Monthly Archives: December 2008

Fun Kids sites for Christmas

White Christmas album cover

Image via Wikipedia

Hey just in case you need to get the kids in the mood for Christmas (yeah, right), here are a couple of fun kid friendly holiday sites you might want to check out.

  • Track Santa with NORAD. The animation is a bit cheesy, but still fun to check out on Christmas Eve to see where Santa is. This year they have added an iGoogle Gadget and the ability to track the big guy via your mobile phone and in Google Earth.
  • Write Santa with Canada Post. While it is getting tight to get a letter back from the big guy, it’s still fun to write a letter to him. And, for my 4 year old, a great excuse to practice letters and words. The Canada Post site also has a fun podcast (called Santacast) interview with Santa.
  • Create a custom Santa video for your kid. This is really well done. Sit down ahead of time and answer a few questions about your kid (what they want, their name and so on) and a custom greeting from Santa will be created for your child. No animation here, this is live action (aided by a well placed beard to hide Santa’s mouth). If your kids name is on the list, Santa will say their name in the video. If not, then Santa will still have your kids name appear in his “Nice” list. Very fun.
  • Stream nonstop Christmas music. If you are tired of your Christmas collection, check out one of the dozens of custom Christmas music channels from AccuRadio. Turn it on and let er run.
  • Elf Yourself! You may have seen these fun elves with friends heads making the rounds last year. This year they have added more themes and tweaked the dancing a bit to make it a bit more slick. Take some photos of your family and stick them on some disco dancing elves heads. The kids love them, but we’ve avoided sending these around as e-cards as I suspect this is the kind of thing that, for most people, a little goes a long way. Receive one and it’s fun. Receive 10 and you’re cursing those damn JibJabbers..

Got any favorite Christmas themed websites you can recommend for kids?

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The Girl Effect

Brian at RebelDad tipped me off to this video and the website The Girl Effect. It’s a very nice piece of social activism aimed at getting people to support young woman.

The site and video speak to the power of potential in young women as agents of change in their communities. Girls grow into women, strong and powerful women who ae capable of becoming lynchpins of their community. Like Brian, I am the Dad of a daughter and these types of messages resonate with me. It is a powerful piece and message.

Handmade Toys Under Threat From New US Law

Wood Toys

Image by Serendigity via Flickr

Early in the new year a new law will go into effect in the US that may have severely damaging effects on small, independent toy makers.

The new law, called the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, was designed to prevent unsafe toys (like the made in China toys that seemed to be under constant recall last year) from entering the marketplace. Unfortunately, it appears that the new law is a blanket law that will impose strict mandatory testing of all toys in the marketplace, regardless of where they are made.

A group called the Handmade Toy Alliance fears that this will have a devastating effect on independent toy makers, not only in the US, but small scale international toy makers who sells products in the US market

For small American, Canadian, and European toymakers, however, the costs of mandatory testing will likely drive them out of business.

International toy makers like Selecta Spielzeug, who are already governed by strict regulations in their home country of Germany, have already announced they will no longer be selling their products in the US because of the law.

On their website, the Alliance spells out a couple of different scenarios.

  • A toymaker, for example, who makes wooden cars in his garage in Maine to supplement his income cannot afford the $4,000 fee per toy that testing labs are charging to assure compliance with the CPSIA.
  • A work at home mom in Minnesota who makes dolls to sell at craft fairs must choose either to violate the law or cease operations.
  • A small toy retailer in Vermont who imports wooden toys from Europe, which has long had stringent toy safety standards, must now pay for testing on every toy they import.
  • And even the handful of larger toy makers who still employ workers in the United States face increased costs to comply with the CPSIA, even though American-made toys had nothing to do with the toy safety problems of 2007.

While it is nice to see a government act to prevent threats to our children’s health, I would sure hate to see small, independent toy makers who make safe, high quality toys hurt in the process. The amendments that the Alliance recommends (things like exemptions for toys made from trusted countries and for toys made from raw woods and food grade materials) seem like a good starting point to make sure there are alternatives to Fisher Price and Mattel in the marketplace.

Thanks to Craftsbury Kids for the info.

Just One More Book

Just One More Book is a fantastic podcast about kids books. Hosts Mark and Andrea have an absolute passion for kids books and they approach each book with great enthusiasm and knowledge.

