Friday, April 27, 2007

Get a Kick-Start on Kindergarten

August will be a BIG month at the house of Midwestern Mommy. In four short months, "the boy" will be skipping off to Kindergarten. He can't wait to go. (I plan to celebrate the day by doing a little happy dance. But I'll likely cry my fool head off.)

While Seth is ready socially and emotionally, I wasn't sure if he was academically. That is, until I was sent a cool little book called Let's Get Ready For Kindergarten by educator/mom Stacey Kannenberg.

Let's Get Ready for Kindergarten touches on everything from letter and number identification to learning to tell time and identifying the seasons. The book is a great tool for gauging your preschooler's strong and weak points -- something most moms really appreciate.

What I liked:
The pages are brightly colored and visually appeal to kids. Seth dove into the book right away and got quite a kick out of "Mrs. Good and the Cedar Valley Kids". Lately, we've been using the book at night before bed. We curl up and go through a few pages. Its a good way to get him to sit and slow his little boy body down. But he's not the only one who's a big fan.

At one point, I introduced the book during one of Seth's playdates. It was a big hit with that child as well. In fact, Seth and his friend fought over the book!

Also, one of the coolest features of the book is that kids can use dry erase markers to practice writing their letters, numbers and contact information. And when you wipe the marker stuff off, it actually comes off! YEAY! Oh and if your child has sticky, dirty, chocolatey fingers? That stuff comes off too.

What I didn't like:
Unfortunately the pages rip easily. The pages aren't fragile but I thought they'd be a bit more durable.

This book is perfect for:
This is a great book to have on hand this summer. Are you going on a summer vacation? Take the book with you in the car or on the flight. Do you have time to kill in between your children's sporting events? Here's something to do. Its also a great book for grandparents and daycare providers to keep on hand.

And when your kindergartner graduates, there's a Let's Get Ready For First Grade edition as well.

TO WIN COPIES OF BOTH BOOKS GO TO Post a comment (on the entry about this product) as to why you'd like these books. A winner will be picked once the campaign is finished.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Teach your child Spanish the Boca Beth way!

It started on our family jaunt to Mexico -- our son's interest in the Spanish language. And ever since, he takes great delight in asking a daily barrage of questions like, "What's 'dog' in Spanish?" or "How do I say, 'booty-butt tormado' in Spanish?"

So when the opportunity to review the Boca Beth program arose, I jumped at the chance.

To give you some background: The Boca Beth program uses puppets (like the one shown in this photo), music and movement to teach Spanish to kids of varying ages. The founder, Beth Butler, has spent more than 10 years in preschool and elementary school classrooms and has even lived in Mexico. She's produced two bilingual educational movies and speaks nationally with parents and educators on how to make learning a second language fun. So yes, she does know what she's talking about.

I decided the best way for Seth to start off the program was to act as if he "owned" it. When the package came, I told him it was a surprise for him. After opening and explaining the contents, he begged to watch the video. We watched it together, ate popcorn and snuggled. When it was finished, he begged to watch it again. (We bypassed the second part of the DVD -- the interactive class the first time.) We were off to a fabulous start!

What I thought:

The videos are cheerful and enthusiastic. Butler's passion for the project is very apparent. She does make it easy for children (and even numbskull adults like me!) to quickly pick up various Spanish phrases. And I like how she mixes Spanish phrases into popular children's songs. In fact, I was astonished -- Seth started singing the Spanish words to "No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed" after watching the video just three times.

Children play an active part throughout the video. They sing, they dance, they have fun. And they speak Spanish too! For my son, seeing the bigger kids speaking Spanish was a big sell.

The puppet, shaker, and bilingual coloring book that came in the package are terrific additions. In fact, Seth has proudly shown off the shaker and puppet to his best friend, cousins and grandparents when they've visited. And being that he loves books, we often go through the coloring book at night before bed.

What "the boy" thought:

At five, Seth is a self-proclaimed "big kid". He realized during the second viewing that alot of the kids in the video are younger than he is -- in his words, "babies." He was put off. And when he saw the interactive spot? He complained about the children being babies. The video I received is targeted to toddler-aged kiddos. I think he would have been much more interested if there would have been more kids ages six to nine.When he heard the first few songs on the Boca Beth CD, he promptly labeled them "baby songs". So he fussed up a storm until I stopped the CD. But I do plan to keep reintroduce the CD again soon.

Frankly, he would have also been more interested if Boca Beth came out with a 'How to Speak Spanish Potty Talk' edition. But its a good thing she hasn't because I really don't want to hear him say, "poopy-diaper bed head butt" in Spanish 100 times a day. Its bad enough hearing it so often in English. (But that's a post for another day.)

