April 28th, 2015 | Posted in Features

baltimore street art

Note: There is some disturbing language in this piece. I’ve tried to censor it best I can while still telling the story honestly.

I think about race. Maybe too much. Maybe not enough.

As a kid, I played a game. I would sit upright, place my hands on my lap and stare straight ahead so I couldn’t see my skin. Then I’d pretend to be black.

I’m a bit embarrassed about it now. It seems like such a silly thing. But I was a naive kid and I desperately wanted to be a Huxtable. I wanted our loud and crazy family drama to be resolved in 22 minute chunks; 30 when you added breaks for pudding pops.

I grew up in a fairly conservative white town. There were few kids of color in my school. I had no reference points for what it must be like to be black. Close to 100% of the interaction I had with people of color were through textbooks and television. Meaning they were either stuck in time or stereotyped. They either always made the right choice—from choosing nonviolent resistance to saying the exact right thing at the exact right moment—or the wrong choice, their pictures showing up on the nightly news as fodder about “inner city problems.” There was no gray.

I’m raising my kids in a different place than where I grew up. I’m raising them in Baltimore. As Frank Pembleton said, “It’s a brown town.”

My daughter attends a school where she is the racial minority. Like 20% racial minority. In some of her classes she is one of two white kids. This is not an intentional thing. It just happened. She applied to a program she loved at an excellent school that produces some of the highest scores in the state and was accepted.

My son attends a more racially diverse school. He is about 50% represented. Both my kids know Asian kids, Black kids, Muslim kids; girls who cover their hair and those who keep them in braids; boys who ride at 12 o’clock and those who are nerds just like them. We live in the same neighborhoods and shop at the same stores.

Race doesn’t seem to be as weird for them as it was for me growing up. Their friends are their friends. That’s just how they see them.

I see their friends differently. I see their faces when I read racists tweets. I see their faces missing from book covers and television shows. I see them when I hear a white woman yell at a group of black women, “We owned your people once and we will own you again!” I see them when I hear a white man tell everyone at a summer picnic about the time he shot a n**** in the head during the ’68 riot.

I understand the need for the hashtag #blacklivesmatter. I also understand why white people respond #alllivesmatter.

Like most Baltimoreans right now, I am a thorny mess of emotions. Included in them are anger, frustration, fear. I read comments across facebook and the twittersphere supporting the rioters, or rationalizing their actions, and think, Yes, so easy for you to say because you don’t live here. For you, it’s all theoretical; something you tweet about because you want to be edgy.

Meanwhile, we watch while our city burns, listening to sirens and the helicopters overhead, knowing that the whole world is watching. Knowing that we have to live with what remains.

I also read the racists comments that shout “Let the animals burn West Baltimore!” I want to punch those people in the face and say, that’s my home too ahole. I feel the anger rise as I watch reporters on tv work hard to shoehorn in a pre-determined narrative that fits the story they want to tell, rather than listen to the story that’s being told.

The truth is what happens here affects all of us—the brutality, the racism, the riots, the nickel rides, slashed fire hoses, protesters marching peacefully, citizens protecting storefronts, crowds arriving to clean up, groups providing safe places for kids to hang out. All of that affects you, me, our kids, our cities, and our country, because of, or in spite of, your skin color.

I’m not saying I don’t have my own racial baggage. Because I do. I’m imperfect. I see things through my filter. I’m not some enlightened individual who understands the plight of anyone other than myself.

But what I am saying is this: as someone who lives with race, I see that things are broken. And it’s up to all of us to fix them.

We can’t continue to stare straight ahead, pretending we don’t notice the color of our own skin.

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Earth Day Games & Activities

April 20th, 2015 | Posted in Play + Learn, Science Fun

What Animal Am I? Earth Day Game via PBS Parents

Looking for a cute Earth Day activity for your kids? Check out this one I created for PBS Parents. It’s scalable so you can spend 10 minutes on it, or, you can have older kids go full geek out and pretend to be a notable Wildlife Biologist. I even did some research and made you a list. Aww yeah, Jane Goodall, everybody!