Not only do Mark and Andrea review books, they also have listeners submit book reviews which adds a nice touch of community involvement to the podcast.

But book reviews are just the start. They are connected, and feature interviews with authors and the people passionate about writing. Henry Winkler (yes, that Henry Winkler), poet Jack Prelutsky, and Eleanor Wachtel, host of CBC’s Writers and Company are just a few of the guests they have interviewed. And it made my day to hear a review of Berkley Breathed’s Edwurd Fudwupper Fibbed Big. Oh, the fond memories I have of Bloom County.

They also take the show on the road, as they did earlier this year when they attended the 100th anniversary party of the release of Anne of Green Gables in Toronto where they had a chance to speak with former Canadian Governor General Adrienne Clarkson.

Most shows are bite sized 7-12 minutes and the production values are high, making for a very enjoyable 10 or so minutes. If you are looking for some good kid book talk, Just One More Book fits the bill nicely.

9 tips to enjoy The Nutcracker with your kid

A Nutcracker for Christmas
Image by clickykbd via Flickr

On Sunday The Girl and I took in the Alberta Ballet‘s (fantastic) production of The Nutcracker. It has been many years since I have been to a production and I was looking forward to it as much as The Girl.

She had a wonderful time, and has since been carrying her nutcracker around the house, pretending she is Clara, with me playing the part of Herr Drosselmeyer.

It was an expensive gamble. Money in our house (like many homes) is tight and my wife and I talked about whether the $100 was money well spent. So, if you are thinking of shelling out the dough to take in this annual Christmas tradition in your neck of the woods, here are a few tips that might be handy to make sure you get the most bang for your buck.

As with any “parent tip”, results may vary – greatly – depending on your kid. Mine is going to be 5 in January, so these are written with that age in mind.

  1. Know the story before you go. Knowing the story, and what to expect, ahead of time prepares them for what will come. For some kids, the fight scene between the soldiers and the mice can be especially frightening and confusing. YouTube has clips from various productions of  The Nutcracker. There is also a full length production (about 90 minutes) available online, and PBS has a nice synopsis of the story.
  2. Pick a matinee. Chances are it will be loaded with kids and a bit more kid friendly.
  3. Take the opportunity to dress up. A few days before we went, my daughter turned to my wife and said, “Is Dad going to wear something distinguished?” Of course, I couldn’t disappoint a request like that, so out came the old suit and tie. She (being 4 and a girl) had no problem getting decked out in appropriate attire. It added an extra element of specialness to the event. But be sure whatever you wear is comfortable.
  4. Avoid the temptation to bring a friend. Friends can be distracting, and it is challenging enough to focus one preschooler, let alone 2. It also avoids the potential problem that could arise if one wants to leave and the other wants to stay.
  5. Explain theater etiquette beforehand, but don’t be ruled by it. Explain that theater is different than a movie. The people are real, and they people in the audience like to listen to the music and pay attention to the dancers. People clap when they like something on stage, and there is a break 1/2 way through the show. But it would be impossible to expect a preschooler to be completely still and focused for 45 minutes, so don’t get on their case if they start getting fidgety. Instead try to refocus them on what is happening on stage. Chances are, they may have lost the plot and are confused as to what is going on.
  6. Bring a small booster seat. Check with the theatre beforehand to make sure this is okay.
  7. It’s okay to talk (okay whisper) to your kid during the show. Hardcore theatre goers may disagree with this, but some whispering to explain the plot is okay with me. Keep it brief, and keep it focused on the show. My girl loved that I would occasionally lean over and whisper in her ear, drawing her attention to things she might like on stage or in the orchestra pit. I also tried to explain what was going on if she looked lost.
  8. Be prepared to bail. If, after the first act, your kid is bored and you sense the second half isn’t going to be fun for either of you, leave and console yourself that you had a nice first act together.
  9. Make it live on. Talk to them about the show after it is over. Ask them what they liked, didn’t like. What they thought of the dancing.  Save the tickets and the playbill and display them around the house for a few days.

Finally, if you still want to give your kids the joy of The Nutcracker but are worried about attending a live performance, Cineplex will be carrying the National Ballet’s live performances this holiday season, live in HD at a movie theatre near you.