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Yes, the new school year is almost (or, in some places, already) under way. And, yes, the kids are going to start coming home with backpacks full of homework. But that doesn't mean no more fun. Here are two great activities that will help you make the summer last a little longer, and three that will keep a smile on your face as the weather gets colder.

I'd like to propose a sweeping overhaul of the United States public education system effective immediately.

My sister and I don't see each other often. She lives in South Carolina, in a town where we grew up in a big, crazy family, not much crazier than most.

A press release I received said that what a girl wears on her first day of school is as important as what she wears to prom.

Q: Our 5-year-old grandson sees his 5-year-old female first cousin from time to time. After they play for a while, he tells her he wants to "touch" her. This has happened twice in recent months. Her parents are very upset, but our grandson's parents read lots of parenting books and seem to think it's no big deal. Your thoughts on this matter?

We test them almost to death, we make them play sports till their arms fall off and their knees implode. Now we're taking away our children's summers. Do we not like them anymore?

A friend of a friend returned from vacation, gushing about a place she and her husband had gone out of their way to visit. She rated the experience as one of the highlights of their trip, but, for the life of me, I can't figure out why.

Q: My new partner loves my children, but has a real problem with my ex. He doesn't approve of his parenting and looks for excuses for the kids to not see their father. My ex is a little inconsistent, but not that bad, and my boyfriend's attitude is really concerning me. I love him and looking forward to a future together. I'm hoping this will all just fall into place in time. What do you think?

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife is due with our first in about four months, so I though now would be a good time to talk to my employer about taking time off under the Family Leave Act and possibly making some more permanent changes to my schedule so I can be a more hands-on dad. I mentioned this to a friend who used to work with me, and he warned me to be very careful. He said that after he took paternity leave, he was passed over for a promotion and got a smaller bonus. He eventually quit. I find that hard to believe, but he insists it's true. Are companies really allowed to do that?

We all say things that can be misunderstood. Children are still learning to navigate the social matrix of expression and often they comment rudely on something they shouldn't. If what they have said is not untrue just inappropriate; or something taboo and not to be commented on, this can be hard for a child to understand. Explaining situations to them through their dominant sense will enable them to understand more fully the implications of verbal comments and how best to edit them.For visual children what they see and how they are seen is extremely important. My visual brother to this day will comment on my weight, not meaning to be critical, but because he equates something being emotionally wrong with me if I'm too thin or fat. Asking about my weight is his way of asking is everything OK in my life. Visual children will comment, sometimes inappropriately about what they see especially if something is visually off or new. If you are aware of their motivations for their comments, like "you're too fat," "you're bald," or even odd things like "people with blue eyes are scary," you will know how to show them a better way, by commenting on visual similarities.Auditory children remember every word spoken to them and often repeat things said on the quiet at home, to the person in question. As these children respond to logic and have a keen sense of meaning, teaching them how something is said and appropriateness of when to say it will go a long way to their development of empathy. Changing one word in a sentence can be the difference between hurt feelings and gratitude. By teaching your auditory child these tools, they will be able to express themselves freely, but with sensitivity.When my tactile son was 3, he was very upset about a boy a year or so older than him who was in a wheelchair. The thought of not being able to run, jump and wrestle equated to non-expression. He was adamant that this child was dying and expressed loudly this viewpoint. Once I explained that actually, he could move a lot, and that he just had wheels for legs, he immediately was relived, ran over to the boy, to race him, and they have been steady friends ever since. Alleviating my son's fears by explaining a tactile value worked 100 times better than if I was to say, "Don't say that, it's not nice."Taste and smell children of course are very conscious of the emotions surrounding comments, and can end up being more upset at offending someone than the offended person. Teaching these sensory children how to make amends is very important. They need to know the world doesn't end because of hurt feelings and that there are ways to "take back" insensitive comments. This will also teach them not to be so sensitive to others' insensitivity, because everybody sometimes says things thoughtlessly.Learning to edit our thoughts or phrase them in a more positive light is a skill that takes years to master, however with patience and positive reinforcement we can teach our children empathy, appropriateness and also forgiveness. All skills needed to have a happy life.

