CBC Kids’ Programming: Combining Learning and Fun

photo (8)File this under things I never thought I’d say: if I had it all to do again, I would let my preschoolers watch more television.  At least, that’s how I feel after meeting some of the great minds behind CBC children’s programming.

I love meeting people who are infectiously enthusiastic about their jobs, and that was very much the case at CBC Kids’ Days when I met Kim Wilson, creative head of CBC children’s programming, and Dr. Lynn Oldershaw, child psychologist and children’s’ programming consultant for Kids’ CBC.  They were introducing three new shows coming to CBC Kids– Chirp, The Moblees, and You & Me–and they invited 4Mothers along to their Very Important Picnic, where parents and kids could mix and mingle and meet some of the people in front of and behind the camera.

(Confession: I have a crush on Mamma Yamma and I got to meet her!  In the potato flesh!)

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Almost as exciting as that celebrity spotting, I learned a lot about their whole child approach to children’s programming and how their shows fill their mandate to educate and empower children.

“We are not just making content, we are making a difference.”

Kim Wilson

Both Kim and Lynn emphasized how television can make a positive difference to preschool-aged viewers, and, I confess, I was a bit skeptical at first.  As a rule, I place tight limits on screen time because I’d prefer my kids to be active, but as Lynn pointed out, preschoolers do not watch television passively in the way that adults and older children do.  Their minds are constantly working as they watch, and they are active consumers of what’s on the screen.  If you make sure to put them in front of quality, interactive programming, then they will engage and learn.

The team at CBC ensures that learning happens with their Whole Child Development Approach to programming, in which five areas of development are being targeted in shows that are very interactive:

1.  Cognitive Growth (science, spelling, numeracy, learning to read; Bookaboo, Monster Math Squad)

2. Social Skills (equally important in preparing for academic success is how to get along with other children; Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood)

3. Emotional Intelligence (empowering kids to identify and regulate their emotions and then problem-solve to cope with powerful emotions; Poko, The Adventures of Napkin Man)

4. Creativity (music, art, storytelling–children have an enormous capacity for creativity, and quality programming will stimulate it, not stifle it, by enabling kids to extend on what they see and hear; Artzooka; I noticed how simple the monsters in Monster Math would be to draw ourselves)

5. Physical Development (many aspects of the programming encourage, and even require, kids to move in order to propel the story; Bo on the Go)

I was thrilled to learn that John Mighton, of Jump Math fame, was a consultant on the numeracy content in Monster Math Squad, and Mary Gordon, who founded Roots of Empathy, was a consultant for the emotional intelligence content of The Adventures of Napkin Man.  These are thinkers and activists whose work I have long admired, and to hear that they are contributing to children’s television is nothing short of delightful.

We had a great day at the CBC studios, and I left feeling really grateful to have had the chance to look behind the curtain.  It has given me a much rosier view of how the small screen can be a positive part of at home learning.

 

50 Things to Do Outside

Have you seen the list of 50 Things to Do Before You Are 11 3/4 from England’s National Trust?  It’s brilliant.

I’m a big fan of the bucket-list approach to living.  (We are steadily working our way through 1001 Children’s Books to Read Before You Grow Up.  I plan never to be too old for anything in that book.  I love the whole series.)

Give me a list and I itch to get ticking.  Is it even possible to try 1001 Whiskeys Before You Die?  There’s only one way to find out!  It’s the journey and not the destination, right?

What I love about the National Trust List is that it is as much a starting point for infinite adventures as it is a finite list.  It works for the task-oriented, but also for those who like to wander off the beaten path.  It pushes you further into the wild, and it makes you open your eyes to the wilderness on your urban doorstep.

Middlest and I were walking through a ravine the other day, and he said, “People just see the danger in the wild.  They don’t see the good things.”  We started to name the good things.  We ran out of ravine before we ran out of ideas.

conkersI grew up playing conkers in England.  You tie a chestnut onto a string, and then you try to knock your opponent’s chestnut off of her string.  The enormous crispiness of those brown leaves, the prickle of the nut case, and the smell of weather cooling is forever part of my sensory memory.  I don’t know why conkers isn’t popular in Canada, but because it isn’t, chestnuts are just another tree to my boys, and they probably could not name it.  Chestnut, maple, oak: these are trees that I am confident I can identify in almost all seasons, but as Middlest and I were walking, I realized that I could not name nearly all of the trees we walked past.  It awoke in me a desire to learn to identify all of the trees in our neighbourhood.  They are so much a part of our lives, and yet we don’t know all of their names.

treeI’ve taken to carrying my tree guide to the park, to taking new routes with new trees, and while the kids play soccer, I wander around looking at the trees.  Then they wander over and have a peek and help me to identify the leaf shape and find the right name.

