There’s a new resource for Madison area parents! is a website that lists hundreds of links for pregnancy, groups, classes, activities, fitness, services, dining and shopping. Features showcase local events, specials, books, project ideas, recipes, decor, new products and much more. You can also post questions and comments to other local parents on their Facebook page: Madison Mamas

I’ve already found the website extremely useful for finding new kid-friendly places to shop and eat in the area. The site is so well organized, it’s simple to find exactly what you’re looking for. And I love the “Features” section – it’s given me some great ideas! (and was kind enough to feature RM blogger – and local Barefoot Books Ambassador – Kat yesterday! Thanks, ladies!)


Wonder Bugs – Aldo Leopold Nature Center

This summer we signed Milena up for the Wonder Bugs preschool program at Aldo Leopold Nature Center. This week was her second-to-last class (we learned all about ants!). We have had so much fun learning and exploring!

“Introduce your toddler or pre-school aged child to a safe and wonderful natural world. This program is specifically designed for children ages 2-5 (before entering kindergarten). Each week, we’ll explore a different seasonal topic through hikes, outdoor exploration, music, puppetry, songs, stories and more.”

Going into this summer camp, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Very few places have classes for 2 and 3 year olds, so I was really excited about the opportunity, but nervous about what the classes would be like. I was pleasantly surprised at just how wonderful they are!

Every week focuses on a different topic (parents are able to sign their children up for one class or multiple classes). Each begins with a discussion about the topic: for example, in our “Antsy Pantsy” class about ants today, we first looked at large toy ants to see the different parts, legs, etc. We talked about what ants eat and where they live. Our teacher, Miss Nicky, always does a great job keeping the kids’ attention and encouraging them to participate and shout out answers (right or wrong). Milena LOVES Miss Nicky!

All sessions involve some time outside where the kids can attempt to see the insect/plant/etc outside in its natural habitat. Each session also involves a snack and sometimes a craft, which often tie into that week’s topic.

Wonder Bugs Objectives:
1. to provide an opportunity for parents to interact with their child in a natural setting
2. to foster a sense of wonder for the natural world
3. to foster admiration and respect for the land

We LOVE Wonder Bugs, and we’re excited about the fall program sessions coming up. Aldo Leopold Nature Center also offers Wonder Bugs Family Days September 24, October 22 & November 19 from 9:30 -10:45 am, which take place on Saturdays (perfect for working parents!) – though they often repeat the topic covered during the week, so be sure to check before signing your child up for both!

Go here for information about the fall Wonder Bugs program sessions.

For more information about the Aldo Leopold Nature Center and its other events and programs, go here.

The Aldo Leopold Nature Center is located at 300 Femrite Drive in Monona. (608) 221-0404

Fitchburg Summer Rec Program!

Did you know that the City of Fitchburg offers a range of summer activities for kids available through their recreation department?

I’m not surprised. I’m a resident of Fitchburg, and my husband and I are involved in our neighborhood association and local festivals, and we’ve never heard of it either.

Well now you know. I was happy to see how many activities they offer for my daughter Liliana’s preschool age bracket (shes 4.5) and I signed her up for tennis, soccer, art and daycamps.

Information is available online here  (click view activities) and the next sessions start June 13th.

So… any advice on where to buy a kids tennis racket?

Nature Net

Nature Net is a not-for-profit initiative that provides “one-stop shopping” for environmental education resources for teachers and families of South-Central Wisconsin and beyond!

You’ll find nature centers, museums and other providers in Southern Wisconsin and all sorts of free ideas, suggestions and free educational resources on how to explore your local environment.

Nature Net has a great breakdown of local summer camps (including Aldo Leopold Nature Center, the Madison Children’s Museum, Olbrich Gardens, and Henry Vilas Zoo).

Wondering what to do with your children this summer? Looking for a family activity that costs nothing, has a variety of convenient locations, and is scheduled exactly when you want it? Do you enjoy the thrill of discovery and the fresh air? Get ready for the Summer 2011 Nature Passport!

