What We Discovered at The Discovery Museum

This is the first post in a series I call, “Out and About in Connecticut”. As many of you may know, we recently moved from New York to Connecticut. One of the very best things about moving, at least for me, is getting to check out new restaurants and activities and I’ll be sharing some of our best finds here with you.

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One of the challenges of having a huge age gap between kids is finding activities that all will be happy at. For this reason, museums are usually at the top of my list but finding ones that will keep my 3 year old occupied can be a challenge. When I heard about the Discovery Museum it sounded like it checked all the boxes so our crew of five (my husband and myself and three of our five kids ages 19, 14 and 3) headed there on a recent Sunday morning.

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There are three floors to check out and a large space for eating (make sure to bring lunch if you plan on staying because they just have vending machines with snacks).

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A great spot to eat a packed lunch

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When you first walk in, there’s an awesome light board called Everbright which was inspired by the classic toy, Lite-Brite (Ahhhh, memories! Yes, I had to order her one right away). We had to pry the 3 year old away from it; she was fascinated that she could change the colors.

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We continued into the Dare to Discover room where Daddy and Juliette had some fun together while my oldest got busy wiring a lamp. Even the 14 year old got off the bench when her sister dragged her over to see things float. Mama was happy that everyone had something to keep them occupied.

We headed upstairs where everyone except the youngest had fun shooting baskets and attempting to bank shots (BONUS- learning the science behind it!)

The highlight was definitely the Get Physical room with the pulleys and levers where I captured my favorite picture of the day- a moment when all three girls were connecting, having fun, and creating a memory!

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Other fun pics from the Get Physical room…

We then headed over to the Adventure Science room. My little one was a bit too young to do most things independently but that didn’t stop her from exploring with the help of dad and her big sis.

We then headed all the way down to the MoonBase Discovery area. There was a stimulator where you could drive a lunar rover and other very cool things but honestly my 3 year old’s highlight was driving the big yellow school bus and playing with legos!

Other museum highlights include great art lining the walls, a planetarium which has three different age-appropriate show (check schedules for the day before going), and a Preschool Power area for infant to toddlers under 3.

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There isn’t a gift shop but they do have an area by the entrance/exit where you can by souvenirs.

Overall it was great Sunday morning spent at The Discovery Museum!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Want to give the PERFECT baby gift? You can’t go wrong with these ideas!

Favorite Baby Gifts To Give (and GET!)

First and foremost, if we are talking about a first time mom, I am all about buying things off of the registry. Most moms spend countless hours researching baby items and have a good idea what they need/want. I tend to pick a theme- sleep, play time, feeding, bath time- and buy many things related and put them together in a cute basket or an actual item you are purchasing (for example, putting many bath time items in a baby bathtub).

However sometimes, whether you’re feeling creative, it’s a second time mom who doesn’t need as much, or a good friend or family member, you may be looking for out-of-the-box ideas. If that’s the case, here are a few of my favorites!

A Basket of Books

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This is great, especially if YOU have kids. I like to have my entire family pick out their favorite books and each write a message to the new baby. Put all the books together in a beautiful basket and you have a personal, practical gift that both the new mom and baby are sure to treasure for years to come.

Monthly Onesies

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This one is relatively new since the trend of taking monthly pictures has taken off all over social media. There is pretty much a style for everyone. Go to Etsy, type in “monthly onesies” and start your search.

Here are some precious ones for a little girl

Anything Personalized

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Whether it’s clothes, a name puzzle, a book, or pretty much anything else you can think of, moms are over the moon for anything with their child’s name.

How cute is this personalized onesie from an Etsy shop? (Bonus- it’s $12!)

Love this personalized name puzzle that can also be used as a stool

Check out all the awesome stories that you can personalize!

Pottery Barn Anywhere Chair

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Moms love this for the amazing photo ops and the baby will love it right around their first birthday. Bonus that it has a slipcover so it comes off for easy cleaning.

There are so many styles to choose from so you’re sure to find one that’s perfect!

