Sunday, October 25, 2015

Holiday Cheer and Chores

Halloween's approach marks the beginning of the holiday season for many families.  It brings the smell of smoky, crackling fireplaces and cinnamon and apple, along with the sight of red, gold, yellow, and orange leaves crowning dark limbed trees.  There is an expectation of fun-filled days to come.

"halloween decorations" by Maggie Not Margaret

Scarecrows made from straw-stuffed clothing with jack-o'-lantern heads sit atop haystacks, small wispy white ghosts tied among bare branches float in the breeze, and lighted pumpkins with carved faces laugh before the doorsteps of many homes.  After a night of trick-or-treating, there will be more to look forward to -- warm, welcoming Thanksgiving gatherings, Christmas and Chanukah cheer, and the crisp coldness of a winter's day, marking the fresh start of a new year.

But what comes after each bustle of activity?  In many cases, clean-up!  Even if you have hired help, that help may not be on a daily basis.  There usually is something left for you to do.  But lucky for you, you probably have one or more little people in the house who have busy little hands, looking for something to delve into.   In fact, those munchkins may be at an age where anything the adults do is exactly what they want to do.  So, how about giving your eager kids a few chores, clean-up or otherwise?

Here are a few ideas for chores for children, by age (thanks to the Flanders Family for sharing).

Now enjoy the holidays . . . and the clean-up, with a little help from the kids!

About the Author
Darlene W. Cancell is an attorney turned stay-at-home mom, and most recently, the blog coordinator for Parent Talk.

If you have something to say related to this post, let us know in the Comments section below!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Dance Classes for Two to Three Year Olds

Ready to enroll your toddler in a dance class?  If you have a toddler who loves to move while being creative, silly and social, then consider the world of dance.  Dancing is a fun and interactive way for children to grow and develop in all levels.  Here are a few points to ponder when choosing a dance class.

Source: LINX

Pick a dance studio that focuses on the needs of two to three-year-old children

We all know toddlers need to have fun to stay engaged.  While the right dance class should be entertaining, it should also help develop your toddler's motor skills, flexibility, musicality and self-confidence.  Toddler-focused dance classes can incorporate ribbons, scarves, maracas, wands and hula hoops to keep your child engaged while promoting physical and social awareness.  It’s important to explore the different ways our bodies can move and the many shapes they can make.  Tapping into your child’s love for music and sound helps to form the foundation for a healthy love of dance and music for years to come. 

Many three-year-olds are ready for a dance class without mom, so check whether your dance studio has On My Own class options.  However, while On My Own style dance classes foster independence, some parents still want to watch all the fun.  A parent-friendly studio may be set-up to allow for one-way parent viewing.  Also, check whether there are opportunities for student performances.  When a child is ready, a recital or other performance in front of a group can encourage self-confidence and a sense of pride and accomplishment. 

Source: LINX

Parent Participation

Two-year-olds typically are more comfortable learning with a partner with whom they already connect and trust.  Separation from parents can sometimes be difficult for toddlers.  Most importantly, most children at this age have not yet experienced copying movements and following a teacher's directions.  Dance classes for toddlers should be structured to allow parent participation throughout the class while also allowing a child and parent to separate from each other.  Parents or caregivers should be encouraged to provide comfort and guidance at whatever level they are comfortable with, to help make their child's first structured dance experience a success.

What to expect in class

Warm up, circle time activities are a great way to ease dancers into the class. Parents may be encouraged to join in the fun, using engaging props like scarves and shakers.  A large, creative, movement activity can round out the class as children focus on the teacher for instruction.  This may be followed by parent participation as the exercise evolves.

Source; LINX

Know your teacher

Why not schedule a time to talk to the dance instructor at the studio?  Find out if your class is taught by a dance professional who is experienced with two and three-year-olds.  If so, you can have some assurance that your child will receive the proper guidance as he or she attempts only movements for which he or she is both mentally and physically ready. 