And, lo and behold, we all have a name for the fragrant tree that brings us so much joy when it’s in blossom in June and July.  Hello, Linden.  So nice to know your name.

Comparative Literature for Kids

hr_Maleficent_42One of the at-home learning activities my kids have been most invested in and most enthusiastic about has been my kid-friendly version of comparative literature: taking one fairy tale and finding as many versions  of it as we can find.  This includes not only looking at different authors’ but also different illustrators’ takes on the standard tales.  Sometimes, we even discover clever retellings of the stories that draw attention to their absurdities.

My kids have loved this approach to fairy tales, and it offers so many points of departure for discussing the stories and how they are told.

  • Is there a reason why the bad guy is a bad guy?
  • Does the story give any motivation?
  • Are the good guys always good?
  • Do girls always have to be princesses?
  • Do boys always have to be the heroes?
  • How does the author change the original story?
  • How does that change the message?
  • Why are so many kids in stories orphans?
  • Why is the forest always scary?
  • Is the animal a helper or an enemy?
  • How would the story be different if an animal told it?
  • Which illustrations do you like best?  Why?
  • How would you change this story?
  • How would you illustrate it?

Including movies in this comp. lit mix gives you a lot more to talk about.  With Maleficent out now, it’s a great time to dig out “Sleeping Beauty” again, both the tales and Disney’s original animated movie.  I loved watching it with my kids and talking about what a difference it makes to tell the story from the antagonist’s point of view.  I loved how they reference Disney’s illustration of Maleficent with those magnificent cheekbones!  I loved how we finally get a motivation for a terribly two-dimensional Disney demon.  The movie gave us so much to talk about in terms of stock characters and how it’s so much more interesting when the story is not just about good vs. evil.

Here’s what has worked for me and my boys.

For kids up to age six, decide on a fairy tale, and go to the library and find as many different illustrated picture book versions as you can.  This worked wonderfully for us with boys of different ages, because each child will spot different things and be attracted to different aspects of the books.

fairy-tales-from-the-brothers-grimmFor kids from six to ten, go back to the original versions from the Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault, Andrew Lang and Hans Christian Andersen.  Some of these are much more creepy and violent than their Disney incarnations!  Some you’ve never heard of.  Philip Pullman recently published his tellings of the stories of the Brothers Grimm, complete with information about the origin and adaptations of the stories and why some have lasted longer than others.

Fairy tales are so elastic, they even lend themselves to including tweens and teens.  If you read the picture books to all the kids, middle grade readers can go off and read books like The Grimm Sisters, or for mature readers, Angela Carter’s retellings in The Bloody Chamber.   For movie adaptations for older kids, there are recent movie version of Red Riding Hood and Snow White and the Huntsman.

Here are some  other great retellings to share:

  • Philip Pullman retells Cinderella from the point of view of one of the rats who got changed into horses in I Was a Rat.  Funny.
  • The Sisters Grimm series of nine middle-grade novels by Michael Buckley tells the story of two girl detectives in the land of Everafters.  Addictive.
  • A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz is the first of a trilogy that retells the story of Hansel and Gretel for middle grade readers.  Page-turners.
  • Sweetly by Jackson Pearce also retells Hansel and Gretel for young adults.  About to find out….  Just ordered it.

Can you suggest any other retellings?  (Honestly, I’m hopeless.  I’ve added a dozen books to my wish list while writing this post and looking at these lists.  Hennepin County LibraryGoodreadsEpic Reads.  )

YA_Retellings_ALL_Web-3

 

 

 

Learning to Draw

Our theme for our posts for July is, loosely, homeschooling: learning at home.  Partly, we are talking about avoiding the summer slide, but we are also looking at how learning at home and outside of the classroom is important for broadening our kids’ horizons.  And, yes, we include our trip to LEGOLAND in the learning category!  You should have seen how the boys looked at each others’ car models and sought advice and inspiration from each other to make their cars faster.

One of my goals for myself and my kids this summer is to create more art.  I am powerfully drawn to art supply stores in a way that totally defies logic because I can’t draw!  All those gorgeous colours of markers, and here’s be barely able to draw a smiley face.

