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Welcome to the June 2014
“News for Parents”

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  1. WHAT’S NEW?
    • 3 Woodworking Projects for Kids
    • Smithsonian Artifacts Explain American History—Quickly!


  • Understanding the Symptoms of Autism

    If you read our May issue, you know that we have on our desk an extremely helpful new book on special needs, Charting the Course for Children with Autism: A Beginner’s Guide for Therapists, by Linda Kelly, a school psychologist, and Janice Plunkett D’Avignon, a clinical psychologist (W.W. Norton, 2014).

    Last month we looked at how the authors define the basics of autism, and this month, we’re looking at the symptoms they and other experts have identified. First, it’s important to know that “Charting the Course. . .” focuses on high functioning children; the authors note that the potential of these children has long been misunderstood. Second, diagnosing autism is not always easy, and the diagnosis can be a surprise to families and teachers: “the child on the spectrum [may] initially appear to be bright, even precocious.” They also explain that symptoms of autism may be mistaken for defiance, inattention or obsessions. Another important point: we now know that people on the autism spectrum are not, as often accused, malicious or lacking in empathy—more typically, they are kind, but acting out of misperception of a situation or someone’s feelings.

    Although autism is demonstrated differently for each child on the spectrum, three symptoms will always exist, the authors emphasize:

    • Difficulties with socialization and communication

    • Expressing narrow and exaggerated interests

    • Demonstrating behaviors that seem compulsive (which can be stereotypical, such as rocking, or peculiar in topic, such as memorizing baseball statistics)

    They also emphasize how much behavior results from the effort to avoid or cope with anxiety. For example, behavior that appears to be obsessive-compulsive or inattentive in nature is often caused by anxiety. “The more socially acceptable behaviors [such as playing with a ball] are harder to detect as being indicative of anxiety. It is the frequency, duration, and intensity of these actions that parents/guardians need to pay attention to.”

    The exaggerated need for routine and sameness is sometimes interpreted as evidence of obsessive-compulsive disorder, say Kelly and D’Avignon, and sometimes that’s exactly what it is. “Yet there are other instances in which [the exaggerated needs]. . .are instead compensatory strategies for maintaining functioning,. . .[making] the world more manageable and [freeing the children up] to invest their energy in coping with all that cannot be predicted and managed.”

    Anxiety also results from the lack of social and communication skills. Those on the spectrum are unable to shift perspective and accurately perceive how another person might be thinking or feeling: “This lack of insight is connected to a lack of skill in monitoring subtle communicative signals (e.g., reading body language and facial expressions).” Another issue: children with autism do not internalize such accepted practices as taking turns in conversation, which eventually leads to being rejected by peers.

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  • Low-cost, No-cost Summer Fun

    Avoid complaints like “I’m bored” and “There’s nothing to do” by starting right now to gather easy, inexpensive ways to entertain kids now that school is ending. Maybe even jot each idea down on an index card and drop them all in a “Fun Jar” that your family can turn to when it’s time to brainstorm a day’s activities. You’ll find dozens of tips online, in magazines and your newspaper’s event schedules and even walking around your neighborhood. Here are a few more:

    • Count the ants. A neighbor out in her yard was catching up with a passerby so to keep her 3-year-old grandson busy, she suggested he count the ants he saw crawling on to the sidewalk.

    • Capture the bugs. Got one of those inexpensive acrylic boxes with a magnifying lens in the lid? There’s no better way for kids to examine dead or live bugs (not live ones that sting, of course). When her kids screeched about spiders in the bathtub, the News for Parents editor found the “bug box” invaluable in both quieting the kids and controlling the bugs. You might even get kids to help clean house or the garage by promising them all the bugs they can find!

    • Chalk it up! Any chalk, white or colored, large or small, can outline the boxes for hopscotch, decorate the sidewalk or patio with posies, and create an oversize game of boxes or hangman. One child can stretch out on the pavement and be outlined by another one, too.

    • Sponge all over! Especially on a hot day, give the kids your worn-out kitchen sponges or new ones that are cut into heart and star shapes. They can sponge designs all over the sidewalk and patio with water, clear or tinted with washable paint. They might even sponge themselves and each other!

    • Sculpt the shaving cream. Another ideal outdoor activity: a couple of squirts of shaving cream for each child to shape into worms, snowmen, or funny faces. They can clean up the mess themselves with spray bottles of water. Remember this is for kids old enough to know they can’t eat the stuff.

    • Press leaves and blossoms. Wherever your children walk, they can watch for interesting leaves and flowers. If they have permission to pick a few, they can press them between sheets of plain or wax paper under heavy books. After a few days, the foliage can be glued onto paper for a picture or brushed with paint to use as a stamp.

    • Creating stamps. Besides leaves and blossoms, coins, medallions, keys and other found objects can be turned into stamps for crafting or for decorating letters to far-off friends or relatives. A flat key or a parking token can be glued to a wood block, jar lid or even a sturdy cardboard box, covered with paint and then pressed down on wood or paper. Older kids can use ink or fabric paint to decorate T-shirts or fabric they’re going to cut into a banner.

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  • Introducing Kids to Woodworking

    What’s the best saw for a child? What’s the best hammer? How do you introduce kids (and possibly yourself) to woodworking?

    Those are among the many questions that woodworker Jack McKee answers in an easy-to-understand guide, Woodshop for Kids: 52 Woodworking Projects Kids Can Build (Hands On Books, Bellingham WA).

    The father of two, McKee spent 15 years teaching young children how to handle tools before he put together a practical book that spells out how to set up a workshop for children, especially one to accommodate a group: for example, a scout or Campfire group or an after-school or weekend class. His guidelines have been carefully tested, with children as young as preschool, including 3–6-year-olds in a Montessori school. He’s also worked with preschool teachers and parents, to provide them the basics they need when working with children.

