Thursday, November 29, 2012

Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco

Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco

The Legion of Honor Museum is located in Lincoln Park at 100 34th Avenue at Clement Street. It showcases ancient and historical European art.

My children were very young when we visited the Legion of Honor, yet I was surprised how much they enjoyed it. What helped, I believe is that we spent a little bit of time learning about ancient art before we visited, so they were able to recognize some of what they had learned about. A trip to the Legion of Honor would go along very nicely with the study of ancient Romans, Greeks or Egyptians, as well as European history from the medieval times up to the early twentieth century. They also have some special exhibits, and you can visit their website (linked above) to see what is current.

My youngest was two when we visited and while she wore out before we’d seen all there was to see, it was a lot of fun to watch her, and see what pieces spoke to her. The elaborate chandeliers in each room may have fascinated my children more than any of the art did, but that was interesting too.

The Legion of Honor is closed on Mondays, and is free on the first Tuesday of the Month, and is always free for children under 12 years old.

We visited on a free day and arrived right at opening, and had no trouble finding parking right out in front. When we left, it looked like parking was more of a problem, so I recommend arriving early or taking public transportation if you have the option.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Take a Hike – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Take a Hike – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Before long it will be too wet to spend much time outdoors here in the Northern California Bay Area. Take advantage of a sunny day and get out for a walk with the kids. If you’re really ambitious and want some serious nature time, you can visit the East Bay Regional Parks website and find your closest park to visit. Be warned however, that even if there hasn’t been any recent rain, the trails can be muddy and slippery this time of year.
Even a walk around the block in your own neighborhood can be a lot of fun though. Have the kids see how many different types of birds they can spot along the way. Or, how many different types of animals – and dogs count!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Some Fun Christmas Events Around the Bay, December 2012

Some Fun Christmas Events Around the Bay, December 2012

Christmas at Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont – Anytime is a great time to visit Ardenwood Historic Farms if you have not done so already, but during their Christmas celebration is one of our favorite times to go.

They celebrate a Victorian style Christmas at Ardenwood, with Victorian inspired crafts, volunteers in Victorian costumes, music, and the historic Patterson House decorated in traditional Victorian Christmas style. Father Christmas always has a special spot in the gazebo where kids can find him to share their wishes. The farm’s huge draft horses also usually make the rounds too, either taking folks for a wagon ride, or pulling a horse drawn train instead, depending on the year. Both are fun.

They also have all the regular Ardenwood Historic Farm attractions, the farm animals, and the Patterson house (although it is fancier with its decorations than usual, and the blacksmith shop.

Christmas at Ardenwood this year runs on December 1st and 2nd from 10 am to 4 pm. Bundle up, it’s usually pretty chilly.

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair in San Francisco – This is a bigger and more famous Victorian Christmas celebration in the Bay Area. It takes place this year over 5 weekends from November 23rd to December 23rd from 10 am to 7 pm.

We have never personally been to this Christmas fair, mainly because it is so much more expensive than Ardenwood, but it looks just wonderful, and I would love to go one of these years. It looks huge and fun and beautiful. I recommend you check out their website at the link above to see everything they have to offer.

Zoo Lights at the Oakland Zoo in Oakland – After regular zoo hours, the zoo is filled with holiday lights. Some even make a little almost animated show with the way they blink on and off. Some are just there, and pretty.

Zoo lights run from Nov 30th to Dec 31st every night except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day from 5:30 pm until 9:00 pm.

The animals have access to their night houses, so most of them are not viewable during Zoo Lights, although we have seen one or two wander out into their exhibits and look around. Generally, though, they have gone off to have dinner and sleep and Zoo Lights is not a good time to see animals. What we have done in the past that was fun, was to visit the zoo during the day to see the animals. Leave at closing to get some dinner, then return for the lights at night.

Santa visits Oakland’s Zoo lights each night as well, and it can be a nice time to say “Hi” to him without a long line.