Look for a dance studio that will grow with your child

As your child gets a little older, he or she will have an increased ability to focus, which is needed to have fun with a routine.  Children can start to have this ability around age three.  At this point, classes can focus more intensely on ballet, tap, hip hop, jazz, and leaps and turns.  Staying with the same dance studio is a benefit to your dancer because he or she is already comfortable in the learning environment.  Your child can build on existing friendships while making new ones.  Choose a dance studio choice that will help grow your child’s love for dance and creative movement for years to come!

About the Author
Grace Tummino is Marketing Specialist at LINX in Wellesley, a Parent Talk Platinum Level Partner and company that offers classes and camp experiences to help children have fun while they learn.

If you have comments or an experience to share related to this blog, please speak up!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Choosing a Preschool or Kindergarten -- What you Need to Know

Choosing a preschool can be stressful for any parent!  You worry about getting your child into the "right" one.  You worry that preschool will determine how competitive your application is for private school, or how much success your child will have in public school.  You agonize over whether you can choose the best environment for your child's personality.  Is there enough active play for your rambunctious son? Is there a sensitive staff to draw out your shy daughter?  

"walking to class" by surlygirl
With a wide array of schools to choose from, your head is positively spinning!  Nursery schools, after-care facilities, schools with religious affiliations or without, and language schools are all possibilities.  But what does it all mean and which is best for your child?  Researching and comparing so many options is overwhelming.  Is there any help in sight?!?

Parent Talk to the rescue!  PT's Preschool and Kindergarten Fair will be held on Wednesday, October 28, 2015, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Christ Episcopal Church in Needham.  The cost is free to PT members and $10 to non-members.

For eleven years now, Parent Talk has hosted this informational Fair to help parents navigate the jungle of choosing a preschool.  This year, Parent Talk has added a new focus on kindergartens.   

"Welcome Park District Preschool!" by Franklin Park Library

Do you have a question about admittance schedules, fees, special curriculum (e.g., yoga, math, art, play, music, computers), or anything else for that matter?  Attend the Fair and collect your answers.  No need to spend hours online searching for every area school's philosophy and tuition.  Directors and admittance personnel from forty-five schools will be attending to personally answer your questions, face-to-face! 

Consider the Fair a one-stop-shop for preliminary research into preschools and kindergartens in Needham, Newton, Boston, Dover, Chestnut Hill, Brookline, Dedham, Dover, Wellesley and Natick.  Parents can sign-up for school tours and learn about each school's application process.  As an added bonus, six enrichment programs will attend, such as Wellesley Tree House, a LINX company.  Every parent who attends will receive a goody bag filled with Parent Talk's comprehensive preschool and kindergarten guide book, coupons for enrichment programs, and other cool, free items.

What could be simpler? Just attend the Fair with your questions.  A few possible questions are below to help give you a start. 

"Fun at preschool" by madgerly

Questions to Ask When Choosing a Preschool or Kindergarten

    -- What is the age requirement, and is being toilet trained a prerequisite?

    -- What are the pick-up and drop-off times?

    -- What is the teacher-to-student ratio?  What is the overall size of the class?

    -- How does staff handle discipline issues?
   -- What is the school's philosophy and approach to learning? 

    -- Does the school have an open door policy for parents dropping by?  What policy is there for visitors? 

   -- What is the cost?
   -- What provisions are there for special needs children?

Other considerations in deciding which schools to apply to include school location, security, reputation, and what special focus, if any, the school takes (e.g., emphasis on reading, play, music, art, etc.).  Also, remember to check your gut feeling in touring the school and interacting with its staff.  All of these contribute to determining how comfortable you will be with leaving your child in your chosen setting. 

About the Author
Darlene W. Cancell is an attorney turned stay-at-home mom, and most recently the blog coordinator for Parent Talk.

