Monday, November 30, 2009

The Best DVDs of 2009 from Kids Off The Couch

Let the Gifting Begin!

It's Cyber Monday -- so, cross a few names off your holiday gift list with a few simple clicks. And thanks! Kids Off the Couch receives a portion of your Amazon sale.

Vacation Reading List Tip: While you have some downtime, peruse this parenting tome -- we promise, it will affect your New Year's Resolutions: Po Bronson's
NurtureShock: New Thinking about Children

Must Have Stocking Stuffer: Nobody doesn't love the new Scrabble-Like word game, Bananagrams. Good for anyone who can spell!

Embrace the Season!
Kids Off The Couch

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Blind Side + Thanksgiving Volunteering = Kids Off The Couch

In The Blind Side, Sandra Bullock plays Leigh Anne Tuohy, a Memphis society woman whose decision to bring a homeless teenager into her home on a cold, rainy night is a transformative event. Based on a true story, the film traces the journey of an over-sized and neglected kid as he becomes one of the most stalwart linemen in the NFL today. Michael Oher survived a terrible childhood, learned to be a student and an athlete under Tuohy's steel magnolia tutelage, was recruited to college in the flurry of a national spotlight and currently plays for the Baltimore Ravens. Everyone over ten will love The Blind Side (currently in theaters) which is the perfect holiday film -- and not just because of Bullock's knock-out performance. Kids giggle at the the comedic antics of Michael's adopted brother SJ, teens relish the cameos by college football coaches and parents appreciate that the popular film offers a meaty subject to discuss around the Thanksgiving table: race and poverty in America. The sad fact is that not every foster child's story ends as nicely as Michael's. Since charitable donations go down during a recession, it's more important than ever to reach out to those in need this year, so grab the kids and do some volunteering this week. Leigh Ann says it best when she tells her husband how happy her commitment to the boy has made her. It feels good to help others... all year long.

Click here for our advice on the film's Red Flags and for links to our past Thanksgiving posts about how to teach children about values while you teach them about money.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Anne Frank - The Whole Story + Jewish Holocaust Museum = Teens Off The Couch

While Stephanie Meyer and Dan Brown's latest tomes might be on your teen's holiday reading list, Anne Frank can give these best-sellers a run for their money. In Anne Frank: A Diary of a Young Girl, the young author's description of being thirteen captures readers with the same heart-stopping directness today that it did when we raced through it decades ago. In fact, the original film adaptation (based on a popular stage play) was produced fifty years ago and has just been re-released on DVD. Our kids found ABC's 2001 mini-series, Anne Frank - The Whole Story more compelling, for it portrays Anne's entire life with equal weight given to her childhood, her time in hiding, and the end of her life in the concentration camps. (An added bonus is Ben Kingsley as Otto Frank). Although the subject matter is tough, our kids loved Anne from her book because they are aware that despite the difference in country, culture and time, Anne was just like them—interested in movies, boys, and clothes, while frustrated with the adults around her. That frustration with parents extends to knowing that such horrors as the Holocaust have happened in their world, so a visit to a Jewish Heritage Museum helps kids to see how one person can effect change. At the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, our teens pored over a few Anne Frank artifacts, and then took an intense, guided tour through an interactive exhibit that simulates being in a concentration camp. (This is not an adventure for young children!) To resenstitize our teens, we attended a talk by a Holocaust survivor who is alive because the woman who found her hiding in a barn chose to give her food and a jacket rather than call the Gestapo. Our excursion allowed us to share our closely held values with our teens on topics that remain relevant today and hopefully will help to cultivate righteous values and actions in our lives. (Click here for links to the best Jewish Heritage museums around the US, and to learn how Hilary Swank's Freedom Writers is related to Anne Frank.)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

E.T. The Extra -Terrestrial + Planetarium Visit = Kids Off The Couch

Lured by a bowl of popcorn laced with Reese's Pieces, our kids were glued to E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial long after the last kernel was gone. The story of a young boy and his incredible friendship with an alien left behind on Earth won our kids' hearts, just as it won our hearts over twenty years ago. The idea that life might exist on other planets excited us all, so we headed to our local planetarium for a Family Star Show to learn more about the heavens. Lost in a black hole of wonder, our kids were "star struck" in the original, and best, sense of the word.

