Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Intel Science Talent Search--get them started young

The Intel Science Talent Search is America's oldest and most prestigious pre-college science competition. Think of it as a mega-science fair of the grandest scale. 1600 kids apply, 300 make finalists, 40 get to compete. How do young kids make it into such a program? Start them early. Most elementary schools hold a science fair with participants as young as 6 years old and in first grade.

Li Boynton, a Senior at Bellaire High School in Texas, started doing science projects in fifth grade. She has since accrued $50,000 in scholarships, is a finalist in the Intel Science Talent Search, and to top it all off, will sit next to Michelle Obama tonight at the State of the Union...and that's before she even finds out if she wins the competition.

Most STS finalists began their love of science from an early age, and the trend to do so is growing. February has become somewhat of a "Science Fair Season", with the retailers even hopping onto the fair wagon. Visit your local craft or hobby store and you'll see special kiosks with everything your little scientist needs.

Remember to keep science fun and it will hold kids' interest. Not all science fair admissions need to be experiments or erupting volcanoes (though this is a popular one for first and second graders, the messier the better). Research projects on a particular subject with facts and photos on a display board work well too. Just be sure your budding scientist does the work, with your guidance.

Who knows? Perhaps a few of this years elementary level science fair participants will be competing for the Intel prize in 2020?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Perry Preschool Project Worth Checking Out

So, per usual, I was tuned in to NPR on Michigan Radio last night while driving my oldest son around in my car. This week they are broadcasting a Winter Documentary series, and Tuesday night's was called "Early Lessons", about how and why pre-school or Pre-K education was started in this country. Did you know it originated in Ypsilanti, Michigan? I didn't.

The Perry Pre-school Project was started in the late 1950's by an Ypsilanti school administrator named David Weikert, trying to find out why so many poor, African- American children were faring so poorly in school. I really took a liking to this guy because instead of looking for problems with the children, like most of the administration, Weikert decided to look for problems in the system.

As a mom, I urge anyone with pre-school age children, or any aged children, to look at this documentary written by Emily Hanford and distributed by American Radio Works. If you can't stream it on the web, the entire story is in print here. Not only is it very interesting to hear the reasoning behind the entire program, it is completely and totally relevant to today's educational debate going on in Congress. Read this story and you'll be hard pressed to vote against funding early childhood education.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Too Young For Singing Lessons?

My seven year old loves to sing. You wouldn't know it from his interest in his music class at school, but play some of his favorite pop music or theme songs and he's not only singing...he's got the moves too. I recently was made aware he is even performing during "Open Mic" at lunchtime in school. So much so, that he had to go a day or two without volunteering to give other kids a chance! So what's a parent to do with his/her child's newly found passion for singing?

Of course, I am completely biased and think my son has a gift...ahem. That being said, whether he does or not, I think it's important to encourage him. Thinking back to when I was young, I was told my singing was too "nasally". By the time I was in college and required to sing at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, I was petrified, frozen in fear, because I was certain I was a terrible singer. It took a long time for me to realize I wasn't terrible. But is encouragement enough? I started reading up on recommendations for the appropriate age for singing lessons. The results were unanimous. Wait.

Turns out formally training a young voice, before the age of thirteen or so, can not only strain the voice when it's forced to belt out sound, but can damage it. According to a report on BBC Radio and The Parents Music Room, "it is generally not a good idea to have too much formal training at an early age," because it's easy to form bad singing habits, and then tough to undo them once formal training begins in the teen years.

From what I have read, the important skills to learn for singing are posture and breathing, and both of these can be taught at a younger age, say, 7 and up. Once these skills are second nature, when it's time for formal voice lessons, half the battle is already won. The other important component is practice, practice practice.

It is freeing for children to express themselves through music and song at any age, and the science world agrees. There are multiple studies confirming the benefits music has on brain development: creatively, emotionally and analytically.

As for my 7 year old boy band wannabe, I will pick up a video that teaches him (and me too!)the hip-hop moves to go along with his favorite songs, and I will listen again and again and AGAIN to whatever pop chorus happens to be in his head.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hunger Close To Home

I was listening to a report on Michigan Public Radio this morning do a study about poverty levels in Michigan. The report stated one in five children in Michigan live in poverty. 1 in 5!

