Category Archives: About Kids

Shock-a-Bye Baby

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buildingblocksTurn on the music and turn off the noise.
Pull out the building blocks, puzzles and toys.
Stick to the basics and you’ll be okay.
‘Cause rock-a-bye baby, is high-tech today.

                        

Don’t panic: I spotted a friend in the baby aisles of a department store the other day. She had the wide-eyed look of a frazzled shopper in the throes of a panic attack. As I approached her, she hollered at me, “What the heck has happened to our babies?”

False alarm: Well I guess the sales girl and a few nearby shoppers thought this was an Amber Alert in the making – so you can imagine the kerfuffle that ensued. Once the fracas died down and she explained that we in fact had no babies, I took her for a cup of tea to calm what was left of her nerves. It appears she had just become a new grandmother and simply wanted to buy a few things for her grandson.

Gizmos and Gear: My poor unsuspecting friend was completely overwhelmed by the complexity of all the new high-tech baby merchandise that morphs into various contraptions as the baby grows. And as useful as this sounds, I often wonder how the parents of today know when to ‘Snap ‘n Go’, ‘Sit n’ Stroll’, or simply ‘Mop n’ Glo’? What has happened to our babies, indeed!

Looking back: As I hauled my friend out of the grandbaby gap, it brought back a deluge of shopping memories of when I became a grandmother thirteen years ago. It all started in the same way…standing alone in the baby aisles, looking desperate and feeling overwhelmed. But in time, I adjusted and learned to let my daughter do the heavy lifting when it came to making complicated baby-product decisions.

You’ve come a long way baby: Thankfully, we’ve travelled some distance since the days of treacherous baby cribs and toys filled with lead. The better care and feeding of our babies should always be the driving force behind any change to the nursery set. And the new mothers and fathers of today have a plethora of choices to make and many new adventures to behold.

5 Things I learned:

1. Strollers are like hot rods: My first stroller simply strolled with a squeaky wheel or two. Today, babies travel in style in trail-blazing strollers that promise easy release hand-brakes, front and rear suspension, multi-position reclining seats and all terrain wheels. It’s an amazing sight to see how the simple stroller has evolved into a deluxe rock n’ roll system, with the features of a souped-up automobile!

2. Car seats kick butt: Good grief! We didn’t even have car seats! Today, there are forward facing seats and rear facing seats and seats that go by the pound. There are latch systems and universal anchorage systems and space-age cockpit turbo-design booster seats for big kids. And if you purchase the travel model with the handy removable seat, you can jump out of your car – pop the whole ‘kid-and-car-seat’ package right into a  stroller base thingy and jog around the block, while you talk mergers and acquisitions on your cell phone!

3. High chairs collect points: My daughter’s old wooden high chair was as tippy as a canoe! And the removable tray kept sliding out and crashing to the floor. In today’s world, high chair designs have miraculously evolved into 3-point restraining systems, 4-point reclining systems and 5-point height adjusting systems. And, like the car seat and stroller, it can transform into just about anything, if you have an engineering degree.

4. New mothers are brave: Gone are the cold clinical hospital deliveries we had on baby-D-day. Today young women have birthing centres and many employ the services of mid-wives and doulas to have a more natural experience. Even my lovely daughter, who has the pain threshold of a gnat and gets sedation to have her haircut – tried the au naturelle route of birthing at home. But that’s a story for another day when my daughter isn’t reading my blog posts.

5. New fathers are nuts: Back in the day, most fathers kept their distance from mothers and babies and played the role of  being useless very well. Today, new fathers are fully involved in baby routines – from birthing to burping and all things in between. But my son-in-law was a bit ‘two diapers short of a pail’ if you get my drift. Before leaving for groceries one day, he instructed me on how to help my daughter breast feed! My advice: never have a milky-nipple discussion with your son-in-law!

Toys on steroids: Did you know that some of the little-girl dolls of today can give birth, breastfeed and poop? Did you know that some little-boy dump trucks can break-dance in a flashing display of lights and music?  And don’t even get me started on the brand new just released “Hello Barbie” – an interactive doll with artificial intelligence that talks and works using your WIFI. Where is George Orwell when you need him? This is nothing short of just plain creepy!

Just imagine: Children might love these multi-tasking toys. But it raises the question of long term consequences on their ability to focus on a singe task – not to mention their ability to learn language. Most of these types of toys are designed to entertain and distract – rather than engage the child. The imagination is a powerful playmate. And if the toy does too much, the child does too little – and the imagination shrivels up and dies. A very sad death by starvation.

