A 19th Century Autumn Harvest Festival

October 20, 2008

On Saturday, my family and I went to an Autumn Harvest Festival at Meadow Farm Park. Meadow Farm is a historical park centered around an 1860 living historical farm and museum in Richmond, Virginia.

The corn going into the sheller.

The corn going into the sheller.

Because of the historical nature of the park, a lot the activities during the festival are actual chores that would have been done on the farm during the 19th century and all new things to a 21st century family.

First my kids got to try out a corn shelling machine.  They each got to put in an ear of corn, then turn the wheel to shell the corn.  I’m not quite sure they understood what they were doing or why, but they sure had fun turning that wheel.  The man working the machine offered to let them keep their shelled ear of corn, but they just looked at it like what am I suppose to do with this.  I told them it was okay to throw it away.

The sorham press

The sorham press

Next door was the Sorghum Press.  With a little help the costumed interpreter, the twins pressed sorghum actually grown on the property. Normally their part is done by a horse, but today the kids turned the press.  They even got to try some molasses made from sorghum.  My son declined with a polite “no, thanks.”  However, my daughter was finally coaxed into sampling some.  But one taste and she was spitting out the cracker.  Daddy had to eat the rest of their sample.

We also got to see the Tobacco barn, sheep out to pasture, a blacksmithing demonstration and some woodworking before we found another hands out demonstration.

The Blacksmith

The Blacksmith

My daughter got to turn a piece of flax into a bracelet.  For some reason my son didn’t feel the need for a bracelet, so he watched.  First she had to break the flax.  It’s rough and looks a bit like straw.  Then she had to soften it on scutching board with a wooden knife.  Then she put the flax through the hackle to take off the rough parts before it was put on the flax wheel and spun into linen.  Then the lady there helped her tie into a bracelet.  Afterwards we saw where the ladies would take then linen and dye it.

We also got to see a bee keeper demonstration.  He didn’t have any real bees with him, but there were plenty out there visiting the festival.

The Flax Wheel.

The Flax Wheel.

Next the kids got to see samples of a cobbler’s shoe making skills.  Then they got to test out their own leathering skills by adding an imprint to a piece of leather and then stringing it into a necklace.  My daughter added a butterfly to her piece of leather.  My son enjoyed adding a worm to his leather piece, but didn’t care for a necklace.  So Mommy wore it.

After that, the kids moved on to rope making.  They each picked out a color of yarn – my daughter purple and my son yellow.  Then Daddy and the costumed interpreter helped them make it into a piece of rope.  My daughter used her piece of rope as a bracelet.  My son gave his to Mommy to use tie on my purse as a souvenir.

The apple press

The apple press

Then it was time for Apple Stringing.  What’s that, you ask? Exactly what it sounds like, you string pieces of apples. My daughter was stringing her applies faster than I could get them out of the bowl and my son and husband teamed up to make nice long apples string.  But what do you do with it now, I asked?  You hang them in the kitchen until they dry out and then it acts as potpourri.

The kids were starting to get a little hungry so we just watched the cornhusk doll and scarecrow making before heading over to the apple cider press for a sample.  Mmmmm, nothing better than fresh apple cider.  My only complaint, given the nip in the air that day, is that the cider wasn’t hot.

We stopped for Daddy’s favorite snack – kettle corn.  The whole family munched down on it while we waited in line for pony rides.  My daughter couldn’t wait to get on a horse again.  She’s been trying to coax us into riding lessons all summer – she’s three. She rode Oreo around like a champ while my husband and son cheered her on from the sidelines.

For anyone of you that think I’m brave running around with three-year-old twins, I had nothing on the lady in front of us in line.  She had one older daughter (12-14ish), triplet girls about three and infant boy/girl twins!

The Natural Dye Demonstration

The Natural Dye Demonstration

Anyway, next up for us was a little decorating.  First the kids decorated faces on mini pumpkins.  Then my daughter got her own face painted like a cat.  She had been asking since we got to the festival – before any of us even knew there was face painting – if she could get her face painted like a cat.

Later, we got to try something I’d never done – candle dipping.  Each of the kids got a stick with a piece of string on it.  Then we made a line.  We went up one side dipping our string in the big kettle full of wax over an open flame and then came back on the other side for another dip.  After about four dips, the twins had had enough.  So Daddy took them to see the sheep while Mommy finished the candles.

Finally, with our hands full of hand-made goodies, our bellies full of kettle corn and apple cider and two tired kids in tow, we headed back to the car.

I love festivals where we get to do lots of hands off crafts and I would say the twins did too.  And it doesn’t hurt that the festival and most of the activities were free.

They still aren’t quite old enough to understand why they were doing some of these activities, but that’s okay, we’ll be back next year.

