Monday, February 28, 2011

lake tahoe ski schools

I'm headed to Tahoe for a few days to play in the snow.  I'll try to interview some families on the slopes to get the scoop on the best ski schools and childcare while I'm there.  For now,  here's a list of links to ski schools in the area:

North Lake Tahoe: 
Alpine Meadows
Diamond Peak
Donner Ski Ranch
Mt. Rose
Soda Springs
Squaw Valley
Sugar Bowl
Tahoe Donner

South Lake Tahoe:

I realize I should have posted this one before ski week...oops! Luckily, most of these places are open well into the spring.  And they're close enough for weekend getaways.  It's worth looking into...skiing can get pricey for adults, but child lift tickets are generally quite reasonable.  And watching kids ski is too much fun -- they can be so fearless! 

Have you tried any of these ski schools?  Give us your feedback!!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

it's yoga time

My favorite kids yoga song:  "Yoga Clock (Tick Tock)" from the Come Play Yoga album by Karma Kids Yoga.  It's a great way to warm up for a yoga session, or it can be used on it's own as a fun little stretching song.  Kids sit on their bottoms with their legs apart, stretch out their arms and "tick tock" (move their bodies from side to side, alternating touching their right foot with their right hand and their left foot with their left hand).  It's super simple, but fun for kids (and grown-ups) of all ages.  I apologize in advance if you spend the rest of your days with "tick, tock...little yoga clock" stuck in your head.  It's a pretty sticky little song :)

Friday, February 25, 2011

cartoon art museum

There's a special place in my heart for cartoon artists.  Working in animation I had the opportunity to meet some incredibly talented artists.  Their playful creativity brought joy to my daily work and inspired me to get back to my (deeply burried) artistic roots.

When I was in school,  I never thought of art as something I could turn into career.  I thought it was more important to focus on "practical" classes.  Who knew art could be practical?!  If your kids want to be artists, nurture their interest by showing them what they can do with art.  The Cartoon Art Museum celebrates artists who have built beautiful careers doing what they love.

The museum is just a little place, but definitely worth a visit if your kids love art and animation.  Check out the Looney Tunes exhibit to see original artwork and get a glimpse at how cartoons are created.  The exhibit runs through May 15th.   Admission to the museum is $7 for adults, $5 for students & seniors, $3 for kids 6-12, and free for kids 5 & under.

And...if your kids like the museum, you may consider having their next birthday party there.  CAM birthday parties include and tour of the museum and instruction on a topic of your choosing: cartooning, illustration, animation, character design, or comic book creation.  Check out their website for more info.

Cartoon Art Museum655 Mission StreetSan Francisco, CA(415) 227-8666 

celebrate storytime

March 9th is LitWorld's World Read Aloud Day.  I say LET'S CELEBRATE!

Yesterday I was in Mill Valley with one of my favorite 3 year-olds, and we happened upon a storytime at the Mill Valley Public Library.  The woman leading the storytime was Naima.  Although my 3 year-old friend was intent on reading his favorite dinosaur pop-up book in a quiet corner of the library, Naima's captivating voice kept drawing him in.  My little buddy parted from his beloved book to go see what was happening at storytime: "I'm just going to peek at them.  I'll be right back."  After a couple more "peeks" we ended up ditching the dinosaur book to join in the fun.

Have you checked out the storytimes and other events for kids at your local library?  I've compiled a list of links to storytime schedules in the bay area for your convenience:

San Francisco:
San Francisco Public Library (various branch locations)

San Mateo County Library (various branch locations) 
Burlingame Public Library
Daly City Public Library
Menlo Park Library 
Redwood City Public Library
San Bruno Library

Marin County Free Library (various branch locations)
San Rafael Public Library
Sausalito Public Library
San Anselmo Library
Belvedere-Tiburon Library
Mill Valley Public Library

East Bay:
Contra Costa County Library (various branch locations)

Library storytimes are great for inspiring budding readers and writers.  They're also a good way to make friends in the community.  Check out your local branch to see what's cookin.  And of course, remember to make time for reading aloud to kids in the home and classroom as well.  "Children of all ages love the intimacy of reading with an adult, either one-on-one or with only a few other children." (NAEYC)

Call me crazy, but maybe (just maybe) we can make EVERY day a read-aloud day...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

go green and get creative

Open-ended art projects encourage kids to put their imaginations to the test.  And using re-purposed materials to create art is an environmentally-friendly way to inspire creative thinking and problem solving!   Re-purposed materials can be things you find around the house...corks, old magazines, toilet paper rolls, cans, bottles, scraps of wrapping paper, bottle caps, golf tees, buttons, extra coat hangers, etc.  Working with these materials challenges kids to think outside the box.  How can I use corks to make eyes?  How can I make hair out of a coat hanger?  It's fun to see what kids come up with when they're given the freedom to create with non-traditional media.

