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February 26, 2010

Busch Gardens: Free admission for preschoolers

Got a preschooler? A big Elmo or Abby Cadabby fan? Start planning your trip to Busch Gardens in Tampa now.

This year, kids 5 and younger (Florida residents only) can get in free to take advantage of the new Sesame Street Safari attraction opening March 27.

But you have to register online on the Busch Gardens website. And, you have to show a certified copy of your child's birth certificate when you go to the ticket window. Regular one-day admission is $64.95 for kids 3-9. Adult tickets are $74.95. The free Preschool Pass is available until Dec. 31.

Orlando Sentinel Theme Park Ranger Dewayne Bevil has more about what to expect at the new super-kid-friendly attraction here.


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February 25, 2010

Kids and pets: What parents need to consider

My family celebrated a birthday last week. We cut a cake, blew out candles, and took a few pictures. We sang happy birthday.

The birthday boy? Our beagle. Or as my husband and I often refer to him -- our first child. My 5-year-old son has always proudly talked about his “brother.” It usually takes teachers a while to figure out his brother has spots, fur and four legs.

Some of my first memories as a child involve pets. (Rabbits, ducks, chickens, dogs) And I always knew I wanted my children to grow up respecting and appreciating animals. For parents, it’s often one of those key decisions: How? When? What?

Here are a few things to consider:

New baby: If you already have a pet (such as a dog), be sure to take steps even before the baby is born to introduce the change to the animal. My dog was three years old when my son was born. We knew there would be an adjustment period for a dog that had had our undivided attention for three years. So we took it slowly and used the nine months of my pregnancy to get our dog used to changes in his routine and surroundings. (Lots of areas in the house became off limits.) When the baby was born, my husband brought home a baby blanket from the hospital to allow our dog to sniff it.

Age-appropriate pets: The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty (ASPCA) to Animals recommends small pets, such as guinea pigs, for preschoolers (3-5 years old.). They like to be held, seldom bite and will whistle when excited or happy. Who wouldn’t like that? I guess this is why they tend to be common classroom pets too. Avoid reptiles, though, since kids this age are more susceptible to contracting salmonella because of poor hand-washing habits. Also if you do decide to get a dog after your children are born, be sure to pick a breed that has a reputation of being good around children. And it’s not about size. Chihuahuas, for example, can be very temperamental. Ditto for Lhasa Apsos. (I have a scar on my face to prove it.)

Pets as teachers: Pets can help teach children responsibility. Let your child learn to feed, bathe or care for the pet by cleaning out its cage or taking it for a walk. Having a pet like a dog or cat can also help your children learn to build trusting relationships and develop compassion and empathy.

POSTED IN: Anne Vasquez (67)

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February 24, 2010

Let's think of a new hotdog shape

It's hard to imagine a hotdog coming in any other shape but the current one.hotdog.jpg

But the American Academy of Pediatrics, calling a hotdog bite "the perfect plug for a child's airway," is recommending a redesign of the dog to prevent choking.

We've all cut up hotdogs into tiny pieces, knowing about the choking potential of this food, which is so unhealthy anyway. But it seems impossible to imagine it in a circle or a square, or as a paste or thin like a piece of turkey.

Send over your ideas!

POSTED IN: Food (56), Health (111), Lois Solomon (211)

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February 23, 2010

Flash mob video: Gotta Keep Reading

This is so much fun. Ocoee Middle School in Central Florida made this video -- based on the Oprah/Black Eyed Peas flash mob -- to inspire kids to read. It sure couldn't hurt.


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February 22, 2010

Flamingo Gardens in Davie a hit with kids

If all goes well for Harmony and her mate, Abe, a baby bald eagle will hatch on Wednesday. We stood within a few feet of the majestic eagles this weekend, at Flamingo Gardens in Davie.

The not-for-profit botanical garden and animal sanctuary is a great Plan B when you get tired of taking your kids to the beach. It's in Davie, at 3750 S. Flamingo Road in southwest Broward County.

Adults, you'll probably like it, too. Who wouldn't want to stand a few feet from a bald eagle? How many times have I tried unsuccessfully in the Everglades to spot a Florida panther? Where else could I have purchased a cricket and larva embedded in candy "amber" and considered edible?

This place has snakes, ducks, turtles, talking parrots, a historic home and gorgeous native plants and towering trees. Check out my video to see some of the highlights, including the bald eagle, Harmony, flapping her wings. Read the jump to find out more about Harmony and her Abe, both injured eagles, and their attempts to become parents. Also, admission info is on the jump.

When we visited this weekend, a little girl was having her birthday party there. Not a bad idea. Also, teen-agers 16 and older can volunteer, a good way to earn some of those service hours they need to graduate.

Click here to check out the website.

Admission is $17 for adults, $8.50 for kids ages 4 to 11, and free for those 3 and younger. But my daughter brings home coupons wheels from school, and there was a coupon for Flamingo Gardens on it. Also, click here for a printable coupon.

Laura Wyatt, curator for wildlife, told me a little more about those awesome bald eages. Harmony, shown in the video flapping her wings, has a permanent injury on her lift wing. It's the equivalent of breaking your wrist and elbow.

