Archive for January, 2015

Free Range

Friday, January 30th, 2015

free-range-kids-have-become-a-thing-of-the-past_v3In the news recently is the story of parents in trouble for letting their young kids, ages ten and six, walk to school and to the park, unsupervised. The parents subscribe to a parenting style called Free Range Kids. These particular parents, however, were cited by local authorities as neglectful and may face charges. It is an interesting, hotly-debated issue played out all over social media. On one hand, we read articles criticizing parents for coddling their kids and creating “Displaced Royalty Syndrome.” Any number of accounts hold that parents who do everything for their child only hamper their child’s possibilities later in life. Yet, there are plenty of stories of real neglect, as well as child abduction. Does that mean if you see two young kids, not in distress, walking by themselves, you would call the police? Where is the middle ground here?

I was raised as more “cage-free” rather than “Free Range.” My mother would send us all outside, but we weren’t to leave the block and had to stay in a few pre-approved yards. We didn’t get called back inside until dinner.  In the evenings, we were back outside playing Flashlight Beam (a game of tag with flashlights after dark) or catching lightning bugs (our name for fireflies). I was about twelve when I was finally allowed to walk to the shopping center with a friend.

As a parent, I’m not immune to worry or fear. I’m sure that’s also true of parents who subscribe to Free-Range Parenting. But there has to be a balance between rational concerns for safety and giving our children some independence. From my perspective, it has to do with knowing your children well. How responsible are they? How aware are they of their surroundings? Are they ready for small challenges? I probably wouldn’t let a six year old walk alone, but with a group of older kids close to home—maybe. It is not a case of ignoring kids or being lazy parents, but rather consciously (and sometimes painfully) letting them take baby steps towards independence. It’s a lot to ponder and maybe, in a year, as I anxiously wait for my daughter to call home from college, I will have a different perspective.



The PlayAbility Scale™

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

PAS_Logo_New DomainThe PlayAbility Scale.

Expanding the scope of the internationally recognized and respected Parents’ Choice Awards® program, Parents’ Choice Foundation has developed the The PlayAbility Scale ™ – a rating system rooted in a scientifically based methodology – that measures a toy’s or game’s skill-building properties, and reports the outcomes in a uniform and user-friendly way.

Under the leadership of Karena Rush, Ph.D., Parents’ Choice Foundation’s expert panels distilled the properties measured into six major domains – umbrella categories that describe the skills addressed and fostered by playing with the toy or game. The six domains of the PlayAbility Scale are: Cognitive, Academic, Creativity/Imagination, Communication, Social/Emotional and Motor. Additionally, within each domain, there are up to seven even more specific properties measured by the PlayAbility Scale.

The Power of Play Decoded

When shopping for toys and games, have you noticed that packages highlight developmental benefits in different ways? Some with symbols, some with words, some with both. But what do the symbols mean? What does this mean for my child? If there are no standard practices used to measure and/or report, how can consumers make good decisions?

Designed to address the inconsistencies in rating the benefits as well as labeling the benefits on packaging, the PlayAbility Scale uniformly measures and reports the skill-building properties children’s toys and games have to offer.

Think of the PlayAbility Scale like the nutrition label, but for toys and games. Just as not all foods or beverages contain fat, not all toys or games develop gross motor skills. If your child knows how to read, but can’t sit still to finish a page, look for toys or games that help build attention and persistence. If your child is more active with numbers than with friends, look for toys and games that encourage social interaction, communication and cooperative play.

Here’s a sampling of which skills each PlayAbility Scale domain measures and reports:

Cognitive Skills include attention and persistence, memory, processing speed, reasoning and more. Academic Skills include school readiness and early literacy skills for preschoolers and literacy/reading skills for those in the early elementary years. Creativity/Imagination Skills include, but aren’t limited to dramatic and imaginary play. Communication Skills spans following directions to labelling and describing objects, to conversation skills. Social/Emotional Skills refer to interpersonal skills, cooperating with others and understanding other people’s perspectives. And the Motor domain encompasses skills of the eyes, hands, feet – individually and when used in combination.

The following are PlayAbility Scale™ ratings for four games for children ages 3 to 8+:

Seuss CharadesDr. Seuss Charades Game (ages 3+, $9.99, Wonderforge)

This fun-filled game rated high on the PlayAbility Scale in the Cognitive, Academic, Creativity, Communication and Social/Emotional domains. With ratings of 80% or higher, the PlayAbility Scale identifies that the Dr. Seuss Charades game addresses and improves thinking skills of problem solving, attention and memory, as well as the ability to process and act on information quickly. The game helps with school readiness skills, dramatic and imaginary play skills, language skills (understanding others, expressing oneself, conversational skills and understanding nonverbal cues and behavior) and on the social/emotional skills of interacting and working cooperatively with others.

What does this mean for my child?
This game will be helpful (and fun) for children who need to improve both how they communicate as well as how well they understand what others are saying. Additionally, the game will help focus a child’s attention and use problem solving skills to understand, process and answer the charade challenge at hand.


Frida's FruitFrida’s Fruit Fiesta Game: (ages 4+, $21.99, Educational Insights)

This fun and creative letter matching game has players manipulate three spinners and choose one matching letter from the colorful game board/box. With ratings of 80% or higher, the game rated high in the Cognitive, Academic and Motor domains. The thinking skills addressed in the Cognitive domain include attention and persistence, classification, categorization and pattern recognition. Ratings in the Academic domain scored high for school readiness (early literacy skills), and in the Motor domain ratings were high for eye/hand coordination, object manipulation and bilateral integration (being able to use both sides of your body in a coordinated way).