City of Martinez Children’s Light Parade and Snow Park in Martinez – We stumbled upon this even sort of by accident one year, but the kids had so much fun we may try to make it back there if we can.  This year it happens on Friday Nov. 30th starting at 6:30 pm.

The downtown area is all blocked off for this holiday celebration that includes a parade where kids can join in carrying lights. My kids had never gotten to be in a parade before so they really loved this. Then there is a lot of holiday events, including an area with a snow machine creating a little snowy play area for the snow-deprived California kids. The downtown shops are open, and always fun to browse through.

And Many, Many More. . .
These are only the events we have been to in the past of I’ve heard a lot about from friends. I know most towns around the Bay Area must have their own wonderful Christmas and Holiday events beginning very soon. If you know of one I didn’t mention, please tell us about it in the comment section. I’d love to find out about more.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Have a Happy Thanksgiving

Today we will be spending time with our extended family, watching the parade, and football, playing games, and of course, eating too much.

I  wish a very Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. Among the many things I am thankful for, I am thankful that you have taken the time to stop by and visit my blog.

If you have a moment to share, I'd love for you to leave a comment so I can learn about your family's Thanksgiving Day traditions.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Measure the Rain – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Measure the Rain – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

With the rainy season starting up here in the California Bay Area, and reports on the news of storms in other parts of the country, my kids have been very interested in the weather lately. Weather can be a fun topic to learn about together. Even just tracking the weather can be fun.

Help your child make a simple chart to keep track of the weather for a period of time, however long you think they may be interested. It can be as simple as drawing a picture of what the weather was like each day, or older kids could take measurements of the temperature, or other factors they are interested in. Maybe they’d like to compare the weather forecast to what actually happens.

Making a rain gauge is easy to do, and kids like to measure things. I remember being fascinated with our rain gauge when I was a child. Here are the first two results I found when I Googled how to make a rain gauge (but the later links were all basically variations of these same instructions):

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Markham Nature Area in Concord

Markham Nature Area in Concord

The Markham Nature Area is a hidden little treasure. It's one of those places we stumbled upon by semi-accident and was amazed that we had not known about it before. Plus it's free.

There are three distinct areas or features of the Markham Nature Area:

The Tree Walk – this is an easy dirt walking trail. Along the path are various trees, many of which are marked with numbers. At the beginning of the trail you can pick up a map that will give you the name of each numbered tree.

I was surprised how much my kids liked the tree walk. They loved carrying the map, finding the tree numbers, and looking up the type of tree from their map. Honestly, I think if I took them back today, they wouldn't be able to remember a single tree name, but they still had fun. Plus, my preschooler had been confused about reading two-digit numbers; she tended to read them backward. By the end of the Tree Walk, she was an expert in reading two digit numbers because she wanted to be in charge of the map so much.

The International Garden – This is a shorter walking trail that passes through a garden that has been planted with plants from around the world, and arranged by region. The international areas include: Australia, Asia, South America, Africa, California, the Eastern U.S., the Mediterranean, and Europe.

My kids were less excited about this part of Markham Nature Area than the Tree Walk, but there were enough strange and interesting plants to hold their interest for a quick walk though. I liked that each plant had a little plaque with its name on it.

The Nursery – While a visit to the Markham Nature Area is free, they still need to pay for maintenance and other expenses. One way they do this is through plant sales at the plant nursery. The Nursery is open on Tuesdays from 9:00 to noon. They are also open on some Saturdays, but their Saturday sales appear to be done for the rest of 2012. If you'd like to know when the next Saturday plant sale will be you can visit their website here

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Be Thankful – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Be Thankful – Fun Stuff to Do Anywhere

Some people like to keep a gratitude journal for the month of November. In it they write a short entry each day about something they are grateful for. Some keep the practice beyond Thanksgiving month, as it is shown to improve your stress level and mood.

