Time for the challenges of holiday giving 2010, or, as I like to think of it, "You can't wrap an iPad app." My young friend Jackson, age 5, likes playing Plants vs. Zombies and PuzzleQuest on his dad's iPad, but it's a little early for him to be getting his own tablet -- or even an e-reader. (FYI, aside from its problematic status as an actual something you could stuff in a sock, the amusing, addictive Plants vs. Zombies game, at $10, would make a nice stocking stuffer for a lot of people, ages 1 to 92. Well, maybe more like 5 to 50.)
Mercifully, Jackson adores playing with Legos, always a safe choice (and something that Nana will think she understands when it is written on a list). But he's also interested in making his own stop-motion animations with his Lego creations, like he's seen on YouTube and the site Brickfilms, devoted entirely to user-generated Legos animations.
So maybe he'll need an entry-level point-and-shoot digital (eschew the kiddie versions for an adult model like the Kodak EasyShare C142, $80, or the Canon Powershot A 490, $100), a simple tabletop tripod, software like iStopMotion, and probably help from Mom and Dad.
Get instructions and inspiration for a variety of simple stop-motion projects from The Klutz Book of Animation ($20), which comes with access to simple downloadable animation software and a piece of (nontoxic) clay to help get your budding Tim Burton started on a Gumby-and-Pokey-style video. (This is another gift that needn't be limited to kids.)
Of course the basis of any stop-motion Lego blockbuster is Legos. Beyond the basic building-block pieces, there are Lego action figures and scenery. You will already know if you are a Star Wars Legos household, an Indiana Jones Legos household, a Harry Potter Legos household or some ecumenical fusion of the umpteen other themes available. For younger kids, there's even SpongeBob.
The new Harry Potter sets, like "The Quidditch Match" ($20) and "The Burrow" ($60), are properly wizardly, and may seem more appealing to parents than Plo Koon's Jedi Starfighter ($25) and the million other flying craft in the Star Wars series, but is that really up to you?
Legos pop-culture themes also make the transformation back into video in the form of Lego gaming software; the platform of choice for many parents with younger kids is the Wii. While Nana may be flummoxed when this year's gift request is for "Lego Indiana Jones Wii" ($20) -- a concept with so many levels of pop culture at play that one despairs of being able to explain it to her -- you can always buy it yourself and give it to her to wrap it up. Still, Nana may be more comfortable buying gifts that she understands, like a copy of Curious George -- better yet, this year's The Complete Adventures of Curious George: 70th Anniversary Edition ($30)
If you already have the Wii, it's a nice strategy for dodging the occasional wish for a toy you think will be complicated or dangerous or too time-consuming for you, like a skateboard or a snowboard. The skateboard-snowboard accessory for the Wii ($35, but it requires you also own the Fit Plus balance-board accessory, $100) is a way to get started with less physical peril. Advance with programs like Shaun White Snowboarding Road Trip ($20). Bonus -- you can have fun with it too. Are you sensing a theme here?
After all that action, it's time for a snack. Reinforce healthy eating early with a market bag full of play fruits and vegetables from Iplay ($23) that can be peeled, sliced and pulled apart.
Play eating that may more closely mirror dinner at your house is available with the Melissa & Doug Pizza Party ($20), with a wooden deep-dish pizza, removable wooden toppings with Velcro for attaching, and a wooden pizza cutter (not sharp).
Tea parties never go out of style. Green Toy's tea set ($27.50) is a complete four-piece place setting, with the cups, saucers, teapot, etc. all made from recycled milk jugs, in pretty pastels. Schylling's Children's Tin Tea Set ($28) is decorated with a very traditional English-looking flower pattern.
The Tea Party Game from eeBoo ($18.50) teaches patience and categorization skills as young players have to build place settings and pick their teatime treats as well.
For slightly older kids, get them into the kitchen and teach some culinary chemistry with various kits that steer you through slightly offbeat cooking projects. Make your own chocolate, chewing gum or gummies (by Verve, each $13), or make soft pretzels with the Scientific Explorer Pretzel Activity Kit (Scientific Explorer, $15).
The best toys, digital or analog, enhance a child's imagination. These can be quite simple. Three entries in the "really giant drawing book" series -- Squiggles, Scribbles and Doodles (all by Taro Gomi, $20) -- allow for plenty of modern coloring and options for going outside the proverbial lines.
The "My Little Sandbox" series (from Be Good, about $30) does offer some potential problems from spilled sand and lost pieces. (You know the Zen garden with the little rake that your co-worker has? It's like that, but with somewhat higher sides.)
Sandbox themes include those geared probably to boys (big builder, pirates, dino world), probably to girls (princess dreams, kitty tea party, mermaid and friends) or a less stereotypical appeal (doggie day camp, farm).
