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Welcome to the July 2013
“News for Parents”

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  1. WHAT’S NEW?
    • Jumpstarting Boys
    • Preparing for Preschool


  • 31 Fabulous, Fun Ideas for School Vacation

    Ball games! Botticelli! Book safes! Yes, it’s school vacation time, and as in past years, “News for Parents” provides ideas to keep kids busy and learning whether you’re out and about or stuck inside because of bad weather or a summer sniffle. To keep life simple for parents, caregivers and day camp counselors, we include activities that are free or inexpensive or don’t require special skills, equipment or materials. For even more suggestions, see 31 Ways to Have Summer Fun.

    • Games

      Leather balls, clay dice, carved wood pieces: enough have been found by archaeologists to prove that games have been part of every civilization since the beginning of time, writes J.J. Ferrer in The Art of Stone Skipping and Other Fun Old-Time Games. Some games teach skills, others strategy—and most of them mean F-U-N, too! Here’s some to introduce to your kids this month:

      Comet Ball: Got a crowd? This is perfect for three or more players. Stuff a small rubber ball or a tennis ball in the toe of an old adult sock and tie a knot above the ball. Start the game with your “Comet Launcher,” the person who swings the ball around and then lets go. Whoever catches it by the tail (of the sock) is the next launcher. The ball hits the ground? Then the first person gets to throw again.

      Sock Ball

      Sock Ball: Playing alone or with one friend? Use the same ball-in-sock and stand close to a wall. Object of the game: to complete a verse while swinging the ball back and forth at waist level or between the legs while standing against the wall. The verses each start with a letter of the alphabet:

      A, my name is [any name beginning with A]
      My father’s name is [name beginning with A]
      My mother’s name is [name beginning with A]
      We come from [state or city beginning with A]
      We sell [something beginning with A: apricots, aardvarks, aspirin. . .]

      The player continues to B, C, and the other letters of the alphabet until she hits herself with the ball or gets tangled up with the sock. Then it can be the other player’s turn—or, if you have two sockballs and plenty of space at the wall, two can play at once. Imagine Mom and Dad demonstrating this for the kids!

      Dodgeball: Got half a dozen beach balls? Divide your group into two teams, mark a center line and place the balls on the line. Teams get organized on parallel lines that are each three feet from the center line. Blow a whistle or shout for “Go!” and each team gets to race for three balls. Then they get three minutes to try to bounce the balls off members of the opposing team. Anyone hit with a ball leaves the game. When the whistle blows for “Stop!” the team with the most players still in wins. Important rule: balls can’t hit heads. If you throw a ball that hits another player’s head, you’re out. Variation: players hit with a ball have to join the other team.

      Keep-Away: With three or more players, you can name one person as “It” and put him or her in the middle of the circle that the rest of the team forms. “It” tries to catch the ball as the others throw it back and forth. When “It” does grab the ball, the person who threw it becomes the new “It.”

      Kickball: Played like softball, with players kicking a large rubber ball instead of using softballs and bats. Divide players into teams, mark your bases, choose positions, and have the pitcher start the game by rolling the ball toward home plate. To ensure everyone gets to kick, ignore the usual softball rule of three outs and run through the entire line-up of one team before the next team is up to bat, er, kick.

      Alphabet Traveler: Ideal when you’re traveling or waiting, this game involves saying where you’re going and what you’ll be doing there—all with the same letter of the alphabet. For example, suggests “The Art of Stone Skipping. . .”, “I’m going to Alabama to act in an airy amphitheater.” Two rules: the letter “X” can be skipped, and anyone who can’t complete a sentence within 60 seconds loses his turn.

      Association: Another fabulous activity when you can’t go anywhere and need a short game, this involves each player calling out a word with a direct connection to the previous word. If Mom says “sun,” and Dad says, “beach,” one of the kids can say “whale,” and the next one, “spout.” Another possible series: “winter, summer, fall, school, homework.”

      Botticelli: Parenting Press operations manager Homer Henderson recommends this game, which involves guessing the name of a famous person. The person who starts the game selects the name of someone living or dead, real or fictional, and says, “My person’s name begins with. . .” For example, let’s say you’re starting the game, and your person is Batman. If the next player is guessing Barney, she might ask, “Is he purple?” and you’d reply, “No, I’m not Barney.” If you were to reply only, “No,” you’d lose your turn. Variation: “My person’s initials are. . .”

