Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Few Fun Snowmen: Recipe, Craft and Book

The ground is still bare but hopefully soon we can go outside to build a snowman! Until then, enjoy these snowman themed activities inside with your little one.

Snowman Pb&Js

Make an everyday food festive easily with a cookie cutter, a few chocolate chips and a mini candy cane! This could easily be made healthier with whole wheat bread, any spread of your choosing, raisins instead of chocolate chips and a carrot or celery stick cane. I made these for a party and thought the white bread made them a little more realistic!

Felt Snowman

I love this craft because it doesn't make a mess and can be used again and again! It's great for your little one's fine motor and spatial reasoning skills. This does require some handiwork with scissors. I suggest making a cardboard template for the three circles and for the snowman's hat, then tracing with a sharpie. Any craft store should have the felt and if you are a perfectionist, buy shears to be used only on fabric (paper will dull them.)

To personalize this project or to extend it further, cut out different hats or outfits for the snowman! Also, if you plan to do this with a very young toddler, consider making the pieces very large and possibly hanging the background on a wall for them to assemble while standing.


Snow Slime Recipe 

  • 2 cups of white school glue (you could also use silver glitter glue)
  • 1 & 1/2 cups of very warm water
  • Iridescent glitter
  • Optional: a few drops of peppermint extract to give the snow slime a fresh and clean scent
Combine in a small bowl

In a second bowl combine:
  • 3/4 teaspoons of borax
  • 1 & 1/3 cups very warm water
Mix the ingredients of both bowls well and then combine both bowls.  Mix the ingredients with your hands for a few minutes.  As the ingredients are mixed the snow slime will form

A beautiful snowman story

This book by Raymond Briggs is wordless but the illustrations are so enchanting. There is also a movie made from the book that you may be able to find at the library. I remember it from my childhood and loved it!

About the Author:

Liza d'Hemecourt is the blog coordinator for Parent Talk. She formerly taught kindergarten and first grade and now stays home with her two toddlers. Liza is from Maine originally and now lives in Needham with her family.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Giving Back in Our Community

We can all agree that we are fortunate to live in communities around Boston that are family oriented and rich with opportunities for ourselves and our children. Still, it is important to acknowledge that many local residents are in need, whether it is a family relying on the food pantry at the Needham Community Council or children at the Walker School in need of holiday gifts. In this time of year as we make shopping lists and plan celebrations, it is the perfect time to reach out to others in a large or small way. Perhaps this winter, your playgroup or neighborhood could host a 'drive' on a larger scale, but at the very least, you may have some things at home that could be put to better use by one of the organizations below.

Our Parent Talk playgroup participated in Holiday Gift Bags through the Needham Community Council. We supplied white paper bags and decorating supplies as an activity for the kids and we each brought small items, such as specialty tea and hand lotion, from a list provided by the council. These bags will be delivered to elderly community members this holiday season. 

If you would like to donate to the Needham Community Council, consider bringing in non-perishable goods to the food pantry or dropping off clothing and household items to their thrift store. The thrift store is open to everyone and can be a fun place to shop! All proceeds benefit the Needham Community Council and their many outreach programs. For more details and drop-off hours, click here

Another wonderful organization in our community is Circle of Hope. Unlike the thrift store at the Needham Community Council, they serve a specific population of homeless residents and those who are struggling to attain housing security. They accept clothing and household goods but also seek items for babies and young children. All donations are sorted and delivered to people in need. If you would like to give to them, read here for more information. 

A third option for giving and volunteering is A Room to Grow in Boston. They only accept nearly new and new articles of clothing, books and gear for babies and young children. These items are given to impoverished families who have been connected with the organization through a social worker. If you would like to host a drive to collect items for them, email emily@roomtogrow.org. This would be another great playgroup effort! Read more about them here.

Lastly, The Walker School in Needham is running their annual Wishes Holiday Toy Drive. Walker serves troubled children by educating them and their families and offering mental health services. They are requesting new, unwrapped toys or hats/gloves, pajamas or slippers, appropriate for children between the ages of 3 and 14. Please get your gift to them no later than December 16th! For more information, visit this website.

It can be hard to know how to explain to young children that there are people who do not have enough to eat or the clothing that they need. Only you can decide if your child is old enough or to what degree you wish to educate them on this topic. At some point, it is a valuable experience to involve children in giving as a family. Perhaps a simple explanation for now and allowing your child to choose a few extra canned goods at the grocery store that someone else might like to eat, then dropping it off together. With my toddlers, I plan to deliver cookies to two elderly people in our neighborhood and maybe sing a round of Jingle Bells!

About the author:

Liza d'Hemecourt lives in Needham with her husband and two toddlers. She went to Boston College for theater and education and formerly taught kindergarten and first grade. Liza enjoys singing and playing with her children and spending time with other moms.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Sugar and Spice...and Puppy Dog Tails?

