Archive for October, 2012

Stuck Inside? Entertaining Your Family During Hurricane Sandy

Monday, October 29th, 2012
When do the rainbows get here?

Todd Baker via Compfight

Stuck inside with your kids during Hurricane Sandy? If you still have not found enough crafts and recipes to keep you entertained on Pinterest, then Parents’ Choice has plenty of resources for indoor activities that can be easily completed with materials you are likely to have around the house. If you have lost electricity already, note that most of these can be done without it!


All you will need to make your own puppets and plan a puppet show. If you are low on lights and materials, shadow puppets are always fun to make and use.

Indoor Olympics

Even though the next Olympic Games are not until 2014, you can still hold your own indoor Olympic games!

Kitchen Concerto

Consider your kitchen supplies as instruments for the day. Compose songs made out of sounds from pots, pans, glasses, and cabinets.

What’s Write for the Family

Rainy days are a good time for journaling and writing family experiences. Tips for getting kids excited about writing, and ideas for different forms of writing to try out.

You Can Become a Storyteller

Practice oral storytelling. Of course October lends itself to ghost stories, but encourage your children to share funny stories they’ve read, school experiences, or exciting vacation memories. Bonus points if you tell stories inside of a homemade fort!

Carving Out a Lesson Plan

Did you take your Halloween pumpkins inside before the storm hit? Now is a better time than ever to carve them into Jack O’Lanterns.

Read, Read, Read!

Finally, stormy days inside are perfect for curling up with a good book. If your children aren’t avid readers, here are some Tips for Teaching Kids to Enjoy Reading.

Time Shift Your TV – Rethinking Dyslexia

Monday, October 29th, 2012


My younger brother, Peter, grew up battling dyslexia. I remember how he struggled in school until it was finally diagnosed, and he got help from a tutor. It was frustrating for him and for my parents. Ultimately, I think it helped shape his personality. He compensated for any lack in the academic area by turning on the charm. He is one of the most likeable guys you’ll ever meet.

I had the opportunity to interview Tom Cruise once, and he told me he had done the exact same thing. Growing up dyslexic led to severe reading issues, but it also helped him hone his charm skills early on in life.  

If your family has been touched by dyslexia, you might want to tune in to HBO’s Monday night documentary, The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia.

According to the film, up to 20% of students are dyslexic. Many pass through school without indentifying the problem, often misunderstood and not performing up to their potential. Director James Redford (son of Robert Redford) explores the disorder, looking into the minds of people with dyslexia and spotlighting a cross-section of them. Interviews include Redford’s own son, Dylan; investment pioneer Charles Schwab and business mogul Richard Branson. And there are others who are highlighted, such as Skye, a sixth grader who went from dreading school to thriving, once she had “cracked the code” of dyslexia. After Skye was diagnosed, her father, Dr. Tyler Lucas, a surgeon, realized he has been struggling with dyslexia his entire life.

The film shows that a dyslexic person often works harder and longer at tasks but has the ability to approach things differently – and that can yield positive results, not to mention major success. The documentary, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival this year, is touching, humorous and informative. It airs Monday on HBO at 7 p.m. with repeat airings throughout November.

Here’s a preview: 

Candy Everybody Wants

Friday, October 26th, 2012

Most of the year parents work hard to have their kids eat right, with the exception of  the one night where it is basically expected that they gather and eat as much candy as possible. Halloween. A nutritionist’s nightmare, a dentist’s retirement plan. How do parents reconcile this sugar-filled holiday with concerns about processed foods and of childhood obesity?

According to Lisa Leake, whose blog 100 Days of Real Food talks about sticking to a non-processed family diet, there are several alternatives.  The key is to keep the spirit of the holiday intact, but not go so far with humorless treats that your house gets covered in toilet paper. Glow sticks and other toys are a nice alternative but don’t count out a good lesson in moderation. Decide before you go out trick or treating on how many pieces of candy the kids can eat on Halloween and be sure to ration thereafter. If your kids are anything like my daughter, the candy losses its allure by day two. There are only a few items she likes and those are the ones she saves. The danger here, of course, is that mom and dad take care of the rest.

