Has your child ever asked you to do something you didn’t know how to do, or aren’t sure how to teach them?

There are things I want to teach my children and expose them to, and some things I realize I don’t know how to do or probably wouldn’t be the best teacher (e.g. skiing or snowboarding!), but I also know I can go to a ski resort and pay for them to get a lesson with a skilled instructor. What do you do when you’re not sure who can help?

My boys love stop motion video. It doesn’t matter what format—clay, cutout, graphic, puppet or Lego. You can see stop motion in greater abundance than I did as a kid. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and other holiday classics encompassed my exposure to stop motion. My children’s experience has been different. My oldest was able to participate in an iPad Animation class after school one semester. I wasn’t sure how the course would work at first—would they be using clay? Or something else? I soon learned Lego was the format of choice, and the class provided (just for the class itself) the iPads for the kids to use. Every week when I’d pick up my son from class he couldn’t wait to show me how many frames he had shot and what the video action looked like. My husband and I were struck with advancements in technology. Star Wars came to theaters when we were our son’s age, and now our children had tools to make their own movie. Amazing! The iPad Animation class has long since ended and my boys have continued to seek it out. We came across Lego animation both professionally (Lego Star Wars: The Padawan Menance) which my kids love, and amateur videos on YouTube. When my children saw that other kids were making Lego videos, they wanted to make them too. The only problem, my husband and I didn’t know how to help—we weren’t familiar with what software the teacher had used with my son’s animation class and weren’t sure if we could figure it out. Because neither my husband nor I were familiar with what we needed to do next, we did what any parent would do. We stalled.

My oldest son began asking, almost daily, to make a Lego movie. “One day,” I replied early on. So he adjusted his question, “Can we make a Lego video one day?” to which I’d reply, “Yes, one day.” It was clear to me that the line of questioning and my response were not making me comfortable. I want to expose my children to different things and certainly want to encourage any interests or passions they have, particularly if they help them explore their creativity or capabilities. I was resistant to allow my sons to make videos because I didn’t know how to help. After a few weeks of stalling I finally told myself enough! I decided it was time to do some digging around the iPad/iPhone App Store to see what was out there. I tried video animation first and got some hits, but not what I was hoping for. I tried again this time typing in the key words Stop Motion Animation. I got a match and found a tool my kids could use. The app is called Stop Motion Animation (go figure!) and is really easy to use. My sons and even my niece started using the software right away, navigated it easily and have made numerous movies since. They love it.

Once I saw how easy the application worked and how much joy my children got from it, I asked myself why did it take you so long to make this happen? I determined not knowing what to do next was what inhibited me from taking action. And isn’t that something we all incur as parents from time to time? Part of my role as a parent is to teach my children things. Getting out of my comfort zone to do something new, even if its simply finding out a way to help my children make stop motion Lego videos, is good for me. I want my children to push themselves to see what they are capable of doing, and it’s good for me to do that too. I’m reminded of the cue given when a scene is being shot in a movie or show…and…ACTION!  When the director says “action” the actors start the scene. They may make mistakes and have to do multiple takes to get the scene right, but hesitation to start doesn’t serve the project or any of the people involved well. Instead of pausing or stalling when faced with a can-we-make-a-video or other situation where I’m not sure what exactly I need to do next in the future, I’ll be less hesitant to jump in and start figuring it out (and….action!). It might not be easy or comfortable for me, but will get easier if I take action.

What prevents you from taking action when your child wants to try something you’re not familiar or comfortable teaching them? What tools do you employ to help to help you take action?

My Kids Went on a Road Trip and All They Got Were These Marketing Toys!

Jim Gaffigan’s Dad is Fat book has some hilarious content that any parent can relate to. One chapter, “You Win, McDonalds” really struck home. My husband and I have often had discussions around the marketing of companies like McDonald’s and Legos. The marketing is so good it’s hard to fault either company with their success in these areas.

When we go on a road trip we almost always stop into at least one McDonald’s or one Cracker Barrel. We’ve tried other restaurants and McDonald’s wins out because of the happy meal and the cool toy they offer with it, and of course, most have a playground. And while we may not normally let our children go on the playground, mainly for time sake (though knowing they are not picking up any unknown germs is always reassuring) the fact that they have a playground screams “We Like Kids” to kids.  Cracker Barrel is a favorite, because you’ve got cool rocking chairs to hang out in on the porch (assuming you can find a free one) and you have to go through an awesome store in order to get to the restaurant. Everyone can find something they’d like to eat in the Cracker Barrel and can probably find something they wouldn’t mind buying too. To our kids Cracker Barrel screams “We Like Everyone!”

We recently went on a cross-country trip and spent many hours in the car. We inevitably hit a McDonald’s and a Cracker Barrel.  There were Happy Meals and miscellaneous knick-knacks purchased. And while the Happy Meal toy or the Cracker Barrel trinket may be easily forgotten, by our children they were part of good memories for all of us.

