8 Things to Say to Kids About Their Artwork Instead of “Good Job!”

“Mom, do you like my picture?” is a loaded question. Encourage your budding artist with these thoughtful answers and discussions.

“Mom, do you like my picture?”

That’s a loaded question when the artwork belongs to a 5-year-old.

Do I like it? How do I know? I don’t even know what it is. I strain to find any recognizable shapes to clue me into the subject matter. All the while, my child’s eager eyes are boring into me, looking for positive reinforcement.   

I see lots of loops and swirls, and a floating head. There are glasses, but only one eye.  There’s a scribble in the lower left corner. Is it me? Is it her? Is it an alien? 

Parents are put on the spot like this all the time, struggling to formulate a correct response to a child’s eager inquiry. How many of us have responded in the wrong way, saying things like, “That looks like a really fast car!” when the artist meant to draw a puppy. Or mistakenly thinking a red circle was a balloon, when it’s actually Grandpa. Or just throwing out the catch-all, mostly meaningless phrase, “Good job!”

There is a better way. We can respond to our kids in a way that celebrates effort, and encourages learning. Practice these responses, so that when you are caught unaware by your child, grandchild, or student, you have some go-to phrases to appropriately critique your budding artist’s work.

1 | Don’t assume that you know the subject.  

Ask the child, “Can you tell me about your painting?” 

I’ve been caught many times mistaking a truck for a rollerskating dog, a goblin for a tree, and a donut for a portal into the future.  

Children love to talk about their work, and this is the perfect time to take advantage of this tendency.

2 | Notice the details. 

Talk about the shading, lines, colors, and forms that you see in the work.  

Responses like, “I see that you added purple to the sky. Tell me more about that. Or, “You put blue dots underwater. Tell me about those.”

Invite children to discuss the thinking process behind the artwork.

3 | Give feedback about effort. 

When you see your child concentrating and adding details to a sketch or scribbling, praise what you notice.

Comments like, “I see you’re putting a lot of thought into those wavy lines.” Or, “You kept working until it was completely finished.”

Acknowledge the effort that the child is putting into a piece.

4 | Use phrases like, “I noticed…” or, “I see that you….”

Say something that begins a conversation about the artwork.

“I noticed you used lots of blue. Is that your favorite color?” Or, “I see that you added yellow on top of the purple. Why did you decide to do that on this triangle?”

5 | Don’t judge the work.

While a child may ask “Do you like it?” respond with a specific detail that appeals to you. 

“Those purple clouds remind me of a sunset that I saw last night. Or, “Your truck looks like it could go really fast!”

These are the kind of comments that will encourage further discussion.

6 | Celebrate and display work.  

Have your child find a place to display the piece. It could be in a frame, magnetic clips on the refrigerator, or scanned into the computer and shared with family.

Celebrations encourage further work, and lead to a sense of success.

7 | Encourage next steps.

I’ve seen my share of naked stick figures, and always encourage my students to put some clothes on those people.

The children always think it’s funny, but the comment is meant to encourage them to add more detail to their work. Stretch their thinking and see where they can go next.

8 | When you’re not sure what to say, give nonverbal feedback.

A smile, a pat on the back, a wink or high-five can communicate to your child that you see and acknowledge them and their work. And that’s all they’re really asking for.

Have fun with your budding artist!

Babymoon in Cuba, 4-Year-Old Along for the Adventure

My wife was 6 months pregnant with twins, but we wanted to take a babymoon with our four-year-old. So we flew past Florida and took a two-week trip to Cuba.

Back in 2012, my wife Megan was six months pregnant with twin boys. We wanted to take a slightly adventurous “babymoon” with our four-year-old daughter while our family was still a power trio, as the five-piece version seemed like it was going to be resigned to Orlando timeshares with the in-laws for years to come. 

So we flew right on past Florida and took a two-week trip to Cuba. One last hurrah for the three of us before the twin wave arrived with…whatever it was going to bring.

You still have to jump through a few hoops to get to Cuba from the United States. There are permits you can apply for to get there legally for a slew of reasons, but we’re not planners and instead just flew to Cancun and bought three tickets to Havana in cash at the airport.

As the more neurotic partner in my relationship, this leap of faith brought with it a lot of stress. I spent countless hours online researching the worst case scenarios – penalties for being caught, and options for when you run out of cash and your American credit cards won’t work. Was there even an American embassy in Cuba?  

I know six words in Spanish and they are: por favor, no empuje mi pasaporte. I even roll my r’s when I say it.