      Geography: This is a simple thinking game for players who can spell. It starts with someone naming a geographic feature and the next player naming something that starts with the last letter of the first feature. If you say “Mount Rushmore,” the next player might say, “Everglades” and then the next response (yours or a third player’s) might be “South Carolina,” and the fourth response, “Artic.” Variation: play with other categories, such as food, television shows, sports terms or books.

      Hink Pink: Another Henderson family favorite, Hink Pink uses one-syllable word riddles. You can start the game by offering a two-word description of something, and the next player replies with a rhyming answer. For example: “amphibian home” is answered with “frog bog.” Hinkie Pinkies are two-syllable answers: “funky monkey” is a reply for “smelly primate” and Hinkety Pinketies are three-syllable riddles: “outrageous story” might result in a response such as “terrible parable.”

      Little Audrey: Create cliffhanger sentences with the game the Hendersons use in the car, when one person starts the story by putting the character named Little Audrey (or Little Andrew or whatever you want to name your hero) at risk. “Little Audrey was walking across the drawbridge when without warning it started to go up and Audrey was hanging to the railing. . .” The next player has to describe how Audrey gets out of this peril and into the next risky situation and then pass the situation back to you or the third player.

    • Take a Ride:

      All Aboard! In Seattle, where “News for Parents” is published, kids can ride the Monorail, the streetcar, or a bus. For travel to a neighboring city, they can get tickets on commuter light rail or Amtrak. Near you, or near where you’re visiting this summer, your kids may also be able to ride a vintage train. Some tourist lines are refurbished narrow-gauge railways, others are historic steam trains. We’re told that Portland OR has more working steam locomotives than any other city in the U.S., and the Oregon Rail Heritage Center shows off many of them.

      Toot, Toot! If you’re near the water, check into passenger and car ferries. We have a huge ferry system in Washington state, and you’ll find other busy ferries in New York, New Orleans, the Cape Cod area, San Francisco and northern Michigan. In North Carolina, the Elwell Ferry has one of the shortest routes: 110 yards. You can cross in five minutes!

      Pedal On: Got a bike? Tour your community’s bike paths or try out the streets that are sometimes closed to all motorized traffic on certain Sundays.

    • Get Crafty

      Make Felt: Get kids working their fingers, creating something and learning a little science when you turn a scrap of all-wool fabric or sweater into felted (or technically, “fulled”) wool. Start by having the kids measure the scrap or draw around it, so they know how large it started out. Then mix a little soap (Ivory Liquid or Dawn) and the warmest water that’s comfortable in a large plastic or metal bowl with the wool. Agitation is more important than heat in creating felt, so encourage the kids to squish, squeeze and repeatedly wring out the fabric in the soapy water. They can also rub their scraps against bubble wrap, which substitutes for the old-fashioned washboard. After several minutes of vigorous rubbing and wringing, the scraps should be thoroughly rinsed in cold water and left to dry. Eventually, the kids can compare the finished size against the original size. Now, what causes this change? Here’s how one crafter explains it: Wool fiber is coated with the keratin, which forms a scaly surface. The hot water and soap makes the scales grab onto each other during agitation and lock into felt. This doesn’t happen with cotton, silk, manmade fabrics or wool that is labeled “machine wash” (because it’s been processed to prevent shrinking).

      Book It! When books are so outdated, or so damaged that they have no value for readers, they are still perfect for crafts. Our copy of The Repurposed Library: 33 Craft Projects That Give Old Books New Life has ideas for little kids and for big ones who can work side by side with someone responsible in the workshop. Here are a few projects to get your family started:

      Decoupage a Bracelet: Cover a garage-sale wood bangle with one-inch wide strips cut from pages, using thinned white glue or a product like Mod Podge.

      Create a Bookshelf: With shelf corbels for the supports and three hardcover books of the same thickness and width, kids and adults with tool kits can build a shelf that’ll showcase more books. Start by gluing the pages of each book together (on the three sides, not each page to another). Then mending plates are used to attach the books to each other, end to end, making the horizontal shelf. (The mending plates are a kind of brace available for a dollar or two each at any hardware or building supply store; for the specifics on attaching them to books, browse your library’s copy of “The Repurposed Library.”) Once the corbels are attached to the wall, it’s easy to install the “Bestseller” shelf!

      Wordy Birds: Much simpler are critters folded from a five-inch square of a page of a book or a good quality magazine. Because of all the folds, avoid paper that is brittle or flimsy. Use any basic origami bird pattern or the tips in the book. If you like, glue a few sequins on each wing or outline it with glue glitter.

