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Port Discovery Welcomes New Clifford Exhibit

Clifford the Big Red DogClifford the Big Red Dog and his friends from Birdwell Island are at Baltimore’s Port Discovery as part of a traveling exhibit. If your kids are fans of this lovable canine and his adventures, I highly recommend visiting this well-planned exhibit as a lot of activities are packed into a small space.

postcard from Clifford the Big Red Dog exhibitThe exhibit is set up with different “stations” to represent parts of the island. There is, of course, Clifford himself, with his tail converted to a small slide. He has a large dog dish with a conveyor belt and gigantic bones that need to be loaded onto the belt to feed him (have I ever mentioned how much the JavaKids LOVE conveyor belts?) There is a ferry to “take” you to the island, complete with life jackets. A town library full of books and cozy places to plop down and read. A “sandcastle” (hard resin) puzzle area at T-Bone’s beach. You can place your orders or become the cook at Samuel’s Fish and Chips Shack. Perform on stage with a variety of instruments while wearing dressed in costumes of the various Birdwell island dogs. Or — and this is what captivated the interest of my son whom I worried was too old for the Clifford section – deliver laminated mail to the various island residents from the Post Office to their individual mail boxes. There is even a writing station to write your own note to one of the characters. (I LOVE that — hooray for encouraging writing!)

So many children’s exhibits miss the mark, but this one really found a way to engage children with many different interests. JavaGirl blew past some things and then spent considerable time on other activities. There were opportunities for those who were more physical/active (the slide, sandcastle area, conveyor belt area), the musical/performing types, those who like pretend play, those who like to bring order to chaos, and those who simply like to hang out and read books. The fact that even JavaBoy, at that very touchy age of seven, could find a comfort zone made me realize just how well-planned this museum display was. It’s a shame that it will leave Port Discovery May 5.

However, don’t despair; if you are not already familiar with the children’s museum, there is plenty else to do — from a three-story high climbing structure (ropes, tunnels, slides), to a pretend grocery store, water works room, and a very cool exhibit about Egypt. Keeping busy is never a challenge! Since our last visit they have added an interactive section about nanotechnology, which JavaDad and I enjoyed immensely — unfortunately by the time we got to it, our resident scientist, JavaBoy was already exhausted, or else I think he would’ve been a little more receptive. JavaGirl found the “build a carbon atom tunnel” interesting but some of the grander real-life applications of nanotechnology wasn’t of interest to her yet.

Planning a visit?  Every third Friday of the month is Target $2 Family Fun Night where general admission is just $2 per person from 4 pm to 7 pm, if you want to save some money. See the Port Discovery web site for more information about hours and ticket prices, other discounts and special events. Prepare for your visit by letting your kids enjoy some of these online Clifford games at PBS Kids, color printables, learn about the production of the shows, or check out some of the Scholastic books written by Norman Bridwell from the library or buy them online or at your local bookstore.

Disclosures: Clifford the Big Red Dog is a trademark of Norman Bridwell. My family and I were invited guests to the opening of the Clifford exhibit of Port Discovery, writing about the exhibit was neither a requirement of attendance nor did it impact what I wrote – I always tell it like it is. I am an Amazon Affiliate and have linked to Amazon in this post.

Halloween Treats for PBS Fans

Dinosaur Train's BuddyIs your little trick-or-treater a PBS fan?  The children’s network has come out with special episodes, books, costumes and even a trick-or-treat bag to celebrate the spooky holiday.  And one lucky Caffeine and a Prayer reader can win a copy of the book, The Spooky Scavenger Hunt, see the end of this post for details.

