Archive for March, 2011

Hip to be Square

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

There was a time when geeks and nerds were the social outcasts of the world– a source of jokes about living in basements and building toy models. They were simply the lowest people on the cultural food chain. With our fast paced technological world, it has increasingly become hip to be square. No longer is the nerd the outcast—but rather the go to for the hot new apps, games and programs. A nerd was “Time” magazine’s Person of the Year (Mark Zuckerberg) Even nerd glasses are hot (apparently, I am way ahead of the trend!).

Nerd was first introduced to the lexicon by Dr. Seuss in his 1950s book “If I Ran the Zoo.” Back then, computers were practically science fiction, but these once fanciful ideas are now a daily reality. Technology is our culture and we have nerds to thank. In fact, you have to be part nerd just to keep up. I’m all for the victorious underdog but we need to make sure we are celebrating the next Zukerberg or Gates and not just the next World of Warcraft expert. Nerds need to remain firmly based in smarts and not gadgets. Science, biology math, and thought-provoking ideas are what got us to the nerd revolution. We need to remind our kids to stay involved in the academic aspects with programs like STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math initiatives). And just think, when intelligence becomes the new black, there won’t be any room for Paris Hilton!

Parents’ Choice 2011 Spring Audio Awards

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

2011 Spring Audio Awards

We are happy to announce the Parents’ Choice Spring 2011 Audio Awards! Whether you’re interested in standout music or road trip ready audiobooks, you’ll find excellent picks for your whole family amongst our winners.

Enjoy an audio version of the classic William Steig picture book Doctor De Soto followed by a tuneful review of the renowned Ella Jenkins’ career. Other standouts include Imagination Generation, a stunning exercise in structured silliness by David Kisor that will help children develop their imagination as a “toy and a tool”. For older children and adults listening along with them, Grimm’s Grimmest: The Darker Side of Fairytales provides moral-laden fairytale tellings told in their original gory detail. If your family likes to play along, try Maria Muldaur’s Barnyard Dance, a disc of jug band songs that would sound great accompanied by made-at-home instruments!

Want to see more? Find our full list of winners here!

The Gift of Knowledge

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

We’re lucky to have so many tools at our disposal to enrich and enlighten our children. We can supplement classroom work and sharpen minds through toys, web sites and even educational TV programming—and that’s just the extra stuff we have at home.  Not everyone is so lucky and even schools can lack basic supplies—not to mention “luxury items” such as musical instruments or adaptive toys. Sharing is a great lesson in itself, so why not educate our kids about the gift of knowledge?  As the kids outgrow books, DVDs and educational games, consider donating them to a local school, library or rec center.  It’s a great way to repurpose items while helping others. Want to make sure your help goes to the most urgent educational needs? Check out This ground-breaking non-profit is a match making site for educators in need of supplies and the people who can and want to make a difference.  Think of it—a special needs pre-school teacher in a post-Katrina school district can purchase art and music supplies with the help of caring strangers.  Students in Alaska can get Bunsen burners, globes or chemistry sets from a supporter in South Carolina.   All children deserve the materials needed to sharpen their minds and to help them get it, just takes some open hearts.

Time Shift Your TV: March 21 – 27

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Reality TV is dominating the ratings right now. Each week, American Idol pulls in more than 20 million viewers as its young singers vie to win a record contract. On Monday, March 21, ABC launches a new season of its big ratings-getter: Dancing With The Stars, a show that has track record of regularly drawing 20 million+ viewers to its performance episodes each week. Those are just two of many reality shows on the air, covering topics from babies to cupcakes, Kim Kardashian to Mike Tyson. But reality TV came under fire this week in a new and bigger way when an SAT question used the topic as an essay prompt.
On the SAT administered on March 12, student were asked to write a reply to this:

Reality television programs, which feature real people engaged in real activities rather than professional actors performing scripted scenes, are increasingly popular. These shows depict ordinary people competing in everything from singing and dancing to losing weight, or just living their everyday lives. Most people believe that the reality these shows portray is authentic, but they are being misled. How authentic can these shows be when producers design challenges for the participants and then editors alter filmed scenes? Do people benefit from forms of entertainment that show so-called reality, or are such forms of entertainment harmful?

