10 things to do with kids before school starts to make them smarter (or at least avoid summer brain drain)

My kids might be becoming less and less intelligent with each second this summer. They’ve been doing a lot of mindless YouTube watching. Pick up a book? Are you kidding, Mom? Go out and play? Forget it.

They are experiencing the summer brain drain … those three months of the year when the things they learned in school slowly leave their brains.

In the mid-1990s, Johns Hopkins University did research on this topic and found that lower-income kids who couldn’t afford academic programs like camps during the summer entered school more than two months behind in reading and math than their middle-class peers who were enrolled in such programs.

Ron Aladeniyi and his daughter Lola, 3, read together in the recently renovated library at Winn Elementary. Get the the library and start reading. (TAMIR KALIFA/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Even beyond the academics, James Bray, an associate professor of family and community medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and family psychologist, says kids lose the habit of learning. “If you take two or three months off, you get out of the habit of focusing and learning,” he says. It can take weeks or months to get back into that habit, he says, rather than being able to just jump right in at the start of the school year.

Learning helps in brain development, Bray says. It’s one of those things — to be a better learner, you have to practice learning.

That doesn’t mean that kids have to hit learning with the same intensity in the summer that they did during the school year. “It’s important to take some time off,” he says, “But it’s important to continue to engage in activities.”

Austinite and University of Texas graduate Cristal Glangchai founded VentureLabs and VentureGirls to teach kids how to think like entrepreneurs using science technology engineering and math skills. She also has four children and she gets that not everyone can afford to do a different summer camp each week, but what they can do is turn their home into the lab and encourage kids to think as scientists and entrepreneurs. It’s taking fun ideas a step further. “How can we take an idea and turn it into a product and turn it into a company?” she asks.

That might mean that your kids decide to make their own Lego kits and sell them to their friends, or they try hydroponics and sell their plants to the neighbors.

With Bray and Glangchai’s help, here are 10 cool things you could do with the last few weeks of summer to get your kids thinking again:

1. Get reading, and not just the books teachers assigned them, but the ones they want to read. (If they need a list of suggested books, columnist Sharyn Vane has one at austin360.com.) Austin Public Library’s branches have daily activities at the library for kids — everything from story tellers to art projects. Kids can even join a book group. Several programs offer incentives to read. Check out the ones from the Austin Public LibraryBookPeople and Half Price Books.

2. Observe the world around you and then ask “what if” questions. That means you look at the moon one night and ask, “what if we could colonize the moon? What would that take?” Get kids thinking big thoughts. Also ask them: “What did you try today?” “What did you fail at today?” “What’s one cool thing you learned today?”

The sound of cicadas in the evening and finding their nymph exoskeletons on trees and grass is a sure sign summer is here. Have kids research more about cicadas. Nell Carroll/AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2016

3. Classify everything and anything. If your kid is interested in the cicadas that are causing a racket at your house, have him research the different kind of cicadas or even all the different insects he sees.

Austin Creative Reuse Center has items that have been recycled that are perfect for crafts. Try making something new out of what you find there or in your own recycling bin. RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2015

4. Turn trash into treasure. Use what’s in your recycling bin to make art or a game or a new product. Nothing good in your bin? Take a trip to the Austin Creative Reuse (6406 N. Interstate 35, No. 1801, austincreativereuse.org) to pick up supplies for an art project.

5. Take an online class. Instructibles.com has classes for kids but it also has a Fidget Spinners design challenge going on right now. DIY.com also has classes. Some you have to pay for, but you can pay $49.95 for two years of instructions. Right now you can make a rocket with four videos. The good thing is it’s not just making the thing, DIY.com classes also explain the “why” behind the class.

Future scientist Sam Lassen listens as Laurie Mason, Good Laboratory Practice study coordinator at Michale E. Keeling Center for Comparative Medicine and Research in Bastrop, describes the process of how to create slime. Sam’s older brother Max and Joe check out the mixing bowl. Experiment with different types of slime this summer. FRAN HUNTER FOR SMITHVILLE TIMES

6. Experiment with 1,000 ways to make one thing. Slime is big right now. Make it with corn starch and water, try it with glue and Borax, or vinegar, baking soda and skim milk. Try it in different colors with different add-ins like glitter. We found recipes at homesciencetools.com. Don’t like slime? Think about making Play-doh or even ice cream or smoothies.

Patients Nico Damon, 7, and Sarah Pettinato, 9, right, play the board game Chutes and Ladders with Camp for All camp volunteer Charlotte Peeters at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas. Play a board game or make up one to play as a family. RALPH BARRERA/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2015

7. Play board games or card games (or better yet, invent a board game). Games teach us how to communicate as well as to use math and reading skills. Plus, you’re doing something together as a family. Just make sure to set the ground rules that winning isn’t everything.

8. Learn a new technology. Check out hourofcode.com for coding activities and games for all ages. You can code with characters like Moana, Elsa and Gumball for the younger kids, but for the middle school and up kids, hourofcode.com has more activities. Shh, don’t tell them. Coding is actually using math and logic skills.

9. Take an in-person class. The Thinkery now has $8 classes on Saturdays and Sundays. You can do things like dissect a cow eye or make a e-wearable fashion piece that lights up. You also can find classes at Home Depot and Michael’s, or take an art class at Art Garage or other local stores.

