Guest Post: Children on the Line (or Fishing With Kids), by Mark McKay of Wicked Fishah

Today’s post – the last in our Summer Camp series – comes from my friend Mark McKay, a writer for, so you know that he is serious about his fishing! Today Mark shares with us what we need to start fishing with our kids. So pour yourself a cold one, settle back in your camp chair, and envision the fun you’re going to have catching fish with your kids!

Whether you’re a fishing aficionado, or a novice, getting your kids involved in the outdoors is a rewarding activity. Ensuring that the next generation will enjoy and respect nature and all it has to offer is something I strive to do as often as possible. This article will focus on fishing with children. We’ll discuss the basics and how to get your kids involved in an outdoor activity that will last a life time.

As you can probably guess, the basics of fishing are simple. A pole with a line and hook are a simple as one can get. For the basis of this article, we’ll keep it simple so you and your children can get out and begin enjoying fishing right away. You’ll need a few things to get started….

A fishing rod for you and your child.

A selection of small hooks.

Live bait or a selection of lures designed to catch your target fish.

A good pair of needle nose pliers or medical forceps.

A net (Certainly not required but it can be helpful).

Your fishing license. Depending on your state, a fishing license is not required for children. Be sure and check local laws.

Probably the easiest type of fishing, and the most rewarding for young kids will be fishing for “Sunfish”. Bluegills, Red Ears, or Shellcrackers, as they’re called are a small, easy to catch fish that inhabit almost every body of water in the country.


Fishing for Bluegills is, in it’s simplest form, as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. A small hook with a piece of earthworm will almost always be an irresistible snack for these voracious eaters. Attach a small hook (I use a #6 or #4 with my kids) directly to your line. Place a float about 6” up from the hook so the kids can see when a fish takes the bait. We prefer to use small pieces of earthworm, freshly dug up from the yard. There are alternatives to live bait if that’s something you don’t want to do. Berkeley Fishing makes a line of Power Bait that can be molded to your hook and should work just as well. Once your hook it baited toss your line into the water a few feet from shore. If the Bluegills are there, it shouldn’t take long before your bobber goes under! Gently “set the hook” by lifting the rod tip up in a swift motion, and it’s FISH ON!

You and your child have caught a fish. Now what? Here’s where the pliers and/or forceps come in. If you don’t want to handle the fish, which isn’t uncommon, you’ll use the pliers/forceps to safely remove the hook from the fish and return it to the water. Grab the shank of the hook with the pliers, and turn it so the point of the hook faces down. A slight jiggle over the water should be enough to get the fish off and swimming safely back to it’s finned friends.

These are the most basic instructions on how to fish with your kids. There are a myriad of resources available on the web if you want to take your fishing to the next level. I sincerely hope that this short article opens up a world of outdoors to you and your family.

Tight lines and tread lightly,

Mark McKay

Great Summer Memories!

Us three in front of the trailer

When I was a kid, we used to have a camper, a 28-foot Coachmen Bunkhouse. Every August, we would take three weeks and go on vacation to the Lake George RV Park. Can you imagine? A three-week vacation. While we were there I remember:

  • that the blackberries were always in season, and my brothers and I would get ourselves hopelessly entangled in this huge thicket of blackberries at least once every year, while bringing back bowls full of blackberries to munch on
  • lots of great Dad memories: playing tennis with him and going on hikes together, watching him play Space Invaders at the campground arcade, singing around the campfire every night as he played the guitar
  • lots of great Mom memories: leaving the campground just her and me to go on shopping excursions and talking girl stuff, picking blackberries together, eating soft serve ice cream at the campground arcade, loving her amazing voice and harmonizing capability while singing around the campfire every night
  • we got the best dog ever, Kaida the Samoyed, while on vacation there one year… He was a total impulse buy at a local mall!
  • we used to have a great big station wagon (necessary for pulling the big camper) with back windows that rolled all the way down; when we got the RV park every year, my folks would let my brother and I straddle the back doors, each of us with one leg in the car and one leg hanging out, pretending we were riding horses… it was awesome! Can you imagine parents letting their kids do that today?
  • I had my first kiss at the Lake George RV Park, when I was 13 :-)… and then, when the kisser invited me back to his trailer for lunch, I remember that his mom made tuna fish sandwiches, which I totally hate tuna! But I ate it that day, with a smile on my face. The things we do for love.
  • our youngest brother said his first word, “hot,” while we were all together eating pizza in Lake George the summer he turned one… I love that we were all together for his first word

I could go on – about the huge big bonfires the campground had every night, about the friends we made and saw each year, about playing softball at the campground, about the feel of the wind on my face in the evening walking around … but I won’t.

Instead, I want to hear about your summer memories!

What adventures did you have? What disasters befell you, and what did you learn from them? What friends did you make, and do you still see them?

