Thursday, April 11, 2024

Spilling the Secrets to Early Literacy

For young children, learning to read is a critical step in their educational journeys, as literacy helps build cognitive abilities and language proficiency and has a direct impact on later academic achievement.

While there are no shortcuts to early literacy, there are steps parents can take to promote the development of children’s reading abilities. Dr. Lauren Loquasto, senior vice president and chief academic officer at The Goddard School, and Steve Metzger, award-winning author of more than 70 children’s books, share this guidance for parents.

Get Started Early
It’s never too early to start reading with children. In fact, they respond to being read to prenatally. One of the best ways to encourage early literacy is modeling the act of reading. Young children love to imitate, and if they see their parents reading, they are more likely to want to read themselves. Instead of scrolling on your phone or watching television while your children play, pick up a book or magazine.

Use Conversation to Build Literacy
To help build their vocabularies, consistently engage children in conversation. Literacy is more than reading and writing; it’s also listening and speaking. Children understand words before they can articulate them, so don’t be discouraged if it feels like a one-way conversation.

Expose Children to More Than Books
Make your home environment print-rich, as the more exposure children have to letters and words, the better. For example, keep magnetic letters and words on the fridge, put labels on your toy containers and position books and magazines in different rooms. Also remember reading isn’t limited to books. Words are everywhere, from street signs to restaurant menus. Take advantage of every opportunity to connect with your children through words throughout your day.

Let Them Take the Lead
Children engage with books in different, developmentally appropriate ways. Some children quickly flip through pages or only look at pictures while others might make up stories or their own words or songs. Some only want to read the same book over and over and some want to read a new book every time. Embrace and encourage their interest in books, no matter how they choose to use them.

Establish a Routine
Parents of young children often have busy and hectic lives, so it isn’t always easy to find time to read. Consistency is key, so be intentional about setting aside time for reading every day – perhaps it’s after dinner or before bedtime – and stick to it.

Select the Right Books
Helping young children choose books is an important part of their learning-to-read process. Developmental appropriateness is critical. For infants and toddlers, start with nursery rhymes, which are mini-stories that grasp children’s attention through repetition, rhythm and rhyming. Visuals are also important because they aren’t yet pulling words off the page. For emerging readers, choose books that align with their interests. Focus on books that are printed with text that goes from left to right and top to bottom.

Expose children to both fiction and non-fiction books. Non-fiction provides real-world knowledge children crave and helps them make sense of what they read in fictional stories. For example, the learnings about the life cycle of a bat they read in “Bat Loves the Night,” a non-fiction book, can help them better understand what’s happening in “Stellaluna,” a fiction book about a young bat.

If you’re in doubt about book choices, consult with a teacher or librarian, who can make recommendations based on your children’s interests and reading levels.

Foster a Love of Reading
Children’s early exposure to books can set the stage for a lifetime of reading. Make reading a time for discovery. Take children to a library or bookstore and encourage them to explore and find books on their own. Display genuine interest in their selections and use books as a tool for engaging and connecting with them. Don’t pressure children to learn how to read. Accept, validate and encourage them as they progress on their unique literacy journeys.

To watch a webinar recording featuring Loquasto and Metzger providing additional literacy guidance and recommendations, and access a wealth of actionable parenting insights and resources, visit the Parent Resource Center at GoddardSchool.com

SOURCE:
The Goddard School

Why Wild Bird Lovers Should Choose Top-of-the-Crop Natural Feed: If you can't read it, don't feed it

(Joan Casanova) Have you ever wondered what’s in your favorite packaged foods, grabbed a box from your pantry, read the ingredients and realized you still didn’t know what you’re eating? The ingredients in some processed foods can read like a chemist’s shopping list. Now imagine if backyard birds could read. What would they say about the ingredients in the food you feed them?

A growing number of Americans are choosing natural foods for their pets; nearly one-third say they prefer natural products, according to PetFoodIndustry.com. People who feed wild birds also want to know they’re feeding the most natural and nutritious options. It’s hard to be confident when reading the mystifying ingredient list on feed bags makes you feel like a bird brain.

With an abundance of options, ranging from commercial bird feeds to small-batch varieties, understanding the differences can help bird lovers make informed choices to meet wild birds’ nutritional needs while considering factors like sustainability and quality.