It’s Shark Week next week. Time to find out more about sharks or whatever kids are interested in. Discovery Channel

10. Watch TV. Yikes! Really? Well, starting Sunday, it’s Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. Why not learn something new about sharks? If sharks aren’t your kids’ jam, you can go to PBS Learning Media to look up old shows and search for content by topic. So if, for example, someone in your house is interested in black holes, you can find episodes of “Nova,” “Quest,” “Space Time” and “Physics Girl.” It also categorizes shows by ideal audience age, too. You also can find good content at PBS Digital Studios and on the PBS Digital Studios YouTube channel. Shows your kids might love include “Physics Girl,” “BrainCraft,” “It’s … Gross Science!” and Austin-based “It’s Okay to Be Smart” with biologist Joe Hanson.

Need more ideas for the summer? Find our summer fun guide at austin360.com/raisingaustin.

Back-to-school to-do list: Consider donating school supplies

As you head up and down the school supply aisles in the coming weeks, consider teaching your children a valuable lesson: The joy of helping others.

Each year, thousands of kids in Central Texas show up without any school supplies. Their teachers often end up donating out of their own pockets or kids just do without, making their school day much tougher than their peers.

Here are a few places that would love to have your supplies or monetary donation. For organizations that just want a monetary donation, consider doing a neighborhood lemonade stand, bake sale or using some allowance to make the act of giving more personal.

As you hit the school supply aisle, think about donating supplies  to other kids. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN STATESMAN

For the Children Inc.

About: For the Children Inc. provides basic school supplies to children that qualify for the federal free and reduced price lunch program with the goal to reach all elementary school children in more than 10 school districts in Central Texas.

How to donate: Make a monetary donation at schoolsuppliesforthechildren.org/donate/.   $25 will support seven students, $50 will support 14 students, $100 will support 28 students. A $10 recurring monthly gift will help 40 students. Now through Aug. 14, H-E-B will have tear-off coupons at the register as well.

How to get supplies: Apply with your school’s counselor or principal. The supplies get delivered to the school.

Information: schoolsuppliesforthechildren.org

Foundation Communities

About: Foundation Communities provides housing assistance, tax preparation, English as a second language and more help. It’s looking to give its 700 kids at its learning centers school supplies.

How to donate: You can make a monetary donation at foundcom.org but you also can drop off all kinds of school supplies and backpacks at the Community Financial Center at 2600 W. Stassney Lane, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 28.

How to get supplies: You have to be served by Foundation Communities’  learning centers.

Information: foundcom.org

Manos de Cristo 

About: Manos de Cristo helps people with low incomes in a variety of way. For its school supply drives it provides a backpack, school supplies, two sets of clothing and a book to more than 2,000 students.

How to donate: Make a donation at manosdecristo.org/BTS2017  A $60 donation helps one child.

How to get supplies: Supplies are given away at the Allan Center, 4900 Gonzales St. 8 a.m.-2 p.m. July 24-27 and 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. July 28, while supplies last.

Information: manosdecristo.org/BTS2017

Communities in Schools

About: This organization in schools helps the 120,000 children in Central Texas who have family challenges such as poverty and hunger. It supplies students it serves with backpacks and supplies, hygiene kits and socks and underwear.

How to donate: Drop off supplies to Communities in Schools Central Office located at 3000 S. Interstate 35, Suite 200. Supplies most needed are backpacks, composition books, folders and pencils. Or donate online at ciscentraltexas.org/supplydrive/.  There are a couple of levels: $17.12 for a backpack and all the supplies for one kid; $28 for a backpack, supplies, socks, underwear and hygiene kit for one kid; $40 for a new uniform or school logo and shoes for one kid; and $57.12 for a backpack, supplies, new shirt and shoes for one kid.

How to get supplies: Supplies are given to the children Communities in School serves. Ask your school if it is served by them and how to enroll in its program.

Information: ciscentraltexas.org/supplydrive/

SafePlace School Supply Drive

About: SafePlace houses about 300 kids each year with their families because of domestic violence.

How to donate: SafePlace is looking for pencil pouches, wide-ruled composition books, construction paper, folders, large pink erasers, handwriting paper, watercolors, colored pencils, glue sticks, scissors, highlighters, plastic supply boxes, dividers, calculators, tissues, hand sanitizer, gallon-sized zip-top bags. You can drop it off at SafePlace’s warehouse, 1515-A Grove Blvd. during warehouse hours , 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday, or you can pick from its Amazon wish list. Find the link at safeaustin.org/get-involved/give/donate/wishlist/backtoschool/

How to get supplies: You have to be housed by SafePlace.

Information: safeaustin.org/get-involved/give/donate/wishlist/backtoschool/

Salvation Army Back to School Drive

About: The Salvation Army houses families including 100 children in its two emergency shelters.

How to donate: The Salvation Army is looking for monetary donations as well as these supplies: tissue, colored paper, blue and black pens, rulers, glue, binders, backpacks, crayons, composition books, markers, spiral notebooks, flash drives as well as clothing. You also can organize a group drive as well. The administration office is at 10711 Burnet Road, Suite 231.

How to get supplies: You have to be housed in the emergency shelters.

Information: salvationarmyaustin.org/get-involved/back-to-school-drive/

Build a Backpack for City of Austin employees

About: City employees can build a backpack by going to http://www.austintexas.gov/buildabackpack and following the instructions. Drop off backpacks 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 28 at City Hall.

How to get supplies: The backpacks get distributed to AISD schools.

Information: http://www.austintexas.gov/buildabackpack

United Way Back to School Supply Drive

About: The United Way collects supplies for Austin ISD’s prekindergarten classes.

How to donate: Drop off supplies by Aug. 15 at United Way for Greater Austin, 2000 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Contact volunteer@uwatx.org for a school-specific list.