Other Ideas

  • Spring for a cleaning service or a few hours of help from postpartum doula (mine was a lifesaver!)
  • Gift certificate towards newborn pictures
  • Drop off a delicious dinner from their favorite restaurant that they won’t be able to get to in the foreseeable future (don’t ask if she wants it, she’s sure to tell you it’s unnecessary- just tell her when and DO IT)

Do you have any creative gifts you love to give or maybe something incredible you received? Let us know!

 

 

 

 

Making Life Easier The First Year- The Baby Items You Won’t Want To Live Without

Since it had been 12 years since having a baby, I was so excited to buy every last baby item I could get my hands on. I mean, what is more fun than shopping for baby stuff?!

B and I were just discussing what were the good purchases and what we could have done without. The Bugaboo that I was dying to have? Sure, it is beautiful and I very much enjoyed taking her for walks the first few months but when we were actually leaving the house on a daily basis the fact that it is two pieces and heavy as hell became a real annoyance (hello, Baby Jogger City Mini GT!). The Pack N’ Play? Well, it served the purpose of having a place to put her downstairs but I would never attempt to travel with it because it is so heavy and a real pain to take down and put up (enter the Lotus Travel Crib, which I adore). The items below are certainly not must-haves like a crib and car seat but these are must-haves for making your life a tab bit simpler with an infant.

 

 

 

The Sex Talk You May Not Know You Need To Have With Your Children

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At one point in my career, I taught sex education to 4th grade girls. It was age-appropriate and very basic (think anatomy and puberty- nothing about actual sex). I was formally trained and was comfortable talking about what I consider to be an exciting part of growing up. There were always a few kids that had deeper questions and I would encourage them to go home and discuss with their parents, with the hope that most parents would be comfortable engaging in a healthy dialogue.

Today’s topic however, I’m going to guess, NO ONE is comfortable discussing. Not even a formally trained sex education teacher. But, here we go. We must. It’s our job because kids are learning about it without our help and it’s not going well.

PORNOGRAPHY.

Ughhh. I get it. I don’t want to either but it’s the big elephant in the room. If you have a child 10 and up who uses the internet, you need to at least think about it. I’m breaking it down into two sections- young kids and teens. Personally, I think the teen piece is critical because pretty much everyone is overlooking this in terms of our teenagers’ healthy sexual development.

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Elizabeth Schroeder, the executive director of Answer, a national sex-education organization based at Rutgers University, said: “Your child is going to look at porn at some point. It’s inevitable.” But the most common mistake parents make, experts said, is to wait to have the conversation until some incident precipitates it.(Taken from So How Do We Talk About This? When Children See Internet Porn, NYT)

So where do you start? I think the first logical place to begin is to put some safeguards in place on laptops, ipads, and cell phones. However, you must realize that even with the best parental controls in place, your child is not completely protected. We can’t keep them in a bubble and there will come a time, whether it’s by accident or through natural curiosity, when they see explicit images they are not ready to see.

The (ongoing) Discussion

Start by letting your child know in very clear terms that if they see something online that seems inappropriate, they should tell you right away, making a point to assure them that they will not get trouble. These images often come with intense feelings of both excitement and shame and are very confusing for young kids.

If your child does come to you or you find out that they have viewed inappropriate sites (you do randomly check the history on all devices, right?!) explain that there are some things online (you tube and instagram are the biggest offenders) that kids are not meant to see. Tell them you know they are curious- stress that that is completely normal- but some of the pictures and videos online are not normal. Ask them if they have any questions and do your best to answer honestly but keep it age appropriate. Whatever you do, don’t lie. With younger kids, it’s always OK to say that this is something you’ll discuss more with them when they’re older.

TEENS

The first thing you need to realize is that the pornography of today is very different than the porn of twenty years ago. Most of us can remember coming across a Playboy or maybe even a rauncher Penthouse and the images we saw. Those are not the images our teens are seeing. Todays teens can access pornorgraphy by specific category and a great deal of it is extremely degrading and often violent, with the sexual acts themselves on the outskirts of what most would consider “normal” “healthy” sexual activity.

