25 Positive Kid-Friendly Hip Hop & R&B Tracks

If you’re anything like me and you just can’t bring yourself to buy a Kid’s Bop album, here are 25 positive old school and new school hip hop and R&B tracks that are safe to listen to with your kiddies!

I love a good dance party with my kids. However, as a child of the Hip Hop generation, sometimes my iTunes playlists are everything but kid-friendly.  If you’re anything like me and you just can’t bring yourself to buy a Kid’s Bop album, here are 25 positive old school and new school hip hop and R&B tracks that are safe to listen to with your kiddies!

1. I’m Black and I’m Proud – James Brown

2. i (clean version) – Kendrick Lamar

3. Everything is Everything – Lauryn Hill

4. One Man Can Change The World –  Big Sean

5. You Gotta Be – Des’ree

6. Just Fine – Mary J. Blige

7. Smile – Kirk Franklin

8. Man in the Mirror – Michael Jackson

9. Momma Loves Baby – Solange

10. Don’t Worry About A Thing – Bob Marley

11. Happy – Pharrell

12. Hey Young World – Slick Rick

13. Keep Ya Head – Tupac

14. Superwoman – Alicia Keys

15. I can – Nas

16. Hey Mama – Kayne West

17. Can I Kick It – Tribe Called Quest

18. Ladies First – Queen Latifah

19. Independent Woman – Destiny’s Child

20. Lean on Me – Bill Withers

21. I Am Not My Hair – India Arie

22. Sounds of Blackness – Optimistic

23. I’m Every Woman – Chaka Khan/Whitney Houston

24. Respect – Aretha Franklin

25. Baby, I’m a Star – Prince

What about you, family? What’s on your list?

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.

Thinking Outside The Box: An Inside Look at Homeschooling

Our families are among one of the fastest growing demographics in the homeschooling community making up an estimated 10% of the homeschooling population. I had the opportunity to chat with Kristina Brooke Daniele, extraordinary homeschooling mom and creator of For Love of Education, a blog chronicling her and her family’s homeschooling journey.

In 2015, the National Home Education Research Institute estimated that 220,000 African American children are currently being homeschooled.  In fact, our families are among one of the fastest growing demographics in the homeschooling community making up an estimated 10% of the homeschooling population.  Research has demonstrated that our journey to homeschooling is unique.  While many Caucasian families cite religious or moral reasons for their choice to home school, African American families often cite frustration with the traditional education system.  This frustration stems from everything from a perceived culture of low expectations for our children to prejudice amongst their peers to the systemic exclusion of African American contribution to American history.

Whatever the motivations, homeschooling is yielding positive results.  The National Home Education Research Institute reports, “[w]hile controlling for gender of student and family socioeconomic status, homeschooling students yielded 42 percentile points higher in reading, 26 percentile points higher in language skills, and 23 percentile points higher in math than if public schooled.  This summer, the Bush family, a homeschooling family of eleven from Boca Raton, Florida made headlines for their incredible academic achievements which includes two teenagers with master’s degrees and a mom who is an architect and attorney.  Stories like these are not uncommon but are these results typical? What does it mean to “homeschool” and is it a realistic goal for “the rest of us”?

I had the opportunity to chat with Kristina Brooke Daniele, extraordinary homeschooling mom and creator of For Love of Education, a blog chronicling her and her family’s homeschooling journey.  She shared her journey to homeschooling and valuable lessons she has learned along the way.

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Q. For those that don’t know, tell us a little about homeschooling.  What is it?

[F]or my family, homeschooling is what feels like the most natural way to educate our child in a holistic way. We focus on skills-based learning and mastery and then utilize that in a way that is reflective of living an actual life. With homeschooling, learning happens beyond the “classroom” through a more hands-on approach. It’s both academic and play. It is not structured.  It is child-led.

Q. What made you decide to homeschool your child?

Honestly, it’s something that I knew that I wanted to do because my educational background was so diverse and untraditional. My mom focused on educating me at home even when she enrolled me in school. I always had access to advanced materials in a variety of subjects. We went to museums and cultural events and traveled a lot. I was never happier than when I was learning on my own, immersed in my environment. In 7th Grade, my mom enrolled me at Columbia Prep, a private and academically vigorous school on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. There, [my] teachers challenged me academically, and as I moved to the high school, I was given more freedom over my academic choices. I still hated going to class, but I enjoyed the control.  In college, I did best in the courses that did not require me to go to class but rather allowed self-directed learning. Many of my courses were independent classes that were designed based on my interests.

In 2004, I became a high school English teacher and received a first-hand look at what the public school system in New York had to offer. [I found] there are limited chances for children to learn from each other and few opportunities for the inclusion of things in which children are actually interested.  Schools created a dangerous social hierarchy of group thought and didn’t respect individuality or creative expression.  Teachers are tired, underpaid, overly stressed, and scapegoats.

So, when it came to my daughter, I wanted to give her the kind of education that I wanted for myself, and even more so I wanted to provide her with a flexible option that could change as her needs, wants, and interests evolved. At two, she was already inquisitive, and I did not want to hinder her love of learning.

I wanted to give my daughter the kind of education that I wanted for myself, and even more so I wanted to provide her with a flexible option that could change as her needs, wants, and interests evolved. At two, she was already inquisitive, and I did not want to hinder her love of learning.

Q. What steps did you have to take to homeschool your child? Certifications? Curriculum planning? State requirements? Annual Cost?

We began homeschooling in New York. New York requires a lot of paperwork, and it differs by county. You must register your child for school at five. We had to submit an Intent to Homeschool and an Individualized Education Plan. Ironically, the IEP is more than I ever had with my high school students because there was no actual curriculum when I began teaching. You must also have your children tested in accordance with state rules.

