Archive for December, 2010

Resolve to Use the “Off” switch

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

The New Year comes with many expectations and resolutions.  It can be exciting for kids at the thought of a new, blank slate of a year, but it can become quickly overwhelming if one adopts too many resolutions. One tradition our family has is journaling the year on the back of a favorite holiday card and tucking it away with the tree ornaments to be read the next year as a reminder of things past. It’s a nice way to recall events, a good way to get kids journaling, but most of all, we always have a laugh or two (sometimes shed a tear) as we read the note the following year.  It’s like a mini time capsule, an idea that kids seem to really respond to, even if patience isn’t their greatest virtue at a young age. Here are tips for getting kids excited about writing, along with resources and information for young writers.

Another yearly tradition is our New Year’s resolution to make better use of our time together. It’s more realistic than the resolve to diet and exercise, but it can incorporate those ideas in a more organic way if done as a family. You never regret time spent with your kids, but you can feel bad about sitting on the couch watching mindless TV. Think about it, you never hear about anyone on their deathbed bemoaning that they didn’t spend enough overtime at work or watching TV.

This year, why not keep the resolutions simple: Make it all count. Less TV time, or least make the time spent watching TV or movies as a gateway to more family adventures. Why not log family time versus electronics and TV time (at least for a week) and see what adjustments can be made. When in doubt, just hit the off switch.

Thank You Cardly

Monday, December 27th, 2010

Texting and emailing have marvelous benefits in their immediacy. The case can be made that since our children have become so adept with keyboards that they find written communication easy, sometimes easier than talking on the phone. Precisely because of the ubiquitous nature of e-talk, a truly heartfelt message might get lost in the casualness of the media. Certainly, an emailed gesture of gratitude is better than nothing, yet when it comes to showing real thanks, the virtual note or letter lacks gravity.

In this season of receiving – and let’s face it, our children are doing more receiving than giving – there is no better time to write a handwritten thank you note.

  1. Use paper
    Yes, we’re talking paper and pen. You can even use recycled paper to offset the environmental objection your savvy kids might make. As it’s the content and gesture that matter most, you can certainly opt for simple white printer paper, but it really adds to the effort if you go with color and quality.  The choice of paper or card stock should represent the child’s personality, giving the note of appreciation esthetic warmth.
  2. Use a Cool Pen
    Again, the words and action count above all, so typing a thank-you note is permissible. But it’s just not personal enough. Grandparents and friends love to see the scrawl of a little one’s effort or the stylish script of a teenager, so have the kids write in ink. Let them choose an interesting pen (black or blue ink are preferable) or take them to an office-supply or (better yet) stationery store to select a reasonably priced ball-point, roller ball, or (if you want to get fancy) fountain pen. Between the paper and the pen, the note itself becomes a visual work of art.
  3. Be Specific
    Consider having your child write a draft of the note first so it can be spellchecked and so you can help them form sentences without the stress of scrawling perfectly just yet. In writing the words on the note, the key is to be as specific as possible or else the thank you will sound generic and obligatory. A minimum of three well-formed sentences helps give the note a sense of heft and thoughtfulness. The letter should mention the actual gift given and explain, however briefly, why it means something to the receiver, how it fits his/her personality or fulfills an item on his/her wish list. Another line about what the child will do with the gift can explain what place in their room it will occupy, how it will get used on a daily or weekly basis, etc. The next sentence can reference the relationship the child has with the giver, such as, “I really enjoyed spending time with you, Grandma, and hearing about Dad’s first time on skates.” In a conclusion, the child should repeat a word of thanks and mention that he/she looks forward to seeing or talking to the giver again soon or even pledges to send an update on how the gift is being used going forward.
  4. Draw a Picture
    For more artistically inclined kids, sketching a picture on the card or note represents another level of feeling and effort. Perhaps a sketch of your child using the gift or of the giver? Getting in the practice of writing is a good reason to have children craft thank-you notes, but especially for the youngest kids who cannot write yet, drawing a picture is a great choice.
  5. Spellcheck and Sign It Appropriately
    Have your child spellcheck the note again. Perfection is unnecessary, but this should not look messy or hurried. Then, the child needs to sign the note with regard to the level of the relationship. Words of affection must not be forced but are appropriate for relatives and close friends. A more formal sign off serves for less close relationships. Then, a cursive signature should be applied to add that last touch of personality.

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

Time Shift Your TV: December 20 – 27

Monday, December 20th, 2010

An annual television tradition got a high-tech makeover this year. The Yule Log is airing now in 3D. So if have a fancy new 3D TV, you can put on your 3D glasses and sit by the roaring on-screen fire. Don’t worry, the Yule Log also airs in High Def and regular Standard Definition. It’s available via Video On Demand for cable subscribers on Comcast, Cox Communications, Cablevision, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks.

If you’re looking for something other than fire to watch, here are the week’s suggestions:

Monday, Dec. 20

If you’ve been watching The Sing-Off, featuring a capella singing groups competing for $100,000 and a Sony recording contract, then you probably have a favorite and will be rooting for that group on Monday’s finale. If you haven’t watched the show, you should check it out on NBC at 8 p.m.  It is fun and inspiring to hear these gifted musicians use no instruments but their voices to belt out familiar tunes.