This prompted me to want to re-run an article I wrote last year and post it here. Some food for thought:

Would you know if your next door neighbor frequently visited an area food bank? Chances are you might not. After all, you’ve been neighbors for more than ten years. People in your neighborhood work hard at their jobs, own their homes and drive decent cars. Your kids ride the same bus and participate in the same activities. Surely, you’d know if they didn’t have enough food to eat? The fact is some of our neighbors and their families are indeed hungry.
We’ve seen the national stories portraying the changing faces in lines at soup kitchens and food banks, and the increase in their numbers. These people and their families are not just national statistics, or inner city residents. Some of these families live right here in Saline. Our friends. Our neighbors. People who never thought they would be the ones in need, and certainly determined to keep their struggle hidden.
A 2006 national hunger study by America’s Second Harvest Network showed that ninety-six point eight percent (96.8%) of adult food bank clients, have their own homes or apartments, with utilities and their own vehicles. These are homeowners forced to make difficult decisions in order to keep food on the table.
The number of food bank clients on a national scale grew sixty-seven percent (67%) from 2001 to 2006, before the economic downturn, loss of jobs and home foreclosures. Today, over one million people in Michigan alone visit food banks annually. According to the Food Gatherers website in Ann Arbor, they feed 5, 569 people weekly in Washtenaw County. Of these weekly visitors thirty-eight percent (38%) are children and seven percent (7%) elderly. Thirty-three percent (33%) are forced to choose between groceries and paying utilities, twenty-eight percent (28%) choose between food and making the mortgage payment and twenty-five percent (25%) must decide whether they should skip their prescription medication for the month so they can buy food goods.
The Hunger In America Study 2006 looked at the number of people receiving food help who were considered “Food Secure” or “Food Insecure”. According to the study Food Security is defined as “access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life”. Even with the help of food assistance programs, only about twenty-two percent (22%) were considered to be Food Secure. That number might be higher if there were more donations to area food banks, especially as the demand keeps climbing.
Sue Brown is the Director of the Saline Area Social Services. Her office is seeing “ a lot more families with children, mainly due to the economy,” Brown said. Her office serves any person or family residing within the Saline Area School District. “One hundred children benefitted from our holiday program this year,” Brown said. One hundred kids. That’s like taking one entire grade from one of Saline’s four elementary schools. Still think it couldn’t be your neighbor?
Saline is a great city with tremendously generous residents. Neighbors still bake pies for the new family on the block. Our shop owners know customers by name. People hold doors open and wave dog walkers across the streets. It is time to take that spirit of community to the next level, a call to action, if you will. What can you do?
We really need “anything and everything, especially pre-packaged food with meat in it like canned Dinty Moore Beef Stew or tuna” Brown said from the Saline Area Social Service office. She adds “and we never, ever have enough paper products because food stamps don’t cover things like toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning products” or anything that isn’t a consumable. Brown reminds us too that donations are especially needed in the summer months. “Donations go way down because people are away (on vacation) and many of our clients’ kids participate in the free lunch programs at school, so lunch stuff is needed” when school is out of session.
Washtenaw County has many different food rescue programs, soup kitchens and general support through local and state government, and non-profits including churches and other places of worship. In Saline, the list of people being helped is extremely confidential and handled with the utmost respect and dignity. Still, there are families out there who will never make their need known to the public.
So what’s the message here? It’s time for neighbors who can afford it, to reach out to neighbors who can’t. Food baskets aren’t just for holidays anymore. Support your local food bank. The food you donate today may help feed the family right next door tomorrow. For information on how to donate or receive help contact Saline Area Social Services 734-429-4570 or Food Gatherers 734-761-2796.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Saline Pavilions A Great Place To Park It

Would you believe Saline, Michigan has fourteen outdoor parks?  That’s a ton of greenery for a small city!  We have wilderness parks, parks for sports, mega play parks, quiet ones, not so quiet ones and really crazy- busy ones too. 