Finding the balance: We live in a complex world. And it’s wonderful to see the new products that keep baby safe, and the educational toys that help baby enjoy an enriched and comfortable environment. We can marvel at the new studies just out last week, that stated nearly every child under 4 years old uses electronic mobile devices to keep them busy. And while we may be grooming them to be masters of the universe, there’s also something to be said for the pure joys of simplicity.

Final word: So what has happened to our babies? Nothing. Babies aren’t any more complicated than they used to be. It’s this world we live in that’s become more complicated. And I believe it’s up to each one of us to bring back some small pleasure from our own childhood and introduce it to our children and grandchildren. You just never know what simple goodness you might find.

So don’t be in shock on becoming a Grand,
With new-fangled stuff that you don’t understand.
Despite all the gizmos, the gadgets, the gear,
Our babies are babies – the same every year.

 And may I remind you, in case you forgot,
The best toys are those that do diddly-squat!
And books are for reading and shouldn’t talk back.
Just stick with the program – you won’t go off-track.

See you between the lines and on Twitter @PatSkene

Witches, Black Cats and Broomsticks

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HalloWitchTreeHave you ever met a Halloween witch who couldn’t fly on her broom? Why would a Halloween cat be named Splaaat? What kind of weird concoctions do witches stir into their cauldrons? How did these scary Halloween traditions get started in the first place?

Download your FREE HALLOWEEN STORY to find out.

HALLOWEEN FOR ERNESTINE is one of six rhyming stories from my book, Rhyme Stones.

Read, Print, Share and Enjoy – compliments of Orca Book Publishers. Don’t miss the Interview with Ernestine and cool Halloween facts at the end. 

Go to Press Here to Start…Reading for a copy of this fun-filled Halloween story. The kids in your life will be glad you did. 

NOTE: Don’t forget to sign up for my new blog while you’re there. Happy Reading!

See you between the lines and on Twitter @PatSkene

Is Cursive Writing Obsolete?

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imagesCursive writing is dying and kids can’t sign their names.
This sentence hurts my heart. There is a strong school of thought that believes penmanship is an obsolete skill that kids will never need.

How did we let this happen? For some time now, most schools in North America no longer teach cursive writing as part of the school curriculum. Rather, basic printing and typing skills are favoured instead. Now I realize we live in a digital age and computer passwords have become our identities for accessing personal data. But unlike signatures, which are unique to each individual with their loops, swirls and dots – passwords can be hacked, duplicated and identities stolen.

It’s not enough: I know there is only so much teaching time in a classroom. And students need to learn new skills and become proficient with computers, a much-needed tool in today’s learning environment. But there is a real world outside of the classroom, and there are still many situations where people of all ages need to sign (not print) their names, hopefully not with an X. In my view, the very basic form of writing in any civilized society should still be a core learning for every child.

The nuts and bolts of it: How will this generation sign passports, bank documents, last will and testaments, or personal legal documents? How will they write a cheque or read a letter from their grandparents? How will they write Christmas Cards, or is this obsolete now too? Will they ever need to write a letter of condolences or congratulations to a dear friend? In some of life’s circumstances, a printed note or text message just doesn’t do the trick. Are we relying on computers, retinal scans, fingerprint technology and other digital identifiers to totally replace our individuality as flesh and blood human beings?

Talk to the hand: My mother had beautiful penmanship. And I’m proud to say, I have developed a nice writing style over the years, similar to hers. When I sit down to begin a new book project, I always write my initial thoughts by hand. There is a strong connection between the pen in my hand and the creative process in my brain, and I don’t move to the keyboard until this connection has been fully explored.

It’s important: For children, learning cursive writing not only stimulates the brain and helps to develop fine motor skills – it gives them back that uniqueness that is so easy to lose in the ubiquitous world of computers. So let’s get back to basics here and do what we can to encourage those in the educational system to bring cursive writing back into our children’s classrooms.

Double dog dare: And to all those who say…it’s a waste of time, it’s obsolete, they’ll never use it…I challenge you to try not using your signature (or cursive writing of any kind) at home and at work for at least one full month…and get back to me on that!

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See you between the lines and on Twitter @PatSkene

Check out my books at www.pressheretostartpublishing.com

Hot off the Press…Wowwy and Me

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Great bedtime reading!

Wowwy_cvr_draft_150604.inddMy new picture book has arrived! So you see – I’m not always a crotchety old boomer exercising my right to a few senior rants and raves on boomerrantz. I often sneak over to the lighter side to play in the sandbox and write stories for my awesome little friends.  Granted, it chafes my aging assets when the sand seeps into my granny bloomers. But I just shake, shake, shake it off…as the song goes.

Now back to my book, because after all, this is all about me – well, Wowwy and Me anyway – and I am shamelessly blowing my own bullhorn here. So what’s it all about, you might ask?

