Can your child’s after-school program lead to a STEM career?

(BPT) – Learning doesn’t only happen in a classroom. Each year, millions of American children participate in after-school programs that mix education with a healthy dose of fun. And while there’s always room for more programs that help kids love learning, the plethora of what’s already available can be overwhelming for parents trying to choose the right programs for their children.

“Multiple studies show that children who take part in quality after-school programs have better attendance, grades and behavior, and do better on tests compared to their peers who went home alone to an empty house,” says Dan O’Donnell, vice president of the Bricks 4 Kidz after-school program. “Parents can help their children get a jump-start on life, and learn to love learning, by enrolling them in high-quality after-school programs.”

It’s important for parents to assess after-school programs with a critical eye, and consider how successfully a program combines learning with fun and basic care. While many programs are effective at keeping kids safely occupied after school ends but before parents are done with work, not all emphasize educational material. Programs that stimulate a child’s interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects can be particularly valuable – possibly even inspiring an interest in a high-demand STEM career.

“We must prepare all students … to be proficient in STEM subjects,” the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) writes in a report to President Obama. “And we must inspire all students to learn STEM and, in the process, motivate many of them to pursue STEM careers.”

An after-school program with a STEM emphasis can fulfill both the need to educate children and inspire a lifelong love of STEM subjects, experts agree. Parents seeking a STEM program for their children should look for one that:

* Offers creative and engaging activities that are as fun and motivational as they are educational.

* Encourages curiosity and creativity, which are building blocks of independent thinking.

* Draws on the real-life expertise of people working in STEM fields. For example, engineers and architects designed Bricks 4 Kidz modules.

* Uses familiar, loved learning tools, like LEGO ® bricks, to provide hands-on, interactive STEM lessons.

“It’s also important for a program’s lessons to be age-appropriate,” O’Donnell notes. “Children need STEM lessons at every age, which is why we offer programs for children ages 3 through 13. We use themed-based project kits to motivate children by reinforcing STEM principles, and at the same time boost self-esteem, improve fine motor-skills, and teach organization and how to follow directions. And we do it in such a way that kids have so much fun they don’t think of what they’re doing as work.”

To find a Bricks 4 Kidz program in your area, visit the interactive map at www.bricks4kidz.com/locations. You can learn more about the programs and search for a location by state or ZIP code.

“STEM education is most successful when students develop personal connections with the ideas and excitement of STEM fields,” according to the President’s Council report. “This can occur not only in the classroom, but also through individualized and group experiences outside the classroom ….”

Courtesy of BPT

Raising the bar on bath safety

(BPT) – The bathroom is your daily sanctuary to retreat to and enjoy a few moments alone. For that reason, it should be serene, stylish and of course, safe. -Think that words “safety” and “style” can never go together? Think again. Fortunately, it’s easy to incorporate essential bath safety elements that will leave your room feeling more like a resort instead of rehab.

A twist on towel bars

When entering or exiting the bath, many homeowners reach for a towel located on a towel bar just outside the bathtub or shower. While this is a convenient location, unfortunately bathers instinctively grab onto the towel bar to ease in and out of the shower or tub. This can be a serious fall risk, since towel bars are not designed to support a person’s weight. Fortunately, Moen has combined the functionality and beauty of a decorative towel bar with the safety benefits of a grab bar with the Moen Home Care Grab Bar with Towel Bar. Available in the most popular finishes to seamlessly integrate with the style of your bath, this unique product is easy to install to ensure a safe – and stylish – addition to the bath.

Safety with shelves

From shampoo to shaving cream, razors to rubber duckies, the bathtub or shower is an area where we store a multitude of items. With this in mind, homeowners are always looking for ways to conquer the clutter. Shelves are an excellent answer – especially when you can combine them with safety and peace of mind. Look for shelves that combine the functionality and style of a shelf with the safety of a grab bar. Some are featured in both corner and straight designs and will help solve your storage woes, while providing extra stability in the shower or bath.

“Grab bars are an important safety element for all ages – in fact, we could all use a little extra assistance in the shower,” says Adam Ference, Moen Home Care brand manager. “By incorporating grab bars into common bathroom accessories, we hope to encourage homeowners to make every bath a safe – and stylish – bath.”

Serenity with showerheads

When you think of resorts, you may recall the spectacular spa showers. You can dramatically enhance your daily shower experience by simply updating your current showerhead. There are many types, but a combination showerhead, such as the Moen Caldwell Brushed Nickel Slide Bar showerhead, can offer a relaxing retreat while also adding safety features. Combination showerheads feature both a standard showerhead and a handheld showerhead attached to a slide bar, providing users multiple spray options. And, with the added benefit of a handheld shower, users who choose to bathe in a seated position can also easily and safely enjoy the sensational experience.

