Family Fitness

Health experts recommend that adults 18 – 64 get at least 30 minutes of “moderate intensity aerobic exercise”—meaning walking or jogging quickly enough to break a sweat—five days a week, plus strength training twice a week. Kids 6-17 should get 60 minutes—mostly aerobic—every day. Unfortunately, most people don’t come anywhere close. Fortunately, you don’t have [...]

Getting Kids Thinking and Exploring

One of our favorite brands for educational-yet-still-truly-fun toys is Educational Insights. As parents, we marvel at how creative and well-thought-out EI’s products are—and we enjoy all the “ah-ha” and teachable moments they elicit. But we also love how engaged they keep the kids, and how much fun the youngsters are having when they’re playing (and [...]

The Paper Chase

What’s the first thing that pops into your head when you think about making something out of paper—Origami? Paper airplanes? Papier-mache? For most of us, those were activities we did in Kindergarten or in an after-school crafts program. But creating things from paper is definitely not just for kids. This week, the Parents@Play team had [...]

Saying No to the Summer Brain Drain

From a family-togetherness perspective, summer is a fantastic thing: family trips, camps, time in the great outdoors, and, if you’re lucky, a chance to just hang out. But from the school perspective, summer is a disaster. Most education experts say that kids lose about three months of knowledge over the summer and teachers have to spend the first two months of the new school year catching up. Fortunately, there are ways—most of them painless—to keep what your kids learned last year firmly inside their head. This week, we review three books that, besides offering a great way to stay connected with your kids, will help you brush up on a few subjects you probably haven’t used in a decade. All three authors were guests on Armin Brott’s “Positive Parenting” radio show. You can listen to those interviews at mrdad.com/radio, then search for the author’s name.

Summer Bridge Activities (Carson-Dellosa Publishing, Greensboro, NC)
summer bridge activitiesThis book (it’s actually part of a series, one for the summer between each year of elementary school—1-2, 2-3, 3-4, etc.) is pretty traditional, meaning it has worksheets, graphs, maps, and even some flashcards. But it manages to keep kids and parents engaged while reviewing last year’s learning and getting a head start on next year’s. Besides math, reading, writing, and other academic subjects, the books also include physical fitness (actually doing it, not just reading about it) and suggestions for family field trips.

Bedtime Math: A Fun Excuse to Stay up Late, by Laura Overdeck (Feiwel and Friends, New York)
bedtime mathBedtime stories are a wonderful way for families to spend time together—and to get kids to learn to love books. But have you ever wondered why we don’t do math with our kids before they go to bed? Sadly, math gets dumped into the category of things that most people do only because they have to, not because they want to. The goal of Bedtime Math is to change all that and to make math a fun, engaging part of our kids’ lives, to make it as beloved as the bedtime story. Each section (there are more than 30) starts with fun piece of trivia about such topics as flamingos, bungee jumping, exploding food, and team mascots. Then, there’s an equally fun math problem that uses what you just read as “props.” Actually, there are three problems on the same topic: one that involves mostly simple addition and subtraction, one that might require some basic multiplication, and one that incorporates logic along with the other math functions. It’s all such fun that you’ll find yourself reading the book long after the kiddies have fallen asleep.

Potentially Catastrophic Science: 50 Experiments for Daring Young Scientists, by Sean Connolly (Workman, New York)
catastrophic scienceDespite the name, the experiments in this book aren’t really all that dangerous—as long as you and the kids follow the directions. The book is like an archeological dig through 34 of the greatest scientific breakthroughs in human history. We start with Stone Age choppers and the discovery of fire more than a million years ago, and go all the way through rocket launches, lasers, and DNA. Each experiment includes a brief explanation of what made the invention so special, what it does, and where the potential for catastrophe was. Those overviews are so entertaining (and educational) that you could, theoretically, quit right there. But why would you when you’ve got step-by-step instructions for how to actually replicate what you’ve just read about? You’ll have a blast—especially in the chapter that talks about gunpowder.
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The Art of Parenting

Sometimes looking at a blank piece of paper and being told that you can create anything you want to, just makes you freeze up. The options are limitless, but somehow you can’t think of anything to do. This week we take a look at several art kits that can help parents and kids overcome even the most stubborn case of artist’s block.”

Gelarti Scene Creator (Moose Toys)
gelarti parents@playGelarti Comes with three paint pens, a large scene sticker, and a number of smaller stickers. Customize the stickers with the paint, let your creation dry overnight, and the next morning you’re ready to start decorating any smooth surface you can find. The stickers themselves are a little bit limiting: each shape, whether it’s a bird, puppy, bone, heart, or house is already pre-cut, so it’s not easy to make your own designs. It would be wonderful to have a similar Gelarti kit that came with blank sicker sheets so young artists and their parents could fully unleash their creative juices. That said, Gelarti is still plenty fun for parents and kids. Plus, Gelarti stickers are easily peeled off and can be moved and re-stuck over and over. Anyone who’s had to scrape stickers off of hardwood floors, windows, and refrigerator doors will appreciate that. Ages 5 and up. http://gelartistickers.com/ (don’t leave out the “I” before “stickers”)

Artzooka! (Wooky Entertainment)
artzooka kits parents@playArtzooka! has solved the artist’s block problem by making more than two dozen kits that are focused enough to give you a starting point, yet open-ended enough to encourage nearly unlimited creativity. We had a chance to try out four, and we loved them all.

