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March 31, 2009

What's up with Webkinz World?

I can see from a search of cyberspace that we're not the only ones who've paid a lot of money for a Webkinz animal and then had trouble getting into Webkinz World online.

That's pretty annoying, considering that if you just wanted a stuffed animal, they come a lot cheaper if they're not carrying a secret Webkinz code.

We bought Lily three new Webkinz pets for her 7th birthday, but getting logged in was a nightmare.

I sent an email to Ganz customer service, but got no response. That's after I searched all over their website looking for an explanation to the problems.

However I did find information about this on a site called And 187 people commented about it, and their frustrations with the website.

Good to know.

Click here and here for my previous posts about

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160)

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March 30, 2009

Youth sports dealing with the recession

"When a family's fortunes decline, the spending can be hard to justify."

Little%20League.jpg We're pretty interested in this locally, and wondering if it's been happening in our area (Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties). The question is, with all the talk and experience of a recession, are youth sports taking a hit? A decline in enrollment? Unusual strategies to keep the operation afloat? If you're in a league or run a league and want to weigh in on this, leave a comment or contact SunSentinel reporter Nick Sortal.

This ran today in the Chicago Tribune, our sister newspaper up north...

By John Keilman | Tribune reporter Chris Labeots' fledgling basketball career might well have been saved by an installment plan.

The Hoffman Estates 8th grader is built like a bouncer, but his game is more finesse than muscle. With high school ball in the hyper-competitive northwest suburbs less than a year away, he figured he needed a summer with a travel team to improve his skills.

But Labeots' dad, Jim, is without full-time work and couldn't manage the $875 fee. So team director Tony Reibel extended an offer he's been making a lot lately: He let the family pay in affordable chunks.

"Chris wouldn't be able to play without that," Jim Labeots said.

Sports are practically a birthright for kids in Chicago's suburbs, where playing fields, swimming pools and gymnasiums teem year-round with young athletes. But as the recession tightens its chokehold, parents are being forced to consider a bitter sacrifice.

From baseball to soccer to hockey, many organizations are reporting a significant drop in the number of participants as families slash their discretionary spending. Some parents have lost jobs; others worry they'll be next.

"People were scared before, but now they're really scared," said Stephie Arkus of the Glenview Stars Hockey Association, which was anticipating a small decline in registrations.

In response, youth teams are coming up with creative ways to keep costs down and help out the newly broke, hoping to keep children active even when their parents' finances crumble.

"One of the worst things we could do is pull kids away from sports to save money," said coach Jon Cabel, whose St. Charles Swim Team is trying to establish a payment plan. "It's [an organization's] duty to find a way to keep kids involved."

Even in the best of times parents sacrifice for their kids' athletic endeavors. The price tag of a season in a recreational league often surpasses $100, while elite travel squads can cost thousands.

When a family's fortunes decline, the spending can be hard to justify.

"Daily, I would say, people walk into our office [with stories of hardship]. Yesterday, one mom said to me, 'I can't [pay the fees]. I'm out of work,' " said Lisa McClellan of the Aurora-based Wheatland Athletic Association, which has seen registrations for its spring soccer league drop by 17 percent.

Check out the rest of the story here.

POSTED IN: Activities (143), Pre-Teen (57), Sports (29), Teen (158)

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Mom on the Go: April Fool's Day tricks

I'm not into playing tricks on friends and family members on April Fool's Day, but I came across a couple of cute ideas from Whoa, Momma! blog about tricking the kids and Dad if you're into that thing.

Including, making meatloaf cupcakes, "frosting" them with mashed potatoes and serving them to the kids.

Or moving Dad's car while he's a work and watching him search for it. (The cruelty! The laughs you'll share years from now. Like light years from now.)

Here's Whoa, Momma's full list. And if you need more idea, pluck one from this gallery of movie pranks.


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March 28, 2009

They have to grow up... just not all at once

I invited Len Simonian, president of the company that makes the Only Hearts Club line of dolls, to post in response to a recent item we put up about the sudden aging of Dora the Explorer. The Only Hearts Club collection is billed as a line of wholesome, age-appropriate fashion dolls and books that provide girls with a positive image and message.

I found myself nodding in agreement more than once as I read what Simonian wrote. I hope you feel the same. In the meantime, my question to our readers is: What toys, dolls and entertainment do you recommend to keep kids from growing up faster than they have to?

Here's what Simonian, father of a young girl, had to say:

You can’t stop them from growing up, but you can influence the pace.

Onlyhearts.jpgYes, Dora is growing up. She went from a 5-year-old to a 10-year-old, almost overnight. That could only happen to a girl in the fantasy world of animation, right? Maybe not. Have you been paying attention to what is going on out there?

How “fast” is your daughter growing up? Faster than you may think, or would like. When talking about girls today, the saying goes that, “6 is the new 9, and 10 is the new 13,” and so on. Especially now, girlhood is shrinking more and more quickly.

In past generations, parents may have been concerned about their college or high school-aged daughters’ innocence. Few parents, if any, thought to worry about that sort of thing for a 10-year-old daughter. They were still “little girls,” after all. They were either at school or at home, and not even aware of things like drugs, alcohol and sex. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case.

Three major factors have changed this. First, with the Internet and 600 channels of cable TV, children now have much greater access to questionable information, images and messages. Second, companies market items and messages to young girls that were previously considered inappropriate – such as thong underwear for 7-year-olds, or fashion dolls wearing leather miniskirts and thigh-high boots. Third, cultural norms appear to have changed. Things that were once considered unacceptable, even outrageous, are slowly becoming accepted – and parents are complicit in this. Who, after all, is buying these thongs? Not the 7-year-old.

Pediatricians now advise parents to have “the talk” with their daughters before they are 10 years old, because sexual activity is starting as young as fifth grade. A recent study by the American Psychological Association noted that girls as young as six years old are now concerned about whether they look “sexy.”

You, as a parent, have to step up and help. TV, music, movies, celebrities, magazines, advertisers and the Internet are telling your daughter what is most important is to be thin and sexy. Don’t stand by and accept this as “the way it is.” Protecting her does not mean sheltering her in a bubble; it means not buying her the revealing short shorts that “all the other girls are wearing.” It means monitoring what she is doing on the Internet and watching on TV, and who her friends are.

And it means proactively looking for good alternatives. Don’t just buy her the doll “everyone else is buying.” Buy her a doll that she’ll love and that is wholesome and gives her a positive image and message about girlhood.

Becoming a “teenager” starts much earlier for your daughter today than it did when we were growing up. She has her whole life ahead of her to be a woman, and she will be grown up before you know it. Help her enjoy being a girl for as long as she can. She’ll thank you for it later.

Again, my thanks to Simonian. By the way, I checked out what he said about marketing thongs to kids, and it's true. That clothing line with the initials AF tried it a few years back. Can't blame them for trying. As Simonian said, the 7-year-olds weren't the ones buying thongs. Sheesh.

POSTED IN: Guest Post (79)

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March 27, 2009

Stride Rite cuts prices on select shoes for kids


Baby needs a brand-new pair of shoes. Always. Put can you afford to fork over $40 for a pair of leather sandles or sneakers that your child will outgrow in months?

Heck yeah with this deal!

Shoe retailer Stride Rite is rolling back prices to what they were in 1999. The strings attached include the deal being good only for online purchases, the first 1,999 buyers, shoes in stock and those purchased through

At checkout, enter the promotional code: 1999.

For more details, visit the Stimulus Sale page.


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Mom on the Go: What to do with the kids this weekend

This weather should be brilliant this weekend with highs in the mid-80s and a burst of showers on Sunday.

momongo.jpgSo lather on the sunblock and pack an umbrella. Here are some things to do with the kids this weekend -- from Miami-Dade to Palm Beach counties:

Pony Rides. Enjoy the outdoors with a guided pony ride. Ages 1 to 6. The park’s regular weekend and holiday gate entrance fee of $1.50 per person, children 5 and under, free, will be in effect. Every Saturday and Sunday. 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., Tree Tops Park, 3900 SW 100th Ave., Davie. $1.50 per round or $5 for four rounds. 954-475-8650.
Exercise for the Brain. Kids age 4 to 10 will have fun doing indoor activities that benefit all systems of the body and increase focus and attention span. Please call ahead to reserve a spot. 10 - 11:30 a.m., Broadway Kids Studio, 9042 West State Road 84, Davie. $15 per class. 954-475-2627.
ArtWORKSHOPS. Explore a variety of art forms through hands-on experiences for the whole family. Today’s theme is “Happy Birthday to You, Sensory Cake ‘Baking’.” 1:30 - 3:30 p.m. 11 a.m. - 3 p.m., Young at Art Children’s Museum, 11584 W. State Road 84, Davie. Free with paid admission. 954-424-0085.
Disney On Ice. Disney On Ice presents Worlds of Fantasy. Audiences will enter the wondrous world of Pixie Hollow to meet Tinker Bell and her fairy friends, speed through Radiator Springs with Lightning McQueen, Mater and the crew, and relive classic Disney favorites “The Lion King” and “The Little Mermaid.” From wheels to waves, Pride Lands to pixie dust, Worlds of Fantasy offers excitement for everyone. March 26 and 27 at 7:30 p.m.; March 28 at 11:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; March 29 at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. BankAtlantic Center, 2555 NW 136th Ave., Sunrise. $16-$48. 954-835-7000.
Reach for the Stars. Story time for children with disabilities. Ages 3 to 10. Call for details. Northwest Regional Library, 3151 University Drive, Coral Springs. Free. 954-341-3900.
Eggstravaganza 2009. Hop into spring with the arrival of Peter Cottontail. More than 12,000 eggs will line the field for an egg hunt. After the egg hunt, take a picture with Peter Cottontail. Please bring your own egg basket and camera. Ages 12 and under. 9:30 a.m., Forzano Field, 2001 Douglas Road, Miramar. Free. 954-704-1631.
Family Trail Hike. This is a leisurely, guided stroll on the Lake Observation Trail. Get an up-close look at some of the unique elements of the Mangrove Swamp. 10 - 11 a.m., Anne Kolb Nature Center, 751 Sheridan St., West Lake Park, Hollywood. $3 per person. 954-926-2480.
Potty Training the Easy Way. Potty train the easy way by using the Baby Signs program. For parents and their children ages 1 to 3 years. Register at the Youth Services desk, 954-341-3900, then press 4. 10 - 10:30 a.m., Northwest Regional Library, 3151 University Drive, Coral Springs. Free. 954-797-7777.

