Fitbit Fever

fitbitI love, love, love my Fitbit.

What does my Fitbit do?  Well, I wear it on my wrist and it counts my steps (minimum 15,000 a day).  But that’s not all it does.  It gets me out and active every day.  It takes me on super-long walks several times a week (10-15k).  During those walks, I listen to podcasts of everything from NPR’s Serial (addictive!!) to The Guardian’s books podcast to A History of the World in 100 Objects from the BBC to Quirks and Quarks form the CBC.  So, my fitbit keeps me up to date and learning about books, history, science and culture.  It takes me on new routes to keep things fresh, so I’m discovering new areas of the city.  My walks have spurred a love of making photographs, and I aim to get one good shot from each good walk.  (I post them to our Instagram account or you can see the current one from the sidebar of the blog’s website.)  My Fitbit makes me stretch, because after walking 10k, you just have to stretch.  It has helped me lose 15 lbs since the end of the summer.  Not a rapid rate of weight loss, but steady and, oh so importantly, enjoyable.  There is no overcoming resistance to go out for long walks, not even in winter weather.  It has taught me that I need extrinsic motivation to succeed, and being accountable for my daily 15,000 steps has been a fun and inspiring goal.  I just love, love, love my Fitbit.

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My Fitbit was a gift from my husband from way back last spring (Mother’s Day).  I was so excited to get it because I’d been grilling a friend about hers and how it has helped her get strong and fit.  Ted heard how animated I was and surprised me with one.  Then, sadly, I let it sit in its box because I could not find the energy to figure out how to hook it up to the computer.  Oh, what wasted months!  When I finally set it up in September (my new year), it took all of 30 seconds.  Seriously.  So if you are a technophobe, fear no more.  It really could not be simpler.

The Fitbit bracelet counts steps, but the dashboard to which it connects on on your phone and/or computer can also help you track what you eat and how much you sleep.  (My fitbit thinks I sleep a lot more than I do because I read in bed for a few hours most nights.  My Fitbit probably thinks I’m a very big cat, actually.)  I have found tracking what I eat to be really helpful, mostly because it makes me realize that snacks and after-dinner nibbles really do add up.  Again, it drives home how much I rely on extrinsic motivation to succeed.  Seeing a list out there and up on my computer screen of what I put into my body helps me pay closer attention to that body.  Some people are good at just listening to their bodies; I’m not one of them.

If you are media social, your Fitbit can talk to Facebook and to friends.  My Fitbit and I keep to ourselves, pretty much, and that’s how I like it.

I think that’s the magic of this thing: it’s customizable and personal.  When we sat down in September to plan our themes for the upcoming months, we each decided to try a new fitness class or activity.  I hemmed and hawed about trying lots of new-to-me things, but I really could not get excited about any of them.  Walking fits for me; it’s what I love, and I am so grateful to have such a simple and effective tool to remind me to do what I love each and every day.

Buy a Fitbit from Indigo here.

 

Talking Physical Literacy for Kids with Jay Tredway, Athletic Director at Ridley College

As we all know, there is more to a child’s education than what they are taught in the classroom – it is also about preparing them to live a healthy, successful life. Key to that is ensuring physical fitness is a core piece of their school day.

Jay Tredway

Jay Tredway

Jay Tredway, the Athletic Director at Ridley College, takes “physical literacy” seriously. The St. Catharines, Ont.,-based independent school has developed a Sport for Life program to promote physical activity among its students.

Ridley’s physical literacy effort includes an assessment of students from Grades 3 to 11 to establish a baseline for their physical literacy, measuring fitness and movement skills, a Zero Hour Fitness program creating opportunities for students to be physically active before school, and Teaching Games for Understanding, which puts a focus on skill development for students participating in team sports.

Jay will be speaking at The Canadian Sport for Life National Summit in Gatineau, Que., at the end of January, and I had a chance to ask him some questions about educating children about physical literacy.

Jay has kindly offered to answer any questions that you might have.  Just ask away in the comments section, and he will respond.

What is “physical literacy”?