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How to Build a Better Mouse Trap – I Mean Pirate Ship

September 22, 2008

Saturday my three-year-old twins were in a community parade with their preschool.  But to be in the parade you needed a float.  Here’s where mom duty becomes real challenging.

The red wagon before we started.

Before: The red wagon before we started.

My kids are very, very into pirates.  Last year they took a pirate class (think art class with pirate theme).  My son even likes to talk like a pirate.  I’ll ask him to do something and he’ll respond with “aye, aye captain.”  When he flushes the toilet he hollers “fire in the hole.”

The twins even pretend to be pirates when they play.  One day they lined up all their chairs in the living room to make a pirate ship.  My son used his sister’s princess keys to “start” the ship and when she asked to get in, he said sure, but make sure you put your seat belt on!  What can I say, at least they are safe pirates.

Needless to say when it came time to come up with ideas for a float, one idea stood out – Pirates!  But then the real dilemma started – how to turn a red wagon into a pirate ship?

Well this mommy’s no dummy.  The first thing I did was recruit help from my mother and her two foster daughters.

The wagon transformed.

After: The wagon transformed.

So the Saturday before the parade we set out to work.  My twins were on hand to supervise.  Three trips to the craft store and 10 hours later, we finally had a pirate ship.

We used cardboard boxes for the aft and bow.  We spray painted Styrofoam brown and then wrapped it in burlap to create wooded sides. 

We topped the boxes with Styrofoam wrapped in brown duct tape to create front and rear decks.

We added cannons with cannon balls, an anchor and a mast and voila!

And now I can add pirate ship builder to my resume.


New Trend Not About How Much, But What TV Children Watch

September 16, 2008

I have long been a proponent for television.  While the party line has been that it will rot your brain, I have always thought that it could be a useful tool in childhood development when applied correctly.  Finally, the experts have come around to my way of thinking.

The recent New York Times article “Limiting, and Watching, What Children Watch” talks about the vast media smorgasboard available to children today.

Is there any hope for a balanced meal?

Yes, say experts on children and the media, as long as parents teach children to make good choices. Instead of talking only about time limits – the pediatricians’ academy recommends limiting screen time to one to two hours a day – researchers are zeroing in on trouble spots and taking content into account. New guidelines are taking shape: Keep the television and computer out of the child’s bedroom, don’t be afraid to set limits, pay attention to what appears on screen and how different ages respond to it, and encourage children to think critically about what they see.

I couldn’t have said it better. I have long argued it’s not how much TV children watch, but watch they watches and what else they do.

As a big TV addict myself, I’ve never been good at limiting the number of hours my kids watch TV.

Instead I’m a strict about what they watch – educational television.  They spend most of their TV time on shows on Disney Playhouse and Noggin.  

We have lots of discussions and activities around their favorite shows.  If it’s a show with questionable content or a delicate issue (we watch one show about the race riots in the 60s), we watch it together and then talk about the issue. 

Here’s an article I wrote how you can reinforce what these shows teach with additional activities and conversations.  And how these actions also teach your children there is more to their world of interest that what’s on the television.

And finally we balance our TV time with lots of other activities that don’t involve the TV at all like gym class, art class, play dates and field trips.

The same can be said of the Internet.  Don’t be afraid to let your children get on it.  Instead teach the how useful it can be and monitor their usage.  Sites like Disney, PBS and others offer educational games. 

I recently discovered a website called Kids Off the Couch that incorporates television and the Internet with educational activities.

So instead of banning television or the net, use it to your advantage.


Is it Really ADHD or Just Too Much Pressure?

September 15, 2008

I’ve always contented that we, as a society, are too quick to label our kids with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, pump them full of meds and forget about the issue.  I’ve read two articles recently that support my theory.

I’m not saying that ADHD doesn’t really exist or that there are indeed extreme cases in which medications are needed to moderate behavior.

However, I feel that society finds it easier to tack on the ADHD label than to work on a development issue.

The MSNBC.com article “Who is to blame for boys struggling at school?” talks about how boys are more often targeted for ADHD.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2003, 14 percent of boys across the nation were identified as having ADHD by the time they reached their sixteenth birthday. And the percentage is continuing to grow.”

It went on further to add.

“Either we are witnessing the largest pandemic in our country since influenza struck in the United States in 1918, or school-age boys are being overidentified and overdiagnosed.”

But if you read the article, the offending behaviors are just typical boy behavior.  C’mon we all did that kind of stuff as a kid.  But because it disrupts the classroom, it must be a medical issue.

Let’s look at why it’s disrupting the classroom.  What are we asking our kids to do in the classroom these days?  The list is getting bigger and bigger by the day.