Luxurious illumination

For the final step to your safety-upgraded bathroom, increase the amount of lighting. Add higher-wattage bulbs in your current lights, nightlights or additional lamps to the room for improved illumination. Another option is adding skylights. Not only will it help reduce bumps and falls, but a well-lit bathroom will also make the space feel more open and spa-like.

Increasing your safety does not mean decreasing the style in your bath. In fact, with these easy, inexpensive and attractive updates, you can quickly raise your level of bath safety, while creating a more enjoyable and stylish bathroom retreat.

For more information on Moen products, visit www.moen.com.

Courtesy of BPT

Boost your home’s curb appeal for a quicker sale


Selling a home requires a bit of marketing, some sweat and elbow grease, and a touch of luck. But even in a competitive selling market, it is possible to turn the sign in your front yard from For Sale to Sold so you can move on to your next residence.

First, look at your home as if you were a potential buyer. Drive up to the driveway or the front curb and park, carefully looking at the home as if for the first time. Make note of the beautiful aspects of your home, and also areas that could deter potential buyers. The outside of your home is the first image they will see, both in person, and while pre-shopping online.

One maintenance project to tackle that will really spruce up the exterior of your home is refurbishing the outside woodwork that has been weathered by the sun, rain and snow. If you have a front porch, wooden window edgings or even a back deck, chances are these areas could benefit from new stain for a refreshed and clean look.

Home decks return about 70 percent of their original cost back to homeowners when a house is sold, according to Remodeling Magazine’s annual Cost vs. Value Report, but that’s only when the decks are kept in top shape. To remove moisture and sun damage and protect your exterior woodwork from further damage from moss, mold and rot, Flood wood care offers an entire wood care system from prepping materials such as deck cleaners to stain. Before prepping your deck, consider if you need Wood Finish Remover to remove latex, oil, semi-transparent and solid stains, or if your deck is unstained, you may need Wood Brightener/Cleaner to bring the old and faded gray coloring back to a fresh new wood appearance. Finally, apply a Flood wood stain to your deck and woodwork to give it a beautiful look that will have home buyers and your neighbors impressed.

In addition to your exterior woodwork, also take a look at your siding and gutters. Vinyl and aluminum sidings can collect dirt and look dingy after a season or two. Use a power washer on the siding and gutters to wash away the grime and spider webs and bring some vibrancy back to the outside of your home. Also consider adding season-appropriate flowers, plants or landscaping or replacing gutter downspouts with decorative chains to give your home an artistic look.

Finally, take a close look at your exterior lights. Glass-enclosed lights can become filthy from all the elements, so take a quick moment to wipe them clean with glass cleaner. If your light fixtures are tarnished, or looking run down, purchase a can of spray paint in any complimentary color to the exterior of your home and freshen them up. It will make your lights appear new in no time at all.

These quick-fix projects will boost the look of your home both for prospective buyers arriving at your front door, and also in the photographs visible online. With this better exterior appearance, chances are you’ll be able to sell your home much quicker.

Courtesy of BPT

Practice makes perfect: a dress rehearsal for your turkey

(BPT) – The holidays are approaching and before you know it, you’ll be thinking about that daunting task of cooking a turkey. This holiday season, make sure your bird impresses all the guests and relatives by conducting a dress rehearsal for your turkey. More than 88 percent of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving, according to a National Turkey Federation survey. But before doing so, why not do a dry run and prepare a turkey, or try a smaller bird like chicken, using a brining technique that is sure to be a crowd pleaser?

It’s the hot new culinary trend that’s got everyone from celebrity chefs to home cooks buzzing. But even though brining may be the latest technique to sweep kitchens, it’s hardly new. Mankind has been brining since ancient times. It probably started out, hundreds of millennia ago, as a way of preserving seafood with sea salt. The technique has come a long way since, and now food lovers everywhere, in typical what’s-old-is-new-again fashion, are rediscovering the benefits of brining.

Think you don’t have the tools to brine? Chef Helen Roberts, director of culinary development at Kikkoman, has perfected the turkey brine. The brine is simple: salt, sugar, water, dried spices and the magic ingredient: soy sauce. Pull out your refrigerator drawer or a large, deep bucket to brine your bird. After you’ve stirred your ingredients and placed your turkey in the liquid, let the brine work its magic overnight.

