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EDITOR'S NOTE ‘Tell Me Three!’ What a treat to feature Greenbrier schoolteacher Megan Girdler and her family in this month’s “Back to school” edition of 501 Kids. We applaud Megan’s enthusiasm for teaching and know that she is making a difference in young lives. As a “teacher mom,” Megan has a neat perspective on education and offered some great back-to-school tips in this month’s cover story (Page 8). Megan also had a wonderful idea to help keep parents connected with their children throughout the school year – “Tell Me Three!” “Start an afternoon habit of chatting with your child about their day,” she said. “On the car ride home from school, I ask my boys to each tell me three things about their day, any three things they want to. They think they are just giving me three simple answers, but they are really giving me glimpses into their day so I can ask questions and be more involved. “Some days, my youngest son will have his three ready to share before I even ask. My oldest has turned into the conversationalist and now has days where he announces he needs to do a ‘double three’ today.” Megan said sometimes she has changed it up by asking her children to share three things that were super or stinky about their day. “We also have turned our daily three into a game, where you never know what ‘category’ might be chosen. It could be foods you ate, things you learned, people you talked to, things played at recess. Whoever buckled their seatbelt first in the car

STAFF OWNERS Donna Spears, Sonja J. Keith EDITOR Sonja J. Keith ADVERTISING DIRECTOR Donna Spears ART DIRECTOR Jennifer Godwin Nick Walker ASSOCIATE EDITOR Levi Gilbert would get to pick the category. “Little tweaks to our daily share time keep it fresh and exciting for my kids. The more they share with me about their day, the better involved I can be. It helps me to know specific questions to ask them, when they are tired and Mom just wants to learn about their day. ‘Tell Me Three!’ Try it out this year!” 501 Kids would like to thank Megan and all of the great educators throughout the 501. Here’s to a great and safe school year! -Sonja J. Keith

6 Nutrition

One of the best ways to help kids develop a healthy relationship with food is to get them involved in the kitchen early.

8 Cover story

Back to school is a special time for Wooster Elementary School’s Megan Girdler and her sons Gray and Garrett.

11 Parenting

Meagan Lowry has some suggestions for “Back to school: Toddler edition.”

12 Health

There are several ways parents can prepare children to go back to school safely this year. Back to school is a special time for Wooster Elementary School’s Megan Girdler and her sons Gray (front) and Garrett. (Mike Kemp photo)


CONTRIBUTORS Brittany Gilbert Kellie Bishop

features&columns On the cover


14 Parenting

Tips listed to create a space to learn at home.

Meagan Lowry

501 KIDS EDITORIAL BOARD Dr. Angie Betancourt Leslie Burrows Dr. Sher Craig Stephanie Crockett Brittany Gilbert

Gloria Massey Nicole Rappold Lanette Rogers Amy Routt Stephanie Worthey

501 Kids is published five times a year by 501 Advertising and Publishing (701 Chestnut St., Conway, Ark. 72032, 501.327.1501). The contents of 501 Kids are copyrighted and materials presented may not be copied or reproduced in any manner without the written permission of the publishers. Articles should not be considered specific advice, as individual circumstances vary. Products and services advertised are not necessarily endorsed by 501 Kids. 501 Kids is produced on recycled paper.


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11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 Food and family fun are among the activities planned during the 107th Annual St. Joseph School Bazaar on Friday, Aug. 2, and Saturday, Aug. 3, in Conway. The event includes box lunches, a spaghetti dinner, a midway, a raffle, a silent auction, games and carnival food. Several items will also be raffled as part of the midway. A 2019 Ford Explorer will be given away as the grand prize in this year’s raffle. Other prizes are a $1,000 gift card to H3

