Recipes Kids Can Make and Eat

Recipes easy enough for kids to prepare are a wonderful thing find for any parent looking for a stress-free way for children to have productive fun. The following recipes are not only easy and delicious for children and adults alike, but provide quality time for parents and children in the hours after school. You’ll not only have fun together preparing these sweet treats, but enjoy eating them together.

Recipes and Clean-Up

After preparing any of these three recipes, use clean-up time to teach children not only how to clean, but that clean-up comes with every project, be it preparing recipes, doing arts and crafts, or simply playing with toys. Clean-up should be fun, of course! Sing silly songs as you work. Put a drop of soap and warm water in the blender after making the berry smoothie and watch it foam up at the flip of a switch!

Fruit skewers next to dish of yogurt dip

Tutti Frutti Fruit Skewers with Vanilla-Honey Yogurt Dip

Makes 20 skewers

Ingredients:

  • 10 wooden skewers
  • Assorted fruit, peeled, stemmed, cored, as necessary
  • 2 cups plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Styrofoam block (or Styrofoam ball sliced across the bottom to sit flat on table)

Method:

  1. To make the dip, stir together yogurt, vanilla extract, honey, and cinnamon, in a medium-sized bowl
  2. Thread fruit onto skewers, alternating types of fruit
  3. Stick skewers into Styrofoam to stand
  4. Serve skewers with yogurt dip

chocolate-dipped apricots

Chocolate-Dipped Apricots

Makes 24 apricots

Ingredients:

  • 24 dried apricots
  • 11-ounce bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • Parchment paper

Method:

  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Place chocolate and coconut oil in microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for one minute. Let sit for one minute, then stir.
  3. Microwave chocolate for 15 seconds, stir, then repeat, microwaving chocolate in 15-second intervals, until chocolate is almost completely melted. Stir chocolate until melted and smooth.
  4. Dip each apricot into the chocolate to half-way coat the fruit, setting each dipped apricot on the paper-lined baking sheet. Place the tray in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to help set the chocolate coating.
  5. Store dipped apricots in the refrigerator, or at room temperature, according to preference.

Recipes for smoothies can contain spinach and blueberries

Berry Good Smoothie

Makes 4 8-ounce smoothies

Ingredients:

  • 2 handfuls, ready-to-eat baby spinach leaves
  • 2 cups frozen berries (use whatever type you have on hand, or an assortment)
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Method:

  1. Place all ingredients in a blender.
  2. Blend until smooth.
  3. If you like your smoothie thinner, add more coconut milk, a little bit at a time, until it’s just the way you like it.
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Sensory Play: It’s Summer!

Sensory play is about playing games that stimulate the senses. Children use their senses to understand the world they live in. Sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste offer different ways for children to experience their surroundings.

Sensory play is also important for developing the senses themselves. As children use their senses, they learn how to make sense of the various stimuli that come at them from different directions. A child who plays sensory games that involve sense of smell, for instance, will develop his sense of smell. The child will learn that some smells are pleasing (flowers, fruit) while other smells may signal danger (cooking gas). The child will also sharpen his senses so that eventually, he can tell the difference between grape and lemon scents.

That’s just sense of smell, but the same is true of all the senses. If you think of a baby who puts everything in her mouth, you understand this immediately. The child must be given things that are safe to put in the mouth, because at that stage, everything is going to end up in her mouth. You wouldn’t, for instance, put a baby of that age in the sandbox, because she’s going to put sand in her mouth. This is how, at this age, she learns about her environment. She learns, for instance, that some things don’t taste very good!

Using the senses, develops the senses. This is true for all children. Some children, however, have issues with sensory integration. These children may have autism or sensory integration dysfunction disorder. The disorders may make it difficult for children to understand and organize the stimuli that come at them by way of the five senses. Think of how some people can’t stand the sensation of a wool sweater against their skin. Children with sensory integration difficulties may need labels cut out of their clothing, and may only be able to tolerate certain fabrics.

Sensory Play Offers Extra Practice

That’s just a single example of a sensory issue relating to sense of touch. A child may find certain sounds too stimulating and may need to wear earphones to block out the background noise in his environment. For these children, too, sensory play offers extra practice in sorting out the senses.

During the summer, children can lose ground in their learning. This is a good time to offer them sensory play time. Sensory play doesn’t feel like learning. It feels like fun. It is fun.

Meantime, sensory play can help build your child’s vocabulary by adding words like sour, salty, bitter, and sweet. Water can be cold, hot, wet, frozen, blue, still, or move in waves. A tree’s bark may be smooth or rough.

Sensory play can also help your child develop fine motor skills. Playing with sand, clay, or a bowl of noodles can help develop these senses as kids pinch clay, pour sand, or pick up a noodle, for instance. This sort of play readies a child for tasks like writing, tying shoes, zipping zippers, and buttoning buttons.

Sensory Play Helps Calm

Sensory play also has a calming effect on children. This is the reason your child is calmer after a bath, or after hard outdoor play, or jumping on his bed. Working the senses is known to help children cope with the discomfort of fatigue, restlessness or boredom, for instance.

Create An Edible Sensory Experience

Here is a recipe for Edible Sensory Playballs, from Emma and Trish over at the Mud Kitchen. These playballs are awesome because they stimulate all five senses: taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing. Most of all, kids have a blast learning while they play.

Prepare the playballs a day before you plan to use them, as they need time to set.

You’ll need:

  • Jello in assorted flavors
  • Ice ball molds in two different sizes
  • A large tray or tub
  • Bowls (for half spheres)

Mix jello in separate batches to keep colors and flavors separated, and using slightly less water than called for for a firmer consistency. Pour the jello mixture into ice ball molds and/or bowls.

When jello is set, empty the molds and bowls onto a large tray and let the kids at ’em. They are irresistible. In fact, you’ll want to get in on the fun along with them, and so will all the other adults in your home!

There will be all these awesome fruity smells and colors and textures. Kids will dive right in to smash the balls flat or squish them between their fingers. They’ll want to do a taste-test, too, which is all part of the fun.

Note that jello also makes funny, delightful sounds as you mess with it on the tray.

Small Grant for TADA! Because Every Child Deserves a Stage

Small Grant for TADA! Because Every Child Deserves a Stage
TADA!’s Resident Youth Ensemble Program has won the nation’s highest distinction, the Coming Up Taller award from the President’s Committee on the Arts & Humanities. TADA! co-founder and Executive and Artistic Director Janine (Nina) Trevens holding the award. (courtesy)

A very special children’s theater school called TADA! just became the recipient of a small grant from Kars4Kids. We wanted to help TADA! because Kars4Kids is a willing partner to anything that helps children grow and blossom as they should. And we already knew that musical theater could do just that.

After all, we’ve twice covered on the blog the benefits of drama and performance for young people.

Yeah. We wanted to be part of that mission. So now we are.

Kars4Kids spoke to Co-Founder, Executive and Artistic Director of TADA! Janine (Nina) Trevens, to find out how she ended up creating this amazing theater for children and to learn about the theater itself. Our hope in sharing this interview is that others will be inspired to start theater companies for children in their own areas. Because doesn’t every child deserve a stage?