If you're the anti-hoarder and don't have much to use around the house, you're in luck!  The bay area has several cool centers that sell used and re-purposed materials perfect for your child's next masterpiece.  These centers are great for parents looking to create a home art studio or teachers who want to introduce new(ish) materials to their students.  Some of them have educational programs, as well!  Check out their websites for more info:
RAFT  (Redwood City)
101 Twin Dolphin Drive
Redwood City, CA 94065
(650) 802-5505

RAFT  (San Jose)
1355 Ridder Park Drive
San Jose, CA 95131
(408) 451-1420
4695 Telegraph Avenue (@ 47th Street)
Oakland, CA 94609
(510) 547-6470

801 Toland at Newcomb 
San Francisco, CA 94124 
(415) 647-1746  

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

kids for a cause

Working towards a charitable cause can be an empowering experience for kids, giving them a sense of purpose and accomplishment.  And helping others is the best way to develop empathy and build a sense of belonging in the community.  Charity work also helps to raise awareness and put things in perspective:  When kids realize there are people in the world without toys, they may be less inclined to complain if their parents won't get them that new ipod touch they've been asking for.  And when they see that people are sick, they may begin to appreciate their own health and the health of those around them.  When they help clean up a beach, they may be more aware of where they put their trash the next time they're out.  

One ultra-inspiring 12 year-old named Mary Margaret O'Neill founded an organization for kids looking to make a difference in the world.  It's called Kids Are Heroes.  Here's what they say about themselves:

"Kids Are Heroes® is a non-profit that empowers, encourages and inspires children to become leaders through volunteerism and community involvement. We do this by showcasing and supporting children who are changing the world through their selfless acts of giving."

Basically, kids come up with a cause, start their own charities, and Kids Are Heroes helps promote them.  There are already two kids in the bay area listed on the Kids Are Heroes website...props to Tyler Page in Contra Costa and Elizabeth DeRuvo in Marin for taking action to help those in need!

Tyler, age 13, started Kids Helping Kids, a charity dedicated to raising money for kids around the globe.  A couple years ago Tyler saw a segment on child labor trafficking in Ghana.  He started out with the goal of raising money to help rescue those kids.  His charity has grown from there...check out Kids Helping Kids for more info.

At age 6, Elizabeth DeRuvo wanted to help the homeless people in her community.  She started a coat drive in her town to help keep the homeless warm during the winter months.  Read about here efforts in the Marin Independent Journal.

Are you feeling inspired?  Talk to your kids about giving.  Tell them the stories of these local kids making an impact on the world.  Maybe your kids already know of a problem they'd like to help solve and just need a little guidance to get started.  Founding a charity with your children is a great way to spend time together working toward a common (and noble) goal. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

half-off at habitot

Living Social is selling 4-person family passes to Habitot for $18 (regular price is $36).  The deal lasts for 6 more days.  In case you aren't familiar with Habitot, it's a children's museum located in downtown Berkley.  Their current exhibits include:

  • Waterworks (an area for water play)
  • Drop-in art studio (where kids can engage in open-ended art projects)
  • Little Town Grocery and Cafe (a dramatic play center)
  • Infant and Toddler Garden (where the little ones can mix and mingle)
  • Wiggle Wall (a place for gross motor play)
  • The Medical Center (their latest exhibit -- encourages kids to learn about caring for people and animals through dramatic play-- a fun way to build empathy!)

Habitot Children's Museum
2065 Kittredge Street
Berkeley, CA 94704 

no child left inside

I'm (finally) reading Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv.  Have you read it?  Here are the Cliffs Notes:  Get your kids outside!  While Louv may seem like an extremist to some, there is no denying the benefits of being in nature.  We are so lucky to be surrounded by national and state parks in the bay area...let's take advantage of them!  These parks provide opportunities for exploration, education, and relaxation for you and your kids.  And being in nature with the ones you love can be a wonderful bonding experience.  Bring a pair of binoculars and look for birds and other wildlife.  You can research what you might expect to find in the park you are visiting, and then turn it into a scavenger hunt where you check off the plants and animals you find on your trip.  Check out the bay area parks on the California State Parks website.  The National Parks Services site also has a map of parks in our area.  Now go play with dirt.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

under the sea art

If you'd like to extend your child's learning after a visit to the aquarium, or just want a fun art project to work on, here is one of my favorites.  It can be done with kids of all ages (a two year-old's work will be less representational than a 10 year-old's, but just as beautiful!):

Materials: paper, crayons, water color paint

Step 1:  Ask your kids to draw their favorite underwater animal using crayons on paper.

