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March 2010 Archives


Can New Technology Give Way to a Burst in Reading?

Posted by Jen on March 31, 2010 at 7:00 AM in Books and Reading
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Carter taught himself how to read in kindergarten by sitting along the wall on the floor with all the other kids outside his classroom each morning, picking one "WOW!" and "Zaaaap!" out of a Calvin and Hobbes book at a time. He still can't spell onamonapia, but that's exactly what gave Carter a love for reading. He's had his nose in comic books and graphic novels ever since.

Madeleine had a very nominal interest in reading until she discovered Harry Potter. Her Aunt Katie gifted her the entire set in one fell swoop one Christmas, and Madeleine prided herself in plowing right through to the last book well before Spring Break that same year. Her reading interest waned after that until she took a cue from Carter and got into comics. Other than comics and an occasional childrens volume of mythology, both kids have had zero interest in traditional reading. Chapter books? Yawn. Novels? No thanks.

This all changed early this year when Dave ordered up a copy of a recent kids' bestseller for Carter to read on Dave's Kindle. Madeleine immediately came begging. "Mom, can you download it on your Kindle?" At first I was really surprised that Carter was burrowed down in the Kindle with this title, since just the week before I had offered to buy him the hard copy in the book store. His eyes had widened a little bit as he fingered the pages and felt the thickness of the binding. So. Many. Pages. No, thanks, he said, and I chalked it up to lack of interest.

I reminded Carter of this, but he insisted the Kindle was better. "There are fewer words per page on the Kindle," he assured me. "It's easier not to get lost."

"Are you sure you're into this book?" I asked Madeleine. She gave me the tween age look--the one that looks shockingly like "Duh, Mom!" and I decided not to argue? With one click, I ordered the book and she was reading it in seconds.

Now both kids are reading as fast as we can download the next book in the series. No danger of never turning our books back in to the library. No need to go to the bookstore (unless we want to hang out). And, get this--they are reading to each other straight off the Kindle--two kids who have next to nothing in common.

I'm still getting requests to buy comics and graphic novels and (interestingly) self-help/reference books in actual book form. But otherwise, it's the digital format that's convincing my kids that books that look intimidating in the bookstore are actually worth reading after all.

I know our family is an unusual case as early adopters of the latest and greatest technologies, but it's a hopeful sign for naysayers out there who are concerned that too much screen time is contributing to a lack of interest in education or reading. Quite the contrary in this house. A portable screen with the book of choice ready to go is becoming a pretty popular choice where in years past the Nintendo DS might have ruled the day. And I have to add, as someone who travels and works extensively in developing countries, the kids in the village are way more interested in my Kindle than any book I've brought in recent months.

What do you think? Would you be willing to invest in an e-reader if you thought a new technology would encourage your kids to read more regularly or with more gusto?


I Loved That Kate Gosselin Brushed Her Kids' Teeth Every Morning

Posted by Kristen on March 29, 2010 at 8:35 AM in Good Habits
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He crawled into bed with me this morning because he had only seen me for five minutes here and there all weekend.

K: Good morning, Ethan. I missed you. How was your weekend?
Ethan: Great, Mom. Dad bought us crackers with sugar on them.
K: Technically that is high fructose sugar but I saw them. Did you like them?
Ethan: (sighing) It was so great, Mom.
K: I know. What else did you do?
Ethan: Mom. We did what you said when you called. We didn't burn the house or even have to get stitches.
K: That was great, Buddy. Thanks so much for doing that for me. Did you brush your teeth yesterday before you went to bed since you had those crackers?
Ethan: NO, Mom. I don't like to brush my teeth.

Derek does the bath/books/bed every night but the teeth brushing seems to elude him and I don't know why. I mean, every single night as the kids are playing in the bath, he flosses and brushes his teeth while he is in the bathroom with them. How complicated is it to lean over into the tub and scrub, scrub, scrub the teeth that they have? If you are brushing your own teeth, why not the teeth of the three children less than three feet away from you? I don't even expect you to use a different tooth brush.