Her mate, Abe, is missing an entire wing. It was thought to have been broken off by the antenna of a semi truck. He came to live in Flamingo Gardens from central Florida in the late 1990s, Wyatt said. He and Harmony (also called "Miss America'' by Wyatt) were paired together about seven years ago and have been trying to create an eaglet. But Abe has trouble properly mating because of that missing wing, Wyatt said, so none of their eggs has been viable.

They're sitting on two eggs now (Wyatt said Abe does more of the egg-sitting than his "wife." He does most of the work, while she stands around screaming. No comment!). One will hatch Wednesday, Feb. 24, if it's viable. The other will hatch 72 hours later, if it's viable, she said.

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160), Entertainment (114)

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Do organic baby clothes make a big difference?

I have a thing for shopping for baby clothes. There's something about those tiny dresses that make me want to buy the whole rack. Time seems to fly when I'm running around in a store looking for stuff to bring to a baby shower.socks.jpg

A friend of mine, who is expecting, recently posted her registry, and I couldn't help but notice that she wanted mostly organic baby clothes. I know organic cotton is the thing these days, but her organic picks were quite costly compared to non organic clothing. An organic bib for $16, some organic onesies for $25 each, and some baby yoga sets for 50 bucks.

While I'm all for giving a baby a healthy start, I can't help but wonder if these organic baby clothes are just another way to pump more money out of new-age moms.

I can see spending a lot of money on organic baby food, but does Baby Sam really need to have an organic bib to spit up on?

And once you start your baby out on organic clothing do you run the risk of having to keep them in organic gear throughout their childhood? I gave in and got my friend one of her organic picks, a yellow onesie with some matching socks.

It was hard to resist, organic or non-organic, baby clothes are just so cute.

POSTED IN: Georgia East (44), Newborn (39), Shopping (28)

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February 19, 2010

Newspapers in Education program on financial fitness

Teachers, the Sun Sentinel's Newspaper in Education program has a new curriculum program that focuses on finance.

TD Bank and NIE collaborated on financial literacy curriculum for fourth and fifth graders in private and public schools in Broward and south Palm Beach County. The Focus on Finance program includes Sunshine State Standards, newspaper activities, money facts, the fundamentals of finance, credit card basics and more. And teachers can ask for a TD Bank instructor to visit the classroom. Call 1-888-751-9000.

The curriculum guide is available on the NIE website, at


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February 18, 2010

Tips to help your children learn geometry

Maggie Cary, a national board certified teacher has been an educator for more than 17 years. She is certified in secondary education and holds a master’s degree in early childhood education.

maggiecary.jpgOver the years she has mentored countless teachers and advised hundreds of parents. Cary has taught children from preschool through high school. She also offers classroom advice on website Classroom Talk.

Learning the proper term for solid shapes at an early age gives your child a head start in geometry. It’s very simple to teach them some proper names.

1. Call a can a cylinder.

2. Call dice or square boxes a cube.

3. A cassette or a cereal box is a rectangular prism.

4. A sphere is a ball, an orange, a globe or any round object.

5. A cone shape is just like the bottom of an ice cream cone.

6. A pyramid is a fascinating shape that most children remember after they have seen pictures of one.

If you use the objects proper name and then its “household” name interchangeably, children can learn about a variety of 3D solid shapes before they enter kindergarten.

To take this lesson to the next level, talk about the number of sides (faces) of a shape, the number of corners (vertices) and what shapes have common attributes.

Does it roll? Can you slide it? What shape appears if you trace around the bottom of it with a pencil?

POSTED IN: Guest Post (79)

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Tips for raising left-handed children

My five-year-old son faces a lifetime of discrimination. Not racial, age or gender discrimination -- handedness discrimination. He’s a lefty and most of the world is a righty (including my husband and me).

In practical terms, what does that mean? It means my son has to adapt to unwitting coaches who assume he kicks or bats right. It means he has to adjust to desks and notebooks designed for right-handed students. It means I have to call seven sporting goods stores in order to find a right-hand glove for my son to play T-Ball.

It’s not fair, but I’m learning it’s not impossible. Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way:

Teach the value of being different. Let your child know that he/she is special and should speak up if a teacher or other assumes he is right-handed. Only about one in 10 people are left-handed. And a bit of trivia that could help boost your little one’s perspective: U.S. presidents are disproportionately left-handed. According to various sources, five of the last seven presidents (Obama, Clinton, Bush Sr., Reagan and Ford) have been left-handed.

Don’t push one hand over the other. Avoid placing an object directly in your child’s hand. Instead place the item (such as a crayon, for example) at the center and let your child choose with which hand to grab the object.

Develop fine-motor skills. For years, my son favored his left hand but constantly switched from left to right when writing or using scissors. (He’d write with his left hand on the left side of the page and then switch to the right hand for the right side of the page.) What happened? He fell behind in developing those fine-motor skills you need in order to write. Thankfully, his teachers gave my husband and I a list of activities that have helped tremendously, such as writing on a chalkboard mounted on a wall, grasping objects with tweezers or clothespins and playing certain games that promote dexterity. (Think Operation, Legos or Light Brite.)

It may not be all or nothing. Your left-handed child may prefer to do some things with his/her right hand. My son, for example, now prefers to hold scissors with his right hand. But he writes, kicks and throws with his left.

