Monday, June 28, 2010

Tips to Keep You and Your Family Safe This Summer

Summer is here, which means that Pudding Pie and myself are immersed in a frenzy of outdoor activity. If you can't find us at the pool, look for us at the park - anyplace there is outdoor fun to be had! Pudding Pie especially loves the pool, and spending our mornings or afternoons splashing in the cool water is a delightful way to pass time. However, with an over-confident Pudding Pie continually testing her boundaries and refusing to let a small thing like lack of swimming skills hold her back, I am always on alert.

Less than a month ago, a dear friend of mine had a scare. She'd taken her three-year-old daughter and one-year-old son to go swimming in a friend's backyard pool. Just before swimming time, my friend asked the other mom to keep an eye on her kids while she dashed to the restroom. The other mom has triplet three-and-half year old boys and she herded all five kids outside to play until my friend returned. The pool is fenced in and has a locked gate.

While the kids were playing, the other mom turned her back and busied herself with fixing some window screens. When my friend opened the door to the backyard, she was greeted by the sight of all five kids standing inside the pool fence, on the edge of the pool, looking into the water. The older four already had on their water wings, but her baby boy had on nothing to help him stay afloat - and there he stood, inches from the water, contemplating his next move.

My friend screamed and ran - and a tragedy was avoided, but things could so easily have had an unimaginable ending. Turns out, her friend's husband had temporarily removed the lock from the gate and he'd forgotten to tell his wife! The kids had quickly and easily let themselves in to the pool area. What sent more shivers down my spine was discovering that the husband had removed the lock some days earlier and his wife, not realising that their pool was now easily accessible to her boys, allowed them to play by themselves for a bit, in the backyard, while she worked in the kitchen ...

Spine-chilling stuff for any parent I'm sure and, in this instance, the story ends well. However, there are plenty of similar stories where the endings are not so fortunate and each time summer rolls around and kids are at play, whether in the pool or on the play set at a park, in their own backyard, they face potential danger. Approximately 4,200 people go to the emergency room every year due to pool or spa-related injuries and more than 200,000 children ages 14 and younger go to the emergency room each year for play set-related injuries.

This summer, Underwriters Laboratories (UL), a leading product safety testing organization, has put together tips to help keep us and our children safe around the pool and play sets.

Pool Safety At Home
  • If you have a pool at home, install a fence. The fence should be at least four feet high and have a self-closing, self-latching gate that has a locking mechanism beyond a child's reach.
  • Cut overhanging tree limbs and remove chairs or ladders from the pool area to prevent children from climbing over the fence that surrounds the pool.
  • Keep grates and drain covers in good repair and secured in place.
  • Alert your family and guests to stay away from these devices, as the suction from drain outlets can be strong enough to cause entrapment of hair or body parts, which can potentially cause a person to drown.
  • Make sure you know infant and child CPR if you own a pool.

Be Safety Smart While Swimming

  • Supervision is a must.
  • Follow the 10/20 rule when you’re at the pool. The 10/20 rule states the supervising adult needs to position themselves to be able to scan the pool every 10 seconds, and reach the water within 20 seconds.
  • Always have rescue devices, such as UL-LISTED life preservers, nearby.
  • Flotation devices, toys and inflatable swimming aids are not safety devices. They are toys and can easily puncture and deflate.
  • Always drain wading pools after children are done playing. Infants can drown in just a few inches of water.
  • Have a telephone nearby and appropriate emergency numbers posted.
  • Remove all toys when you leave the pool. Toys may attract children to the unattended pool.
Before Installing A Backyard PlaySet
  • Make sure your backyard is large enough for playground equipment. The site must also provide good visibility and security. Before setting up equipment, look out for obstacles, such as the garage, tree branches, utility poles and wires.
  • Read and follow the manufacturer’s directions when setting up play set equipment. Be sure your child's weight and age fall within the manufacturer's recommended limits for the equipment.
  • Install protective surfacing, such as rubber tiles or mulch under the play set, at least six feed in all directions, to prevent serious injuries should a child fall.
Before Heading Out To Play
  • Carefully inspect backyard playground equipment. Make sure equipment is anchored safely in the ground, all equipment pieces are in good working order, S-hooks are entirely closed and bolts are not protruding.
  • Check for spaces that could trap children, such as openings in guardrails or between ladder rungs. These spaces should measure less than 3.5 inches or more than 9 inches.
  • Always supervise children on play set equipment to make sure they are playing safely.
  • Never attach ropes, jump ropes, clotheslines, pet leashes or cords of any kind to play set equipment. If used improperly, they can be potential strangulation hazards.
  • Watch for potential trip hazards, such as rocks, tree stumps and concrete footings. Make sure you’re children are aware of them as well.
  • Do a sandbox check. Before letting your child dig in, rake through the sand to check for debris or sharp objects. Also, inspect for any animal contamination or insect problems.
UL and Disney produced a pool safety video featuring Timon and Puumba from The Lion King teaching kids how to stay safe while swimming during the summer, and all year long. Check it out, I thought the video was entertaining and full of great safety tips, and Pudding Pie thought it was wonderful. I think she absorbed more water safety information from that animated short than she has from me all summer - I guess I don't have Puumba's charming delivery!

