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Modern Parenthood

Foam building blocks in an assortment of shapes and colors. (AP)

From McDonald's to the toy aisle: Can we move past toy gender?

By Correspondent / 04.23.14

High school junior Antonia Ayres-Brown wrote on this week about her challenge to McDonald’s to end its unofficial practice of asking children whether they want a boy or girl toy with their meal.

As Antonia points out, “The problem with Happy Meal toys may seem trivial to some, but consider this: McDonald’s is estimated to sell more than 1 billion Happy Meals each year. When it poses this question—’Do you want a boy’s toy or a girl’s toy?’ McDonald’s pressures innumerable children to conform to gender stereotypes.”

Beyond fast food, retailers continue to pressure millions of kids into conforming to gender stereotypes through their toy choices, and there is mounting consumer dissatisfaction spurring groups to stand up against the gender barriers of toys.

To some it may sound like shopping sacrilege, but the campaign to Let Toys Be Toys in the UK and several campaigns in the – all founded by concerned parents – want to eliminate the color-coded shopping aisles in favor of toy gender anarchy. 

Let Toys Be Toys is a UK-based group launched in 2012 "asking retailers to stop limiting children's imaginations and interests by promoting some toys as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys," according to its website.

While a number of major UK and Ireland toy retailers have capitulated to the demands that they “market toys in an inclusive way” the organization’s website states, “We’re pleased that so many retailers have made changes, or committed to do so, but there’s still lots to do.”

Here in America, similar parent organizations have been less successful in convincing toy sellers to integrate the colors of toy aisles and take down the “boys” and “girls” signage over items.

Let Toys Be Toys is a campaign created by moms and dads that grew out of a thread on parenting website Mumsnet, “which brought together parents frustrated by the increase in gender-based marketing and promotion to children,” according to the Mumsnet website.

According to Let Toys Be Toys Spokesperson Megan Perryman. there's no direct US equivalent to this organization, however in America the Brave Girls Alliance, A Mighty Girl, Princess-Free Zone, and Pigtail Pals all aim to empower little girls and their toy buying choices.

The first thing I noticed about the America list of organizations is they are all gender-biased and feminine-focused.

Where are the groups started by parents of boys who want the bullying to stop over the toys they like that are “pink aisle” products, such as My Little Pony or books about the lives of girls?

My sons all read the “Junie B. Jones” book series because  they like her feisty nature and they also love “Amelia Bedelia" books for the humor. Those reading choices were the cause of teasing by other kids and even some adults who thought the choices were too “girly.”

It seems that here in America, even as we try and erase gender barriers, we can sometimes start to generate new ones.

My 10-year-old son, Quin, who likes My Little Pony toys and has been bullied for his pink aisle purchases in the past, alerted me to a Live Science story this morning that highlights the pink makeover of science toys.

The story Quin showed me this morning was written by Sai Pathmanathan, a science education consultant in the United Kingdom who contributed the article to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

Ms. Pathmanathan catalogues the "science toy" makeover trend that has colored STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) toys for girls (such as Nerf Rebelle, LEGO Friends, Roominate, and GoldieBlox), referring to them as “pinkified/girlified” toys.

I want more girls to love STEM toys, but for me making the toys pink is just another “separate but equal” situation that, as Quin pointed out, we would not accept in other social scenarios. While I like that Goldiblox may be helping more girls get into science and math, deep down I still resent the fact that they are “for girls” in girly themes and colors.

Quin often asks me, “Why do people make me feel bad if I like a color or pattern that’s got pink, purple, or something with a rainbow on it?”

Girls who like “boy colors” or toys are not considered feminine, while boys who like a pony with a rainbow tail are being “girly.”

I wonder if toy sellers and marketing teams consider that color/gender stereotypes may be contributing to bullying issues for their consumers.

Of the pink aisle in stores, Quin says, “It makes you feel like you’re not allowed there and if you like something from that aisle that’s pink and you’re a boy you’re doing something bad. Girls probably feel the same about going into the blue or car aisle too.”

“I think having pink and blue [shopping aisles] is just as wrong as having black and white sections for race,” Quin said heatedly after seeing the story.

That was a big catharsis from a kid over the prevailing color of a toy shopping aisle.

Then again, boys like Quin and bullied Brony (boy who likes My little Pony) Grayson Bruce have had their fill of retailers making their lives miserable under the auspices of making shopping choices easier for those seeking stereotypical toys for girls and boys.

While ending bullying is not the goal of Let Toys Be Toys, I believe it will be a bonus effect if a similar movement gains traction in the US.

Eight months ago, A Mighty Girl posted a petition asking Toys R Us stores to stop gender-biasing aisles.

The campaign called on American stores to follow the example of its European counterparts, “Now is the time for Toys "R" Us in the USA to join its counterparts in the UK and Sweden and end the rampant gender stereotyping in its marketing of toys to children,” reads the petition.

In an email on the subject of the petition Kathleen Waugh,vice president, Corporate Communications Toys“R”Us, Inc. writes, “There are no gender-specific toy sections in our US stores.  Toys are merchandised by product category, so customers can easily see the breadth of assortment.  All learning toys, for example, (from a variety of manufacturers) are merchandised together.  The same is true for all categories, including sports toys, pre-school toys, construction sets (ie: LEGO and MegaBrands), bikes, dolls, arts and crafts, action figures, musical instruments, and more. With regards to advertising, Toys“R”Us regularly features girls and boys playing with all different types of toys.”

However, the Toys“R”Us website is immediately broken down into “Toys for Girls” and “Toys for boys” options for shoppers to choose between.