POSTED IN: Anne Vasquez (67)

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February 17, 2010

Research: Team sports have lifelong benefits for girls

Turns out, Title IX was good for girls. And not just because the landmark 1972 legislation required schools to give equal opportunity to girls sports.

The New York Times has a really interesting story on new research that shows how increasing girls' participation in team sports can have a lifelong impact on education, work and health.

“It’s not just that the people who are going to do well in life play sports, but that sports help people do better in life,” said Betsey Stevenson, an economist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “While I only show this for girls, it’s reasonable to believe it’s true for boys as well.”

That's great news. And reason enough for me to hope that my daughter continues with sports into high school.

But, what's alarming to me is the chart that runs with the story. It shows the top five and bottom five states for varsity sports participation rates in high school in 2004.

And guess where Florida lands? Yep. Next to last. Above the District of Columbia, and below Utah.

How can this be? In the state where kids can play outdoors year round? What is wrong with this picture?

I keep coming back to this notion (in recent blog posts): Youth sports have become too competitive. With year-round travel leagues, we've turned 10-year-olds into "prospects." Kids feel forced to excel and "specialize" in one sport by age 12. If you aren't star material, forget it. Don't even bother.

So instead of trying out for a variety of teams because it's fun and something to do after school, a youngster has to be devoted and/or talented enough to spend hours and hours every day practicing with teams and private trainers.

Is that what's going on here? Help me out. Why don't more kids participate in sports in Florida high schools? Is it a money thing? Too many other things to do? Apathy? What?

And if sports participation is good for kids and will have lifelong positive impact, as the research shows, what needs to happen to change participation rates in Florida?

Illustration: Stuart Bradford/The New York Times


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Security guards: What is their purpose?

Security guards did nothing last week while a 15-year-old girl got beaten up in Seattle. This confirms my theory that the abundance of security guards here in South Florida are there for show but will not be able to help us in an emergency.

I have had trouble explaining to my kids why we have to go through security guards to get to their friends' houses. I tell them it makes the families in those neighborhoods feel more secure. But to myself, I say: "What a colossal waste of money!"

If someone wants to rob your house, they will find a way to get past the guard gates. And it's not only gated communities that pay the guards: I see them in shopping centers, office buildings, houses of worship, libraries. They generally look bored to death.

Will they do more than "observe and report" if someone is about to hurt me? If what happened in Seattle is true here, the answer is clearly no.

POSTED IN: Lois Solomon (211), Lois Solomon (211), Safety (59)

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February 16, 2010

Game over-load? Hit the pause button

No, it’s not his grades. He has over a 4.0 GPA. The Kid is a fantastic, kind and smart person, but he's not perfect.

It's not drugs --he lectures me on the dangers of even too much coffee. But, he has an addiction.

Call it by any other name - a fad, a trend, a phase. To me, his obsession with an online video game is an addiction.

So immersed in the game, he often opts out of playing with real-life friends; the ones who show up on his door step.

Instead, he would mike himself up and “play” with friends on-line. That is the kind of social networking I don’t want to see. I want to see social skills, in person, with live real people.

He says that his “friends” can stay up as late as they want on school nights. They have TV’s in their room. That is just too isolated and lacks structure for a person who gets up at 5 am for school.

Besides, long ago, I made the decision, no TV in a kid’s bedroom. I want to see what my kid is doing, what is he playing, and for how long. Plus, he learns to share - this is not a household were we duplicate the family electronics in every room. It's one family - so we have one TV.

When he isn’t playing the game, he ‘s “researching “ it on You Tube for more tips and tricks. That’s the wrong kind of research. I want to see school work reviewed, studied and researched with that much attention to detail.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for balance and down time. I don’t mind that he plays this particular game – I don’t mind the online interface either. Interestingly, not only does he stay in touch with his classmates- but he has reconnected with some of the kids that go to other schools. I trust him on this - it's not about who he is connecting with - it's the volume of time he is re-directing to online gaming.

I do mind the single focus, the tunnel vision, it creates. After many reminders to watch the time, do the homework do some chores and gentle reprimands to not ignore his real friends – or us - we had it out recently.

At one point, he was not allowed to play the game for a week. He needed some specific guidelines that have helped - somewhat - since.

Especially because I am not a strong disciplinarian - the guidelines we set, put the responsibility of his behaviors back on him: he must limit play to one hour a day. No day is a guarantee that he can play because homework, in-person friends and other activities are a priority. He has to use a timer.

What are the consequences? Right now, no play the next day if he goes over the time. If he plays the game in lieu of doing school assignments - I'll help him realign with his priorities by taking the game privilege away for an appropriate amount of time.

Stay involved with your kid’s life and don’t worry if they don’t like it - as my Mom always says, this isn't a popularity contest with your kid - you're not their friend, you're their parent.

That's a good thing for parents to remember no matter what generation - no matter what technology is out there: There is no “re-set button” in life. You’re the boss of the game.

POSTED IN: Activities (143), Cindy Kent (78), Family Issues (231), General (185), Pre-Teen (57), Teen (158)

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February 15, 2010

How do parents get mad enough to beat their kids?

One thing I wasn't prepared for when I became a parent was how hard it is to discipline kids if you're a person who is slow to anger.

I could never be a child abuser, because kids just don't make me that mad. That also means I'm not a great disciplinarian, because I find it difficult to care very much about things like wire hangers.