Physical and Health Education Canada defines physically literate people as “Individuals who … move with competence and confidence in a wide variety of physical activities in multiple environments that benefit the healthy development of the whole person.” The key is the development of fundamental movement skills like running, jumping, throwing, catching and striking that give kids the confidence to play and keep experimenting and trying new things.

What was your inspiration for starting the programme? 

When I became the Director of Athletics at Ridley in 2008, I took over a program that was very active. The opportunity that we saw was the ability to serve better what we termed at the time the “recreational” population of the school: the students who did not really feel like sport was their thing or were not talented enough to make any of the competitive teams. The first thing we tried to do was broaden the program and expand the offerings by adding things like sailing and golf and ultimate frisbee. Formally termed “League Sports,” the first year of this new Sport For Life initiative saw participation rates increase and many more students became significantly more active daily. In the following year, I was first introduced to a national movement serendipitously called Canadian Sport For Life. With the support of Sport Canada and other non-governmental agencies, this movement to improve the quality of sport across the country had developed an annual National Summit in Ottawa, Ontario.  I was there in 2010 to learn about Canada’s Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) plan and witness CS4L make their first pitch for Physical Literacy. All of a sudden, I had a language to explain many of the things we held dear at Ridley but had been unable to articulate or build on. I also came to see just how dangerous our sedentary lifestyles had become, how they create a burgeoning crisis for the Canadian health care system. Now, we see it as our great privilege and opportunity to provide an example to the nation of how physical literacy and daily physical activity can be built into the elementary and secondary school system to serve the mental, physical and social development of our school-aged population.  From our point of view, the more healthy, capable and knowledgeable students we all graduate, the healthier, more capable and more productive Canada will be. We want to contribute to finding a sustainable way of meeting that goal in our 21st-century society.

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How have you put the Sport for Life programme into place at your school?

From its founding in 1889, Ridley has always believed in daily physical activity. So, on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, every student in the school is engaged in a minimum of one hour of sport at either the recreational or competitive level. We have three sport seasons and over the course of the year more than 80% of the school plays on a competitive team. At any given time, however, 40% of the school is in the Sport For Life programme. Our current incarnation provides students with a core sport or game that they play three times a week that is then supplemented with other games or fitness classes on the other two days. The students rotate through these offerings each week. At the beginning of each term, the students that do not make a competitive team get to choose the rotation that they would like to be a part of and we sort them into groups of 10-12. This winter the sport offerings include, curling, badminton, futsal, dance, yoga, spin, suspension training, core fitness and Zumba.

What has the response been from students and parents?

The response has been overwhelmingly positive. At the beginning of each term we have students who are forced a little out of their comfort zone in activities that they do not have any experience with. By and large, once they have had a chance to try these new activities and become accustomed to them, they really enjoy them. The parents really like the diversity of the offerings and appreciate that we are trying to expose the students to different sports that they could very well play for life.

How about the response from other teachers? 

The Faculty have been extremely supportive of this initiative. At Ridley, all of the teachers coach athletic teams, and the Sport For Life program is where a number of them get to build relationships and even participate with the students in the various activities.

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Do kids perform and behave better in the classroom after the Zero Hour?

We are going to find out. A tremendous amount of research has been done by Dr. John Ratey and his colleague on the significance of physical activity and its positive influence on learning and memory. This is why daily physical activity is so crucial in the Ridley experience, but we don’t normally do sport before school starts. We will be starting our first research project with this Zero Hour or “First Thing” fitness in January 2015. The science says that physical activity prior to learning enhances the productivity of the brain providing the students with better attention and ability to focus and stay on task. We will see if this holds true for the boys and girls at Ridley. If it does (as I suspect it will) it will encourage us to continue to consider alternative ways to maximize the physical activity effect throughout the school day.

How can parents supplement or complement what you do with their kids at home?

One of the best tools that has been developed for physical literacy in the last two years is the Passport For Life by Physical and Health Education Canada. These are assessment tools the Physical Education teachers and coaches can use to create a profile of a student’s physical literacy. The assessments are not used for marks but provide a picture of students’ physical abilities and deficiencies.  The results are totally individual. The feedback that these tools provide allows teachers to modify their instruction to address deficiencies or provide varied levels of difficulty for students as they are developing their fundamental skills. These assessments are online and students and parents have access to their child’s data. PHE Canada has also developed a great range of tools for parents to help them plan activities or make suggestions on what sports to get their children involved in to support their specific child’s physical literacy needs.

