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Welcome to the June 2013
“News for Parents”

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  1. WHAT’S NEW?
    • More Ideas for Summer Fun
    • Picture Book Chuckles
    • When Family Members Are Mentally Ill


  • 30 Activities for School Vacation

    Swim lessons! Screen prints! Sand casting! 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.

    Get Moving

    Keep ideas for places to go and things to do outside handy this summer. Maybe you’ll drop schedules for events, maps, and newspaper stories about hikes into a recycled jar on your countertop, or in a folder in your desk. The more information you have in a convenient place, the easier it’ll be to respond to, “WHERE can we go?” and “WHAT can we do?”

    • Swim lessons. If you have a nearby pool or lake, a session or two of lessons provides structured training and a schedule around which to build each day’s activities. In many communities, swim team practice is offered through the parks department for those in elementary school and older. (And competing in meets may be optional.)

    • Jump rope practice. Remember “I see Paris, I see France, I see. . .”? Invite friends over for an introduction to jumping or organize a neighborhood team. Even simpler, ask kids to compete against themselves once a day, charting how many jumps they can make in a five- or 10-minute period.

    • Shoot hoops. With a basketball hoop mounted at a kid-height and a smaller ball, preschool as well as older children can practice lay-offs and free throws. As with jump rope practice, consider challenging kids to track how many points they accrue each day, and celebrate each improved score. (For kids of very different ages or abilities, recognize percentage increases, not absolute numbers.)

    • Puddle-jumping. Got rain? Got boots? Get out! Especially if there’s been such a downpour that no one’s gone outside, take advantage of the first break in the storm to run out and stomp in the puddles. If the kids get muddy, gently hose them off before they go back inside, or hustle them into the shower.

    • Zucchini races. June may be a little early for squash crops, but it won’t be long before many home gardens seem to be overrun with zucchini. Attach toy wheels to the squash, or tie each one to a Duplo, chalk lanes on an incline of pavement, and let ‘em go. (Need a driver? Glue a paper face to a toothpick and stick it in! Need a team of drivers? Kids can cut out the faces of their favorite newspaper comic strip characters.)

    • Stairway hikes. Seattle, where News for Parents is published, has dozens of public stairways built where hills were too steep for streets. (In fact, the editor lives on one.) Books and web sites describe how to reach these, and how to link those in the same neighborhood into hikes. You’ll find similar hikes in many other communities—your own, or ones you may be visiting this summer.

    • Street-end parks. Your city may also have little-known parks, often nothing more than a bench, where streets end at water’s edge, ravines or freeway easements. Your parks department, visitors’ bureau or library may have materials or web sites that help you find these. Older kids can also make a summer project out of checking online maps for possible street-end sites and creating a list of them with mini-reviews.

    • Bus rides. How far can you go for one bus fare? Check your transit authority’s web site for the longest trip, or the best destinations, pack a lunch and find your stop! Young kids may travel free with one paying adult, or family fares may be available, especially on weekends.

    • Boat rides. Rent a paddle boat or ride a summer-only ferry; take older kids out for a canoeing or kayaking lesson (check your parks department or local college for options).

    Get Crafty

    Got a craft drawer in your kitchen or family room? To reduce the time you spend looking for materials to entertain children, consider keeping them nearby in a drawer, basket or box. Crayons, water colors, brushes, paper, stickers, glue sticks, markers, safety scissors, yarn scraps and colorful papers from catalogs and direct mail advertising are examples of what kids can use.

    • Crayon resist. Ordinary paper + white crayon + paint. Couldn’t be simpler! In art terms, a resist is something that blocks a wet medium (in this case, the paint). Encourage kids to press firmly when they scribble with the white crayon, and then get out water color or tempera paint for them to brush over the surface.

