Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Writing's On The Wall: Poor Penmanship Has A Price

(NAPSI)-Even as schools are under pressure to improve students' math and reading proficiency, one important determinant of kids' futures is seeing less time in the classroom: handwriting.

According to research conducted by Vanderbilt University, as few as 10 minutes a day are spent on handwriting development from kindergarten to 3rd grade and almost no instruction is given after that time. Stretched teachers are simply running out of time to incorporate dedicated handwriting lessons, which has experts like Toni Schulken looking for new solutions.

"Handwriting is 50 percent of literacy, but children are seeing less and less formal handwriting instruction," says Schulken, a child occupational therapist who is dedicated to increasing writing literacy in America. "This gap leads to frustrated kids, stressed parents and discouraged teachers who often don't know how to help."

Whatever the source, failing to master penmanship has measurable repercussions. Steve Graham, who specializes in writing development at Vanderbilt University, says children without a solid handwriting foundation often have "trouble taking notes and difficulty keeping up in class."

Plus, experts say poor penmanship stretches past your own child's future. EducationWorld.com reports up to $95 million in tax refunds aren't delivered correctly because of unreadable tax forms and, looking ahead, the health of one in 10 Americans could be endangered by their physician's poor penmanship.

These statistics are startling to today's leading source of handwriting development--busy parents. Not only do parents have to find the time to help with handwriting, many are struggling with how to properly teach it and looking for help when it comes to where to start.

To bridge the gap, Schulken helped develop Mead Writing Fundamentals, a line of 15 products meant to guide parents as they introduce and reinforce handwriting skills for their pre-K through 3rd-grade kids. The products are positioned in four stages, based on the development of the child, and start before pencil hits paper with activities designed to build fine and perceptual motor skills instrumental for sound handwriting.

Stage one explores tasks like cutting and connecting dots that require eye-hand coordination. Stage two teaches motor patterns needed for forming capital letters, numbers and lowercase letters. Stage three helps students master writing words on traditional primary paper, while stage four addresses common issues such as inconsistent spacing, large letter size and difficulty adhering to margins.

"The idea is that each mastered skill builds on the next as children first tackle prewriting tasks and eventually build sound writing habits," explains Schulken.

Creative lessons, the use of color to aid focus and increase retention, helpful reminders for proper pencil grasp, and cues for paper stabilization are carried throughout the line.

For parents worried about their own child's chances of being accepted into a good college one day, such products couldn't come at a better time. Partly in an effort to encourage schools to stress handwriting and written expression skills, the College Board added a handwritten essay to the SAT in 2005.

For more information, visit www.mead.com.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

PEANUTS™ the Great Pumpkin Patch Express, Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

PEANUTS™ The Great Pumpkin Patch Express returns to the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad for 2008. As the leaves are changing in October and pumpkins are ready to be carved, Charlie Brown, Lucy, and Snoopy make a visit to the GSMR Pumpkin Patch beginning October 10, 2008. The excursions, which are themed after Charles M. Schulz’s classic story “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” will be departing from the Bryson City Depot October 10, 11, 12, 17, 18, 19, 24, 25 & 26. Friday departure time will be at 3:00pm. On Saturdays and Sundays departure will be at 1:00pm and 5:00pm.

Guests will hear a narration of Schulz’s “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” as the train travels to the Pumpkin Patch. Upon arrival, passengers will be greeted and have a photo opportunity with Charlie Brown, Lucy and Snoopy. Activities to enjoy at The Great Pumpkin Patch include: campfire marshmallows, a coloring station, temporary tattoos, trick or treating, petting zoo and a bouncy train. The children can also navigate through a giant hay bale maze. Other activities include: hay rides, bobbing for apples, apple cider or apple juice, and treats. There will be plenty of PEANUTS™ merchandise at the Bryson City Depot! Each child will also select their own small pumpkin from The Great Pumpkin Patch to take home.

Smoky Mountain Trains Museum admission is included with all train excursion tickets. Without train excursion, admission is $9.00 for adults and $5.00 for children.

For more information and reservations please call 800-872-4681 or visit us online at www.GSMR.com.
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Georgia Aquarium Welcomes Manta Ray

The Georgia Aquarium announced late last month the addition of a manta ray to the 6.3 million gallon Ocean Voyager gallery, built by The Home Depot. The addition of the female manta ray, Nandi, makes Georgia Aquarium the only aquarium in the United States to ever house a manta ray and one of only four aquariums in the world to display this species. Nandi will join four whale sharks and thousands of other animals in the world’s largest aquarium exhibit.

