Playroom December 2016


Bookmark This: The Feeding Chronicles

This whole mom thing, often you don’t know how tough (and wonderful) it’s going to be until you are holding your baby in your arms — and trying to breastfeed. The Milk Stories project captures it perfectly by illustrating the stories of mamas feeding their babies with heart-tugging photos. And the accompanying stories are equally captivating — moms who exclusively pump, are battling cancer or rely solely on donor milk to nourish adopted children all share their struggles and successes. Formula-feeding moms should not feel left out. “The Milk Stories strives to showcase the beauty and diversity of all forms of feeding our young, however that may look, bridging gaps and connecting parents through experience,” says Clackamas County-based photographer Ashlan Taylor, a mother of two who started the project after an undiagnosed medical problem kept her from producing enough breast milk for her first child. “Photographing the connection between mother and child and hearing these stories makes you realize how connected we all are on such a fundamental human level.”


Check out the gallery at And look for more of Taylor’s work in our May 2017 issue. — Denise Castañon

Bookshelf: Season of Giving

It’s easy for kids to get swept up in the gifts they might be getting this holiday season. Here are some books about giving back, to remind them what this time of year is really about, from Kim Tano and Richard Corbett, the children’s book buyers at Portland’s legendary independent bookseller, Powell’s Books. (Don’t miss storytime at the flagship Burnside store at 11 am on Saturdays.)

Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson, illustrated by Sydney Smith
In this simple, wordless picture book, a girl collects dandelions, clover and vetch from between the cracks in the sidewalk on her way home from school with her father, leaving small, heartfelt bouquets for strangers, animals and finally each member of her family. A New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book of the Year. $16.95.

Rainbow Fish written and illustrated by Marcus Pfister
A timeless classic featuring a once-snooty-and-friendless fish who shares his most prized possessions — his colorful rainbow scales — with other under-the-sea creatures. At the end, he is left with a single scale and a full heart. $18.95.


Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
Annabelle finds a magic box full of yarn and knits a sweater for herself and her dog, but finds she has extra yarn. So she keeps right on knitting, making toasty items for her classmates, friends, family, neighbors and pets — even sweater cozies for inanimate objects! $16.99.

The Three Questions written and illustrated by Jon J. Muth
Deep questions for the littlest thinkers: What is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do? Kids can see the answers unfold in this delicately illustrated book inspired by Leo Tolstoy. $17.99.

Wild Robot written and illustrated by Peter Brown
Ever wondered how a robot would survive in the wilderness? Find out in this award-winning author’s first novel for middle readers, which explores the evolving intersection of nature, technology and community. $16.99.

Zita the Spacegirl written and illustrated by Ben Hatke
Zita, our intergalactic hero, finds herself on a strange planet at the push of a mysterious button. Can she and her otherworldly friends save her best friend and return him to earth? The first in a highly recommended graphic novel series. $12.99.



Take Five: Brandon Stowe

Earlier this year, Portland toy designer Brandon Stowe (along with business partners Andy and Anne Snider and Ben Nelesen) launched Mighty Fun!, a company dedicated to creating high-quality, well-designed toys and games. (Look for some of the company’s offerings in our gift guide on page 14.) We talked with Stowe about the creative process and what’s coming out next.

Q: Why did you decide to start Mighty Fun! toys?
A: We love toys! We’ve met over the years to brainstorm and develop toy and game ideas we thought were cool. Having seen a recent shift in the marketplace toward more licensed products and the continued push of mass-market plastic toys, plus the growing tug-of-war with screen time, we saw an immediate need for well-designed, well-made toys that appeal to kids and provide them with an authentic, quality play experience.

Q: Are all the founders of Mighty Fun! parents?
A: Yes! We all have kids, i.e. play-testers! Being parents gives us a great perspective on what to make and feedback during the development process to make sure we’re on the right track. And we design with parents in mind — we design our products with a “play and display” mindset, which means we want the look and feel of our products to add to the aesthetic of the home or kids’ room as opposed to being something parents want to hide away.

Q: What’s the process like for designing and testing a board game? How long does it take?
A: For any product, it starts with someone bringing an idea to the table. Then there’s lots of group brainstorming, prototyping and internal play testing in an effort to answer the very important question — is it fun? Of course, the answer has to be “Yes!” From there, our designers take over to take the rough idea and shape it into the final form. The time varies for each product … it’s not a quick process, I can tell you that!

Q: Do you have any new toys or games in the works for 2017 that you can share a little about?
A: Up next we have a line of seriously cool wooden slingshots that launch soft foam balls. We’ll actually have those in time for this holiday season. So people can check our website to stay informed on when those are available.

Q: Honestly, do you ever break out into staff sword fights at Mighty Fun! meetings?
A: We do like to have fun and that’s a big part of why we do this, so let’s just say we have lots of “hands-on” experience with our own products! — D.C.


Kid to Know: The 3-D Wizard

Soon-to-be 13-year-old Owen DuFrene learned to design for a 3-D printer from YouTube videos. Those must be some amazing videos, because Owen has been a finalist for two Future Engineers 3-D design challenges. Most recently his Gamekeeper design (a set of paddles and a ball that astronauts print in space and use to play an adapted game of golf or ping-pong) was chosen as a finalist for NASA and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Foundation’s International Space Station challenge, whose goal was to create an object that is useful for an astronaut living in microgravity. DuFrene, who attends Stoller Middle School in Beaverton and enjoys making models and sculptures, found using CAD software, or computer-aided design and drafting, just another way to do his hobbies.