Read on for events in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Saturday, March 28

Torah Tots. Share the joy and peace of Shabbat in this weekly, kid-centered environment through a family service of prayer and song designed just for little ones. Older siblings welcome, too. 9 a.m., Temple Israel, 137 NE 19th St. The Ballroom, Miami. Free. 305-573-5900.
Arch Creek’s Trail Tours. Join in on this naturalist-guided tour through a tropical hardwood hammock where you will find an assortment of interesting plants and animals native to South Florida and come learn about Arch Creek’s role in the early history of North Miami. 10 - 11 a.m., Arch Creek Park, 1855 NE 135th St., N. Miami. $3. 305-944-6111.
Climb Mt. Michimu. Climb the new 30-foot-tall permanent rock-climbing wall where kids can make the volcano erupt, ring a bell and raise a flag as they venture up one of the three courses. Climbers must be age 4 and older. Closed-toe shoes required. 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Miami Children’s Museum, 980 MacArthur Causeway, Miami. All-day climbing pass, $8; one climb, $3; plus museum admission, $10. 305-373-5437.
Cooking with Kids. Developed by chef Maria Cummins to teach children how to cook and learn about nutrition while boosting their self-esteem. This program includes kitchen safety, food preparation, cooking and baking, and food sampling. Ages 4 and up. 10 a.m. - noon, Juices and Bites Restaurant, 1014 71st St., Miami Beach. $30, includes ingredients, beverage and a take-home gift. 786-395-0355.
Oleta River Canoe Tour. Relive the river’s historic past with park naturalists as you explore this natural haven for wading birds, osprey, fish and the endangered West Indian Manatee. It is recommended that you bring at least two quarts of water, sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses. Ages 7 and up. 10 a.m. - 1 p.m., Greynolds Park, 17530 W. Dixie Highway,
North Miami Beach. $28 per person. 305-945-3425.
Giraffe-Feeding Station. Have the giraffes eating out of your hands at the zoo’s giraffe-feeding station. Open daily. 11 a.m. - 4 p.m., Miami Metrozoo, 12400 SW 152nd St., Miami. $2. 305-251-0400.
FestivArt. A street celebration with musicians, sculptors, artists and photographers exhibiting their work. 7 p.m. - 1 a.m., Espanola Way, between Washington and Drexel Avenues, Miami Beach. Free. 305-531-0038.
Family Fishing Workshop. Enjoy learning the basics of fishing along the serene Oleta River. Encounter our local fish while learning how to bait, cast and hook in our catch-and-release program. Hear fish lore and how to engage in stewardship practices. Ages 9 and up. Registration is required. 11 a.m. - 1 p.m., Greynolds Park, 17530 W. Dixie Highway, North Miami Beach. 305-945-3425. $15 per person.

Family Make and Take. Become more knowledgeable about the environment while making a take home “treasure.” 11 a.m. - noon, Pine Jog Environmental Education Center, 6301 Summit Blvd., West Palm Beach. $5 per family. 561-686-6600.
Creative Writing and Book Illustrating. Through writing exercises, family member and child will learn techniques such as metaphor and simile, and extend the student’s writing vocabulary to encourage creative expression. Class runs March 28 to April 18 and meets on Saturdays. To register, visit 10 a.m. - noon, Miami-Dade Community College, Kendall Campus, 11011 SW 104th St., Miami. $95. 305-237-0636.
Saturday Morning Story Times. Hop to it with stories about rabbits and spring. Ages 2 and up. Also at 11:15 a.m. 10:15 a.m., Wellington Branch Library, 1951 Royal Fern Drive, Wellington. Free. 561-790-6070.
Show-n-Tell Story Time. Bring your favorite toy for show-and-tell. Enjoy stories, a craft and a film. Register. 10:30 a.m., West Boca Branch, 18685 State Road 7, Boca Raton. Free. 561-233-2600.
Feeding at the Sea Tanks. Witness a feeding frenzy as one of our naturalists feeds our sharks, sea turtles and fish. 11:30 a.m., Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, 1801 N. Ocean Blvd., Boca Raton. Free. 561-338-1473.

Sunday, March 29
Deering Seafood Festival. Enjoy the sights, sounds and tastes of great South Florida seafood. The day promises to be the biggest backyard seafood festival on the bay. See South Florida Parenting at this event! 11 a.m. - 6 p.m. Deering Estate at Culter, 16701 SW 72nd Ave., Miami. Adults, $15; children 4 to 14, $5; children under 4, free. Call 305-235-1668.
Crandon Park’s Fossil Reef Snorkel Adventure. Join naturalists as they transport you to a place known to the earliest inhabitants of South Florida. Take a tram ride from land to sea where you’ll end up in an underwater adventure through a rare geologic formation located in Bear Cut Preserve. Ages 9 and up. 1:30 - 4 p.m., Crandon Park Visitors and Biscayne Nature Center, 6767 Crandon Blvd., Key Biscayne. $40. 305-361-5421.
Greynolds Park Guided Nature Walks. Join a naturalist-guided walk around Miami-Dade County’s second-oldest park to discover the wonder of our local history, flora and fauna. 9 - 10 a.m., Greynolds Park, 17530 W. Dixie Highway, North Miami Beach. $3 per person. 305-945-3425.

Pony Rides. Enjoy the outdoors with a guided pony ride. Ages 1 to 6. The park’s regular weekend and holiday gate entrance fee of $1.50 per person, children 5 and under, free, will be in effect. Every Saturday and Sunday. 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., Tree Tops Park, 3900 SW 100th Ave., Davie. $1.50 per round or $5 for four rounds. 954-475-8650.
Chess Club. All ages and levels can practice their skills or learn new tactics in this classic game. 1:30 - 3 p.m., Weston Branch Library, 4205 Bonaventure Blvd., Weston. Free. 954-389-2098.
Disney On Ice. Disney On Ice presents Worlds of Fantasy. Audiences will enter the wondrous world of Pixie Hollow to meet Tinker Bell and her fairy friends, speed through Radiator Springs with Lightning McQueen, Mater and the crew, and relive classic Disney favorites “The Lion King” and “The Little Mermaid.” From wheels to waves, Pride Lands to pixie dust, Worlds of Fantasy offers excitement for everyone. March 26 and 27 at 7:30 p.m.; March 28 at 11:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; March 29 at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. BankAtlantic Center, 2555 NW 136th Ave., Sunrise. $16-$48. 954-835-7000.
“The Jungle Book”. You are invited to come along on an extraordinary musical adventure with Mowgli, a boy raised by wolves in the jungle. With the help of his friends – the bear Baloo, the panther Bagheera and the python Kaa – Mowgli is learning to survive as they teach him about “Jungle Law.” This wonderful adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling story will delight and amuse audiences of all ages. Show times are 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. $14. 954-462-0222.

Playball Classes. Playball is a unique and original sports and life-skills development program for boys and girls. Playball teaches a wide variety of specific sports skills, and actively incorporates the development of life skills. Registration is on a first-come basis only. Classes run through May 24. Age 3: 10 - 10:30 a.m.; ages 4 to 5: 10:30 - 11:15 a.m. James A. Rutherford Community Center at Patch Reef Park, 2000 W. Yamato Road, Boca Raton. $110 for eight-week session. Call 561-367-7035 to register.


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March 26, 2009

Pull up your pants - and why on earth should we need to ask you to?

When I was in school, we never had a "Pull Up Your Pants Day." Never needed one.

But today, Plantation High School made such a designation.

baggy.jpgSeems the trend of young men wearing pants barely above the hips began in the 1980s as a way for gang members to indicate they'd spent time in jail. It caught on as way to show "coolness," independence and defiance.

Broward County public school officials stated their mission in this news release:

“In an effort to reach out to young men and increase their self-esteem and self-image, school administrators and teachers are following President Barack Obama’s call to, 'Men of America – Pull up Your Pants.'"

The program included community leaders, mentors, and alumni handing out belts donated by WalMart to students. Guests attended a luncheon with students involved in the Mentors for Tomorrow’s Leaders Program, followed by a forum and panel discussion facilitated for students and staff. My colleague Gregory Lewis wrote about the event here.

It’s good to put a spotlight on what many people see as a negative message, and the behaviors that accompany it. It was clever and wise to create this program off of current events. Hopefully kids listen.

Rod Hagwood shares his fashion sense on the matter here.

And DetentionSlip has his take on the issue.

Still, I’m a little disturbed – students are rewarded by the attention of good people for what is essentially dressing badly.

When I mentioned the designated day to my son, he said, “Wow, that’s good, because to dress that way is so lame.” I asked him what he meant by that. “Kids don’t even know what that means,” he said. "It’s just stupid. They don’t know why they are even wearing their pants like that.”

Let me be clear, my son has lots of friends who wear their pants low.

I’m thinking now, which is dangerous.

I should give a few community leaders a call and ask them to go have lunch with my son.

They’ll recognize him by how well-dressed he is – he wears his pants around his waist. And he's never gotten any attention for following the rules. That would be nice for a change!

But instead of donating a belt, (he has one, and uses it) maybe they could hook him up with a new backpack — a few zippers are busted on his old one from carrying lots of school books and folders.

POSTED IN: Cindy Kent (78), Family Issues (231), Pre-Teen (57), School Issues (135), Teen (158)

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Join us on Facebook and Twitter

MomsDads.JPGAre you on Facebook and Twitter? More and more of you are, and the Moms & Dads team would love to connect with you.

Click here to join our Facebook page. That's the easiest way to be notified of our updates.

If you follow us on Twitter, you'll not only get our updates, but we'll also point you to other interesting articles in and other Web sites.

Finally, we have a Facebook group called SSParents. Join that group to engage us and other South Florida parents in conversations important to you. Just type "ssparents" into the Facebook search box, join, and share your thoughts.

Hope to see you there!

We also have a more traditional Facebook page, and we invite you to become a fan.

POSTED IN: General (185)

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March 25, 2009

Looking for Disney suggestions

That special Florida moment has arrived: Our first trip to Disney World.


Our older son turns 3 on April 11, and we’re taking his birth certificate for his free admission and heading to Lake Buena Vista for the weekend. So now I turn to you, loyal readers of the Moms and Dads blog: What should I know about Disney World?

I know there are plenty of tips out there. In fact, a simple Google search turned up a discussion board about Disney World tips. One woman asked how she should wear her hair in the parks since she has "long straight hair and it can really get on my nerves in the heat & humidity." She got about a dozen responses, and decided to try a ponytail.

Anyway, trips to Disney World seem to be one of the few common experiences of Floridians. Everyone, at some point, ends up at Disney. It’s like New Yorkers and the Statue of Liberty. No matter what, every New Yorker rides that ferry to Liberty Island at some point. So that’s why it’s fascinating to ask for recommendations: Everyone has one. And I need them.

POSTED IN: Activities (143), Matthew Strozier (59)

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Common sense at last? Revisiting 'zero-tolerance' at schools

At last. At long last.

It seems there are some people in Tallahassee who actually look at a plastic utensil used to spread Cheese Whiz and think: That's not a knife.

dundee1.jpgToo often, zero-tolerance laws have resulted in students facing charges that are so patently absurd that it's a challenge to cover these stories with a straight face. Invariably, when school officials are asked to explain why a child should face expulsion for violating the strictest possible interpretation of "carrying a weapon to school," they fall back on, "It's a zero-tolerance policy."

Sounds more like a zero-discretion policy, and it's refreshing to see officials putting discretion back where it belongs: in the hands of those who witness these alleged violations and enforce the rules in the first place.

According to the Associated Press article:

Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, said his bill (SB 1540) would save money and prevent children from having criminal records by requiring that schools handle such disciplinary matters administratively. “Throw an eraser and they want to call it throwing a deadly missile, which is a felony,” Wise told the Senate panel. “When you get into the juvenile justice system everybody thinks your sins are forgiven when you turn 18, and I will assure you that doesn’t happen. It’s a blemish on your record.”

In 2005 an 11-year-old Hernando County girl was arrested for allegedly bringing a plastic butter knife to school. She was handcuffed, taken to jail and charged with a third-degree felony. A 15-year-old boy at the same school that year received three weeks of house arrest for throwing a pencil that hit a custodian on the shoulder.

In 2003... a 13-year-old Brandon student was suspended because his calculator had a knife-like gadget.

What's your take?

POSTED IN: Rafael Olmeda 2009 (47), Safety (59), School Issues (135)

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Should high school freshmen find out their class ranks?

As the mom of a high school freshman, I've learned it's easy to find out your child's class rank.rank.jpg

At our school, your kid is given a printout of the past semester's grades, which include a rank calculation. Needless to say, all the kids are asking each other what their ranks are.