I’d like to change that.

Here are three sets of books that I have found really useful.

animalsEd Emberley’s illustration instruction is an outstanding place to start, not only because the method is so simple and fun but because results are so instant.  Seriously, no one can mess this up.  We have several of his books, but the web site is fun and useful, too.  It has printable sheets and animated instruction.  I really like the step-by-step method, but also how he includes ways to vary the basic image.  We own a copy of his Drawing Book of Animals, originally published in 1970.  It is dedicated to “the boy I was, the book I could not find.”  That broke my heart a little.  Well, your boys and girls can find both the book and the web site and can get busy making art right away.  His fingerprint illustrations are particularly fun, and they even incorporate literacy into the method: if you can write IVY LOU, you can draw an owl.

owl

Another series I love is based on shapes.  Chris Hart has a whole line of illustration instruction books, but the ones I go to all the time are his very basic shape-based ones: Draw a Triangle/Circle/Square, Draw Anything.

drawAgain, the key to the success of these books is step-by-step instruction and instant gratification.  My son’s hockey team, whose logo was a deer, made it to the finals in their division a few years back.  For luck, I decided to give them all lucky underwear (inspiration from the coach, who had a pair) and I went to this book to find a super-simple image of a deer to draw onto the underwear.  Huge hit.

20Finally, I have fallen in love with a great series of books that encourage artists not only to make art but to find a style that suits them: the 20 Ways to Draw series from Quarry books.  The illustrations are a lot more advanced, but the books demonstrate various styles for illustrating the same object, from simple to more complicated.  There is no step-by-step instruction, but there is a lot of inspiration!

20-ways-draw-penguin-244

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TMN-logo_Square1A reminder that voting is open for the best mom blog of 2014, for which we are thrilled to have been nominated.

Please head over to Toronto Mom Now and check out the other nominees.  You can vote for your favourite three.  Voting closes on Monday, July 14.

 

Exciting News!

TMN-logo_Square1We’ve got some exciting news to share!  4Mothers1Blog has been nominated for Toronto Mom Now’s Toronto Mom Blogger 2014 Award!

Please head over to Toronto Mom Now and check out the other nominees.  Lots of great reading out there!

We love what we do, and we are so grateful that one of you nominated us for this award.  (We’d love to thank you in person if you’d like to send us an email!)

Please check out the blogs on the list, and vote for your favourite three.  Voting closes on Monday, July 14.

 

 

 

Legoland Fun for All

Lego ROM!  Amazing.

Lego ROM! Amazing.

Isn’t it a great feeling when your kids get along with your friend’s kids?

In the four years we have been blogging together, our boys have never met each other but last week we all met at Legoland Discovery Centre and within minutes our boys were laughing and playing together like they’ve been friends for years.

Legoland Discovery Centre invited us to try out the newest addition to the Vaughan Mills site: the Ninjago Laser Training Camp and since Carol, Nathalie and I are not as fluent in all things Lego like our boys, we brought them along.

Waiting to get in.

Waiting to get in.

 

Our morning started with a group photo before we entered the Lego Factory.  An interactive entrance to the museum, the factory lets kids see the steps that go into shaping a Lego brick.  They can also measure their height and weight in Lego bricks, and create art with Lego bricks on ipads.

After this introduction, we hopped aboard the Kingdom’s Quest tunnel ride and were handed laser guns.  This group of boys was giddy at the opportunity to point, shoot and tally up their score.  The mothers all sighed.  We’ve long given up on fighting the appeal of “gun play.”  Truth be told, Carol got the best score.  “Hey!  I’m pretty good at this!” she said.  Props for mom when the truth was revealed.

The boys then spent about thirty minutes constructing their Lego Racers and testing them out on the Royfoss track.  It always amazes me to see what kids are capable of creating with no adult involvement.  As a group they cheered each others’ cars on and made the necessary improvements to improve their performance.

After that they worked up a sweat racing through the multi-level play zone while the moms enjoyed each other’s company on the sidelines waiting to experience Merlin’s Apprentice.  Seated in pairs (children under 120 cm must ride with an adult on all Legoland Discovery Centre rides), we pedaled up, up and away!

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Before viewing one of the four 15 minute 4-D movies, we got in the line for the Ninjago Training Camp.  The boys were excited to tackle the lasers and discussed at length their strategies with the enthusiastic operator who encouraged the boys to try the more advanced ninja and sensei levels.  They were all too happy to oblige.