Do you have comments related to this post? Please provide them in the Comments section, below.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Why I Take My Kids to the PT Sale or Why I Own a Purple Fur Armchair

The Parent Talk Used Clothing, Equipment, and Toy Sale is coming this Saturday, October 17, 2015!  If you have ever seen me at the Sale, you know that I am often accompanied by my daughters, aged six-and-a-half and four-and-a-half.  I have brought them to the Sale for the last few years.  Why do I give them each five dollars, brave the Sale crowds, and try to maneuver the three of us around the full, fun, and frantic basement of Christ Episcopal Church in Needham?  Here's why:

Christ Episcopal Church basement full of Parent Talk Sale clothing.

  • I believe that it's freeing for my daughters to hear, "It's your choice," rather than "No" and "Put that back," which is typically what they hear from me at a toy store.  At the Sale, their eyes light up when they realize that they have so many options and independence to choose and buy (staying within their budget, of course).  Baby doll stroller (even if we already have five)?  Balance board with monkey face on it?  Tinkerbell costume that is probably too small?  It's up to you, kiddo.

  • They can bring home stuff that they love.  It is pretty much a rule that I am not allowed to say "no" to a Sale item that they choose to buy, unless it is unsafe or broken.  Trust me -- I have been tested -- particularly by the furry, purple armchair with Disney fairies all over it that my daughter had to have.  While it is my least favorite thing in her room, it is a treasure that she has adored for years.  The hours of reading that she has logged in it has more than made up for my initial distaste.  (So, thanks to whomever donated it to the Sale).

Toy Room at a Parent Talk Sale

  • It's a treat.  I don't make my girls use their allowances for their Sale purchases, but I do talk with them about the good behavior that I will need to see in the week or so before our shopping trip.  I tell them how busy it will be while we are there.  That advance preparation and the promise of a dip into the candy bowl at the end of Sale shopping has been an effective deterrent to bad behavior about two-thirds of the time.

  • The girls can buy back a toy that I sneakily donated to the Sale.  (Seriously, this has happened).

  • Sale shopping is a chance to do some basic math.  I ask them, "If this book is two dollars and this toy is four dollars, how much is that together?" 
"Let's play shop!" by Sarah Joy

  • I want my daughters to know that when we are done with using something, someone else can still use it.  Also, just because someone else has used an item does not make it any less useful to us.

  • Lastly, I want my daughters to understand, at the level that they can, what the Sale is about.  Our family has benefited in huge ways from what Parent Talk provides.  I want my girls to see that the reducing, reusing, and recycling at the Sale funds Parent Talk, and Parent Talk in turn organizes the Barn Babies event that they enjoy each spring, subsidizes the Needham playground monkey bars that they swing from, and provides connections to our village of friends

Happy shopping!  I'll see you there . . .

About the author
Katie Alwart is a former Board member of Parent Talk and a Needham mom.  She works outside of the home three days a week and tries unsuccessfully to declutter her house during the other four days.

If you have questions about shopping at, consigning or donating to Parent Talk's upcoming Sale, ask them in the Comments section below!

Monday, October 12, 2015

What's on Your PT Sale Shopping List?

In the weeks leading up to the Parent Talk Used Clothing, Toy and Equipment Sale, my living room and dining room become staging areas.  Donations and consignments go out the door to Sale in order to make room for purchases coming in the door from the Sale.

Once the donations have been made and the consignments have been tagged, it's time to pull together my shopping list for the day of the Sale.  I make a mental list of what each child needs in several categories, including seasonal items, toys, equipment and my favorite -- what I call "back-up" items.  I also keep my eyes open for what I call "jack-pot" items.

Seasonal Items

 At the Fall Sale, my list always includes the following items: 
  • Halloween Costumes --  Last year, I was able to buy three or four costumes for each for my twins.  Even though the twins did not end up wearing any of them for Halloween, they now have a very full dress-up closet with which they play all of the time.  This year, I am on the lookout for the makings of a pirate princess costume.
"Who dressed YOU?" by Juhan Sonin

