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Following History


They say those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.  375px-Undergroundrailroadsmall2

But there are many people who make it a point to relive at least a small part of our nation’s past by spending their vacation celebrating it. History takes on a new meaning when you follow the path of those who have come before us, from the path of the Underground Railroad (at right) or the battlefields of the Revolutionary War. Granted, Sacajawea didn’t get to take a break from all of the hiking with a good soak and a night’s rest at the Comfort Inn, but by following the trial of Lewis & Clark, even by car, you get a sense of manifest destiny. History is far more than words in a text book. Feeling the breeze, smelling the air, imagining the chutzpah it took to brave the unknown—that is something to remember.

fenway-park“Historical” sites can be open to broad interpretation. There are folks who make it a goal to visit every baseball stadium in the United States, making note of the players and barriers broken at each field. The Tenement Museum and Ellis Island can be a very personal historical journey for those whose own relatives braved the unknown to come to America. Sure, places like Washington, DC and Williamsburg, Virginia, are great history vacations; our friends at Family Circle magazine have compiled a list of 15 best historic sites for kids. The National Museum of Play has a treasure trove of the toys and games that have treated generations to play.

But if you were going to follow the footsteps of history, what trail would you take?


The One Show to Watch this Summer


If you tune in to one show this summer, make it Brain Games. brain-games

National Geographic Channel’s Emmy-nominated series started a new 10-episode run of the incredibly fun and interesting episodes last week.

Whether you are the youngest schoolkid in the family or oldest great-grandparent in the house, you’ll get a kick out of challenging yourself as you watch passionate – and very cool – host Jason Silva go through a variety of segments exploring different brain functions, perceptions and abilities.

Watch and play along as Silva tests participants on the show, explaining how the brain tends to work – and how we think and view – different situations and tasks. The results are always amusing, fascinating and surprising. Topics coming up include: compassion, addiction, anger, superstitions and food. One segment involving lightbulbs had us smiling, as it proved an “experienced” brain is actually not such a bad thing!

New episodes air Mondays at 9 p.m. on the Nat Geo Channel. And if you want to play more real “brain games” and real more about how the brain works, check out the informative pages on the Nat Geo website.



The Children of Invention


Often making the news today are some of the coolest, most life-changing ideas. You may think only scientists or researchers are the ones who invent these kinds of things. But some of the neatest inventions, or life hacks, come from the minds of kids and teens. Frank Epperson was 11 years old when he came up with the idea of the Popsicle in 1905. Parents may secretly curse George Nissen, the young gymnast who invented the trampoline from junk parts in 1930, but today kids are coming up with ingenious inventions that solve big world problems.Popsicle

Jack Andraka is a Maryland high school student who at age 15 created a novel paper sensor that detects pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancer in 5 minutes for as little as 3 cents. And 19-year-old Brittany Wenger of Sarasota, Florida, devised a way to make breast cancer diagnosis cost-effective, less invasive and more accurate by using artificial intelligence.

Two teens invented a bomb detection system in the war-torn region of ERBIL, Kurdistan. Eman Abdul-Razzaq Ibrahim and Dastan Othman Hassan, 18-year-old high school students, disrupted from their own studies by the threat of car bombs, sought for a more efficient way to detect them. Using the physics of light, they came up with a model where night vision cameras hidden in trash cans and speed bumps could detect threats and alert authorities.

Ocean pollution has plagued the planet for centuries, but at just 17 years old, Boyan Slat came up with an idea that worked with natural tides to clean up plastic and debris. Not only does his idea collect trash, it is safe for wildlife.

Andrew Pelham not only created a life-saving device, but is sharing the plans for it for free. The 11-year-old Nashville boy created a simple tool to help busy parents to check the back seat before exiting a hot car. His created his E-Z Baby Saver, after reading about kids accidentally left behind in hot cars.

The next time your kid wants to create the world’s longest straw, or see what happens when she mixes baking soda and vinegar, remember, from small packages come great gifts.



High-schooler Carter Stevens learns she was kidnapped at age 3


Time Shift Your TV – Finding CarterGWEN

New teen drama Finding Carter, which premiered on MTV this week, is centered around an unusual premise: High-schooler Carter Stevens suddenly finds out she was kidnapped at age 3 and now has a whole new family.

Her world is rocked, to say the least, as she is plucked from one life and thrown into another. Her “new” birth mom is uptight and having an affair, but so glad to have her back. Her new dad is sweet, but broke and hiding his money problems. Add to that a twin sister with whom she doesn’t connect at all and a little brother, who provides a surprising voice of calm and reason in the chaos – until he lies to her.

Carter, 16, struggles with this strange new life, turning to partying, drugs and boys to make things feel better, as she also tries to find a way back to her “real mom.”

The best part of the show is its star, Kathrynn Prescott, who conveys all the anger, dismay and heartbreak you would expect from the situation.

To fully appreciate her storyline, you should watch the series (Tuesdays, 10 p.m.) from the very beginning of episode one (available on and so that you can see the loving relationship she has with her kidnapper “mom” and how that clashes so much with her new mom. It will help in understanding exactly where she’s coming from.

There are many painful moments in the contemporary drama (too many headlines in recent years have involved kidnapped young women), from ugly and upsetting mother-daughter arguments to cautionary tale incidents – such as when Carter takes “Molly” (ecstasy) and winds up in the hospital.

Navigating teen problems is the subject of many tv dramas. Some of the better ones are East Los High, a Hulu original series, and Nickelodeon’s Degrassi, which has been around for more than a decade. You can add Finding Carter to the list.

All of these shows paint portraits of teens facing family, peer-group, school, diet and romance pressures. What’s important and makes for compelling television is how the characters react to their challenges, and seeing that there are consequences to risky, detrimental behavior. We’re rooting for Carter to find herself and her happy ending.




What makes a Playground?


Inventing the Playground

Technically, “play grounds” existed before the modern day formal concept of a rubberized, color-themed playground came about. Play just comes naturally to kids. Where there is space, kids play. In streets, in alleys, kids played balls and games with whatever was available.  So in 1903, when Seaward Park was built in New York’s lower East side, it marked the city’s first official playground. Despite bad weather, more than 20,000 kids showed up to have a go at the simple swing sets and see saws. Imagine what these kids would make of some of today’s fancier playgrounds?

Junk PLaygroundRecently, a playground in the UK made the news– not for its high-tech modern equipment– but rather its lack of fancy gear.  The Land playground in Wexham, basically of junk, is a place that is open to a child’s imagination.  Nothing here is padded. Kids can use a saw and hammer. They can even build a fire. It’s a novel concept for parents in the US, where many kids still can’t master using a butter knife because of safety concerns. Clearly, there is no firm definition of what makes a good playground. Safety is indeed important, but have we let it supersede creative play?

KaBOOM, a national non-profit, is working toward a time when every kid is within walking distance to a playground. The group has ideas, resources and even maps of playgrounds around the country. KaBOOM has basic playground designs from simple to top of the line. What are elements that make a great playground for your child? Can it hold their attention for more than a few short years? Is it all inclusive?

What makes a playground for your family?