Ms. Perryman of Let Toys Be Toys says the Toys“R”Us website in the UK is also segregated like tis American counterpart. “We met them last year and they agreed to some changes but it's slow-going,” referring to a 2013 agreement to stop gender-specific labeling.

“The reason for this is that in online shopping, “girls toys” and “boys toys” continue to be among the top Internet search terms used by parents, grandparents, and gift givers when looking for toys,” writes Ms. Waugh, addressing the website’s separate-but-equal division. “We understand that children have many diverse interests, and continually strive to portray that in our aisles and in our marketing materials.

The Let Toys be Toys site includes a section titled “Tips for Complaining,” which I highly recommend to parents here in America who want to effect change in their local stores and toy companies in general.

According to the tip page, Let Toys Be Toys writes, “Expect to receive a ‘fobbing off’ response.  Chances are they’ll send you a polite reply along the lines of ‘We value all customer feedback and will bear your comments in mind,’” The site tells parents. “Don’t accept it! Write back to demand specifics and make sure they know they’re not getting any custom from you until they change their policy.”

In social campaigns as in parenting it’s all about being consistent and persistent.

Also, I think this is about getting parents and kids like Quin and Grayson Bruce to start taking back the power by doing ‘Mommy/Daddy and Me” tandem letters to retailers and toy companies.

I don’t care what color or alleged gender-style toy a child owns, as long as they also own the feeling of empowerment to choose without fear of shunning or bullying from other consumers.

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Drew Barrymore, left, and Ciara arrive at the 2014 Safe Kids Day event in West Hollywood, Calif., on Saturday, April 5. (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

Drew Barrymore, my celebrity crush, is just another mom

By Correspondent / 04.23.14

I have a mom crush on Drew Barrymore. I don’t know her, but judging by photos I think our styles are relatively similar, apparently, we both have bubbly personalities, and we are, in fact, both moms to toddlers. Ms. Barrymore announced Tuesday the birth of her second daughter Frankie Barrymore Kopelman with husband Will Kopelman. She has another daughter, Olive, born in 2012.

I am still wrangling a toddler boy and staying happy with that for the time being while I learn to get peanut butter out of his hair.

I saw a picture of Barrymore at a celebrity event recently, looking fabulously large and perfectly poised to be a mom of two girls. Then I was disappointed. As I write this, I don’t have invitations to celebrity events in my mailbox, my hair is in a knot on the top of my head, and I am sitting in a ratty sweatshirt and a pair of well-worn house slippers.

She looked ferocious. I look feral (credit where credit is due – this term comes from the team at the blog Eating over the sink). And thinking about our differences makes me discouraged, knowing that – despite our potential similarities – I will never look or be like Barrymore, or any celebrity mom.

Now, before we start into affirmations, I know that my insecurities are rubbish, and that as a mom I should put them out of my mind. We are told this nearly everyday as moms, every time some insecurity creeps into a conversation. 

I also know that many celebrity moms also have times where they are sitting around in ratty sweatshirts and slippers. The big difference is, that every once in awhile, they get swooped out of run-of-the-mill motherhood and into the world of celebrity motherhood. That is a beautiful, done-up, no-peanut-butter-in-the-hair world. 

And seeing them in that world feeds our imaginations and makes us think that everyday is photo shoots and easy living, even when it is not.

Celebrity motherhood has become a big deal, and big business. We see “bump watch” alerts online almost daily, celebrity magazines that devote full spreads to the “hottest” baby gear for celebrity kids, and pages with images of celebrity parents at the park, getting ice cream, doing generally mundane activities while looking pretty well put together. Except when they are not, when the tabloids then post a spread titled “Bratty Celebrity Kids!” which is too far back in the magazine for me to read before it’s my turn to start unloading my grocery cart.

Those of us who don’t personally know these celebrities only get one side of the picture, or – more realistically – a sliver of the real picture.

So, the truth I have learned about all moms is this: Motherhood, like a good film, is more about embracing this juicy role, not the actress who plays the part. 

We should let songs move us, good books inspire us, and a good joke make us laugh because they are inherently inspiring or funny, and not because of the person who shares them.

Let's start looking at celebrating celebrity parents through the lens of appreciation for the role, not the lens of the paparazzi. I will still appreciate Barrymore's fantastic style and the fact that we are both moms to little kids, but I will start with the assumption that she probably puts on her well-worn house slippers one foot at a time like the rest of us. Since we really only know the truth about our own experience, we can only truly admire what is good in our own lives, and not anyone else’s.

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Corbin Belin, 11, from Stevensville, Mich., sorts through his LEGO collection at during a LEGO Bricks Building Competition held at The Heritage Museum and Cultural Center in St. Joseph, Mich., on Saturday, March 15. (Don Campbell/The Herald-Palladium/AP/FILE)

How playful learning will build future leaders

By John Converse / 04.22.14

In order for our global society to develop solutions to pressing problems in an increasingly technology-driven and constantly changing world, we need to re-train our workforce to do what machines can’t: to be enterprising, independent, and strategic thinkers – to be purposeful creators.

This starts with changing the way students, especially the youngest ones, learn.

They’re the future, after all, and they have a serious evolutionary need for play, as described in Scientific American magazine:

In a classic study published in Developmental Psychology in 1973, researchers divided 90 preschool children into three groups. One group was told to play freely with four common objects—among the choices were a pile of paper towels, a screwdriver, a wooden board and a pile of paper clips. A second set was asked to imitate an experimenter using the four objects in common ways. The last group was told to sit at a table and draw whatever they wanted, without ever seeing the objects.

Each scenario lasted 10 minutes. Immediately afterward, the researchers asked the children to come up with ideas for how one of the objects could be used. The kids who had played with the objects named, on average, three times as many nonstandard, creative uses for the objects than the youths in either of the other two groups did, suggesting that play fosters creative thinking.