We have just completed our baseline testing with the Passport tool this October with all students from grade 3 to grade 11. The data were very interesting and really gave us some clear areas to focus on as a teaching/coaching team. The students also enjoy the feedback and no doubt it is a motivator to see if they can move up to the next level when we assess them again in the spring.

How do you create life-long physical literacy? 

The million dollar question! It comes back to confidence and competence. If we develop basic competencies in children and they build the confidence to participate in sport no matter what it is or what environment it is in, we go a long way to building individuals who are not afraid to try new things or think they are going to look silly in front of others. That resilience and those skills built early in life create the fertile ground for life-long physical literacy.

Is the motivation intrinsic or extrinsic?  Are you providing the kids with reward incentives to be active, or are you teaching them how to pay attention to the benefits of being active?

It needs to be both for maximum success. You want the intrinsic motivation to be based on the right information: an understanding of healthy calorie intake and burn, knowing what movement skills you can improve on the most and the right amount of sleep to make your body work efficiently.  All of these things contribute to your intrinsic push to improve your physical literacy. The extrinsic motivation is also very useful during those periods where even self-starters get a little haggard. Being surrounded by a community of people who are motivated to stay healthy and vibrant allows them to pick you up when you need a boost and you will be able to return the favour. This positive re-enforcement circle lifts everyone in the group to sustainable levels of wellness.

How can you help send kids out into the world who will continue to pay attention to their health and fitness after they have left the structures of home and school?

We work to do this by building a framework that they can fall back on. It has been our experience that students that have spent their formative years at Ridley use the tools they build in our relatively structured environment to help them find their path once they are truly on their own. Physical activity and a healthy, active lifestyle are a part of what we try to impart and teach everyday of their lives here. It is a facet of education, just like learning math and science. If we have done our jobs, just as their passion in language or technology pushes them to develop skill sets that will help them build a professional career, they will continue to want to learn and improve their knowledge and skills around personal wellness.

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Potted Potter: A Great Dose of Fun

posterOur posts for January are about health, and if laughter is the best medicine, you can get yourself a great dose of fun by going along to see Potted Potter.  You will have to hurry, though; the show is in its last week for its run in Toronto.

Beth-Anne, Carol and I took our boys to see the show in December, and I have to tell you that it was one of the highlights of my lead-up to Christmas.  “Attend” is my word of the year for 2015, but of course, I had had the word in mind for a while before writing about it for the blog.  Writing this blog has brought us many wonderful things, including friendships for which I am eternally grateful, but another thing I’m grateful for is Opportunity.  We are invited to interesting events and occasions, and I will be honest and tell you that I weigh each and every invitation very carefully.  It takes a lot to get me out of my routine and my happy place (pajamas, bed, book).  When the opportunity came to see Potted Potter smack dab in the middle of the chaos that characterizes the weeks in mid-December, I thought long and hard about accepting; I think we all did.  Like you, we all had a lot on our plates, but I wanted to get an early start on my word of the year, and I chose to attend.

I’m so glad I did.  It was such a gift to witness not only my nine year old’s belly laughs, but Carol’s and Beth-Anne’s too!  We all had a hoot, and you really do not have to be a Harry Potter expert to enjoy the show.

The premise of the show is that two actors act out all seven books in the Harry Potter series in 70 minutes.  It’s a fast-paced physical comedy that brings into play humour both broad and subtle.  There’s a straight man and a funny man, there is a wild and wacky frenzy as the two attempt to act out as many of the major roles as possible.  Unexpected costumes, props and choreography add much to the fun.  There are jokes pitched high and low, and the actors appeared to improvise references to everything from Frozen to Toronto’s Gay Pride Parade and disastrous Mayor Ford.  The jokes come at you a mile a minute, and while the kids are still laughing at the ones pitched to them, the adults are laughing at the subsequent allusions pitched to them.  There is even audience participation, as members of the audience are invited to participate in a Quidditch game, while two kids get invited up onto the stage.