    • Flour paste resist. Ready for a slightly more advanced project? Wrap an old towel around a cutting board or similar surface and then stretch fabric (part of an old man’s dress shirt, a flour-sack towel, a square of muslin) across this and pin it firmly. Mix a cup of white flour with about a cup of water, stopping when the paste feels like pancake batter. When the lumps have been stirred out, spread the paste on the fabric. Next step: use a skewer or chopstick to draw patterns or write words. Now the paste has to dry, and this could take a day or two, depending on your humidity. When it is dry, pull out the pins, scrunch the fabric to create cracks in the paste, and then brush dark craft paint over the entire surface. Make sure the paint penetrates all the gaps in the paste’s surface. Let it dry for a day or two and then wash out the flour in a bucket of warm water. This may take several minutes, but you don’t need soap. An adult can iron the fabric, using a pressing cloth to protect the iron’s surface from the paint.

    • paper chain
    • Stamp. Got rubber stamps? Great! Turn kids loose with paper, fabric scraps, light-colored old T-shirts, stamp pads and water-based paints. Need stamps? Mount shapes cut from foam craft sheets or foam shoe innersoles on blocks of scrap wood. Or see what else you have around the house or garage: create patterns on wood blocks with string glued down around a metal nut or washer, an old luggage or jewelry box key, parking lot tokens or buttons. The only requirement is that everything be of the same thickness. If you don’t have a stamp pad, substitute a mini-mint tin filled with a couple of thicknesses of felt soaked with craft paint, or use a small brush to paint the surface of the stamp. Remember you can print with vegetables, too: slice the end off a potato, press a simple cooky cutter (a star or heart, perhaps) into it and then cut away the excess around the cutter. Halve a bell pepper either horizontally or vertically, or use a thick slice of a citrus fruit to create a pattern.

    • Stencil. Cardboard cereal and cracker boxes are easy to cut into hearts, stars, tulips, letters, numbers and other simple shapes. Kids can use these stencils with paintbrushes, sponges or their fingers and nontoxic water-based paints. Kids who want more complex stencils can copy silhouettes or make cut-outs of their drawings.

    • Paper chains. Brown paper bags, newspaper, and large envelopes are all your kids need to get started with chains: cut paper dolls, cats, cars, trees. If children are too young to manage intricate shapes, you can cut the chains, and the kids can decorate the images with crayons, paint, or scraps of ribbon and gift wrap.

    • Origami. Turn the comics pages into sailor hats for the kids, and junk mail envelopes into hats for their stuffed critters and dolls. Grade school kids can fold fortune tellers and cranes. (Some of our prettiest cranes were made with the blue-patterned interiors of phone bill envelopes, and the News for Parents editor decorates her Christmas tree with cranes made of gift wrap scraps by her young daughter.)

    • woven paper
    • Woven paper. Cut a few long slits in a sheet of paper and show preschoolers how to weave colorful strips from junk mail between the slits. Older children can use paper they’ve painted for larger projects, or use online tips for weaving cereal-box cardboard into baskets.

    • Loom weaving. Sturdy corrugated paper at least a foot square and yarn or string for the warp are all that’s needed to set up a simple loom. Notch the top and bottom of the cardboard and wrap the warp between these notches, covering one side of the cardboard. Kids can weave in whatever they want: inch-wide strips of fabric, different colors of yarn, old cassette tape, ribbon saved from gift wrapping. (To remove the finished project, carefully cut a couple of warp strings at a time, tying the first one on the left top to the next, and then tying the third from the left to the fourth, and so on.)

    Go Green

    • Meal time for worms. If you don’t have a worm bin or a compost dome, but you do have a flower bed, you can teach your kids how to enrich the soil with kitchen wastes. Potato peels, apple cores, asparagus stems and other fruit and vegetable trimmings can go into holes the kids dig. And once buried and ignored for a month or so, the trimmings will attract worms---they’ll aerate the soil as they wriggle along, and fertilize it with their castings (the fancy word for worm poop). Make each hole about a foot deep, so that there’s enough dirt atop the peels to keep out rats and raccoons. If you have flowers and shrubs, make sure your kids know how far away from them to dig. And keep citrus peels and onion scraps into your yard waste or garbage, not on the worms’ menu.

    • Kill weeds. Fill the squirt guns and spray bottles with vinegar and turn your family loose among the weeds. Your yard may smell like pickles for a day or two, but you’ll see fewer weeds. In a few days, when more have popped out of the dirt, gather the troops for another attack.