Also, how are you vacationing now? How do you give your children the kind of summer memories you hope they’ll look back on happily all of their lives?

I can’t wait to hear your stories 🙂

Summer, Time To Unplug


Here’s what my 10-year-old did with our dining room table one recent morning: he built a battlefield for his Star Wars figures. I love that it’s built out of books and Lego…

And check out that book in the middle! It’s called Unplug and Play, and I highly recommend it for the games and silliness inside (in addition to its usefulness as part of a Star Wars set 🙂

How are you unplugging and playing with your kids this summer? Leave a note in the comments – it’s still July, we are all going to need inspiration from each other about how to keep everyone happy as August rolls around. You’ll be helping all of us with your ideas!

Conquering Family Clutter and Disorganization: Miriam Ortiz Y Pino of Answers Listener Questions

Are you tired of all the sandals, flip-flops, sandy shovels and wet towels that clutter up your home in summer? Do you, like me, still brush past the snow pants and winter coats by the front door, even now in July? Well, then you are going to love today’s post! Because even when we are all away at Virtual Summer Camp, as We Turned Out Okay is, we need to be organized, right?

Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Miriam Ortiz Y Pino of; our interview will air in September, and I know you’ll want to listen because Miriam is an expert at helping parents just like you and me organize our stuff!

Today, Miriam answers the questions of two listeners and friends, Kristeen and Sheramy.

As you’ll read, their concerns are very different, but they’re concerns that just about all of us have. I’ll turn it over to Miriam, and as you read her responses I hope you get as much out of them as I did!

Kristeen says: Ask Miriam to pretend she spends 24-7 with her six children ages 14 to 2 yrs and she would like a fool proof system to not fall behind with laundry, dishes, toy and homeschool book clutter, keeping fresh fruits and veggies in the house washed prepared and ready to serve to the always starving children and to have the kids always get along cheerfully. I’m not being sarcastic. If she has any tricks up her sleeve I’ll try them:) 

Hi Kristeen!

Sounds nightmarish to me… Not because of all the kids you have, but because it doesn’t sound like you have routines set up to help you run your household and engage the resources of your family. Here are my ideas:

  • define the spaces in your home and what they are used for
  • create a plan of action that is repeatable for each of your frustrations: a laundry plan, a kitchen plan, a schoolwork plan, a pick-up-your-stuff plan
  • yours is not a situation where a quick tip or two will solve the issues; it will require time, work, and dedication

Here’s the link to a free article at my website, about developing a system for clutter control, that will help you get started. Hope that helps!

Sheramy says: So my issue is all my time is devoted to constantly picking up what we have, with no time to declutter. I know decluttering will help with the amount of time I spend cleaning each day. Any insight on how to declutter when you have no time? 

Hi Sheramy,

Let me turn your decluttering question around, and start by stating the obvious: if you have less stuff, there is less to pick up. Everything you can get rid of will give you more time, and so your question really becomes, “how do I stop stuff coming in?” Here are my suggestions:

  • do not buy anything for 30 days (of course perishables aren’t counted); use up what you already have
  • instead of focusing on decluttering, because no one wants to deal with that, plan what you want your life to be and choose the things that help you get there… EVERYTHING else goes!

There are lots of free, specific how-to-gain-control-of-your-stuff resources on my website; I would recommend starting with this article, about controlling clutter as you go. I even offer a course called The Streamlined Clutter Solution which you may want to consider. Hope that helps!

Virtual RV Trip!

Have you ever wanted to jump in an RV with your family and take a trip, or does the idea of that make you want to run in the other direction? Right now, you can ride along with my friend Heather Kempskie of as she and her family cruise the eastern seaboard in their rented Winnebago!

I love the idea of hearing about her adventures as they’re happening, and as Heather and her family are on this trip right now and she is updating her blog frequently, I can’t wait for my next fix!

Best of all, I got to interview Heather pre-trip, and she’s coming back for a postmortem interview in August, and then I will podcast the whole kit and caboodle in September. So you’ll have the live trip now, and get to hear all about it from Heather at the end of it!

In fact, do you have any questions for Heather about the RV trip? Post them here into the comments, or contact me at and I will make sure they are part of our postmortem interview.

Here’s the link to Heather’s blog, RV Outtakes. I hope you enjoy it as much as I am 🙂

Picture Preview!

Welcome to We Turned Out Okay: Summer Camp Edition! All summer, I am highlighting not just my favorite things about summer, but yours! Every podcast and blog post during July and August 2015 shares our favorite summer activities, memories, and pastimes. If you have a summer favorite to share, well, that’s easy! Shout about it here in the comments, Tweet me@StoneAgeTechie , email me at, or go to I’ll be bringing my favorites into the podcast, so you might just hear about yourself on the show!