Of course they all want to be as high as possible, and the frustration begins early. I began to wonder how important rank really is when colleges are looking at your application. I asked Lynn Lubell, publisher of, a self-help college admissions Web site based in Boca Raton. Here's what she said:

"While a high class rank is impressive, admissions officers tend to be more focused on the entire picture, including rigor of academic schedule, grades in specific classes, entrance exam scores, intellectual curiosity, activities, recommendations and what positively differentiates the student from other applicants."

So I will try not to obsess too much about the fact that my daughter is not in the Top 10. Until next semester's rankings come out, that is.

POSTED IN: Lois Solomon (211), School Issues (135)

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March 24, 2009

Arrested for chest bumping a teacher? Good!

Did a Miramar teacher overreact this morning when he had a 17-year-old student arrested for chest bumping him?

class_of_nineteen_eighty_four.jpgAccording to our article by Macollvie Jean-François, the teacher ordered the male student to go to class, and the student ignored the instruction. The teacher repeated his instruction and approached the teen, and the student responded with the chest bump heard ‘round the county.

Now the teen is charged with one count of battery.


I say this, admittedly, not knowing the full details of what happened. I can imagine a scenario in which the teen felt threatened by the teacher’s behavior and responded in a self-defensive posture. So yes, I can imagine the teacher possibly being in the wrong here. Then again, I have quite an imagination.

Easier to picture is a teacher giving a simple instruction and being ignored by a rude teen with an obnoxious sense of entitlement who thinks it’s okay to try to intimidate an authority figure whose only job is to make sure the kid has a decent shot at a better life. It shouldn’t take courage to tell a kid in a school to go to class.

I agree with the notion that chest bumping is not the same as taking a swing at someone, but it’s not as innocuous as responding with a nasty attitude either. I call it an act of pre-violent defiance. A kid willing to bump your chest is ready to do worse, and he should be dealt with accordingly. At first glance, I commend this teacher for responding with restraint and having the presence of mind to call school officials and the police rather than react in a way that would get the teacher arrested!

The teenager has been suspended, and police and school officials are reviewing surveillance tape of the confrontation. It’s a shame they have to, but it’s a good thing they can - for everyone's sake (including the accused student's). In the meantime, my gut as a parent is to stand with the teacher on this one. We should be teaching our teens to respect their teachers, not to threaten them with words or other means of intimidation.

POSTED IN: Rafael Olmeda 2009 (47), School Issues (135), Teen (158)

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If you think you're reproducing tiny "friends,'' think again

My kids aren't old and mean enough yet to hurl the I hate you!s around. But I know it's coming.

When your kids are young, it's tempting to start dreaming about the future, and the house you'll

Lily pouting.
have next door to your child and his or her family. How you'll walk over with freshly made Rice Krispie treats, and stay to chat and laugh. How you'll push your grandbaby in a stroller to the local exercise trail, and you'll have one of those cool grandma names like GiGi.

But these are the thoughts you have when your kids are young, and still nice to you. We mustn't forget that it's probably not going to last. And if you try to remain friends with your child through their teen years, you'll probably do some really terrible parenting.

My 6-year-old daughter Lily gave me a good dose of this reality a couple weeks ago. Lily is a real Momma's Girl. She writes me letters, she makes me homemade books that are stapled together. She draws pictures of us together, with lots of hearts. She's a love bug.

So she gave me one of her love notes. It said "You are the best mommy in the world. I love you.'' The word "love'' was in a heart with two birds, and she signed it. She also stuck a "sealed with a kiss'' sticker on it.

I put her to bed, and was rearranging some of her toys when I found a slip of paper that had fallen behind her toy shelf.

Here's what it said: "My heart is broken because of a big fat meany.'' It had some pen swirls, and said "ugly.''

I read it out loud, and she knew she was busted. I asked her who she was calling a "big, fat meany'' and she said, "uhh, my invisible friend.'' Great answer, but an obvious big, fat lie. So she admitted she'd written it when I had yelled at her for something.

Mentally, I extrapolated this to 10 years from now, or 15, or 20. We're going to have actual fights, I realized. Am I ready for this?

The best way to approach it, I think, is to simply remember: Act like a parent, not a friend.

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160)

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March 23, 2009

Reality star Jade Goody dies: Her boys deal with death in the spotlight

I didn’t come to know about Jade Goody until she became the symbol of cervical cancer as the young mother of two little boys. I didn’t watch her on Big Brother U.K. And I didn’t watch her on yet another reality series as she got the news that she was dying of the disease.

But her story has captivated me since she chose to die on television, selling exclusive rights to filming her final days of life. Goody died over the weekend.

As a mother, I can’t stop thinking about her little boys. What they must be going through. And that they had to go through this very tragic time in the spotlight of television cameras. In a flash, those little boys were forced to grow up and deal with a painful reality many adults have yet to experience.

I’ve wondered if given the chance, would I make the decision Goody made to die in front of the cameras. I’m glad I don’t have to make that choice. Goody’s decision was apparently a financial one: The money she received in exchange for her access would go a long way in providing for her children and paying for their education long after she was gone.

But at what cost to the children? I guess the millions could also go toward paying for the kids’ counseling, as well, because they’ll surely need it.

POSTED IN: Anne Vasquez (67)

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March 21, 2009

Well, that stinks: kid punished for putting the F in ART.

Sorry folks, but I couldn't let this one, umm, pass. I saw this one in the paper today, but savvy blog readers saw it on Strange But True yesterday.

Beans.jpgIt stinks.

The whole thing with Jonathan Locke Jr.

The eighth-grader at the Bill Duncan Excel Center in South Lakeland was suspended from riding the school bus for three days after being accused of passing gas, reports the Lakeland Ledger.

"It wasn't even me," Locke insisted. "It was a kid who sits in front of me."

If the flatulence becomes excessive, then the bus driver has the responsibility to report it to the school administrator, said a school official.

Trouble for Locke started Monday afternoon after school when a student sitting next to him started making noises with his mouth.

Then, students smelled a pungent aroma.

"I started laughing," Locke said. "It was a bad smell."

On Tuesday when Locke walked onto the bus, the bus driver handed him the suspension form.

Locke said he chuckled.

"I asked, 'What is this for?'"

The bus driver ordered Locke off the bus.

Seems if flatulence becomes excessive, the bus driver has the responsibility to report it to the school administrator, a school official said.

This is serious business. The Bill Duncan Excel Center is a last chance school for students. Get expelled from there and you're out of the school district.

Locke was sent to Bill Duncan after he was expelled from Mulberry Middle School for fighting.
The elder Locke said the whole situation seemed petty.

You're not going to stop a kid from laughing if it's (about) passing gas," Locke said.

What I want to know is, if Locke ain't the one that dealt it, is he at least the first one that smelt it?

POSTED IN: General (185)

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March 20, 2009

The big dis-connect, Turning off Television and tuning into family

We did what any parent must eventually do – we cut the cord.

Only in this case, we canceled the cable service for television. It’s very liberating - we aren’t tethered to it anymore.

Admittedly, it’s more of an adjustment for us rather than The Kid. We adults had become lay-a-bouts. We’d be the ones to mostly say, “wait, after this show I’ll [fill in the blank: help you with your homework; cook dinner; clean the house; put out the fire, etc.]

The Kid does lots of other things already. His withdrawal symptoms will be much less than ours. He plays video and board games, card games; he reads and practices Tae Kwon Do; hangs out with his friends and does his homework.

But I think us big people will survive too. This week, one of us focused more on graduate course homework and the other did more housecleaning.

Though the true catalyst for disconnecting from pay television and switching to rabbit ears was driven by cutting expenses, we’ll gain so much more than loose change. We already have, we’re re-connecting with each other.


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March 19, 2009

When is your child old enough for sleep overs

This issue came up recently with my daughter who is three and a half years old.

We recently let Ana Isabel spend an afternoon at a friend's house without either of us there. It was the first time we did that. We don't have family in the area. So we don't get to drop her off at grandma's or abuelita's house.

My wife was more comfortable with the idea of letting Ana spend the night elsewhere. Me, not so much. Of course, my wife had a lot of sleepovers in her childhood. In my immigrant family, it wasn't something we did.

We concluded that Ana is too young yet. But I know the day's coming sooner than I would want.

Here's what an expert says about sleepovers. And if you're ready to take the plunge here's some advice on how to organize a sleepover for the pre-school set.

How old where you when you had your first sleep over?

POSTED IN: Luis Perez (32), Toddler (127)

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March 18, 2009

A money-saving idea for bat mitzvah invites

I am about to do something I used to consider tacky.invitation.jpg

I am going to have people RSVP to an e-mail address for my daughter's bat mitzvah.

I began brainstorming this a few days ago as I drove back from meeting with a woman who sells invitations and stationery. My least expensive option was about $700 for invitations, response cards and thank-you cards.

I went on line and found some nice invitations for a much more reasonable price. I realized how much money we'll save if we skip the response cards (about $150) and the cost of stamps to go with them.

But in terms of thank-you notes, I'm not yet ready for my daughter to thank people by e-mail!

POSTED IN: Lois Solomon (211), Pre-Teen (57)

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March 17, 2009

Virginity rates poorly among some college majors

Remember this one when your kids tell you their college majors: There's a bar graph making the rounds on the Internet that claims to be an analysis of virginity rates according to major among students at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.

teachersex.jpgI'm sure the parents who sent their kids there are so proud, especially of their studio art majors, for whom the virginity rate is, I kid you not, 0. Couldn't find a virgin in the bunch. Of course, that's probably the catch: "the bunch," that is, the sample size, is probably too small for this study to have any meaningful statistical value.

By the way, if that last sentence made any sense to you, you might still be a virgin: math majors tied for the highest virginity rates: 83 percent have maintained their sexual purity, according to...

According to whom? There's no study attached to this chart that's floating around. Is it a hoax? One version purports to be from something called Counterpoint Magazine, but my efforts to reach Counterpoint have not been successful (they don't seem to have an updated Web site, and I chased down an e-mail address, only to have my inquiry bounced back as undeliverable. Go figure).

By the way, people who use words like "purports" apparently are as likely to spent the night alone as with a partner: English majors had a 50% virginity rate. So did French majors. Computer science majors were at 40%.

The likeliest virgins: math, biochemistry and political science majors. The likeliest non-virgins: studio art, anthropology and neuroscience majors.

You see, that tells me right there that something's wrong. Biochemistry majors are highly likely to be virgins, but neuroscience majors are highly likely to be sexually active? Huh? All that time, they must be busy manipulating pheromones.

I'll update if I hear back from the actual creators of this chart (pesky little things like methodology and sample size still matter to some of us). [In the meantime, if you're on our main page, click "continue reading" for the chart].


POSTED IN: Rafael Olmeda 2009 (47), Sex (16)

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We are not happy about Aug. 17 school start

How ironic that the county where parents lobbied the Legislature so hard to make school start dates later has it taken away from us, thanks to our own county school administration.

As reported today by the SunSentinel's Marc Freeman, the state Board of Education accepted the Palm Beach County School District's request for a waiver from the state's rule that school can't start earlier than two weeks before Labor Day. The district says it wants semester exams to be completed before winter break and couldn't squeeze them in with an Aug. 24 start.

I don't know why Palm Beach County can't do what the rest of the state does, or the rest of the country. Everywhere else, kids come back from winter break and take their exams, and they do as well as or even better than our kids.

I wonder if the state Board of Ed realizes they are opening a Pandora's Box with this exception. It will be interesting to see if other counties make similar requests, making the state law parents worked so hard for irrelevant.

POSTED IN: Lois Solomon (211), School Issues (135)

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You are not stupid

“I’m stupid.”


My 3-year-old son said this yesterday.

I said he is absolutely not stupid.

He said it again. Then just “stupid.”