It can also be a fun activity to do as a family. Well, maybe more 'uplifting', than 'fun'. The journal can easily be adapted for any age. Teens and adults, and even older children can just keep a normal journal, or use filler paper. For my younger kids I like those journals that have the bottom half of the page lined for writing and the top half blank for drawing. Even younger pre-writing children can draw pictures for their gratitude journal.

Another nice variation is for the kids to draw a 'Thankful Tree' and each day they write on a leaf something they're thankful for and add it to their tree. We did this on drawing paper, but I suppose you could even get a small tree, or branch and add a ribbon to the thankful leaves and hang them on. The whole family could even share a tree this way. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Websites for Learning to Read

Websites for Learning to Read

When you’d like a change of pace from regular books for your little beginning reader, there are some very good websites out there for teaching early reading and phonics. There are probably many more than I will list here, but these are the ones we have used and enjoyed. – I list this one first because it has y far been the favorite of both of my kids when they were learning to read. It has a few sections, beginning with learning letters and letter sounds, then beginning phonics, and on to more advanced early reading stories. AS the child tries to read a story, if there is a word they are stuck on they can click on it and the site will sound the word out for them. There are also worksheets that can be printed out to go along with the online stories. In addition to the stories, there are a few games and videos that teach letter sounds or other reading rules.

Reading Eggs – This is a subscription site, and we have not used it very much. I signed my youngest up for the free trial, and she said she liked it a lot, but whenever we decided to do some reading on the computer, she would always ask for starfall. That may be mostly out of habit; however since that’s what she started with. They offer several levels of reading instruction as well, so you can personalize it to your child’s needs. On many of the parenting and homeschooling groups I follow, there are many families who rave about Reading Eggs, and since they offer the free trial, it is at least worth checking out.

While preschool television associated websites like, and, do have some educational games and content, I haven’t found them very focused on learning to read. They can be fun for other things.

If your family enjoys a learning to read website that I haven’t mentioned, please leave a comment and tell us about it. I’m sure there are many other great websites out there that help kids learn to read that we haven’t tried yet.

If you'd like information about a good ole paper book for helping kids learn to read, check out my earlier review of Alpha-Phonics.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

North Bay Athletic Association – Gymnastics Lessons in Vallejo

North Bay Athletic Association – Gymnastics Lessons in Vallejo

It has been many years since my kids took gymnastics classes at North Bay Athletic Association, but they still remember it fondly. They offer a variety of ages and levels of classes, and options about how many classes a week you would like to take. There is also a small sibling discount. When we attended, we didn’t have any difficulty with availability of the times and days we wanted, and the classes we a nice size so that each child could get a good amount of individual help.

Because North Bay Athletic Association is a non-profit, their classes were less expensive than some other similar gymnastics studios, but I wouldn’t call their prices dirt cheap. For the high quality of instruction we received, however, I do feel it was an extremely good value.

There are also more advanced programs for kids who want to take gymnastics to a more serious level, or perhaps start toward competition. The instructors watch for kids who may be capable of more, and will invite these families into the advanced programs if they are interested.

While our family is not athletically gifted, my kids ha d a great time. In fact, I think they had so much fun with a handful of the activities that they almost didn’t notice that they don’t really like gymnastics that much. When we left, they missed their instructors the most.

While I’ve had friends tell me that they have had great, and awful instructors at North Bay Athletic Association, all the ones we had, and we had about three and a handful of substitutes, were all wonderful. Like most classes, there is probably a personality fit that needs to be found between instructor and student. As I mentioned before, though, since they have so many class offerings, it isn’t hard to move to a different time or day if you want a different instructor. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Leaf Rubbings – Fun Stuff to do Anywhere

While we may not get the dramatic seasonal changes here in the Bay Area that much of the rest of the country experiences, I think it is still fun to stop and notice the seasons, the California way.

We still get a nice and beautiful fall here, complete with leaves on the ground. Take a short walk and let the kids pick up a few of their favorites. Leaf rubbings are simple, and fun. When you get home, all you need to do is lay the leaves on a table, with the more-textured side of the leaf facing up. Place a piece of white paper on top, and with the side of a crayon, rub back and forth over the leaf until its impression shows up on the paper.