How to get supplies: The supplies are donated to specific schools.

Information: http://www.handsoncentraltexas.org/need/detail/?need_id=269753

Catch Air School Supply Drive

About: The kid-fun place offers discounts all throughout August if you bring in school supplies to donate to local schools.

How to donate: Bring three small new school supply items or one large school supply item per every $2 off admission. Example of three small items: pack of pencils, pack of crayons,notebook. Example of a large item: one lunchbox or one backpack, one three pack of Kleenex or one (large) pack of construction paper. Catch Air is at 1401 S. Interstate 35 Frontage Road, Suite 130, Round Rock, and 13450 N. U.S. 183, Suite 107.

Information: catchairparty.com

Last year Bryan Mondragon, 7, yells for his mother and siblings to wait up as he packs his new backpack with more school supplies during the Austin Independent School District’s Back to School Bash 2015 held at the Palmer Events Center. RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

AISD Back to School Bash

About: Get free backpacks and supplies, medical screenings and vaccinations with shot record. 9 a.m.–Noon Saturday, Aug. 12. Palmer Events Center, 900 Barton Springs Road. Buses leave from Guerrero Thompson and Summitt elementary schools; Bedichek, Martin, Mendez and Covington middle schools; and Lanier and Reagan high schools.  austinisd.org/bash

Bastrop Stuff the Bus/Back to School Bash

About: 1,500 students in the Bastrop ISD will receive supplies through this program.

How to donate: Drop off supplies at these locations: Bastrop ISD Service Center, 906 Farm St.; Greater Texas Federal Credit Union, 115 Hunters Crossing Blvd.; Classic Bank, 493 Texas 71; HEB Plus! – pre-package donation bags are available to purchase and donate at their store – 104 Hasler Blvd.; McCoy’s Building Supply, 550 Texas 71; Schulman Theatres Lost Pines 8, 1600 Chestnut St.  (July 22-29);  Adjust Chiropractic, 807 Main St.;  and A+ Federal Credit Union, 731 Texas W.

How to get supplies: Attend the Back to School Bash,  8:30-10:30 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 12 at the Bastrop ISD Memorial Stadium in Cedar Creek.

Information: bisdtx.org

Round Rock ISD Partners in Education Foundation School Supplies Sunday/Kutz for Kidz Event

About: Donate supplies for about 7,000 students served last year at this supply Round Rock school district supply drive.

How to donate: The foundation is looking for school supplies, but also monetary donations to buy supplies in bulk at rrisdeducationfoundation.org/school-supplies

How to get supplies: Come to Supplies Sunday event Aug. 20 at Hernandez Middle School.

Information: rrisdeducationfoundation.org/school-supplies

Carrying Hope donation drive.

Another great donation opportunity

If your kids are shopping for new school clothes, you can also donate a Hope Pack  to Carrying Hope, which helps children entering the foster care system get things like pajamas and a stuffed animal. Carrying Hope is having a Kids Helping Kids Hope Pack Drive. Enjoy snow cones from Kona Ice, a family workout from Stroller Strides, face painting, balloon animals, games and more. Each person who creates and drops off a Hope Pack backpack filled with items kids in foster care need will receive a free family pass to the Thinkery (while supplies last) and be entered into a raffle. Go to carryinghope.com to see what to donate. Free. 9 a.m. to noon, July 22. Browning Hangar at the Mueller Development. carryinghope.com.


Don’t vaccinate? New mumps, measles cases remind us why we should

Wednesday we told you of a mumps case at the University of Texas that had caused students to get a letter that they might have been exposed.  

We also told you that the number of kids in Texas receiving nonmedical exemptions to not vaccinate has grown to 45,000.

If I tell you to vaccinate your children, would you listen to me? Probably not. Will you listen to an infectious disease specialist? I hope so.

LVN Tanya Roland vaccinates Fatima Wolfe, the 1-year-old daughter of Jordan Wolfe, at the Shots for Tots vaccination clinic at St. John’s Community Center. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Dr. Don Murphey has been at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas for two years and before that at Cook Children’s Health Care System in Fort Worth for 22 years. That’s almost a quarter of a century of dealing with infections disease in Texas, many of which are things for which we vaccinate.

This year, he’s seen mumps cases, like the ones at UT, come into Dell Children’s. He says so far this year, Texas has had more than 200 cases. “Before 2000, we had almost no cases of mumps,” he says.

He’s also seen in recent years more measles, whooping cough, pneumococcal meningitis and Haemophilus influenzae type b meningitis.

What’s going on here?

We’re seeing what doctors have been seeing in Europe, especially France and the United Kingdom, but on a smaller scale, Murphey says. The rates of mumps and measles in particular skyrocketed there after “The Lancet” medical journal published a 1998 study by Dr. Andrew Wakefield that it later had to retract. Wakefield lost his license because of it.

Wakefield’s study found a link to autism from the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine. Multiple studies including those funded by plantiff’s lawyers who were looking for a link found no-such link. What happens, though, is that the MMR vaccine is given around the same time — about 12 months to 15 months — as when many kids with autism start to show signs.

Yet, the misinformation and the fear of vaccines persisted. Parents in Europe stopped vaccinating and Europe no longer had the “herd” immunity that happens when at least 90 percent to 95 percent of the population are vaccinated against a disease.

Diseases like measles and mumps that we just didn’t see are happening again. We rely on the herd immunity to protect us. You see these vaccines are not fool-proof, and they have waning effects. In the case of the students at UT, even if college students have been vaccinated as children but are exposed to mumps now, they might not be fully immune and get it.

