Archive for April, 2011

Book Review: Chicken Big

If you have kids, you’re probably familiar with the story Chicken Little. But what happens when some paranoid farm animals witness an animal hatched out of a HUGE egg? You get Chronicle BooksChicken Big (age 4-8), written and illustrated by Keith Graves.

When the big baby chick hatches, the other birds don’t know what to make of him. First they think he’s an elephant, then a squirrel, even a sweater (yes the not so smart bird thinks the chicken is a big yellow sweater).

Each time elements in nature spin the birds in a tizzy (like an acorn falling from the sky or the wind blowing), it takes Chicken Big to reassure them that the world isn’t ending. And each time Chicken Big reassures them, the farm birds re-asses their thoughts on what Chicken Big actually is. Only when Chicken Big rescues the birds stolen eggs from the fox do they realize that Chicken Big is indeed a chicken (except the not-so-bright bird who thinks he’s a cow).

This is a nice twist on the Chicken Little tale. The deductive process the birds go through is funny but it is a great way to illustrate the exercise in analyzing and determining what something is. Of course the not-so-smart bird and his suggestions are very funny (there’s always one of those in a group).

I also enjoyed how the illustrations and text play with each other throughout the story (a nice benefit when you have the writer as the illustrator also). Adults and kids alike will enjoy reading Chicken Big together.

I want to thank Crystal at Raincoast books for my review copy.

Chicken Big

Written and illustrated by Keith Graves

Age 4-8

Chronicle Books/Raincoast Books

Carrie Anne is a contributing book reviewer on Best Tools for School’s blog and No Time for Flash Cards as well as Managing Editor of You can catch up with her and her three kids on her blog Another Day Another Thought… Or Two.

Should your child have a best friend?

From Anne of Green Gables and Diana, Tootie and Natalie, Forrest Gump and Jenny, Dora and Boots, it’s easy to grow up with a romanticized idea of what a childhood ‘best friend’ should be like.

I’ve often wondered if there is anything I can do to help alleviate the pressure from my own children, and the ones I teach, to find ‘one’ best friend. I remember when I was growing up, feeling so much pressure to try to find a best friend. I did have friend I met on the playground in kindergarten but by 2nd grade she had moved away and we lost touch. I remember wanting so much to find someone else I could connect with, and I carried this with me all the way through my teens.

There is definitely something wonderful about having a best friend, that one person who understands you, knows just the right things to say and brings the best out of you.
For a child, that best friend can be a safe place to turn, and someone who provides comfort and support away from home, not to mention the countless memories shared as they grow up together.

But why does it have to be just one person? As an adult I have numerous friends that fulfill different needs in my life. Should we be teaching our children to do the same?

I have come across many ‘pairings’ of friends in the different classrooms I teach in. Some pairs are inseparable and insist on doing everything together from working on a project, going to the bathroom or standing in line together. Sometimes the dynamics can be stressful and intense. Conflicts occur; one friend gets upset about something, and declares a 3rd her ‘new best friend’, leaving the other devastated. But throughout the course of the school year, these friendships can change and new ones are created.

But according to the New York Times, (in an article published back in June 2010) some experts suggested it was unhealthy for children to choose just one best friend. The reasoning, it promotes exclusivity and can lead to bullying.

As a teacher I have heard of some pairs of best friends being broken up intentionally by not being allowed to work together for a project or having them seated far apart from each other. I can see this as a good thing, when the need to be constantly talking to each other gets in the way of focusing on work. But to prevent bullying, or prevent other students from being excluded, doesn’t that interfere with students’ abilities to form bonding relationships as well as resolve conflict on their own?

Do you think schools and teachers have a role to play in helping students navigate through friendships, or do we just let friendships evolve naturally?

Does your child have a best friend? Do you agree with their choice of friends?

Ultimately I think the best thing we can do for our kids is to model healthy friendships and trust them to make good choices when they build their social lives.

Vicky is a teacher and mom to two young children. She also has a children’s clothing business. Find her on Facebook.

image credit: Stock.xchng

Outside the Classroom: Dining out with Kids


As a mother of three, there are times when I throw my hands up in the air and declare “I’m not cooking dinner tonight!”.  The children are usually thrilled. They have visions of going to a restaurant that has a play structure in the dining area. My husband is less than thrilled. The idea of trying to get the children to sit down and eat instead of racing through a maze of tunnels absolutely exhausts him. So, we compromise.

