This was a favorite of mine as a kid, and has been a huge hit with our kids as well when I rediscovered it.
It was written by Dr. Seuss and illustrated by George Booth. The book does not get as much attention as other Seuss books, perhaps because it does not have his iconic drawing style. There is one picture of a kid with a bare butt in the shower. It’s not outrageous or titillating, but could be enough to keep it off the shelves of some school libraries.
The book is a series of scenes with increasing numbers of ‘wrong’ things in it, e.g. a tree growing in the toilet, a chair with no legs floating in mid-air, an alligator in a stroller, etc. The book is described as a ‘learn-to-read’ book, but the purpose of the book is not reading, it’s about finding all the weird things. The book is more of an activity than simply reading, so is better as one to read on the couch than before bedtime. And this is a good one for a parent to read with a child. You can count and find all the wacky things together.
This is another book that our kids regularly pull off the shelf year after year. It comes with paper dolls, stickers, and a party hat, and other stuff, so has some extra fun. We have since lost everything but the book itself, but we still enjoy that. The papercraft makes it a fun gift that the child can play with independently during the day, and the book is a fun story for bedtime reading.
The theme is of animals planning a party, and a bird visits different biomes (arctic, jungle, farm, etc.) to talk with the animals there. They talk in terms of opposite prepositions and adjectives, each pair of sentences covers high/low, cold/hot, etc.
The mood is very cheeful and happy and our kids enjoy it.
There are plenty of collections of nursery rhymes, partly because the text is not copyrighted and publishers don’t have to pay author royalties. But nursery rhymes remain popular among young children because they are fun and the simple rhymes make them a good too when learning to read. It’s easy to memorize a line such as “Mary, Mary, quite contrary” from hearing a parent read it. So then, when the child is sounding out words on their own, and get to the relatively difficult word, “contrary”, they can recall the rhyme and figure it out.
This particular collection is more British than most Americanized sets of nursery rhymes. For example, American collections typically don’t include traditional rhymes such as, “I had a little nut tree” or “Ride a cock horse”. So in some ways this feels like a more “authentic” set.
The drawings are very simple, but for whatever reason, our kids keep pulling this book off the shelf for us to read together.
A growing list of wisdom I’ve gained over the years.
• No grudges/punishments after midnight. This applies to spouses as well. Everyone (including you) gets a clean slate in the morning. Everyone deserves a fresh start and second chance. And just as importantly, it’s stressful and exhausting to try and remember every bad behavior that needs correcting.
If I am grouchy and see my kid do something bad, I may make a rule (“no TV for the rest of the day!”). If/when they do it again, my instinct is to then extend that rule (“no TV for a week!”) but this is too hard to enforce and then what the kid ends up learning is that I don’t follow through on my threats. There are no good easy ways to maintain discipline, but if I am inclined to start doling out punishments that will last for more than a day, better to just change the environment, physically move them and me somewhere else.
• Related to the above, give feedback immediately. A popular concept these days is ‘gamification’ and the essence of that is immediate feedback, both positive and negative. If a child (or employee, or spouse, or friend for that matter) does something that you want to reinforce, don’t make a mental note to give them ice cream later – give them a hug and praise them right then and there. Similarly, if you see behavior that you want to correct, again, don’t delay your reaction. If your reaction is not immediate, the child will not associate your reaction with their action and your reaction will seem irrational.
• Sugar is ok as long as you have a plan for where the kids will be when they are burning it off, running around and screaming, and where they will be when they crash, grumpy and unmotivated. A sweet treat about an hour before leaving a playground is great because the kids will run around and start to get tired around when it’s time to leave anyway.
The name is bland and the artwork is simple, but Word Girl is one of the better kids shows out there now.
You can watch it for free on PBS Kids, where you can also play related games.
The writing is snappy and funny enough to keep parents engaged. The voice acting is good, and helped with the comedic talent of Chris Parnell (Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, Archer).
I read once that J.K. Rowling chose to make her wizarding stories have a boy as the central character because she was afraid boys wouldn’t read a story with a female protagonist. And I’ve seen that behavior among boys, where they weren’t interested in stories ‘about girls’. But this show is very popular among our boys, and they were in rapt attention when watching a recent, very good set of episodes dedicated to bullying and rude behavior.
The dialogue is witty and multi-leveled and the education works at multiple levels as well, focusing on vocabulary and grammar, but also behavior and ethical/moral development. This means that kids of all ages can enjoy it and get something out of it, while not annoying the parents.
There are three networks of children’s museums in the U.S. ACM, ASTC, and NARM. (If there’s another that I missed, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Belonging to a network means you can go for free or reduced entry to any other museum in the network. We’ve saved many hundreds of dollars by joining. Typically, the cost of joining one of the networks is $20 or so in addition to the cost of an annual membership at one of the museums in the network.