Before the show, you can order a butter beer from the bar (the recipe is secret, but they will alert you to possible allergens).  The lobby and the sidewalk outside the Panasonic Theatre are quite small, and it felt very crowded very quickly, so you’d be well advised to arrive and take your seats early.   It’s just steps from the subway, so getting there and home was a breeze for those of us on the TTC.  Parking was not easy to find, so, again, arrive early to give yourself wiggle room.

I had one very special night with Middlest, and we went out for dinner after the show, just the two of us, and it felt like just the right way to kick off the winter holiday.  It would also be a great way to kick off the new year.  Here’s to attending!

Potted Potter is at the Panasonic Theater, 651 Yonge Street.  It runs until January 11, 2015.

You can get tickets here.

I Dream of Clones

magnets-i-dreamed-my-whole-house-was-cleanAnne Taintor is my hands-down favourite satirist of motherhood and the life of a woman.  (Seriously, click that link and look at her gallery of images.  Time well spent.)

Sadly, she has not yet captured my dream with her witty one-liners: clones for the whole family.

It’s that time of year when folks are asking, “What would you/the kids/your husband like for Christmas?”

I’m sorely lacking in imagination with my answers because, frankly, I want for nothing but time.

How can you make my dreams come true?  Clone me.  Better yet, clone me, my husband and my three kids multiple times so that one husband can drive one kid to hockey while the same kid stays home and gets his homework done and the same husband drives a different kid to hockey and I stay home and supervise homework and attend both hockey games and the third kid’s basketball game and I cook a huge brunch and we all sleep in and enjoy a pajama day.

We have a lot on our plates, but you know what?  We don’t want to give any of it up.  The kids can’t wait to get out the door to hockey, whether it’s morning or night, and while the enthusiasm might be slightly more muted for the academic extracurriculars, they like those, too.  They aren’t complaining about being overscheduled.

Overscheduled is what we appear to be when you look at the bulging calendar, but the word implies an unwelcome burden and zombie kids but none of what we choose to stuff the calendar with is unwelcome and the kids are thriving.  Our lives are bountiful and filled with welcome plenty.  I struggle so with acknowledging all that welcome plenty at the same time as feeling frazzled from so much running around.  I am a homebody, and I crave my quiet nights, but I do not want to say no.  I do not want to trim or cut or axe or delete.  I want us all home and sitting around the dinner table together and I want us all tucked into our beds on time and I want time for my kids to really get pleasurably absorbed in a project and I want them to play epic games of Minecraft/tag/cards/whatever without watching the clock and I want us all at the rink, four cheering on the fifth, and I want to experience that fabled feeling of being in the moment when the moments only seem to come hurtling at me at 100 mph.

So, what is my dream for Christmas?  The impossible dream: I dream of clones.

Bedtime Stories Are My Abiding Delight

I am a big believer in making time, and lots of it, for books before bed.  My family was even interviewed about it once by Andrea Gordon at the Toronto Star.

Four years later, and the boys are bigger and, significantly, they play a lot more hockey.  All three boys play competitive hockey, and we make 10-12 trips to the rink a week.  This is a good thing, mostly, and I’m a little bit proud and a lot relieved to be raising kids who are so eager to be fit and healthy and active.  (Not my DNA.)  However, hockey eats into time for all kinds of things: playdates, family dinners, unstructured time, and, yes, bedtime stories.

Time is never found, it’s made, and I make time for bedtime reading whenever it’s remotely possible, which is still usually four times a week of an hour of reading aloud before bed.  I am a stickler for bedtimes, because some of us are quite cranky if we don’t get a full night’s sleep, even if some of us are in our forties.  But if I can squeeze in a chapter before Youngest’s bedtime, I will always go the extra mile to do so.  I’m now reading aloud to Youngest and Middlest, and it’s all Harry Potter all the time.  After Youngest pops off to bed, Middlest reads by himself, sometimes curled up with me and my book, and sometimes for up to two hours before it’s time for his lights out.  (Definitely my DNA.)  It’s a magical time.  I am so profoundly grateful for it.