We went on a road trip. We drove hundreds of miles and survived with smiles on our faces. Success!

Where did my Money Go? Adventures in Children’s Marketing

When I first had my oldest son, I was struck at how many things are marketed to children and how well it’s all done. It starts slowly. First, you are drawn into the clothes—after all your baby needs them, but you don’t want your baby to wear just anything, you want them to be hip, trendy, look cool or sweet. Then comes the furniture and how you decorate their room. There are so many choices and you want their room to reflect their future personality (mainly it ends up reflecting what you hope their future personality to be). Then comes the toys, development toys start first. They are marketed under terms like Einstein, Genius, and Smart. This marketing is brilliant in my opinion. It’s so simple and tugs at any parent’s primal desire to raise an educated child. Have you ever met someone who wants to have a dumb baby? I certainly haven’t. Of course we want to give our child every advantage so we buy, buy, buy. We can’t help ourselves.

As your child ages, you may become aware of these marketing trappings and may even have some success from getting caught up in the hoopla. If so, you are in the minority (but good for you!). Who hasn’t gone into a Target and thought I just need to buy my son a t-shirt, only to walk out $100+ later with a t-shirt, a couple pairs of shorts, an activity book or two, plus some shoes for the next season and some of the other items you’ve been meaning to buy. I actually avoid going to Target because I seem to fall into this trap almost every time. What just happened to my money? Did I really have to stop at the in-store Starbucks and get myself a drink? Why did I feel the need to buy all the other items now?

Target stores are inviting, they shout welcome, come this way! They are convenient and know who many of their customers are—parents! It’s genius.

Then your child will start to get into certain genres of toys. It will be their obsession. You just don’t know how long it will last. My oldest LOVED airplanes. His obsession started when he was two until we entered kindergarten. He wanted every airplane he could get his hands on, every airplane book or toy. My youngest LOVED (and still loves) all things related to the Pixar movie Cars. He wants any and every car associated with the movie or off-shoot and nothing seems to satiate his appetite for these toys.

My oldest has now moved from airplanes to Legos (as mentioned in previous posts). Lego is different than the Legos my husband and I were familiar with. You have to be a Lego fan or you won’t get caught up in the hype. Lego makes it easy to be a fan. And if you are a fan, you’re a goner. I made the mistake of coming across one their Lego Minifigure Collections when my children were young and we were getting ready to go on a camping trip. For anyone unfamiliar with Lego Minifigure Collections, they come out about once a year with a new series. Each series continues unique minifigures. Each minifigure costs approximately $3, cheap enough that you don’t feel guilty buying it. These minifigures come in packaging doesn’t allow you to know which character you are buying until you open it…it’s a mystery. I picked up four minifigure collection bags and gave two to each of my boys. It cost $12 and for the joy it brought them it was well worth the money, except…your children will want other minifigures in that same collection, or they’ll figure out there are other collections and want minifigures from that, and you didn’t pick those bags so now you have a choice: listen to your child beg, or go buy them more and hope that you find the correct character. I caved the first few times my children asked (after all what’s $3, right?) and bought each child another minifigure or two. Any parent that is honest will admit that you try to decipher what is in the bag before you decide to buy it. Is that a guitar for the rock star minifigure? Is that the helmet to the warrior minifigure? Does this have a gold feeling to it? (Lego enthusiasts familiar with the most recent minifigure collection will get this reference). Once I got repeat characters, I decided no more. It was like playing the lottery and realizing I was gambling away my money. No thank you, I think I may already be doing that at Target! Once I came to this conclusion, my children realized Mom would no longer cave. That doesn’t mean no more minifigures, it just means minifigures in moderation. Lego does make it hard to resist.

Genius. Pure genius.

Every time I feel like I’m starting to get smarter about how things are marketed to children and how I’m drawn in as their parent, I realize many companies still have a jump on me. How can I compete with them when we’re on… a road trip?

To be continued…

Summer BBQ

One of my favorite parts of summer is having or going to a summer BBQ. Having good food while communing with good friends makes it something special.

As I watched the kids playing in the backyard, running around and laughing at the new game they created, I was struck with memories of my own childhood. Simpler times, where friendship and joy seemed easier to come by. It was living in the moment and recognizing the specialness of an occasion without anyone having to tell you so. As parents we can get caught up in trying to create great memories for our children. Buying them a special toy, planning that one-of-a-kind party, or taking them on a trip that stretches the budget. All are great, but require preparation and lack spontaneity. I’m reminded that its the simple things, like being together and enjoying each others company regardless of the time or place, that makes the difference, not the where or anything else.

The BBQs of my childhood were special, and I believe the BBQs my children attend will be special memories for them.

It was a good reminder for me. Keep it simple, and enjoy.

What are your favorite summertime memories?