Archive for the ‘ Fun ’ Category

A Few Good Toys (And a Few Lame Ones)

Monday, June 29th, 2015

I’m looking at new toys for our holiday issues. On Friday I had about three dozen kids helping me and in the next few weeks I’ll have dozens more. It gets me thinking about the (many) toys I’ve bought my own kids, and what they love and what gets ignored. A few truths I’ve learned:

Classics stick around for a reason. A pair of roller skates was a huge hit on Friday, and a train set. Almost no child will turn down a toy car. And maybe the most successful birthday party favor I ever gave out was the year we gave each little guest a playground ball, which many of them still had years later. When in doubt about what to buy, go back to basics.

Toys that kids can play together are awesome. That’s why every preschool has a play kitchen. We tried out a toy vet center that got a lot of love, in part because the 2- and 3-year-olds could swarm it together. Many kids also cooperated with Lego kits. And there is always Barbie…many times my daughter would disappear into her room with a friend and a crowd of Barbies and only resurface hours later for a snack.

Crafting and building kits are tricky. They are all the rage, because anything that requires building calls itself STEM-worthy. But every year I have only a few kids who are focused enough to get through a building kit, and the rest start and then abandon such toys. If you’re buying a present for someone else’s kid, I would say avoid toys that require construction unless you know the kid is really into it. Same with puzzles.

Remote-control toys get a big wow but can die out fast. We’ll have several on our list because kids love them. But why must so many batteries quit on day one? And I’ve noticed that these aren’t the toys kids reach for when bored. The RCs come out to impress playdates. But maybe that’s enough.

If your kid has a favorite character, anything with that face will be a winner. But toy companies know it, so for every legit great Frozen-themed toy there are some that are just cheap. Out of toy-testing I realize I need some great Paw Patrol toys this year…the little testers wanted anything with those pups on it!

But step away from the plush aisle. My kids are crazy in love with their stuffed animals but like most kids, they have too many. While there will surely be some talking plush among our year’s best toys, for the most part, kids don’t need more soft friends.

My final advice if you are out shopping for toys: Don’t overthink it. Does it look like something you enjoyed as a kid, or would enjoy now? Then it will probably be a safe bet. My little toy-testers are invaluable, but I also get a kick out of watching what the staff plays with. Fun is fun, no matter what your age.

Jessica Hartshorn, as the Entertainment Editor for Parents magazine and a mother of two, is surrounded by toys both at work and at home. Literally surrounded.

How to Buy Baby Toys on a Budget
How to Buy Baby Toys on a Budget
How to Buy Baby Toys on a Budget

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6 Games to Make Your Road Trips More Enjoyable

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

kids on a road tripEditor’s Note: In an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, guest blogs 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.

Many of us will take to the road this summer for family vacations. And even when we’re not on vacation, we’ll spend a lot of time in the car with our kids getting them to and from summer activities. Have you done the math on how many hours, days, weeks, and months of your kids’ childhoods you spend driving them places? Of course you’ve thought about it, and probably complained about it, but here are the hard numbers: if you’re in the car with your kids 45 minutes each day, that’s the equivalent of 3 full 8-hour workdays every month! These are precious family hours with your captive little audiences, strapped into their car seats and seat belts, with no escape. Don’t waste that time by plugging your kids into ear buds or having them watch “Frozen” for the 200th time. Use your car hours creatively with activities everyone can participate in together so that getting there is, as they say, half the fun.

Of the games we played in the car with our kids, I like the “License Plate Game” the best. Here are a few variations on the theme:

License plate scavenger hunt – Give your kids a notepad and pen, and have them hunt for different types of plates. The goal during each trip may be to find the highest number (SJR 516 beats ERR 123) or the lowest number (MVR 221 beats SLS 7657), the earliest letter sequence in the alphabet (ABD 335 beats DAB 2392) or the latest letter sequence, the most characters (numbers and letters combined) or the fewest. Your kids read the license plates of passing cars and call out their best finds. If they’re having fun, you can extend the game beyond each separate commute by carrying over the best license plate from this trip to the next, trying to get ever closer to the elusive goal you set. For pre-readers, hunt for different color license plates; hunting for different color cars works nicely if your kids aren’t big enough yet to see the plates from their seats.

License plate geography – How many different state plates can you find on each drive? Carry this game over from drive to drive until someone collects all 50 states (very difficult) or, more realistically, 25 states. This also makes for a nice team sport, combining each person’s state finds for a family grand total. Hint: parking lots at highway rest stops are a rich source of state plates.

License plate birthdays – find the numeric combination, in the right sequence, for your own birthdays or those of people you know. The numbers 223 appearing on a plate would be February 23. Who do you know that was born on February 23?

License plate monograms – Find the initials of people you know or of celebrities. TS is Taylor Swift. Bonus points if your kids know that TAS includes her middle name (Alison).

License plate poker – For older kids, collect (or compete for) “best hands” for each trip. AJP 224 would be a pair of 2s an ace and a jack. PAE 6978 would be an ace and a 4 card straight (or you can be a stickler and require a straight to appear in proper sequence).