Nature Passport Includes:

For Kids…
Each child receives a special Nature Passport containing pages to draw and write about their amazing journeys at various Nature Passport sites! This year’s theme also includes a “Movin’ Mission” to encourage healthy, physically-active kids.

For Parents…
Look at the Parent’s Guide for fun facts and explanations to help spark your kids’ imagination and answer those big questions like: How do we see color? And don’t forget to sign up for Nature Net’s FREE Nature Net News to stay up dated on area nature events and activities!

(Go here for info on where to pick up a Nature Passport):

For more information about Nature Net, visit the “About” section on the website or find it on Facebook.

Keva Sports Center Sports Camp

Our spring break experience at Keva Sports Center left much to be desired. Here’s our story, you can judge for yourself.

Day 1:
The spring break started out well. Keva’s camp was for ages 5 and up, and when we arrived Cass found two other kids from her preschool. Excellent! We were signed up for two days—day one was general team sports, day two was a field trip to Badger Gymnastics. Everyone was friendly enough. Cass sat down in the group circle to meet with the counselors, and I was on my way.

When I picked Cass up, she was sitting watching a group of older boys “wrestle”* each other. That struck me as sort of odd: 1) wrestling isn’t a team sport; 2) it wasn’t on the list of sports Keva said my child was going to learn (soccer, volleyball, basketball, dodgeball (yes, dodgeball!)); 3) I didn’t like Cass watching older kids be so physically aggressive with each other, since the goal of what they were doing wasn’t to score or shoot a ball but to get a person to fall down.

On the drive home, Cass told me they ran out of snack. Cass also mentioned that she hurt her leg playing kickball when she blocked a ball. She said she was ok, and I figured it was par for the course at sports camp.

Day 2:
I packed Cass an extra snack in her lunch. Cass was excited for gymnastics and the chance to show off her moves to her classmates.

At around 3pm, camp called to tell me that Cass had hurt her toe but that they put a band aid on it, and she was ok. No problem, I said, and thanked them for the call.

When I picked Cass up, Cass was again sitting and watching. Campmates were playing soccer. Her sock was off and she was not walking on her foot. While we were signing out, I asked her how gymnastics went that morning. “We didn’t go,” Cass said.

I asked a counselor what happened. She told me that when they got to Badger Gymnastics, the gym was closed because the owner of Badger Gymnastics forgot to be there, so they had to come back. I asked why they didn’t tell the parents this, and why I had to learn this from my daughter. She explained that it wasn’t her fault.

When we got home, I took off Cass’ sock to see that she had stubbed her toe. I rinsed it off, put on a fresh band-aid, and she literally ran off down the hallway. Now, I have no doubt that Cass whined when she injured it. But I would hope that the counselors have experience with 5 year olds who can be overdramatic when they get injured. I wished they would have asked her to walk it off, instead of letting her literally sit on the sidelines for 4-plus hours of camp (the injury happened around noon).

The next day I got an email from Tracy, the Youth Director, saying that she heard I was upset at check out; she explained that it wasn’t their fault that Badger Gymnastics screwed up and no one was there. The email threw me for a loop. I called Tracy, and Tracy reiterated again that it was not Keva’s fault. I told her that while I understood that it was not Keva’s fault, it was still Keva’s responsibility. Did Tracy think Keva responded to what happened as best as possible? Did you teach the kids any gymnastics moves, even a somersault, when you got back to Keva? Did you have any plans to tell the parents so they didn’t have to learn it from their kids? Can you understand that we signed up for this camp package because it included gymnastics in hopes of using this sport my daughter likes to entice her to learn about more sports? Silence on the other end of the phone.

I asked Tracy if there was anything Keva could do for me. Tracy couldn’t think of anything. Nope, there was nothing they could do for me.

The next day, Cass got a welt on her leg from where the kickball hit her.

