Archive for January, 2014

A Super Weekend

Friday, January 31st, 2014

Once the holidays are over, winter seems pretty bereft of big celebratory events. This weekend, however, is a veritable triumvirate of exciting activities. Okay, so Groundhog Day isn’t really a holiday, but as weather temperatures decline and cabin fever rises, parents will take any excuse to break the boring winter routine. Here are some fun ideas:

Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images


Starting off the weekend is Chinese New Year, which celebrates the Year of the Horse! The Chinese Zodiac (Sheng Xiao) is based on a 12 year cycle. Each New Year is traditionally celebrated with fire crackers, banging pots, parades and feasts. Why not get the kids involved in the celebration with some new, fun crafts and foods to try.


Photo courtesy of Mollie Johanson

February 2 marks Groundhog Day, a quirky ritual where the folks of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, watch the reaction of a groundhog to see if we’ll have more winter. Is Punxsutawney Phil accurate? Does anyone really care? He’s cute and there’s a lot of fun to be had from this tradition.

The Super Bowl is traditionally a grown up event, but kids can get in on the excitement with their own fun. Helping to make healthy snacks, playing some touch football inside can brighten up even the coldest days. For 10 years now, Animal Planet has offered a furry, fun counterpart to the gridiron action with the Puppy Bowl. This year, Feb. 2 at 3 p.m. on Animal Planet, thirty six adorable puppies, all shelter animals, will be on the field for the festivities. Think that only kids watch? During last year’s Super Bowl blackout, more than 1.1 million viewers turned to a rerun of the Puppy Bowl. Although temperature forecasts for the Super Bowl are not as dire as they were last week, it will still be a good time to be inside.




Photo: Keith Barraclough/Animal Planet





Announcing: Spring 2014 TV Awards

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

We’re pleased to announce the Parents’ Choice Awards for Television.    

TV shows are designed to pull us in. Some shows do it with hype, some with sentimentality, and others with mind-numbing eye candy. And while those tactics may be OK for some families, that’s not what Parents’ Choice considers quality television.

The best tv shows get us to think, empathize, and act. Using those compass points, we offer a few highlights:

For preschoolers, the PBS show  Peg+ Cat(that’s Peg plus Cat, not Peg and Cat) where math and problem solving are front and center, to Nickelodeon’s Peter Rabbit where the educational component focuses on character development and interpersonal skills, lessons are charming and cheerful. For young viewers 6-14, Nick News with Linda Ellerbee continues to be the standard-bearer for telling smart stories for kids, about kids.

Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s The Balance of Power  is a timely lesson of the three branches of government presented as a baseball game being played by the executive branch (presidents) and the legislative branch (Congress). Umpiring it all: The judicial branch, of course. And nascent foodies will get lessons in healthy eating and cooking with the tasty Recipe Rehab and Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Minute Meals.

But wait, there’s more! For the full list of the Spring 2014 Parents’ Choice Television awards click here.

Snow Day

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Image via

The panic. The stress. The in-fighting. Two little words can conjure excitement for kids but can fill a parent with dread: snow day. Sure, the beautiful, gentle falling snow at first invokes notions of hot cocoa by the fire; families building snowmen, enjoying the great outdoors.  But when one snow day snowballs into two and three days at home, well, that’s when things can quickly turn ugly. The snow isn’t even pretty any more—it’s a gray slushy mess just like your foyer floor. Not only are kids missing school work, they miss the socialization with friends and an important outlet for pent up energy. Parents miss the quiet, a clean floor and sometimes even their own office work.

I remember what a co-worker—the first one to return to the office from maternity leave—said to me. “Work is easy. Staying home with kids is hard.” Whether it is your full time job (and let’s not kid ourselves, it is a job) or something to juggle along with office work, snow days can be a challenge. They can also be a disruption in learning. The internet is full of crafty ideas on what do with kids on snow days, but beyond the nostalgic fantasy, what are some real world solutions?

When winter weather is a real disruption, it is worth talking to teachers about having a snow day assignment folder. No one expects parents to suddenly home school kids on snow days, but it is a good idea to make sure some kind of review or work gets done. Blackboard is a program that many schools use, but discuss your child’s syllabus with teachers and make a plan for some extra-curricular work that can be fun and keep kids on track.


Image via

Make up days for snow days are often built into school calendars. It doesn’t hurt for you and your neighbors to have plans as well. Belong to a baby-sitting co-op? Make sure you have a snow day co-op clause as well. This can come in handy, especially if the kids miss several days.

Take our Daughters and Sons to Work day isn’t until April 24, but when school is out but work duty calls, you may have to celebrate a little early. Most work places can accommodate this kind of last minute emergency plan, but be sure to check with the boss first. Ask your human resource department to implement a policy for snow days. If you can bring the kids into the office, it can be a learning experience and offer a change of pace for the kids. Most likely you are not the only one in the same situation.

By all means, make crafts, sleep in, watch movies, make cocoa. But have a plan so that a snow day isn’t the new tax day!

Here’s a great place to start:



The Secret (Inner) Life of Toys

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Sculptor Jason Freeney imagines and constructs what the inner workings of much-loved toys could be if they were real. His intricate designs take inspiration from human and animal anatomy, whichever applies most accurately to the toy he’s depicting. In an interview with, he describes how the outer form of the toy guides his interpretation of the toy’s inner anatomy.

For instance, his My Little Pony (humorously referred to as “My Little Boney by one blogger), combines inspiration from actual horse anatomy along with a heaping dose of creativity to fabricate a skull that would fit the pony’s unnaturally large noggin complete with enormous eye socket and tiny teeth.Freeny also discusses how children, including his own, who view his work are intrigued rather than frightened by the realistically painted innards.

Have you ever dreamed of what your toys would be made of if they were real? Have your kids ever tried to perform operations on their favorites to see what’s inside?

Images via Jason Freeny

(Parents please note, not all images in artist’s archives are suitable for children)

Living Math

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

LEGO Fractions – Image by Alycia Zimmerman from {link to:}

Regular, unstructured play is important for kids. But there are those times when kids can use a little inspiration. Parents can help by giving old toys new life with purposeful play and a little bit of living math thrown in. It’s a great two for one—getting your money’s worth out of toys as well as a little learning in the living room.

Learning with LEGOS is a big movement online, but the living math principal can make a lesson out of everyday life. With a little imagination and some clever lesson plans, kids can be working on simple machines, problem solving, and fractions while having lots of fun. I was a tinker toy kid and didn’t even realize the concepts I covered while trying to make a catapult. Are you making the most of your child’s toys? How do you use toys to teach? Have you tried the living math method?

Some ideas and plans for purposeful play and living math:

Living math books:

If You Were a Set by Marcie Aboff.

Only One by Marc Harshman 

Bunches and Bunches of Bunnies by Louise Matthews

The Best of Times by Greg Tang

Grapes of Math by Greg Tang 

Sir Cumference and All the King’s Tens by Cindy Neuschwander