This guest post, submitted by LINX, was written by Nancy Gair, Early Childhood Specialist at Wellesley Treehouse. It is especially timely on the heels of our recent presenter, Dr. Rao, who spoke about his book, The Way of Boys. Also, this time of year, shopping for toys and winter clothing, I have been especially struck by the gender differences that are seemingly forced upon children by toy and clothing companies. My almost two year old son loves cats but I am hard pressed to find anything he can wear with kitties on it that is not pink! We thank LINX for this enlightening read and for the book recommendations.

Sugar and Spice… and Puppy Dogs’ Tails? 
We can’t deny that pink vs. blue is all around us when choosing newborn and infant clothing; nor that young boys’ clothing tends to be rugged and is notably absent of ruffles, bows and polka dots.  They are typically decorated with diggers, trucks, dinosaurs, fire engines, rockets, planets and lizards. It is also true that one can find baby girls’ clothing with similar decorations: skull & crossbones, or all black onesies with cuffed jeans; certainly more than one could 10 years ago.  But for the most part, from the day they are born, we identify our Johns and Janes very differently.

It’s not that I have a problem with the clothing.  But how many times do you hear someone say, “Oh, he’s a typical boy!”?  I don’t know about you, but I hear or read that phrase far more frequently than “she’s a typical girl”.  For some reason, we don’t like saying that phrase as often. People are more likely to get up in arms hearing such a thing about girls.  How dare you imply that because I like to put a bow in my baby’s hair and enjoy dressing her in outfits with adorable ruffles on the butt and ribbons on her socks, that she will be “typical” in any way as a woman in the world??

But “he’s a typical boy” is frequently said, even by the child’s own parents and often with great pride masquerading as exasperation at his boisterous antics or mud-covered boots and grubby face.  Personally, I had a problem with this because, as a mother of two very different boys, I could honestly say that nothing about them was “typical”, particularly if you compared one to the other.  For example, boys generally are considered to be later talkers than girls. My first son talked at nine months so I thought my second son was very slow when he wasn’t talking at 13 months, after which I took him to a speech therapist, only to be tutted at and sent home!  On the other hand, my first son didn’t walk until he was nearly a year and a half (saving me a great deal of money on shoes!), while my younger one ran and climbed quite sturdily before he was one. Neither of them have ever cared for organized sports!

There are a lot of books out there on childrearing, each with a different focus. I find a few points from some of them helpful and relevant.  A terrific resource is Steven Biddulph’s Raising Boys - Why Boys are Different - and How to Help Them Become Happy and Well-Balanced Men.  While I still bristle a bit at the title (everybody’s different, not just boys!), it is easily read and includes both anecdotes and facts, well-backed by evidence, and useful physiological explanations for some of the differences we tend to observe between boys and girls.

Biddulph himself, however, in his division of boyhood into three stages, says of the first stage zero to six years:

Babies are babies.  Being a boy or girl is not a concern to them, and needn’t be to us either. Babies love to be cuddled, to play, to be tickled and to giggle; to explore and be swooshed around. Their personalities vary a lot.  Some are easy to handle; they can be quiet and relaxed, and sleep long hours. Others are noisy and wakeful, always wanting some action. Some are anxious and fretful, needing lots of reassurance that we are there, and that we love them.

I find the book particularly useful to help us as parents become aware of the language we use and some of the unconscious prejudices we sometimes exhibit and unhelpful behavior we might model.  

Some of these behaviors are usefully illustrated in another resource, The Everything Toddler Book by Linda Sonna.   Sonna quotes studies which show that adults are more likely to use baby talk - using words like “doggy” and “dolly” - far more frequently with girls than with boys.  Another example describes adults who are shown a videotape of a child reacting to a jack-in-the-box.  When told the child is a girl, they describe the child’s reaction as “fearful”; when told it’s a boy, they describe the same reaction as “angry”.  Research also reveals that parents smile and praise year-old boys more than year-old girls when they build towers of blocks and zoom cars across the floor, and are more discouraging of boys than of girls when they in some way “cross the gender line in their choice of play activities”, for instance when boys play dress up or play with dolls.

And of course, if the child is exposed to television advertising or spends any time in big toy shops, it’s pretty clear who’s supposed to want Hot Wheels and My Little Pony!  An excerpt from that same book is worth keeping in mind:

A few differences seem to be innate. Toddler boys tend to be more active and fussier than girls.  Although boys don’t actually cry more, their sleep tends to be more disturbed.  As a group, girls’ language skills develop faster than boys’. Girls also develop bladder and bowel control a few months earlier.
Of course, these are tendencies and group averages. The differences vanish when individual children are considered.  There are lots of calm, moderate-energy boys who sleep soundly and are potty trained at an early age.  Lots of active, fussy little female insomniacs reach their fourth or fifth birthday before they make it through the night without wetting the bed.  Most differences are due to how boys and girls are raised.

