Play It Safe with July 4 Sparklers

If you love the July 4 holiday as much as we do, you probably have a few boxes of July 4 sparklers ready to go.

Be careful with kids around July 4 sparklers
July 4 sparklers: pretty but can burn.

But if you have young kids around—say, under five—take extra care with those sparklers. Because even though they don’t explode like fireworks, they can burn if they aren’t handled properly.

July 4 is an exciting holiday, particularly for little kids. It’s not the best time to start with safety instructions, especially when they’re revved up on ice cream and other treats!

Keep July 4 Sparklers at a Safe Distance

I’m not going to say no to sparklers. I do suggest thinking twice about handing a lit one to a two-year old.

Sparklers are pretty! Little kids love them. But the truth is that they are combustibles, just like fireworks, and on a smaller scale.

Your typical younger toddler might be happy to hold and watch the pretty sparkler. But what if s/he drops it? That’s a big owie for whoever it lands on.

Your typical older toddler will probably take off running with a sparkler. I don’t have to go into details about how that can turn out, do I?

You can let your kids safely enjoy sparklers, from a distance. Keep the kids at least six feet away from them. That’s closer than you might think—consider a reasonably tall man’s height. To be safer, imagine the distance LeBron would cover if he were lying on the ground between your kid(s) and the sparklers.

  • Stick sparklers firmly into damp ground so they don’t topple over and spark onto something that can catch fire, like dried up grass. Or fill a large container with wet sand to hold them up.
  • Light one stick at a time.
  • Don’t let anyone touch them even after they burn out. They’re still hot.
  • When you do pull them up, drop them into a container with water to make sure there are no surviving embers.
  • Wear open-toe shoes around sparklers at your own risk.

Don’t throw your sparklers into air or toss or wave them around. If a sparkler or spark lands on someone, that’s another big owie! If they land on something very dry, there’s the darn fire dangers we’re always talking about in central Arizona.

Sparklers are Hot Items

July 4 sparklers are hot items in every sense of the word.

I know, I sound like a scold but I read this on Wired, OK??

  • Depending on the quality of the sparkler, they heat up to 1800º – 3000° F. That’s quite a bit hotter than that barbecue grill you’ve been shooing the kids away from.
  • While a single spark will cool very quickly, those that are larger and come out in larger amounts are more likely to burn. Think of what can happen if a sparkler is dropped on another person.

The National Fire Protection Association says sparklers can cause third-degree burns. They’re the reason for about a quarter of emergency room visits caused by fireworks. (I know, they aren’t the same but they are apparently coded that way for the insurance companies.) Fireworks are the reason for 18,500 ER visits each year.

Cup Shields for Sparklers? Really?

I know some people poke a hole through a cup to string a sparkler through it. The thought is that the cup covers and protect a kid’s  hand. I suppose this is better than nothing, but remember, sparks jump around. Since we’re talking about very short arms, they can easily fly into the face, on hair, to any nearby body part.

My advice is little ones should just enjoy the sparkler sights. I’d rather see them holding a Popsicle or ice cream cone.

If you really, really want your kid to experience the thrill of a sparkler, well, there are apps for this!

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KidsCare is Back!

Until very recently, Arizona was the only state in the entire US that didn’t participate in a federal health insurance program for low-income children. These are kids whose parents do not qualify for AHCCCS and often struggle with paying for employer or marketplace (Obamacare) insurance.

Much to pretty much everyone’s surprise, the Arizona legislature, which ended KidsCare in 2010, brought it back to life. Governor Ducey quietly signed the bill in May.

KidsCare is a Medical Safety Net for Low-Income Kids

KidsCare is the name Arizona used for the federal Childrens Health Insurance Program, or CHIP. It gives families who earn too much to qualify for AHCCCS (Medicaid) a low-cost way to get health insurance for their children. Families who qualify will pay no more than $50 per month for one child or $70 per month to cover two or more.

Arizona will restart its KidsCare program in July 2016.
KidsCare is coming back to Arizona!

