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 Parenting Press®

Welcome to the July 2015
“News for Parents”

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  1. WHAT’S NEW?
    • Found Objects = Musical Instruments
    • Get Clutter-Free for New School Year


  • Fireworks and Fun All July Long

    Independence Day means fireworks, parades, picnics and carnivals all across the U.S. If you’re near Washington, D.C. and willing to brave the crowds, you’ll find a parade, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and oh-so-much more on the National Mall. On the other coast? There are fireworks at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, and such other California locations as Pismo Beach, Redondo Beach, Santa Cruz and even Eureka, deep in redwood country. Every other part of the country has its festivities, too: an Internet search or a phone call to the local chamber of commerce is sure to turn up all sorts of fun for your family.

    July fun continues even after the holiday, whether you’re vacationing, “stay-cationing” at home or scheduling events between work and summer camps. More than a dozen ideas:

    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 (the sock) is the next launcher. The ball hits the ground? Then the first person gets to throw again.

    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!

    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.”

    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.

    — 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 are 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.

    — 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.

    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. And remember, museums aren’t all art or history: the National Cryptologic Museum near Washington, D.C., shows us all about spying, and the Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum in Seattle is the nation’s only public museum for powerboat racing. In Ellsworth ME, you can phone home (and everywhere else) at the New England Museum of Telephony, and if you’re interested in antique tractors, you’ll find vintage farm equipment collections in almost every state.

    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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  • For Families and Teachers with Quirky Kids

    When 8 Keys to Raising the Quirky Child: How to Help a Kid Who Doesn’t Quite Fit In crossed the newsletter editor’s desk at Parenting Press, almost every staff member’s hand reached for this new title from W. W. Norton. All of us recognize that we’re a little quirky, and some of us are rearing our own quirky kids. In the past couple of issues of “News for Parents,” we’ve been highlighting what we consider the most important and most useful points by pediatric psychologist Mark Bowers. This month, we’re looking at the “Optimize Social Skills” chapter, information both parents and educators may find especially helpful as the return to school nears. It’s more than 40 pages long, so what you see here is only a sampling of the extremely informative material.

    A first important point by Bowers in this chapter: “Teaching a child with social interaction challenges to navigate the social domain effectively can be like teaching a child a foreign language.” A second important reminder: chronological age can be meaningless when working on social skills: “It is essential to work with a child at their current developmental stage to make social gains.” [Emphasis added.] And a third: “Teaching a child to be social is a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week job.” Why? Because, says the author, “it requires you to manage everything else in the child’s life, including his diet, sleep, behaviors, emotions, sensory profile, and more to achieve the best outcomes.”

    Yikes! Sounds intimidating, doesn’t it? And you’re right, says Bowers: “If this sounds like a lot of work, it is.”

    He goes on to outline what else is necessary—and they aren’t gentle “recommendations.” Words like “insist” are more appropriate:

    • This will require parents to stay connected to others and to use friends, family members, youth groups, religious organizations if applicable and other “social supports.” It truly does take a village to raise a child, he comments.

    • Plan on plenty of practice. It has been estimated, says Bowers, that it takes about 10,000 hours to become good at something: that’s at least six years. “Keep calm and carry on,” he quips, “even though [something] didn’t go the way you would have hoped.”

    Some specifics about how to spend those 10,000 hours:

    • Play with your child as much as possible, “because through play the child solves problems, generates ideas, and works through dilemmas in a safe and socially acceptable manner.” In some cases, kids may find action figures or puppets an easier way to resolve real-life conflicts than with face-to-face conversation.

    • Recognize the importance of toddlers being opinionated. “It may sound strange, but there may be cause for concern if the child is not opinionated. . .is overly agreeable or willing to just sit back and watching during this stage [18 months to 3 years]. Children with social difficulties tend to remain in social periphery well beyond this stage as active observers or parallel players.”

    • Be supportive and avoid embarrassing or shaming the child. Kids can feel emotionally vulnerable, and “may present as shy or nervous and even avoidant due to. . .not knowing how to interact with others.” It’s important that adults be available to facilitate interactions.

    • Keep broadening the child’s social circle. Between 3 and 5, “Exposure to varied groups of children, situations and environments is essential for overall social skills success. But, warns Bowers, “This recommendation is not easy to follow. Social accidents are inevitable.” A child who is quirky or too aggressive may be rejected by others, and all of you will suffer: “Other parents. . .may chastise you as a parent or your child because of his social challenges.” It’s important that you not avoid social events because of this criticism, he goes on.

    For those of you readers who are professionals, Bowers has specific advice regarding children between 6 and 12: “School professionals should be responsible for facilitating social relationships during the school day.” Providing peer mentors, mediators, and coaches is one way teachers and counselors can help.