    • Smother weeds. If weeds are all that’s growing in your flower beds, ask the kids if they’d like to try “lasagna gardening.” The older kids can use a search engine for how-to’s, and all of you can disassemble cereal and cracker boxes to use as the first “lasagna” layer over the weeds. What you add in subsequent layers depends on what’s available: the News for Parents editor often picks up used coffee grounds from her neighborhood coffee shop at closing time and spreads those along with decomposed chicken coop bedding from a friend up the street. Kids can also use ordinary wire screening (say, with a half-inch mesh) to break up rootbound and compacted soil as another addition. With enough layers, you’ll have enriched soil, ready for your seedlings, by next spring.

    Teach Life Skills

    • Sew. As soon as children can hold a sewing needle without sticking themselves, they can be taught to sew on buttons. Start with buttons that have large holes and show the kids how to sew them on lightweight fabric held tight in an embroidery hoop.

    • Nail. With scraps of wood and nails with large heads, hand the pre-K crowd tap hammers and older kids lightweight hammers. With careful supervision, they’ll enjoy pounding, and you can provide tips on how to get nails in straight. After a few practice sessions, consider a project like a simple bird house.

    • Screw. Introduce slotted and Phillips screwdrivers, and let kids watch you make minor repairs with them. Then hand over a broken small appliance or a board that you’ve predrilled, and let kids learn to remove and install screws.

    • Link to book description
    • Emergency calls. Even preschoolers are old enough to learn how to call 9-1-1, and you can use toy phones (or a cell phone that’s turned off) to model how they should give their address and name and describe the nature of the emergency.

    • First aid for stings. Got a bumblebee finger puppet? It’s perfect for talking to kids about not irritating bees and wasps, and how to avoid the bugs that are already unhappy (like when someone has accidentally disturbed a nest). Even without a toy bee, you can also drill the kids on what to do if stung: immediately move away from the insects, pour cold water on the stung area, and resist the impulse to squeeze out the stinger—that can release more venom into the skin. Instead, scrape it off with something like a credit card. Get ice on the sting while going to an adult or babysitter for more help. (Kids should also learn the signs of an unusual sensitivity to stings, so that they know these situations require medical attention within minutes: nausea, the face swelling, breathing difficulty, pain in the abdomen or shock.)

    • Boil an egg. Or macaroni. Or whatever else your children like to eat. When they’re old enough to be trusted with the microwave or burners, demonstrate how to safely boil food and how to test for doneness. Then ask the kids to each demonstrate the food prep to you.


    • Free museum admission. Many museums have free days, free evenings or “pay what you will” days. Some have family plans, where kids younger than a certain age are free if an adult pays. For military families, many museums across the U.S. are free every day, all summer long. Through the Blue Star Museums program, there are no admission fees for active duty, National Guard and Reserve military personnel and their families from Memorial Day through Labor Day. To find participating museums in your area, or areas you’ll be visiting this summer, check

    • Festivals. Play bingo, join a cake walk, register for the kids’ tractor pull and enjoy the fireworks at June events like the Chicken Chew in Coloma WI, Gene Autry Days in Kenton OH, with its yodelers, cap gun displays and western look-alike contest, and the Gettysburg (PA) Festival, featuring brass bands, a pie auction, and the American Civil War Museum.

    • Petting zoos. Some of the farms that are open to visitors have pens of lambs, kids, and piglets to ooh and ahh at, and so do many zoos. County fairs often have “MacDonald’s Farms” staffed with 4-H and FFA members who help children with chicks, bunnies, ducklings and other baby critters.

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  • Celebrating Katayama’s Birthday with a Party Favor for You

    Mits Katayama

    Our favorite grandfather illustrator, Mits Katayama, celebrates his birthday this month, and in his honor, we’re offering a free copy of a publication that features his drawings.

    Whether you’re using the Self-Calming Cards to help your students, your own children—or yourself, or reading What About Me? 12 Ways to Get Your Parents’ Attention (Without Hitting Your Sister), you’ll see the detail that continues to fascinate Katayama. It is such an important part of his work, he says, that he adds the clenched teeth, crossed eyes, and dozing smile almost automatically—he simply doesn’t create emotionless characters.