Murphey says the mumps vaccine we use “is a very safe one. It doesn’t cause any meningitis,” he says. “It works great for herd immunity, but it doesn’t work if you’re exposed.”

If you do get mumps, it isn’t the worst thing most of the time. You get a fever, you feel bad for a few days, he says. Boys can also get an infection in their testes and girls in their ovaries. What is scary is that mumps can lead to meningitis and deafness.

While mumps is not a terrible disease, we could avoid the whole thing, if people who can get immunized do get immunized, he says.

For parents who are considering or are using an alternative vaccine schedule and delaying vaccines, Murphey encourages them not to. “Alternative schedules have never been shown to be any safer,” he says.

By delaying vaccines, you’re not protecting the most vulnerable population, who can get the most sick from these disease — infants and small children. They end up in the hospital or worse.

“You want to start protecting those kids as soon as possible,” Murphey says.

Vaccinate, please. And while you’re vaccinating, don’t forget that kids entering seventh grade have a new set of vaccines. The school will want to see shot records  before they let kids come to class.

While, HPV vaccine isn’t required for school yet, please put that on your list. Murphey wants more people to be talking about it. “It’s a wonderful thing,” he says. Ten to 20 years from know, we’ll start to see the rates of cervical cancer plummet, he says. While you might not want to think of your 10 or 11 year old having sex, you don’t want them having cervical cancer or giving someone cervical cancer, right?

You’ll also have a new set of vaccines in the teen years usually at the 16 and 17 check up, and more could be considered as infectious disease specialists look at the waning effects of vaccines.

Find the 2017-2018 school vaccination schedule below:

Kindergarten-Sixth Grade

Diphtheria/Tetanus/Pertussis: four or five doses depending on which version your kid got.

Polio: four or three doses

Measles, Mumps and Rubella: two doses

Hepatitis B: three doses

Varicella: two doses

Hepatitus A: two doses

Seventh graders

Diphtheria/Tetanus/Pertussis: three doses of the primary series plus a booster within the last five years

Meningococcal: one dose

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends these vaccines for the 11-year-old or 12-year-old check up:

  • HPV vaccine
    Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine helps protect against HPV infections that cause cancer. All boys and girls should finish the HPV vaccine series before they turn 13 years old.
  • Quadrivalent meningococcal conjugate vaccine
    Quadrivalent meningococcal conjugate vaccine protects against some of the bacteria that can cause infections of the lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) and bloodstream infections (bacteremia or septicemia). These illnesses can be very serious, even fatal.
  • Tdap vaccine
    Tdap vaccine provides a booster to continue protection from childhood against three serious diseases: tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (also called whooping cough).
  • Flu vaccine
    Preteens and teens should get a flu vaccine every year, by the end of October if possible. It is very important for preteens and teens with chronic health conditions like asthma or diabetes to get the flu shot, but the flu can be serious for even healthy kids.

The Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine recommends these vaccines at the 16-year check up:

  • A second dose of meningococcal ACWY
  • meningococcal B vaccine.

RELATED: Back to school to-do list: Schedule doctor visit for vaccines, sports physicals


Back to school to-do-list: Learn a new skill like cooking

We’re trying all summer to not have the kids slip into the video game coma. It’s time to learn a new skill that will be helpful for the school year.

Our mission: To teach the kids how to cook a few simple meals. Don’t like my cooking? Make it yourself.

We’ll start in August after vacation and summer camps have come and gone.

One great way to start is to find inspiration in what you’ve been doing this summer.

Family programs at Zilker Botanical Garden include fairy landscaping and tea parties, learning about pioneer days and exploring plants. Credit: Zilker Botanical Garden

If you’ve been to Zilker Botanical Garden and seen the Woodland Faerie Trail, this book might extend that experience in a fun educational way.

“Fairy House Cooking: Simple, Scrumptious Recipes & Fairy Party Fun!” by Liza Gardner Walsh ($16.95, Down East Books) teaches kids how to cook, but through the lens of preparing something for their fairy friends.

Try making something like these Purple Powder Puffs for breakfast, which don’t require any baking but do require skills on the food processor.

Purple Power Puffs

1/2 cup oats

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 cup almonds

1 cup dates

1/2 cup frozen blueberries thawed and drained or fresh

1 Tbsp. coconut oil

1 Tbsp. maple syrup

Grind oats and cinnamon in food processor then pour into a small bowl and set aside.

Grind almonds in food processor, then add dates and remaining ingredients and mix.

Coat your hands with a bit of flour and roll into bite size balls. Roll them in the oat mixture, place on a cookie sheet and chill for 30 minutes.

Want to see the Woodland Faerie Trail?

See fairy houses on this trail through July 30. Free with admission. Zilker Botanical Garden, 2220 Barton Springs Road. zilkergarden.org.

Back to school to-do list: Start thinking about school supplies now

Oh, we know. The start of school is almost two months away. Is it really time to go back-to-school shopping already?

Lukas Parra, 8, hands Kaitlyn Bradley, 12, a folder as they check off one more school supply. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN STATESMAN

Probably not, but here’s what you can do.

  1. Find the school supply list. Look on your school’s website. Can’t find it there? Ask a fellow parent in your grade or in the grade ahead of your child for the list.
  2. Take a picture of the school supply list and put it on your phone.
  3. If you happen to be in a store during the summer and see a good price on something, you can grab it.

Why do it now?