As it turns out, my wife’s fearless, willfully ignorant, the-universe-will-provide attitude was all we really needed. She told her OBGYN we were hoping to take a trip six months into her pregnancy. When the doctor found out the trip was to Cuba, she said, “Oh, that’s fine, they have great health care.” And we were off. 

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Havana

It would have been easy to spend two weeks in Havana alone, jumping from casa to casa. Casas Particulares are homes marked with triangles above their front doors that have government-sanctioned guest rooms for rent. 

The beauty of traveling to Cuba, for me, is staying at the casas, talking to the hosts, learning about the island

When you stay at a casa for about $30 a night, you get a bed, an air conditioner, a blindingly fluorescent light, and a four-course Cuban breakfast made with love before your eyes. A plate of mango and papaya is a great way to start a day. 

The beauty of traveling to Cuba, for me, is staying at the casas, talking to the hosts, learning about the island, and always learning about their friend who has a casa wherever it is you’re going next. The Cuban people are a resourceful team and they help each other out. 

While some people might prefer the privacy and comfort of a proper hotel – and they exist in Havana – to me, much of the reason to make a trip like this is to get to know the locals. Interacting with your host is a perfect way to do this. The internet’s not going to work at that hotel anyway.

The embargo has essentially created a time-warped island where cars are preserved relics from the 50’s, oozing charm and oil. I remember getting into one particular cab that was a perfect Studebaker with checkered red and white leather seats. We were so impressed we immediately told our driver this was our “favorite car yet.”

“Where are you from?” he asked us.

“New York City.”

“What kind of car do you have there?”

“A ’95 Ford Explorer,” I answered.

“Trade you?” he said. 

 It’s good to remember that our little museum is their daily functional struggle.

Havana is broken up into three sections.

Habana Viejo (Old Havana) is where you can gawk at prestigious plazas and streetside mansions. Keep some CUPs (the local currency, not the tourist currency) on hand to pick up pizzas in the street windows. 

Centro Havana, the more bustling and crumbling area in the middle of the city, is where we stumbled upon a restaurant called La Guarida. To reach it you walk up flights of winding stairs, through tenement apartment hallways littered with toys, to a gorgeously renovated room serving upscale food. 

Finally, there is Vedado, where the streets are wider and there’s a more suburban feel. In Vedado we stayed with a wonderful host named Eddie who had a mini outdoor shower draped in vines that our daughter found irresistible. 

Outside Havana

The noise and exhaust of the city eventually caught up with us and we pulled off a pretty rare move – we rented a car in Havana and got out of town. The car rental places aren’t cheap and you must pay up front in cash. It feels super sketchy, and how did a 1982 Toyota Corolla end up here, anyway? The maps are hilariously vague and have nothing to do with the actual roads, but the universe will provide.

There are wonderful destinations throughout the island – beaches, mountains, villages – and the casas are not confined to Havana. It’s best to shop around for a special casa if you can. For an extra $20 you might find yourself eating breakfast on a swanky rooftop or staying in a mansion with an incredible library. The simple pleasures brought us the most joy – like a little pig that ran around the backyard at one casa in Trinidad. 

Outside of the city, the spirit of the Cuban people is easy to experience. As a socialist country, the culture doesn’t compete like Americans do, and there is a more relaxed team spirit that pervades the daily culture. If a car is stuck with a flat tire, the next car along the road pulls over to help. That’s just how it works. 

“Let’s get another!” my daughter would yell every time a hitchhiker got out.

Hitchhiking is a common mode of transport and no one drives past a hitchhiker if they have room (or sometimes if they don’t). Wanting to immerse ourselves in the culture, we started picking up hitchhikers on our route, too. They’d sit in the backseat next to our daughter and would slowly realize they’d been picked up by a bunch of gringo tourists. 

After a little Spanglish conversation about the gemelos Megan was expecting, most would end up playing with our daughter a bit before gesturing to get dropped off. Our daughter loved it. “Let’s get another!” she’d yell every time a hitchhiker got out.

Once, when we pulled into town on the late side – like 9 p.m. – our casa host directed us to the one restaurant there, but it had just closed. Someone from the restaurant then escorted us up a hill to a friend’s modest apartment. The woman answered the door with curlers in her hair but understood the situation. 

We sat at her kitchen table while she prepared us fish, beans, and plantains. She made sure we were satisfied. At the end of the meal she slid us a piece of paper with the number eight on it. We left her ten dollars and a bunch of soap we didn’t need.

As a babymoon, it was the perfect destination to stimulate the three of us.