I was fascinated when I saw Kate Gosselin in her kitchen with the 8 tooth brushes lined up on the counter (and don't try to tell me you never watched the show). She made some remark about how she knew people were going to mock her for brushing her children's teeth but at least she knew her kids had clean teeth. Personally I chose to mock her for using 8 different tooth brushes (you could probably get away with 3 or 4 and just throw them out every 6 weeks) and for brushing the teeth in the kitchen. There are a lot of things I will do in my kitchen but brushing my teeth or the teeth of the ones I love is not on that list.

Fast forward to the Highly Public Dental Checkup and Cleaning Episode and hygienist after hygienist "oooh"-ing and "aaah"-ing over the excellent condition of every child's mouth. Looks like you had the last laugh, Kate. Well played.

So now, I too brush my children's teeth. At night I trudge up the stairs and load up tooth brush after tooth brush with toothpaste. I lean past my husband and brush, brush, brush. But what about the spitting, you ask? Let's be honest. Two out of three children swallow the toothpaste so there are no worries there. Third? Here's my hand. Nasty, yes. Effective, yes. No toothpaste on the pajamas after, YES!!! When I am away? Crusty teeth. But back to the conversation.

K: Ethan, if you don't brush your teeth, you will get cavities.
Ethan: I know, Mom. But it's okay. I have TWO sets of teeth. These ones with cavities will just fall out and then I can get new ones. And if you get cavities, you just go to the dentist and get them fixed anyway.

I blame DORA, who in her infinite childish wisdom in attempting to keep kids from fearing the dentist in her going to the dentist book, successfully convinced children everywhere that getting cavities is FUN and when you get one fixed, you get a sticker. It's not the first time Dora has annoyed me and it won't be the last.

K: Ethan, if you don't learn to take care of your teeth now, your second set of teeth might fall out too and there are no more teeth after that.
Ethan: How about fake teeth? Wait. If my teeth fall out, then I can get FAKE TEETH??? I can get fake teeth. I CAN'T BELIEVE I CAN GET FAKE TEETH!!!

Along the way, something just got lost in the conversation and there was no way to get it back. I guess brushing your teeth is just something you have to do because the consequences angle is clearly missed by some kids. Or maybe it's just mine?


Fear and Parenting

Posted by Patience on March 26, 2010 at 7:00 AM
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I looked sadly at my end of winter feet, the kind that desperately need a pedicure. I had a small freckle/mole that always looked a little weird but it has been there for years except I noticed it now has a friend. The second looked even more suspicious and lead me to Dr. Google which is almost always a bad idea. Before I knew it, I was showing the soles of my feet to friends asking their opinion and trying not to freak out while dramatic thoughts danced through my head.

Well meaning family called expressing their concern while friends with furrowed brows said, "I think you should get that checked out, I mean I'm sure it's nothing, but you should totally get that checked." Even my extraordinarily laid back husband looked a little worried. I went home and looked at about 1,000 pictures of melanomas, studying and comparing my own spot. Around the same time I got an e-mail from a friend asking me to light a candle for a mom going into surgery with an aggressive bone cancer while her husband and two small children waited at home.

I started to try to imagine what she must be feeling. My own fears over a small brown spot lingered while hers over a large tumor on her spine blew my mind. Who can even entertain the thought of leaving our small children motherless? If it could happen to her, could it happen to me? I lit my candle and hoped she and her family would have all they needed to face whatever might come their way. I felt sort of silly for my worries for myself and yet even still, fear had a very strong stake in my day.

Fear and worry seem to go with parenting. Do you think he will ever talk? Does she eat enough vegetables? What school should we send them to? Is he really ready for kindergarten? Will my divorce scar my kids forever? Does she have friends at school? What if he doesn't play sports? Will they remember their bike helmets if I don't remind them? Are they safe at the mall alone with their friends? What am I gonna do when he can drive? Will he get into a good college? Have I given my kids enough? Am I enough?