Please stop saying that word, I said. Then I queried some. It seemed that a friend at school had called someone stupid, and it appeared the friend had said it to Alexander’s friend. It bothered him, clearly.

School can be tough, as we all know. I shudder to think of my kids hearing all the mean things that get tossed around schools every day.

But the word “stupid” isn’t confined to bullies in the lunchroom. We say it at work all the time.

It’s on TV (watch a few minutes of the AIG coverage today and you’ll hear it countless times, I’m sure). Questions are stupid, ideas are stupid, politicians are stupid. Really, can we escape this word? Is it realistic to tell a kid it’s a bad word not to be used?

So while it’s easy to tell my son that he’s not stupid, he’s smart, I found it much harder to explain “stupid.” I said it was a “bad word” because I knew that would make sense to him, but that wasn’t really accurate. Bad words are a different category. This word has value in certain contexts, but is just mean in others. It’s a difficult distinction to make to a kid.

It’s like the semantic equivalent of explaining that we bounce soccer balls outside, not in the house.

What’s terrible is hearing your kid says he’s stupid.

POSTED IN: Matthew Strozier (59), Say what!?! (25)

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Extracurricular madness: why parents should overload their kids' schedules

It's tempting to drop all your kids' extracurricular activities in favor of a little bit of peace. But you shouldn'

Haven't you ever heard the saying about idle hands and teens? And if there's not a saying about idle hands and teens, then we need to write one right now. It should also have the words "orange prisoner jumpsuit'' in it.

If you listen to all the armchair parent-coaches out there, you'll hear a lot of buzz about maniacal schedules, and insinuations that your kid doesn't really want to be an Olympic diver, or head of the golf team. Or a tiny karate prodigy, or a professional-level mini cheerleader. Or whatever. That you are trying to live another youth, a better one, by enrolling Junior in all these sports that you yourself just never did win the gold medal in.

Don't believe all that. A lot of the discussion out there about activities highlights the positive. Kids learn to balance work and play. They meet people, they're challenged to excel in something special. On and on. What busy person do you know who is a total slacker? What well-rounded adult who balances a lot of activities is a loser?

If you lay the foundation in your kid's younger years, you'll be glad when your kid hits the teens. Sports practices and games take up so much time in a teen's life, they have much less time to be smoking cigarettes at carnivals, as some of you told me recently a bunch of our Broward youth are doing.

Here are some links on extra activities:

High school activities

How to choose extracurriculars for your child

Best bets for after school

POSTED IN: Pre-Teen (57)

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Must everyone grow up?

All children, except fake ones, grow up.

Dora.jpgFake ones, like Charlie Brown and Richie Rich, don't have to. They can be children forever. I think that's what we like about them. Calvin will always be a 6-year-old boy testing the boundaries of imagination with his stuffed tiger, Hobbes. The Family Circus will always comprise two adults and four children (and PJ will never, ever talk).

In real life, you can't trap someone in childhood, no matter what. Time ultimately catches up: the 13-year-old and 11-year-old I met a few years ago, the ones who went with me and their mom to Busch Gardens to brave the 90-degree drop of Shiekra, they remain 13 and 11 only in memories and photographs.

And fictional characters aren't immune to aging. Arnold and Willis Jackson eventually become Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges. It's inescapable. No one cared much what the Beaver did as an adult, or who the Brady Girls married, or where Zack and Slater went to college. And don't even get me started on what happened to the Little Rascals!

Now Mattel and Nickelodeon want to prepare us for a pre-teen Dora the Explorer. Forget the hysteria of the blogosphere on this one: she's not Dora the Tramp or Dora the Streetwalker. She's a 10-year-old girl now, in a new incarnation that will be available in toy stores this fall.

Sometimes the aging of comic or fictional characters can be delightful. I loved the idea of Peter Pan growing up to become Robin Williams. And it was great watching the kids of For Better Or For Worse go from toddlers to spouses.

So is this new Dora a good idea? I don't know. Some marketing guru somewhere thought it was a good idea. And marketing gurus never make mistakes, do they?

POSTED IN: Entertainment (114), Rafael Olmeda 2009 (47), Step-parenting (59)

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March 16, 2009

Mom on the Go: Ready to free your napkin?

Free your mind and the rest will follow. En Vogue, anyone? (If you don't remember the earworm, here's a sample.)

There's a campaign underfoot to get folks to get more green. Clorox has even jumped on the bandwagon with biodegradable cleaning products. The march continues with getting folks to rely less on disposable napkins and paper towels and more on reusable cloths.

There are some easy ways to make the transition, read the McClatchy Tribune story here.

sponge.jpg I made the switch from my beloved, fruit-colored sponges to nubby, reusable cloths for washing the dishes. Instead of dumping three sponges every two months into the Great Landfill, I wash, and wash, and re-wash my dish towels.

I'm still reaching for the paper towels to clean up messes. But after downgrading from Viva to Bounty to save a few pennies, I'm ready to invest in some bar towels for mopping up spills.

But I think the real test of a committment to free (disposable) napkins comes at party-time. Is there anyone out there who solely uses cloth napkins for entertaining a crowd for a birthday party of cocktails?

Tell me, are you ready to free the napkin?


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March 13, 2009

Dangerous mix: Spring break, drinking and under-age kids

What’s wrong with a few drinks during Spring Break? Plenty if you’re under-age.

And youth ages 14 to 20 have lots to say about it in the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s 2009 “Why Not?” Spring Break Video Contest.

Participants submitted videos on why they choose not to make alcohol a part of spring break plans: It’s unsafe, is the prevalent theme.

Using and, the initiative provided peer-to-peer communication through the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco’s education and prevention efforts. The partnership also incorporated the Department of Education that encouraged educators throughout the state to share the contest with students.

The emphasis is a good year-round topic: after all, we have holidays, weekends and summers too!

Make it a family time moment when you check out the 30-second spots at


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March 12, 2009

My daughter is allergic to the cat; He has to go

Mac, our gold tabby, was there when I started dating my wife, Carrie Ann. He saw us bring home Ana Isabel and then Lucas Emilio.
Ana, 3-1/2 years old, loves the cat. We keep close tabs on Lucas when he's near Mac since he's just 10 months old and likes to grab fur.

Mac has always been part of the family. But this week we found out Ana's allergic to him.

A few weeks back, Ana had an emergency visit to the pediatrician when she was having trouble breathing. After two more visits to the doctor and a specialist there's no way around it.

Mac has got to go.

For some time, my daughter has had the classic symptoms of an allergy sufferer. We thought it was a recurring cold. The specialist is now treating her.

The American College of Asthma, Allergies & Immunology has this brochure that gives tips on controlling allergens in the house. We found out we were doing many of the wrong things.

After we get over the parent guilt of having exposed our children to an allergen, we have to deal with finding a new home for a 12-year-old cat. We've posted fliers, hit up Facebook friends and checked with other cat lovers. We'll look at rescue organization as well. But if we can't find the cat a new home, he has go either way. That's the hard part.

Anybody want a warm, lovable lap cat?

POSTED IN: Health (111), Luis Perez (32), Pets (4), Toddler (127)

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Oh my Jonas: Guess who got spoofed on South Park!

Maybe the potty-mouthed kids from South Park could use a visit from the too-wholesome-to-be-true Jonas Brothers.

Or maybe putting the two groups on the same screen takes something away from both of them. Who knows?

kenny.jpgI missed last night's season premiere of the raunchy Comedy Central staple, and in truth, South Park hasn't been on my required viewing list for years. Generally, I think it's hysterical. I just don't have time for it.

In any event, it seems they took on the Jonas Brothers in an episode that, according to one reviewer, somehow managed to stand up for religion and sexual freedom at the same time.

The basic plot is that Kenny (the one who's always dying) has a girlfriend he tries to get into bed, so he takes her to a Jonas Brothers concert, where they receive purity rings. The brothers end up standing up to Disney, which (in the show) is using the brothers in an underhanded way to promote adolescent sex.

My younger stepdaughter is a big Jonas Brothers fan, and she doesn't take too kindly to seeing them mocked.

Will she want to see this episode? I don't know. If she does want to see it, should she be allowed to?

Fortunately, the show's not on my stepkids' radar, so my wife and I are spared the responsibility of deciding how to handle it.

But knowing how over-the-top the creators of South Park can be, I just wonder how we would deal with it if they did want to see it.

At what age would you let your kids watch South Park? And if you've seen the Jonas Brothers episode, would you feel comfortable letting a 13-year-old watch it?

(Click on continue reading for a recent Jonas Brothers appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman).

POSTED IN: Rafael Olmeda (59), Rafael Olmeda 2009 (47)

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March 11, 2009

Preschooler carries pot in bookbag: preschool bans... bookbags?

Does this make sense?

marijuana.jpgA 4-year-old brings his brother's pot to the Tamarac Preschool in a bookbag and brags about it, and the pre-school responds by banning bookbags?

Our reporter, Sallie James, saw the sign herself today. It read: "We no longer allow backpacks or bookbags." It's the kind of response that normally cries out for an explanation. Unfortunately, no one at the school was commenting on the article today, so curious minds are left to speculate.

Are pre-schoolers supposed to carry their crayons in clear, cellophane bags? Oh, wait, they use that to carry marijuana, too. Forget that idea.

Was the backpack really the problem here? Isn't this like keeping toothpaste off airplanes out of fear that MacGuyver has joined al-Qaeda? It's good to see officials responding when something happens, but sometimes the response is so disconnected from the offense that it creates more problems than it solves. Why should parents and children who've done nothing wrong have to change their innocent and harmless use of bookbags just because of what a 4-year-old did?

I shudder to think of what the school would have done if the kid had pulled the marijuana out of his pants pocket!

If there's a reasonable explanation for banning the bookbags, I'd sure love to hear it.

POSTED IN: Rafael Olmeda 2009 (47)

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Do toddlers count for the HOV lane?

This question came up the other night at dinner with friends. It seemed like they would, but we all hesitated a bit. After all, it’s not like taking a kid to school is removing a driver from the road. And isn’t that the point of HOV lanes – cut down on drivers?


So I posed the question to Michael Turnbell, who writes the On the Roads column for the Sun Sentinel.

Here was Michael’s answer: “Yes, children and infants count as the second passenger in all states. The law only specifies the number of occupants (in South Florida’s case, two or more), not the age of the occupants.”

But are they safe in HOV lanes? I’ve hesitated to use the HOV lane in the morning driving my toddler from Fort Lauderdale to school in Boca Raton. The HOV's motto should be: “Speed and drive dangerously.” That said, my wife swears by them. Using the HOV lane in the evening, she says, “has changed her life” (that’s a quote from her Facebook status).

Then again, who knows how long HOV lanes will be around. The I-95 express toll lanes are clearly the future. Interestingly, the rules are not as simple for the new express lanes. Registered carpools there of 3 or more can use those lanes without paying a toll, and those carpools are defined as "at least three commuters traveling to and from work in one vehicle." (To register, visit this site.)

So enjoy that HOV lane with your kid while you can.

POSTED IN: Matthew Strozier (59), Safety (59)

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March 10, 2009

Teacher's death leaves parents with the funeral decision

Braun.jpgWhat a tragedy for the children whose teacher died yesterday on Interstate 95, and for the woman's family and friends. Sharon Braun, a fourth grade teacher at Stephen Foster Elementary, died in a horrible crash that also critically injured a P.E. teacher at that school, Gail Carter.

Braun's students had to take the FCAT today, anyway.

An elementary school teacher makes a big imprint on a child. And if I were one of the parents of the kids she taught, I'd be trying to decide: Should I take my child to the funeral, or not?

It's going to be traumatic, but might it be therapeutic?