During the winter months, my husband and I will take the children to Pizza Hut. They have “Kids Eat Free” on Tuesday nights. This is wonderful for two reasons. First, the children are eating for free. Secondly, there are lots of other families in the restaurant with young children so the other patrons are very tolerant of my noisy children! Each of my children orders a personal size pizza with a juice. They get to take the cup home with them. We’re in and out quickly. We all leave happy.

During the summer months, we take the children to East Side Mario’s. They have a “Kids Eat Free” every Monday night. We go at about 5pm and we always sit on the patio. For the most part, we have the patio to ourselves. If the children are noisy or messy, I don’t panic (too much!) because we are outside and not disturbing other customers. The children’s menu offers some variety, although they always order pizza. The dessert that is included consists of three very small sized ice cream cones. My children delight in the fact that there are three cones each, and I feign shock and horror. We are usually done our meal before the main dinner crowd arrives. As we are leaving, the waitress produces a treasure chest from which each child can choose a toy. Again, we all leave happy.

The trick to dining out with children is to order their meals when your drinks order is made. Remember to ask the waitress to bring the children’s dinners as soon as they’re ready. This way, the children get their meals quickly, and can eat them while you’re waiting for your meal. While you’re eating your meal, they get their free dessert. After the children have eaten, they are usually calmer and better able to sit nicely and be happy.

What are your favourite kid-friendly restaurants?

Good luck, and enjoy the upcoming patio season!

Test Kitchen: Raspberry Turnovers

I hate the amount of sugar in store bought baked goods. I find that if you are using seasonal fruits the amount of sugar you need to add lessens significantly. With that in mind I wanted to make some really easy raspberry turnovers, using the frozen raspberrys I had picked earlier in the year.

If you don’t have berries you picked, it’s alright – any frozen berry or any fruit or vegetable for that matter, is always picked at the hight of ripeness and frozen right away.

1 sheet of puff pastry
2 cups frozen berries
1/2 cup sugar

While your berries are defrosting, add the sugar to them and let sit at room temperature.

When your berries are no longer frozen, test them for sweetness. You want them to keep their flavour, but not be too tart.

Take your sheet of puff pastry and cut it into triangles. Using a slotted spoon add some berries to the large end of your triangles and roll the dough up to form little crecent rolls.

Bake in a 350 degree oven until the pastry is golden brown. About 10 mintues.

Jodi Lariviere is a blogger and food writer with a real passion for healthy, local ingredients and she also writes two of her own blogs:  Simply Fresh – and the new Vegging for Two –

Yoga for Teens

The thought of having to repeat my high school years leaves me with chills.  I was a good student, volunteered for student council, environmental club and students against impaired driving, among many other things.  However, nobody gets passed those awkward teenage moments. 

Devastating fights with friends, constant battle to feel like you fit in somewhere and wanting to part of a certain group.  Life can just be plain awkward at times for pre-teens and teens and I feel it’s important that we offer a place for them to come and feel safe while exploring their mind and body as they grow into young adults and really explore who they are as a person. 

Teaching pre-teens and teens can be a challenge as there are many factors that can come into play.  As a yoga teacher I find it stimulating as there is always something new happening, a question that comes out that we explore together and the class dynamics continue to change from class to class.  Whether you are looking for a yoga class for your pre-teen or teen, looking to add some yoga into the life of a teen or teaching  yoga to this age group I have put together a few of my tips for working with this fascinating age group within the yoga environment.

1- It’s important that the yoga class environment welcomes all participants to feel completely comfortable.  A lot of changes are occurring within their bodies; their minds are growing and exploring new concepts and adventures in life.  Separate classes for boys and girls can be more comforting at times and assists in creating a class dynamic that creates empowerment and invites the student to take control of their own yoga practice.  Different postures are more challenging or easier for boys than girls and vice a versa. By having separate classes for each gender it can assist in creating an environment where each can explore their bodies and fully explore each posture.

2- Using teen friendly language and creating a teen friendly environment can bring more eagerness to attend each class as the student begins to look forward to their personal yoga practice.  Find music that students can relate to (maybe you have a hip hop yoga class!), invite them to voice their opinion with what postures they enjoy, don’t enjoy and whether individuals prefer a yoga flow style, power, or gentle classes.  Support student’s independence, possibly by giving time for them to explore yoga postures at their own pace.

3- Creating mutual respect between the student and teacher invites trust to grow over time.  With trust the student begins to feel support emotionally and mentally as well as physically through their yoga practice.  Lots of positive encouragement invites the student to feel more relaxed and at ease with their peer s and the teacher and they will be motivated to further explore their own practice.  Adjustments are usually not as much as a class focus, unless injury may occur, as teens can be self-conscious enough about their bodies, how they look in a yoga posture and whether they are doing it correctly.