My interview with Andre Nguyen of drops into your phone – if you’re subscribed to the We Turned Out Okay podcast in iTunes or stitcher, that is – this coming Tuesday. Andre shares some really great ideas and apps for taking amazing pictures with just your iPhone, and before our interview he gave me some great advice for taking pictures of this amazing thing, the net on the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston. With his advice, I really took some fabulous pictures… Here are two of my favorites!

IMG_1037 Isn’t it amazing?


For people who just need to be under the net checking it out, the city provides Adirondack chairs! I sat under the net for an hour, with my toes in the grass, on a beautiful summer evening. And then I left to catch my train home – and came upon this group of buildings:


The difference between these two pictures was just a simple piece of advice given to me by Andre!

IMG_1044 (1)

Same buildings, sunlight coming from the same spot, one was taken an instant after the other… Andre’s tip was to tap on the iPhone at the light source. That is the only change! For more awesome advice, listen to Tuesday’s We Turned Out Okay podcast, when he talks not just about landscapes and sunsets but great family pictures too!

Campfire Cooking is The Best!

Welcome to We Turned Out Okay: Summer Camp Edition! All summer, I am highlighting not just my favorite things about summer, but yours! Every podcast and blog post during July and August 2015 shares our favorite summer activities, memories, and pastimes. If you have a summer favorite to share, well, that’s easy! Shout about it here in the comments, Tweet me@StoneAgeTechie or with #oldschoolsummervaca, email me at, or go to I’ll be bringing my favorites into the podcast, so you might just hear about yourself on the show!


To kick off summer, here’s a Kolp family favorite: put something on a stick and roast it. For years, we have roasted classic s’mores in our backyard, or while camping, but three or four years ago my husband Ben invented a different kind of s’more when he stuck not a piece of chocolate into the melty-marshmallow-and-graham-cracker-sandwich – but a peanut butter cup!

And so began a new era of invention with s’mores, always including marshmallows (of course!) but with every other ingredient varying according to the whim of the maker. Leaving out the graham crackers and instead making a melted chocolate sandwich, stuffing chocolate or peanut butter cup inside the marshmallow before roasting, layering graham crackers, chocolate, and marshmallow before roasting in a rack… there are a lot of different ways to make s’mores it turns out.

It’s also been fun to branch out into non-sweet foods. Roasting hotdogs over a fire, spearing asparagus and roasting it, wrapping potatoes in aluminum foil and placing them on the coals are all really delicious treats, and somehow better because they were cooked with fire.

And then a few weeks ago, the book shown above, Easy Campfire Cooking, fell into my lap! It is a great resource for all things campfire cooking, and if you’ll notice from the picture I got out of my library, so it cost me absolutely nothing (except overdue fees…) and we get all the benefits of the recipes and ideas for cooking with fire.

What do you like to cook using fire? Whatever it is, I hope you get the chance to enjoy it this summer 🙂

We’re Going to (Virtual) Summer Camp!

My brothers and I, toys to attack with water :-)
My brothers and I, toys to attack with water 🙂

We Turned Out Okay is spending the month of July and August on vacation – and we’re taking you with us! Each blog post, every podcast during the next two months will be spent sharing great memories, making great memories, and soaking up the sun. We are talking with some amazing guests and hoping to hear your stories too – share here at the website (in the comments below or at, friend me on Facebook (Karen Lock Kolp), or share with me on twitter @StoneAgeTechie or #Oldschoolsummervaca

Cheers to a great summer!

A Book You’ll Love

Author Mark Brown and illustrator Amy Brown's new book!
Author Mark Brown and illustrator Amy Brown’s new book!

Gratitude has been a huge part of my recovery from my mystery tendon illness. Listeners to the podcast, especially episode 000, will know that for nearly 4 years I’ve kind of randomly had limbs that just stop working; I spent some of 2011 and 2012 needing a wheelchair when I left the house, stopped being able to use my elbows in 2013, and then devastatingly lost almost all the use of my hands in 2014.

But it turns out that it wasn’t really random, that I’ve had trouble with tendons where the muscles around them are weak. Tendons, for those of you who’ve never had to think of them, are what hold our muscles to our bones. Unhappy tendons scream with pain, as anyone who’s ever had tennis elbow knows. Also, unhappy tendons take a really long time to heal, sometimes years. That is certainly been the case with my tendons!

So what you do when you lose the ability to shave your legs standing up, or walk, or twirl your spaghetti?

You learn.

You learn patience, teamwork, that you are valuable for more than what you are physically capable of.

You learn gratitude.

Of course, we do not want our children – we don’t even want our worst enemies – to learn lessons this way! It really sucked.

So then the question becomes, how do we teach gratitude?

Well, here is what the husband and wife team of Mark Brown and Amy Brown did: they wrote a book about a pig. And not just any pig; this guy has a lot to teach about patience and gratitude, and being in the moment… My 10-year-old called the book “awesome” and especially loved the pictures. I love those, and the sweet poetry that accompanies them.