The biggest issue, in my opinion, is that the easy access to porn is setting up our teens for unrealistic, sometimes dangerous, unhealthy sexual experiences. Research shows that some young men are shying away from real experiences because of the easy and less intimidating access to sexual expreiences online. Other times, boys are expecting their girlfriends to perform the sexual acts they see in porn (unfortunately, whether we like it or not, statistically males view porn significantly more than females). Girls, wanting to please their boyfriends, are complying and not feeling good about the experiences OR actually enjoying unusual sex acts and setting themselves up for unhealthy relationships and encounters in the future. No one is winning here.

So what do we do with our teens? We can certainly tell them our opinion on porn (remember, we as parents have way more influence than we think) but we need to leave the shame out of the conversation. Many articles actually discuss teaching our teens about “safe” sites (rules rather than prohibition), which sites to stay away from, and how to keep themselves safe online.

Regardless of your personal opinion, we MUST explain that pornography is a fantasy world and to expect what they see in porn from their real-world girlfriends and boyfriends is not OK.

Here is a sample conversation starter and some tips taken from the article, There’s Pornography On The Internet? Really? How To Talk To Your Kids from Huffpost Parents.

“I’ve noticed that you’ve been spending a lot of private time on the Internet, and it looks like from the history that you’ve visited some adult sites. I want to make sure you understand some important aspects of these sites and the risks associated with this material.”

You should then go on to stress that the computer itself becomes tagged in the cyber world once pornographic sites have been visited. Servers become “aware” of where a computer has been. That can lead to unwanted, even dangerous attention to those who use that computer.

Most importantly, let your children know that what they see online is NOT REAL. That’s the most important advice. Sexual activity is normal, but what they’re seeing is staged. It’s like reality TV, and you can use that analogy. No one really believes that reality TV isn’t to some extent scripted. Similarly, even the adult Internet sites that are meant to be “regular people” are, by definition, not engaging in regular sexual activity. That’s because they’re on camera, or worse, because they’re being unknowingly filmed. This is potentially and in many cases without question exploitative, and you can stress to your teen that sexual activity never goes well when one person exploits another.

 

Here are some more resources for those interested…

How To Talk To Your Kids About Porn, TIME

How To Talk To Your Teenagers About Poronography, NYT

If you’ve made it to the point of parenting where this is a concern, you already know how tough it is to raise a child. This is one of those difficult subjects but one where your guidence will surely help them wade through these murky waters.

 

Sleep Tips For Months 4-6 (which just may be the hardest months)

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For me at least, months 4 and six were tough- possibly even tougher than months one and two. In the beginning, the lack of sleep doesn’t seem to effect you the way one would think but then, BAM! it catches up and you are really, really, really tired.

This is also around the time that you will stop swaddling and when the pacifier will fall out of the baby’s mouth all night long.

So, given the above mentioned challenges, here are my sleep tips for getting through these potentially rough months.

Swaddling

In my sleep tips for the first month, I explained the importance of the swaddle. I cannot stress this enough! However, all good thing must come to an end and once your baby is able to turn from their back to their stomach, the swaddling must stop. A good transitional swaddle is the Halo Sleepsack Swaddle. You can use it as a traditional swaddle or wrap the baby across the chest. This will continue to provide a sense of security a regular sleepsack won’t give them.

You’ll first stop the swaddle during naps and see how your baby adjusts. Some are fine from the get go and others, not so much. My daughter loved the swaddle so we began our transition by leaving one arm out. We did this for naps for a few days and then at night. Once she is sleeping well with one arm out, you’ll start to leave both arms out and cross the baby at the chest (leaving both arms out). Sleep crutch number 1 is now gone!

Pacifiers- A Love/Hate Relationship

Pacifiers can be you and your baby’s very best friend. Many doctors now recommend them as protection against SIDS. I suggest only using pacifiers during nap and bedtimes, if possible, so you don’t get a baby who is overly reliant on the soothing they provide. We actually keep ours strictly in the crib and one in the diaper bag for on-the-go emergencies. When I get her up, I take it right out of her mouth and leave it in the crib.

Right around this time, the pacifier seems to fall out of their mouth all night long. You have a few choices on how to deal with this annoying dilemma, each with their own pros and cons.

