How to Raise a Kid: the 1st Conference from HuffPost Parents

I recently attended HuffPost Parents' first parenting conference, How to Raise a Kid, at the William Vale Hotel in Brooklyn. The one-day event was geared towards parents who are past the baby and toddler stage and have children beginning to navigate the world on their own. GULP. That is definitely the current state of affairs around here.

I thoroughly enjoyed the conference and tried to soak in every morsel of parenting advice that came my way during the panel sessions (unfortunately I missed Abby Wambach's introduction due to my aforementioned children and school drop off. Parenting never ends). Scribbling notes for most of the day, I've finally had a chance to go through everything and see what wise words I can share from a wide range of parenting experts. Here we go!

How to Raise a Kid Who's Stronger than a Bully

Moderator: Eric Snow, Watch DOGS
Dr. Deborah Pope, Ezra Jack Keats Foundation
Dr. Elizabeth Englander, Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center
Kirk Smalley, Stand For The Silent (check out their GoFundMe here)
Ryan Beale, Prepare U Mental Health Curriculum

Bullying is more psychological than physical; it's an imbalance of power. And it's not just about being mean- the bully's focus is on a target, & the repetition of that imbalance of power. Girls are more likely to be bullied within friend groups. As parents, how can we help our children cope? By helping them learn connectiveness and supporting the development of healthy relationships. EMPATHY is so important, as well as meaningful conversations, asking questions and demonstrating positivity through our actions.

SUICIDE is the 3rd largest cause of death in children (I was shocked by this one). Reinforce with your children that they are SOMEBODY.

More diverse books are needed for children, so kids can see themselves represented. There's a connection that develops when a parent reads to a child- it's so important. Ask questions about the book- make it interactive. See books as allies and a trip that can help you solve a problem.

Bringing school into the equation: parents should be involved, and schools should try and create a community. Take ownership and lead by example. Social media heightens anxiety (also a problem in children) - talk to kids about what social media actually is and how it effects connectiveness.

FAMILY DINNERS are crucial- kids whose families eat together do better because everyone is talking and connecting (also, parents- don't beat yourself up if it doesn't happen every night, but keep it on the top of your priority list).

LISTEN with your heart. Sometimes you can't fix it as a parent. And we don't have to have all the answers- really hearing your child is what's most important.

How to Raise a Screen-Savvy Kid

Moderator: Nicole Dreiske, International Children’s Media Center
Angela Santomero, Angela’s Clues
Jill Murphy, Common Sense Media
Sada Malladi, Vimana
Titania Jordan, Bark

Start with education- accept the fact that screens are a part of today's world, and find tools to deal with them. Embrace what your children are into and talk to them about it. Get rid of the guilt, not all media is bad. Narrate what YOU are doing on your screen, because it's not just a phone, it's also your computer. Know your kid- some kids are ready for screens earlier than others.

What should we tell them about the Internet? Kids want to explore, but GROUND RULES are important. Be there for communication. Research free parental controls. Talk every day. Identify those stories that ask questions and don't hand everything to you. Find the teachable moment even in bad videos. When do you give a child a smartphone? You have to evaluate what is best for your family and your needs.

How to Raise a Kid Who Understands Sex, Consent and Gender

Moderator: Doyin Richards
Carvell Wallace
Jeanette Jennings
Kim Cavill
Sarah Rich

Sort through your own issues with sex first, if you can. Recognize the CONSENT conversation is just the beginning, and consent is a low bar when talking about sex education. As a parent, you're not just teaching for the moment, but for a LIFETIME. Don't be afraid to share your history with your children, as it will help teach them empathy. The opposite of entitlement is context awareness. The opposite of aggression is asking questions.

... and unfortunately I had to leave midway through, so these were all the notes I got! I hope you'll find some of these thoughts helpful, and if it peeks your interest, you can still watch the panels. So much helpful information and resources! A link to video from the conference can be found HERE. I really enjoyed myself and learned a lot -- here's hoping the conference will become an annual event!

Disclosure: I was invited to the event by HuffPost Parents. All opinions are my own.


