Having Fun with the Summer Slide (Part II)

It’s been two whole months since I did this post (Part I) about having fun with the summer slide. I had originally meant to do a couple of them by and by, but summer just rushed past and now I suddenly realize we’re already at the fag end of the holiday season. Though schools in our area re-open after August 31, my kids are happily having an extended vacation of sorts; their grandparents are visiting in the next fortnight, hence their home/school classes will actually begin after mid-September.

We’ve been making it a point to read every day this summer, the whole family. Evenings are more often than not spent curled up on the couch or bean bag with a book. I personally love those quiet times together.

Now when the summers are about to end, here are some ways to get your kids up and about, ready for schooling, unschooling and homeschooling. Needless to say, there’s fun involved too!

Experiment. Fail. Learn. Repeat.

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Explore” by SchoolPRPro is licensed under CC by 2.0

Science experiments are not meant for the school chemistry lab alone. Neither are they only meant for middle or high school kids. Irrespective of how old your kids are, there is bound to be a variety of science experiments like these you can easily carry out at home, the DIY way. Allow bread mold to grow on a slice of bread and explain what mold is all about. Use food coloring and bleach to carry out the ‘appear-disappear’ act for kids. Make it rain with ice cubes and some hot water in the interiors of your home within a jar. Or even write a spooky secret message using invisible ink (read: lemon juice). The possibilities are endless; and so are the learning and fun parts. For some really good ideas, you could go through this post too.

Kid-Friendly Cooking

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Cooking With Kids” by congerdesign is licensed under CC by 2.0

“Cooking with kids is not just about ingredients, recipes and cooking. It’s about harnessing imagination, empowerment and creativity,” says Guy Fieri, the renowned American restaurateur, author, TV personality and game show host. And about creating a BIG mess, if I may add (from personal experience). Here’s why it is all worth it.

First and foremost, cooking becomes fun if the family does it together (followed by the cleaning up which is also done together). Right from something as simple as cracking an egg open to meticulously decorating a bunch of cupcakes fresh out of the oven, there is no denying the fact that these skills will hold your kids in good stead later on in their lives. Finding their way about in the kitchen can only be learnt at home; no amount of schooling can teach them that. What’s more, it can be a good way to brush up on the basic math skills of younger kids as well, say fractions or multiplication tables (for instance: how many cookies on a tray, if there are 6 rows of 6 cookies each?).

Sigh. As I get the next meal ready, I can already see a pile of reading worksheets peeking out at me cheekily from the bottom-most drawer in the next room. An indication perhaps that summer is over and soon enough, like it or not, we’ll have to firmly pull up our socks. Alas!

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Cartoon of the Month – Popeye

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Graffiti” by 422737 is licensed under CC by 2.0

I’m Popeye the Sailor Man,

I’m Popeye the Sailor Man.

I’m strong to the finich,

Cause I eats me spinach.

I’m Popeye the Sailor Man.

Ranked #20 in TV Guide’s ’50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time’ list, Popeye the Sailor has been one of the most popular cartoons of all time. Created by Elzie Crisler Segar way back in the year 1929 in the form of a comic strip, the muscular one-eyed sailor eventually found his way into theater, animated TV cartoons, comic books, arcade, video and pinball games in addition to radio and live action films and his own theme park as well.

  • Popeye and his lady love Olive Oyl are based on real people – a pipe-smoking, fond-of-fighting sailor in the creator’s hometown and a tall, slim neighbor of his who wore her hair in a bun.
  • A piece of trivia: Who was the first cartoon character in the world to get its very own statue built? Our beloved Popeye the Sailor it was! Yes, he’s that majestic.
  • The people behind the voices of Popeye and Olive in the film (Jack Mercer and Margie Hynes) actually ended up marrying each other in real life!

The villainous Bluto trying to kidnap Olive Oyl every chance he got, leading to Popeye inevitably eating spinach and defeating his arch-rival is always hilarious, whatever be the storyline around it.

And though it doesn’t work for my kids at least, research studies have shown that Popeye’s spinach considerably impacted a large number of children around the world, leading to them downing veggies much faster! By the way, if greens are cooking for dinner tonight, perhaps you can just try switching on an episode of Popeye and see how it goes?

The Importance of Fitness for Kids

Fitness is not about being better than someone else… It’s about being better than you used to be.