“It was kind of a trial and error process with a lot of ‘technical daydreaming’ as I call it,” he says. “The idea started mainly in the car, talking about the problem with my mom as we drove, starting with random expandable ideas and building off of them.” Unsurprisingly, Owen’s favorite subject in school is science and he plans to compete in future engineering challenges for the fun of it. “The challenge really opened up engineering as a career path for me, and sparked my interested in space travel again. I’m thinking about being an astronaut or NASA engineer.” — D.C.

TOP 5 …kid-friendly Holiday Shows

➊ The Oregon Ballet Theatre is the only company on the West Coast to present George Balanchine’s classic choreography for The Nutcracker.
Superhero Old Folks Home blends acrobatics, aerial dance and physical theater at Echo Theater Company.
➌ Get on your feet at the Oregon Symphony’s annual Gospel Christmas show, with a kid-friendly matinee on December 11.
➍ Go old-school with A Christmas Story at Theatre in the Grove.
➎ The Portland Revels are staging a special, kid-friendly performance of their annual holiday show, the Commedia Bambini. — Julia Silverman

december16_chalkboard All hail the drop-off playdate, when your kids are finally old enough for you to leave them at a friend’s house for a few hours so you can work (or not … ). But before you wave good-bye, you might want to have a chat with the parents about whether or not there are guns in their home. Broaching the topic can feel awkward — plenty of people are gun owners even in socially liberal Portland. But it could also be vitally important to your child’s health and well-being. The local chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense gave our web editor, Ali Wilkinson, some great tips for how to navigate this important talk:

Normalize the conversation. Put the conversation in the context of other safety concerns. For instance, if your child has a peanut allergy, it would be natural to ask about the presence of peanuts in the house. If your child is terrified of big dogs, you would want to know ahead of time if they had any pets.

Try putting the conversation in the context of you. For instance, “With all the gun violence we’ve been hearing about lately, I’ve become really aware of issues surrounding guns.” That may make it seem less like you are passing judgment on gun ownership generally.

If you don’t feel comfortable talking about it, try writing about it. Sometimes a text or an email can help defuse some of the potential anxiety surrounding the conversation.

Specific questions to ask (besides the obvious “Do you have guns in the home?”) might include: Will there be others in the home who carry guns? How do you keep your guns (i.e. locked and unloaded, with the ammunition kept elsewhere for extra precaution?).

Suggest an alternate place. If the conversation yields answers with which you’re uncomfortable, suggest a playdate at your own house, or a neutral location like a playground or the Oregon Zoo.



Good Deeds: Boxful of Hope

Imagine that you are an Oregon kid who has just been placed in foster care. You’re waiting at a child services office while paperwork is filled out and adults have conversations. Pretty lonely, right? You can help. The nonprofit Embrace Oregon is looking for people to make “welcome boxes” for foster kids. The idea is simple: Buy a photo box, from somewhere like Fred Meyer or Joann Fabric and Craft Store. Work with your kids to fill it up with a mix of necessities and luxuries, depending on age range. A box for a 2- to 4-year-old might include a coloring book and crayons, a nightlight, a toddler-sized toothbrush, playdough and bubbles. Bigger kids might get a flashlight, a water bottle and a small Lego set. Then write a note (and ask your kids to do the same) and put it in, too. Just a few kind words can make a big difference. Foster kids can keep the box when they go to their temporary homes. It will be something that belongs just to them in an unfamiliar place. Check out for a list of essentials and fun items for your welcome box, plus drop-off details — J.S.

Ask Dr. Corey: Bike Smarts

As an avid cyclist, I love watching local families riding their bikes to and from school — and staying safe along the way! Wanting to learn more, I talked with Margi Bradway, who leads the team that administers the Safe Routes to School program for the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Dr. C: Please tell us a little about Safe Routes to School.

MB: Safe Routes to School (SRTS) is a multi-faceted program working to enable and encourage more families to walk, bike, and roll to school. In 1969, about half of students nationwide were walking or biking to school; by 2009, only 13 percent were, and many were being dropped off in the family car. Aside from the decrease in physical activity, more auto traffic near schools increases safety risks and adds excess pollutants to the air.

Walking and biking to school also makes time for valuable one-on-one time between parents and children. As kids get older, walking and biking can help them become more independent.

Today, SRTS services are offered in over 100 schools across Portland, serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Dr. C: Do you have any figures regarding the usage of the program and how effective it is in reducing bicycle-vehicle accidents?

MB: We have definitely seen an increase in walking and biking. When the program began, about 31 percent of K-5 student trips were made by walking and biking, and now right around 44 percent of trips are active. Our research shows us that there is safety in numbers. In other words, the more people biking and walking, the safer a street becomes, which is a benefit of the Safe Routes to School program. We also know that the slower people drive, the less likely someone is to get seriously injured. I encourage all the parents who do drop-off and pick-up by car to slow down and look around.

Dr. C: What are the most important things parents and children can do to keep themselves safe while riding to and from school?

Plan Your Route Take the time to think about your route ahead of time. Know where there are crosswalks on bigger streets that can help with crossing, or intersections with traffic lights. Use lower traffic streets and neighborhood greenways.

Be Visible Riding in groups as a “bike train” with neighbors can increase visibility, as can “blinging” out your bike and helmet with lights and reflective stickers. Wear bright colors, especially during these dark winter months. Reflective vests can be helpful. IKEA has inexpensive kid-sized vests, or be creative with reflective fabrics you can find at Fabric Depot or hardware stores.

Plan Ahead If you haven’t ridden to school before, try the route on a weekend first, either by yourself or with your student, so there aren’t any surprises when you’re headed to school. On mornings when you’re planning to ride, leave yourself plenty of time to travel safely and to enjoy the morning with your family.

For more info, check out 

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