Some families may not even have to pay a monthly premium at all. Native Americans who are enrolled with a federally-recognized tribe will not be charged premiums, as directed by Federal law.

Get the information you need about qualifying for KidsCare, including information about how and when you can apply. The state will start accepting applications on July 26 and begin paying for services September 1.

KidsCare Covers Same Services as AHCCCS

Children who are covered by KidsCare get the same services they would have through AHCCCS: medical, dental, mental health, immunizations, and more.

Unlike Obamacare rules, KidsCare ends at age 19. At that point, the covered child (now legally an adult) must obtain health insurance on his or her own. The best place to start is This is the site where people shop for health insurance; it also tells them if they qualify for Medicaid (AHCCCS) in their state.

Parents can also cover their children under their private (not Medicaid) insurance policy until age 26.

Does Your Employer Offer Health Insurance?

If you don’t qualify to get your child into KidsCare, check into any health insurance offered at work. Companies that employ more than 50 people must offer insurance to them. Smaller ones may decide to do so on their own.

Take time to review what your employer offers you and compare it to the healthplans offered on While cost is certainly important, you should think about how often you or the family members you cover need to go to a doctor. Those copays can add up for large families or those with a member with a chronic or severe illness. So an employee in this situation should see if paying a higher monthly premium leads to smaller copays and annual deductibles that save money.

Here are a few other things to consider:

  • Some health plans pay for extras like health club memberships and cover care like chiropractors and acupuncturists.
  • Some employers are pretty good at negotiating prices for health, dental, and vision insurance. Individuals who buy insurance on their own don’t have the opportunity to negotiate.
  • The marketplace (Obamacare) plans offer subsidies to people well into middle-class earnings, which may make their plans more affordable than an employer’s.

Here’s an easy-to-use calculator that can help you see what you and your kids can get and any help for which you might qualify.

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Let’s End the Epidemic of Child Drowning

It’s the saddest news we hear in the Valley every year: a toddler or child drowning.

As of this writing, six people have drowned in Phoenix this year. In all there have been 11 incidents in the city. Statewide, there were 26 water-related incidents, according to Children’s Safety Zone. Three of the fatalities and 11 incidents were among children under age five.

It’s not that parents aren’t alert. Many do all they can. But just losing sight for a moment, through distraction or a blocked view, is long enough for a child to begin drowning.

So what can you do to prevent accidental drownings?

Child Drowning Can Happen in Any Body of Water

Even a bucket of water is enough to cause a drowning.
Supervise young children playing in or even around water.

Children don’t just drown in pools. Any body of water is dangerous.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is the second-leading cause of death among children ages one to four, after death caused by birth defects. While most of these accidents happen in pools, the number of drownings outside pools rises with age, CDC says.

Overall, drowning is the second-leading cause of death for children ages one to 14, after motor vehicle crashes.

Here is Arizona, children, teens, and adults drown in canals, lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. Young children also drown in bathtubs and buckets, in plastic and blow-up pools, and in sinks and toilets.

Watch your child when he’s in the tub and on the toilet. Don’t let him or her use the bathroom or kitchen sink unsupervised. Let the phone ring or text messages buzz: nothing is more important than the safety of your child or the child you’re watching.

If There’s Water, You Need a Barrier to Protect Younger Kids

When there’s water and kids, you need a barrier.

For pools, this means a safety fence required in all Arizona homes with one or more children under age 6. Here’s a link to these requirements. Grandparents would be well-advised to install one in their yards.

What about other bodies of water? You can only put up barriers in places you control. So outside your home, you have to be the barrier or provide one.

Occupy the kids with non-water activities. This means making sure someone is really watching the kid(s). It’s impossible to do this if you’re also setting up food and other events. So plan ahead of time for at least one responsible adult (and that means one who’s abstaining from alcohol) or teenager to watch the little ones and engage in activities with them.

Bring balls, balloons, digging toys—whatever is appropriate to keep kids occupied outside of water—while you’re busy with other tasks.

Life vests can be worn over swimsuits as children learn to swim.
Wearing a life vest can help kids learn to stay afloat.