We moved to Arizona and things are much different here. First, you can delay formal education until the age of eight (which we opted to do based on much research). Once you decide to homeschool, you file a Letter of Intent with the county, and that is it! No seriously, Arizona is a homeschooling-friendly state and not only do they make it a bit easier, but they also provide homeschoolers with many resources.

Ah, curricula? Honestly, I am a bit of a curricula hoarder! I have TONS of material on my computer, in four-inch to six -inch ring binders, in folders, on bookshelves. Everywhere. I research a lot. I spend a lot of time finding things that interest my daughter and incorporating them into how we learn.

[As far as cost], some years I spend more than others. You can do a lot for free. The key is to research, join groups either online or offline, and be open to change.

Q. Is homeschooling largely autonomous or do you have to follow a specific structure as mandated by the state?

In Arizona, it is autonomous. It can be in New York, too, but you must adhere to the state/county standards. Check with your state to find out the regulations so that you avoid any issues. While we have pretty much free rein in Arizona to educate the way that we see fit, I need a guide to ensure that I am working towards a finish line. I use New York’s state standards still because they are a bit more challenging than Arizona’s standards. That is my start point. My daughter is ten.  I print off the standards for middle school and use that to guide us in determining what we will be learning. I do not care about grade per se because they are not organic. My daughter reads on a tenth grade level, but her reading comprehension level is on a lower level. However, she is on grade level (fifth) for math. So using grade standards would not help. I just ask, “what does she need to know by the end of middle school?” [Then], I plan accordingly.

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Q. For many, when you picture homeschooling, you conjure up an old fashioned image of a stay-at-home mom raising her children in a rural, religious environment isolated from the modern world.  How would you dispel those myths? How do you keep your child socially engaged?

There is nothing wrong with the traditional, religious method of homeschooling if that is what one chooses to do. That is how many of our grandparents and great-grandparents were educated. Those who associate homeschooling with fundamentalist ideologies and extreme forms of punishment haven’t been paying attention and are willfully ignorant about what homeschooling is in reality. Much of that can be accredited to what is often portrayed in movies or on thoughtless TV shows. That is not homeschooling but rather neglect and abuse. They are not synonymous, and they are not mutually exclusive.  It happens in both homeschools and institutional schools.

In truth, there is a grave misunderstanding about what it means to be socialized. Socialization refers to being immersed in one’s culture. It is about exposure to the different aspects of society. So I ask you, how does that happen while children sit in a classroom for six to eight hours a day? When do they play? Think about life? Wonder at the mysteries of the sky or play in the dirt? When do those children get to meet the Lyft driver from Japan who has been here for two years and is excited that your child is learning his language and tries to teach her as much as he can in a ten minute ride? When do those children get to attend a First American drum circle? Or ride the subway and wonder how fast they are going or how trains work? When do they get to talk to the conductor? When do they go to a restaurant and listen to a story about living in a concentration camp from a senior woman who just wants to talk? When do they go to a museum and attempt to recreate a Van Gough as they sit next to an out of work artist who explains each brushstroke? When do they attend or perform in a dinner theater performance?

Many children in traditional schools are not socially engaged. They are hiding, coasting, and out of fear, conforming. Put them in a setting outside of school, and many of them struggle to hold conversations with people outside of their age group or immediate social group. They find it difficult to make friends, or to ask questions, or to make decisions because at school those things have been structured for them. At this point, I need proof that school is the best place for children. Period.

Q. Are you able to work?

I work more now than I did as a teacher. I have two jobs and  up until very recently, I was also running a business. I am lucky (or crazy) because I work from home. It’s hard and exhausting, but I am getting the hang of it thanks to several planners and insomnia.

On another note, you do need to ensure that your lifestyle will work for homeschooling and that you are willing to make changes as needed. If you have to work outside the home, then you need to have a plan in place. If your child is a “spirited child” as is my daughter, you need to have some behavior strategies in place. If you work from home, you need a clear division of time and space.

Q. I know you have experience as an educator. I would imagine a deterrent for many parents considering homeschooling is that they don’t have experience as an educator or perhaps they don’t even have the credentials of a traditional educator (e.g., a Bachelors and/or Masters degree). Do you think this is a reasonable barrier? Do you think someone without a background in education or advanced degrees can be a successful homeschooler? What qualities do you think make for a successful homeschooler?

While I have a Bachelor of Science in English and a Master of Science in Teaching Adolescence Education Grades 7-12, you do not need a degree to homeschool. Think of it this way, if you don’t have faith in your ability to research or relearn concepts after your elementary school education, then why would you trust the system that educated you to educate your child? With that said, what you need is patience (which I promise you will develop over time), a library card, personal homeschooling goals, the ability to research, two or three homeschooling families that you can speak to and maybe get together with, and determination. Respect the process of learning and trust that you know what is best for your child. Allow you child to speak his/her truth and be prepared to revamp when things don’t work.

You do not need a degree to homeschool. Think of it this way, if you don’t have faith in your ability to research or relearn concepts after your elementary school education, then why would you trust the system that educated you to educate your child? With that said, what you need is patience (which I promise you will develop over time), a library card, personal homeschooling goals, the ability to research, two or three homeschooling families that you can speak to and maybe get together with, and determination.

Q. What criteria would you use in determining whether your child is a good candidate for homeschooling?

[H]omeschooling is only as good as the parent. Children are flexible. Most children do well in homeschooling because individualized learning takes into account their strengths and weaknesses. Have a plan for what you are doing (not a lesson but just a general idea of what you are trying to accomplish). As long as they are engaged, they are learning.  I think there is a method for every child as long as you are willing to look for it. You have to pay attention to your child. It’s important that you know your child’s learning style. Take a parenting course or read some books about different learning styles and teaching methods.