    Besides the facial expressions and body language in these images, even Katayama’s smallest images are rich with detail: the child rocking in his chair at the table, the puppy and kitten nosing each other, the scowling self-portrait a girl is crayoning. But each is evoked with nothing more than a few simple lines and bright colors.

    Mits Katayama

    Reared in truck farming neighborhoods south of Seattle, Katayama has spent his entire life in the Northwest. Like many Japanese-Americans, he was interned during World War II—in his case, at the Minidoka Relocation Center near Twin Falls, Idaho. After three years there and a short post-internment stay in Nyssa, Oregon, he was able to return to Seattle. A graduate of the Edison Technical School (now Seattle Central Community College), Katayama started out in late 1940s as what was then called a commercial artist, creating the illustrations and lettering the text that filled print advertising, point-of-purchase displays, brochures and other marketing material before the introduction of electronic typesetting and computer-assisted illustration and design. Run his name through a search engine, and you’ll see praise for this shy man from some of the Northwest design world’s legends: for example, the Graphic Artists Guild history describes him as “one of the hottest illustrators in Seattle” in the post-war era.

    Besides the Self-Calming Cards, written by Elizabeth Crary of Seattle, and What About Me?, written by Eileen Kennedy-Moore of Cranbury, N.J., Katayama has illustrated such Parenting Press publications as the four-book Feelings for Little Children Series, where children and their pets grin, grimace and dance through happiness, anger, shyness and silliness, Help! The Kids Are at It Again, and the PEP Talk quarterly for parent educators.

    Through June 30, 2013, you can download a copy of 24 Simple Self-Calming Tools absolutely free when you use the promotion code “Mits!” on our shopping cart. (Ordinarily $9.95.) (Want to tell Katayama how much you enjoy seeing the families he draws? Send your note or e-mail to Parenting Press and we’ll be glad to forward it.)

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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.

    Especially if you have children going to preschool or school for the first time in the fall, or if you have a child who has had social difficulties in school or summer programs, you may find this month’s tips of particular value.

    June  1 — Social Skills Development
    June  8 — Making Friends in a New Class
    June 15 — Building Friendship Skills
    June 22 — Helping Your Child Respond to Teasing
    June 29 — Responding to Bullying

  • Family Fun Ideas — Celebrate the Solstice

    The longest day of the year has been a holiday in many countries since pagan days, and today it is often still celebrated with bonfires and dancing around a maypole. Many communities now have parades as part of their solstice festivals, usually scheduled for the weekend closest to June 21. Check neighborhood chamber of commerce and regional visitors’ bureau calendars for celebrations in your area—or organize your own! Roust the kids out of bed for a pancake breakfast at sunrise, paint the sun’s rays on their faces, or use a nearby park’s fire pit for a community marshmallow roast at dusk. The kids may also be interested to know that the solstice is an approximate halfway point for the year, and you may want to explain how the autumn and spring equinoxes differ from the summer and winter solstice (instead of being the longest and shortest days in the year, the equinoxes are the two days when in most locations day and night are the same length).

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  • Community Service — Get Water Wise

    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.

    With summer’s arrival, families typically use more water: sand lot and beach activities may mean more baths and showers, gardens mean daily watering, and fun may mean water balloons, squirt gun battles, “slip and slide” toys and backyard wading pools. To help your kids understand that clean, drinkable water is a limited resource, introduce them to the Environmental Protection Agency’s web site, and its “WaterSense” materials. Among the activities you can do as a family is the toilet dye test: once an adult removes the heavy toilet tank cover, one of the kids can choose a shade of food coloring and each of you can squirt in a drop until the water in the tank is a dark color. Close the door and wait at least a half hour without using the toilet or disturbing the water; then check to see if there’s color in the toilet bowl. If there is, you’ve got a leak. For other water-wise activities, see the water-waste pledge at

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  • Special of the month — Celebrating Mits Katayama’s Birthday

    This special has expired.

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Last updated January 19, 2014