Halloween Episodes

For Dinosaur Trainfans, don’t miss the new episode Haunted Roundhouse/Big Pond Pumpkin Patch premier October 20 on PBS Kids, with repeats on October 24, 28, 30 and 31.  Check local listings for the time.  Description:   “In Haunted Roundhouse, dad takes the kids on a special Night Train to Troodon Town, where the Troodons have decorated their Roundhouse into a “haunted house” for a spooky party. The kids end up meeting a strange new nocturnal creature – a mammal named Vlad Volaticotherium, who was hiding in the roundhouse trying to get some sleep.  And in Big Pond Pumpkin Patch, the Pteranodon family learns more about the customs of their neighbors, the Lambeosaurus family, when they are invited for the first time to accompany them to the Big Pond to celebrate “Gourd Day” – a kind of Mesozoic Halloween. The kids see their first pumpkins, and Larry Lambeosaurus even shows our family how to hollow them out and carve faces into them.”

Sid the Science KidSid the Science Kid watchers will enjoy the new Spooky Science Special, which premieres October 17 on PBS Kids (check local listings) and repeats October 25, 28, 30 and 31.  Description:  “In Halloween Spooky Science Special, it’s Halloween time and Sid and his friends have dressed up in the spookiest and scariest costumes possible.  Sid is a bat with big fangs.  May is a spooky black cat.  Gabriela is a furry, yucky spider.  And Gerald is a super spooky skeleton that goes boo!  Susie (dressed as a silly mad scientist) loves their costumes, and helps the kids discover that Halloween can be spooky and scientific!  The kids investigate how bats are helpful creatures that catch mosquitoes, spiders are expert engineer web builders, cats are leaping aerial acrobats, and skeletons help hold up our body frames!  At the Halloween party, the kids also investigate how to make icky, gooey green slime.  Susie then ends the day with a special “Halloween Parade” song so the kids can march around and show off their spooky and scientific costumes!”

Costumes to Buy or Make

Complete the look with a Sid the Science Kid Happy Halloween black trick-or-treat bag, which can be bought online and personalized with a name.

Dig Into a Book

The Spooky Scavenger Huntfrom Grosset & Dunlap is a great read for the season.  Featuring the characters of the Dinosaur Train, the book is based on Mr. Pteranodon taking Buddy and Tiny on an evening outing to the Big Pong for a nature walk using their senses.  The Conductor explains to them that he has night vision because he is nocturnal.  The book is a simple read with brightly drawn illustrations and is a nice story about using your senses to explore nature.  It would be a fun extension activity to take your child for a nighttime walk in your own neighborhood to see what you can explore by focusing on your sense of sight, hearing, and smell.  Soon available wherever books are sold, for $3.99.

Giveaway Details!

PBS is providing one copy of The Spooky Scavenger Huntfor me to give to a lucky reader.  To enter, simply leave a comment below telling me either what your child’s favorite Halloween costume is, or what your favorite Halloween treat is and why.  You must leave your email address so I can contact you to let you know if you have won.  Due to PBS’s shipping restrictions, the winner must live in the US.  Contest runs until midnight Eastern time November 1.  Winner will be chosen at random from eligible entries.  Extra entries allowed by tweeting about this contest and posting a link to the tweet in the comments section.  Winner must respond to notification email with 24 hours or I will have to move to another winner.  Prize will be shipped directly from PBS.  Good luck and thank you!

AND THE WINNER IS…. JILL!  Congratulations and thank you Jill and Latonya for participating!

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Disclosure:  PBS provided me with a copy of The Spooky Scavenger  to review and is providing a second copy to give away.

Sesame Street: 40 Years Later, Still Makes Me Smile

sesame streetYou’d really have to be hiding under a rock not to know that Sesame Street has hit the big 4-0.  The media blitz has been quite impressive, with the Muppets taking over game shows, talk shows (did you see them on The Doctors?), even being honored with their own Google logo.  Naturally this required the release of a 2-DVD set Sesame Street: 40 Years of Sunny Days.  Heck, JavaDad turned 40 in the same year and even he had a DVD — albeit made by his brother.