Q. If you can, can you speak to addressing the needs of multiple children? How have you seen homeschoolers manage the needs of many children of different ages?

While this is not something I struggle with (the joys of an only child), I am in a homeschooling group with several large families. The older children help teach, the younger ones, and I’ve seen it help. Also, young children learn a lot from just being around others who are learning. Even with an only child, I can tell you that it is important to have a system set up that is conducive to your family. Trial and error is the only way!

Q. Have you encountered any obstacles or setbacks? How did you overcome?

When I left teaching, we took a rather large pay cut and trying to survive on one income was hard in New York. It’s why we moved to Arizona, but things were just as hard out here. We almost put her in school while I worked to get my business off the ground and my husband looked for a job that wouldn’t suck his soul out through a straw! Money issues are the hardest, and they trickle down into the actual fabric of the marriage, so my husband and I were fighting a lot.

Then, of course, there are issues with balance, hormones, self-doubt, and lessons, curricula, and projects that completely bomb.  Academically, my worst mistake was with math. I shied away from it because it wasn’t my strongest subject, but I relearned as I was teaching. We developed a strong skills set together. I realized that my worry slowed her down. I thought that I needed to drill math facts, but this year I made the decision to push her to her grade level and we have been VERY successful!

I’m not the best at handling my stress, but we roll with everything. My daughter knows that we are real people who problem solve, negotiate, and restructure for the best possible outcome. We talk honestly about what is going on. We create a safe space for our daughter, and she shares how she feels about what is happening.

Homeschooling is becoming more popular, but don’t do it just because you have heard a lot about it. It is hard and stressful and requires a lot of trial and error. You have to be ready to let go of all notions of “school” and focus on learning. They are very different. If you do decide to homeschool, be kind to yourself. It takes a little time to find your groove!

Q. Can you recommend any organizations for support or resources?

I don’t join homeschooling organizations because most homeschooling organizations are religious, and I am not. Look for local homeschooling groups. Meet with them and find one that suits your needs.

Here are some helpful places:

Websites:

Magazine(s):

Books(s):

Q. Any last words of advice to those considering taking this journey?

Honestly, homeschooling is becoming more popular but don’t do it just because you have heard a lot about it. It is hard and stressful and requires a lot of trial and error. You have to be ready to let go of all notions of “school” and focus on learning. They are very different. If you do decide to homeschool, be kind to yourself. It takes a little time to find your groove!

Find out more about Kristina Brooke Daniele and her family’s journey at http://forloveofeducation.com.

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.

Teaching Our Boys About Sexual Assault

We live in a society permissive of the objectification of women and steeped heavily in the culture of rape. Especially in our communities. Not only do I want to raise men who never perpetuate these crimes, I want them to be the type of men who actively stand up against them.

When I was 18, I was sexually assaulted. It was early in my first year of college and I was attending a party off campus with a group of girls I barely knew. A man I didn’t know grabbed and groped me from behind, and when I broke free and tried to defend myself, he and his friends surrounded me.  I was able to run out of the party and get a cab. I cried the whole way back to my dorm.  I have to admit, even now, it feels foolish to call what happened to me sexual assault. It was 1999 and at 18, I just considered it a bad experience.  I assumed it was part of being a woman. By the next morning, I had even decided I was lucky.  It could have been worse. For so many women, it was so much worse.

The fact is, sexual assault is “any type of forced or coerced sexual contact or behavior that happens without consent.” It can include rape, attempted rape, molestation, unwelcome touching, sexual harassment or threats.  According to the Office of Women’s Health, “in the United States, nearly one in five women has been raped and almost half of women have experienced another type of sexual assault.”

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This fall, my husband and I are expecting our third boy. When I found out he was a boy, I have to admit, a small part of me, was relieved.  Though living as a Black man in American society has it’s own risks, I knew I’d never have to worry about them being ogled in the street as adolescents or insulted when they refused to reciprocate a stranger’s advances or be groped as college freshman at a party.  I allowed myself to believe that sexual assault was a “girl problem” and not something my boys would have to worry about.  Recent headlines have proved my comfort misguided again and again.

In many ways, there rests a greater onus on us, boy parents, to make sure the world is a safer place for our girls.  We are obligated to teach our boys accountability, even when no one is holding them accountable.  We are obligated to teach our boys about consent, about boundaries and about respect.  Perhaps just as importantly, we are obligated to teach our boys not to be bystanders.

When people hear I am a mother of three boys, they use adjectives like “crazy” and “wild” to describe what my sons must be like.  They depict my boys as “full of energy” and “hard to control.”  While the energy level of my young boys is undeniable, I am always hesitant to wholeheartedly subscribe.  There is this underlying idea that their gender somehow renders then irrational and unable to regulate their behavior.  I realize this kind of thinking is what contributes to our society’s failure to place accountability on our sons. As if their masculinity makes them incapable of thought or reason.  It’s the same line of thinking that calls a presidential candidates musings about sexual assault “locker room talk” or informs a system that calls a young college student’s vicious rape of an unconscious woman behind a dumpster “20 minutes of action.

