Mama’s Going Back to School, Too!

Exactly one week until my kids go back to school.  Can I get an “Amen!” sisters?!

We all know that Back to School is a period more welcomed by burnt-out parents than by kids, but this year, my kids aren’t the only ones going back into a classroom.  I have signed myself up for a drawing class at a local art school.  The class is called …. I Wish I Could Draw.  So, perhaps, I’m not so much going back to school as starting all over again from Kindergarten.

I am one of those people who could happily take classes for the rest of her life.  Education is wasted on the young, and I regret so much not taking the Intro to Art History course in my undergrad years.  Lascaux to Rothko, it covered it all.  The textbook weighed five pounds.  My roommate took the class, and, honestly, at the time, it was not something that appealed.  But now, now that the same roommate has taught me how to really enjoy how to walk through a gallery, now that I have a much stronger frame of reference for all of those historical movements, now that I have a vocabulary for techniques and media, I am full of regret.

At least I have learned to love looking at art.  It is such a treat to go to a gallery and soak up all of the work on the walls.  I come away from craft fairs and art shows with a buzz from all of the creativity, and I think, “I wish I could draw.”

“I wish I could draw” is something I’ve thought and heard myself say so often that it feels slightly surreal to think I am finally doing something about it.  I do not expect to emerge as an artist ready for her own art shows, but I am so excited to begin learning.  I’m also excited to sit down with my kids at the museum and open my own sketch book with a little less self-consciousness, a little less trepidation, a little more abandon.

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from a store front in London, where we spent part of the summer

Having a baby? Going to a baby shower? We’ve got the latest in baby gear!

It’s safe to say that the three mothers are past the stage of babies, diapers and midnight feedings but we know that not all of our readers are. We’ve relied on our own experiences and we’ve tapped some 4th mothers to weigh-in and give us their opinion on some of the newest baby gear to hit the stores. If you boxed up the binkies a long time ago, you will still want to bookmark this round-up of baby gear, because we never outgrow attending baby showers!

BABYBJÖRN Bouncer Mini

Bouncers are a must for new moms. In fact, when asked for my advice about bouncers, I say with enthusiasm “get one for each floor!” This new, mini version of the classic BABYBJÖRN bouncer is ergonomically designed for newborns to 6 months and adjusts into two positions – one for play and one for rest. The baby’s natural movement rocks the seat, gently stimulating and soothing the infant without the need for batteries or remote controls. The sleek, simple design is a welcome addition to any living room and the detachable legs score points for easy storage. While the suggested price tag of $159.95 may seem on higher end, you’ll save on batteries and the timeless design ensures Baby #2 will enjoy its comforts in the years to come. Worth the splurge!

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My nephew was the official tester and this is what his mom had to say:

“The BABYBJÖRN Bouncer Mini is one of our most used baby items. I love the fact that Henry can bounce it himself, it’s easy to clean and you can’t beat the way it looks.”

Shaidee and Shaidee Bug

Have you ever put a blanket over your baby while toting them in a carrier to keep the sun off their bare arms, legs and tiny head? Guilty! Shaidee and Shaidee Bug is a cooler and more comfortable way to shade your baby from the sun and wind. Its lightweight design is compatible with most carriers and is easy to clean. Priced less than most blankets (including free shipping!), the Shaidee is an ideal gift for outdoor-loving parents-to-be.

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Fisher-Price 4-in-1 Smart Connect Cradle ‘n Swing

For the tech-savvy parents this swing is the crème de la crème of baby gear. Fisher-Price, a heavy weight in the baby game for generations, has launched the 21st century version of their much-loved swing. Two rocking motions, six swing speeds and 19 sounds that sooth baby all with the touch of a button from your smartphone or tablet! How genius is that?

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Anita Nursing Bras

We recently got to check out a great line of Canadian lingerie, and the variety for nursing mothers means that they can get great bras, too!  Anita lingerie is a 100% family-owned company dedicated to bring high-quality, well-made undergarments and swimwear to women. Each line, from sport to maternity, is available in a wide-range of sizes (larger bust sizes rejoice!) but it’s the design detail that’s truly standout. New moms need a supportive nursing bra, but the fourth trimester is synonymous with feeling less than your best. Anita’s line of maternity and nursing bras are available in every combination imaginable from seamless and wireless (great for under a t-shirt) to ultra-feminine lace. 