When I was a kid, kindergarten was more about learning how to behave in school.  We had play time and nap time and we might learn our letters, colors and numbers.

But these days, the pressure is on.  Preschool is now where kids learn the basics – and sometimes even more.  And by kindergarten they are already learning to read.  Some people are even holding their kids out of kindergarten until they are six so they know more going in.

School days are filled with a variety of work and little time to play.  Then the kids come home and have more work to do.  Some schools don’t even allow kids to talk during lunch to keep lunch time to a minimum and get the students back in the classroom.

Kids are kids, they have lots of energy. We must allow them some time to be a kid, to have fun, to goof off.

If they are in school all day and aren’t allowed to talk during lunch, when are they allowed to be themselves? If we don’t give them some time to express themselves and be a kid, they will make their own.

I think it’s unrealistic of a teacher to think (especially with the younger ones) kids are going to sit still and pay attention for 6-8 hours a day. Heck, I know most adults that can’t do that.

It doesn’t mean we should start medicating everyone.

The solution is two-part. Parents need to work with their children on appropriate behavior and offer them an alternative activity during non-school hours to exert some of that energy. Teachers must be willing to teach in a method most conducive to the child rather than what’s easiest for them.

The New York Times article “Training Young Brains to Behave” talks about why kids are so quick to move from one topic to another.  A short-attention span is natural.

“One reason is that an area of the brain that is critical to inhibiting urges, the prefrontal cortex, is still a work in progress.”

It’s not ADHD, it’s a development issue. .

“Some children’s brains adapt quickly, while others’ take time.”

The article goes on further to discuss how much this erratic behavior changed when teachers and parents took time to work with the child on self-control, memory and flexibility.

When this behavior is shaped “it is more strongly associated with school success than I.Q.” 

Imagine that – long-term results without any drugs and all it required was a little effort on the part of parents and teachers.

Finally, the study also said “Although play is often thought frivolous, it may be essential.”

I think as adults we often overlook this very key piece in children’s development. I know for myself, I have to do a mental check to make I’m not overscheduling my kids, that I’m allowing time for them to just play.

What do you think?  Is ADHD overdiagnosed?  Are we putting too much pressure on our youth to succeed?


The Anxiety of the First Day of School

September 10, 2008

My kids started school this week.  Okay, so it was just preschool and they only go for ½ a day two days a week, but for me it was still this big milestone in their lives.

The twins didn’t seem to give the idea of going to school to school a second thought.  But then they have been going to some type of class (gym, art or music) by themselves for more than a year.  And they even went to camp for three hours once a week this summer.

But even so, I got to thinking about the idea of the first day of school.  I remember it being a big point of anxiety for me, but maybe that’s because I grew up a military brat who changed schools quite a bit.  For me, the first day of school each year often meant a new school with new people.  And as a child I was extraordinarily shy.

While I never remember separation anxiety – could be why my kids showed no signs of it – I do remember having butterflies in my stomach and dreading the thought of entering a school where everyone already had their friends established.

But I made it through it.  And apparently my kids did too.  They are lucky in that they got to share this experience with each other.

I remember my first day of school.  I didn’t go to preschool.  My first day was for kindergarten and I had to ride the bus – a really big deal when you are smaller (and younger) than all the other “more experienced” school kids.

I remember standing at the bus stop with my mom waiting for the bus to arrive.  She was telling me how to remember my bus stop so that I could get off in the afternoon.  My bus stop was at the corner of a baseball field.  I was to look for the backstop to know when to get off the bus.

I don’t remember much about that day at school, but I remember the bus ride home.  I sat diligently at the window looking for that backstop.  The idea of missing my bus stop scared me silly.

Then I saw it – the backstop.  I didn’t expect it so soon.  But I got up and got off the bus.  The bus pulled away just as I realized my mom wasn’t there.  Now what do I do.

I’m five.  I’m not allowed to cross a street by myself and here I am at the wrong bus stop.  Who do I go to for help?

While I’m internalizing all this information, the bus has gone on to my correct bus stop a block away.  My mom realized I wasn’t on the bus and realized (I don’t know if another parent or some kids told her) that the previous bus stop also had a baseball field.  And before I know it my mom was there to meet me.

The next day, the parents tied some kind of ribbon to the backstop at my bus stop and I never got off at the wrong bus stop again.

It amazes me that after all these years (really, it hasn’t been that many), that that bus stop tidbit is what I remember about my first day at school.

It wasn’t what outfit I wore or who I met or – God forbid – what I learned that day that stood out.  It was the bus ride.

I wonder what my kids will remember about their first day.  They didn’t ride a bus so that can’t be it.  But I’d love to know what they remember 20 or 30 years from now.

What do you remember from your first day of school?