3 Moms, 3 Books, 1 Challenge: Help Us Fill the Reading Tree Before Christmas

By Jen Barth

As the Books Make it Better movement continues to gain momentum, we are kicking off a great new challenge this week: The Reading Tree Project! Just in time for the holiday season, we have partnered with Reach Out And Read and Nurseryworks to create a simple — and important — challenge:




To kick off the Reading Tree Project,  theBooks Make It Better Mom team has each donated a book this week, and hope this inspires others to do the same.  Here’s what we chose…
JEN: “I’m donating “LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD/CAPERUCITA ROJA“, because I’m always on the lookout for stories about brave, strong, and independent girls to share with my 4 1/2 year old daughters.”

RENEE: “A night in our house was not complete without a Tale of Peter Rabbit. I feel blessed to pass on this wonderful book to a child waiting for a great, timeless story.”
MEGHAN: I chose the ultimate classic- “GOODNIGHT MOON.” It was my favorite bedtime book growing up, and it’s my children’s favorite today.”
Now it’s  your turn! It’s simple to support The Reading Tree Challenge!

1. Visit Our Virtual Book Drive page and choose from 11 children’s classics — or sponsor a child

2.  Note the word “Tree” in the Notes section of the donation page

3. Help Spread the word by encouraging friends, family, and business associates to make a donation, too. Book donations make great holiday gifts for friends, family members, and clients!


And then…Share Your Story! Tell us what book you were inspired to donate on the Books Make it Better Facebook page or post a note in the Comments below!

Keep track of our growing movement on Twitter@booksbetter, and follow our individual efforts at WAmom4schoolsMeAndTheKids.net, and here at 1OregonMom.org!


Books Make it Better Has Launched!

Together with fellow Mom Congress delegates, Jen Barth and Renee Berry, I’m delighted to announce the official launch of Books Make it Better, our national book drive to promote early literacy! This has been quite an interesting and educational initiative and I’m so excited to get it underway. After meeting supermommas Jen and Renee at Mom Congress in April, I followed their blogs and Facebook posts about all the wonderful things they were doing in their own states. Jen had organized a community book drive in Portland, Oregon and I thought it would be wonderful to bring the idea to NJ. When I reached out to her for some tips, she had already connected with Renee. Before long, we were a national movement!

For me, this process really all began last year when I attended the Parenting magazine Mom Congress Read. Connect. Grow! event in New York City. I live about 45 minutes outside of NYC in suburban NJ. Taking a day off from my everyday life to attend an event like this is not easily accomplished and involves a complex ballet of timetables, transportation and toddlers. However this event seemed worthwhile so I made the necessary arrangements. The morning of Read. Connect. Grow! arrived and in my craziness to catch the 6:57am train, I tripped over a pile of my kids’ books as I was gathering my things. I bruised my knee, twisted my ankle and yelled out some sort of expletive! My husband came hurrying as he heard me fall (and curse!).  We had a little spat about the fact that the books were taking over (they seemed to be multiplying as the days passed). I ran out of the house determined to get organized when I got back!

I managed to reach the city without further injury. The Read. Connect. Grow! program involved a number of fine speakers, all      experts in early literacy and education. Lily Eskelsen, Vice President of the NEA, spoke about the importance of parental  involvement. Authors Brian Floca and Matthew Van  Fleet spoke about growing up in literary-rich environments. I learned that  1 in 4 US children don’t read at a proficient level, 61% of US households don’t have age appropriate books and less than half of US  children are read to daily. I also learned that these numbers far grimmer in low income households and communities.

It was Jumpstart’s Kim Davenport, though, who really changed my perspective that day. Kim told a story about a boy named  Jeffrey. Jeffrey was a 4 year old who had attended a Read. Connect. Grow! event the previous year with his mom where each  child received a free book. It was Jeffrey’s very first book. 

Read. Connect. Grow! held another event a year later (just before the NYC event I was attending) And, again, Jeffrey attended with his mom. Again Jeffrey got his book. His second.

I couldn’t believe that earlier that morning I was complaining about “too many” books in our house! I was dismayed both with my own behavior and the fact that in this country where so many have so much that a child like Jeffrey could have such limited resources. I was also inspired. I was inspired by Jeffrey’s mom who took precious time off from work to take her child to a place where he would get a new book of his own, something that she couldn’t provide for him.  I was inspired by the panelists that spoke so passionately about the fundamentals and monumental importance of early literacy. It all seemed to come down to one fact: children with access to books do better. I knew that I had to do something. I had to do my part. So began Books Make it Better-NJ. And, together with Jen and Renee, I’m hoping to spread the word about Books Make it Better across the country.

