Author Archive

The Fort That Came in an Envelope

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Boy reading under tent fort made of sheetsEditor’s Note: In an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, will be guest blogging once a month with advice, tips, and personal stories on how parents can “savor the moment” and maximize the time they spend with kids. Read more posts by Harley Rotbart on Goodyblog and on Parents Perspective.

When my brother and I were kids, there was nothing more fun than pulling all the sofa cushions onto the floor, stacking them, and covering them with sheets to build a fort. Hours upon hours spent in our forts, with flashlights, crayons, and toys. In the summer, there was a corner of our backyard that became our outdoor fort – hollowed out bushes, with a leafy camouflage cover, gave us shade and secrecy with our friends. So, it was natural for my mom to get sucked in by a special magazine ad…

Of course, all these years later neither my mom nor I remember if the ad was in the Ladies’ Home Journal or Reader’s Digest or in one of the kid magazines she saw in the doctor’s office or on the back of a cereal box. This was back in the day when “truth in advertising” wasn’t a well- established concept yet.  In fact, it was in the day when cigarettes were still promoted as healthy. The ad was for a log cabin fort. For one dollar, and maybe some box tops required as well, kids could enjoy a realistic Old West fort of their own. The picture, my mom remembers, was of happy kids playing inside a richly colored and textured log cabin fort. And, best of all, there was “minimal assembly required!”

Money was tough to come by for us as kids. My dad sold fruits and vegetables on a truck (a peddler, as he was known then) and my mom was at home with us trying to balance the family budget on the meager profits from selling bananas and onions. A dollar, with my mom’s frugality, could buy a shirt for school, or on Month-End sale days, a pair of dress pants from the clearance rack. She struggled mightily over investing a whole dollar on a log cabin fort, no matter how realistic it was. But, she knew we really did love forts, and she loved seeing us happy in our forts. So she sent in the dollar, and eagerly waited, never spilling a word about the surprise she anticipated in the mail.

When the package with the name of the fort company came, my mom immediately knew there was a problem. The envelope was standard issue manila, no thicker or larger than one might ship an issue of Ladies’ Home Journal. With trepidation and remorse, mom opened the envelope to find a plastic tablecloth, the size of a card table, with log shapes imprinted on the outside. The “minimal assembly required” referred to the hole that the satisfied customer was supposed to cut along the perforated line to create the door. And then all one had to do was set up a card table, spread the tablecloth, and voila, a fort worthy of…nothing other than a plastic covered card table ready for a game of canasta or poker.  Mom was devastated. But…

She set up a card table, covered it with the plastic fort, and with trepidation called us into the living room for a big surprise. Our unabashed, utter delight at the log cabin fort is something she remains grateful for to this day. When you are 7 years old and 3 years old, your taste in forts isn’t very sophisticated. And to us this was a real fort, not a bunch of sofa cushions! We ran for our flashlights, our crayons, and our toys. Let the fun begin!

As parents ourselves now, we are very lucky that our kids appreciate the little things, and have modest tastes and realistic expectations. My book No Regrets Parenting is about keeping things simple. And sweet. It’s about forts in the living room — and being grateful for what we have rather than wishing we had more.

It Worked For Me: Parent Hacks
It Worked For Me: Parent Hacks
It Worked For Me: Parent Hacks

 Plus: What’s your parenting style? Take our quiz to find out!

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado. He is the author of four books for parents and families, including No Regrets Parenting and 940 Saturdays. He is also a Parents advisor and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at noregretsparenting.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).

Image: Boy reading in a fort made of sheets via Shutterstock

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Posting an All-Points Bulletin for Sesame Street’s Ernie

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

Ernie from Sesame StreetEditor’s Note: In an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, will be guest blogging once a month with advice, tips, and personal stories on how parents can “savor the moment” and maximize the time they spend with kids. Read more posts by Harley Rotbart on Goodyblog and on Parents Perspective.

Sesame Street’s Big Bird is an octogenarian. Well, it’s more accurate to say that Carroll Spinney, the man who has played Big Bird (and Oscar the Grouch) for the past 45 years is an octogenarian. I learned this just this past week when reading an article in the Los Angeles Times about a new film based on Spinney’s book, I Am Big Bird: The Carroll Spinney Story. The story brought back wonderful memories.

Sesame Street was a very important part of our home and our kids’ lives when they were young. Although our kids loved Big Bird and all the other Sesame “guys,” Ernie was the focus of much more attention–at least on one very memorable day in July many years ago.

Our oldest child may have been a little precocious in the area of miniature rubber figurines. Most kids who collect and play-act with little toy statuettes begin around 3 or 4 years old, but our home was a Sesame Street shrine from the moment our son started following Big Bird et al. at age 2. He was too young to even pronounce the characters’ names–Cookie Monster was “Cookiebader.” His love of Sesame Street miniatures made gift-giving easy–for about $2 each, we gradually accumulated all the critical players in the Sesame Street saga. They populated the replica Sesame Street neighborhood we all built together from recycled cereal boxes and cardboard tubes.  Sesame play-acting paused only long enough for us to watch the actual TV show when it came on the air each afternoon.