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Never Grow Up

There’s a new babywear shop on the block, and it’s as cute as a button!  Never Grow Up is an established babywear store in Oakville, and it has just opened up a new store at 1725 Bayview Avenue in Toronto.  It’s full of adorable, fun and funky clothes from newborn to 10.  There is a variety of designers, from both near and far, and the styles range from cutsie cute to cutting edge.  The staff are super friendly and helpful, and who can resist all that tiny fashion?!

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How smart is this?! A pacifier clip, built right in.

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For your little sleeping bear cub, a sleeping sack that ties at the bottom to keep him safe and snug.

*Full disclosure: My little nephew benefitted from the BABYBJÖRN Bouncer Mini and he loves it! We received no financial compensation from any of the other companies/products mentioned above. Not that we’re opposed to making a few dollars ;) Be assured that all opinions expressed are our own.

It’s in the Bag!

Here are some things that are going along with us on our travels this summer.  Things to keep us happy, safe, and sane!

You guys, I get so many compliments on these shoes.  I love them.  They are not only fun and funky, they are really comfortable and practical.  I have walked all over the city in them, and the support and comfort cannot be beaten.  They are also light, making it a no-brainer to throw them in the suitcase.  I was sent this orange pair, but now I am tempted to buy them in every colour of the rainbow.  Check them out for yourself at Uneek by Keen.

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I find it tricky to pack for kids when we are travelling: how to combine comfort, fun and respectability?!  I found an answer at The Children’s Place, where I stocked up on some new threads for summer.  Your money goes a long way at The Children’s Place, and with clothes so reasonably priced, it’s easy to find the kids something new and special for a trip.  I bought Youngest this Skylanders shirt, which he wore non-stop in the last weeks of school.  The shirts I bought have held up well through many washes, and he got so many compliments, I even picked up extras as gifts for his friends.

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Keeping kids occupied on flights and drives is one of the hardest parts of travel, and this deck of cards has been doing the trick.  Personalogy is a situation card game that encourages discussion and imaginative thinking.  It comes in two editions: one for adults and one for the whole family.  I got a sample pack of the family edition, and I used it on a subway ride with seven ten-year-old boys heading to a movie.  They loved it, and it kept them busy while we got from A-B.  If anything, they were so eager that they rushed to get through the questions, eager to get to the next question rather than answer the “why” part of the question fully.  Next time, we’ll have to reinforce the why component.

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Staying sun safe has never been so important, but what do you do if you are super-sensitive to sunscreens?  I have had the hardest time finding a sun screen for Middlest, who reacts with a rash to every single one.  I think I have finally found an answer for my kid’s unhappy reactions to sunscreen with Aveeno’s Sensitive Skin line.  We’ve tried it several times, and so far, so good!  Peace of mind, finally, under the hot sun.

AVEENO Sensitive Skin Baby Sunscreen SPF 50

And speaking of hot, I am seriously in love with Consonant’s brand new dealkalizing deodorant.  I was given a free trial with the purchase of their skincare products.  As a lifetime user of anti-perspirant, I was really, really skeptical about switching to deodorant, but I tell you, this stuff works.  I’m amazed at its odor-busting abilities, and I really haven’t felt like I’ve given up on anything with the switch.  Seriously–magic in a stick.

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Throw it all into a bag from Tom’s, and you will be doing good while looking good.  Tom’s has an extensive charitable aspect to the business, and you can give the gift of maternal health and safe births with every bag purchased.

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What We’re Reading Kids

How is the kids’ summer reading going?  Any good books to recommend?  Here are some of the books we’ve been loving so far this summer.