The maze doesn’t last long but it is addictive, meaning our boys returned to the line-up several times over to increase their score.  Points are awarded by making it through the maze without “breaking” any of the laser beams.  The boys used their creativity (and their oh-so-flexible limbs) to hop, crawl and slide their way through.  The moms were not quite so limber but in all fairness were saddled with purses and extra sweatshirts.

When it was time to say goodbye, with the promise to get together soon, the boys made their way through the exit and of course . . . the gift shop.  Each boy chose a small token to remember their special morning by and mothers were thankful for the minutes of quiet playtime said purchases bought later that afternoon.  We left feeling that we could easily have stayed longer and not run out of things to do.

Thinking of making a visit?  Here’s what you need to know:

-       Shoes and bare feet are not permitted inside the play zone.  Socks must be worn.

-       The snack shop has a variety of healthier options but many options are not nut-free.

-       The washrooms are clean!  Hurrah!!!!

-       There are NO in-and-out privileges.

-       Adults are not permitted entry without children.

-       Tickets are less expensive if purchased on-line ($18 each) and children under the age of 2 are free.

-       The centre is not large and can get very crowded at peak times (holidays, school breaks, summer vacation, etc.)

-       Many of the activities are geared to younger children (under 10)

-       We spent three hours there as a group, and Carol stayed for another two hours and said her boys would happily have kept building for yet more time.  Out of ten, her eldest gave it a “10 google” (off the charts).

-       None of us had been before and all of us would happily go back.

Mad Mums’ Martinis

I hosted a Mad Mums’ Martini afternoon for some other half-day Kindergarten kids and mums.  This is the aftermath:

mad

Note that the jello salad is almost all there, the spam is untouched and the vodka … well, not untouched.

One of us wore pearls and heels.  One of us wore a twin set.  One of us wore one of 200 dresses in her closet from the fifties.

All of us had fun.

Because sometimes in this crazy journey we call motherhood, we have to make a detour for the carnival.

 

Guest Post: A Tale of Two Sisters by Kelly Quinn

The gender housework war sometimes seems to assume fundamental differences between men and women on the topic of housework, whether absolutely innate or deeply socially conditioned. I’m not so sure about that. Unlike Beth-Anne, Nathalie, and Carol, I have daughters, not sons. And it is true that some things in our house seem a lot different than in houses with boys. But their attitudes to cleaning don’t seem gendered.

My younger daughter, now 4, is a neat freak. Occasionally this is annoying. For instance, if something is a millimetre out of place in her room after I put her to bed, it is a certainty that I will be called up to adjust it before she can fall asleep. For the most part, though, it’s absolutely WONDERFUL, like when she takes it upon herself to wash the kitchen cupboards, or decides that a really fun activity would be to do the vacuuming together. Side by side on our hands and knees washing the kitchen floor? Her idea of bliss!

My older daughter, on the other hand: SIGH. Sightings of her floor are a rare treat (although I suspect my enthusiasm on these sightings is counter-productive). Clothes, books, toys—everywhere.  (I used to hound her daily about the state of her room. For better or worse, my husband persuaded me to leave her be, and just make her clean up the floor when needed for vacuuming. It is true that this has reduced conflict and frustration. And the room is probably no worse than it ever was.)  She’s a relatively even-tempered child, but the histrionics when I ask her to help clean up the house are quite something. And then the foot-dragging! She has a very transparent case of “if I do it badly enough maybe she won’t ask me to do it again.”

But I have a secret: I relate better to the slob. I do, like my younger one, get annoyed at mess: I can’t be blissfully content in chaos the way the 7-year-old seems to be. But when Ihave to do something about it? Internal histrionics and foot-dragging galore. I loathe it. It’s not just that it’s boring. It’s not just that surely there are better (more intellectually stimulating, more productive, less repetitive, etc.) things I could be doing with my time. I really viscerally loathe it. I very much appreciate and admire my younger daughter’s zest for cleaning–but I can’t say I understand it.

But that’s all right, because the future looks bright! Sure, she needs help manoeuvring the vacuum cleaner now. But as everyone always says, they grow up fast, and I’m counting the days until I can hand it all over to her, and lazily hang out on the couch with a book while she cheerfully scrubs away.

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7th gen 2You could WIN!

