Quick hits of news and fresh ideas for busy parents.


The Bard Comes to Columbus
The young actress leveled a cool gaze at the audience, lifted a wooden sword and let rip with the words of Prince Escalus in Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet."

"Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace, profaners of this neighbor-stained steel!" thundered 7-year-old Brandi Russell.

Yes, 7 years old. But this first grader at South Mifflin STEM Academy in Columbus wasn't the only member of Art Isennagle's class who knew the soliloquy. Most of Brandi's 17 classmates, seated on the brightly colored rug before her, were mouthing the words along with her. They're part of an exciting collaborative between local schools, Ohio State University and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

"I was somewhat skeptical about how effective Shakespeare could be with first graders," said Isennagle, who spent a week last summer in Stratford, England, learning how to incorporate the words of the Bard into everyday classroom curricula.

"But it's incredible to see what Shakespeare does for them," Isennagle said. "Now I'm amazed."

The South Mifflin first graders are the youngest of the 20 classes in grades one through 12 currently trying this innovative program. Classes from Columbus City, Reynoldsburg and the Metro High School are participating.

Its costs have been underwritten for the first three years by the Wexner family of New Albany, with the hope that $1 million can be raised by next summer to fund another three-year run, said Victoria Ellwood, a spokeswoman for the Stand Up for Shakespeare America Initiative, as it's called. Social scientists at OSU also will study the effectiveness of the Shakespeare-influenced curricula, using proficiency-test scores and other standards.

A few months into this school year, Isennagle said he sees the impact. The students were already making unprompted connections with dates in history, linking Shakespeare's death in 1616 to the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock in 1620. They were drawing maps, Venn diagrams (to help the families of Verona find common ground), and learning about the commerce and vocabulary of the time.

But they also were learning about the emotional appeal of Shakespeare's immortal stories. During a "Verona Peace Conference," the children argued persuasively with "Lord Capulet," as played by Isennagle, to let Romeo and Juliet get married.

"But why?" Capulet/Isennagle demanded, triggering a cascade of giggles.

"Because they like each other!" the kids shouted back.

For more information about the Stand Up for Shakespeare America program, go to artsinitiative.osu.edu.

-- Jane Hawes

The Family That Plays Together...

Holiday travel and family get-togethers, no matter how well-planned and wonderful, still result in stress. Mingling personalities, the influx of family and friends - it's easy to lose sight of the impact gatherings have on us as parents and on our kids.

During this year's festivities, consider gaming as the means to releasing that anxiety. A little family fun can recharge the energy spent corralling the kids into the car for a long trip to Aunt Erma's or reestablish that cooperative spirit by playing games with your core family as the focus of attention.

When we play, we remove a lot of the traditional barriers between our kids and us. Try and find the time for a friendly game of Uno, or an age-appropriate board game like Life or Sorry. Be sure to mix up the teams in your games: Avoid Mom and Dad versus the kids and enjoy the chatter and jokes that will flow from your family organically.

Older kids often resist the family bonding of games but it is important to make them aware that the game is actually just a means to spending some fun time together without forcing them to interact. The natural conversations that evolve from strategizing over a game of Risk or haggling while playing Monopoly will undoubtedly surprise you.

-- Shawn Sines


What's big in...Amsterdam, Holland
Mechanical toys are still a popular toy with Dutch children -- you know, the good, old-fashioned toys that run on wind-up, and not battery, power. At Knuffels (which means "Cuddles" in Dutch) toy shop, wind-up monkeys and penguins and swimmers go quickly. And we don't just mean across the table top!


Kites aren't just a popular toy in Holland. They're an art form unto themselves, with entire stores like Joe's Vliegerwinkel (literally: "Joe's Kite Store") devoted to kites!

Ask for a "Coke" in Amsterdam and you're likely to get handed a small baked pastry. That's because cake is spelled "koek" there. Some of the most popular ones are filled with a mixture of apples and hazelnuts.

-- Jane Hawes