Additionally, Mark and Amy have partnered with a charity called Know. Think. Act., And through this charity every copy of Zen Pig sold provides 10 people with clean water for a whole year.… So in purchasing this book, not only are you helping teach these principles that, as parents, we really care about. You are helping people in need of clean water get it.

As the pig says: “care for each other/as much as yourself.” I’d love to hear your stories of how you are teaching your children this! Leave a note in the comments, or email me at And then, go hug your little ones and be grateful together 🙂

What’s Really Important In Your Life?

I want you to drop everything and go watch the following YouTube video, which is kind of long but really worth it:

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch.

Go ahead, I’ll wait for you.

Back? Great.

I blogged about The Last Lecture in my homeschool blog, The Stone Age Techie, years ago – before I had my run-in with mystery tendon problems.

Then, as now, I felt that Mr. Pausch was the universe telling me to really think about the most important aspects of life. I love his concept of building a safety net, and really thought about my blog as part of that safety net, because, when my boys are all growns up, they’ll be able to look back on that blog and realize how very much I loved them and strived (strove? well, anyway, worked really hard) to support them as they grew.

But now, having been through these years with the mystery tendon problems, I recognize something else in Mr. Pausch’s lecture: a sense of gratitude. He is so vibrant and full of life that idea of gratitude is communicated through everything he does, there is just the sense of a real zest for life, even as he is dying. It’s clear that he is thankful for every moment he’s had and will have, that he’s grateful to have had the chance to fulfill his dreams, and especially that he’s grateful for the chance to help other people fulfill their own dreams.

I feel like that is the essence of gratitude: it’s not just about me, it’s about what I can do for others.

So that’s this week’s homework, friends and folks: answer one of these two questions.

1) What are you grateful for? What has someone done for you, or given to you, that you feel a true sense of gratitude about?

2) How are you helping others achieve their dreams? And, who are you helping achieve their dreams?

Tell me about it here at the website (in the comments below or at, by friending me on Facebook (Karen Lock Kolp), or sharing on twitter, where I’m @StoneAgeTechie… Who knows but that we can help each other achieve our dreams? The universe is a funny place.

How the 5 C’s of Leadership Will Help You Be a Better Parent

As a Mom or Dad, do you think of yourself as a leader? I never did. I thought of the president as a leader, or the heads of corporations as leaders, somebody with CEO, COO, CIO attached to their name, but surely not me!

That was before I heard the podcast Labrador Leadership with Dr. Bob Nolley. Prior to starting the podcast, Dr. Bob spent years as a leader in the corporate world, and then moved on to teach about leadership in a university setting, always with a view toward helping the people around him get what they want out of life. With specialization in subjects such as negotiation and conflict resolution, or emotional intelligence, listening in as Bob speaks with his millennial cohost (some of my favorite shows, thanks Alex Mossa!) or interviewing entrepreneurs and leaders in diverse fields, Labrador Leadership has become a favorite show with insight into how to make family life better.

One such leader, Rich Rierson from episode 5 of Dr. Bob’s podcast, spoke about the idea of the 4C’s:

  • Calm – so you can think clearly and keep from saying things you’ll regret
  • Confident – so the people around you know you can help them
  • Courageous – speaking up for what you believe in
  • Consistent – so you become known as trustworthy

In episode 5, the conversation is mostly centered around the 4C’s as you might hear about them in a corporate setting. But I kept thinking about how thoroughly they apply to family life!

One recent example (of probably a zillion) from my own life involves a week in which each boy attempted to lie to me. They don’t often lie, and thankfully they’re not very good at it, but for whatever reason this week each tried to look into my eyes and pull the wool over them.

I found out about the second one at 9 o’clock at night on a Sunday, after a weekend in which I’d been away with my dear friends – the ones from episode 000, go back and take a listen because they’re awesome – and got about eight hours’ sleep total the entire weekend… All I wanted to do was take a cup of tea into my bedroom and read for the three minutes until I fell asleep. But instead I found myself thinking about the 4C’s because:

I got up the courage to go to my guy and calmly discuss the lie with him. I confidently explained that I knew about it, and consistently gave him the message while we talked that he’s a good boy, and that while I’m disappointed in his actions I know that he will learn from his mistake and be honest from here on out.

No yelling, no drama, no sarcasm, no “how could you be such a bad boy?” Of course, all of these things went through my head – but I was able to recognize them as either counterproductive or, in the case of that last question, completely untrue. My boy was very upset and disappointed in himself, but I think he was relieved at not having to lie anymore, and especially he was relieved because even though I knew the worst of him, the message he got from me was that I love him so much and that he is a worthy person.

We all make mistakes, and we all deserve the chance to learn from them and be supported by the people we love.

Which brings me to a fifth C: Community.

