Archive for April, 2012

Time Shift Your TV – Voyage to the Bottom of the Earth

Friday, April 27th, 2012
James Cameron

James Cameron preparing for his deep sea dive

Did he come face-to-face with a sea monster? Was it eerie?

Avatar and Titanic director James Cameron will explain the history-making deep-sea dive he made last month in a new half-hour special, James Cameron: Voyage to the Bottom of the Earth on Sunday on National Geographic Channel at 9 p.m. ET/PT. It repeats May 3, in case you miss it.

It’ll be the first time we get to see some of the footage Cameron took when he made his solo trip down to the ocean’s deepest point, 6.8 miles beneath the surface in the Mariana Trench, 200 miles southwest of Guam.

Not only does he explain the science behind his “vertical torpedo” sub, he talks in detail about the dark descent and what it looked like once he reached the ocean floor. “It was like someone rolled latex paint on Masonite,” he says. “We’re talking pretty much the bleakest place I’d seen in the ocean.”

Can’t wait til Sunday? Watch a preview below, and hear him describe his descent.

Meeting Goals, Not Just Scoring Them

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

Budget cuts and the press for higher test scores often means classes such as art and physical education take a hit. Lots of news stories feature parents fighting to raise money and restore these programs, but rarely do you hear about kids taking on the issues themselves. That’s exactly what the third graders of Desert Sun Elementary School in Cave Creek Arizona, did. Because Arizona can be dangerously hot during school months, students often have to spend recess and PE class inside. While thinking about ways to stay active—and not drive teachers crazy—Becka Korn and her friend Maja Agranius came up with the idea of an indoor climbing wall for the school. With no funds readily available, the kids brainstormed and held a lemonade stand that raised a little over $84. Realizing the tough road ahead, eight-year-old Becka wrote a letter to Clif Bars, a sports snack company, asking for help. Moved by their plight, owner Kit Crawford sent 300 Clif Bars for fundraising as well as a $1,000 check. The school Parent Teacher Organization picked up the rest and soon, Becka and fellow students will be literally climbing the walls at Desert Sun Elementary.

Their efforts don’t mean just a better physical education experience and more fun at recess. The students also learned a great financial and practical lesson too. Setting difficult goals, making a plan of action, seeing a goal to completion are skills that will carry these kids far above the gym walls. And for the rest of us, it’s a good reminder to never underestimate or diminish the power of a bunch of  kids with a dream.

Portable Picks for Spring and Beyond

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

Childhood artistCreative Commons License Photo Credit: Wyoming_Jackrabbit via Compfight

Every year in our Holiday Gift Guide, we compile our favorite portable picks to bring along during travels. As many of these are also perfect for bringing outside and on vacation in the spring, here is a spring-ready version of that list geared toward going outdoors for exercise and play!


5 & up

What it is: The Geopalz activity tracker is a pedometer for kids that comes in all sorts of cute shapes such as a butterfly, peace sign, ladybug, and soccer ball. Children can go to the Geopalz website each day to log in their steps. Each time they log in a specific amount of steps (25,000 steps) they earn a point, once they have earned enough points they can win small prizes.

Why we like it: Parents liked having a source that informs kids about their eating choices and how they affect their health. This is a great way to teach children about the importance of exercise in a fun and low key way. It’s also a fun addition to vacations, especially if they entail lots of walking.

Learn to CatchLearn to Catch Mini Football
7 & Up

What it is: A football that is softer and smaller than a regular football, with material lining the outside. On each edge, the football is lined with soft, fuzzy “fur” that adheres to Velcro on the included gloves for an almost guaranteed catch.

Why we like it: Kids loved that it made them feel like professional football players. Testers took turns practicing catching with the gloves on, and they came up with various games like seeing who could do one-handed, mid-air grabs.


3 to 12 years


What it is:  A lightweight square of material with adjustable Velcro loop enclosures attached all along the sides and center of the square. The Velcro loops mean that the fort can be attached or suspended from just about anything.
Why we like it: Travels with ease. The fabric folds into a small tote that will fit in a car, stroller, or backpack. Like the magic of an empty cardboard box, the Fortamajig is a simple object brimming with possibilities for endless hours of imaginative play. There are few toys that offer such timeless appeal to children of all ages.

6 & up

What it is: The object of this shape-matching game is to get four of your shape in a row (horizontally, vertically, or diagonally) before your opponent does. Be assured that this is unlike any other four-in-a-row game you may have played in the past. The playing cards look like rounded dominos; that is, each card has two curved sections, on each of which can appear any combination of the following images: a blue circle, an orange square, or a blank. Players select whether to be blue or yellow, and a dealer gives each player one card to start.

Why we like it: Sometimes simpler is better, as is the case with this two-player crisscross card game. Fold back the four panels that enclose the game, and voila, there’s the game board with the playing cards already in place! It’s great for picnics and camping trips.

For another fun travel game, try Slooooks!


 Nature Jams
3 & Up

What it is: Parents may know Jason Ringenberg as the “cowpunk” pioneer and front man of the legendary Jason & The Scorchers. Here, in his alter ego as Farmer Jason, he calls upon some of his more famous friends to lend a hand on his third children’s music album.

Why we like it: Thematically, the sentiments are good, as Farmer Jason (a sort of rockin’ Mr. Greenjeans in overalls and straw hat) reminds kids of the joys of being outside.

For more fabulous music, see our Audio Award winners here!

3 to 12 years
Free 30 day trial, $9.99 per month,$99.99 per year 

What it is: An iOS app that provides instant, unlimited access to the T2G app on up to five Apple iOS devices – in any combination of iPhone, iTouch, or iPad – for a full year.

