Things to Do - TV for Kindergartners

(I desperately need to decorate. This little set-up just looks so sad.)

My kids don't watch a ton of TV. I'm not particularly opposed to TV, but I try to encourage more interactive pursuits, hence why our kitchen table looks like an art supply store exploded all over it and why my living room looks like we robbed a library. Further, we don't have a TV on the first floor of the house, so sometimes I forget it's an option (we also only own small, old TVs which don't work extremely well). Of course, after school in winter we tend to watch more TV - because it's cold and I'm lazy and we need a break. The big problem for me is what to watch. When the kids were small almost all the shows seemed pretty good (I still think Yo Gabba Gabba might be the best show on TV), but now F wants to watch ICarly and the other Disney shows, which seem sort of old for a kindergartner (am I wrong here? help me out? Please!!). So recently I've done some research on educational TV shows for the kindergarten crowd. Here's what I've found (and, yes, a lot of this post reads like an ad for PBSKids):

1. Wild Kratts - F loves this animal show that operates as a cartoon/real-life hybrid. According to the show's website each episode "explores an age-appropriate science concept central to an animal's life and showcases a rarely-before-seen wildlife moment, all wrapped up in engaging stories of adventure, mystery, rescue, and the Kratt brothers' brand of laugh-out-loud-comedy that kids love." I actually learn a lot. And it makes you feel really smart at the zoo.

2. The Electric Company - I find this show somewhat annoying (as in, it's hard to block out while I read my book) but it makes my kids laugh and sing and have a bigger vocabulary. It also presents itself as a "cool teen show", which I think F likes. According to the website "In each episode, The Electric Company is called upon to solve a problem created by a naughty group of neighborhood Pranksters. In every instance, the Company prevails with the power of their words. While the stories can be fantastical, each episode follows a wildly creative logic that often results in the characters breaking into song."

3. Wordgirl - This show is awesome. The whole family loves it. I would even consider watching it if I didn't have kids. The theme song alone ropes you in. First of all, it features a girl as a superhero (thank you, PBS! thank you!). Second of all, it's funny (who doesn't love a monkey sidekick named Captain Huggy Face? Or a villain called Dr. Two Brains?) From the website: "Disguised as mild-mannered 5th grader, Becky Botsford, WordGirl arrived on planet Earth when she and her monkey sidekick, Captain Huggy Face, crashed their spaceship. In classic superhero form, WordGirl possesses superhero strength with the added benefit of a colossal vocabulary. WordGirl has a family and friends who have no idea of her secret identity. As WordGirl, she battles and prevails over evil (albeit ridiculous and comical) villains."

4. SciGirls - We've watched this show a few times and the girls really like it. Unfortunately you can only view it online, so we have to watch on my computer (but if we had Google TV we could watch it on a big screen - maybe one day). Each episode showcases real-life girls who want to learn more about a science-related career, so they design experiments and work with experts to discover what it is really like to "be" a scientist. The website has shows on archeology, dolphins, horses, and all sorts of other pursuits. Pretty cool.

5. The Magic Schoolbus - Apparently this was the "longest running science show ever", which (of course) is now off the air. Luckily you can buy DVDs through Amazon (we have the The Magic School Bus 3 DVD Collection and the kids can't stop watching it). The books are also really good.

6. Cyberchase - This is another fun kids show with a secret "educational" agenda (similar to Wordgirl). In combating comical villains, the cybersquad uses math concepts to save the day. And it's funny. Unfortunately, it is only on once or twice a week, so check your cable listings.

After I finished drafting this post, I came across an interesting New Yorker article about the renaissance in children's tv programming (click here to read it). The piece had wonderful things to say about the Disney's Phineas and Ferb noting that Phineas is "a cheerful, intrepid engineer, so engaged by his inventive projects that he becomes an unwitting rebel against the zeitgeist of helicopter parenting and ultra-safety." Further, the author believes that "[Phineas and Ferb] may be the first children’s series in which the moral instruction, rather than the jokes, is aimed as much at parents as at children. Once your kids have finished watching the episode, 'Phineas and Ferb' suggests, you might think about releasing them into the back yard, with a pile of lumber and a tool belt. Who knows? They might build a tower as high as the moon."

I've also heard several parents say wonderful things about Phineas and Ferb - though I hate that the "villain" is both a girl and a sibling - which makes me think I've been too narrow-minded in my approach to children's tv.