In some families, a mother who lacks that school-marm instinct is balanced out by a dad who is scary. Or vice versa. In our household, both parents are laid back.

I find myself having to fake it quite a bit, and wondering how other parents find their anger so naturally.

When I'm in a great mood, and the phone rings, and it's one of my kids' teachers saying my child is talking too much in class, I know the expectation is that I'm supposed to go from copacetic to irate in two seconds flat. I wait two seconds, but I'm still in a good mood. So I sternly say something like, "Well, there will be consequences for him when he gets home!'' And that makes the teacher happy.

I found a helpful column about the seven signs of laid-back parenting, which I'll post on the jump. It's frightening, really.

Life would be so much easier if I had a deep well of Parent Anger to tap into, like my own parents did.

David Riel of offers these "Seven Warning Signs of Laid-Back Parenting" (click here for his full column):

1. You don't know where your child is right now. Could you tell someone where your children are right now, without having to look into it? You should be able to. The questions are going to get harder.

2. You can't name three of your child's friends. So if you have three kids, that's nine names. If you can't do it, ask yourself why not.

3. You don't know the names of each of your child's teachers. Unless it's summer holidays, you get a failing grade.

4. You don't know what time your child left the house this morning. If you don't know this, and your child left the house before you did, mark this answer wrong.

5. You don't know what time your child went to bed last night. You fail this one whether you were home or not, if you don't know the answer.

6. You don't know what your child had for breakfast, lunch, and dinner yesterday. There will be things your child may have eaten without your knowledge,but you should know what your child had at each of these meals.

7. You don't know what your child wants to be when he or she grows up. If you can't recite your child's hopes, goals and dreams without having to ask, you get this one wrong.

As I have always said, it's very easy to be your child's friend. It's much tougher being your child's parent. ...

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

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Boynton student wins state design award


Michael Cardona, a junior at South Tech Academy in Boynton Beach, won the statewide Act-Out for Health contest. Now, his billboard (above) promoting Florida KidCare, can be seen at Boynton Beach Boulevard and U.S. 441.

Florida KidCare is a state and federally supported health insurance program for children.

In addition to Michael's winning design, three Palm Beach County students were regional winners. Grant Grillo and Hailey Mears from Seminole Ridge Community High School Loxahatchee won in the commercial PSA category. Sebastian Specer, of South Tech Academy, was a regional winner in the billboard category.

South Tech graphic design instructor Mickey Schemer had his students research the KidCare program, then they learned how to make a billboard effective for a specific audience. "With that in mind, they worked hard to create a message and design that would capture people's attention," he said.

To view all of the winning billboards and television PSAs, click here.


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February 12, 2010

Out of the mouth of a babe

One too many weekday mornings begin with me and my daughter screaming through the bedroom walls.

Her: Mommy, Come here!

Me: Lauren, you, come here!!

Then the pitter patter of bare feet on tile.

Usually she chats or hums while I try to catch a few more winks. But on Tuesday, she chatted and I listened.

Here's what the nearly 3-year-old had to say about what she wants to do when she grows up:

POSTED IN: Joy Oglesby (134)

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February 10, 2010

Returning to work after maternity leave

Whew. I did it. I have successfully returned to work after my maternity leave. Baby is in daycare; my 5 year old is in preschool; and I am back in the office feeling like I now work three jobs:

1) The hectic mornings: Involves getting baby and 5 year old dressed, fed, redressed (for the baby who inevitably dirties her outfit before I’m out the door), packing lunches/bottles, putting baby down for a cat nap (to help ward off complete exhaustion at daycare), and, lastly, getting dressed for work in an outfit that a) fits, b) doesn’t have spit-up on it, and c) can handle the wear-and-tear of juggling baby and preschooler.

2) At the office: I’ve always been organized and efficient. Having my son took me to another level. The birth of my daughter makes me feel like an air traffic controller on steroids. Not a minute of my time is wasted.

3) The busy evenings: Feed the baby, get dinner ready for the rest of the family (unfortunately, lots of takeout these last two weeks), bathe the kids, get them ready for bed. Then comes “me” time, which involves relaxing while I’m sterilizing bottles, washing dishes and prepping for the next morning. I’m also responding to e-mails and putting out fires for my job that truly is 24-7.

So how did I survive the transition?

I could probably come up with an endless list of tips for returning to work after maternity leave. Here are the ones at the top of my list:

Ask for help and map out responsibilities: Thanks to those organizational skills mentioned above, I worked out with my husband all of our responsibilities, and we divided them up. Who drops off and picks up? At what time? Who does the laundry, the dishes, the grocery shopping? Without a clear understanding of who needs to do what and when, mass chaos would quickly breakout at home.

Do a trial run: Once you’ve lined up daycare/babysitting for your little one, try it on for size – before you have to battle with rush hour traffic to make it to work. It also really helps your baby adjust to a new setting. Build in a few days before you return to the office and introduce your baby to her new caregivers. I took it a step further and also timed how long it’d take me to do everything I have to do before heading into the office. Think of yourself as a runner who’s trying to improve her time in a marathon – a really, really long marathon that lasts well into the teen years.

