Category Archives: Ages 0-5

Reading Rainbow Kickstarter Campaign

Remember “Reading Rainbow”?

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That delightful children’s series which encouraged reading, hosted by LeVar Burton and aired on PBS from 1983-2009? Burton has just launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise one million dollars to create an online version to expand the program’s reach.

When Reading Rainbow went off the air in 2009 Burton bought the rights to the show and its name and created the company RRKidz, which produces a Reading Rainbow tablet app. The Kickstarter campaign is raising funds to expand on that app, making it available on the Web and updating it with special tools for teachers on a subscription basis.

The campaign has gotten off to a very impressive start: it has already exceeded its pledge goal, with 29,145 backers having already pledged over $1,295,000. With 34 more days to go on the campaign, the Reading Rainbow team is hoping to raise additional funds to meet more ambitious production goals.

Read more about Burton’s efforts here and check out the Kickstarter campaign here.

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Filed under Academics, Ages 0-5, Ages 8-12, Books, Entertainment

Thank A Teacher!

Although Teacher Appreciation Week (May 5-9) has come and gone, it is not too late to show your appreciation for special teachers in your son’s life. In fact, the end of the school year is a great time to thank teachers for the hard work they have put in all year on your son’s behalf. Looking for cute year end gift ideas? Check out these Pinterest boards here, here and here.

Be sure to involve your son in the process of figuring out what to do for his favorite teachers. It will help him understand the importance of showing appreciation and celebrating great teachers if he participates in the purchase or making of a teacher’s gift. As you focus on year-end gift giving, please note that teacher’s gifts are much more about the thought than the price tag. In fact, many schools have dollar limits on what you can spend on a teacher’s gift. Check with your Parent’s Association/PTA reps for this information. And don’t forget about the people who work hard in your son’s school outside the classroom to make sure he has a good day, like the security guard or the school nurse. They should be appreciated as well!!

As you talk with your son about the teachers he wants to thank, talk to him about some of your favorite teachers. Not only is it fun to share your stories, but by sharing your memories of teachers you had decades ago, you will help him appreciate how important and influential a good teacher can be.

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Filed under Academics, Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12, Parents, Resources

Hit the Road! Vacationing with Kids

As summer approaches, thoughts turn to family vacations. We at GCP love hitting the road with the kids, and have been doing so since they were tiny tots. Family vacations can provide some of the best times of your life. Whether it is a road trip of a few hours or a journey to another part of the world, introducing your children to different places and cultures at an early age helps hone their powers of observation and understanding, and gives them great memories of family fun.

Here are a few tips culled from a variety of sources (including our own GCP wisdom) to help make your family vacations into fun adventures:

1. Start with a Positive Attitude: Some parents refuse to consider taking their little ones on the road for fear that the children will be terrible travelers. One of the best ways to avoid this fear is to start traveling with them early, so that they grow up understanding how to behave on the road. Sure, you will have to plan long trips carefully and bring lots of fun activities to distract them on a lengthy trip. But be sure to believe in your children’s ability to be good travelers!!

2. Keep Them Busy On the Road: Bring lots of fun things on the road: books, toys, stickers, educational games, portable DVD and game players, books on tape, and music CDs to sing along with. Make age appropriate activity travel bags for each child. Be sure to include a few surprises in the bag. Save the bag for when the first signs of fidgeting appear.

3. Leave the Special Toy at Home: Rather than take the favorite bunny or lambie on the road, better to buy a special friend for the trip a few weeks before. Nothing threatens to spoil a trip more than discovering that Bunny didn’t make it out of the last hotel.

4. Bring the Medicine Cabinet: Be prepared for any emergency, big or small. Make a trip to the local drugstore and load up on everything you could possibly need for everything from a minor boo-boo to a major head or tummy upset. Here’s an unusual but useful tip: stick a packet of ground coffee in your bag. If the little one happens to throw up in an enclosed space (on the plane, in a car), coffee grounds mask the smell pretty quickly.

5. Plan Realistic and Flexible Days: Don’t try to fill every waking hour of a trip with activity, even if it is child friendly activity. Children tend to tire easily on the road, so take your cues on the length of the day from them. Maybe you won’t be able to hit every spot of interest in every port of call, but better to have a shorter day than have to drag a cranky little one around. And be prepared to make stops that your children request that you might not have included in the original itinerary. In the early days we visited more wax museums than I could ever have imagined (or wanted to imagine). But we had a blast, and still talk about those museums, so many years later!

