Should you save for your kids’ college?

Should you save for your kids' college?
My husband and I both graduated from our undergraduate degrees debt-free thanks to scholarships, grants and financial aid. Yet even with having graduated with no debt and without having to rely on our parents, we continue to contribute to our son’s college savings.

Our reasons are of course personal, and are in no way a call-to-action for everyone to do the same. For one thing, we have wiggle room in our budget; if we were heavily mired in credit card debt or have other, more pressing needs, college savings wouldn’t be anywhere near our priorities.

Secondly, we already save for retirement. A common piece of advice is to ensure your own retirement before your children’s college fund because, while our kids can take out a student loan, parents can’t exactly apply for a “retirement loan.” So I contribute to my 401(k) and IRA before putting any savings into his college fund.

We also loved our college years and, just as vegetarian parents pass on their lifestyle to their kids, so do we with ours. I truly believe that for most people, education provides opportunities, from measurable benefits like income and careers to the more subtle ones like building character, forming relationships and opening our eyes to a wider world (I can definitely attest to that last one).

And finally, those same scholarships and financial aid my husband and I received aren’t guaranteed come the time my toddler enters his college years. A big reason we received grants and aid was due to our parents’ financial constraints—my mom was a single mom with two children in college, and my husband’s parents weren’t rolling in the dough either. My husband and I, on the other hand, are probably right in that middle class trap where we’re not poor enough to qualify for aid but not rich enough to comfortably pay for everything.

And so while our parents weren’t able to contribute much to my husband’s and my college years, we’re taking it upon ourselves to save a bit here and there for our toddler’s. We don’t make it a point to save the entire amount, but do try to contribute whenever we can.

Some argue that paying for kids’ college years breeds ingratitude and encourages laziness when students themselves don’t have to work to pay for college, aka the spoiled brat syndrome. I can’t agree with this, since I didn’t pay for college but worked hard nonetheless, all the while appreciating  every experience and opportunity. If students disregards their parents’ money and efforts at sending to them college, their ingratitude might stem from a deeper reason and one that didn’t just pop up because they got a free ride.

I inserted a poll on the right sidebar of the blog asking whether you’re contributing to your children’s college funds. Below are the results:

  • 71% are trying to pay for some of it
  • 21% are trying to pay for all of it
  • 7% are not saving for it

I was surprised to see that trying paying for all of it (21%) was higher than not saving for college (7%). Perhaps the economy has led me to think that college savings aren’t as high on people’s priority lists, but I thought more folks would be opting out of college savings. Then again, maybe it’s because of the economy—particularly the difficult job market and higher competition for recent grads—that have led more of you to contribute to college savings.

Tell me which option you chose, and why:

Are you saving for your children’s college? Do you plan to pay for all of it, some of it, or none of it? Why or why not?

Weekend links

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What’s your favorite age for kids?

What is your favorite age for kids?
This morning, I asked my toddler, “Do you want to eat blueberries and yogurt breakfast?” to which he promptly responded with a bellowing cry about wanting to sit at his little table instead. Yet despite this unexpected outburst so typical of a two-year-old, I have to admit that I’m loving the toddler age.

His growing independence could be part of the reason. When he can play independently by himself, climb into his own chair and now, even help with dishes, taking care of him has gotten so much easier. He also sleeps much better, and considering that me and sleep-deprivation don’t go well together, I’m able to function with longer hours that he now lets me have. And more importantly, my own growth as a mother has helped me appreciate and enjoy this time so much more than the newborn and infant years.

Other moms may feel differently. I remember talking to one mother who much preferred the newborn and infant days of her now-toddler aged son. Sleep deprivation and baby worries were much preferred to the tantrums and defiance that her son was now exhibiting. Still, other parents could easily prefer even the older ages such as the school years.

I can’t say that toddlerhood is without its struggles though, however small or grand they may be. There’s the typical tantrum frustration of course, but even the little defiance here and there drives me nuts. He’s so much more opinionated (like when he can only take a bath with his blue Lego), and all the more stubborn (it’s so much easier to go home from the park when your child is just five months old).

