Choosing a Camp

10 Feb

By Jim Castrataro

This time of year, it is hard to imagine that you should be thinking of summer camps for your children, but it is a good idea to get a jump start on things while you have some extra time during the dark days of winter.

When looking for a camp for your children there are a few key items to contemplate to be sure they will be safe.  The highest standard for a camp is held by the American Camping Association (ACA).  Many overnight camps aspire to hold this standard and the approval process takes months to complete.  If you do not see the ACA symbol next to the camp name the camp is then most likely governed by the state.  These regulations can vary from state to state and you will need to do a little homework.

One option is to check the state regulations for a camp.  This can usually be found by a simple google search of “Camp regulations, Massachusetts” for example.  This document can look overwhelming but look for the key sections on background check requirements, supervision requirements, and policy and procedure documents.  A second option would be to call the camp directly.  Be sure you are speaking with the camp director or owner.  Discuss topics including camper to counselor ratios, pickup and drop off procedures, medical supervision and policy manuals to name a few.

Once you have reviewed this document or spoken with the director or owner, you are only half way there. It is important to follow up with the state and local town, usually the Health Department, to ensure the camp is being inspected annually.  If during your contact with the local authority, there is not a sense of familiarity, this should be a red flag.  Many states have regulations in place, but if the local issuing authority is not inspecting health records, background checks and conducting at least one on-sight inspection while the camp is in session, it is possible the camp is not operating at the minimum state standards.  If this is the case the safety of the camp is squarely on the shoulders of the camp owner.  Certainly, many of them even without the state inspection do perform above and beyond the call of duty and are working very diligently to ensure the safety and well- being of your children.

In summary, be cautious and do not be afraid to ask questions.  Look for a well-organized business that is working on its camp operations year round.  The camp experience should be a fun and enjoyable for your children, but it is up to you to make certain the camp is set up to provide just that.


Jim Castrataro is the Director of Summer Programs at Babson College.  His experience spans 16 years directing and consulting a variety of camp programs for thousands of children and young adults ranging from 5-18 years of age. 


Understanding Neurofibromatosis

7 Feb

By Jake Burke

When I was growing up in Medford, MA I had never heard of Neurofibromatosis (NF).  There was a myriad of other diseases and disorders that I do remember.  Cystic Fibrosis and Muscular Dystrophy are two that come to mind. Fast-forward some 35 years later, and I learn my son was born with this genetic disorder due to a random genetic mutation.  NF can rob a person of many things including strength, mobility, appearance, motor-skills, developmental delays and a number of other issues.  Most especially the growth of tumors ANYWHERE on or in the body where there is a nerve ending.

A few years ago my wife Beth and I created CureNFwithJack (CNFWJ) as a way to raise money and awareness about this terrible disorder.  This only happened after coming to terms with the fact that this battle will likely take a long time and putting our family “out there” has consequences.  We decided to move ahead and through golf tournaments, wine tastings, yard sales, lemonade stands and many other events, we would support the Children’s Tumor Foundation (CTF).  CTF is the largest NGO non-profit that is fighting to find a cure and treatments.  We are happy that through our efforts in just 2013 alone, we have raised more than $300,000!

The most recent event that we are participating in happens at Who’s on First and Fenway Park on February 15th.  I’m talking about Cupid’s Undie Run!   As of this writing, our CNFWJ team has raised more than $80,000 in Boston through the generosity of more than 160 runners and the 1075 individuals who have donated.  What will truly be a record breaking, memorable day of fun and silliness, CUR represents our serious attempt at empowering those who care about people with NF to make a difference.  I have not lived in Boston for many years but it will always be my home.  The people keep reminding me of how special and great the city and surrounding communities really are. 

As I prepare for the race I am both sad and pleased that there are parents of other children with NF who also grew up in Medford.  The fact that this is true bothers me.  Yet I take great comfort in knowing that I am not alone in this struggle, and I hope that those who are recently beginning their battle against NF, no matter where they reside or were born, will know that long after we pack up the underwear after a great event, the fight will continue and you are not alone.



A Children’s Book … for Grown Ups?

30 Jan

By Jean Ciborowski Fahey PhD

Delicious memories of snuggling up with my toddler for reading time remind me of two of my favorite children’s picture books.

Mama Do You Love Me?  written by Barbara M. Joosse and illustrated by Barbara Lavallee was a story about an Inuit daughter who tested her mother’s unconditional love. And then there was Song of the Water Boatman written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Beckie Prange. The book blended science, poetry and magnificent illustrations to show us the mysteries of our neighborhood ponds and wetlands.