You can take your sons and daughters on the road and have a great time! Start planning now.

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Filed under Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12, Entertainment, Holidays, Parents, Resources

Family Ties: How Can Parents Help Create Them?

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A good male friend recently described the relationship between his two teen sons as “non-existent”. Different social circles, different schools, unconnected lives living in the same house. If one is away for a while, the other will eventually ask about him, but only casually, and he certainly doesn’t want his brother to know that he cares. My friend assures me that his boys are going through the normal stage of wanting nothing to do with one another, and that he is sure they will reconnect down the line.

He had to assure me of this, because I’ve not experienced a phase where any of my three children didn’t get along fairly well with each other. The fact that several years separate each of them (3 years between my first two, then 4 years between the second and third) could be a big factor. They had to spend a good deal of time together when they were young, of course, but they were always at different developmental stages, so the competitive level generally stayed pretty low.

I am sure that my friend is quite right about his sons, and he is wisely adopting the “don’t sweat the small stuff” parenting approach. But I have to confess that it would bug me if my children weren’t close. I am not talking “we don’t need any other friends” close, but at least “I’m cool with hanging with you around the house” close. This leads me to wonder: what, if anything, can parents do to promote friendship among their children?

“How to Get Siblings To Get Along” in Chicago Parents, found here, had some good suggestions. I particularly liked the following:

Encourage an Expectation of Closeness: Katie Allison Granju, a mom of five kids and author of Attachment Parenting, suggests that parents have a baseline expectation within the family that siblings will be friends, and subtly make sure that everyone understands that expectation. Encourage your children to view each other as allies. As Pat Shimm of the Barnard Toddler Center says, your ultimate goal is to have your children join forces together against you, the “management”, for that is how their bonds form and grow.

Support Each Other’s Activities: Insist (where reasonable) that your children attend some of their sibling’s activities and games. It involves them more in each other’s lives and gives them an opportunity to cheer for (or console) one another.

Family Conversations: I groan a bit at any forced encounters (like a planned “family meeting”) but making time for family conversations, be they around the dinner table (a great place to promote togetherness) or in the car, allows your children to listen to one another’s thoughts and ideas. Enforcing rules that everyone has to be polite and not interrupt will help keep the conversation civil and productive. It also gives everyone an opportunity to laugh together, which is always good.

Don’t Compare: A surefire way to poison sibling relationships is to play favorites or suggest that one child should act more like another. Don’t do it, even if one seems to have all the common sense (smarts, talent, whatever) in the world and the other none. Nothing good comes from your saying “Why can’t you be more like your brother/sister”? Nothing.

Establish Family Traditions: Chicago psychologist Dr. Mark Sharp notes that anything that helps kids identify as a part of the family is particularly helpful. “Family traditions, family rituals, these experiences create a sense of bond. That helps create a shared identity, which helps them feel closer.” When my children were young we established Fridays as Pizza Night, which ensured that the three of them (and often all of us) would enjoy yummy casual dining at the end of the week. Even now if one of the older two is home from college on a Friday, he or she expects to see the pizza boxes on the counter and whatever sibling is home seated at the table.

These are suggestions, not prescriptions. Sometimes no matter what you do your children will refuse to get along, and will seem not to care about one another. But it certainly won’t hurt to focus on some of these tips, and it could even help.

What do you do to encourage your children to strengthen their family ties to one another? Please share your tips!

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Filed under Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12, Parents, Saving Our Sons

Is Your Sitter Paying More Attention to Her Phone Than To Your Child?