      Pagework Quilt: An easy project for the child who can operate a sewing machine is this poster made of pages. Use every page of a favorite book, so kids can doze off gazing at familiar illustrations, or collect images from classics. These could be photocopies if the originals are tattered or brittle, or if you’d rather not destroy beloved books. Variation: Alternate pages from books with photos of family members reading, perhaps to the child for whom the poster is being made. All you need are enough pages (or photos) the same size to make a “quilt” of desired dimensions: for example, if each page is six by nine inches, you’ll need 25 pages to create an image that’s approximately 30 x 45 inches before “seam” allowances. Sew a row of pages together, overlapping each by a half inch. Then sew one row at a time to another, again overlapping by a half inch.

      Book Safe: Doesn’t every kid want a hidey hole? A thick book, hardbound or paperback, can easily have a secret compartment cut into it, one that won’t show when the book’s back on the shelf. How-to’s are in craft books like “The Repurposed Library:” all you need is a craft knife to cut a hole in the desired size in the book block (the stack of pages). Ideally, the book you use will be at least an inch thicker than the hiding place you’re creating, so that there will be several pages in front and back of your treasures to conceal them.

    • Listen In!

      Public Radio: If your kids are old enough to enjoy “Car Talk” and “Prairie Home Companion,” remember that archived broadcasts are available at whenever your family needs a chuckle. Listen on a laptop in the shade of a tree, or load the program on an iPod when you’re heading off on a long drive.

      Kids Public Radio: This web site has no connection to National Public Radio, but it is advertising-free. Your kids can sing along with tunes like “You Are My Sunshine” when you download the Pipsqueaks channel.

      Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy: Rather listen to the shows that the great-grandparents might have loved? Web sites such as Old Radio World allow you to download westerns, comedies such as “Blondie” and “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” the mystery “Danger Dr. Danfield,” and so many other shows.

    • Take a Tour

      Fire Station: Many firefighters welcome visitors. Because tours may need to be scheduled far in advance, call your fire department right now to see when tours are offered, and how old kids must be.

      Museums: Going through a museum with a trained docent to point out what children may be most interested in can make the difference between a wonderful experience and a boring trip that kids never want to repeat. You may also get a peek behind the scenes, where exhibits are prepared or stored.

      Stadiums and Ball Parks: Want to see home base up close? Or the press box? The organized tours often offered of sports venues are guaranteed to show you parts of the ball park unavailable when you come for a game.

      Concert Halls: Footlights, spotlights and the organ’s pipes are part of what you might see on a performing arts center tour.

    • Get Historical

      Your Neighborhood’s Beginnings: With the old photos and maps now often online—or with a collection in your local museum—your kids can compare “now” and “then” on your street, or in your community’s business center.

      Homesteads: If the great-grandparents (or the great-greats) took advantage of homestead acts to acquire farms or ranches, older kids can search online for copies of the official documents, called patents. One place to start is the Bureau of Land Management’s web site,

      Fashion History: Both little boys and girls wore dresses not so long ago. Surprised? Your family can research what people wore with your old family photos, with copies of mail-order catalogs and images of sewing patterns. Many patterns are illustrated in old newspapers and magazines, among the variety of resources online and often on microfilm at local and university libraries.

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  • Holidays You’ve Never Heard Of

    “A year-round ode to wacky holidays” is how publisher Candlewick describes World Rat Day: Poems about Real Holidays You’ve Never Heard Of, a new picture book by J. Patrick Lewis, the current U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate, with illustrations by Anna Raff. What’s even better than the zany poems are Raff’s drawings, which show the “Queen of Purriosity” lounging on the bed on “Happy Mew Year for Cats Day,” Jan. 2, and the dragons breathing fire (despite “no smoking” instructions) that incinerates the tails of rats on Jan. 16, “Dragon Appreciation Day.”

    Sheep Day

    This is an ideal book to read to kids s-l-o-w-l-y. Each two-page spread’s illustration can be studied carefully for its tie-ins to the related poem. When kids hear “Never remove a hare from your food” as one of the dragon’s etiquette lessons, they can search the picture for the rabbits dripping in the soup or peering around the table. Kids who read can check the text for the plays on words like “No one will ever forget Ewe” and “loud mewsic.”

    For March 15, “Worm Day,” let kids watch the scout worms frown and gawk as their scoutmaster conducts a lesson on the “Robin ‘hood” and the importance of avoiding it, while bird beaks poke through the soil. For June 14, “National Skunk Day,” Lewis writes, “If the skunk did not exist, Then the skunk would not be mist.” Raff’s skunk, armed with an atomizer of Eau de Eeeew, is being photographed by a crew of beret-topped rats, one grimacing about the “mist.”