What place does fear have in our lives as parents? Is it robbing us of our everyday joys or does it serve to protect us and our children? Do we channel it to hear the call to live our best lives or does it cause us to stumble?
Tell us what you think in the comments. Are you a "worried" kind of parent?


Books Rule the Day for My Emerging Movie Critics

Posted by Jen on March 24, 2010 at 7:00 AM in Books and Reading
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m and c on swing  151

My kids are at those ages where the little kid movies aren't going to work anymore. They are reading real big kid books--the kind that get turned into long, serial movies, and so they have opinions now about well the filmmakers did at being true to the original tale.

This is funny for me because I used to be that kid--the voracious reader, the analytic critic--and now I'm reduced to whatever memoir can be read on a plane. I've almost given up reading altogether, living almost entirely on the fiction or the occasional juicy biographical articles you can read about a movie star or a political figure in The New Yorker.

So when I'm taking my kids to the movies now to see a film based on a book, I'm a pretty easy customer. Since we didn't have a television in our house for almost ten years, I've discovered I have fairly abominable taste in film. Case in point: Alvin and the Chipmunks did not trouble me one bit. I do not need my movies to have the air of literature as long as they make me laugh.

My kids, however, are not on this page. As the credits rolled for The Lightning Thief a few weeks ago, I stretched in my chair elated only to look over and see my eight and eleven year old slumped over in disbelief.

You've got to be kidding me, Madeleine said.

Nothin' like the book, Carter sighed.

We then spent the next hour listening to their frustration on the discrepancies. As long time fans of Greek mythology (upon which the characters in The Lightning Thief are loosely based), they were colossally disappointed.

The longer they talked the more I could see actual problems in the movie that my exhausted middle-aged mind didn't have the energy for a few hours earlier. The female character, while given a more aggressive role, remained one-dimensional. This happens all the time, Madeleine pointed out to me. I agreed and we talked about how girls are portrayed and what it would look like to have a real female protagonist who was supportive of her friends and capable of battle at the same time.

I don't know how long my kids will stay in this in between place where more grownup movies look boring and little kid movies are irrelevant, but I'm grateful at the moment for this trend of making reading books into movies. It's not only giving us good topics of conversation, it's helping me see little glimpses of my kids as adults. I'm looking forward to being pulled into discussions that are driven by their interests; I'm seeing all the ways my own experience can be deepened and expanded because of the ways their minds can grow.

How about you? Are your kids reading along with the movies? What's your policy on book vs. movie--do you make your kids read the book first before seeing the film?

Weigh in in the comments below.


Music and Kids

Posted by Kristen on March 22, 2010 at 6:53 AM
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029.JPGMy children love music. When Ethan was born, I used to play Vanessa Carlton's White Houses in the car to calm him down when he would start to cry. I would sing it at the top of my lungs. He would instantly grow quiet. Maybe he was scared silent. I don't know. If it makes you feel better, I would sing quieter when I got to the part of the song where she lost her virtue. In my defense, it was the first song on the CD and I'm a lazy woman.

With Nate, it was the ABC/Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star combo. I didn't even know they were the exact same tune until I was 30 (I'm quick). When Nate was only three weeks old we discovered he was singing along. You say that and people look at you like you are crazy. My mother looked at me like I was crazy when I told her and she's normally on her grandchildren's side when it comes to important things like this. I didn't care because I had proof. We got into the car to go to the doctor's office and I began to sing the ABC song. I stopped mid song and there, in the backseat, Nate made grunting sounds to finish out the line. My mother sat in the front seat of the car and stared at him in disbelief. It was crazy and awesome.

Now there is Mason. It only took me a year to realize he sings along to everything. He sings along to the songs on the radio in the car, when I play music in the house and today I realized he was singing himself to sleep when there was no music. He dances all the time. And not surprisingly, he is a fan of Mr. Steve. Then again, aren't we all? I think with a family full of Mr. Steve love, we'll take advantage of his visit to our area this summer.