Learning through play with “hands-on, minds-on” approaches (not workbooks) is a powerful way forward. Play gives children space to dream, discover, improvise, and challenge convention. It’s crucial to social, emotional, cognitive and even physical development, helping them grow up “better adjusted, smarter and less stressed,” as the Scientific American study reports. We know this.

So, where did play go?

Over the last three decades, while schoolchildren K-12 have become better test-takers, they’ve also become less imaginative, according to many experts in education, including Kyung Hee Kim, a professor of education at the College of William and Mary.

In 2011, she analyzed scores from the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking and found that: “children have become less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.”

“The largest drop,” as author Hanna Rosin points out in The Atlantic, “has been in the measure of ‘elaboration,’ or the ability to take an idea and expand on it in a novel way.”

In other words, we’re in the midst of a creativity crisis. In an age where we’re desperate for new answers to old questions, and for children to more readily step into leadership roles as innovators, this is a problem.

The good news: There are high-impact innovators who are dedicated to bringing back play in a big way. They’re rethinking the process of learning, inspiring children and allowing for constructive and productive disobedience. (Mistakes, too.)

“Play is not a luxury,” says Johann Olav Koss. He’s on a mission to use sport and play to educate and empower children and youngsters in disadvantaged communities so they overcome the damaging effects of poverty, conflict, and disease. Mr. Koss, a Norwegian speed skater who broke ten world records during his career, serves as president and CEO of the international NGO Right to Play.

Koss, his staff, and 13,500 volunteer coaches, reach more than one million children each week. They use games and active, play-based learning methods as tools for education and development. Soccer, for example, is used to teach tolerance and games of tag drive home points about national health issues.

“Every child has the right to play, not only because it is fun, but because it is critical to their education and healthy development,” he said, after receiving last year’s LEGO Prize, awarded by the LEGO Foundation (dedicated to redefining play and re-imagining learning to build a future driven by creative, engaged, lifelong learners) to individuals that have made an extraordinary contribution on behalf of children and young people.

The American Academy of Pediatrics would agree with Koss. Last year, they concluded that play, whether organized indoors or outdoors, “is a necessary break in the day for optimizing a child’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development.”

That increasingly obvious truth is also why Jill Vialet, the founder and CEO of Playworks, has been working to reintroduce play to a US education system in which nearly half of schools have reduced or eliminated recess to free up more time for core academics, where one in four elementary schools no longer provide recess to all grades, and where more than three-quarters of principals actually take away recess as part of their discipline plan.

“If we want to bring out the best in our kids,” she says, “we should start by giving them a great recess.”

Playworks works. It has positive impact on the “climate” in schools, making for a better and more productive school day, according to experts at Mathematica Policy Research and Stanford University’s John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities.

They found that Playworks, currently operating in 500 schools in 22 US cities, improves conflict resolution and academic performance, and it reduces aggression: teachers in the test group reported increased feelings of safety, and reports of bullying and exclusionary behavior during recess were almost halved.

Vialet plans to reach one million students by 2016.

The world we live in is no longer ordered by industrial efficiency or repetition, but the exact opposite: unpredictability. But we still educate for factories – “educating people out of their creativity,” as Sir Ken Robinson would say – while today’s employers demand “changemaking” skills that include communication, teamwork, empathy, critical thinking, and imaginative problem-solving.

If we want a better, smarter planet, we need to change the way the next generation children are taught. Allowing more students to grow up without those prosocial, exploratory skills, leaving them unable to reach their potential, would be criminal.

Play can deliver.

What are we waiting for?

Editor's Note: The LEGO Foundation and Ashoka have teamed up in a new initiative titled the Re-imagine Learning Challenge, aiming to transform the way the world learns. Visit the website for more information on the program -

A barman prepares "Caipirinhas", Brazil's national cocktail, made with cachaca (sugar cane hard liquor), sugar and lemon or another fruit, at Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian steakhouse where food is prepared the traditional gaucho way, in Sao Paulo April 15. (Paulo Whitaker/Reuters)

Powdered alcohol: What makes it a bad idea (+video)

By Correspondent / 04.22.14

Given the growing media attention on Palcohol, a new powdered alcohol product angling for America shelves, it’s a good time to talk to kids about the fact that you don’t need alcohol, in any form, in order to feel good or have a party.

While it was reported Tuesday that federal approval of Palcohol was an “error” on the part of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau – which originally granted Palcohol “label approval” on April 8 – I doubt this is the last we’ll hear of the product.

This approval misfire and failure to launch of the product gives parents a great opportunity to course correct on how alcohol use is perceived by kids.

I already know that at least one of my teenage sons is going to hit me with the biblical reference to Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding as an example of how far back the ties between alcohol and having a good time go.

While it’s true that even the most pious adults, in scripture and elsewhere, can be seen partaking of a sip of wine now and again, it does not equate to the current comfort level of sporting events awash in beer, or alcohol woven into so many national holidays.

Bud Light drove the point home with its 2014 Super Bowl commercial, starring an average guy whose life is transformed into that of a superstar by accepting a single bottle of beer from a stranger.

Our kids see these type of ads, and watch the choices of adults, and may come to the conclusion that the only way to be “the most interesting man in the world” is with a Dos Equis beer in hand.

James Bond cool comes shaken, not stirred.

Many can’t seem to celebrate New Year’s Eve without champagne, and graduations, job promotions, and other holidays often include a toast. As the weather warms up this spring, ads touting instant frozen drinks, hard lemonades, and ice cold beer are hard to avoid.

Now Palcohol is taking the next step, creating a powdered, easily transportable pantry item.