Kars4Kids: When did you first have the idea to open a children’s theater school and how long did it take until you were able to open? Tell us a bit about that process.  

TADA! Ensemble Cast Member Riya Nagpal

Riya Nagpal is a member of the TADA! Ensemble. She’s 13 years old and has been in TADA! for the past four years. Riya agreed to talk with Kars4Kids about what it’s like to be part of TADA!

Riya Nagpal
Riya Nagpal, TADA! Ensemble cast member (courtesy)

 

Kars4Kids: How old were you when you auditioned for TADA and how did that come about?

Riya Nagpal: I was ten years old when I auditioned for TADA!. I wasn’t really a social butterfly at that point. I always sat in the back of my classes and I didn’t really talk that much to other kids. I didn’t have that many friends and I was too scared to make any. The only way I would break out of my shell was to listen to music and dance and sing and read. So, to break me out of my shell, my mom was looking online to find places to help me talk more when she came across an ad about the TADA! auditions. My mom signed me up, and the story just goes on from there.

Kars4Kids: What does it feel like to be part of TADA? Are the classes difficult? How do you feel about your teachers and classmates at TADA?

Riya Nagpal: It’s like being part of a really close knit family. We have a lot of differences, and we do disagree on things, but in the end, we’re still always there for each other no matter what. All of my teachers and classmates are great. The teachers are always supportive and will offer to go over a routine, a scene, or a song, or whatever you’re struggling with. All of my classmates and friends here are always happy to run through something with you. They will stand behind you no matter what.

Kars4Kids: How many hours a week do you spend on your work with TADA? How do you manage your school work on top of your TADA work? Is that a struggle?

Riya Nagpal: I spend about an average 20 hours a week at TADA!, between rehearsals, events, and volunteering. I’ll be honest; it can be a bit of a struggle to manage homework and TADA!. But I work hard and I try to stay on top of it. I do a lot of my homework at TADA! with help from staff if needed so that when I get home, I only have a little bit left so that I can relax. It’s definitely preparing me for the future.

Kars4Kids: What would your life have been like without TADA? How is your life different as a result of being in TADA?

Riya Nagpal: Now that’s a crazy thing to think about! I mean, TADA!’s done a lot for me, from breaking me out of my shell to giving me a second family, among other things. I mean, I guess I would be even quieter than I was before, barely speaking to anyone. But thanks to them, I have friends, a new family, dozens of new experiences, and thousands of more to come! I’m so grateful to be with them.

Kars4Kids: What do you want to do when you’re finished with school?

Riya Nagpal: I have no idea. I always change my mind. There are lots of options in today’s day and age and there are lots of jobs that I consider important and that I’d like to take up as a career. I always consider the arts as an option, but I think there are a lot of other things that I would like to have as a job.

Kars4Kids:What is the best part of being in musical theater? What does it feel like to be on the stage in front of a gazillion people? How do you feel after a performance?

Riya Nagpal: There are so many great things about being here. One of the best parts of being at TADA! is just having that feeling of being a different person as soon as you step onto that stage. When you take on a character, it’s like you transform into an entirely different person altogether! I mean, it can definitely be nerve-wracking when you’re up on that stage. The first time I did a show, I was terrified! But after you finish, you miss it a lot. When the show’s over, there’s this overall feeling of pride, kind of like when you ride a bike for the first time, or when you ace a test. It’s just so exhilarating, and once it’s over you miss it.

Nina Trevens: I worked as a stage manager in theater for a number of years but I wanted to work with children which was my passion. I saw how that was possible when I ended up working as the production stage manager at The First All Children’s Theater for a number of years but I wanted to direct and that wasn’t a possibility there.

I went back to stage managing adult theater and got a job as a stage manager on a show which was part of a festival. The producer wanted to do all different kinds of theater. My Mom, Francine Trevens, was directing a different show in that festival and she told the producer that I had a children’s theater company which I didn’t at the time. The producer asked me for a proposal—what would my children’s theater be able to do in this festival?

I asked a choreographer friend, Linda Reiff, to partner with me to write the proposal. We went away for the weekend and came up with a dance piece and a new musical that we would be able to do as part of the festival. The producer accepted the proposal and so TADA! began in the summer of 1983.TADA! Camp

We were given the space, equipment, and marketing. Linda and I found contributors and staff and cast the show.  Once that production ended, Linda and I decided we wanted to continue with TADA! so then we went through the process to become a not-for-profit theater company – that took a year – and we continued to produce original musicals and dance pieces performed by kids for family audiences.

Kars4Kids: What was the first musical you performed? How many children were enrolled that first year? Catching Bubbles at TADA!

Nina Trevens: The first musical was The Little House of Cookies and it was done in conjunction with a dance piece entitled, The Odd Ball. The cast was comprised of 15 kids ages 8-17.

Kars4Kids: How many kids are currently enrolled in the regular 8-18 TADA! program?

Nina Trevens: The ensemble is currently comprised of 86 members.

Kars4Kids: Tada! holds musical theater classes for ages 1-2. Now that’s intriguing. The babies must love this! WhatPuppet fun at TADA! exactly do you do with the babies? What is the aim of this class? 

Nina Trevens: Our class for age 1-2 is called Creative Musical Play. It is a chance for moms, dads and caretakers to have a play date with their little ones and their friends. The adults get in on the action while watching their child learn rhythmic coordination, language and storytelling skills through song.

Kars4Kids: You have some pretty big names on your artistic advisory board. Chita Rivera and Leslie Uggams, are for instance, recognizable names. How did you manage to enlist their help? It must take some courage to approach the big names. 

Nina Trevens: Many of the people on the Artistic Advisory Board I had worked with in the past so I just asked them if they would lend their names in support of TADA! and they said yes. I guess it took courage—I’ve been told that I’m a brave person but I just knew what I wanted and I knew how much TADA! meant to me so I asked people to be a part of TADA!.

Kars4Kids: The range of programs you have is quite impressive. It’s hard to know how TADA! manages it all. Have you done a count of all the programs you do? How many full time staffers do you employ? 

Nina Trevens: Thank you. I haven’t actually done a count of all the different specific classes/camps/residencies/shows/ensemble events and ensemble classes we do yearly. I think of TADA! as two main programs—the two main arms of TADA! are The Theater/Ensemble Department and The Education Department. TADA! has 8 full-time staff members, 6 year-round part-time, over 40 Teaching Artists and another 15 -25 people hired on a per production basis.

Kars4Kids: Does the TADA! program, being free, target children from lower income homes? Can you tell us about some of your graduates: what they came from and where they are now? We’d would love to hear about your most successful students. We noted Ricky Lake, for instance.  

Nina Trevens: Not at all. The ensemble Program does not actually target children from any specific income bracket. In fact, the goal of the Ensemble Program is to work with youth and teens from different racial, economic and neighborhood backgrounds. Kerry Washington was in a TADA! show when she was a kid and so was Josh Peck (Grandfathered), Jordan Peele (Key & Peele, Life in Pieces), Mizuo Peck (all Night at the Museum movies), Azealia Banks (International Rap Artist), Sasha Allen (national tour of Pippin, The Voice), Christina Vidal (Code Black), Amar Ramasar (New York City Ballet) as well as many other working actors, lawyers, doctors, teachers, moms, dads, and etc.

