Thursday, December 15, 2011

Absolutely Huge... I mean HUGO

Well, my friend Selena suggested we grab all the kiddies and hit the latest kid’s film this week. Hugo. I had no idea what it was about, but decided a matinee followed by pizza with a pile of kids and a dear friend sounded like a good idea to me.

In the first 20 minutes we were all so silly, I thought, this is never going to fly. Too much popcorn, soda and candy was making us all goofy and not exactly keyed in to the movie. And then, somewhere in that first half hour, something happened. It might have been the dreamy cinematography, or the outlandishly funny scene when Sasha Baron Cohen tries to woo his love interest, or the “adventure” the children partake ¬which whisked me back in time to the crazy adventures of my own childhood, or the slow unfolding of the story, like a Russian doll, each new layer as beautiful as the one before it… the prize inside only half as exciting as the journey getting there. Either way, as I looked down the aisle at the pile of kids from teenagers to the nine year old, all in rapt attention, I knew we were in for some magic.

This movie has guts. It addresses life purpose and passion, belonging and curiosity, taking chances, loss, starting over and vulnerability and above all … living. This movie is a love song to the beginnings of cinema and a love story about living life. Whooda thought Scorsese could top his own Taxi Driver, Departed, Goodfellas? And with a slow paced film that feels the equivalent of decadent French cuisine? Delicious, flavorful, unique and not to be rushed.

Watching the kids captivated by the snippets of silent movies in the film reminded me that we are NOT that jaded. If kids who have iPods and Wii games and laptops can laugh and tear up and FEEL the simple beauty of Hugo, I know there is hope for us yet. Scorsese walks us through a world of 60 years ago, a world of books and imagination, of hardship, of the ravages of war, of renewal. And yes, he walks, not runs. He, in one fell swoop, connects us with the universal desire for meaning, passion and belonging, while showing us a time and a place, not so very long ago, in which moments were savored, like a delicate pastry, not devoured like a fast food sandwich in a race against time.

I think this is Scorsese’s best. It’s not dark. It’s hopeful. Cautionary? Yes. Preachy? Not a bit. Way to go, Scorsese. When I look at those children and see swept away expressions, and glossy eyes and my kid leaves the theatre and the first words out of his mouth are, “Mom, we gotta get the book,” I know we’ve got something good. When my teenager says “I guess everyone has a secret side to themselves,” understanding the beauty of having a clandestine past, which we all do, I am fortified. For me, I suddenly feel a tug for a return trip to one of my favorite cities, Paris, or maybe at least a few hours in an old book store, and maybe a little more adventure and definitely the reminder that I must ALWAYS continue to do the work I love.

Thank you, Martin, for an amazing tribute to cinema, and to the passionate pursuit of life itself.

As far as the kids go, no swearing, no sex, nothing too scary, and even though this is a full two hours, it sure doesn’t feel that way.

Post movie discussion with the kids could include exploring the idea of purpose in one’s life, replacing harshness and rigidity with kindness, opening one’s heart after great pain, finding belonging, and the value of living life fully.

And, as Isabelle and Hugo said,

Isabelle: Are you sure about this? We could get into trouble.

Hugo: That’s how you know it’s an adventure!

Vivre pleinement sa vie!
Life life to the fullest!!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Movie Review: Is Real Steel the Real Thing?

Giant robots, a delinquent dad and boxing? Really? Oh yeah, really. I took myself to this movie solo to make sure it was not going to be too frightening or disturbing for my nine year old. And, I admit, the previews looked pretty cool. When I came home, I told my son, “I want to be the kid in that movie.” Needless to say, I brought my son and my daughter to the theatre the following day. Quite frankly, I was happy to jump in for another view. And I was eager to watch my kiddies’ faces.

The verdict from my 9 and 13 year olds? “Best movie EVER!” The kids really loved this movie start to finish. There were only two scenes I considered inappropriate for the younger set. There is a falling scene with the boy while they are in the junkyard. I had a JUMBO sized knot in my stomach, but my kids went with the flow as I told them what was going to happen and the outcome. (Hint: No one dies or gets hurt). It was a little creepy though. The other scene was when dad’s prior life catches up with him and he and the boy are pursued by a group of bad men and the dad is viciously beaten. This was too much and doubly so as the young boy was in the scene and even got roughed up a bit as well. My answer? I sent the kids out for a popcorn refill.

What’s the magic of this movie? For starters, the giant boxing concept is unique and soooo cool. When is the last time you went to a movie and saw something completely new? Visions of and Transformers danced in my head as I felt that familiar excitement of something exciting and new coupled with universal emotional themes of family, love, redemption, and courage.

What a treat. My son is already begging me for a second showing. We were at a birthday party this week and the birthday boy’s grandpa and I got to talking. He had just gotten back from seeing with his grandson at the IMAX theatre and I tell you what, that grandpa, he looked about 9 years old himself when he was describing the movie.

