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.


Zootles Magazine Nurtures Youngsters’ Love of Animals Through Photos, Educational Material

zootles_tigers.jpgWe’re all about animals at our house. My two young children love to watch for “wildlife” in our backyard. Their most treasured books feature animals as the main characters. And their favorite game consists of following each other around making (very loud) animal sounds–most often a lion.

I knew when we got our first copy of Zootles magazine that it was right up our alley. Published since 2003 for children ages 2 to 6, Zootles’ goal is “to turn a child’s love of animals into a love of books.” As a mom, I couldn’t be any happier with that mission, so we sat down to review our first issue.

My kids loved the photos most of all, but as a parent I appreciated several aspects of Zootles, including:

  • Each issue not only highlights an animal (the May/June 2010 issue is all about backyard birds) but it also focuses on a letter and a concept. This time it was the letter “B” and the idea of high and low. I like multi-task learning and used the concept to talk to my kids about birds in our own backyard. “The bird on the ground is low.” “The bird in the tree is high.”

  • The photography is great, and I like that they featured common birds. While it’s fun to learn about birds in faraway places that we’ll probably never see, my son was excited to see up-close photos of birds he watches every day like cardinals, bluebirds and robins.
  • The Resource Center section is a terrific guide for parents about how to continue the learning after you’re finished with the magazine. For my children’s ages, it recommended snapping photos of birds in our neighborhood and making my kids their own bird book. We haven’t done it yet, but it might be a way to occupy a few hours one summer afternoon.
  • Each bimonthly issue directs parents online to a “Secret Jungle” that you access with a password provided in the print version of the magazine. For the backyard bird issue, the online component featured different videos of birds in their natural environments. The videos weren’t anything that unusual, but it was fun to log on with the kids when we were finished with the magazine.

Avoiding the Worst Mistake You Could Ever Make

parentingearlyyears_june2010.jpgI shuddered when I first read the cover line: “Avoiding the Simple Mistake That Threatens Children’s Lives.” Since becoming a mom a few years ago, I avoid books, movies and cable news stories that focus on terrible things happening to innocent children. Maybe it’s a head-in-the-sand approach, but I have enough to worry about without adding a few more what-ifs to my mind.

But as I turned the page to the dreaded story, I knew I had to read it. “Tragedy in the Backseat: Hot-Car Deaths” in the June 2010 issue of Parenting Early Years magazine claims that 37 babies and toddlers die each year when they’re accidentally left strapped in car seats or become trapped in vehicles that rapidly heat up.

I live in the Deep South, and we’re already having a scorcher of a summer. Sometimes when my kids and I get into the car after quick trips to the grocery store, it’s so stiflingly hot that we can barely breathe. I can’t imagine how it must feel for a child left by accident in a locked car.

My first reaction was what many probably think: That’s awful, but I’d never do that.

Sadly, after reading the account of one mom’s worst nightmare, I know the tragedy can happen to anyone.

Here was a great quote that got my attention: “People assume this is happening to bad parents, people who take drugs or use alcohol, maybe abusive parents,” says Janette Fennell, the founder of “I think people so want to distance themselves from ever thinking that this could happen to them that they really demonize or think these are bad people. But the exact opposite is true. It’s like 95 percent of the people this happens to are wonderful–let me go so far as to say doting parents.”

The article gives several great tips on how to avoid the simple mistake. Any parent or caregiver who drives children in vehicles ought to read these:

  • Always put your cell phone, purse, or briefcase–and anything else you’ll need that day–in the backseat. When you retrieve the item(s), you’ll notice your child.

  • Seat your younger (or quieter) child behind the passenger’s seat where they’re more likely to catch your eye.
  • Keep a stuffed animal in the car seat when your child isn’t in it. When you put your child in the seat, place the stuffed animal on the front seat to remind you that your child is in the car.
  • Ask your day-care provider or babysitter to always call you promptly if your child isn’t dropped off as scheduled.
  • Make a habit of opening the back door of your car after you’ve parked to make sure a child isn’t in the backseat.
  • Never assume someone else–a spouse or caregiver–has taken your child out of his seat.
  • Consider purchasing a device to help you remember your kids are in the car. One that’s on the market begins playing a lullaby when the car stops if your child is still in her seat. Another acts as an alarm if you walk away from the car and leave your child in his seat.
  • Put visual cues in your office and home, such as sticky notes on your computer, reminding you to check the car seat.