Home + Décor and an $800 gift card to McKinney Tire Pros. The midway opens at 5:30 p.m. both days on the middle school playground. There will be a variety of games and carnival food. For more information, visit sjsbazaar.weebly. com. Proceeds support St. Joseph School. Methodist Family Health will host its Third Annual Bright Night summer celebration from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2, at Big Rock Mini-Golf and Fun Park in Little Rock. Kids and families can enjoy mini-golf, bumper boats, arcade games, go-karts, batting cages and an amazing aerial maze. Preregistration is $25 each and includes a choice of three activities and a light supper. Beginning Monday, July 29, tickets are $30 each. Additional concessions and activities are available for purchase. Proceeds help rebuild the lives of Arkansas children and families who are abused, abandoned, neglected and dealing with psychiatric, behavioral, emotional and spiritual issues. For tickets or more information, contact Jamie Griffith at 501.906.4209 or jgriffith@ Visit MethodistFamily. org for more information. Unity Health along with the Searcy Shark ATAC Swim Team will host the first Unity Health Kids Triathlon on Saturday, Aug. 24. The triathlon is open to ages 6 to 17 to compete in swimming, biking and running races. Unity Health is proud to sponsor this community event and help the youth of Searcy to participate in striving to live a healthy lifestyle. All proceeds will go to the Unity Health Foundation and the Child Safety Center of White County. For more information about the Unity Health Kids Triathlon or the Shark Swim Team, please call Chad Price at 501.281.1304. Fairfield Bay will host its “Endless Summer” event on Saturday, Aug. 31. The event features an all-day family picnic party with old-fashioned pool and lawn games. There will be fun for all ages, including food, a Pickleball tournament and live music. For more information, go to

New season set for Main Stage EdUCAtion An educational and fun season featuring six shows is planned for the Main Stage EdUCAtion program at the University of Central Arkansas. The Main Stage EdUCAtion series, aimed at Arkansas school districts, debuted in 2015-16 to increase access to the arts for kindergarten through 12th-grade students. “This series is a big hit among educators across the state of Arkansas,” said Amanda Horton, director of Reynolds. “Last season we served over 12,000 people, with schools from all corners of the state attending, including Batesville, Dover, Stuttgart, Fox, Hot Springs, Little Rock and more.” While most of the shows are for school groups, there are also a few public performances. The 2019-20 Main Stage performances include: “Miss Nelson Has a Field Day,” 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17. “Lightwire Theatre – A Very Electric Christmas,” 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 9. “Walk On: The Story of Rosa Parks,” 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28.                                                    “The Diary of Anne Frank,” 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18.     “Catapult – The Amazing Magic of Dancing Shadows,” 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 4

| 501 LIFE KIDS Fall 2019

27. “The Magic School Bus,” 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Friday, March 13.                                                    Benefit for Main Stage EdUCAtion “Lightwire Theatre – A Very Electric Christmas,” 6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 8. “Celtic Angels Ireland,” 7:30 p.m., Monday, March 16. Reservations for Main Stage shows for school groups will be accepted beginning Tuesday, Aug. 6. To make a reservation, educators should download and complete the form at

ances/mainstage and email it to or fax it to 501.852.2375. The Main Stage and benefit performance are among the 28 events scheduled during the 201920 season at Reynolds. (For a complete list of the season, visit Not all shows are suitable for children.) Tickets for the season go on sale to the general public 10 a.m. Monday, Aug. 5, and can be purchased online, by phone and in person. Educators with questions should contact Horton at 501.450.3682 or, or visit uca. edu/reynolds.

Conway Kids Triathlon on Aug. 10 The Conway Kids Triathlon, presented by First Security Bank, is a Conway tradition in its 22nd year and will be held at 8 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 10, at Hendrix College. Registration is open and is $30 until Wednesday, Aug. 1, when it will go up to $35. Completing a triathlon takes commitment, training and support from your family. Every year, hundreds of kids cross the finish line, achieving a personal goal and helping the Conway Kids Tri board achieve its goal to provide an event that helps build healthy kids and healthy families. Proceeds from the event will be donated to Soul Food Café Mission, a critical mission to the Conway community. The goal is to donate $12,000 again this year.  In 2018, Soul Food Café Mission provided services to 29,510 individuals with approximately 38 percent of these under the age of 18.      Community Connections, a non-profit organization in Central Arkansas providing extra-curricular activities for children with special needs and support for their families, will organize

a “special needs division” for the Conway Kids Tri again this year.   Last year, 22 kids competed in this division and the results were tremendous and heartwarming. For more information on this division, visit  Course distances are doable for kids of all ages. Kids between 6 and 10 complete a 50-yard swim (two laps in the pool), 2-mile bike course and