For very young children, making the rubbing is probably enough. If your kids are older, or you want to add a little more learning to your leaf rubbing project, you can use a magnifying glass to examine and observe your leaves. Group them into leaves that share traits that the child observes, then pick a different feature, and sort them again. For instance they might sort by color the first time, then by simple vs. compound leaves the next time, or by bumpy vs smooth leaf edges, and so on.

To take it even further, here are a few books about leaves that you and you children may enjoy:

Also, if you have some Halloween candy left over that you don't care for (we all get some less exciting candies in our bag every year), don't throw it away. Save it in a ziplock baggie, and I will have a fun craft in a few weeks to use it in. The more colorful the candy, the better. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Movie Review: Wreck It Ralph

Movie Review: Wreck It Ralph

Parents who grew up in the Pac-Man, Q-Bert arcade age will enjoy this movie as much as their children will. The games that provide the central settings for the movie: a first person shooter with vicious destructive bugs, a candyland racing game, and Fix-it Felix Jr. – Wreck It Ralph's own game, are all fictional games (so far). Yet, the old classics make lots of amusing cameo appearances in the surge protector that serves as a passageway for the characters from one game to another.

There are good messages about friendship and being true to yourself, while also stretching to do more then you thought you could. What follows includes some spoilers for content to help parents judge if the movie would be a good fir for their own kids and family.

Overall, while there are scary moments, and sad moments, they felt milder than many kid movies. My kids said they shed a few tears.

Violence: The first person shooter game, and the character that comes out of that game use lots of over the top firepower. All the shooting is directed solely at the enemy giant bugs. Ralph causes lots of damage to objects and buildings, and occasionally uses his strength on the bugs, but there is no other violence toward other people. (People in the video game sense which is very diverse.)

Romance: Fix it Felix is quickly enamored with the character from the shooting game and makes frequent innocent romantic remarks to her.  They also kiss a few times.

Language: Ralph and the Candy racing girl exchange a lot of personal insults along the lines of ‘stinking breath’, ‘stupid head’, and so forth. As their friendship progresses, these are clearly used as terms of affection, but they are frequent. They also have a discussion of “Duty’ as a pun on ‘doody’, ie: poop.
Drugs/Alcohol: A character makes himself a martini. I didn’t notice any other references.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Book review: Fancy Nancy: Poet Extraordinaire!

Book review: Fancy Nancy: Poet Extraordinaire!

Fancy Nancy was my own wake-up call about not judging a book by its cover. I avoided these books for my girls because I assumed they were about being pretty and having the right clothes, and things that I didn’t want my girls to get caught up in.

One day, my youngest found “Fancy Nancy: Poet Extraordinaire” at the library and asked to check it out. I do my very best to let them pick out whatever interests them at the library, so I let her. Naturally, then she needed me to read it to her. I was happily surprised by the story.

It turns out that Fancy Nancy like fanciness in all aspects of her life. Yes, her clothing and appearance is one aspect of her fanciness, it is also treated in the book as somewhat of a given, and not discussed. I suppose the illustrations do that part. She also loves fancy words, and this it turns out is the theme of this book. Fancy Nancy is trying to write a poem, and read other poems in her quest to write a great fancy poem. She learns new fancy words along the way, and their meanings. It reminded me more than a little bit of the “Martha Speaks” book and television series in that way.

More importantly, my daughter loved it, and wanted to talk about some of the words she learned. So it has been a lesson to me. My original rule to myself – to not judge what books my children pick out to read – has served us both well again. And making assumptions about a book I haven’t read or bothered to learn anything about almost cost us a wonderful read, and vocabulary building experience. I don’t know if all the Fancy Nancy books follow this same theme, but I do know that I will no longer be hesitant to check out more to read with my daughter and find out.