From Nathalie princess

The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton

Oh, how I do love Kate Beaton!  Her humour is acerbic and wry and her Hark! A Vagrant is a brilliant revisionary romp through history (and definitely for adults).  I was thrilled to hear she had a children’s book out, and it does not disappoint.  The Princess and the Pony not only undermines the usual princess in distress story format, it also undermines our ideas of what strong female characters have to do or be. You can download colouring sheets and cool stuff here. sidewalk

Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith

For a more quiet read, Sidewalk Flowers is a beautiful wordless picture book that follows a girl and her dad on their walk through the city.  I love that JonArno Lawson is the author of a wordless picture book!  There is so much to talk about with your child when you look through this book, and you will see that the author has done a great job of setting scenes that invite discussion and speculation.  Watch for how the use of colour changes, too, as you make your way through the book.

From Carol

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Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig

How I love William Steig! And how surprised I was when browsing in the library that I had not yet read Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.  Steig is so effortlessly masterful in this story, as the reader sinks deep with its suffering and flies high with its rejoicing.  His illustrations are perfect too – 1970 Caldecott winner – it’s all deceptively simple and utterly captivating for readers of all ages. Every time I see the last page, I fall in love with it anew.

peterPeter in Blueberry Land by Elsa Beskow

In predictable summer fashion, we don’t get to the library as often as we usually do, and have found ourselves enjoying old favourites from our own shelves. Elsa Beskow’s books are gentle and dreamy, with an understated by ever present reverence for nature.  Peter in Blueberry Land gets pulled out often, but the truth is we love and read them all: The Sun EggThe Land of Long Ago, Children of the Forest, Christopher’s Harvest Time and many more.  These books are hard to find in libraries, but we’ve acquired them ourselves and through birthday presents, and I’ve never regretted it.  A hundred years after writing these gems, Beskow is as enchanting as ever.

From Beth-Anne

Who is Jackie Robinson? By Gail Herman

This popular series of biographies are a hit with my kids. My eldest is a baseball fanatic and read this book cover to cover without much coaxing. He’s a reluctant reader, and prefers non-fictionimgres-1to stories and this book, plentiful with stats and pictures made for a perfect fit. He read this book aloud and the content, namely the Civil Rights Movement, sparked many discussions. What I enjoy about biographies, is the ready opportunity to source more information. To follow-up I found several videos on-line about Jackie Robinson, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other key historical figures that were part of the Civil Rights Movement.

Kung Pow Chicken by Cindi Marko

My middle son devours books. He reads in his bed every night long after I have insisted he turn out his light. I will admit to enjoying hearing his laughter echo imgres-2through the quiet house while he ploughed through Kung Pow Chicken by Cindi Marko. Gordon Blue is not an ordinary chicken. He’s been transformed into a superhero and along with his sidekick he fights crime in the exotic city of Fowldelphia. The witty text, captivating storyline and humorous illustrations are a winning trifecta, so it comes as no surprise that this book won the Silver Birch Express Award for 2015.

Your Alien by Tammi Sauer, illustrations by Goro Fujita

This beautifully illustrated story about a little boy befriending a lost alien tugs at the heartstrings and reminds us that everyone, in the entire universe, needs to feel loved. Sauer engages even the earliest of readers with her little alien’s signature phrase Meep! Oog! and unnamedFujita’s illustrations, crafted to convey earnest emotion, do just that.   In fact, my littlest boy told me that he knows the little alien is sad just by looking at his eyes . . .even if he doesn’t listen to the story. High praise from a 4 year old!

Max The Brave by Ed Vere

This humorous story about a fearless kitten that is on mouse hunt . . .and that mouse hunt turns out to be quite the adventure! Ed Vere’s light-hearted story makes for great entertainment but there’s also the underlying 9781492616511-PR message of self-acceptance. This is the kind of story that appeals to kids long after they (think) they’ve outgrown the picture book stage (does this ever happen?). I read this story with my 5 and 7 year-olds and judging by the laughs they enjoyed it immensely.   Here’s a trailer, guaranteed to excite your little one.

Summer in the City, Indoors

Too hot?  Rainy?  We’ve got you covered for some fun things to do with kids–inside!