Kars4Kids: TADA! requires a huge time commitment. Does this tend to cut into school work? We understand that the idea is to build the child so the child performs better in all arenas, including school, but it would seem difficult for a kid to keep up with both. If a child’s grades dip, how is this handled, if at all? Is there ever contact between a child’s school and the TADA! staff?

Nina Trevens: For ensemble members, TADA! can be a huge time commitment at certain times of the year and then not much at other times—it really depends on the member. When any member is actually rehearsing a show—they can be at TADA! 17 hours a week if they are called into every rehearsal but not everyone is called into every rehearsal. Once the show opens then the actors are just there for performances which is generally on the weekends while school is not in session.

When actors arrive at the theater either before rehearsals or performances or classes begin, then they can spend time doing their homework. Most of our Ensemble Members learn time-management skills and find a way to get their homework done as well as rehearse.

Rehearsals are generally only 5-7 weeks and 4-5 days a week after school or on weekends. Most ensemble members do one or two shows a year so it’s not like they have to be here 17 hours every week. TADA!’s ensemble manager and I meet with each ensemble member and a parent at the beginning of each year to devise a plan for them. Each ensemble member’s plan is different based on what else is going on in their life and what they want to do at TADA!.

If a child’s grades in school dip, TADA!’s Ensemble Manager will work with the member and their parents to come up with things that could help such as helping them find homework help, refining their schedule, and finding them a tutor. We do not work with schools directly, we work with the ensemble member and their family.

TADA! Does the Kars4Kids Jingle!

It’s only good manners to teach kids to write thank-you notes. But there are thank-you notes and then there are thank-you notes. The students at TADA! said thank you to Kars4Kids for their small grant in a very big way: they recorded their own version of the Kars4Kids jingle!

Now, how’s that for gratitude?
(We think these kids are just the best!)

Kars4Kids:  We were surprised to note that the suggested age of children taking part in the Banned Broadway Project is from age 13. The subject matter seemed “mature.” We’d be interested in your thoughts on this subject.  

Nina Trevens: Banned Broadway was not a production. There is nothing saying every child or even every member (as I said above we meet with each member to devise a plan that is right for them) has to be involved in every production.

Banned Broadway is a TEEN initiative, for high school students, that started last year in conjunction with the National Coalition Against Censorship. We recommended aged 13 and up for our audiences due to the nature of the material which dealt with sex and religion. The material is chosen with input from the teen ensemble members with the staff knowing what they can handle.

I do believe that teens can handle the material we chose to perform. I think people underestimate children and teenagers. Theater allows people to discuss things and maybe think differently than they would have prior to seeing or being in the work. Theater is also subjective—some people might like a work and others won’t—that’s fine.

It’s not about pleasing everyone. TADA!’s mainstage productions are original musicals performed by 8—18 year old ensemble members for family audiences (3 years old and up). The musicals are commissioned specifically for the ensemble from professional theater composers, lyricists and playwrights.

Kars4Kids: The idea of kids getting free tickets to Broadway shows and healthy snacks and so forth, on top of all they learn at TADA! had some of us feeling jealous! What a wonderful thing you do for children. Are you very selective about which kids you accept? Tell us about the selection process. Does a strong family support system factor in? How often do you have to kick kids out of the program?  

Nina Trevens: Thank you again. Ensemble members are chosen through an open audition process based on talent. At the initial audition, auditionees learn a song, and some choreography and then perform in small groups. If they are asked to come to a callback, they learn more songs and choreography and also read scenes.

This past year we saw over 300 people and accepted 30 into the ensemble. It is important that TADA! ensemble members come from different boroughs and backgrounds so we also look at who is already in the ensemble and how to round out the group as a whole. We also look at the productions we are doing in the coming season and see what is needed to cast the shows. Putting all that together is how we chose who we accepted into the ensemble.

It takes a lot for us to kick a kid out of the program. We may have to ask someone to leave a show based on unapproved conflicts and/or too many conflicts or for missing a performance. However, that person would not be kicked out of the program. We have policies and procedures that all ensemble members must follow—we also have procedures if a member isn’t following the policies. Someone would be asked to leave the program due to violence, theft or engaging in unprofessional behavior on or off stage.

Kars4Kids: Unfortunately, TADA! only operates in the New York metropolitan area. Do you have any advice for people outside this area who might want to start a similar community theater program? 

Nina Trevens: I can be hired to consult and share TADA!’s best practices.

Blue Orange Games: Taking the Bored Out of Board Games

Blue Orange Games: Taking the Bored Out of Board Games
Friends having a game of Wink (photo courtesy: Blue Orange Games)

Board games, card games, games in general? I love them. My family loves them.

Don’t get me wrong. We adore online computer games every bit as much. Technology is awesome. But there’s just something about sitting around the table and playing a game together as a family, or even with friends. There’s an intimacy to playing real games that you can’t achieve with virtual, screen-based games.

On the other hand, there aren’t that many truly great games. If you think about it, you can probably name all your favorite board games without running out of fingers. Scrabble, Monopoly, chess, checkers, backgammon, Stratego, Sorry, The Game of Life, Go, um. Yeah.

Kids playing KeeKee the Rocking Monkey. (photo courtesy: Blue Orange Games), board games
Kids playing KeeKee the Rocking Monkey (photo courtesy: Blue Orange Games)

That’s why chances are, if you yell into your crowded living room at holiday time, “Who wants to play Trivial Pursuit?” you’re going to hear the echo of your own voice and meet a lot of blank stares.

We’re bored with board games.

Meantime, the internet offers us infinite variety to feed our gaming habit and our need for the new. Which is why, even though it’s the holidays, and it’s family time, you probably have at least 6 people sitting in your living room looking at their individual screens.This is not a good thing. It does not bode well for the concept of family togetherness, if you grasp my meaning.

That’s why I was thrilled to come across the Blue Orange Games website. Not only do the people at Blue Orange Games have new board games I’ve never seen before, they actually look like games normal people would like to play. I can totally see my family getting addicted to Blue Orange Games’ flagship game creation, Gobblet.

Gobblet reminds one of a fast-moving corner street game (or is it a magician?) where the hapless patsy invariably chooses the wrong cup (nope, no coin under there) and loses his money. But it’s also a lot like tic tac toe, with a twist. The game is deceptively simple. It’s the kind of game where you’re sure you’re winning when all of the sudden your kid trounces you and you’re left with your mouth hanging open saying, “I lost again?? No way. Play me another round. C’mon. Just one more time?”

Yup. That’s the kind of game it is.

Gobblet gets its name from the way large, cup-like pieces gobble up smaller ones. This game is beautiful to look at and the sleek wooden pieces a pleasure to handle. The manufacturers say that Gobblet is superb for improving visual perception, problem solving, memory, plus focus and attention skills. I like the fact that Gobblet is suitable for ages 7 to adult. It is so rare to find board games that can be played by all ages, which is what we’re all looking for in a family game, especially at holiday time.