Regardless of gender or culture, books and studies agree: all babies thrive on cuddling, structure and activity appropriate to their age and stage. All babies need us to love our children as they are and not as we imagine they should be, nor as our society expects they ought to be.

Useful Resources:
Biddulph, Steve. Raising Boys. (1998). Celestial Arts.
Lipman, Blythe. Help! My Toddler Came Without Instructions. (2013). Viva Editions.
Segal, Marilyn. Your Child At Play: Two to Three Years - 2nd ed. (1998). Newmarket Press.
Sonna, Linda. The Everything Toddler Book. (2002). Adams Media.

About the Author:
Nancy Gair grew up in Arlington MA and went to BB&N (a "lifer"!). After graduating from Yale in 1981, she went to drama school in London, England where she then lived for the next 26 years. Following the births of her sons, she was inspired to train with the National Childbirth Trust as a childbirth educator, qualifying in 2004, and had the pleasure of teaching couples in her own home while her young boys sneaked downstairs to pilfer the refreshments. Nancy and sons (now 17 & 14) relocated to the Boston area in the autumn of 2007, when she began teaching both pre- and post-natal classes for Isis Parenting, subsequently also obtaining her CAPPA certification. She enjoys watching her boys follow in their parents' theatrical footsteps, and keeps up her own endeavors with cabaret performances & individual acting coaching for young adults.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Giving Tuesday

To all our supporters, members and past members, business partners and folks who we support throughout the year, Parent Talk wishes a very happy holiday season.

Last Thursday was Thanksgiving, a day to reflect on the bounty of our lives with family and friends.  It also marks the beginning of the holiday season, a time to prepare for our winter celebrations, decorate, bake cookies and buy gifts with Black Friday and Cyber Monday following closely.Tuesday has been coined Giving Tuesday, a day to reflect on community, giving to those organizations that make the world, and where we live, a better place. 

Photo by Ellie Beasley

This last year, Parent Talk welcomed 170 new families to our community, building friendships that will last a life time.  We hosted numerous events and information fairs for our members and the larger community, supported area direct service organizations and generally had a fun time doing it.
For those of you who have been a part of the Parent Talk community, you may have already received our Annual Appeal in your mailbox.  This is a reminder that we can’t accomplish what we do without the tireless efforts of scores of volunteers, the financial and other gifts that we receive from area businesses and your contributions.

Won’t you support Parent Talk this giving season?  You can easily do so here. Your gift will help us continue to welcome new families in our community, support playgroups and social and support groups for families, present informative lectures, and build events that entertain and educate our youngest neighbors and their parents.  And for a gift of $50 or more, we will thank you with a discount card to Legacy Place.  Here is a list of sample discounts that will be available this coming year.
Thanks for all you do for Parent Talk and our community!  Enjoy your holidays!

Mary Celeste Brown
Mary Celeste Brown has raised three children in the Boston area, is the executive director of Parent Talk and can be reached at executivedirector@parenttalk.info.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Needham Lights Celebration

With upcoming holiday office parties, family gatherings, cookie swaps, and gift exchanges, our calendars fill up quickly during December. Still, it can be challenging to find festive events that are easily accessible and family friendly. The Needham Lights celebration on December 6th and 7th, provides families with the perfect opportunity to come together in the spirit of the season.

The Needham Lights celebration combines the traditional Blue Tree Lighting, the annual Luminary Event, and the Merchant’s Holiday Stroll into a fun weekend long community event.

Begin Saturday, December 6th, and come to Needham center to do some local holiday shopping while taking advantage of planned activities enjoy including crafts, face painting, and a magician in Town Hall. There will also be an a cappella concert, followed by a lantern parade, fire show, and of course the Blue Tree Lighting. The Blue Tree lighting has been a Needham tradition for 60 years, and as the tree is scheduled to come down this spring, please come to celebrate its last lighting with neighbors and friends!

Then, on Sunday, Dec 7th at 5pm, Light the Night! Join your neighbors and light your luminaries on your front walkway in unison with hundreds of families in Needham. In doing so, we celebrate our community and help support new recreational programming and community facilities in Needham by purchasing our luminary kits. 

Order your luminary kits online or purchase one while frequenting one of several local retailers. For more information and to see the full weekend schedule of events, visit http://luminarystroll.org/

Hope to see you there for this special Needham community holiday celebration!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Volunteers in the Spotlight

Parent Talk is a volunteer run organization that facilitates many strong connections in our community. These connections are fostered through playgroups, meeting in the PlaySpace, at our numerous events and semi-annual sales. Without our many dedicated volunteers, Parent Talk would not be able to offer all of these opportunities. We would like to highlight some of our amazing volunteers and friends in this blog post!