Buy a life vest for your child. If swimming is part of your plans, get a kid-size life vest for your child. We often have them in our store; we also occasionally get life vests that are part of a swimming outfit.

There are a lot of opinions about floaties. Some kids are motivated by them to learn to swim, which is a necessary life skill. Just be careful that you don’t take them, or lifejackets for that matter, as a substitute for supervising children in water.

Finally, if you really want to enjoy the day and take time off from childcare, hire a sitter. Decide if the sitter and kids should come with you or stay home. There’s no shame in wanting time off to socialize. Raising kids is fun but tiring; all parents need time to relax and recharge.

Preventing Child Drowning Inside the Home

Young children can drown in just small amount of water. Toddlers are especially top-heavy and tend to fall head-first and struggle to get back up from that position.

Bathrooms are rife with potential water dangers. Here are some tips for making them little-kid-safe:

  • Many of us have small steps or stools to help little ones reach the sink to wash their hands. Stay in the bathroom to supervise them during this step; you’re already in there if you’re potty-training. And it’s always good to ensure they know proper hand washing.
  • Put the toilet seat down after each use. Many parents even install toilet seat locks to keep it down until it’s needed.
  • Faucet safety locks are available for the tub as well.
  • Use doorknob covers to close off access to powder rooms, other bathrooms, and laundry rooms.

Outside your home, make sure your empty any buckets after a rain or seal them with a cover. If you have a plastic pool, be sure to empty it after you’re done using it. These steps are also essential to prevent mosquitoes from laying their eggs around your home.

Above all, make sure someone is really watching the kids around water or their access to it is blocked. Check out this list from Child Safety Zone to assess the drowning risks in your own personal situation. Knowledge and action can prevent an accidental drowning!

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Kids and Arizona Heat

Those of us who grew up here in the Phoenix are understand the Arizona heat. Transplants learn, but Arizona kids need extra protection.

Arizona Heat is Part of Life Here

Display of kids' sunglasses.
Kids’ eyes need protection from the fierce Arizona sun.

Arizona heat is part of our lives. If recent summers are any indication of what to expect, we should anticipate hotter weather arriving sooner and heat waves lasting longer.

These key items must be part of your lifestyle, particularly if you have kids with you:

  • Several bottles of water
  • Sunscreen
  • Hats

Keep water in all of your vehicles for drinking and car emergencies, including an overheated engine, radiator, or water pump. Tuck a bottle of sunscreen into a seat pocket, and throw a few hats in the trunk, too.

Dress your kids for the weather. Put them in loose, light-colored clothing that lets their skin breathe and catch whatever breezes come their way.

Give them sunglasses, too. The Arizona sun is as bright as it’s hot. We sell kid-size glasses for boys and girls, made of safe, shatter-proof plastic. They’re water-friendly, too.

Special Heat Considerations for Kids

Most people know that the hours between 10 am and 2 pm are when the sun is strongest. It’s also when anything left outside and in an unshaded car or truck heat up, too. This includes car seats, toys, and playground equipment.

If you live in Arizona, you probably have your windows tinted and shades to protect your steering wheel. Be sure you have sunshades for your backseat passengers, too.

If you can’t park your car in a garage or shaded area, drape a towel or blanket over car seats and boosters to block out the worst of the rays. Even better, invest in car seat sunshades that provide extra protection over the car seats and boosters.

There are also rollers you can install on side windows, but as The Car Seat Lady points out, these can peel off (the sun does a number on any number of stick-on products) and fall on an unsuspecting passenger.

Splash Pads: Safe Relief from the Arizona Heat!

Just about every outdoor venue in Arizona, from shopping centers to parks, have embraced spraying water all around. Splash pads are a favorite way for Arizona kids to cool off.

What Arizona kid doesn’t have memories of splash around at Tempe Marketplace, Desert Ridge, and other venues where there’s ice cream nearby? Almost all  parks have them, too–Scottsdale’s Agua Linda down the street from us has a couple that are pretty much on all the time when kids are there in weather over 90º.