Art

My approach to art education is to get kids in front of art early and often.  I’m always amazed at how my kids will respond to what’s in front of them, and, on one trip to the AGO, when they were given white play dough and coloured pencils to take inside, I got inspiration for how to approach museum and gallery visits: create the creations.

Now, whenever we go to a gallery, we take along our sketchbooks and the kids pick a picture, park and draw.  (Check with the gallery to see what materials are allowed.  I once had to buy an expensive set of pencils from the gift shop because our markers were not allowed!)  Having them occupied with their own creations means not only are they inspired to make their own art, but I get time to enjoy the art on display myself.

I can’t say enough good things about the AGO.  There is great programming for kids, and the current Emily Carr exhibit, From the Forest to the Sea, is a great one for families and is included with General Admission.  Younger children will appreciate the bold strokes and colours of her landscapes, and you can talk with your older kids about the haunting emptiness of so many of her paintings: the effects of disease and a mammoth logging industry that came with European colonization.

"Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky" Emily Carr

“Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky” Emily Carr

We recently went to check out the Andy Warhol: Revisited exhibit at a pop-up gallery at 77 Bloor Street West, where you can meet Queen Elizabeth, Marilyn Monroe, Mickey Mouse and John Wayne.  The exhibit will rotate over 120 of Warhol’s pieces from the Revolver Gallery over its run, which ends December 31, 2015.  Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students and kids.  Find out more at Warhol Revisited.

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Museums

Right down the street from Andy Warhol is the ROM, where you could spend all of a rainy day and more.  And it’s not just dinosaurs!  Follow up on seeing Emily Carr’s totem poles by seeing two of the real things, housed in the museum stairwell, a three-storey space designed to house them and allow you to get right up close to the amazing work.

 

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Movies

Next week, we will be reviewing a wordless picture book.  It’s not much of a stretch, really, but what about a wordless movie?!  I took the kids along to see a preview Shaun the Sheep without knowing very much about the series on which the movie was based.  I honestly did not notice that the movie was wordless until about half way through!  The visual gags are so great, and the Claymation so engaging, that I didn’t even notice the absence of dialogue.  We took along a friend who loves the tv show, and he found the movie to be a great extension of the franchise he loves, but, as my experience demonstrates, no previous experience is necessary!  Shaun the Sheep will be released in Canada on August 7.

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Hot Wheels & Summer Learning

The summer slide: it’s not just about losing ground.  Get your kids racing their Hot Wheels cars down an inclined plane, and you could help them keep their math and language skills in gear all summer.  And who doesn’t love a toy that gives extra mileage?  (I’m all out of slide and car puns now.  Promise.)

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Hot Wheels has great resources available to parents and teachers to help kids from JK-Grade One maintain their learning through summer play.  From making predictions to taking measurements, there are endless ways to incorporate math and language skills into car play.  Hot Wheels sent us some of their sets, and we took them to school for the kids in my son’s Grade 1 class to build and share in the last days of the school year.  The kids read the instructions, assembled the kits (with a bit of adult help) and then played with the fruits of their labour.  (Your kids can get in on this too!  Hot Wheels has a programme to get their toys into schools.  You can apply here.)

More and more, education in preschool and the early grades is play-based, active, and tactile.  By teaching math and measurement through play, we can engage tactile and kinetic learners who thrive on movement and touch.  By asking a few simple questions during organic car play, we can keep learning alive and active all summer long.  One of the most magical things about putting this kind of thing into practice is seeing how quickly it becomes part of the kids’ own method of play.

If your house is anything like mine, the Hot Wheels cars appear to reproduce like gremlins over night.  Put those toys to work!

  • Ask, “How many cars long is your bed?”  (Estimating, then counting and measuring)
  • Line up some cars in a simple colour pattern and ask, “What colour comes next?” (Patterning, colour recognition)
  • Line up the cars at the end of play time and ask “How many cars in the parking lot?” (Counting, patterning, estimating)
  • Take the play outside!  Use sidewalk chalk to create city streets and landmarks (school, library, hospital).  Give driving instructions to the Hot Wheels driver: “Take the first left.  Drive two blocks.  Turn right.  Where are you?”  (Orientation, instructions, reading and writing)

There are lots of ideas on the Hot Wheels FUNdamentals web site, as well as activity sheets to download.  Both incorporate learning so organically, the kids won’t even know you’re sneaking some learning in with their summer fun.

