Author Archives: Shannon McRae

Shannon McRae

About Shannon McRae

Shannon McRae is a work-at-home mom of three young children whose days are spent wiping mouths, playing Candyland, planning dinners and stealing time in between at the computer for her freelance writing. She's a stickler for healthy eating, with a slight exception for Oreos. She lives in Alabama with her precious children, loving husband and 13-year-old Australian Shepherd named Ricky Martin.


Co-Op Camps Are the Craze Among Parenting Magazines

parentingearlyyears_august2010.jpgIt seemed like such a great idea in May. Caught up in the school-is-almost-out-for summer euphoria, I strode confidently into the director’s office at my son’s preschool and announced that he wouldn’t be attending the optional summer program. We were going to soak up the lazy days of summer, and I was going to enjoy every possible second with my precious children. Within about five minutes of leaving the office, I wondered if I had lost my mind. My freelance work wasn’t taking a break for the summer, so why did I think my childcare should?

I wish I would have known about the growing trend of co-op camps–it would have saved me countless pleas of “Please just let mommy finish this and then we’ll play with your race car ramp.” Touted in the August 2010 issues of FamilyFun magazine and Parenting Early Years magazine, these parent-run camps are the perfect way to save money, entertain your children and give yourself a few child-free hours a week.

They work differently for different groups, but for the most part a group of parents gets together to take turns hosting children at their house for the day. The schedule rotates so that for every day you have kids at your house, you have several more free days while your child is somewhere else. Those who’ve tried it say it builds community and that kids end up liking the parent-run camps 10 times more than the pricey day camps in many cities.

Here are a few tips from the moms and dads who’ve done it before:

  • Pick the right people: This rule applies to kids and parents alike. Who wants to deal with a bratty child all day, and at the same time, don’t pick a parent who isn’t dependable. The story in Parenting Early Years magazine mentioned a mom who sent her child to camp for four days then bailed when it was her turn to host. Not cool.

  • Set rules up front: To save headaches and neighborhood friendships, getting the specifics worked out first is key, say expert parents. Should the camps have a theme? A price limit for the host? Who provides snacks and lunch? And here’s a really important one for the summer: Who is responsible for applying sunscreen and bug spray–the host or the parents who are dropping off their kids? FamilyFun magazine recommends scheduling dates as far as six months in advance. (Note to self: That means I should start thinking about next summer around Christmastime.)
  • Create a schedule: For people like me, who have never worked in a day-care program or preschool, knowing what to do with six or seven little ones for hours at a time sounds a little daunting. Moms and dads say creating a general schedule that each house follows helps keeps kids in order (color first, then snack, then outside play, etc.).

  • Choose a structure: Many of the parent camps profiled in the magazines’ articles had specific themes so that it’s more educational for kids (in other words, no sticking them in front of the television). They sounded so fun that I wanted to go–space themes, circus themes, cooking and gardening classes. Crafts, snacks and games were centered around the day’s theme, and the parents who participated say they had just as much fun coming up with the ideas.

It’s such a fun idea that I’m already ready for next summer… and we haven’t even had our first day of school!


No TV for a Week? FamilyFun Magazine Encourages Readers to Pull the Plug

familyfun_august2010.jpgWe aren’t huge television watchers at our house. Other than “Mad Men,” there are no shows I simply must see, and we might very well be the last family in America without a DVR. So I was feeling sort of sanctimonious when I noticed the article on the cover of the August 2010 issue of FamilyFun magazine: “Better than TV: How one family went screen-free for a week.” “That’d be easy,” I thought to myself. And then I read more closely. “Screen-free” didn’t just refer to TVs. It also meant going without computers, movies, video games and texts. No email for a week? No way. I read on….

The article’s author, a mom of two, was motivated to take the challenge after she noticed that her children were spending a lot more time in front of Wii games and YouTube videos than she and her husband were comfortable with. “For our part, my husband and I had been spending too many evenings clutching our laptops in order to catch up on work and e-mail, our screens literally shielding us from the rest of the family,” Jennifer King Lindley writes.