When the PR folks behind the blitz asked if I’d like to review the DVD set, it took me half a second to give a resounding YES, and I apologize that it has taken me this long to write to tell you about it, because it is terrific.  In fact, it is going to become my favorite gift to give in 2010 for children and adults alike.

Let me back up a little bit — it just so happens that the set arrived late in the day after a very bad day.  I was in a terrible mood and really did not want to interact with anyone, including my family.  I waited until the kids were in bed and sat down to watch the first DVD.  Not long into it, my mood started to brighten and I actually called JavaDad over to watch the DVD with me, and we soon found ourselves laughing over favorite segments and saying things like, “Oh my gosh, I absolutely REMEMBER this.  I mean I remember everything about this.  It’s like I am a little kid again.”  It wasn’t the same experience as watching a rerun of a Law & Order episode where you can recite some familiar lines —  it was an almost indescribable full sensory recall for both of us, over and over again with several of the segments.  For example, for me, I completely remember the stop-action animation of the Queen of Six, which I know I have not seen in decades. 

Watching these segments reminded us of the positive feelings Sesame Street made us feel, as well as how much we actually learned while watching the show (do you remember who taught you the word “cooperation?”)  We may not have realized it as children, but now as parents, we recognize just how important Sesame Street was to us.  It was more than a show, it was a parenting tool.  My husband and I dissected the show and realized that it did so many things – yes, it helped us learn our ABCs and 1, 2, 3s.  It also made us feel special, and fostered a sense of kindness and respect for others.  However, I realized in a very short clip that showed a steel extrusion factory, that it opened up a world for so many children — I learned about so many different places via Sesame Street and while I grew up in multi-cultural Miami and had the benefit of many field trips, not all children do.  For some children, their only opportunities in the early 70′s to learn about something other than the businesses and people immediately out their front door may have only been through the camera lens of Sesame Street.  

Today children have so many choices of shows, some of them are of terrific quality and are descendants of sorts of Sesame Street, and of course there are many shows that are merely bubblegum for the brain.  But when our generation was growing up, Sesame Street was groundbreaking, and of course we didn’t have cable, so there were far fewer shows to choose from.  I found the comments from Jon Stone, Executive Producer (1969-1975), Director (1969-1994) of Sesame Street (you can find these interviews as part of the Bonus features) both humorous and insightful as to to just how unique Sesame Street was at its inception. 

“When we first began and they told us we had to incorporate all this education into this format I was convinced that it would be impossible to do.  I’d never written anything like this before, but nobody had written anything like this before.  But we tried it anyway… And I almost immediately did a 180 degree turn in my attitude about it.  The educational content, the curriculum, instead of being a millstone around our neck was really a backbone, a spinal column that we could build the show around.  No longer as a comedy writer were you starting with that terrible blank piece of paper in the typewriter, you were staring out with something that you could build a comedy bit around and it was a tremendous help.   I’ll never again do another  television show that doesn’t have some informational content in it.  Because I’m lazy!”  said Stone.

Today many television producers don’t find the concept of educational shows so odd, they see it as the next potential goldmine.

Of course the clips progress beyond the years JavaDad and I watched Sesame Street and it’s interesting to watch the changes of styles and characters (and to read about the reasons for changes in some of the pop-ups and also in the accompanying small book) right up to modern day, which is the Sesame Street my child watch.  My kids, however, have been fascinated with the concept of the “Sesame Street from when you were a little girl, Mommy” and like to watch those clips over and over again.

The Sesame Street: 40 Years of Sunny Days set includes more than 4.5 hours of clips from all 40 years as well as pop-ups and interviews and a 24-page hardcover book.  You may not want to let the kids see the book if you don’t want them to see the behind-the-scenes workings of how the Muppets work.  My husband and I enjoyed learning things like the fact that Oscar the Grouch was originally orange and about the struggles the producers had in figuring out how to explain the death of Mr. Hooper.  I never realized what a singing sensation Bob McGrath was in the US and Japan, nor how popular Roosevelt Franklin was and that he released his own record!