What about everyone else? What shows do your kids watch?


Things to Make - Paper Mache Bowls


This was a messy project, but amazingly enough, we had a crazy amount of fun working on it. Sometimes messy is good, especially when you're prepared. And the best part was that the bowls took three "rounds" to complete - thus allowing us to extend one project over a multi-day period. I think the kids also enjoyed having a longer-running project as they keep saying they worked on these bowls "really hard." And they're actually kind of pretty.

Here's the scoop:


1. Use an existing bowl as a "mold" and coat it with a thick layer of petroleum jelly.

2. Mix together 1 cup flour, 2 cups water, and 1 tablespoon salt to form a liquid with the consistency of a thick paste.

3. Tear pieces of newspaper, dip them in the paste and assemble in layers over the "mold."

4. Let dry for a few days.


5. Remove the hardened paper mache bowl from the "mold." (I had to use a knife in areas to pry it away.) Cut the rim of the paper mache bowl to make it even and smooth. Remove the petroleum jelly from the paper mache bowl with a damp, soapy cloth.

6. Paint the outside of the paper mache bowl (we used Crayola Washable Kids Paint set of 10 Bottles (2 fl oz/59mL)). Let dry for at least a day.


6. Paint the inside.

7. Use the bowls to store jewelry, keys, American Girl accessories, chapstick, etc. Or wear as a hat, just because.


Round 1 - The girls did really well, but I had to assemble T's bowl for him. He kept saying "but why so messy? why?"


Round 2 - F's become really interested in outer space and the planets (more on this next week), so she painted her bowl to look like the night sky. Both the girls have shown an interest in color mixing, so we used the newspaper to experiment.


Round 3 - T overcame his aversion to messes and painted for a good thirty minutes. Painting is the one craft where T can outlast the girls, by a lot.


We planned on using them as bowls, but then F decided the kids NEEDED hats. So they're sort of multipurposeful right now.


Things to Do - February, Oh, February


It seems almost criminal to complain about February after such a mild winter, but still the month exhausts me. Dan has been working nonstop, which isn't necessarily unusual, but his absence feels extra large lately, the kids constantly asking "is daddy coming home tonight? will i see him today?" Me realizing that sometimes three or four days have passed before I've had a chance to tell him something.

As for me, i started a new workout routine in the mornings, crossfit, which necessitates waking an hour and a half earlier than I'm used to (thank you tyler and the meanest momma for motivating me to start). I'm the slowest one in the class, but still it is the most incredible workout routine I've ever attempted, addictive really. I'm constantly amazed by what my body can do when pushed. We probably all are. Plus, I love leaving the sleeping house before daylight hits, as I've finally found a "time" that's all mine, a time that I don't have to share or divide or steal.

So our days seem to meander along - walks to the library, playgrounds after school, a kitchen table full of "art" of various sorts - while milestones continue to fill up the background - a whole year since my dad died, selling our first house after six wonderful years there (though we only moved across the street), a few more wrinkles when i look in the mirror. and plans for spring, so so many plans for spring.

How is your February going??

Happy Monday everyone!!


*I loved this shuttersisters post on the newsworthiness of your own life. I've drafted (but never published) about 20 post on why I blog but never managed to find the right words, then I read this and I almost shouted thank you at the top of my lungs. "I don’t remember much before I was six years old and the years after are a little fuzzy. When I watch my boys play, laugh, argue, and wrestle I am sad they won’t remember each detail as clearly as I do. For the past three years, I’ve approached my life as magazine pictorial. Until recently, I didn’t realize that I’ve been using my college degree to tell a story with my photography. But now I fully embrace it. I’ve become the photojournalist of my life because I’m responsible for the story my children will remember. Good or bad, they will see it in our family albums. The trips to visit family with cousins scattered around the living room. Birthday wishes. Conquering the potty while waving Good-bye to diapers. But life isn’t full of unicorns and rainbows, the bad stuff has to be documented. Tantrums. Doctor visits. Tears because independence wasn’t quite fully realized. The full plates of food pushed away at the dinner table. I’m careful not over-sensationalize these less than happy moments, but albums void of them would not be truthful. Years from now, if my boys struggle with their own parenting I hope they can look through our family albums and relate. And I hope the photos will help them remember it was a good life: one worthy of documenting."

