Posted in Minnesota Parent, Uncategorized

Minnesota Parent: Nature Deficit

Note: Watch for the “Minnesota Bound” (KARE-11 NBC) script version of this story, airing April 15th (10:30 p.m. CT) and April 21st (6:30 p.m. CT) Entitled “Last Child in the Woods”

My son has a fort. It’s wedged between two evergreens in our backyard, and houses such treasures as slabs of wood, and an old green army tarp hung by bungee cords for a wall. And while I sometimes sigh loudly at the amount of items that find their way into my son’s fort, I leave it alone. A few years ago my Father told me that a boys fort in nature is his sanctuary and refuge. “Treat it as such,” he warned.

I would never argue that point, as my past childhood memories are steeped in the great outdoors. When I think about it, many of the most cherished memories all involve either a vacation up north or my own fort nestled in a thicket. I want my son to have those memories, too. But I worry the experience won’t be the same. And I’m not the only parent thinking this. There seems to be a growing disconnect between our kids and nature.

According to Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and the Nature Principle, it’s a phenomenon – and not a good one. It was Louv who first came up with “Nature deficit disorder” when his Last Child in the Woods book came out in 2005. His hypothesis is basically that humans, especially children, are spending less time outdoors.

Why is this happening? The reasons are several, and a few, obvious. One of the reasons I relate to – good old “stranger danger”. It’s the reason I’m sneaking peeks in the backyard to make sure my son isn’t snatched out of his nature sanctuary. Or as Louv so eloquently puts it in his book – the “Bogeyman syndrome”. “Fear is the most potent force that prevents parents from allowing their children the freedom they themselves enjoyed when they were young,” explained Louv, “Fear is the emotion that separates a developing child from the full, essential benefits of nature. Fear of traffic, of crime, of stranger-danger – and of nature itself.” My boundaries growing up included the entire town. Admittedly, my son’s boundaries are tighter. In a 2002 survey by TNS Intersearch for American Demographics Magazine, 56% of parents in the U.S. said that by the time they were 10 years old they were allowed to walk or bike to school – but only 36% of those same parents said their own kids should be allowed to do the same.

But we aren’t just afraid of the “Bogeyman” in the form of a kidnapper. Nature itself can be the Bogeyman. It can be tough for us parents to loosen the leash, especially with being bombarded by bad news via the media. But keeping things, including nature, in perspective is always a good rule of thumb. “We may fear the outdoors, but kids generally face more dangers in their own home,” explained Louv.

The loss of wild surroundings is another factor. In more and more cities and suburban neighborhoods, it can be tough to find green. But green can be found – it just might require some looking. And it’s worth it – a team study by researchers in Sweden, Australia and the U.S., found that when children played in an environment dominated by play structures rather than natural elements, the kids established social hierarchy through physical competence. But just offering a grassy area with a few shrubs, and the kids engaged in more fantasy play, and their social standing became based less on physical abilities and more on language and creativity skills. And a bonus: open play also provided greater opportunities for boys and girls to play together in egalitarian ways.

Even if you find a park or nature preserve, kids are seeing more restricted access. “Do not walk off the trail” one sign recently blared at me at neighborhood park. Everyone understands that the natural environment must be protected, but Louv questions the cost of that protection in some instances, and the direct impact it has on the kid’s relationship with nature. Even environmentalists and educators, he points out, say “look but don’t touch”. Sometimes that’s the only way to learn, especially for kids.

And a third obvious cause, of course, is the increased draw to spend time inside, aka: screen time, including computer, video games and television. The average American child spends 44 hours a week with some form of electronic media. Can you imagine what that number will be 10 years from now?

The effects of this are sobering. Our kids have a limited respect for their natural surroundings. Louv points out that this will be an even bigger problem a few years down the road. “An increasing pace in the last three decades, approximately, of a rapid disengagement between children and direct experiences in nature…has profound implications, not only for the health of future generations but for the health of the Earth itself.”

Research has shown that people who care about the Earth when they are adults spent time in the natural world as children. GreenHeart Education stresses that we owe it to our students and kids to give them unmediated time in Nature, so that, as one Native elder explained, “the land will remember them” – so they will feel grounded and have a sense of “home” that they care about.

Another effect of nature deficit may be the development of attention disorders. Louv suggests that going outside and being in the quiet and calm can help kids. “It’s a problem because kids who don’t get nature-time seem more prone to anxiety, depression and attention-deficit problems.” As a Mother of an ADHD son, this research is worth watching. Some tips include encouraging your child to play in outdoor green spaces, study or play in rooms with views of nature, or plant and care for gardens and trees at your place of residence. Louv explains that although the impact of nature experiences on attention disorders and on wider aspects of child health is in its infancy and easily challenged, it’s not to be brushed over. “Yes, more research is needed, but we do not have to wait for it. If, as a growing body of evidence recommends, contact with nature is as important to children as good nutrition and adequate sleep, then current trends in children’s access to nature need to be addressed,” said Louv.