His red fur was matted and worn out…almost.
But he smelled like sunshine and warm buttered toast.

Summary from back cover:
Tilly is worried because her beloved stuffed mouse, Wowwy, is becoming more raggedy and dirty with each passing day. There’s even a chunk of fur out of his ear. He’s been stitched and scrubbed and patched many times. But now more extreme action is needed. What can Tilly possibly do to stop Wowwy from falling apart at the seams?

It’s my unabashed pleasure to introduce my newest book…Wowwy and Me
Beautifully illustrated by the very talented, Talysha Bujold-Abu
For little munchkins ages 2 – 6

Check out my books at www.pressheretostartpublishing.com 

Thank you.

Happy reading! See you between the lines.

Follow me on Twitter @PatSkene

 

Bridging the Gap

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time_capsule_2035 blog                                                           

 Calling all kids, teachers, parents and grandparents!                                                                                  

 What’s up? As you may know by now, I am a writer of children’s books by day and during the deep dark hours of my soul, I am a cranky boomer blogger by night. Okay, so that was a bit of unnecessary drama, but I want you to appreciate the alter egos I struggle with on a daily basis. My poor Hubsey never knows who he’s sleeping with from one computer paragraph to the next. And despite the schizophrenic nature of my two jobs, I manage to stay grounded by keeping all my bases covered in the age department….sort of like a ping-pong ball on steroids.

The gap: In an effort to avoid disaster by confusing my work, I generally keep things separated by a spongy wall, so I can bounce back and forth without hurting myself. But this is a unique project and an exceptional circumstance – so I want to bridge the gap between my two worlds to get you and your families involved. I’m very excited about this project!

Here’s the dealio: I grew up in a small town on Georgian Bay (circa 1950) without phones or electricity. My first school bus was a horse and buggy! For real!! And now I’m hooked on anything with an Apple on it. Could I have imagined the changes that would happen in my lifetime? Today in 2013, Canadians are signing up to go to the moon, cars are being developed that drive themselves, while fingerprint technology will soon replace our need for passwords. What could possibly be next?

Think about it: Do the kids in your life imagine our world of tomorrow? What will the year 2035 look like, in the fields of transportation, technology, fashion, space travel, entertainment, the environment, careers, schools and families…just to name a few? How will our children, the movers and shakers of tomorrow, shape the world they live in? I want to ask them and find out.

Call for Submissions by Press Here to Start Publishing

I would like to challenge the children of today, to imagine the year 2035 and tell us what they see. A collection of the best entries from kids of all ages will be published in an exciting new book entitled, Time Capsule – 2035.  

  • Open to all students in Canada, grades 1-8 on any topic
  • Includes essays, poems and stories to a max of 200 words
  • Original artwork optional
  • Teachers are encouraged to submit classroom entries
  • Can be submitted online or by snail mail
  • Final entry deadline, March 31, 2014
  • Click here for Time Capsule – 2035 Flyer

Final Word:

This project is exciting on so many levels. It encourages dialogue in schools and at home about the difficult subject of change. It tells us what our kids are thinking about. And it helps the children of today connect to their world of tomorrow. Plus the book itself will be an interesting Time Capsule to look back on in years to come.

Please help me to spread the word and get your kids and schools involved. You’ll be hearing more about this in the news.

Go to http://www.pressheretostartpublishing.com for details and check out the Hot Tips on how to get started. 

Pat Skene…see you between the lines.

time_capsule_2035 blog     

Farrell’s Fire

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As the holiday season approaches, my usual reflective self emerges. Looking back over the past year’s gifts and surprises, I am once again hopeful for the promise of a good year ahead. But at a time when the world seems to be shrinking and spinning out of control, I find myself holding on to the simple things to maintain my balance.

Too much everything: Everyday now, life around us gets crazier, more irrational and more violent. It’s easy to just stop caring, as we’re swept along like dried-up leaves in a windstorm. We tune out, turn off or just change the channel.

We become obsessed with an electronic age of peeping reality shows and detached virtual experiences. We’re immersed in a sea of toys that do too much and imaginations that do too little. We don’t talk, we surf. We don’t read, we watch. We don’t feel because we’re numb.

Out of sync: It’s hard to know how to push back on the tremendous pressures of a rapidly changing society and grab hold of the little things that give spark and spirit to what we do. I think it’s important that we stay connected with our world and we need to care that it needs changing. And, I believe we need to look deeply into the faces of our children to make that connection.       Read the rest of this entry

Reading, Rhyming and Reciting

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When a rhyme is read,
I can tap it in my head.
When the beat is neat,
I can touch it with my feet.
When a word is sprung,
I can taste it on my tongue.