half-mile run. Kids between 11 and 15 complete a 100-yard swim (four laps in the pool), a 4-mile bike course and a mile run. The event is perfect for a “first-time” triathlete as well as those who enjoy the sport and are competitive. The course is very safe and fun for kids of all ages and abilities. “The Conway Kids Triathlon is a great event for kids, families and our community,” said Conway Kids Triathlon Race Director Pete Tanguay. “Making the commitment and training together as a family is a great way to schedule time together and work together to build healthy kids and families during the summer. Watching these kids come across the finish line, it is clear something great has happened in their life, an accomplishment that will stay with them and motivate them as they enter the next school year the following week.”    For more information about participating in the event or becoming a sponsor, go to ConwayKidsTri. com or contact Tanguay at 501.908.3876 or pete@

O F F E R I N G Smarter WAYS TO SAVE. With the right resources, big dreams turn into even bigger accomplishments. What’s your better? Get there with us.

Member FDIC Fall 2019 | 5


Kids in the kitchen

Developing a healthy relationship with food One of the best ways to help kids develop a healthy relationship with food and learn to be an adventurous eater is to get them involved in the kitchen early. Young children are able to do many basic tasks in the kitchen, including measuring, mixing, pouring and chopping. Helping to prepare the food gives them a new appreciation for the foods that show up at the family table. I’ve also seen this to be true when a child helps grow food in a family garden.  When I work with families who have a picky eater, our main goal is to expose them to foods in a positive environment. Exposure can include touching, washing and smelling the food. This can all happen during prep for whatever meal you are making. Kids who prepare meals in the kitchen are more often willing to try them as they feel invested in the process and are generally proud of their finished product. I have personally experienced this with my own sweet 4-year-old at home, but I also see it with every single “Kids in the Kitchen” program that I host at the Conway Regional Health & Fitness Center. The kids come in with their parents and more often than not, there are a few kids that dislike the food or at least one ingredient we are using. We always talk about why the ingredients we are using are beneficial to our health, and we usually make a deal that they will try one or two bites of what they make. The kiddos then get to prep the food, assemble and eat their finished product. It’s my favorite thing when a child tries the food very cautiously and then looks up with a smile when they realize they like it! Sure, there are a few that try it and decide they still don’t like it, but they had another exposure to the food/ingredient. That is the real name of the game because the more exposure a child has to said food, the more they will accept it. This is why I continue to host these events. Well, that and because we just have so much fun! “Kids in the Kitchen” cooking classes happen every summer and also during fall or spring breaks. This is our third summer to offer the program, and each class books fully. At our sold-out session on July 23 we made a summer pasta salad and icebox dessert sandwiches. We boiled pasta, chopped veggies (with kid safe knives) and mixed the pasta salad. For the dessert sandwiches, we measured and mixed before freezing our creation. It is usually a two-hour class and parent (or caregiver) participation is required. The caregiver/ child duos always have a great time bonding and learning how to work together in creating a recipe. 6

| 501 LIFE KIDS Fall 2019

I realize that having children in the kitchen isn’t always ideal, and they can slow a busy parent down when trying to get a meal on the table. I suggest planning a few nights during the week when you have extra time to work on some of the age-appropriate tasks that are listed in this column. As they gain more skills and become older, you’ll appreciate

the extra helping hands. Children can actually do a lot more in the kitchen than one might think. A child as young as 2-3 years old can wash fruits and veggies, tear lettuce or greens for a salad, stir ingredients or add toppings to their pizza. A child who is 4-5 years old can do the same tasks but also cut foods with a child-safe knife,

crack and whisk an egg, measure ingredients or even knead/shape dough. Someone 5-plus years old can grate cheese, make their own scrambled egg or even French toast with parent supervision, boil pasta and when they learn to read, they can read the recipe for you. These are all simple tasks that will impact them for years to come – from being an adventurous eater to learning to be independent all while creating lasting memories with a parent, grandparent or other caregiver. For more information on the next “Kids in the Kitchen” program, call 501.450.9292.