Click here for information about a major meteor event on November 17, links to a weekly sky map, and information about how to find a planetarium near you.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Charlotte's Web + Getting to Know Spiders = Kids Off The Couch

In taking down this year's Halloween decorations, we found a few real spider webs underneath the pretend ones. Their sticky homes could give spiders a bad rap, unless you're familiar with Charlotte's Web, a story that gives arachnids a whole new spin. Based on E.B. White's classic book, the new live-action adaptation stars Dakota Fanning as Fern and Julia Roberts lending her voice to literature's most literate pig. Charlotte, the webby wordsmith, saves her friend Wilbur the pig from becoming dinner by weaving words like "Some Pig" into her web and creating a publicity stir. Like Wilbur, and our kids were enamored with Charlotte, so we checked out the a Spider Exhibit at our local natural history museum o see if Charlotte's movie star good looks were as mesmerizing off the screen. The Pavilion is an enclosed space on the Museum lawn that houses spiders cage free in a natural habitat. Kids can wander about looking for cool webs and five varieties of spiders. Arachnaphobes have nothing to fear: spiders are shy and stay put in their webs amongst the garden bushes. If you look close, you may just run into an Agiope -- Charlotte's cousin who weaves her silken threads into geometric patterns! (Click here for a video of naturalists handling a tarantula and for more books and films about spiders.)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Election Day 2009: Mount Rushmore + North By Northwest = Kids Off The Couch

Election Day 2009: Mount Rushmore + North by Northwest = Kids Off The Couch
50th Anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock's Classic Thriller

Without any pressing issues on the ballot today, our thoughts drift to Presidents who were elected on previous Election Days. Four presidential greats are memorialized on Mount Rushmore, so why not take this chance to quiz your kids on this unique American tourist site? Then, treat them to one of Hitchcock's masterpieces, the climax of which features Eva Marie Saint and Cary Grant scrambling around the faces of the four presidents. The film, celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this week, ranks 55th on the AFI's list of the 100 Greatest American Movies.

Quick quiz:
Whose faces are etched in stone? (Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln).
Under what President was the monument commissioned, and under which recent president was the park declared a National Historic Park? (Calvin Coolidge in 1925 and George H.W. Bush in 1991).
Why was the monument erected? (To promote tourism in the Black Hills of South Dakota).
What is the controversy surrounding the monument? (The Lakota Indians believe the Black Hills land belongs to them and have responded with plans to erect a monument to Crazy Horse, nearby).

North By Northwest
The 1959 thriller stars Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, Martin Landau and James Mason in one of Alfred Hitchcock's most elegant and memorable thrillers about a NY ad exec (Grant) who is mistaken for a government agent and chased by foreign spies. On the run, he teams with one of the better looking spies (Saint, fresh from her Oscar win for On the Waterfront) to double-cross the crooks. Who can forget the sight of Grant being chased by a crop duster, or Eva Marie dangling precariously in her skirt and heels from Rushmore? The famous scene of the train going into the tunnel once the lovers are reunited is classic (and hopefully over your tween's heads), Bernard Herrmann's score is terrific, and we particularly love the cat-and-mouse cleverness in the scene where Grant lets a kidnapped Saint know he's hiding in the house where she is being held. Kids over 10 are ready to handle the suspense of this excellent film although parents will need to do a bit of dancing around the issue of Saint using her female wiles to do her job.

Want more?
A newly remastered DVD of North By Northwest is a great holiday gift, and worth stocking in your home library. Click here to purchase the new 50th Anniversary edition from Warner Home Library. DVD extras include documentaries about Hitchcock, Grant and a commentary by late screenwriter Earnest Lehman. Mount Rushmore is also featured in National Treasure: Book of Secrets.

Click here to learn more about the making of Mt. Rushmore, which was completed on October 31, 1941. Click here to read a Wall Street Journal article about the complexity of issues behind the monument.