J.K. Rowling and the Simple Act of a Kind Response

Let's face it, the world is chaos lately. I find myself turning further away from the news with every horrible event that takes place - from mass shootings to wildfires to an incompetent president getting more insane by the day. Social media, which I have my own love/hate relationship with, doesn't seem to help. Except when it does (cute animal videos may in fact be the antidote to all the world's ills).

And here's another example. Each week, Millie is given a letter to write as part of her homework. The letter can be directed to anyone or anything: past addressees have included spaghetti and meatballs, Summer (the season) and her sister. In early November, Millie chose to write J.K. Rowling, as she is a massive fan of the Harry Potter series (if you know Millie at all, you know how much she loves Harry Potter). Having read the series now multiple times, seen all the movies, and most recently visiting The History of Magic exhibit at the NY Historical Society, it's safe to say she's Ms. Rowling's biggest fan. See note below:

I loved the note so much (girl power!) that on a whim I decided to post it on Twitter, as I know Rowling is active on the site. I certainly didn't think I'd get any response from her, but I thought if a fellow Harry Potter fan saw the note, they'd get a kick out of it. Well, almost right away, I noticed that she liked the post. And then moments later, we got this response:

SO AMAZING! Honestly, we're all still in a bit of shock that she responded with such a sweet note, and so quickly. Her kind gesture meant so much to Millie, and all of us, and serves to illustrate the beautiful part of Twitter, and social media in general -- that power to connect us, in an instant. The post has garnered almost 5000 likes on Twitter, and I wanted to share just a few of the lovely responses that it received -- 

One letter to her hero, one simple response, and a whole lot of people escaped to something happy that warmed their hearts. In looking at the bigger picture, it just goes to show you how one small action can do amazing things... if only for a moment. And in today's world, I'll take it. 🗲🗲

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


Big Apple Books: This is My Eye: A New York Story

I'm so happy to introduce my latest Big Apple Book selection, This is My Eye: A New York Story, written by my Inwood neighbor Neela Vaswani (a hilarious discovery we made thanks to Instagram)! This children's read-along book is a gift to young readers as well as New York City, which is brought to life from a child's view of the world and her surroundings.

Not only is it entertaining to see New York City through the lens of a child, This is My Eye also serves as a reminder that as adults, we miss so much as we rush around from one activity to another. Seeing the world from a child's point of view reminds us to stop and appreciate the little things in life and beauty in the ordinary, whether it's rain drops that look like polka dots or walls that tell stories. Neela's vibrant photography and text captures this beautifully.

Two of my favorite pages

Neela & I at my favorite local bakery, ChocNYC
So happy to include This is My Eye: A New York Story in my Big Apple Books collection. I highly recommend! Lastly, please find some of Neela's tips for capturing the essence of NYC with little ones in tow:
  • Try to catch the "golden hour" together, when light is warm and magical.  An hour-ish after dawn or before dusk, go outside and really notice the light.  Look towards the tops of the buildings which often glow during these times of day--and glow differently depending on their height and angle and material.  Great way to start thinking about light and how it affects photos.  Take some photos of each other, too, in this light; it's wonderful on faces.    
  • Walk across a bridge.  I'm partial to the Brooklyn Bridge, personally.  Wonderful way to get distance shots and to think about perspective.  Great potential shots of the bridge itself--steel and wires and brick and how they all meet in the air.  Water views, boats, cars, pedestrians, clouds.  Crossing a bridge always feels like an adventure!  
  • Staten Island Ferry.  It's free!  To get a shot of the seagull that's in the book, I took the ferry back and forth eight times (four round trips).  So much to see and photograph--lower Manhattan from a distance or close up.  The hills of Staten Island.  The ferry itself (that bright orange!), all those nautical nooks and crannies.  The Statue of Liberty.  The people.  And, of course, the seagulls that always fly alongside the railings.  
  • New York Botanical Garden.  Free on Wednesdays.  Take a nature walk.  Practice close-ups and juxtapositions of color with flowers and leaves and butterflies and beetles.  Lie on your backs in the grass take photos from that position.    
  • Something you can combine with the bridge, ferry, or Botanical Garden, is taking an elevated subway--maybe a line you don't normally use.  That moment of popping above ground is helpful in "training your eyes" to see potential photographs everywhere.  You can discover or rediscover new parts of the city, too.  Pick a stop together, somewhere you've never been.  Get off the subway and wander around taking photos.      
  • Best tip for taking photos with your kids in NYC: your own block in your own neighborhood.  See it with fresh eyes.  Walk it slowly, east, west, north, south, taking in everything.  Look at things you don't normally find interesting or beautiful (like garbage bags or stoops or buzzers or potholes) and try to appreciate and understand them better.  See what's familiar from different angles.  See deeply. 