To start, Liza d'Hemecourt was selected as our volunteer of the month for September. She is a mother of two toddlers and a passionate Parent Talk volunteer. Liza started out as a playgroup member and is now running the Parent Talk Matters blog, assisting with the PlaySpace and served on the Sale Committee in October. 

In September, Liza worked with the Play Space coordinator to clean toys and remove damaged items. She hopes to continue to improve the toy organization throughout the year.

PT Vice President, Emily Roach said "Liza has a wonderful expertise in writing but was nervous about tackling the technical side of running Parent Talk's blog. She has done an amazing job on both the writing, editorial planning and even the tech side of running this blog as she brings new ideas and stories to our membership." 

Diane Solomon, one of the sale co-chairs, said, "Liza was very helpful at this year's sale. to only did she log in a lot of hours, she made copies of tags and a ll the other paperwork that we needed for the sale. It sounds easy but we needed hundreds of copies, so she had to go to BI hospital, who provide us with free copies. She also wrote some nice blog posts about our sale prior to it. Her easy-going demeanor and can-do attitude was noticed and appreciated by everyone!"

For October's volunteer of the month, we are recognizing two members who volunteered at this past sale. Without hundreds of logged volunteer hours, the sale would not be so successful. Sarah Fitzmaurice and Susan Hanson generously volunteered for two hour shifts. 

We are so grateful to all of our dedicated volunteers so if you see Sarah, Susan or Liza, please thank them for all of their hard work! If you are interested in volunteering with Parent Talk, please email our volunteer chairs, Maggie Shapiro and Michael Cohen at 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Beyond Board Books: Selections for Your Child's Library

With the holidays approaching, this is a great time of year to think about expanding your child's home library. Though it may begin as part of a soothing bedtime routine, as kids get older, reading together becomes an opportunity that is rich with possibilities. Hopefully these suggestions from a local librarian and reading specialist will help you continue to nurture a love of reading with your child. 

When looking for a good picture book, I always look to see if the book has a story line that allows me to have a conversation about the book and its characters while reading it with my children. I also like to check and see that the book uses strong vocabulary and provides readers with an opportunity to learn new words. Additionally, quality illustrations that go alongside a rich text make a book that much better.

Having good conversation around a book promotes early literacy in different ways:

It helps your child understand stories better;
It allows your child to discuss their interests; and
It helps your child make connections between what they know and what they are learning

The best questions to encourage conversation are open-ended questions, questions about things your child is interested in, that relate to your child’s experiences or that encourage your child to think and to give an opinion. Try to avoid asking too many questions or questions that just test your child’s knowledge. This can take the fun out of reading.

When reading a book with your child and thinking about its vocabulary, make sure to choose no more then five new words and look for a variety of word types. When teaching a new word while reading to your child, it is important to pause and enunciate the focus word and then to explain what it means by showing them or telling them and then relate it to something your child already knows. Then, if possible, make an effort to use the word in other contexts after reading.

Some Suggested Titles:

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild -  Peter Brown
Harry the Dirty Dog - Gene Zion
The Bunnies are Not in Their Beds Marisabina Russo
The Hello, Goodbye Window - Norton Juster
Cloudette - Tom Lichtenheld
Frank! Connah Brecon
Flora and the Penquin - Molly Idle
Gaston - Kelly DiPucchio
How Rocket Learned to Read - Tad Hills
The Betty Bunny series - Michael Kaplan
Stuck and Any other book - Oliver Jeffers
Swimmy - Leo Lionni
Ella the Elegant Elephant - Carmela D’amico
The Pigeon series - Mo Willems
The Day the Crayons Quit - Drew Daywalt
The Elephant and Piggie series - Mo Willems
Lily's Purple Plastic Purse - Kevin Henkes
The Gruffalo - Julia Donaldson
Telephone - Mac Barnett
Sparky - Jenny Offill

Actual Size - Steve Jenkins (and all his other books)
All Gail Gibbons Books
Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla - Katherine Applegate
Animal Dad- Sneed B. Collard
Living Color - Steve Jenkins
Sisters and Brothers - Robin Page
Everything Goes Series - Brian Biggs
All books by Tony Mitton

Character Building:
Have you filled a Bucket today? - Carol McCloud
Mean Jean the Recess Queen - Alexis O’neill
The Crayon Box that talked - Shane Derolf
One - Kathryn Otoshi

About the Author:
Liz Grossman lives in Needham, MA and is mom of two – one who is of board book age, one who is just beyond board booksShe completed the Teach For America program in Atlanta prior to moving to Boston where she worked as a teacher at The Edward Brooke Charter Schools teaching grades 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th.  Currently, she is a stay-at-home mom and works part-time as the librarian at The Edward Brooke Charter School in Roslindale.  A certified Reading Specialist, she completed her undergraduate studies at Brown University and earned a Masters in Education from Lesley University.

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