I can’t imagine living through something like this. But the family in the article was such an inspiration. The woman and her husband say their marriage is stronger than before, and they’ve kept going for the sake of their older child. I know I can get in a hurry on a regular basis, and I know that’s what happened to this mom one fateful morning. Thankfully her story can remind the rest of us to be careful so it doesn’t happen to us.


Your Big Backyard Magazine a Great Companion to Child’s Introduction to Nature

yourbigbackyard_april2010.jpgI’m lucky to live in an area of the country with a pretty mild climate. It allows my family and I to spend a lot of time outside. Despite all the riding toys, sand tables, bouncing balls and other man-made distractions that accumulate in our backyard, my two young children enjoy the nature aspect of being outside the most (other than spraying each other with the hose). We’re constantly watching the birds on our feeders, searching for the resident chipmunk’s hole and making buckets of water available for “Mr. Frog.”

That’s why I knew my 3-year-old (and to some degree, his 20-month-old sister) would enjoy Your Big Backyard magazine. Published by the National Wildlife Foundation 10 times a year, the publication is an up-close look at the wild animals and insects that little ones love. Free of advertisements, it was a winner of a 2010 Parents’ Choice Gold Award from the Parents’ Choice Foundation, a nonprofit organization that rates children’s media and toys.

Here are a few reasons we like Your Big Backyard:

The photography: A large part of the magazine consists of beautiful and captivating full-page, color photos of animals in action. A recent issue had a story (well, really just photos with a few sentences for each) about different kinds of birds’ nests. My little guy loved looking at all the pictures, and since then has sworn he’s spotted an albatross in our neighborhood–though I’ve explained it’s next to impossible.

The games: My son seems to learn best when he participates. The games sprinkled through the magazine are creatively based on the content and interesting enough to get my little one excited about them. Recently, he’s enjoyed searching for the hidden sloths and matching the bird to its correct nest.

The pull-out book: My son is a collector and loves any small thing he can carry around with him. The “My Little Book” pull-out section of the magazine is right up his alley. A recent one was called “A Look at Cardinals” and included simple instructions on how to detach the page and fold it to make a 10-page mini-booklet. Since it’s made of thin magazine paper, it probably won’t last long in his care, but at least he’s learning something while carrying around piles of his possessions!

The “Ricky and Pals” story (based on illustrated character Ricky Raccoon) is a little over my 3-year-old’s head and he can’t sit still long enough to make it through the four pages. But the magazine is geared toward ages 3 to 7, so I’m sure older kids would enjoy it more.


Mission Impossible: Quick and Healthy Dinners Your Kids Will Eat

parents.jpgI love it when magazines help me solve problems. And a big problem around our house many nights of the week is what to cook for dinner. What I call “the witching hour” begins around 4 p.m. or so. It’s when both kids begin to fuss and whine over the smallest things while begging nonstop for more Goldfish crackers despite being promised that dinner is almost ready. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? Or maybe quite familiar?

I’m always looking for new go-to recipes that are interesting enough for me and my husband, yet still kid-friendly enough to be enjoyed without a meltdown. I love trying recipes in magazines because there’s usually a great photo of the finished product, and that inspires me to try it. Here are a few that looked tasty from some recent parenting magazines:

Mexican Pita Pizza:
We love pizza, and the personal-sized ones featured in the May 2010 issue of Parenting Early Years magazine are even more fun. This version uses whole-wheat pita breads as the crust, then adds Mexican flair to the toppings by incorporating spices like cumin and chili powder.

Fish Under Wraps:
Tasty, nutritious and quick to clean-up–sounds like my kind of meal! The June 2010 issue of Parents magazine shows you how to cook fish and fresh veggies in the oven using parchment paper and some simple seasonings.