  • Back-to-school sales are fabulous and amazing, but not always on every product.
  • Tax-free weekend also doesn’t equal good deals on everything. Often, you’re really only saving the tax (0.825 percent) verses another sale that is 10 percent, 20 percent, half off, etc.
  • Once everyone starts looking for the same common school supplies, store shelves get depleted. Let me tell you about the year we couldn’t find graph paper. It wasn’t pretty. I might have sat in the middle of a Walmart at 10 p.m. on a school night and cried, only to realize I was being ridiculous.

RELATED: Dear Walmart and Target, Kids still need school supplies. Love, Frustrated Parents Everywhere

What if I can’t find a list because there is no list because my kid is in high school or middle school?

  • Ask parents (or kids) in the grade ahead of your kid what they needed.
  • Go ahead and stock up on items you know your child might need: composition books, binders, pencils, pens, notebook paper, printer paper, etc.

Last year, we shopped for back-to-school supplies from a common list of items and figured out where the least expensive places to shop would be. 

What we didn’t do was test how much we would have spent if we went online to a place like Amazon instead of hitting stores. So, we did. We took the same list from last year and found these results:

For the third-grader, we would have spent $110.71 to complete his list on Amazon, compared with $61.15 at Walmart for the same list.

For the eighth-grader, $85.04 on Amazon, compared with $28.20 at H-E-B.

Was it easier to shop online? Well, it wasn’t as hot and there weren’t people in our way, but many of the specific items were hard to find. You had to scroll through a lot and there were way too many options. We also would have had to buy a lot of extra stuff to get the specific things we needed because often things were packaged deal.

RELATED: 10 things to remember when back-to-school shopping

RELATED: Got your school supplies? Now get to labeling

Find more back-to-school columns we’re written this summer and look for at least one a week here at Austin360.com/raisingaustin.

Back to school to-do list: Improve your child’s online reputation

Back to School to-do list: 5 ways to get kids reading this summer

Back to School to-do list: Clean out the backpack

Back to school to-do list: Schedule doctor visit for vaccines, sports physicals


Back to School to-do list: 5 ways to get kids reading this summer

It’s been a week since school ended. We bet your kids have done what my have done: watch a lot of TV, play a lot of video games, be like slugs.

Children listen to a story in their pajamas. Photo by Lee Hershfield

Of course, we need to get their bodies moving: RELATED: KIDS WANT TO PLAY MORE, BUT THEY THINK VIDEO GAMES COUNT

But we also need to get their minds going, too.

Time to get reading for fun. Sharyn Vane, our children’s books columnist has suggestions of new books this summer. She includes the latest from “Coraline” author Neil Gaiman, “Cinnamon.”

Austin Independent School District also offers a 5 Book Dive. Go online to  http://www.5bookdive.org/ and see a list by your kids’ age of great books to read. The idea is that by just reading five books this summer, you can prevent the summer learning slide. Download a bookmark to serve as your reading log. If you complete the log and turn it in to BookPeople, you’ll get a $5 gift certificate.  BookPeople is kicking off the program with a summer reading party at noon on June 17.
Other summer reading programs to check out: Austin Public Library has a reading log you can download and fill out to get two free books.

Half Price Book’s summer reading log, gives you Bookworm Bucks for reading 15 minutes a day or 300 minutes. It also has a list of 40 books every kids should read and more.

Scholastic Books has a Happy Camper summer reading challenge that lets you unlock rewards for reading and earn Klutz books. You can also see how many books kids in your area have read.

Austin-based children’s performer Ms. Staci Gray entertains at a room packed with kids and their parents as they try to burst bubbles during story time at Book People. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Here’s some more ways to pull your kids into reading this summer:

  1. Meet an author. Kayla Olson is reading “The Sandcastle Empire” at 5 p.m tomorrow at BookPeople.  It’s going to be turned into a movie, so you’ll want to read it before that.  This month you can also hear Cora Carmack: “Roar.” 6 p.m. June 24. Michael Merschel: “Revenge of the Star Survivors.” 2 p.m. June 24. Richelle Mead: “Midnight Jewel.” 6 p.m. July 8. P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast: “Loved.” 7 p.m. July 17. Jason Gallaher: “Whobert, Whover, Owl Detective.” 2 p.m. July 22. BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd. bookpeople.com
  2. Attend a story time. Your library branch has story times most days and they are grouped by age. In Austin, there are also pajama story times and sensory friendly story times as well as bilingual story times. Just next week, there’s Chinese story time at Old Quarry Branch at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, a sensory story time at 11:15 a.m. on Tuesday at the Carver branch and 11:15 a.m. Thursday at the Ruiz branch, a Spanish dual language story time at 10:15 a.m. Wednesday at the Southeast Branch and at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Terrazas branch and 10:15 a.m. Friday at both the Pleasant Hill and Southeast branches, and a pajama story time 6 p.m. Wednesday at Windsor Park Branch and at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Manchaca Road.
    Barnes & Noble has story times at each of its stores 11 a.m. every Saturday and some of the more active stores have story times throughout the week. We especially love the 7 p.m. Friday at the Round Rock store.
    At BookPeople, story times are every Tuesday and Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. and Saturday at 11:30 a.m.
  3. Join a book club. The Austin Public Library has clubs for teens, tweens, moms and daughters, manga-lovers. The NBTween Book Club is reading “Me and Marvin Gardens.” 4 p.m. June 14, Howson Branch; “Raymie Nightingale,” 6 p.m. June 15, Twin Oaks Branch; “The Wild Robot,” 6 p.m. June 28, Spicewood Springs Branch. “The Best Man.” 4 p.m. July 12, Howson Branch. “Full of Beans.” 6 p.m. July 20, Twin Oaks Branch. “Raymie Nightingale.” 6 p.m. July 26, Spicewood Springs Branch. “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairy Land in Ship of Her Own Making.” 4 p.m. Aug. 9, Howson Branch. “The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.” 6 p.m. Aug. 17, Twin Oaks Branch.
    Teen Book Club is reading “Jellicoe Road.” 6:30 p.m. June 15, Spicewood Springs Road. “To Kill a Mockingbird,” 6:30 p.m. June 20, Howson Branch. “I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have To Kill You.” 6:30 p.m. July 18, Howson Branch. “My Lady.” 6:30 p.m. July 20, Spicewood Springs Branch. “The Impossible Knife of Memory.” 6:30 p.m. Aug. 15, Howson Branch. “A Monster Calls.” 6:30 p.m. Aug 17, Spicewood Springs Branch.
    The Mother-Daughter Book Club is reading “The Girl Who Drank the Moon.” 6 p.m. June 21, Hampton Branch.  “The Dreamer.” 6 p.m. July 19, Hampton Branch. “Smile.” 6 p.m. Aug. 16, Hampton Branch.
    Teen Manga Book Club is reading “Soul Eater.” 5:30 p.m. July 13, Little Walnut Creek Branch. “Blue Exorcist.” 5:30 p.m. Aug. 10, Little Walnut Creek Branch.
    You can also test out books for the Bluebonnet Award. Camp Bluebonnet at the Austin Public Library is for grades 3-6. 3 p.m. June 12, Old Quarry Branch; 1 p.m. June 16, Manchaca Road Branch; 3 p.m. June 19, Old Quarry Branch; 3 p.m. June 26, Old Quarry Branch.
  4. See a story performed, then pick up a similar book. Literature Live Presents: “Wiley and the Hairy Man.” at Austin Public Library branches: 2 p.m. June 12, Windsor Park Branch; 2 p.m. June 15, University Hills Branch; 2 p.m. June 16, Terrazas Branch; 3 p.m. June 20, Twin Oaks Branch; 2 p.m. June 22, Pleasant Hill Branch; 2 p.m. June 23, Yarborough Branch; 3 p.m. June 25, Manchaca Road Branch; 6 p.m. June 26, Carver Branch; 2 p.m. June 28, Ruiz Branch; 2 p.m. June 29, Milwood Branch.  2 p.m. July 5, Little Walnut Creek Branch; 3 p.m. July 10, Howson Branch; 3:30 p.m. July 12, North Village Branch; 3:30 p.m. July 25, Old Quarry Branch; 3 p.m. July 27, Southeast Branch.
    Literature Live! “Predicts the Forecast: Fantabulous Finger Fun.” 3:30 p.m. June 7, North Village Branch; 3 p.m. June 19, Howson Branch. 2 p.m. July 7, Terrazas Branch; 2 p.m. July 13, University Hills Branch; 2 p.m. July 14, Yarborough Branch.
    Bernadette Nason Presents “Stone Soup.” 2 p.m. June 21, Little Walnut Creek Branch; 2 p.m. June 22, Milwood Branch; 3 p.m. June 27, Twin Oaks Branch; 2 p.m. June 28, Hampton Branch. 3 p.m. July 3, Howson Branch; 2 p.m. July 6, University Hills Branch; 2 p.m. July 11, Cepeda Branch; 3 p.m. July 16, Manchaca Road Branch; 2 p.m. July 24, Windsor Park Branch.
    Elizabeth Kahura Presents: Folktales for Africa. 2 p.m. June 8, University Hills Branch; 2 p.m. June 15, Pleasant Hill Branch; 2 p.m. June 21, Ruiz Branch; 2 p.m. June 27, Cepeda Branch. 2 p.m. July 5, Hampton Branch.
    Hey Lollies Present: “Iris Saves the Land of Black and White.” 2 p.m. July 3, Spicewood Springs Branch; 3 p.m. July 17, Howson Branch; 2 p.m. July 21, Yarborough Branch.
    Sandbank Shadow Factory Presents: Rapunzel. 6 p.m. July 3, Carver Branch; 2 p.m. July 5, Ruiz Branch.
    Spotlight on Opera Presents: “The Coyotes and Rabbits.” 2 p.m. July 18, Cepeda Branch; 2 p.m. July 19, Hampton Branch.
    Literature Live! Presents: “The Fifolet.” For ages 8-12.4 p.m. Aug. 1, University Hills Branch; 6 p.m. Aug. 3, Manchaca Road Branch; 3 p.m Aug. 4, Little Walnut Creek Branch; 2 p.m. Aug. 6, Faulk Central Library; 2 p.m. Aug. 7, Windsor Park Branch; 3 p.m. Aug. 19, Recycled Reads Bookstore.
  5. Read to someone else. Reading can be a family event. Even if your kids are older, have a nightly story time. Or, have your kids read to you, their siblings, their grandparents, their friends or a pet. Don’t have a pet? Every Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at the Yarborough branch of the library, Bonnie the dog is ready to hear your stories.

And, if you have older kids who have summer reading requirements, do not wait. Go now. Pick up the books. School will be here before you know it.




Back to School to-do list: Clean out the backpack

Remember when the backpacks were brand new? They don’t look like this anymore.

Yes, we know this is the last day of school for kids in Austin Independent School District, and for kids in neighboring districts, it seems like school just ended, right?