Have you thought about how much time your babysitter spends with your child vs. her device? We all know how tempting it is to have your connection to the world at your fingertips, calling to you with its rings, dings and whooshes every few minutes. How can you be sure your babysitter isn’t heeding the calls of her device over the needs of your son or daughter? Common Sense Media addressed this question in a recent post, “How to Stop Your Babysitter from Sexting, Texting, and Tweeting on the Job“. Here are some tips from them and us on this topic:

Set the Rules, Clearly and Simply: Young people who have grown up with a device in their hands are not always aware that their regular use of it may bother you or could interfere with the performance of their job. Be clear about your expectations, and set the rules before you give them the job. Don’t want any tweeting or texting on the job? Be sure to tell them up front. GCP pet peeve: We’ve lost count of the number of sitters (and moms and dads) seen on the street who are preoccupied with their devices while pushing their toddlers along. Not only is it potentially quite dangerous, you’ll also miss golden opportunities to chat with the little one about interesting things along the way. And we all know (or should know) that toddlers benefit tremendously from talking and having conversations. They need to hear as many words as possible at this age, and chatting with them on a stroll is a great way to increase their vocabulary. So be sure to tell your sitter to reserve any non essential phone time for when your toddler is napping in that stroller.

Privacy and Social Media: We live in a world of shared digital experiences. Pictures of cute babies, puppies and kittens abound on all social media. Is it ok for your sitter to post pictures of your little one on her Facebook page or Instagram account, or upload an adorable video of him singing onto YouTube? Whether your answer is yes or no, have this conversation up front, so that there are no surprises. If the answer is yes, set limits for what can be shared. If instead you want to be the only one deciding what adorable views of your pumpkin the world can see, then make that clear from day one. Be compassionate about the instinct: you have an adorable child, and a loving caretaker could easily have the urge to post a great pic of him. But be very clear about this: if Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc. is off limits, let the sitter know before she is tempted to post.

Playtime with the Phone: Also discuss the degree to which you want the sitter to allow your toddler to play with devices, be they her phone or the baby’s own iPad. Giving a fussy little one an electronic plaything to distract and preoccupy him is tempting, we all know, but we also know it is not a good idea to use an electronic device as an ever present pacifier. Help her understand your thinking on this, and set clear limits.

Tech is Not All Bad: When you are having a crazy day at work, having a babysitter who is tech-savvy can save the day. She can send you a picture of your child to show you a special moment you’d otherwise miss, or perhaps to show you a rash that might need immediate attention. She can text you questions or clarifications quickly and efficiently. She may also have suggestions for cool apps that might serve useful for the both of you when managing daily tasks before you arrive home. So rather than make the device the enemy, talk about its productive uses.

It’s Never Too Late to Have This Chat: We live in a digital age where everyone is or is soon to be wired. So if you did not initially spell out these rules with a long time sitter, or your sitter is a relative newcomer to the digital world and you sense a shift towards device preoccupation, have the conversation now. Remember, you are the employer. As your employee, your babysitter should make every effort to adhere to your rules.

The bottom line is you want to do everything you can to ensure that your babysitter is actually spending quality time with your child! These are crucial years to foster positive reinforcement and development. She can’t do that if she is constantly updating her status.

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Filed under Ages 0-5, Ages 5-7, Parents

Black Folks Are Missing From Children’s Books

Celebrated children’s and young adult book author Walter Dean Myers has a great essay asking “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?” in this past Sunday’s New York Times. In his essay, found here, Myers responds to a recent report that only 93 of the 3,200 children’s books published in 2013 were about African Americans. He describes how important it is for children’s books to feature people of color, not only to inspire young boys and girls of color, but to help all readers understand and appreciate that moms and dads and doctors and lawyers and engineers and teachers and neighbors can come in all colors.

Myers tells the story of working in a personnel office under a boss who tried to eliminate a black chemist applicant for a position because as he told Myers, “That black guy’s no chemist”, even as he looked at the candidate’s resume filled with chemist training and experience. Myers understood that this was a more complicated brand of racism. He explains, “I realized that we hired people not so much on their résumés, but rather on our preconceived notions of what the successful candidate should be like. And where was my boss going to get the notion that a chemist should be black?” If Black people, including Black professionals lived in more children’s books on a regular basis, all children would have a chance at having a more realistic (and less biased) perception of the real world.

We’ve got a long way to go, with our boys in hoodies getting profiled in stores, stopped and frisked and even shot and killed because the way they look is what people know from TV, hip hop and publicized perp walks to be the look of someone up to no good. We’ve got to do all we can to find books for our children, and for their friends of all colors, that show the world the way it multiculturally is, not the way it looks so often on TV, and as we now know, in children’s books as well.