Just thinking of all the awesome activity awaiting you in our great parks may make you long for summertime, which is exactly the reason I’m talkin’ parks today. (And yes, I realize we are currently expecting five inches of snow).  Reason being, the Saline Parks and Rec Department is now accepting applications for pavilion rentals.  As cold and snowy as the weather is now, this is the time to get your reservations in because the slots fill quickly, especially summer weekends. 

I have had personal experience with pavilion rental so I can honestly tell you how great it is.  We had my youngest son’s 4th birthday party at Mill Pond Park (with the greatest, hugest wooden play structure ever!).  The pavilion is right next to the play area, there is a ton of open space, the Saline River is visible to saunter over to, but not too close for a runaway 2 year old to get too close without you catching them.  There are restrooms, power outlets, tons of table space and green lawns that spread out forever.  The best part is the price.  You won’t beat it anywhere when it comes to reserving lots of table space and providing fun for kids.

Anyway, that’s just one of the parks.  Adult gatherings are just as popular.  They can be quiet and reflective for a retreat, or fun and festive for a sports banquet or a beautiful backdrop, perhaps for a wedding?  All I’m saying is it is worth it to check them out and now is the time.  So go build a snowman, then when it’s time to warm up give Saline Parks and Rec a call while you sip your hot cocoa.  734-429-3502 or

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Help Your Teen Land That First Job

 When I owned my business, I found my least favorite part of the job was screening applicants for employment.  Eventually, I got a team that I became quite fond of.  I interviewed quite a few teens, and a couple of them really stood out with their appoach. 

Today, my teenager submitted his first job app (other than for our family business of course), so I passed along some of the qualities that really turned my head when looking for an employee.  Maybe this list will help some of you and your teens too.

1. Make sure their application is written neatly, have them practice first so they know exactly what they are writing, no scribble marks.
2. Type up a resume to submit with the application, be sure to include  volunteer work.
3. Have them type a quick cover letter introducing themselves, with one great reason they are the perfect one for the job.
4.  Advise them to ask to speak to the manager and hand the application directly to him/her instead of the cashier, desk person, whoever.  They can introduce themselves, get a hand-shake and put a face with the application.
5.  Be sure your teen follows up with a phone call within two days.
6.  If they do get an interview, make sure they immediately send a thank you note the very next day, thanking the manager for the interview, how it was a pleasure to interview for the job, and they look forward to hearing from them soon.

My two youngest applicants were the ones with the resume and thank you note.  (Ryan and Laura you know who you are...)  They were great employees, one of them is now my babysitter, and they both volunteer to community events any time I need a hand. 

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Lot of Little Winks

I am certain I have made mistakes as a parent, just like parents everywhere.  However, most of the parents I know are terrific, love their kids like crazy, treat them with respect and are raising them to be awesome people.  It's to parents like this that I pose a question today...what do we do when we witness bad parenting?  I'm not talking about physical abuse, because I suspect most people would report such an incident.  But what do you do when its verbal? In public? Let me tell you what I witnessed a few months back:

I was walking through a party supply store, browsing the wares of action figures, pirates, monkeys and robots.  The store was pretty quiet, most people planning their own events in their heads as I was.  There was one woman in the aisle behind me talking very loudly on her cell phone (a pet peeve of mine anyway).  Her voice came closer and as she walked by I saw a young girl, probably five years old, trailing behind her.  The little girl had a balloon in her mouth she had picked up out of the bulk balloon bin, and she was trying to blow it up.  The girl was barely keeping up with her mother, and the mother was barely watching her daughter.  However, with a backward glance the mother spotted the saliva covered balloon in the little girl's hand. The mother exploded. 

She began screaming--SCREAMING--at her daughter for taking the balloon.  Of course, the little girl started to cry.  More yelling now about crying and the balloon, which resulted in more crying and more screaming.  As if the entire scene wasn't uncomfortable enough, it got worse.  The mother was still on the phone and began telling the person on the other end of the line what the little girl had done, and then loudly continued to describe her daughter using words like "brat", "little thief", "dumb" and "stupid".  Not just into the phone, but loud enough for all of us in the store to hear.

