Archive for May, 2012

Graduation Gifts

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

It’s that time of year when weekends are booked with graduation parties, be it high school, college or even kindergarten. It’s a wonderful occasion to celebrate—a big milestone that deserves special attention. For a guest, however, it creates a gift- giving conundrum. Sure, cash or a savings bond is always a safe bet, but if you have more than one grad to honor, it can be tough on the budget. Now is a good time to think back to your own graduation and remember what you received that was particularly helpful or inspirational. For me, besides a wonderful get together with family and friends, it was a selection of classic albums from my sister that instantly made me the coolest coed on my floor. A close second was a copy of the inspirational Richard Bach novel “Illusions” from a friend. “Oh the Places You Will Go” by Dr. Seuss is pretty much a standard for younger kids. The seniors on our swim team get a giant laundry bag with our team logo emblazoned on it. What are some of your go-to graduation gift ideas?

Here’s a selection of ideas found online:

* Jumper cables/Road side emergency kit

* Tool kit

* Dorm food kit (hot pot, food cards, bulk food)

* Laundry bag/basket and supplies (including quarters)

* Address book filled with friend’s addresses and phone numbers

* Phone card

* Set of sheets and or towels

Interactivity Isn’t Just a Digital Phenomenon

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Device arrangement Photo Credit: Jeremy Keith via Compfight

How much media is too much media? As a parent of young children with an iPad, iPod, iPhone, television, Xbox, computer and various other digital devices coming out of the walls, I often consider this. It doesn’t help that my husband and I both work in tech industries and try to stay on top of the latest trends. My 3 1/2-year-old could select his own music on an iPod when he was just over 2, and my now 7-year-old could work any remote well before he lost his first tooth. When the iPad arrived a couple of years ago, both children took to it immediately and have barely set it down since. Their attraction to the iPad has never waned, unlike their interest in a multitude of other toys that have promised to increase their IQ and creativity. Aside from playing educational apps, I have seen them use the iPad to create beautiful pieces of artwork, put these into a book and compose a soundtrack to go with it. They often figure out how to do things on the iPad well before I do and, as much as I find myself loathing their near-addiction to the device, I am often impressed with the results of their time on there.

Both children have enhanced skills they are learning in school. My youngest son, a Montessori student, has used Montessori-style apps to practice tracing “sandpaper” letters the same way they do in school. But the app takes things further to relate those letters to objects and words. It also sounds out the letters in two other languages. My older son has practiced flash-card style math drills, read books that help him sound out words and learned to better recognize homophones. The list goes on and on.

As impressed as I am with the production and educational value of so many of these apps, I have always limited their time on the iPad. If I didn’t, they would literally lose themselves in it for hours at a time. But even with limiting it to 30 minutes here and there, I wonder what impact their time on these devices is having on them. Are the skills they are learning so beneficial that I should allow them to use it longer? Or, are they losing out on learning other important skills because they are spending too much time using digital media? With my youngest child, I wonder if his exposure to this type of interactive environment has set a level of entertainment expectation when it comes to other things in life.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article about this very topic: What Happens When Toddlers Zone Out with an iPad?. They describe how the ever-changing culture we inhabit positions our children as test subjects in this new digital realm. Researchers are just beginning to study the impact of new devices on the way our children learn and socialize. It will take some time before we have clear results from that research. I suspect that the long-term results will show that there is great value to be seen in the dynamic nature of educational apps and their unique ways of engaging children that might even be having difficulties grasping concepts or skills in a traditional learning environment. But I also suspect that too much time with digital media will likely prove to decrease a child’s ability to focus in a less engaging situation or to learn other skills that can only come by playing hands-on with toys.

In my house, I’ve opted to continue limiting their time on digital devices, as well as to go on “digital breaks,” when we don’t use these media for a couple of days. These breaks encourage the kids to spend more time on arts and crafts, pretend play, sports and exercise and other creative and cooperative projects. I must admit that I need to remind all of us to do this once in a while because it is just as easy for me to overlook how much time the kids are spending looking at a screen. When engaged with an app, they are quiet and not bickering with each other which means more time for mom to get things done. Like television, it’s too easy to use it as a babysitter.

So as with so many things in life, I return to the conclusion that balance and moderation are key. Technology clearly has a place in modern learning, and it holds enormous benefits for our children’s education. That doesn’t make traditional activities obsolete. Children should still spend quality time reading with a parent, building a car out of a cardboard box, hiding out in a blanket fort or creating a masterpiece with a brilliant box of crayons. There is an interactive quality about these seemingly simple activities that could never be replicated on a screen.