“As the Georgia Aquarium grows as a tourist destination, our opportunity to promote conservation and education grows,” said Mike Leven, chief executive officer of the Georgia Aquarium. “The addition of Nandi, who inspired hundreds of thousands of people in South Africa, gives us the opportunity to elevate her as an ambassador for her species. Millions of people who may have never had the chance to see a manta ray will now have that chance at the Georgia Aquarium.”

Nandi, who measures more than nine feet across and weighs approximately 456 lbs, flew 9,000 miles on a chartered 747-200 aircraft from Durban, South Africa through Cape Verde, Africa, to Atlanta. The manta ray was under the care and supervision of Georgia Aquarium and uShaka Marine World professional staff and maintained by a highly advanced marine life support system.

“The Georgia Aquarium’s success in moving whale sharks across the world gave us confidence that this was the right thing to do,” said Dr. Mark Penning, executive director of uShaka Marine World. “We see this as a perfect opportunity to create an international partnership and continue Nandi’s incredible story, raising worldwide awareness about manta rays.”

Nandi was rescued from shark nets off the coast of Durban, South Africa, in April 2007 and rehabilitated by uShaka Marine World, the largest marine park in Africa. She has lived in uShaka for the past year, educating and inspiring conservation in more than 500,000 people.

Manta rays are the largest rays in the sea, but Nandi was young when she was rescued, measuring just more than eight feet across and weighing around 245 lbs. She had since outgrown her 580,000 gallon exhibit. In order to raise worldwide awareness about manta rays, Georgia Aquarium and uShaka created an international partnership to bring Nandi from South Africa to Georgia Aquarium.

“No one has ever done this before,” said Leven. “Flying the world’s largest ray, a manta ray, from one side of the world to the other and housing it in a U.S. aquarium for the first time is incredible. Having the opportunity to work with this animal and grow our understanding of this strange yet gentle giant will be an opportunity of a lifetime.”
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Monday, September 22, 2008

Go for Halloween at Fernbank Museum of Natural History

Get ready for a “frighteningly” fun time at Fernbank Museum of Natural History as Bugs, Bats & Bones Day celebrates the batty icons of All Hallows’ Eve and takes the creepy, crawly and scary out of Halloween. Visitors will see how frightful the world would be without bugs, bats and bones as Fernbank reveals what’s cool, unique and vital about some of the biggest cases of mistaken identity in nature!

Bugs, Bats & Bones Day will be held at Fernbank Museum of Natural History on Saturday, October 18, 2008 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Visitors are invited to wear their costumes as they enjoy a variety of Halloween-themed, hands-on activities, including:

§ Face painting
§ X-rays of insects and animal bones
§ Live insect encounters
§ Storytelling
§ Appearances by the giant spider mascot, “Rantula the Tarantula”
§ Balloon artist, creating balloon animals and performing special balloon shows
§ Kid’s meal with bat-shaped chicken fingers available for purchase in The Fernbank CafĂ©
§ And more!

Fernbank Museum of Natural History is located at 767 Clifton Road NE in Atlanta. Special activities run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and are included with Museum admission. Admission is $15 for adults, $14 for students and seniors, $13 for children ages 12 and under, and free for members. For tickets, call 404.929.6400. The Museum is accessible by MARTA and free parking is available. For more information, visit www.fernbankmuseum.org.
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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Muppets Make Sure Kids, Parents Prepare for Emergencies

Photo: Meryl Chertoff, wife of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, poses for a picture with Sesame Street favorite Grover at John Tyler Elementary School in Washington on Sept. 17, 2008. Defense Dept. photo by Samantha L. Quigley When Rosita, a Sesame Street Muppet, showed up at John Tyler Elementary School here today, she had a flashlight, batteries, a shiny new radio and a message for about two dozen of the school's pre-kindergarteners: "Be prepared."

"Do you know what an emergency is?" asked Rosita as the children nodded their heads. "Then you know that an emergency is when something happens that you didn't expect."

Rosita and another Sesame Street favorite, Grover, were on hand to help the Sesame Workshop and the Homeland Security Department launch a new joint program called "Let's Get Ready! Planning Together for Emergencies." The kit was created in collaboration with the department's "Ready Kids" campaign.

"This new initiative between Ready Kids and Sesame Workshop not only empowers parents to prepare for an emergency, but also helps children to feel stronger, more capable and more ready to deal with whatever life may bring their way," said Meryl Chertoff, wife of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. "It's ... important that we, as parents and caregivers in the community, equip our next generation with the tools they need to be prepared for the unexpected."

And there aren't many better to help children between the ages of 2 and 5 understand the importance of preparing for an emergency than Rosita and Grover.

