Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Volunteering at school

This post is about a father and daughter activity that is close to my heart even though it might not be the type of activity normally associated with the term.  Volunteering at your child’s school is an extremely rewarding way to be involved in your daughter’s life considering how much time she spends at school per week.  Additionally, it gives you multiple inside-tracks to the happenings at school including learning her schedule, meeting teachers (especially future teachers) and getting to know her friends.  All of this will become even more important as she grows.
This activity does have a shelf life since at a certain age, you daughter won’t want her dad at school so be sure to get in early.  The kids in the k-4th grade bracket are incredibly accepting and get as excited about you being there as you daughter does.   After only 2 times of being there for example, half of the kids run over to hug me or give fist bumps and I can’t go to the grocery store without hearing “Hi Mr. Walker!”. The teachers enjoy having a dad around too because usually the kids all behave better know a father is watching even if it isn’t theirs.
Your daughter will really feel proud to have her daddy at school and will introduce you to absolutely everyone until your hands are raw from shaking.  Some of my suggested activities to do when you are at your daughter’s school would be:
·         Greet kids in the morning or hold the door for them
·         Work in the library on your child’s library day
·         Work in the lunch room
·         Read to classes
·         Work the playground
·         Try to actually do an art project on art day if the teacher will let you
·         Help during gym time
You will get to see you daughter during all of these activities and you will continuously hear “That’s my Dad!” all day.

father daughter activities volunteering at school

This activity has a HUGE added benefit.  Other kids who need a father will naturally migrate to you and you’ll find yourself holding your daughter’s hand and a kid you’ve never met while walking to classes.  More importantly if you are willing, those children will use you to help themselves. I’d like to share the story of one of the most touching events that has ever happened to me which occurred because of my volunteering at the school.
A full two years ago, my daughter was in Kindergarten and I was extremely excited about being involved in the place where she spends so much time.  During one volunteer day, my daughter’s teacher asked if I could escort a young classmate to the book fair. His parents were going through a rather rocky patch in their marriage and he had been too upset to go on the official book fair day.  I of course agreed and we left for the library.
When we got there, I followed him around as he picked two books. One was a Pokemon book which he was obviously obsessed with and the other was a mystery book. Together they totaled 8 Dollars but, as I found out, he only had 5 with him.  I told him he couldn’t afford both and after an agonizing deliberation, he very gently set down the Pokemon book.  I jokingly said that he must REALLY like mysteries and he replied that he didn’t.  He was buying this book for his older sister so she would have something from him under the tree for Christmas.
It hit me how selfless this act was and only two days after he was very broken up at school. I silently had received a huge slap of reality and tears started welling up in my eyes. I told him that one of the most important lessons we have to learn is that when we do good things, good things happen to us. I then asked him to pick his book back up because I wanted to buy it for him to thank him for being such a caring person. After we checked out I told him to keep being so caring because someday HE would be the exact “good thing” that someone else needed.
Fast forward two years to this morning when I was walking my daughter in to school.  I saw the same child, said hello to him by name and heard him tell his mom that I was the person who had taken him to the book fair.  We dropped our children off and she stopped me on the way back to our car to tell me why the boy had pointed me out to her.
It seems that about 2 months after the fair the mother and father divorced and it took months for the mother to put things back together again.  On one of her first “good days” she had been trying her hardest to be a good mommy. At some point in the day her son ran from across the room to hug her. When she asked “what was that for” he replied that when we do good things, good things happen.
She said she had been praying for strength and a sign to show her things were going to be ok and when he said that, she absolutely fell apart.  They talked about where he had heard that saying and he told her about me and what I had said about being the “good thing” someone else needed.
I am a firm believer in planting seeds and this is a very good example of how volunteering can plant seeds in every child you encounter. Like me, you may not know for years that you are making a difference or you may never hear what an impact you have made but rest assured that just by being a father, being there and being kind you have touched more lives than you know.
One organization I joined was the Watch D.O.G.S. (Dad’s of great students) from the national center for fathering. Their goal is the same as mine. Just to get a strong male presence in schools to help deter horseplay and give kids a male role model who might not otherwise have one.  If you have time, read about them or watch this watchdog video.
Whether you do it through an organization or just by yourself, make one of your father-daughter activities volunteering at your daughter’s school.  She’ll love it and the benefit for you will make any effort worth your while.
Let’s get the dads in the schools!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Making Butter

I know this will come as a great shock if you have read my biography but, I am a huge nerd.  Science is one of my fascinations and i just love doing activities with my daughter that allow me to explain how things work. One of those educational adventures was bread making while talking about yeast, infusuion and chemical reactions (told you I am a nerd).  That naturally led me to another activity which I had no idea was so easy!

It turns out that it is ridiculously easy to make butter when you aren’t being forced to use a churn by your parents on their farm which I bet that adds a level of difficulty or at least boredom.

