Archive for the ‘News’ Category

And what grade is Grade in?

January 17, 2012

When our youngest son Hugh started talking about his new friend Grade, I thought maybe his name was Gray, or Grey, and I didn’t think much about it.  Another pre-school friend with an interesting name and one who I would hear much about.

But as the stories became more frequent and detailed – Grade did this, Grade said that, Grade always does this, Grade’s mommy does this and his daddy does that, Grade has this toy and he has that toy – I started to suspect that maybe Hugh was exaggerating about Grade. As it turns out he was.

In fact Grade doesn’t exist at all.

My wife had figured this out long before I did, and so she wasn’t the least bit surprised when I finally whispered one night after dinner, “You know, I think Grade is Hugh’s imaginary friend.”

At first, as any parent might, I simply thought it was cute.  But as I considered all the possible reasons why children (mine especially) would develop an imaginary friend, my admiration turned to curiosity and finally to worry. I don’t know why really, but it worried me. I think part of it is that we work so hard at honesty in our home. I always expect the boys to be truthful with me, to the degree that I’ve told them if they come to me with anything, I promise not to get mad about it.

I suppose now, as Grade has become a part of daily conversation, usually at dinner time, I’m OK with it. I saw this article today, and it further helped me to accept Grade as a healthy part of Hugh’s development. After all, the more I think about it and reflect back to when I was little, the more Grade sounds to me like Tommy, my own imaginary friend.

I think we’ll be OK with Grade.


5 Tips for Buying a Child’s Guitar

November 30, 2011

A friend of mine recently posted to Facebook, saying he was looking to buy his 8-year-old daughter a new guitar for Christmas, and wondering if anyone had suggestions.

Having been asked this question many times, I thought I would share a bit of what I’ve learned over the years.

I’ve played for more 20 years, taught for more than 15, and have seen many students come and go. My recommendation for starter guitar would be an inexpensive one, with a case, a strap and a guitar stand. And I cannot stress enough the importance of replacing the steel strings with nylon ones.

1. Buy Inexpensive. An inexpensive guitar is just as good to learn on as anything else. And you’d be surprised how fast a young kid can accidentally punch a hole in a $200 acoustic guitar. And anyway, getting familiar with the physical feel of the instrument, and developing fine motor skills is what’s important first. And that takes time. If your child likes playing, after a few years she’ll develop a better ear and will probably want a finer instrument, which then it makes sense to invest in one. But until then, I don’t see any reason to pay any more than $30/$40 dollars for one now while she’s getting familiar with the feel of the guitar. Plus – spending less on the guitar itself now allows for the accessories I list below. It also leaves some room in the budget for a few starter lessons, which I also highly recommend.

2. Get a case. Getting a case does a few things. First, it teaches the importance of caring for and protecting the instrument – a good lesson to learn on a $40 instrument, rather than a $140 one! Second, it makes the guitar mobile. And really, for those who love it, guitar playing is a lifestyle. Having a case allows her to take it with her camping, on vacations, or a weekend trip to Grandma’s. Those times away from home and away from the mundane – on the road so to speak – are some of the most developmentally rich experiences for a young aspiring musician.

3. Get a strap. A strap is good because at that age, kids still enjoy performing. And that’s a huge part of the learning curve. Having a strap gives her the chance to stand in the living room and perform a new song for you. She’ll love it – almost as much as you will. Further, a lot of learning is by imitation. While she’s practicing, in her room for example, if she has the means to stand up like she’s on a stage performing for a crowd, that will certainly help build a good sense of confidence.

4. Get a stand. A stand is paramount. In my younger days as a California beach bum, my room mate had a guitar stand with a 12-string acoustic on it next to the sofa. Everyday when I’d come home, I plop down on the sofa, and habitually pick up the guitar. Sometimes for 5 minutes, sometimes 2 hours. In either case, it afforded me daily practice. It wasn’t forced or formal – it was just part of my daily routine for about two years. Musically, I developed more in those two years than I did prior or since. Looking back, if the guitar had been in the case the whole time, I never would have played as often, if at all. But it was right there every day, resting gently on the stand saying, “hey, play me!”

5. Replace steel strings with nylon. The reason I advocate the use of nylon strings is because steel strings hurt. And they really hurt in the beginning, where a player logs a lot of hours on the guitar. It takes time to develop ability and time to form calluses – and it’s painful in the meantime. About 75 percent of the people I know who have tried and failed at the guitar, many of which are adults, have given up simply because of this fact. It hurts. Nylon strings are much softer and easier on the fingers and allow them to build up resistance over time. For a kid, there is nothing more repelling than a task that is both technically difficult and physically painful, as learning to play a guitar with steel strings is.

To cut to the chase, here’s a good starter guitar kit on for example: Guitar Kit

If you look midway down the page, they list the “Frequently Bought Together” package that included the kit, a bunch of picks, and a stand for little more than $40. If I was in the market for a kit for a 5-to-10-year-old child, I’d consider something like that. Whatever you decide, take note of the length of the guitar. The one listed here is 38″. I probably wouldn’t want to go too much larger than that. Good size for an 8 year old, and still leaves some room to grow into.

And hopefully, from the moment they unwrap it under the tree, that growth will last for years to come.

Hot Light

June 10, 2011

UPDATE 7/22/11 – Today, Philo completed his first week of Summer Science Camp, during which he attempted to power a light bulb with eight lemons – unfortunately to no avail. Still, with a printout of the scientific method flow chart in his hot little hand, his quest for cold illumination is officially underway.

So tonight, after Philo told me about how fireflies mate, I decided it was time to have the talk …

… the talk about the inefficiencies of our current light technology, and how much of the energy is wasted as heat, and that he should resolve to develop synthesized cold illumination similar to what fireflies produce. We’ll keep you posted.

‘Bath Salts’: Evil Lurking at Your Corner Store

May 30, 2011


“I am telling you today, first as a father and then as a doctor … kids everywhere are in danger from this substance, and the threat is legal, cheap and very deadly.” – Mehmet Oz, MD

Sold under such names as Kush Blitz, Lovey Dovey, White Lightning and Euphoria, 'bath salts' are usually marked with the warning NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION, a labeling trick that's meant to sidestep government regulation. Photo: Alexander Ho for TIME

In 2010 there were 302 calls to poison-control centers nationwide about bath salts. In just the first three months of 2011, there were 784. There were also roughly 1,500 bath-salt-related visits to emergency rooms in the first quarter of this year. A common cause of death from the drug is suicide; kids who survive often endure long-term psychiatric symptoms.