How do we find these books? We can start with the Brown Sugar and Spice Book Service, found here, which features “True Stories about People of Color”. But we need as many resources as we can find. GCP readers, send us your favorite children’s books featuring people of color! We’ll keep looking for recommendations as well.

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Filed under Ages 0-5, Ages 5-7, Books, Parents

Black Boys Lose Assumption of Innocence at an Early Age

Black boys as young as 10 years old are more likely than their White peers to be mistaken as older, less innocent, and more appropriate targets for police violence if accused of a crime, according to research conducted by UCLA psychologists. In their study, abstracted here, the researchers examined “whether Black boys are given the protections of childhood equally to their peers”, and tested three theories: 1) that Black boys are seen as less childlike than their White peers; 2) that characteristics associated with childhood are less frequently applied in thinking about Black boys relative to White boys; and 3) these trends would be more obvious among people who dehumanized Black males by associating them with apes. The researchers conducted studies of 4 different groups (including police officers and college students) which supported and confirmed their theories.

“The evidence shows that perceptions of the essential nature of children can be affected by race, and for black children, this can mean they lose the protection afforded by assumed childhood innocence well before they become adults,” said co-author Matthew Jackson, PhD. “With the average age overestimation for black boys exceeding four-and-a-half years, in some cases, black children may be viewed as adults when they are just 13 years old.” You can read a more detailed description of this study and the results here.

Most alarming were the results of the police officers study, as the researchers determined that those officers who dehumanized blacks in psychological questionnaires (associating them with apes) were more likely to have used force against a black child in custody than officers who did not dehumanize Blacks. While the researchers noted that further study was necessary to clarify this finding, this study supports our gut instinct to instruct our sons, even our little boys, about how to behave during any encounter with the police.

As blogger Christopher “Flood The Drummer” Norris in The Good Men Project website notes here, the sad essence of these findings is that our young boys don’t get to be young and innocent for long. As Norris notes, “Black boys aren’t so different; they want what every other adolescent has: the ability to make mistakes.” If our boys are consciously or unconsciously being held to a higher standard by the adults they interact with, small wonder that they can have a hard time meeting it in school and in the world.

What can we parents do at home to counteract this? We can give our young sons time and space to be “boys”, guide them but try not to make them “little men” too soon. We can also focus on how negative media images of young Black men can distort public perception and make people more comfortable with their negative thinking. Check out “Media Portrayal of Black Youth Contributes to Racial Tension” here, and check out the Opportunity Agenda website here for lots of information about media images of Black males.

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Filed under Ages 0-5, Ages 5-7, Parents, Saving Our Sons

Obama Launches “My Brother’s Keeper” Initiative Today

This afternoon President Obama will announce the launch of an initiative to provide greater opportunities to African-American and Hispanic young men of color. His “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative has already received a $150 million commitment from a group of foundations and businesses who have pledged an additional $200 million towards this effort. The White House initiative seeks to intervene in the lives of boys at key points: by providing pre-kindergarten education, lifting third-grade reading proficiency, leading schools away from “zero tolerance” disciplinary policies that kick misbehaving students out of school, and convincing businesses to train and hire young men of color.

The President will also announce the creation of a new inter-agency “My Brother’s Keeper Task Force” headed up by Broderick Johnson, the cabinet secretary and assistant to the president. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Attorney General Eric Holder, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and other senior officials will also work with this task force. You can read more about this initiative here and here.

Kudos to the President and his staff for using the power of his office to bring attention, funding and opportunity to our young men in need. GCP looks forward to receiving and sharing more information about “My Brother’s Keeper” and its progress.

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Filed under Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12, Parents, Resources, Saving Our Sons

Raising “Soft” Sons in a Hard World

Ted Wells’ report to the NFL on the Jonathan Martin/Miami Dolphins harassment case presents Martin as an NFL rookie who was tormented both by his teammates and his own inability to fight back. As New York Times columnist Bill Rhoden notes in his column about the report, found here, “The question that repeatedly came to my mind as I read the Wells report is, Why didn’t Martin retaliate? Martin wondered why as well. As Wells wrote, ‘Martin came to view his failure to stand up to his teammates as a personal shortcoming.’”