For the kid who lives for goofing around in the sandbox in the summer, the toy offers a winter facsimile and plenty of fodder for daydreaming and story-creation.
Or some woolgathering moments for the adult who wishes she still had a sandbox.comments powered by Disqus
As far as places to embark on Baby's First Air Travel go, Dane County Regional Airport is a pretty sound choice, especially at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night. My biggest fear was that my nine-month-old son would start screaming in the airport; my second biggest fear was that my son would start screaming and some of my former Epic colleagues would be around to hear it.
The recent shift in the weather is just another sign that autumn is fast approaching. That means one of my favorite activities is just around the corner -- apple picking. My husband and I have been picking apples every fall since before our kids were born.
I have a lot of questions about what to put on my eight-month-olds' plates -- and, if I'm honest, a deep and abiding fear of putting the wrong thing there. Did I start them on solid foods at the right time? What's the deal with baby-led weaning -- how much self-feeding should they be doing? At what age should I give them potential allergens like shellfish or nut products?
Lily the potbellied pig arrived at Heartland Farm Sanctuary blind, lethargic and too overweight to walk. The children of Heartland's summer day camp program took it upon themselves to put the curl back in her tail.
Is it just me or does each summer seem to go by quicker than the last? The end of summer is upon us and for many families this means the start of a new school year.
This past week, on the way to the grocery store, my daughter asked what I believed she thought would be a innocuous question, "Mom, when are we going back-to-school shopping?"
Volunteering with the Young Writers Summer Camp this past week really helped me to remember how utterly creative kids can be when encouraged to come up with their own ideas and use their own words.
This past week I gleefully accepted an offer for new job on the UW-Madison campus. My kids are getting are older and I guess I've felt for a while now that it was time to figure out what would be next for me on the professional front.
"Kids spend so much time in and around school, it's the only place where some have a chance to develop an appreciation for a healthy lifestyle," says Katie Hensel, founder and executive director of Tri 4 Schools.
"I'm envious, mom," said my twelve-year-old daughter as she hopped in the car after theater camp last week. "All the other kids in my group seem to really like, and to be really good at, singing, dancing and acting. But I think all those things are just okay."
"People are looking to book space here all the time," says Remy Fernández-O'Brien, communications and facilities coordinator for the Lussier Community Education Center, a private, nonprofit community center on Madison's west side. "They want to throw their child's first birthday party here or hold a Girl Scout meeting. We're really busy year-round, but it's especially lively here in the summer."
Last week, in response to the county-wide Sleep Safe, Sleep Well public health campaign that encourages parents to "share the room, not the bed" with their sleeping infants, Isthmus contributor Ruth Conniff penned a lovely opinion piece in defense of bed sharing entitled "Confessions of a Co-Sleeper."
As much as I'd like to believe there is latent genius in my daughter's early finger paintings, I'm pretty sure her works are not distinguishable from those created by the pointer fingers and pinkies of thousands of other children from across the world.
Seeing Romeo and Juliet this past weekend was a definite reminder that I need to prepare for something that might resemble a (near) West Side Story around our place pretty soon.
All during childhood, we calmly tell our kids they don't need to be afraid of the dark, thunder or the monster under the bed. But it's pretty hard to keep your parental cool when your kid is about to embark on the one thing that terrifies you. I knew the problem wasn't really with him. It was with me.
Last January, when temperatures dipped below minus 30 and most people between the ages of 16 and 24 did anything to stay inside, a small yet sturdy group of at-risk teenage boys and young men stacked wood and managed controlled burns at Festge County Park near Cross Plains. Five months later, following a temperature swing of more than 100 degrees, Isthmus found some of those same guys removing invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn at Lake View Hill County Park on Madison's north side.
The first week of summer break at our place usually comes and goes without incident. At times, one could argue, it even verges on pleasant. I have no school lunches to pack and the kids have no 7 a.m. buses to catch.
Have you tried getting anywhere on either Verona Road or East Johnson lately? I'm pretty sure a six-month old could crawl to Fitchburg, or across the isthmus, in less time that it takes me to drive there these days.
As soon as the door closed behind him, I poured myself a cup of the coffee he had made and took a moment to let the enormity of what just happened sink in. My son was ready that morning despite my inability to properly set an alarm clock. My kid was ready that morning without nudging, cajoling, or reminding. He was ready, even when I wasn't.
For the past 17 years or so (i.e., since I've had kids), I haven't made books the priority in my life I know they should be. It's not that I don't try. Just this past weekend I had the best of intentions of picking up, and even finishing, I am Malala, this year's UW-Madison's Go Big Read pick. But the copy still sits untouched on my nightstand.