Childhood obesity is another growing problem, and about 9 million children (ages 6 – 11) are overweight or obese. (The Institute of Medicine) It’s time for kids to move more, which means getting up off the couches and heading outside and away from screen-time. Period. Blogger Marc Bekoff of Psychology Today, said it may be an up-hill battle for parents, but it’s time to get kids away from their couches, computers, desks and other electronic devices. “We need to rewild our children before it’s too late,” he stressed.

While my generation may have been the first to experience Atari and MTV, we also still played kick the can, fished in creeks, and had more free-roaming boundaries outside. It’s time for parents and Mother Nature to work together. While some good works are already taking root, such as environment-based education movement, a simple-living movement, and schoolyard greening, there’s always more work to be done for the cause.

With luck, our kids will realize their sense of purpose in this cause. After all, I can only hope that, someday, my son will want his own children to have an outdoor fort. A refuge, a sanctuary. Army tarp and all.

Side Bar:

Some fun ideas to get things going with the cause!

Got dirt? A truckload of dirt costs about the same as a video game, so how about buying a load and throwing in some plastic buckets and shovels?

Plant some native plants, or maintain a birdbath. Invite some native flora and fauna in your kid’s life.

Revive some old family traditions. Collect lightning bugs at dusk, and release them at dawn. Collect feathers or leaves. How about crawdadding? (tie a piece of bacon on a string, and drop it into a creek or pond. Wait until a crawdad tugs)

Encourage kids to go camping just in the backyard. But them a tent or help them make a canvas tepee and leave it up all summer. (Join the NWF’s Great American Backyard Campout –

Tell your kids stories about your special childhood places in nature, then help them find their own. Encourage kids to build a fort, hut or tree house.

Combine tech with nature and go digital –with nature photography that is. Digi cameras save money on film, and are decreasingly expensive.

Go on a moth walk. It sounds weird, but it’s worth it. Mix (in a blender) overripe fruit or wine, and blend in honey, sugar or molasses. Go outside at sunset and spread the goop on a few trees or untreated wood. Go back when it’s dark, flashlight in hand, and see what you’ve lured. With luck, you’ll probably find moths, ants, earwigs and other bugs.

It’s Minnesota, so in the winters build an igloo or snow cave, or go sledding, snow tubing, or snowshoeing. Stay outside!

Fun Outdoor quotes to think about:

“Not everything that counts can be counted. And not everything that can be counted counts.” – A sign over Albert Einstein’s office at Princeton University.

 “It takes a universe to make a child, both in outer form and inner spirit. It takes a universe to educate a child, a universe to fulfill a child.” – Thomas Berry


Posted in Minnesota Parent

Cinema Under the Stars! MN. Parent Magazine-August 2015


August 2015

Back to School / Birthday Party Issue


Compared to multiplex prices, drive-ins — which show all the latest movies — are ridiculously affordable with tickets topping out at $8.50 for adults for evening shows.



Cinema under the stars

Minnesota’s drive-in movie theaters draw loyal families with affordable pricing, atmosphere and blockbuster films

By Kelly Jo McDonnell

Summer is slipping away.

Instead of pool noodles, coolers and grilling gear filling the seasonal aisles at Target, it’s back-to-school supplies everywhere you turn.


But, wait: Once you’ve stocked up on crayons and Ticonderoga No. 2 pencils, there’s still time to savor this unbelievably beautiful (and precious) season we call summer in Minnesota.

Our suggestion?

See a movie under the stars and amongs the fireflies — at a drive-in movie theater.

A what?

Yes, Minnesota is home to six drive-in theaters.

Though many Minnesota cities offer music and movies at various parks all summer long, this is something different: This is classic, old-fashioned fun with brand-new blockbuster releases, too.

More than 90 percent of the state’s drive-in movie theaters have shut down.
But those that are left have extremely loyal followings.


Drive-ins — which show all the latest movies — are ridiculously affordable when compared to multiplex prices with tickets topping out at $8.50 for adults. Ages 5 and younger usually get in for free; and older kids can attend for as little as $1 each.

And those prices typically include two, if not three films, for those willing to stay up late. June offerings at Minnesota’s drive-ins included a mix of PG and PG-13 films such as Jurassic World, Pitch Perfect 2, San Andreas, Inside Out, Tomorrowland and others.

And the treats?

They cost easily less than half of those at local mall-based theaters.

Some venues, such as the highly popular 800-car-capacity Vali Hi in Lake Elmo, sell hot food — including $1 hotdogs.

Vali Hi, which celebrated its 80th birthday in 2013, even allows visitors to cook their own food.

Many families can bring their own grills and outdoor games and sit in lawn chairs while they wait for the sun to go down. Getting there early ensures a community camp-out kind of atmosphere. It also means making sure you can find a spot for your car — important at Vali Hi, which routinely sells out.

According to the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association, there are fewer than 500 such theaters left in the world with the majority — 368 — in the U.S.