Don't forget to vote!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Where The Wild Things Are + Viewing and Making Monster Art = Kids Off The Couch

Spike Jonze's adaptation of Maurice Sendak's childhood tale about Max, a boy who misbehaves and is sent to bed without dinner, is the type of marketing monster that is impossible to ignore. Where The Wild Things Are (in theaters) has sparked a widespread cultural celebration of the book's classic exploration of fear, imagination and childhood innocence and critics have responded to it with accolades. The deep psychological underpinning of the book is what interests the filmmakers and while Max has fun on his wild rumpus, he comes home with a sad maturity that a young audience might not know how to handle. As adults, we were compelled by the film's lyrical beauty and sophisticated message and asked the kids why they thought Sendak's book (its ten sentences and unforgettable illustrations) has had such a lasting impact on our collective imagination - what about that story touches us? Charles Burchfield's "Heat Waves in a Swamp" is currently on display in Los Angeles' Hammer Museum, and the artist's exotic vision of nature reminds us of the expansive terrain of Sendak's fictional beasts. Both artists connect our inner turmoil to the untamed physical world, exploring the themes of wildness and our imagination in similar ways. We found online galleries replete with contemporary artists' renditions of Max and the Wild Things and before we knew it, the kids were putting together materials from the art cabinets and making masks of their own. Wildness, in our minds and in nature, is in all of us. Click here for links to the Sendak-inspired galleries and for more on our Red Flags about the movie.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"It Will Always Be About More Than Basketball" - Happy Birthday Coach Wooden!

"Success comes from knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming."

Today, the legendary UCLA Men's Basketball Coach John Wooden celebrates his 99th Birthday. A truly great sportsman who carried his team to a record-setting 10 championships in 12 years, Wooden may be best remembered for the Wooden-isms (like the quote above) that stand the test of time -- to learn more about the "Wizard of Westwood", check out 99 Things about John Wooden. Nothing could honor the man, the myth, and the legend more than a new documentary More Than A Game that covers the remarkable young career of LeBron James.

Our whole family was amped to watch "the LeBron documentary", to learn more about the NBA sensation who broke all kinds of records as the youngest ever player to score 1000 points in the NBA and as the #1 pick in the 2004 NBA Draft straight out of high school. Directed by fellow Ohioan Kristofer Belman (who was just 21 years-old when he decided to film LeBron and the Akron St. Vincent-St Mary High School junior and senior year seasons) the documentary possesses the classic sports metaphors that melt our hearts, and infuses it with the darker side of athletic celebrity: the temptation and corruption of stealing the spotlight so early. (In theaters now, rated PG - we think it's best for kids over ten).

Right from the whistle we root for LeBron's success, pulling for the youngster who never knew his father and was born to a 16-year old unwed mother. While the film inevitably zones in on LeBron, it is also a movie about loyalty, teamwork, and sportsmanship, and the group effort that makes high-school athletics such an integral part of the American coming-of-age experience. It's clear that LeBron's success was a team effort - starting with his mom and continuing throughout his career with his teammates. No sports film is complete without a Wooden-worthy coach, and the St. Vincent Coach, Dru Joyce II, jump starts the film by paternally reminding his kids, "Basketball is a vehicle, not a be-all and end-all. Use basketball, don't let it use you."

Our kids love playing recreation league basketball; they started before the age of five and played all the way into middle school. Like AYSO, everybody gets their chance to play, parents get to root from the sidelines and the lessons learned on the court (and from a good coach) are life-long. Only a tiny fraction of the most talented athletes wind up playing sports professionally, something we always remind the kids we have coached (when they are down on themselves). As John Wooden and LeBron have taught us, it's how you play the game that really counts.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs + Apple Picking = Kids Off The Couch

When we watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, our kids caution "Don't eat the apple" but alas, Snow White bites it every time. Our Popcorn Adventure this week combines two classics - Walt Disney's first full-length animated film, which earned him an Honorary Academy Award (featuring one big statue and seven smaller ones) and the timeless family adventure of picking apples.

