Family watching television, c. 1958

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Usually on Sundays, I review a movie that I feel others might find enjoyable.  But today, I’m devoting my post to informing you about Screen-Free Week.

From April 18 – April 24, thousands (or maybe hundreds of thousands) of families across the country will be pulling the plug of their TV sets and computers in honor of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood’s SCREEN-FREE WEEK.  Families can participate by turning off their TV’s and computers for entertainment and turning on to other activities.

What a fantastic idea!

Please don’t get me wrong…there definitely are some great programs on TV for adults and children…many of those can be found on your local PBS stations.

But no child should spend too much time in front of the television or computer screen, no matter how educational or valuable the show is.

How can your family benefit by taking part in this week-long event?

  • More family time together.  “To be in your children’s memories tomorrow, you need to be in their lives today.”  Sit down together and plan a family trip.  As a family, go through those photos that have been piling up and put together a family album.  Play board games or charades.
  • More time to go outside.  With the obesity rate climbing in this country, both adults and children will benefit from outdoor exercise such as walking, hiking or other outdoor activities.


  • More time for reading, crafting and cooking with your children.  If you need some ideas, please check out my book for parents of preschoolers which is an excellent resource.  It highlights 100 picture books every young child should hear and provides an eco-friendly craft project and a child-friendly healthful recipe for each recommended story.  And, if you have older children, how about having them participate by reading the story to their younger brothers and sisters and then assist with the craft and cooking activities.

For more information on this event and other family activities, you can go to the website of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood:

They have lots of other ideas of what you can do when you turn off your screens.

3 top creative snacks for your child’s lunchbox

Sometimes as parents we have to be magicians in order to insure that our children pull out healthy snacks from their lunch boxes.  Whether your child goes to a daycare or preschool facility or is home with you, it’s important that he be eating healthy, nutritious foods…both at mealtimes and for snacks.

If the facility provides the snacks and meals, it’s crucial to find out what is being served.  And, if you are not happy, please don’t hesitate to make suggestions and, if necessary, band together with other parents to work towards upgrading the menus and ingredients used.

On the other hand, if you are providing the food that fills the breakfast plate, lunchbox and dinner table, you are in total control of what your child is eating.  This can be a daunting task…but it is wonderful because you can pick and choose the best ingredients and most healthful recipes.

Our children look forward to snacks…we can help fight the current trends of increased child-obesity, dental decay and juvenile diabetes by making those snacks high in nutrition and fiber and low in sugar and fat.

Here are three top creative snacks for your child’s lunchbox.  You and your child can spend some quality time together, making these simple, delicious and healthful treats.


You will need: 1/4 cup peanut butter (or other nut butter), 1/4 cup honey, 1/2 cup non-fat dried milk powder, 1/4 cup shredded coconut, a large bowl and a cookie sheet lined with wax paper.

  1. Mix the first 3 ingredients in a large bowl until well-blended.  Then roll into small balls (about 1 tablespoon each).
  2. Roll the balls in shredded coconut and place on cookie sheet.
  3. Refrigerate for 15-20 minutes.
  4. Place uneaten balls in a cover container and store in the refrigerator for up to a week (although they won’t remain uneaten for that long).
  5. This recipe makes about one dozen balls.  You can double or quadruple the recipe quite easily.  To go in your child’s lunchbox: wrap one or two balls in waxed paper and then put in a small sandwich baggie.


You will need: 1/2 cup peanut butter (or other nut butter), 1/2 cup ground sunflower seeds, 1/4 cup instant dry milk, 1 Tb honey, 1/2 cup finely chopped raisins (or dates or other dried fruit), 1/2 tsp cocoa (optional) and a large bowl.

  1. Blend together nut butter and ground sunflower seeds.
  2. Stir in dry milk, honey and dried fruit.  Mix well (with hands, if necessary).
  3. If the mixture is too dry, add some liquid milk; if too wet, add more dry milk.
  4. Form into teaspoon-sized balls.  If desired, roll in cocoa powder.
  5. Makes about 2 dozen balls.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  To send in your child’s lunchbox, wrap 1 or 2 balls in waxed paper and put in a small sandwich baggie.


You will need: Assortment of colorful vegetables such as green and red peppers, carrots, zucchini and celery (use your imagination), 1/2 cup almonds (or other nuts), blender or food processor, small container and a large container.

  1. Wash the vegetables and cut in sticks.
  2. Grind the nuts.  Add a little olive oil or canola oil if the dip is too dry.
  3. Store the cut vegetables in a covered container in the refrigerator.
  4. Store the nut butter in a small covered container in the refrigerator.
  5. To send in your child’s lunchbox, put an assortment of the rainbow-colored vegetable sticks in a small sandwich baggie and put a tablespoon of the nut butter in a small covered container.