Some experts say if a child is old enough to go to church, he or she is old enough to attend a funeral. Some say a child needs to face the reality of death. Still others say that a child forced to go, or forced to stay away from a funeral, will suffer the most. They're saying the most important thing is that your child makes the choice themselves.

Personally, I think I would take my child. It's a good time to talk about life, and what it all means.

Fourth-graders mourning teacher make it through FCATs Stephen Foster Elementary School teacher killed in collision on Interstate 95

By Rafael A. Olmeda and Sallie James

South Florida Sun Sentinel


FCAT testing for fourth-graders today. This is when it counts. No exceptions. Not even for Sharon Braun's fourth-grade class at Stephen Foster Elementary School.

Braun, 58, was killed Monday in an accident on Interstate 95. A day later, her students put their tears aside to concentrate on the test, as they are sure she would have wanted, said Stephen Foster Elementary Principal Michael Cassaw.

"We were very proud of them for pulling through and doing their best," Cassaw said.

Braun, who taught at the school for more than 30 years, was on her way there Monday morning when the car she was traveling in was hit by a truck and overturned. She was thrown from the vehicle and pronounced dead at the scene. Gail Carter, 54, a physical education teacher who was driving, was critically injured in the crash.

Today Carter is still recovering at Broward General Medical Center and hasn't been able to receive visitors yet, Cassaw said. "The students are making her cards and writing her letters. As soon as she can receive them, we'll make sure she gets them," he said.

Students learned of Braun's death Monday through an announcement over the public address system. Grief counselors were called in, and they will likely be back today, said Broward School District spokeswoman Nadine Drew.

Aside from Carter and Braun, the four other passengers in the 1997 Buick were Braun's grandchildren, ages 9, 10, 11 and 11.

Braun's daughter, Dawn Clelland, 36, the mother of two of the children in the car, said Braun had raised her four daughters as a single mother and always remained available to them. When they suffered divorces or lost jobs, Braun was there inviting them to move home, said Clelland.

She also remembered her mother's dedication to Stephen Foster Elementary.

"We grew up with the school," she said. "My mom loved teaching. She never considered doing anything else."

Beth Nanney, a friend for 30 years and a fellow teacher at Stephen Foster, said Braun's death was hard to take in.

"I am in shock," Nanney said. "She was a great friend. She was always there for everybody, and she adored her family. She will be missed by her kids, her school."

The 7:05 a.m. crash near Broward Boulevard occurred when a semitrailer truck tried to change lanes, striking Carter's Buick and causing it to hit a Volvo, Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Mark Wysocky said. The Volvo struck a light pole; the Buick overturned on the side of the highway.

Cherie Sanders, 28, of Oakland Park, was riding behind the Buick when the accident took place. She helped Braun's grandchildren out of the car and waited with them for help to arrive.

"If this had happened to any of my kids, I'd want somebody there for them," Sanders said.

Braun's grandchildren were taken to Broward General Medical Center for treatment. They escaped major injury.

The driver of the truck, Tracy Fiffia, 42, of Madison, was uninjured. The driver of the Volvo, Pedro Polanco, 34, of Fort Lauderdale, suffered minor injuries.

No charges have been filed, and the crash is under investigation.

Staff writers Kathy Bushouse, Joel Marino and Rafael Olmeda contributed to this report. Sallie James can be reached at or 954-572-2019.

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160)

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What can we do about "sexting" teens?

All this talk about "sexting" has me concerned.

A recent article on tells the stories of several Central Florida teens who have been labeled sex offenders because they shared naked pictures of their teenage ex-girlfriends over their cell phones.

Where to begin?

vanessa.jpgWhile I have been concerned about my teenage stepdaughters and their fondness for various gizmos (the iPod, the cell phone, the digital camera, the cell phone with the digital camera), it hasn't occurred to me that they might take pictures that might come back to haunt them.

Yes, I am concerned about the difference between stupid kids sending inappropriate text messages and predatory criminals exploiting children to satisfy their lusts. They are, in my mind, separate issues. The predatory criminals are a law enforcement issue. To a greater extent, the kids being stupid kids - well, that's a parenting issue.

I honestly don't think our kids recognize the permanence of these digital photos. Back in the day (you remember back in the day, right?) we had film, and we had to take the film out to be developed, and you knew a stranger's eyes would see each and every image you shot. Casual, personal nudie shots, while not unheard of, were far from normal. At least, the potential for embarrassment was very real.

Not anymore. Now these images can be deleted with the touch of a button. The problem, of course, is that they can be copied just as easily. And forwarded. To e-mail boxes. And cell phones. And next thing you know, that photo you took just for your boyfriend is making the rounds at your school. Or worse. Ask Vanessa Hudgens. The High School Musical star was mortified in 2007 when her nude pictures surfaced on the Internet. And she's not one of the "bad girls" of Hollywood. She's the one our teens are watching, and the one whose error in judgment we need to explain.

So what can we tell our kids about the dangers of "sexting" (not from a criminal law point of view, but from a healthy childhood point of view)? Read on for some tips from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Tips for parents:

  • Talk to your kids about what they are doing in cyberspace, just as you should talk to them honestly about relationships and sexual issues.
  • Know who your kids are communicating with online.
  • Set limits on electronic communication. [In our home, the cell phones are charging on school nights from 10 p.m. on, no exceptions].
  • Be aware of what your teens are posting online. If they won't let you see it, they shouldn't be putting it on the Internet.
  • Set expectations. Let them know what's appropriate and what's not. Reinforce those expectations from time to time.

That's not an exhaustive list, by any stretch. In any discussion like this, every parent will rely on his or her faith and values, for example.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy also offers tips for teens to think about before they hit "send." I'll boil it down to this: Assume the photo will get out. It will be made public. You will not be able to hide it. Your parents will see it. All your friends will see it. Total strangers will see it.

Maybe that's fearmongering, but how likely are you to even take such a picture if you know everyone will see it?

POSTED IN: Rafael Olmeda 2009 (47), Sex (16), Step-parenting (59), Teen (158)

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After all the Obama brainwashing, kids should be receptive to voting

Maybe this would be true even if Barack Obama hadn't won the presidency, but I've been really surprised how much my daughter knows about him, and about Michelle Obama and the girls. And this is my first grader we're talking about.

She picked this stuff up at school. She comes home with pictures of President Obama to color.

Well, today is election day again. This time, the elections are small, in various cities in Broward County. My city, Plantation, has an election. But I want to raise a voter. So I'm talking to the kids about the races.

If you want ideas on teaching your kids the A, B, Cs of good citizenship, check out Kids Voting USA.

And by the way, the Kids Voting election results also went Obama's way. But I found it interesting that 494 kids voted Socialist.

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160), General (185), Politics (18)

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March 9, 2009

Mom on the Go: What to do this weekend

It's going to be another beauty this weekend. Start making plans with this weekend guide plucked from South Florida Parenting:

Saturday, March 14

Pony Rides. Enjoy the outdoors with a guided pony ride. Ages 1 to 6. The park’s regular weekend and holiday gate entrance fee of $1.50 per person, children 5 and under, free, will be in effect. Every Saturday and Sunday. 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., Tree Tops Park, 3900 SW 100th Ave., Davie. $1.50 per round or $5 for four rounds. 954-475-8650.

Coversations in the Hut. Resident artist Chisseko of Kenya offers families the wisdom of village Africa through conversations in the hut, workshops, a drum circle, exchanges in Swahili, mankala contests and more. 1 - 3 p.m., Young at Art Children’s Museum, 11584 W. State Road 84, Davie. Free with museum admission of $8. 954-424-0085.

Naruto Challenge. The latest addition to the world of TCG games, Naruto helps kids with their math skills and captures their imaginations in a ninja card game. A judge conducts the tournaments and teaches children to play the game. 2 p.m., Florida Sportscards, 4681 N. University Drive, Coral Springs. $8 entrance fee includes one booster pack. 954-345-4407.

Surfside Bicycle Ride. An 11-mile family-paced ride through county, city and state parks. The ride ends with music and a bounce house. Participants are encouraged to wear creative costumes. Helmets are required, and participants must bring their own bicycles. Rain date is March 15. 8 a.m., Hollywood North Beach Park, 3601 North Ocean Drive , Hollywood. $20 per family, $10 per individual, $5 per individual on a team of five or more participants. 954-926-2480.

City of Sunrise: Bicycle Rodeo. Participants will be divided in three divisions: tricycles, training wheels and two-wheelers as they are challenged in a bicycle obstacle course. Participants will compete for the most creatively decorated bicycle, too. Ages 2 and up. 9 - 10:30 a.m., Sunrise Athletic Complex, 11501 NW 44th St., Sunrise. Free. 954-747-4642.

Family Bicycle Rally. This event will include a family bicycle route and an enthusiast’s bicycle route. Both routes will take their riders through police-controlled intersections, and tree-lined streets in Miramar. Both routes begin and end at the Miramar Town Center, where there will be bicycle safety inspections and a children’s bicycle rodeo. Refreshments will be available for purchase. 9 a.m., Miramar Town Center, 2300 Civic Center Place, Miramar. Free. 954-704-1631.

St. Patrick’s Day Parade Bicycle Ride. The whole family can participate in a St. Patrick’s Day Parade by riding and showcasing decorated bikes. 9 - 11 a.m., Sunview Park, 1500 SW 42nd Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Free. 954-791-1040.

Story Time Theatre. Fort Lauderdale Children’s Theatre presents Story Time at Whole Foods Lifestyle Center in Fort Lauderdale. Join in for storybook reading, imagination games, crafts and snacks. Ages 3 to 10. 11 a.m. - 12:30 p.m., Whole Foods Market, 2000 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. $5. 954-565-5655.

IMACS Hi-Tech Camp Open House: Weston. Get a glimpse of the IMACS Hi-Tech Summer Camp at free open houses. The Open House offers talented children a unique opportunity to explore and expand their intellectual world. Students are immersed in fun-filled academic pursuits such as computer programming and virtual robotics, electronics, and logic puzzles. Full-day and partial-day camp programs are available for children entering first through 12th grades. RSVP online for the open house at 3 - 4:30 p.m., Institute for Mathematics & Computer Science, 2585 Glades Circle, Weston. Free. 954-791-2333.

Keep reading for listings in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties


“Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” Roald Dahl’s story of the world-famous candy man and his quest to find an heir for his chocolate factory. Features the songs from the classic family film “Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory.” All of your favorite characters and songs (including “The Candy Man” and “Pure Imagination”) are featured in this show that overflows with music, comedy and heart. March 6, 7, 13 and 14 at 8 p.m. and March 7 and 14 at 3 p.m. Coral Gables Youth Center, 405 University Drive, Coral Gables. $14. 305-460-5617.

Torah Tots. Share the joy and peace of Shabbat in this weekly, kid-centered environment through a family service of prayer and song designed just for little ones. Older siblings welcome, too. 9 a.m., Temple Israel, 137 NE 19th St. The Ballroom, Miami. Free. 305-573-5900.

Day Out with Thomas. Take a 25-minute ride with a full-size Thomas the Tank Engine, meet Sir Topham Hatt, enjoy storytelling, live music, build with Lego bricks and much more. See South Florida Parenting at this event. March 7 - 8 and March 14 - 15. For tickets, visit 10:30 a.m., Gold Coast Museum, 12450 SW 152nd St., Miami. $18. 305-253-0063.

Climb Mt. Michimu. Climb the new 30-foot-tall permanent rock-climbing wall where kids can make the volcano erupt, ring a bell and raise a flag as they venture up one of the three courses. Climbers must be age 4 and older. Closed-toe shoes required. 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Miami Children’s Museum, 980 MacArthur Causeway, Miami. All-day climbing pass, $8; one climb, $3; plus museum admission, $10. 305-373-5437.