  • Winter Gear  -- I almost always end up picking up a few winter gear items, whether they be back-up items for daycare (more on that later) or "new" gear for the slopes.  I always look for tried and true name brands like L.L.Bean and Lands' End.  I know that items from these brands will stand up to being used by several kids, and the companies' return policies are extremely generous in case a zipper breaks or a seam pulls after years of use. This year, I am on the hunt for snow pants for my older son.
  •  Holiday Outfits -- If you think about it, it never makes sense to buy holiday outfits new when you can buy them worn once or twice for a fraction of the cost!  This fall, I am looking for a dress for my daughter and coordinating sweaters for my boys.
"Had a little Christmas session." by Tanner Smith


This year, my family has been really focused on getting the toys out of the house and reducing our clutter, so I don't need as many toys this year.  When my kids were younger, however, I got some amazing toys from the Sale, especially toys for the newborn through toddler age range.  These toys don't get quite as much wear and tear as toys for older children. I have picked up many nearly new items, including walkers, musical toys and Tonka trucks!  This year, my list is short, but it does include some key items:

  • Board Games - My kids are starting to play games cooperatively, with little support from Mom and Dad.  At the Sale, I am hoping to pick up a few new games to add to the rotation.  The Sale is always well stocked with everyone's favorite games, so if you see Apples to Apples, save it for me!
  • Coloring/Activity Books - My daughter is a coloring fiend right now. If she could, she would color for hours every day.  My boys love activity books with mazes and "spot the difference" pages. I am hoping to pick up a few of these to stash in our family car so that when we go out to eat, travel, or go on car trips there will always be something for me to grab that is new entertainment.
"coloring book" by Julie Rybarczyk
  • Music - Similarly, I am planning to keep an eye out for a few CDs.  We mostly listen to streaming music at home, but we do have a CD player in the playroom and in our minivan.  I love to pull out something that  we have not listened to when we are into the fifth hour of a road trip to see the in-laws!

Back-Up Items

Okay, here's the deal.  This is where you can really make out at the Sale.  Even if you prefer to buy new for your kids, you can always use a back-up of something, right?  Whether it's an extra Pack 'n Play for your mom's house, a second jogging stroller for the beach or an extra set of winter gear for daycare, why pay full price?  Your kids will use these items only a fraction of the time, and with all the great brands and quality items at the Sale, you can't go wrong!  This year my list includes:

  • Winter Gear --  My kids all go to daycare and instead of schlepping boots, hats, mittens, coats and snow pants back and forth each day, I just get them a second set of everything.  This year,   I am on the lookout for a second set of winter gear for my younger son. 
  • Rain Gear -- How many times have you left for school when it has been sunny and then the day takes a turn for the worse?  Again, it's easier just to have back-up rain gear that you can leave at school for the season.  My daughter needs rain boots (size 11, if you see them)!
"running in wellies and raincoats" by Sarah Offley Photography Wirral

  • Baby Gear -- Just kidding! Nothing is on my list for baby gear this year. I am purging baby gear these days, but in the past when I was expecting twins, I got great deals on strollers, a second swing, and a second high-chair.  Last year, I got a great deal on not one, but two Razor scooters.  Look for Pack 'n Plays, extra sheets, a second baby carrier (adjust one for mom and one for dad, and no need to readjust ever again) and second (or third) strollers.
  • Jack-Pot Items --  Last but not least are what I call the jack-pot items. This is the brand new Mini Boden shirt in your son's size for $8, or the pink Pottery Barn kitchen for a fraction of the cost, new.  While I don't put anything specific from this category on my shopping list, there is always something that catches my eye at every Sale.  At this year's Spring Sale, I picked up several brand new crew-neck tee shirts for my daughter for under fifteen dollars.  Last fall, I got a nearly new pair of pink Kamik boots for her, which she wore nearly every day from January to May!   
What's on your shopping list?

About the Author
Wendy Todd lives in Needham with her husband, Aaron, and three kids aged eight, four and four. She started volunteering for the Parent Talk Sale in 2008 and has been on the Sale Committee for the last four Sales. She plans to stay on the Committee until her very last bargain is found! She previously served on the Board of Directors of Parent Talk as both Playspace Chair and President.