  1. When they lose it, let them cry it out. For me personally, I wasn’t ready to just let her cry it out at this point but some people do and have great success. Do what works for you and you feel comfortable with!
  2. Take away the pacifier completely. The pacifier is a sleep crutch, just like swaddling. You can totally take it away at any point you wish to. Be prepared for a few (3-5 is average) rough nights but they will get the hang of sleeping without it. However, if you choose to take it away, DO NOT PUT ANOTHER SLEEP CRUTCH IN ITS PLACE! Do not start picking them up, rocking them to sleep, or putting them in bed with you.
  3. Go in and replace it. Ughhhhhh. This is what I did and let me tell you, it was a rough few weeks. During this time, I also worked with her during the day on learning how to put the pacifier back in her mouth. I also did what’s known as “the sprinkle”. This is where you sprinkle many, many pacifiers in the crib in hopes of the baby finding one and replacing it themselves. During this time, I was not getting her up for feeding, rocking or anything- I just went in and stuck the pacifier in her mouth.

Other Challenges During This Time Period

Teething, traveling, a growth spurt, a sick baby- all of these things can throw a fairly well scheduled baby off course. My advise- whatever you do, do not start bad habits you’ll have to break later. When your baby is up screaming because they’re in pain, absolutely pick them up, rock them, soothe them but then put them back in their crib. You may have to do this multiple times in a night- tag your partner for a break but stay the course! With parenting, now and even when they’re teenagers, the easy thing to do is usually not the right thing to do. Parenting is hard work but the end result (in this case a baby who has good sleep habits) is worth your effort and energy.

*ALWAYS PUT A BABY TO SLEEP ON THEIR BACK*

All advice above is solely my personal opinion based on my experience. Always consult a medical professional with any medical concerns. 

 

 

Remember Your Child As They Are Right Now- Birthday Letters

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Maybe I put it off because I knew I would cry. And I did. Three times.

I came across the idea of a birthday letter awhile back. Each year, around your child’s birthday, you write him or her a letter about their year. You talk about their successes and challenges, their interests and special times you shared. It’s basically a snapshot of your child at that particular age. Then, whenever you see fit (maybe after college or when they themselves become parents) you give them all the letters.

I finally sat down to write three birthday letters- Raina at 16, Shaye at 12, and Juliette at 1. The letters to the older girls weren’t easy to write and filled with major emotion. These girls are walking the line between childhood, teen years, and adulthood on a daily basis. I somehow managed to capture both how great the girls are as well as what a trying time adolescence is.

This is where the crying starts 😉

Think of your child now at whatever age they are. They will never be the same again. They are growing and changing each day and the joys and stresses of today slowly fade into the joys and stresses of tomorrow. By next year, what will you remember about the child your child is today?

Below I’m sharing my letter to the baby. If you choose to write a letter to your child, I promise you won’t regret it!

Birthday Letter- Juliette, age 1

Dear Juliette,

What an amazing year it’s been, my precious Juliette! I prayed for a healthy, happy baby who sleeps well and that’s exactly what I got. You are by far the most enjoyable, easy baby and every day spent with you is a treat. Your doll-like face and beautiful curls gets attention everywhere we go and you give your smiles away freely to all we meet. You are truly a ray of sunshine!

You are adored by everyone. I can’t tell who’s eyes light up more when you and your dad see each other. He greets you with a “Whattttt Uppppp, Kiddddd?!” and you throw your arms up and shine like the sun. Your sisters rush to your side first thing in the mornings and as soon as they get home from school. Your brothers love to spend time with you and you get a kick out of finding them in your “Everyone Loves Juliette” family book. We wish you grandmothers, grandfather, aunts, uncles, and cousins all lived closer but we look at their pictures every day and cherish the time we get to spend with them.

Some of your first loves were the book “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” and your stuffed panda we call Dan. We could always make you smile by singing “Hello to Juliette, it’s so nice to see you” from your first music class. You enjoy eating everything; there hasn’t been a food we’ve introduced that you haven’t liked.

I will hold in my heart the way the small hairs on your head made a spiral when you were first born. The open smile you would give when you were really happy. Sleep position- how you would nuzzle into me when you were trying to fall asleep.

Soon after you were born, your sister remarked, “how do we love her so much when we don’t even know her?” And there it is, simply stated. You were born and our hearts were filled with more love than we knew was possible simply because you are you. Happy first birthday!