Well, you’ve got work to do.

That full backpack with all the stuff that the teacher sent home on the last day is waiting for you to tackle it.

DO IT NOW. Why? Because there will be surprises in there, and if you wait until August 20, the day before school starts, a huge, stinky mess could be waiting for you.

Step 1. Dump it out. Empty all the pockets. We like to do this in the middle of the kitchen floor. All those crumbs from half-eaten snacks are going to end up there eventually. Go ahead and make it easy to sweep it up.

Step 2. Sort the pile. 

Throw out: Anything your child will never use again. Any school supplies that are broken. All those worksheets you don’t care about.

Save: School supplies that are still good. Keep them in your home for next year when you need glue and crayons for some amazing project that your child remembered at 8 p.m. is due the next day.

Save: Anything sentimental. Have an acid-free box where you keep the artwork, journals and stories that will mean something to you or your child 10 or 20 years from now. Don’t have room for all of that or just aren’t sure? Take a picture.

Save: Anything that could help them academically the next year. Latin vocabulary lists, I’m talking about you. Math formula sheets, we might need you. If you don’t have a filing system for these items, create one. If you don’t have room in your over-filled house, take a picture or scan the sheets in and save them to a Google Drive or Dropbox for future use. Be sure to label them well.

Keep: That house key, that calculator, those earbuds, the chargers — all the stuff you know your kid needs and has been looking for repeatedly all year only to discover that they have been in the bottom of the backpack the whole time.

Toss: EVERYTHING ELSE. If you don’t need it, toss it out. No teacher is passing judgement that you didn’t keep all her homework sheets.

Step 3. Put away everything you’ve kept in an organize place that make sense. No, the middle of your room or the top of the desk is not an organized place, child. Toss everything you’re not keeping and sweep the floor.

Step 4. Evaluate the backpack. Can it be used again with a good washing in the washing machine? Or is it full of holes and tears? We think it’s probably the later, but if it’s the former, think about how you can use it. Can it be turned into a beach bag, a gym bag, a holder for odds and ends that need containing? Or can it actually be used as a backpack next year? Just because your child wants a new bag every year doesn’t mean he really needs one, right?

Step 5. Enjoy summer. You’ve done the work and now that stinky backpack won’t be in the way all summer long.


Back to school to-do list: Schedule doctor visit for vaccines, sports physicals

Daniela Flores, 12, smiles as she receives an immunization at the Austin Independent School District and City of Austin Back-to-School Bash. Deborah Cannon/AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2011

Yes, I know that school is not out yet for most kids. I get that. Now is the time to get your doctor appointments to get your sports physicals and make sure your vaccinations are current.

Before you go, make sure you print out the sports physical form found on your school district’s website if you have a rising seventh grader and up. You never know if your previously unathletic kid might decide to try out for basketball. Many summer camps also require it.

Also, find that pesky shot record that you shoved in some file cabinet or drawer last summer.

Kids need these vaccinations for the 2017-2018 school year:

Kindergarten-Sixth Grade

Diphtheria/Tetanus/Pertussis: four or five doses depending on which version your kid got.

Polio: four or three doses

Measles, Mumps and Rubella: two doses

Hepatitis B: three doses

Varicella: two doses

Hepatitus A: two doses

Seventh graders

Diphtheria/Tetanus/Pertussis: three doses of the primary series plus a booster within the last five years

Meningococcal: one dose

Seventh grade is often where parents get caught. They bring their kids to the first day of school only to have them have to sit in the cafeteria until they can produce a shot record or get their vaccines up to date.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends these vaccines for the 11-year-old or 12-year-old check up:

  • HPV vaccine
    Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine helps protect against HPV infections that cause cancer. All boys and girls should finish the HPV vaccine series before they turn 13 years old.
  • Quadrivalent meningococcal conjugate vaccine
    Quadrivalent meningococcal conjugate vaccine protects against some of the bacteria that can cause infections of the lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) and bloodstream infections (bacteremia or septicemia). These illnesses can be very serious, even fatal.
  • Tdap vaccine
    Tdap vaccine provides a booster to continue protection from childhood against three serious diseases: tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (also called whooping cough).
  • Flu vaccine
    Preteens and teens should get a flu vaccine every year, by the end of October if possible. It is very important for preteens and teens with chronic health conditions like asthma or diabetes to get the flu shot, but the flu can be serious for even healthy kids.

That check up is also a time to make sure that all the other shots they should have had by kindergarten are up to date. If not, you’ve given yourself the summer to catch up.

There is some movement by the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine to add some vaccine recommendations to the 16-year-old check up. It would like doctors to routinely give 16-year-olds a second dose of meningococcal ACWY and the meningococcal B vaccine. All good ideas before heading off to college.

Most health insurance plans cover the cost of vaccines. If you don’t have insurance, or if it does not cover vaccines, the CDC’s Vaccines for Children program provides vaccines for children ages 18 years and younger, who are not insured, Medicaid-eligible, or American Indian or Alaska Native.

There is a way to get a vaccine exemption if you deem it necessary. Go to  www.ImmunizeTexas.com under “School & Child-Care.” Please understand that when you choose that it’s not just your child you’re choosing it for. You’re choosing to not protect the many kids and adults who cannot have vaccines because of health conditions. Let’s not go back to the days of small pox.


It’s Halloween!!! Be safe out there

Tuesday could be a wet one for trick-or-treating. Hopefully, the rain will hold off until after 9 p.m.  and not soak our Halloween fun.

If we are able to head out, keep these safety tips in mind.