Embrace the unexpected: One of the unexpected gifts of motherhood has been that I no longer sweat the small stuff. It’s even more so after Baby No. 2. The other morning, my little one threw up on me just as I was ready to head out. My son, hearing the commotion, got up from the breakfast table, at which time my dog helped himself to my son’s breakfast. By the time we made it to preschool/daycare, I hardly even flinched when my son accidentally emptied his entire thermos of water on the back seat of my car.

Life is good.

POSTED IN: Anne Vasquez (67)

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Is senior year a waste?

I volunteered at the school store at our high school yesterday, and I noticed there were a lot fewer students around than usual.

"It's senior skip day," I was told. That's the day, a few times a year, when seniors decide en masse to skip school.

I didn't remember this type of group hooky from when I was growing up. I started wondering if seniors don't take school seriously anymore.

Coincidentally, I saw this article in the New York Times shortly afterward. It quotes Hillary Pennington of the Gates Foundation, which is funding new approaches to education, as saying: "As a nation, we just can’t afford to have students spending four years or more getting through high school, when we all know senior year is a waste." She goes on to talk about problems in the transition to college.

I had no idea senior year was now considered useless. What happened? Has this been the experience of your kids?

POSTED IN: Lois Solomon (211), School Issues (135), Teen (158)

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February 9, 2010

Fighting childhood obesity: Maybe it does take a village

Today, Mrs. Obama announced an effort to combat childhood obesity. It feels like an enormous problem -- no pun intended -- and I hope she can get kids moving and slimming down. (Read about it here.)

If any public figure can do it, maybe she can. She's a strong role model: she feeds her kids a healthy vegetable-laden diet, she planted a garden with school kids ... those arms!

Full disclosure: My kids are slim, but I'm not about to wag my finger at others. Because I wish I could be as good a role model in my house as Michelle Obama is in the People's House. I do not exercise nearly as much as I should. Nutritious meals too often fall by the wayside -- because we are juggling five or six weeknight sports practices. We've got too much junk food in the cabinet.

I wasn't always this way. For my son's first birthday, I made him a cake that involved wheat germ and unsweetened apple sauce. It didn't taste very good. Maybe that traumatic experience turned my son into the picky eater he remains today. My daughter, however, is a great eater. Go figure.

I do think Mrs. Obama is on to something: That it takes a multi-pronged approach to fight a significant health issue.

It starts with parents, but communities and schools must play a role, too, in the form of healthy lunches and fun physical activities for kids.

Though last week I wrote how PE in middle school was a waste of time for some kids (mine specifically), my thoughtful collegue Lois Solomon disagreed. Believe me, if my kids weren't already active, they would be taking PE.

I just think all the fun has been taken out of it physical activity. Parents are afraid to let their kids run or bike around the neighborhood for fear of being snatched. Sports programs have become so competitive they weed out everyone but the very best.

One bright spot locally is the opening of a new YMCA at Lauderhill Middle School. This is an innovate partnership between Broward County Schools and Waste Management, which gave a $75,0000 grant. It's the first YMCA in a public school in Broward.

The new facility is now open to teachers and faculty and this summer will be open to students and the community. If it becomes anything like the Y I grew up with, it will be a safe place for kids to try all sorts of fun, physical, non-competitive activities.

Hopefully, Mrs. Obama can inspire more of these kinds of innovative programs.



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Valentine's Day: It's all about matters of the heart

Valentine's Day is all about romance: chocolates, wine and soft music. Even for parents.

In fact, what I learned from my mom, a mother of five children, is that the most important relationship in a family is the one between the adults - the couple, the parents of the household.

Their strength enables family stability, mom says. If they're happy as a couple, the family is happy, the kids are secure and the environment is nurturing for everyone.

Mom is also very pragmatic. I got that gene from her. So I'd like to take a few minutes here to discuss the business of loving your family.

A few years ago for Valentine's Day, I put my affairs in order

As a follow up, I suggested some tips and resources.

And later, I emphasized the importance of really taking on the task of getting wills.

No one got the warm fuzzys over wills that year. But we did get some peace of mind, we ensured as best we could, the continuity of the family (see above).

This year, I feel like I can be in a more playful mood.

We will celebrate Valentine's as a couple and as a family. We'll have an extra special dinner that includes The Kid.

We'll celebrate as a couple too - we always try to take advantage of "alone time," big people time," throughout the year.

But this year, instead of reaching into our purses and wallets for expensive gifts, we'll tap into our "inner Don Juan," and "inner Cleopatra" for a very special Valentine's evening.

POSTED IN: Cindy Kent (78), Family Issues (231), Holidays (49)

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February 8, 2010

Poll: Is it dangerous to post kid photos and videos online?

I read an advice column a while back that suggested it was OK to post videos on YouTube of, say, a children's birthday party, to share with other family members and parents of the kids who attended.


I'm not over protective, and I do have photos of my kids on Facebook. But I don't think it's OK for an adult to post videos of anyone else's child on YouTube. And I wouldn't post pictures of someone else's child online anywhere.

Here's a story in the New York Times that addresses this point. Parents are in wide disagreement about what's OK and what's not. The mom in the story posted photos of her daughter on Flickr and they turned up on someone else's page in Brazil.

I've heard parents warn that some pervert is going to print out childrens' pictures and paste them on his ceiling, but I don't spend a lot of time worrying about stuff like that. Is it possible that he's going to find my daughter and snatch her, or just salivate over her photo unbeknownst to me?

What do you guys think?