2 tablespoons honey Combine all 5 ingredients in a medium bowl (or stand mixer for easy mixing). Stir to combine. Place in the refrigerator for 15-30 minutes so they are easier to roll. Roll into 12 bites and store in the fridge for up to a week.

Nutrition Information: Serving size: 1 bite Calories: 178 Total fat: 11 g Saturated fat: 2.8 g Carbohydrates: 17 g Sugar: 6 g Fiber: 3.2 g Protein: 5.1 g

Following are recipes that young people can prepare with a parent’s help or adult supervision.

CHOCOLATE BLACK BEAN BLENDER MUFFINS Prep time: 8 minutes Cook time: 18 minutes Total time: 26 minutes These Chocolate Black Bean Blender Muffins are some of the easiest muffins you’ll ever make! 15 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained 3 eggs 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt 1/2 cup pure maple syrup or honey 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats 1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with silicone (or paper) liners. Place all ingredients, except for the chocolate chips, in a blender. Blend until smooth. Pour the mixture into the prepared muffin tin, filling each muffin cup almost to the top. Drop 4-5 chocolate chips onto the top of each muffin. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes in the pan and then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. (Silicone liners can be removed once muffins are cool.) These muffins have a lot of moisture and will not last long at room temperature. They are best stored in the freezer. Cool completely and then store in a zip-top plastic bag in the freezer for up to two months. Defrost in the microwave or at room temperature. You may also store the muffins in the refrigerator for up to two days. If made with certified gluten-free oats, muffins are gluten-free.

Nutrition Information: Serving size: 1 muffin (makes 12) Calories: 143 Total fat: 4 g Saturated fat: 2 g Sodium: 30 mg Carbohydrates: 24g Sugar: 11 g Fiber: 7 g Protein: 7 g

*Bites can be made smaller for fewer calories per bite


EASY PASTA SALAD (Courtesy of: two peas & their pod) Prep Time: 15 minutes Cook Time: 10 minutes Total Time: 25 minutes Servings: 10 1 lb. pasta, any shape desired 1 red bell pepper, chopped 1 yellow bell pepper, chopped 2 cups halved grape tomatoes 1 cup sliced black olives 1 cup Italian dressing (use your favorite storebought dressing) 1/2 cup chopped basil 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese Kosher salt and black pepper to taste In a large pot of salted boiling water, add the pasta. Cook according to package instructions. Drain and rinse the pasta with cold water. Drain the pasta well after rinsing. In a large bowl, combine the pasta, bell peppers, tomatoes and olives. Add the dressing and stir until pasta noodles and vegetables are well coated. Stir in the basil and parmesan cheese. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature or cold.

PEANUT BUTTER ENERGY BITES Prep Time: 10 minutes Total Time: 10 minutes Serves: 12 bites No bake 5-ingredient Peanut Butter Energy Bites are loaded with old-fashioned oats, peanut butter and flax seeds, a healthy protein-packed breakfast or snack! 2/3 cup creamy peanut butter 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips 1 cup old-fashioned oats 1/2 cup ground flax seeds

Serves: 4 These easy-to-make-ahead protein boxes are completely customizable to your preferences. Hardboiled eggs Apple slices (half of the apple) Grapes/melon/cherries/berries 1 ounce sliced cheese of choice or string cheese Celery stalks or carrot sticks, cut to desired length Whole grain toasted muffin or whole grain flax crackers 1-2 tablespoons natural peanut butter or alternative Wash, cut and prep all ingredients. Place in meal prep container. Store in refrigerator until ready to eat, no more than 4-5 days. *Nutrition content varies due to variable options when building to individual preference.

