Published as Play Room in PDX Parent magazine

Take Five: Marshall Bex

Marshall Bex, a Portland father of three kids, ages 8, 11, and 13, saw a gap in the market for digital books that did a great job of simply telling a story. He’s the founder of Mode Adjust, a creative agency that represents big-name companies such as Nike and Pepsi, but decided to launch a new venture called Vooks, which is based in the Pearl District. We asked him to tell us more.

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Q: What is Vooks?

A: Vooks is simply storybooks brought to life. They are animated versions of children’s storybooks. We’ve created a fun way for kids to engage with books and enjoy all the benefits that they offer.

Q: What inspired you to start this company?

A: I have three children and when they were young, I saw e-books and digital books that were gamified. They never actually paid attention to the content of the books when they were on their own, they usually just played the games or touched all the objects that made sounds. I wanted something different that captivated them when I wasn’t around and nurtured a love of reading. I saw how kids loved to watch videos and realized that a streaming service dedicated to animated storybooks could be a game changer.

Q: So all the videos are kid-friendly?

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A: Yes, all the videos are 100 percent kid-safe. We work with top publishers like Scholastic, DK, Chronicle Books and Kidsbooks.

Q: How is Vooks different from other types of screen time?

A: The pacing of Vooks is similar to a parent reading a book to their kids. We balance the pacing and read-along aspect to keep engagement high and allow time for imagination. It’s fun watching kiddos watch the same stories over and over and begin to learn story structure, visual thinking, and basic language skills while having fun.

Q: Do your kids have favorite stories on Vooks?

A: My kids love the Vooks videos even though they are aimed at children ages 2 to 8 years old. In fact, both of my girls have helped me write a few stories for Vooks and are excited to see their creations come to life. — Denise Castañon

Playlist: Kid’s Best Friend

Raffi. The name can be hurled as an insult by non-parents. But parents of small kids know it’s a name that’s been revered for decades, and for good reason. Kids get magically lulled into a calm, happy state when Raffi’s tunes are spinning. So us parents can be thankful that the 70-year-old has released his 25th album, Dog on the Floor. Canine friends are a big theme of this 15-song album. Need more evidence that Raffi’s still got that preternatural connection to preschoolers’ brains? My 3-year-old son Cruz excitedly pipes up, “It’s a doggie song, mama!” every time the title track and Luna’s Song start playing. Available at Target and via iTunes. — D.C.

We Recommend: Zara in Portland

Portland fashionistas and their mini-mes, rejoice! The Spain-based fashion giant Zara has opened their first Portland location in downtown’s Pioneer Place. Expect on-trend duds for men, women and kids delivered fresh to the store twice a week — and super affordable prices. We love the color palette in the toddler boys section that goes way beyond gray and blue. Pro tip: When your kids have outgrown their Zara gear, bring it back to the store for their “closing the loop” program, which aims to keep clothes out of landfills by reusing and recycling. — D.C.

Apps We Love: Map it Out

Okay, yes, these days everyone has GPS and paper maps are (increasingly) going by the wayside. But basic geography knowledge is still invaluable. Here are a couple of apps to get your littles started down that road.

Carmen Sandiego Returns You played the classic Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego as a kid, right? Us too! This next-gen update sends kids on a mission to capture the elusive Carmen and her henchmen as they hopscotch through world capitals. Free on Apple and Android devices. Best for ages 8-11.

Stack the States A nice blend of gameplay and learning, kids must match the states with their capitals and other important landmarks. Kids can unlock more mini-games and play against family members. Ninety-nine cents on Apple devices. Best for ages 6 and up. — Julia Silverman

Gear Guide: Listen Up

PSA: Headphones designed for grown-ups won’t cut it for kids — turning the volume all the way up can damage a kiddo’s developing ear canal. A good pair of kid’s headphones should limit volume to no more than 85 decibels. (And don’t even try earbuds — experts say kids should be using over-the-ear sets only.) Here are a few of our favorites.

Puro BT2220 The top pick from The New York Times’ panel of consumer products experts, my own kids have this pair and we’ve been really pleased. The sleek look means they will be a hit with older kiddos, plus they’ve got volume control and are Bluetooth compatible. From $69.99.

JLab JBuddies Studio A much gentler price point than the Puros, which is important if your kids, like mine, have a nasty habit of leaving headphones on airplanes. No Bluetooth, but good sound quality with easily regulated volume levels. From $19.99.

Onanoff Buddyphones An easy-folding model that comes with a long-lasting plastic frame to withstand, say, a tug-of-war between your kids. Plus, there’s a built-in wire-splitter (so no need for that tug-of-war) and the volume limiter is always on, topping out at 82 decibels. Starting at $24.99 — J.S.

Top 5 …Kid-friendly Spots for Ear Piercing

➊ With locations on both sides of the Willamette River, and an extensive online FAQ section about kids and pierced ears, Adorn Body Art is many parents’ first choice. adornbodyart.com 
➋ Vancouverites swear by the pros at Studio X Tattoo and Ear Piercing. studioxtattoo.tumblr.com 
➌ In outer Southeast Portland, the owner of TLC Piercing specializes in children and infants (and also offers an assortment of offbeat gifts, like handmade Victorian lampshades). tlcsearpiercing.com 
➍ Ritual Body Art and Tattoo will pierce the ears of kids over the age of 6, and offers titanium jewelry for extra-sensitive skin. ritualartspdx.com 
➎ Black Hole Body Piercing and Tattoo is a great option for families in Beaverton and other westside suburbs. Blackholebodypiercing.com 
— J.S.

