Archive for October, 2014

Classroom Clutter

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

What makes a nurturing learning environment? Does it have to be visually stimulating? Or warm and inviting? Is it free of distractions so that kids can concentrate on the business at hand?

As much as everyone loves a good educational poster, there is a growing debate that less is than more –  especially when it comes to classrooms. Granted, no one wants to send their kids into a stark, minimalist atmosphere. At the same time, an overabundance of attractions, albeit educational, can be distracting to kids and steer them off task.

And it’s not just a problem in elementary school. My daughter came home one year to announce that her new teacher had 47 stuffed animals, among other items, scattered around her classroom– in a middle school English class. The teacher, it turns out, was great with the kids, and although my daughter ending up learning a good deal, many kids didn’t mesh as well in that setting and some even transferred out.

New research shows that what was once a coveted, comfy homey classroom atmosphere may not be as beneficial to kids as something as simple as outside space. “Health & Place” conducted a study that looked at student stress levels and the access to the outdoors and green settings.  The findings? Kids not only preferred the greener outdoor settings, they actually showed more confidence and fewer signs of stress.  We often say that kids are like sponges. Isn’t about time that we take a closer look at in what kind of environment we ask these “sponges” to learn?  In what kind of classroom does your child do best?





Try on these ‘Threads’

Monday, October 27th, 2014

PR Threads closeup Are there any tween or teen couturiers in your house?

If so, you might want to tune in to a new Project Runway offshoot series, Threads.

The reality competition, which kicked off an eight-episode season on Thursday, showcases three young fashion designers as they compete in different    tasks. Rather than follow a group of designers and eliminate one each week, as is the format of the original Project Runway, Threads takes a more positive approach. Each week we get to see three new contestants. Each week one wins a prize.

In the first episode, Bradford, 13, from Birmingham, Ala., won a prize package worth 25,000. His two competitors were so sweet and such good sports that we wanted to seek them out and order up some fabulous fashions right away as a consolation prize.

What’s interesting about the show is watching three young people who are so passionate about their work. They know exactly what they want to do and they aren’t even in high school. And in most cases, they’ve been doing it since they young children. One learned to sew at age 8. Another began designing at age 3. It’s impressive and inspirational. Cambria, 12, from West Hills, Calif., explains that, “Fashion makes me feel good inside. I’m doing something I love.”

Can you say that about your work?

I worried the show would be too stressful or too critical. It’s a challenge in itself to put your work on display, but combined with a time deadline, it seemed the kids might crack under the pressure. Cambria did get upset  and we saw her shed some tears. But her father, acting as her assistant, was there to give her a hug right away.

All the remarks are positive. Even the constructive criticism doesn’t feel edgy or mean. So even the two competitors who didn’t win (let’s not call them losers) seemed fired up about going back home and designing more creations.

Actress Vanessa Simmons is the host. Judges include designer Christian Siriano, Seventeen magazine’s Gina Kelly and Jasmine Snow and YouTube style guru Ingrid Nilsen. Guests on the premiere  episode included television personality Kelly Osbourne and actress Jaime King. The eight-episode series was filmed in Los Angeles at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM).  New episodes will air Thursdays at 10 p.m. on Lifetime. Watch, be inspired, find your passion – and go for it!




Be Our Guest

Friday, October 24th, 2014

We’ve all read the stories about those amazing people that adopt numerous kids and seem to have endless compassion and patience. We often wonder if they have super-human ability or if we could ever be that type of family. It is a major life commitment, not right for everyone.

The author's family with their Italian guest

The author’s family with their Italian guest

For families who have room in their homes and hearts, and want to test the waters before committing to foster parenting, there are lots of opportunities to do so.

Exchange programs are the most common way, with host families taking in a child from another country for an entire school year. Students and family members must sign a contract agreeing to specific rules, but generally, the family provides food and shelter and necessities. The students must abide by house rules and aren’t allowed to drive.

They key to finding a good fit is to look for accredited programs that work with your local school. Check with your school district’s administration office or the guidance council office of the nearest high school to see which programs are most compatible.

Alexandria, Virginia, resident Maria Filios is a six-time-and-counting exchange student host mom. “With every exchange student, we learn something new. We are certain that these are lifelong relationships that create further connections. Nothing makes your children more aware of the world than hosting an exchange student.” Filios says she keeps in touch with all of her “kids” and even had the opportunity to visit some in their native countries. Her son is currently studying in Italy.

Many sports programs, such as the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League, need host families for players, and require a shorter time commitment but a big return for a budding athletes and host families. An amateur summer wooden bat baseball league in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, the CRCBL gives college players from around the country an opportunity to get a sense of professional baseball life. Players stay with the family from late May through July or early August and the host families provide a bed and access to a washer and dryer. Their assigned team provides the rest.

Your local recreation department should know of any other sports programs needing short-term hosts for athletes. Or check with the Chamber of Commerce to see if there is an International Business School that is looking for host families for adult students looking for business opportunities. Your city may even have a sister-city exchange program that needs hosts for different events.

Our family had the opportunity to host a young student from Italy this past summer. She wanted to experience life in the US and because she missed the school deadlines, we arranged for a month and a half visit. Admittedly, we had a brief moment of panic as we waited for the plane to arrive.  Letting a stranger into your house isn’t easy and should be never taken lightly.  But after a family vacation out West, plenty of laughs, great food and some competitive game nights, the house feels a bit empty now that she’s gone. We think of her often—when we set the table for three instead of four; when we drink milk at dinner instead of just breakfast (something Italians never do); whenever we see Oreo cheesecake (her newfound favorite), we know we’ve made a friend for life.  Ti voglio bene e mi manchi, Giulia!



The Making of a Classic

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Great Pumpkin

There’s no real formula for what makes a TV show a classic. Baby boomer nostalgia may play a big part, but if was just all about the memories, how come “A Garfield Halloween” doesn’t run every year? Little did Lee Mendelson, Bill Melendez and Charles M. Schulz realize back in 1966 that “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” would be so embedded in our 21st century culture. Some would argue that this TV special is to Halloween what “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” is to Christmas—it just isn’t the same without it. The animated classic remains a favorite across generations and has been something parents have been able to share with their own kids.

Harper Collins has just released a great companion book to the beloved TV special, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown: The Making of a Television Classic.” In it folks get a better idea of how this beloved show came to be – through scripts, illustrations, storyboards, interviews with the kid cast and even Vince Guaraldi’s original music scores.  The full script of the show alone could make for a fun afternoon read, should your October days turn rainy.  The only thing the book doesn’t include is a secret formula for lasting success—except for hard work. Sorry, Garfield.







Parents’ Choice Awards: Fall 2014 Toys and Games

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

We’re so pleased to announce the winners of the Fall 2014 Parents’ Choice Toy Awards! extraordinaires

Beginning with the New York Toy Fair in February, we see hundreds of toys and games throughout the year. We work hard to find toys and games that help kids think, question, tinker and play.

The 2014 Parents’ Choice Award winners underscore that –in bold.

As you may know by now, our Parents’ Choice Awards program panelists are as tough as they are fun. They read the instructions and put play to the test. The Parents’ Choice Award-winning products are the results of carefully considered formula:




From the classic Lincoln Logs set to the cutting edge Osmo “physical meets digital” gaming device, to the wildly creative toy/game hybrid of the Extraordinaires Design Studio, the list of Parents’ Choice Award winners offers games that challenge young minds and toys that enlist imaginations and encourage play.

Be sure and watch your screens for a variety of #parentschoiceaward lists tailor made for the upcoming and frenzied holiday shopping season.