Both stories, written for toddlers and preschoolers offered me (much to my surprise) new ideas about parenting. At the same time the stories treated both me and my little girl to rare and titillating words.

Children’s books were also showing up in my work place (a teaching hospital) at the most unexpected time. Staff meetings ended with a read aloud of a children’s picture book by the Chief of Pediatrics.  No discussion. No conversation. Just the experience of being read to … being soothed …  well-timed as we filed out to return to our work with children.

As an early literacy researcher and parent educator, I began to consider a children’s picture book as a unique way to engage parents and other adults who live and work with young children.  What if I could write a picture book to communicate something of great importance? Perhaps, how to get our children ready to read and succeed?

After all, children’s picture books use illustrations to make the words and messages come alive. They have a predictable beginning, middle and end and just the right amount of calamity to keep the reader interested.

So I set out to write a children’s picture book … for grown ups.

Make Time for Reading

After ten years in development, countless focus groups and 19 rejections from traditional publishers, I self-published Make Time for Reading: a story guide for parents of babies and young children. The book uses beautiful illustrations by Peter J. Thornton and a once-upon-a-time story to translate the science of what children need to get ready to learn to read.

It takes only minutes to read, yet it is packed with useful information – designed to attract parents of all educational and economic levels, including parents learning to read and speak English.

The book is also designed for people who work with parents and parents-to-be.  Home visitors, parent educators, early educators, family literacy teachers, pediatricians, child librarians and literacy volunteers will find the book an innovative and effective teaching and learning tool.

As the self publisher, I solicit businesses, non-profits and other organizations to print an edition of the book to donate to a group of their choosing.

The book’s first sponsor, South Shore Hospital in Weymouth Massachusetts  printed 7,500 copies of Make Time for Reading. The books are donated to mothers and newborns, as well as low-income families with young children via local Reach Out and Read pediatric practices.

Organizations serving low-income families with young children located in adjacent towns to South Shore Hospital may qualify to receive free books. Contact Jean Fahey at for more information.

Organizations interested in purchasing and branding the book with their logo or name inside the front cover on the dedication page can also contact me:     

Valentine’s Day Craft: Paper Hug

24 Jan

Valentines Day Craft: Paper HugBy Cheryl Crosby

Each Valentine’s Day, my daughters send a Valentine’s craft to family members. This heart craft with extended “hug” arms might be one of my favorites (they were 2 and under 1 for this). What I love about this project is that there are unlimited possibilities to how you design it, what you write in the center and what you design it with. Here’s a basic list of what you’ll need for this paper hug:

Reading is Going to the Dogs

23 Jan

By Mary Alice Cookson

A Labradoodle named Tessie, certified by Therapy Dog Inc., has been working at the Hamilton-Wenham Pubic Library for more than a year, whenever her owner’s schedule permits. Her owner is Pat Fleming, a Wenham resident and Manchester-by-the-Sea teacher. As part of the library’s Paws to Read program, young readers in grades K-3 are given a chance to read to Tessie. Libraries nationwide have discovered that by reading to dogs (who may be less intimidating than adults), children can improve reading skills.


Mary Alice Cookson is associate editor of Boston Parents Paper.

Nanny Taxes and Payroll

16 Jan

By Stephanie Breedlove

Families that hire a nanny to watch their kids are understandably focused on finding the perfect childcare professional for the job. But after the interview process is done and the family has found the right caregiver, the responsibility of tracking payroll and taxes begin.

Many Massachusetts families are unfamiliar with what rules apply to how they handle their nanny’s employment arrangement. And unfortunately when families take to the Internet, there is a lot of well-intentioned, but contradicting advice that can steer them in the wrong direction.

To help clear up any confusion you may have and to show you that payroll and taxes are not as difficult as people make them out to be, here are four easy things you can do to avoid making a mistake with your nanny’s pay or your taxes:

1. Remember to pay overtime. According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, a nanny is considered a non-exempt employee and must be paid overtime (1.5 times her hourly rate) for every hour she works over 40 in 7-day workweek. This applies to both live-out and live-in nannies. Most states do not require live-in nannies to be paid overtime, but Massachusetts state law includes this additional requirement.