Editor's note:  One of the best ways to score an item on your PT Sale shopping list (especially those jack-pot items!) is to volunteer for the Sale. Volunteers can shop early, before the start of the Sale.  Help is especially needed on Sale Day, Saturday, October 17, 2015. If you are interested in volunteering, please sign up at SignUpGenius.  

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Introducing the New 2015/2016 Parent Talk Board!

In June, we kicked off a new Parent Talk year by saying goodbye to our outgoing Board members and welcoming a new group of Board members to lead our organization.  This energetic group is already hard at work planning fun events for kids, interesting lectures for parents, community events and fundraisers. We can't wait to share them all with you this year.

Members of the Parent Talk 2015-2016 Board of Directors (from left): Susan Kagan, Joanna Cram, Nar Lee, Megan Bourque, Leslie Arnould, Elizabeth VanDahm, Liza D'Hemecourt, Meredith Swisher, Michelle Freniere, Kate Swenson, Ellie Beasley, Meredith Giannotti, and Michael Cohen.

The Parent Talk Board of Directors for 2015/2016 includes the following new members:

Joanna Cram - Clerk

Meredith Swisher - Playspace Chair

Leslie Arnould - Fundraising Co-Chair

Michelle Freniere - Fundraising Co-Chair

Elizabeth VanDahm - Membership Co-Chair

Joanna Noon - Membership Co-Chair

Meredith Giannotti - Events Co-Chair

Liza d'Hemecourt - Community Relations Chair

Diana Han Wilson - Lecture Chair

Bonnie McLellan - Volunteer Co-Chair

Jennifer Emmett - Marketing Chair

These 11 new board members join the following five returning Board members: 

Megan Bourque - President

Ellie Beasley - Vice President

Nar Lee - Treasurer

Kate Swenson - Events Co-Chair

Michael Cohen - Volunteer Co-Chair

The Board of Directors is rounded out by our new Executive Director, Susan Kagan, and our Business Administrator, Mary Schneider.  

The current Board is grateful for the hard work of the outgoing Board members.  Many thanks to Wendy Todd, Emily Roach, Lauren Baum, Shalini Broderick, Kristen Capodilupo, Colleen Doran, Deborah Dorman, Riley Hastings, Susan Koslow, and Maggie Shapiro for making the transition so seamless.

To learn more about Parent Talk's Board members, please visit the About Us section of our website at

About the Author
Megan Bourque lives in Needham with her husband Zach and their four children, Erin (6), Annette (4), Ryan (2 1/2), and Henry (2 months). She first got involved with Parent Talk through the Sale Committee and this is her second year on the Board. She is honored to work with such a talented team of volunteers to lead this amazing organization.

Do you have thoughts related to this post? Please share them in the Comments section below.  

Monday, October 5, 2015

Got Something to Say? Blog it!

Parent Talk wants to hear from you!  The Parent Talk Matters Blog is a place for members to connect by sharing their experiences, insights and comments. If you have something on your mind, the Parent Talk Matters Blog may be the perfect place to say it as a guest blogger!

"Bloggeur, after Cassandre" by Mike Licht,

Got an interesting story or helpful insight on parenting or child development? Maybe you had a great experience at a Parent Talk event.  Want to tell others about your fun idea for a craft, activity, recipe or outing?  Do you have a unique solution to a common problem? Can you share your impressions on the book you recently read?  Or do you have the expertise to provide a helpful answer to a "How To..." or other question?

If you answered "yes" to any of the above and want to be a guest blogger, email Darlene W. Cancell, Parent Talk's Blog Coordinator, at  Please put "Blog Volunteer" on the subject line.  Briefly state what your idea/experience is and why you want to write about it.  Or, if you don't have a topic in mind, just contact us so we can ask you about a writing assignment in the future. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Do you have any comments related to this post? Let us know, below.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

