28 May, 2010

Imagination, Run Wild!

"Do you never imagine things different from what they really are?" asked Anne wide-eyed.
"Oh!" Anne drew a long breath. "Oh, Miss--Marilla, how much you miss!" 
-Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

A few weeks ago I was watching a group of five year olds play at the park. Two of them were creeping through the bushes on the perimeter of the playground. Suddenly one of them hit the deck.
Quick, hide! He's coming! One of them shouted.
Who was coming? I wondered. I looked furtively around for this menacing person who had entered the park.
Nobody was there. I listened to the children a little more closely. Turns out the kids were playing a rousing game called "Secret Agent" and they were hot on the trail of an imaginary criminal. After breathing a sigh of relief that the park was indeed free of "bad guys", I realized what a wonderful thing childhood imagination is. It is like a kid super-power that lets children transform themselves at a whim or travel to another place and time in seconds!
But, just as in the beloved children's book Peter Pan, childhood imagination is short-lived and tends to vanish just as adolescence arrives. So, this week's literacy activity is simple. During this three-day holiday weekend, slow down and give your child an opportunity for uninterrupted playtime. Here are some suggestions:
  • Take some toys such as cars, trucks, plastic animals outside.
  • Use an old curtain to create a puppet theatre. Create puppets from old socks or paper lunch sacs.
  • Give your child a box filled with your old clothes and hats.
  • Fill up a kiddie pool with water and add toy sea creatures and boats.
  • Give your child a box. See what it becomes!
How do you encourage your child's imagination to run wild?

21 May, 2010

Crack the Code

Photo courtesy of all-about-forensic-science.com
Yesterday, scientists from the J. Craig Ventner Institute in the United States published a study in which  synthetic (or man-made) DNA "grew" for the first time. DNA is the abbreviation for deoxyribonucleic acid. Simply, it is the life code stored in the cell nucleus of living organisms. It forms the shape of a double helix, which looks kind of like a spiral shaped ladder. On the rungs of this ladder are four chemical bases: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and thymine (T). The order of these letters (A, G, C, and T) gives the information that form and sustain the organism. DNA has an important job to do. It replicates, or makes copies of itself. This replication is essential when cells divide, for each cell must carry the exact same code. For today's literacy activity, we will extract DNA from a strawberry. 

Here's what you need:
  • strawberry
  • plastic bag (one that self-seals like a ziploc)
  • rubbing alcohol
  • dish soap
  • water
  • small container with lid (I used an old spice jar)
Okay. So here's what you do:
  • Put the strawberry in the plastic bag and seal it. Smoosh it. Smoosh it all up. This takes about 3 minutes. (This is definitely the kid part of the experiment)
  • In the jar, fill half with water, and half with rubbing alcohol. Leave some room at the top. 
  • Add a very small drop of dish soap (especially if the soap is concentrated).Put the lid on the jar.
  • Shake it. Shake it real good. (This is another kid part)
  • So, now put your jar on the table and let it settle down.
  • Gaze into your jar. See all of those long, white slimy bits? (They are easy to see , but  so hard to photograph!)That is the strawberry's DNA!
Click here for an interactive website about DNA and here for more information about DNA and genetics. 
Click here to read about the recent synthetic DNA study. 

Special thanks to University of Miami Department of Neuroscience for teaching my kids and me how to do this fun experiment.

18 May, 2010

International Museum Day

The Museum is not meant either for the wanderer to see by accident or for the pilgrim to see with awe. It is meant for the mere slave of a routine of self-education to stuff himself with every sort of incongruous intellectual food in one indigestible meal.
 -Gilbert Keith Chesterton
 Today, May 18 is International Museum Day. There are art museums, history museums, natural history museums, science museums, and military museums. There are even children's museums. So, celebrate International Museum Day. It's a great excuse to pay a visit to a local museum with your family!