I realize now that my misguided idea that I could be “less” worried about my boys when it comes to sexual assault was dangerous. In many ways, there rests a greater onus on us, boy parents, to make sure the world is a safer place for our girls.  We are obligated to teach our boys accountability, even when no one is holding them accountable.  We are obligated to teach our boys about consent, about boundaries and about respect.  We are obligated to teach our boys about self-control and responsibility. Perhaps just as importantly, we are obligated to teach our boys not to be bystanders. We live in a society permissive of the objectification of women and steeped heavily in the culture of rape.  Especially in our communities. Not only do I want to raise men who never perpetuate these crimes, I want them to be the type of men who actively stand up against them.

Now, as a mother, over a decade since I ran from that party in tears, I can’t help but wonder  what conversations the mother of the man who assaulted me had with him when he was a boy. What conversations the mothers of the men who stood idly by and witnessed my fear had with them.  What examples their fathers set and how they treated the women around them. I can’t help but wonder if it would have made a difference in the man they chose to be. If it would have spared me the stain of their memory.  I know our children ultimately become adults with free will.  They will inevitably make choices that are contrary to the lessons we have taught them.  However, their free will doesn’t negate our obligation to try.  We all bear the burden of changing the way women are viewed in this society.  That task necessarily begins with doing a better job raising our boys.

 

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.

Reducing SIDS: What You Need to Know

On October 24, 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics released updated sleep recommendations for a safe infant sleep environment. Here is what you need to know.

Our babies are twice as likely to die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) than babies in other communities. While many factors, including access to newborn education, adequate newborn furniture and bedding, and other socio-economic concerns, could be the blame, it is clear we must take affirmative steps to address this issue.

On October 24, 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics released updated sleep recommendations for a safe infant sleep environment.  Here is what you need to know:

1. Put your baby on his/her back to sleep.

To reduce the risk of SIDS, infants should be placed in a supine position (on the back) for every sleep by every caregiver until the child reaches 1 year of age. If you’re like me, I’m sure you have a Grandma or Auntie who will readily tell you that you slept on your back in 19-whatever and you turned out perfectly fine.  The thing is, now that we know better, we need to do better.

2. Use a firm sleep surface, and keep soft objects and loose bedding away from the infant’s sleep area.

According to the AAP, infants should be placed on a firm sleep surface (e.g., mattress in a safety-approved crib) covered by a fitted sheet with no other bedding or soft objects.  In addition, the crib, bassinet, portable crib, or play yard should conform to the safety standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).  Also, make sure that the product has not been recalled.  If cost is an issue, many local organizations provide low-cost or free cribs or play yards for families with financial constraints.  One organization, Cribs for Kids, has partners all over the United States.  Just pop in your zip code!

As mentioned, when dressing your crib, stick to a fitted sheet. Soft objects such as pillows and pillow-like toys, quilts, comforters, sheepskins, bumper pads and loose bedding, such as blankets and nonfitted sheets, can obstruct an infant’s nose and mouth. Believe it or not, swaddling does not reduce the risk of SIDS. There is a high risk of death if a swaddled infant is placed in or rolls to the prone (tummy down) position. According to the AAP, “infant sleep clothing, such as wearable blankets, [are] preferable to blankets and other coverings to keep the infant warm while reducing the chance of head covering or entrapment that could result from blanket use.”

 3. Avoid overheating.

The AAP provides, “infants should be dressed appropriately for the environment, with no greater than 1 layer more than an adult would wear to be comfortable in that environment.”  Signs of overheating include sweating or the infant’s chest feeling hot to touch.

4. Share a room, but not a bed.

The AAP recommends that infants sleep in the parents’ room, close to the parents’ bed, but on a separate surface designed for infants, ideally for the first year of life.  The AAP stated, “there is evidence that sleeping in the parents’ room but on a separate surface decreases the risk of SIDS by as much as 50%.” The safest place for an infant to sleep is on a separate sleep surface designed for infants close to the parents’ bed.  With my boys, I was a big fan of the Arm’s Reach Co-Sleeper.  They have a mini version if you are tight on space. I found this sleeper particularly useful while nursing and recovering from my c-sections.

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5. Consider offering a pacifier at nap time and bedtime.

The AAP notes that studies have reported a protective effect of pacifiers on the incidence of SIDS.  The protective effect of the pacifier is observed even if the pacifier falls out of the infant’s mouth. Go figure!

6. Give your baby supervised, awake tummy time.

According to the AAP, “supervised, awake tummy time is recommended to facilitate development and to minimize development of positional plagiocephaly” (that flat spot on your baby’s head).  You can find really cute tummy time mats/toys on Amazon and at Toys R Us that make tummy time far less burdensome on your tiny humans.

7. Breastfeeding is recommended to reduce SIDS.

According to the AAP, breastfeeding is associated with a reduced risk of SIDS. The AAP recommends moms breastfeed exclusively or feed with expressed milk for at least 6 months.

8. Avoid smoke exposure, alcohol and illicit drug use during pregnancy and after birth.

There is an increased risk of SIDS with prenatal and postnatal exposure to smoking, alcohol or illicit drug use.

9. Get regular prenatal care.

There is a lower risk of SIDS for infants whose mothers obtain regular prenatal care.

 

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.

Kicking it Old School: Challenging Your Kids to Be Screen-Free

On October 21, 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced new recommendations for media use. Here are few old school ways to help cope with reduced screen time while not sacrificing the “break” media provides.

On October 21, 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced new recommendations for media use. Here is the quick and dirty:

  • For children younger than 18 months, the AAP recommends avoiding use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
  • For children ages 2 to 5 years, the AAP recommends limiting screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
  • For children ages 6 and older, the AAP recommends placing consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.

In conjunction with HealthyChildren.org, the AAP also created a Family Media Use Plan Tool, that allows parents to come up with a healthy diet of media depending on their age.