How to Consign and Donate to PT's Sale

Twice a year, Parent Talk hosts its  Used Clothing, Toy, and Equipment SaleI have been shopping, volunteering, donating, and consigning for (gulp!) the past eleven Sales, and I’m preparing for my twelfth Sale on Saturday, October 17th, 2015.  A month or so before each Sale, I initiate my beautifully crafted, tested, and wonderfully organized system.  I’m quite proud of it, and I’m going to share some of my secrets with you.  My system works for me, and it may work for you.  Here is my process.
I always keep empty bins in my attic, designated as “consign” or “donate.”  Whenever one of my children complains of an item not fitting properly or not liking it anymore, it goes straight to one of these bins -- no questions asked.  (Okay, to be honest, it sits on the bureau in our guest room for a few weeks first).  Once in the bin, it cannot be taken out.  That is a house rule that we honor.

"Box O' Happy!" by davidd

When I am ready, I bring the items from my donation and consignment bins to my staging area.  I do this on a daily basis until Sale day.  My staging area consists of three chairs (one for me to sit on and two to use as staging areas), a box of hangers (yes, I collect children's hangers throughout the year), a folding table with my computer on top, a tagging device, fasteners, safety pins, a pad of paper and pen. 

First, the process for donations is easy.  There are two ways you can donate, and I highly recommend either choice: (1) drop off your items at the PODS (which is located conveniently in Needham) or (2) drop off your donations to Christ Episcopal Church beginning at 9 o'clock on Friday, October 16th, 2015, the day before the Sale.  Once your donations are dropped off, Parent Talk's team of amazing volunteers will work diligently to price, tag, hang, and display the items for sale.

A group of volunteers tags clothing.
Although I donate many items, there is an alternative - consignments.  People often ask me how to price consignment items.  I try to think about what I would want to pay for the item, and then I add a few dollars.  I base the price on each item's brand, quality, and supply and demand.  I thoughtfully price my items so that they will sell quickly.  Shoppers want a bargain, but I always remind myself that this is a fundraiser for Parent Talk, so I want to raise money.

Once I price six items, I print the corresponding tags.  I bring the printed sheet directly from the printer and put it on top of the six items it matches. There are small six-item piles all over the staging area.  Once I accumulate a few piles, I start cutting the tags and then tag each item.  The tagged items go into new piles that I sort by gender, size, and type.  This helps to keep things organized so that I can quickly put them on hangers and pack with a method.  If I have carefully categorized my items, it will be much easier to unpack and display them for the Sale.

A member of Parent Talk's Sale Committee puts clothing on display.

Parent Talk's bi-annual Used Clothing, Toys and Equipment Sale has become a part of my life.  Twice a year, I clean out my closets, search for items that are no longer used, and talk with my children regarding the importance of being a part of a community that cares for, commits to, and serves others.  They understand my process and often help me gather items to be donated or consigned.  We have made it into a game. In order to bring more things into the house, we have to make room.  My children who are six (almost seven) and four-and-a half years old, playfully search the house for donations.  I love how they say, "donate-consign-trash" with confidence.   

Sometimes they make very thoughtful, mature choices.  Other times they grab whatever they can fit in their arms and dump it on the floor in front of me.  I always ask them twice whether the item is really one that they no longer want.  I follow their lead, but sometimes it drives me crazy when they want to "donate-consign-trash" a barely worn item, each other's clothing, a favorite book or beloved toy.  Sometimes I learn why this tiny-itty-bitty-thing that I step on every day needs to remain a part of our playroom.  Their tears, frustration, and explanation help me to recognize that some things are meant to be kept.  This chance to watch my children's reactions and talk with them helps me to understand what is important to them and why.  Without this exercise or such a conversation, I would miss this opportunity to learn and grow with my children.

I love Parent Talk, I love the Sale, and I am honored to be part of this community.  Not only does Parent Talk help with making connections, playgroups and activities, but it fills my closet, my bookshelves, my playroom and my heart. 

Nikki Amara Myers is a Needham resident, a parent of two children, an independent educational consultant specializing in the college admissions process, and owner of Nikki Myers Photography. She has lived in Needham since January 2011. 

If you have questions about consigning or donating to Parent Talk's upcoming Sale, ask them in the Comments section below!

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