The wild bird experts at Cole’s Wild Bird Products, Co. offer these tips to ensure you’re feeding your feathered friends a healthy, natural diet.

While commercial bird feeds aim to provide basic nutrition for birds, the quality and nutritional content can vary. Some mixes contain a high proportion of less desirable seeds and fillers, offering limited nutritional value.

Small batch bird feeds prioritize nutritional content, using premium ingredients rich in essential nutrients, fats and proteins. This can provide birds with a more balanced diet, promoting overall health and vitality.

Avoid commercial bird feeds that are full of cheap fillers, such as red milo, millet, cracked corn, oats and wheat. Fillers lack nutritional value and birds will kick them right out of the feeder.

Instead, select small batch, natural feed comprised of top-of-the-crop seeds which contain no chemicals or mineral oil like Cole’s and bypass seed coated with them. Some commercial bird feeds are coated with mineral oil and mixed with crushed rock to add “vitamins.” Current regulations allow manufacturers to list nutritional components of mineral oil (iron, zinc) and crushed rock (vitamin A, calcium carbonate) separately, which can make the ingredients look more impressive. Mineral oil makes birdseed shiny and helps hide dirt and dust, and crushed rock adds weight to the product.

Take note of ingredients you can’t read; often it’s an indication the ingredient is synthetic or lab engineered. Ingredients like menadione sodium bisulfite complex and thiamine mononitrate aren’t found in natural foods; they’re man-made versions of vitamins. The rule of thumb for buying all-natural is “If you can't read it, don't feed it.”  

Focus on serving feed with an ingredient list you can read and understand. For instance, Cole’s Sunflower Meats contains nothing but shelled sunflower seeds and White Millet contains 100% white millet. Super simple, right?

Study birds visiting your feeders and research feed they prefer or buy feed from a reputable company that’s done that work for you. For example, Cole’s offers select natural seed choices developed and based on research about what birds actually eat. Feed is specifically formulated to attract certain species of birds as well as the largest number of birds. No cheap filler seeds are used and seed is cleaned to ensure quality – no sticks and dirt. When you know and serve what backyard birds prefer, they’ll keep coming back for more.

Supplement seed with natural foods you have at home. For example, woodpeckers love raw peanuts, mockingbirds love fruit and chickadees savor suet. Soak raisins and currants in water overnight then serve or purchase blends with a dried fruit and nut mixture, like Nutberry suet. To attract orioles, skewer halved oranges on a spike near feeders.

Buy feed from companies specializing in wild bird food. Some offer bird feed as a side product of pet products or grass seed producers. Conversely, Cole’s exclusively produces and sells products for feeding backyard birds. Seeds are packaged like human food in “Harvest Fresh Lock” packaging so seeds don’t lose nutritional content or dry out and spoil.

To learn more about all-natural feed options with ingredients even birds could understand, visit coleswildbird.com.

Photos courtesy of Cole’s Wild Bird Products

SOURCE:
Cole’s Wild Bird Seed

Friday, April 5, 2024

Turn Your Tax Refund Into a New Ride

Make a major purchase more manageable

With tax refunds starting to flow in, many people are considering ways to invest their money.

If you’re looking to purchase a vehicle, putting your tax refund toward a down payment on a used car can be a smart financial decision for several reasons – from reduced interest rates on your loan and shortened loan terms to lower monthly payments – and the timing is right to take advantage of improving market conditions. Consider this information to help make an informed buying decision.

Lower Your Monthly Payment
The more you can invest in the down payment of a vehicle, the lower your monthly cost will typically be and the less interest you will typically pay over the length of the loan. This can lead to smaller, more manageable monthly payments.

A significant down payment can also help offset higher-than-average interest payments and could lead to a shorter term, meaning less total accrued interest. An auto loan calculator can show you how a down payment can affect interest charges.

More Affordable Vehicle Options
Used car prices have been trending downward month-over-month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ consumer price index. These decreases in used car prices are helping offset higher than normal interest rates. The average sales price for a pre-owned vehicle through Enterprise Car Sales, for example, is approximately $21,000 right now, compared to average new car prices, which are hovering around $44,000.

Vehicle inventory is improving along with an increase in consumer demand for cars, which makes now an attractive time to buy. Many used car sellers feature inventory that is readily available so you can select from options you know are in stock, including different makes and models with a wide range of different features that can offer more affordable options.