Time required for full effect – about 10 minutes (excluding the 6-12 hours of leaving the cream out of the fridge)

Items needed:
• Small container of heaver whipping cream
• A clean jar with a lid – we used a miracle whip jar
• Some salt, rosemary or anything else if you want flavored butter

Leave heavy whipping cream out on the counter for 6-12 hours (gross I know.. but imagine in pioneer days), pour into a jar and add a bit of salt or other flavoring (for taste only).

Shake in a jar for 3 minutes (about one shake per second). The goal of the shaking is not to mix the ingredients but rather to slam the milk against one end of the jar repetitively. This breaks the protein bonds and allows the butter to separate. So one slam of the milk per second for 3 minutes.


Notice the milky substance. That is where ‘buttermilk’ comes from. You pour that off (save it if you want) while talking about buttermilk pancakes and buttermilk ranch dressing.

Pour a bit of warm water and give one shake to rinse the butter. Pour that off and enjoy.


Additional discussions:
• If you were to shake the jar for a while longer than 3 minutes, you could actually make whipped cream instead of butter.
• You can do this experiment starting with whole milk but it takes a LOT longer than three minutes. My grandmother told me that I had cheated starting with cream :-)
• Almost all of our parents\grandparents used to do this for eating instead of learning which I think makes the experiment more personal. My kid was so excited to talk to my grandmother after this and she actually had an old butter churn that she showed us.

One word of warning:
My daughter who had been so excited said upon tasting the butter “it just tastes like real butter”. We had to talk about how real butter was what we just made and that manufacturers imitate what we did. It blew her mind.

Have fun with this easy experiment and remember to take pictures

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sporting Events

Take me out to the ball game
Take me out to the crowd
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks,
I don't care if I never get back . . .

It is no great secret that the average computer professional is not your typical jock sports fan and I am certainly no different.  I played every sport growing up - which I blame on my father's wish that I was athletic - but none of them stuck.  We spent so much father and son time that I never actually considered sporting events to be a dad and daughter activity. Many other dads might have the same problem but once you realize the dad and daughter potential of a sporting event you might kick yourself for not having gone quicker.  That potential can be tapped in to even if you or your daughter has no interest in sports.

Our first daddy-daughter game was a Texas Rangers game at the Ballpark in Arlington:

Dad and daughter activities: Sporting Events - Ballpark at Arlington

We had horrible seats and the rangers sucked that day(they made it to the world series though!!) but we had a ball - so to speak.

There are SO many things for dads and daughters to enjoy that they are almost hard to list out.  We'll start with one of my favorites - the food.  If you and your daughter are going to a sporting baseball game, you are almost required by law to share a hot dog. Just behind that in popularity is the ballpark nachos followed by cotton candy. The most important thing however is popcorn.  I didn't mention the popcorn because it is good but it is absolutely neccessary for the wave and screaming events to follow.

The wave - Unfortunately we were at the ballpark on a slow day and were sitting mostly by ourselves. That didn't stop us from doing the best two-person wave you have ever seen. During this activity, you have to make sure and spill as much popcorn as possible and if possible, on your daughter's head.  As an added bonus, we actually started the wave and a small group of people downstream from us continued it for us.  My daughter REALLY enjoyed that.

Screaming - In this day and age of staying indoors all the time and the military precision with which our schools are ran, our children miss out on some of the basics like screaming like a lunatic. Like I mentioned above, I am not much of a "sportsy" dad but all the same, I explained to my daughter how important it is to support the local team.  We included timeless taunts like "we need a pitcher, not a belly itcher" and a few others but mostly we jumped to our feet screaming when we got a hit. Let the popcorn fly and enjoy the fact that you are in a location where you are almost expected to scream and holler. Sporting events are one of the few places where dad and daughter alike can scream at the top of their lungs.

Halftime\music - At a baseball game we didn't get to experience half-time but in between innings we got to dance like mental patients to some of the best 80s music the sounds system could muster. And during these times, there were usually audience participation games on:

the jumbotron -
Dad and daughter activities: Sporting Events - Scoreboard

One of the above-mentioned games on the jumbotron was kiss\hug and we actually got to give a dad and daughter hug up on the big screen (like I said, it was a slow day at the park). Every time the camera for the jumbotron would pan the crowd, my daughter would put on her best face and try her hardest to be the star. 

Your chances of getting on the jumbotron increase if you are decked out in the local teams gear so stop at academy sporting goods or somewhere before you go. The shirts run about 50% more at the event.

Fireworks for the wrap-up - At our ballpark, there are fireworks after every game. It isn't a dazzling disney world quality show but it is still absolutely wonderful. We snuggled under a blanket and made sure to say oooo during the launch and AWE during the pop.
Dad and daughter activities: Sporting Events - Fireworks

I loved our day at the ballpark and my daughter has already asked to go back. Admittedly, the ballpark was kind of intimidating for a computer guy but just like everything else I do for my daughter, I just got over it and went. If you prepare, leave enough time and assume you probably will not see a wonderful game you are stress-free and able to turn this dad and daughter activity into one you both will love.