More Earth Day Activities for Home or School (for you Wild Childs who signed up to be room parents):
Nature Friends Collage
Leaf Stick Puppets
Botanical Bookmarks
Spring Leaf Painting
Butterfly Chrysalis Craft

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Danger Is My Middle Name: A Guide to Playing Adventurously

April 16th, 2015 | Posted in Adventuring, Features, Play + Learn

a guide to playing adventurously

The other day I asked a friend who treats kids for anxiety what she thought about free range parenting. She said, “Did you ever read that article in the Atlantic about the adventure playground where kids play freely without hardly any adult supervision? I love it.”

And she’s not alone. Experts say that allowing kids to engage in perceived dangerous activities helps them become well-adjusted adults. And having my kids become well-adjusted adults sounds pretty darn nice. Although truth be told, I’d settle for even marginally well-adjusted.

So in the spirit of playing adventurously, I’ve created a list of activities for all those out there who say, a little danger does a childhood good. Continue Reading...

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Text Speak – A Guide To Understanding WTH UR Kids R Saying

April 14th, 2015 | Posted in Parenting, The Tween Years

text speak a printable guide to understand wth your kids r saying

Have you ever picked up your tween’s phone and tried to decipher what in the world they were attempting to communicate through a text? Or maybe you received a text from them and couldn’t make heads or tails of the acronyms. Well, the good news is you aren’t alone. The bad news is that you have to become bilingual to understand ‘txtspk’, or ‘text speak’ for all you beginners. Continue Reading...

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Math Love

April 9th, 2015 | Posted in Play + Learn

5 projects + activities for kids who love math and those who don't (yet)

Does math make your kids groan? Well, here are five projects and activities that are big on math without being too overtly math-y. Because let’s be real, sometimes you need a soft sell up your sleeve to get kids excited about something they think they don’t/won’t like. You can surprise them later with, “You just did math and you liiiiiiked it.” And for kids who are all about math? Well, they’ll love these too. Now, let’s celebrate math love! Continue Reading...

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Book Spine Poetry on PBS Parents

April 6th, 2015 | Posted in Play + Learn

Book Spine Poetry

Happy National Poetry Month! Today I’m over on PBS Parents with an activity celebrating modern poetic art: Book Spine Poetry. Hop on over for a brief history about the internet sensation along with tips to help your kids get started. They’ll be hooked in no time. So will you ;)

ps. Did you know that having as few as 20 books in the home has a significant impact on whether or not children seek higher education? The impact is even more significant than parents’ level of education. You can read more about it here.

Stack of books

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Make Art, Not Stress! 5 Steps for Making Kids Art Projects Fun

April 1st, 2015 | Posted in Art School, Creativity, Play + Learn

Guide to taking the stress out of kids art projects

Does the idea of doing an art project with your kids stress you out? I get it. The mess, the prep, the supplies, the directions, the meltdowns, the mess…oh wait, I think I said that already. To help ease that stress, we’ve put together a simple guide to finding the joy in art at home. Continue Reading...

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On Marbling and Educational Trends

March 24th, 2015 | Posted in Features

how to marble with shaving cream and a lesson in art and culture!

Well hello there! I’m hanging out over at PBS Parents sharing a technique for marbling and tying it in with a geography/art & culture/world history lesson. Basically, I’m kitchen sinking it, educationally speaking.

Hey, speaking of education, have you heard about the latest educational trend coming out of Finland? It’s called phenomenon teaching. Instead of organizing classes by traditional subjects (e.g., math, science, etc), students study topics in which many subjects are covered. Here’s a quote from an article about the shift:

“Subject-specific lessons – an hour of history in the morning, an hour of geography in the afternoon – are already being phased out for 16-year-olds in the city’s upper schools. They are being replaced by what the Finns call “phenomenon” teaching – or teaching by topic. For instance, a teenager studying a vocational course might take “cafeteria services” lessons, which would include elements of maths, languages (to help serve foreign customers), writing skills and communication skills.”

Sounds intriguing and reminds me of the passion projects in the piece Deborah wrote about homework. I’m sure the world will be looking to see how it plays out for the Finns. At first glance, it sounds pretty awesome:

“We come across children playing chess in a corridor and a game being played whereby children rush around the corridors collecting information about different parts of Africa. Ms Jaatinen describes what is going on as “joyful learning”. She wants more collaboration and communication between pupils to allow them to develop their creative thinking skills.”

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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