FestivArt. A street celebration with musicians, sculptors, artists and photographers exhibiting their work. 7 p.m. - 1 a.m., Espanola Way, between Washington and Drexel Avenues, Miami Beach. Free. 305-531-0038.

Fairy Doll Ballet. The story derives its inspiration from the Viennese ballet of 1888 by Josef Bayer titled “Die Puppenfee” (“The Fairy Doll”) about the after-hours amusement among all the toys in the store that occurs when the store is closed. The story is set in a toy shop. The owner shows dolls to different customers. After the shop closes, the dolls come to life and dance both alone and with each other, all led by the Fairy Doll.
6 p.m., 3 p.m., Julius Littman North Miami Beach Performing Arts Theater, 17011 NE 19th Ave., North Miami. $25. 305-935-3232.


Fishing Club. Learn how to catch the big ones. In this club, we teach basic fishing skills, fish biology and ways to preserve our natural resources. Ages 9 to 16. 8 a.m. - noon, Boat Club Park, 2010 N. Federal Highway, Boynton Beach. Boynton Beach residents, $75; Nonresidents, $94. 561-742-6230.

Family Make and Take. Become more knowledgeable about the environment while making a take-home “treasure.” 11 a.m. - noon, Pine Jog Environmental Education Center, 6301 Summit Blvd., West Palm Beach. $5 per family. 561-686-6600.

Audubon Society of the Everglades: Bird Walk. Take a walk early in the morning when the birds can be seen. Meet by the nature center. 8 a.m., Okeeheelee Park, 7715 Forest Hill Blvd. Micanopy Pavilion, West Palm Beach. Free. 561-233-1400.

Animal Physics: Ages 5-6. Why can frogs jump so far? Which animal is stronger: an ant or an elephant? Discover the answers to these questions and more as we explore how different types of bodies affect the work we do. 9 - 10 a.m., Sugar Sand Park, 300 S. Military Trail, Boca Raton. Residents, $15; nonresidents, $18. 561-347-3900.

St. Patrick’s Day Parade Party. Celebrate the luck of the Irish with food, drinks and live Irish music. 10 a.m. - 7:30 p.m., Old School Square, 51 N. Swinton Ave., Delray Beach. Free admission. 561-243-7922.

Saturday Morning Time. Cuddle up as we read stories about quilts. Ages 2 and up. Also at 11:15 a.m. 10:15 a.m., Wellington Branch Library,
1951 Royal Fern Drive, Wellington. Free. 561-790-6070.

Leapin’ Leprechauns! Celebrate shamrocks, leprechauns and all things lucky with stories, a film and a craft. All ages. Register. 10:30 a.m., West Boca Branch, 18685 State Road 7, Boca Raton. Free. 561-233-2600.

Family Fun Program - Chigiri-e - Paper Collage. Family Fun Programs are for those who want to explore and learn about Japanese culture through hands-on arts and crafts projects designed for the whole family. Families can create projects in an open workshop. 11 a.m. - 4 p.m., Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, 4000 Morikami Park Road, Delray Beach. Free with paid admission. 561-495-0233.


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March 6, 2009

Mom on the Go: Share your Barbie story

We all have a Barbie story.

Maybe your story is the same as a co-worker's (we'll call her GiGi): As a young girl she took her middle sister's prized Barbie with her on a trip downtown with her mom.

It was cold and snowy outside, so GiGi burrowed Barbie in her winter coat to keep her warm. Somehow, she slipped away. Tears ensued.

GiGi's mother filed a missing Barbie report with the town's radio station. The doll was never found.

Or maybe Barbie was never allowed to escape your lips, much less enter the home.barbie-blog.bmp

I had Barbie, and Ken, and the black Barbie, and the pink remote-control Cadillac, and her townhome with a bubbling spa (add water and press the pump to create bubbles!!).

What's your Barbie story?


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Are the skies friendly enough for The Kid to fly alone?

Who doesn’t want their kid to be adventurous?

We want our young man to brave his new world, make it bigger, and try new things. He's turning 14 years old in a few weeks.

We want him to actually visit family – in other states – for extended periods of time: a week, a summer month, a holiday - without us along.

It's all good stuff – he should spread his wings.
Only, should he spread his wings alone – that is – fly solo?

Independent , basically tells a horror story of a child flying unaccompanied by an adult.(There is a happy ending) The article goes on to give advice and some things to consider when booking a flight.

Just about every commercial airline website addresses the issue of a minor flying solo. They post their policies and provide tips.

There are websites, such as where I can purchase a form and fill it in with detailed information. I can include instructions, identification and contact information.Then I can tuck the paperwork into The Kid’s pocket and keep my fingers crossed.

I can pack him off with a cell phone.

I know, I know, but this is also an emotional decision.

Do I hop on the plane and fly out with him and at the end of the visit, go out and come back with him?

Maybe I just ought to let him visit family via Facebook, from the safety of our own home.


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March 5, 2009

Mom on the Go: How to discipline a step child

She bounces on the bed. I yell. She keeps bouncing.

This is a common lament from parents of step children. Not the bouncing on the bed part, but the fact that orders are ignored. blog.bmp

A Miami mother is struggling with how to discipline her 3-year-old stepdaughter. Wise parents who've been there and done that, we need your help.

What steps should she take in disciplining her stepchild?

POSTED IN: Child Care (26), Family Issues (231), Joy Oglesby (134), Step-parenting (59)

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The lyrics to "Right Round" spin my head around

Since my kids have taken over my car radio, I am getting to know their music.

They've been singing the lyrics to "Right Round," by Flo Rida (pictured here), which sounds suspiciously like a song from my youth, "You Spin Me Around (Like A Record)," by Dead or Alive. However, Flo Rida's lyrics are basically obscene:

"You spin my head right round, right round
When you go down, when you go down down"



"From the top of the pole I watch her go [down]
She got me throwin my money a[round]
Ain’t nothin more beautiful to be [found]
It’s goin down down."

It's both amusing and disturbing to hear my kids sing these lyrics when they don't know what they mean. However, a growing number of studies show kids who like these songs are more likely to engage in teen sex.

Which brings up many questions: How do you control what your kids are listening to? And if you are with them when a song like "Right Round" comes on, does changing the channel encourage them to find ways to listen to it when you're not there?

POSTED IN: Lois Solomon (211), Music (22), Pre-Teen (57)

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Talking to kids about the economy

I had one of those “light bulb” moments the other day when my 4-year-old son tagged along for a quick trip to the salon. As I sat in the chair and chatted with my hairstylist, my son played his video games contently.

Before long, we started talking about the economy: The slumping real estate market. People losing jobs. 401(k)s disappearing. We must have used words, such as “bad,” “scary,” and “sad” in what amounted to a three-minute conversation.

My son stopped playing his game and put an end to it: “Stop talking, Mommy!” He said it firmly, with an intensity that was more concern than childish.

Shocked, my hairstylist and I quickly changed the subject and quietly wondered if my son actually understood what we were talking about. He may not know what being “underwater” on your mortgage means, but he certainly knew Mommy was not talking about happy things.

The experience really made me appreciate the degree to which young children can worry about issues that are far beyond their years. That afternoon, I saw my son in a different light. And I vowed to be more mindful of how and when I talk about sensitive topics.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has prepared tips for parents and caregivers when it comes to talking to kids about the economy. Among other things, they recommend limiting TV and other media time; talking to your pediatrician if your child shows signs of stress; and choosing your words carefully.

What tips do you have about talking to your kids about the economy?

POSTED IN: Anne Vasquez (67), Family Issues (231)

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Getting Ana into volunatary pre-K is no simple feat

Who knew it would be such work getting Ana Isabel into voluntary pre-kindergarten.

Broward County this week started handing out vouchers for the state-paid voluntary pre-K program for 4-year-olds. It's done on a first-come, first-serve basis. And the more popular VPK programs generally have waiting lists.

So on Monday when I got to the Southwest Regional Library to get a voucher, the line wrapped around the building. I knew beforehand that there would be a wait. But I didn't expect to stand around for four hours for a piece of paper that says my daughter is eligible to start her schooling come August.

Afterward, I went to one of the three schools we had picked as our top choices to enroll Ana. All three have had waiting lists in the past. My intent was to drop off the voucher and get her on a list. Simple, I thought. Not exactly. Administrators there haven't even started to create their waiting list, they told me. And they didn't want to take my voucher until they had created it. So why did I wait for four hours?

Next, we call our second choice school. They, too, haven't figured out the waiting list. OK. We want to make sure Ana gets in somewhere, so my wife visited the third school on our list.

Guess what? No waiting list, yet. Administrators there said last year the list didn't start forming until May. But at least they're taking applications and vouchers. So all we need to do is apply and Ana should be in.

I'm still sore about the four-hour wait. All the rush to get a voucher and then on a list apparently wasn't needed.

Vouchers are scheduled to be distributed throughout the county in March. Here's a schedule. The same thing is happening in Palm Beach County.

Can't wait for Ana to start applying for colleges. That should be even more fun.

POSTED IN: Luis Perez (32), Pre-K (25), Toddler (127)

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3/5/09 Parent's digest

By now you've probably noticed we're trying to figure out what to call these daily roundups of what you can find on our Web site. Thanks for bearing with us. We're looking for items that are intereting to us as parents and maybe provide a bit of useful information in the process. Feel free to offer your feedback. We appreciate it more than you know.

And we invite you to join us Facebook and/or on Twitter. Look for SSParents.

Nick.jpgSouth Florida Sun-Sentinel Writer Nick Sortal Named Sports Ethics Fellow

Our first item today actually isn't in the newspaper or anywhere else on our Web page. Nick Sortal, a talented reporter and sometime parenting writer for this page, has always shown a knack for finding good stories about kids and sports. So this news doesn't surprise us one bit.

Sortal is among the 12 people or groups cited as Sports Ethics Fellows this year by Positive Coaching Alliance and the Institute for International Sport.

The honor was bestowed on Tuesday, National Sportsmanship Day.

The Institute for International Sport began naming Sports Ethics Fellows in 1990 to recognize those who display admirable leadership in the areas of fair play and sportsmanship. Among those who have been lauded are L.A. Lakers coach Phil Jackson, soccer player Mia Hamm and Olympic cinematographer Bud Greenspan.

Sortal is being recognized for his articles on sports parenting. In recent years he has offered tips on parental behavior at games, advice for volunteer coaches and balanced reporting on referees.

"It's important that we differentiate youth sports from the sports we see on TV," Sortal says. "One is about education, the other about entertainment."

His book, Basketball Tip-Ins: 100 Tips and Drills for Young Players, is among the best-selling basketball instructionals in McGraw-Hill history. Sortal also has been an assistant high school basketball coach at Broward County, Fla., schools for the past 19 years, a volunteer youth sports coach and a cable TV talk-show host. He is a resident of Plantation.

For Moms & Dads, he offers the following suggestions:

* Parents "working the refs" never works. It only agitates them and embarrasses your child. Leave the zebras alone.

* When a kid misses a free throw, "You'll make the next one" is much more helpful than "C'mon make it!"

* You are not a bad parent if you occasionally miss your child's game, and in some ways it's a good thing.

* Remember that most coaches are volunteers. And if you truly have a constructive comment regarding their methods, it's best to bring it up at a practice, not at the game.

* If there's a particularly vocal parent next to you on the sidelines, bring lollipops to the next game and pass them around.

Congratulations, Nick.


TheS.jpgNo one would miss FCAT if state budget must be cut

Could it be that our economic problems are bigger than even ...

... the FCAT?