What’s the secret behind brining? Brining has a tenderizing and moisturizing effect. The brine is absorbed and diffused throughout the meat as it soaks overnight. In addition, Roberts explains that soy sauce has a savory effect that seals in the turkey flavor and moisture. “Brining makes a big difference when you’re roasting meat. You’ll have the juiciest bird you’ve ever tasted,” says Roberts. But, as we all know, a turkey isn’t the only thing on the kitchen table – check out some recipes here that will leave your taste buds craving for more.

Savory Turkey Brine

Ingredients (Recipe for a 16 to 24 pound turkey)

2 gallons cold water
 10 ounces Kikkoman Naturally Brewed Soy Sauce
 1/2 cup kosher salt
 1/2 cup sugar
 2 tablespoons dried sage
 2 tablespoons dried celery seed
 1 tablespoon dried thyme

Instructions

The night before roasting, remove giblets and turkey neck; rinse turkey inside and out. In a large stock pot or 5 gallon bucket, mix water with remaining ingredients. Stir well until all the salt is dissolved. Place turkey in the pot, cover with a lid and refrigerate overnight or at least 8 hours. Remove turkey from the brine, rinsing well. Follow your regular cooking instructions.

Brining isn’t just for meat though. Brine veggies for a rich, savory taste. Perhaps one of the trendiest veggies, Brussels sprouts, are a prime candidate for a soy sauce brine. Sick of the same old side dishes? Now that you’ve brined your turkey, get creative with your side dishes too. Put a spin on classic mashed potatoes with the Wasabi Mashed Potatoes recipe found on www.kikkomanusa.com. The spice and heat will balance out the creamy texture of the mashed potatoes. If you have leftover turkey, try a completely new dish instead of just reheating. Keep enjoying your juicy turkey by adding to a stir fry, include in a salad or in a tetrazzini. For leftover mashed potatoes, use panko to transform into crunchy, warm Panko Mashed Potato Cakes.

Have you ever wondered … why turkey for Thanksgiving? Turkeys became a Thanksgiving staple after the Native Americans introduced turkey to the Pilgrims during the first Thanksgiving meal. As you prepare to celebrate the holidays, try this brining recipe to keep turkey juicy and moist, and you are bound to enjoy a wonderful meal with friends and family.

Courtesy of BPT

Selling or staying put, ‘daylighting’ improvements pay off for homeowners

If your home will be on the market soon, you’re probably looking for every possible edge that will make it stand out to potential buyers. But even if you’re staying put, you still want to make your home as attractive and valuable as your budget will allow.

“Daylighting” improvements that boost your home’s brightness and energy efficiency offer substantial return on investment for both home sellers and those who will be staying in their homes for the foreseeable future.

Bringing the daylighting concept home

Industrial and office designers have long used daylighting – the concept of illuminating interior spaces with natural light from above – to improve energy efficiency, healthfulness and functionality of rooms. The slower housing market and sluggish economy have raised homeowner interest in the concept.

“Daylighting improvements not only elevate a home’s visual appeal for potential buyers, they can enhance homeowners’ enjoyment of their living space, and reduce energy costs,” says Ross Vandermark, product manager with an international skylight manufacturer.

Homeowners who want to apply the principles of daylighting to their home have many options: They can add windows or roof windows or install any number of types of traditional skylights or Sun Tunnel tubular skylights.

The easiest daylighting upgrade

While adding a window in the wall of your home may raise practical and design issues, adding a roof window or skylight can be much easier. Roofs are, for the most part, a blank slate, allowing you to install skylights wherever they are needed most. And daylighting from above doesn’t just add functionality; it offers room-changing drama and decorating flair.

Roof windows are hinged, venting units designed to be installed in easily accessible areas, such as the angled walls in attic bonus rooms, and are operated by hand. A double-sash roof window is available that opens from both bottom and top to form a balcony on your roof. These units are often used in place of, or to replace, dormers.

Skylights are usually positioned higher on the ceiling, out of reach. Venting models can be opened or closed manually with a control rod or by remote control.

Skylights are popular with daylighting designers for several reasons. First, they easily fulfill the primary goal of daylighting by admitting more natural light into a room than similar sized vertical windows – thereby reducing the need for energy to power artificial lights. But they also work to enhance the healthfulness of a home.

If you opt to install a manual or electric venting skylight, it can be a natural, low-energy way to vent humidity, fumes and stale air from your home. Electric venting models open and close by remote control and have rain sensors to close them automatically.