Our little family of four is a community, and in our way each of the rest of us supported my boy that night: one of the toughest parts for our son was when he had to tell his Dad what he had done, and to have a calm response – to have his beloved Dad tell him “thank you for telling me this, it was brave of you” meant so much to him. You could see him visibly relax!

His big brother played a part as well, in allowing me to share with his little brother about the lie that he told earlier in the week, and what happened about that. Little brother, it turns out, has been feeling jealous of big brother, views him as perfect in every way and could not believe that big brother would ever have told a lie.

And when I told little brother about the time I took money from my mom’s wallet when I was about his age, told him about the note of apology that I wrote and signed Stupid Karen, he sat up a little straighter. When I told him about his Uncle Rob’s theft of a candy bar at age 3, and about how our Mom made him bring the wrapper and money back to the store, apologize and pay the manager – he couldn’t believe it. All these people in his life, he sees as perfect and honest, all these people have made mistakes? You could see him thinking, “if they’ve all done it and learned from it and turned out okay, maybe there is hope for me.”

There is definitely a place in leadership for the fifth C of Community.

Thanks Dr. Bob for helping me use the 5 C’s of leadership!

What about you, dear reader? Do the 5C’s come into your life at all? Have you ever caught your kid in a major lie, or committed one yourself? Please share! Leave a note in the comments, or email me at, and thanks for sharing 🙂

Stuffed Animals Are People Too

At age 10, my youngest is coming closer to the end of his stuffed animal days. But you wouldn’t know it looking at his bed:

Each one of those guys has a name and a history, each has a unique voice – some of them have French accents! (Because, of course, they come from France or French-speaking Canada. Why else?)

Over the years they have helped my son through lots of tough situations, everything from being left out of big-boy activities to those times when no human is available to play. It’s funny to walk into the boy’s room and see a board game set up – like Risk – and three or four stuffed animals each in control of their own part of the board, each taking turns.

Right around the time that Putin invaded Ukraine in 2014, just after the Sochi Olympics, he my son happened to watch Red Dawn, the movie about the USSR invading the US. We do talk current events in our home, as well as history, but I think because we had just been so invested in the Olympics, this movie resonated a little bit more strongly with him than it might have otherwise. Still, we didn’t realize the true impact until late that night, when he asked if I would come and “speak to the animals – they are scared that Putin is going to invade the US.”

When I went to speak to them, I found them all set up in a circle up in my boy’s bed; they had been having a conversation among themselves about “their” concern that Putin was going to invade the US. I told them that Putin was not going to invade the US, answered “their” questions, and just tried to be a good listener, all the while knowing that it was really my son’s fears and questions that were coming through via the stuffed animals.

I’ve come to think of the stuffed animals like puppets, each making up a part of my son’s world and through which he can express fears and show empathy. Since he was small, this child has had an incredible ability to see events from another’s point of view, to see how someone else might feel differently than he does in a given situation. This is a rare quality, and definitely one to be supported – his sense of caring pervades all his friendships, and kids are really drawn to that. I believe it’s the stuffed animals that have helped give him this perspective.

As he grows out of them, and moves on to the things that tweens and teens do and love, I know he’ll take that empathy with him. Continue reading “Stuffed Animals Are People Too”

Books That Will Change Your Parenting: Meet The Fabulous Five!

“If there were one way to do this, there would be one New Baby Owner’s Manual.” – A labor and delivery nurse, to my husband, just after our first child was born

Whenever I find myself in a new situation, or up against a new challenge, pretty much the first thing I do is run and find a book to help. Over the years, I’ve gotten really good at discerning which books will help and which won’t. Also, around when the children were born, I gave myself permission to start a book – and not finish it. Or, to scan quickly to see if it will work for me, or even to pick the chapter that sounds most interesting from the table of contents and go right to that chapter.

Between working toward my degree in human development, my graduate degree in early childhood education, and questing as a mom for that perfect Owner’s Manual, I have read a lot of books. The books I want to introduce you to today have been the most influential books in my parenting life; they’re funny, they’re thought-provoking, they’re anxiety-reducing, and if you want to have a better relationship with your kids you need to read them:

How Lincoln Learned To Read by Daniel Wolff – we all know about the achievements of great historical figures such as Ben Franklin, JFK, Elvis Presley. The genius of this book is that we get to find out how they got to be the adults they became, how they learned what they needed to know. I still look into this book when I have a big decision to make about Max or Jay’s education. Click here to listen to my podcast interview with author Daniel Wolff; we discuss the book and how our society is shaping kids “for a future that no longer exists.” Plus Daniel gives the best piece of parenting advice I’ve ever heard.

Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish – this renowned book has helped millions of parents figure out how to stop sibling rivalry. Often the solutions given seem counterintuitive, but they are explained – both in print and in comics – so that you feel like a parenting ninja even just a chapter or two in. If you would like children who feel like they are on the same team, if you want a family life that includes laughter, friendship and love, you need this book.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein – when her young daughter considers every moment wasted that is not spent dressing as a Disney Princess or playing with pink toys, the author decides to look into gender identity in young children, and how marketers take advantage of it. The result is a hilarious and truly frightening tale which includes a run-in with a Bratz doll in an airport, and a discussion of how Miley Cyrus’s journey from innocent cutie to brash slut is impacting your daughter’s growth and development. Even if you have no girls, you have to read this book.

Free-Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy – how young is too young for a kid to have some independence? The author makes a really persuasive case for letting even quite young children do things that frighten us, like letting them use the stove or bike to the park on their own. With chapter names such as “Know When to Worry – Play Dates and Axe Murderers: How to Tell the Difference” and “Ignore the Blamers – They Don’t Know Your Kid Like You Do” this book will have you feeling better about all the great things in store for your children. I talk about how this book helped me relax when Max and Jay were young in episode 005 of We Turned Out Okay; Lenore Skenazy saved my life with this book.

You Just Don’t Understand! by Deborah Tannen – the author’s background in linguistics and communication, combined with a warm and supremely readable writing style, make this a must-read book for anyone who communicates with anyone. Reading it will give you insight into more than just parenting, but all our relationships, and may very well start you off on a Deborah Tannen book binge… You’re Wearing That?!? will probably come in really handy when your kids are teens.

I’ve been trying to decide if I should recommend that you read The Fabulous Five in any particular order, and have come to the conclusion that I shouldn’t. We are all at different points in our parenting, with different worries and different needs. The Fab Five are each quite practical, but about different things, so I think what you should do is read the one that grabs you right now first – and then come back to the others. I love my hard copies and return to them again and again, but if you would rather listen to them in audio format, or try-before-you-buy by getting them from the library, go for it!

The time you invest in reading these books will come back to you a hundredfold, in improved relationships with your kids and in your enjoyment of them, and of your life.

How and Why Standardized Tests Hurt Our Children

Sometimes, the howling frustration that we feel can only be expressed in comedy. I don’t know if you ever watch John Oliver, but he seems to be a person who feels very similar frustrations to mine, and rather than curl up in the fetal position with his thumb in his mouth (as I sometimes am super attempted to do), John Oliver makes great points with great comedy.

This 18–ish minute clip is a classic example. There are so many things that drive me bananas about standardized tests, like:

  • how many of them children take by the time they graduate high school
  • how preparing for them makes it so that kids don’t have much time for anything else in school
  • how they can make or break the rest of a kid’s life depending on what kind of test-takers kids are – what happens if you’re smart, but not a good test-taker?
  • increasingly, well-educated adults attempt to pass these tests, and cannot
  • sometimes the questions make no sense to anyone, but yet they’re included and have an impact on the rest of a kid’s life
  • test-takers and administrators must sign a contract saying they will not speak about any of the questions or answers, no matter how absurd they are…

John Oliver addresses all these wrongs, and so many more. Best of all, I don’t end up wanting to hit the liquor cabinet by the end. Instead, I want to share and be a part of the conversation about how to fix this huge mess. Standardized tests, while perhaps conceived to help Leave No Child Behind, have gotten us stuck in a huge quagmire. It is up to us – regular people, parents, grown-ups – to pull our children out.

005: Four Risks To Our Kids’ Well-Being That We Take Far Too Often

Sometimes as parents, we think we are limiting the risks to our kids by taking an action – or backing away from an action – when instead, their well-being and happiness would be better insured by doing something completely different. In this episode, I highlight four common things parents do (I know this, because I did them too!) where it would be better to go in the exact opposite direction.

Listen for:

  • the dangers of sticking close by your child’s side at all times; when we do this, we take away his or her chance to develop independence, creativity, and problem-solving capabilities
  • the risks of using antibacterial soap; this one keeps me up at night, and it’s pretty clear that it also keeps scientists and other super-smart people up at night too
  • how we fail our children when we don’t question a teacher or other authority figure who insists that our child has ADHD or ADD; while there is some risk that our son or daughter may have these or other learning disabilities, I share that during my years of teaching young children – and earning my Masters in Early Childhood Education – these diagnoses are given out far more often than they should be; increasingly, kids are put in an environment that is far too restrictive… In short, it is my opinion that schools, and not children, are often the problem when it comes to kids’ misbehavior
  • the importance of comics – yes, cartoons, graphic novels – in a kid’s journey towards becoming a reader; when adults ban comics, or even disrespect them, we run the risk of limiting our kids’ ability to thrive as readers

Whether you agree or disagree, I encourage you to really give some thought to the above Four Risks. Reasonable and intelligent adults can disagree, but the biggest risk of all that we can take is not giving consideration to any big issue that affects our children while they’re young, because the effects of our choices compound when they are grown up.