Everyone in Cuba is hustling a little bit – they need more to live than the government ration provides. It’s good to have your antennae up as some of the people who approach you have ulterior motives and are running low level scams. But much more often we experienced their generosity, humanity, curiosity, and a gratitude that Americans took the time to explore their country. 

As a babymoon, it was the perfect destination to stimulate the three of us. We bonded, had some adventures, learned a lot about a wonderful island, and made some new friends. We left our “Time Out Havana” book on the street in Cuba for someone else to enjoy. When the guy at U.S. Customs asked if we had a good time in Cancun, we said, “Yes… Cancun was sweet.”

You Can Now Visit the Guggenheim Without Leaving Home

Got cabin fever? Stuck at work? Take a trip to the iconic Guggenheim Museum right now!

Got cabin fever? Stuck at your desk? Why don’t you take a trip to the Guggenheim Museum right now?

Yes, NOW!

The iconic building, located in New York City and designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, is the latest museum to be added to Google’s Cultural Institute project, designed to bring museum collections and architecture from all over the world right to your keyboard.

According to Wired, “digital visitors can now explore Wright’s building, ascending and descending its ramp with a digital pair of feet. More than 120 artworks have also been digitized and made available online.”

Of course, there’s nothing like seeing the real thing up close and in the flesh.

But, hey, this way you can show it to your kids without having to buy them plane tickets, or trudge about it the snow.

Check out the excellent Google tool right here.

Source: Wired

33 No-Tech, Super Fun Activities to Keep Kids Busy on Winter Break

It’s time to get (modestly) creative with cheap, tech-free activities for elementary school-aged kids.

Winter break is upon us and it’s time to get creative. Here’s a quick list of cheap, low-tech ways to entertain an elementary school-aged kid over winter break.

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  1. Make easy popcorn balls (with marshmallows or corn syrup).
  2. Make duct tape wallets (hey, even Martha’s doing it) or a bunch of other oddball duct tape crafts).
  3. Buy cheap notebooks or use some sticky notes to make flipbooks.
  4. Get out the camping gear and set up a backyard winter explorers base.
  5. Write some Star Wars fanfiction (or Harry Potter, etc).
  6. Experiment with making your own personal ultimate ramen recipe (ramen tips, more on Pinterest).
  7.  Go for an epic walk.
  8. Throw a housecleaning party – complete with music and snacks. Get creative and invent a point system for certain tasks.
  9. Same as above, throw a thank you card party for all those Christmas gifts. (I do not know, it’s worth a try).
  10. Make epic blanket forts.
  11. Try some new winter crafts.
  12. Have fun with simple baking recipes. (Or just make these pretzels from a box mix.)
  13. Go sledding – on a homemade sled (or, take your normal sled and give it a rad new paint job).
  14. Let the kids plan and put together a family game night. (Don’t worry – you can still bring your own beer.)
  15. Make a Rubber Band Guitar.
  16. Create a scavenger hunt with your leftover Christmas candy.
  17. Score some old board games at the thrift shop and let the kids mix and match the pieces to create their own games.
  18. Likewise, invest in some all-day board games to keep the kids busy. With snacks, of course.
  19. Use toys, string, and recycling materials to make a breakfast-cereal pouring Rube Goldberg machine.
  20. Make simple kite that really flies out of newspaper or a simple kite out of foam.
  21. Print your own fake Apple Watch. That way your kid can go back to school with some bling.
  22. Make a homemade lava lamp with salt and oil.
  23. Write funny captions in old magazines or newspapers with a sharpie.
  24. Make some awesome magazine collages.
  25. Have a prank party – set up a bunch of pranks to play on the other parent or siblings. Pranks for kids. More pranks.
  26. Homemade pizza night! Or lunch.
  27. The old standby of making homemade play-doh is still fun (easy play-doh recipe one, easy play-doh recipe two).
  28. If you have some of those silicone oven safe muffin trays, you can recycle all those broken crayons into new ones.
  29. Look at all the things you can do with cardboard. Some of them might be fun. More here.
  30. If you live someplace cold, freeze stuff outside, Han Solo-style.
  31. Go to the library and borrow a mountain of books – for free.
  32. If you live someplace with snow, grab some food color send your kids out to create snow graffiti (more here).
  33. If you have access to a stick, some pipe insulation foam and duct tape, you can make a pretty legit sword / lightsaber that you can use to battle.

Check out the Unbored series of activities, ideas, and adventures for great activities not listed above!

5 Bonus Tech Activities

  1. Make a video game with Hopscotch
  2. Download some podcasts and set up an audio theater
  3. Explore the posts on Today Box
  4. Take a virtual tour of art museums around the world
  5. Experiment with learning piano with Pianu or drop beats with Patatap

What are your go-to “entertain the kids at home” ideas? Post in the comments below!

