Archive for October, 2010

Halloween Treats

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Halloween is traditionally about thrills and chills– not to mention candy.  But all of the elements we love about Halloween, creating costumes, do-it-yourself décor, chunkin’ pumpkins– aren’t necessarily frivolous fun. In fact, there are great concepts and projects that you can indulge in all year long  (although it’s probably a good idea to limit the candy).  For parents, there’s even the added bonus that these interests can easily be tied to lessons in science, engineering and even math, without feeling “educational.”  Just like hiding more vegetables in the spaghetti sauce, parents can even sneak in educational material in  Halloween projects. Got a kid with a penchant for smashing pumpkins? There’s a whole show created toward discovering the best trajectory for catapulting the holiday squash. Want to create a super spooky Halloween yard?  Learn how to build amazing effects with low-cost supplies.  (You’ll be surprised at what you can make with PVC pipe!). Have an animal lover? Find out how black cats got a bad rap, or how the bat, the very symbol of Halloween, is in danger from a deadly fungus.  Bats, like honey bees, are dying off at alarming rate due to White Nose Syndrome. Find out more about these creatures and how important they are to our ecosystem.  From concocting your own make up (chemistry), to creating costume design (math) and building decorations (engineering), you can have a frightfully good time this Halloween.

Unwrapped” on the Food Network goes behind the scenes to explore how candy corn and wax fangs are made.  At the Food Network site, you can check out videos and recipes for delightfully delicious treats.

“2010 World Punkin Chunkin Championship” airs Thanksgiving night at 8 p.m. on Science Channel, but you can find pumpkin facts and even take a pumpkin quiz online.

HGTV airs “Halloween Block Party” this month, do-it-yourself programs that explore the top end of Halloween décor, but check out their site for plans and instruction on how to make everything from a fake wrought Iron graveyard fence to skeleton sock puppets and 3-D pumpkin designs.

Planet Green has great ideas for making your own Halloween costumes here.

Martha Stewart spends all of October gearing up for Halloween, but to get clips, tips and ideas, you can check out stuff here.

Learn about White Nose Syndrome, how to built a bat house and protect these wonderful creatures at the website for the Save Lucy Campaign, which is dedicated to preserving the North American bat population.

Cultivating a Love for Science

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Few subjects are as instantly fascinating to young kids as science. Whether they are hatching butterflies or building baking soda and vinegar volcanoes, science is intricately involved in your children’s everyday lives.

Sadly, it seems that we are unable to sustain this level of enthusiasm for science among our kids as they get older. In fact, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) found that although U.S. fourth graders score well against international competition in science, they fall to dead last by 12th grade. The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) also found that the average science literacy score of 15-year-old American students ranked below average in the countries surveyed.

These statistics have sobering consequences for our kids and our society: Who will discover the next big medical cure? Predict the next hurricane? Explore the depths of the ocean or the far reaches of outer space? Developing a love for science in our kids is crucial because science plays an integral role in our lives, now and in the future.

Luckily, parents and teachers can have a tremendous impact on influencing a child’s interest in science. Take me, for example. My dad, who worked as a chemist at Dow Chemical, was instrumental in inspiring me to pursue science as a career. I remember my dad taking me into the lab on weekends while he worked, which was a great way to get some father-son time. He would show and tell me about the experiments he was doing and explain why he was doing them. Later, my high school chemistry teacher always encouraged my curiosity and challenged me to learn more. His passion for science was contagious and it was that passion that encouraged me to become a chemist. Parents and teachers are extremely important to the goal of encouraging a new generation of scientists – I wouldn’t be where I am today, doing a job I love, without them.

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Paris in Children’s Books: The Capitol of the Foreign

Monday, October 25th, 2010

In a comic moment in Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck and Jim can’t imagine the possibility of a foreign language: If a cow talks like a cow and a cat talks like cat, they reason, why can’t a Frenchman talk like a human? Nowadays, that joke doesn’t make the same kind of sense. With the ubiquity of film and television and global travel, folks are well aware that Others elsewhere don’t necessarily speak like us or eat like us or act like us.

It may go without saying, but for a whiff of the Foreign, film makers often turn to France and especially Paris. For examples, think of recent films like “Amelie” and “Inception.” The same is true in children’s films, from “Ratatouille” to “Hunchback of Notre Dame.” And the same is true in children’s books.

Here, are five children’s stories (some classics and some recent) that feature Paris. Here, as well, are two guidebooks should you travel there with the young in tow.

Madeline

By Ludwig Bemelmans

Viking: $7.99 (paperback)

A classic. Madeline lives in old house in Paris with twelve other girls; but while they stay in two straight lines, Madeline often deviates and takes chances: teetering gymnastically on the edge of bridge, having her appendix removed. In pictures that seem both moderne and child-like, Ludwig Bemelmans tells the now well known story of the insouciant little girl who gives Miss Clavel a scare.

Eloise in Paris

By Kay Thompson; drawings by Hilary Knight

Simon & Schuster: $18.00 (Hardcover)

Eloise, you will remember, is a diva-in-training who lives in New York in the Park Plaza Hotel and depends upon room service. In this, the second and my favorite book of the series, a cablegram arrives from her mother telling her to come to Paris; so, Eloise and Nanny pack their 37 pieces of luggage and board a transatlantic airplane. When they arrive, the landlady pointedly asks whether she is the “enfant terrible” and the little girl aptly responds, “Je suis ELOISE.” Besides madcap adventures, what follows is hilariously bad advice for those visiting Paris: including the recommendation that if you want to cross the streets and heavy traffic surrounding the Arc de Triomphe, “Simply walk across and they will stop for you.” The comic hauteur of Hilary Knight’s sketches feature a plucky child who thinks nothing of being photographed by Richard Avedon, sharing an outdoor café with Lena Horne, and having a dress made by Christian Dior.

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The Boy Who Cried Werewolf

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

Nickelodeon, Oct. 23 at 8 p.m.

Ages 10 and older.

Taking its name from the Aesop fable that preaches honesty particularly in hairy situations, this original Nick movie owes more to the Wolf man than to old Aesop and his morality tales. Victoria Justice, star of Nickelodeon’s hit series, Victorious, takes center stage here as nerdy high schooler Jordan Sands. She’s a shy, uncoordinated teen who can’t make it through soccer try-outs let alone work up enough nerve to ask a guy out. Her brother Hunter (Chase Ellison), a fan of all things gooey and gory, delights in playing gruesome tricks on everyone, so no one believes him when a mysterious stranger appears in their lives. Upon inheriting an old castle in Wolfsberg Romania, the family also inherits an old mystery and a whole lot of trouble. When Jordan starts becoming a werewolf, Hunter has a hard time convincing anybody to help. Funnier that scary, there are a few hair-raising moments that, when combined with decent enough special effects, make this film better suited for 10 and older crowd. Brooke Shields, as Madame Varcolac, does a hilarious send of Frau Blucher (insert horse whinnying here), for corny, albeit fun scary movie.

Parents’ Choice 2010 Fall Toy Awards

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

We are happy to announce the Parents’ Choice Fall 2010 Toy Awards!

This season’s crop of games, puzzles, and toys includes a stunning set of building blocks, a lively Sudoku-inspired math game, and a tattoo twist on hand puppets.  Aspiring directors will love the Playmobil Take Along Puppet Theater, and puzzle masters will find a new challenge in Icosoku.

These are just a few of our fantastic winners, and we encourage you to explore our lists of game, puzzle, and toy award winners!