endgameEldest does not read with predictable regularity any more, though, and that saddens me.  He is at the rink most often, and he comes home late.  He will occasionally get immersed in a series, but it’s not a dependable thing.  I recently heard an interview that impressed me so much, I went out and bought the book for him.  (Seriously, go listen to this interview: James Frey being interviewed by a boy named Joshua for The Guardian.  It’s not often I am more impressed by the interviewer than the interviewee, but this kid is sharp.)  Anyway, I learned from this interview that James Frey’s new YA novel The Calling, the first in the Endgame trilogy, has a puzzle built into it, and the first person to solve the puzzle has a chance to win $500,000 of James Frey’s own dollars, currently sitting in a vault in Las Vegas in gold bars.  “This will get his attention,” I thought.  I’m glad to say that while it did get his attention, and while he did find my enthusiasm about the interview infectious, he did not make a huge effort to read the book quickly to solve the puzzle to win the gold.

Reading should be its own reward, and I’m glad that money was not sufficient enticement.  I have a quiet faith that one day, when there is somewhat less hockey (and soccer and basketball and swimming) on his schedule, Eldest will make his way back to daily and lengthy engagements with a book.  Reading is my abiding delight, and I do so want them to have that kind of pleasure in their daily lives.

Giveaway: Royal Agricultural Winter Fair

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UPDATE: THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED

We have five sets of family passes to give away for the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair!  (Each set has passes for four people.)

The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair is the world’s largest combined indoor agricultural and equestrian show.  This year, The 92nd Royal Agricultural Winter Fair runs November 7-16, 2014 in the Direct Energy Centre and Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto.

All you need to do is leave a comment saying you’d like to go and we will select the winners on Thursday, November 6th.  (That’s tomorrow!  Enter now!)

 

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Meditating with Pattern-Making

photo 1 (3)Meditating and me, we just don’t click.  I can remember lying in bed as a child, struggling to fall asleep, and trying to count sheep.  I never even made it to ten before I’d be off track, imagining a wolf hiding behind a fence, waiting for his lunch, thinking about what I myself had had for lunch, and would there be any mango left over for lunch tomorrow, and thinking about how Soandso had sat with Whojimmywhatsit again, and my mind would be off racing.

Fast forward to adulthood, and I have the same problem of extreme distractibility as soon as I am supposed to immerse myself in concentrating on nothing.  I’ve tried and failed to empty my mind so many times, and as much as I love a challenge, I do not like repeated failure.

This past summer, though, as I was hunting for how-to books for making art with my kids, I stumbled upon a series of books about pattern-making called Zentangle.

The Zentangle Method is a way to create images by drawing structured patterns. It was created by Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas, who found that she entered a meditative state as she drew her tangle patterns.  According to their web site, Zentangle began when Maria described “her feelings of timelessness, freedom and well-being and complete focus on what she was doing with no thought or worry about anything else.”

And it really is an all-absorbing, relaxing and fulfilling way to focus on something while thinking of nothing.

Carol told me recently about a tip someone had given her about how to occupy herself while sitting keeping her kids on task doing homework.  You know how sometimes, when you are sitting with your kids while they are doing homework and you get the urge to stick a hot poker in your eye just so that you can have something else to think about other than how much you’d like to escape?  Grab knitting needles instead.  It is more productive and less likely to end in bloodshed.  Knitting, once you are past the absolute beginner stage, is a brainless and soothing way to keep your hands busy when your mind has to be occupied.  Knitting also has the enormous value of giving you something in return for your effort, and at the end of the homework session, you will both have accomplished something other than screaming.  Drawing patterns has become that something for me.

Productivity is part of why I fail so spectacularly at meditation.  Believe me, I do get the irony of wanting meditation to be productive, but let’s face it, it’s not like I have lots of time to devote to getting it right.  I struggle and struggle and in the end I feel that I have wasted my time and energy and emerged with nothing, but not the nothing I was supposed to be aiming for.