    And for all of us who deal with adolescents of any kind, the author has an explanation that provides some comfort. “Teens tend to think in terms of ideals (how it should be), which are conflict-free, rather than reality (how it is), which is not. The problem (and the reason adults and teens often argue during this period of development) is that teens do not have much experience and find it easy to substitute ideals for experience. Parents, on the other hand, have experience in the real world and thus tend to put the brakes on a teen’s idealistic thinking, which upsets the teenage brain.” [Editor’s note: what Bowers calls “putting the brakes on” may be parents describing situations from their own lives where ideals conflicted with reality, or creating scenarios that are more likely to occur than what teens expect.]

    In short, because of the Parenting Press focus on problem-solving books, and because of the staff’s personal experience with quirky kids, we find this one of the most valuable books we’ve read in the last few years. Highly recommended!

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  • Helping Kids Learn

    Most of us want our kids to be successful, and this time of year, many of us are thinking ahead to school achievement. If you’re wondering about how to encourage your kids, you’ll find help in Jump-Starting Boys: Help Your Reluctant Learner Find Success in School and Life (Viva Editions), Pam Withers and Cynthia Gill offer a self-quiz that works for parents of girls as well as boys. Examples of their points:

    • Congratulate the child on hard work and determination rather than praise him for being smart.

    • Provide lots of different reading materials at home.

    • Read to the kids even after they can read on their own.

    • Set time aside for the kids to read for pleasure each day, perhaps especially at bedtime.

    • Avoid criticizing a child’s choice of reading material (for example, comic books and “toilet humor”)

    • Shut off the electronic equipment each day for a scheduled period when everyone—parents and kids—read, either aloud or silently, together or separately.

    • Make sure that kids see their father reading, and that he reads with them.

    • Keep favorite reading materials in the car.

    • Offer kids audio books, or record stories for the kids to listen to. (Older siblings or cousins could record stories for those too young to read.)

    • Check the library for the book that inspired the movie your family just watched.

    • Buy kids bookstore gift certificates or books as gifts. (A variation that the “News for Parents” editor’s daughter enjoyed: a homemade gift certificate for a 30-minute shopping spree in her favorite used book store.)

    Comment on this story

  • Summer Arts & Crafts: Patterns

    If you’re interested in silkscreening, stenciling, making your own stamps, or creating patterns to be produced by commercial vendors, you’ll find valuable information and a gallery of inspiration in The Crafter’s Guide to Patterns: Create and Use Your Own Patterns for Gift Wrap, Stationery, Tiles and More, by Jessica Swift (Lark).

    This combination of how-to’s, pattern theory, copyright-free images and inspiration can be used even with young children and when budgets are tight: for example, you’ll find instructions for creating potato prints and foam stamps and substituting a scrap of fine mesh fabric in a garage-sale embroidery hoop for a screen printer’s frame. The projects that require art store materials, toxic liquids and sharp tools are more appropriate for middle-school and older kids and for adults. Some would be ideal for teenagers who want to organize a craft workshop with friends before school starts or are planning art class projects for fall.

    Those interested in the theory behind pattern design will find descriptions of the three kinds of patterns—floral, geometric and novelty—and how designs are arranged to make patterns. For example, when the columns of a pattern are laid out on a “half-drop,” where the pattern “tile” in alternate columns is aligned with the middle of the pattern tile in other columns. You’ll also find enough detail on pattern design and repeat patterns for the amateur or beginning student.

    The downloadable artwork, which Swift calls “motif templates,” includes silhouettes of a dog, cat, feather, tree, and eyeglasses. They can be scanned from the book or downloaded using the provided QR codes.

    Comment on this story


  • 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 emailed 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 email to which the tips should be sent.

    This month, when too much “together time” or parental frustration with chores not done may be leading to adult-teenager friction, you may find these classics from our tip archive helpful:

    July  4 — Unkind Comments from Teens & Tweens, Part I
    July 11 — Unkind Comments from Teens & Tweens, Part II
    July 18 — Family Rules with Teenagers
    July 25 — Parenting the Active/Alert Teen

  • Family Fun Ideas — U-Pick, U Enjoy!

    Pack a picnic and pack up the family for a few hours in the sun on a u-pick (or PYO) farm! You’ll come home with berries or tree fruit that you can enjoy right now, combine with shortcake or a crumb topping for a special dessert—or turn into jam or applesauce! U-pick farms often have simple signs by their driveways. To plan your destination in advance (and to doublecheck hours and what’s ripe), your local newspaper or the cooperative extension service website (see may have lists of U-pick farms. There are also many regional farm listings; in the Northwest, where “News for Parents” is published, it’s Puget Sound Fresh.

    Comment on this story

  • Community Service — Little Free Libraries

    Our goal with this column is to suggest ways that you can model the concept of sharing and giving back to your community. Children also learn to work as part of a team. 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. You’ll find dozens of ideas for family-appropriate community service projects in our downloadable book Teaching Your Kids to Give Back and our Qwik Sheet Community Service for Kids.

    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 defunct 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 — Teaching Kids to Handle Anger

    This special has expired.

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Last updated August 01, 2015