Archive for August, 2010

For Less Than a Tank of Gas: Explore the World

Friday, August 27th, 2010

There are endless opportunities to explore the world around us through books, movies, educational toys and games, and websites. Extend summer travel into the beginning of the school year; learn more about places you would like to visit, places that have a special meaning to your family history, or places in the news.

The Adventure Begins with a Turn of the PageYouTube As a Field Trip (and As a Catalyst for Safer Video Searching)
Lisa Guernsey talks about taking a virtual field trip online — a mini excursion that lasted 15 minutes, cost nothing, and could be embarked upon as soon as curiosity struck.

Pack Your Passport
These award-winning products will provide a passport to helping your kids explore and discover the world around them.

Armchair Travel
From fairy tales to autobiography and from legends to history the books recommended here offer children a tour of countries real and imagined.

The Adventure Begins with a Turn of the Page
Even the shortest excursions can lead to big adventures for little ones.

License to Parent

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Ever wish your kids came with an owner’s manual?  How about an instructional DVD? Sound ridiculous? A lot of parenting is instinctual, but a great deal is really trial-by-fire education. We don’t often think of  TV or movies as a tool to help us through the growing pains of parenting, but resources do exist if you know where to look.

The trick is selecting entertainment media carefully. To get perspective on how kids are portrayed on television and in movies, parents can check out The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. This organization keeps tabs on how much and how well both boys and girls are portrayed.

Still, all is not equal in the world of parenting as girls tend to have different challenges. The PBS DVD “A Girl’s Life” is a realistic and informative look at the challenges girls face today.  Delving further into the subject, filmmaker Rachel Simmons, co-founder of The Girls Leadership Institute, has articles and ideas for fostering healthy self-expression as well as all the skills to grow confident leaders here:

The flip side of the coin is PBS’ “Raising Cain” According to this documentary, boys are doing worse on average than their peers a mere decade ago. Still, documentary host child psychologist Michael Thompson offers realist ways to help foster emotional growth in an increasingly violent world. A helpful site that offers more tools for parents is Stand For Children. Here, grassroots efforts to improve everything from education to emotional development for today’s kids are broken down state by state.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to just have fun, and while the Wii certainly seems like the only link between parent and child these days, one online site offers up unique cooking, crafting and simply fun interactive ideas. Dad Can Do,, developed by father of four Chris Barnardo, is a great resource for all parents with a special bent on remaining a fixture in a child’s life– no matter what age.

Jerry Griswold’s Tall (and not-so-tall) Tales

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Jerry Griswold’s cherished book reviews are published in places esteemed and established.  Here, we provide an excerpt and a link to his most recent and wry for the New York Times.

Written especially for the vertically challenged, John Schwartz’s “Short: Walking Tall When You’re Not Tall at All” identifies a well-known coping strategy among those of us who were half-pints. In a world of alpha dogs (bullies at skating rinks, high school girls making slighting comments) we became the smart alecks, the sidekicks, the class clowns. Later in life, Schwartz observes, the related verbal skills can wonderfully pave the way to a career in, say, the upper echelons of journalism (Schwartz is the national legal correspondent for The New York Times and an occasional contributor to these pages). Given that logic, you may wonder whether the newspaper you are currently reading was prepared primarily by those known during their school days as “shrimp.”

To continue reading, and we think you should, please click here.

Time Shift TV

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Hurricane Katrina formed over the Bahamas and crossed over Florida on August 23, 2005 before gaining strength in the Gulf of Mexico and hitting New Orleans. Commemorating the fifth anniversary of the disaster, National Geographic Channel reconstructs what happened through the eyes of many who lived through it. Look for Witness: Katrina on Monday, Aug. 23 at 9 p.m. on National Geographic Channel.

Building on the 2006 documentary, Washing Away, this new PBS program follows six survivors as they show their successes and setbacks in the five years since Hurricane Katrina battered the Louisiana coast. Actress Patricia Clarkson, a native of New Orleans, narrates. Look for Washing Away: After the Storms, Wednesday, Aug. 25 on PBS.

This film may be too upsetting for the younger viewers in your house, but you shouldn’t miss the Academy Award winner for Best Documentary of 2009 called The Cove. It follows a team of activists as they go to a remote and hidden cove in Taiji, Japan, to uncover — and shine a light on — dolphin killing. The result is a mix of investigative journalism, eco-adventure and a powerful story. Look for The Cove on Planet Green on Aug. 30 at 9 p.m.

Back to School Movie Inspiration

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

As much as most parents enjoy the unstructured family time of summer, the prospect of the kiddies returning to school brings order back into the week. This is not to say that all of education need be viewed as neat and tidy to be considered of quality. Take, for instance, the academic approach of Jack Black’s character, Dewey Finn, in School of Rock. In the 2003 film (which frequently runs on basic cable and premium movie channels in addition to its ready availability on DVD), Finn is an out of work wannabe rock star who steals his roommate’s identity in order to take a gig as a substitute teacher at a small private school. What ensues is a fair amount of mayhem as Finn chooses to teach the kids about the history of rock rather than what their curriculum requires.

So why is this proper inspiration for your children to want to return to school? Eventually, Finn discovers the kids actually play music, so he switches from talking about others playing rock to showing them how to play it themselves in a collective effort (aka, a band). Simply put, the film is about a teacher taking what inspires him, then finding the unique voices within his students. It also shows that teachers come in all stripes, from the seemingly banal to the apparently nutty, and that many of them can inspire students to higher heights. Plus, the movie is just real funny and, though you need to be forewarned of the PG-13 rating for rude humor and drug references, makes good family viewing for kids 9 and up.

For many more suggestions for back-to-school applicable films, click over to Film School by Parents’ Choice Foundation’s contributing writer Laura Fries.

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About the Author: Gregory Keer is an award-winning writer, teacher, and father of three boys. He can be reached at