Chalkboard: Let it Snow?

Dreaming of a white Christmas for you and the kiddos? Local weather forecasters say you might need to keep dreaming. It’s very, very rare for Portland to get three winters in a row with snowfall of more than six inches (the last time it happened was nearly 40 years ago). So if you want to go sledding this winter, chances are looking good that you’ll need to pack up the car and head for the hills. 

But what about snowfall in the Cascades? The National Weather Service is calling for an “El Niño” winter, meaning that it could be a warmer, drier winter than normal in these parts, due to warm waters in the Pacific Ocean, around the equator. That’s good news if our gray winters get you down, and certainly good news for kiddos who love to play outside — but it could make for a tough wildfire season next summer, and exacerbate drought conditions across the state.

Still, predicting the weather is as tricky as trying to convince a 3-year-old not to give up their daytime nap, so take heart. Peak snowpack in Oregon usually happens sometime around spring break — last year, our biggest snowfall didn’t arrive until mid-February — so we’ve got lots more winter weather to go. (Find out where to take your kids to play in the snow, on page 14.) — J.S.

Good Deeds: Help for Foster Families

The holiday season can be an especially hard time for the kids in Oregon’s foster care system, who may be missing their birth parents and their traditions. Help support them, and the families who generously open their doors to offer them shelter, by volunteering at With Love, Oregon, a Tigard-based nonprofit founded by Lake Oswego mom Allie Roth. With Love collects all kinds of necessities for foster kids, including clothing, shoes, bedding, baby gear, toys, personal items and toiletries. You can find an Amazon wish list for the organization via their website, at withloveoregon.org, and when you drop off your donations at their Tigard warehouse (8178 SW Durham Rd., check website for open hours), kids of all ages are encouraged to stay and help parents sort through and inspect donations.

Kids can also help with cleaning donated items, folding and packing clothes into bags, and matching up shoes, among other tasks. And if they need a break, With Love has a play room right next to the volunteer area, so kids can have some free time while parents finish off a shift. (If you can’t make it in for a long shift, they suggest putting your washing machine at home to work by laundering donated clothes. Every little bit helps!) This December, they are especially looking for new toys and books as part of a “Season of Giving” drive; find out more info on their website. — J.S.

Ask Dr. Doug: The All-Too-Common Cold

Q: My child started preschool this year, and it seems like he’s constantly sick. What do you think about over-the-counter remedies for kids with colds? Do any of them actually work? Or do we have no choice but to wait it out?

A: There are few things in parenting cuter than a parade of preschoolers with little backpacks off to make new friends. But with that comes the parade of runny noses. I tell parents that within a week to 10 days after the first day of school or daycare, expect your tyke to have a drippy nose, cough, and sometimes fever.

Kids 6 and under have an average of six to eight colds per year, which usually happen between September and April. That’s about once a month. And symptoms from routine colds usually last 10 to 14 days, which means he’ll basically be congested off and on until about March! Usually kids handle the symptoms pretty well, and we have to trust their bodies to fight off these common viral infections.

The best way to feel better is to try and prevent colds in the first place. (Sounds easy, right?) Teach your little one to wash his hands after coughing or sneezing, before eating, after using the bathroom, and when you get home. Hand sanitizer doesn’t work quite as well for stomach viruses, but use it if that’s what you have. Teach your child early how to cough into his elbow. Sleep and good nutrition are musts to keep our bodies healthy, so get plenty of both. And don’t forget flu shots — they are the best protection we have against influenza, a specific virus that can make kids miserable and very sick.

Once your child gets sick with a common cold, you can help him feel more comfortable while his body fights off the virus. Start with trying to get the mucus out with nasal saline and suction (like a NoseFrida) — although if that’s turning into a wrestling match, don’t fight too hard. Steamy baths and a humidifier can help. Ibuprofen (for babies older than 6 months) and acetaminophen can treat fever and body aches. Make sure they are drinking, but don’t worry about their appetite — none of us want to eat much when we feel crummy.

Cough is usually the most bothersome symptom for everyone. Over-the-counter cough and cold preparations are not safe for kids under 6 and should not be used. Last year the FDA recommended against any cough medicine with codeine for kids as it can stop their breathing. A study a few years ago found honey was better than Robitussin at treating nighttime cough, and I regularly recommend it for children older than 1 year. Herbal tea or warm water with lemon and honey works well. Our grandmothers were right!

We may need to tweak these recommendations for specific viruses (like croup, which comes with a barky cough and noisy breathing called stridor), or if your child has other issues such as asthma. For fever lasting longer than three to four days, concerns about dehydration, any breathing difficulty, a cough lasting longer than four weeks, or if you’re just plain worried, call your pediatrician. And remember, antibiotics don’t kill viruses. But cuddles and soup boost our immune system, so I’ll prescribe those year-round.

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