03/04/16 7:30am

It seems like every other story we read these days is about how very hard it is to get dinner on the table every night (along with why it’s so very important to eat together around said table). A flurry of meal delivery services and apps designed to make cooking for and with kids easier have popped up in response to this nightly crunch. Here are three we’ve recently tried and liked. (more…)

01/08/16 4:34pm
The Kids Passport is the answer we've been waiting for to all of our class questions. Photo: The Kids Passport

The Kids Passport is the answer we’ve been waiting for to all of our class questions. Photo: The Kids Passport

Children are curious creatures and continually want to try new things. Because of the never-ending selection of children’s classes and activities in Brooklyn, being a neophyte is easy for them, but it usually comes with a hefty price tag for us. So I was immediately interested in the concept of The Kids Passport, a new subscription model that allows your child to drop in and try out five classes a month for a set price of $99. (Think Classpass, but for kids.)

For our December “staycation” we decided to give it a whirl when we were given a free month in exchange for our unbiased review. When I looked at the abundance of choices available on their website (and handy iPhone app), I saw quite a few of my son’s tried and true favorites like Carmelo the Science Fellow and Child’s Play, so I felt confident the offerings would keep my son engaged. Little did I know that this passport would let us explore right out of our comfort zone. Here’s a breakdown of how it worked: (more…)

11/20/15 10:27am
"The Good Dinosaur" doesn't come out in theaters until November 25th, but you can still get a Pixar fix before then. Photo: Meredith Craig de Pietro

The Good Dinosaur doesn’t come out in theaters until November 25th, but you can still get a Pixar fix before then. Photo: Meredith Craig de Pietro

If your kids are human, then they (and you) are already familiar with the Pixar brand. Growing up, your daughter was attached to her Buzz Lightyear doll, while your son slept only in his fuzzy Finding Nemo pajamas. Maybe earlier this summer, you sobbed your way through the emotional roller coaster of Inside Out, happy that the family was immersed in darkness. Pixar is known for making  that go deeper than most kids’ flicks, leaving images deeply imprinted on childhoods and uncovering lost memories in adults. (more…)

11/12/15 10:22am
Beanstack, a new service at the Brooklyn Public Library, will inspire your kids to read with customized suggestions and learning tips emailed to your inbox. Photo courtesy of BPL/ Zoobean, Inc.

Beanstack, a new service at the Brooklyn Public Library, will inspire your kids to read with customized suggestions and learning tips emailed to your inbox. Photo courtesy of BPL/ Zoobean, Inc.

Having an emerging reader means it’s necessary to have access to a ton of books. Although our local library branch doesn’t have air conditioning and is stuffy in the colder months and sweltering in the hotter months, we are there every week. We have our favorite books (Oliver Jeffers, Wanda Gag, the Magic Tree House series) and new discoveries (like Animalium and Maps). But many times, we wander around the stacks at a loss for what new books to try, and since many times I order books online to pick them up, we don’t have the skills of a librarian at our disposal.

The Brooklyn Public Library has launched a new free personalized service called Beanstack that answers the question, “What should my kid read next?” (more…)

06/19/15 9:00am
Stuck in the city for the summer? No sweat! Be one of the first to sign your kids up for Recess, a new playspace in Dumbo, opening on June 22nd.

Stuck in the city for the summer? No sweat! Be one of the first to sign your kids up for Recess, a new playspace in Dumbo, opening on June 22nd. Photo: Meredith Craig de Pietro

Imagine for a second an architecturally airy space for you and your children to hang out as long as you want. When you enter, you are greeted by name, and your stroller is parked in an organized lot. There’s ample seating for you and your kids to sit down for a moment and peel off sneakers and coats, without people stepping on you. Your kids are excited for the multi-leveled play structures designed by an upscale furniture designer, while you peruse the table of complimentary, healthy snacks and sip on a refreshing mint cucumber water. There’s even an on-site sitter you could call upon to watch your child while you step out for a couple hours. In a city that doesn’t lack for indoor play areas, Recess, which opens this Monday, June 22, at 81 Washington Street in Dumbo, is a playspace that covers every imaginable base.