Browsing the Blue Orange Games website I found a ton of intriguing board games and other types of games I would like to have or purchase for family members. The website in and of itself is a pleasure to surf. Each game carries a description detailing the appropriate age range for players and the specific skills that will be improved upon play.Moreover, Blue Orange has games that are compact which can keep kids occupied during a long drive or plane trip, for instance. The Blue Orange line called Spot It! consists of flash cards (in a number of disciplines such as languages, shapes, and numbers), memory games, and matching games. There’s even a Spot It! edition that is waterproof, Spot It! Splash, especially made for jaunts to the beach.

Board Game Benefits

We all know that there are benefits to gaming. Playing games can help lower blood pressure, prevent Alzheimer’s disease, and strengthen the immune system, for instance. These are benefits you can get from playing any game, be it a board game or a virtual online computer game.

There are, however, at least four benefits one can only get from playing board games (and other games with physical components such as cards, for instance), that you just can’t get from computer games:

      • Build Family Bonds: Playing games together as a family improves family closeness. It’s a way to get to know each others’ similarities and differences, strengths and weaknesses. Building the family means building the individuals of the family to help them stand tall.
      • Improve Social Skills: When friends play games together, it teaches them how to be effective when communicating in words. It also teaches people the kindness of sharing and the patience involved in taking turns. Playing games can reveal important talents and characteristics, showing a side of an acquaintance you may not have noticed before. You’ll know a friend better, after you’ve played a game with that friend.
      • Boost Number Skills: At least one study has shown that children from low-income homes gain a better understanding of numbers and math skills from playing certain board games, such as Chutes and Ladders. These children don’t have board games at home and aren’t getting good counting practice. When children have to count to play these games, it improves their numbers skills. Why Chutes and Ladders? It works best when kids have to count to a specific number, starting from a numbered space within the game, for instance, counting four spaces from the 14th space takes the child to 18. Chutes and Ladders has consecutively numbered, linearly–aligned spaces.
      • Sharpen Fine Motor Skills: Gripping and moving game pieces can help improve a preschooler’s manual dexterity, coordination, and flexibility. Regular game play can help ready a child to grip and use a pencil. Playing games with physical components can also serve as occupational therapy. Board games can help restore muscle and nerve function after an accident or stroke, or improve the condition of those with mental or physical disabilities.

Spot It! games each come in their own small round tins. You can easily pop a few of them into a handbag to keep children occupied while waiting to see the doctor, or pull one out for a child to play with while sick in bed and going out of her mind with boredom. I wouldn’t mind having a whole bunch of them.

(photo courtesy: Blue Orange Games)
(photo courtesy: Blue Orange Games)

Happily, for me, Blue Orange Games products come in a range of prices. Otherwise, my wallet might be in trouble. Because, cautionary note: I wouldn’t call Blue Orange games inexpensive, but they are well-made and sturdy, and prices are in keeping with the quality of the games.

I found, for instance, Crazy Cheese Puzzle, at Amazon, on sale for $6.99 (down from the list price of $10.99). The game is small and very portable, has nine wooden pieces, a travel pouch, illustrated rules, and a solution key. You can find cheaper games for sure. But I don’t think you’ll find anything of this quality for a better price.

Every single game just has something about it; something charming, something nostalgic, that just beckons to you and says, “Come play with me.”

I can’t imagine, for instance, the small child who won’t be immediately enchanted by Zimbbos! with its carved wooden elephant and circus pieces. The game pieces would feel good in the hand—a joy for a young fist to hold and manipulate.

You might be wondering (as I did), what would drive someone to manufacture board games in this age of computer technology. No doubt you’d have to be a game-lover. And maybe, you’d also have to have some nostalgia for the hours spent playing board games with family and friends.

Turns out, you (and I) are not far off. Blue Orange Games was founded by Julien Mayot and Thierry Denoual in 2000, because, they say, they’re, “Driven to spread the timeless pleasure of connecting face to face with family and friends around a great game.”

Face to face. I think they may be on to something.

Mother of All Road Trips

The two “natives of France” decided they’d build games that aren’t too difficult to learn, that build skills, are well-made, and fun for a variety of ages. In coming up with the concept for Gobblet, for instance, Denoual consulted mathematicians and chess makers, and finally hired a wood worker to create a prototype. Denoual brought Mayot in as his partner and the two went on the mother of all road trips, schlepping 1,000 games across 22,000 miles over 3 months’ time, during which, you should know, they sold 10,000 copies of the game.

Whoa.

As for coming up with the name of their company (because that’s what you do after you sell 10,000 copies of your first game), Denoual and Mayot waxed poetic, naming their business after a surrealist poem by Paul Eluard entitled, The Earth is Blue Like an Orange. They wanted the name of their business to reflect their environmentally-friendly ethos.

So how’s business? Blue Orange is doing okay, thank you very much, having sold more than a million copies of Gobblet (just for instance). They’ve actually got a catalogue of more than 40 games by now and these are sold in more than a dozen countries across the world. You’ll find Blue Orange in more than 3,000 game stores in the United States, and that’s not counting the big chains like Toys”R”Us, Barnes and Noble, and Target.

Making a Zimbbos pyramid (photo courtesy: Blue Orange Games), board games
Making a Zimbbos pyramid (photo courtesy: Blue Orange Games)

But Denoual and Mayot don’t want to lose touch with their original mission of people getting face to face around a game or even just in general. To that end, they repeat their original road trip all over again each year. But they’ve expanded.

Board Games Games Gurus

Today, the game makers have a team of assistants they call “Game Gurus” and they visit every single retailer carrying Blue Orange Games throughout the United States. In 2013, that came to 2,000 visits in 47 states, while covering 136,000 miles. Why do they do it?

Blue Orange believe in creating strong relationships with its retail partners and customers. It is these face to face talks that lead to product improvement and inspiration for the creation of new games. Blue Orange likes to say it’s bringing “Hot Games to a Cool Planet.”

Thinking about what you can possibly buy your kids this season that they don’t already have? Looking for something durable that will keep them happy and learning and off those screens—perhaps something you can do as a family? You should totally check out the selection at Blue Orange Games and get in some quality family face time. Because connecting face to face?

It’s what the holidays are all about.

What family board games are your favorites? Do you have a Blue Orange board game your family loves to play?

3 Cool Kid-Friendly Treats to Make and Eat

3 Cool Kid-Friendly Treats to Make and EatIt’s summer, the kids are home, and they are BORED STIFF. A month ago you had all these amazing resolutions of all the things you’d do together, the quality time you’d have, the bonding, the learning. And now?

It’s hot. They’re cranky. And you’ve had just about enough of summer.

But!

Summer is completely impervious to the fact that you’re so totally done with “vacation.”

Summer doesn’t care that it’s too hot to move.

Summer is a completely cold heartless WITCH. (Except for the fact that summer is not cold. It is hot.)

Activities? You know how it is, you find a great activity on the web, you buy all the stuff, it keeps them busy for a grand total of one hour if you’re lucky, and then there’s this huge mess to clean up.

Little Girl Chops Vegetables

Also, these crafts never look like they do online. So. Unsatisfying.

