Archive for March, 2012

“Grant”-ing Wishes

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Concert violinist Midori and TC Williams High School Student Sarah Paez. Photo by Alan Paez

We’ve all heard stories about big time celebrities surprising young fans as prom dates or showing up at hospital bedsides. These events always grab headlines and are great PR for the stars. Beyond the occasional publicity stunt, there are grants available that bring big name talent together with students that don’t always make the news. For instance, did you know that children can learn the dance moves from Broadway hits  like Hairspray from the actual stage stars? Or play the Bach Double Violin Concerto with renowned musician Midori?  How about listening to a sound check with Coldplay?

Through programs like StudentsLive, The Grammy Foundation and Midori and Friends, students have a chance to meet professional artists and get a feel for what it’s like to be an actual  performer. Keep in mind, these once in a lifetime opportunities take research, paperwork and dedicated teachers and parents to bring them about–but it can happen. Look at Alan Paez, of Alexandria, Virginia. He was part of a group of parents, educators and artists who worked on a grant proposal to bring violinist Midori to the local school system through her Orchestra Residencies Program (ORP). Midori does only two of these programs each year, and specifically looks to build liaisons across generations of musicians and promote long-lasting connections through the arts. She spends five to seven days with students, taking questions, practicing and even chatting over lunch before they all get a chance to perform together in front of an audience. Paez ‘s daughter Sarah will perform a solo with Midori in front of a live audience.

The idea behind programs like these isn’t to create the next pop star or give kids false hopes of fame, but rather to foster a lifelong appreciation of the arts. It’s also a great chance to experience the process of artistic creation, not to mention all of the hard work and people it takes to pull off something like a Broadway production. Have you researched any programs to bring to your area? These are just a few that are available. With a little research, perhaps you too can “grant” a wish for a child.

Parents’ Choice Spring 2012 Small Screen Award Winners

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

We are excited to announce the Parents’ Choice Spring 2012 Small Screen Award winners!

Our testers sifted through hundreds of DVDs, mobile apps, video games, software, and websites to find only the most innovative, educational, and entertaining ones available for children and parents.

Find incredible apps that take full advantage of new technology. Parents’ Choice Gold Award winner Injini offers a full suite of activities inspired by the needs of children with cognitive, language, and fine motor delays. It is so engaging and well-designed, however, that all preschoolers, including typically developing ones, will benefit from it.

Apps aren’t just for indoors. Star Walk, featured in the image above, will encourage you and your child to go outside and search the sky for constellations, galaxies, and visible planets. Toca Tea Party, on the other hand, will turn your iPad in to the most portable tea set imaginable.

Video games and DVDs can take you and your family on new adventures, too. If you have a Kinect, try Once Upon a Monster with your toddler. It’s the closest one can get to having a play date with favorite Sesame Street characters. For those hoping to teach their child a new language, Let’s Go Guang! is an excellent Chinese language and cultural education program. El Perro y El Gato is a fun series for promoting Spanish language learning.

Screen time can be spent very creatively. Try Garfield’s Comic Boom with your young cartoonist, or Kerpoof with an aspiring animator.

Find something to spark any child’s imagination within our list of Small Screen Award winners. Start browsing them now!

DVDs | Mobile Apps | Video Games | Software | Websites

Is ‘The Hunger Games’ appropriate for your child?

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

One of the most anticipated films of the year,The Hunger Games, opens today. Centered around a futuristic society, in which its version of Olympics games is a deadly fight for survival, the book has been devoured by fans. Main character Katniss Everdeen, 16, is a brave literary heroine. But the movie is about kids killing kids, which prompts the question: Is your child ready to see The Hunger Games? Time film critic Mary Pols writes in an essay that she won’t be taking her 8-year-old son to see it. Why? “Nearly two dozen kids aged 12 to 18 die by machete, sword, blows with a brick, a spear to the chest, arrows, having their necks snapped. All damage inflicted by each other.” She adds that there is “absolutely no compelling reason your elementary school aged child – or mine – should see The Hunger Games. None. Not one. It’s not necessary or appropriate to take your eight year-old to see a movie where teenagers kill each other as part of a punishing sporting event sponsored by a cruel, morally corrupt futuristic society.” The tone of the film, she adds, is in keeping with the book: “somber; disorienting; and permeated with an underlying sense of mourning that doesn’t fade with victory.” Some other critics have echoed her thoughts. The subject matter, if not the violence, may just be beyond a pre-teen’s ability to fully comprehend.

The message here is that this is a film that seems to have truly earned its MPAA rating. The Hunger Games is PG-13 and “isn’t suitable,” say the guidelines, for anyone under 13 — especially kids who haven’t read the book. I know that I, like many other parents, have taken my sons to PG-13 movies when they were not yet 13. I felt they were ready, and sometimes I just wanted to see the film myself! But this one may warrant a preview by you so that you can make an informed decision.

Let the Games Begin

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Adams Media has just released The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook: From Lamb Stew to “Groosling” – More than 150 Recipes Inspired by The Hunger Games Trilogy (F+W Media, December 2011) by Emily Ansara Baines, to coincide with the premiere of The Hunger Games this weekend. Clearly, a well-timed marketing campaign, author Baines does make good points about the role of food in Suzanne Collins’ best-selling novels.