License plate chess – Also for older kids, find plates with the most number of chess pieces (P=pawn, R=rook, B=bishop, K=king or knight, Q=Queen; you can also give credit for C=castle, or call the knight a horse and give credit for an H).

The time you spend with the kids in the car can be memorable minutes and hours of joking, learning, and gentle competing. Might as well enjoy all the chauffeuring you’ll be doing this summer.

Safe travels!Dr. Harley 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 via Shutterstock.

Car Buying Guide: 5 Questions to Ask Your Dealer
Car Buying Guide: 5 Questions to Ask Your Dealer
Car Buying Guide: 5 Questions to Ask Your Dealer

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Kids Take the Lead at National Parks

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

family at national park

Editor’s Note: In an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, guest blogs 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.

We are a “National Parks” family. When our kids were young, most of their spring breaks and many other vacation days were spent in the parks. We’d rent an RV and usually pick a route that allowed us to visit the most National Parks and National Monuments in the shortest time. Pulling away from the house, we always sang along to Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again.”

It was our custom to stop at every official National Park entry sign for a picture of the kids climbing on and hanging from the sign. Next we’d stop at the ranger station to watch a short video about the park, pick up a trail map, and then find a spot to park the RV. That’s when the trouble typically began.

Getting our kids out on the hiking trail was often like pulling teeth. I think it was because playing in the RV was too much fun for them to ever want to go outside onto the hot and dusty, or rainy and muddy, or gorgeous but “borrrring” trail. But we cajoled and coerced, bribed and bartered the kids into submission—hiking hundreds of times during their childhoods—thanks to walking sticks, army canteens, trail mix, and lollipops with chewing gum in the center.

Arches National Park near Moab, Utah has always been our favorite. The campground is an adventure unto itself, with climbing rocks and pseudo-caves to explore—all close enough to the camper that the kids figured they weren’t risking a whole day of indoor RV games by playing in the campground. Plus, we always held out the hope to our kids that one of the tenuous arches would collapse just as we were watching (from a safe distance)–the visitor’s center has “before and after” pictures of that happening. My wife and I didn’t mention that those events occurred only once every 75 years or so—it could still happen when we were there, couldn’t it?

When people think of the state of Utah, many picture Delicate Arch, the iconic formation in Arches National Park that’s pictured on the state license plate and on nearly every Utah post card and poster. Our youngest child, Sammy, eyed that arch wistfully from the time he was 4 years old on our first trip to Arches. Viewed from the parking lot, Delicate Arch seems unattainable to a young child—like hiking to a beautiful sandstone rainbow perched on the moon. On that first visit, all the kids were too young to make the tough climb to Delicate Arch, so we contented ourselves with shorter adventures and plenty of snacks.

In subsequent trips to other parks, being the third child, Sammy usually followed one of the hike “leaders”—his older brother or sister. Being a “hike leader” was occasionally incentive enough to get the kids onto a trail. For some of the more ambitious hikes, Sammy went back to explore the ranger station or to a playground with me while Mom and the other two braved the wilderness. The older kids were jealous of Sammy for not being forced to hike, while Sammy always felt a little left out when it was too tough a trail. Sometimes, you just can’t please anyone.

On our second trip to Arches, just as Sam turned 7 and had had several easier practice hikes as “leader,” it was finally his turn for the big time. We had saved Delicate Arch for him. Starting early and not rushing, we followed Sam as he negotiated the sometimes narrow and slippery trail to Delicate Arch. As he triumphantly ran the final 150 feet to the base of the Arch, he pumped his fists in the air just as he had seen his brother and sister do when they had led us to other trail milestones. There, at the foot of the arch, we had our victory picnic—and officially renamed Delicate Arch, “Sammy’s Arch.”

Sixteen years later, the poster of Delicate Arch we bought that day still adorns his bedroom wall at home. Now a college graduate in the workforce without a spring break, his trail maps have been replaced by subway maps. But he still whispers, “Woo-hoo” and pumps his fist whenever he sees a Utah car with his arch on the license plate.

Dr. Harley RotbartDr. 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 via Shutterstock

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Kids of All Ages Want You to Read to Them

Monday, March 16th, 2015

Once your child can read by herself—especially if she has to read independently for 15 or 30 minutes each night for homework—you might figure she doesn’t really need you to read aloud to her anymore. Maybe it’s harder to find the time, or she seems too old for bedtime stories. However, kids ages 6 to 11 wish their parents read to them more often, according to a new study from Scholastic.

The study found that 54% of children ages under age 5 are read aloud to at home five to seven days a week, as compared to only 34% of kids ages 6 to 8 and 17% of kids ages 9 to 11. Nearly one in four parents stopped reading to their child entirely by the time she was 9. However, 86% of 6- to 8-year-olds and 84% of 9- to 11-year-olds (and even 80% of 12- to 14-year-olds) said they either liked or loved being read to.

I’ve got nothing against Ivy and Bean, but the truth is that sometimes the books at your child’s reading level just aren’t as interesting as ones that are a bit too hard for her to tackle on her own.