Okay, so I’m going to tell you a secret, as a mother of 12, and a veteran of 32 straight, un-air-conditioned summers with children: you are not going to lick this problem nor nip it in the bud.

It will always be there. Every summer.

The only thing you can do is to forget your expectations. Or, not exactly forget them, but see them as something to work towards, but not as something you must attain against all odds.

3 Cool Kid-Friendly Treats to Make and Eat

Because Baby, the odds are stacked against you.

Instead, look over the end of each (inexorably long hot summer’s) day and note what went well and give yourself a mental pat on the back for that. Feel encouraged about that. Be glad about that, and then begin the next day anew.

Small victories is the way to go here.

And now, lecture over.

So Why Kid-Friendly Treats?

Moving right along, I thought I’d pass you a tip on three cool kid-friendly treats to make and eat. Why? Because a little cooking class with the kids goes further than most crafts because after they finish cooking they can then EAT their handiwork, which takes up more of those long empty minutes and hours of summer stretching endlessly forward. *sigh*

That said, I find that kids today like the IDEA of cooking more than they enjoy the cooking process. They watch a guy on the food channel making a sauce béchamel and think, “I could totally do that,” but then you stick them in front of a hunk of bread dough to knead and it’s just too much work and they go, “Nah. I don’t want to do this.”

Besides, have I mentioned it’s HOT. You don’t want to do anything that makes you (and the kids) get all hot and sweaty.

Which is precisely why these three kid-friendly treats are so great. They involve zero stove time, don’t heat up the kitchen, and aren’t particularly labor intensive, which means no one works up a sweat. It’s just good, kid-friendly fun.

You may even find yourself smiling for REAL, watching your kids actually having a good time.

Now stop looking at your watch.

Frozen GrapesFrozen Grapes

Because everything frozen tastes better and seems like actual cooking.

  1. Get out a colander, place it in the sink, put the grapes in the colander, and run water over the grapes, to wash them well.
  2. Place a clean dry towel on the countertop and transfer the grapes to the towel. Pat dry.
  3. Line a cookie sheet with waxed paper and place the washed, dried grapes in a single layer on the waxed paper.
  4. Freeze for 4-5 hours. (Tip: leave out some grapes for the kids to nosh, because they won’t want to wait 4-5 hours to sample their “creation.” Trust me on this.)
  5. Eat and enjoy! You can transfer any leftover grapes to Ziploc bags or freezer-safe air-tight storage containers.

Watermelon and Bulgarian Cheese with MintWatermelon and Bulgarian Cheese Salad or Skewers

This blend of sweet and salty cools and satisfies and looks so pretty, too.

  1. Wash some sprigs of fresh mint in a colander, place on a towel and pat dry. Strip the leaves from the stems, discarding the stems.
  2. Cut a ripe seedless watermelon into cubes.
  3. Cut a hunk of brined white cheese, Bulgarian or Feta cheese, into cubes.
  4. Combine all ingredients in a bowl
  5. Optional: grind on some fresh black pepper for a gourmet touch if your kids don’t think it’s “icky.”

Variation: Place a cube of watermelon and a cube of Bulgarian cheese on a skewer or frilly toothpick. Repeat until all the watermelon and cheese cubes are used up. Put the skewers on a plate and sprinkle with the mint leaves (and optional pepper).

Chocolate Covered Frozen Banana BitesChocolate Covered Banana Bites

Because chocolate. ‘Nuff said.

  1. Slice a ripe, but not too ripe banana into 1-2 inch chunks.
  2. Skewer each chunk of banana with a wooden party fork or pick.
  3. Place on waxed paper lined cookie sheet and freeze for at least one hour.
  4. Put 1/2 cup of chocolate chips in a microwave-safe drinking glass. Microwave at half power for about one minute (or until melted), stopping to stir the chocolate chips every ten seconds.
  5. Dip and swirl each frozen, skewered banana chunk into the melted chocolate, placing each chocolate-coated banana chunk back onto the waxed paper to catch any drips.
  6. Eat immediately, or refreeze.

 

Camp Memories: What Do You Remember?

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What reminds you of camp? What camp memories are most poignant? Was it your bunk, your counselors, or friends? What foods do you still remember and relish decades later? Was it the camp songs? Was it the bug juice, camping trips, or the mess hall banquets? Do you want your children to enjoy the same experiences? If you were to send your children to camp, what would you want for them?

For me, my metal mess kit, uncooked barbecue chicken, maple syrup, and pine sol remind me of camp. When I was a camper in 1968, I went with my camp on a camp out. I was six years old, the youngest camper in the entire camp, and away from home for five weeks. My mother, a single working mom at the time, had gotten a scholarship for me to attend a Jewish camp in the Poconos, two hours from Philadelphia. I loved it. I went from being a latch-key child to having lots adults around to watch after and interact with me.

On the camp-out, the counselors set up circus-sized tents. I remember picking the coziest spot I could find to roll out my sleeping bag, setting up my stuffed animals, and hunkering down with the other campers.

The counselors built roaring campfires, and began to grill chicken. We unpacked our canteens and mess kits, played games, and waited with anticipation for dinner. Then a storm rolled in. Not just any storm. The sky seemed to open up and sheets of rain pounded our tests. Pools of rainwater collecting on the tent roof swelled and sprang drippy leaks inside the tent. Huddling together in the tents, we ate under-cooked chicken while lightening bolts lit up the sky.

The chicken was rubbery, pink, cold, and truly tasteless. After a couple hours of waiting out the rain, the counselors aborted the camping trip, loaded us into vans, and returned to camp.

Forty-five years later, I still think of camp whenever I grill chicken. It’s a sweet, sentimental flashback, a reminder of an innocent, intensely personal, familial setting where I felt safe, cared for, and busy.

Bunk challenges and camp banquets forge fond camp memories.
Bunk challenges and camp banquets forge fond camp memories.

I have other great camp memories. I looked forward to bunk challenges in the mess tent. A fork and knife breakfast meant that we could come to breakfast dressed in mismatched shoes, socks, and clothing. Movie nights meant we could camp out in the auditorium/gym in our pajamas and sleeping bags, each with a personal stash of candy and popcorn. Camp is where I learned about daddy long legs, frogs, crickets, fish, deer, and a whole host of wildlife I never saw in our apartment complex in Philadelphia.

Flash forward, I was lucky enough to send most of my children to sleep away camps. Some hated being away from home and recall their fondest memories were coming home. Others made life-long friends and fifteen years later still maintain these friendships. Camp is where I felt my first sense of freedom within the constraints of a safety net, where I was pushed out of my comfort when I learned how to swim, when I canoed on a lake, and when I endured a camping trip in a fierce thunderstorm.

While putting this post together, I surveyed a hundred of my social media friends and asked them–what are your favorite camp foods and camp memories? The answers were fun and most revealing. Many of the most important experiences, sentimental memories we have are away from our parents. And that’s important to note. It is this sense of independence, confidence that comes from being away from home and mastering homesickness, and collecting new competencies, close-knit friendships, and life-long memories that makes overnight camp a powerful developmental tool.