California Sushi Wraps:
I’m always looking for ways to introduce more ethnic food to my kids, so this sushi wrap in the May 2010 issue of FamilyFun magazine caught my eye. Sushi purist might be offended that you fill a flour tortilla with rice, nori (dried seaweed) and other common California roll ingredients, but if you serve it up with a side of soy sauce for dipping, you might create some sushi lovers in your family.


Finally! A Parenting Study You Can Feel Good About

parentingearlyyears_june2010.jpgParents are constantly hit with headlines about new research on infants or children. And most findings can make even the best parents feel a twinge of guilt in some form or fashion: Children who watch less television are smarter. Babies who are breastfed longer are healthier. Children who drink juice have a higher risk of obesity. Deep down you might already know the findings, but when a smart scientist-kind-of-person puts it out there, it makes it more official.

So I was skeptical when I saw that the cover story of May’s Parenting Early Years magazine focused on new research about the mother-child bond. Please, I thought, don’t let it reveal that my children’s psychological development will be scarred from being left at parents’ day out a few times a week. And happily, it didn’t. The article presented findings by Dr. Deepak Chopra (the mind-body medicine guru and good friend to Oprah Winfrey), who says that a close attachment between mother and child can prevent disease, boost immunity and enhance IQ.

I’m a big hugger of my children, and I know when they’re older they’ll probably hate it. But this article gave me research to back up my squeeze sessions, including an interesting study that found when female rats took more time to lick their pups, the little ones grew up to be less stressed and more adventurous in temperament. Even yucky rats love their babies! The article is a good read for any mom (or dad) who wants to understand the science behind why you love the socks off your precious children.

Elsewhere in the magazine, as I skimmed a quick blurb about a new study on heart disease in children, I felt a flicker of resentment over such “Debbie Downer” studies. But then I kissed the soft hair of my daughter who was playing with my cell phone beside me on the couch. (So much for the study on how cell phones can cause tumors in toddlers.) I thought of the mother-child bonding article and remembered… my affection was beneficial. I was doing something right!


Disney’s FamilyFun Magazine: Real Advice From Real Parents

disneyfamilyfun_april2010.jpgThe first thing I noticed when I read Disney’s FamilyFun magazine for the first time was that there aren’t a lot of lengthy articles. Instead, the magazine is jam-packed with information presented in quick paragraphs, lists, bullets and step-by-step guides, along with lots of photographed how-tos. It’s the perfect magazine to pick up when you have a few minutes to spare (think nap time, carpool line, doctor’s office) without worrying about getting too involved in a multi-page story.

The magazine’s publishers say it’s “a trusted source for moms with kids through age 12.” Its “for readers/by readers” approach is one I really like. A majority of the content comes from real families–not 20-something-year-old magazine editors. I think that’s especially important in parenting magazines. I know I turn to other moms first when I have questions about parenthood.

Here are a few of my favorite sections of the magazine:

  • “My Great Idea” is a collection of the best strategies submitted by readers. It reminds me of the kind of advice moms trade at play groups and lunch dates. A recent issue offered creative ways to make car rides more fun, how to help an allergic child give up sweets and a simple treat to try for breakfast. They’re all quick and easy to read and leave you thinking, “Hey–I should try that too….”

  • Who isn’t always planning their next vacation? The “Family Getaways” section offers advice on can’t-miss destinations across the country, and often at least one of their suggestions is within your region. I like the real-life tips from families who’ve been there before. When you travel, it’s nice to have recommendations on where to eat, where to stay and what to see. And if you’re skeptical like I was, rest assured: Despite Disney being its publisher, the magazine is not constantly pushing the company’s theme parks in its travel section!
  • I’m sort of a health freak, so I appreciate the “Healthy Fun” section, which is touted as “ideas and strategies for keeping your family fit and feeling great.” Whether it’s an idea for getting active or an easy recipe, it’s nice to have a healthy focus in every issue.
  • Speaking of easy recipes… my toddler is much more likely to eat something if he’s had a hand in making it. The “Let’s Cook” section offers simple recipes that kids can prepare (with some help depending on their age). Most have few ingredients (five or so) and just a couple of steps.