“In the end, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a mother or father who will attend those parent/teacher conferences, or help with homework after dinner, or turn off the TV, put away the video games, and read to their child.” - President Barack Obama, Address to Joint Session of Congress, February 24, 2009.

Please join our campaign so that books can make it better for every child!







25 Facts You Should Share for School Lunch Week | Accredited Online Colleges.com

I am thrilled to have a guest blogger this week. Please read and share!

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October 11th, 2011

School lunch programs have gotten a pretty bad reputation over the past few years, as many lack essential nutrients and contain high fat content, empty calories and entirely too much sodium. While there is still a long way to go in making them truly healthy, considerable reform has already been implemented. School districts hope such measures will better serve the needs of K-12 students and the community at large.

As we mark National School Lunch Week this October, parents and kids should take time to step back and learn the facts about what’s going into their bodies. Though school lunches could definitely be even healthier and more nutritious, there are quite a few positives that you might not know. Here, we share some of the good and the bad to help you make educated and informed decisions.

  1. Students who eat National School Lunch Program meals are more likely to sport a healthy weight.

    While not every element of school lunches may be healthy, they’re not all bad. Studies have shown that students who eat school lunches may actually be less obese and are likely get more vegetables and fruits than their peers bring their lunches from home. They also reveal that what children eat at home often shapes their decisions about what foods to eat at school.

  2. Vegetarian options are served in over 30% of American middle and high schools.

    While progress still needs making when it comes to vegetarian-friendly school lunch options, more and more institutions embrace them. Not only does it help to accommodate those with different religious, political and personal beliefs, but it can also be healthier.

  3. Eighty-five percent of high school lunch programs offer fresh fruit and vegetables daily.

    As sad as it is that 15% of high schools in the country don’t provide fresh fruit and veggie options every day, it’s also a good sign that so many still boast them. With more healthy choices, students can help maintain an ideal weight and get the nutrients they need to grow.

  4. Federal law prohibits the sale of soda in elementary school cafeterias during the lunch period, as it is considered of minimal nutritional value.

    In 2006, the top soft-drink companies agreed to remove sweetened drinks from school cafeterias and vending machines. Students instead have the option to choose between bottled water, milk and 100% fruit juices in elementary schools, and the same selections plus sports drinks and diet soda in high schools. All serving sizes are limited to what’s acceptable for the represented grades — 8 oz in elementary school, 10 oz in middle school and 12 oz in high school. Many campuses went ahead and banned soft drinks altogether.

  5. The National School Lunch Program feeds more than 31 million children every school day.

    Of those 35 million children, 18 million qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and rely on school meals to get by. That’s a whole lot of kids, which is why it’s so important that meals meet healthy standards — especially for those who may not be getting adequate nutrition at home.

  1. One child in every four is overweight or obese.

    That’s 25% of American kids, most attaining this status by age three. One in three will develop diabetes in his or her lifetime. For African-American and Hispanic children, that number rises to one in two. While schools can’t force kids to eat healthy at home, they reinforce good eating habits and get them hooked on nutritious foods, playing a major role in reducing these scary stats.

  2. School districts are reimbursed only $2.68 for every meal served to a qualified child.

    This may seem like plenty, but after paying overhead costs, schools are left with only $1.00 to purchase food. As a result, many turn to cheap, processed items to feed children within their means. Budget cuts and states struggling with financial issues have made it even harder to provide healthy options at a low cost.

  3. Cafeterias that don’t ban junk food outright may have a greater long-term impact.

    Students are more likely to stick with eating healthy when it is a choice, not a decision imposed by the school administrators, studies have shown. Coercion could backfire and cause students to seek out unhealthy foods outside of school as compensation. A greater range of choices, coupled with education and controlled portion sizes, can actually be a much more effective method than a full junk food ban.

  4. Some school cafeterias do not undergo regular health inspections.

    While much has been done to change this recently, especially with so much national attention focused on the issue, there are still some schools not inspected regularly — or at all. USA Today released an article in 2009, which revealed that over 26,500 American schools weren’t subjected to the proper health and sanitation inspections. The USDA admits that these regulations are notoriously hard to enforce since there are so many institutions, requiring a great amount of time and resources that simply may not be available. In 2005, such a lax outlook led to 60 faculty and students at a North Dakota high school falling ill with a flu-like virus, spread by a food worker not wearing gloves.