These are some of my favorite responses from former campers.

Under favorite foods–

Toasted marshmallows and s’mores. No need to explain. At least I hope not.

Toasted marshmallows never grow old.
Toasted marshmallows never grow old.

  Rocky Mountain Toast (we call it eggs in baskets in my house). It’s a slice of bread with a whole in the middle. The egg is fried with the slice of bread in a frying pan. Eat with or without maple syrup. Use the bread to wipe up the egg.

  Bug Juice (for a couple years, I thought it really was bug guts). Now I know the truth. Kool Aid!

I loved bug juice at camp because we couldn't have it at home.
I loved bug juice at camp because we couldn’t have it at home.

Beenie Weenie with Chili. Need I say more except keep the Bean-O close by.

Cream of Wheat with butter and sugar. My husband’s favorite although the kids and I eat it with grits.

Foil packets. These rock and any meal can be exciting when you throw a concoction in a foil packet and throw it on the grill. Hamburgers, potato chunks, onions, and tomato sauce, tuna melts, even applies and peaches with oatmeal and brown sugar to make a fruit crisp.

Under Favorite Memories–

Canoeing at the Delaware Water Gap. This is a breathtaking section of the Delaware River, if you’re unfamiliar.

Camp is where I met my husband (not me but one of my respondents).

Midnight hikes along the lake.

Camp outs

Camp banquets

Bunk challenges

The camp canteen

Going to the infirmary (lol)

Swimming in the lake

Have any others that I haven’t mentioned? Post them in the comments section and I may use them in my next camp post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Educational Television: Is SpongeBob Square Pants The Best We Can Do?

spongebob1

 

When I was little, I spent weekend mornings watching Bugs Bunny, Wylie Coyote and the Roadrunner, and the Pink Panther episodes. It was a ritual I relished; and at the time, wasn’t considered educational or hazardous. It just was something kids did on Saturday and Sunday mornings. They watched cartoons just like they played outdoors or played “Cowboys and Indians” with cap guns. No one talked about the impact of watching too much television, or the impact of television on cognitive development.

Captain Kangaroo circa 1960

And the only real educational programs at the time were Romper Room and Captain Kangaroo. Those of us raised in the 50s, 60s, and 70s watched Captain Kangaroo and fondly thought of the characters as television friends who helped us as we grew up.

With the advent of public television in the 60s and the subsequent technological revolution, and studies that focused on links between television viewing and violence acts committed by children, the subject of watching television, how much television, and the quality of television programming were highlighted. Educational television was good. Saturday morning cartoons were not so good. And parents who plopped their children in front of the television for a couple minute of parenting reprieve or as a convenient babysitter were chastised as relinquishing parental responsibility.

As an educational tool, television is considered a passive medium, one that limits the viewer’s engagement, has an addictive quality, and diminishes creativity. But there are exceptions.

With the flood of digital media, online videos, gaming, social media, and Cartoon Network, it’s hard to know what’s good and what’s not. It’s hard to sift through the abundance of literature, reviews, and parenting guidelines. And it’s hard to know precisely how much or how little time is too much television time. Can educational television be beneficial to our children? To what extent? And if so, what are some of the best educational programs? Is SpongeBob Square Pants the best we can do?

Television Guidelines

The following are some guidelines recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Children younger than 2 should not be exposed to television viewing. While television can be entertaining and mesmerizing for infants, long-term studies show that television has a negative effect on infants younger than 2.

Studies found that language skills in children exposed to television during the 0-2 year window had less interaction with parents. Less interaction means less language and conversation that impacts vocabulary and language development. Television viewing also interferes with play. Play in infants is shown to be crucial in cognitive development and emotional health. Also, television viewing at night is complicit with sleep disruptions. Poor sleep patterns in infants has been linked to mood, behavior, and learning.

For preschoolers, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 1 to 2 hours a day of television viewing, even educational television. In this age group, television viewing can enhance social skills such as sharing, manners, diversity, and cultural awareness. But pediatricians recommend that parents monitor shows for educational value, information content, and violence. Parents should also watch television with children. Watching with your child encourages parent/child interaction. It can also be a launching point for conversations, a way for a parent to mitigate concepts that might be confusing or scary for young children. And for increased language benefit, parents should read to preschoolers, not only as a way to reinforce vocabulary used in the television shows. They should read books about themes discussed in the television shows to help young children understand the world around them.

For older children and adolescents, pediatricians caution parents to be vigilant. Television viewing should be educational, of a higher quality and screened to limit gratuitous violence, suggestive material, drug orientation, and programs that skew healthy body image. If you plan to discuss a provocative subject with your child, television programming can be a good launching point, a segue to a more serious conversation with your child.

Educational Television and Its Benefits

Educational television, unlike the mass programming available around the clock, can be a powerful educational resource. In one study, “The Recontact Study,” Daniel R. Anderson found that preschoolers who watched Sesame Street had larger vocabularies in high school compared to children who watched other programming or no television at all. The results were especially apparent in children from lower income neighborhoods. Anderson also found that these same children were better prepared for school than their peers, had higher grades in science and English, had higher total GPA, read more books, placed more value on achievement, and were rated as more creative, compared with their peers.

As preschoolers develop language skills, television can reinforce storytelling skills such as plot, sequence, character development, and theme.

What are educational television programs to consider?

Sesame Street: This program exposes kids to cultural and ethnic diversity and real-life concepts. Its focus on language skills, reading, context, conversation, and social skills has been shown, with decades of research, to improve educational outcomes for kids, especially kids from lower socioeconomic communities. And it’s adult spin on timeless favorites engages older kids and adults into the television-watching experience.

Mr. Rogers: Filmed in Pittsburgh, PA, Mr. Rogers has special meaning for many of us raised in his neighborhood. Mr. Rogers, a minister and social worker, felt it important to teach children about peaceful interactions, about acknowledging feelings and learning how to communicate them to others, about working with others, learning, and other common themes that young children might encounter. What’s special and lasting about this show is the narrative, the soothing nature of Mr. Rodgers himself, processes he feels important for young children to understand, and the importance of community and relationships. For those of us who interacted with him in Pittsburgh, he treated each of us the way he treated his television characters–with respect, kindness, and validation.

Super Why: Super Why reinforces reading, syntax, contextual clues in reading, analysis. This show also teachers basic literacy skills like alphabets and phonetics, and engages the viewers in the storyline.

WordWorld: This show takes letters and words and superimposes it on real life so that children begin to associate words with their meanings. Children learn site words through recognition and context.

Sid the Science Kid: This is science explored on a playground, early childhood level. Sid, the main character asks questions and explores subjects the way a child might.  It goes over scientific method, shows its application, and reinforces critical learning and analytical reasoning.

Reading Rainbow: Reading Rainbow brings books alive and spark an interest in reading. Narrated by Lavar Burton, it also draws in curiosity from those of us who knew Lavar Burton as Geordie in Star Trek: The Next Generation and want to see him again. The show engages young readers but explores story themes more in-depth. For example, some books discussed discuss slavery and its relationship to U.S. history, the intersection of people of different cultures living and interacting in an urban setting, moving away and the feelings young children go through, anger and methods to cope, and so on.