Step 2:  Where does that animal like to be?  Near rocks?  Kelp? Coral?  Have your kids draw a background for the animal.  Note: they don't need to draw the water, that will be done with the paint  (unless of course they really want to draw the water with crayons.  Remember: it's their art!)

Step 3:  Ask your kids what color the water may look blue or green or gray or brown to them.  It may even look pink! There is no right answer here.  Have them paint over the drawing with water color paint.  

Step 4:  Look at that masterpiece! Let it dry and hang it somewhere your kids can see so they can revisit it and recall their learning.

aquarium of the bay

Still looking for something to do for Presidents Day tomorrow?  The Aquarium of the Bay will be open from 10am-6pm.  Tickets are $16.95 for adults and $8 for kids ages 3-11.  You and your kids will learn about the ecosystems of the San Francisco Bay and the cool creatures that live in them.  One of the aquarium's exhibits, the PG&E Bay Lab, offers a hands on learning experience in which kids can touch the animals and ask questions about them.  Check the schedule for the Bay Lab Presentations so you can be sure to see the animal your child is most interested in.  There is also a fun tide pool feeding at 3:30pm. For more info on visiting the aquarium click here.

Teachers: check out the aquarium's educational programs and resources here.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

spend presidents day at bill nye's climate lab

The Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland is generally closed on Mondays, but they're making an exception for Presidents Day.  They will be open this Monday, February 21st from 10am-5pm.  If you'll be in town, take your kids to Bill Nye's Climate Lab Exhibit where they can learn about the climate through a variety interactive games and experiments.

The Chabot Space and Science Center also offers other events and programs for kids throughout the year such as summer camps, astronaut demonstrations, and a Tyke Explorers program for preschoolers.  Parents can check them out here.  Teachers can access science curriculum resources, as well as field trip information here.

For tickets, membership info., and directions click here.

Friday, February 18, 2011

best pit stop for families on I-5

If you're headed south on the 5 this presidents day weekend,  I recommend stopping at Harris Ranch Inn for your family's food and potty break.  It's located about half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles on I-5.  Surrounded by truckstops and fast food, Harris Ranch is a diamond in the rough.  The restrooms are clean and the food is tasty.  They're open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Beef is their specialty, but they have plenty of other options and a great kids menu.  There is also a cute country mart with gourmet food goods in case you need a last minute gift for your weekend hosts :)

Harris Ranch Inn & Restaurant
24505 West Dorris Avenue
Coalinga, CA. 93210

Thursday, February 17, 2011

choosing the right preschool

There is a lot of anxiety surrounding the issue of kindergarten readiness and choosing the right preschool for your child.  So much, in fact, that there has been a whole industry built on it.  And while many of the companies and products dedicated to prepping your child for school are helpful, the vast number of them can be overwhelming.  The most important step in choosing a preschool is to sit back and take a deep breath.  If you're stressed about your child's education, your child will be too.

After observing and working in a variety of early childhood education programs,  I've learned there is no one preschool philosophy that is best for all children.  While some kids may thrive in a play-based school, others may do better in a Montessori program, or a program inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach.

Another thing I've learned in my preschool experience is that just because a school has a certain philosophy on paper, it doesn't always match what goes on in the classroom.  So don't rule a school out just because you aren't crazy about their written philosophy, and don't give too much credit to the ones you like until you see them in action.  It's important to get into the classrooms and see what a typical day is like.  Notice the language the teachers use with the children, the general mood of the classroom, the flow of the day, the materials available to the kids, the art on the walls (is it all teacher-directed, or is there some room for creativity).  Remember you want to pick a school where your child is valued and respected and has plenty of ways to express herself.  However, do not confuse that with a school where the child is in too much power to a 3 year old can be a very scary thing for that child.  All children are looking for some guidance and structure from adults and some children will need more structure than others.