Walt's gamble - that families would sit in the theaters and watch a 90-minute animated film - changed family movie going. The simple fairy tale storyline was familiar, but the memorable, chipper music and adorable dwarfs with their quirky characteristics defined a genre that has become a part of our lives. Walt's princess-and-her-coterie brainchildren were an immediate sensation in 1937 and continue to "whistle while they work" for the studio; Disney's marketing dwarfs devised a schedule to re-release the masterpieces over time (they're not all available in stores), and this week marks Snow White's turn. We say, grab it now for holiday giving, or to inspire this week's adventure. (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Rated G, 83 minutes; re-release October 6, 2009).

The evil Queen is one smart lady, picking a fruit known to be irresistible since the beginning of time. How could Snow White resist? A luscious, shiny apple is nectar for the soul. As the air cools and the days grow shorter, we crave apple cider, baked apples, and apple pie - in other words, anything warm with an aroma that screams "cuddle-up-in-front-of-the fire!". Before we hunker down for winter, we head to the outskirts of town to stock up by picking apples in local orchards. An ancient sense of celebration pervades these farms, as families come from everywhere to harvest the knobby, crooked trees. Our kids race from tree to tree, competing to see who fills their bucket first. The youngest ones truly look for the low-hanging fruit and search among the grounded apples for the perfect fallen treasure. It's a mark of maturity when each child grows tall enough to maneuver the 'picker' and reach the Snow White-worthy apples at the tip top of the tree. Everyone lugs back buckets overflowing with so many apples that we scatter a trail of them behind us.

Usually, the closest we come to real farmers is the weekly produce market - so our favorite u-pick orchards are local, family-run operations where we can spend the day picking and chatting about the weather like old hands. U-Pick fruit farms abound, all over the country, so click on this nationwide Pick-Your-Own-Fruit website (or Google U-pick and your town), and pack a lunch for the car ride. We've experienced the vagaries of farming - some years the apples are gone in just a matter of days, but the next year farmers stand on the country road waving the public to come and help with a bumper crop. We always leave with a stash of delicious snacks, meals and desserts -- all of which taste better because we picked 'em!

Don't let all your hard work go to waste! Martha Stewart, our trusty kitchen guru, has an arsenal of sweet and savory recipes to ensure our golden apples wind up inside a mouth-watering concoction--try your hand at her cinnamon scented apple crisp for the perfect holiday treat, or whip up the curried apple soup for a belly-warming, seasonal delight.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Drumline + Homecoming Weekend Football Game = Kids Off The Couch

It's easy to think of high school as being all about the Varsity athletes, but after watching Drumline, starring Nick Cannon as a hot shot band All Star, we couldn't help but wonder if maybe we should have handed our kids a tuba instead of a football or a tennis racket. Drumline offers an all-access pass into the cut-throat world of collegiate marching bands and challenges any notion of "band-geek" that might linger from your catty high school days. Cannon charms as Devon, a newbie recruit whose rebellious style doesn't mesh with the band's rigid routine, and who struggles to overcome his show-stealing tendencies in order to make it as a respected team player. With Homecoming on everyone's calendars this month, a live marching band is a good excuse to take the kids out under the Friday Night Lights. Everyone will have as much fun tuning into the antics on the sidelines as they will following the action on the gridiron. Turns out, there is as much teamwork involved with playing a rousing Sousa march as there is when the team tries to convert on third down.

Click here to find a listing of marching bands around the country, as well as a link to the Post Office's new Marching Band stamp.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Rent "Big" + Visit a County Fair = Kids Off The Couch

It's a fact of life that when kids are young, they yearn to be big... but that adults would gladly trade their responsibilities for the idyll of childhood. The sweet comedy at the heart of Big gets right to the core of this truism, and Tom Hanks captures this capricious mood perfectly as 13 year-old Josh, who wakes up one morning in the body of a 35 year-old toy company executive. Elizabeth Perkins plays a co-worker that falls in love with his youthful energy (who can forget the scene at the cocktail party when he eats the tiny cob of corn, typewriter-style) and Robert Loggia his boss who delights in the fact that Josh actually wants to play with the toys they are producing (the two dance on the floor size piano keyboard that is still the main attraction of every FAO Schwartz location). Josh makes his wish to be "big" to a scary Fortune Teller at an amusement park, so we invite you to indulge your own inner child by paying a visit to a County Fair. Watching the kids climb aboard an ancient carousel's beautifully painted animals is much more fun - in our minds - than standing in line forever at a theme park and we all love the take-away of connecting to a farmer while petting his goat, or meetingsomeone who has grown an unusually large pumpkin. Good old-fashioned fun keeps us all young at heart. (Click here for more details on the film and adventure.)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fall Reading Curriculum from Kids Off The Couch

What is better than discussing books you love with your loved ones?

