Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Week in the Woods

I had dreamed that this summer our daughter would spend more time in nature, and less time in the steamy city. It hasn't quite worked out that way, but the Tenafly Nature Center offered a nice respite in the middle of this hot July.

I'd been dreaming of sending my kid here, and staying with my sister in the hip little town of Rosendale, where she lives. But work and family commitments meant we couldn't swing it, even after they called to say there was a spot for us (we'd been lingering on the wait list for weeks.)

So, off to Tenafly it was. We're big fans of the Nature Center for their family-friendly programming and trails. This was the first time we'd tried the camp however. The program is divided into week-long sessions and split up by age groups.

The kids started the week with a bang, tromping around in the woods, tie-dying fantastic T-shirts (complete with a quote by Edna St. Vincent Milay on the back) and making their own clay. During the week they also studied animals, including snakes, turtles, frogs and various insects. They collected leaves and nuts and twigs. Another day was devoted to fungi, and found them looking for mushrooms, examining lichen and doing some sort of experiment with yeast.

Trekking up there everyday from Jersey City however was a bit much on mom. A friend who also has a five year old attended the program too, so we split the driving, drop-offs and pickups. which helped a lot. But the last day the kids went to Van Saun County Park in Paramus to the zoo there, and there's nothing like Route 17 on a Friday afternoon to make me wish I were in Maine and not New Jersey.

Also, we were warned about ticks and took it seriously. Then on the very first day my friend found a tick crawling on her son after pick up! That really kicked it into high gear for us, which meant every night found us examining of every inch of our kid's body (my husband used a flashlight to search through her hair).

I guess I had hoped the kids would come home filled with a greater sense of wonder and talk our ears off about trees and frogs (or tree frogs). But it was hot and they were exhausted by the end of the day. Still it was a good tired, and we knew that the children had been outside all day, in relative shade, doing things with their minds and bodies. Not inside. Not watching movies.

Near the end of the week there was a campfire cookout which parents were invited too. The children got to watch the fire started by their counselors and then hold long skewers over the fire cooking hot dogs. We made s'mores and also had chips and fruit. As I sat in the shade smelling the fire, I looked up at the trees and could hear the leaves rustling in the breeze. It was very relaxing, even if the Turnpike was waiting for me beyond the idyllic woods.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Mommy, what's a password?

It started simply enough. One day the munchkin is watching PBS Kids and the next thing you know, she wants to visit her favorite shows online. Which is fun, of course. (Although it means I get booted off my computer.) But then Channel 13 promoted their Kids Club, and my daughter wanted to join up.

And so I found myself helping her register online for the first time ever, for anything, and getting her a login and password. I scribbled it down on a piece of paper for her but I can't find it now. Probably because I'm not ready to. I can barely keep track of my own passwords and email accounts and logins and blah, blah, blah. I can't imagine having to help her track this, but more importantly I wonder about the future and trying to protect her online.

Now of all the places she could go, PBS Kids is probably the best. I don't feel I need to worry too much about her on their site, or what public television would do with her information. But it sets a precedent. One password begets another. And while I know that privacy is dead, especially in this country, I would like to make at least some attempt to have my kid's privacy live just a bit longer. Like at least through grade school.
Is this too much to ask?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (a wonderful civil rights group focused on the digital world) offers this advice to parents: check out the privacy policy of anything your kids want to sign up for so you can see what kind of information is being collected. We should also educate our children "about the dangers involved in giving personal information to strangers they meet on the Net. Make sure your children don't give out personal information to people they don't know."

There is also the old advice about putting the family computer in a place where you can see what the kids are doing online. Of course, this is already outdated advice for anyone whose children have a texting obsession and a smart phone.

In the meantime, the request to go online and login seem to have fallen by the wayside here. But the issue won't go away anytime soon, I know. My brother brought home a box of Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats this weekend and the box is covered with a Toy Story 3 promotional tie in. But gone are the days where you can just get a toy in the box. No, for this promotion, you needed to get a code off the box and then go on to the Kellogg's site and set up a Rewards account.

What the heck? Why can't they just put a plastic toy in the box? Or ask the kids to mail in the code? But no, better to lure them in. All the better to track you my dear.
I have already fallen for this game with Tropicana. I don't need my kid to succumb to it as well.