4- Ensure that boundaries are created.  I like to discuss this in the first class if it’s a registered session.  What do the students want to see as boundaries and how do they feel about certain topics.   Are they welcome to try other postures on their own, or do you prefer to have a few familiar ones for them to come back to if they are feeling uncomfortable with any posture you may be teaching at that time.  Are they welcome to lie down and rest in savasana at any time, meditate, etc.  Once there are gently boundaries in place (because pre-teens and teens will test you, it’s their way of checking you out and gaging who you are as a person) let them explore within those boundaries. 

5- Give pre-teens and teens a full yoga experience.  Lots of time for savasana, deep rest, invites the student to get more of the much needed rest that their bodies require as they are pulled from one activity to another between long days at school and homework.  Meditation leaves the student with techniques to assist them with calming the mind before a big test, thinking before they speak unkind words in a stressful situation with peers, and time to calm internal chatter that occurs.  Through a full yoga experience they begin to put trust into their bodies as they continue to evolve into an adult and may be unsure of where they fit in as they are no longer feeling like a child but are possibly not ready to be an adult.

If nothing else remember to have fun.  Introducing yoga to any individual, no matter the age, brings for life skills that we can all use in our daily lives.  I am starting to see more schools recognize the need for yoga within the school environment.  This may be in the capacity of a 5 minute break in the class room, part of a gym class or an after school activity.  It doesn’t matter how long you practice, what matters is that we support pre-teens and teens in a manner that lets their true selves shine.



DeGrace Energetics & Little Lotus Yoga programs may be found at  & 

image credit: stock.xchng

Earth Day Resource: EcoKids website

Earth Day takes place on April 22 each year and it is a worldwide celebration of our beautiful environment. It is celebrated in over 175 countries around the world and each country has their own unique activities and events to mark the day.

Here in Canada, we have many options when it comes to what we can do to make the day special thanks to the abundance of suggestions provided on the Earth Day Canada Website. On the site, you will find a Give It Up for Earth Day pledge, which is a fun activity to play out with the entire family (one that I think I may do with mine!). There are also ideas for larger scale projects such as cleaning up a community or starting a backyard compost program. A full list of these projects and the steps you will need to get started can be found here.

A great resource I came across on the website is EcoKids. EcoKids is geared towards teachers and their students and it provides environmental resources for the classroom. There are two parts to the site, one for teachers and the other for kids.

The teacher section requires registration and once signed up, lesson plans, printables and more will be available. The kids section is fully accessible, no log in required and contains eco themed games, eco facts, homework resources, an eco blog and so much more! The site is well done and contains so much information it may be easy for kids to become wrapped up in all of the information.

I think that any opportunity to teach our children about being gentle to our earth and our ecosystems is so important. If you are looking for a way to get your children more conscious about environmental issues, the Earth Day website and EcoKids is a great place to start!

Earth Day website:

EcoKids website:

Gwen is a mom of 2, a freelancer and the owner of Nayla Natural Care, an online store which carries a wide assortment of organic, natural and eco-friendly items for you and your family.  Follow the store on Twitter: @naylanatural

Image source: EcoKids Canada Website.

Communicating with teachers

Most kids use agendas as the primary means of communication between school and home. Every day when my son gets home from kindergarten, the first thing I do is take out his agenda and read what his teacher had to say. There are often comments about new things he has learned, or accomplishments I might like to hear about. I really appreciate this line of communication with his teacher. We’ve often gone back and forth, filling up the entire page in a day or two.  We’ve also emailed quite a few times, arranging dates for me to come in and volunteer. His teacher also sends home a weekly newsletter page, outlining the new things they will be working on, asking for items to be brought in, or reminding parents to send back permission forms. As a parent, I really appreciate knowing what he’s doing every day, or finding out if there are areas that he can improve on.
When I’m teaching, I often see little notes for the regular teacher come by my desk. Often these notes can get lost, or not read for a few days if the regular teacher is away. With older kids, the communication through the agenda is usually just a signature or a brief comment if homework wasn’t completed. I’ve seen some classes where students receive a bean, a bead or a point for having their agenda signed. It’s a regular part of the classroom routine, and helps teachers know that parents are involved and aware of what their kids are learning in school.
It’s fabulous that there are so many ways to keep in close communication with the teachers; there’s no need to wait for parent-teacher interviews! Don’t be afraid to be involved, write notes and ask what’s going on in the classroom.  Teachers are happy to communicate with parents!