“Food represents the ever-widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. It gives the characters strength both by nurturing their physical bodies and reminding them of their emotional roots,” says Baines in book’s introduction.  Baines also points out that Katniss, The Hunger Games central character, was named after a nourishing root.

While the book stretches the concept a bit at times, it gives fans an opportunity to embrace this story of a dystopian future  in a real world context. Sure you can make great party foods for the movie premiere, but you can also use The Hunger Games and this unofficial cookbook as a conversation starter. Do foods taste better at a particular time of day or when you are in a particular mood? How often do kids go hungry in the United States? How about in Africa? Do your kids know about “food deserts?” (Any area in the industrialized world where healthy, affordable food is difficult to obtain—this happens in rural and urban areas, usually less wealthy). How does this tie in to the local food movement?

The cookbook includes dishes mentioned in the books (and are referenced by chapter) such  as Katniss’s Favorite Lamb Stew with Dried Plums, Hearty Raisin and Nut Bread (that Peeta sneaks to Katniss in the first book) and Mockingjay Flatbread Crackers. Baines appears to take license with inventive recipes like Boisterous Blueberry Muffins for Haymitch and will surely turn stomachs with Mr. Mellark’s Favorite Fried Squirrel. However, Baines concedes a bit when it comes to Greasy Sae’s Wild Dog and Rhubarb Stew and thankfully suggests pork be used instead. More of a novelty than a collection of go-to recipes, it’s a fun accoutrement for the die hard fan. It also includes useful  “Tips From Your Sponsor” for each entry as well as with a neat interpretation of the Everdeen family book of herbs.

Granted, it’s not a typical cookbook, but The Hunger Games isn’t seemingly typical children’s fair. Author Suzanne Collins was reportedly inspired by watching reports from the front lines in Iraq. Collins wanted to craft a story that explored the toll warfare takes on children. Her books explores life in an alternate future where the distribution of wealth and food is far from equal and to keep disillusioned population in line, make select teens fight to the death in a brutal reality TV- like contest. The Hunger Games trilogy is not sentimental nor is it sensationalized or overly violent. It’s compelling and sometimes even romantic, but without the usual happily ever after themes. Young readers, it turns out, respect that.

The children in peril angle is not new. Charles Dickens is credited as being the first writer to use child characters in real life situations and even put them in danger. It was shocking and indelicate at the time, but his stories have become classics.  As a parent, would you have any doubts about reading Oliver Twist to your kids versus The Hunger Games? Do you let your children watch the evening news?? For what age is The Hunger Games appropriate?

Excerpt from The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook: From Lamb Stew to “Groosling” – More than 150 Recipes Inspired by The Hunger Games Trilogy (F+W Media, December 2011) by Emily Ansara Baine

District 12 Drop Biscuits

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 tabelspoon baking powder

2 tablespoons white sugar

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup cold unsalted butter, thinly sliced

1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 450. Lightly grease a baking sheet.

In a large bowl, thoroughly combine flours, baking powder, sugar and salt. Using your fingertips, pinch in butter until mixture forms coarse crumbs. Add milk, mixing until just barely moistened.

Drop batter on baking sheet by the tablespoon.

Bake in preheated oven until edges of biscuits are golden, 8-10 minutes. Serve warm.

Spring Break

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

In some parts of the country, it already feels like summer, but it’s not even technically spring—that happens March 20.  Still, many families will get a taste of the coveted vacation season with spring break. While the idea of this event can conjure up images of ill-fitting swim suits and underage drinking, spring break is an opportunity for kids and parents to recharge their batteries in order to finish up the school year right.  To do that, many people opt for some kind of getaway, but gas and airline prices are expensive. Others may plan visits to relatives or simply sign up for camps. Why not take the time, which we often grumble that we don’t have enough of, to do something different?

*Start work on a garden, either a traditional, raised bed or even a vertical space to grow your own tasty food. Not only is a great way to save money, but it helps kids get a   better idea of the local food movement. Once invested in it, they may just eat more of the green stuff. You can check out some really cool ideas at Guerilla Gardening.

*Create an obstacle course for your pet and learn how to train your furry friend to use it.  A pet course doesn’t take much space, but it’s a good way to teach Fido some manners and tricks and gives kids a chance to be the teacher for a change! Canine Crib has tips and ideas.

*Volunteer someplace new each day. Perhaps a business could use a helping hand for a week, or a local food pantry could use some help stocking supplies. Not only will you and your family be doing good, it’s a good way for kids to see the jobs, opportunities and obstacles out there. Parents’ Choice Award winner Teen Life is a great resource for volunteer and job ideas

*Camp out together in the backyard. Just a generation ago, 75 percent of kids regularly played outside. That number has now fallen to 25 percent. Why not show the kids what they are missing and challenge the family to a night al fresco? Try it now and get a jump start on the Great American Campout set for June 23 when kids can register and be part of great movement to get outdoors!

Photo courtesy of the National Wildlife Federation

*Exercise with a purpose. Spring break is a great time to try a new sport or adventure. See if there is a zip line course nearby or even perhaps an introductory fencing seminar. If it’s too pricey, go simple and try it yourself with online programs like Couch to 5 K, an easy way to get everybody out of the house and moving.

How do you plan to spend your spring break?