Fitness is not a one-off phenomenon. One fine day you decide to get out of bed early and go running – kudos to your enthusiasm. But the fact of the matter is – did you manage to get up and about the second day? And the third? And the day after that? If yes, hats off. If no, you’ll more likely than not end up with sore knees and calves, groaning your way to the couch. There goes your resolution kaput.

In our family, my husband has always been the active one. He can’t wait for the morning alarm to go off so that he can happily begin his daily exercise on the jogging track, earphones plugged in, oblivious to his surroundings. I’ve been trying to pull myself out of bed the same time as he does lately, and I can proudly say that I’ve managed to do so successfully for one whole week. Yay! Running (or perhaps just walking swiftly) is next on my to-do list.

The other day I was wondering: We as adults tend to try and be conscious about what and when we eat, how much exercise we get, so on and so forth. What about our kids? Do they also need a regular exercise routine that keeps them on their toes? Or is it too early to bring a regular form of physical workout into their daily lives?

Couch Potatoes

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Girl” by andrewicus is licensed under CC by 2.0

Thinking back to our childhood, most of the games we played together had some amount of physical movement involved. Having no video games or mobile phones, we ran a lot, tumbled in mud, rolled off hillsides (yes, I actually remember cutting myself in several places when I landed in a prickly bush of brambles once) and cycled away to glory. Cut to today. More often than not, your kids will probably spend their evenings glued to a screen of some sort, happily whiling away a beautiful sunny day feeding their virtual pets online, or laughing maniacally at some ridiculous animated creatures on the tablet and laptop. Physical exercise? Zero. The traditional definition of a couch potato is: ‘a person who takes little or no exercise and watches a lot of television’. Add to it ‘spends a lot of time on the computer/laptop/tablet/mobile phone’ and you have the modern day versions of couch potatoes, aka our children.

Kids Need To Move

It’s as simple as that. Move as in, not move their eyes across a computer screen. But get out there away from gadgets of any kind and seek out their peers to move with them. We need to make our kids realize that moving about frequently is a fun thing – it could be playing a simple game of tag, jumping about on one leg for hopscotch, racing to the nearest park with their friends or just cycling to the neighborhood grocery store to run a few errands. It just struck me; we adults complain of a whole lot of diseases we are afflicted with today – obesity, hypertension, fatigue and the like. And this was when we had a supposedly ‘active’ childhood. I shudder to think what our couch potato kids have in store for them in the future, with their totally ‘inactive’ childhood. We as parents need to change that and their perspective towards fitness to make things work in their favor in the long run.

We Need To Move With Them

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Girl” by Skitterphoto is licensed under CC by 2.0

That’s what I’ve decided as the easiest way to get them (and myself) up and about (this article proved to be a big source of motivation). We’ll go swimming together regularly as a family. We could cycle to the park every weekend for a picnic together. Their dad would simply jump at the opportunity of playing a game of baseball with them. Why not spend quality time together and have fun at it while keeping fit? For a person like me, it would do a world of good – a genuine reason to pick myself up and move with them out there. For the kids, it’s just inculcating (hopefully) a habit that will hold them in good stead for a lifetime.

And yes, what I need to remember more than anything else is – peanut butter is not the glue holding my body together!

Cartoon of the Month – The Powerpuff Girls

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Image courtesy: Wikia

Fighting crime, trying to save the world,

Here they come just in time,

The Powerpuff Girls…

Powerpuff!

Three cute girls with superpowers, a brainy scientist professor who is their father along with villains and giant monsters aplenty; what is there not to like about The Powerpuff Girls? This American animated television series was originally developed in the year 1992 by Craig McCracken (if you’re a fan too of the theme song like I am, watch it here) and went on to become one of the most-loved shows on Cartoon Network. Nominated for six Emmy Awards, nine Annie Awards and a Kids’ Choice Award is no mean feat. Add to that a series of super hit video games, an anime and home video collection in addition to licensed merchandise sold the world over… Phew!

  • Powerpuff Girls weren’t always Powerpuff Girls. They were originally known as ‘The Whoop-Ass Girls’ who obtained their superpowers from a can of ‘whoop-ass’ instead of the mysterious Chemical X. Whoopie!
  • Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup had different names in different places – for example, Chocolate, Bubble and Acorn in Latin America and Lolly, Dolly and Molly in Italy.
  • The series premiere in 1998 holds the distinction of being the highest rated debut in Cartoon Network history. What’s more, it got a reboot and premiered once again last year in April.