As parents, how do you communicate with your kids’ teachers, and how often does it happen? What has worked for you?

Vicky left a career in the communications sector after her son was born to pursue her dream of teaching. Now a mom of two, she works as an occasional teacher while fulfilling her passion for writing through blogging. When not surrounded by children – her own or the ones she teaches – you can also find her running a business on the side. Find out more by visiting her at

image creidt: stock.xchng

Add to your schedule: Do nothing

Some months are very full.  Most say it’s around the holidays, but for me it happens every spring.  I say that I hibernate during the winter.  Basically I go to work, hockey arenas, basic shopping and not much else. 

Once spring arrives I hit the road with gusto, which also leaves me with very little down time.  I swear this sudden change of pace shocks my body every year and if I’m not careful it will decide I’m staying in whether I like it or not. 

The best way to avoid this worn-out transition is to SCHEDULE YOUR DOWN TIME.  I know it sounds odd, but it works.  I took a look at my Google Calendar and saw that last weeked was my only free weekend in all of April, so I planned for it.  I planned so I could do nothing.  Friday on my way home from work I stopped to stock up on groceries, came home, but them away and did nothing but sleep, eat, read and spend time online and sleep some more.  My car never left the driveway until Sunday afternoon.  The month is just going to keep getting busier, but I feel rejuvenated and ready to tackle the tasks at hand.

Take a look at your calendar.  Do you have a day where you can do nothing too? How do you plan for quiet time?


Ottawa Area Activity: Canadian Agriculture Museum

Over the years, my children have loved visiting the Experimental Farm, also known as the Canadian Agriculture Museum. The first time we went there, my youngest was a newborn. The focus quickly became finding a bottle warmer (there is one, near the Dairy Barn!). We brought a picnic, and enjoyed it in the shade of a tree near the play structure. Afterwards, my two older daughters (then aged 2) participated in an ice cream making demonstration. The Experimental Farm was a hit!

There are daily demonstrations. During April, these demonstrations include “Rabbit Care”, “Meet the Lambs and the Kids”, and “Help Feed the Sheep”. I like the “Afternoon Milking”, but the cows can be quiet loud and this was upsetting to my littlest daughter. Also, in the Demonstration Kitchen, the staff will demonstrate some chocolate recipes, offering samples and sending you home with the recipes.

There will be special events for Easter, on April 22-25. These include an Easter egg hunt for children 6 and under as well as a “Signs of Spring Egg Hunt” for those 7 years old and over.

Price of Admission:

Families (2 adults and 3 children): $16
   Additional children: $3 per child
   Additional adults: $4 per adult
Adults: $7
Children under 3: free
Children (3–14): $4
Students: $6
Seniors (60+): $6, free on Tuesdays

Parking is free!

Don’t forget to visit the Arboretum and Ornamental Gardens. These are free to all who want to visit, and have free parking. This is an ideal area for picture taking, picnicking, and letting the children run off any excess energy. It’s a wonderful end to a wonderful day. Enjoy!

Test Kitchen: Poached Pears

I’m always looking for ways to sneak more fruits and veggies into my family’s diet. I’ve found there is always room in our snacks and desserts for a little more nutrients. That is why I love the idea of poached pears! Simple and easy to do, it turns eating a pear from ‘that thing you do to get your fruit and vegetable serving’ to a yummy treat that might even have you going back for seconds!

Hubby and my step daughter love them when they are served warm. Of course my step daughter likes them best when served with a little vanilla yogurt – or even vanilla frozen yogurt. But a little calcium isn’t bad for you either!

1-2 pears, peeled, halved and core removed
4 cups water
1 mint tea bag
3 TBSP lemon juice
1/4 – 1/2 cup sugar

While you are halving, coring and peeling your pears – put the water in a saucepan over high heat, bring to a boil then turn down to a light simmer. Add lemon juice and mint tea bag and allow to steep for at least 20 minutes.

Add sugar 1/4 cup at a time – test after each addition until sweetened to your taste. Add pears and cook until fork tender.

Remove pears when finished and set aside. Keep 1/2 cup of the poaching liquid – discard the rest. Return liquid to the pot and boil until thickened into a syrup. Serve warm syrup over pears.

Jodi Lariviere is a blogger and food writer with a real passion for healthy, local ingredients and she also writes two of her own blogs:  Simply Fresh – and the new Vegging for Two –

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