According to early reports, Palcohol was on track to hit US shelves sometime later this year, turning healthy bottled water into instant alcoholic rum and vodka cocktails such as: Cosmopolitan, Mojito, Margarita, and Lemon Drop mixed drinks. 

Despite the setback in approvals, reports say that Palcohol will re-submit its labels for federal approval in the future.

Predictably, social media is experiencing a tidal wave of response ranging from jubilation, to concern, to wry humor over how long it will be before some chucklehead tries to snort the concoction. A couple of responses:

The company’s website has already posted the following disclaimer, addressing individuals who were asking about other uses for Palcohol:

Can I snort it? We have seen comments about goofballs wanting to snort it. Don't do it! It is not a responsible or smart way to use the product. To take precautions against this action, we've added volume to the powder so it would take more than a half of a cup of powder to get the equivalent of one drink up your nose. You would feel a lot of pain for very little gain. Just use it the right way.

The website also makes suggestions for using the product in foods after cooking for added “kick.”

When you add Palcohol to food, you're not really adding flavor to the dish, just alcohol. We've been experimenting with it like adding Powderita powder to guacamole, Cosmopolitan powder on a salad, V in a vodka sauce, etc. It gives the food a kick...

Because my father was an alcoholic and my younger brother is a recovering alcoholic, our family doesn’t celebrate the use of alcohol and my kids know it.

My oldest son, Zoltan, a college sophomore – who helped saved the life of his roommate freshman year when boy suffered apparent alcohol poisoning after a party – became concerned by the announcement that powdered alcohol is about to become “a thing” in America.

“The amount of usage that kind of packaging creates and the ability to hide it are un-measureable,” says Zoltan. “Not mention super dangerous when it comes to potential for slipping it to people in foods at parties, spiking drinks, and putting too much in jungle juices at parties.”

Iveta Petrosyan is both the mother of two young children and a campus police officer at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. and the idea of powdered alcohol in the mix had her bristling.

“I saw that the other day and thought, ‘This too will get out of hand,’” says Ms. Petrosyan. “Some parents that drink regularly do send that message that you need alcohol to have fun, but those that don't drink probably don't convey a loud enough message to the kids that drinking is a huge responsibility.”

Petrosyan adds that from the perspective of law enforcement, “I'm afraid we'll be dealing with a whole lot of this, especially football games.”

Adults and kids are constantly conditioned by marketing and commercials to believe that no good time can be had without an alcohol chaser.

However, it’s never too late or too soon to have the conversation with your kids about the fact that good times are not dependent on alcohol for the fun factor.

The reality is that, all too often, parties laced with alcohol are either forgotten in a haze or remembered for the the hangovers and the humiliation of decisions made under the influence.

If we want to teach our kids to “drink responsibly” we need to hand them a bottle of plain water and keep the “pal” out of alcohol because it’s not their friend or ours.

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Runners run along the route of the 118th Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass., on Monday, April 21. (Steven Senne/AP)

Boston Marathon: Experience over accomplishment

By Correspondent / 04.21.14

I often consider finishing five Boston Marathons among the bigger accomplishments in my life. As I watched highlights of the race appear in the news Monday morning, I pined to be in the starting corral of my favorite road race.

New motherhood and family life in general have hindered me from running the marathon in recent years. I last ran the Boston Marathon in 2012, roughly eight months before my son was born (another great accomplishment). 

Since then, my life has both sped up and slowed down considerably. I have quit full-time work to stay at home with my son, and now spend most of my time on my feet chasing a toddler.

On race morning, I loaded my son in the stroller and took off for a short run, wearing my Boston Red Sox baseball cap and my 2009 Boston Marathon running jacket. 

As I ran, I longed to be in the runner’s village near the starting line of the marathon in Hopkinton, Mass., full of runners anxious to start the race. This year, there are 36,000 runners registered for the race, roughly 10,000 more runners than last year, including thousands running again who were held back from finishing after two bombs went off at the finish line in Boston last year.

Instead of thinking about not taking part in this year’s race, I started thinking about places along the course that I have loved to pass year-after-year. The quiet stretches of roads passing reservoirs and ponds; the rolling hills that turn into iconic “Heartbreak Hill” in Newton, Mass.; the welcome signs for towns along the route; and the crowds at Wellesley College (the noise of the students cheering choked me up from half-a-mile away).

Beyond the accomplishment of finishing the Boston Marathon, there is the experience of running the Boston Marathon that far outweighs the joy of having a medal placed around your neck at the finish line.

I have a chance to teach my son that accomplishments should serve as a reminders of experiences, but not the entire point of trying new things, learning new skills, or tackling tough challenges.

We should live to experience life, not to check items off a list.

Over the last year, the people of Boston have accomplished a lot. They have mourned victims of last year’s bombing, improved the security infrastructure, and helped their own population, the national running community, and the country as a whole grapple with an act of terror that tried to tear it apart on the day of the marathon in 2013.

More important, though, the last year has been full of loving experiences and expressions of care from the people of Boston that have led to us recognize their accomplishments.

Likewise, individuals affected by the bombings have accomplished more than many could have imagined a year ago. Focused on healing, we have seen those injured in the blasts embrace life in new ways and become models for all of us about how to experience life without taking it for granted.

We encourage our kids to help nurture them, and it’s important for them to not look to accomplishments alone to measure their lives, but all of the smaller experiences that lead to those accomplishments.

Right now, my son doesn’t think of his life or mine in terms of accomplishments. He doesn’t care how many marathons I have run, or if I graduated from college, or if I earned a driver’s license, or took my own first steps years ago. He cares about the individual experiences of each moment, everyday.