  • Pop Stick Photo Frames comes with 40 popsicle sticks in a variety of colors and sizes, stickers, and glue. That’s pretty much it. Theoretically, you’re “supposed” to use all those ingredients to make picture frames—and you’ve got enough to make several really spectacular ones. But no one’s going to call the art police if you decide to create something else.
  • artzooka clips n' caps

  • Clip N’ Cap includes 16 bottle caps and can tabs, more than 35 stickers, string, and more. The pictures on the box show necklaces, but that’s just a suggestion.
  • Cupcake Creations was the simplest and, in some ways, the most fun. You basically get 20 colored cupcake liners, glue and stickers and some basic directions for creating delightful animals. But it’s easy as cupcake to go far beyond.
  • With nearly 300 pieces, Button Mosaics is one of Artzooka!’s biggest kits. Besides the sticky buttons, each kit includes several pre-drawn mosaic blanks. Younger kids may want to use them, but older kids and parents will want to make their own.

artzooka caps and tabsA few years ago Pepperidge Farms had a cookie that they advertised as looking just like homemade. Apparently they meant that the cookies—even though they were made by machines–weren’t all exactly the same (which explains why people refer to things that look identical as “cookie cutter”). Artzooka! does something similar with their bottlecaps, buttons, cupcake liners, and soda can tabs. Instead of using real ones from actual bottles and cans—a kind of artistic recycling that parents and art teachers have been doing forever—Artzooka! has made their own, in a variety of colors, often with pre-drilled holes for stringing up. Scavenging for bottle tops and buttons and decorating them yourself adds a layer of creativity. However, using the ones Artzooka! provides doesn’t detract in the slightest from how enormously fun Artzooka !kits are—and how great they are for parents and kids to do together. Ages 5 and up. http://artzooka.com/

Fun You Can Count On

Numbers are all around us and we use them every day. What’s the time difference between the east and west coasts? How many miles per gallon does your car get? What percentage of your income are you paying to the IRS? Which of two similar items in a grocery store is the better deal? How much do we tip a server or taxi driver? What does a 20% discount mean in actual dollars? What’s your favorite player’s batting average and your team’s win-loss percentage? Sadly, too many of us have trouble with basic calculations, partly because we decided as kids that math was either irrelevant (not true) or not fun (often true). This week we take a look at a line of games that will help you and the kids brush up on your math skills—and, perhaps more importantly, are a great fun for everyone.

Mathable
mathable game parents@playThink Scrabble, but with numbers and mathematical equations instead of letters. Each player starts with seven tiles and plays as many as he or she can, combining them with the tiles that are already on the board to create number problems. Like Scrabble, there are blanks and double- and triple-value squares. A few interesting things are going on here. First, you’re using all four basic math functions: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. For advanced players, there’s no reason why you can’t add square roots, trigonometry, or more. Second, because the equations on the board are go up, down, and even backwards, you’ll start thinking about numbers in a very different way. Third, while calculations are essential, if you want to win, you’ll also need to employ logic and strategy. Ages 9 and up. $17.95

Mathable Junior
mathable junior parents@playThis variation on the classic is aimed at kids 5 and up. The tiles are larger and colorful, which makes them easier to handle and more fun for little hands to play with. The board has two sides, one designed for those just getting used to using numbers, the other for those who’re pretty good but aren’t quite ready to move up to the big-kid/grown-up version. $18.95

Mathable Quattro
mathable quattro parents@payWith a nod to the current Texas Hold ‘Em poker craze, Quattro uses a deck of 106 numbered cards instead of tiles. Players get dealt a hand and then four additional cards go face up in the middle. Players then create math equations by combining the numbers in their hand with those on the table. The one who uses the most cards wins. Again, the rules say only addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, but it’s fine with us if you want to add more advanced skills. Ages 9 and up. $6.69

Mathable Domino
mathable domino parents@playWhile the basic theme of creating equations is the same, this game adds a degree of difficulty by using domino-like tiles that have different numbers on each end. You score points by strategically placing your tiles on the board, building off of the ones that are already there. Ages 9 and up. $9.97

Mathable Booklet
mathable booklet parents@playMathable games are great for road trips. But with so many small pieces, you’re bound to lose some. The Mathable booklet solves that problem by cleverly creating versions of Domino, Quattro, and several other games that you can do on paper. All you’ll need is a pencil. And a big eraser. Ages 9 and up. $5.95

Many of the Mathable games are also available as free phone- and tablet apps, which you can download at either wookyentertainment.com or mathablegame.com