For the last few years, I have been reading to my daughter, now 10, while she eats breakfast. One reason I started this routine was just to distract her so she’d sit still and eat, but it has really helped her get her more excited about books. And I’ve been able to introduce her to titles she might not have chosen on her own. “Sometimes it’s easier and more fun to listen to a book than to read it yourself,” she told me today.

Ten minutes at a time, we read all three of The Land of Stories books, by Chris Colfer, for example, and she’s recommended them to all her friends. The cover of E.B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan (one of my childhood favorites) looked boring to her, but I insisted we give it a try, and she loved it. Although she’d read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by herself, she got scared when she started reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. It was less scary when I read it to her, and I’m hoping that she’ll go back to finish the rest of the series on her own. Since she had enjoyed reading Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind on her own, we’re now reading Stella by Starlight, the author’s newest book about a North Carolina girl’s encounter with the Ku Klux Klan in the 1930s. It’s already sparked a lot of discussion.

Part of me wonders whether I’m robbing her of the opportunity to read these great books on her own, but maybe she’ll go back and read them again someday. Right now, I feel lucky that I can share the experience of reading them with her.

Diane Debrovner is the deputy editor of Parents and the mother of two daughters.

Image via Shutterstock

3 Things to Help Kids Read
3 Things to Help Kids Read
3 Things to Help Kids Read


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6 Mindy Lahiri Mom Moments I Want to See

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

Minday Lahiri from The Mindy ProjectMindy Lahiri from “The Mindy Project” is one of my favorte TV characters, and now that she’s pregnant with Danny’s baby, I can’t to see her experience the full spectrum of motherhood.

I confess, I had initial doubts about the pregnancy storyline, but the recent episodes have me convinced she’s on her way to becoming one of the best moms on TV. Plus, I know she’ll rock maternity style just like the celebs she’s obsessed about.

For now, though, Mindy’s still in her first trimester, and whether or not she gives birth by the end of this season, I can’t wait to see how the show depicts pre- and post-pregnancy topics in honest and humorous ways. Here are the specific mom moments I want to see Mindy experience!

1- Sharing Embarrassing Pregnancy Symptoms – Given Mindy’s openness about farting, the show is the perfect place to tackle more taboo pregnancy topics like…gas and bloating, itchy nipples, and pregnancy sex/weird sex dreams. As a ob/gyn on the show, she won’t lack for strange pregnancy symptoms to highlight, hopefully starting a conversation about the common (heightened sense of smell) and unique (severe morning sickness) experiences pregnant women have. So far, she is experiencing one unique symptom: feeling hot and flushed all the time (see “Dinner at the Castellanos”).

2- Having Weird Pregnancy Cravings – A lady who can devour a whole coffee cake by herself will probably have odd cravings at all hours, and it’ll be hilarious to see what food mash-ups Mindy puts together. Or see more of her attempts to satisfy cravings by eating healthy — with or without fruit and chia seeds!

3- Discussing the Ultimate Birth PlanVaginal birth? Natural birth? Water birth? Hypnobirth? C-section? I can already see Dr. Lahiri spending one or more episodes figuring out a personal birth plan. She can use her ob/gyn expertise, talk to other patients, and consult the other docs (maybe have another run-in with the Deslauriers). And it’ll be interesting to see if Mindy chooses a doula to help her through the pregnancy — can’t you just see her choosing a NYC-based celeb doula like Latham Thomas? And you know her hospital bag will most likely be a hospital suitcase.

4- Planning a Gender Reveal Party – Baby showers are a dime a dozen, so I’m eager to see Mindy’s spin on a gender reveal party. (There will surely be gender reveal cupcakes involved.) And seeing how parties often go awry on the show, I’m already seeing comic gold.

5- Facing New-Mom Challenges – We already know Danny’s an expert diaper wrangler from his years of raising Richie. But Mindy will probably need to learn how to change a diaper, swaddle a baby, and breastfeed (and solve breastfeeding problems)…among other things! Mindy will most likely can’t avoid new-parent mistakes, and it will also be funny to see how she deals with sleep training while being sleep-deprived herself.

6- Going on Maternity Leave – While I can’t see Mindy staying away from Shulman & Associates for too long, it’ll be fascinating to see if she will pull a Melissa Mayer. But how amazing would it be to see a mom actually enjoy maternity leave before returning to work (with or without a built-in office nursery)? Let’s give some love to both SAHMs and working moms!

If you’re a fan of “The Mindy Project,” what mom moments do you hope to see?

Sherry Huang is a Features Editor for Parents.com. She loves collecting children’s picture books and has an undeniable love for cookies of all kinds. Her spirit animal would be Beyoncé Pad Thai. Follow her on Twitter @sherendipitea.

Your Pregnancy: 5 Early Pregnancy Symptoms Most Women Deal With
Your Pregnancy: 5 Early Pregnancy Symptoms Most Women Deal With
Your Pregnancy: 5 Early Pregnancy Symptoms Most Women Deal With

Photo of Mindy Lahiri from The Mindy Project/Fox.com page

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