Despite her kids’ protests, the family took the plunge and only used computers for work or school for five days last spring. All other screens were off limits, and Lindley admitted she was nervous about being shoved into the role of a cruise-ship director, constantly planning games, distractions and diversions to entertain her 13- and 9-year-old kids. The first afternoon passed quickly as Lindley and kids lingered in the front yard after school instead of rushing in to check the computer. That evening the family painted, and another night they cooked s’mores over a fire in their backyard. But as the week drug on and the newness of the challenge wore off, her kids became less enthusiastic about the ban.

Following the lead of Sarah Davies, whose blog offers tips and tricks for families living a TV-free life, Lindley resisted the urge to entertain her kids and instead let them use their own creativity to pass the time. “As parents we tend to be afraid of boredom, but out of boredom comes creativity,” Davies says. When Jennifer’s 9-year-old forlornly declared he missed his computer games, she didn’t say a word on how she thought he could pass the time. A few minutes later, she found him in his room building a computer out of Legos!

Overall, Lindley says the TV-free week opened their eyes to how much screen time dominates their lives, and has made them more aware of the need to unplug every now and then. Though, her son begs, no day soon.


Three Magazines That Will Help Your Kids Eat More Veggies

americanbaby_july2010.jpgWhen my first child started solid foods, he had a fabulous appetite. He’d eat any pureed food we put in front of him–green beans, beets, lentils. He’s going to be such a great eater, I remember thinking smugly.

But when he reached 18 months, his attitude started changing. All of the sudden the bananas weren’t going down as easily, and he was spitting out butternut squash. Now, at 3-and-a-half years old, he’d live on Pirate’s Booty, yogurt and scrambled eggs if it was left up to him. Like so many moms, I’ve spent more time than I’d like to calculate trying to come up with vegetables that he and his younger sister will actually eat.

Maybe it’s because delicious vegetables are in season all over the country right now, but several parenting magazines have covered healthy eating recently.

Here are three that offered great advice:

  • Parenting Early Years magazine: In Part 3 of its Fit Generation series, the June 2010 issue of Parenting Early Years tackles a family meal makeover and offers tons of helpful information for getting kids–from babies to picky toddlers–to eat better foods. I liked the sections on 10 superfoods and why they’re so good for your kids, understanding portion control, and tricks that work for even the pickiest of eaters.

  • American Baby magazine: I loved the “Dinner for One” article in the July 2010 issue, which helps parents make a healthy transition from breast milk or bottle to solid foods. The article quoted a recent survey that found an astounding 30 percent of 1-year-olds don’t eat a single vegetable in a given day. And it talked about the importance of setting your children on a path to healthy eating for the rest of their lives. I liked that it was photo-driven, gave sample menus and showed what a healthy 1-year-old’s portion looked like. It also offered tips from real parents on getting children to eat better and listed some books to look for at the library. “Eat the Alphabet” is now on our list.
  • KIWI magazine: For parents who are considering making their own baby food, the June/July 2010 issue of KIWI makes it sound really do-able. It reinforces the theme in each of these articles: Healthy eating habits begin at an early age. It offered simple recipes to try and included my favorite expert quote, from Anni Daulter, author of “Organically Raised: Conscious Cooking for Babies and Toddlers”: “Your responsibility lies in what you offer your child, when you offer it, and how you offer it–not whether he eats it. That’s up to him.”

Raising Daughters in the Age of the Princess

parents_july2010.jpgBefore my daughter was born, I’d wander through the girls department in clothing stores, convinced it was so much easier to find cute things for girls than it was for my little guy. But then I had my own little girl, and suddenly I was overwhelmed with princesses and pinkness. Every onesie or bib I found for my daughter proclaimed “Daddy’s Little Princess” or “Cutie Pie.” And don’t get me started on the midriff tops and miniskirts sold to those who can’t even walk yet!

The July 2010 issue of Parents magazine targets a tough dilemma for parents of girls: Should we shield our daughters from the onslaught of princess marketing, or are fairy-tale fantasies just part of being a little girl?

I remember knowing about Sleeping Beauty as a child, but our exposure was nothing like what’s marketed today. The Disney Princess line of toys, games and costumes features more than 40,000 products. And this excessive exposure is having its effect on our little girls, who are learning at a very early age that looking beautiful and being rescued by a prince are the two of life’s main goals.