We vividly recall the time we first learned that Sesame Place, the show’s theme park, was in Pennsylvania, not far from where grandparents lived. This was a nearly miraculous development for our son—and, of course, the next trip to Mema’s and Grandpa’s included a visit to SP. That may have been the most memorable vacation of our boy’s childhood. He hid behind Grover’s garbage can, climbed into Ernie’s bathtub, and ate “Cookiebader” cookies for lunch. “Do they really live here!!??” he asked incredulously. The gift shop even sold a rare figurine that we didn’t have at home–Mr. Snuffleupagus, if memory serves–for two bucks, like all the rest of “the guys.”

It’s that devotion to Sesame Street that made Ernie’s (the figurine’s) mysterious disappearance one summer afternoon a day that will live in infamy. The characters never went anywhere without our son, and he rarely went anywhere without them. But on that fateful day, as play on the windowsill stage was about to begin, all the characters checked in present and accounted for, but where was Ernie?!! Breathlessly, our little boy ran to tell us of the disaster–Ernie was missing!

And so began a legendary search through the house that turned up just about every other lost toy from the previous two years–but no Ernie! We called friends, grandparents, neighbors–it was an all-points bulletin, we explained to our distraught toddler. Just as we were about to post “lost toy” fliers around the neighborhood, our next door neighbor sheepishly called–his grandson, with whom our son had been playing with the day before, might have accidentally slipped Ernie into his pocket.

Grateful that the crisis was over, we chose not to press charges. All the Sesame guys were reunited and, although I can’t be sure, I think I saw Burt shed a tear of relief. I know our son did.

Sesame Street Lessons: Learning Tips and Tricks
Sesame Street Lessons: Learning Tips and Tricks
Sesame Street Lessons: Learning Tips and Tricks

Plus: What’s your parenting style? Take our quiz to find out!

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado. He is the author of four books for parents and families, including No Regrets Parenting and 940 Saturdays. He is also a Parents advisor and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at noregretsparenting.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).

 

Photo: Image originally from SesameStreet.org

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The American Academy of Pediatrics Releases New Policy on Reading to Kids During Infancy

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

Mom reading book to babyFor the first time, the AAP has made an official stand on early literacy, releasing a new policy today that advocates reading aloud to children every day, beginning from birth. The new policy urges pediatricians and policy makers to ensure that books are available to all families, particularly those with low income.

In addition to the announcement, the AAP has also partnered with four organizations, the Clinton Foundation, Too Small to Fail, Scholastic, and Reach Out and Read, to implement the new policy. The AAP and Too Small to Fail are creating a toolkit to include guidelines for parents on the importance of reading from infancy, which will be distributed to 62,000 pediatricians in the AAP network. Scholastic is also donating 50,000 children’s books that Reach Out and Read will distribute to 20,000 medical providers.

The AAP recommends restricting TV time for kids under 2 in favor of interactive play, and reading books can certainly be a part of that. Speaking to the Huffington Post, Pamela High, M.D., the lead author on the AAP early literacy policy, recommends that parents focus on the 5 Rs of early education: read together, rhyme and play with words, set consistent routines, reward with praise, and develop a strong relationship.

Being exposed to books at a young age will also foster early education, help kids prepare for school later in life, and possibly reduce the educational gap between low- and high-income families. There are also several amazing benefits of reading out loud to babies — it strengthens bonding, increases language skills, improves vocabulary, boosts brain activity, and fine-tunes social and emotional recognition — all important things for baby’s development. So grab some board books and start shaping a little bookworm today!

Activity Tips: Mia Reads Book
Activity Tips: Mia Reads Book
Activity Tips: Mia Reads Book

Image: Mother and child reading a book via Shutterstock

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Made With Code: Why Teaching Code to Young Girls Matters

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Made With Code Google Mindy KalingIf hearing the word “coding” conjures up images of men sitting in the semi-dark, staring at computer screens filled with an endless jumble of  numbers, letters, and symbols, Google’s on a mission to dispel the stereotype that coding is boring, difficult, and just for men.

On Thursday, Google debuted Made W/ Code (madewithcode.com), a site and program dedicated to inspiring young girls to learn code by connecting them with other like-minded female coders and letting them create colorful projects like animated avatars, short soundtracks, and customized bracelets (create one using a 3D printer here!) — all for free.

Currently, in the U.S., only 12 percent of computer science graduates are women and only 1 in 5 programmers are female. Google itself admitted only 17% of their programmers are female! With such low numbers, the site aims to show girls how fun coding can be in order to reduce the gender gap in the computer science and tech industry.