Dara Vigoren Hartzler of Stillwater remembers going to the drive in as a teenager.

Thanks to Vali Hi nearby, she’s now able to pass along the tradition to her daughter.

“It’s the experience, being outside, with friends, a little portable grill, playing tag, catching Frisbee. It’s always its own community,” she said.

Kristine Greer of Minneapolis grew up going to Duluth’s Sky-Line Drive-In Theatre (now closed) in the late 1960s.

She said the scary movies stood out in her mind. She first saw Psycho, King Kong and Creature From the Black Lagoon on a big, drive-in movie screen.

“It was always fun,” she said. “There was a playground next to the big screen, and we would go and play before we would see the shows.”

Greer said going to the theater was always an event for her family.

“It was more special than just going to a movie theater … it was a real experience,” she said. “At the end, some folks would honk their horns, as if they were clapping. It was a great time.”

Kelly Jo McDonnell lives in Lino Lakes with her son. She is a freelance writer and a producer/writer with Minnesota Bound on KARE 11 TV.


Minnesota’s drive-in theaters


Vali-Hi Drive-In
This 1950s-themed venue is the most centrally located drive-in for metro-area residents. It offers 3-for-1 films seven days a week during its peak season, plus concessions, an arcade, $1 hotdogs, $1 admission for ages 6–12 and a relaxed atmosphere. There are spaces for 800 cars, but be sure to arrive early to guarantee a spot.
Season: May to early October????

Where: 11260 Hudson Blvd. N., Lake Elmo, about 13 miles east of downtown St. Paul

Cost: $8.50 for ages 13 and older; $1 for ages 6–12, free for ages 5 and younger

Info: 651-436-7464,

Elko Drive-In Theater

Elko Speedway — a NASCAR racing site — is also home to a drive-in theater. Hot food, wine and beer are sold on site.

Season: Wednesday–Saturday June 5–Sept. 6, 2015

Where: 26350 France Ave., Elko New Market, about a half-hour south of downtown Minneapolis

Cost: Tickets are $8 per adult, $5 for ages 4-12 and free for ages 3 and younger, except on race nights when doors open earlier and adult ticket prices go up to $15. Specials include $10-per-car admission on Wednesdays, 2-for-1 adult admission on Thursdays and free admission for kids on Fridays (Family Night).

Info: 952-461-7223,

Starlite Drive-In Theater

This classic theater venue features multiple screens as well as a concession stand.
Season: May through September

Where: 28264 Highway 22, Litchfield, about 1½ hours west of the Twin Cities

Cost: $7 for ages 13 and older, $3 for ages 6 to 12, free for ages 5 and younger
Info: 320-693-6990,

Long Drive-In Theatre

Go back in time at this family friendly outdoor movie theater. Sit in your car or bring some lawn chairs or blanket. Pizza, pulled-pork sandwiches, chimichangas, hotdogs, pretzels, nachos, fresh buttered popcorn, ice cream sundaes, rootbeer floats, candy and more are for sale on site. Outside food and alcoholic beverages aren’t allowed. Pets are OK.

Season: Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays mid-April through early October

Where: 24257 Riverside Drive, Long Prairie, 2 hours northwest of the Twin Cities

Cost: $6 for ages 12 and older, $2 for ages 6–11, free for ages 5 and younger

Info: 320-732-3142,


Verne Drive-In Theatre

Catch a sunset before the movie at this old-school drive-in known for its relaxed, serene setting. Hot food and ice cream are sold on site.

Season: May through early October

Where: 1607 S. Kniss Ave., Luverne, 3½ hours southwest of the Twin Cities
Cost: $5 for ages 6 and older, free for age 5 and younger

Info: 507-283-0007,

Sky-Vu Drive In
Not much has changed at this Red River Valley theater since it open in the 1950s — except the movies and that each film’s audio comes to patrons on their FM radios. Hot food, including BBQ sandwiches or nachos for $3.25, is sold on site. Popcorn starts at $2.50.

Season: May through early October

Where: Highway 1, one mile west of Warren, about 45 minutes northeast of Grand Forks, N.D.

Cost: $8 for ages 13 and older, $5 for ages 12 and younger

Info: 218-201-0329,


*Arrive early to get a good spot and enjoy the fireflies just before the movies start dusk.

*Many venues are cash only (even for concessions), so come prepared.

*Most drive-ins transmit the film audio via FM radio, so make sure the radio in your car works or bring along portable radio. Be sure to start your car in between movies to charge the battery if you use your car stereo.

*Shows usually start dusk, which is pretty late in Minnesota during summer, often between 9 and 10 p.m.

*Unless the weather turns severe, most theaters show their movies rain or shine.

How did it all begin?

The drive-in theater got its humble start in Richard Milton Hollingshead’s driveway in New Jersey.

Using a 1928 Kodak projector on the hood of his car, the auto parts sales manager projected the film onto a screen nailed to a tree. The home radio sitting behind the screen provided the sound. Hollingshead sat in the family car and watched and listened. And from a simple idea, the drive in was born.