While these recommendations are a highly-anticipated update to the stringent media use recommendations of the past, if you are anything like me, they are scary.  Sometimes plopping my kids in front of the television or electronic device provides a well-needed respite after a long day at work, or a chance to use the bathroom or take a shower without my kids constantly asking me what I’m doing or what I plan on making for dinner.  The thing is, although my husband and I set limits on screen use in our house, I always feel guilty watching my kids zone out in front of a screen instead of engaging in the world around them.  No matter how educational I tell myself the program is.  Here are few old school ways to help cope with reduced screen time while not sacrificing the “break” media provides:

1. Solitary Toys and Screen-less Electronics

Did you know they still sell Rubiks Cubes?  While its popularity was a little ahead of my time, I still remember my older brother losing hours trying to figure out that little cube.  A few years ago, my eldest received one as a gift and despite the inevitable frustration, he loved it.  Solitary toys like the Rubick’s Cube are often a great way to engage an active mind.  While my youngest isn’t quite as interested in solving the cube, he loves Magna Doodles and Etch-A-Sketch which also allow him to work independently and still engage his mind. Our kids also enjoy toys like Simon and Flash Pads which are electronic but screenless.  Both are puzzle games and boost memory skills.  We regularly pack these toys for long car rides or for appointments when waiting quietly is an expectation.  The funny thing is, they are so rare, they usually attract a hoard of kids around them who would rather play with the old school toys than their own iPads!

2. Coloring/Activity Books

The great thing about coloring and activity books is that you can really find them anywhere and to match any budget.  Before a long car ride, I load up on a few from Target, my local grocery store or chain pharmacy but you can load up at places like the Dollar Tree for even less. My kids really enjoy Highlights Hidden Pictures, Look and Find Books or Where’s Waldo which give them a chance to work towards a goal.  You can find more academic geared activity books at Barnes and Noble. B&N also has drawing books which are great alternatives to coloring books for older kids. Crosswords and Sudoko for Kids are also great if your kid is up for a challenge. I usually find those at my local grocery store in the magazine isle or check out line.

We also have a 4-drawer plastic storage cabinent in our kitchen, that I purchased for $15 at Target, that I try to keep fully stocked with crayons, markers and construction paper.  I’m a little ashamed of how many times my husband and I have said “go draw something” but you’d be surprised at how well it works.  They love drawing.  They even created a comic book together.  If you’re kids need a little more direction, give them an assignment (e.g., a picture of Grandma or a snowball fight).  I call a wall in our house the “Art Gallery” and regularly display their work to show my pride.

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3. Books and Journaling

A few summers ago, I read Baratunde Thurston’s book “How to Be Black.” While I enjoyed many aspects of the book, one take-away was his amazing mother’s commitment to encouraging his education outside of school.  She would take him on trips and give him independent reading and writing assignments.  Totally taking a cue from Baratunde (my kids will thank him one day), I regularly assign my kids reading and writing assignments.  This summer, my nine year old read Wonder by R.J. Palacio and The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate and had to write weekly essays on themes and reactions to the book.  I made sure to listen to them on audio so I could engage with him about the books, but I also found awesome questions on google prepared by other teachers and parents (I believe Ivan also had discussion questions at the end of the book).  If I needed some “me” time or had to get something done, I would just ask him to go to his room or sit at the table and work on a prepared assignment.

With my six year old, it wasn’t quite as easy.  He is at the age where he still works better collaboratively so independent assignments tend to tire him out.  For him, I assigned short reading assignments (thanks, Google) or created mini-scenarios and asked him to write reactions to them.  For example, the assignment would ask him how he would help a friend who was being picked on by other members of his class or require him to create a list of things he would do to prepare for his new baby brother.  These short assignments were less taxing on him but still allowed him to work independently.

4. Scavenger Hunts

I work from home a great deal.  While I try to get the majority of my work done while my kids are sleeping or at school, sometimes they are wide awake and ready to be entertained.  When I know they are going to be at home and I know I may be distracted for a block of time, I coordinate a scavenger hunt throughout the house.  I hide toys and household items in safe places, compile a list of the items and give it to them to find.  When they were smaller, I confined them to one room but as they have gotten older, I spread things out throughout the house (leaving a few places – like Mom and Dad’s room – off limits).   If you’re like me, just don’t forget to make a mental note of where you hid things. I learned that lesson the hard way.

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.

Dedan Bruner, President of the DC Chapter of Concerned Black Men, on the Importance of Mentorship

According to the National Mentoring Partnership, at-risk young adults are 55% more likely to enroll in college and 130% more likely to hold leadership positions if they have a mentor. A positive mentoring relationship can be life altering.

I had my first mentor when I was 13. My mother was working as a Court Clerk in Queens Supreme Court in New York, and my elementary school was closer to her job than our home. Rather than take the multiple city bus rides it would take to get home, I took a ten minute bus ride to her job each day and waited in the chambers of the Judge she was working with until she got off.  His name was Judge Kenneth Brown. While I’m sure his chambers were worthy of a man of his stature, all I remember was his small television and toaster.  While he was on the bench, I would do my homework, watch television and call my friends on three-way (which was a big deal in the nineties). When he was in between cases, he would pop in and make us raisin toast while we talked about his life and his cases. He told me about having to send a picture in with his law school application and being denied repeatedly based on his race.  He told me about the joy he felt when finally attaining his degree.  He told me about being a single father to his daughter and working nights in the Post Office to pay for law school.  He passed away years ago, and I doubt he would remember much about the skinny girl eating toast in his chambers.  However, the time we spent together made a significant impact on my decision to go to law school and my dream to one day sit on a bench.  The thing is, my mother had been working for the courts my whole life. I had been around lawyers and Judges but never close enough to hear their stories.  Never close enough to envision myself doing the same thing.  I remember thinking if he could achieve his dreams in the face of unimaginable setbacks, so can I. Mentorship can be a subtle influence in that way.  It makes the impossible seem possible just by humanizing your dreams.

