Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Kids Off The Couch's Favorite Family Films of 2008

Happy Holidays from Our Couch to Yours!

It's time to eat, gift and be merry with the family so here's our own Top Ten list of new DVDs that are worth purchasing for your home library. Wrap and enjoy!

For Younger Viewers (Rated UR, G and PG):
August Rush - Sweet tale of an adopted boy who reunites with his parents when he runs away to NYC to explore his own musical talents. (PG).

Enchanted - Disney sends up the princess genre in a delightful story about an animated princess who drops into contemporary NYC and has to learn to navigate the real world. Guess what? She still gets her prince. (PG).

Kung Fu Panda- With gorgeous animation, and lots of martial arts, this film reminds us how fun it was to watch the Olympics last August. (PG).

The Red Balloon - The french classic about a boy who chases a balloon around Paris was finally released on DVD this year. Lyrical film making at it's best (G).

For Older Viewers (Rated PG-13 and Beyond):
Into the Wild - The adaptation of Jon Krakauer's true tale of a teen who takes off into the Alaskan wilderness is directed by Sean Penn and co-stars Twilight's Kristin Stewart. (R).

Iron Man - An excellent, comedic action film about a comic book hero comes to life with a surprisingly great performance by Robert Downey, Jr. (PG-13).

Man on a Wire - Riveting documentary about a rogue tightrope walker who strung a wire between the Twin Towers and completed a dazzling feat. (PG-13).

Persepolis - This graphic novel turned film is a stunning visual account of a Iranian woman's politicization. (PG-13).

12 Angry Men - The classic Henry Fonda tale about our justice system is one of the best films every made. One juror believes in the innocence of a man whom the other 11 jurors think is guilty. (NR).

Under the Same Moon - A woman leaves her child in Mexico as she seeks work in California, but the boy runs away from home to find her. We like this for it's sympathetic depiction of the trials of immigration.(PG-13).

The Visitor - An older man bonds with an illegal immigrant couple who are squatting in his NY apartment, but helps them when the man teaches him to play the drums. (PG-13).

Thanks for reading our e-mails throughout the past year and for sharing our newsletter with your friends. We wish everyone a happy, and healthy, 2008; you'll hear from us next in the New Year!

Diane and Sarah

Kids Off The Couch


Friday, December 5, 2008

Greening The Holidays Contest!

Getting Eco-Friendly + Spending Less Money = Making The Holidays Meaningful

What does a Green Holiday mean to us? Trimming the budget and tree at the same time. Here are a few of our personal solutions -- which we hope will inspire you to share great ideas with our KOTC community and win a $100 Amazon Gift Card.

KOTC IDEAS: (1) Wish Trees -- Inspired by Yoko Ono's Wish Trees, we're asking everyone to write wishes on hang tags and tie them to our Christmas tree or pile them around the Menorah. (2) Recycled Gift Wrap: We're keeping old newspapers, pulling out all those half used paint sets, and going to town on personalized wrapping paper. Our kids are using twigs and berries from our yards to decorate their packages.

Diane's Idea: This year, I am trying new kind tradition - a gift of special time. Each member of our family is asking another for a regular date doing something together. I will ask my teenager for a cup of tea study break once a week, Grandma wants to play a Scrabble game once a month with her grandchildren, Dad (this is a tough one) will request 9 holes on the golf course every two weeks.

Sarah's Idea: The adults in my extended family pick Secret Santas to reduce the stress of shopping for 20-odd relatives at the holidays. It also reduces the amount of silly ties and bad sweaters in the closet. (In fact, one terrible tie does get shuttled around each holiday, showing up as a gag gift in a different stocking each holiday). This frees us up to buy one well researched and thought out gift for a sister, or brother in law and leaves time to play Santa for every adorable, deserving niece and nephew.

Please share your Greening The Holiday ideas with us and win a $100 Amazon.com Gift Card! If you're not already a member of Kids Off The Couch, please sign up here – it's free. Then leave your "Greening the Holidays" suggestions below in the comments section of this Blog posting and you will instantly become eligible to win a $100.00 Amazon.com Gift Card. (US Residents, 18 years and older only please.) Our winner will be chosen on December 19th, 2008. We will also be publishing some of our favorites on the Kids Off The Couch website and sending them out next week all over the country with your name as the Author.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"Chasing Vermeer" + Vermeer Painting Visit = Kids Off The Couch