Energy efficiency, high-tech and decorating in one package

Another important similarity among windows, roof windows and skylights is in the glazing, or how the glass is manufactured. Since the units are mounted facing directly at the sun, skylight glazing technology has to be among the best in the industry. Qualified units feature double-pane, gas-filled construction to control heat gain or loss, and filter the sun’s fade-causing rays.

Independent research done in Denmark shows that skylights admit 30 percent more light than vertical windows in dormers, and provide the drama of a sky view that can’t be achieved with vertical windows.

In addition to high-tech features such as remote control and automatic rain sensors, skylight blinds are available in a varied palette of colors and patterns. Homeowners can utilize blinds as another decorating option while achieving as much as a 37 percent increase in energy efficiency, according to Vandermark.

He recommends closing the blinds on high heat/sun days in the summer to reduce potential solar heat gain and, on cold winter nights, to provide an extra layer of thermal insulation to keep warm air indoors.

Skylights also address important health considerations. One in five Americans suffers varying degrees of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a condition in which the symptoms can include depression and fatigue due to lack of sufficient daylight. Skylights can help by admitting abundant daylight while visually expanding rooms in any style or size home.

Modern, low-profile skylights are unobtrusive and as dependable as vertical windows. Information about units with a 10-year, no-leak installation warranty, plus an installer locator, is available at veluxusa.com. There’s also a free mobile phone app available to help homeowners see how skylights and blinds would look in rooms in their own homes. 

For government information on window and skylight energy efficiency, visit energystar.gov, and for independent agency information, visit nfrc.org or efficientwindows.org. For remodeling information visit nahb.org/remodel or greenhomeguide.org.

Courtesy of BPT

Upgrading to the house of your dreams


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The real estate market has many homeowners staying in place and looking for ways to make their current abode the most comfortable it can be. Because they’re not selling, homeowners are looking at remodeling rooms, changing out decorating schemes and in some cases, even adding on to the home.

 
Incorporating a new look into the home – whether it’s in the kitchen, bedroom or bathroom – can really change the feel of the house. Upgrading a bathroom is a great place to start, because it’s a smaller room and is used by both occupants and guests.  A remodel can also help you save money on your utility bills. With a new bathroom adding a spa-like feel to your home, you may even rethink your desire to move when the housing economy turns around.

 
Here are some tips to changing the bathroom of your home into a beautiful and comfortable space:

 
* Vanity: Used for hand washing, preening in the mirror and brushing teeth, the vanity is one item in the bathroom that is the center of activity. Add an artistic – and economical – touch to your vanity with TOTO’s Wyeth Faucet, characterized by its refined good looks. When on, this budget-friendly, universal design faucet runs a mere 1.5 gallons of water per minute, earning it the green WaterSense label. In addition to the faucet, consider upgrading your mirror with a model that combines beauty and elegance in the room.

 
* Walls: A fresh coat of paint can go a long way in changing the look and feel of a room. Don’t forget about the ceiling. Even if you only give it a new white coat, the fresh look can make all the difference. Choose a paint that handles high humidity well to give your upgrade a longer lifespan.

 
* Toilet: The toilet tends to be the largest water consumption appliance in homes. But replacing your older toilet with TOTO’s 1G, a one-gallon per flush ultra high-efficiency toilet, can really affect your utility bills. This gravity-fed toilet uses Double Cyclone Flushing technology to provide excellent performance and exceptional bowl cleansing action to create a green, clean flushing system that saves you money, water and time cleaning the toilet, always a thankless task.

 
As you upgrade your toilet, don’t stop with just installing a high-efficiency, self-cleansing toilet. Bring the spa to your own home and consider upgrading your toilet with TOTO’s Washlet S350e or S300e, which turns a toilet into a warm-water personal cleansing unit. These new additions to the Washlet family use eWater+ technology, which is applied after each flush and once every eight hours when the unit is not in use, disinfect the bowl, reducing the need for harsh chemicals during cleaning, which saves money and is better for the environment.

 
* Flooring: High humidity often found in bathrooms can quickly age the flooring, causing peeling and even cracking of dated linoleum. Plus, modern flooring products are much higher quality, and are built to withstand more traffic and high humidity environments. Consider using ceramic, clay or stone tiles, or laminate in stone or wood styles to modernize the look of your bathroom.

 
Upgrading a bathroom will transform your entire house with a new look and feel. And if you love the change enough, you might decide to continue the upgrade to another room, like the kitchen or master bedroom, turning your home into the beautiful house of your dreams.

Courtesy of BPT