In January, Palm Beach County School Superintendent Art Johnson said he was happy that the effects of the downsized state budget wouldn't be known immediately.

He explained that he didn't want to distract teachers and administrators with talk of cuts and layoffs just before the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

But last week, as those educators began final preparations for the test (which are to begin Tuesday), Johnson sent a soberingly honest e-mail:

"Although it has just been a few months since my November 24, 2008, letter to you, a cascade of issues has dominated our economic lives." Read the rest of the Ralph De La Cruz column here.


TheS.jpgPalm Beach County school boundary changes will affect hundreds

Palm Beach County school boundary changes affecting hundreds of students are set for the 2009-10 school year, while there's a revised plan to relieve crowding at Palm Beach Central High School in Wellington.

The School Board on Wednesday agreed to shift portions of the attendance zones for Freedom Shores Elementary and Rolling Green Elementary in Boynton Beach; South Grade Elementary and Barton Elementary in Lake Worth; and Palm Springs Middle and L.C. Swain Middle in Greenacres.

A separate change establishes boundaries for a new $33.5 million elementary school intended to relieve crowding at four West Palm Beach elementary schools.

The still unnamed campus on North Stacy Street, west of Haverhill Road and south of Okeechobee Boulevard, will open in August with 654 students. It will take pupils from West Gate, Wynnebrook, Grassy Waters and Belvedere elementary schools. Read the rest here.


TheS.jpgRodeo among new additions to American Baby & Family Expo

Baby needs a brand-new pair of shoes. Big sister needs a great tutor. Moms and Dads need help making purchases that will help their dollars go farther.

In swoops the American Baby & Family Expo to the rescue. The annual look at the latest products and services can help families sort out what will be a good buy for their dollar.

The expo will feature more than 100 exhibits from March 7 -8 at the Broward County Convention Center, 1950 Eisenhower Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale. Sessions and displays about the latest in child care, parenting and toys is targeted to growing families with children up to age 8. Read the rest here.


TheS.jpgKids' flip-flops recalled due to high lead levels

By Diane Lade

More than 210,000 children's flip-flops, sold in department and specialty stores nationwide, are being voluntarily recalled because the decorative paint on the soles contains high lead levels.

The Havaianas-brand footwear, distributed through Alpargatas USA of New York City, was sold from February 2006 through last month for $15 to $24 per pair, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

They carried multiple labels including Baby Estampas, Kids Apple and Kids Surf. Consumers should immediately take the sandals away from children.

South Florida stores listed as carrying Havaianas flip-flops include the Aventura Macy's, the Boca Raton Resort & Club gift shop, and numerous small beach and surf shops. The sandals were made in Brazil.

For replacements, contact Alpargatas USA at 888-289-5306 or click here for the company's customer service home page.
For photos and a list of all labels being recalled, go here.

POSTED IN: General (185)

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March 4, 2009

Looking for colorful schools

My wife has a line about schools: “I don’t want our kids to be the ‘only only.’” By that she means the only brown-skinned kid in the class. Our two boys are biracial. I’m white; my wife is black.

The question has arisen lately because we are considering new schools or day cares for both boys. (One is 16 months; the other is almost 3.) What’s interesting is defining how much racial diversity is enough. And what happens if a school gradually shifts while your child is there – say it loses most of its black, or white, students over several years. Do we notice?

South Florida is interesting in this regard. People often extol this area for its rich mix of people and races. And it’s true: that does exist. And, compared to Northern cities, it’s still a relatively “new” metropolis, so social divisions are not as entrenched. So what does this mean? Well, we have friends who resemble our extended family – black and white, working-class and well-to-do, with international connections mixed in here and there. My kids have more Spanish-speaking friends than would have had in New York.

But still I wonder. It’s easy to create social worlds that look exactly like us. And honestly, I find there’s a voice in my head that says: “But if it’s a great school, then its racial makeup can take a back seat.” Easy for me to say, perhaps, since I’m white. So that leads me back to the question: how much diversity is enough?

POSTED IN: Family Issues (231), Matthew Strozier (59)

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Broward schools: Parents should be more involved

Broward County schools are trying to get parents more involved in their kids' academics.

They've launched this website, which is pretty cool. Among the material on there is a flow chart on how to deal with what you think is unfair treatment of your child by their teacher. There's also advice about how to deal with a child who hates school and thinks it's stupid. (Besides saying, 'Congratulations, you're human!'')

The district also has parent involvement meetings. Here's the schedule. The next one is March 23. Download file

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160), School Issues (135)

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Mom on the Go: Get discount tickets for Playhouse Disney

Mickey and Minnie are on road trip.

The Disney characters will be in town for a Playhouse Disney Live! show March 13.

BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise is offering discount tickets for one-day only, with savings of up to $11 per ticket.

Other Playhouse Disney neighbors Handy Manny, Tigger, Pooh, Little Einsteins will also be at the show.

This offer is valid on Club and Upper Level seats for shows March 13 at 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. The regularly $26 tickets have the most value, but will be the first to go.

Get more details, here.


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AP courses: How much is too much?

Upperclassmen at my daughter's high school visited freshmen last week to get them psyched about taking Advanced Placement, or college-level, classes.ap%20exams.jpg

They touted the advantages, mostly that the freshmen will impress colleges and potentially can get college credit in high school if they do well on the final AP exam. Needless to say, these classes are very challenging, with lots of reading, homework and constant difficult tests.

My daughter, a freshman, already takes one AP class, Human Geography (it's a geography/culture/population patterns class), and wants to take two and possibly three next year. She's a great student, but I think three is too many for a sophomore.

Behind this push is something the schools don't publicize: They get extra money for every kid who passes the final. The Palm Beach County School District expects to collect more than $6 million, or $659 per student who passes, this year. The money goes to teacher bonuses, training and exam fees.

I'm not begrudging teachers their bonuses or schools some extra money, but do we have to pressure the kids this way? I want my daughter to be challenged but not at the expense of her sanity.

POSTED IN: Lois Solomon (211), School Issues (135)

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3/4/09: Parent's Guide to

Depressed by what you're seeing on television? So are your kids. Well, sort of. That's one of the articles in today's parent's digest. In the meantime, Moms & Dads can now be found as SSParents on Facebook and on Twitter. We invite you to join our growing community.

TheS.jpgPalm Beach County schools face potential $100 million cut in state funds

Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Art Johnson has told employees he is "distressed" over the latest financial outlook: A potential $100 million cut in state funding for next year. And he notified them that right now his administration plans to produce a budget that doesn't include an infusion of federal stimulus cash.

"To date, we have maintained a balanced budget ... and avoided layoffs," he wrote in an e-mail Friday, indicating that what happens next is unclear.

School District administrators this week said they are not forming a spending plan for 2009-10 based on a much rosier projection issued last month by Gov. Charlie Crist. That plan, using a portion of federal stimulus funds, features a $40 million increase for local schools, for a total supply of $1.2 billion for county classrooms. Read the rest here.


TheS.jpgBroward County schools to start tweeting on

Broward County Public Schools entered the Twitterverse this week.

The school district plans to use, with its short messages called "tweets" — no more than 140 characters — to stay connected with tech-savvy parents, students and teachers.

District officials will tweet meeting reminders, emergency operations during hurricane season, School Board decisions and other district news. To receive district tweets, or updates, parents can create an account on then follow "browardschools."

Tweets can be viewed online or sent to a cell phone. Read the rest here.


TheS.jpgTake your family to a kid-friendly opera

If your kids think opera is about wailing women and confusing, boring plots, it might be time for a trip to the Kravis Center.

Palm Beach Opera is offering a family-friendly version of La Boheme on April 4 at the Kravis Center. Puccini's classic opera (and the inspiration for the Broadway musical Rent) will be abridged to 90 minutes. It still includes the best musical highlights from the show and a narration and a translation to help you follow the story. The performance still has the full orchestra, large chorus and amazing scenery. It's just shorter.

Set changes are done with an open curtain so the kids can see how it all works. And after the last bow, the children are invited to the lobby to meet the performers. Get the details here.


TheS.jpgTeen depression may have links to TV, study says

TV has become a great scapegoat for these stressful times. But is a teenager who watches hours of daily television more likely to become depressed?


In a study conducted at University of Pittsburgh, researchers interviewed 4,142 adolescents — none of whom showed signs of depression at the start — and found that, when they checked in with them seven years later, 7 percent of the adolescents (who were now 21) had developed signs of depression.

The depressed young people watched more television than those who weren't depressed: an average of 2.64 hours of TV a day versus 2.28 hours per day for the adolescents who weren't depressed. Read the rest here.

POSTED IN: General (185)

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March 3, 2009

Mom on the Go: Getting your kid ready for camp

As a city slicker, I fantasized about summer camp.

There would be campfires by a sparkling pond. Dinner plates heavy with sweets -- Who eats real food during camp? Secrets shared between bunks.campfire.jpg

And then I went to camp. We had the campfires with throngs of mosquitos. We had dinner plates heavy with greasy lasagna and even greasier rolls. We had no privacy to swap secrets at night because the camp counselor slept in the same cabin.

Before you send you child off to camp, bust their bubble as mine should have been. South Florida Parenting's March issue is a guide to camps and includes tips on how to ensure a great camp experience for you and your child. On the list: Talk about dealing with peer pressure.

Read the other tips, here.


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Square root day is just the beginning

Did your kid wish you a happy square root day? If not, wish it on your kid.

Square%20root.jpgGet it? Today's 3/3/09, and 3x3 = 9. There are only nine square root days in a century, and people are too busy celebrating a new century on the first one: 1/1/01. Then there's groundhog day, 2/2/04. After today, the next one will be 4/4/16. You get the idea.

Sounds like the kind of thing that would thrill me back when I was at the Bronx High School of Science.

Of course, we were more tickled by Pi day. You know, 3/14.

But why stop there?

How about information day? That would be 4/11.

The day we should all clean out unwanted stuff from our desk: 8/6

If we start using Roman numerals, then Feb. 2 can be eyeglasses day: ii/ii

How about offering to help a police officer every 10/13?

Let me know you received this message by 10/4.

POSTED IN: Rafael Olmeda 2009 (47)

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3/3/09: Parent's guide to

Been trying to post these updates in the morning, but I've been on an earlier shift yesterday and today, so I haven't really had a chance to get it done. So today, you can enjoy these on your lunch break.

TheS.jpgPlantation Elementary teacher could be suspended today

PLANTATION - A Plantation Elementary School music teacher accused of making sexual advances toward a former student could be suspended without pay today and face losing his job.

The Broward County School Board is scheduled to vote on whether to suspend Matthew Diggs without pay, which is the first step toward firing him.

Diggs, of Sunrise, is accused of immorality, moral turpitude, gross insubordination and misconduct under state codes. He is not charged with any crime. Read the rest (along with updates as the day goes on) here.


Monday, March 2
TheS.jpgEls draws on Marino's tale in caring for autistic son

ErnieEls.jpgThe mystery haunts Ernie Els.

It stabs at his brain and heart in a way nothing else can.

It's a pain former Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino also knew as a young father, a pain that has brought these famous athletes together in a struggle they're both committed to winning.

Els returns to defend his title at the Honda Classic this week almost a year after publicly revealing that his 6-year-old son, Ben, has autism. The root of the neurobiological disorder still puzzles scientists, and that frustrates Els. He used the platform his victory gave him to bolster the quest to figure out what causes autism.

Marino joined that cause 17 years ago, after his son, Michael, was diagnosed. Read the rest here.


TheS.jpgBig drop in rate of US kids with high lead levels, study says

In a stunning improvement in children's health, far fewer kids have high lead levels than 20 years ago, new government research reports — a testament to aggressive efforts to get lead out of paint, water and soil.