“We have a large inventory of vehicles across the country currently priced under $20,000,” said Mike Bystrom, vice president of Enterprise Car Sales. “There are several considerations to keep in mind when shopping for a vehicle, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Consumers should weigh their options, but the one thing they shouldn’t compromise on is receiving great customer service.”

Protect Your Purchase
Ensuring your purchase is protected is also a smart financial decision. Take advantage of dealers that offer additional benefits to help protect your purchase and provide peace of mind that your tax refund has been well spent.

Look for a used vehicle that has passed an inspection by an ASE-certified technician and comes with a limited powertrain warranty, as well as extra coverage options such as roadside assistance and a return policy up to a certain amount of days or mileage.

With a little research and careful planning, you can find a reliable used car that meets your needs and puts your tax refund to good use. Visit enterprisecarsales.com for more information.

SOURCE:
Enterprise Car Sales

Simple, Convenient Salads to Celebrate Spring

Letting in a little fresh air with an open window or a screen door is a sure sign of spring, allowing the natural sights and smells of the outdoors to accompany you at the dinner table. Take that open-air freshness to new heights this spring by pairing it with your own signature spins on salad season.

For example, this Tuna and Rice Nicoise Salad offers a new take on tuna salad with olive tapenade, capers, tomatoes, green beans and cherry tomatoes. Its calling card: swapping out potatoes in favor of Minute Yellow Rice Cups, which cook up fast as a convenient and flavorful alternative that saves the chore of washing, peeling and boiling potatoes. Fully cooked and packaged in BPA-free cups, it features white rice lightly seasoned with onion powder, garlic powder and turmeric for a delightful taste ready in just 1 minute.

As a perfect recipe for those who love veggies, this dish combines classic salad freshness with olive tapenade for a briny bite in every mouthful. Canned tuna mixes with bursts of capers, hard-boiled egg, crisp green beans and sweet cherry tomatoes capped off with tart balsamic dressing to round out the dish.

If you love the taste of crisp, peppery arugula, this Pomegranate and Arugula Rice Salad is practically perfect. Your favorite green shines alongside a delicious mix of sweet pomegranate seeds, crisp almonds and tart balsamic dressing that’s ideal for a starter or side, or you can add a preferred protein to turn it into a satisfying main course.

Incredibly colorful with a lively taste, bright flavors mingle with fluffy grains of Minute Instant Jasmine Rice, ready in just 5 minutes to keep your dinner schedule on track. Aromatic white rice provides a distinct scent, perfect texture and delicious taste that’s fast, fragrant, flavorful and fluffy. It’s simply precooked then dried with nothing added but convenience to help you get tasty meals on the table quickly.

Requiring just 15 minutes to prepare, this salad is ready in an instant and serves up to eight people, making it a solution for anything from family gatherings to meal prepping for a busy week ahead.

Find more spring salads and other flavorful, convenient recipes by visiting MinuteRice.com.

Tuna and Rice Nicoise Salad

Prep time: 4 minutes
Cook time: 1 minute
Servings: 1

  • 1 cup Minute Yellow Rice Cups
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic dressing
  • 2 tablespoons olive tapenade
  • 1 teaspoon capers, drained well
  • 1/2 cup halved cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup frozen green beans, thawed
  • 1 can (3 ounces) tuna, drained and flaked
  • 1 hard-boiled egg, cut into wedges
  1. Heat rice according to package directions.
  2. In medium bowl, combine rice, balsamic dressing, tapenade and capers. Mix well.
  3. Top with cherry tomatoes, green beans, tuna and hard-boiled egg.
  4. Tip: Serve salad over bed of mixed greens, if desired.

Pomegranate and Arugula Rice Salad

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
Servings: 8

  • 2 cups Minute Instant Jasmine Rice
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons minced red onion
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 bag (5 ounces) arugula
  • 1 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted
  1. Prepare rice according to package directions. Cool completely, about 10 minutes.
  2. In large bowl, whisk oil, vinegar, red onion, mustard, honey, salt and pepper.
  3. Add rice, arugula and pomegranate seeds to bowl; toss to coat thoroughly. Sprinkle with almonds.

Tips: For added flavor, top salad with crumbled goat or blue cheese.