  5. While school cafeteria offerings may meet nutritional guidelines, many contain a large amount of preservatives and additives.

    In 2010, The New York Daily News published a story that revealed that some pizzas served in school cafeterias contain over 25 different ingredients, many of them preservatives and additives. These are not only unhealthy, but may cause behavioral issues, as many have been linked to a spike in hyperactivity.

  1. School lunches must meet USDA guidelines, with less than 10% of calories from saturated fat, and 20-35% of calories from total fat.

    To fall within federal laws, school lunches cannot exceed these regulations. While they are not a guarantee, they do help eliminate the worst nutritional offenders from the menu.

  2. The school lunch program was started in 1946.

    Many don’t realize just how long the school lunch program has been around. The National School Lunch Act was passed by Harry Truman in 1946 and provides free or low-cost meals to low-income students. The program was created to prop up food prices by absorbing farm surpluses — a purpose it still serves today.

  3. The annual mean wage of those serving school cafeteria food is $21,450.

    That’s not much, and certainly not enough to support a family. In fact, in nearly every state this salary would put a family of four below the poverty line. Working in a cafeteria can also be immensely physically taxing, requiring hours standing, lifting, bending and working with potentially dangerous equipment. So if you haven’t thanked a cafeteria worker lately, make School Lunch Week the time to do so.

  4. School lunches must provide a choice of two vegetables and two fruits daily.

    Federal law mandates that elementary school cafeterias provide children with a choice between two veggies and two fruits each day. This allows kids to find an option they like more easily and ensures they get the necessary nutrition.

  5. Deep-fried food limited to no more than two portions per week.

    Some would argue that there shouldn’t be any fried foods at schools, and new regulations help phase them out. Currently, schools are limited to serving no more than two fried foods a week (often fries), and many cut them out altogether and opt for baked alternatives instead.

  1. While there is still progress left to be made, big strides over the past few years still improve school lunch nutrition.

    A 2010 report showed that 95% of school districts increase whole grains, 90.5% provide more fresh fruits and vegetables, 69% reduce sodium, 66% limit sugars and 51% increase vegetarian options. There may be a long way to go, but it’s important to remember that progress is still being made.

  2. Schools are taking innovative approaches to unhealthy school lunch favorites.

    Instead of outright banning pizza and fries, schools (and the companies supplying them) are changing these foods’ preparation. Pizzas are now being made with whole grain crusts and vegetable toppings, and french fries now come baked more often than fried. A viable compromise between the often picky palates of children and the need for schools to provide healthy foods.

  3. Many foods served to children are commodities, and may not be high quality or nutritious.

    The USDA purchases surplus foods, like meat and dairy, and provides them to institutions completely gratis, like we mentioned earlier. While budget-friendly, these may not always be the best choices for concocting healthy meals, as many prove high in saturated fat and cholesterol. In recent years, the USDA has been urged to purchase more plant-based commodities, but the system has undergone few changes to date.

  4. School lunches offer more total food items, more fruits, vegetables and dairy products than their equivalents brought from home.

    Think home-brought lunches are always healthier? While they certainly can be, it’s not always the case. Studies have found that school lunches, on average, provide students with three times as many dairy products, two times as much fruit and seven times as many vegetables as their homemade counterparts.

  5. National School Lunch Program participants are more likely to consume a greater variety of foods than students who bring their lunch from home.

    That’s not to say that sack lunches can’t be healthy, but many students aren’t choosing the best foods, studies show. Kids who get lunch at school often eat more vegetables, milk, milk products and meat than peers packing theirs, resulting in a better balanced diet.

  1. Many schools do not offer free water with lunch.

    While students can purchase bottled water out of a vending machine, most schools do not offer actually offer it come lunchtime. This has become a major issue in recent years, and many cafeterias have been prompted to install water fountains or filtered jugs meeting thirsty demands. While students have access to other beverages, water is an essential part of a healthy diet, and can even affect learning and mental performance.

  2. The Child Nutrition Act now requires every school receiving federal funds for food service programs to adopt a wellness policy.

    Each school’s wellness policy must include: goals for nutrition, education and physical activity; nutrition guidelines for all foods available on campus; a plan for measuring the effectiveness of all wellness policies; and plans to involve parents, students, the public and the school faculty in the development of new wellness policies.