By the 1950s, the drive-in — and automobile — industry was booming, especially in rural areas, with some 4,000 to 5,000 drive-ins in the U.S.

Minnesota once had 80 drive-in theaters.

Advantages were apparent to both adults and kids: A family with small children or babies could take care of their children while watching a movie, while teenagers with access to cars found drive-ins perfect for the dating scene.

Hollingshead even advertised his theater with the slogan: “The whole family is welcome, regardless of how noisy the children are.”

Posted in Minnesota Parent

Hey, Coach….thanks.

I grew up a coach’s kid. Our family activities revolved around sports. The majority of my time was spent at a small Iowa gym, and having to shoot 10 free throws in a row before I could come in the house and eat dinner was standard protocol. Even the families we hung out with were other coaches. It was the norm.

It wasn’t until my Father, who is in the Iowa Coach’s Hall of Fame, passed away three years ago, that it hit me. As I gazed at the massive visitation line, I was struck with how many people came up to me with a story to share about “Coach McDonnell”. Each story was heartfelt, and I could tell he had made a huge impact on their childhood. My Father always said good coaches are what make the difference at a young age. But what makes a “good” coach, really? And what is it about a good coach that makes adults remember their coaching for years after the fact.

We’re not talking about coaches like Bear Bryant. This is about the youth coaches that are introducing our kids to the sport they want to play – in short, usually their first coach. We as parents know that coaches and sports in general can be enormously influential in the lives of our kids. Involvement in sports helps with physical fitness, teamwork skills and discipline. According to Safe Kids USA, there’s over 38 million kids engaged in some form of sports each year, and almost 75 percent of American households with school-age children have at least one student athlete. Yet, this athletic involvement comes Jimwith its own challenges, chief among them, coaches and parents being too competitive. Translation – the sports can stop being fun. How do coaches, along with parents, walk the fine line? How do coaches ‘level the playing field’ so to speak.

Coaches are known for being able to handle pressure. Whether you are on the sidelines of a NFL team, or your son or daughter’s youth soccer team, the pressures are there. And the similarities of all “good coaches” are there, as well, especially the ones that thrive despite the pressures. Everyone will have a slightly different answer to the question “what makes a good coach for my kid?” but similar theme’s rise to the top when talking to both parents and coaches. Being positive and making the sport fun are at the top of the list, as well as being able to develop confidence in every player.

Lori Juhl, mother of a traveling basketball player in the Centennial School System in Lino Lakes, and “team mom”, said a strong coach analyzes each individual player and tries to develop those that are perhaps less talented than the others. “It’s important to keep the team motivated, and be encouraging to the players, not negative,” she said, “coaches can point out the bad, but need to stay focused on the positive. A good coach knows the limitations and ability of each child.”

Brent Cuttell, former President of Cottage Grove’s Youth Football, and current youth football coach, said it’s imperative to remember that this is usually the first time that a child is being exposed to a sport. ”You have to understand and say wait a minute, I’m more than a coach,” he explains, “and it’s not about the x’s and o’s, and not about if the kid is the next Walter Peyton or Peyton Manning. Maybe the best thing that happens to this kid is that he starts the whole season, or that he just has fun, or that he improves. I think at a young age, the most important approach is to create a positive environment. The kid should want to play the next season.”

Steve Eckes, current board member for the Andover Baseball association, and youth baseball coach and father, has similar views. “Kids at this age, they don’t come pre-packaged with a perfect baseball swing, every kid is different with different personalities. If you can’t connect with them, you won’t be able to make them understand. You have to talk with them at their level, get down on your knee and talk face to face and be their friend. They have to understand that you care about their development, and that means getting down to their level.”

Connecting with younger kids can be tricky, whether you’re a coach or not. And the most basic skill of taking charge and having a plan can sometimes be the most difficult for a beginner coach. All seasoned coaches agreed across the board: make sure your practices are organized and you have a clear plan. “What I learned is, you should have your drills no longer in minutes than the age of the group your teaching,” said Cuttell, “if your coaching 9 and 10 year-olds, you can’t put in a drill of 20 minutes. They are going to lose focus. Keep the drills short and effective and keep it active, that’s what the kids want. Long, drawn out practices and drills probably have a negative, more than a positive impact.” Eckes also keeps drills short and sweet. “Kids don’t want to stand in line, and kids get frustrated if they aren’t busy. They are there to have fun, not become Derek Jeter. What I see when I see some coaches fail, is going into game mode; showing them the game without the fundamentals. Keep it like gym class, that’s what they like.”

Scott Fransen, who coaches girl’s youth B.B. in Minnetonka, explained repetition is very important, in order to build an understanding. “You have to be consistent with your message,” he said, “girls don’t like to be singled out, whether it’s for praise or trying to teach them something. For girls, the experience is equal part sports, to social interaction. Have a plan when you go into the practice, and remember that you’re trying to prepare them for the next level, and hopefully, to develop a love of the sport in general. Have fun, and there always needs to be a lot of praise, a lot of recognition and high-fiving.”

