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Friday, November 15th, 2013
Geography Awareness Week is a celebration in honor of the 125th anniversary of National Geographic and an opportunity to promote geo-literacy in kids so they get to know what’s around them and can build on their knowledge to have a better understanding of world geography. The world is a big place and can be quite overwhelming for small children but there are many ways we can incorporate learning about the world around us to teach our kids about the places where we live and the larger world.
Since Geography Awareness Week is November 17-23, it’s a great time to make an effort to incorporate more geography into your family’s learning because there’s so much that can be done easily. If you don’t know where to start, here are eight things to do with your kids to make them more geographically aware.
Start small. For young kids, the world is a big place and it’s best to start with things they know. Start by getting to know your immediate neighborhood and recognizable landmarks such as your street, best friend’s house, their school, and other places you frequent like the grocery store, favorite restaurants, and neighborhood shops. This helps build knowledge about a place they’re familiar with and when they’re ready, expand their horizons and incorporate adjacent towns and then to your state as they get older. Since visuals are always helpful, work together to draw a simple map of your neighborhood or use this free printable neighborhood map from Crayola.
Take a road trip. It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling five minutes or five hours but before you hop in the car, talk about where you’re going and how you’ll get there. Show your children where you live on a map and where your destination is in relation to where you live. This helps develop spatial sense and can serve as a way of introducing direction like north, south, east, and west. Keep an atlas in the car such as National Geographic Kids United States Atlas or Ultimate Road Trip Atlas. Both are laid out nicely that makes it fun to browse and having them readily available in the back seat pocket of the car means they’re more likely to pick them up and learn at their own pace.
Explore a new place with a virtual field trip. While it’s great to be able to travel, a virtual field trip can be a wonderful way to learn about places in our country and around the world. Spark your child’s interest by sitting down and browsing through the vivid photos from the Windows Travel App that will spark conversation and drive a desire to learn more. In addition to gorgeous photos, the Travel App also features an overview of the location pictured, maps, weather conditions, and tons of great information to facilitate learning about a new place.
Learn while you’re in the car. Listen carefully to your vehicle’s navigation system. So many times we’re focused on getting to where we need to go that we forget how much learning can be done by listing to the voice. Younger kids can pick up on street names and direction while older kids get a sense how your travels connect to the area beyond where you live. If you don’t have an in-car navigation system, printed maps from Google Maps work just fine and are a wonderful way to provide an overview of where you’re going and how to get there. I often prefer having a printed map than relying on my car’s navigation system because it provides me with an overview of the area where I’m headed.
Think about geography in terms of food. Have a favorite restaurant that serves a different kind of food? Visit that restaurant and bring an atlas to look at while you wait. Talk about where the country is in the world, what the capital is, geographic features like mountains and rivers, and maybe even ask your server about how the geography of the country impacts the flavor of your favorite dishes. You might be surprised to find out how the climate impacts what is grown in the country!
Involve your kids in vacation planning to build background knowledge. Once you’ve chosen a destination for a family vacation, involve your kids in the trip by building background knowledge. Talk about the place you’re going and where it’s located, how you’ll get there, and take a trip to the library or do some online research to brainstorm things to do once you’re there. Pre-screen some YouTube videos for them to watch to get a better sense of where you’re going and what to expect when you get there.
Have resources available at home. Having a United States and world atlas are must-haves for any home library. It’s also great to have a globe on hand because it provides a better understanding of world geography, especially for young kids who need a more concrete way to know where places in the world are in relation to each other. I find that a globe is most helpful in teaching about relationships between continents and oceans because it provides the big picture understanding while providing a tactile way to learn about topography. We have the Illuminated Orion Relief Globe with a Non-Tip Base from HearthSong.
Learn on the go. One of my family’s favorite apps to browse is Barefoot World Atlas. This gorgeous interactive app is chock full of so much information that it’s hard to ever get tired of the content on your iPhone that’s fun for adults and kids alike.
Small boy looking at a Globe in his bedroom via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013
As fun as trick or treating is for kids, Halloween can also be scary for young ages but doesn’t have to be. There are plenty of age appropriate shows, apps, and books to get you in the spirit without being frightened. Here are some ways you can enjoy some not-so-scary fun as a family.
