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

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.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Sensory Play to Shorten the Day

The days are getting shorter but seem to be getting longer if you spend much time inside with little ones! It's time to get creative with things to do to keep everyone busy and sane. Soon after I joined Parent Talk a couple of years ago, I remember a post on the Yahoo message board from a mom seeking large boxes for her kids to paint during the long, dark days of winter. Now I understand how wise she was to prepare! If you are looking for something that will engage your kids, inspire their creativity, and boost motor planning, try one of these sensory play ideas.

These days, the word 'sensory' is used a lot when talking about children. A child may be called 'sensory defensive' if he or she wears socks inside out, refuses to wear certain fabrics or does not like certain textures. Kids who like to tap, rock, or put things in their mouth or who pay attention better when sitting on a bumpy cushion can be referred to as 'sensory seeking.' Then there are ALL kids who benefit from opportunities to engage in 'sensory play.'

All you need to achieve sensory learning at home is a shallow container and some type of material that won't make you go over the edge to clean-up. This can include rice; coffee beans; dry pasta; cooked pasta; flour; pom poms; dish soap bubbles; corn husks; cotton balls; tiny beads or elastics etc. Supply scoops, an empty container, cookie cutters, funnels and almost any tool in the kitchen your child would enjoy using and voila! You are providing a rich activity that (while messy) improves your child's spatial relationships, eye-hand coordination, and motor planning. The major rule of thumb is to never force a child to engage with a texture they do not wish to touch. By watching you fill a dump truck with rice, he may eventually get comfortable to stick a finger into the bucket.

The simplest way to begin using sensory play is to see what is readily available to you. I recently bought large bags of inexpensive macaroni and filled a clear plastic shoe box with some of the dry pasta. I buried miniature animal models and had my one and half year old search for them. I got to boost his vocabulary by using talking about 'deep' and 'shallow' and giving him directions to look for the animals. He then went to find his favorite small stuffed Mickey Mouse and tried to cover it with the noodles. Interestingly, he wanted to put his feet in and actually get in the shoe box. This makes sense because our feet are actually more sensitive than our hands. I think a larger container, like my now empty water table, would work better. Hopefully I will get around to cleaning it out and setting it up in my playroom filled with one of the materials I mentioned above.

Some parents and caregivers get extremely creative with sensory play, like this mom I found on Pinterest, who cooked and dyed spaghetti to represent the colors of the rainbow. With two toddlers at home, I don't have that much time or willingness to devote to an activity like this. However, I do have extra bags of sand from my sand box and plan to try this moon sand recipe (see below) which is supposed to be 'cleaner' than using actual sand.

I hope that you will find some of these ideas helpful on the days that you want to pull your hair out because nothing is keeping your child engaged. A lot of these materials can be stored for several weeks to use again and again. If the mess if preventing you from trying sensory play, just try to remember, that childhood is fleeting so dig in and enjoy!

Moon Sand
4 cups sand
2 cups cornstarch
1 cup of water
Mix and Enjoy

Monday, November 3, 2014

Treating Local Senior Citizens on Halloween

Like most other families with young children, we LOVE Halloween in our house! But every year by the time October 31st rolls around, my kids have already been to nearly a dozen Halloween celebrations. Between parties at school, playgroup gatherings, town fairs where they wear their costumes to trick-or-treating around Needham at the Spooky Walk, we are on candy and costume overdrive for all of October! Every year I tell myself it is a little excessive, but then the next year I do the same thing----sign up for as many Halloween festivities as possible.

However, one event we went to this year was different from the others---the Parent Talk Halloween Party at Avery Crossings Assisted Living Center. Parent Talk members and their costumed kids spent the afternoon with the senior residents doing Halloween-themed crafts, listening (and occasionally dancing!) to Kidz Bop Halloween tunes, and showing off their adorable costumes to the admiring audience. Costumes included a few princesses, a pirate, a lobster, two monkeys, two spiders, a car, an airplane, and many more. A highlight was trick-or-treating to candy baskets held by each senior!

It was such a feel-good afternoon for both the kids and the seniors---such a nice pause to do something with my kids to brighten someone else’s day especially during this season of excess! If you didn't get to go this year, keep an eye out for the sign-up next year. Better yet, consider visiting a senior center this holiday season with your little one. Watching others get so much joy from your child is as uplifting as it gets!

About the author:
Ellie is originally from Buffalo, NY and moved to Needham in 2011 with her husband Andrew. Their two children Grant (4) and Colette (2) have enjoyed the many activities and playgroups provided by Parent Talk, and Ellie is thrilled to be joining the Board and getting more involved in the community and with Parent Talk. Prior to becoming a stay-at-home mom, Ellie worked in Fundraising/Development for the American Museum of Natural History in NYC and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA. She also volunteers her time for her alma mater Williams College. In her (limited!) kid-free time, Ellie enjoys golfing, running, doing needlepoint, and cooking yummy meals for her family.

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