  3. Currently, foods sold in school vending machines, snack bars and a la carte lines are not required to meet federal nutrition standards.

    Referred to as “competitive foods”, these products don’t always fall under federal regulations for healthy noshes. That could soon change. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act requires the federal government to create standards for these, ultimately improving the health of all food options available throughout the day.

  4. The National School Lunch Program operates in nearly 95% of America’s schools.

    Additionally, about 85% of schools participate in the National School Breakfast Program. This adds up to 31 million children served daily, and 5 billion lunches a year.

  5. School meals are served in age-appropriate portion sizes.

    In every school lunch, portion sizes are established by age and grade groups. In many cafeterias, large a la carte items have been replaced with more practical and health-conscious sizes as well.


Top 10 Morris County Halloween Do’s

1. Halloween Costume Party at 5 Diva Girls, Chester  * Sun. October 30 http://meandthekids.net/2011/10/12/halloween-costume-party-5-diva-girls-chester/

2. Community Children’s Museum 2nd Annual Halloween Spooktacular  * Sat. October 22 http://meandthekids.net/2011/09/03/halloween-spooktacular-morris-county-school-of-technology-denville/


3. Halloween Family Festival at the Morris Museum, Morristown   * Sat. October 29 http://meandthekids.net/2011/08/27/halloween-family-festival-morris-museum-morristown/


4. A Miller’s Halloween at Cooper’s Gristmill, Chester  * Sat. October 29 http://meandthekids.net/2011/05/27/a-millers-halloween-cooper-gristmill-chester/


5. Historic Haunting at Historic Speedwell, Morristown  * Sun. October 30 http://meandthekids.net/2011/05/27/halloween-fun-historic-speedwell-morristown/


6. Tricks N Treats at the Museum of Early Trades  & Crafts, Madison  * Sat. October 29 http://meandthekids.net/2011/08/28/tricks-n-treats-museum-of-early-trades-crafts-madison/


7. Historic Halloween Happenings at Fosterfields Farm * Sat. October 29 http://meandthekids.net/2011/08/22/historic-halloween-happenings-fosterfields-farms-morristown/


8. Howl-O-Ween Parade: Eleventh Hour Rescue, Boonton * Sat. October 15 http://meandthekids.net/2011/09/20/howl-o-ween-parade-eleventh-hour-rescue-boonton/


9. Wildlife Halloween Party at the Washington Twp. Senior Center * Sat.  October 29http://meandthekids.net/2011/10/02/wildlife-halloween-party-washington-twp-senior-center/


10. Halloween Costume Contest & Parade, Chester  * Mon. October 30 http://meandthekids.net/2011/09/05/halloween-costume-contest-parade-chester/

The Most Wonderful Time of Year- Part 2

So I had every intention of doing a quick follow up blog with the second set of crafts for our back-to-school countdown. Clearly that didn’t happen. Wow did life get in the way! But here they are, better late than never!

I love this adorable egg carton school bus! It’s a quick and easy craft that’s perfect for little ones that might be taking the bus for the first  time this year. And it’s green!

This school house craft is super cute! I love that this can be used as a lesson in geometry for kids ages 5+ and a great fine motor activity for little ones.

A pocket purse is great for older kids. It’s really cute as an iPod or cell phone holder. Transform an old pair of jeans heading for the donation pile and turn it into a green craft!

I really love cute and practical crafts like these custom magnets! Use photos, magazine clippings, stickers…whatever you want. They are perfect for helping to keep all those papers organized in your family work zone!

This is my favorite of all the back-to-school crafts! Give your little scholar or budding artist a chance to showcase their favorite work on their own clothesline display. So great in a playroom or the family work zone.

Next up…our favorite Halloween crafts!



Give a Little Bit

I was raised in a family of volunteers. My mother volunteered for every bake sale, book fair, and fun fair. My dad coached little league and softball. If there was a family in need, they were always there with a tray of food. If someone needed help, we raised our hands. If there was a cause that needed championing, we were there to help.






When I began to look for a preschool for my little ones, I wanted to find a school that would promote a sense of community. I visited every school within a 20 mile radius of my house. I literally left no stone unturned.  From the moment I walked in the doors of the school I ultimately chose, I knew my search was over. I knew it was a special place. There is a warmth that is tangible. The warmth comes from the lovely teachers and administration but also from the community, the families.