Doodling patterns gets me into that totally focussed state of mind, gives me a feeling of well-being, and at the end of a doodling session, I have an image to show for it.  That is enormously satisfying.  I am working my way through doodling the letters of the alphabet.  This is what I made while the kids did math:

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If you’d like a quick tutorial on how to make one of the Zentangle designs, grab any old sheet of paper and something to draw with and follow along:

 

 

Tips for How to Turn Off the Television (Without a Fight)

tvOne of the transitions my kids like the least when we move from summer mode to school mode is the return of strict limits on screen time.  We are barely one week in, and already our heads are spinning from the number of things on the calendar.  With all of the sports, extra curriculars and playdates, there just isn’t time for television during the week, so our house rule is no television until after school Friday.   We usually have a movie night on Friday, and weekend mornings are fair game for whatever screen time the kids want (if the hockey schedule allows!) and it’s back to no screen time on Sunday nights.

Even with these limits, and even with a whole morning of available screen time on weekends, we still have a hard time when it comes to turning off the tube.  The kids resist unplugging, and there’s inevitably a squabble once the television stops entertaining them.

So at CBC Kids’ Days, when I met with Dr. Lynn Oldershaw of CBC Kids, I knew exactly what I wanted to ask her:

1. How can television teach kids how to regulate their emotions when the t.v. goes off?

2. How can we turn off the television without the meltdown that almost inevitably ensues?

Oldershaw pointed out that as part of their teaching of emotional intelligence, CBC Kids shows teach kids how to name their emotions, regulate their emotions and then problem solve to cope with their emotions.  Shows like The Adventures of Napkin Man and Poco teach strategies for how to manage anger or sadness, for example.  I’ve taken to getting Youngest to name the sense of aimlessness he feels when he unplugs.  At least if he’s able to recognize the pattern of feeling at a loss when the tv goes off, he can begin to find ways to overcome it.

Her advice for how to turn off the screens without a meltdown is to make empowerment the key.  Give your children choices.  The more control they feel they have, the less they will resist the limits you impose.  Have a family discussion about what is a reasonable amount of screen time and when it can happen.  Present them with choices before and after screen time:

“Do you want to watch television or play on the Wii?  It’s your choice how to spend your screen time.”

“Do you want to put in a movie or watch a television show?”

“Do you want to have lunch or go to the park?  It’s your choice what to do next.”

What do you do to help your kids unplug?  Is it a difficult transition? 

 

 

Elderflower Everything

stgermainliquuerI am obsessed with Elderflower.  Obsessed.  I discovered it a few years ago in a pop I found at Winners.  Do you know, I sometimes go to Winners just to shop in the crazy impulse buy aisles they have you weaving through miles of just to get to the cash register.  Seriously.  Just for that.  I find the best stuff in those aisles!  It’s where I found this elderflower pop.  It’s where my elderflower adventure began!

From a rare find at Winners to England, where elderflower pop is readily available at Tesco, and a habit was formed.  I drank a lot of it in England and brought home a bottle of elderflower cordial in my suitcase.

From elderflower softdrinks, I moved on to a discovery of elderflower liqueur.  St. Germain is available at the LCBO, and mixed with a splash of soda, it’s a little taste of heaven.

Also available at the LCBO is Rekorderlig elderflower and pear cider.  Serve very well chilled.  See above re: heaven.

Finally, a friend, aware of my passion, brought me a bottle of elderflower cordial from Ikea.

If you are feeling ambitious, you can make your own!  Recipe here from the Tree Council.

So, I’ve got several ways to find it, and now I’m working on ways to mix it.

Elderflower Bellini

A really indulgent cocktail that’s perfect for summer, is a simple mix of Prosecco and St. Germain.  Pour half an ounce of St. Germain into a champagne flute, fill with chilled Prosecco and feel the bliss.

REKORDERLIG-ELDERFLOWERElderflower Elvis

I made this cocktail for my Mad Mums’ Martini afternoon.  It was incredible.  At the time, I left out the beer from the original Bon Appetit recipe because I’m not a big fan of beer cocktails.  I’m thinking, though, that the Rekorderlig cider would be a delicious substitute for the beer and would amplify the elderflower flavour.

I also adapted the recipe by substituting vodka for gin and soaking segmented grapefruit in the vodka for a few hours.  I then used this flavour-infused vodka to make the cocktails and used the grapefruit for garnish.  Delish!

Virgin Elvis

Just add Elderflower cordial to pink grapefruit juice and add a splash of soda water.  Yum!

Please tell me about any other elderflower drinks you may know about!!

 

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.