Why We Must Let Our Kids Do Dangerous Things

As parents, we all have our comfort levels about risk. Where do you draw the line? Does your one-year-old navigate stairs by herself? Is your six-year-old ever out of your sight at the playground? Does anyone drink from the hose at your house?

If you had asked me those questions when my boys were younger, the answer to each would’ve been “no!”… with a hint of “are you INSANE?” I really felt that the best way to keep them from harm was to simply prevent them from doing things I thought were risky, but looking back, I wish I had encouraged a little more risk. While I thought I was keeping them safe, mostly what I was doing was communicating to them my anxieties about the world, while simultaneously giving them the message that their abilities weren’t enough, that they had to rely on me at all times for everything.

This happened especially with my oldest; by the time his little brother came along, I had eased up a little and realized the harm in preventing them from trying their own strength. Once I realized that I was doing such harm, I made some conscious changes; we have all felt the benefits, believe me.

Fast-forwarding to today, the boys have done some amazing things! They’ve used power tools to help build both a gaga pit and a tree fort, they safely use large knives as they help with cooking, they walk home from a friend’s alone.

And they are always finding new ways to test themselves! When my Jay saw this TED talk, he immediately began a subtle but determined campaign to get behind the wheel of a car… At age 10. And you know what’s crazy? I just might say yes.


“Perfectionism is destructive… Beating the sh*t out of yourself is a killer.” – Henry Winkler, a.k.a. the Fonz

That quote has been on our fridge since I heard Henry Winkler interviewed by Marc Maron a few weeks ago. Really, I don’t think it could’ve come along at a better time!

I had no idea how much launching a podcast would be akin to having a new baby in the house; sleepless nights, missed meals, that kind of thing. But when it all comes together – when you go out to your website, click a link, and hear it sounding so great, out for real on the web – well, that is like baby’s first grin.

And then, you are able to download it in iTunes, see the cover art, read your words in the description – for me, that is akin to baby’s first real giggle.

And then – you don’t even know how this could’ve happened, with the show out there less than 24 hours and the world almost completely unaware of it – more than 20 people have downloaded it! That is like your baby, born yesterday, now taking his first steps.

But, back to the Fonzie quote… There are mistakes here, that’s for sure. I can’t for instance figure out how to get the contact page up and running. Sometimes comments are working, sometimes not… Sometimes I end up on a page of my website called Podcast, and I cannot figure out why it is there, how to change it/get rid of it, very weird. Sometimes clicking on the words Leave A Comment brings me to the Podcast page! Riddle me that, Batman.

But this baby is laughing and walking, and that is what is important.

I’m not beating the sh*t out of myself, quite the opposite – we did it! The goal was to launch by May 1, and we did.

I call that a good day 🙂

The Single Most Important Factor In Any Kind of Recovery

We’ve all had setbacks. Thwarted dreams, mistakes we’ve made, doors closed in our faces. They happen every day. Luckily, we humans are given a healthy dose of ingenuity at the beginning of our lives, so we’ve got that going for us. Which is nice.

But sometimes, things can interfere with that creativity, break our mental link to our own ingenuity. If we’re told “no” often enough by the people in our lives who really matter – “no, you’re just not a very good reader,” “you’re probably better off giving up baseball – you’re much better at swimming,” – we start to believe it. That’s why, as parents, we have to work so hard not to be balloon poppers… Popping the balloon that is our children’s dreams might be the single most damaging mistake we can make, and will be the subject of a whole future blog post.

It’s tempting to look at something really major, really bad, and believe it is an ending, just one great big “no.” But I think if you talk to someone who’s been through a rough patch and come out okay, you’ll notice a key trait that many of these people have: gratitude.

That’s right! Gratitude for what they have, rather than an emphasis on what’s missing, what door was slammed. Instead of complaining about the door, they find the window.

And when I say “they,” I really mean “we.”

For 3 1/2 years, I’ve had a mystery illness, something that has affected every single area of my life and world. I have experienced pain and fear, over extended periods of time – and I banished them with gratitude.

It might sound crazy, but it’s true, and today I’m excited to share my article in baystateparent, Gratitude Lessons. I hope it makes you smile. Smile, in gratitude – and then go out and support the people in your life, especially the children, as they work toward their dreams.

Kindergarten: What It Is, and What It Could Be

“The importance of play to young children’s healthy development and learning has been documented beyond question by research. Yet play is rapidly disappearing from kindergarten and early education as a whole. We believe that the stifling of play has dire consequences—not only for children but for the future of our nation. This report is meant to bring broad public attention to the crisis in our kindergartens and to spur collective action to reverse the damage now being done.”…

So begins one of the most compelling papers I’ve ever read, Crisis in the Kindergarten, by Edward Miller and Joan Almon, the summary of a HUGE study encompassing data from kindergarten classrooms in California and New York State and highlighting the problems we are now creating for our children by taking away their time to play.