According to the National Mentoring Partnership, at-risk young adults are 55% more likely to enroll in college and 130% more likely to hold leadership positions if they have a mentor.  A positive mentoring relationship can be life altering.  Recently, I had the chance to chat with Dedan Bruner, Attorney and President of the D.C. Chapter of Concerned Black Men, an organization founded to fill the void of positive black male role models in our communities by providing mentors and programs that affirm psychological, academic and career enrichment.  Mr. Bruner shared some of his experiences mentoring, his thoughts on the importance of mentorship, and how to make the difference in the life of a child.

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Q. Tell us a little about yourself.

I am from Pasadena, California. I live in Washington, D.C. and I came to the area to attend Howard University in 1994 and have been here ever since.

Q. What do you do for a living?

I’m an attorney. I work at the D.C. Office of Human Rights where I investigate employment based complaints alleging discrimination and/or harassment.

Q. How would you define mentorship?

The act of assisting others through potential challenges and pitfalls in a given arena.

Q. Why did you decide to become a mentor? 

It’s funny. I’ve always been an advocate of civic service, but I never felt comfortable becoming a mentor. My old excuse was that I didn’t feel like I’d be in D.C. long enough. After living in D.C. for about 15 years, a friend called me on my flawed logic and challenged me to get involved. I’m glad she did.  I started mentoring through a program sponsored by the D.C. Chapter of Concerned Black Men (CBMDC) named Just Say Yes (JSY). JSY is a group based mentoring program for D.C. area boys aged 9-15.  I started off as a visitor.  A few years later, I stepped into a leadership role as the program chair and ultimately, President of CBMDC. Most importantly, I’m still a mentor.

Q. Did you have mentors growing up? If so, how did those relationships impact you?

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had several mentors along the way, but the experience I recount most was the mentor I had back in middle school.  While I don’t remember the man’s name, I remember that he took me to my first Raiders game (I’m still a fan), and that he gave me a wallet for Christmas. I recall being disappointed when after inspecting it thoroughly, I learned that the wallet was empty. I have to remind myself of that story on the occasions that I may get frustrated that one of the young men I’m working with “doesn’t get it.” I’m proof that sometimes the lessons take a while to sink in.

Only perfect kids need perfect mentors.

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Q. I’ve mentored young women at different phases in my life. Both in college and in law school, I was involved with mentorship programs that had active initiatives to recruit our men and other men of color to mentor because they had difficulty recruiting men of color. I am so excited to hear about Concerned Black Men and other initiatives led by black men. What, if anything, do you think is the deterrent to many of our men becoming mentors?

Great question. We hear [from] a lot [of] guys [that they] need to “get themselves together” before they can expect to help someone else. My response is usually, “only perfect kids need perfect mentors.”  [Also], a lot of guys have said that they don’t have the time to mentor. Many D.C. programs only meet a few times a month (JSY meets twice). While the excuse is common, I try to refrain from refuting it because we make time for those things that we see value in. If someone tells us he doesn’t have the time to mentor, we thank him and keep it moving.

I have also heard “I don’t have anything to offer/teach,” to which I try to impart that a mentor’s job is not to be a teacher, or a coach or even a lead blocker in the game of life. A mentor’s job is just to be there, to assist in working on a problem, not to solve a mentee’s problem. A mentor is a friend who has been a little further down the road [and] is willing to share what they’ve learned.

In all, the greatest deterrent is the potential mentor himself. If he believes he has something of value to offer, he will. Sadly, the converse is true as well.

Mentoring sounds good in conversation with others, but if it’s not your thing, find other ways to give back.  Potential mentors need to keep in mind that often those who they’ll be mentoring have been disappointed by the men in their lives. If you cannot commit at least a year, it may not be the right vehicle in which to give back.

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Q. How do you become a mentor?

In our program, all mentors attend an interest meeting. At that meeting, we go over the program because we want to make sure that it’s a good fit for the mentor. For most it is, but some find that our program may not work for them. Taking the time to properly set expectations is critical to getting off on a good foot.  Next, mentors fill out an application and get fingerprinted. We do a comprehensive background check. We are not of the belief that those who may have made mistakes in their past are not suited to mentor. However, individuals with a history of domestic violence and/or pedophilia are not a liability I’m willing to take. It may sound harsh, but the safety of the youth we work with is [at] the foundation [of] everything we do.  After the background check comes back, the potential mentor is either approved to mentor or notified that his background check yielded results which make his participation in our program impossible.

Q. What are the qualities of a good mentor?

There is no perfect combination of qualities but some I look for are: 1) flexibility, 2) a good listener, 3) a person who doesn’t see his mentee as a victim or a charity case, 4) person not afraid to laugh at himself, 5) someone who is tolerant of other views and positions, and 5) most importantly, someone who is consistent and dependable.

Q. What would you say to someone hesitant about mentoring?

One of the great things about having a group mentoring program is that we allow visitors. That way, those who may have hesitation can visit a few sessions before deciding if the program is a good fit.  Generally, I’d tell the person to challenge himself. After all, that is what we’re asking the boys to do. On the same token, I ask potential mentors to be honest with themselves. Mentoring sounds good in conversation with others, but if it’s not your thing, find other ways to give back.  Potential mentors need to keep in mind that often those who they’ll be mentoring have been disappointed by the men in their lives. If you cannot commit at least a year, it may not be the right vehicle in which to give back.