Co-owners Alexa Englander, the mother of a four- and a two-year-old, with a baby due in October, and Caroline Pardo, mother to two 5-year-old twins, are Dumbo residents who know first-hand the lack of neighborhood venues. As parents, they wanted a space that offers convenience–like open play available all day instead of just the usual 45-minute slots–and flexibility for people to either pay a membership or a one-time drop-in fee, in a space that Brooklyn parents and their kids will actually want to spend time in.

The price of membership provides unlimited playtime for the kids in a space that has slides, ladders, climbing webbing, a tire swing, a fireman’s pole and a chill out loft, plus discounts on birthday parties and classes such as chess, capoeira, and ballet, which are held in a separate room from the playspace so parents of children of differing ages and interests will still be entertained.

But the most unique offerings at Recess are the perks for parents. For members caught last minute without a babysitter, Recess will watch up to two children for up to two hours. Additionally, the kids can look forward to Friday night parties with Story Pirates, or weekend movie nights, while the parents can finally indulge in a date night. Best of all, you can stay as long or as little as you’d like–without having to worry about open play being over while you are still getting the kids out the apartment door. I spoke to its founders to learn more about its genesis and their plans. (more…)

05/08/15 9:00am
Marc Glosserman, founder and CEO of Hill Country Barbecue, has mastered the art of feeding a family.

Marc Glosserman, founder and CEO of Hill Country Barbecue, has mastered the art of feeding a family. Photo: Jennifer Hughes

A restaurant that doesn’t just tolerate noisy children, but actually encourages kids to be kids, is practically nonexistent in Brooklyn. Marc Glosserman, the founder and CEO of Hill Country Barbecue, has four children in the city, so he (along with his wife, Kristen) know all about the challenges of restaurant eating. Rather than retreating home for every meal, he came up with a delectable solution: a restaurant that actually entertains the entire family. Hill Country Brooklyn, located in downtown BK, serves incredibly kid-friendly food (mac and cheese, sausages, cupcakes), and the enormous top floor hosts weekly Fam Jams (every Sunday from 12pm-4pm) that include a bluegrass band, a padded area for blocks and games, face painting and other activities to keep children engaged while the adults actually get a chance to talk and eat. Additionally, every Monday in May and June from 10:30am-11:30am, Audra Rox will be on hand hosting a drop-in Music for Aardvark class ($20). This fun attitude towards food is also reflected at home with his kids, where barbecue is typical and a sweet tooth is always indulged. (more…)

03/27/15 9:12am
The new film "Cinderella" doesn't break new ground, but princess loving preschoolers will definitely love it.

The new film “Cinderella” doesn’t break new ground, but princess loving preschoolers will definitely love it. Afterwards, treat them to the play at Kings Theater. Photo: Meredith Craig de Pietro

If your child has caught fairy tale fever like mine, here are a few more suggestions to expand your Disney fan’s repertoire.

March 28th & March 29th: The Sleeping Beauty at Puppetworks, 338 Sixth Avenue at 4th Avenue, Park Slope. Showtimes at12:30pm and 2:30pm. Children $9, Adults $10. Reservations can be made at 718-965-3391 or by emailing puppetworks@twcmetrobiz.com.

April 2nd: 7pm; April 3rd: 1:00pm, 7:00pm; April 4th: 11:00am, 3:00pm, 7:00pm; April 5th: 1:00pm, 5:00pm, Disney Live! presents Three Classic Fairy Tales at King’s Theater, 1027 Flatbush Avenue, Flatbush. Tickets range from $23.70- $91.70. Kids under one are free.

Do a home study on The Cinderella Story. Playful Learning has a great post on ways to use different cultural interpretations of the classic fairy tale for an at-home exploration that will result in your child writing their own tale. The princess doesn’t need blonde hair or to wait for her prince to come.