15 May, 2010

Take Five: A Family Travel Timetable

Summer is creeping closer and closer. I can just feel it. Actually, I really can. The frizz-out humidity that spells summer here in south Florida has just arrived. Regardless of what it does to my hair, the warm, sticky weather is a reminder for me to wrap up planning the family summer get-away. So, today's "Get Out" will discuss a timetable useful for holiday planning. Our family usually begins summer get-away planning approximately five months before departing on holiday. This is the timetable we use:
Five Months Prior to Departure:
  • Begin researching and discussing destinations.
  • Ask the kids for input. 
  • Peruse travel websites, blogs, and magazines to help narrow the choices. 
  • Take a look at the bank account. Going into debt for a family vacation is not the kind of adventure you want to get into.
  • Make sure travel documentation such as passports are current.
Four Months Prior to Departure:
  • Narrow down your choices to two options that you can actually pull off. If your kids are old enough, take a vote.
  • Choose your travel dates. Look carefully at the entire family's calendar. You do not want to discover that you will be missing Jimmy's lacrosse playoffs or your in-law's annual visit after you have booked your flights.
  • If you need to request time away from work, do it now. 
  • Book your flights. But, don't do it right away. Check websites for airfare to your destination daily for at least two weeks. Include nearby airports in your search. Use all of the travel search engines at your disposal (more on this next month).
Three Months Prior to Departure:
  • Choose your accommodations. Again, don't do this right away. Read all of the traveler recommendations that you can find from all of the sources that you can find. Make sure the accommodations fit your family's needs. A week in a "boutique" hotel suite with toddlers may not necessarily be the right fit. 
  • What do you want to do on holiday? Go to your local library. Check out all of the books on your destination as you can. Don't forget to include the children. There are wonderful resources written for children as well as adults. The internet is an invaluable resource here too. Google "things to do in...with kids".
  • Plan your itinerary. Remember, when traveling with kids, less is more. A surefire tantrum inducer is cramming way too much into too short a time period. Trust me. I have learned this lesson the hard way.
  • Include input from everyone in the family. Ask, what would you like to do on holiday this year? Aim to integrate one preference from each family member into your itinerary.
Two Months Prior to Departure:
  • Make reservations for attractions, restaurants, tours, etc.
  • If necessary, schedule transportation such as trains, rental cars, ferries, etc. 
  • Frequent online communities such as http://www.bootsnall.com/, http://www.igougo.com/, http://www.tripconnect.com/, or other travel websites to gain useful information from travelers who have already visited your destination.
  • Schedule immunizations if necessary. 
One Month Prior to Departure:
  • Download maps, walking tours, etc. onto a portable device such as I-Phone, I-Pod or Blackberry if you have one. 
  • Inventory your family's clothing and supplies.  Purchase necessary items. The personal battery-operated fan may be tempting, however; the money belt may be necessary.
  • Inspect your luggage. You don't want to have to carry a handful of your underwear through St. Pancras Station because your old suitcase tore apart. Save yourself the humiliation.
  • Make arrangements for your pets to be cared for if they are staying behind. If you are bringing them along, God bless you. I am not that put-together yet.
  • Assemble small goodie-bags for your kids. Include art supplies, travel games, books, gum etc. Dollar stores are great for these items.
One Week Prior to Departure:
  • Fill any prescriptions your family needs to bring along. 
  • Scan your travel documents such as passports into a PDF and e-mail it to yourself.
  • E-mail receipts of reservations to yourself.
  • Pack your luggage. Start packing as many days out as many people who are going on your get-away. For instance, if you are a family of four, begin packing four days before your departure.
  • Enjoy yourself. Yes, you have been planning and preparing for the past five months, but don't forget to live in the moment.
This article was published on www.bootsnall.com

What suggestion would you add to the family traveler's timetable? Please add your comments!

03 May, 2010

Great literacy activity idea from Babycinno Kids

Take a look at this super, simple literacy activity idea from website

Child's Play

Alice in Wonderland performed by the Bits and Pieces Giant Puppet Theatre
We got our children's theatre on this weekend. My family attended Alice in Wonderland, performed by the Bits and Pieces Giant Puppet Troupe on Saturday and spent Sunday at the 15th annual National Children's Theatre Festival Kids Fest at the Miracle Mile Theatre in Coral Gables, Florida where we enjoyed award winning new production Young King Arthur.

A visit to the theatre with your child can be an enjoyable outing for the whole family. And you don't have to live a subway ride from Broadway to see a good performance. These days there is good quality children's theatre in towns all over the map. Don't worry that your child is too young to sit through an hour long play; for a generation that takes digital media for granted, live performers are mesmerizing.

Did you know that attending a theatre performance is a great family literacy activity? During the course of a play, a child is exposed to new vocabulary, new ideas, and a hefty dose of creative expression. Many theatre performances are preceded by child-centered arts and crafts and offer extension activities you can do together after the play. A great way to introduce your child to theatre is to attend a community-sponsored performance. Local family fests are often free!

Click here to read Danielle Wood's Why Children's Theater Matters.