"These are friends they know and trust," Chertoff said. "We've all seen how important preparedness is in light of recent natural disasters around the country. Therefore, I hope you will share with your children and with children in your community the important information that this kit provides."

Chertoff was appearing on behalf of her husband, who was in Texas overseeing response to the aftermath of Hurricane Ike.

Disasters like Sept. 11 and Hurricane Katrina made clear the need to protect the nation's children in these types of situations, said Gary E. Knell, president and chief executive officer of Sesame Workshop.

"We know today that two-thirds of American families have no emergency plan at all," he said. "We also know that by remembering a very few important things, we can substantially improve the chances of protecting our nation's children from physical or psychological damage emanating from one of these disasters."

The "Let's Get Ready! Planning Together for Emergencies" kit builds on an episode of Sesame Street that dealt with Big Bird's nest being blown away in a hurricane and another that told kids it was OK to ask about Sept. 11.

"Through Grover and Rosita, our famous Muppets, we'll teach the basics for kids; memorizing your name, phone number and address in case you get lost, [and seeking] out a police officer or trusted adult in an emergency," Knell said.

The bilingual kit includes a DVD featuring songs by Rosita and Grover as well as activities to help children learn about getting ready for emergencies with their families. It also includes a children's activity book that has Grover and Sesame Street's Elmo teaching kids about important information they need to remember in an emergency.

While the kit is for kids, parents aren't left out. The kit provides them with a magazine that offers easy steps and resources the whole family can use to create an emergency plan.

About 150,000 of the kits will be distributed by Sesame Workshop's partners in the project, some of which include American Greetings, "Ready Kids" and the Ad Council. The materials also are available free on Sesame Workshop's Web site.

The Sesame Workshop kit was launched in September to coincide with the Homeland Security Department's "National Preparedness Month," which helps to raise awareness and promote action on emergency preparedness by Americans, businesses, and communities.
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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Georgia Aquarium to Celebrate Sea Otter Awareness Week

Guests are invited to join the Georgia Aquarium in celebrating Sea Otter Awareness Week Sept 21 – 27, 2008. The Aquarium, along with sea otters Oz and Gracie, will educate visitors regarding conservation efforts and facts about sea otters through exciting activities, interactive storytelling and educational information.

Throughout the week, Oz and Gracie will be profiled, highlighting their unique personalities and journey to the Aquarium. Guests will learn about the Aquarium’s rehabilitation efforts and 4R Program that is designed to positively impact the health and well-being of aquatic life from around the world. Additionally, biologists will be on-hand to conduct training and enrichment sessions with the sea others.

As a keystone species, sea otters play an integral role in the ecosystem and health of our oceans. They help maintain the balance among thousands of kelp forest inhabitants. Sea otters also act as an indicator species, meaning that their high rates of disease may be a warning for both marine ecosystems and human health. In order to help the plight of the sea otter, public awareness and education is imperative. Currently, they are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List and are protected by the Endangered Species Act and The Marine Mammal Protection Act. By becoming an advocate for sea otters and other aquatic life, individuals can make a difference by protecting and saving the marine environment that sea otters call home.
Daily activities for Sea Otter Awareness Week include:

· Arts & Crafts – Guests can create their own sea otter mask!
· Animal Interpreters – On-hand to educate guests about sea otters.
· Conservation Carts – Sea otter pelts and replica otter skulls will be available to touch and examine.
· Plus biologist sessions and enrichment activities with Oz and Gracie, storytelling, videos and more!

For additional information on Sea Otter Awareness Week please visit the Aquarium’s Web site at www.georgiaaquarium.org/visitUs/seaotterweek.aspx or call 404-581-4000.
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Monday, September 15, 2008

The Rock Ranch Kicks Off ‘Fall Family Fun Days’ with Themed Weekend and Special Entertainment on Sept. 20

The Rock Ranch LLC, a 1,250-acre cattle ranch owned by Chick-fil-A® Founder, S. Truett Cathy, will kick off “Fall Family Fun Days” on Sept. 20, 2008. The Rock Ranch provides a unique blend of “agritourism” (wholesome family entertainment in an agricultural setting). Fall Family Fun Days at The Rock Ranch feature a wide variety of interactive, educational and family-based events, activities and programs for its guests.

Each of the Fall Family Fun Days will feature special themed events that include:

• September 20 –The Rock Ranch Rural Round Up features the grand opening of the “Explore Georgia” corn maze, live music, hillbilly karaoke, arm wrestling and lawnmower racing among other fun rural activities. There will also be a tug of war competition where ranch hands Henry and Max will take on everyone else in attendance at the same time. This date also serves as media day (all members of the media and their families enter free of charge) – and teach appreciation day (all school teachers with a school ID card enter for free with their immediate family).