If the option to observe in the classroom isn't available, try to talk to parents who have children enrolled in the school to get an opinion other than the school director's.  When you do talk to the school director or admissions rep, go in with the attitude that you are interviewing the school, not vice versa (you can still be charming, of course).  Here are some important questions to ask during your interview:

  • What are the school hours and what is the yearly schedule?
  • What is the daily schedule in the classroom? (How much outside time is there?  Do you go outside in bad weather?  How much time is there for free play?  How much time is teacher-directed?)
  • What types of activities can I expect my child to engage in?
  • In what ways is the school connected to the local community?  Do you take field trips?
  • What is the student: teacher ratio?  Is that for the whole day or just part of the day?  How do you support your teachers?
  • What is the school community like?  Are there regular events to foster relationships between families and the development of school community?
  • How are parents involved in the classroom?
  • How often and in what ways will the teacher document and communicate my child's development? 
  • How will your program help to prepare my child for Kindergarten?  Ask for examples of how the curriculum will encourage your child's development in the following areas:
    • Social-emotional development
    • Gross motor 
    • Fine motor 
    • Creative problem solving 
    • Pre-literacy
    • Pre-math

It's easy to get caught up in the hype over certain schools.  When choosing a preschool, try to do so based on your child's needs and not the school's popularity.  Whatever school your child ends up at, the most important thing is that you remain calm and treat his/her school as a partner in your child's education.  If you go with a school that has a heavy social-emotional curriculum, but is lacking in early math and literacy, you can supplement the school's curriculum with your own pre math and literacy activities at home.

Best of luck with your search.  If you're just starting out and have no idea where to begin, check out savvy source for a list of schools in your area.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

classical kids

Catch the next performance of the San Francisco Symphony's Music for Families Series on Saturday, March 19th at 2pm at Davies Symphony Hall.  Recommended for kids ages 7 and up.  Tickets range from $15-$57 (half price for kids under 17) and you can buy them online.   Also, check out the Symphony's interactive kids site,  It offers an online radio, an introduction to the instruments of the symphony, as well as a music lab in which kids can experiment with tempo, pitch, rhythm, and more!

rainy day fun

The best thing to do in the rain? Put on your rain gear and play in it! However... if you aren't feeling up to that this week, here are some indoor alternatives from YelpCBS, and SFGate.  If you're considering heading over to Recess (the awesome indoor recreation center in Potrero Hill), you should know that mornings and rainy days are reserved for members.  For info on membership, click here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

huck finn is in the east bay

Tony Award-winning Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is playing at the Contra Costa Civic Theater through March 13th.  Tickets are $24 for adults; $15 for children 16 and under.  Order tickets online or by phone at 510.524.9132.

951 Pomona Avenue
El Cerrito, CA 94530

presidio habitats (family style)

The Presidio Habitats Exhibition at the presidio has a couple of cool events for families and kids.  Below is some info from their website:

Create with Nature Series 
Location varies; 
RSVP to (415) 561-4449 or
Saturday, February 12, 10 am to 2 pm
Saturday, April 23, 10 am to 2 pm
From fairy-sized houses to palm teepees, kids and grown-ups alike will create imaginative art and structures using natural materials in an outdoor Presidio setting. The ingredients for the day include wood, leaves, stone, pine cones, bark, branches, water, and imagination. Bring a picnic lunch or snack.

Family “Quest” Adventure
10 am to Noon; meet outside the Exhibition Pavilion
RSVP to (415) 561-4449 or
Saturday, March 19
Saturdays, April 2, 16, 30
Saturday, May 14
A “quest” is a treasure hunt that provides a fun way to explore a special place. At this event, staff will orient your family to the colorful Presidio Habitats Quest adventure booklet. Then, enjoy a self-guided exploration to experience the wildlife habitats along the route of the artwork. With team spirit and keen senses your family will solve riddles and make surprising observations. Best suited for kids aged 5 to 12. Booklet will be distributed at the event and is also available at the Exhibition Pavilion.

i love love love frances england

...and I think you will, too.  Frances England is another local kids musician.  Her stuff sounds just like grown-up music, but her lyrics are all about kid-friendly things like milk and cookies.  Her website is bursting with cuteness, check it out!  She doesn't have any upcoming shows posted on her website, but according to her facebook page she's "doing a benefit show for Sunset Coop Nursery School at the Swedish American Hall (above Cafe Du Nord) in late May."  I'll let you know if I hear more should be a good time for a good cause. 

do the monster stomp with the time outs

The Time Outs are a poppy, rocky, local band that produce fun, silly songs for kids.  They have some music on itunes (my favorite is The Monster Stomp...mostly because I'm always looking for new moves) and are currently writing songs for a new record.  They have done some performances in the city and are hoping to put on some more shows soon...stay tuned for upcoming dates!

quality kid gifts at curiosities for kids

If you're looking for an above-average gift to bring to your next birthday party, try Paxton Gate's Curiosities for Kids.  If you can get past the elitist hipster vibe in the store, there are some unique and well-made educational toys to be found.

