Published as Play Room in PDX Parent magazine

Top 5: Candy-free Handouts

Whether you want neighborhood kids to have allergy-friendly treats or just can’t stand the thought of more candy in your house, here are some ideas for no-sugar swag to pass out to trick-or-treaters on October 31.  

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1. Mini Play-Doh containers. 50 for $9.99 at Costco.  

2. Classic vampire teeth. 6 for $1 at target.com.  

3. Fake bloody fingers. 12 for $2.50 at The Lippman Co., 50 SE Yamhill St.  

4. Glow bracelets, or anything that glows, really. 50 bracelets for $3 at target.com.  

5. Sticky fling toys. Cats and pumpkins available at orientaltrading.com. 72 for $8.89. — D.C.

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Kids to Know: The Climate-Change Mobilizers

If the thought of oceans rising and the planet warming has you worried, then you are not alone. “Thinking 20 or 30 years in the future keeps me up at night,” says 14-year-old Jeremy Clark. 

But Jeremy and his friend 15-year-old Charlie Abrams are doing more than worrying. The duo founded Affected Generation, a youth-led nonprofit that is working to fight climate change and help implement effective climate policy. Charlie and Jeremy have testified, marched and spoken out in support of Oregon’s Clean Energy Jobs Bill, which would force the state’s largest polluters to pay a fine for every ton of carbon they produce. They also helped organize the 3,000-student-strong Portland School Strike for Climate on March 15. “If we fail to take drastic measures to combat climate change, future generations will be born into a crisis they never caused,” says Jeremy, “And my generation will be the first to have to deal with that crisis.”

Through Affected Generation, the two Cleveland High School sophomores plan to help environmental nonprofits upgrade their online presence by redesigning their websites and providing high-quality photos and videos about climate change. They are even crafting a short film. For all their work, they were awarded the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, which honors kids and teens who have made a significant positive difference to people and our planet. They’ll take home $10,000 to use for their nonprofit or toward education.

Finally, here’s what Jeremy and Charlie ask you as a parent to do: Teach your kids that climate change is real and reduce your carbon footprint, even in small ways — such as eating vegan or vegetarian one day a week. And they also ask you to contact your legislators and tell them you support effective climate policy and then vote. Because they can’t. (Learn more about their work at affectedgeneration.org.) — Denise Castañon

Tracy Weldon

Who: Tracy Weldon, Lake Oswego author and mother to 2-year-old, Ryan, with another son on the way.

What: Weldon recently published her first children’s book, My Blank Page. “One of the most rewarding parts of creating My Blank Page was reading it to my son for the first time. He loves the illustrations!” 

Why: “My goal in creating the book is to highlight the importance of imaginative play in a child’s development,” says Weldon. “Whether they finish the story and want to draw, make paper airplanes, or embark on their own pirate adventure, my wish is that this book can interrupt a TV show or video game long enough to encourage children to exercise their creative muscles and dream.”

You can find My Blank Page at ashlandwells.com or at amazon.com. — D.C.

We Recommend …The Bright Parenting app

If you find yourself repeating, “Just put your shoes on!” in an increasingly higher volume every morning before school, this app is for you. (And to give credit, we heard about it from a mom in the Portland-area Working Moms Facebook group!) This ingenious app gives quick parenting strategies to help address common kid behaviors that parents find … annoying. You can pick behaviors you’d like to see less of in your kids (say, whining) and then get mini lessons on parenting strategies to reduce the behaviors. Bright labels itself as an app for parents who “strive to balance being nurturing and setting clear limits.” Sounds good to us! Pro tip: Get the “Daily Practices” messaged to your phone. For iPhone and Android. Free version offers limited tips and lessons. $4.99 a month or $39.99 per year unlocks all lessons. — D.C

Chalkboard: Making Connections

Even the most Waldorf-y families among us are eventually going to need the Internet. And given Portland’s techy bona fides, it comes as no surprise that the city routinely tops lists as one of the most connected in the country. Even for no-screen-time families, the Internet is an essential and not a luxury these days. Without it, it’s hard to search for a job or research information or keep up with the news as it happens. But as many readers know all too well, the cost of at-home Internet can be eyebrow raising at best, and wallet-busting at worst. For fast speeds and other bells and whistles, costs can top out at more than $100 per month. If that’s beyond your household’s budget, don’t despair; there are alternatives. One is still years away for Multnomah County residents, but worth following nonetheless: Multnomah County is studying the feasibility of building a massive fiber network to provide public residential internet service. (If you live in Hillsboro, know that the city is several steps ahead on this and has a seven-year plan to provide internet service citywide.) For now, those whose children are eligible for free and reduced lunch from school, or are enrolled in Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) can check out Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, which provides at-home Wi-Fi at respectable speeds for just $9.95 per month, with no long-term contract, no credit check and no installation fees. For details, check out internetessentials.com. — Julia Silverman

Getaway: Springfield, Oregon

Pop culture and public art collide in Springfield, Oregon, the (purported) ancestral home of The Simpsons. A self-guided walking tour showcases 20 essential public-art stops highlighting local history, but the real stars of the show are Homer, Marge, Maggie, Lisa and Bart — the working-class family that made this former mill town infamous. A self-guided Unofficial Simpsons Tour passes a series of landmarks that inspired (or were inspired by) the long-lived sitcom. Admire Simpsons-adjacent art, including the “official” Simpsons Mural, then cozy up to life-sized statues of Homer, Marge, Maggie, Lisa and Bart on that famous orange couch. (Tour maps at eugene cascadescoast.org.) Indoors, obstacle-course gym Northwest Ninja Park boasts warped walls, double ladders and cliff-hanging challenges. Skip dinner at Moe’s Tavern: It’s noisy, and there’s no Duff beer on tap. D’oh! Instead, visit Plank Town Brewing Company, housed in a historic building and serving up kid-approved mac ’n’ cheese and sweet-potato fries. Staying over? Check out Village Inn — an affordable, locally owned motel with a pool and free basic breakfast. — E.J.B.