For those of you living under a rock, the live version of “Cinderella” premiered last weekend at movie theaters across the land. Unlike Disney’s classic animated “Cinderella” (1950), this one skipped the makeover portion of the movie and instead peddled the importance of being “kind and brave.” This updated version is just as sexist as the original fairytale, but with gorgeous visuals and sweeping music, it’s a magical retelling without too much fairydust (i.e. CGI).  Also, don’t look for any spicy fight scenes in this flick, as the whole thing is simple syrup.

Parents will love seeing their favorite Downton Abbey characters in costume–Lily James (“Rose”) plays Cinderella, while Sophie McShera (“Daisy”) plays one of the stepsisters. But the real showstopper was Cate Blanchett, who easily stole the show as the evil stepmother. She arrives right after the death of Cinderella’s mother, but none of the very young children around me even blinked at the tragic scene. To find out just how much of the film my 5-year-old son, Lincoln, grasped, I asked him to explain his thoughts on the fairy tale. (more…)

03/20/15 2:00pm
If you like to get your caffeine fix with your feline fix, then Meow Parlour is the place to be. Photo: Meredith Craig de Pietro

If you like to get your caffeine fix with your feline fix, then Meow Parlour is the place to be. Photo: Meredith Craig de Pietro

Meow Parlour, located on the Lower East Side, is a place where you can drink coffee while you play with cats. It is the first cat cafe to open in New York, although they are already popular in Tokyo, where many apartment buildings don’t allow pets. It’s the perfect compromise–you get cuddles without the long-term commitment of caring for cats.

Although our apartment building does allow pets, my husband is very allergic, so a few months ago, I made a reservation to bring my son to Meow Parlour. (Children 10 and under are welcome only during designated times: Monday, Tuesday and Thursday between 3pm and 5pm, and 11am-12pm every third Sunday.) In my mind, I was picturing a cozy coffee shop with battered, upholstered couches, kittens snuggling in the sunlight, and flocks of friendly cats greeting new patrons. But, I obviously have little experience with cats.

We arrived at Meow Parlour a half hour early, so that we could first check out the separate cafe around the corner on Ludlow Street. With cold brewed Blue Bottle coffee and kitten-shaped macarons, we felt this was a promising start. My son drank a hot cocoa while I signed waivers for entry: don’t give food to cats, don’t pull on cats’ tails, don’t bring in a beverage without a lid, don’t try to wake up a sleeping cat. Also, I signed a contract saying that I realize there are inherent dangers involved with live animals. (more…)

03/13/15 8:05am
Photo: Everyday Athlete. Your kid can find their inner ninja, while developing core strength, at this class at Everyday Athlete.

One way your kid can develop core strength is at this awesome obstacle course/ rock climbing/ skateboarding Ninja Class. Photo: Everyday Athlete

Living in New York City means there’s no shortage of fun, from kid-friendly museum exhibits to inventive playgrounds and off-beat classes. But what New York doesn’t give kids much of is unstructured free time in nature. Many books and articles have been written on the psychological benefits of more free time. But Weena Pauly, the curriculum director at Everyday Athlete, and the creator of Ninja Class, also points out that having less time outdoors and less recreational time at school leads to kids having weak cores. This is something that hit home with me, as my 5-year-old son has low core muscle tone, which we are always looking for ways to work on this.

Back in the day, kids would play outside in the woods, and I can even remember playing with my friends in a field (unsupervised!) after school until dinner time every day. Granted, this was in New Hampshire where there weren’t taxi cabs whizzing by on sidewalks, and a person peeing in a garbage can on the corner.

“Ideally, kids play outside for several hours a day–climbing trees, running up hills, and rolling back down, swinging from playground bars,” Weena says. Playgrounds today have become even more safe and don’t allow enough body movement to build up these inner muscles.