Lead can interfere with the developing nervous system and cause permanent problems with learning, memory and behavior. Children in poor neighborhoods have generally been more at risk because they tend to live in older housing and in industrial areas.

Federal researchers found that just 1.4 percent of young children had elevated lead levels in their blood in 2004, the latest data available. That compares with almost 9 percent in 1988.

"It has been a remarkable decline," said study co-author Mary Jean Brown of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "It's a public health success story." Read the rest here.


TheS.jpgWest Palm Beach girl wins new shot at national spelling crown

There is one word that Serena Skye Laine-Lobsinger has down pat — "lacuna."

The noun, derived from Latin, is defined as a blank space or missing part. It's the word that she spelled l-o-c-u-n-a, prompting a defeating "ding" and her exit from the 2008 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

But Serena will get another shot at the crown.

The West Palm Beach eighth-grader defeated nearly 140 other students from Palm Beach, Glades, Hendry and Okeechobee counties Saturday morning to win the regional spelling bee for the second year in a row.

Serena will travel to the nation's capital to compete May 26-28 in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Read the rest here.

Continue reading for weekend articles you may have missed.


Sunday, March 1
TheS.jpgU.S. tested child restraints but didn't publicize results

In a government crash-test video, the infant car seat flies off of its base, smashing the baby dummy, still strapped into the carrier, upside down and face-first into the back of the driver's seat. Think what could happen in a real crash.

This seat was one of 31 that either flew off their bases or exceeded injury limits in a series of frontal crashes conducted by federal researchers using 2008 model year vehicles, a Chicago Tribune investigation found. The test results were never publicized, and even some infant-seat makers were unaware of their existence.

The Tribune found the results buried in thousands of pages of test reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. These tests are used to rate the safety of cars, not the child restraints in them.

What the newspaper unearthed calls into question the rigor of the current safety standards for such seats. The investigation also highlights how little information parents are armed with as they make one of the most important safety decisions for their babies. Read the rest here.


TheS.jpgNo one's quite sure why a Brazilian town has had so many pairs of twins

CANDIDO GODOI, Brazil - High atop a hill behind his family's home, Derli Grimm knelt and took a sip from a thin black tube leading from a natural spring.

Like so many in this farming town, populated almost entirely by German-speaking immigrants, Grimm, 19, believes that something in the water — a mysterious mineral, perhaps — is responsible for the town's unusual concentration of twins.

"It can't all be explained by genetics," said Grimm, himself a twin.

Geneticists would like to disagree with him, but even they have no complete explanation for the 38 pairs of twins among about 80 families living with in an area of 1.5 square miles.

The mystery has persisted for decades, attracting international attention and inspiring books and investigations by geneticists. It is one reason locals are in no hurry to try to prove their water theory. They are too busy posing for journalists and marketing themselves to tourists as the "twins capital of the world." Read the rest here.


TheS.jpgKids absorb parents' attitudes on food

Parents play a key role in shaping young eating habits and attitudes about food, nutritionists say. But, too often, they're sending mixed signals.

There's the mom who demands that her kids eat breakfast, then skips the meal herself. There's the dad who bans chips and candy, elevating the forbidden food to tempting levels. And there are parents everywhere resorting to rules and offhand dinner comments that turn food into rewards and punishments.

How's a kid supposed to enjoy good food—and feel good about eating it?

What parents need to realize, food experts say, is that what they say and do is just as important as what they put on their children's plates.

"Raising kids with healthy attitudes toward food will ultimately lead to older kids and adults that choose to eat in a healthy way," says Robin Miller, a nutritionist who hosts the Food Network show "Quick Fix Meals with Robin Miller." Read the rest here.


Saturday, Feb. 28
TheS.jpgMidwives labor over stigma

The number of new mothers choosing midwives seems to have peaked. Some colleges have closed their midwifery programs citing a lack of enrollment. And some still question the safety of having a child outside of a hospital.

"We have this complete myth we created around birth. Subsequently that has prevented midwives from becoming a staple in this country," Joseph said.

There are about 20,000 midwives in the United States, performing about 320,000 reported deliveries per year, according to the North American Registry of Midwives and federal government statistics. That's about 1 in 12 nationally. Because of underreporting, the actual number is probably higher. Read the rest here.

POSTED IN: General (185)

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Check out your high school's dropout rate

Some of you believe that until a teen-ager is 18, the parent is in charge. Well you're wrong. Florida schools allow kids to make one of the most important decisions in life -- the decision to be a high school dropout -- at age 16.

And apparently Broward's dropout rate is not necessarily something to brag about when you're trying to sell your house to someone from outside the area. The rate of graduations is 69.7 percent, compared to the state's 75.4 percent.

Here's the latest dropout data, including school by school dropout rates. Download file

The school board did what school boards do when faced with something this terrible: They convened a task force. Someone from that task force spoke at last month's Broward County's High School Council. According to the draft minutes:

The risk factors or predictors of dropping out are well known and include being over-age, behavior problems, poor attendance, low performance on standardized tests and grade retention. Minority groups are overrepresented in the dropout statistics.

The Council is talking about dropouts again this month. Their meeting topic is "Entering High School & Exiting With a Diploma.'' That's depressing. I have much higher hopes for my own son, who enters high school this fall. Exiting with a diploma I assumed was a no-brainer. Guess I was wrong.

If your kid is in middle school, you're welcome to attend the Council's meeting. It's on Thursday, March 5, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Plantation High School, 6901 NE 16th St. (graduation rate 71.4 percent).

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160), Teen (158)

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March 2, 2009

Mom on the Go: Celebrating Dr. Seuss

One fish, two fish, happy birthday wise fish! seuss-big.jpg

Dr. Seuss would have been 105 years old today. Parents and libraries across the world are marking the day with readings and parties for the man behind some of the most-beloved children's books.

In our house, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish is a favorite. As a graduation gift for high-schoolers I love giving the book Oh, The Places You'll Go.

Today at 3 p.m., Greenacres will have a special reading of Dr. Seuss books for children ages 7 and older. The kids will also be able to create Seuss-inspired crafts.

For other events marking Dr. Suess' birthday this week, click here.

What's your favorite Dr. Seuss book, and why?


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The 'Breast Milk Mafia' strikes back

Today we bring you our first guest writer:

I wrote last week about our decision to bottlefeed Leo after our foray into breastfeeding didn't work out as we would have liked. In a bit of admitted unfairness, I chided the "breast milk mafia" for being so enthusiastic in their advocacy of breastfeeding that they sometimes, inadvertently, make parents feel guilty about choosing formula.

Well, most advocates of breastfeeding aren't like that at all, and I was really pleased to hear from Elita, an Oakland Park mom who encourages breastfeeding and didn't take too kindly to being compared to a member of the Corleone crime family. She prefers the term "lactivist," and I asked her to share some thoughts with us in response to what I wrote. She makes some powerful points.

Here's what she wrote:

It’s been said time and time again, and I’m sure you’ve heard it by now: breast is best. But guess what? Breast isn’t best. Breast is just normal and natural. It’s the way babies want to and should be fed. Saying breast is “best” sets it as a lofty goal, often one that feels unattainable by many moms.

And the research shows that often it is. Although we’re currently at an all-time high breastfeeding initiation rate (about 70% of new moms are nursing when they leave the hospital), a paltry 30% are still nursing at six months and only about 12% at one year. When you look at the rates for African-American moms, they're even lower. We, as a society, have set moms up for failure. We tell them to only give their babies breast milk for the first six months and to nurse for at LEAST one year, but we make it nearly impossible for them at every turn.

Gave birth in a hospital? You had a 30% chance of ending up with a C-section, and studies have shown that women who have C-sections have more difficulty with nursing.

Then there's the formula. Your baby was probably supplemented (even if you aren't aware of it) and the hospital probably gave you a "breastfeeding support bag" that curiously contained formula. You probably also got some formula delivered to your front door, courtesy of your OBGYN. The research on this is very clear: breastfeeding duration is shortened when women are given free samples of formula.

Once you get home with your new baby, it's easy to get thrown off track by well-meaning friends and family who don't know much about nursing and offer bad information because they believe a lot of the myths about breastfeeding.

Returning to work after your paltry 12-week maternity leave (or less!) can also derail your breastfeeding relationship. Florida has no laws requiring your employer to provide you with a private space and the break time to pump. Even having a pump is a luxury. A good, double electric pump (the kind you'll need in order to maintain your milk supply) runs about $300 and renting one from the hospital is about $50 per month. Still less than formula, but a pricey investment for an act that shouldn't cost you a thing.

And don 't get me started on nursing in public! It's as if people expect a breastfeeding mother to never leave the house! Women are so scared of other people's reactions that they hide in bathrooms or their cars or give the baby a bottle in order to avoid having to feed the baby in a public place. You have the legal right to breastfeed your baby in public (Florida was actually the first state to enact a law to protect this right) but sometimes you wouldn't know it!

I say all of this not to discourage women from nursing, but to encourage you to work through the obstacles because it is so worth it! Breast milk is a living, changing organism designed expressly for your baby. The bond you create with your child when you nurse him is unmatched. There are a million reasons to breastfeed for both mom and baby's benefit. It's seriously one of the most amazing things I've ever done in my entire life.

However, I have no issues with parents who choose to formula feed their babies. What I have a problem with is women who want to breastfeed who have their nursing relationships sabotaged by the formula companies, family, friends, doctors, nurses and our society at large. It's a disgrace that if you want to breastfeed it takes a mix of good luck and tenacity. If we, as a nation, a world, a community, want women to breastfeed, then we have to truly start supporting them. That means fewer unnecessary medical interventions during childbirth, longer and paid parental leave, on-site daycare, laws requiring employers to give women breaks for pumping/nursing, and normalization and acceptance of breastfeeding in public. Then, and only then, will we see women doing what the American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organization recommend: exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, and nursing until age 1 and beyond.

Maybe women need to stop feeling so guilty and start feeling angry that breastfeeding is not a priority in this country!

So the next time you are reading an article online or are at the playground and hear a woman extolling the virtues of nursing, please don't assume she is judging you or trying to make you feel guilty for not breastfeeding. Perhaps she's trying to let you know that she is there to support you in any way that she can. And if that means being a part of the breastfeeding mafia, then I'll be a card-carrying member for life.

Elita is a librarian and the mother to a 15-month-old son named Miles who is still nursing. She blogs about breastfeeding at the Blacktating Blog and can be found on Twitter @blacktating.

And since I know you're already following SSParents on Twitter, I won't remind you to do it again. (But if you're not, what are you waiting for?)

POSTED IN: Guest Post (79), Newborn (39), Rafael Olmeda (59)

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About the authors
Gretchen Day-Bryant has a son in high school and a daughter in middle school. She’s lived to tell about the struggles of juggling little kids and work.
Joy Oglesby has a preschooler...
Cindy Kent Fort Lauderdale mother of three. Her kids span in ages from teenager to 20s.
Rafael Olmeda and his wife welcomed their first son in Feb. 2009, and he's helping raise two teenage stepdaughters.
Lois Solomonlives with her husband and three daughters.
Georgia East is the parent of a five-year-old girl, who came into the world weighing 1 pound, 13 ounces.
Brittany Wallman is the mother of Creed, 15, and Lily, 7, and is married to a journalist, Bob Norman. She covers Broward County government, which is filled with almost as much drama as the Norman household. Almost.
Chris Tiedje is the Social Media Coordinator and the father of a 7-year-old girl, and two boys ages 4 and 3.
Kyara Lomer Camarena has a 2-year-old son, Copelan, and a brand new baby.

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