Q. What do you do if you feel like your mentor/mentee relationship isn’t a good fit?

New mentoring relationships take time to cultivate. The first several times a mentee may respond with one word answers (their day was fine, their family is fine, and they had fine for dinner).  That’s to be expected. Mentors, especially new mentors, should not be disheartened if it takes a while for a mentee to let you in their circle of trust. Being authentic and consistent are critical during this timeframe.  If, it is ultimately determined that a fit doesn’t work, we may switch mentors.

New mentoring relationships take time to cultivate. The first several times a mentee may respond with one word answers (their day was fine, their family is fine, and they had fine for dinner).  That’s to be expected. Mentors, especially new mentors, should not be disheartened if it takes a while for a mentee to let you in their circle of trust. Being authentic and consistent are critical during this timeframe.

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Q. What has been your most memorable experience thus far?

It’s not a pleasant story. When I first took over as Program Chair, a mother told me not to tell her son to pull up his pants. We had a polite exchange of ideas.  Her take was that telling him to pull them up just put extra emphasis on it and made it more of an issue and that if unaddressed, he’d eventually get tired of the fad and would pull them up. My position was that her son was someone the younger mentees looked up to and emulated.  I did not want younger boys in our program picking up what we deemed bad habits. [In the end, she] remov[ed] her son from the program. Last year, she reached out to me because her son found himself in serious legal difficulty, and she needed people to write character references on his behalf. All I remember about the young man is the circumstances in which he left the program.

Q. What advice would you give to parents searching for mentors for their children?

I have a few tips:

Get involved. Statics show that youth programs are more successful when they have parent commitment and buy in.

Ask questions, give updates, and feedback. These are your kids, you should know what’s happening with them and you are [in the] best position to help us connect with your kids. If a boy got a part in a school play, hit the game winner, or if his favorite grandparent just passed away, these events can greatly impact a mentee’s mood. Giving us a head’s up helps mentors to better support the mentee.

Respect the mentor/mentee relationship. I tell parents and mentees alike that a mentor is not an extra set of parental ears. It’s not my job to report back. In fact, doing so can undermine the mentor/mentee relationship which should be built on trust and confidence. That said, I make it clear that if there was ever a threat of violence, I would not keep that confident. However, in a few cases where those situations have occurred, what I was able to do was facilitate the mentee sharing the information. That way the mentor/mentee bond is strengthened as well as the communication between parent and child.

I often get moms who say to me “I need a mentor for my son because a woman cannot raise a man.” I was raised by my mother, a grandmother and a gang of aunts so I don’t believe this.  At the same time, it’s not my place to tell parents that they are wrong. What I [ask] in these instances is, what are the top things you want your son to learn? [Does the list include] integrity? Respect? Consideration? Self-Confidence? Good manners?Discipline? None of those characteristics are masculine or feminine. In fact, they’re some of the same things I want for my daughter. These are things that are best modeled at home and supported by the activities your son is involved in. We will do our very best to help in those efforts through programs that explore those and many other values.

Q. Any long term goals or dreams?

In the words of Big Boi, “ I just wanna sit back and watch my little girl blow bubbles.” For each of the last 6 years I’ve said it was my last year so that I can spend more time with my daughter. So far, I haven’t taken that step back. To the contrary, my mentees have met my daughter, and she knows when I’m going to “spend time with the guys.” Most of my mentees are living in single-parent, mom-led households; I think it’s important that they see me taking care of my daughter. Not because I’m good at it, to the contrary, I tell them about my many mishaps. My hope is that it sends a message that being a father [is] the act of rolling up your sleeves and making good on the commitment to the best you can for your child.  Especially in those times [when] you’re scared and have no clue what you’re doing. I’ll step back one day, but as of right now, we’re having too much fun.

For more information about the D.C. Chapter of Concerned Black Men, visit:  www.cbmdc.org, Instagram @cbmdc and Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/ConcernedBlackMenDCChapter/. You can also visit the national website at http://cbmnational.org to find a chapter near you.

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.

Living History: Dr. Mae Jemison, 7 Must-Know Facts about NASA’s 1st Black Female Astronaut

Dr. Mae Jemison is a medical doctor, trailblazing astronaut and humanitarian. Her life and career have been full of inspirational moments. Here are a 7 must-know facts about this living legend.

Dr. Mae Jemison is a medical doctor, trailblazing astronaut and humanitarian.  Her life and career have been full of inspirational moments.  Here are 7 must-know facts about this living legend.

1. Before becoming an astronaut, she was engaged in life saving work with the Peace Corps.

In 1977, Jemison, a Decatur, Alabama native, graduated from Stanford University with dual degrees in Chemical Engineering and African and Afro-American Studies.  She went on to receive her doctorate in medicine from Cornell University in 1981.  After briefly practicing medicine, Dr. Jemison served in the Peace Corps from 1983 through 1985.  She was the Area Peace Corps Medical Officer for Sierra Leone and Liberia.  In this role, she was responsible for managing the delivery system of health care for United States Embassy personnel and Peace Corps personnel.  This multi-faceted role entailed providing medical care, overseeing any medical administrative issues, supervision of medical staff, a large pharmacy and a modern laboratory.

During her time in West Africa, Dr. Jemison implemented and participated in research on a Hepatitis B vaccine and a rabies vaccine in partnership with the National Institute of Health and the Center for Disease Control.  She taught personal health training classes to local residents, developed health related programming and curriculum for the Peace Corps, and developed guidelines for dealing with public health issues for volunteer job placement sites.