A debate has raged over a question that would assume kids taking the test watch television – specifically, reality television – and if they don’t, were they at a disadvantage? The College Board, which owns the SAT, says the prompt offers enough information to allow anybody to properly answer the question.

What do you say?

In the meantime, here are this week’s highlights:

Friday, March 25: Twin brothers Dylan and Cole Sprouse started out on Disney Channel’s Suite Life show when they were just 12. Now, at 18, the young heartthrobs who play Zack and Cody – longest running continuous characters on the Disney Channel – are starring in The Suite Life Movie, an original Disney Channel production, airing at 8 p.m.. No doubt tweens who have grown up watching the Sprouse twins will tune in and propel the show to high ratings, despite the fact that the humor will likely be worthy of major eye-rolling, and the lesson for kids watching the show is most likely one of how not to behave.
The Sprouse boys are executive producers of the film, which stars Brenda Song, Debby Ryan, Matthew Timmons and Phill Lewis. The plot involves a spring break caper that find the twins at a high-tech research center as the guinea pigs for the program. Through some weird science, they find themselves experiencing each other’s feelings. Let’s hope it makes them learn some sibling compassion; we know they already are well-versed in sibling rivalry.

Sunday, Mary 27: On a recent trip to Pensacola, Fla., I became fascinated by pelicans and spent a fair amount of time watching the birds as they seemed to float on the air as they flew over the Gulf of Mexico, only to swoop in and snag a fish snack. I am looking forward to tuning in to Nature: Outback Pelicans at 8 p.m. on PBS. The show will be focusing on the Australian outback, considered the driest place on the driest inhabited continent on the planet. But, according to the show, rains flood once every 10 years into the dried-up river beds, luring 100,000 pelicans to arrive for the event. In true Nature style, look for amazing footage of a rare phenomenon.

March Madness

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

The NCAA Tournament seems like a big excuse for grownups to act like little kids.  Ask around the office and chances are, you’ll find copy machines clogged with basketball pools and complicated diagrams for predicting the final champion. Even President Obama is busy filling out college basketball brackets. To understand all of the fuss or just discover the love of the game, families might want to introduce their kids to hoop action via classic movies and documentaries. Sure, we’ve all seen Hoosiers and Hoop Dreams, so here are a few lesser known, family friendly films.

The Basket (1999)

Basketball wasn’t always a national sensation and this family film, set in the post-World War 1 Pacific Northwest looks at the fear and suspicion as a result of world politics.  When the new schoolteacher introduces a strange new game called basketball, and pays special attention to two new German orphans in town, it’s a challenge to get the locals to deal with all of these changes. Peter Coyote, Karen Allen, and Robert Karl Burke star.

Edge of America (2004)

Based on a true story and directed by Native American filmmaker Chris Eyre, the film follows a black man from Texas who moves out to Utah to teach on a Reservation. An outsider in the Native American community, his struggles become more difficult when he’s assigned to coach the high school girls’ basketball team. Starring James McDaniel, West Studi, Tim Daly and Eddie Spears.

Passing Glory (1999)

Hoop Dreams director, Steve James helms this made for TV movie based on the true story of a racially charged basketball game in a segregated 1960s New Orleans. A tough subject matter deftly handled by a great cast including Andre Braugher, Rip Torn, Ruby Dee and Arthur Agee.

The Heart of the Game (2006)

This documentary, seven years in the making, follows Bill Resler, an unorthodox coach, and his Roosevelt Roughriders– a high school girls’ basketball team from Seattle. One of the team’s star players deals with personal “hardships” and has to fight the system in order to be eligible to play in the State Championship.

A Cinderella Season: The Lady Vols Fight Back (1998)

Men’s college basketball gets far more press and attention than the women’s equivalent, but this excellent documentary captures the all of the sweat, sacrifice and excitement that is also part of women’s sports.  Don’t let the Cinderella name in the title throw you—the Lady Vols, who went from the brink of disaster to the championship, may seem like a fairy tale, but these women are clearly in charge of their own destiny.