“Princess is phase one of the sexualization of young girls,” says Sharon Lamb, Ed.D., co-author of “Packaging Girlhood,” in the article. “It’s all about the image. They take the message that looking pretty is important right through the teen years.”

I don’t think I completely buy into the idea that all princess play is bad. But just like everything else in life, moderation is key. I’ll be fine if my daughter wants to pretend that she lives in a castle, as long as she’s also interested in going outside to ride bikes with her brother. And I’m definitely saving the article’s list of modern-day princess books and DVDs whose strong-willed heroines don’t wait to be rescued by a prince.

I really liked Parents magazine’s stance on how young girls dress today. The experts basically reprimanded parents (in a nice way, of course) for not being the ones in charge. Little girls don’t need to dress like they’re straight off the set of “Sex in the City,” and parents need to be the ones to set limits.

At the same time, it was a good reminder to me that my views on womanhood speak volumes to my daughter. I don’t have to wear makeup every day, and even though I love high-heel shoes, I can also take out the garbage myself. Moms weren’t the only ones targeted. I passed the article on to my husband because of the sidebar on the enormous impact dads have on their daughters’ self-esteem.

After reading the very practically presented arguments, I’m not going to ban tutus and magic wands in our house. But I am even more convinced that it’s my job to make sure my daughter understands that being a woman is about much more than being a princess.


From the Cool to the Cute, National Geographic Kids Magazine Has It

nationalgeographickids_august2010.jpgI’m really glad our August 2010 issue of National Geographic Kids magazine arrived after we were home from our Florida beach vacation. The center-spread poster looked like Jaws–a close-up of a shark coming out of the water with his mouth wide open and his teeth extremely sharp-looking. I’d spent our week at the beach slightly nervous about sharks. I’d read recently that the Gulf of Mexico oil spill was pushing the animals closer to shore; the lack of oxygen in deeper waters was affecting their food supply. Who knows if it’s true, but it was enough to put me on the lookout for dorsal fins.

A mom’s paranoia means nothing to a toddler boy, though, who thought the shark photo was “cool” and giggled when I read a scary fact that accompanied the photo: Sharks can smell a single drop of blood up to a third of a mile away.

The entire August issue of the magazine is a perfect celebration of summer from a kid’s point of view. My son loved the “Photo Find” section, which features a sandy beach filled with every object imaginable. The goal is to find specific items (goggles, yo-yo, crayon) amid all the clutter. On the “What in the World?” page, kids are asked to identify extreme close-up photographs of things you might find at an amusement park or carnival.

Amelia Earhart‘s birthday is this month, and I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the “Bet You Didn’t Know” section covered 10 uplifting facts about taking flight. Most interesting to my child: Bullfrogs have traveled in space.

My favorite section of this issue didn’t really have anything to do with summer, but who could resist the pictorial “The 20 Cutest Animals of All Time.” I’d take a sea otter home with me tomorrow if I could–those things are precious!


When the Postman Delivers: Why My Toddler Loves Magazines

highlightshighfive_august2010.jpgThe daily arrival of mail is a big deal at our house. Ours is usually delivered in the late afternoon, just as my kids are waking up from their naps. While they don’t get personal mail very often, they love to go to the mailbox with me to check. And on the days I find something just for them, you’d think they had just won the lottery–screaming, jumping, running around.

That’s why I think magazine subscriptions are such an inexpensive way to add major excitement to your child’s afternoons. When my 3-and-a-half-year-old gets his latest issue, he carries it around the house for days, constantly reminding his little sister, “This is my magazine.” He wants to read it right away, and usually wants to read it again a few hours later. By the time we’re done with an issue of Highlights High Five magazine, my husband and I have each helped him locate “Hidden Picture” items multiple times.

In addition to the thrill of receiving mail, here are a few other reasons my little guy likes his own subscriptions:

  • Kids love to imitate adults, and my toddler likes the idea of reading “his” magazine, since he’s seen his mom hoard her own favorites his entire life!

  • We’re big readers at our house, and even though we make regular trips to the library it’s always nice to have new reading material at bed time. Most children’s magazines include several two- or three-page stories that feature recurring characters.
  • They’re the perfect take-along to pass time when you’re waiting in line at the post office, or running errands in the car, or trying to be quiet at a restaurant.