New Electric Company (Kindergarten age): Based on the 1970s version of PBS’ The Electric Company, this show continues to teach phonics, grammar, and spelling. It creates skits with lively narratives and engages kids with humor and silliness.

Between the Lions: A play on words (Between the lines), this show covers early literacy skills, reading, but teaches analytical skills. How to figure out words in context? How to glean the meaning of a reading passage? What is the plot?

Magic School Bus A narrative-based show, this show explains processes and the workings of the world kids are most tuned into. It also takes kids into the fray, allows them to imagine what it might be like to be intricately involved in a process and that engages the imagination and creativity of a child.

Cyberchase Cyberchase blends adventure and learning, with the characters finding out things about real-life skills (like map reading) as they work to protect the land of “Cyberspace.” Because it deals with computers and digital media, it has particular relevance in today’s world.

Nova: For older school-aged children and adolescents, Nova covers topics that span science, culture, history, music, and many subjects kids might be interested in but on a more complex level. Most topics covered by Nova are set up with a narrative and chronology that helps viewers see a process in its entirety.

Boredom Is the Mother of Invention

Necessity is the mother of invention. The proverb, originating from Plato’s Republic, still rings true after more than two millennium. It’s a mantra, a call to action. When conventional approaches fail, find a new method. When you’re bored, rely on the imagination, and discover the magic and learning behind self-directed exploration to inspire.

At one point or another, kids complain. “I’m bored” is a timeless mantra too. While kids hate feeling bored, being bored isn’t such a bad thing. In fact, Dr. Laura Markham, clinical psychologist, mother, ad author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting, says that boredom is a good thing. As long as other primary needs of a child are met (i.e. need for emotional connection with mom or dad, hunger, illness, etc.), boredom can be the stimulus for self-directed learning.

It’s also a sign that a child feels disengaged and doesn’t know what to do about it. That’s where you, supermom or innovative dad step in. Your role, as parent and facilitator is to teach your child how to re-engage.

Warning: The solution isn’t technology. While a special television program or video isn’t a bad activity, it doesn’t re-engage a child’s imagination. Contrary to popular belief, television is a passive medium, one that encourages boredom. It’s the reasoning behind the cliché “couch potato.” It’s counterproductive and sedative. And that’s a negative.

When a child, especially an older child complains of boredom, the best way to facilitate learning isn’t to fix it. It’s to facilitate, encourage, and direct our kids to fix the state of boredom themselves.

Nancy Flanagan, a 30-year veteran K-12 teacher, education consultant, and digital organizer for IDEA, concurs. Even among her brightest students, Flanagan noticed that boredom still occurred. It was merely a lack of engagement, a lack of responsibility. Yes, responsibility. Being engaged is a two-way street. It’s partly the parents job to frame the environment in a way that encourages self-directed learning. But it’s also the child’s responsibility to actively engage. “Daily practice of musical scales isn’t much fun, but it’s an enormously effective technique-builder. Brushing your teeth is boring, too, but that doesn’t mean you should stop.”

Flanagan feels that boredom can by cured by kids. Kids should be told to own their boredom and fix it.

So what are our roles as parents? We can frame the environment. We can also facilitate by giving our kids choices, showing them how those choices can play out, and providing the means by which our kids can explore.

What are some great activities we can encourage kids to do, to inspire self-directed learning and imagination:

At home science experiments: There are many science experiments you can set up right in your own kitchen, bathroom, or backyard. The experiments reinforce principles of important scientific theories your kids learn in school. Making elephant’s toothpaste, a foamy by-product of an exothermic chemical reaction is a visual way to teach about chemistry, particularly the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide. The ingredients are all available in the local market or drugstore and the experiment has great “wow” impact.

 

Another at-home experiment makes a cool slimy fluorescent goo from potato starch and tonic water. Once the goo is made, it can be dehydrated and reused countless times.

Make a boredom jar: This might take a little planning but Dr. Laura recommends it. On any number of slips of paper, write down activities. Pull out the jar on any snow day when cabin fever is settling in. Have the kids pick out one strip of paper and perform the activity.

Redesign and reorganize the bedroom, or any room in the house: When I was a kid, I loved reorganizing my room, moving around my bedroom furniture. It was a way to revitalize a room, to make it feel new and special. It was a clean-up job without feeling like a chore. You can motivate the kids, inject activity and exercise, and use it as a team-building exercise. I use it a purging activity, a method of dealing with too much stuff. A decade ago, I discovered FlyLady.net, a site that its readers to regain a sense of control through organization and decluttering. I found the site when my husband, a retired army officer, deployed to Iraq. Home with more than a handful of kids, I felt overwhelmed in the day-to-day household maintenance. The site, teaches organization through baby steps, provides encouragement, and lots of atta-girls. One activity, the “Throw away 27 items” game, is a marvelous decluttering activity. It fools kids and adults into throwing away clutter by making it seem small and inconsequential. Give each child a garbage bag. Tell them to find 27 items worth throwing away. It’s a simple way to declutter a little bit at a time, it allows kids to choose belongings to dispose, and it makes clean-up fun.

Set up a scavenger game: You can do this when the weather’s nice or when repeated snowstorms have your children at home. I like to incorporate a little cleaning in the hunt. Make a list of items your children have to find while walking as a family. It can be something simple, like license plate on a car (note, tell your children not to remove the license plate). When we’re household, I like to hide a finite number dried beans or pennies in different corners of the house. I tell my kids, they will only find them if they dust properly. The winner gets to pick from a grab bag but everyone is a winner when the house is dust-free.

Yoga or Meditation: Sometimes, a little mindfulness meditation can go a long way. Mindfulness meditation, a relatively new concept in education teaches kids, and adults, how to meditate, to focus on deep breathing and on the moment. When the kids are stressed out or when the noise level is reaching deafening proportions, I pull out a CD. We all lie on the floor in comfortable positions and the dogs walk between us (which always gets a good laugh). Then we listen to the tape and do some deep breathing for ten to fifteen minutes. Mindfulness meditation is especially helpful with kids with anxiety and attentional issues.

Set up a spelling bee or trivia competition: I’m particularly fond of spelling bees or timed word games. But you can create a competition that challenges the kids in any particular way. It can be a timed version of Pictionary. In Pictionary, teams compete by drawing a word from a hat or a bowl. Each team has two players; while one player draws the picture, the other player has to guess the word within one minute. Players face off and win points.

Build an igloo or a sledding ramp: When all else fails and the weather is cold and snowy, bundle up the kids and send them out to play in the snow. Snow is magical. It fosters imagination. And it tires the kids out. It’s the essence of the proverb, “…mother of invention.” And, if you want, join them in the fun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

EDU Review: Summer Road Trip Games Edition 7/3/2014

EDU Review

The latest trends in education and parenting          July 3, 2014

With summer officially here as of June 21st, many of us have that lovely refrain running through our minds, “ROAD TRIP!” And what says road trip more than bored fractious children whining, “Are we there yet?” But hey, it doesn’t need to be that way. There are so many great ways to keep kids happy in the back seat. Today we bring just a few.