Alliance for Childhood, the group that created and implemented the study, is full of incredibly well-respected early childhood professionals; their National Advisory Board reads like a Who’s Who of Required Reading for graduate students in early childhood education. We are talking people like David Elkind, Professor Emeritus of Child Development at Tufts University, Dorothy G Singer, Senior Research Scientist at Yale’s Child Study Center, Sue Bredekamp, currently the Directer of Research at the Council for Professional Recognition but whose name I remember from her work with The National Association for the Education of Young Children, the best and most rigorous certification that a preschool or childcare center can achieve…

These are the people who have dedicated their whole lives to figuring out what young children need to thrive, and believe me, they really know their schtuff!

The problems documented in this study, undertaken by researchers at UCLA in Los Angeles, and Long Island University and Sarah Lawrence College in New York City, are just breathtaking:

“On a typical day, kindergartners in Los Angeles and New York City spend four to six times as long being instructed and tested in literacy and math (two to three hours per day) as in free play or “choice time” (30 minutes or less).

Standardized testing and preparation for tests are now a daily activity in most of the kindergartens studied, despite the fact that most uses of such tests with children under age eight are of questionable validity and can lead to harmful labeling.

Classic play materials like blocks, sand and water tables, and props for dramatic play have largely disappeared from the 268 full-day kindergarten classrooms studied.

In many kindergarten classrooms there is no playtime at all. Teachers say the curriculum does not incorporate play, there isn’t time for it, and many school administrators don’t value it.”

– Alliance for Childhood’s Crisis in the Kindergarten summary, page 3

The paper goes on to discuss the dangers of this disappearance of play:

” while many politicians and policymakers are calling for even more tests, more accountability, and more hard-core academics in early childhood classrooms, the leaders of major business corporations are saying that creativity and play are the future of the U.S. economy. Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, writes about the “imagination economy,” and says that “people have to be able to do something that can’t be outsourced, something that’s hard to automate and that delivers on the growing demand for nonmaterial things like stories and design. Typically these are things we associate with the right side of the brain, with artistic and empathetic and playful sorts of abilities.” How can we expect our children to thrive in the imagination economy of the future if we deny them opportunities for play and creativity in kindergarten?” (Crisis in the Kindergarten summary, page 4, bolding mine)

And, from page 2:

“China and Japan are envied in the U.S. for their success in teaching science, math, and technology. But one rarely hears about their approach to schooling before second grade, which is playful and experiential rather than didactic.”…

I thought it was interesting that they bring up Japan, because a friend recently passed on this TED talk to me: The Best Kindergarten You Have Ever Seen. The speaker, Takaharu Tezuka, is an architect who specializes in creating schools and hospitals that people love – talk about playful and experiential! The school that Tezuka highlights in his talk is built on two levels, and it’s round so that kids can run, often there is no separation between the interior of the classroom and the outdoor play space. Kids move, play, get their energy out, talk, laugh, help each other… They spend the bulk of their time at play!

Juxtaposed, the Crisis in the Kindergarten paper and Tezuka’s TED talk have really got me thinking about what is in this country – and what could be.

Here are three recommendations that the Alliance For Childhood shares (summary, page 7):

“Give teachers of young children first-rate preparation that emphasizes the full development of the child and the importance of play, nurtures children’s innate love of learning, and supports teachers’ own capacities for creativity, autonomy, and integrity. … Do not make important decisions about young children, their teachers, or their schools based solely or primarily on standardized test scores. …Address the obstacles to play, such as unsafe neighborhoods, overscheduling of children’s lives, excessive screen time, toys linked to entertainment media, and education that emphasizes skills, drills, and homework and undermines creativity, imagination, and overall well-being.”

Now, the first two of those – and I should say, there are many more recommendations, these are the three that spoke to me – the first two are more societal, the sorts of things that we talk about, but aren’t really sure how to implement. But how could we have an influence? Could we band together and insist that our schools of education “give teachers of young children first-rate preparation that emphasizes the full development of the child and the importance of play”? Could we elect school committee members based on their opinion about making or not making “important decisions about young children, their teachers, or their schools based solely or primarily on standardized test scores”? I bet we could…

The third one is really where the rubber meets the road, though. That’s the one that we could really have an influence on. As screens become evermore insidious in every aspect of our lives, it gets harder and harder to keep the kids off the screens. We start to worry we are not exposing our child to enough enrichment because all the other playgroup children take enrichment classes in everything from the violin to fencing (to quote speaker Thom Singer, “people have died from exposure!”)…

Let’s start small: what if today, I hide the tablets for a few hours? Or choose not to sign my son up for a second sport this season? What if we skip the toy store, and continue right on to the park?

I think that’s how we could fix things, if we each start by doing something small.