School's about to start back. And it's always good to go down the checklist of things to do to get ready for that first week. The more prep you've done, the better the year is sure to go, so I always jump on it early ...

The decades-long push to boost the number of math and science classes high-school students must take to graduate has raised a question: Will students who already are struggling to meet the current requirements drop out if the bar is even higher?

Anyone who sets foot in a school has seen them - the kids everyone picks on. They are the ones with poor hygiene, who throw tantrums or chairs; the children who seem like too much trouble.

Summertime is filled with memory making opportunities. Time spent at the beach, picnics in the mountains, and traveling to visit out-of-town family and friends can cause us to forget the responsibilities and routines that await us in the fall. Summer ends all too soon and getting families ready for the school year is an essential part to the end of summer.

E!'s "Fabulist" co-host Kristin Cavallari covers the fall fashion issue of "Michigan Avenue" and opens up about family life with husband, football star Jay Cutler, and their two sons: Camden, 2, and Jaxon, 3 months.

When it comes to picking a place name for your child, you could consider a continent like Asia, a country like India, a city like Vienna or Verona ... or one of the select group of U.S. states that lend themselves to babies' birth certificates. Here are the Nameberry picks of the best state names and how they came to be - with their mix of Native American, British and French origins.

Share this advice (courtesy of a dad who's learned a few things) with your partner. Tell him he can thank us later!

Did you get caught by National Sneak a Zucchini onto Your Neighbor's Porch Day? Look it up, it's a real holiday celebrated this year on August 8. Whether you got "blessed" with your neighbor's bounty or you're trying to use up the zucchini from your own garden, you're in luck.

When people tried to pet her, the cat snuggled closer to owner Susan McIntosh. The cat is the first pet to be housed at the new home of Family Promise, a 10-year-old nonprofit organization that provides services to homeless families. Recently, it opened a kennel so that the families could keep their pets with them.

Moms looking for a tasty perk-me-up in the morning might be interested in the iCoffee, a new coffee-brewing machine manufactured by Remington that makes use of a patented steam-brewing process to produce a rich, smooth-tasting cup of Joe.

If you have school-age children, you probably know that Stephen Covey's "7 Habits" series has been modified and monetized for youngsters.

Most kids growing up today have significantly less freedom than their parents did during childhood, according to a new Slate.com survey that asked 6,000 parents what sorts of activities they allow.

CHICAGO - From the porch of her suburban Lombard home, Audrey Albright watched a sedan roll to a stop as the driver peered at an unusual display in Albright's front yard: dozens of spray-painted Styrofoam tombstones and three banners decrying the toll of drug overdose deaths.

The days may be getting shorter and the nights a little cooler, but we're not ready to say goodbye to summer just yet. Here are some great activities that can help your family make the most of every minute between now and the day school starts.

My ex and I have been divorced for 5 years. We share custody of our two kids, ages 10 and 11. The kids spend a week at my house and a week at his. We have co-parented really well together-until recently. He just got married and she's taking over. For example, I pick the kids up everyday after school, he comes to get them after work on his weeks. Now that they are married she picks them up from school on his weeks and I don't see them for a week! She's changing everything and is acting like their mother and it's really making me angry. This can't be good ex-etiquette!

I get a lot of odd requests. This was the first of its kind.

Wait! Didn't I just finish doing a switcheroo of all my passwords?

Our daughter-in-law just bought a new car seat for their oldest who is 5. The child will be safe and secure, which of course every parent and grandparent wants. But with a few more car seat purchases like this, the kid can kiss higher education goodbye.

I sat one afternoon recently in the back yard of this house where we've lived 17 years, content to just listen to the sounds of my children wafting through the open window.

Dear Mr. Dad: I can hardly believe that summer is almost over. It's been a tough year, financially for our family, and I've been putting off doing the back-to-school shopping for my three kids (14, 10, and 5). But at this point I don't really have a choice. Any tips on how to get it done efficiently and, hopefully, save a little money?



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