 

 

 

Book Review- The Price of Privilege

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The Price of Privilege

I’m blessed.

Or lucky.

Or however you choose to look at it.

I was born in a great country to parents who wanted me and loved me. I’ve always had enough. I’ve never known hunger; I’ve never feared for my safety. I didn’t deal with any of the heartbreaking issues children must contend with daily all over the world.

However, I did know a bit of struggle. I did not get everything I asked for. I had to wait for a birthday or holiday for a big ticket item and then it was a huge deal. We didn’t take a vacation every year. Going out to dinner was a treat. When I was 14, although I got the new pair of sneakers everyone was wearing at the beginning of the school year, by December, I wanted another pair so I got a job and I bought them myself. I can still remember how badly I wanted them and the pride I felt when I went to the mall and bought them with the money that I had earned. Without a doubt, I feel these experiences shaped me into the hard working, responsible, grateful person I am today.

Fast forward to the life my kids are living. Dinner at restaurants many adults dream of going to. Multiple vacations a year. Sporting events, concerts- all with amazing seats. They will not have to take out loans in order to go to college. I am blessed to give them this life and they are certainly blessed to be living it.

But can having too much actually hurt your kids? That is the big question that this book sets out to answer and the short answer is a resounding YES.

“In spite of their economic and social advantages, affluent and well educated families experience the highest rates of depression, substance abuse, anxiety disorders, somatic complaints and unhappiness of any group of children in the country”

Wow. Intuitively I knew that too much of anything is never good but that statement took my breath away.

Some other interesting thoughts/findings the author discusses—

“Many affluent women have active social lives but few real friends; they have marriages with too little intimacy”

“Affluent moms tend to pour all of their unrealized ambition into their kids”

“Affluent parents as a group underestimate the impact of our absences and overestimate the degree of closeness our children feel toward us”

It’s a lot to take in.

It’s a lot to contemplate.

But they’re all ideas that are worthwhile to at least examine.

While reading, I found myself wishing there were more strategies to combat the negative side of affluence. I also found the book to be a a bit repetitive at times but overall, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Let me know if you do and what you think!

Why My Daughter Sits For The State Tests

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The opt-out movement is huge on Long Island. I’ve received numerous emails from friends and even strangers and have read countless posts on social media, all stating that we should “opt-out” our children from the standardized tests. Besides discussing it with a few close friends, I’ve chosen to remain relatively quiet because, drum roll please, I actually think our kids should take the test. Since the other side has been making such a concerted effort to convince people to opt out, I figure it was about time to speak up as to why my daughter sits for the state standardized tests.

First, my background- I am a NYS certified teacher and I also hold a professional teaching certification in Florida. I spent eight years teaching in what is considered a “high-stakes testing” state. My school was given a grade based on our test scores and we as teachers received bonuses if we were an “A” school. I have been out of the classroom for the past five years as I spend this time at home with my own kids but I remain extremely passionate and up-to-date on all things related to education (I even receive daily google alerts regarding any articles related to education) and volunteer my time in my daughters’ schools. My point here is I have sat at both sides of the table.

The hoopla about these tests is related to the new standards, the Common Core. Before the Common Core, each state came up with their own set of learning standards. For example, what a child was expected to know in the 2nd grade varied greatly from state to state. The idea was to come up with a set of uniform standards that all states would adopt. I don’t think many would argue with the rationale behind that idea. However, the issue became with the assessment of these new standards. Some states started assessing right away. Some states gave it three years, meaning they would begin teaching the new standards right away but hold off on testing for a few years. Others started the new standards in kindergarten and would assess when those kindergarteners were in 3rd grade. As you can see, this part got a bit tricky.

New York decided to assess right away. It was not a good call in my opinion but, like most things related to politics, money was involved as an incentive so our state signed up. We were told the students would not do well and they didn’t. There would be no penalty for the students, teachers, or schools for the first year but these scores would serve as a baseline to measure future growth. As a parent, I was OK with that. As long as there is not a negative consequence to my child for not performing well, I understand we have to start somewhere.

Now we are approaching year 4. There are still no consequences for students who do not perform well on the test. This is important to note because not all states are set up this way. In Florida, for example, if your child does not pass the yearly standardized test, they are in danger of being retained. Many states use these tests for promotion/retention decisions. We in NYS do not.