But how about the parent or team that gets the coach who doesn’t high five or praise, but tends to be a “yeller”. Just as there are similar threads to what defines a “good” coach, there are similarities that go the other way, as well. Parents agree: effective coaches should not use embarrassment and humiliation as teaching tools.
Seasoned, successful coaches agree with the parents. “A coach that plays favorites or that doesn’t communicate well is rough,” said Fransen, “then there’s a lack of understanding to the kids on what they’re trying to do on the floor, and there’s dysfunction in what the team is trying to do.”

Coaches who refuse to be flexible also pose challenges to the kids and their parents.
“You have to be flexible with what your team is telling you they need,” stressed Cuttell, “you have to adapt to what you’ve been presented. You as the coach owe it to the team to adapt to them, without losing focus of the goal. A ‘bad’ coach is somebody that is unwilling or unable to be flexible or adapt to their team. If you come with a Vince Lombardi attitude, it’s not going to work.”


Posted in Minnesota Parent

To Hoard or not to hoard? That is the question…..

Is your child a hoarder? (MN. Parent Magazine-May issue)

By: Kelly Jo Mcdonnell

How to tell when kid collections become unhealthy

Moss-covered rocks. Dusty LEGO sets. Countless sticks, crammed into a corner. These are the “treasures” of my 11-year-old’s room.

I’m well aware of his love for stuff. It’s a fun ritual when he’ll show me his collection of rocks, cards or erasers. But I’m starting to wonder if his little collections are getting out of control. Desk drawers are chock full of pencils, gum wrappers and toys. Boxes and containers are filled with knickknacks of every kind, including old Christmas decorations he didn’t want to put away.

When I try to get rid of something, he’ll try to grab it out of the garbage, insisting that he still needs it. It got me thinking: Kids don’t hoard like those folks on hoarding TV shows, do they? As I stand in the middle of his room, wondering where to start, I think: Maybe those adults on the TV started out just like this.

When collecting isn’t really collecting

Kids like collecting. In fact, it’s a classic rite of passage for kids and a normal part of child development.

In his book, Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, Randy Frost explains: “Collecting is very important to kids, starting at about age 2, when they learn the meaning of the word ‘mine,’ up until early teenage years.”

But there’s a fine line between creating collections and hoarding, according to the Bio Behavioral Institute. If your child collects and displays treasures — and is proud of his or her collections — that’s a good sign. And the same goes for kids who are happy to talk about their stuff and want others to be interested in it, too. Healthy collections will be organized (most of the time) and ready for display. Some kids even enjoy budgeting their allowance so they can add to their collections.

Hoarders are different, according to the institute, a private mental health practice in New York. Hoarders associate their collections with embarrassment, and they tend to feel uncomfortable when others see or touch their things. Collecting is something the child wants to do. Hoarding is something children feel they need to do.

Hoarding, according to the American Psychiatric Association, is a complex disorder and is characterized by persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of the value others may attribute to these possessions.

Different than adult hoarding

Hoarding among kids tends to be more contained than adult hoarding, which can spread across an entire home, according to the New York-based Child Mind Institute.

Children, for example, might hoard under their bed or in areas of their bedroom. And it might not be immediately obvious to an observer because disorganization is so common among children.

Hoarding in kids is more about difficulty letting go, rather than acquisition, according to the Boston-based International Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Foundation. Young kids don’t usually have access to money and transportation that would let them shop all the time. For young children, hoarding may look different, because parents control what kids can buy, and the level of clutter in their rooms.

Parents should watch for intense attachments to objects and the tendency to stockpile items. Stockpiling can include clothing, food, toys, trash (such as gum and candy wrappers), rocks and even cups of sand.

Hoarding can start young

Hoarding affects an estimated 2 percent to 5 percent of the adult population, according to the International OCD Foundation. And the disorder can begin early in life. More than 40 percent of adult hoarders first start showing hoarding behavior by the time they’re 15 years old. Though hoarding behaviors typically start around age 13, children as young as 3 can suffer from the disorder.

Codi Williamson, a third-grade teacher and mother of two in Pataskala, Ohio, said she and her husband constantly struggle with their 4-year-old son’s stockpiles of stuff.

“As long as I can remember, anything that he could fit into a container and carry around, was always with him. He would be obsessed with it,” Williamson said. “He loves grocery bags with handles.” Williamson said her son carries around normal items such as toys and cards, but also keeps used flossers and anything else he can find to jam into a box or bag.

“He doesn’t like to get rid of it,” she said. “About once a month, we go through it, sometimes when he’s not looking.” Williamson and her husband also try to reason with their son to explain why it’s important to let things go.

Panic is a warning sign

If a child doesn’t just protest, but panics when asked to get rid of old, unnecessary possessions or clutter, it can be a warning sign, said Katherine Quie, a child psychologist at Psych Recovery in St. Paul.
“A dead give away is when the child can’t tolerate others touching it or cleaning it up. They feel really panicky at the idea of anything happening to it,” Quie said. “The child is putting too much meaning on belongings. It’s so meaningful, that they literally panic if they get rid of it. They might not want to leave their stuff, so they carry it with them.”