My one complaint about this set?  I want MORE!  I wanted more clips, more information (why did Jim Henson tear apart the original orange Oscar?).  But isn’t that the old adage, “always leave them wanting more?” 

I highly recommend this gift not only for children, but also for adults — anyone who grew up with Sesame Street will find something to love about this, but it will also make a great 40th birthday gift.   I really think my husband and I enjoyed this DVD as much if not more than our kids because we could appreciate the full retrospective context.

Sesame Street: 40 Years of Sunny Days seems to be available at most major stores that sell DVDs and lists anywhere from 29.99 to 19.99.

Bonus for my readers:  Here’s a downloadable Sesame Street coloring page!

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Disclosure:  I was provided a complimentary DVD set to review, this did not affect the outcome of my review.  This blog is a member of the Amazon Associates program, which means Amazon purchases made immediately after visiting this site may give a small percentage of the sale to this site.  This helps offset the cost of running this blog.

Love Books? Head to the National Mall on Saturday

A late-breaking entry to the Fall Fun Guide:

Library of Congress National Book Festival
Saturday, September 26 from 10am to 5:30pm

Join PBS Parents and PBS Parents Supersisters  at 9am for a “pre” Book Festival meetup at the
PBS KIDS Raising Readers Pavilion.

You will have a chance to meet Elmo and Chris from SESAME STREET, Steve Songs, PBS KIDS favorite characters Clifford, WordGirl and many others.

The PBS KIDS Raising Readers Pavilion will be located in the middle of the Book Festival on the National Mall, near 10th St. and the Smithsonian Castle.

Super Why! Activities Day 4: Whyatt and Post-Assessment

This is the final Super Why!  post and the last chance to enter the giveaway for a DVD from PBS by posting a comment in any of the posts in this series!2009-05-22_super-why_0008

For today’s activities you will need:

For the final assessment you will need the post-assessment questions and your worksheets from throughout the week. 

My observations:   JavaBoy once again whizzed through the worksheets.  However, the extension exercise reminded me of a pad of paper I had bought him earlier in the year that allows you to draw a picture and write a sentence under it (apparently they are called “picture story pads.”)  This ended up leading into a lesson on punctuation rather than word switching as he had recently learned about commas and had gotten mixed up about how they were used so we… “looked in a book!” to see how commas and periods were used (he didn’t believe me that periods were used at the end of sentences, so I showed him in some of his favorite books).

JavaGirl knows the story of the Three Little Pigsquite well, but upon seeing one of her favorite animals, decided she wanted to have a big bad TURTLE instead.  Then she wanted to draw the turtle.  Then she wanted to know the turtle’s name.  And so on.  On the second page worksheet we ran into an issue because of her seeing the multiple pigs and to her, a large quantity of anything is “10.”  So we got into a debate about that.  Not that she’s stubborn or anything. She clearly delineated between the three pigs of the story and the ones on the lefthand side of the page, but she wanted to debate about how many were on the lefthand side of the page.

As for the assessment, I can’t say that I felt like there was much change between the pre- and post-assessments.  HOWEVER, I feel like that didn’t measure the changes we saw/experienced during the week.  We were all more engaged as a family in the total process by having the activities and the kids and I have been singing the songs together in the car and other places (yes, you tend to lose an inhibitions as a parent) since we’ve embarked on this journey.  I have come to learn that although I tend to like worksheets, that my daughter doesn’t.  And that we all enjoy the more full-experience type of activities like the games, dances, etc.

But best of all was when my daughter picked up JavaDad’s copy of  Bruce Catton’s Civil War and flipping through it after dinner tonight.  After listening closely, I realized that she was retelling the story of the Three Little Pigs while thumbing through the book, as if she were reading it from Daddy’s big hardcover book.  Look in a book, indeed!

Don’t forget to post a comment after this post or any in the series to put your name in the running for the giveaway!