*Josh Ritter continues to amaze me. This song is beautiful and the video (stopped motion animation using 12,000 sheets of construction paper) is truly stunning.

*This home, wow, this home. So creative. So beautiful.

*Have you seen The Composites? The blog's creator uses literary descriptions and law enforcement composite sketch software to visualize what famous literary characters looked like - so far he's created sketches of Aomame (from 1Q84), Daisy (from the Great Gatsby), Ignatius Reilly (from Confederacy of Dunces) and many others.

*I just discovered this great kids' craft blog - full of great, simple, ideas.


I nicknamed P Tigger because of her bounciness.


Cousin sleepover. The cousins brought their old train set and gave it to T, we can't stop building.


P made a dinosaur hat at preschool, which may be my favorite kids' school project ever.


Things to Do - Grateful List (January 2012)


1. The return of Downton Abbey (cheesy melodrama with an accent)
2. Watching MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech as a family
3. Williams Sonoma Kids Baking (best children's cookbook ever)
4. First Aid Kit's new album, the Lion's Roar
5. The Sanctuary (archeology article on the world's oldest temple) in the New Yorker, December 19&26, 2011
6. Ann Beattie's short story collection, What Was Mine.


7. Estofado in the slow cooker
8. Spaghetti squash with tomato, onion, and feta
9. Slow cooker chicken mole (via Everyday Food)


10. Stories in Art at the National Gallery
11. Our girls' trip to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History


12. Dancing rainbows from our Solar-Powered Rainbow Maker


13. P's friends playing with T "you are the handsomest prince ever. and the kindest."
14. Finally snow.
15. Jim and Val's going away party (china, wow, china)
16. A lazy morning full of arts and crafts followed by the kids all playing together for hours
17. The neighbors' trampoline
18. A dress up box full of princess outfits, superhero costumes, and construction worker uniforms
19. Dan and T hammering together ("hammer kisses!")
20. Dance parties and basement glowstick "raves"
21. F learning about MLK "he changed the world. he really did" and Rosa Parks "she knew those laws were silly, she knew she didn't have to move her seat on the bus" and P asking "are there still places where people are treated differently because of the color of their skin? Why would people ever act like that?"
22. F's insistence on always playing outside, regardless of temperature
23. E's craft projects (frames from white paper, stick wands), pretty impressive ideas from a 6 year old
24. The neighbors' new dogs and puppies
25. Finally having a playroom, master suite, driveway, and kitchen island (not that we weren't happy without these things, but they do make life
26. A wonderful realtor (Katie Loughney) and a great handyman = a house under contract after less than a week on the market
27. "Can you please help me lock this so none of P's friends can get into it and find out who my true love is?" - F talking about her diary (despite the fact that none of P's friends can read yet)
28. "T, can you play upstairs with us?" "No, mom, I have to get some work done."
29. 63 degree days in january
30. P and F playing "the old days"; F - "I can't believe we're really in the old days." P - "no, F, people in the old days didn't know it was the old days."
31. A crepe breakfast in bed (I have the best husband ever)
32. CROSSFIT (South Arlington) - best workout ever!!!!!
33. T wearing underpants (we'll see how this goes)
34. Cupcakes and dinner for my birthday with close friends

The Kids' Lists:

F - our new house, the [neighbor's] trampoline, Cybil Lily, when my sister and I get along, nights when we see daddy, daddy coming home from work, playing dolls with P when we get along

P - dessert, dollies, my family, our bunkbed, our new house, coloring, our friends, the [neighbor's] trampoline, books, a nice home to live in

T - good guys, bad guys, stuffed animals, darth vader, horses, dada, mama, superheros, my new room



Things to Read - 7 Great Art/Design/Craft/Inspiration Blogs

Click on the image to go to the website.


1. This blog can be sort of overwhelming, as they choose a new artist almost every day and showcase several pieces of her work. So if you don't like what you see make sure to scroll back a few pages to find someone else. The variety of artists makes it great.

life on sundays

2. Probably the best eye candy I've ever seen on the web. This collection of images is simply stunning. Better than even the best of pinterest (which is saying a lot).


3. Odd, quirky design finds, such as skull portraits and the world's largest rope swing. I'm never sure what I'm going to find, but I'm always intrigued.