According to Wells’ report Martin believed his privileged background (his parents met at Harvard as undergraduates) and education hindered his ability to stand up for himself. He blamed “mostly the soft schools” he attended in middle and high school and the “white private school conditioning, turning the other cheek” for reinforcing his self-image as a pushover. Offering tacit support for Martin’s perspective, Martin’s father Gus acknowledged in a text message to his son that he had “punked out many times” when confronted by whites who used the “N” word.

Who among us with African-American sons in predominantly white schools isn’t chilled by Martin’s perspective? And how much are we parents promoting the conditioning he complains about? Many of us have worried about how our energetic and lively boys make their way in schools where their white classmates and teachers may be burdened with perceptions of young black men born of negative media stereotypes: the bad boy, the troublemaker.
We encourage our sons to keep their cool in their response to ignorance or insult; tell them not to give in to an impulse to retaliate with harsher words or fists. We want them to know that they may be perceived differently from their white classmates in and around school and that this is important to remember if trouble arises. We want to shield them from unexpected harm as best we can.

But Martin’s story suggests that these messages can have unintended and terrible consequences. According to the NFL report, Martin reveals to his mother in a text message in late 2013 “I used to get verbally bullied every day in middle school and high school, by kids that are half my size. I would never fight back, just get sad & feel like no one wanted to be my friend, when in fact I was just being socially awkward.”

One can’t know now how much of his memory of these bullying episodes is clouded by his recent troubles. But it is sad and disturbing that he waited all these years to reveal any bullying and its impact on him. And why didn’t his middle and high schools focus on this bullying and alert his parents? His mother flew to Miami as soon as she understood the depth of his mental anguish as a member of the Dolphins, and encouraged him to get professional help. Had she known about this pervasive bullying when he was young (or even his perception of it) you have to believe that she would have tried to get help for him earlier.

We have to do all we can to get our sons to talk to us about their school and social lives, especially when they are in the formative middle and high school years. We also have to spend as much time as we can in their schools, forming our own perspectives of their friends and their life there. And the schools need to see us there, to know that we are focused on all aspects of our sons’ school life. Stories like this make it clear how important it is to do all we can on our own and through the schools to understand what is going on with our boys.

And what if they do tell us they are being bullied? In his column Rhoden recalls that his mother gave him boxing lessons to help him deal with a local bully when he was young. The concept of teaching our sons to stand up for themselves seems instinctively right, but telling them to stand down in the face of trouble feels like a safer way to go these days.

No parent wants to raise a son who is perceived as “soft” because of the difficulties that this can bring him. But for many reasons we also don’t want our sons to start swinging at every slight. As Jonathan Martin’s mother reminded her son in one of their text exchanges, “It takes more strength actually to avoid confrontation.” But we don’t want to have our boys’ self esteem damaged by the feeling that they don’t know how to fight back.

Talk with your son about how he handles disagreements with his friends, classmates, and the mean guys at school. Observe him interacting with his friends, and talk with him about his relationships. Have a casual conversation with him about any interactions that seem troublesome to you. Listen carefully to his perspective. If you sense he is having trouble handling situations, continue to talk with him about them (in a non-judgmental manner) until you can assess whether you need to take further action. Remember that stepping in too soon can give your son (and his peers) the impression that he can’t handle things. But keeping the conversation going at home can give him the platform and the confidence to come to you if he needs help.

Raising confident sons with strong self-esteem is a complicated and continuing concern for all of us, which GCP wants to address. Stay vigilant, stay focused, and stay tuned.

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Filed under Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12, Parents

Resolve to Stay Involved With Your Son’s School

As the new year begins, it is a great time to focus on being involved at your children’s school. Here at GCP we can’t say enough about the importance of parental involvement in schools. See, for example, our earlier posts “Back to School for Parents”, September 13, 2011 and “Parents Resolve to Get More Involved in 2012”, January 2, 2012. Being a visible presence at your son’s school benefits you and your son throughout the school year. But how to do this, given your crazily busy life? A recent Buzzfeed.com list suggests “18 Ways To Get Involved at your Kids’ School”, many of which can be helpful even for the busiest parent. Find this thoughtful list here.

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Filed under Academics, Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 5-7, Ages 8-12, Parents, Saving Our Sons