Archive for May, 2011

Scene Change

Friday, May 27th, 2011

It used to be that summer vacation meant trying to get kids back inside the house for supper or even bed time. These days, the challenge is tearing them away for the computer or TV screen. Summer vacation should still be about the outdoors, but it doesn’t have to be entirely tech-free. Luckily, parents today have some creative options when it comes to our drive to be outside and a tech savvy kid. It’s easier now to find great new gadgets and apps that make being outside even better. Projecting movies, games and images on outdoor walls and screens is a cinch–and a fun way to please everyone. Although  it may not seem like much of a break playing video games or watching movies outside, it’s amazing how a change of scenery can lead to a change of perspective. Board and card games always seem more fun on a back patio, but if you really want to get imaginative, why not make your whole yard a game board? By using colorful turf paint and stencils, you can have a human-sized checkerboard or a game of twister the whole neighborhood can play. Better yet, make a dance floor in the backyard and prop up some outdoor speakers to your iPod and have a dance off. There are apps that help you identify constellations, predict the weather and even one that supposedly keeps the mosquitoes away. And just sometimes, the most amazing technological discovery when enjoying the outdoors in summer is the off button.

Parents’ Choice 2011 Television Awards

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Parents' Choice 2011 TV Awards

We are very excited to announce our 2011 Parents’ Choice Television Award winners!  From classics to newcomers, we’ve found lots of great programming for you and your children. We all agree that watching too much tv can sprout couch potatoes. But watching age appropriate programs, can germinate learning – about friendship, fish or financial ABCs.  For some children, the real world math problem solving in Get the Math will appeal.  Others may wish to follow Linda Ellerbee’s always on-point news coverage for children on Nick News.  Encourage reading with Between the Lions and imagination with Olivia.

Context Clueless

Friday, May 20th, 2011

While playing a popular trivia game not long ago, I was able to quickly answer a game-winning question. Who wrote the line, “To thine own self be true?” I knew it of course. I was, after all, an English major in college. I took a course in just Shakespeare. But to be perfectly honest, those years of reading and analyzing his works weren’t the first thing to come to mind. In fact, what brought the answer to mind so quickly and vividly was an old episode of “Gilligan’s Island.” It was the one where the marooned group put on a musical version of Hamlet to impress a stranded Hollywood producer. I’m sure that isn’t what most educators want to hear, but the truth is, if put in context—especially in fun and memorable ways—it’s amazing how facts and information can stay with you. Rote memorization may be the way to go if you plan to be a contestant on “Jeopardy,” but if you really want to learn something, it helps to get the rhythm, feel, taste, or even smell of it. When my daughter was studying pioneer life and reading the Little House series, we tried our hands at the molasses snow candy from the Little House cookbook. It turned out badly. We burned the molasses–and our tongues–the smoke detectors went off and the house smelled terrible. But if you ask her now about life in the wilderness, she has a vivid recollection of a smoked filled house and the taste of hard tack candy to go with the facts. It’s also easier for her to remember that Austin is the capital of Texas, when she can visualize the building with the stars adorning every door handle. Like the song says, the stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas.  Thanks to Pee Wee Herman, we remember that song and other  important facts about Texas and the Alamo (hint: it doesn’t have a basement).

Parents’ Choice 2011 Spring Toy Awards

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

2011 Spring Toy Awards

We are thrilled to announce our Parents’ Choice Spring 2011 Toy Awards!

If your spring days are rainy, try one of our new favorite games like KaBAM! or challenge your children with the Recon Rover and its programming possibilities.  Have a long car trip this summer?  Try something portable like Lab Mice.  And when the sun does come out, take it as opportunity to garden, make music, and run solar powered models!

There are many more toys, games, and puzzles that will spark and nurture your child’s curiosity.  We hope that you’ll find a new favorite!

Free…at a Price*

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

photo courtesy of TLC.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but even I got briefly sucked into the latest reality TV sensation, “Extreme Couponing.”  I didn’t think TV producers could find reality subjects to exploit that would be more obscure than “Ice Road Truckers” or “Pregnant in Heels,” but alas, they have. This show features people who try to get their groceries for free or next to nothing, especially in bulk, often stockpiling years of inventory as result. It’s all under the guise of saving money (understandable in tough economic times), but it got me wondering whether the massive time commitment is worth it. These people easily spend 20 to 40 hours per week searching for and clipping coupons. One woman actually goes dumpster diving for newspaper inserts. Granted some of the folks seem to really be trying to save their families money. The cagiest plan meals and purchase at rock-bottom bargain prices. For others, it’s a vehicle for hoarding. Does anyone really need 1,000 toothbrushes and cases upon cases of mustard? One woman, who converted her entire garage into what looks like a mini-mart, claimed that she loves her kids almost as much as she loves her stockpile. Teaching financial responsibility to our kids is a great lesson, but we also should stress purchasing only what we need and getting by with less—not to mention trying to eat healthier and purchase fresh foods locally. Most coupons I’ve found are for foods I would never buy. A few people featured on the show use their couponing prowess for good, sending supplies to our troops or giving groceries to the local food bank. Inspired by their savings, I spent time on the computer searching for coupons, comparing store prices and looking for bargains. In exchange, I got a mailbox full of spam and missed a few meetings and events. Sure, I still want to cut my grocery bill and have enough food in the house in case of the Zombie Apocalypse, but giving up time with my family just isn’t worth the price.