4. I think this is a really famous blog that has been around for awhile, but I discovered it recently (and I'm in love). The pictures of great vintage clothes (the blog's author owns a store) are amazing and I love the accessible, beautiful craft projects.


5. Gorgeous photos accompany interviews with artists who work in a variety of mediums - paint, photography, sculpture, etc. A great read.


6. Random (often beautiful) etsy and web finds, the quirkier the better. Also the visually appealing format makes if fun to scroll through.


7. Lots of great articles, wonderful quotes, photographs, and other sources of inspiration - Patti Smith, Lucian Freud, Murakami, Madonna, etc.


Places to Go - A Morning On the Tidal Basin (Washington DC)


Last weekend, my good friend, Laurie, came to town (yay!!!), the weatherman predicted amazing weather so we decided to take the kids to the tidal basin for the morning. We parked right by the river at Hains Point, one of my favorite hidden treasures of DC (also a great spot for easy access to the Jefferson Memorial) - lots of beautiful views, though the sidewalks are in a sad state of disrepair.

Unfortunately, the wind was stronger than expected, so we hurried over to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorial, where the trees helped block the cold air. This memorial has become one my favorite spots in DC - beautiful waterfalls, lovely statues, great views of the capital, and huge rocks to climb make it the perfect spot for a picnic lunch with kids.


No matter how hard I try, I can never get a really good shot of the waterfalls.


The rock piles can entertain my kids for hours. Really.


The statues of the Great Depression are so beautifully done. They make a great history lesson for kids.


From the Roosevelt memorial we walked on the tidal basin to the MLK memorial, which was lovely though incredibly crowded. I thought F would enjoy seeing MLK's statue, since they spent so much time at school discussing his legacy, but I think the large crowds overwhelmed her somewhat. Plus there weren't any rocks to climb.


So we reversed our route and walked back to Hains Point. The bridges in particular fascinated T, who couldn't believe that cars were actually driving on top of us.
All in all a great morning, plus it felt wonderful to have my friend back for awhile.



Things to Make - Toddler-Designed Hidden Pictures


Lately, T can't stop doodling/drawing/writing on anything he can find (yes, this includes walls). I left a pad of decent-quality watercolor paper on the table and within minutes he marked up every page (much to my chagrin). We're going through paper like crazy around here. So the girls and I created a game to make use of T's many beautiful drawings - we search for hidden pictures. Sometimes the girls find things and I color them in and sometimes the girls color things in themselves. It's actually pretty fun and T seems amused by it all.

If you don't have access to a toddler, you could also try a version where you cover your eyes or you cover the kids' eyes and ask them to draw things and then try to find hidden pictures. Or maybe try drawing with your wrong hand. or with your toes. whatever works. basically, just make some scribbles and decode. How fun is that?


I was pretty impressed by F's finds. P went for the landscape route.


Sometimes we don't try to find anything at all, we just color in the lines - like a coloring book.


Things to Look At - Pink and Blue

Sometimes it's nice to look at pretty things. Especially on Mondays. (These are not my photos by the way, in case that isn't obvious enough).

Source: flickr.com via Darcy on Pinterest

Source: flickr.com via Darcy on Pinterest

Source: flickr.com via Darcy on Pinterest

Source: flickr.com via Darcy on Pinterest


*Love stories of couples who have been married for over 50 years. Beautiful pictures and captions.

*Knight Rider in real life. I want one.

*An article on why pinterest is so addictive. Because it really is so addictive.

*The 11 Best Illustrated Children's and Picture Books of 2011. This looks like a great list. I want to get everything on it. The 11 Best Art and Design Books also look pretty amazing.


Things to Do - The Middle


The other day P gave me a drawing with a perfect heart on it (pictured above). I had no idea that she had acquired this skill. F spent a long time trying to master the heart, I even bought and made her stencils to help her learn. But somehow, while I was busy toilet training T and helping F with homework, P had succeeded in heart drawing without me even noticing.

It must be hard to be the middle, try as hard as I can, I never manage to document P's accomplishments like i do for the other two. She's also in many ways my "easiest" child. And I know I miss a lot.

I met with P's preschool teacher for a conference last week (we had to reschedule because I completely forgot the first meeting). She told me three stories that say so much about P and our family.