A “weak core” doesn’t just mean being unable to flex a gnarly six-pack. According to Weena, it’s an issue that can lead to a host of other problems like bad handwriting, the inability to sit still in school, even poor eyesight. My son’s body gets tired by the end of the school day, and he will end up leaning or lying on his desk for support. This obviously affects his ability to concentrate at his tasks at hand. Like most Brooklyn parents, we’ve signed him up for soccer, kindersports and swimming at different times to fit into his increasingly busy schedule. “Having ballet or soccer once or twice a week is great, but it doesn’t equal a strong, integrated body,” says Weena. She suggests instead to incorporate core strength exercises into the child’s day, by making it fun and not just another homework assignment to check off a list. Here’s a couple of her suggestions; all of which we plan to implement!

“Having ballet or soccer once or twice a week is great, but it doesn’t equal a strong, integrated body,” says Weena. She suggests instead incorporating core strength exercises into the child’s day, by making it fun and not just another homework assignment to check off a list. Here are a couple of her suggestions, all of which we plan to implement.

  1. Let your kid climb the snowbanks, balance the curb, roll down hills, or scale small walls. Many parents (myself included) keep their kids on a short leash when walking the streets.  Allowing them the chance to explore and even fall, helps build strength. If your kid is like mine, and doesn’t automatically gravitate towards exploration, see #2.

  2. Sign up for the Ninja Class at Everyday Athlete. This has to be the coolest class ever. An obstacle-based class that incorporates parkour, rock climbing and even eventually skateboarding, kids learn to move their bodies in many different ways. My son took his first session yesterday. The class culminates into a party with a light show and blasting music like “Everything Is Awesome” and “What Does The Fox Say,” while kids jump from five-foot-high mat stacks, shimmy across high beams, and swing into a ball pits. According to Weena, “They learn to transform any landscape into a place to explore their physical potential.” My son’s review? “This was my favorite class ever!” The three different class options are for kids ages 4-6, ages 7-9, or ages 10+.

  3. Work on explosive movements. Says Weena, “the ability to fire up muscles quickly” can be developed when you are walking around the neighborhood. Racing your child to the nearest mailbox, jumping ten times across a driveway, or unexpected sprinting will delight your children and tone muscles.

  4. Encourage graceful movements. Weena points out that “anything can be a playground.” Roll up a yoga mat at home and have your child balance walk across it. While you’re waiting in line at Duane Reade, balance on one foot with your child and see who can do it the longest.

  5. Losing and Catching Balance. The snow is melting, but some icy spots may still remain. Walking over ice is a great way to work on core control. Wobbling on another slippery surface could have the same effect.

  6. Buy inexpensive props to encourage core strength. Sitting on a small exercise ball at the Lego table can be an easy way to get the core working. (Weena suggests storing the clunky item in a net in your shower if space is an issue!) Getting an air stability balance pad for use at the dinner table or while watching TV will also encourage sitting properly.

 

03/11/15 4:00pm
Photo: Catherine May Saillard. ICI owner, Catherine May Saillard, encourages parents to expand their kids' palette while drawing a firm line on junk food.

Photo: Catherine May Saillard. ICI owner, Catherine May Saillard, encourages parents to expand their kids’ palettes while drawing a firm line on junk food.

For Catherine May Saillard, owner of the long-standing Fort Greene restaurant, ICI, “seasonal” and “local” are not marketing tools, but just part of her French upbringing. In 2004, she opened the brownstone doors of the dining room and airy back patio, which today remain one of the prettiest eating options in Brooklyn. Brunch and menu options change monthly, depending on the availability of seasonal produce, but you can expect simple favorites like smoked pork chops with an apple and turnip salad or housemade ricotta cavatelli sprinkled with chanterelles and kale. At home with her two boys, Theo, 14, and Lucas, 12, Catherine practices what she preaches, planning efficient and delicious meals that come together quickly, but without sacrificing taste–or reaching for unhealthy, pre-packaged choices.

(more…)