Chef Ann Cooper, director of nutritional services at Berkeley Unified School District and co-author of Lunch Lessons, has great ideas about our children’s nutrition and offers tips on how to improve it:

You can also find more information about healthy living and nutritious eating at: and

Great ideas for end-of-summer fun!

We just got back from a five-day vacation in the mountains of Colorado.  The weather was perfect.  The fishing was great.  The cabin was outfitted with everything you could need…even a flat-screen TV which we never turned on because we were too busy during the day having fun outdoors and too tired at night to even want to watch anything.  Cell phones don’t work there and we didn’t bring the computer.  And I began to realize how life was like in the days before TV and computers and phones.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate the technology that allows each of us to know what is going on in the world the moment it happens.  But it made me more aware of how much closer a family could be if they were more isolated from all that is happening out there or if they made an effort to spend time together without the distractions that usually keep us going in different directions.

So here’s a list of a few great ideas for end-of-summer fun that might possibly bring your family closer together and won’t cost a fortune:

  • Go camping…even for the day…but overnight, if possible.  Rent equipment or borrow it from friends if you don’t already have what you would need.
  • Check out local parks, museums and art galleries.  Some are free and many have special deals for families.  You might even purchase a museum membership that entitles your family to special museum privileges during the year.
  • Have an end-of-summer get-together.  If your child is going to school (or nursery school or daycare) this year, see if you can find out who will be in his/her class or group.  Invite the children and their parents…what an awesome way to help your child start the year already knowing some of his classmates.  The get-together can be a pot-luck with everyone bringing something to eat so that the burden of food is not all on you.  Also, have each family bring a favorite game…there will certainly be plenty to do.  Take lots of pictures and have your child help you make a collage or album of this special day.  He/she can bring it to school for show-and-tell…great for a child who is anxious about the first day of school…something like BILLY AND THE BIG NEW SCHOOL by Laurence and Catherine Anholt.
  • Plan to have dinner together as a family, if possible.  And please, turn the TV off and don’t answer the phone if it rings 🙂

That’s it…just a few simple suggestions…hope they help you end the summer on a high note and begin the school year in a positive way.

Tips to keep your child healthy when school starts

The start of school usually brings hurried shopping trips to purchase needed school supplies and new outfits.  It also has generated lots of blogs and columns with advice about school anxieties.  But another big issue that arrives with the start of school is the increase of colds, sore throats, pink eye and other infectious diseases that sometimes run rampant through classrooms.

How can we help keep our children as healthy as possible?  Here are several simple tips:

  1. Provide your child with healthful balanced meals and snacks.
  2. Encourage your child to wash his hands frequently (or wash them for him if he is too young).
  3. Make sure your child gets a good night’s sleep – older children with cell phones, TV’s and computers in their own rooms can often stay up half the night while their parents think they are sleeping.
  4. If your child does get sick, please keep her home, even though this may be inconvenient (if you work) or she begs to go because she will “miss” something.  You will be doing your child no favors if you send her when she is ill, and the teacher and the other children will not be exposed to whatever she has – also, if she is sick, her resisitance will be lowered and she might catch something even worse from another child.

It is definitely difficult to keep preschoolers doing quiet activities indoors when they are sick, especially when they start to feel a little better.  We always had a special box which contained small toys and games, stickers, small boxes of crayons, small pads of paper – all brightly wrapped and beribboned.   When all else failed, out came the box and the sick child was able to choose something from the box.  The eager anticipation while unwrapping the package was beautifully distracting – make sure there is lots of wrapping and ribbon on each.  We also had a special, ornate spoon which was the medicine dispensing spoon.

Need some quiet activities to help pass the time?  My new book contains several picture story suggestions, with related craft and cooking projects, that focus on sick children.  Here is one of them.

For a story to help your young child feel he is not the only one who doesn’t like being sick – read JOHNNY LION’S BAD DAY by Edith Hurd. 

Then make paper plate lions: You will need: 1 paper plate, 1 piece of brown or yellow construction paper, markers or crayons, paste and scissors.

  • Cut the paper into one-inch wide strips and roll each strip around a marker or crayon to create the curl.
  • Paste one end of one strip to the edge of the plate.  Continue with the rest of the strips all around the edge of the plate to form the lion’s mane.
  • Using markers or crayons, draw the lion’s features.

For a yummy, healthful, child-friendly alphabet chicken soup (studies have shown it really DOES help make you feel better):  You will need: 1 quart chicken broth, 2 Tb diced onion, 1/4 cup alphabet noodles, 1 cup diced cooked chicken, 1/2 cup sliced carrots, 1/2 cup cut green beans, 1/4 cup corn kernels, fresh parsley (optional), and a large pot with a cover.

