Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Reading for the Gender Conscious

Like most parents of young children, I sometimes find myself obsessing about how well or how fast my kid is learning to read. I recently learned that March is National Reading Month, which makes sense, since in the past few weeks parents everywhere were invited to schools to read stories (and in some cases, celebrate Dr. Seuss' birthday - also in March!).
But in my mind, March has always been Women's History Month and on the 8th - International Women's Day. So when I think about reading, I think - especially this month - about the gender messages my daughter gets in the books she reads. I just find all too often - still - there are just so many stories (and movies and shows and their spin-off related books) where the leader or the main character or the one-who-solves everything is always a boy or a man.
That's why I love shows like Word Girl on PBS - and yes - she has some spin off books. Well, at least one, where she takes on a crazy robot. We love reading that because it combines two of my daughter's favorite things - words/ word play and robots! How could you go wrong?

Of course, we read stories every day at home, hang out in bookstores and the library. But we also have a secret treasure trove downstairs at grandma's house. Because my mother saves everything, had four kids, and used to teach disabled children in NYC's public schools -- she has an amazing collection of books. Looking for something on dinosaurs? space? the Vikings? weird science experiments? She's got 'em. Some of the tomes in her collection are these really old books you can't find these days - especially ones about gender - like a classic called "What is a Boy? What is a Girl?' which features really nice black and white photographs and explains that boys can cry, cuddle baby dolls, etc., and girls can be strong and have really short hair. We love reading that one too.

My mother also has a great eye - recently she brought home a second-hand book for us that she found at a shop in Manhattan. It's called The Cats in Krasinski Square (By Karen Hesse) and takes place in Warsaw in 1942. It features a brave young girl who becomes part of the Jewish resistance. What a marvelous, inspiring story.

So in this month of reading and women, I'd like to say - thanks Mom. For taking me to the International Women's Day March in Manhattan many years ago, and for always reading to us, filling the house with art books and poetry, and reading with your granddaugher.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

So "Sue" Me

There were about 800 things on the family "to-do" list this morning, but with the sun shining so nicely we had to get outdoors. A quick drive got us to Liberty State Park - and the enormous Liberty Science Center. That's the place to go if you want to come face-to-face with Sue - the best T-Rex skeleton ever found.

Sue is only in town until March 14 and she is definitely worth the trip. What we liked best about it is that you can really see it - just get right up close and marvel at that massive jaw! those huge teeth! the giant joints of the legs! The other activities and explanations they have in the exhibit are all good too.
After a checking out a few other exhibits, we bought tickets for the "simulator ride." For $5 each, guests choose one of several programs and climb in a vehicle that looks like a cross between a small space ship and a car that sits on hydraulic lifts. My daughter chose "Solar Coaster" and rode into space, zooming through the planets. From outside, I could hear squeals of joy.
We didn't stay for too long though, because we had to leave time to play outside at Liberty State Park where lots of tots where exploring the playground.
One final weekend note - Jersey City's First Fridays are finally beginning to offer more events for kids. Last night we checked out a few galleries, and heard live kid-friendly music at Made With Love (where there was also face painting). Ahymn Espresso Bar & Cafe up the street also had another musical duo - although they were playing adult music. For sitting patiently through two songs, the kid was rewarded with a nice purple balloon. Very uplifting.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Snowflakes, Apple Crisps and Maple Syrup

All this snow means time for some new crafts - so the other day I showed my daughter how to make snowflakes inside to match all the ones outside that were falling thick and fast.

We folded blank white paper into squares and then cut designs into them - pull them open and - poof - snowflakes to delight any small child (although I was rather taken with them myself!).

For extra fun, we lay them out on cookie sheets, put them on the dining room table and let her put glue down and cover them in silver glitter and silver glitter glue. They looked charming and we strung them up with some thread. While she was doing that, I flipped through an old copy of Edible Jersey magazine where I found a receipe for an apple crisp, which we quickly made for a nice winter dessert.

Still, we didn't want to stay inside forever, so last weekend we made a trip to the Tenafly Nature Center. This is a great resource for local families looking to get outdoors and hike on 380 acres of unspoiled land. They have a number of trails, a large pond and a cozy center where kids can check out snakes and turtles and lots of nature books. We have been there many times but we hadn't ever been to one of their programs. Some friends met us there and we were happy to introduce them to the Nature Center.

The program we attended was on Maple Sugaring. (You can see all their programs here - they are doing the Maple program for the next two weekends.) Kids get an explanation of how maple sugar is made and how trees produce sap. Then you tromp outside and see one of the maple sugar trees they've tapped and all the sap collected in the big metal bucket. It was a beautiful day, standing under a blue, crisp sky almost knee deep in snow. Some parts of the program are a bit slow for the smaller children, but for the most part held their attention and was interactive.

If you are hungry afterwards there are plenty of places for lunch. We often head back towards Englewood and stop at the Jackson Hole diner (I used to be addicted to their turkey dinner specials and milkshakes) or Baumgarts (where they have homemade ice cream and a huge menu).

(Photo from Tenafly Nature Center.)