If you have a yard or patio where kids play, consider installing water misters to make sure they stay cool. It also makes it more pleasant when you or a sitter is outside with the kids. Even in the shade, it’s still hot!

Keep Arizona Kids Safe at the Pool

Arizona law requires homes with pools to install pool barriers that prevent little ones from entering the pool. This only applies to homeowners whose residents include children under six years of age.

However, if you have grandchildren or other kids who frequently visit, please consider installing barriers at  your pool, too.

If you need help paying for such a barrier, the United Phoenix Firefighters and the Valley of the Sun United Way have pooled resources to provide assistance to Maricopa County residents who qualify. Check out their application and learn more about how to support this valuable program.

Finally, be sure your kids, grandkids, and other young friends know how to swim. Every town in the Valley offers low-cost swim lessons and many will waive fees altogether for low-income families.

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Textbooks for Homeschooled Kids

The number of children who are homeschooled has grown slowly over the years but shows no sign of dropping. The last reliable statistics from 2013 say 1.7 million children who would be in any grade K-12 are home schooled. This is about 3.4% of the school age population.

Requirements to Homeschool in Arizona

Homeschooling statistics in Arizona count children between the ages of six and 16 as of September 1, according to the website A2Z, which I highly recommend you visit if you’re considering home schooling your child. Parents can pretty much create their own curricula for children under age eight, but they must follow a state curriculum when their children turn eight.

school textbooks
We sell textbooks for homeschooled kids.

The curriculum covers these subjects:

  • Reading
  • Grammar
  • Math
  • Social Studies
  • Science

We carry a number of textbooks to support homeschooled students. Most of these texts are for students in the equivalent of grade (primary) school, including kindergarten and pre-K. Some of them are comprehensive grade workbooks, while others focus on topics like science and language arts.

They’re also useful for parents who want to provide additional instruction to kids who need extra help or who want them to retain what they’ve learned during the school year over the summer break.

We carry other educational tools including flashcards, LeapFrog and VTech accessories, and science kits. Call us and we’ll be glad to tell you what’s currently in stock.

bookcases of childrens books
We also have bookcases stuffed with books, DVDs, and even VHS tapes.

Why are People Homeschooling Their Kids?

The National Center for Education Statistics asked parents this question in 2013. The environment of the local school was the leading reason.

This doesn’t tell you much. I did a little more investigating and found the Office of Non-Public Education in the US Department of Education. They’ve asked this question over the past several years. Here are the leading reasons in 2012, after concern about the school environment, cited by 91% of parents:

  • Desire to provide moral instruction (77%)*
  • Dissatisfaction with academic instruction at local schools (74%)
  • Desire to provide religious instruction (64)*
  • Desire to provide a nontraditional approach to education (44%)
  • Child has special needs (17%)
  • Child has physical or mental health issue (15%)
  • Other reasons (37%) (family time together, distance from school, finances)

*This question was split out for the 2011 – 2012 survey from “desire to provide religious instruction.”

College-Bound Homeschooled High Schoolers are Equal or Better than Peers

I thought more parents sent their kids to middle and high school after homeschooling in the early years but the Department of Education statistics don’t bear this out. Middle school and high school students dominate homeschooling statistics by about 2 to 1.

So how are homeschooled high schoolers doing compared to their formally schooled peers? There’s not a lot of data out there. I found one study cited over and over that was published in 2010 by Michael Cogan, a professor at St. Thomas College in Minnesota. Cogan’s research found the kids are all right (to steal a phrase from The Who):

  • They consistently outscored public, private, and Catholic high school students on the GPAs, ACT scores, and in the number of credits accepted for transfer and GPA for those credits.
  • While their ACT math scores equalled those of Catholic high school graduates and were slightly lower than those at other private schools and public schools, they blew away the competition in English and reading ACT scores, scoring a full two points or more.
  • Their science ACT scores were higher than students at all other types of schools.

But these are students going to college. I didn’t find anything on the percent of homeschooled kids who do go to college. And it would be interesting to see more recent research than Cogan’s.


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