Megan, over at Brassy Apple, discovered that burner covers are only 50₵ each and decided to see how many cool crafts she could create with this inexpensive item. She calls burner cover craft #4 “Road Trip.” Using a burner cover, chalkboard paint, spray paint, permanent marker, ruler, and some magnets, she created a two-in-one laptop game for road trips. One side is a chalk board, the other side a Tic Tac Toe board. We love the practicality of this game: the lip of the burner cover keeps the chalk from rolling away, and when not in use, the whole shebang is easily stowed away in a seat pocket. You’ll find the instructions HERE.

DiceHolder
These dice can’t escape their tiny clutches! (screenshot)

One of the main problems with road trip games is small pieces that roll away. Casey Orr at Cardigans and Curriculum came up with a simple yet ingenious way to keep dice from escaping the tiny clutches of your children: mini storage containers. Put the dice in the container, close the lid, and voila—dice that are fully usable without ever getting away.

ISpyBingo
Free download! I Spy Bingo, played with dry markers. (screenshot)

Did you know that the Internet is filled with free downloads and printouts of games that can be played in a car? Here is one we really like: I Spy Bingo, a free downloadable PDF file you can download HERE. Print out on crack and peel paper and apply to heavy stock. This is ideal for two children. Print out two and give the kids dry markers. As they “spy” the items on the board, they mark their boards until someone fills a row, diagonally or horizontally, and cries out, “Bingo!” Have some small prizes on hand to reward victory.

Next up, we really liked this great road trip game idea from Shiloah Baker of The Homemaking Cottage. Shiloah fills paper bags with small prizes and treats and marks each bag with the name of a location along the way to the family’s ultimate destination. The kids get maps and must follow the route until they reach the locations marked on their “mystery” bags. The kids then get to open their bags and enjoy the spoils! We love this game because it is actually educational in that it teaches children a bit about geography and a lot about how to follow a map. Shiloah prepares several of these bags and gives them out about once an hour during a road trip.

Map Game
Mystery Bag Map Game (screenshot)
shutterstock_166742876
Seriously–who doesn’t love bubble wrap?

Who doesn’t like bubble wrap? No one we know, including adults. There’s just something so satisfying and fun about jumping up and down on the stuff or even popping bubbles one by one. Apartment Therapy came up with a brilliant and educational use for the bubble paper with the really large bubbles. Create a template, using the bubble paper as your guide, and draw colorful items on the template, the sort of items one sees on the road, one for each bubble. Apply the bubble wrap with double sided tape and there you have it, a totally awesome game. The child watches out the car window for the items on the board and gets to pop the relevant bubble when she sees one.  Your child is going to love this so make a lot of them. Full instructions can be found at the website, HERE.

We suspect with all these great activities, your kids won’t want to leave the car, even when you get where you’re going!

Bon voyage.

 Coming soon: the Kars4Kids Safety app, the parents’ helper that helps keep babies safe.

EDU Review: Education Quickies Edition 6/12/2014

EDU Review

The latest trends in education and parenting          June 12, 2014

Learning, real learning, the kind that sinks into the long term memory and builds actual synapses, does not have to be about long and boring. It doesn’t have to be about trying not to squirm in your chair and longing for the bell to ring—for it to be over. In fact, that isn’t really any kind of learning at all.

But you knew that.

Here’s a little secret (or maybe not): a decent learning session doesn’t have to be lengthy—it only has to have an impact. Short and sweet actually works. And that is what this week’s edition of EDU Review is all about and that’s why we call it the “Education Quickies Edition.”

EDU Review
Some Chekhov with his sandwich?

We start with literature. Yeah. Actual books. With pages.

But not just any books. These are short stories, some even super short. We’re talking ONE PAGE (or two or three). You can read them on a lunch break. And that’s actually the title of this webpage: 14 Brilliant Pieces of Literature You Can Read in the Time it Takes to Eat Lunch. It’s no lie: from Ursula K. Le Guin to Margaret Atwood to Alice Munro, you can get your quickie literature fix right HERE.

The great thing about this is your child can’t possibly turn you down if you say, “How about reading just ONE PAGE of literature?”

And soon enough your kid will be hooked and wanting more, more, more. That’s the hope, anyway. But if not, let’s move on to something else. Something more primal. Like, for instance, the universe.

Do you remember looking up at the stars as a kid and trying to understand the scope of the heavens? It’s something we all did as kids and maybe even as adults. The sky contains this great unknown world we can’t touch, smell, or taste. We can’t hear the imagined “whoosh” of a falling star and we can only just barely see the stars, the moon, and the sun. As a result, there is this certain mystique about the universe and it only seems to deepen as we learn more.

You’re Not Sirius

Here’s a webpage from NASA that gives a glimpse of the true scale of the universe. You use the scroll button on your mouse to zoom out and in as quickly or as slowly as you like and if there’s something of particular interest, you simply click on the object to read a short description. Just zooming in and out is fun and we’ll admit a few of the items piqued our interest (hence the header on this paragraph, for instance). Check out the universe HERE (we always wanted to say that).

Edu Review

(screenshot)

Remember Aesop’s Fables? The Just So stories? These stories stretched our imaginations as youngsters because EDU Reviewthey allowed us to get into the heads of animals. The Honest Toddler website, on the other hand, allows us to get into the head of a toddler—that is, a toddler capable of writing really, really well. We like this website because it stretches the mind in much the same way as those stories we enjoyed when we were little. Does your child like to write stories? Why not show him the story HERE and then ask him to write a similar narrative with a different theme? It could be the narrative of an elderly person he saw sitting on a bench at the park. Or it could be in the same voice as Honest Toddler, but with a different story line. Writing exercises are about experimenting with new techniques and we think this one is a winner, especially for budding young writers.

Moving right along, have you ever watched a television show and thought, “That character is ME!” If you have a left-handed child, we have a feeling he’ll feel a similar sense of identification when you show him the buzzfeed page called Lefties Unite. It’s all about stuff the rest of us people don’t think about: the way school desks are made for RIGHT HANDED PEOPLE, the way one gets circle imprints on one’s arm when using spiral notebooks. In keeping with our quickie education theme, this page consists of quick little tantalizing bits of “Hey! That’s ME!” for the left-handed (see it HERE).

(Buzzfeed Screenshot)
(Buzzfeed Screenshot)

Last but not least, have you ever sat through a lecture or an endless television show and tried not to yawn? You got the message ten minutes ago. Puh-LEEZE.

Well, that’s why we loved Jaguar’s response to a Mercedes advertisement plugging its new Magic Drive Technology. In just 1 minute and 30 seconds, you get the message, and it’s EPIC. You won’t be able to help but agree that Jaguar RULES. Watch it with your kid and wait for him to bust out laughing. Then ask him what it was that was so effective about the advertisement. Ask him which car he’d prefer to purchase on the basis of these two short advertisements.

Well, that’s it for this week’s EDU Review. Hope we’ve given you a taste of the short and sweet we promised! If you liked this, leave us a comment below. We’re asking nicely.

Oh, and if there’s anything you’d like us to review here, please let us know. We aim to please!