Chasing Vermeer, a chapter book heralded as "The Da Vinci Code for kids," had our children burning the midnight oil, avidly following clues and secret codes to solve an art caper -- who stole Dutch master Johannes Vermeer's A Lady Writing? As our kids met up with fictional art experts, librarians and teachers throughout the novel, they learned a lot about Vermeer, and to our great delight, asked to see the real deal. In many cities, locating a Vermeer on exhibit is impossible -- there are only 35 known Vermeer's in existence! Yet, when one of these luminous masterpieces was loaned to a museum in our city, we packed everyone into the car for a rare treat -- the chance to see a Vermeer in person. Our kids admired an intimate portrait of a young woman, dressed in silks and pearls, bathed in Vermeer's signature light. Just as big a treat? Having our kids get excited about a museum visit! Click here for our inside scoop on how to bring Vermeer's art alive with a treasure hunt at the museum and Dutch cooking at home.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

"Annie" + Talking About Money = Kids Off The Couch

The Sun Will Come Out, Tomorrow... Won't It?
Over Thanksgiving break families will have plenty of time together, and inevitably adult conversation will focus on the economy. We think it's a perfect time to sit down with your kids to calm whatever anxiety has been passed along (unwittingly) to them, and to set a solid path for the future. This week, we turn to KOTC Financial Guru Nathan Dungan, a national expert on helping parents teach their kids healthy financial habits. Dungan has created a series of questions for Kids Off The Couch subscribers to get the conversation started, like asking Great Grandma about her most treasured possession or about how values have shifted in a generation. With these memories being shared, why not create a new Thanksgiving tradition and record these conversations? (This Friday is National Day of Listening, and we provide a link to their site to show families how to record these stories for posterity). If all this talk is sounding bleak, fear not -- we kick off this earnest topic with a screening of Annie, the sunniest movie we can think of, to remind us that money isn't the key to happiness.

Click here for Dungan's conversation starters as well as a link to his recent Chicago Tribune article on how to talk to kids about job loss.
And for Parents - we highly recommend Slumdog Millionaire, a wonderful treatise on money, values and love (rated R, in theaters now) to inspire you to tackle this tough topic.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"Holes" + Digging for Ancient Artifacts = Kids Off The Couch

Many kids feel a burning curiosity about the days before they were born, which is why it's magical when an old object (discovered perhaps, in grandmother's closet) summons up a different world. Our kids learned how the pros look for treasures when they participated in a Family Dig at a local museum, an inventive program where families learn about ancient cultures by excavating pottery shards from an archaeological pit. To get them ready to dig, we screened Holes (starring Shia LaBoeuf in his first film role), an adaptation of the wildly popular novel by Louis Sacher. Our kids eagerly followed the story about the young inmates of Camp Green Lake, a detention home, who are forced to dig holes in the desert all day. When the kids unearth long-buried secrets, they go on the run to keep what they've found from the evil prison warden (played to perfection by Sigourney Weaver). This is one of the smartest kid movies we know because it reveals how past generations walk along with us, a perfect conversation starter for discussing why we insist on stuffing our garages with Great Grandma's lace aprons and Great Granddad's musty books. Click here for our recommendations about whether your kids can handle this PG-rated movie, more about the popular Sacher book, and how to find some Dig experiences in your city.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Focus on Holiday Photo Projects

Holiday Cards:
Our holiday photo cards are already printed, and waiting to be addressed. We're not bragging, it's just that we're astonished to be done so early -- all because we discovered a really fun website that made creating the card easier than ever. Once you have selected a photo (we prefer a single, great shot to the collage approach) go to Tiny Prints and peruse their many card designs. They make it easy to see how your image looks on the card, and will send you a proof before they print your order. We've used other well-known sites for online printing in years past (with fine results) but are mad about Tiny Prints' fresh designs. Also, their customer service is stellar -- to woo KOTC subscribers, Tiny Prints is offering $10 off for every order over $99 until 12/2/08 (use discount code SAVE10NOW at checkout).

Memory Books:
Our favorite gift to give is a scrap book of images from the year as it draws to a close -- a keepsake for parents and child! We create very high quality books through MyPublisher, whose user-friendly website works with your computer's photo program. You'll have to download their BookMaker program (free), but we promise the process is very intuitive and if you get stuck, the tutorials are also simple to follow. Ordering multiple books brings the price down, making this a fun choice for family gifts, or sports teams. Tip: Sign up through the Costco website (with your membership number) for significant discounts.