What does this mean for my child?
This game will be helpful (and fun) for children to work on identifying letters as they prepare for kindergarten and for early elementary school students to build on the literacy skills they are using at school. Additionally, using Frida’s beak (tongs) to manipulate the game pieces helps children build fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination.


ZingoZingo! (ages 4+, $21.99, ThinkFun)

The line of Zingo! games brings fast-paced fun and learning to the classic game of Bingo. All Zingo games use a sliding mechanism (Zinger) to reveal picture/number/word tiles, as players work to make matches to fill the Zingo card to win. All Zingo games rated 80% or higher in the Cognitive and Academic domains, addressing thinking skills including problem solving, attention, memory, categorization, as well as helping players improve their ability to understand the challenge and work quickly to solve it.

What does this mean for my child?
This game will be helpful (and fun) for preschool and early elementary school children in enhancing early academic skills such as sight word recognition (Zingo Word Builder, Sight Words or Original Zingo), number recognition (Zingo 1-2-3), telling time (Zingo-Telling Time), or learning a new language (Bilingual Zingo- Spanish).


SwishSwish (ages 8+, $12.99, ThinkFun)

In this easy-to-learn fast-paced card game, players challenge their spatial intelligence as they work to visualize solutions in their “mind’s eye.” Sixteen transparent cards make up the playing area where players mentally manipulate two or more cards so that each “ball” swishes into a “hoop” of the same color. Swish scored very high (85% or more) in all five Cognitive subscales, making this an excellent choice to address and improve focus and attention, persistence, pattern recognition, all while quickly and accurately processing and acting on information.

What does this mean for my child?
This game will be helpful (and fun) for children who need to work on the ability to sustain attention and problem solve, while learning to visually discriminate among objects that look very similar. Additionally, the game will help build players’ abilities and confidence to work quickly under pressure.


The PlayAbility Scale initiative is designed to help children of all abilities and learning styles. We hope you’ll agree.

Downton Arthur

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

dowton arthurThe Dowager D.W.? Lord Binky? The popularity of “Downton Abbey” has reached a new level with a fun send up courtesy of Arthur and PBS Kids to debut on Monday, January 26.(check local listings)

Muffy Crosswire, excited to get the results of an ancestry study, assumes she is descended from royalty when she finds a picture of a relative in front of the elaborate Fountain Abbey. After all, Muffy already has the tiara and the attitude. Turns out, it’s better to research facts than to make assumptions. When Francine and Muffy, with the help of Binky, read an old diary, they learn there’s a bigger story behind every picture—and it’s not always what it seems.

In addition to being a cute spoof on a show that grownups love, the episode poses some good questions to its viewers. What is a legacy? How do you want people to remember you? What do you know about your ancestors? It’s a great way to get kids asking and thinking about their family and the generations that came before them—in a thoughtful and constructive way. The show also touches on managing expectations, handling embarrassment and researching history in a personal way. Arthur has been known to spoof pop culture before with nods to Edgar Allen Poe stories and  “The Wizard of Oz,” but seeing Arthur as Mr. Carlson and Francine as O’Brien is worth all the tea and crumpets in Fountain—or Downton—Abbey.


Announcing the 2015 Parents’ Choice Television Awards

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

Television isn’t what it used to be. Not only are there more channels than a preschooler can count, there are networks, satellites, online platforms, and more than a handful of screens on which to watch “tv.” Competition for attention—and retention—is fierce.

In selecting the winners of the 2015 Parents’ Choice Television Awards, our jurors reviewed an abundant crop of shows, both long-running and new. The best programs raise the bar for viewers. They neither dumb down the subject matter nor talk down to the audience. The Parents’ Choice Award winners present “lessons” with age appropriate content, language and delivery that appeals to 21st century kids – and the parents who watch with them.

tumble-leaf-exclusiveThese shows teach preschoolers about art (Creative Galaxy) and scientific discovery through play (Tumble Leaf), elementary school kids about problem solving (Odd Squad) and the power of imaginative thinking (Annedroids), ‘tweens about world news (Nick News with Linda Ellerbee). And some shows teach us all about being good friends.



From history (Lost Treasure Hunt) to media literacy (Ruff Ruffman: Humble Media Genius) arithmetic (Peg + Cat) to awesomeness (Kid President: Declaration of Awesome) the roster of 2015 Parents’ Choice Television Award winners is just waiting for your remote (or DVR, or tablet, or phone, or …).



Parents’ Choice Magazine Awards: 2015

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

Rockwell-esque Mailman


We’re pleased to announce the Spring 2015 Parents’ Choice Magazine Awards.

Magazines are like a personal media monitoring service, a briefing session, or a print version of a Google alert. Articles, stories, and games geared to and around a reader’s areas of interest, are all wrapped up and delivered by the postal service.

Giving a magazine subscription to readers who are sitting on laps or tethered to laptops reminds recipients that you know about and encourage their interests – every time an issue arrives.

Congratulations to the 2015 winners – and to the soon-to-be readers of a Parents’ Choice Award-winning magazine.