We attended the Made W/ Code launch event, which was hosted by Mindy Kaling (who got involved because of her best friend’s app company) and featured speakers like Chelsea Clinton, Megan Smith (VP of Google[x]), Pixar’s Danielle Feinberg (who worked on “Brave” and “Finding Nemo”), iLuminate’s Miral Kotb (who created a dance troupe fusing moves with LED costumes), and UNICEF’s Erika Kochi (who created a mobile system to track birth rates and diseases in poor countries). Some of the women talked about learning to write code as young as 7- and 9-years-old, which sparked a lifelong interest. In the audience were teen girls from local schools who were also interested in and involved in coding. By exciting and encouraging girls at a young age, Google hopes to reshape the perception of the tech industry and improve diversity so that a new generation will dare to do extraordinary things — with code, of course.

Made with Code Google bracelets Shapeways

Here are some of our editors’ thoughts after attending the Made W/ Code launch:

Allison Berry, Editorial Assistant, Parents magazine
I couldn’t get over how empowering each speaker was! All my life my engineer dad has been telling me that I should get into STEM, but it just never clicked with me. After listening to brilliant women like Pixar’s Danielle Feinberg and iLuminate’s Miral Kotb talk about how coding brought them to their dream careers, my interest was definitely piqued. They did a wonderful job of explaining not only how coding is an essential part of their jobs, but also how it plays into our everyday life. Now I’m curious to know what I could do if I knew how to code!

Chrisanne Grise, Editorial Assistant, Parents magazine 
For me, the best part of the event was being surrounded by so much girl power. It was impossible not to be moved by the incredible women who have used code to make such an impact on the world. I was particularly inspired by Danielle Feinberg, the Director of Photography for Lighting at Pixar. She spoke to the teen girls about her own high school experience as the only girl in an engineering class. (Naturally, she showed up all the boys!) It was a funny story, but also a great reminder to be brave and stay true to your passions, no matter what anyone else thinks. At the end of the night, I felt empowered and ready to take on the world — and wondering if I should have studied computer science instead of journalism!

Sherry Huang, Features Editor, Parents.com
When I was in college, I took a computer science 101-type class that introduced me to the world of binary numbers, basic HTML coding, javascript, CSS, and all these other scary-sounding acronyms. Long story short, I did not do well in that class. Ironically, in spite of that, I landed a web editorial job after college that required me to use basic HTML to code text and build tables in stories. So…somehow, the class I hated became the class that helped “launch” my career. At the Code event, I learned that early exposure, encouragement (from parents and teachers), and knowledge of potential career options were important to helping girls pursue a field dominated by men. Even though I learned coding “late” in life, I wish I had known super women like Feinberg, Kotb, and Kochi to help dispel the confusion and disappointment I felt. But I’m truly excited that these women are paving the way for younger women to pursue their coding dreams.

Watch a video below to learn more about Made W/ Code:

Photos by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic for Google

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Protecting the Planet From Pollution for Our Children’s Future

Friday, June 6th, 2014

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman SchultzEditor’s Note: This guest post was written by Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who  is also the Chair of the Democratic National Committee. She has been working to help implement he President’s new Environmental Protection Agency regulations on carbon emissions, in order to reduce child asthma that has resulted from carbon pollution. 

As the mother of three children, there is nothing more important to me than ensuring that we leave the next generation a world that is safe and prosperous. Making sure that our children have clean air to breathe is an essential part of that mission.

This week, the Environmental Protection Agency took an important step in the right direction. Under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the EPA released new guidelines that will, for the first time ever, limit carbon emissions from existing factories. While the EPA has regulated dangerous toxins like arsenic, mercury, and lead for years, they still allowed power plants to release as much carbon pollution as they wanted. That was not responsible, and it was not smart.

Illnesses like asthma that affect millions of children are aggravated by air pollution, and in the past three decades, the percentage of Americans with asthma has more than doubled. For any mother who knows how helpless it feels to see her child struggling to breathe during an asthma attack, it is encouraging to know action is being taken to help alleviate this health crisis. The rules will help us avoid up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children by 2030.

Hundreds of scientists have made clear that climate change is no longer a distant threat but an imminent and dangerous reality. These tough new rules will regulate the sources of carbon emissions that not only pollute the air we breathe, but contribute to climate change. If there is something we can do to prevent our children from getting sick, to reduce the number of times they end up in a doctor’s office or emergency room, and to mitigate the devastating effects of climate change in their lifetimes, then we have a moral obligation to do it.

There is no question that now is the time to act.

The common sense changes will put us on the right track towards a cleaner and brighter future for generations to come. However, if we are serious about leaving our children a planet that’s not polluted or damaged, we must recognize these new EPA rules are just the beginning. We must do more.

Addressing the biggest challenges we face as a nation, and as a planet, requires bold solutions. And yes, bold solutions can be difficult; they require tough choices, and there will always be those that oppose progress and the change that comes with it.  But as a Member of Congress, and more importantly, as a mother, I am committed to doing what is necessary and what is right for our children. As President Obama said, we must work together towards “a future where we can look our kids in the eye and tell them we did our part to leave them a safer, more stable world.”

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