, Shannon has become an incredible advocate for special-needs families, from appealing to her Connecticut lawmakers to spearhead insurance reform to guarantee coverage for therapies to cofounding a tennis camp where special-needs kids can learn the sport in a social setting and develop confidence. She is terrific and tireless, and I am proud to know her.

Recently, she posted on Facebook that March is the official month of a campaign called R-Word: Spread the Word to End the Word. Clicking on a link to the sponsoring organization, I learned that this important initiative was founded in 2009 by college students aiming to educate society about how hurtful and dehumanizing it is to casually refer to people with intellectual disabilities as “retarded.” Now, to those of us who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, that word can be more or less a synonym for “stupid” and isn’t meant to hurt anyone’s feelings. I’ve certainly used it that way unthinkingly over the years. I know better now, and I’ve pledged not to do it anymore. Interested in helping to spread the word to end the word in your community? Visit the website to learn more about why the r-word demeans and to take this online pledge:

“I pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.”

Bottom line: Language affects our attitudes, and attitudes impact our actions. Be part of the solution. I just joined over 420,000 in taking this pledge online. Will you?






Categories: Momster | Tags:
No Comments

You Make It, We Post It!

Written on March 3, 2014 at 8:07 am , by


Instagram user @hilaryfrye’s husband, Dave, nailed the Creamy Lemon Chicken with Bacon recipe on our March cover. The delicious skillet supper was inspired by spring—something we’re all dreaming of right about now. And with only six ingredients, it’s super quick to fix. For more of our cover recipes, click here.

Want to be featured here as next week’s chef? 

Here’s how: Make a Family Circle recipe, take a photo and share it on Instagram by tagging @FamilyCircleMag and #FCMADEIT.

Categories: Made-It Monday, Momster | Tags:

Are You Cut Out to Care for an Elderly Parent?

Written on February 28, 2014 at 10:00 am , by

Sometimes the role of caregiver is one we plan to take on. Other times, it’s unexpectedly thrust upon us when a family member falls ill or can no longer care for herself. It’s a noble endeavor, but not one we’re all good at. Take our quiz to test your skills and read what guest blogger Molly Carpenter, a caregiver advocate at Home Instead Senior Care and author of Confidence to Care, says are the four secrets of what it takes to excel.

Just as a good teacher must be extraordinarily patient and an artist has to channel deep creativity, there are a few characteristics every caregiver needs to care compassionately and effectively for others. Knowing what it takes to be a strong caregiver will allow you to decide if you are the best person for the job–or if you need to look for support. Here are a few things to consider.

Temperament. Do you handle unexpected changes well? Are you able to adjust calmly when others are uncooperative? No? That’s perfectly okay. Patience, empathy and flexibility are some of the most difficult personality traits to cultivate, but they’re also the most important for successful caregiving.

Being a caregiver means giving selflessly, always taking the high road, having a solution-focused attitude and constantly maintaining positive body language. It might take some time to get comfortable embracing these traits. Or you may realize that you can best support your loved one by staying true to your original role, whether that is daughter or granddaughter, and enlisting the help of a professional caregiver.

Training. No matter your natural predisposition for being a caregiver, there are many aspects of eldercare that nobody innately understands. The many physical and mental difficulties people face as they age are challenging and require unique ways to address them. A variety of training classes exist to help you improve your understanding of the caregiving process. Explore what resources are available for family caregivers in your area or look online.

Time. Caregiving is a 24/7 job because even when you aren’t with the person you’re caring for, you’re thinking of them. Having the ability to manage emotions is critical, as is giving yourself breaks to recharge. You’re a better caregiver if you are rested, physically and mentally. The most successful caregivers take time for themselves. This may mean bringing in someone to help periodically so you can get a much-needed break.

Trustworthiness. A good caregiver is honest and accountable. You can create the strongest relationship with the person for whom you are caring by showing him or her that you can be trusted and relied upon in every situation. Trust is built over time, so if you are bringing in someone new to care for a loved one, provide an opportunity for the trust between your loved one and that person to grow. Time can be invaluable to the development of a rewarding caring relationship.

What are some important lessons you’ve learned as a caregiver? Post a comment and share below. 

Molly Carpenter, MA, is an author, speaker, trainer and family caregiver. She currently works at Home Instead Senior Care, where she is part of a team devoted to providing resources and training to Home Instead’s 65,000 CAREGivers™. Carpenter was instrumental in developing a person-centered approach to Alzheimer’s care that has since been adopted globally by the company. She is the author of Confidence to Care, an essential handbook to help caregivers provide the best care for people with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. All profits from Confidence to Care go to the Home Instead Senior Care Foundation and are distributed to dementia-related organizations and causes.

Categories: Momster | Tags:

School Community Unites to Help 510-Pound Teen Get Healthy

Written on February 26, 2014 at 4:00 pm , by

According to a study published yesterday by JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association, obesity rates in children 2 to 5 years old have decreased significantly over the past decade. While that news is certainly positive, there ‘s still a very long way to go.

Obesity and bullying have sadly become epidemic in the lives of so many American children, yet the plight of a 510-pound freshman became a teachable moment for his whole Indiana high school.