    Scared about the prospect of letting young children handle tools? “Introducing Kids to Woodworking” emphasizes the safety—and the value—of using hand tools. It also discusses appropriate supervision, and protection, such as safety glasses. Power tools, even battery-operated drills, need not be introduced until a project requires hundreds of repetitive actions and when adequate adult supervision is available.

    We like this book for many reasons, including the how-to’s on cutting thin pieces of wood, identifying different kinds of drills, and selecting sandpaper. Projects range from puzzle blanks, small sculptures, dollhouse furniture, airplanes, and boats to marble rolls, boxes, and a kaleidoscope. What we really, really like, however, are the life lessons that woodworking can teach. As McKee notes, “kids learn to help each other. . .They begin to learn how to plan and organize a project and to solve problems when things don’t go as expected.”

    Children become more self-reliant, he continues, and those who often rush learn to slow down. “Many kids who don’t do well in school find they excel at building,” says the author, and by the second or third day of a class, “Kids actually listen when I explain construction details.”

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  • Wardrobe Magic with Upcycling

    If you’re like the Parenting Press crew, the switch to summer clothes often brings some unpleasant surprises: “That’ll never fit this year!” and “Where’d that stain come from?” being two of them.

    Some of you pass clothes down from one child to the next, concealing a spot with an applique or lengthening pants with ruffles. Besides cutting off sweatpants to make shorts or turning jeans into a denim skirt, there are dozens of other ways to add to a child’s wardrobe. One mother’s example: cutting her own leggings down for her daughter. They’ll look great with an older child’s t-shirt shortened a bit, or with an adult t-shirt that’s been cut off and taken in—or styled into a cardigan.

    For a toddler, it’s also easy to create a sundress if you cut off a large t-shirt under the arms. Face the top of this piece with a coordinating print, create a double casing for elastic, add ribbon ties and—ta-da! There’s a comfy, soft dress for the beach.

    For trendier attire, look at what older kids may have brought home from thrift stores and outlets. For a Halloween costume, the News for Parents editor’s son found olive drab coveralls in a military surplus store; now they’ve been cut off just below the waist for a jacket for the editor’s own wardrobe. She’s using a bright fabric to face the hem, and to create a second collar and a funky fabric corsage for the breast pocket. (Meanwhile, the legs were sewn into a pet cage cushion for donation to the local animal shelter.)

    For inspiration for upcyling what’s outgrown, discarded or a bit worn in your own household, check Pinterest and the blogs written by both fashionistas and other parents.

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  • Sophisticated Stitches for Favorite Dolls

    Speaking of fashionistas, quilt and craft book publisher C & T Publishing has a set of patterns that will allow experienced (or patient) seamstresses to introduce special features to novices. In the introduction to MODKID Summer Fun, author/designer Patty Young is described as the owner of a company that “specializes in high-quality boutique-style sewing patterns.” Boutique-style is accurate when you see the complexity of these patterns for 18-inch dolls such as the American Girl models.

    Most of these patterns for swimsuit, shorts, t-shirt, coverup, tote bag, sleeping bag, pillow and sunhat are beyond the sewing skill level of a beginner, especially a tween: the shorts have cargo pockets, the coverup sides have drawstrings and sleeves have elastic to create shirring. The tote bag is lined and it, the hat and the swimsuit top have ruffles. What this publication does offer, however, is the opportunity for a duo to work together, using fabric remnants or repurposed clothes (jeans, for example, for the tote bag and hat) to practice special techniques. For example, the application of elastic to create gathers in the middle of a sleeve and making pleated patch pockets with flaps.

    If you’re just beginning to sew for your children or grandchildren, the patterns also provide how-to’s for features that can help clothes avoid the “homemade” look. One example is a two-part waistband on shorts, so that only the back half is elasticized. The casings on each side seam of the swimsuit coverup show a technique that could be adapted for the side seams of children’s slacks, so that pants could be hemmed a couple of inches long and shirred with short drawstrings until more length was needed.

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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.

    Pack up the pencils, books, calculators and get out of the house and turn off the electronics! This month our parenting tip archive offers dozens of ideas for summer activities, whatever your children’s ages, whatever the weather.

    June  7 — Summertime Fun, Part I
    June 14 — Summertime Fun, Part II
    June 21 — Music for Minors
    June 28 — Balancing Inside Activities with Outside Play

  • Family Fun Ideas — Flag Day and Fly A Kite

    June brings dozens of opportunities for family activities and here’s two we especially recommend. In many communities, there are Flag Day events on or around June 14. Join a flag-raising ceremony or a parade, or attend a naturalization event. Your kids can also create their own flags for decorating the house and bikes using colored paper and star-shaped stickers. Keep the glue sticks out for June 15, which some celebrate as National Fly A Kite Day. Check the library for a how-to book on making a kite, or pick up an inexpensive kit that you and the kids can assemble together. ( has instructions, too: see its “Make A Kite” web page.) Then head for a hill and let the wind carry the creations up, up. . .and not too far away!

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  • Community Service — Weed and Mulch

    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.

    This month, as schools close for the summer and parks get busy, get out the garden gloves, trowels and rakes and help your kids organize a group to weed and mulch the school landscaping as vacation starts. Or give your favorite park a facelift by raking up debris and dried leaves and scrubbing play equipment and picnic tables. Your local parks department may also have graffiti-busting or trail repair projects that teenagers can help with.

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  • Special of the month — Complimentary Copy, “Teaching Your Kids to Give Back”

    This special has expired.

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Last updated July 01, 2014