Sarah Money is a registered and licensed dietitian in Arkansas. She obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in dietetics, along with completing a 1,200hour supervised internship at the University of Central Arkansas. She works as the wellness coordinator at Conway Regional Health & Fitness Center, where she leads a variety of nutrition education programs, from 1:1 consults to meal planning and leading a weekly weight management support group. Fall 2019 | 7

Educators Megan and Raymond Girdler with their children: Gretta, Gray and Garrett. (Mike Kemp photo)


| 501 LIFE KIDS Fall 2019


Back to school

‘Teacher mom,’ kids return to class by Sonja J. Keith

Back to school is a special time in the Megan and Raymond Girdler household. Mom heads back to the classroom to teach while the couple’s two oldest children – Garrett and Gray – return to continue their educations. The couple also have a 5-month-old, Gretta. A graduate of Conway High School, Megan graduated from the University of Central Arkansas. “I am starting my 14th year teaching, all of which has been in the Greenbrier School District,” said Megan. She has taught at Wooster Elementary since the school opened. “I taught seven years of first grade, and this will be my seventh year in kindergarten. I love my K-1 babies!” The Girdlers are a family of educators. “My husband, Raymond, was a math teacher and district data coordinator in the North Little Rock School District for many years. He now serves as the director of data use and privacy at the Arkansas Department of Education. He understands all the behind-the-scene action of a classroom teacher, and I’m so blessed to have him as my biggest supporter!” While completing her college education, Megan was assigned to the Greenbrier district for student teaching. “As a UCA College of Education student, I was privileged to experience a variety of local schools,” she said. “My first day in a Greenbrier elementary school was absolutely amazing! The staff ‘family’ supported each other, worked as a team and had an overwhelming love for every student in the building. That young college girl walked out knowing this was the home for me and where I wanted to teach. This is where I wanted my future children to go to school. “Here I am, 14 years later, still thankful to be a part of the Greenbrier team and so blessed to be able to have two children experiencing it with me!” Megan chose to be a teacher because she wanted to expose students to the fun in learning. “I wanted to inspire kids to set high goals for themselves and then help them reach for the stars. I wanted to be the one standing beside them, supporting, coaching and cheering them on,” she said. “I wanted to be a teacher that made every student feel loved and treasured, a teacher that made a difference in their lives.” Since she started her teaching journey, she has worked and built relationships with nearly 300 children. “They helped shape me into the teacher I am today. Each one of these kiddos has a special place in my heart, and I will always consider them ‘my babies.’ When these students drop by my classroom to show off their work, tell of an accomplishment or just to get a hug, that’s how I know I’m doing something right!”

Megan said “teacher mode” never really turns “off” over summer break, but she does give herself a few weeks in June to rest and “pour into” her family. “We spend lots of summer days learning new teaching strategies and being trained on the newest practices in education,” she said of those in her profession. “By the time the calendar turns to July, school supply aisles set up in stores and I jump into high gear. Like every teacher I know, I feel like a kid in a candy store when walking down those new school supply aisles!” Come July, Megan typically has a notebook in hand to make to-do lists and record ideas. “All of my projects for my upcoming classroom and students start to come to life. Our kitchen table, living room floor and the trunk of our van stay covered in classroom projects for weeks.” Megan said it is exciting when a new school year rolls around. She enjoys setting up a new classroom arrangement and putting up fresh decorations. She likes “gearing up to implement newly planned activities and preparing for individual needs of all the little sweeties coming in. There is something about starting a new school year that lights a fire in every teacher. Just like anything you pour your heart and soul into, it is both exhausting and exhilarating at the same time!” As the first school day approaches, Megan loads up the materials and heads to her classroom to unpack and set up. “At this point, it’s time to put it all into action and make the dreams come true. My husband and sons are the best helpers in my classroom!” During the busy back-to-school season, Megan relies on planning and organization. “Juggling my back-to-school duties as both a mom and a teacher is definitely a challenge. In this hectic season, I try to keep my sanity at home by getting organized. We set up stations all around our house, to help us run our back-to-school train a little more smoothly. “We pack a separate bag for anywhere we might be heading that week – soccer practice bag, ninja class bag, school backpacks, teacher work bags, diaper bag, pumping bag, etc. – and organize a special area for all bags to hang for a quick grab and go. Also, we each have an area where we set out a week’s worth of clothing for school and sports to alleviate late night and early morning dressing issues.” Megan has also found it helpful to have a special place for school work and to plan ahead for meals and snacks. “We organize a spot for school paperwork for each kiddo to help stay on top of all the papers that daily life brings,” she said. “We build a week’s worth of fruit/veggie/snack packs in the pantry and fridge to help with quickly packing lunches. We organize a breakfast station for everyone to be able to quickly fix