He lives for the wind in his hair when we head out for a run with the stroller, and a visit to the park, or a chance to run down the sidewalk on his own.

As an adult, sometimes I feel that if I have completed enough small tasks over the course of the day, I can say I accomplished something.

Meanwhile, I experience thousands of wonderful things throughout the day; Hugs, laughs, learning something new, and babbling nonsense with a toddler. 

In simple arithmetic, the experiences far outweigh the accomplishments. So, shouldn’t we aim for those more often?

On race day, as runners trace 26.2 miles through towns along the race route and run into Boston’s Copley Square, there will be hundreds of things to experience along the way. 

Let’s use this as a way to teach our kids that it is the full course, and not just the finish line that brings us joy.

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Kindergarten students at Arthur Street Elementary School in Hazleton, Penn., react to seeing Honeybun, a 25-year-old donkey that visited the school on Friday, April 11. (Ellen F. O'Connell/Hazleton Standard-Speaker/AP)

Five new rules for kids on National Kindergarten Recognition Day

By Correspondent / 04.21.14

National Kindergarten Recognition Day is April 21, and was first adopted by the US Senate in 2005 to identify the vital role kindergarten plays in the lives of children. Nowadays, as kids learn to share and play nice, they are also learning to not point a finger like a gun or kiss a classmate, unless they want to get suspended from class.

Former Senator Ken Salazar, who now serves as Secretary of the Interior for President Obama, first introduced the day as a way to promote early learning programs for children.

“[A]s policy makers, we must ensure that the kindergarten programs are using developmentally, culturally, and linguistically appropriate curricula and have teachers who have specialized knowledge and skills to address their unique needs,” Mr. Salazar told Congress in 2005, according to The Congressional Record.

A favorite book of many parents, published in 1986, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten“ by Robert Fulghum, reels off a list of lessons applicable to life, and learned in early in school, including: 

1. Share everything.
2. Play fair.
3. Don't hit people.
4. Put things back where you found them.
6. Don't take things that aren't yours.
7. Say you're SORRY when you HURT somebody.
8. Wash your hands before you eat.
9. Flush.
10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
11. Live a balanced life - learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
12. Take a nap every afternoon.
13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
15. Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we.
16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK.”

Now, 28 years later, reports in the news seem to be updating the list of what kids are learning in kindergarten, and it’s not nearly as comforting as Mr. Fulghum's list. Here are five new lessons to add to the list:

1. Fingers are not guns. Nose picking is fine, just don’t use that index finger to imitate a weapon.

On April 2, a 6-year-old kindergarten student was given a day of in-school suspension after he made a hand gesture that looked like a gun while playing with friends at a school in Lawrence County, Miss., according to Mississippi News Now.

"He made his hand into the shape of a gun," says his mom, Ashley Sandifer, in the report. "They play like good guy bad guy. And I know a couple of weeks ago he was playing deer hunting. So they are not intending to hurt anybody.”

Whether pretend-hunting for deer, or pretend-stopping a bad guy, just remember, keep that finger in the holster.

2. Never imitate what you see on TV.

In 2013, in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, elementary schools across the country cracked-down on anything that could be imagined to be the sign of a potential gun threat. This included fingers, bubbly guns, and cheese sandwiches bitten into the shape of a hand gun.

Case in point, a kindergartner in Bethesda, Md. was suspended in January 2013 after she allegedly said she would shoot her classmate, and then herself, with her pink "Hello Kitty" bubble gun, according to multiple media sources.

The attorney for the girl’s parents said school district officials labeled the girl a "terrorist threat" after the incident, according to the Associated Press.

Share your bubbles and your cheese sandwich with your friends with an open hand and nobody gets hurt. 

3. Do not touch.

A 6-year-old boy near Colorado Springs, Colo., was suspended from school for kissing a girl on the hand, according to multiple reports.

Yes, on the hand.

"It was during class," says first-grader Hunter Yelton in an interview with local television station KRDO. "We were doing reading group, and I leaned over and kissed her on the hand. That's what happened."

According to school administrators, Hunter’s peck was categorized as fitting the district standards for sexual harassment.

Puppy love will land you in the pound, so keep your friendliness toward classmates professional.

4. Life is full of hairy situations.

A Mohawk haircut resulted in the suspension of a kindergarten student in Springfield, Ohio. The 5-year-old boy was sent home because school district officials deemed his new Mohawk inappropriate for kindergarten, according to CBS news.

Ethan Clos was banned from school until he got rid of the Mohawk.

Chances are, if your look sends out a vibe that reads “too cool for school,” it just might be better to leave it at home.

5. Sometimes there is no strength in numbers.

On May 17, 2013, the Mirror of Connecticut news organization detailed a report to the state's Office of the Child Advocate, outlining thousands of cases of school expulsions for young children.

The Mirror reports that there were 1,967 incidents of students age 6 and under being suspended in 2013 – almost all of them black or Hispanic.

According to a report from the Connecticut Department of Education, the number of students suspended is actually higher, but privacy issues restrict the state agency from releasing information that could identify unique student information, according to the Mirror.

Jamey Bell, the child advocate for the district tells the Mirror, “Excluding such young children from the classroom is a non-educational, non-therapeutic response for those who are way too young to be culpable.”

Kindergarten is the start of education and socialization for many children whose parents cannot afford pre-school or daycare. As such, it is a learning place where mistakes can be made early and corrected quickly, as parents, along with teachers and administrators guide young children through the maze of reading, writing, arithmetic, and political correctness.

Some school administrators might benefit from some homework in the form of reviewing Fulghum’s book, and perhaps an assignment to write 100 times, “Kids learn all the wrong lessons when someone kicks them out of kindergarten.” 

