Guest Blog

GuestBlog

Guest Blog - Would you like to have a blog post on PittsburghMom.com? This is your chance! We feature some of our users-turned-bloggers on this guest blog. If you're interested in submitting a guest blog post, please email Heather at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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My Magical Special Fort

Written by Heather Starr Fiedler. Posted in Guest Blog

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When I was little, I loved making forts with blankets and chairs. It was my own special place, where I could go and get away from my brother and sister. It was quiet and I could live in my own land of pretend.
One day I made a really big fort with the brown blanket (I'm pretty sure I was allowed to use it). When I finished it was great--but a little dark inside. I wanted to finish the book I was reading, so I obviously needed light. So I went and got a lamp and plug it in and started reading. Boy, was I ever smart to figure out that problem. After a while, I was done with my fort and went on to play with something else.
Then I heard my mom say, "does anyone smell anything burning". I learned a very important lesson that day. Lamps with light bulbs get hot at the top. If they are touching something flammable, the heat will eventually burn a hole or start a fire. Luckily, I only burned a hole through the blanket. That blanket with its charred hole became mine. I used it all the way through college. Every time I looked at that hole, I remembered how great my fort was (and that I was just a little stupid). However, I did learn a really good lesson about electricity.
Well, your kids can now build the greatest forts you ever saw without blankets and chairs. I still would tell them to use flashlight for light instead of a lamp. Everyone should learn from my mistakes. Fortamajigs are large pieces of nylon with loops at the end that can connect anywhere--inside or outside. You can make tee pees, forts, castles, anything you want. And when you are done, you fold it up and put it away.
But wait the fantastic people from The Happy Kid Company (don't you just love the name) didn't stop there. They created Connectables. Connectables are colorful panels that quickly lock together using soft fabric tabs. You can use them independently or connect it to a Fortamjig for an even bigger and intricate structure. Then once again, when you done playing, you just fold everything up and put it away until the next time.
These maybe one of the most perfect toys, I have ever seen. You need to go to their web page and check out the gallery because in this case, pictures are definitely worth a million words. I could never fully describe them to you.
These are not cheap toys. They are between $70 and $90 (blankets and chairs are certainly cheaper-- although not if you burn up the house in the process), but I think they are worth it as they will last for years. The activities will change and grow as your child changes and grows.
If you like these Fortamjigs as much as I do and you want to purchase them, head to letkidsplay.com and buy your child a great holiday gift.
See you tomorrow for another new toy.
Mara

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Crayons

Written by Heather Starr Fiedler. Posted in Guest Blog

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CRAYONS? I know I was going to tell you about interesting products and brands that you never heard of before and here I am on just the second day talking about Crayola. Everyone knows about crayons. Everyone knows how important it is for children to color and have much they like to color.
However, Crayola and the other art supply manufacturers have some new products. The exciting part of these products is they are universally designed toys.
I talked about in my Toy Criteria that I don't think you need to go out expensive "Special Needs" toys. These new products are a perfect example.
According to the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State, the intent of universal design is to simplify life for everyone by making products, communications, and the built environment more usable by as many people as possible at little or no extra cost. Universal design benefits people of all ages and abilities. You can learn much more about the principals of universal design at http://www.design.ncsu.edu/cud/about_ud/udprinciplestext.htm. The idea is whatever is designed can be used by ALL people. A parent who is raising a child with a disability doesn't need to go searching for special toys, they can go to any store and buy art supplies that their child.
So you ask how are these crayons any different and how do they help children with disabilities. They have made it easier to color! The new crayons are different shapes--triangle, flat on one side, and bigger. All of these new shapes makes it easier to grip the crayon whether you have poor fine motor skills or are 2 years old and learning to color for the first time. The crayons also don't roll away, they stay right where you put them down! You also don't need to push as hard on the paper to successfully color.
One of the principals of Universal Designs is Tolerance for Error. The goal is to minimize hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions. In other words, when it comes to painting and coloring--there is a tolerance for missing the paper and getting paint all over the walls, hands, and clothes.
So there are new products that allow for tolerance--and the tolerance isn't in just a mother's patience. Color Wonder is a mess- free creative system of inks and paints, developed by Crayola scientists. Color Wonder inks and paints are clear, and colors appear only on the special Color Wonder paper. It means if you have poor fine motor control and you use these crayons and miss the paper, it won't make a mess.
There are also a new product that gives a greater contrast in colors. This makes it easier for children who have visual issues. Crayola Color Surge lets you create super bright colors on colored paper!
I think all of these products are fun, different, and easy to use. You can easily put together a bucket of new art supplies that your child will have a ball with.
Stay tuned for tomorrow. To easily identify these art supplies come to http://www.letkidsplay.com/store.html.
Mara

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New Blog - A Toy a Day

Written by Heather Starr Fiedler. Posted in Guest Blog

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I'm pleased to announce a special holiday-season feature on PittsburghMom.