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160)

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Results mixed on whether FCAT tutoring works

In case you missed this story in Monday's Sun Sentinel, staff writer Marc Freeman reports on the usefulness of FCAT tutoring:

There are only four weeks left before the reading and math portions of the FCAT — the writing test begins Tuesday — and more than 9,500 struggling students in Palm Beach and Broward counties are each receiving up to $1,500 worth of free tutoring.

That adds up to more than $14 million in federal funds that the school districts pay local tutoring firms.

But South Florida educators say they aren't sure this tutoring produces smarter students and higher test scores. And the state hasn't had a method of grading tutors despite doling out $77 million yearly across Florida for the voluntary program, called Supplemental Educational Services.

"How do we know we're getting the bang for the buck?" asked Terry Pitchford, manager of state and federal programs for Palm Beach County schools.

The answers could come this year. Palm Beach County is one of nine districts around the country participating in a $1.4 million federal study on whether the tutoring leads to higher achievement. And the state Board of Education in March is expected to adopt a new scoring system that would rate firms excellent, satisfactory or unsatisfactory, based on various factors including whether students showed improvement in mastering skills.

"We've wanted an evaluation of provider effectiveness for several years," Pitchford said, adding that the district joined the national study "to learn if the money being expended on this program is helping students improve academically."

The U.S. Department of Education intends to use the study results in shaping the future of the program, which cost $806 million nationwide in the 2007-08 school year, the most recent available data.

Locally, parent survey results show they are highly satisfied with the tutoring and want to keep using it.

"I'm very happy because my child is happy," said Maria Amez, of Lake Worth. "It's working."

She said her son Jeremy, 8, has received better grades in the three weeks since he began getting help in reading from a local Sylvan Learning branch.

"He's improving a lot," Amez said of her third-grader, who will take his first FCAT exam March 9.

The free tutoring is required by the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act. To be eligible, Florida students must attend schools that have failed to meet a federal standard called "adequate yearly progress" for two or more years, and enroll a high percentage of students from low-income families.

The program now covers 78 schools in Broward and 84 in Palm Beach County. Educators sent letters home last fall inviting parents to apply for the service, which began in mid-October.

But the districts don't have enough federal funds to pay for all of the eligible students at those schools. So they select only the students struggling most — about 5,500 in Broward and 4,000 in Palm — while thousands are placed on waiting lists.

"Our parents need to know the limited capacity we can serve," said Luwando L. Wright-Hines, a Broward schools administrator who manages the program.

Students receive about 21 hours of tutoring, usually billed at $70 per hour, in the months leading up to the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. There are 49 state-approved tutoring companies serving students in Broward and 42 in Palm Beach County.

Typically, the companies hire district teachers and retired educators to serve as tutors during after-school hours. The tutoring is provided in classrooms and at off-campus locations.

"For a lot of parents it's their one and only shot to get extra support for their children," said Jason Green, vice president of Rocket Learning, one of the larger providers in Broward and Palm Beach counties. "It's hugely important."

Larry Sugar, executive director of Sylvan Learning in Palm Beach County, said: "We definitely see positive results for the students."

A 2007 federally authorized study found that the tutoring leads to significant gains by students. The researchers cautioned, however, that the encouraging results from seven districts don't mean the tutoring is effective everywhere.

The new research is intended to be a more rigorous examination of the program, indicating whether student improvement is a result of tutoring or classroom instruction.

Results will be out later in the year, said Brian Gill, associate director of Cambridge, Mass.-based Mathematica Policy Research, which is leading the federal study.

Palm Beach County parents say the tutoring is the difference maker, according to survey responses from 586 families last year, Pitchford said. Eighty percent of those parents said their children improved. Results from a survey of Broward parents have not yet been published.

The Florida Department of Education plans to post its first tutoring firm ratings by July 1, so parents around the state can see how the providers measure up this year, said Lisa Bacen, chief of the Bureau of Federal Educational Programs.

These ratings will take into account student achievement data, attendance and evaluations by parents, principals and districts. Tutors scored at 80 percent or higher will be considered excellent, with the rest satisfactory or not.

"Florida has created a system that we believe reflects providers' abilities to deliver quality services," Bacen said.

Rocket Learning's Green welcomes the branding, which he said he believes will reflect that his clients' reading and math scores rise 20 percent and 30 percent, respectively.

"This is not a baby-sitting service," he said. "This is intensive state-standards-based instruction."

Marc Freeman can be reached at or 561-243-6642.

Copyright © 2010, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

POSTED IN: School Issues (135)

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Should parents network at school functions?

Let’s face it with the economy the way it is right now landing a good job is not easy. Many, who run their own businesses, have seen traffic slow down. Finding a lead on a job opening can be tough.

But should parents see the moms and dads at their child’s school as prospective clients or leads, or should they limit their contact to school related matters only.

I can see how this can be touchy. For one, you don’t want to rub a parent the wrong way and make them feel like you only sparked conversation with them to share your unemployment woes.

But what’s so wrong with throwing out to another parent that you’re job hunting or looking for a sale of some sort?

Every day deals are made on the golf course. Should we add the kindergarten recital to that list?

POSTED IN: General (185), Georgia East (44)

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February 5, 2010

From baby to teen: Is each stage better than the last?