Carve a virtual pumpkin for practice. Create some mess-free fun and practice your virtual carving skills thanks to the Parents Carve a Pumpkin app. This easy-to-use free app lets your child drag and drop shapes to carve a virtual pumpkin while saving you cleanup headaches. Other great pumpkin carving apps for older ages includes the Carve It! Pumpkin Carving ($0.99 via iTunes) and Carve a Pumpkin! app via iTunes. ($0.99)
Watch Halloween episodes featuring favorite characters. Originally broadcast on October 27, 1966, It’s a Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is a Halloween classic but for those who don’t love the Great Pumpkin, PBS Kids has special Halloween specials featuring Sid the Science Kid, Dinosaur Train, and Curious George. Catch your favorite characters on special episodes airing on your local PBS stations on the following dates:
- Sid the Science Kid Halloween Spooky Science Special: October 28 and 31
- Dinosaur Train Haunted Roundhouse/Big Pumpkin Patch: October 26, 27 and 28
- Curious George: A Halloween Book Fest on October 28
- Dinosaur Train Night Train on October 29
Do some bewitching Halloween science experiments. Brew up some misty punch, create a touch box to invigorate the senses, make ghosts and bats dance with static electricity, write and reveal secret messages, or concoct some glowing bubbling brew before you head out for a night of trick or treating. 6 Spooky Science Experiments for Halloween is your how-to guide to some engaging science fun that will enthrall young learners.
Curl up on the couch with a fiction or nonfiction Halloween book. Some favorites include:
Create a no-sew costume together. If your child has changed their mind yet again and their indecision is driving you batty, go with a no sew option that’s easy to put together. PBS Parents shows parents how to easily transform their WordGirl superfan into the beloved superhero with the colossal vocabulary, by using just a few materials. There’s also a video tutorial on how to create a Halloween Ninja costume with a single t-shirt.
Decorate the house and take care of last minute costume details together. Involving little hands help kids get into the spirit of the day and even if you’re strapped for time, Fiverr provides busy parents with a helping hand with Halloween task prep at prices starting at $5. What can Fiverr do for you? Get a Halloween pendant necklace made, have a festive Halloween poster designed to hang in your home, transform into a vampire or another creature for the class party or Halloween night, ensure that your house has the coolest lit pumpkins on the block, or send a fun Halloween video greeting to loved ones far away!
Group of kids dressed up for Halloween via Shutterstock
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Monday, October 21st, 2013
Kids and parents who are loyal to PBSKids.org and enjoy accessing content online have probably already seen the site redesign that focuses on games, videos, and shows featuring favorite characters but the highly intuitive and visual site aimed at ages 2-8 now works across all devices, is organized in an age appropriate way, and features wealth of educational resources for parents.
“The number one reason for the redesign was to incorporate new PBS branding,” said Chris Bishop, Creative Director at PBS Kids. Responsible for the new look and feel of the site, Bishop believed it was important not “to disturb what already works well. If a kid can’t get to what they want, that’s horrible. We want to be sure that they can still get what they want.”
The redesigned site incorporates a new look for familiar characters, Dot and Dash, a blank canvas above the site’s hallmark spinning wheel, and a wealth of contextual information for parents that appears while kids are playing games, watching videos, or going to a show.
“With this redesign, we are folding our elementary school age features previously on PBS KIDS GO! into a single PBSKids.org destination designed to appeal to all kids 2-8,” said Melissa Mills, Associate Director of PBS Kids Public Relations and Social Media. Since the former PBS Kids Go site was retired, all content from lives at PBS Kids but Bishop “wanted to provide different ages with distinct experiences through the same site.”
The new site allows for the youngest PBS fans to find content they love quickly and easily. Large thumbnail images in the video section makes it easy to find full episodes or segments featuring favorite characters whereas in the games section, the similar layout contains 6 games at the top where kids can either flip through to find the things they want to play or search by topic.
Where can ages 6-8 find favorite content that formerly lived on PBS Kids Go? It’s been integrated into the bottom part of the site. The depth of content they’re used to can be located on the right side of the PBSKids.org homepage. While preschoolers tend to be overwhelmed with content, focus group proved to Bishop and his team that “older kids like to feel overwhelmed. They like to navigate by games” and sort by topics. The site also highlights harder games, targeting kids who are looking for an extra challenge.
All the changes at PBSKids.org also means more information for parents. While the educational value might not have been apparent before, PBS has integrated a Parents Bar at the top of the site to tie in content from other parts of the site and learning objectives. Now when children play a game featuring Peg+Cat, Daniel Tiger, or any of the other popular PBS characters, parents see get a targeted message about other content from PBS such as resources, things to do and tips for families on the go on the Parents Bar. Video content now features information about the clip such as the name of show, name of clip, length, and goals like language, literacy, social and emotional development.