766 Valencia Street
between 18th & 19th Streets
San Francisco, CA 94110
Tel: (415) 252-9990
Fax: (415) 252-9992
Open Daily 11am - 7pm

Monday, February 14, 2011

muir woods jr. rangers

Get your kids out of the city and into the woods.  Print out the Junior Ranger Activity Book from the NPS website and head over to Muir Woods for some exercise and outdoor education.  Put on an extra layer or two because it gets chilly.

think it, ink it

Some great educational products for your budding author...think it, ink it produces picture books without the words.  The idea is your child writes her own story inspired by the illustrations in the book.  There is also an option to submit a story online and have it published in a custom hardcover book!  Check out their website for more details and ordering info.  

Sunday, February 13, 2011

yoga for kids

Most of us have heard of the benefits of yoga: relaxation, increased concentration, improved self-regulation, physical strength, flexibility, and coordination...the list goes on.  Practicing yoga has done so much for me personally that last summer I was inspired to get my teacher certification from
Karma Kids Yoga so I could share the gift of yoga with kids.  This past fall I put my training to the test with the 2 and 3 year olds in a preschool class.  We had a blast going on "yoga adventures" and playing "yoga games." The experience was invaluable (for all of us).  I was so impressed with the way these little guys focused on their poses and used their breath to calm their bodies.  They even loved Savasana, which was truly amazing to me given how wiggly they were at nap time!  Sometimes I would lead yoga formally with yoga mats and a dedicated block of time.  Other times I would casually incorporate yoga-inspired strategies into their daily routine (stretching and breathing during group meetings and transitions).  After a while, I would catch some of them spontaneously practicing poses or doing breath work.  It was pretty awesome.  I recommend finding a way to incorporate yoga into your home or classroom...your kids will thank you (and you'll thank yourself).

Note:  Don't be discouraged if kids don't participate right away, some of the most interested kids in the class I worked with started off as passive observers.  A lack of participation doesn't always translate to a lack of interest:  they might just be taking it all in before they are willing to test it out for themselves.  Persistence is key!

Yoga Recess, an awesome yoga non-profit, offers free kids yoga resources for school teachers.

Some SF Yoga Studios offering Kids Yoga Classes:

569 Ruger Street 
The Presidio, San Francisco

Yoga Garden of San Francisco
286 Divisadero St.
San Francisco, CA 94117


Some additional resources:



Thursday, February 10, 2011

bikeabout at the sf zoo

Next Saturday morning (2/19) you and your family can bring your bikes to the SF Zoo for a 90 minute docent-led bike tour!  The cost is $25 per cyclist ($20 for members), and kids catching a ride on their parent's bike get in free.  If you can't make it this month, don't fret.  There is a bikeabout almost every month.  Check the zoo's website for future bike events.

america's favorite monkey comes to sf

If your kids like Curious George, you may want to check out this exhibition at the Contemporary Jewish Museum.  Curious George Saves the Day:  The Art of Margret and H.A. Rey runs through March 13th.  Adult admission is $10.  Kids are free.  For hours and other info click here.

partytime at the exploratorium

Look at that Birthday Gak!  Want to throw your child a fun and educational birthday party this year?  Let the Exploratorium do it for you.  The exploratorium hosts birthday parties for children and grandchildren of members.

Pros: awesome learning experience, cake and all day museum admission included in price of party, no clean-up.  Cons: members only, a bit pricey, need to book in advance.

For more info on Exploratorium parties click here.
To become a member of the museum click here.

teeth-rotting good time

I probably shouldn't start off with a post promoting candy consumption.  BUT, if you're feeling sugary sweet and want to give your kids a special treat, head out to Fairfield to the Jelly Belly factory!  They offer free tours daily.  Go on a weekday so your kids can see the factory in full swing.  Tours last 40 minutes.  There's a restaurant onsite serving bean-shaped food (kinda weird -- you may want to pack lunches and eat in the car).