Quie stresses that it’s normal for kids to be upset when they have to say goodbye to some toys, like at a garage sale, or donating an old, favorite stuffed animal. But, she said, parents can usually talk a child through it. “With a child [with hoarding tendencies], all the normal talking through does not work.”

Quie explains that kids will hoard for different reasons. On several occasions, she has worked with young children who hoarded food in large quantities due to food scarcity experiences in their pasts.

“A lot of times,” she said, “the kids don’t understand why they’re doing it.”


According to the New York-based Child Mind Institute, mental health providers check for three principal characteristics when diagnosing hoarding — persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value; cluttered living spaces from having so many possessions; and significant distress or functional impairment.

While a rock or stamp collector might search out specific items for his collection, a hoarder will acquire items seemingly at random and then struggle when asked to part with them. The most notable sign of hoarding among children, according to the institute, is the emotional reaction to their possessions, according to the institute. Children with a hoarding disorder are constantly worried about their possessions — so much that it interferes with their functioning and becomes a major source of tension between them and their parents.


For children age 8 and younger, psychologists often work with parents to set up a behavioral plan, to first stop a child from acquiring new things and then use incentives to work on gradually getting rid of some of the hoarded objects. For older children, cognitive behavioral therapy can be helpful. Children can learn to understand why they feel compelled to hoard and how to decide which possessions are worth keeping and which should be discarded. Medications can also be incorporated into treatment, according to the institute, which offers a mental health symptom checker at


If your child isn’t showing signs of obsessive-compulsive hoarding, but you feel overwhelmed by the amount kid collections in your home (and want to discourage any tendencies toward hoarding), try these tips from Jan Lehman, a professional organizer with Can the Clutter (, which serves clients in Minnesota and Oregon.

  • Create a permanent “donate” bin or space in your home to collect old toys and other unneeded items. Teach kids to put toys and clothes in the bin regularly.
  • Be sure all storage containers are easy to use, including open bins versus bins with tight-fitting lids.
  • Organize various spaces with your child. Use timers and make it game: “Let’s see how much we can organize in 10 minutes!”
  • Let your child create a memorabilia box for some of their precious items. Store it somewhere outside of your child’s room.
  • Ask for gifts that provide experiences, rather than toys, such as tickets to a movie or memberships to a museum.
  • Give detailed instructions: “Pick up your clothes and put them away,” instead of general commands: “Clean your room.”


Kelly Jo McDonnell lives in Lino Lakes with her son, 11. She is a freelance writer and a producer/writer with Minnesota Bound on KARE 11 TV.


Posted in Minnesota Parent

Little green school


 Go green! Everyone has heard the slogan. Even my tween son knows the term, and better yet, he understands it. When his classroom was in charge of “Earth Day Celebration” ideas at his elementary school, he proudly organized a pick up trash hour in our neighborhood (with his mother leading the expedition, of course). It was a great lesson, and I hope that my son and his class will think twice about littering because of that experience.

But how about thinking bigger? Perhaps going green with—of all things—your child’s actual school?

It’s not such a far-fetched notion. Just ask Kirsen Kinzler, director of the Natural Science Academy in St. Paul Park. “Science is all around us, and it’s how we understand our environment,” stresses Kinzler. “When kids say they aren’t that good at reading…they still have to read. When kids say they aren’t good at science, well, the science is all around them. It’s how they are going to understand their environment, and it’s what happens in our world. Children need more of that in their background.”

The Natural Science Academy is a local environmentally focused charter school that opened in 2007 in Woodbury with an enrollment at 38 students. The school re-located to St. Paul Park after two years, and student enrollment holds steady at 55. “We’re a small community,” explains Kinzler, “so our biggest challenge is letting folks know that we’re here.”

Science, science, science is the name of the game at the Natural Science Academy. Kinzler says in other schools, children are lucky to be able to explore the topic once a week. “We do science every day, at least 45 minutes or more,” she explains. “In our school, that’s the focus. Biology science, earth science, and natural science.”

Nature is tough

When I tagged along during one particular class, the second and third graders were heading to the outdoor classroom to play a game that involved wolves and rabbits and deer. No, not real animals. Each child was issued a tag for their coat that labeled them as Deer, Wolf, or Rabbit. As the teacher was explaining the class activity—“do wolves always catch prey the they are after?” I noticed a group of boys already fist bumping that they were “wolves”—the top of the food chain in this game. The “wolves” were to hunt the deer and the rabbits; they could catch a deer with two hands, and rabbits with one. When the teacher blew the whistle, I’ve never seen so many “animals” scatter so fast.