So it's really horrible that now I have to confess that I am terrible at cultivating this enjoyment by my children. It has only been in the last few months that I have the radio playing in the kitchen in the morning. The second I turn it on to my Mom Rock, the kids all come and dance with me. The kids were in preschool last fall but now they aren't. Gone is weekly music and movement class and the kid songs with hand motions that build small motor skills. I know there is a reason for the Itsy, Bitsy Spider, but I don't know what it is.

I need to find a way to cultivate this love of music. I mean, I could have my very own brother boy band on my hands. Wait, that isn't necessarily a good thing....


A Delightful Daughter

Posted by Patience on March 19, 2010 at 12:41 AM in NatureRaising Girls
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I don't even know what kind of flower it is, but she calls them her Ruby flowers. They grow on a tree in our back yard and every day she goes out back to pick whatever she can reach on her tiptoes. She carries them around and sings princess songs with a warbled voice, she "plants" them to grow new beautiful trees all over the yard, she takes them apart to string for a necklace. It is her very own utopia, created for and by her in her four-year-old world.

When she is done playing with them, she brings them inside and ties a bouquet. I find tiny bunches all over the house in all kinds of made up vases. Their deep red matches this fiery little girl who is just delightful. If you had told me there would be such a level of loveliness a year ago while in the thick of age three, I would have laughed but secretly believed you. Her light has always been there but it seems so bright these days.

When we walk the dog she can barely wait for the lawn with all the "candy lions" (dandelions). She picks every last one and somehow by magic there are more everyday. While we walk home she places one on each walk of every neighbor as an act of anonymous kindness. I smile and remember days when even weeds were special.

There is no shortage of joy and living completely in the moment. She tells me each morning when I try to wake her up that she can not possibly go to school because she is too tired. Only minutes later when she is fully awake that she totally changes her mind and insists we must leave that same minute. I find a contraband tiny stuffed animal in her school bag almost every day. I ask her about it and every day she insists that it is her show-and-tell day even though it isn't. We haggle and she finally relents in order to not miss all of the awesome of her pre-school.

She pulls old cereal and juice boxes out the recycling to make presents for her friends. I find dress up shoes in an old Capri-Sun box tied up with rainbow colored yarn, they are for Maris. I know this because she has a card sitting on top with a picture of two stick figure friends holding hands while a smiley face sun shines down on them.

I try to soak in the magic of four, the delightful time of independence mixed with the innocence of the imaginative mind. I mark this in my mind as one of my most favorite ages. I sit and chat with my most delightful daughter.

What is your favorite age(s)? What does the delightfulness look like to you? Share with us in the comments.


Spring into Better Habits

Posted by Jen on March 17, 2010 at 7:00 AM in DeclutteringFamily Activities
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little flower  007

Yesterday the final snow cleared on the front lawn and the yard was humming with sounds of new life as the birds set up house in the eaves and the crocuses pushed through the now visible flowerbeds. Spring is upon us and there's no better time to turn a corner on some better habits for the whole family.

Clean, clean, clean.
There's something about better weather that makes you want to get things in order and make a fresh start. Even the messiest among us here are making a concerted effort to clean up and I was downright shocked when one of my kids announced it was time for a total room overhaul. Use the energy of the fresh new season to make a point about the happiness that ensues when things are in order.

Say no to screens. After a winter of being hunkered down in the media cave, sunny hints of spring ahead are the perfect push to get the screens to dim. I've noticed my kids are naturally more happy to play outside and if they do want to play video games right now, they are opting for the more celebratory round of Guitar Hero than the more strategic games they prefer to play in winter. Put your foot down and say this will be the spring and summer of less screens, more outdoor fun.

Get out the bikes. Our bikes have been piled up in a heap in the garage all winter, but yesterday no one asked when the temperatures hit low 60's. I looked out from the kitchen window and every single thing with wheels that ever lived in the garage was in motion. The neighborhood kids rode in circles on our driveway and all I could see was weeks of happy bicycle bliss ahead. Better to start as early in the good weather as possible!