2. At year-end, send your nanny a W-2. The most common tax mistake families make with their nanny’s taxes is providing her a Form 1099 at year-end instead of a Form W-2. A 1099 is used for independent contractors and should never be used for a nanny. Aside from increasing the nanny’s tax burden and restricting her professional benefits (Social Security, unemployment, Medicare, etc.), the IRS has definitively ruled that nannies are employees of the families they work for and are required to use a W-2 to file their personal income tax return. Although most families do not intentionally misclassify their nanny as an independent contractor, the IRS considers this to be tax evasion.

3. Use your personal bank account to pay your nanny. Many families run their own business, but generally it is illegal to pay a nanny through their company’s payroll. This is because a nanny does not directly contribute to the success of a business, so including her payroll as a business expense is an illegal tax deduction. Instead, the nanny should be paid through a personal bank account because she is a direct contributor to the family. And just like businesses receive tax deductions for payroll expenses, families that pay “on the books” are entitled to tax breaks on their personal income taxes.

4. Pay for your nanny’s trial period. Families often start a nanny on a trial basis to make sure she is a good fit and gets along with the kids and takes direction well. It’s a smart idea, but the hours she works must still be logged, reported and paid just like normal working hours.


 Stephanie Breedlove is vice president of HomePay.

Snow Day Indoor Activites

14 Jan

By Kathleen Rudnicki, M.Ed.

The snow is falling fast and hard. You know what might happen. You watch the early morning news and sure enough, your child’s school is closed for the day.

The Snow Day is a kid’s best friend, but what’s a parent to do with a little one cooped up inside for hours on end? How can you keep him entertained when it’s too cold or dangerous to go outside?

The following activities can help keep your children safe, warm, occupied and away from Sponge Bob and will build some nice memories of an unexpected day together.

  • Bake cookies or brownies – preferably from scratch. Provides opportunities for measuring, counting (math); stirring (small motor skills), reading and looking up new words AND makes the house smell great!
  • Prefer not to make sweets? How about cooking up a pot of soup?

Besides measuring and counting, children can do some well supervised slicing and chopping. When cooking and baking together it’s a great time to talk about where all the ingredients come from. For ‘exotic” ingredients (chocolate, vanilla beans, even pasta) go online or pull out the globe. You can also discuss how ingredients are grown and produced.

  • Here’s recipe for a different kind of fun: homemade play dough. This activity involves many of the same skills as cooking and baking. And because they helped create it, young children will often play with freshly made play dough for long periods of time.
  • Help kids write “books”. In addition to using crayons and paints, images cut from old catalogues and magazines can be used to illustrate their stories.
  • Recycle plastic soda/seltzer bottles (you’ll need 10) to create a mini bowling alley. Tennis balls can be used to knock down the “pins.” Depending on the age/abilities of children, they can keep score.
  • Simply make some hot chocolate and curl up with a few good books. Some great options include:
    • The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
    • The Mitten or The Hat by Jan Brett
    • Snowmen at Night and Snowmen at Work by Carolyn Buener
    • Dream Snow by Eric Carle


*Homemade “Play Dough”


  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1 tablespoon cream of tartar
  • Food coloring
  • 1 cup flour


  • Combine water, oil, salt, cream of tartar, and food coloring in a saucepan and heat until warm.
  • Remove from heat and add flour.
  • Stir with a wooden spoon, then knead the dough until smooth.
  • The cream of tartar makes this dough last 6 months or longer. Store the dough in an airtight container or a plastic freezer bag.

Kathleen Rudnicki, M.Ed. is director of the Rockwell Child Study Center; Education Faculty at Lasell College.

Autism May Be Detected Earlier

6 Jan

By Mary Alice Cookson

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD)  are generally diagnosed in kids at about age 2. That’s when a diagnosis can be reliable, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. But new research indicates it might be possible to detect ASD earlier.

A recent study published online in the journal Nature by Warren R. Jones and Ami Klin, both of the Marcus Autism Center and Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., found that infants who were later diagnosed with ASD showed a decline in “eye fixation” beginning at around 2 to 6 months of age (not from birth as the researchers had originally suspected).

Highly specialized eye-tracking equipment was used to study 110 babies. At birth the babies made a normative amount of eye contact, but from ages 2 months to 6 months, the amount of eye contact dropped off in the babies who were later diagnosed with ASD.

Yet the researchers caution that parents shouldn’t worry if their infants aren’t making eye contact with them all the time because tracking this is imperceptible without special technology.


New Year’s Resolutions to Keep

27 Dec

New Year’s resolutions don’t tend to work for me. My promises to get more exercise or to eat healthier rarely make it past the first flute of New Year’s champagne. And it’s not for lack of trying. (Well, yes, maybe it is).