Every age has its own struggles, and just as you think the ones you currently have are done, new ones emerge as they grow older. We were at the park the other week when I overheard a girl about seven years old scolding her friend for crying: “I’m not going to be your friend if you keep crying,” she threatened the other girl. I immediately thought, “Kids are so mean!” I can’t even imagine the social struggles that older kids and their parents go through, with stories of former friends no longer their BFFs or kids feeling left out of a group.

That said, I try to look at the positive side and imagine the fun things we can do once he’s older: we’ll be able to attend grander events like musicals and baseball games without lugging a huge diaper bag or worrying about cutting into nap times. We’ll probably do a ton more crafts and school-type of activities. And who knows, maybe we’ll even squeeze in a swim or two.

Do you have a favorite age for your kids? What has been the easiest stage? The most difficult?

Weekend links

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20 favorite baby and toddler toys

(Side note: Take our poll! On the right side of the page, you’ll find a poll asking whether you’re saving for your kids’ college or not. Please vote and I’ll highlight the results in a related post a few weeks from now. Thank you!)

We don’t give our toddler too many toys; we much prefer that he has a few that he really likes and not clutter him with too many options. And even the ones we assume he’ll love aren’t hits with him; for instance, I bought him a toy phone thinking he’d love pressing the buttons and pretend like he was talking on the phone. But other than a few times when he’s held the phone to his ear (at my insistence), the phone sits on the floor waiting to be played with.

That said, there are quite a few toys that he’ll easily devour. And while anything can be considered a toy, from craft materials to household items (colander, anyone?), I wanted to list the more standard toys that have kept him happily occupied (pictures and reviews below the list):

  1. Magnetic letter and number links
  2. Textured foam balls
  3. Block crayons
  4. Bowling set
  5. Art easel desk
  6. Latches board
  7. Shape sorter
  8. Magna doodle
  9. Hammering toy
  10. Legos
  11. Blankies and lovies
  12. Magnetic letters and numbers
  13. Play Doh
  14. Sophie the giraffe
  15. Activity triangle
  16. Riding fire truck
  17. Alphabet animals flash cards
  18. Stacking and nesting blocks
  19. Farm animals
  20. Crayons

Magnetic letter and number links
1. Magnetic letter and number links

This was our toddler’s Christmas gift, and for a measly $16 he got hours of fun in return. He liked identifying the letters and math symbols (particularly the minus sign, for some weird reason).
Pros: Alphabet, numbers and math exposure
Cons: Not all pieces fit well with each other, I wish they were more conscious of color-coordinating (for instance, all numbers are red, all consonants are blue, all vowels are yellow, etc)

Textured foam balls
2. Textured foam balls
These balls are probably one of those toys that will age well with any child. When he was a baby, LO liked squishing these, and now that he’s older, it’s all about throwing the balls everywhere.
Pros: Versatile, interesting shapes and textures, bounces well
Cons: None

Block crayons
3. Block crayons

I thought this toy was so unique because they’re crayons and stackable blocks, there are numbers and letters inscribed on the sides, and they even have animal- and people-shaped blocks.
Pros: Unique way to stack, multi-use
Cons: Crayon-quality isn’t all that great

Bowling set
4. Bowling set

My two-year-old doesn’t really use this toy to bowl per say, other than knocking down maybe one or two pins at a time, but he likes matching the colors and inspecting the holes on the bowling ball.
Pros: Good quality foam toys (the bowling ball even has weight to it)
Cons: None

Art easel desk
5. Art easel desk

LO has since declared this desk as a “rocket ship” where he says he flies to the moon. Can’t beat that! He also likes to lift the desk up and down.
Pros: One side is an easel while the other side is a desk
Cons: The desk part is a little bit small for large art activities

Latches board
6. Latches board

The first day LO played with this toy, I was blessed with 45 minutes straight of uninterrupted silence as he tried to figure out how to lock and unlock all these doors. He paused for dinner but resumed for another 15 minutes after he was done.
Pros: Encourages problem-solving, interesting animals, numbers and colors
Cons: None

Shape sorter
7. Shape sorter

Nothing beats the first time a kid figures out how to sort shapes through their correct holes. It’s like a light bulb just switched on in their heads. He received this toy over two years ago and he still plays with it now (just today, in fact). After the shapes are sorted inside the elephant, he can press down on its ears and out come the shapes.
Pros: Sorting skills, the elephant spins
Cons: Sometimes the shapes can get stuck inside the elephant