Back-to-school tips

Megan Girdler offered several tips to parents to help children get the most out of a new school year: Get back into the swing of evening/ bedtime routines a week or two before school starts. “Starting earlier bedtimes/wake-ups the first week of school is hard on everyone. Nobody wants to be the exhausted kiddo, cranky mama or frazzled teacher the first week of school. We need our bedtime and wake-up routines to be going strong by the first day of school, so we can be at our best! Need something great to do with your kiddo to help them wind down at bedtime? READ WITH THEM! Reading books to and with your children is so beneficial academically, but it’s also a special time to make snuggly bedtime memories.” Form a strong relationship with your child’s teacher. “You are both working toward the same goal: helping your kiddo achieve greatness in all areas. Start the lines of communication early-on with the teacher. Introduce yourself, share your thoughts, ask your questions, get to know each other. Teachers want to work as a team with parents, to be able to better meet the academic and emotional needs of students. Start the year off strong!” their own breakfasts and water bottles on school mornings. We plan out dinner menus for the week and try to get as much prepped ahead of time as possible. “Pretty much anything we can do ahead of time, to better prepare for our week in the busy season, we try to tackle! Do we have chaotic days of missing socks, empty cereal boxes, lost homework and eating a drive-thru dinner in the van? Of course! Getting our back-to-school stations set up sure help cut down on our crazy days though! When we have all made it through our first week of school, it always feels like we have just run a marathon! Needless to say, we sleep hard in September!” While there are challenges, Megan said there are some special perks to being a “teacher mom.” “I get to experience daily school life with my own kids! I pass them in the hallways, see them on the playground and get to be with them at school assemblies. It’s such a treat to get to share a school with them. Garrett is moving up to the middle school this year, and I am so thankful we got to experience all of his elementary school days together!” Fall 2019 | 9

KIDS OF THE MONTH Mike Kemp photos

Gray Girdler

Garrett Girdler



AGE: 8.

AGE: 11.

CITY: Conway.

CITY: Conway.

SCHOOL: Wooster Elementary School, third grade. FAVORITE SUBJECTS: Art and science. FAMILY: Mom and Dad (Megan and Raymond), big brother (Garrett) and little sis (Gretta).

FAVORITE MEAL: Breakfast! Pancakes and bacon are my favorite! MOST CHERISHED POSSESSION: My pet hermit crabs. HOBBIES: Playing video games and collecting rocks. FAVORITE ACTIVITY: Going on nature walks to look for toads, turtles and bugs.


| 501 LIFE KIDS Fall 2019

SCHOOL: Greenbrier Middle School, sixth grade. FAVORITE SUBJECTS: Math. FAMILY: Parents, Raymond and Megan Girdler. Gray is my little brother and Gretta is my new baby sister.

FAVORITE MEAL: Roasted veggies and cheesy breadsticks. MOST CHERISHED POSSESSION: My souvenirs from family vacations, because they remind me of fun times we had together. HOBBIES: Telling jokes, reading and playing soccer. FAVORITE ACTIVITY: Playing card games and board games with my family.


Back to school: Toddler edition When school season rolls around this year, I’ll only have two years before I’m the mama stalking her kid from the hallway and trying to hide the tears that I know will be spewing from my face. Raising a toddler has its ups and downs, but one thing I’m really looking forward to for the 2019-2020 school year is the chance to bring “school” into our home. I did not get a degree in education, but I do think it is my responsibility to be my child’s teacher in some form. There are so many things I want her to learn, and I can’t simply wait for her to become school-aged for those lessons to begin. There are a lot of resources for us mamas who want to get a jump start on our child’s education. You don’t have to look far or even look very hard to find them. Some of my favorite educational finds have come from the Target dollar spot. Let’s be honest...we’re gonna hit the Target dollar spot regardless of if we actually need anything from there or not. As much as I want our days to be filled with fun and spontaneity, I also want to feel like I’ve prepared Lennox for what comes next. I think it’s important to be good stewards of our time with our children before we send them out into the world. At least that’s how I feel after I’ve spent an afternoon at Kroger with Lennox when she’s been less than ideal. Another really great resource for us mamas is Instagram. Well, if you are anything like me I know what you are thinking. You’re thinking that Instagram is your escape to semi stalk the Jonas Brothers, and you’re right... it is. But...there are also some really great resources for our toddlers and preschoolers too! A quick search will open your eyes to an entire world of fun activities and learning programs you can implement into your everyday life and not feel like a total failure when your “Pinterest worthy” ideas don’t quite pan out. As much as I love the stage we’re in right now, I know these days won’t last forever. In fact, I’ve blinked and three years of my daughter’s life have