But here are some 2014 resolutions I intend to keep:

  • I’ll stop eating Christmas cookies for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Having one or two as dessert is fine, but I won’t eat them as meals in themselves.
  • I’ll splurge for name brand Scotch tape and won’t settle for that cheap cellophane tape that gets stuck on the roll, on my clothing and in my hair, and requires many precious hours peeling it off and doesn’t even look nice on the packages. Only Scotch tape from now on; no exceptions.
  • I’ll look up at the nighttime sky as often as possible. Whenever I do look up, I always think I should do it more. Recently I went on a snowy woods walk under the light of a brilliant full moon with some adventurous women friends. I’ll do this kind of activity more, also (even though we got lost after two hours of hiking and nobody could figure out how to use the GPS on our cellphones to get us un-lost, which leads me to my next resolution…)
  • I’ll learn to use the capabilities of my smart phone instead of just swearing at it.
  • I’ll stop watching gratuitously violent movies and acting like they don’t bother me.
  • I’ll work to rekindle old friendships by actually calling old friends instead of writing on my Christmas card that I’d like to get in touch and then never doing it.
  • I’ll try to keep in mind that when people are grumpy, it could have something to do with them and nothing to do with me.
  • I’ll give my family a break from my nagging (after they’ve done what I’ve asked, of course).
  • I’ll sing more and complain less.
  • I’ll dance when no one is watching. (If you’ve seen me dance, you’ll understand.)
  • I’ll walk the beach.
  • I’ll allow my fears and worries to float away like puffy clouds, and not just during yoga class.
  • I’ll find things to be grateful for each and every day, like peppermint mocha coffee creamer or the fact that I live in the beautiful city of Beverly.
  • I’ll follow the advice of all the self-help slogans I agree with, keeping in mind: “You can’t buy happiness but you can buy wine and that’s kind of the same thing.”
  • I’ll raise a glass of wine and toast to a bright new year – the best yet – for all of us.

Happy 2014!


By Mary Alice Cookson, associate editor of Boston Parents Paper.

There Oughta be a Law

26 Dec

By Mary Alice Cookson


It may not be illegal to pat a pregnant woman’s stomach just because it’s cute and sticking out, but it’s clearly annoying. It also falls under some states’ harassment laws – if the woman decides to press charges, that is.

Such was the case of a pregnant woman in Pennsylvania who’d had enough of a man pawing her belly without her permission.

When I read about it in the news, it made me think of a time when I was nearly two weeks overdue with my firstborn. A stranger in the grocery store followed me out to my car regaling me with details about his wife’s C-section as I hurried away with my cart. Why do people assume it’s fair game to “overshare” their labor and delivery stories with expectant parents?!

Other potentially harassing behaviors: commenting on a pregnant woman’s size or guessing (especially when wrong) about how far along she is – saying something like, “Looks like you’re ready to give birth any minute” or “Are you sure you’re not having twins?” or “Haven’t you had that baby yet?” (as if she’s intentionally keeping that bowling ball inside of her).

But you don’t have to be pregnant to fall victim to annoying behaviors. Consider the following:

  • Being subject to other people’s cell phone conversations because they aren’t courteous enough to talk privately.
  • Driving behind someone who drives way under the speed limit but won’t allow you to pass.
  • Informing someone who’s “seat hopped” at a ballgame or theater performance that they’re in your seats and having them act indignant and storm off in a huff.
  • Having to sit next to that audience member who sings through the entire concert – as if you paid all that money to hear him sing!
  • Being on the receiving end of anyone behaving like any of the male characters in “Mad Men” – for example, the inappropriate use of the word “Sweetheart.”
  • Being kept waiting in a doctor’s waiting room for longer than a half an hour only to then be put in a cold exam room wearing nothing but a paper johnnie. (The tactic isn’t fooling anyone. Waiting is waiting, even if the time is split between two locales and dress ensembles.)
  • Having a big pile of cigarette butts on your lawn when nobody in your household smokes.
  • Someone remaking a classic movie you happen to like and doing it badly!

But getting back to that pregnant woman taking a stand – While I applaud her for speaking up for herself, wouldn’t it be much nicer if we didn’t have to resort to lawsuits to get people to recognize their unacceptable behavior? And even better – if we tried not to annoy each other in the first place?!


Mary Alice Cookson is the associate editor of Boston Parents Paper.