There seems to be three main reasons for opting out. There are people who believe these tests are harmful to their child, people who are taking a stand because they don’t believe in the actual standardized test and people who do not want teacher accountability to be tied to standardized tests. I’m not going to spend any time discussing teacher accountability because, for now, that piece has been removed from the equation in NYS.

First and foremost, if you believe that taking these tests will be detrimental to your child, by all means opt them out. If your child is suffering from a real, overarching anxiety about taking these tests, that’s a serious matter. Having said that, in eight years of teaching, I can only site one experience where a child had true test anxiety. Most kids get nervous and that’s OK~ it’s our jobs as parents and teachers to help them learn to manage their anxiety and nerves. I would also look to where the stress is coming from. Teachers should be working to create a “We’re not scared, we’re prepared!” vibe in the classroom. If you feel your teacher is putting undue stress regarding these tests onto students, pick up the phone and speak to them about it or speak to your principal. In addition, if your child is significantly below level and will not be able to read the passages or perform the equations, I can see why opting out would be a consideration. Before I continue, I want to state that I do believe strongly in a parents right to choose what they feel is best for their child. If you feel taking the test will hurt your child, opting out may be your best bet.

But lets assume your child does not suffer from any type of severe test anxiety and is not significantly below level. Next is the argument that these tests are pointless or invalid. I’ve heard many say, what is this test going to tell me that I don’t already know? The answer is a lot! Standardized tests are not new; they’ve actually been around since the mid-1800’s. I took them as a child and I’m guessing you did too. The reason why standardized tests are so important is because they are objective measures of student achievement. Yes, your child’s teacher knows them well and can offer more insight than one test can. I do not disagree with that point. However, insight can be subjective and often relative to your child’s classmates and even the community you live in. “Danielle is a great reader!” used to be an acceptable form of feedback for parents at teacher conferences. What exactly is a great reader? Is she a great reader compared to her classmates? Is she a great reader compared to other students her age? Does her teacher think “great” means the same as the teacher next door? Even in-class tests can be subjective, especially at the elementary level. Teachers often give a test back to a student and have them “look again”. Questions are often deemed “bonus questions” because the teacher may feel they are too hard. The students in the same grade but different classes often complete different assignment and may take different tests. All of this creates a subjective view of how the student is doing. A standardized test, that all students in the same grade, at all schools in the same state take, provides an objective measure of student progress. You will see how your child is doing compared to all the children in the entire state. This is valuable feedback to me as a parent, and should be to my school and teacher as well.

For example, I, as a parent, can see on last year’s mathematics test, in the sub-area of Number and Operations in Base Ten (what exactly that means is also spelled out), my child earned 15 out of the possible 18 points. The state average was 11. I feel pretty good about that! If I didn’t, I would know what area to ask her teacher for extra enforcement of skills. I would also know what to work at at home with her or, if she was significantly below average, I would look into a tutor. Do I take this as the end all, be all? No way. If the test told me she was below the state average and I did some digging and found that her teacher disagreed strongly and felt she just had a bad day, I would take that into consideration too. Regardless, I want to know where my child stands so that I can make informed, personal decisions pertaining to her education.

The school SHOULD be doing a lot with this information. Teachers should use the data to reflect on their teaching. Did a large portion of students struggle with vocabulary? Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate the methodology used for teaching vocabulary in the classroom. Your child’s teacher the following year will have access to their test scores and be able to see specifically which areas they were successful in and which areas they encountered difficulty. It’s true; they will not be able to see the entire test but over 50% of the actual test is released each year. If teachers do not use the data from these tests, then yes, it is a waste of time. That would be a district/school issue that would need to be addressed.

In the end, we as parents need to do what we feel is best for our children. I only hope the decisions are based on facts and not just that the children don’t want to sit for a test. What child would? Beginning in 8th grade, Regent grades are listed on high school transcripts, as are AP exams and, of course, SAT and/or ACT scores. Tests are an integral part of education and are necessary to measure knowledge gained. I’m happy that this is sparking a dialogue about education reform and look forward to hearing other viewpoints.