• September 27 – The Rock Ranch Bluegrass Festival provides a full day of bluegrass that will feature Cedar Hill, The Honey Creek Boys, Due South and more. This date also serves as home school day (all homeschoolers and their parents receive ½-off the price of admission)

• October 4 – Growing Up Green, featuring Bob and Larry of Veggie Tales will allow guests to enjoy having their photos made with the Veggie Tales characters. There will be fun games and activities that involve having fun with vegetables and thinking green. Various booths, presentations and demonstrations will provide information about “green” topics such as alternative energy, recycling, composting and more.

• October 11 – Wagon Wheel Market Day offers fun for the whole family with a premier shopping experience among exhibitors of hand-made crafts (for mom), excellent concessions and great guy gadgets like the pumpkin cannon (for dad), and a full days worth of fun attractions (for the children).

• October 18 – The Rock Ranch Hot Air Balloon Rally, sponsored by Ferrell Gas, features many beautiful hot air balloons that will participate in an early morning competition flight, an evening competition flight, and a “balloon glow” after dark. Tethered rides will be available in the evening if weather permits. Also The Moo Cow Bikers/ Victory Junction Gang charity motorcycle ride will originate at Great South Harley Davidson in Newnan and arrive at The Rock Ranch in parade fashion at 4pm. One lucky biker will be chosen to ride off into the sunset in the Harley Davidson Hot Air Balloon.

• October 25 – “The Rock” of Salvation Christian Music Concert, in partnership with Atlanta’s J93, features popular Christian artists. A full line-up of artists will be released September 22.

• November1 – Pumpkin Destruction Day allows guests to assist in the destruction of any unsold pumpkins or bring their own to recycle through fun methods such as: the pumpkin cannon, pumpkin bowling, the hammer smash and the lift crane pumpkin drop, among others.

• November 8 – The Rock Ranch Great Outdoor Adventure features exciting outdoor activities and educational demonstrations. Guests will enjoy a falconry demonstration, birds of prey exhibition, archery, fishing rodeo, insect education lab, wildlife station, and a reptile show by Jason Clark of Animal Planet.

In addition to the themed weekends, guests will find a variety of family fun attractions that are included with admission each weekend. Admission includes unlimited use of:

o Locomotive Train Rides
o Hay Rides
o Pony Rides
o Carousel
o Corn Cannons
o The Cow Train
o Pedal Carts
o Paddle Boats
o Cane Pole Fishing
o The Farmland Petting Zoo
o Conestoga Wagon Inflatable
o Children’s “Jolly Jump”
o Children’s John Deere Gators
o The Giant Sling Shot
o The Relaxation Station and Creek
o The Corn Box Play Area
o Little Town
o Horse Shoes
o Musical Entertainment
o Giant Inflatable Jumping Pillow
o The “Explore Georgia” Corn Field

Maze

“The goal at The Rock Ranch is to create an opportunity for families to spend quality time together and provide educational and entertaining programs that create positive life memories,” said Jeff Manley, general manager of The Rock Ranch, LLC. “Throughout the years, we’ve learned to blend our love of agriculture with entertainment to keep people interested and involved in a way of life that our grandparents knew well, but now is in danger of being forgotten.”

The theme this year for the popular corn maze at The Rock Ranch is “Explore Georgia.” As fuel prices continue to discourage long distance travel, The Rock Ranch seeks to highlight some of the wonderful elements found locally, in Georgia. The maze includes information about Georgia’s history, famous people and exciting destinations. Maze-goers can attempt a scavenger hunt/word search to find and match Georgia key words hidden in the maze. The Rock Ranch is partnered with The Georgia Department of Economic Development and Tourism on this year’s maze and its purpose is to educate guests about this state and all that it has to offer – right outside their backdoors. It also is designed to help make Georgians aware of exploregeorgia.org, a new state tourism website designed to assist citizens in fully enjoying this great state.
General admission is $13 for adults and $11 for children 12 and under (children under 3 are free).

Admission includes all activities and attractions. Discount coupons are available at participating Chick-fil-A locations through November, 8. The Rock Ranch is open each Saturday from Sept. 20 to Nov. 8, from 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.

In 2007, nearly 12,000 guests visited The Rock Ranch over 8 Saturdays of Fall Family Fun. For more information or directions, contact The Rock Ranch at (706) 647-6374 or visit www.TheRockRanch.com.
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