Images courtesy of PBSKids.org
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Thursday, October 17th, 2013
There are so many topics that we need to start talking to our children about at a young age but in an age appropriate way. Talks about being a good friend morph into conversations about being a responsible digital citizen as they start going online, observations made about alcohol while dining out can lay the groundwork for discussions about underage drinking, and modeling good cell phone behavior can convey the message that no text is worth a life once your kids get behind the wheel. But did you know that over the counter medicine abuse is also a topic that should also be discussed early?
As a parent of an almost 10 year old and 7 year old, I’m pretty savvy on texting lingo but not so much about slang that has to do with medicine abuse. Even though October is National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month, Stop Medicine Abuse is an ongoing prevention campaign funded by the Consumer Healthcare Products Association that aims to alert parents and community members of the dangers of teens abusing over the counter cough medicines. With 1 in 20 teens abusing over the counter cough medicine to get high, teen medicine abuse needs to be on our radar screen.
What do you need to know? StopMedicineAbuse.org urges parents to know what’s in their medicine cabinets and what can be abused. Look for dextromethorphan (DXM), a cough suppressant found in over 100 products that is commonly used to get high.
What should you do?
- Safeguard the medicines in your home by throwing out old expired ones you no longer need and take stock of what you keep in your cabinet. Knowing what you have in your medicine cabinet can tip you off to a potential problem if things go missing.
- Talk to your teen about the dangers of abusing all medicines, including over the counter ones.
- Know the lingo. Just as it’s important to know texting slang, it’s also important to know the slang for medicine abuse. CCCs, robo-tripping, Skittles, red devils, and syrup head aren’t what you think. Here’s a helpful infographic that provides definitions of 5 commonly used terms when discussing medicine abuse.
Pills and medicine bottles courtesy on pink background courtesy of Shutterstock. Infograph courtesy of Consumer Healthcare Products Association and OTCSafety.org
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Tuesday, October 15th, 2013
Pencils. Books. Backpacks. What did your children need as they went back to school this fall? In many areas of the world, the most important thing that children need to be ready to learn is more basic: a nutritious meal! Our ability to access food in the United States is often taken for granted until we realize the true impact of what it means to be hungry. Hungry kids have trouble learning but in countries around the world such as Kenya, Niger, and Honduras, school meals are life changing.
This week the World Food Program USA (WFP USA) is encouraging families around the country to pack lunches for 5 days and donate the money you would have spent buying lunch in your workplace cafeteria or going out to eat to WFP USA’s Lunch Money Challenge. All it takes is a quarter a day to provide a healthy meal for a child through the Home Grown School Meals program, a nutritious and sustainable program that uses food by local farmers.
Providing a nutritious meal each day helps to improve life chances for kids in Honduras, Niger, and Kenya. School meals give poor families an incentive to send their children to school, especially girls who may not otherwise have the opportunity to receive education. The meals help kids reach their full potential by breaking the cycle of hunger and poverty for the world’s most vulnerable kids.
The Lunch Money Challenge can serve as a great springboard for talking about social good with your children since it’s one the whole family can get involved in. Talk to your kids about why you’re bringing lunch this week, rather than buying it from the school cafeteria. Chances are they’ll be on board and happy to give up school pizza for the week. After all, a study by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and supported by the United Nations Foundation found that 9 out of 10 American youth between the ages 8-19 give money to organizations that support charitable causes.
According to mom, former teacher, blogger, and social good advocate, Elena Sonnino, “teaching our children to use their voices for good- as change agents- and to be charitable is a gift that we can give them.” Sonnino encourages parents to be a role model but also have a conversation about giving with children that explains our action and behaviors.
If you don’t know where to start, she suggests discussing these questions:
- Do my children know that I give to charity?
- Do they know which charities I am supporting?
- Do they know why I choose to give specifically to this charity and the impact of my giving?
And why do we want to raise charitable children? Sonnino believes that “learning about others and caring about others impacts everyone. Our 21st century children are entering a world with the understanding that what impacts one child, far away, has a ripple effect on all of us.”
So go ahead and get involved by starting with The Lunch Money Challenge. Line up your lunch bags, make some sandwiches, grab a piece of fruit, and repeat it five times and teach your kids how to help others around the world with this very simple act that can make a world of difference.
Image courtesy of World Food Program USA
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