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U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, front left, her daughters Sasha, front right, Malia, right in the back, and Michelle Obama's mother Marian Robinson, left in the back, arrive at Capital International Airport in Beijing, China, Thursday, March 20. (Alexander F. Yuan/AP)

Extended family childcare: Take the help, table the advice

By Correspondent / 04.18.14

Ever wish you had more than two hands? I do, especially since I live in a 3rd floor walk-up apartment. Every trip to the grocery store is a workout, and every laundry day has me sweating bullets. It would be so much easier if I had someone around to watch the baby or carry a few bags upstairs with me on a day-to-day basis, not just when my husband is around on the weekends. 

It would also be nice to have someone around to drink a cup of tea and chat with regularly. When my husband gets home after a long day at work, he usually isn’t interested in a couple hours of conversation – he just wants to quietly relax and recharge. Plus, tea isn’t really his thing.

Living with extended family members is the norm in many cultures, where families bind together to help each other in all phases of life, especially when there’s a new baby or elderly relative in the mix. Korean, Indian, Greek, Japanese, and many Latin American countries are among many cultures that actively embrace multigenerational living under one roof.

As for the US, the Pew Research Center reported that, in 2009, 1 in 5 adults age 25 to 34 live in multigenerational households in the US. 

From 2007 to 2009, the number of multigenerational households spiked from 46.5 million to 51.4 million, due in part to the economy. From 1980 to 2006, it had been increasing steadily by about 2 percent each year. Among the major ethnic and racial groups, Hispanics showed the biggest leap in growth from 2007 and 2009, at 17.6 percent. 

I got a taste of what multigenerational living would be like when a bunch of my family members came together in one house to celebrate my cousin’s wedding last week. It was so helpful to always have family nearby to hand the diaper bag to when unloading the car, happily play with my daughter in the pool, or distract her for a bit so I could play cards with my aunts. 

And anytime a stressful situation arose, such as when my daughter threw up all over her car seat for the umpteenth time, they rallied around me to get her outfit changed, clean the car seat, and give me a hug after dealing with it all. On a practical level, it was great, but more than that, they lifted my spirits and helped diffuse my frustration. 

I started to wonder, what would it be like to have extended family around all the time? 

In Mexico, where my husband is from, having many family members around all the time is totally normal. One or two people often make dinner for the entire family, and daycare is unheard of for many families. My uncle, who lived in Mexico for a few years with two young daughters in the 1980s, explained that when he told Mexican friends that he was looking for a baby sitter for an evening out, everyone gave him blank looks and said, “Why?” Most Mexican families always have an aunt, grandma, or cousin around to help with childcare. 

My husband’s grandma often took care of him when he was growing up, and their special bond shows every time we visit his Abuelita Raquel. She wipes away tears when we arrive and leave, and she always prepares a special treat for him. The first time I met her, it was cow brains, which he apparently has loved since he was little, though the smell made me a little nauseous. There was no way I was going to risk insulting the family matriarch, so I politely had a bite, though I think it must be an acquired taste. 

Anytime my husband calls her, they talk for hours. He knows all the neighborhood gossip because of her. He doesn’t really care about any of it – he just cares about her, so he doesn’t interrupt her ramblings. It’s sweet how he indulges her as a way of reciprocating all the patience and love she showered on him when he was a rambunctious little boy. 

When my daughter was born last year, my dad visited for a month to help us adjust to our brand new lives as parents. I sent him off to the grocery store just about every day, and he did more loads of laundry than I can count. His favorite way to help was holding the baby in the rocking chair, and he hardly cared at all when she cried. He just gently held her closer and asked with a frown, “Does this mean I have to give her up now?” 

We really appreciated the help, though we definitely still viewed ourselves as independent parents. One time, when he heard the baby crying late at night and knocked on the door, my husband and I were irked. We wanted to prove that we could take care of this baby without his interference – though now I can see that he was just trying to help us out. Still, I feel like nighttime is a sacred space for new parents, and even though my dad had pure motives, I would probably stick with my decision to turn him away if we had another fussy baby on our hands again. Daytime help, yes please, night time, not so much. 

As of 2012, 10 percent of all children under 18 in the US had grandparents living with them and their parents, a total of 7.1 million, according to Pew. That’s not a huge amount, but still, that’s 1 in 10 children. I can imagine there are lots of ups and downs for the parents. 

For some, it opens up a kind of Catch-22 – constant childcare assistance in exchange for not always welcome advice. I’d love the extra helping hands, but I definitely have an independent streak – I want to raise my child my way, so don’t tell me what to do unless I ask for it. 

Also, it seems like family members, while helpful in small bursts, like while on vacation, might not be all that interested in helping long-term. 

At the end of our recent vacation, everyone went their separate ways when it was time to return the rental cars and get on our return flights, even though there were a few of us taking the same route. I frowned when I realized our family members had left us behind, but then remembered that that’s the way things are often done in the US – every man for himself. In a way, it makes sense (no one meddling), but when you're lugging a bunch of bags and a car seat, any help offered would be gratefully accepted.

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Brooklyn Beckham and Victoria Beckham attend Harper's Bazaar Women of the Year Awards 2013 at Claridge's Hotel in London on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013. (John Furniss/Invision for Harper's Bazaar/AP/FILE)

Brooklyn Beckham cougar attack: A double standard?

By Correspondent / 04.18.14

Brooklyn Beckham, 15, oldest son of Victoria and David Beckham, is on the cover of the UK fashion magazine Man About Town, which has generated a disconcerting, inappropriate, and sexually-charged response from older women.

Apparently, when it comes to sexual predators and political correctness, some who might consider themselves "cougars" – older women who like to court younger men – think it’s OK to bend the rules when they like a Beckham boy.