By the way, which of the three girls is your favorite – Blossom, the red-haired leader with ice breath and superhuman intelligence; Bubbles, the cute and ever-smiling girl with the pigtails and hypnotic abilities; or Buttercup, the toughest fighter of all three? My personal favorite has been Bubbles right through; more so perhaps because I’ve always been partial to the blue color since childhood. Ah yes, and Mojo Jojo too; just can’t take my eyes off him whenever he appears on screen!

Having Fun with the Summer Slide (Part I)

‘A term that suggests a playful amusement park attraction but actually describes a grim reality. The phenomenon was studied extensively by Johns Hopkins University researchers… [in 2007 and their] longitudinal study tracked Baltimore students from 1st grade through age 22… The researchers concluded that two-thirds of the 9th grade reading achievement gap can be explained by [lack of] access to summer learning opportunities during elementary school.’

This is how the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) defines ‘summer slide’, the tendency for students to lose some of the achievement gains they made during the previous school year.

Though we are a homeschooling family and learn all year round without the concept of any particularly long vacation of sorts, things do tend to get a bit different come summers. We go a bit slower than usual from the drawn-up curriculum, spending our time more on other ‘non-studying’ activities than classes, worksheets and ‘homework’ (yes, my kids still get homework from their homeschooling mom-cum-teacher, which they have to submit for correction the following day). Hence, homeschoolers like us also experience a summer slide, albeit perhaps a milder version as compared to those who attend school regularly.

I’ve decided to do a series of posts that talk about how we can keep our kids gainfully occupied this summer. Some of the ideas are tried-and-tested, others I found interesting while I came across them sometime in the past, which seemed suitable for the coming weeks. These can work for all kids – schooled, unschooled, homeschooled and the rest. Read on, and please feel free to add or subtract or suggest your own ideas.

On Your Mark, Get Set… Read!

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Kids” by henriquesaf is licensed under CC by 2.0

For kids who love reading (like mine), this one is simple. For parents of kids who don’t, this one will need a patient approach to get them into the habit. Try reading games like these which are interactive and helpful for beginners. If your little ones are old enough to read but simply not interested in curling up on the couch with a book, try something more fun. Join a neighborhood library. Ours organizes read-aloud story sessions for young kids. What’s more, kids do spend more time than usual with books if they have a whole shelf of them to choose from. Or else, read in places along with your child where you wouldn’t generally. Like the beach, or the park, or on a picnic. Make it all about the picnic (say) rather than the act of reading. Another exciting alternative is to read story books which have been made into cartoons or films. I remember reading The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Elves and The Shoemaker with mother back as a child and then following it up watching its video on the television. Reading time should be equivalent to family time.

Summer Camps… Where Strangers Become Friends

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Holiday” by lentemamaatje is licensed under CC by 2.0

“Summers are a particularly good opportunity to take into account our children’s interests and likes. Building activities around what our children enjoy or want to explore is essential to creating positive summer learning experiences,” says Mr. Boulay from the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA).

I’ve never been to summer camp myself but my husband has and vouches for their worth. Camps could be about anything your kids are interested in – skating, swimming, reading, photography, dance, baking, art… the possibilities are endless. In one word, a summer camp is akin to action; kids will be physically active, meeting new people, forming bonds and friendships, getting to know how to work as a team. There’s always something going on at a camp; even sitting around laughing and being silly all day long with your peer group is a learning experience for young minds. Read more here about how camps are a good idea both for your kids as well as for you.

No interesting summer camps in the immediate neighborhood? Not a problem. Discuss with your neighborhood parents and take the kids out on a day trip every weekend. It could be a zoo, an amusement park or just a giant playground where they can run around and play catch. A carefree day well-spent with like-minded kids of their own age will do them a world of good.

After all, aren’t summers all about going crazy and making the best memories possible together, slide and all?

Cartoon of the Month – Pokemon

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Image courtesy: Pinterest

All we wanna do, is have a good time,

Having lots of fun with all these friends of mine…

All we wanna do, is celebrate,

Every time we’ve been together it’s been great!