Plan Ahead: Free Arts NYC Benefit on September 30!

We all know there are a million ways to give back and support organizations that are dedicated to investing in the needs of under-served children. But if I may, I'd like to introduce one more. Free Arts NYC empowers NYC youth, many of whom are living in shelters, through art and mentoring programs that develop their creativity, confidence and skills to succeed. The organization has positively impacted over 32,000 children and families and will only continue, thanks in part to community support like Kidsfest 2018, which takes place on Sunday, September 30th from 10-2pm at Sotheby's.

Hosted by the hilarious and lovely Jill Kargman (who else is bummed that Odd Mom Out won't be coming back for a 4th season?!), event proceeds will benefit the amazing work of Free Arts NYC. It promises to be a super fun event for the whole family, and an awesome way to give back at the same time.

If setting your kids loose in an incredible venue, surrounded by Pony Cycle pony rides, Big Apple Circus entertainment, face painting, hair braiding, screen printing, art activities run by local artists and museums (the list goes ON and ON) sounds the least bit appealing - well, you've come to the right place.

Ticket info can be found HERE and we'll see you on Sunday, September 30th. Here's to making sure the arts are available to EVERY child in NYC.

Looking forward! 🎨🎨


A Fairy Mystery with Fable & Lark at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

As the girls get bigger (and bigger.... sniffle), I'm enjoying mixing my interests with theirs and seeing what develops. As an example, we planned an afternoon at The Met early in the summer. Yes, they love to CREATE art, but would they want to STARE at art for a couple hours... if I was lucky?

Much to my surprise, our artistic venture was a success! Not only did they love it, they asked when we could go back. And if I could wager a guess why, I think it's because we brought paper and pencils with us, and I told them they could stop and sketch anything they liked. Yes, the drawing was fun, but I think what they really enjoyed was taking ownership over which pieces to sketch. The surprise benefit was their interest in each piece they chose, so we made sure to read the description and talk about the artist as we made our way through the museum. Truth be told, I was ready to leave before they were!

In one afternoon I discovered what an accessible museum The Met really is for children, and that was just us meandering around on our own. I confirmed it a few weeks later when we went back for a special "fairy mystery" tour with Fable & Lark.

Have you heard of this tour company? Conceived and operated by Evan Levy, a former Met employee herself, the guided tours open the museum up to a world of possibilities for children. The girls and I joined Evan for a tour of "After Ever After: A Children's Adventure," discovering parts of the museum I didn't know existed, while unlocking clues to a fairy tale-themed mystery (and learning cool facts along the way).

Zig zagging our way through The Met, we listened to riddles, searched for characters in paintings, sketched a magic carpet and made a wish in a wishing well. So much fun! If you're interested in an interactive way to experience art with your children, this is a really special way to do it.

Fans of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson will love some of Fable & Lark's other tour themes, which are inspired by these ultra famous tales. Between our early summer visit and our tour with Fable & Lark, my girls now have an appreciation for The Met and its treasures that they didn't have before -- one I hope will only grow with time (even if they insist on getting bigger).

Check out the Fable & Lark website for more info - they also do birthday parties and are a great idea for out of town guests. And for ways to visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art (and other museums and cultural institutions) around the city for FREE, check out Culture Pass.

All photography (except first photo) is by Janette Pellegrini

Disclosure: Our Fable & Lark admission fee was complimentary in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own.