We love this time of year -- engrossed in English classes, the kids are reading classics like Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and that means lots of rich dinner table chatter about some of our favorite literature. It's a great parenting perk to revisit these titles by keeping up with the syllabus (we are getting to read The Scarlet Letter again). Here are a few more ways to keep you and your readers on the same page -- literally!

Something you might not know but should: The vast majority of books that your kids are reading in school have been, or could be, at risk for extinction! Imagine if your youngsters were denied access to classics like J.D. Salinger's The Catcher In The Rye and Maya Angelou's I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. Do your kids know that their beloved Harry Potter came under attack in the late 90's, and J.K. Rowling's series is considered to be one of the most strongly challenged books of the 21st century? Some other shocking titles that almost didn't make it to your shelves: The Great Gatsby, Winnie-the-Pooh, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and The Lord of The Rings. See the ALA site for a complete list of books banned after 1990. Support FREADOM of expression and your child's access to important literature by celebrating Banned Book Week at your local library or bookstore. Click here to learn more about the week-long celebration (Sept. 26-Oct. 3) and to keep up with the fight for educational freedom on Twitter.

Beginning in the fourth grade, we organized Parent-Child Book Clubs by choosing four or five friends and meeting four times over the course of the school year. It almost didn't matter which books we chose (although we had fun with everything from Avi to Jane Austen); it was the conversation that came up in the group that we remember. Now that our kids are older, they read a lot of the same types of books we do - our teens loved The Da Vinci Code, so we're all racing each other through Dan Brown's latest thriller The Lost Symbol, which was a blockbuster even before it hit the shelves, yesterday!

Here are a few websites to help you organize your own book clubs - click here for great book choices from Planet Esme, and click here for advice about running the group. We love Mother Daughter Book for it's excellent suggestion list.

Happy Reading --
Kids Off the Couch

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Princess Diaries + High Tea and Etiquette Training = Kids Off The Couch

A return to school means a return to polite society -- which has us worried because we are pretty sure our kids left their manners at the beach! Kids who watch Princess Diaries will delight in the funny misadventures of Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway) as she is transformed from a gawky teenager -- "I can't be a princess! I'm still waiting for the normal body parts to arrive!" -- into the poised and self-possessed princess of Genovia. Parents will want to pluck the Queen (played by Julie Andrews) from the film to infuse a little royal etiquette in their own children; that's because this G-rated comedy reminds us all that good things happen when people's manners improve. We were pleased to discover that our local Etiquette School offers a well-rounded range of instruction - from proper grooming and posture to polite telephone etiquette and the art of introduction - and concludes with a five-course dining tutorial that will prepare any child for attendance at a royal state dinner. We experienced a few comedic fits and starts as a group of 6 to 12 year-olds struggled to get the hang of being graceful and refined, but our 9 year-old now even folds her dirty napkin over her chair whenever she temporarily excuses herself from the dinner table. As the Queen exclaims to her assistant once Mia masters her lessons, "Aah, Charlotte, I think it's time for tea."

Click through to City Savvy for the best spots to take your girls for High Tea in your city

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Boredom Busters + The Last Lazy Days of Summer = Kids Off The Couch

In the spirit of seizing the lazy days that remain, our family compiled a collaborative wish list and hit the town for a whirlwind bender of indoor ice-skating (one of the more labor intensive activities) and spicy Indian dining (obviously, as per mom's request), for an unforgettable breakup with summer. Here are a few tips requiring a little less parental sacrifice for your Labor Day weekend.