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Tips to Help Your Picky Eaters

It’s food month here at 4Mothers, and we have been reveling in our taste adventures.  What do you do, though, if you love a wide variety of foods but your kids have distinctly more limited tastes?  What do you do if your child eats such a limited range of foods, that the whole family ends up restricted by the picky eater’s choices?

I recently read Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating, a guide by Katja Rowell and Jenny McGlothlin, two professionals in helping children with eating disorders.  I have to tell you that my first reaction was to count my blessings that my own picky eater is far and away more easy to feed than the children profiled in this book.  This is a book for parents and caregivers of extreme picky eaters, children who do not eat “enough quantity or variety to support healthy emotional, physical or social development, or [who have] eating patterns that are a significant source of conflict or worry.”  Often, these are children with food issues that have sent them to a medical or psychological professional.  These children may only eat five or ten foods, or they are extremely averse to certain food textures, or they have sensory motor issues that make feeding physically difficult.  If you are one of those parents, I found the advice in this book so grounded in compassion and common sense, and I highly recommend picking it up.

This is not necessarily a book for parents of run-of-the-mill picky eaters.  Nevertheless, I found a lot of advice that can help all families gather around the table with less stress and more joy.  I found it full of great, practical advice, and I learned about some of my own unproductive approaches to food and feeding.

1. Eliminate stress from the dinner table

The number one priority is to create a relaxed and inviting atmosphere around food and eating.  Who doesn’t want that?

If you have a picky eater, the first step is to learn not to engage in conflict or power struggles and not to draw attention to the issue of food.  The idea is to enjoy the time you share around the table and for both parent and child to stop obsessing about food and nutrition.

How many of you do this?  You pick up your kids from school or camp, and one of the first questions you ask is an anxious or accusatory, “Did you eat all of your lunch?” I do it every single day!  The advice from these authors?  Stop that right away and take the battle over what did and did not get eaten right out of the equation.

Enjoy each others’ company; do not measure each others’ food intake.

It’s the same at the dinner table.  Eliminate the stress and conflict over food by relaxing the reins and letting the kids take more control.  Stop all pressure tactics, bribes and negotiations.  Stop all praise or blame.  The big picture is that kids have to learn to eat to satisfy the intrinsic cues of hunger, not to satisfy (or annoy!) an anxious parent.

2.  Create structure.

No more all-day grazing.  Kids need to learn to listen to hunger cues.  Make eating a structured and mindful part of each day, and make each meal and snack nutritionally balanced so that all eating opportunities are healthy eating opportunities.  Let kids’ hunger and appetite build between meals, and don’t dull the appetite with constant grazing.

3. Create a clear division of responsibility.

The authors of this book are refreshingly clear on what a parent should control:

Your job: decide when, where, and what foods are offered (as long as you include something your child can eat)

Your child’s job: decide whether and how much to eat.

Period.

No more one-bite rule!  Really??  Really.  Your job ends with putting the food on the table.  What the children choose to eat is their responsibility.

4. Do not put food on anyone’s plate but your own.

Do not serve dinner on to the diners’ plates.  Put all of the food you serve in the middle of the table.  All food is equal: broccoli and pasta, salad and bread.  It all goes on the table, and there is no division of adult and kid food.  No more us and them.  If the only thing your child will eat today is crackers, put them in a bowl on the table with the rest of the food.

Then let the kids serve themselves.

The authors even suggest putting dessert on the table with dinner!  If you stop using dessert as a bribe, you stop a food battle in its tracks.

In the short term, the kids may still only eat the plain pasta and a bowl of ice cream.  Let them.  Let them learn enjoyment and pleasure at the table.  Let them learn to trust that they will find things they like.  In the long term, when conflict and power struggles are gone, they will begin to expand their eating repertoire.