Magna doodle
8. Magna doodle

You know a toy is good when you yourself played with something similar as a kid. I loved magna doodles and so does my kid. We like to write and draw shapes, and he especially enjoys erasing what we just wrote.
Pros: Encourages writing and drawing
Cons: This particular toy has a small frame to write on

Hammering toy
9. Hammering toy

Melissa and Doug put a spin on a classic toy and made a pounding tower with balls instead of a bench with pegs. My toddler doesn’t really care too much for the hammering part but loves to push the balls through the holes with his hands and watch it move down the tower.
Pros: Good quality
Cons: None

10. Legos

I love open-ended toys like Legos that let you build and imagine anything. Seriously, anything. As of today, these Logos have been: feet, slides, pasta, road hazard lights, airplanes and garage doors. Somehow my kid has conjured all those images from a bunch of squares and rectangles.
Pros: Encourages imagination
Cons: Some Legos don’t stick well to each other to withstand toddler manhandling

Blankies and lovies
11. Lovey

We wanted to give LO a special lovey to help ease him into sleeping through the night, and this little duck has delivered and then some. This is the toy that he’ll grow up with and spend practically every waking and sleeping moment with.
Pros: Great for young infants (we bought this as a safe toy to avoid SIDS), soft, washes easily
Cons: None

Magnetic letters and numbers
12. Magnetic letters and numbers

As if we couldn’t get enough of magnetic letters, we bought these to stick up on the fridge. I credit this toy for helping my toddler overcome his speech delay. He would play with the letters and he learned the sounds to each one first (“buh”) before finally  sounding out the letters (“B”).
Pros: Alphabet and number exposure, helps kids easily assemble words
Cons: Again, I wish they were more purposeful with their colors so that all numbers were one color and all consonants were another, etc.

Play Doh
13. Play Doh

Another open-ended toy that I am in love with. My toddler first started out with picking bits and pieces from the balls of play doh. Now he likes to poke things into them and pretend that they’re food for his stuffed animals.
Pros: Limitless ways to play, good practice for fine motor skills
Cons: Play Doh needs to make products that don’t dry up when left out of their cups!

Sophie the giraffe
14. Sophie the giraffe

We blamed teething for every crying fit our baby had, never mind that not a single tooth popped out until one week after his first birthday. Still, Sophie the teething giraffe came in handy because he really did like to chew on her. Now he also likes to squish her and hear the funny sounds she makes.
Pros: Durable, great for teething and biting
Cons: The orange spots are starting to fade

Activity triangle
15. Activity triangle

Our toddler still plays with this toy even though he’s had it since he was a few months old. He likes spinning the beads and shapes.
Pros: Interesting shapes, lightweight
Cons: None

Riding fire truck
16. Riding fire truck

When he first received this toy, we were a bit disappointed that he didn’t exactly ride on the truck and play “the right way.” We quickly realized though that he loved inspecting everything else about it: the seat that goes up and down, the siren and bell sounds, and the wheels that spin underneath. Oh, and yeah, he now likes to ride it too.
Pros: Little compartment can be a fun place for kids to stash smaller toys in, simple and small for easy riding
Cons: None

Alphabet animals flash cards
17. Alphabet animals flash cards

Flash cards have such a bad rap these days, and I was never one to use them, at least in their intended use. These cards, however, feature artwork and would probably work just as well in a book format. I think flash cards aren’t popular when used as a quizzing tool, but when left lying around the house for toddlers to stack and identify letters and animals, I figure they can’t be all that bad.
Pros: Durable cardstock, well-designed container
Cons: Some drawings are super modern that it’s hard to identify the animals

18. Stacking and nesting blocks

When my little guy was younger he played with these blocks by stacking them up and nesting the smaller blocks into the larger ones. Now he also likes to read the numbers and words as well as identify the pictures.
Pros: Stacking and nesting skills, comparing big and small, sturdy material
Cons: None