To cool rice quickly, spread evenly on parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

 

SOURCE:
Minute Rice

Monday, April 1, 2024

What is Volt Typhoon? A cybersecurity expert explains the Chinese hackers targeting US critical infrastructure

U.S.-China antagonism is particularly acute in the realm of hacking and cybersecurity. AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato
Richard Forno, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Volt Typhoon is a Chinese state-sponsored hacker group. The United States government and its primary global intelligence partners, known as the Five Eyes, issued a warning on March 19, 2024, about the group’s activity targeting critical infrastructure.

The warning echoes analyses by the cybersecurity community about Chinese state-sponsored hacking in recent years. As with many cyberattacks and attackers, Volt Typhoon has many aliases and also is known as Vanguard Panda, Bronze Silhouette, Dev-0391, UNC3236, Voltzite and Insidious Taurus. Following these latest warnings, China again denied that it engages in offensive cyberespionage.

Volt Typhoon has compromised thousands of devices around the world since it was publicly identified by security analysts at Microsoft in May 2023. However, some analysts in both the government and cybersecurity community believe the group has been targeting infrastructure since mid-2021, and possibly much longer.

Volt Typhoon uses malicious software that penetrates internet-connected systems by exploiting vulnerabilities such as weak administrator passwords, factory default logins and devices that haven’t been updated regularly. The hackers have targeted communications, energy, transportation, water and wastewater systems in the U.S. and its territories, such as Guam.

In many ways, Volt Typhoon functions similarly to traditional botnet operators that have plagued the internet for decades. It takes control of vulnerable internet devices such as routers and security cameras to hide and establish a beachhead in advance of using that system to launch future attacks.

Operating this way makes it difficult for cybersecurity defenders to accurately identify the source of an attack. Worse, defenders could accidentally retaliate against a third party who is unaware that they are caught up in Volt Typhoon’s botnet.

Why Volt Typhoon matters

Disrupting critical infrastructure has the potential to cause economic harm around the world. Volt Typhoon’s operation also poses a threat to the U.S. military by potentially disrupting power and water to military facilities and critical supply chains.

FBI Director Christopher Wray testified at a congressional hearing on Jan. 31, 2024, about Chinese hackers targeting U.S. critical infrastructure.

Microsoft’s 2023 report noted that Volt Typhoon could “disrupt critical communications infrastructure between the United States and Asia region during future crises.” The March 2024 report, published in the U.S. by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, likewise warned that the botnet could lead to “disruption or destruction of critical services in the event of increased geopolitical tensions and/or military conflict with the United States and its allies.”

Volt Typhoon’s existence and the escalating tensions between China and the U.S., particularly over Taiwan, underscore the latest connection between global events and cybersecurity.

Defending against Volt Typhoon

The FBI reported on Jan. 31, 2024, that it had disrupted Volt Typhoon’s operations by removing the group’s malware from hundreds of small office/home office routers. However, the U.S. is still determining the extent of the group’s infiltration of America’s critical infrastructure.

On March 25, 2024, the U.S. and U.K. announced that they had imposed sanctions on Chinese hackers involved in compromising their infrastructures. And other countries, including New Zealand, have revealed cyberattacks traced back to China in recent years.

All organizations, especially infrastructure providers, must practice time-tested safe computing centered on preparation, detection and response. They must ensure that their information systems and smart devices are properly configured and patched, and that they can log activity. And they should identify and replace any devices at the edges of their networks, such as routers and firewalls, that no longer are supported by their vendor.

Organizations can also implement strong user-authentication measures such as multifactor authentication to make it more difficult for attackers like Volt Typhoon to compromise systems and devices. More broadly, the comprehensive NIST Cybersecurity Framework can help these organizations develop stronger cybersecurity postures to defend against Volt Typhoon and other attackers.

Individuals, too, can take steps to protect themselves and their employers by ensuring their devices are properly updated, enabling multifactor authentication, never reusing passwords, and otherwise remaining vigilant to suspicious activity on their accounts, devices and networks.

For cybersecurity practitioners and society generally, attacks like Volt Typhoon can represent an enormous geopolitical cybersecurity threat. They are a reminder for everyone to monitor what’s going on in the world and consider how current events can affect the confidentiality, integrity and availability of all things digital.

Richard Forno, Principal Lecturer in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.