Pokemon for me can never be complete without this wonderfully melodious karaoke version of the song. The extent to which the TV series, which began as a Japanese anime called ‘Pocket Monsters’ (and hence ‘Pokemon’) has become a sensation worldwide can be gauged by the fact that even today both kids and adults prefer to spend a considerable amount of time roaming around their neighborhood and beyond, trying to get hold of these little elusive monsters with their noses glued to their phones!

Here are some interesting bits and pieces of information about our favorite monsters:

  • The much-beloved Pikachu’s name comes from a combination of pikapika (the Japanese onomatopoeia for sparkle) and chuchu (the sound of squeaking).
  • Many of our favorite Pokemon names are actually derived from numbers. For instance, the fabled trio of Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres end with the Spanish words for one, two and three (uno, dos and tres).
  • Ever heard of ‘Pikachurin’? It is a protein which was discovered by Japanese scientists in the year 2008 and named thus since it worked very well with electricity.

Close to 7 generations of pocket monsters, 6 anime series, 25 manga series and 18 full-length films plus the games which we all know of; can our love for Ash and his Pokemon friends grow any stronger than this?

Simple Ways to Make Your Child More Independent

‘The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.’

These words by Denis Waitley, the popular motivational speaker and writer, ring very true. However, more often than not, parents like us tend to do everything in their power to make life as seamless as possible for their kids. And while that comes naturally to over-protective mommies and daddies, we need to make sure we know where to draw the line, all for the greater good of our tiny tots.

Here are some simple ways we can help our kids become more independent and learn to stand on their own rapidly growing feet.

Following a basic routine

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Quotes” by fshnextension is licensed under CC by 2.0

Back in my childhood, I remember mom struggling to get me and my sister ready for school on time in the mornings. School mornings used to be nothing short of a whirlwind of activity – mum running to get the shoes on me while popping up the toaster and hurrying up my sister to finish her shower in ‘2 minutes flat’ (she loved to simply stand and hum under running water, regardless of how late she was). Eventually, we were told what all we needed to do ourselves. Our school clothes would be neatly laid out, provided we dress ourselves up, top to toe. Likewise, breakfast would be waiting for us in the kitchen, and we needed to clear up our plates even if the bus was honking outside. Agreed, it was difficult in the beginning but then eventually we got the hang of it. Once I missed the school bus because I couldn’t find my shoe at the last moment. That taught me more than what days of mother’s tirades could. Today, since my kids are homeschooled, they don’t have a bus impatiently honking for them outside. But yes, class is at home sharp at 9 am and they know they need to be dressed and ready in their seats then. A basic routine helps in inculcating a sense of self-discipline in any individual, kids or adults.

Daily/weekly grocery shopping

This one is for slightly older kids. You could begin with guiding your son/daughter through the supermarket, armed with a list of things to be bought. Helping you with grocery shopping is fun for them too; they get to decide what goes on the list before leaving for the grocery store, they can then check off the items one by one once each object is in the shopping basket and they learn how to handle money plus not overshoot the budget for the day. A treat once in a while doesn’t matter but kids should know that having a fixed budget and not going overboard helps them to save for the future. For younger kids, one could introduce the piggy bank concept and put in a couple of pennies saved for every shopping expedition.

Caring for pets

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Animal” by OpenClipart-Vectors is licensed under CC by 2.0

Now this one is a dicey option. Not everyone is in favor of having a pet dog or a cat at home (including me). But I’ve seen my kids bonding with the Labrador next door; they will forget their own lunch but will dash out of the house before time when they know the pet will come out to his kennel for his mealtimes. Apart from the fact that dogs, for instance, make great companions, children are generally very responsive to pets they can proudly call ‘their very own’ and don’t shy away from taking responsibility for them. Many of my parent friends vouch for this fact. Though I partly agree with them, I do understand that having a pet is a huge responsibility for the entire family, not just the kids. So it’ll probably be just a pet turtle along with the usual virtual pets for my kids to begin with, for now. Then we’ll decide whether we’re ready for the big decision.

Also, we need to remember that praising the little ones for small tasks they’ve managed to accomplish on their own will help them a great deal in the feel-good factor. It may be something as simple as buttoning up their shirt correctly, or tying up their shoelaces (a tad haphazardly) the first time. But it’s a big deal for them, and thus a big deal in turn, for us. :)