With Christmas right around the corner I thought we could use our "Guest" blog to talk about toys/gifts.

In addition to posting some good deals, favorite toys, etc. we'll be featuring the blog posts of Mara Kaplan, co-founder of the former Center for Creative Play.  We all knew and loved the Center for Creative Play and were sad to see it close. Mara has now started a consulting business, Playful Solutions, where she helps individuals, communities, manufacturers, social service agencies improve the quality and inclusiveness of our playspaces.  As part of the Playful Solutions, she has a blog that shares with parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles special toys that provide unstructured and exceptional play.


On her blog, she will be highlighting/reviewing one toy a day from now until the end of the year.  She's generously allowed us to repost these entries on PittsburghMom.

Mara says:

After 15 years of studying, researching and buying toys for a national awarded play center my own children as well as, I have developed some "Criteria" about what I think makes a good toy. Here are they are:

  • After a child opens the box, s/he play with the toy for more than a day, preferably years and years.
  • I don't love plastic. I prefer natural materials. However, some great toys are made of plastic.
  • Toys should be open-ended meaning the child decides how it should be played with. So I don't like block sets where there is only one thing to build or an arts project that results in the picture on the front of the box.
  • I think toys should challenge a child, help grow their brain, develop their muscles, and help them learn to play together.
  • For the most part, I don't think there is a need for a "special needs" toy. I think that every child regardless of their ability has things they like to do and play with and most likely there is a toy out there in the general public that will work. This is especially true if the toy is for play and not therapy (there is a difference, but that is a whole different discussion).
  • I'm not big on batteries and plugs.
  • Finally, I should be able to buy it on-line, so I never have to go shopping, and hopefully the shipping is free.

I have found tons of toys that meet my criteria. I have looked through hundreds of catalogues. I went to Toy Fair last year to see literally thousands of toy manufacturers. I have also found that all rules are made to be broken--so there are a lot of Barbies in my house (she did play with them for years and years and made up the best stories, so all of my values weren't thrown out as we bought Barbie after Barbie).

This holiday season I thought you might want to see some of the fun toys that I have discovered. Some of them you may have seen before and some you may have not.

Everyday between now and the first of year, I will hightlight a new toy each day. I will share why I like that particular toy or the overall brand. Sometimes, the toys will cost a fortune, sometimes the toy will be under $20. On different days, I will share research about the importance about a particular type of play thing.

To make it easier for you to find the toy, I have set up an Amazon store on my website: http://www.letkidsplay.com/. Most of the toys I talk about will be in the store, along with many, many, many more. The Award Winning Toys are listed in the store as well as "12 year old approved list"--or it will be as soon as she finishes it. A few of my most favorite toys are not sold on Amazon, so when I talk about these toys I will give you websites of where to purchase them.

If you like the toy have highlighted, I would love for you to purchase it through my store. I make a whopping 4% for referring you to the toy. None of your purchases are going to help me make my mortgage payment, but maybe I'll earn enough to buy a great toy for my kids. : )

I hope that you make comments and let us know if you have used the toy before and what you think about it. Share your ideas about great toys.

I look forward to sharing with you. If you like my favorites, share them far and wide.

Happy Shopping!

Mara

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Jamtown--Bringing us music, bring jobs to families through the world

Written by Heather Starr Fiedler. Posted in Guest Blog

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From Zero to Three's publication "Getting In Tune" Copyright 2002 Zero to Three

"Music can be the spark that ignites all areas of development - intellectual, social, and emotional, motor, language and overall literacy. In fact, music is a great organizer that helps the body and the mind work together. Young children are attracted to musical patterns and structure. They show this in many ways like clapping at the end of songs or making hand motions for special parts... Music provides an opportunity for your child to interact with other children and loved ones in joyous ways. Because music is such a rich learning experience, the more children are involved with it, the more they learn."

Therefore, I think we should all buy our children musical instruments. But so many of them are made of cheap plastic and the just don't feel real. Our kids are smart, they know the difference between what is real and fake.