After a tough year in which 14-year-old Erik Ekis lost his father suddenly, then had to undergo surgeries that left him bedridden, the teen’s life and weight spiraled out of control. He was bullied at school and miserable. Teacher Don Wettrick decided to take the time to really work with Ekis, motivating him to diet and exercise. Wettrick even managed to engage the rest of the school, and something wonderful happened: The bullying stopped and some classmates formed a walking group with Ekis.

Wettrick implemented methods that combined practical solutions and compassion on a community level, and helped create valuable lessons for both Ekis and his classmates.

Share your thoughts on this inspiring story in the comments below.

Categories: Momster | Tags:

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Written on February 25, 2014 at 11:03 am , by

By JM Randolph, the Accidental Stepmom

There was a time it snowed while I was at home and my husband was at work. I did all the shoveling myself and did not ask the kids for help. It was not a dream, though it certainly doesn’t sound like me. I must have really needed to get out of the house.

Much like how my children are THE ONLY kids in town who don’t have iPhones, they say they are THE ONLY children with expected snow-shoveling duties. I wish these were merely exaggerations from a teen’s perspective, but observation has shown both counts to be somewhat valid.

I must confess that I never shoveled snow as a teen. I make that confession in the safety of knowing that my kids will never read this. The only thing they are less interested in than reading-in-general is reading anything I write specifically (I could tape a chore list to each of their foreheads and none of them would notice), so I am confident they will never find out my secret: By the time I was old enough to properly wield a shovel, we had moved to an apartment where we were not responsible for snow removal.

Most of my kids’ friends do not have chores at home. They don’t do their own laundry, their parents still clean their rooms, and they certainly don’t have to help dig out the cars or clear the walk. My kids groan and whine about the unfairness of having to shovel, but they suit up and head out to our driveway. They know no matter how badly they perform the job, they’re not getting out of it.

At the risk of being reported to DYFS, I should make my other confession: We expect our kids to help shovel and we don’t pay them for it. Shoveling the driveway so that we can continue functioning as a family is a necessary part of running a household. Like laundry, like dishes, like walking the dogs, like grocery shopping. We all do all of these things. I don’t think it’s wrong to pay a kid for helping out; the main reason we don’t pay for these necessary chores is the sheer size of our household and the fact that we’d go broke doing it.

However, this doesn’t mean other people won’t pay them to help. My kids have not yet connected their desire for cash and the gold mine that lies before them in a shed full of shovels, mountains of snow and a town populated by busy parents with kids who don’t know a handle from a blade.

Why should they? The oldest girls discovered they can make money babysitting without nearly as much physical exertion. The youngest girl resents having to expend the effort to move her own body off the couch in order to direct it to bed. The boy has decided that he doesn’t need to make money that badly, yet somehow he has managed to save up $54 and still gets our babysitters to buy him doughnuts.

Last week’s barrage of storms gave us our own Seinfeld episode. For the hundredth time (it seemed to them) the kids were out shoveling. Our neighbor is a retired lady who lives alone. Everyone in the neighborhood pitches in to help clear her drive. The kids had done it the day before when she wasn’t home, and we talked about how it’s important to help your neighbors even if they never know it was you.

When they went over to help this second day in a row, one stayed behind. Whether to more thoroughly scrape our own driveway or to avoid the heavy lifting across the street is known only to her. What is known is that the lady was home that day, and came out and expressed her deep gratitude by handing every kid a 10-dollar bill. Every kid in her driveway, that is.


JM Randolph is a writer, stagehand and custodial stepmom of five. She lives in New Jersey with her family and blogs at


2 Must-Watch Videos for “Frozen”-Obsessed Kids

Written on February 24, 2014 at 10:00 am , by

Disney’s Frozen—a haunting but happily-ending tale of sisters Elsa and Anna, one of whom possesses icy powers that have seemingly condemned the city of Arandel to a Forever Winter— has been the Big Thing in my house since the weekend it opened. We’ve seen it in 2D, 3D and, most recently, the Singalong version. (As if this were somehow inadequate, my kids, 9 and 6, ask regularly about getting the DVD, which isn’t even out until March 18.)

To get her daily Frozen fix, my daughter is loving Alex Boye’s tribal-inspired cover starring 11-year-old Lexi Walker, who seems poised to become a huge star. Her other current fave is ThePianoGuys’ amazing mash-up of music from Frozen with Vivaldi’s “Winter.“ Their obvious passion and the spectacularly icy setting make this a slam dunk. Watch and enjoy.

Tell me in the comments if your kid loves these as much as mine!


How These Strangers React to Seeing a Boy Shivering Outside Without a Coat

Written on February 20, 2014 at 2:29 pm , by

You see a boy shivering outside without a coat. What would you do?

Actions speak much louder than words. You may not understand what’s being said in this video, but the acts of kindness are universally understood. Watch as hidden cameras capture how strangers in Norway react to a little boy sitting at a bus stop in the cold without a coat.

The experiment was filmed by the Norwegian branch of the SOS Children’s Villages International charity as part of a campaign to provide warm clothing for displaced children in Syria, according to The Nordic Page.