A Vision of Motherhood That Includes Traveling the World

A challenging coast-to-coast trip with a new baby ends with renewed confidence to explore the world as family.

In anticipation of the first long flight with my husband, Gus, and our six-month-old, Maggie, I solicited advice on Facebook, and within hours, whoosh! A deluge of commentary.

There was that which was helpful: Have a change of clothes for her and for you. Plastic bags in case you have poopy/vomity clothes.

There was that which was contradictory: Travel as light as you can versus Bring a nursing pillow, car seat, carrier, and stroller.

And then there was that which alarmed my parents: Nebutol suppositories and Benadryl=baby sleeping pills

From New York City, where we live in the East Village, we were heading to Santa Rosa, California, Gus’s hometown located in Sonoma County, land of gorgeous vineyards within 30 minutes of epic cliff-lined ocean views and the redwood groves.

Gus owns a restaurant, The Spinster Sisters, in an up-and-coming arts neighborhood near downtown Santa Rosa, and there was an apartment above it where we could stay. The plan was to introduce Maggie to Gus’s family and friends and attend my cousin’s wedding in Berkeley, only about an hour away.

We flew American Airlines, business class, a real treat thanks to the miles Gus had accrued working on both coasts. Given that Maggie is very social, and I’m content (and grateful) with her in the arms of friendly strangers, I considered making a onesie for her that said, “Want to hold me? Just ask!”

Alas, Maggie made every attempt to decimate the relaxation potential of premium seating.

She cried at take off. She cried several times in the middle of the flight, for long periods, the ramped up wailing of a child who wants badly to fall asleep but can’t get comfortable and/or has popped eardrums due to cabin pressure.

I could have been luxuriating with my husband over the course of six blessed uninterrupted hours of time, tucked under blankets, our seats fully extended with unlimited movies and warm nuts. So, too, could have our co-passengers.

Maggie’s crying sends a kind of electric shock current through my veins. This doesn’t happen to Gus. He doesn’t get ruffled. It was he who quelled the first storm by holding her close on his chest until she conked out.

The stewardesses were also wonderful. During a bout of crying, one of them offered to take Maggie to the area where the other flight attendants were hanging out. They entertained and were entertained by her for 20 minutes or so and returned her happy.

“You must be missing her,” the stewardess said.

“Nope,” I said.

We landed and picked up our rental car from Fox. We’d requested a car seat in advance, but they took an hour to produce one because the first had no base and the second was for a toddler, and all of their equipment was kept (it seemed) three thousand miles away from the waiting area.

An hour or so later, we arrived in Santa Rosa. Maggie crashed immediately in the Pack ’n Play I’d shipped in advance. Gus and I went downstairs for a glass of wine and a bite to eat. (Yes, I left my baby alone and without a monitor.)

I’m not much of a drinker, but I find that hours and hours spent with my daughter makes alcohol taste amazing. 

A few weeks earlier, I’d posted a babysitting job on care.com. Reading responses and interviewing potentials took maybe a couple of hours, and I found a local babysitter, Michelle, a recent college grad and theater major from Austin who moved to the area after hiking the John Muir Trail.

She came for four hours a day, enough time for me to complete my work for the Wall Street Journal (I’m an arts journalist), return emails, and have a break from watching Maggie. For me, the two main pleasures of motherhood are being with her and being away from her. “Just enough childcare to take the edge off” is how a friend of mine puts it.

Michelle was fabulous: energetic, kind, and loving. Every day, she took Maggie to a nearby park, and back at the apartment, she turned kitchen instruments into toys. She found my daughter to be an uncomplicated charge who delights in kids, dogs, fans, and her feet. I worked from inside the restaurant downstairs, so I was never too far away from them.

I didn’t do all that much during the time we spent in Santa Rosa, no site seeing, no hikes, no performing arts. For hours, I sat with Maggie and Gus on the benches outside the restaurant, chit-chatting with neighbors and acquainting Maggie with their dogs.

Occasionally, parents would come in with their babies. I gave one most of Maggie’s clothes, at least those I knew she’d grow out of soon. One woman offered us figs from her tree, another a tour of her gallery. We watched afternoons and early evenings pass and soaked up a culture different than ours in the East Village.

Maggie adjusted to the time zone immediately (we didn’t).

At the end of each day we ate with family and friends at their various homes spread around wine country. Night after night after night, we put Maggie to bed in different bedrooms in strange homes, and she fell soundly asleep allowing us to hang out for hours. After transporting her back home, she slept till morning.