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2. She was the first Black woman to be an astronaut with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Dr. Jemison became one of fifteen applicants selected out of more than 2,000 in the 1987 class of astronauts for NASA.  After one year of intensive training, she became the first Black woman to be an astronaut with NASA.  On September 12, 1992, Dr. Jemison made history again when aboard the space shuttle “Endeavor” she became the first Black woman (and first woman of color) to go into space.  The mission was a joint mission with Japanese astronauts to study the effect of weightlessness on bones, and 42 other experiments relating to life sciences and human adaptations.  Her time with NASA lasted six years and her pioneering work continues to inspire generations.

3. She formed the Jemison Group and the BioSentient Corporation to address unique concerns related to science and technology.

After leaving NASA in 1993, Dr. Jemison formed the Jemison Group, an engineering consulting firm located in Texas.  The Jemison Group works closely in its education wing with the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence (founded in honor of her late mother with the help of her brother and sister) to create innovative science curriculum that can be taught in schools.  The organization also serves as an engineering consulting firm offering project consultation for mid to large scale projects.

In 2000, Dr. Jemison formed the BioSentient Corporation which is a medical devices and technology services business that designs, develops and brings to market ambulatory equipment which improves performance through physiologic monitoring and self-regulation.  She currently serves as President of both companies.

4. She is committed to teaching science to children in honor of her late mother.

Dorothy Jemison, Dr. Mae Jemison’s mother, was an educator in Chicago public schools for almost thirty years.  She was dedicated to holding her students to high standards and pushing them to achieve their own personal excellence.  After her mother passed away, the Jemison children created the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence (DJF) to offer curriculum and projects to schools that would encourage students to high levels of achievement through science.  Initiatives like “The Earth We Share” (TEWS), an international science camp, and “Shaping the World”, an international essay contest where kids compete by writing about fascinating scientific topics, were sponsored by the DJF in the 1990s and early 2000s.  Students and teachers from all over the world, representing countries such as Nigeria, Sweden, Portugal, Hong Kong and several others, participated in training offered by the DJF and learned new methods of teaching science to children.

In 2006, the DJF created a program in Chicago called “Reality Leads Fantasy: Celebrating Woman of Color in Flight” that educated the public on important woman of color who were involved in aviation and the study of space throughout the world.  In 2011, the DJF sponsored the “TEWS-Space Race” which was focused on improving the scientific education and accomplishments of students in Los Angeles who came from poor and underserved communities.

5. She appeared on an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

In 1993 Dr. Jemison appeared in an episode of the sixth season of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” entitled “Second Chances.”  In the episode she played Lieutenant Junior Grade Palmer.  Actor LeVar Burton directed the episode and requested her appearance.  It was the first time an actual astronaut appeared on “Star Trek.”  Dr. Jemison is a huge “Star Trek” fan and was always inspired by the actress Nichelle Nichols who played “Lieutenant Uhura” on the original series.

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6. She is working towards ensuring human travel to another solar system within a century.

Dr. Jemison is a principal in the 100 Year Starship, an organization dedicated to ensuring the facilities exist for a successful human journey to another star by the year 2112.  She believes space exploration, and the experimentation associated with it, lead to major advances in invention and quality of life on Earth.  By having the scientific and business community pursuing this goal, the organization argues that life on Earth can be dramatically improved for all people.

The organization was started in 2011 with a joint grant from the United States Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and NASA.  Dr. Jemison points out that the ultimate goal is not to have a human go to another star in the next century, but to have the world commit to the goal with investment, scientific endeavor, and civic participation to make interstellar travel a legitimate possibility.

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7. She has two schools named in her honor.

On Tuesday, August 2, 2016, the Dr. Mae Jemison High School was dedicated in Huntsville, Alabama, her home state.  The school features high tech facilities such as a 3-D titanium printer that allows students to practice skills for advanced manufacturing.  There is also a component to teach the newest forms of the growing field of cybersecurity.  Dr. Jemison cut the ribbon and gave a speech during the dedication of the school.  With the advanced facilities, students will be able to complete up to 60 hours of college credit while still attending high school. The first school named after Dr. Jemison is the Mae C. Jemison Academy, which is an alternative public school in Detroit, Michigan that was dedicated in 1992.

Information attained from:

Vickie Lindsey, “She Had a Dream: Mae C. Jemison, First African American Woman in Space”, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum,  https://airandspace.si.edu/stories/editorial/she-had-dream-mae-c-jemison-first-african-american-woman-space

Bob Gathany, “Dr. Mae Jemison cuts ribbon on namesake Jemison High School”, AL.com, http://www.al.com/news/huntsville/index.ssf/2016/08/dr_mae_jemison_cuts_ribbon_on.html

100 Year Starship, https://100yss.org/

The Dorothy Jemison Foundation, http://www.jemisonfoundation.org/dorothy.htm

Robin Wander, “Stanford alumna and astronaut Mae Jemison talks about the Universe”, Stanford Report, http://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/december/jemison-imagining-universe-120114.html

Nick Greene, “Dr. Mae C. Jemison: First African-American Woman in Space”, about education, http://space.about.com/cs/formerastronauts/a/jemisonbio_2.htm

http://www.space.com/17169-mae-jemison-biography.html

http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/jemison-mc.html

http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Palmer_(Lieutenant_JG)

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About The Author

Rick McCray is a maRAMrried father of three amazing sons. He is also a proud graduate of Duke University where he holds a BA in History and African/African American History, and Howard University School of Law. He is also a regular commentator on the In The Black podcast.  Rick is passionate about our history and helping to educate our community concerning the great contributions of people of color to the world. You can find Rick on Twitter @RealRickMcCray.