I don't think the younger children's appearance in the video is a shortcoming. But I do wish the video and CD would have been available a few years ago. I KNOW that if I would have introduced the program to Seth when he was 18-24 months, he would have LOVED it as much as his Baby Einstein vids.

While watching the video, don't expect the editing, shooting and graphics to be as "slick" as the Disney's Baby Einstein movies. They aren't. But that's OK. I don't think little ones will notice. Plus? Boca Beth has got to start somewhere. And I think she's on to something big.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Good Night (and how to sleep tight)

Most people who read this blog, at some point, have caught a post where I whine and moan about my sleep issues and the resulting migraines.

Typically, I slog through the day with a mind that feels as fuzzy as a mohair sweater. But when 9 p.m. comes around, I have enough energy to run a marathon.

I’ve researched this topic many a time. I’ve even been to a sleep doctor who got testy when I told him I’d rather not go on various prescription sleep medicines. So when an opportunity to review “Good Night” came up, I was jumping for joy -- with visions of being alert and energetic dancing in my head. I was hoping Dr. Michael Breus, Ph.D. – the superhero of sleep -- would be the answer to my prayers.

What I liked:
Dr. Breus has a very approachable and friendly writing style. He goes into great detail as to WHY sleep is important and HOW it can help you look younger, lose weight, give you energy and avoid future health problems. And when it comes down to the business of improving the quality of your sleep? He offers practical solutions – even mentioning products you may not have known existed to assist in your endeavor. But he also emphasizes in the beginning that if you want to succeed? You must commit and make the quest for a good night’s sleep a priority.
As you advance in your reading, you can put various tips you pick up into practice. A better night’s sleep? Is merely a flip of a page away.

I found the “Sleep Hygiene” information very insightful. The doctor gives some great advice on how to transform your bedroom into a heaven – a place you associate relaxation and sleep. While I know we need our bedroom to be dark and quiet to ensure the best sleep, I never thought about how temperatures, smells or general clutter could affect my rest.

Once I followed his “bedroom makeover” tips, I did feel more at ease in our sleeping space. After I bought new pillows (based on his recommendations), and an air purifier, I noticed even my husband (a man who rarely has sleep issues) was sleeping better.

Dr. Breus also talks about the people who “steal” your sleep. My husband? Champion sleep stealer. For years, I’ve thought the only way I’d ever get a good night’s sleep on a consistent basis would be if I: a.) died or b.) divorced him. And like many couples, we’ve tried separate bedrooms but stopped after feeling the intimacy in our relationship wane. “Good Night” offers some wonderful ideas on how to deal with these kind of spouses. For example, I had no clue there are alarm clocks out there that vibrate to wake someone – no more awful screeching sound at 5 a.m. (Which is great when you can't seem to fall asleep until 2 a.m.) And sound machines to drown out extreme snoring? Best. Invention. Ever.There’s even tips on how to deal with those little slumber-swiping critters we call children!I also found the "smart napping techniques" extremely useful as well as information on exercise times based on whether a person is a “morning person” or a “night owl.”

He even discusses the best foods to eat, the best times for sex and has a plethora of relaxation methods to employ to gain a restorative night’s sleep.Also, according to the good doctor, you don’t have to give up caffeine or alcohol. He gives some very smart advice on how to balance your “love” of both and STILL get a good night’s rest.

What I didn’t like: I tried to keep a journal to figure out how many hours of sleep I need in order to feel “well rested.” I found this difficult. What do you do when you typically wake up each morning with an achy noggin due to sinus problems or migraines? How do you calculate your sleep when you’ve got a child who’s now in bed with you because he’s had a bad dream and repeatedly kicks you in the face throughout a night? What about those times when you've been up so many times you've lost count?

This book is PERFECT for:
There are many who will benefit from this book -- mainly anyone who's tired on a regular basis. Even people who sleep well at home but not on the road can use the travel sleep tips listed. I’ve mentioned this book to several women I know who have sleep issues. I’ve got three people who are dying to get their hot little hands on my copy of this book.

But if you can’t get the book just yet, the doctor has two great websites: and

In short?
The book offers a plethora of solid advice. I started reading the book at the beginning of what ended up being a long period of stress and upheaval within my family. (Illnesses, a time change, many migraines, a family vacation, husband’s travel, back problems, and our son's trip to the emergency room.) So it was difficult to be consistent to the sleep boot camp schedule. But I still got a lot out of the program. And for the record? I plan to return to the boot camp schedule in a few days.

This review was written for The Parent Bloggers Network. If you have a product you'd like PBN to review, click on this link for more info.