This week, 4Mothers will discuss gender and housework and how things look to us.  We love it when you join in, whether to offer your own perspective or to simply say that you enjoyed a read.  Don’t be shy; drop us a line.  Leave a comment on one or more posts this week and you could WIN a home detox kit from Seventh Generation valued at $50!  (Canadian residents only)

We’re All in This Together

Anne Taintor, we love you!  Shop here.

Anne Taintor, we love you! Shop here.

I often catch myself saying to one of the boys, “Can you do me a favour, please?  Can you sweep the floor/set the table/put the groceries away?”

Implicit in the way I ask the question, of course, is the idea that it’s my job and that they are helping me to do my job rather than helping to do a job that just needs doing.  This is not the ethos I’m consciously trying to nurture in my house, though.  It’s a throw-back to my mother’s way of doing things.  Not only did she do all of the repair/electrical/plumbing/carpentry/painting work, she did all of the housework, rarely asked for help, and was rarely offered any, more’s the pity.  My father is much better now, but when I was growing up, he didn’t even clear his own plate from the dinner table.

Not on my watch, mister.  No way.

Let me tell you, kids get readily invited back to this house on the basis of who clears his own plate after eating.  It’s not about housework; it’s not about gender; it’s about respect.  And I hope that when my kids visit other people, they are pulling their weight around the house.

But what will happen when they have houses of their own?  A lot, not all, but a lot, of that depends on the here and now.  My hope is that they will see a clean house as a thing of joy and beauty and just do what needs to be done to get it clean and keep it there.  In order to model that, I try to avoid martyrdom, I pose housework as a set of problems that need to be solved by us all, I make the clock and the schedule the boss.  Housework is just a job that needs to be done, and we do more of it before company comes over, but the house is usually in good shape.

I am a SAHM, for now, and for that reason, I do more housework than my husband.  When we both worked, the division was more even.  Maybe it will be again one day.  It really does not register anywhere on my radar of things to fuss about.  Maybe that’s because my husband clears his own plate.

Stephen Marche notes that while men have picked up a larger share of childcare and of cooking, they still are not pulling their weight with housework.

The only possible solution to the housework discrepancy is for everyone to do a lot less of it. …  The solution to the gender divide in housework generally is just that simple: don’t bother. Leave the stairs untidy. Don’t fix the garden gate. Fail to repaint the peeling ceiling. Never make the bed.

A clean house is the sign of a wasted life, truly. Hope is messy: Eventually we’ll all be living in perfect egalitarian squalor.

Forgive me if I am not in a rush to embrace this particular vision of equality, but “squalor” is not and never will be part of the vocabulary of this house.  Hell, no.  There may be a gender inequality between the married parties, but all three of our boys do chores and will, I hope, grow up to think themselves capable of and responsible for the care and nurturing of all aspects of the household.  Period.

At Issue: Housework

A while back, Stephen Marche wrote an op-ed piece about housework for the New York Times.  He notes that while men have picked up a larger share of childcare (cool dads!) and of cooking (manly, manly bbq!), they still are not pulling their weight with housework.

At least one thing is becoming clear: The only possible solution to the housework discrepancy is for everyone to do a lot less of it. …  The solution to the gender divide in housework generally is just that simple: don’t bother. Leave the stairs untidy. Don’t fix the garden gate. Fail to repaint the peeling ceiling. Never make the bed.

A clean house is the sign of a wasted life, truly. Hope is messy: Eventually we’ll all be living in perfect egalitarian squalor.

Lower the standards, he says, and the problem can go away.  Marche  is at work on a book about the end of the gender wars, and this, we are given to understand, constitutes part of that body of work.  It’s a great read, but so is the angry response from Jessica Gross.

She is quick to point out that lowering standards to let slacker men off the hook is no solution at all:

once you have kids, you can’t let them live in filth. Toddlers will eat dust bunnies, and parents will trip on the miles of plastic crap lying around. We’re not talking Martha Stewart perfection; we’re talking a baseline of cleanliness.

What’s more, she says, she has written a lot about the debate with which he engages, and he fails to credit her ideas:

In a way, this is just a classic example of chauvinism: belittling and ignoring female contributions, whether they are intellectual or domestic.

Will this quarrel over housework ever go away?

This week, 4Mothers will discuss gender and housework and how things look to us.  We love it when you join in, whether to offer your own perspective or to simply say that you enjoyed a read.  Don’t be shy; drop us a line.

Our guest this week will be Kelly Quinn, who has written for us before, and whose idea this was in the first place.  Thanks, Kelly!