*When I write “wrestle”, I don’t actually mean the sport of wrestling. From what I saw, the two boys were on all fours, each one trying to pull the other’s arm out from under him so that the other boy would fall on his face. I know little about wrestling, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t part of the sport.

Keva Sports Center is located at 8312 Forsythia Street, Middleton. Check the website for more information on camps, leagues, and classes.

Community Change

Have you heard about Community Change? We’ve only just discovered it ourselves. Community Change offers great local deals that benefit charity!

“The mission of Community Change is to provide charitable assistance through a unique method; everyone wins!

By approaching “giving” in a new way we can provide benefits to consumers who want their purchases to mean more than just savings. We can provide our partner charities with a benefit to their supporters and a program that assists them effortlessly. And we can provide an avenue where merchants can benefit local charities that have meaning to those consumers who patronize their establishments.

By combining the interests of those involved in our community we strive to create change through commerce based donations and good works through charity.”

The Community Change offers half price or better deals on gift cards and gift card packs at tons of local merchants, including Bouncy Town USA, Rock n Glam Salon, The Little Gym, Kittelson Swim, and more. Each purchase benefits a partner charity!

Community Change sounds like a great way to save money while also giving back! Have any of you used Community Change Cards yet?

Child Development Research Opportunities

I have been volunteering at the Infant Learning Lab at UW-Madison for 5 years, since Cass was born in January of 2006, and both Cass and Mari have participated in several studies. The research at the lab investigates language development — how children learn words and sounds, and how they develop cognitive and perception skills. The lab relies on volunteer children (and their parents) ages 6 months to 3 years to help with research. The Infant Learning Lab is part of a greater network of learning at the UW Waisman Center. Study at the Waisman Center is devoted to understanding human development, developmental disabilities, and neurodegenerative diseases.

It’s a pretty fascinating process. On a recent visit, Mari and I were involved in a study to understand how children know when one word ends and another begin. (Think of when you hear a foreign language, and you feel they are talking so fast you cannot even pick up on any of the words. This is what the study is about — how does a child figure out where the pauses are, where the words start and stop?) After getting a quick briefing about the study, Mari and I go into the soundproof room. Mari sits on my lap, I put on soundproof headphones (so as not to subconsciously direct Mari to the “right” answer, not that there is one), and we are left alone as the study begins. For about 5 minutes, Mari listens to noises and visuals on the screen and reacts by either looking at the visual or becoming disengaged. The noises are music and a made up language or foreign language that she has never heard.

At any time, we can stop the study. I have done these studies with Cass (my high energy, moving every second, chatterbox child) and Mari (my watch and learn, cautious child), and we have never not finished or had any problems with attention and fussiness. The studies are short enough that it really is just a quick activity for your child.

I cannot imagine an easier way to volunteer. I feel good knowing I’m helping educators and scientists understand how the mind and body works. Maybe we can help children with disabilities, speech problems, and other cognitive challenges.

All studies involve just 1 visit — no follow up or continued volunteering is required. Parking is free, and childcare is provided if another sibling is tagging along. The whole process takes around 20 minutes.

And at the end you get a free book or toy.

For children older than 3, there are several other studies that need volunteers at the Weisman Center. The Social Kids and SPACE Labs further look at language and social interaction among children and their environment. The SPACE Lab looks at childhood perception, action, and memory. The Social Kids Lab looks at social cognition.

You can learn more and sign up for the Infant Learning Lab here. You can learn more and sign up for the SPACE and Social Kids Labs here.

Raising Madison was also recently contacted by LearningRx – a brain training company that works with kids who are around 5 for kindergarten readiness, and other children of any age (and adults!) on key cognitive skills that unlock their potential, and help them achieve more in school and in life.

LearningRx also offer workshops and classes, including brain-body connection classes, test prep and note taking for students and adults, Love and Logic classes, and a number of other classes dedicated to helping students and families reach their life goals.

You can find more information about LearningRx on its website. LearningRx is also on Facebook: LearningRx South Central Wisconsin.

Has your family taken part in any local child development research opportunities?