  1. In a large pot, mix broth, onion and noodles and bring to a boil.
  2. Lower the heat to simmer and add the chicken, carrots, beans and corn.  Simmer with the cover on for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Garnish each serving with parsley, if you like.
  4. Makes about 4 to 5 cups of soup – refrigerate or freeze what you don’t use.
  5. You can substitute other vegetables if you like – peas, lima beans, zucchini – use your imagination!

Something for nothing at Lowes

These days, you usually don’t get something for nothing.

Thanks to Lowes (the building supply store), you do!

The program is called Build and Grow, a clinic/workshop for children (ages 3 through 5th grade) and their parents (any age!).  At 10am every Saturday, at many local Lowes’ stores across the country, young builders and their families can work on a wooden project, receive a free carpenter’s apron and goggles, and leave with a project themed patch (similar to Boy Scout merit badges), certification of merit upon completion of the project, and their finished creation.  Upcoming projects include a wooden school bus and a wooden bug box.  The first 50 to sign up (online at and show up are admitted to each session.

If you are looking for a wonderful FREE activity to participate positively with your child, check this one out.  Lowes deserves kudos for providing such an awesome community resource that not only builds a child’s self-esteem, but also helps create a life-long parent-child bond.

How to stay cool with kids

Here in Colorado, and in most of the country, it is pretty hot.

How to stay cool, especially with young children, is the question.

  1. Turn on the a/c (uses a lot of energy), or open windows for some cross ventilation if possible, or spend part of the day at a place like your local library or a play area at a local mall where the temperature is usually controlled for customer comfort.
  2. Dress yourself and your children in appropriate clothing…loose, light, cotton is great.  Add a sun hat for everyone when you go out and make sure you apply sunscreen.
  3. Plan some water activities…a local pool if available, your own small kiddie pool, even a plastic bowl of water with some plastic cups and spoons can provide a refreshing hour of fun.  Please use great caution with little ones and water.
  4. Make sure everyone stays hydrated…in a previous post I suggested freezing cubes of juice to lightly flavor and add a little fun for the drinking water in your child’s cup.
  5. Think cool with your kids…read them a children’s picture book about the wintertime…how about THE MITTEN by Alvin Tresselt or THE SNOWY DAY by Ezra Jack Keats.
  6. Start your day with an organized plan of what you’d like to accomplish (make sure your goals are reachable…trying to do too much, especially with little ones, only increases your tension…and, as Scarlett O’Hara once said, “Tomorrow is another day”)…this makes the day less stressful, your nerves less frazzled and contributes to keeping tempers cool, even when the temperature is soaring.
  7. Great tip for next winter: if you live in an area where it snows, collect some newly fallen snow and pack it into some plastic containers.  Next summer, on a really hot day, take out the containers of snow…go outside and make snowballs or just have fun watching how quickly the snow will melt.

Living in the moment

They say we should live in the moment.

I think this is true…but it is certainly hard to do.

Especially when you are raising children.

When your newborn baby is lying in his crib, you wonder…when will he start to smile at me?

As your baby girl kicks her feet in the air, you think…when will she turn over?

When will he crawl, stand up, walk on his own?

When will she talk, write her name, ride a bike?

Perhaps this is part of the human condition…this almost constant quest for the next stage of development.  Maybe this characteristic of ours is what drives civilization to newer technologies and what causes yesterday’s inventions to become obsolete.

Take a breath…look around you…this moment will never be experienced again. 

Be in this moment with your child…share a story and participate together in an activity…you will be creating a life-long bond.

Here’s a suggestion for a story to read to your preschooler (but any story will do):

I LOVE YOU BECAUSE YOU’RE YOU: written by Lisa Baker, illustrated by David McPhail: Story summary:

Mother Fox tells her son that she loves him when he is happy as well as when he is angry, when he is sick in bed as well as when he is running around, when he is shouting as well as when he is quiet.  Little Fox is very comforted by the fact that his mother loves him just as he is.

LOVE COLLAGE CRAFT PROJECT: You will need: A piece of construction paper, old magazines, scissors, paste and crayons.

  1. Talk to your child about the things she loves…her family, pets, playing ball, eating ice cream, the color blue, etc.
  2. Look through the magazines and help your child cut out pictures that illustrate what she loves.
  3. Paste the pictures onto the paper…let your child use the crayons to draw additional things (or people) she loves that she couldn’t find pictures of, such as herself and you!
  4. Hang the picture up in a place of honor in your home…what a boost to your child’s self-esteem!