Making a calendar with the year's best photos is also a great holiday gift -- our twist on this tradition is to compile photos of all the cousins and make a calendar for the grandparents. Both Apple's iPhoto and Shutterfly have good programs which allow you to customize the calendar with family birthdays and other important dates. Poke around each site as various discounts are available if you can get organized before the holiday crunch.

Now.... if only we had a quick tip for writing notes on all those cards!

Diane and Sarah
Founders, Kids Off The Couch

Monday, November 10, 2008

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa + Wildlife Safari Animal Park or Zoo Visit

A Beastly Good Time

Temper tantrums, eye rolls and spotty table manners seem beastly enough when coming from your own sweet darlings, but Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (which opens this Friday), features a band of animals who embody admirable human traits, like fierce loyalty and toleration of differences among friends. This lusciously animated sequel to the 2005 blockbuster follows the escapades of four Zoo-raised animals who find themselves out of their urban element in the African plains. Our tribe loved revisiting their animal pals from the first film and roared throughout this rollicking tale of family and friendship. Inspired to meet some of those kingly beasts up close, we drove down to our local Wild Animal Park, and jumped into jeeps for a photo caravan through the park where the animals roamed cage-free. Our kids got close enough to lions to examine their paws (behind a special glass barrier) and were thrilled to serve lunch to a herd of giraffe. While a trip to your local Zoo is both geographically and economically more efficient, the safari let us feel like we adventured to Africa for a few hours. (Click here for our review and for more on visiting a wild animal reserve.)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Take Your Kids to the Voting Booth on Election Day!

"What does the President do anyway, Mommy?"

If you've been a subscriber for a while, you know that our advice on Election Day is to bring your kids into the voting booth (Click here for our adventure on the primaries, including tips for talking to kids about the electoral college system). Letting them stay up to watch the election results is even more fun than having them punch the chad through the hole!

Whomever takes over the helm as President will be stewarding a troubled nation through rough times. We don't envy the position, and it reminds us of 1972's The Candidate, in which Robert Redford plays a liberal lawyer chosen to run for Senate against an entrenched Republican incumbent. Since the polls figure he won't win, he's encouraged to say whatever he feels on the campaign trail; shockingly, he wins! As he's horded by the media he turns to his chief aide and, in one of cinema's famous lines, asks "What do we do now?"

It's a great time to discuss the role of government with your family. Here's a list of books and movies to fuel discussion about what the new President's job entails.

Movies about Getting Elected and the Presidency

Elementary School:
You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown
Schoolhouse Rocks Election Collection

Middle School:
All the President's Men
Mr Smith Goes to Washington
The Great McGinty
The American President

High School:
The Candidate Eleanor and Franklin
Primary Colors
The War Room.

Books about the Presidency

Elementary School
If I Ran for President and If I Were President by Catherine Stier
Presidential Elections: And other Cool Facts by Syl Sobel
The Boy Who Ran for President by Dan Gutman
Duck for President by Doreen Cronin

We also love the Schoolhouse Rock series about government, which comes in CD format for your drives around town. You'll all be singing along. Now.... Get out there and fulfill your civic duty!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Win Exclusive Kids Off The Couch LA Screening Tickets to “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa”

Kids Off The Couch Contest

Sign Up Today for your Free Kids Off The Couch Membership and become eligible to Win 4 Exclusive Kids Off The Couch Screening Tickets to “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” in Los Angeles on Saturday, November 8th, 2008 at Noon. Eighty (80) winners will be chosen!

1. You must be a subscriber, to our newsletter to be eligible. Sign up here if you haven’t already done so.

2. To enter, please go to the Kids Off The Couch Archives and pick your favorite kid friendly adventure. Come back to the Blog and tell us about your selection or suggest a new adventure AND leave your email address in order to be contacted in the Blog Comments section. One entry and one comment per person. Please also specify how many people will be attending in the comments of the blog. (No more than 4 tickets will be allocated per person.)

3. You must supply us with a valid email address.

4. The contest starts NOW and entries must be date stamped by our server no later than Monday, November 3rd, 2008 at 11:59 AM Pacific Time to be eligible.

5. 80 winners will be selected during a random drawing and will be notified via email to receive the prize. If you haven’t heard from us, you haven’t won.

6. No prize substitutions.

7. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.

8. No purchase necessary.

9. Void where prohibited.

10. The full rules are located here.

Our kids loved this family-friendly sequel that follows the adventures of escaped New York City zoo animals Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the Giraffe and Gloria the Hippo. When the group is marooned in the African plains, they band together to learn about family and friendship (DreamWorks, PG). Check out the film's website for more details. Good luck!!!