I'm not sure how I was able to observe the incident without the mother's notice, but I was able to watch the child's face.  As she heard her mother's belittling words the tears stopped, the frown stayed and she dropped her eyes to the floor.  She folded her arms as if to cover herself up.  Her face and her body language looked so brokenhearted I couldn't take my eyes off of her.  She must have felt my gaze because she lifted her head and looked right at me.  I smiled and gave her a wink.  Her expression in her eyes changed for maybe an instant, then her mother yelled for her to "come on!" and she scattered away down another aisle out of site.

Now some people might say "well, she needed to be taught a lesson about stealing", and they would be correct, however, there's got to be a better way than that man!  I mean, couldn't this incident be a real opportunity to teach?  With consequences too if you like, but does public humiliation really have to be part of the game plan? 

So this is the question...what do we do when we witness behavior we believe to be at the least incorrect (yes, I know I'm sounding all 'super-parent' ) and probably harmful? Is there any way to report "self-esteem abuse"?  Or is it none of our damn business? 

I don't know.  I thought the mother at the party supply store handled the whole thing abominably, but who am I to judge?  Does that make me a Mom Snob?  A Nosey Neighbor?  All I know is I think about that little girl often and I hope her mother was just having a bad day.  If not, I hope that little girl  has plenty of people in her life to give her a lot of little winks.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sometimes Video Games are A OK

Both of my boys are football lovers--guess you can say it runs in the family.  But football is kind of a tough game to grasp for younger kids, lets say 7 and under.  There are rules and regs, penalties, challenges, loss of down, third-down conversions---real strategy. 

My oldest, who is 14, not only plays the game himself (awesome middle linebacker) but he loves to play Madden Football on his Playstation game system.  Well, his little brother, age 7, started watching him play about a year ago.  The more he watched this game, because it is EXACTLY played out like a real game, the more he understood football, the players, their positions, etc.  Soon he requested his own Madden game, and for Christmas, they both got the 2010 version of Madden football.

So what?  Another video game to keep kids on the couch?  Not even.  My 7 year old son learned stats--which requires math skills. He practices drills with his NFL Nerf football on a daily basis in the living room--not exactly a couch potato.  He collects cards and organizes them by team or team colors or whatever--but he's sorting and using patterns.  He asks to play "name that football team" on drives in the car which enhances all of our memories.  He lives and breaths football, right along with Star Wars and Legos and stuffed animals.  And where last season he passed on signing up for Flag Football, my guess is next Fall he won't, and it might just be his video game that inspired him onto the field.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

One More Tradition?

I love watching my kids at Christmas.  Even my teen, as he gets older, enjoys the festivities and the surprises of the season.  My youngest, this year, had a new Christmas request.
       "Please Mom, may I leave the window open?"
He begged me to allow him to leave his bedroom window open on Christmas Eve.  Only then would he be able to hear the jingling of Santa's sleigh bells and clickety-clack of his reindeer's hooves.
      "And then when I hear it, I'll be able to see Rudolph's nose lighting up the front yard!".
He had his checklist and evening agenda all planned out: cookies for Santa-check, carrots for the reindeer-check, in his jammies and cooperatively into bed on time-check (into bed---not necessarily asleep---for hours!), what would one more tradition hurt?

I tried to give him the logical argument "Honey, it's freezing outside."
He answered just as logically, " I'll put on extra blankets and my hat and gloves."

Well, this mom said "no way."  Think of the cold he might catch, think of the plethora of safety violations involved here? ;-)

But it did make me wonder about kids in warmer climates?  In rural areas where they say "nobody locks their doors or windows way out here"?  After all, we had spent the entire evening tracking Sants's wherabouts on NORAD, and he'd gone through many very warm countries! Is leaving the window open a Christmas Eve tradition--somewhere?

Luckily, he was only disappointed for a short while...this slight hiccup in his plan only meant he had to listen for Santa and his sleigh EVEN HARDER...and I think that's a tradition in itself, that we've all had.