Start planning for summer. If your kids are school aged like mine, there's no reason why they can't be included in the plans for summer fun. Have a family meeting and solicit ideas. Where do we want to go? What new thing do we want to try? What skill is this the summer to master? There's nothing worse than hauling your kids off to activities and summer camps that they never wouldn't have picked if you've given them the choice, so get them in the act right now.


No Buttercream Frosting Left Behind

Posted by Kristen on March 15, 2010 at 7:56 AM in Raising Boys
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054.JPGHe walked past me with green sprinkles mashed to the sides of his mouth.

K: Hi.
Ethan: Hi, Mom.
K: What's going on?
Ethan: Nothing.
K: Really?
Ethan: Well, I was playing my game a few minutes ago.
K: Uh, huh. I have a question for you.
Ethan: Okay, Mom. What's your question?
K: Did you get into your brother's birthday cake?
Ethan: Mom?
K: Did you eat the cake? I told you we are going to eat it in an hour.
Ethan: Nate got into it.

I walked over to find no less than 4 finger holes in my buttercream frosting. The boys had decorated Mason's birthday cake with blueberries (Mason's favorite) and green sparkles. I decided to save the big fish for later and to start with the fish in the barrel. I yelled to Nate.

K: Did you get into this CAKE, NATE?!?!?!
Nate: Mom, you said 'no cake."
K: I KNOW. That's why I asked if you got into it. It has these holes in the frosting.
Nate: I don't know.
K: What do you mean, "I don't know?"
Nate: Um...
K: Let me smell your breath.

Nathan opened his mouth and sucked in in a manner that would have made every underage drinker proud who has ever gotten caught by a parent. And like I imagine every parent checking their errant child's breath for proof, intake of air makes no difference. I could smell the organic evaporated cane sugar on his breath.

Nathan: (laughing) I'm sorry, MOM.
K: Grrr.

I turned back to Ethan.

K: Did you get in the cake?
Ethan: Well.....
K: Eat. Let's just cut to the chase. You have green sprinkles on your face. I know you got in the cake.
Ethan: Mom. Nathan MADE me do it.
K: What?
Ethan: HE made me.
K: Eat, how did he manage to make you get into the cake that is sitting over there in the middle of the table, away from everything.
Ethan: I was over there and I had my finger just like this (pointing) and then he pushed my finger in the cake. So then I had to eat it because I had frosting on my finger.
K: Normally I would be asking WHY you were up on the table, pointing at the cake so close that your brother was able to shove your finger in but I'm not going to do it.
Ethan: Really, Mom. It was like this (making pointing and poking motions in the air animatedly).

I sent them both to timeout and then made them hide their wicked ways with strategically placed blueberries.

After dinner when Derek was in the kitchen doing dishes, I found Nate perched on a chair with his head completely in the mixing bowl, licking buttercream off the side of the bowl. Derek and Nathan were standing so close together, they could have touched. I looked in complete disbelief.

D: I told him to ask your permission. He didn't?
K: He needed to ask my permission to stick his head in a bowl to eat a cup of sugar, a pound of butter and egg whites? Seriously?
D: So he didn't ask...
K: No. No, he didn't ask.
D: So I should stop him?
K: I don't think we could.

Nate's head popped out of the bowl and he grinned at me.

Happy Birthday, Mason. I'm so glad we have nearly 11 more months before we are making a cake with frosting again for any birthdays.


Spring Has Sprung

Posted by Patience on March 12, 2010 at 8:24 AM in Connecting with kidsFamily Activitieshealth
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Kids are wandering out back without jackets on, windows are being cracked open, the robins are hopping around in melted snow puddles and everyone is happy to see the beautiful signs of spring. Every season change welcomes a new start and I love to anticipate what will be new again and what we will carry over. Here are some ideas to get your spring groove on at your house.