I can still feel my tiny sleeping newborn snuggling on my chest, his breath in rhythm with my own. There is really nothing better than that pure and blissful moment.

Until you walk in the door from a long day, and his little arms fly up in the air in greeting and a huge drooly smile spreads across the infant's face he's just so happy to see you.

And it just keeps getting better. From smiling to walking to talking. I've always thought that each phase of a child's life is better than the last -- more miraculous, more fun.

Even now, when I walk in the door from a long day and I'm greeted with something closer to a snarl and a grunt from the gangly adolescent. I'm awestruck that I created this, and that everything is working the way nature intended. He's supposed to be drawing away from me at this age, in preparation for the day he's out on his own. Isn't that cool?

When I recently interviewed Maria Bailey, of Mom Talk Radio and, she said she hears from lots of moms who don't think like I do, who don't think each stage is better than the last.

Maria loves the teen years -- she has three teens and an 11-year-old. "I love it when they make good decisions," she said. And she loves to see how she has rubbed off on them.

I, too, like to watch my kids figure things out, learn from their mistakes, develop into their own personality. That's what's so much fun.

They toddle and fall, pick themselves back up to try again, and soon they are running out the door to play. They babble and imitate to form words and soon they talking back with their own opinions, however illogical and hasty they may be.

No doubt some stages are less complicated than others. As I recall, age 3 is...hard. And my daughter, at age 11, is so easy, I wouldn't mind stretching that out awhile.

What about you? Do you have a favorite stage in your child's life? Or are you really looking forward to age 16?


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February 4, 2010

Getting all the angles: How to help your child with geometry

Maggie Cary, a national board certified teacher has been an educator for more than 17 years. She is certified in secondary education and holds a master’s degree in early childhood education.

Over the years she has mentored countless teachers and advised hundreds of parents. Cary has taught children from preschool through high school. She also offers classroom advice on website Classroom Talk. She last wrote about knowing the lyrics to your child's music.

Learning the proper term for solid shapes at an early age gives your child a head start in geometry. It’s very simple to teach them some proper names.

1. Call a can a cylinder.
2. Call dice or square boxes a cube.
3. A cassette or a cereal box is a rectangular prism.
4. A sphere is a ball, an orange, a globe or any round object.
5. A cone shape is just like the bottom of an ice cream cone.
6. A pyramid is a fascinating shape that most children remember after they have seen pictures of one.

tennisball-blog.jpgIf you use the objects proper name and then its “household” name interchangeably, children can learn about a variety of 3D solid shapes before they enter kindergarten.

To take this lesson to the next level, talk about the number of sides (faces) of a shape, the number of corners (vertices) and what shapes have common attributes.

Does it roll?

Can you slide it?

What shape appears if you trace around the bottom of it with a pencil?


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Autism and vaccines: What parents should do

Dr. Noel Alonso is a practicing pediatrician in South Florida. He writes a question-and-answer column for

We asked him to weigh in on the retraction of a 12-year-old study that linked vaccines to autism.

On Tuesday, the British medical journal The Lancet retracted its 1998 study which had proposed a link between MMR, children with gastrointestinal symptoms, and the development of autism. This paper was for many the flashpoint in a debate that fired up passions on both sides and drew more attention to the entire anti-vaccination crusade.

All of a sudden, it became wholly unpopular to vaccinate. Battle lines were drawn, celebrities were enlisted, alternate vaccination schedules proposed, and the backlash was felt in doctors’ offices throughout the country.

The decision to retract the original paper will calm some fears but undoubtedly raise other questions and stoke the flames of conspiracy theorists everywhere that will see this as yet more proof that the government, the medical establishment and the pharmaceutical industry are in bed together. Yes, there are some in my profession that have not honored the ethical standards that they swore to uphold. I am arguing for the vast majority that does.

I should probably start by saying that no one-size-fits-all mentality is appropriate here. As parents, you should have the freedom and ease to speak to your pediatrician about any health issues and feel free to collaborate with the pediatrician on the best management plans for your children.

So what does the retraction of this study mean for parents? It means that today parents can more confidently vaccinate their children and not feel as if they are harming them. It also means that this retraction is in accordance to the Special Masters court of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims which last year reviewed over 900 medical journal articles and concluded that there was no link found between vaccination and the risk for developing autism.

Finally, one can safely conclude that notions such as “alternate” vaccination schedules, “overwhelming” a child’s immune system with too many vaccines, and delaying or separating vaccinations into their component parts have no basis in scientific methodology, and therefore are of no proven benefit.

Of course, this means nothing to the parent of a child with autism. Even with the removal of thimerosal from vaccines (except the flu vaccine) in 2001, rates of autism continued to climb. Recent figures place the rate at 1 in 90 to 1 in 110 children. These are alarming figures, but the debate over vaccine safety has delayed funding for research into more plausible reasons for this increase.

Are professionals better at picking this up than they were before?

Is it possible that kids that were previously under blanket terms such as “developmental delay” are now being recognized as having autism as a result of more sensitive diagnosis?

Could there be other genetic or environmental factors at play here?

Whatever the reason, the role of vaccines in the development of autism has been dealt a major blow and will hopefully shift the discussion to other possible causes rather than random musings with no sound basis. But I am not holding my breath.