In fact, perhaps we should take the shine off of female predators by changing their handle from “cougar” to “dirty old lady.”

Oh my, that’s an unattractive reality check. However, if a man in his 50s were to tweet about a 15-year-old girl in the same way that some posted about young Brooklyn, they would be called “dirty old men” in a heartbeat.

Frankly, I would like to see Mr. and Ms. Beckham take this opportunity to help publicly shutdown the practice of sexualizing minors of either sex by sending down a very public Red Card to all those women who are behaving badly over their son.

This isn’t about teenage girls tweeting their age-appropriate crushes, but the blatantly raunchy behavior of much older women making entirely inappropriate comments. One example, one of the few more tame examples:

While this admirer says she will be waiting for him, others simply say they would “have his baby” as soon as possible.

Seeing the tweets from women who appear to be old enough to be this child’s mother, I wonder how people would react if it were men sending these tweets to a girl of the same age.

I have four sons, ages 20, 18, 15, and 10, so I am keyed-in to the double-standard that seems to be present when it comes to ogling young boys.

While many of these people may be harmless, the social acceptance of the behavior has a very negative impact on the lives of the non-famous.

Two years ago, a reader in her mid-40s, began contacting me via Facebook to ask for my help in getting a teenage boy, age 16, away from a mother. The reader claimed the boy’s mom was abusive.

However, as time wore on, the woman began to send me pictures she’d taken of the boy when he wasn’t aware he was being photographed – shirtless, or through his bedroom window.

Her own Facebook page revealed she was behaving as a sexual predator while claiming to be “in love” with this boy.

I contacted the boy’s mother and local child-welfare authorities, supplying them with Facebook chats, photos, and Facebook postings by this woman.

The result was that at each and every stage of the case someone in authority smirked at the thought that this handsome teenage boy was in potential danger from an older woman they deemed unattractive, and therefore not a legitimate threat.

The woman had wormed her way into this teenager’s life by giving him a cell phone his mother could not afford to buy for him, a game console, and other expensive gifts.

Once the boy saw the woman’s Facebook posts and realized her intentions, he himself went to local authorities and testified in family court.

I was brought in as a witness, but never took the stand as the judge dismissed the case because the mother had once allowed the accused woman access to her home as a guest and had allowed her to pick the boy up from school before learning of her sexual intentions toward her son.

While the majority of sexual harassment cases consist of a man in the role of harasser, sexual harassment can come from men or women, according to statistics by Catalyst analysis, a firm which analyzes workplace trends, which looked at data from the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

“In recent years, the percentage of sexual harassment charges filed by men has risen from 11.6-percent to 16.3-percent of all sexual harassment charges being filed,” Catalyst reports.

Many of the cases we see in the news involving sexual harassment of teenage boys comes from older school teachers, such as the case of teacher Jennifer Christine Fichter, 29, of Davenport, Fla., who was arrested and accused of having sex with a 17-year-old boy in her pickup truck, according to AP.

Every time one of these cases makes the news, I hear people joking about being “hot for teacher.”

However, if it’s a case of a 17-year-old girl and an older male teacher, all I hear is outrage.

This double standard needs to be brought to light and parents of boys being harassed must come forward and make their cases known, because there is strength in numbers.

In the case of the boy whose family I tried to assist, I believe the woman providing the unwanted sexual attention needed help from a mental health professional. I also believe the woman’s own children and the victim needed more help than they received.

It is often said that victims of sexual harassment and crimes need to understand that these kinds of crimes are not about sex but violence, control, and other emotional issues on the part of the harasser.

Sadly, the people in authority in this case were dismissive to the mother, father, victim, and me.

They smirked and rolled their eyes until the day the boy didn’t come home because the woman had offered the boy a ride home and he accepted because he later told me, “I didn’t think anything bad would happen because everybody made it out to be a big joke.”

Nobody was laughing when it took a day and a night to locate and retrieve the boy from the hotel room she drove him to. Because there had been no help before the incident, the boy and his parents didn’t press charges. They just wanted it all to go away.

They had lost all faith in the system.

The offender vanished with her family later that week.

The boy graduated and immediately entered the military.

His mother and I lost touch as the sadness and the humiliation of what had happened to this boy weighed on us both.

Through it all, the only agency that treated the situation with the gravity it deserved was the public school system. I was exceptionally proud of the local school district for going extra miles in order to help the boy’s parents before, during, and after the incidents.

There was nothing I could do to stop the predator, who is now in another town somewhere.

The only thing I can do is tell the cautionary tale when the opportunity arises. Parents reading the story can pass it on.

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Ian Suhay stands face to face with a Lego statue at FAO Schwartz toy store in New York City in January. (Lisa Suhay)

Let go of your Lego? Pley offers rentals.

By Correspondent / 04.17.14

When Elina Furman decided to offer a toy rental service named Pley to help parents reduce toy clutter and develop a “sharing economy,” she picked one of the most iconic brands to start with, and quickly learned that there are two kinds of kids – those who will let go of a Lego set and those who won’t.

Lego is such a vital part of my family history that the sound of one of the big plastic storage containers being dumped onto the wooden floor upstairs with the clackity-click of plastic bricks and bits being rummaged through makes me grin ear-to-ear.

I love the sound that I associate with my four sons and my husband embarking on a building mission together up on the third floor of our house, which we all worked together to convert into to a bedroom and Lego play place.

However, when I read about Pley, I was immediately intrigued by the prospect of what life could be like without all the ownership woes that come with collecting building toys in both my home and vacuum cleaner.

I have lost more vacuum cleaner drive belts than I can count to little plastic bricks and bits that got sucked into the spinning brush and jammed up into the belt until the house reeked of burning rubber.