5.   You are not a short order cook.

Stop catering to the limited palate of the picky eater.  Make your menu, provide at least one safe food and serve it up without apology: “When you sit down to foods you actually want to eat, not only do you expose your child to a wider variety of foods, but you can also authentically model enjoying different foods.”

6.  Model healthy eating.

Eat what you love and relish it.  Avoid labelling food “good” or “bad.”

 

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I have put some of these very concrete steps into place in our home, and I’m loving the results.

  • I put platters and bowls of food in the centre of the table, and, sure enough, the kids were more willing to serve themselves a taster of something new.
  • After I told them about some of the tortuous strategies used to teach children table manners, like knives in the backs of chairs to enforce good posture (learned watching a documentary about the making of Downton Abbey!) we laughed about table manners from days of old, and the boys planned a night of eating fancy: dress up and pretend to be aristocrats.  This is to be followed by a night on which we eat like cavemen, with fingers and no manners at all.
  • My “picky eater” planned a cheese tasting for dinner when he had a friend over, and he went to the cheese store and spoke to the owner and tried five new cheeses.  He helped slice the fruit and veggies, lay out the cheese board and the cracker tray.  He ate like a horse, and his friend very gamely tried all of the cheeses, even the blue.  It was a huge success.
  • I’ve stopped calling my picky eater a picky eater.  Take the label away and the behaviour will follow!

 

Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating is published by New Harbinger Publications.  We were sent a copy for review.

Fun for the Whole Family: Interactive Theatre with 6th Man Collective’s Monday Nights

Monday Nights is an interactive theatre experience that is one part choose-your-own-adventure, one part private detective role play, one part choreography, one part gym class and many parts fun.  TC15021_Monday_Nights_slider_FA

The first thing that you need to know about Monday Nights is that it’s not just on Monday nights.  The play is a production by 6th Man Collective at The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen Street West.  It runs nightly (excluding Tuesday) until Sunday, July 26th.  Click here to find tickets.

Members of the audience begin the night by going into the theatre and rifling through the players’ gym bags.  The bags contain clues about the personalities of the four players, and you choose your team for the evening based on what resonates with you among the things you find.  You then sit in the section that corresponds to the team you choose, and put on headphones that hang on the back of each chair.  The play begins with the audience observing choreographed basketball drills and skills while listening to information about their player from the three other players.  Then the four actors lead their teams in games and challenges, and the teams compete for points.  You do not have to participate at all, if you don’t want to, or you can participate by helping to keep score or by competing in a variety of basketball drills.  (Tip: if you are a good player, wait until the end to volunteer, as the skill level required for each drill gradually increases.) The actor who leads the team with the lowest number of points has to do the costume laundry that night!

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My kids (boys, 10 and 7) had a blast.  They both play basketball, so I knew that the premise would interest them, but I wasn’t prepared for how much they loved being involved.  Even my more reserved child put his hand up to be a “volunteammate” several times.  They chose different sections to sit in, which was easy to facilitate because the theatre is small enough that I could see the child I was not sitting with easily.  I sat with Youngest, who wanted to volunteer for every single possible opportunity to hold the ball.  (Your team gets an extra point for getting new volunteers for each drill, so when he got to go up a second time, it cost the team a point!  Luckily he’s really good at sinking baskets and made up for it with points scored!)  Youngest got lots of cheers and support from our section, and he basked in the applause and high fives.  I was certainly not the loudest one cheering him on.

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This play has been a highlight of our summer entertainment so far, and I can recommend it highly for a night out with kids.  For an added dimension of fun, go with a group and sit in separate sections and compete against each other.  It was a novel experience, and I had a smile on my face the whole night.  I had fun observing my kids’ enjoyment, and cheering my kids on when they went up to play, but I also really enjoyed taking in all the aspects of character development, props, script and choreography.

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I love that the city has such a great range of arts experiences to take in during the Pan Am Games.  Monday Nights fits right in with the offerings at Panamania, and it harnesses all of that cheering, sports fan energy.

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