1. Go on a crocus hunt. We all went to walk the dog the other day when Lucy was beside herself with the tiny purple flower coming up out of the ground. She has now become obsessed spotting them and counting how many we can find on our walks around our neighborhood. The daffodils aren't far behind. Oh the magic of something beautiful growing! Don't have anything to grow yet? Why not plan your family garden together? Create a map and decide what and where you will grow your vegetables.

2. Get your family fitness on. Break out the bikes, dust off the trampoline, take a walk. Now is the time to return to outside games of chase and hide and seek. Your kids will be delirious if you suggest it and play with them. Try turning off the TV for a week and see if you find yourself outside breathing in the fresh spring air.

3. Get Juicin'. I don't know about you but oranges are piled to the ceiling at my grocery store. Why not let the kids help you squeeze some fresh juice to remind you of warm days ahead. You could get super crazy and try making a smoothie together? It wont be long before lots of fresh fruits and veggies will be ready for us to pick.

4. Do some Ding Dong Ditchin'. My kids and I are headed out to do some anonymous kindness today. Our local grocery store has daffodils for super cheap so we'll be making tiny bunches, attaching a note and then leaving them on random door steps.
It's super fun and a great way to get out for an adventure.

5. Make an Earth Day plan. What are you going to do this Earth Day to celebrate and care for our earth? Get a big sheet of paper and brainstorm together on what you might like to do together. Google your city and Earth Day to see what is planned locally or come up with your own project.

What are you doing to welcome Spring? Do you have any special family rituals or traditions when certain seasons begin? What do your kids love about this season? Let us know in the comments.


Parenting for Now or Later? How Do You Decide?

Posted by Jen on March 10, 2010 at 7:00 AM in Raising Girls
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fountain  123

Madeleine is eleven and a half now and whether I like it or not, boys are on her radar. She's not silly or screaming or following her cues from all the media messages that tell her this should be her be-all, end-all. No, she's just aware in a new way that boys can be people who you could have deep affection for--partially in the same way she adores her friends who are girls.

So far, I think this interest is healthy and I hope all of her upcoming relationships in her teen years are just as reasonable, respectful and fun. The boys seem to be as engaged as the girls and when they do interact, the whole thing strikes me as the kind of thing you remember as innocent and fun your whole life long.

So what's the catch? Madeleine continues to ask for permission either to have one-on-one time with the boy of her choice or to host get-togethers with boys AND girls for things like dance parties and more recently, a boy/girl sleepover. I know without a shadow of a doubt that these things are totally harmless, but I have a big red neon sign flashing in the back of my mind that says six months deeper into her adolescence it will be a whole different story.

It's a common parenting dilemma, right? Go with what's just right for your child's development right now and make adjustments to your strategy later or hold back (or push ahead) because you see what'll be better for their development right around the corner?

In the past, I've always been inclined to go with what's best for my kids in the moment. I didn't smack my toddlers hands when they touched the Christmas tree ornaments because I knew experiencing things in a tactile way was key to their development; I simply redirected their attention instead. I didn't fuss when my three and four year olds showed signs of being the world's most creative cross-dressers because I knew that trying on different roles and identities was a essential for them establishing their sense of self.

These were (in some circles) controversial parenting decisions I made at the time because let's face it--it's hard to be that parent whose baby is all up in the Christmas tree or the one whose adorable boy is showing up to preschool in Mardi Gras beads and Cinderella shoes. But I let things go and reined my kids in on certain things when they were old enough to do things a different way--Mardi Gras beads still excepted.

Now sticking to that plan feels a little more loaded. Boy/girl sleepover? I've read the more normal, non-sexualized interaction kids have across gender in pre-adolescence, the more healthily they re-meet one another across the big divide. But the hassle of reversing the precedent and saying no in a year or two (who wants to monitor a houseful of 13 year old boys and girls in the middle of the night?) sounds like a nightmare, too.

What do you think? I'm especially interested in hearing from parents on the issue of doing what's right for your kids right now or getting them ready for what's around the bend--even if it means sacrificing what's currently best for their development.

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