The Cooking Channel offers some fun recipes to give new life to leftover Halloween candy, which can then be given as Thanksgiving hostess gifts! At our house, instead of buying big bags of small random candy that kids don’t really like (which can be pricey); I stick to basics. We live on a relatively quiet street, but if the kids make it to our house, they each get one, full-sized chocolate bar to save and savor. What do you plan to give out this year for Halloween?

For more Halloween fun, visit our feature on Halloween Treats.



Matt Tavares’ Picture Books for Baseball Fans

Friday, October 26th, 2012

Oliver's GameAs the World Series continues this weekend, now is the perfect time to visit your local library or bookstore and find Matt Tavares’ baseball-themed picture books. The author and illustrator works in nostalgic sepia tones, creating pencil and watercolor illustrations that capture the thrills of America’s pastime. No matter which team you’re rooting for, the story of Oliver Hall and his namesake grandson in Oliver’s Game will appeal. Though Grandpa Oliver once had a promising career as a Cubs hitter, the escalation of World War II prompted him to make a difficult decision. In Mudball, which is set in 1904, Tavares treats his readers to a comedic showcase of the bumbling Saints as they scramble among the puddles to locate a ball that is ultimately found a few feet from home plate.  Young readers will also enjoy Zachary’s Ball, the first picture book Tavares published, which follows a young boy and his magical foul ball.

To learn more about Tavares, watch Candlewick Press’ video interview with him. He shares the way that baseball cards influenced his artwork, and how his college senior thesis became his first published picture book.

Author and illustrator Matt Tavares discusses what has influenced his work from Candlewick Press on Vimeo.

Magic Town Creates a Unique Digital Storytime for Children

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Magic Town - Kids enjoying storytime with Magic Town

Storytime is universal. In the classroom, children gather on a rug to listen to a teacher. At home, a child shares a moment with a parent or caregiver. There are tales told around a campfire. Stories shared at bedtime.

Magic Town is a virtual world focused on storytime, complete with a storyteller for the digital age—a wise old lion named Louis. Louis the Storyteller is the quintessential village elder. He has traveled the world in his special air ship, collecting stories, and he’s brought them to Magic Town. The more a child reads and plays, the bigger the town gets.

Children learn that each time they open the Magic Town iPad app or go to the website, they can visit Louis at the big tree in the center of the landscape. Louis welcomes them, and then presents the new story of the day. The stories then find their “home” inside quirky houses that dot the Magic Town landscape. Through repeat visits, children discover an ever-growing library of fables, fairy tales, original titles and well-known series licensed from top publishers and broadcasters like Random House, Simon & Schuster, Hachette and BBC Worldwide. In total, there are 100 interactive stories and new titles are added each month.

In our review of the website, we were charmed and intrigued by the illustration style, the navigation design, the intelligent interactivity, the narration, and the ability to customize each child’s visits. Putting the child in control of which stories to read and activities to explore is a very compelling feature. It encourages young learners to sculpt their experience, broaden their learning opportunities, and get a real sense of the magic that reading has to offer. What does the character do when not in the story? What games does he like to play? What colors does he like? These are just some of the questions children are invited to answer.

Stories in Magic Town are called Livebooks, a proprietary format that has four different reading modes. A child can choose “Watch,” to listen to a narrator and look at the pictures. In “Play” mode, a child listens to the narrator and then taps flashing illustrations to “turn the page.” In “Learn More” mode (formerly known as “Explore”), the narrator reads the story and pauses occasionally to ask reading comprehension questions. Learn more includes a range of questions that are specific to the narrative and that deepen a child’s appreciation of all educational themes in the story. The questions are all age-appropriate and fun for children. And finally, in “Read Together,” a child can read by herself or with an adult.

Mindshapes, the creator of Magic Town, developed the Livebook format with the input of educators and child development experts including Professor Paul Harris from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Livebooks are designed to stimulate children’s creativity, imagination, reasoning, social skills and language development. Ultimately, the goal of Magic Town is to help children develop a lifelong love of reading and learning.

While the age-old notion of shared storytime is the central focus of Magic Town, children can read and play either on their own, or with an adult. And adults can feel confident in the quality of this carefully curated collection of picture books. It’s screen time that parents can trust.