A Summer Tradition: Coney Island & Luna Park

Every summer we head to the islands. And by islands, of course I mean Coney and Governors. Both of these destinations are a summer rite of passage and make for a great day trip/mini escape with the family. While each destination has changed a bit since we began visiting a few years ago, Coney Island has managed to maintain its grit, uniqueness and charm.

While we've checked out the Aquarium and Brooklyn Cyclones in past years, my adventure seekers are all about the rides at Luna Park as soon as we've stepped off the Q train. The park is just off the boardwalk and filled with rides to fit everyone's interests, from the scared (me) to the "faster! higher!" crew (everyone else in my family).

Luna has a few new rides this year, among them The Coney Clipper, a giant rocking boat that didn't look nearly so scary until I was on it, and the Cozmo Jet, which was much tamer by comparison. If you plan on riding multiple rides, and want the most for your money, I'd suggest buying a day pass, which gets you unlimited rides. Don't forget that Luna Park's offerings also include the famous Cyclone roller coaster and the historic B&B Carousel amongst others. Open daily and on weekends and school holidays after Labor Day until October 31st, there's still time to have some fun at Luna Park before summer is over!

Quick tip: we checked out a new place for lunch this year and loved it -- wide open space, decent food and clean bathrooms (hurrah!) -- definitely worth checking out: Kitchen 21. Have fun!

Disclosure: I was provided with day passes to Luna Park for the purposes of this review. All opinions are my own.


NYC Parenting: Finding the Right Preschool for Your Child

This post is sponsored by KinderCareThanks for supporting Baby Meets City!

Of all the challenges of NYC parenting (and there are plenty to choose from), deciding on your child's first preschool experience is near the top of the list. Not to start on a downer, as we all know there are countless benefits to raising a child in the city, but making that decision is a challenge. It just is.

Once you've come to grips with that realization, though, I'd suggest you quickly move on! Like anywhere, weighing the pros and cons of your options, based on where you live, school reputations, accreditation and affordability will all come in to play (we'll get into more of that in a moment). In our particular situation, with both girls, we employed a nanny from the time they were 3 months old and I returned to work. When it was time for preschool, I connected with fellow moms in my neighborhood of northern Manhattan who had started a small Waldorf preschool. It was the right fit for us, a sweet half day program, and my nanny was able to pick them up after school and care for them until we returned home.

Searching for preschool options from atop the Empire State Building
BUT - the process wasn't without its challenges. Millie actually started first in a home-based preschool, and I would have to leave her there screaming and crying each morning. It was terrible, and my feelings of "mom guilt" were almost unbearable. Luckily, we found our happy preschool ending, but I'm here to say, I speak about the struggle of finding the perfect fit for your child with experience.

As a result, I wanted to pass along a list of preschool thought points from KinderCare, a new daycare and preschool option for NYC families. Their suggestions come from experience, having been in the business of early education and daycare for over 40 years. I wanted to share a few of my favorite suggestions from their list, and here's one I'm adding myself: breathe, parents, breathe.

First, location, location, location. Do yourself a favor and pick a preschool that's within walking distance or easy commuting with your child. It's one thing to think about it on a gorgeous, sunny day -- but remember the LONG winter months ahead and the drudgery of snow and rain (it's bad enough solo, but walking with a todder in that mess... agh!)

Also, when you go out on preschool tours, look out for the basics -- cleanliness, safety measures, the school's nutrition program. Is the school accredited? Equally important, look for what you can't find in a brochure -- the heart and passion of the school's instructors when you talk to them. I wish I had spent a little more time on this last part in that nightmare experience I mentioned in the beginning.

I love that KinderCare encourages parents to go beyond the brochure when looking at preschools, welcomes questions and implores families to think about what's most important to them in finding an enriching experience for a child's first introduction to school. This journey of parenthood won't always be perfect or Instagram-worthy; it's by turns bumpy and stressful, tiring and hilarious, but KinderCare aims to make the crucial step of finding the right preschool for your child as smooth as possible. And for that, we can all breathe a sigh of relief.

Good luck in your preschool search! If you choose to include KinderCare in your preschool search, click HERE for a list of their locations in NYC.
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