1. When Life Gives You Lemons: The Lemonade War, a book by Jacqueline Davies, is a tale of the sugary competition between two siblings over who sells the most lemonade; it mixes a romping story with basic business concepts and inspired our kids to unfreeze some lemonade mix and set up camp by the curb! In the book, Jessie and Evan duke it out for top dog, and in real life, our kids who are no strangers to sibling rivalry, went toe to toe for who could raise more money for a back-to-school splurge.

2. Twinkle, Twinkle "I Can See a Star!" This week, the moon will be growing (in astrology-speak the moon is in its waxing gibbous phase) and Jupiter will be the second brightest object in the sky. Check in to see what your local observatory has planned, or spend a night on your back gazing up at the stars and tracing the glow of the big dipper. Or click here for a weekly star report.

3. Game On: Hearts, gin rummy, poker, spoons and the latest craze, golf, are games that our card sharks master in large or small groups of friends. Send your dealers to Card Games, a website full of instructions that will keep them from squabbling over the rules. We shook up new interest in old board games by creating a challenge course, setting up games in rooms throughout the house, mapped the order to play them, and then started the clock. The kids played checkers for 15 minutes, Yahtzee for longer, and a revved up Monopoly for 30 minutes.

4. Get Caught Reading: Are your kids out of shape for their upcoming English classes? To spur them back to the page, try plot-driven books -- mysteries have worked best for us this summer. Our girls like their stories in a pop froth--they adore anything by Meg Cabot and went crazy for Avalon High. Click here for a list of mysteries that were particularly intriguing for our boys, who hadn't done any reading for pleasure since Harry Potter's last tale hit the shelves.

5. Outdoor Movie Night Everyone's celebrating the long warm nights -- google your city plus outdoor cinema to see what film's your local outdoor venue is screening in the waning days of summer.

6. Just Park It: Taking a page from The Double Daring Books for Girls, our kids set up a water balloon relay race. The goal? Which team can pop the most balloons with their butts the fastest! This next tip is one we bet you've never tried before--it's called ice blocking! Pack a blanket, pick up some uncut blocks of ice at the wholesale ice store, and zoom down the park slopes using your blanket wrapped ice slab as warm-weather sled -- ice on the grass, blanket to protect your bodies! What could be cooler? We plop down a picnic lunch (mix it up with hummus, veggies, and grape leaves) after a few hours of running a muck, then end our day with an All-American treat from the ice cream truck.

See you after Labor Day!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Devil Wears Prada + Vintage Shopping = Kids Off The Couch

The Devil Wears Prada provides a behind-the-scenes peek into the ruthless world of high fashion, chronicling the tale of a young woman who unexpectedly lands a job as an assistant to feared Runway Magazine editor Miranda Priestly, played with wicked wit by Meryl Streep. In between snarky banter and catty carb-deprived models, the film showcases an enviable wardrobe as it weaves a delicious but cautionary tale about a girl who nearly loses her soul in the dame-eat-dame world of careerist New York. Inspired by the geek to chic transformation of the heroine, played by Anne Hathaway, we took a different approach to this year's back-to-school shopping excursion. Exploring vintage shops and local thrift stores is an ideal alternative to expensive department stores and upscale boutiques, not to mention a perfect way to discover one-of-a-kind treasures. We headed out for a Sunday of shopping, starting downtown at the weekly Flea market, and working our way down the resale shops in the hip neighborhood. One of our favorite parts of the whole experience was watching our girls strut, pose, and model their discoveries. At the end of the day, swapping out Hermes silk for the oh-so-in funky floral print and snagging sets of chunky bangles for just a few bucks made both our wallets and our daughters very happy, and gave new meaning to the phrase, "Oldies but Goodies!"

Click here for our favorite shops, some insider tips on what to look for when you're rummaging, and for more about why we love this film.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Madeline + French Art and Culture = Kids Off The Couch

In August, the French famously take a month for vacation and this week's Popcorn Adventure reminds us to do as the French do -- relax and enjoy life! Starting with a screening of Madeline, a delightful adaptation of Ludwig Bemelmans' classic books that was shot in Paris, and continuing with a dose of culture delivered by spectacular French artworks, we urge you to celebrate the simple pleasures as summer draws to a close. Any child familiar with the comforting rhymes and gorgeous illustrations of the Madeline stories will take delight in this 1998 adaptation replete with Madeline on a moped zipping around Paris, mixing it up with Miss Clavel and Pepito. We spent a day at our local museum looking at Impressionist paintings and found ourselves talking with the kids about how French culture has influenced the American ideal of beauty. Last stop of our petit staycation was a quick visit to our favorite cheese shop where the cheese monger offered the children a few tastes of France. Thankfully, we'll always have Paris!