Now onto the piece. On top of everything else, Reel Steel lends itself to “lessons learned” fodder for parents who are interested in that type of thing. Hey, I’m a therapist. I can’t help myself. Discussions about decisions and their consequences, the value of working hard, perseverance, forgiveness, and the ability to reinvent oneself are all easy lessons to grab onto and chat about with your child. Oh, and I forgot the other message, the world is not always fair. Another great life lesson, played out like the rest with absolutely no violins playing in your ear. Nice.

Real Steel is the Real Thing and worth the ride, whether you are cruising with the kids or just on your own sweet time.

Want to rent a good family movie? Check out my review of Aliens in the Attic.

And always remember the power of your every contribution!


Monday, October 3, 2011

Vygotsky - What Does He Know About Kids Anyway?

When we talk about child development, a common name heard is Piaget. But another theorist had an awful lot of good insights about child development. Vygotsky. Vygotsky agreed with a lot of what Piaget had to say about children's cognitive development. But there are several unique points that Vygotsky brings to the table.

The Zone of Proximal Development

What? Okay, that sounds very fancy. But it is really very simple. The zone begins where a child can go no further ON THEIR OWN. But the zone is about support. You see, Vygotsky was all about understanding the impact of support, guidance, and cultural impact on cognitive growth. So, the zone is about what a parent, a mentor, a teacher, a grandparent can do to take a child to the next level of learning. When you look at the picture above, you can see the "teacher" gives the child the tool he needs to reach further than he could on his own.

Unlike Piaget, Vygotsky felt that the impact of leaders in a child's life was paramount to their learning. The zone is about the opportunity to take a child to the next level of learning, taking them to a level of growth they cannot get to on their own. Simple.

And how do we adults do that?

For one, KNOW where the child you are working with is at. What are they capable of on their own?

Now comes Vygotsky's SCAFFOLDING. Scaffolding is the "how" of taking a child up that zone of proximal development. How do we adults do it? Vygotsky was big on language, using our words to educate and encourage. But scaffolding is simply the assistance, the guidance, the rules, the skills that we can teach our kids.

Here is an example. A child can play with blocks, but a parent or educator can open whole new worlds by demonstrating or explaining ordering, creating patterns, sequencing, etc.

What's the point? When we recognize the importance of the zone and the power we adults have to help enhance learning, the opportunities are endless for how we can help our kids grow and learn in ways they could never do on their own.

Consider in the days to come all the amazing ways you can take your child through the zone of proximal development and to amazing heights.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Outsiders: Why You Should Read It With Your Kids

My daughter is recovering from a concussion so she is unable to do much of anything, including reading. As an 8th grader, she was assigned The Outsiders to read and her teacher suggested I read it to her during her recovery. It’s been a long time. In fact, so long that I have decided I either never read it or just saw the movie. In truth, the only thing I can remember is C. Thomas Howell and Matt Dillon. So, what does that tell you?

But this book was so good; we read it in a weekend. I decided to let my son, 9, join us. He only lasted through the first chapter. In truth, the book focuses more on the main character’s insights and feelings than the action sequences. So, he got bored quickly. And it was good thing because this book deals with a lot of violence, death, complicated emotions and societal issues. What was I thinking? 13 is a much better age for this one.

The Outsiders weaves its tale of social class, personal losses, family, friendship and honor, choices good and bad, and the limited options of the poor. I don’t think my daughter will ever complain again about not having enough. To see the poverty, economic, cultural and emotional, that the characters experience is to peek into the lives of the very poor and disadvantaged. S.E. Hinton paints a picture with no violins playing in the wings. Her (yes, S.E. Hinton is a woman) story is raw and honest and wrenching. A fact your child might find interesting is that she began the book at age 15, finished it at 16. By her high school graduation she had a publisher. That in itself is an inspiration.

Reading this with your child is an opportunity to talk about class and bullying, about impulsivity and choices in adolescence and about hope. The theme of lost hope is another powerful message in the book. Do you give up hope or do you continue to look for the sunset? In truth, these issues are ones most teens wrestle with. Themes of how to fit in, what is your group, being cool vs. being honest about who you are and how you feel are all common issues of adolescence. Yet another reason this book resonates generation after generation. It understands adolescence.

Just last week a young girl in our community, 15 years old, committed suicide. She had lost hope after a loss. My heart breaks for her family, for her, for her peers. Hinton reminds us all not to lose hope, to see the beauty this world has to offer, to remember to keep believing. Try reading it with your teen. It will open up a whole new world of discussion, will remind you of the challenges of your own adolescence and will offer you and your teen yet another bond.

learn more about the book and the movie here.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Movie Review: Tangled - Is it worth getting caught up in with your kids?

I had the great joy of watching the recent DVD release, , with my nine year old son this weekend. I was surprised that this film is one of my favorite . And I am NOT into the musical numbers, but this one was good. My first nice surprise was the break in Disney tradition. The mom was NOT dead! What a treat, bucking Disney formula from Bambi to Herbie - Fully Loaded, it was great to not have to deal with the dead mom factor.