Farm animals
19. Farm animals

This particular toy not only features farm animals, but each animal is divided into two pieces so that you can hide them under egg halves for a matching game. Our toddler prefers a simpler game of “Let’s just connect and disconnect the farm animals.”
Pros: Unique game, matching skills
Cons: I wish the egg halves actually connected the way the animals do

20. Crayons
Not only does my kid love scribbling and drawing, he also likes organizing the actual crayons in his little box. Seriously, I don’t know how interesting this can be, but the boy can play crayons for half the day. He especially likes the triangle-shaped Crayola crayons.
Pros: Open-ended toy, creative uses, color identification
Cons: None

Weekend links

What are your kids’ favorite toys that keep them occupied for a long time? Which ones have lasted the test of time?

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How can we improve Sleeping Should Be Easy?

How can we improve Sleeping Should Be Easy?
With a parenting blog, I never seem to run out of ideas on what to write about. As my toddler continues to grow, I’m thrust into new experiences (how to encourage pretend play) as well as revisiting old ones (hello again, cranky naps). And LO isn’t the only one growing—this blog is, too. As it does, I try to vary the types of posts I write, whether they’re lists, infographics, thought-provoking topics, flashbacks into the earlier days of parenthood or interviews with experts and other bloggers.

I think I’ve done a decent job of covering topics that seem helpful or insightful (because I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who has dealt with tantrums or wondered about labeling our kids), but in an effort to ensure that you’re getting what you’re coming here for, I’d like to ask you explicitly:

What would you like to see here at Sleeping Should Be Easy?

In order to improve this blog, I’d like to know what topics and posts you like. While this blog covers my personal experiences and all that I’ve learned, a large part of its growth is because of you. That said, I want to make sure you like what you read and aren’t disappointed with what you take away from the posts. So I’d like to know:

  • What posts have you enjoyed in the past?
  • Are there types of posts you look forward to more than others?
  • Conversely, are there posts you skip over?
  • What topics would you like addressed more on the site?
  • What do you like about Sleeping Should Be Easy?

If you could even point to previous posts in the past, that would be helpful as well. Any input you can provide will help build a better blog and provide posts you’ll read and enjoy.

Subscribe to SSBE

And since we’re talking behind-the-scenes blogging, please support and subscribe to Sleeping Should Be Easy if you haven’t already done so. You’ll only receive emails when a new post is published (no spam from me!) and it’s one of the best ways to make sure you don’t miss any posts. And rest assured, you can unsubscribe any time.

(Belated) weekend links

In other news, I wanted to feature some interesting discussions around the blogosphere, including:

Weekend links and our spring time carrots

Weekend links and harvested carrots
If that carrot doesn’t look mighty huge and impressive… it’s because it’s not. The carrots measured a mere four or five inches before the roots eventually tailed off, probably looking for more ground that my itty bitty pot couldn’t offer.

I’m still not deterred from gardening! In fact, we already pulled a few from the soil and cooked a shrimp stir-fry as well as baked a dozen carrot cupcakes—my first time baking with LO, believe it or not. More importantly, LO was able to witness carrots being pulled from the ground, so hopefully he understands the process of seed-to-vegetable and that food doesn’t just appear magically at the table.

In fact, I’m so undeterred, I’m on to my next experiment: zucchini. Ambitious? Yes. But according to the lady at the garden center (who I hope wasn’t just trying to sell me a packet of seeds), zucchini should be able to grow in my pot.

This time I’ll make sure to add a ton of soil. Hopefully the zucchini will have better luck than the carrots. And hey, I can always hide my mistakes in zucchini bread.

In the meantime, check out some links I’ve found throughout the web:

  • Ted Talks features Jeffrey Kluger who discusses The sibling bond. According to the site, Kluger “…explores the profound life-long bond between brothers and sisters, and the influence of birth order, favoritism and sibling rivalry.”
  • Finally, The New York Times describes a scene with A child, a gadget, a guest and a question of etiquette. The author asks what you would do if a child’s friend was absorbed with a gadget—an iPad, for instance—the entire time the families were together. Are they interacting with one another? How do you encourage turn-taking? [Edit: I just fixed the link to this article.]

Any tips you can share with yours truly for growing zucchini? What’s growing in your garden right now?

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