“They know how hard it is for wolves to catch their prey,” says teacher Laura Ferguson, “and we are talking more about wolves for the next week. They’ll also learn about what happens if wolves don’t get their prey, and what happens if something happens to their habitat.” When I was leaving, I noticed the pack of boy-wolves looking a little disgruntled; hunting turned out be harder then they thought, perhaps. No more fist bumps for these wolves. Nature is tough.

A quick look into the kindergarten room (otherwise known as “the owls”) showed that the class was learning about different animal tracks. When the teacher asked how the bunny track was made, one enthusiastic little boy jumped up and began hopping around the classroom. Soon, the entire classroom was putting on coats to find and view real tracks outside.

You won’t find these kids looking out the school windows longingly. Their classroom is outside a lot of the time. “We go outside at least one hour a day: it’s part of the classroom,” says Kinzler, “and on top of that, we go outside for reading, or journaling.” She says a new feature for this school session is their official “outdoor classroom space,” which includes paths, shelters, and gardens. The kids will help with the upkeep during the changing seasons.

Incorporating “green”

The little green school idea is something more schools should consider, but if it isn’t an option, perhaps other “green” actions can be incorporated. How about encouraging your child to join a green-focused club or committee? If your child’s school doesn’t have one, how about starting rallying the troops in a parent-volunteer effort around an issue such as recycling or composting food waste in the cafeteria? Your child can also volunteer with the building operations, such as helping with the recycling or trash pickup around the school. Another option is consulting with the teacher. It may take a bit of creative thinking, but to repeat what Kirsen Kinzler said earlier: “Science is all around us.” So how can that be incorporated into everyday teaching? In art—could it be using eco-friendly art materials or employing a focus on recycling paper through a collage project?

Or what if it’s just you, making a difference with your children? If they have to give a speech in school, for example, could it be on a topic related to the environment? What about when they need to write an essay of their choice? How can you direct your child to incorporate a little green school into the schoolwork he or she does?

For older kids, taking on a service learning internship can be ideal. The Twin Cities area has a wealth of nature centers and arboretums. In our backyard in Lino Lakes, there’s the Wargo Nature Center, which my son is already interested in contacting for some hands-on experience.

“I just see what the outdoors does for kids,” says Kinzler, “and getting them out and into those experiences. Those are the things that they remember. They need to be literate and know their math, and be successful and get jobs…but it’s just adding that other piece in. It helps them to know where they come from, and what’s around Minnesota. Our state is great for that, because we have all the seasons and different sports. Those are some of the best experiences.”

Little green school…fist bump.



Natural Science Academy


Eco-friendly art materials

Posted in Minnesota Parent

MN. Parent Magazine-Sept. Issue – Weekend hikes, near and far!


Hiking with kids is a great way to keep them connected to the outdoors, but it can be challenging for the parent planner. Take our advice: don’t choose anything too long or strenuous for your first couple of outings. For kids, the hike is about adventure. Pick a trail that has some features, whether it’s a waterfall, cliffs, or a stream. It gives them a goal to reach. Kids are natural explorers, so plan plenty of time for it—you’ll be traveling at the child’s pace. Making the hike fun is key to success. Oh, and pack lots of snacks. 

Choosing your hike

Choosing a destination can be the trickiest part of the whole process. Luckily, we Minnesota parents are sitting on a gold mine of parks and forests. Minnesota has a wonderfully diverse state park system: over 227,000 acres in 73 parks and recreation areas. (That comes down to 1,030 miles of hiking trails.) The trick for us is narrowing it down. 

“Each Minnesota park has unique characteristics,” explains Kaija Helmetag, information officer with the Minnesota State Park and Trails, “and all of them have great hiking and, for the most part, have family friendly trails.” 

She suggests checking out park websites first. “All have links to PDFs with maps, so you can see the trails, the trail mileages—it’s a great resource. There are also blurbs at the beginning of each page that give you an overview of the park, as well as its natural and cultural history. You can get a quick snapshot of what the park is all about.” 

For beginning hikers, keep it simple and close to home. Here are just a few of the gems: 

Fort Snelling State Park 

Location: West St. Paul

Nice touch: The historical aspects of this park make it a good day trip for many reasons: after hiking, you can explore the fort, which dates back to 1820. There is also excellent birdwatching due to its proximity to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

The trails link to Minnehaha Park and the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. The summer hiking trail is 18 miles long, and is easy to moderate. It offers an array of things to look at, which with kids’ ever changing attention spans, is perfect. (I’d suggest just doing part of it.) The trails lead through wooded areas, but also along rivers and lakes. Pack a lunch and use one of the sheltered picnic tables near the visitor center, then go inside for the interpretive exhibits (and a bathroom break) afterward. 

Interstate State Park 

Location: Taylors Falls

Nice touch: Glacial potholes (the world’s deepest) and a waterfall! Bonus: watch for rock climbers on the cliffs that line some of the trails.