On a more serious note, you might want to tune in to The Calling, a four-hour documentary series that follows the stories of seven young Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim Americans as they train for religious leadership. Their “calling” takes them (and the viewers) into the world of seminaries to reveal the behind-the-scenes journey to make faith a way of life. Produced by a multi-denominational team of filmmakers, The Calling airs on the PBS series Independent Lens, hosted by America Ferrera. The first two hours air on Monday, Dec. 20 at 9 p.m, and the second two hours air on Tuesday Dec. 21 at 9 p.m.

Tuesday, Dec. 21

No matter what your religious beliefs, here’s another offering relevant to Christmas, yet not about the holiday. National Geographic Channel airs Living in the Time of Jesus, which takes a look at just that – what life was like when Jesus lived. Host Arne Kislenko examines the professions from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee and Jerusalem, including shepherd, fisherman, camel-riding merchant, and of course, carpenter. The first of three hours devoted to the topic of Living in the Time of Jesus airs at 8 p.m.

Friday, Dec. 24

It’s a Wonderful Life is a great way to remember that each of us makes a difference in the world. The classic Jimmy Stewart film airs on NBC at 8:30 p.m.

Saturday, Dec. 25

A Christmas Story, the tale of a 1950s kid who wants a BB gun for Christmas, airs on TBS all day long.

Stars including Mariah Carey, Darius Rucker, Selena Gomez, Sean Kingston, Jackie Evancho and American Idol Season 9 winner Lee DeWyze are just a few of the celebrities who will be featured during the 2010 Walt Disney World Christmas Day Parade (which was taped a couple of weeks ago). The two-hour special airs on ABC at different times across the country, ranging from noon to 2 p.m., Eastern. Check your local listings.

The Gift of TV

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

It’s not uncommon to find DVDs of favorite TV shows wrapped under the tree—or maybe even  a flat screen with a bow on it for the really extravagant.  Giving the gift of TV this holiday season is much more than just DVDs and fancy television sets. TV is a launching pad to more interactive, interesting gifts.  Got Manga fan? How about a DIY Manga Drawing Kit? What do you do with a sports fan who needs to inject some science into their routine? There are all kinds of clever ways to turn couch sitting TV watchers into doers and thinkers this holiday season. Get the big picture on small screen gifts with these TV-inspired ideas:

Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Cookbook

Chef Jamie Oliver’s groundbreaking reality show set the stage for national discussion of how to combat obesity in America. One way to keep his ideas alive is to work as a family on the healthy recipes and ideas in his cookbook.

Karaoke Revolution Glee

Sure, it’s fun to watch the Broadway level talent of the hit show Glee, but better yet, why not be a part of it with this interactive Wii game that makes you the star.

Scientific Explorer Myth Busters Science of Sports

Science isn’t just lab work—it really can be fun and games. Do curve balls really curve? How do you treat a black eye? Find out with these lab-in-a-box experiments based on the popular TV show.

Skeleton Creek Series

Patrick Carman’s mystery series for teens and tweens combines a love of books and blogging beautifully with an exciting who dunnit story that requires readers to log on to the computer to hunt for clues.

The Film Club: A Memoir by David Gilmour

This book is the ultimate how-to for creating an educational experience out of the ordinary. Canadian film critic David Gilmour chronicles his three year movie watching spree with his son and how he turned it into a series of life lessons.

Barack Obama’s Children’s Book: Where’s the Problem?

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters
By Barack Obama; illustrated by Loren Long
Knopf: $17.99 (hardcover)

When Random House announced that they would publish President Barack Obama’s children’s book Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters this fall, Mike Luckovich drew an editorial cartoon for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution picturing Republican spokesman Newt Gingrich pointing at the book and observing, “Proof Obama hates adult readers.” As Luckovich’s cartoon comically pointed out, even so simple a thing as the appearance of a children’s book would likely spark reactions from the President’s critics. Indeed, after the book was published, a Fox News forum objected to Obama’s choice of Sitting Bull among the thirteen Americans the book honored; the headline read “Obama Praises Indian Chief Who Defeated U.S. General.”

Having now read the book, I can tell you that Of Thee I Sing is not as controversial as the brouhaha would suggest. Ostensibly written as a letter to his daughters Malia and Sasha, this picture book offers thirteen short tributes to an ethnically diverse group of Americans who shaped our nation: Georgia O’Keeffe, Albert Einstein, Jackie Robinson, Sitting Bull, Billie Holiday, Helen Keller, Maya Lin, Jane Addams, Martin Luther King, Neil Armstrong, Cesar Chavez, Abraham Lincoln, and George Washington. Each of these heroes is associated with a particular trait: so, Georgia O’Keeffe is “creative,” Jackie Robinson “brave,” Cesar Chavez “inspiring,” etc.

It would be difficult to label the book as self-serving. For one thing, profits go to a scholarship fund for wounded or fallen U.S. military personnel. Moreover, Obama, in offering a White House children’s book, is simply following tradition and only doing what others have done before: Jimmy Carter published a children’s fantasy (The Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer) and first ladies Hilary Clinton (Dear Socks, Dear Buddy) and Laura Bush (Read All About It) have also penned offerings for youngsters. As for precedents, Obama’s book is a kind of juvenile version of John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage.

So, there is little reason to complain about Obama’s Of Thee I Sing. There is also little reason to praise it.