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  • New Baby for Your Family?

    More American babies are born in September than any other month, and if your family is anticipating an addition in the next few weeks, Blythe Lipman has advice on how to introduce a new sibling to your first child.

    In Help! My Toddler Came Without Instructions (new from Viva Editions) she reminds us that a first child has no idea of what the birth of a baby will mean to his or her world. Regardless of your first child’s age, “preparation and positive reinforcement are the key words here.”

    Examples of her tips:

    • If you have friends with infants, visit them when their babies are awake. Your child needs to see that it’s okay that babies sometimes cry.

    • Attend a sibling preparation class at your hospital or library.

    • Look through the outgrown baby toys with your child to select a few for the new baby. “As you choose, talk about when she was a baby. This is great for your toddler’s self-esteem and her role as “big sister.’”

    • If there’s a move out of the crib and into a “big kid” bed, try to make it at least four months before the baby is born (or needs the crib). “There is nothing worse than having two sobbing children in the middle of the night.”

    • Sit with your child and page through his or her baby book or baby photo album, talking about what this first child looked like coming home from the hospital.

    • Avoid introducing a new babysitter now, if you expect to be hospitalized for a few days. Discuss with your child who he or she will be with and if possible, have a dry run.

    The other most common months for Americans to have babies are August, June, and July, in that order, which means you may already have an infant in the house. If so, Lipman has advice for making that transition out of the spotlight and into the “big sibling” role. For example:

    • Plan a special activity with your older child at least once or twice a week when the baby is napping. This could be making cookies, coloring together or watching a video such as “Arthur’s Baby” by Marc Brown.

    • Ask relatives to take your older child on an outing or come over and do something special with that child, away from the baby.

    • Involve your older child by asking him or her to select the baby’s outfit, fetch a burp cloth or hold a bottle.

    • Recognize it’s normal for older children to pinch or try to hit the baby. “Focus on the behavior and not her,” says Lipman. “Firmly tell her, ‘Hitting the baby hurts.’ Don’t say, ‘You’re a bad girl for hitting your new baby sister.’”

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  • Tips for the month

    Each Saturday, Parenting Press posts a new parenting tip and the previous week’s tip is moved to the archive. If you’d like the tips e-mailed to you each week, just let us know with a message to Make sure you put “Weekly tips” in your subject line and include the e-mail to which the tips should be sent.

    “Summertime and the livin’ is. . .” The song may say “Easy,” but sometimes we as parents and caregivers are F-R-A-Z-Z-L-E-D. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with heat, humidity, which day camp schedule the kids are on, and who’s coming to visit next week, here’s help.

    July  6 — Bust Tension with Mudras
    July 13 — Taking Care of Your Own Intense Feelings
    July 20 — Dealing With Our Own Parenting Stress
    July 27 — Setting and Meeting Parental Goals

  • Family Fun Ideas — Berry, Berry Fun

    U-pick farms are open around the country now, so pack a picnic lunch, water bottles, sunblock and head for the bushes. The berry bushes, that is! Extension service and farmers’ associations usually list berry farms that are open for your own picking; find one that’s convenient and head out for a day. Remember a container large enough for the berries you’ll carry home.

    Comment on this story

  • Community Service — Contribute to a Little Free Library

    Our goal with this column is to suggest ways that you can model the concept of sharing and giving back to your community. There are practical advantages to community service, too. Kids can use these projects to meet school or youth group requirements for community service and to start building resumes that they’ll use when applying for first jobs or college.

    Take a book, leave a book in Claremont CA.

    This month we’re featuring the tiny libraries—the “take a book, leave a book” exchanges you can contribute to, or even build for your neighborhood. Described at, these are part of a national movement to make reading convenient, and to get people excited about sharing their favorite titles. There’s no rules, no membership, nothing except providing a small structure and a starting supply of used books. Some of our favorite little libraries look like oversize birdhouses, some have been upcycled from newspaper vending machines, and the “News for Parents” editor even found one in a mini-fridge. You can share books you’ve loved and no longer need in nearby Little Free Libraries, or build one of your own. To find one or to find examples of what other “librarians” have built, check the web site’s “world map” you’ll see listings from Freemantle, Australia and Auburn AL, Mount Pleasant MI and Maple Grove MN to Walla Walla WA and Waunakee WI.

    Comment on this story


  • Special of the month — More Summer Fun Ideas!

    This special has expired.

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Last updated January 19, 2014