Share your thoughts on the video in the comments below.



Categories: Momster | Tags:

A Crisis Line for Teens Via Text

Written on February 19, 2014 at 9:15 am , by

I have two teenagers, and I know a lot of things about these complicated young people. Here are two: They like to text so much that it’s become the best way to talk to them. And they tend to stay up late for no good reason. (I do my best to stop that, but you can’t force someone to sleep. All you can do is not provide distractions.) From those facts, I extrapolate that there will be times—probably some of them in the middle of the night—when they’ll want to send a text asking for help. I’d like to think that they would always feel comfortable sending that text to me. But I was a teenager once, so I’m pretty sure there may be things that seem too awful to those inexperienced minds to confess to Mom. That’s why I like the mission of Crisis Text Line: to provide teens with free, 24/7 emotional support and information via the medium they already use and trust, text.

The average teen sends 3,339 text messages a month (and opens every text she gets). Texting is quiet and discreet, so kids can do it even if they’re afraid of someone in the room. They can text from school, late at night, whenever and wherever they’re in need, and no one in their world has to know that their thumbs are sending out a cry for help. This makes it the perfect medium for teen crisis intervention.

But here’s the best case for why Crisis Text Line is a good idea: It didn’t come about because someone dreamed it up. It exists because teenagers asked for it.

Nancy Lublin is CEO of, an organization that helps young people take action on causes they care about. That outlet discovered that the best way to get messages out to teens was via text. Lublin started the project that became Crisis Text Line because the staff at started getting shocking cries for help from the teens they were communicating with. One of those texts read,

“He won’t stop raping me. He told me not to tell anyone. Are you there?”

Lublin could do little but refer that teen to a crisis center. But she decided she had to do something to create a texting help line for teens that was empowered to provide assistance.

And she did. So make sure the teens you know are aware that free help is available via text 24/7. They just text “LISTEN” TO 741-741.

A great side benefit is that this forum also provides terrific data on when, where and to whom bad things are happening. If the Crisis Text Line sees a spike in texts after specific events or at certain times of day, this tells them that schools or cities need to provide help in those places and at those times. Maybe, Lublin says, that will make it possible to stop kids from being bullied, from cutting themselves or from being raped. You can watch her explain all this herself in the video below.




Christina Tynan-Wood has been covering technology since the dawn of the Internet and currently writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle. You can find more advice about buying and using technology at

Top 10 States for Telecommuting Jobs (Is Yours on the List?)

Written on February 14, 2014 at 10:43 am , by

Last August I wrote a feature about the best work-at-home jobs, because we know that interest in those types of opportunities continues to trend high. (The number of U.S. employees who telecommute multiple days per week grew 80% from 2005 to 2012, according to workplace strategy firm Global Workplace Analytics.) A good work-at-home gig can feel heaven-sent for a parent, who can contribute to the family financially but also be around to run a kid to sports practice or the dentist after school. Through my research and reporting I became acquainted with Sara Sutton Fell, the founder of job postings site FlexJobs, a terrific employment resource specializing in telecommuting, freelance and part-time positions. This week, FlexJobs released a list of the top 10 states for telecommuting jobs. Did yours make the cut? Drumroll, please…

1. California
2. Texas
3. New York
4. Florida
5. Illinois
6. Georgia
7. Pennsylvania
8. Virginia
9. North Carolina
10. Ohio



“Job seekers in these states interested in working from home have a bigger pool of jobs to choose from,” says Sara. “But it’s important to note that telecommuting jobs absolutely are available in all states.” For more info on the top states, companies and positions, visit the FlexJobs website.

Okay, let’s work it: Do you have a job that permits telecommuting? If not, do you wish you did? Would you consider switching jobs to be able to work from home at least some of the time? Tell me in the comments.

Categories: Momster | Tags:

Everything You Need for the Perfect Valentine’s Day Toast

Written on February 14, 2014 at 8:24 am , by

By Danielle Blundell

It’s not too late to do a little something special for Valentine’s Day, whether you’re celebrating with a significant other or a group of girlfriends. Here at Family Circle, we know what it’s like to play the role of hectic hostess, so we turned to our friends at POM for these two simple cocktail recipes that look effortlessly festive and taste delicious. Better yet, they’re even healthy—just one small container of POM POMS Fresh Arils has plenty of fiber, potassium and vitamins C and K. For more info and a store near you, visit Enjoy!

POM Sparkle

Sparkling wine
POM POMS Fresh Arils

Fill wineglasses or champagne flutes with sparkling wine about 3/4 of the way. Garnish by spooning arils into glasses.












POM Smash

1 tablespoon POM POMS Fresh Arils
1/2 oz lime juice
1 oz POM Hula
one-fourth of a passion fruit
1 1/2 oz dry gin
Soda water
Lime (for garnish)
Mint (for garnish)

Muddle arils with lime juice. Combine ingredients in a shaker and pour into a Collins glass over crushed ice with a splash of soda water. Garnish with lime and mint. A drink to remind us all of the “wonderful” things to come.