Zak and Meagan Lowry enjoy time with their toddler, Lennox. (Summer Williams Photo)

flown by. I know these last two years of having our own schedule will soon come to an end and we’ll be knee deep in school activities, sports, church and whatever else may come our way. Whatever you do, just know that no one else is going to have the kind of impact that you will have on your child. You are their ultimate teacher. Own it.

Meagan Lowry is a Texas native who has lived in the Natural State since 2009. She’s been married to her 501 born and bred husband, Zak, since 2012. Meagan owns her own business and works from home as a social media consultant for multiple companies. Fall 2019 | 11


Safety first

Back-to-school tips listed

Back to school time is usually an exciting time of year for both parents and children. Parents are eager to regain some normalcy and a routine in the home. Children are ready to meet their new teachers, organize their school supplies and see their friends again. While school is a place for children to learn and grow, there are some safety concerns that arise when your child is away from you and entrusted to someone else’s care. Luckily, there are several ways you can prepare your child to go back to school safely this year. 12 | 501 LIFE KIDS Fall 2019

SAFETY CONCERNS We all know that children are easily distracted and often lack the ability to think about potential consequences of their actions. Therefore, it is vital to discuss safety concerns with your child in a proactive manner. Whether your child rides the school bus, walks to school or is driven to school by private car, there are safety measures they should be aware of in regard to walking on sidewalks, crossing the road and walking through parking lots.

Make sure your children know to always walk on sidewalks and only cross the street at crosswalks, preferably those with a crossing guard present. Children should know to look both ways before crossing the street to make sure there are no vehicles or bicycles nearby. Many children now have smartphones and other forms of technology that they use while walking to or around school, which can be a distraction. It is important to make sure your children know to pay attention to their surroundings while walking and

crossing the street instead of devoting their attention to a phone or other electronic device. Distracted drivers are dangerous but distracted pedestrians are also a danger to themselves, so instructing your children to remain aware can help keep them safe and prevent getting hit by a vehicle.

STRANGER DANGER Stranger danger is another concern around back-to-school time. School zones are a perfect place for dangerous people to prey on children. It is very important to make sure your child knows to not talk to, walk with or get into a vehicle of any kind with a stranger. Some parents will pick a “safe word” for their child to use to determine if someone is supposed to be talking to them or picking them up. The idea is that if you ever need a friend or family member to pick up your child, you tell them the safe word and your child is instructed to always ask for the safe word if they are unsure if it is safe for them to go with the person. If an adult in the community or even within the school tells your child they were instructed by mom or dad to pick them up, your child knows to ask for the safe word and call for help if the person does not know the word.

Your child should also know his or her address, phone number and parents’ names so if they ever get lost or separated from their class, they can get help to get back home. Ideally our children should be able to safely go to and from school without concern for their safety, but the reality is that there are dangerous people so it is important to make sure your children are aware of these safety measures to protect them.

PAY ATTENTION As adults, we also need to be responsible around children and school zones. Pay attention to speed limit signs within school zones and do not exceed them as you never know when a child may have been separated from their class and is in the street. Distracted driving is never acceptable but it is especially vital to drive undistracted when children are present or while driving in school zones. Children are small and fast so looking at your phone for even a few seconds could lead to a tragedy if a child darts out in the road while you are not paying attention. The surest way to avoid a tragedy is to just drive responsibly and avoid all distractions while driving. As you and your children are preparing for back to school and buying new clothes and supplies, make

safety a priority as well. Discuss the major safety concerns with your children to ensure they are well prepared. School is a haven for learning for your children and ensuring they are prepared with proper safety measures while away from you during the school day will both ease your mind and help your family avoid a tragic situation. I hope everyone enjoys the final days of summer and that all the teachers, children and families have a fantastic start to the new school year!