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February 3, 2010

Middle school PE: Florida is doing the right thing

When I think about the hours my kids spend texting, doing homework and playing games on the computer, I am thankful for the new middle school physical education requirement.

I'm responding to my colleague Gretchen Day-Bryant's post yesterday about what she sees as the uselessness of this requirement. At our middle school, PE has been a positive experience, giving my kids skills and knowledge they can use the rest of their lives.

They actually get tests! These have included the parts of the body used in athletics (sacrum, fibula, tibia) and the rules of various team sports, including soccer, basketball and football. As for actual exercise, activities have included running around the track and setting goals for how fast they will go.

When you consider the American childhood obesity rate (32 percent!), it's clear that societal changes have forced kids into the house after school and their parents aren't doing anything to get them moving (not to mention our terrible dietary habits). Although they may have to give up some other fun subjects like fine arts, I say Florida is doing the right thing in this aspect of our kids' education.

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

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February 2, 2010

PE class isn't the answer for many kids

My colleagues at the Orlando Sentinel have an interesting story about how tens of thousands of Florida middle schoolers are opting out of the state's PE requirement. Of course, the subtext is that this is a tragedy.

I say, that's as it should be. I have a particular bias against PE classes, and not just because I never could throw a softball or do a chin-up.

My son took PE throughout middle school, and it was the biggest waste of time for him. After the time spent changing into and out of gym clothes, and the chatter from the PE teachers, you're left with about 20 minutes of activity, maybe. And that activity is still pretty traditional -- soccer, basketball, flag football. Where's the yoga? The aerobics? The tai-chi?

Kids who are not "ball kids" or into team sports aren't going to change their lifestyle because of PE. And kids like my son who are phsycially active could better spend their time in something more academic or enriching. My sixth-grade daughter will spend her middle school years in band rather than PE. She loves band, and I suspect a lot of kids who opted out of PE are just like her -- enjoying middle school because of music and other fine arts classes. If she didn't love music, or needed the exercise, she'd be in PE. But that's the thing: It's a option.

If the state is serious about encouraging physical activity, let's bring back intramural sports. Let's make it fun for kids to play sports in a way that's low pressure and inclusive of everyone -- the uncoordinated, the slow, the chubby. Open the gym before or after school for pickup games and other fun activities.

Organized sports have become so competitive that unless a kid is an above average athlete who has been playing nights and weekends for years, they have little chance of making a school team. Many many kids would love to play sports for fun, but they are shut out.

PE won't reverse obesity in this country, but putting fun back into childhood might make a dent.

Photo: Los Angles Times


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February 1, 2010

Should we let our kids set the rules?


I’ll be the first to admit that I had some reservations about the concept at first. But in a free parenting class I took recently, they suggested that parents should have their children help with setting the rules of the house.

I took it a step further and had my daughter makeup up each and every rule.

We started with bedtime. To my surprise my six-year-old daughter wanted to move her bedtime up to make it a half hour earlier. She thought of more rules than I could have imagined and suggested some pretty stiff consequences if certain rules were broken.

Her rules ranged from “no shouting,’’ to “no interrupting while singing Justine Bieber songs.’’

Her consequences included, “no candy for a week,’’ if she breaks one of her rules and “pushing mommy into the pool after she’s had her hair done,’’ should I break one of mine.

It actually turned out to be a fun little exercise and afterwards we posted the pink paper with the rules and consequences on a bulletin board near our computer.

So far it's making bedtime easier. When my daughter gets out of line I walk her over to the rules, written in her own handwriting, to give her a gentle reminder of the consequences.

I can see now why teachers often make students class monitors. My daughter has become a stern enforcer of her own rules, and I'm enjoying it.

POSTED IN: Family Issues (231), Georgia East (44)

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Girls rule, boys drool

Any parent who has raised both genders would probably back up what I'm about to say: Females should be running this planet.

What in the world is this thing?

Yes, the boys of the world have many positive attributes that aid them in their positions as leaders of most countries. But I've noticed -- and talked to many other parents who've noticed -- that girls exhibit the behaviors of a successful CEO at a very young age, while their brothers are playing X Box.

A girl might lay her school clothes out the night before, tucking socks carefully into each waiting shoe. A boy might declare, at the moment it's time to walk out the door, "I can't go to school. I don't have any socks!''

A girl might warn you weeks in advance that school pictures are coming up, so she can be sure to fill out the form and bring in the money on the required day. She might even write it on her calendar. A boy might leave his picture form crumpled in a ball at the bottom of his backpack, which he then leaves at a friend's house for a few days, and then you find it the week after Picture Day.

Does anyone out there know what I'm talking about?

I'm not bashing boys. For the most part, they're the ones telling us girls what to do in this world, and I respect their authority, (in most cases). And I feel the need to say, just for the record, that I appreciate the things my son is great at, which are many.

If my daughter grows up to be a wife and stay-at-home mom, believe me when I say that would be fine with me, if she's happy and her husband treats her with love and respect.

But I want her to know that girls can do anything.

Boys already know that about their futures. Girls might not be sure. Lily has already asked me what monetary denomination has a woman's face on it. (Lady Liberty doesn't count!) And then, of course, I had to explain what in the world a "Susan B. Anthony dollar'' was.

So I tell her, quite a bit, that she's going to be the first female president of the United States.

Or maybe, by then, I tell her, you'll be the second or third.

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160)

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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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