I wrote this review while participating in a blog campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Underwriters Laboratories. Mom Central sent me a gift card to thank me for taking the time to participate.

Monday, June 14, 2010

SMART Technology For Today's Teachers

SMART Technologies has launched their SMART Board interactive whiteboard: an incredible tool for today's teachers. Coinciding with the launch of the SMART Board is "SMART Love of Learning" to acknowledge and celebrate those teachers who have impacted individuals around the world.

Who do I think is the the best teacher in the world? I haven't seen her in twenty plus years but I say without a moment's hesitation, my high school English teacher, Connie Zaayman.

By the time I met Mrs. Z, I already had a love for literature. Mrs. Z nurtured this; she showed me how you can love Chaucer, Wordsworth, Marlowe, Kafka and The Bard, and still be cool.

Our mutual love for literature aside, Mrs. Z is my nominee simply because for me - and most of my class - brilliant as she was, she was also so much more than our English teacher. She was passionate about English and passionate about life. She genuinely cared about us, her students. Mrs. Z knew us and she was in touch with us. Many a classmate confided in her about subjects not related to literature at all, and she kept all of our confidences.

We were all anxious to please her. I had other teachers - kind and dedicated - but my teen self didn't care if they were irked by assignments turned in late, nor did I glow when they doled out praise. Mrs Z. was different. A few words of praise scrawled in the margin and I felt buoyed up and invincible. A comment along the lines of "not your best effort" and I was red-faced and chagrined.

Under her guidance, I allowed myself to believe I had the talent she assured me I had. After high school, I majored in English at college, writing my post-grad thesis on Chaucer.

Today, over two decades later, I can still hear Mrs Z's voice when I read Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. I can still hear her telling us, her riveted students, the final sad details of the life of poet and novelist, Sylvia Plath. I can still clearly hear her recounting for us the love affair between the gifted poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning.

Mrs. Z is my example of how a great teacher can influence the course of our lives. Every student needs such a teacher and I hope my daughter encounters her own Mrs. Z along the way.

Like I said, my high school days were many moons ago, and so much has changed since then. Gone are the days of chalk and blackboards. Our children can look forward to classrooms with incredible interactive whiteboards from SMART Technologies. To find out exactly what the SMART Board interactive whiteboard is all about, check out The Magical Classroom.

Join the SMART Love of Learning Facebook group and enter to win a SMART Board interactive whiteboard for your child's school. or a school of your choosing! Check out the Parents Toolkit for tips for parents who are looking to raise money so that they can get a SMART Board interactive whiteboard for their school.

I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central on behalf of SMART Technologies. In addition Mom Central sent me a gift card to thank me for taking the time to participate.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Shrek Forever After is Interactive Fun For The Family

I remember the first time I encountered Shrek. I was on board a transatlantic flight, resigned to 19.5 hours of boredom and fitful sleep. I decided to watch the movie, hoping it would lull me to sleep. Instead, the plot, the humor, and those wonderful characters kept me riveted and I found myself snorting and chuckling all the way to the credits - I loved it!

We haven't hit the theater to watch Shrek Forever After yet, but we have been fortunate enough to check out the Activision Shrek Forever After, The Final Chapter video game. The game extends the film into an interactive experience for the whole family to enjoy.

I wanted to get a child's impression of the game and, since Pudding Pie isn't quite ready for an E10+ video game, I sought out the opinion of her nine-year-old friend (and idol), Aiden. (Pudding Pie was not short-changed - we also received the Shrek Forever After movie storybook, and this has kept her entertained - we love to screech at the scheming Rumpel when he appears .) The always enthusuastic Aiden was delighted to test drive the Shrek Forever After Wii game (and to try his hand at the Shrek Forever After Mad Libs and coloring book). He gave me his sage words on the experience:

"The Good: I like the treasure chests, they give you money. The power ups are a great help. Its fun to be able to change characters. I like the fighting in the game.
The Bad: It would be nice if I could jump. There could be a few more things in cookie's store. It gets a little violent sometimes. "

Aside from Aiden's nuggets, this is what I got: This is a multi-user game that would definitely be the most fun with more than one player because some of the puzzles can only be played with 2 players, not one. Also, with more than one player, family members or friends can choose between Shrek, Fiona, Puss In Boots and Donkey - each with their own skills to help the team progress to the next level. Players meet up with a variety of challenges, working to solve puzzles and navigate mazes, tackle enemy armies and explore Shrek's normal world and his new alternate reality.

The graphics are excellent and there is dialogue/interaction between characters as you play them (they respond, basically). There is some violence that is a bit disturbing to a mom. (No blood, more cartoon-like, but the graphics are so good and the sound effects too, that a hit looks and sounds like a hit.) Of course it could be that I am just not accustomed to what seems to be the norm in video games ...
Overall a challenging and fun game that gets the player thinking about solutions. After two hours of play, Aiden quit only because his mom told him it was time to stop. He gave it a thumbs up and I have a feeling this game is going to be a big hit this summer!

Activision's Shrek Forever After video game is available for the Wii, Nintendo DS, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Activision and received the items necessary to facilitate my review. In addition, Mom Central sent me a gift card to thank me for taking the time to participate.