Click here for an in-depth look at other French films and books for children, and tips for conducting a cheese tasting with your family.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Julie and Julia + Taking A Food Tour of your Town = Kids Off The Couch

Julie & Julia hits the big screen this weekend and watching Meryl Streep and Amy Adams fall in love with cooking reminds us how lucky we are to live in a food-obsessed culture. We grew up eating frozen peas and limas from the Jolly Green Giant, so Julia Child's exuberance about fresh ingredients found at Parisian markets and formal French cooking techniques learned at Le Cordon Bleu has helped us explain to our kids why we get so excited visiting a Farmers' Market or finding artisinal cheese at our local market. It was Julia's quirky genius that brought a love of fine food to every kitchen in America and this engaging film celebrates Julia Child as well as her affect on a "regular" person like Julie Powell. Stuck in a dead-end job, Powell cooked her way through every recipe in Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year, transforming her life as a cubicle-bound lifer to popular author. We expanded our palate during an organized tour through our city's original Farmers' Market to celebrate National Farmers' Market Week, sampling food from around the world and listening to tantalizing food anecdotes from our passionate guide. Our kids managed to try flavors from nearly every continent -- we think both Julie and Julia would be proud!

Click here to learn more about the film, about National Farmers' Market Week and how to find a food tour in your town

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Princess Mononoke + A Full Moon Hike = Kids Off the Couch

The moon was full last night, glowing boldly and beckoning us to come out and play. Our favorite thing to do when this mood strikes is to go on a Full Moon Hike. Tromping along, with pathways and clearings lit from above, our imaginations run wild and soon we are gripping each others' hands in fear and excitement. The forest is truly otherworldly in the soft night air. If forests are enchanted, then every tree has a bit of magic. In Princess Mononoke, a film by Japanese animé master Hayao Miyazaki, a prince and princess fight alongside animals to save the forest from human encroachment. The spirit world mingles with ours, animals and humans are allied and good conquers evil. The film's strong environmental message and stunning visuals kept our tweens and teens on the edge of their seats, and they loved that the story unfolded unpredictably. (The film imparts a cosmic justice that may be intense for younger viewers). Our kids were truly enchanted by Miyazaki, and have an animé film festival planned for our family vacation. Click here to learn more about two other films which are good for Younger Viewers: Miyazaki's latest film, Ponyo, that will be released in August, and Ferngully: The Last Rainforest. We'll also help you find out when the moon will next be full.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

National Velvet + Polo Match = Kids Off The Couch

National Velvet
wears a triple crown in our book - it stars a stunning young Elizabeth Taylor as a 12 year-old who wins England's Grand National Steeplechase, tells the stirring story of how she discovers and trains an "unbreakable horse" and races it disguised as a male jockey, and finally, contains one of the most exciting race sequences ever filmed. Velvet's mother encourages her daughter's dream because as a young woman she won a prize for swimming the English Channel. Although our kids resisted watching a film from 1944, they were moved by the deeply etched relationships between mother and child, Velvet and her trainer Mi (played by Mickey Rooney) and were especially enamored of the scenes between Velvet and "The Pie". Hooves are thundering around polo fields this summer, so we spent a Sunday afternoon watching this arcane sport, in awe of how the players swing their mallets at golf-ball sized balls while galloping across lush green fields. Don't think polo is just a love-poem to a day gone by - it's populated with as many female jockeys as male. Perhaps the girls riding polo ponies today watched Velvet's thrilling ride when they were young. Perhaps the young boys did as well, and the thundering hooves are a paean to this classic and beloved story.