A Toy Fair last year, I met a wonderful man named John Hadyen, a dad of young children, who had left the corporate world to open a company to bring real musical instruments from around the world to our kids. He now travels the world and brings back Water Drums from Ghana and Cajon Drums from Peru, along with lots of other instruments.

He believes that JAMTOWN is a musical place that's not on any map. It's a place you visit when you play live rhythm with your friends; a subtle reminder of the common bond shared by all people. And it's as accessible today as it was thousands of years ago.

John is an adventure traveller choosing to work directly with producer groups, and these are usually extended families. The goal is to sustain long-term trading relationships to create economic stability. With your help, Jamtown provides critical support to low-income families from around the world through fair wages in the local context and other valuable assistance.

According to John "Most that I have met convey a love for their work and a gentle approach to life. It is a big reasons I do what I do. I gain critical perspective on my own culture by visiting theirs. "

As usual there are Jamtown instruments and musical packs on letkidsplay.com, however, Jamtown's own website has an even larger product line.


As a Fair trade Federation Member, Jamtown support artisans with fair wages and more! Learn more at www.fairtradefederation.org.

More tomorrow.

Mara

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Great Books for Tween and Teens

Written by Heather Starr Fiedler. Posted in Guest Blog

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If you are looking for great recommended books for the the teens on your list. Go no further than the Carnegie Librabry Teen Section.

The teen librarians there have put together a great list divided by different catagories that kids like--there are over 30 catagories in the fiction area alone. Just check it out. They have other great lists and resources on their website. Once you have found the right book, you can order right here.
African American History -- Fiction and Nonfiction Celebrate Black History all year long with one of these books.
Believers and Doubters Struggling with your faith, something that EVERYONE goes through.
Books can be Murder
Brothers and SistersThey drive you crazy, but you love them anyway.
Censorship Causes Blindness: Read!Celebrate Banned Books Week by checking out one of these titles about what happens when the culture of censorship reigns supreme.
Chill out and laughLighten up! Try one of these laugh out loud funny books.
The College YearsGain new perspective on life after high school.
Dear Diary...Read all their secrets in these novels written as diaries, blogs, or other interesting formats.
Don't Stop me if you've heard this one...Retellings of classics
Get Your Game OnIs gaming your life? Try one of these books about gaming and gamers when you can't play.
Girl Power! FictionThese books show that girls can accomplish anything.
Graphic NovelsTeen Graphic Novels- Get a Graphic Novel @ Your Library
Holden Caulfields for the New AgeThe Catcher in the Rye is a classic teen novel. These books feature characters that are reminiscent of the feelings expressed in that book.
It's Rough Out ThereTeen Life and Issues Fiction Booklist
Looking BackHistorical Fiction Picks
Love All AroundThe ups and downs and unpredictable turns of love...
Manga Mania!Fill your otaku impulses! These manga series will get you started.
Modern Day Fairy TalesIt's not all "Once upon a time" and happy endings anymore...
Novels in VerseEnjoy poetry and fiction? Try a novel in verse. These authors use the freedom of verse form to express themselves and their stories.
Outdoor Pursuits: SurvivalWhether you prefer being outside or sitting inside on the couch, these books about teens surviving in the great outdoors will spark your imagination.
Out of the ClosetFiction featuring gay and lesbian characters.
Romance Through the YearsHistorical Romance.
Science FictionThink science fiction is all just spaceships and time travel? Think again...
Short Takes: Short Stories for TeensWhat's better than one long story? A bunch of short ones!
Sports BooksBooks about sports
SurvivalTesting your wits to stay alive
Teen Pregnancy and Parenthood: Fiction and Nonfiction What would you do if you, your girlfriend or a friend was pregnant? These titles explore some choices teens make.
Teens Around the World: Fiction About International Teens Have you always longed to travel? Want to know how teens in other parts of the world live? Try one of these fiction titles and travel the globe without leaving your living room.
Thrillers and Mysteries for the Adrenaline JunkieThese thrillers and mysteries will keep you turning the pages.
Touchdown!Are you a football fan? Then you're sure to find something you'll enjoy! Fiction, nonfiction and movies.
Things that Go Bump in the Night
Vampires: Bloodsucking Fiends? Vampires get a bad rap...read these books and decide for yourself if they're really all that bad.
The Twentieth Century is History! Teen Historical Fiction
Historical fiction from not too long ago...
Wisdom, Wonder, WomenStrong Females in Fantasy
Urban Teen FictionTeens living life the hard way
War -- What is it good for?War affects everyone, in many different ways.

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