What are the other stengths of this movie? Numerous. The music is good, and remember, I am not a musical afficionado. Another big strength is the relationship with the "bad mom." Without revealing the whole story line, there is a relationship is this movie in which a character appears to show love, but the only thing she really loves is what the princess can give her. This is a great learning tool for kids about people who only care for them based on what they can get from them, whether from unhealthy family members or friends that want to use them. And it serves as a great reminder to us parents, the importance of showing our children unconditional love, no matter what.

The love story is sweet and demonstrates everything from sacrifice to kindness and integrity. So many , especially follow a stereotypical moment of decision. You know the one. "Main character has defining moment to display integrity, fails briefly, and then does the right thing." It was a nice break not to have that formula rammed down our throats.

My son is nine, but loved the movie. It had action, lots of humor, not too scary bad guys, and the animation was stellar.

Other great messages in this movie? Trust your instincts, believe in your dreams, people can change, don't judge people for how they look, don't lose faith.... oh, the list goes on.....and I can't forget this... for those of us parents that tend to be a bit OVER PROTECTIVE (me), it is a reminder to allow our kids to experience life....

So, this goes on the "must see" list. Kids and adults will definitely get caught up in this one, and what a great entanglement it is!

Check out the video here!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Strong Kids - Help your kid be all they can be!

Checking out a Jackson Pollock

This summer, my son developed an interest in Jackson Pollock. Why? I have no idea, but something about the artist peeked his interest. This was the first time my son showed any real interest in art, so I leaped. We found a museum that had Pollock's art in it, I made my son research interesting facts about him, yes, I had to explain what a "mistress" was, and you bet I ran out and got my son a giant canvas and stuck him out in the backyard with some primary colors. The end result? He knows a whole lot more about art, actually likes art museums, and has his own gorgeous canvas on his wall. Is he going to be the next Jackson Pollock? Who knows? Who cares? What matters is he is full of curiosity and life and a passion to learn new things.

Who is your child? Our kids are figuring out who they are, what their passions are, who they are going to be in the future. What can we parents do to encourage our children? Simple.

1. Be aware. Be aware of your child's interests. Listen and pay attention to their passions.

2. Foster. Find any way you can to foster that passion. It doesn't matter where they end up, what matters is they are encouraged to be curious, excited about life.

3. Encourage. No need to criticise my son's painting strokes. This is about exploring the world around him. A little encouragement goes a long way.

This summer and fall, look for ways you can encourage your child to explore his or her world and see what exciting things come!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Study Wisely with Study Hygeine

Whenever I teach a class on sleep, we talk about “sleep hygiene,” or the habits we can create to prevent sleep disturbances. One of the things we know about human behavior is that we learn from repetition. Habits, good and bad, can change our lives. The same goes for the kids we love. A few key Study Hygiene habits can help our kids really thrive now and in years to come.

Before I get into these easy to remember habits, one thing all parents should remind themselves is the incredible power of repetition. If we decide to campaign with our kids and share these habits with them regularly, we will begin to make inroads. Most of us can recollect the 10 million times we were told by our own parents to, “do your homework,” “put your laundry away,”etc. Learning is usually not a switch, but a slow process and one of the jobs of parents is to stick with it till it’s stuck with our kids.


The Replay is a simple tool in which you repeat things over and over. It is so important for kids to learn what “study hygiene” means. And the best way for them to learn is to have the people who care about them replaying it over and over for them. I recommend you go over “study hygiene” with your kid every week, until the eye rolling becomes unbearable and they can replay all the facts to you before you can get your words out. Okay, that said, here are some key study hygiene habits.


Studies have pointed out repeatedly the impact of breakfast on student performance and testing. Make sure your child understands the value of breakfast and the importance of protein. A glass of milk in the morning is associated with higher test scores with students.

After school snack coupled with homework

This is two hygiene tips in one. Most kids are hungry after school and a bit depleted. A healthy snack will give another energy boost. Do homework after school! Retention is best the quicker we revisit something. Kids can have a snack (this is a great time to add in a second glass of milk) and knock off homework while it is fresh. This is pragmatically good hygiene because energy fades as the day goes on and it’s also emotionally good study hygiene. Instead of homework “hovering” over a child’s head, they are free for the rest of the night. Never underestimate the power of finished tasks on the confidence and emotional strength of your child!


Getting enough sleep makes us all function better. When you ensure that your child gets to bed on time, you are planting seeds for them to build better habits.

Try it. Replay the 3 Study Hygiene habits for your child. Remind them week after week. Let them complain and whine and then tell them that you care and that is why you keep saying it and enforcing it. Use that minute or so of time to educate and encourage your student to make their way to a decent breakfast or an earlier night or homework after school.

And remember the power of your every contribution!