Click here for more to find a polo match near you.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler + Art in Your City = Kids Off The Couch

Summer is an exciting time for new art, and museums all around the country are welcoming its citizens to punctuate their sun bathing and water-sports regimen with some high culture. Yet, bringing kids to see art can sometimes feel like a chore. A few years ago, we read one of our childhood favorites to the kids, inspiring our best trip to a museum, ever! The book is "From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler," and tells the story of two kids who run away from home and wind up hiding out in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. The deliciously taboo notion that kids could stowaway in a museum (without their parents) thrilled our children as much as it thrilled us a generation ago. We were inspired to plan our own stowaway adventure at a local Art Museum. The kids found a bed they could sleep in, a place to stow their overnight bags, and a fountain in which to bathe. We hope that you will follow our lead and start your summer with an off-beat, kid-friendly art adventure -- by pretending to mimic the story's clever premise, we are pretty sure that your kids will discover that a museum is much more fun than they'd thought. Oh -- and, they might fall in love with a piece of art along the way.

Click here for more information about The Hideaways, a television movie starring Isabella Rossellini, based on the beloved E. L. Koenigsberg book.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Write Stuff: My Brilliant Career + Writing Workshop = Kids Off the Couch

If your child dreams of being a successful author, or if they simply love to dabble in their journal, they'll appreciate My Brilliant Career, a film that had an impact on us when we were young women. Judy Davis makes her debut as Sybylla Melvyn, an impoverished Australian farm girl determined to fulfill her dream of becoming a great writer, even though it means rejecting a man she loves. Although the film's ending surprised the kids -- our modern romantics couldn't understand why Sybylla spurned a man in order to write -- the character's passion for her craft stirred their creative juices. We jumped on the chance to introduce them to 826, a national, non-profit organization devoted to helping kids become good writers, and took our daughter to a writing workshop hosted by a local art museum. Our nine year-old daughter wrote the first two chapters of a murder mystery which she finished at home a few weekends later. Even if she's not quite ready for a Sybylla-like sacrifice, the 826 workshop helped turn her creative impulses into something we could all read and enjoy.

Click here for more about 826 and the film.

Monday, June 15, 2009 Article "Co-Ed Sleepovers Are the Ultimate Playdate " by Kids Off The Couch Co-Founder Sarah Bowman

Check out the full article at here

Parents need to remember that kids have their own version of a timetable, too.

Sarah Bowman: Teens take a long time getting to the girlfriend and boyfriend stage -- there is a long run up of IMing, texting, Facebooking, and (eventually) hanging at the movies in groups, which seems to occupy most of 7th and 8th grade. Even then, the negotiation for a couple to go on a first date can take weeks, involving dozens of mini-conferences between the couple and various third-party agents who arrange the setup. If two teens actually start dating, everyone is thrilled -- the kids have achieved a new public status, and parents are generally happy that their kids are developing "real" relationships and not engaging in the dreaded "hooking-up" that the media keeps warning us is rampant.

And even so, sleepovers rule as the social activity of choice in high school. My experience is that both girls and boys leapfrog from one home to another between their weekend activities. No matter how much the girls are thinking and talking about the boys (and vice versa), they love the comfort of lounging in their PJs and staying up until ungodly hours watching "One Tree Hill" for the 90th time. As for boys, it's all about gaming, poker, and reruns of "The Office."

Which is why I was so shocked to hear that my friend's 16-year-old son had been invited to a co-ed sleepover at his girlfriend's house. The girl's mother thought it would be a really cool Sweet Sixteen party concept, and this blithe promotion of a fragile, new relationship jangled my friend's nerves. After several frantic conferences, she and her husband told their son that he would have his normal 11:00 PM curfew. Turns out, their son was relieved to be told he had to sleep in his own bed.

Parenting is still, and always will be, about setting limits. Yes, you can see him tonight; no, you can't go to that party if the parents aren't home. Yes, she can come for dinner; no, you can't spend the night at her Sweet Sixteenth! With each year that my kids grow older, my anxiety about their sexuality decreases (probably in direct relation to their right to privacy)! But maybe that's because the kids have their own version of a timetable, too.

Sometimes, their notion of what's cool and our idea about what's right dovetail nicely because we all need boundaries that make us comfortable.