Kellie Bishop is a pediatric nurse practitioner at Central Arkansas Pediatrics in Conway. She lives in Plumerville with her husband, Greg, and two dogs. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in nursing at the University of Central Arkansas and her master’s and doctorate degrees in pediatric primary care at UAMS.

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Schoolroom refresh Creating a space to learn at home

During the summer, a few months before school starts back, we start re-evaluating our classroom at home. Our room doubles as a playroom, so it has to be functional for both work and play. This year, we are adding a new student, as our middle child is starting kindergarten. Teaching more than one kid from home changes the functionality of the room. We also have a 3-year-old who needs space to do her thing as well. Our boys are majorly in to LEGO at this stage. Our table setup is designed for the purpose of multiple workstations. I want them to have their own individual space as well as a space to sit together and 14

| 501 LIFE KIDS Fall 2019

for me to work with them. There is a table placed in the middle for us to work together and also for games. When our kids are feeling cooperative, they’ll build LEGO together at this table, too. My favorite new addition to the homeschool room this year is the plexiglass table top. Our tables are from IKEA and are really affordable, and the design is modern and minimalist. The plexiglass is also super affordable from Lowe’s. The store cut the plexiglass to the exact size I needed, one sheet for each table top. Because it’s light-weight and shatterproof, it sits nicely on top of the tables with little clear adhesive cabinet bumpers between the plexi-

glass and the table. We work a lot with tracing maps, so this will come in handy. We also go through a lot of paper when we practice writing and drawing. Tracing paper is not cheap, so this has been a really nice and useful addition. Another difference in our school and playroom this year is multiple options for sitting. We have an oversized bean bag as well as a futon. The kids love to have their iPad time and reading time on the beanbag, and I love drinking my coffee on the futon while they work independently. I’ve also found that having a more laid-back sitting area, as opposed to hard chairs, is really helpful in allowing my kids to feel more relaxed. We’ve

already had great lessons that would’ve been a struggle if we remained sitting at the tables. I love our 8-cube storage unit. The baskets allow me to keep the minimalist look I love and is just enough space for all of our school work. The other storage we have are the drawers that go with the tables. The kids have one set each, and they store their favorite toys and school materials that they are responsible for in their drawers. Lastly, our youngest is way too active and rambunctious to sit still and not demand attention while I work with her brothers. So, this year I’ve added an area just for her. She has a basket of items that are fun for her: coloring books, small toys for imaginary play, puzzles and other fun toys. I will rotate these toys out often to keep her attention, but the idea is

to have toys and other materials that don’t require a lot of help for her to enjoy. Most of the toys for our playroom are located in organized bins in the closet. By putting most of the toys out of sight, it allows the kids to focus more. If they were surrounded by all of the things they could play with, it would be really difficult to get their attention where it needs to be. Our homeschool room is one of my favorite rooms in our house. In the past two years, I’ve learned so much about the way my kids learn and play. I’ve researched, learned from other homeschool moms and shopped around for the resources and furniture to fill our room in the most useful way. It’s really easy to simply fill your space, with everything you can find, just because you aren’t sure if you’ll

need it, so you get it just in case. One thing I’ve learned is that less is more. Our kids don’t need all of the things for a good education. They need a few things, and they need us as supportive parents to lead them and help them learn in the way that benefits them the most.

Brittany Gilbert is a former FACS teacher at Maumelle High School. She and her husband, Levi, have three children and live in Conway. Brittany can be reached at Fall 2019 | 15

Profile for 501 LIFE

501 Kids Fall 2019  

Back to school is a special time for Wooster Elementary School’s Megan Girdler and her sons Gray (front) and Garrett. (Mike Kemp photo)

501 Kids Fall 2019  

Back to school is a special time for Wooster Elementary School’s Megan Girdler and her sons Gray (front) and Garrett. (Mike Kemp photo)