(1) Whenever someone in the class says "girls can't marry girls", P says "yes, they can, I saw it. i went to julia and tracie's wedding and saw it. people can marry whoever they want, I know that's true." I guess some of the other kids kept pressing the issue, but P wouldn't back down. My girl knows what she knows.

(2) The teacher said that whenever McDonald's comes up P says "my mom doesn't let us go there unless there's nowhere else to go [i.e. vacation road trips] because they're mean to the chickens. and we hate when people are mean to chickens."

(3) Finally, P tells her friends "there's no such thing as boy colors and girl colors. Anyone can like any color they want." When kids started laughing, she told them "my brother loves his pink blanket and he's still a boy. it would be silly if a certain color made you a boy or a girl."

So even when I'm not paying attention, she's listening to what we say. My smart, beautiful girl.


Things to Read - What I've Been Reading Lately (Gang Leaders, Dovekeepers, 9/11, and Wonderful Short Stories)

Okay, so by lately I mean over the last few months or so. Still working my way through 1Q84, time seems to move very slowly in the winter.

Reading Ann Beattie's stories reminds me of listening to a favorite song on a radio station that's losing frequency; you know the song could end any time, so you try extra hard to appreciate every lyric. You feel as if Beattie has dropped you into the lives of really interesting people, you want to know everything about them, but you're only given a glimmer and then the story ends. After I finish one of her stories, I inevitably spend the next day or so contemplating her characters, trying to discover more. Whether you're new to Beattie or if you've read her several times, these stories won't disappoint. From the non-maternal mother to the divorced couple that always vacations together everyone has a story to tell and loss hangs on the fringes, ready to strike at any time. I especially loved the last story, which deals with the secrets between two couple friends and begs the question - how well do you really know anyone?

This book was fascinating. Truly fascinating. The author, Sudhir Venkatesh, while working on a graduate degree in sociology at University of Chicago, decided to hang out at the Robert Taylor homes and befriend gang members. Venkatesh eventually succeeds in making himself a part of the Robert Taylor community, in a role that's hard to describe as anything other than "observer". People talk to him because they want their stories told. And he listens. For years. Thus allowing Venkatesh to document a community in which everything operates through the black market, from electrical service to employment. Venkatesh presents a bleak picture of the projects - the police use their power to rob the gangs, almost all women engage in some sort of prostitution, and the gang both protects and harasses everyone in the building. If you watched the Wire (my husband calls the Wire the best TV show ever made), then you'll love this book.

Alice Hoffman's The Dovekeepers: A Novel started off incredibly well. In the book, Hoffman uses the voices of four very different female narrators (who all work as dovekeepers) to tell the story of Masada, a Judean desert community that existed in year 70 C.E. I loved Hoffman's use of magical realism to create vibrant, strong female characters, whose stories proved so gripping that for the first 100 pages or so I could barely put the book down. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way the plot became cheesy and unrealistic, which made the novel fall apart for me. Nevertheless, I liked how Hoffman used real-life events to imagine what life would have been like thousands of years ago, when people routinely died horrific deaths, women had almost no rights, and "survival" was a skill in itself.

I read Foer's first novel, Everything Is Illuminated: A Novel, a few years ago, when critics went giddy over it. I wasn't quite sure what to make of Everything Is Illuminated (I'm still not) but I appreciated the odd narration and the metaphorical writing, which were different than anything I'd come across before (I should also mention that it made me cry for days).

Then I read Foer's newest novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: A Novel, which tells of the story of a 9 year old boy who loses his father in 9/11 when the towers crash. Foer interweaves the boy's story with that of the boy's grandparents, who (miraculously) survived the WWII bombing of Dresden. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close uses many of the same tricks as Foer's first novel, but this time Foer's odd writing style seemed gimmicky and a little overdone. The book overuses the same metaphors - such as "something spaces" and "nothing spaces." Further, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close's unique array of characters - such as a woman who never leaves the top of the empire state building (doesn't she ever want a shower?), an 108 year old man scared to leave his apartment, and a grandfather who refuses to speak so he has the words yes and no tattooed to his hands - start to feel overly contrived after awhile. Grief operates as an obsession for almost all of the characters (exact maybe the barely-mentioned mom) and the book attempts to examine how different people deal with disaster, but barely any of the characters really "deal", maybe that's the novel's problem or maybe that's the novel's point, either way I became a little bored by it all.


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