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
I think the first time in recent years that I've felt a real sense of shame, as both a parent and community member, was last Tuesday evening as I sat in a crowded elementary school LMC to listen to Ken Taylor, executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, and his colleague, Torry Wynn, present key findings from the 2013 Race to Equity report to our PTO group.
It's Wednesday morning at Allis Elementary School on Madison's east side, and 16 third-graders " 10 boys and six girls " enter into an open-space classroom in typical wiggly, giggly style. Some are making goofy faces at one another, some are bouncing around hand-in-hand with friends, and others are just trying to stay out of the whirling-dervish path of activity.
Of the 789 poorly-composed, way-too-dark and out-of-focus photos currently living on my iPhone, I can count on two hands the number that show my kids and me together. And my husband is in probably no more than three or four of those.
Something kind of magical has happened these past two weeks during the Sochi Olympics. There is no question, debate or disagreement on what will be watched on television once all homework is done. Everyone in the family makes time to sit down together to watch an hour of so of the primetime televised games.
Truth be told, though, this month I'm feeling a bit cinematically fried. In some ways, I already feel like I've spent the last week or so at a film festival. A festival specializing in minute-long glimpses of ordinary lives all ending with credits that feature the ubiquitous blue thumbs-up. Yes, it's been the February of the Facebook movie.
Just last week, on precisely the same day the Momastery post was getting over a million well-deserved views, Madison mom Suzanne Buchko was telling a similar story. Not on a blog but instead in the confines of the modestly circulated Franklin-Randall Elementary School weekly newsletter.
Late last month, the Madison Metropolitan School District adopted a five-year, $27.7 million technology plan calling for all district students, including those in the primary grades, to have significantly increased access to their very own tablet or notebook computer by 2019. Some parents, as well as education professionals, questioned whether elementary-aged kids, especially kindergarteners who aren't even able to read or write yet, will gain much benefit from introducing yet another screen into their lives.
This past Monday, had winter's unrelenting weather allowed, Middleton Cross Plains School District teacher Andrew Harris would have once again been at the helm of a classroom. After nearly four years of fighting his dismissal from Glacier Creek Middle School for viewing and passing on sexually explicit material on district computers, MCPSD has been legally forced to reinstate Herris, this time as a seventh-grade science teacher at Kromrey Middle School.
In a study published last week by the National Bureau of Economic Research, academics have found that the 16 and Pregnant series may have played a significant role in the recent decrease in U.S. teen pregnancies.
In our house, sad but true, we've rarely spent the Martin Luther King holiday discussing race, social justice or the power of non-violent civil disobedience. Instead, the third Monday in January has historically been treated as just another day off school, just another long weekend. And it's been a missed opportunity.
It's not something that happens very often, but last Friday, as news of the impending arctic cold snap reached our house, my kids were rooting for Governor Scott Walker. They were rooting for him to take Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton's lead and cancel school throughout the state. They couldn't care less if he had the authority to do such a thing -- if he called off school, he'd be their hero.
Late last semester, as students were packing up their backpacks one final time before winter break, Middleton High School principal Denise Herrmann and assistant principal Lisa Jondle were co-authoring a note home to parents informing them of a widespread cheating scandal involving nearly 250 calculus students at the school.
Breathe in, breathe out. Have you ever been in the heat of a parenting moment with these words ringing through your head? Then you're on the right path toward mindful parenting.
The week between Christmas and New Year's is famous for all sorts of things. Malls are packed with folks exchanging those holiday sweaters that don't fit just right. It's the week those same folks pledge to never again eat another frosted sugar cookie or candy cane (hence the sweater issues). It's also the week the media saturates the public with dozens of "Best of Year" lists.
This will not (although it could) be a treatise on the value of "alone time" for a healthy marriage, though. Nor will it be an ode to how nice it was for me to have a few days off from lunch-packing, carpool-driving and homework-nagging.
For those of you who haven't yet seen it, the eight-week-long transit campaign, placed both inside and on the outside of buses, features a photo of an orange tabby with a stainless steel bar drilled into its head accompanied by the line "I am not lab equipment. End UW cat experiments!" Just as PETA hopes, the image is shocking and demands an immediate response.
If I had my druthers, I'd sit out the entire shopping week that follows Thanksgiving. Black Friday, for starters, has corrupted the fine art of bargain shopping and turned it into a gladiator sport. There is no percentage off that is worth losing sleep, or even worse an eye, over. Especially if you have kids in tow.
When you shop for toys, there is always the conflict between what you think is appropriate/adorable and what the child being shopped for might actually want/play with.
Many of the pop-culture seasonal touchpoints of my youth are completely lost on my kids. You see, while I may have memorized every word to both the Snow Miser and the Heat Miser's songs from The Year Without a Santa Claus, I'm pretty sure the only Rankin-Bass stop-motion Christmas special my kids have ever seen has been Rudolph.
I am so thrilled that the United Way is sponsoring a Teen Gift Drive this holiday season. Sure, teen "wants" often aren't as fun to shop for as precious baby dolls and sweet Lego sets. But middle and high school kids still "need" to feel valued and loved during this time of year. And helping a family in need to provide this for their child is a wonderful way to get in the spirit.