Unfortunately, I swiftly learned that Pley is not an option for my clan after showing the Pley website to my family.

“That’s got to be the worst, the most awful...tell me we aren’t doing anything like that,” sputters my son Quin, 10, when he looks at the Pley website. 

“The whole point of Legos is to have as many sets and combinations available as possible so you can be totally creative in your build,” he adds. “You collect in order to have options. This just limits what I can create!”

My youngest son turned from the computer screen where the Pley site was on display and looked at me like I had just suggested we drive to D.C. and paint The White House red. 

Apparently, just suggesting he give up ownership in favor of a collective arrangement that doesn’t actually involve collecting Lego, made him look like a ton of tiny bricks hit him on the head.

However, not everyone agrees with him. More than 15,000 families are currently enrolled in the rental service, which started last May.

Pley offers three monthly rental plans based on whether you want to rent small ($15 a month), medium ($25 a month), or large sets ($39 a month).

All plans provide members with multiple rentals per month – one set at a time, according to Ms. Furman, co-founder of Pley, who was born in Russia and now lives in New York City.

Furman explains that she understands Lego fans come in two camps, identifying “those who will never, ever part with them” and “kids who just want the experience of trying them.”

“With so many children these days, they just play with something while it’s new and shiny and then leave it,” Furman says. “This way, the child always has that new and shiny. They never get bored and we never get the clutter in our homes. Also, it’s eco-friendly.”

My four sons were raised with their father’s Lego bins, which we collected from my mother-in-law’s attic after our first son was born 20 years ago, and we have added to them ever since.

Our house is Legotopia to my kids and for me – while I may grouch about stray bricks – the most soothing, reliable thing in my life is the sound of a big tub of tiny plastic bricks being upended and rummaged through to find that perfect fitting piece.

That jumbled, chaotic din, followed by utter silence for hours as my husband and sons work side-by-side on the build of the day means all is right with my world.

“I am looking at America from the outside and Russian ways,” Furman explains. She and her family moved to Chicago from Russia when she was age 7. “I had only one or two toys, which I cared for carefully and appreciated.”

She adds, “Pley instills a sense of responsibility that’s lacking in children in this society.”

The sets are cleaned with a sterilizing solution and there is a 15-brick loss forgiveness policy as part of the rental agreement, according to the Pley website.

Kids must separate and sort out the bricks before sending them back and are encouraged to write a note to the next renter to tell them about his or her build.

“I love the idea of what Pley is offering,” says Beau Turner, a Lego League mentor and dad of two boys. “My boys will typically build the project as designed in a kit then within days cannibalize parts for other projects. After a week I am sure to find pieces or chunks of parts in our Lego buckets.” 

Mr. Turner added that as the cost of Lego sets continues to rise out of parental price ranges and yard sale picking get slimmer, he’s willing to give Pley a try.

While some parents would rather rent monthly and save space in favor of variety, and others prefer to put the money into a purchase of sets to keep, the end result is good times, creative family fun, and memories that will outlast anything they make.

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A "family" of crash test dummies, shown at Dorel Juvenile Group in Columbus, Ind., allows technicians to study car crash impact data for various age ranges. Photo taken Thursday, Jan. 30. (Andrew Laker/The Republic/AP/FILE)

Car seats present tough choices for parents

By Correspondent / 04.17.14

Car seats have been known to be one of the most overthought purchases of parenthood. 

From car seat recalls – of which there have been three in recent months – to automakers such as Volvo introducing an inflatable car seat, this decision might still be fraught with indecision for some time to come.

New parents have to decide what chair to buy (bucket carrier with anchored base or convertible seat anchored in car?), when to buy and install (hopefully before the first ride with baby), when to upgrade or turn their child from rear- to front-facing (two years, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics), and when to recycle (five years or so, though advice on this varies).

According to reports, Volvo has created a prototype for a rear-facing inflatable car seat that operates a lot like an inflatable mattress you might pull out for house guests. It inflates and deflates with one button, and packs away in a backpack when not in use. 

Volvo, by creating what I will call the “Ikea Aerobed Car Lounger,” is essentially trying to shorten the checklist of annoyances parents cite about their car seats, creating something that could be easy to carry, easy to install, and easy to use. 

While the idea of that kind of freedom is exciting, the trimming down of the car seat doesn’t mean it will make it a bestseller.

In simplifying the car seat concept, it could cut a few too many things out of the decision-making process for parents who are bombarded with advice on how to buy car seats from the birth of their child until that child has a driver’s license.

A forward-facing inflatable car seat is already on the market, the Easy Car Seat, which advertises on its site that it complies with US and EU car seat safety standards.

If Volvo’s inflatable car seat comes to market, will parents be willing to suspend all of the images of hard-sided seat fortresses that have been drilled into their heads by law enforcement, firemen, pediatricians, child safety experts, and their own friends and family? 

Assuming the seat performs up to top safety standards, if it operates with the ease of a camp chair, parents might think it too easy to be safe.

The news of this new car-seat prototype comes as a major car seat manufacturer, Baby Trend, announced a recall of more than 16,000 car seats earlier this week, due to buckle failure, according to the International Business Times

This recall follows news of recalls from two other major car seat makers, Graco (which recalled more than 3 million seats in February) and Evenflo (which recalled approximately 1.3 million seats last week), also for buckle and harness issues.

Parents interested in finding out more details about these recalls can contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153), or go to

If the car seat purchasing gets too out of hand, parents can always choose to stick with biking. Good news is that Swedish company Hovding, has created an inflatable bike helmet that inflates on impact, so the Swedes seem to have you covered with inflatable safety no matter what mode of transportation you choose.

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