Ask Dr. Doug 

Q: I’m prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during our dreary winters. I noticed my 9-year-old also seems down during that time of year, too. Can kids get SAD? If so, what symptoms should we look for and how can we help him?    

A: Feeling blue in the winter is common, especially in our wet and gray city. There  is a reason coffee sales (and flights to sunny spots) increase in the winter around here! While we all usually feel more tired and grumpy in the winter, seasonal affective disorder is a specific type of depression that worsens in the winter with the arrival of shorter days and less light, and then gets better in the spring when longer days return.

SAD is more common in adults, usually showing up in the teens and early 20s, but it can certainly affect kids, too. Girls are four times more likely than boys to experience it, and chances increase with a family history of depression or other mood issues.

Symptoms of SAD are similar to depression, except they follow a predictable and seasonal pattern through the year. These include: sadness, irritability, not enjoying things we normally do, less energy, sleeping more, overeating and difficulty concentrating. We don’t understand exactly why SAD happens, but our best explanation links it to the longer periods of darkness in the winter, which impact our levels of the sleep- and mood-regulating brain chemicals melatonin and serotonin. 

Unfortunately SAD may be overlooked in children. Often depression and anxiety show up as irritability rather than sadness in kids. Symptoms may also get blamed on issues at school, or holiday travel and changes to routine. Regardless of what might be causing it, if you feel like your son is struggling, talk to his pediatrician.

What can we do about it? The same types of treatment that work for adults can be helpful for kids. Start with the healthy habits we should all be practicing year-round — a regular bedtime with a consistent routine, eating a balanced diet, getting outside and getting out of breath from exercising, ideally every day. 

Light therapy may be helpful — this means exposing ourselves to bright light in the morning, since our day/night rhythms are set by how much light we see and when. While there isn’t much research on light therapy in children, it may be worth a try after discussing it with your pediatrician. Light boxes can be purchased locally and online. (I find it easiest to put the light nearby while kids are eating breakfast or playing in the morning, ideally for 20 to 30 minutes.) If it helps, you should see moods brightening within two weeks. For some children, we may need to explore counseling and medication as well.

I also want to stress that we need to take care of ourselves before we can take care of our kids. Make sure to prioritize your self-care. Kids are remarkably attuned to us, and if we’re irritable or depressed, it impacts their moods, too. 

I hope your family is healthy and happy this winter!

Playlist: We’ll Dance to That!

Learning a second language is all about mastering new sounds, and as any parent can tell you, that means a whole lotta repetition — hence the monotonous register of many alphabet-focused kids’ music albums. But practicing your Spanish-language ABCs need not be an exercise in tedium, insists Latin GRAMMY-award winning kids’ music duo 123 Andrés. (aka, Andrés and Christina.)

Their latest album, Canta las Letras, takes listeners on a high-energy tour of Spanish-language letters and letter combinations, evoking visuals of everything from koala bears and popsicles to mosquitos and elk to help the new sounds stick. Cue it up and dance along to 38 carefully crafted ditties, or just let the music roll in the background while you go about your day. This catchy, eclectic gem stands up well to heavy living-room rotation. 123andres.com. — Erin J. Bernard

Apps We Love: Go with the Flow Music

I’ve always found music really does tame the savage beast — and there’s nothing more savage than a hangry kindergartener at 5 pm when dinner is still in the works. I’ve been using Pandora for ages, but wanted to check out other free streaming apps that have dedicated channels for kiddos with fewer commercials.

Amazon Music With Amazon Music, you’ve got access to a library of 2 million songs. (You can upgrade to Amazon Music Unlimited for a monthly fee — and access 50 million songs.) For the kiddos, I especially liked the chill vibe of the Frances England Station, which also included songs from The Okee Dokee Brothers and Elizabeth Mitchell. Expect more upbeat tunes on the preset station Toddler Time with hits like Baby Shark, Kidz Bop and Pixar soundtracks. Amazon also gives you the option to block explicit lyrics. Free with Prime membership with no commercials and no limit on skips!

iHeart Radio Family This whole app is specifically for kids, with pre-programmed channels featuring music, stories and podcasts. The downside is you don’t have the ability to choose a specific artist’s station, or even see which artist is currently playing. But there is a wide variety of commercial-free stations — I especially liked Rock the Cradle, which played Bowie’s version of The Man Who Sold the World. And I loved that the app featured Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls.

Spotify This app offers a very wide selection of artists to create stations based on your preferences. I found lots of kindie choices, including Lucky Diaz, Jazzy Ash and our very own Red Yarn. The free version gives you the option of watching a 30-second video to get 30 minutes of ad-free music. It’s easy to block explicit content, too. — D.C.

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