An easy walk to the water will reveal paddleboats and kayakers. There’s the self-guided Sandstone Bluffs Trail (one mile), and the River Trail is two miles. The four-mile hiking trail is more rugged, with countless steps. Skip that one for now. There’s commercial and individual rock climbing permits offered at Interstate, and kids have fun watching the experienced climbers scale the boulders. This park has naturalists galore, and in September and October activities include prepping for a fall hike, Autumn Adventure Scavenger Hunt, and Leaf Art—all with their on-staff naturalists. 

“All of our state parks have tons of free interpretive programs that are aimed at families,” reminds Helmetag, “So if you are in the park and plan in advance, you can attend all kinds of naturalist-led activities.” 

William O’Brien State Park

Location: Marine on St. Croix

Nice touch: It’s along the banks of the St. Croix River and is a migratory pathway as well.

There’s a self-guided wheelchair accessible trail that begins at the picnic grounds (Riverside Trail) that is about 1.5 miles, dotted with interpretive signs. The other trail, 12 miles, ranges from easy to difficult at times, as it winds through wooded areas as well as wetlands. Dogs are permitted, as long as they are on a short leash. There are also a variety of programs offered year-round, such as a Voyageur Encampment Weekend the end of September, and Starlight Starbright and Geocaching101 activities (October).  

Lake Maria State Park

Location: Monticello

Nice touch: It’s a good place to see the “Big Woods”—maples, oaks, and basswood forests—one of the few remaining ‘stands’ of trees.

The hiking trail is 14 miles in length, and winds through wooded and rolling terrain. The fall colors are magnificent. There are two self-guided trails—Zumbrunnen and Forest Shadow—each is one mile each in length, and feature signs, a boardwalk, and observation points. One more thing: 2013 marks the 50-year anniversary of this park, so watch for anniversary events and special drawings throughout the year.

Afton State Park

Location: Hastings

Nice touch: Afton doesn’t disappoint with the scenery, as it offers prairies, deep ravines, and bluffs that overlook the St. Croix River. 

There’s a 20-mile hiking trail; however, there are shorter choices, such as the .75-mile self-guided tour that begins at the visitor’s center or the four mile paved bike trail. Afton is about 40 minutes from downtown Minneapolis, so close enough to be handy, but far enough away that your family will still have that ‘in the middle of nowhere’ feeling. 

Bunker Hills Regional Park

Location: Andover

Nice touch: After you’ve made the kids hike, there are plenty of other options for entertainment, including swimming and water slides, and horseback riding.

Miles upon miles of paved, limestone aggregate, and natural surface trails are offered in a large loop, with additional trails shooting off the main area for an additional easy workout. They are multi-use trails, so walk, bike, or rollerblade to your heart’s content on this 2.5-mile beauty with stretches of sun, coupled with shade from the impressive oak stands.

The North Country Trail

Location: Thomson, about 10 miles southwest of Duluth

Nice touch: Considered one of the best-kept “secret” trails, it wanders 4,600 miles and stretches across seven states!

The goal is not to hike the whole thing, of course, but sections of this trail are great for families. The trail enters Minnesota near Jay Cooke State Park, where the Superior Hiking Trail begins. You can choose the area and the scenery, as this path really offers it all. Even the City of Duluth’s leisurely lake walk is part of this trail!


Year-round state park permits are $25, and one-day permits are $5. The year-round permit provides unlimited access to all 76 Minnesota state parks for a full year from the month you purchase it. (And if you needed more incentive, by purchasing the permit, you help maintain and improve the programs at the state parks.) You can get the permits from the DNR, the MN DNR License Center, or at any of the state parks, which have self-serve kiosks or front offices. Note that regional parks will have separate fees.


(Besides your kid, and your patience!)

  1. Water bottle (.5l-.75l). Something small to carry and to keep hydrated. Keep them drinking water to prevent heat exhaustion, which can occur even in the balmy days of fall. 

2. Hiking shoe. It doesn’t have to be latest and greatest, but something that can grip in loose dirt and mud will keep the trail walks going.

3. No cotton clothing. When cotton gets wet it stays wet and nothing ends a trip faster than a cranky kid. Synthetic shirts and pants dry fast and protect even when wet.

4. Backpack. Something your kid can load some of his or her own stuff into (i.e., snack and water, plus a treasure found on the path) to contribute to the family trip.

5. Sunscreen. When you are out for a day/weekend a sunburn makes it harder to enjoy. 

6. Hat (brimmed or baseball). Something for a little more sun protection.

7. Rain gear. Conditions can change quickly and being prepared will keep everyone calm and happy.

8. Snacks. A simple granola bar or even a Clif for Kids snack will keep the youngsters fueled for the next leg of the trek.

9. Magnifying glass. Something to explore leaves and bugs with.

10. Bug net. Find butterflies and fire flies and get a closer look by catching and releasing.

Alt 1. Walking stick. If they are tired or need a little more leverage on an incline/decline a collapsible walking stick will keep the trek moving forward to the next spot. 

Alt 2: Binoculars. Best way to see birds and other critters up close.

 — Andrew Clarke, Sports Manager at Joe’s Sporting Goods, St. Paul

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