Why we like it: Tales2Go lists over 1,400 titles. The list is as encompassing as eclectic. Odds Bodkin, Willy Clafin, Joel Ben Izzy, represent just a few on the wide-ranging talent list.( And yes, our bias may be peeking through, many of the artists are Parents’ Choice Award-winners.) offers stories for bedtime, to smooth bumps in the road, to render highway traffic powerless, or just to please. This is a reader/listener’s dream come true, and will provide endless familiar stories during camping trips.

Doodle Roll
3 to 8 years

What it is: An art station to go with included crayons and roll of paper
Why we like it: It’s compact, and the fact that it keeps the paper and crayons all together in one unit is refreshing for parents trying to stay organized while providing their children opportunities to be creative and independent. Children can draw, write, play games or make creative projects anywhere.

Chalk CityChalk City Road Maker
Ages: 3 to 13 years

What it is: The Chalk City Road Maker allows you to make chalk roads. The hand held device holds two pieces of sidewalk chalk and when you push it along the driveway it makes a three foot wide road that is perfect for bikes, skateboards, and riding toys.
Why we like it: The device is easy to use and is light enough that children can operate it themselves. The materials are held in a mesh bag for easy clean up. This product encourages outside play.

Folkmanis Finger Puppets
Ages: 3 & up
Price varies 

What it is: An exceptionally delightful trio of miniature creatures consists of a puppy, a monkey, and a sea dragon
Why we like it: With one of these puppets on the right hand and the other on the left, a child can experience “double pleasure” with language arts fun. They can be brought anywhere and are easy to clean if they get dirty outside.

Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C.

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Science and Engineering FestivalLooking for an interesting outing with the kids? If you’re in the Washington, D.C. area, consider stopping by the USA Science & Engineering Festival for what promises to be a jam-packed event with something for every age group. Among the exhibits for the 6-and-under set will be the 3M Visiting Wizards doing demonstrations relating to chemistry, air pressure, sound and music. Bill Nye the Science Guy and actress Mayim Bialik, who holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience, from the Big Bang Theory will be there too.

For those 15 and up, MythBusters TV show hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman will discuss all sorts of fun concepts, including whether it’s possible to jump out of the way of a bullet. You’ll be able to meet and talk with dozens of scientists and mathematicians about their jobs and passions. A special tent will feature physicists talking about different career paths.

It’s all taking place next weekend, April 28-29, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in D.C. from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Best of all? It’s free.

Celebrate the Outdoors on Earth Day!

Friday, April 20th, 2012

Whether made from eco-friendly materials or simply designed to promote exploration and appreciation of the outdoors, these toys, games, activities and, yes, apps are worth exploring on Earth Day! Listen to Parents’ Choice Foundation President Claire Green on Absolutely Mindy on SiriusXM’s Kids Place Live today at 3pm to hear details about how to win them all.

Thames and Kosmos: Sustainable Earth Lab
The Sustainable Earth Lab Environmental Science Kit teaches children about today’s pertinent environmental issues and what can be done to solve them. In general, children learn about the scientific method, experimentation and many crucial scientific skills such as following of directions, logical reasoning, hypothesizing, observing and recording phenomena, and measuring. It also gives children a base knowledge of scientific vocabulary and tools. And the kit does this in an engaging manner that makes kids care about their planet’s future.
Wild Cards: Backyards Birds and Bugs

Birds: For anyone who’s wondered which bird is singing, or eating the sunflower seeds, this informative, beautifully designed set of cards will answer the call. The stunning photographs adorn 36 cards representing 18 pair of backyard birds. The birds are identified with facts, and categorized into color-coded groups of songbirds, woodpeckers, hummers, little chirpers, tricksters, and water birds.

Bugs: The photographs on the cards are spectacular; the facts are interesting and memorable. Budding entomologists will be fascinated, if not somewhat grossed out, by the larger-than-life pictures of some of the world’s hairiest, scariest, creepiest, and even sometimes, prettiest bugs.
Star Walk

Star Walk is an application well worth its cost. Information rich and visually stunning, Star Walk is an opportunity to become an amateur astronomer, giving users knowledge of the moon, planets, and distant galaxies. The dim but backlit images of the night sky coupled with GPS orientation put this app miles ahead of ordinary star maps as a tool for field use. It can even be put into red mode, which dims the display’s lights to prevent losing one’s night vision. Virtually any venture outside at night leads to one of the children asking for information on a planet or constellation, on whether the moon is waxing or waning or if it qualifies as “full”, and Star Walk is immediately at our fingertips, chock-full of answers. But answers in astronomy inevitably lead to more questions, the best kind of learning opportunity.

Nature’s Art Box

From Amazon: Whether it’s a city park, a suburban backyard, a farmer’s field, or the sandy seashore, there’s a treasure trove of natural art materials out there. Twigs, vines, pinecones, flowers, leaves, rocks, shells, moss, feathers – they’re all gifts of the earth. Add just a few inexpensive store-bought items, such as glue, string, and wire, and anyone can create beautiful, natural works of art.

In Nature’s Art Box, writer, gardener, and nature-crafter Laura Martin offers 65 fun projects kids will love to make, using materials they can find just about anywhere. She explains how to make paints and inks from flowers and other plants; how to use shells, moss, seedpods, and cones to embellish large objects; how to build elf-sized furniture; how to decorate picture frames, birdhouses, and keepsake boxes with woodland treasures; and how to dig clay, weave vines, and make natural dyes to color T-shirts.


No matter what your favorite animal is, Folkmanis have probably already rendered it into a charming puppet. Their collection of bears, dogs, lizards, lobsters, and more each include information about the species they represent on their tags. The durable creatures will last through years of play.