We frequently go to children’s museums when the weather is wet or cold, and it can be a great way to have a playdate without having to mess up the house. And then when taking road trips to the grandparents, we will look for a museum on the way that is in one of the networks, and we go for free.
ASTC (pronounced “Aztec”) is the Association of Science-Technology Centers. The ASTC Passport Program is similar to the ACM one, though the focus is on children’s science museums. Their list of 364 participating museums is in a PDF, current as of 2017
The NARM (North American Reciprocal Museum) Association is another network, much larger than the other 2, with 896 participating museums. NARM includes many historical sites and other kinds of places beyond the STEM-focus of ASTC. Use the NARM interactive map to find museums near you, or look at their PDF, current as of 2017.
Look at these three networks for a children’s museum near you (some museums belong to more than one network) and see if there are other museums in the same network you are likely to visit, e.g. near a relative’s home. You may be surprised at how many children’s museums are out there. Many have limited marketing budgets and don’t advertise much.
We don’t have any Star Wars-related suggestions at Matchstick. I loved Star wars as a kid, and had the figures and the trading cards, and spent hours drawing T.I.E. fighters and X-Wings, but as a movie and a concept and a universe, Star Wars is candy. I loved Star Wars when I was a child, but I loved Cap’n Crunch, too. I won’t let my kids eat that stuff now.
Kids love Star Wars and many adults are nostalgic for it, but the movies and books and games and other merchandise is fun without having anything redeeming about it. If anything, the big lesson of the Star Wars stories is that all problems can be solved with magic and/or fighting. Watch any kids after watching one of the movies and all they want to do is hit each other with sticks. It’s odd to see kids’ backpacks at school, many of which have images of stormtroopers with blaster rifles running and shooting – not the kind of imagery normally allowed or encouraged at schools.
One could argue that Star Wars gets kids interested in Space, but I would argue that it actually perverts interest in Space because kids would much rather watch a version of space that manages to have sound effects in a vacuum, where vehicles can travel from one planet to another in a few minutes.
I don’t hate Star Wars (although episode VII was merely poorly-implemented fan ficton) and I let my kids play with the toys from the 70s that my mom saved in the attic for all these years, but I don’t push it and don’t have any Star Wars-related book or toy recommendations. There are plenty of more meaningful, educational, and dare-I-say ‘wholesome’ stories out there.
The Octonauts is a video series on Netflix and available on DVD. Some of the stories are also available as books and there are several toys out there of the characters. The look of the show is unique, a cross between kid-friendly 60s-era James Bond, ‘Sealab 2020’, and cutesy Japanese anime.
The show is not the creation of some corporate art department, but the work of a single design couple, who call themselves meomi.
They “live in Vancouver, Canada where we spend our days making up stories, drinking tea, and drawing strange characters. We love learning about underwater creatures and sharing our love for the ocean with kids (and grown-ups) around the world!”
Our kids like the characters, the pace of the storytelling, and the balance of adventure just at the edge of sometimes being a little scary but not quite. The videos are fun for adults as well. We find ourselves watching along with the kids to see where the story goes.
We like the educational aspect as well. Some of the episodes are just as informational as Wild Kratts or any other nature-themed cartoon. A lot of what I know of deep-sea creatures is from Octonauts. (Who knew vampire squid were real?)
Mr. DeMaio is an elementary school teacher in New Jersey who makes silly and fun absurd educational videos for his students. Since 2013, he’s put a few dozen videos on his YouTube channel
His playlists include songs about multiplication and
social studies themes, but my kids’ favorites are the ones about space and science
Unlike those who make most educational videos on YouTube, Mr. DeMaio is an actual teacher and knows the perfect balance of humor and education to keep kids’ attention while dosing out the knowledge. He’s also completely willing to act like a fool and get kids to laugh out loud. You can see his progression as a performer over the past few years. The earliest videos have him as a cool, aloof guy while he is much more of a clown in his more recent ones.
The videos are funny enough that kids as young as 3 can watch them and enjoy them even if they don’t understand the education.
The videos are very silly and absurd and our kids regularly recite catch-phrases from the videos. The format of the space and science videos is to have Mr. DeMaio interview things such as a tornado, or the planet Saturn, and these things act in a way just as silly as he does, in a way that subverts the normal way that these things are normally presented. For example, the planet Saturn is normally depicted as silent and mysteriously beautiful. In Mr. DeMaio’s video, the first we see of Saturn is a goofy face superimposed over an image of the planet saying, “I have a cat named ‘Orange Juice’!”
The education is basic: the names and basic stats of the planets, the names of the continents, etc.
The downside of these videos is that they are on YouTube, which not only has ads, but ads that don’t seem to be targeted in any way. Our kids have ended up seeing ads for inappropriate things so we make a point of supervising them while watching anything on YouTube.