Are children losing the art of language?    

Can we talk? As an author and storyteller, I enjoy a love of language. But, as I visit libraries, and schools in the primary grades, I am saddened by the growing number of children experiencing difficulty with oral language development.

I have learned from parents, teachers and children’s organizations that there are long waiting lists for speech therapy professionals to help children through these problems. What’s happening in today’s world that makes learning to speak more difficult? What can we do to help our children before it reaches epidemic proportions?

Cyber-sitters: I believe the ongoing electronic invasion of television, computers and video games has left little room for old-fashioned communication. We use television as household nannies, buy talking books that teach solitary reading lessons and we encourage kid-friendly interactive games on computers of all sizes, to keep little ones quietly busy.

While the convenience of technology certainly has its place in a busy world, I think we need to take stock of the long-term effects of excessive use of these electronic babysitters on children today. In spite of the myriad of words bombarding our kids, there is no human contact in many of the mass media of messages they are receiving. And that means there is no ‘conversation’ through these devices, leaving more limited opportunities for children to learn the art of language, outside of the classroom. 

Starting early: Speech is the foundation of all social life. Why then, do we take it for granted? Research proves that when pre-schoolers have difficulty with oral development, they could be experiencing an early symptom of reading disability. And, a child’s ability to read is an important predictor of later literacy development and potential for academic achievement. This is very important to know. At no other time do they learn as much as in the first 3-4 years of life, so what can we do to help our children during these critical early years? I believe we should be reading out loud with our children everyday, to develop a love of language – together.

Let the reading begin: Reading is a significant family activity that, unfortunately, seems to be losing its place of value in many homes. But that being said, most parents already know that any shared storybook reading between child and adult is an excellent way to promote emergent literacy. So how do we compete with the more seductive forms of family entertainment and increase a child’s motivation toward book-reading? A good start is to be pro-active and encourage the child to take an active role in the experience.

Ham it up: Some techniques to fully engage the child might include letting them choose the book and the reading location. It’s important to pause occasionally to allow the child to comment or ask questions. To enhance the story in a picture book, we can encourage children to notice small details in the illustrations that are often not included in the story. Allowing them to hold the book and turn the pages will also give them a stronger sense of involvement. Children love it when we ham it up and use various character voices or wear special story-reading hats or capes for the occasion. Many pre-school children also enjoy to ‘pretend-read’ the story of a familiar book.    

Time to rhyme: And let’s not forget the wonderful powers of rhyme to teach our children the rhythm of speech!  Stories and poems told in verse are probably the most important part of a young child’s literacy development during the critical window of phonological learning in the pre-school years. Rhyming skills are, in fact, one of the earliest milestones in a child’s path to becoming a good reader. Well-written verse teaches patterns and internal rhythms that help children connect the dots in the world around them.

Making friends: Rhyme teaches children a love of language through the excitement and anticipation of sound. Each verse is picture-poetry, painting a vivid storyboard for the reader. When I visit schools for storytelling sessions, children often complete the last word of many rhyming sentences before I say them, after hearing the line just once. I have also found that kids seem to form strong affections toward characters in rhyming stories.

Between the lines: Well-written rhyme seems to spring to life and dance in the empty spaces between the words. It often makes young readers feel like they’re bouncing along in an inner tube! Rhyme seems to wire the brain with an internal beat that lives on inside of us, sometimes for many years. I’m sure that’s why so many people can still remember favorite rhymes from early childhood.   

 Powerful stuff: The use of rhyme in teaching children oral language skills can be fun and interactive for parent and child. It’s no wonder that children who can recite nursery rhymes from an early age usually become better readers than those who cannot. So it stands to reason that pre-schoolers who speak clearly are most often reading and producing rhymes.

Great reading: I have always loved stories in rhyme! In addition to the traditional nursery rhymes and wonderfully wacky Dr. Seuss books, I enjoy the creative works of some great Canadian children’s authors like Sheree Fitch, Loris Lesynski and the late Phoebe Gilman, who have all written several excellent rhyming story books that entertain both children and adults.

Hooked on rhyme: I believe strongly in the 3 R’s for teaching children language – Reading, Rhyming and Reciting. It’s important for kids to absorb the world through the ears and not always through the eyes. As children get hooked on listening to the patterns, the rhythms and the way words are put together in a good book – it’s easy to fall in love with the delicious sound of language. It’s all right there waiting to be discovered, inside the scrumptious words of a wonderful story. 

When the rhythm goes deep,
I can hear it in my sleep.
When a sound gets in,
I can feel it on my skin.
When the lines all rhyme,
I can dance along in time.
 

Pat Skene