These are moments as a mom when my kid seems like such an adorable, adaptable champ, and every adventure imaginable seems possible. Then there are other kinds of moments.

En route to Berkeley, she cried for much of the hour-long drive. At the rehearsal dinner, in trying to catch up with family while simultaneously tending to Maggie’s diaper, I put her down on a dinner table. The second her parts hit the plein air, she produced a long fountain of urine that soaked the table cloth.

“Her pee’s actually really clean,” I found myself saying to a witness.

That night, we stayed in an adorable Airbnb one-room cottage where she made fussy noises every couple of hours and where my husband snored. I ended up grabbing seat cushions and fashioning a bed for myself in the walk-in shower.

The next morning, for the wedding ceremony, I tarted her up in an exquisite Il Gufo two piece a generous friend had gifted her on which she pooped profusely in the parking lot of Tilden Park, the site of the outdoor wedding, before anyone could see her in it. One of those over-the-top and up-the-back emissions. Her backup outfit, culled from the bottom of my diaper bag and the trunk of the car, looked like something culled from the bottom of a bag and the trunk of a car.

Hours into the event, Maggie needed a nap so badly she fell asleep on Gus’s jacket draped upon a picnic table surrounded by guests making merry. Bugs snacked on her skin. On the return trip, we ran into traffic and out of formula. The next morning, she and I woke with colds.

But there were plenty of worthwhile moments, both macro (the wedding was for one of my favorite cousins, whose mother died of pancreatic cancer at 55 and is my daughter’s namesake) and micro (there was a harpist who absolutely riveted Maggie and, together, for many minutes, we gazed at the instrument surrounded by the music and her wonderment).

Recently, I attended the memorial service for the filmmaker Albert Maysles. One of the best comments came from his wife, who said that sometimes Al ran out of gas on purpose because he enjoyed the serendipity of meeting good samaritans.

Traveling with Maggie is like that – I know that sometimes we’ll get stuck, but she is a magnet for strangers of tremendous warmth, and I enjoy the serendipity of meeting them.

However, the world is not populated entirely by lovers of babies. The flight back was a gauntlet: a red eye, without Gus, who stayed on in Santa Rosa for business. While Maggie and I settled in, a woman came down the aisle to our row, saw Maggie, turned to her friend a few rows down and said, “I am NOT sitting with a baby.”

Then she said it again, and pivoted to find a stewardess against the tide of boarding passengers. Immediately, in the tone I use to identify fruits and animals and objects of all kinds to Maggie, I identified this woman as an expletive. It just flew out of my mouth. At that moment, between the three of us, it’s hard to say who was the least mature.

Our would-be neighbor in the sky was unsuccessful in her plight for a different seat. The flight was full, so she put her headphones on and settled in for the nightmare she anticipated.

Maggie, attached to me in the carrier, fell asleep shortly after take off on my chest. It reminded me of the first two months of her life when she slept on my chest every night. I fell asleep, too, until I felt her moving around and kicking.

I couldn’t tell if it had been five minutes or five hours that had passed, so I asked the stewardess how much longer we had, and when she said 50 minutes, I once again had that euphoria: My baby is a champ! We can do anything together! We arrived back home at 6 a.m. and she fell right asleep. Me, too.

Showing my daughter the world has been woven into my vision of motherhood forever, and I’ve known un-ambivalently that I wanted to be a mother since about the time I knew what a mother was.

When she was first born, in late March, this particular desire to travel with her intensified, I think in large part because I feared that she would prevent me from traveling, keep me beholden to her napping, sleeping, and feeding schedule, keep me stuck in the house exhausted and overwhelmed.

There are trips we can’t take any time soon. I have a friend with amazing connections in Bhutan, and I’d love to explore her nanny’s homeland of Ethiopia. But I don’t have the courage to be so far from a Western hospital, to be in such unpredictable territory. (I also don’t have sufficient dough.)

Still, I can save and fantasize and plan to make these trips, and others, to her father’s ancestral homeland in Sweden, to Japan, where I’ve spent a not insignificant amount of time, to all the spots on my wish list: Cuba, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Zimbabwe, Kenya, South Africa, Argentina, Peru, Chile, Haiti, Iceland, Turkey, France, Spain, Italy, Ireland, Tibet, Fiji, New Zealand. 

She won’t remember any of the trips we take until she’s at least five years old, but that doesn’t mean that nothing registers. She’ll have my memories and photographs to see when she gets older and something sweeter still: the strengthened alliance, the confidence in each other, that builds with every trip.