There is an old African proverb, “It takes a village.” It is our school’s mantra. Our little school relies heavily on volunteer support, particularly to foster that feeling of community. The benefits of volunteerism is threefold. Firstly, the school benefits for obvious reasons. Secondly, parents benefit by becoming part of a community. I have made some of my best friends through volunteering. Thirdly, and most importantly, your child benefits. 30 years of research has shown when parents are involved in their children’s education at home, the children do better in school. When parents are involved in school, children go farther in school and the schools they go to are better.

When parents volunteer at school, children:                                                                          

  • earn better grades
  • score higher on tests
  • complete homework assignments
  • pass their classes
  • attend school regularly
  • have better social skills
  • show improved behavior
  • have positive attitude toward school
  • graduate and continue their education

Parent involvement matters. Volunteering helps build better citizens of the world. Please do what you can. Give a little bit.


The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Part 1

Yes, it’s that time of year again…Back to School! In NJ we are doing the official Countdown to the First Day of School. 10 days left and counting! 


This year my daughter is starting kindergarten and my little guy is starting preschool (what?!?!). Both are vacillating between excitement and terror. I found some back-to-school craft ideas that I thought might help generate some excitement (and quell some of the uneasiness) for the start of school. I thought I’d share them.

This is an oldie but a goodie: School Bus Craft.  I actually remember making one of these back in the day when I started    1st grade. It’s really simple and cute. Perfect if your little dumpling will be riding the bus for the first time.

I also love these decorated pencils. This craft is great for toddlers and tweens alike. 

You can get crazy and decorate a pencil holder for the pencils. We are going to cover a

coffee can with felt and glue on some felt shapes. I will post an update as we get to it!

I found the next craft idea on Katy Brown’s (love her!) blog. She has cute (sometimes weird)

ideas but they are always unique. I love this one and can’t wait to make it to hang in our playroom

which incidentally also happens to be  my office. The Crayon Wreath is too cute!

I also found this cute craft which will be SO helpful to organize all the little masterpieces your little one comes home with          every single day. I love this personalized file box craft. This is also appropriate for older kids. We all need to fight the      pile, right? 

Another thing I’ve done each year in September is take a beginning of the  school year photo. Each year we make a popsicle frame for the photo. We      do another at the end of the year. Eventually my plan is to make them into     a photo cube. It’s a really sweet and simple craft.

I’ll post the next 5 crafts tomorrow but this is a good start!

Live Then Give

Nearly 3 months ago, fellow Mom Congress delegate, Elise Normile of VA, suffered the most unspeakable of tragedies. She lost her baby boy, Charlie, twin to Lola, merely 2 1/2 years old, in a drowning accident. 

Writing about this has been too difficult for me. I have started and stopped a dozen or so times in the last month and a half. I’m not a writer to begin with so I doubt that I can even begin to touch upon the depths of this family’s pain. Every single time I began to put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard), I would break down in hysterics. The very thought of this family’s loss has shaken me to my core. My family is just like theirs. I have little ones just like them. We are conscientious parents just like them. This could happen to us just like it happened to them. It is a reminder that life is precious. And the little poopers running around your house are a gift.

To somehow make heads or tails of the devastation, her family started Team Charlie after deciding to donate little Charlie’s organs. It’s a forum for them to spread awareness about organ donation.  Their devastating loss gave 4 other families the gift of life. Please visit Team Charlie Today on facebook and like their page. Help spread the message.

It’s Blueberry Season in NJ!!!

Stacey Snacks: BEST Damn Blueberry Ricotta Cake Ever.

It’s blueberry season in NJ. They are as sweet as candy now. You can find them at every farmers’ market or local farm stand. Me & my kids picked some up on our usual Saturday morning trip to our local farmers’ market.

I found this on Stacey Snacks, my favorite source for great recipes. This is literally the best dessert I’ve        ever had! It was so light and airy, completely unexpected for a cake made with ricotta cheese! This was        also one of the easiest recipes I’ve ever tried. Start to finish (meaning placing it in the oven) it took 20          minutes to prep. So simple. And my kids loved it too ;)

Easy Cucumber Recipes | Eating Well

Easy Cucumber Recipes | Eating Well.

Cucumbers are one of my favorite veggies. So versatile, so refreshing, and a veg that most kids will actually eat! Here are few new ways to add to your cucumber repertoire! The kids & I are going to try the pickling recipe this week. Stay tuned!