Ashley Fair hands out candy to Mya Atkins, 4, during the Hill Country Galleria Trick or Treat event in 2014. RACHEL RICE/LAKE TRAVIS VIEW

Here are some safety tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics; Dr. Avni Shah, Baylor Scott & White pediatrician, and  Dr. Julie Alonso-Katzowitz, a Seton child and adolescent psychiatrist:


  • Plan costumes that are bright and reflective. Make sure that shoes fit well and that costumes are short enough to prevent tripping, entanglement or contact with flame.
  • Consider adding reflective tape or striping to costumes and trick-or-treat bags for greater visibility.
  • Because masks can limit or block eyesight, consider non-toxic makeup and decorative hats as safer alternatives. Hats should fit properly to prevent them from sliding over eyes. Makeup should be tested ahead of time on a small patch of skin to ensure there are no unpleasant surprises.
  • When shopping for costumes, wigs and accessories look for and purchase those with a label clearly indicating they are flame resistant.
  • If a sword, cane, or stick is a part of your child’s costume, make sure it is not sharp or long. A child may be easily hurt by these accessories if he stumbles or trips.
  • Do not use decorative contact lenses without an eye examination and a prescription from an eye care professional. While the packaging on decorative lenses will often make claims such as “one size fits all,” or “no need to see an eye specialist,” obtaining decorative contact lenses without a prescription is both dangerous and illegal. This can cause pain, inflammation, and serious eye disorders and infections, which may lead to permanent vision loss.

Pumpkin carving:

  • Small children should never carve pumpkins. Children can draw a face with markers. Then parents can do the cutting.
  • Consider using a flashlight or glow stick instead of a candle to light your pumpkin. If you do use a candle, a votive candle is safest.
  • Candlelit pumpkins should be placed on a sturdy table, away from curtains and other flammable objects, and not on a porch or any path where visitors may pass close by. They should never be left unattended.

Home safety for trick-0r-treaters:

  • To keep homes safe for visiting trick-or-treaters, parents should remove from the porch and front yard anything a child could trip over such as garden hoses, toys, bikes and lawn decorations.
  • Parents should check outdoor lights and replace burned-out bulbs.
  • Wet leaves or snow should be swept from sidewalks and steps.
  • Restrain pets so they do not inadvertently jump on or bite a trick-or-treater.


  • A parent or responsible adult should always accompany young children on their neighborhood rounds.
  • Review with children how to call 9-1-1 (or their local emergency number) if they ever have an emergency or become lost.
  • Obtain flashlights with fresh batteries for all children and their escorts.
  • If your older children are going alone, plan and review the route that is acceptable to you. Agree on a specific time when they should return home.
  • Only go to homes with a porch light on and never enter a home or car for a treat.
  • Talk to kids who might be scared about the idea that people are in costumes — that there are real people underneath. Go earlier in the night when the streets will be filled with younger kids who are less likely to be in scary costumes.
  • If kids are scared, only choose homes without scary decorations and don’t force them to trick-or-treat. You can also arrange to only go to a few known houses and call it done.
  • Because pedestrian injuries are the most common injuries to children on Halloween, remind trick-or-treaters:
    • Stay in a group and communicate where they will be going.
    • Remember reflective tape for costumes and trick-or-treat bags.
    • Carry a cellphone for quick communication.
    • Remain on well-lit streets and always use the sidewalk.
    • If no sidewalk is available, walk at the far edge of the roadway facing traffic.
    • Never cut across yards or use alleys.
    • Only cross the street as a group in established crosswalks (as recognized by local custom). Never cross between parked cars or out driveways.
    • Don’t assume the right of way. Motorists may have trouble seeing trick-or-treaters. Just because one car stops, doesn’t mean others will!
    • Law enforcement authorities should be notified immediately of any suspicious or unlawful activity.

Be healthy-ish:

  • A good meal prior to parties and trick-or-treating will discourage youngsters from filling up on Halloween treats.
  • Consider purchasing non-food treats for those who visit your home, such as coloring books or pens and pencils.
  • Wait until children are home to sort and check treats. Though tampering is rare, a responsible adult should closely examine all treats and throw away any spoiled, unwrapped or suspicious items.
  • Try to ration treats for the days and weeks following Halloween.

Here are a couple of safety tips for California Poison Control:

  1. Glow-in-the-dark jewelry and glow sticks are used by parents to keep their children visible while trick-or-treating in the dark. Children may break open these glow sticks getting the liquid on their hands and in their mouths. The liquid can be mildly irritating to the skin or eyes but is not likely to cause harm if a small amount is ingested.
  2. Children should not eat treats until they return home and all items have been inspected by an adult.
  3. Limit the amount of candy ingested at one time. Too much candy can cause stomach discomfort, and sugars and other sweeteners can act as laxatives when consumed in large amounts.
  4. If a child brings home a brand of candy that is not familiar, throw it away. Some imported candies have high levels of lead that can be harmful.
  5. Candy that is unwrapped should be discarded immediately.
  6. Fruit treats should be washed and cut open before being eaten.
  7. Homemade treats should be discarded unless the individuals who prepared them are well known and trusted.
  8. Little pieces of candy are potential choking hazards for small children.
  9. Torn, loose, or punctured wrapping may be a sign of tampering. Tampering should be reported to local police.
  10. Some Halloween makeup contains lead as do many regular cosmetics. Check www.safecosmetics.org for safe makeup to use on children.


Looking for a last-minute costume? We have ideas.

Plus, trick-or-treating tips for kids with food allergies.