Time Shift Your TV – Hatfields & McCoys

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Talk about a family feud!

At some point your kids will hear a reference to “the Hatfields and the McCoys.”  If you don’t want to – or maybe don’t know – exactly how to explain who the families were and why they were in such disagreement,  set your DVR this week to tape the History Channel’s three-night, six-hour miniseries that brings the family rivalry to life.

The first episode aired Monday at 9 p.m., the second is set for Tuesday, and the third airs Wednesday, 9 p.m. each night,  but they are being repeated throughout the week, so check your local listings and set your DVR.

Kevin Costner plays timber merchant William Anderson Hatfield, known as “Devil Anse” Hatfield, and Bill Paxton is land and livestock owner Randall “Ole Ran’l” McCoy in the story that is regarded as one of the oldest and most famous family feuds in American history. The tension between the families was so high, in fact, that the feud nearly launched a war between Kentucky and West Virginia.

This isn’t Costner as we know him from cowboy movies, such as Dances With Wolves. He’s a mountain man here. And a tough one.

Hatfield and McCoy were close friends until near the end of the Civil War, fighting side by side until they returned to their homes—Hatfield in Kentucky and McCoy in West Virginia. One of the first events to set the feud brewing was the 1865 murder of Randolph’s brother, Asa Harmon McCoy, by a local militia group that counted Devil Anse and other Hatfields among its members. Blame was placed and retaliation was planned. As time went on, in 1878, tensions escalated again when Randolph McCoy accused Floyd Hatfield, a cousin of Devil Anse, of stealing one of his pigs. Event after event between members of the two clans continued to fuel the feud until 1890 when it finally started to fade away. But by then the names were cemented in history.

Bring a little bit of hillbilly history in your home, and maybe the show will open up a conversation about what is really worth fighting over and for. You can also check out’s study guide. It suggests activities and books to pair with the show, and it includes vocabulary to define, including vengeance, vendetta and Habeas Corpus.


Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Max Schneider as Charlie and Keke Palmer as Kadee Worth in Nickelodeon's Rags.

There’s a theory that in the whole history of literature, there’s really only seven basic story plots. If you ask me, there should be an addendum for Cinderella. This fairy tale has more incarnations than Madonna. Nickelodeon gives the yarn a bit of twist with Rags, an original movie that premieres Mon. May 28, 8 p.m.  Max Schneider is the put upon budding songster whose shot at stardom is thwarted by his selfish stepdad and lunkhead step brothers. When he crosses paths with the princess of pop, played by Keke Palmer, his fortunes start to look up. That is, they do until a case of mistaken identity and a midnight curfew curtail his dreams.

Kid’s movies aren’t known for their fair and accurate representation of adults, and this movie isn’t any different. The writers don’t break through any stereotypes but there are a few pleasant twists along the way. What Rags lacks in original story telling, it makes up for with great original song and dance numbers. Keke Palmer is delightful as the pop star, who like many kids of that age, struggle with independence and autonomy. Her co-star, Max Schneider, channels some Gene Kelly moves as the kid with silver sneakers and a heart of gold. The movie, which debuts along with a soundtrack on iTunes, is nice way to kick off summer with a song in your heart.

Roominate: Playfully Inspiring Girl Engineers

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012


As a parent, finding products that will encourage girls to explore science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields can be tricky. Though there are toys that do it well, more are always welcome. Enter Roominate, the creation of three young women who studied science, engineering, and math in college.

According to their Kickstarter page, only 15% of female first-year college students intend to major in STEM fields, and only 11% of engineers are women. Inventors Alice, Bettina, and Jennifer “Believe that early exposure to STEM through toys will inspire change.” Play can encourage more girls to tinker, invent, and experiment. That means more girls might enter the STEM Video Game Challenge, for example, or the Google Science Fair. The end result? More women in science, technology, engineering, and math careers.

After studying and observing how girls play, the three friends invented Roominate, “a kit of wooden building pieces and circuit components with which a child can use her creativity to design, build, wire, and decorate her own unique interactive room. ” Little details can transform the room into a miniature pet shop, restaurant, bedroom, or any other space imaginable. Watch the video below and see:

Want to support Roominate or get one for your child? Visit its Kickstarter and make a donation!