Tis the season for toy catalogs and commercials galore – here is an idea to help your kids avoid the “gotta have it all” attitude and reuse some of toy books at the same time!

Rather than resisting the catalogs, allow your child to look through the pages and think about what they really might like.  Ask them what toys their siblings, friends and family might like.  This can lead to some great conversations! Then, depending on your child’s age, either allow them to cut out the toys they are most interested in receiving, or have an adult provide some assistance.

Once the pile of toy pictures is complete, recycle the remaining catalog and begin the process of “editing”.  Decide on an acceptable size for child’s wish list/letter to Santa.  Explain that if all the toys that were cut from the catalog don’t fit, then choices need to be made.  This allows your child to really think about what he wants and get creative arranging the pictures into a collage.  When the list is complete, if a new picture comes along it needs to be pasted on top of an existing picture.

A Santa collage allows younger kids who wouldn’t be able to read a written letter to Santa to see what they have chosen for their list.

Do you write letters to Santa with your kids?

We’re so pleased to share a podcast interview with Caroline Blakemore, co-author of Baby Read-Aloud Basics.

Tanya spoke with Caroline about the many reasons to read to babies, tips for reading to babies, how reading aloud changes from the newborn to toddler period, and more.  Caroline shared why, as a reading specialist for older kids, she became such an advocate for reading to babies, as well as her opinions of programs that claim to teach babies how to read.

You can listen to the podcast using the player below, listen with Quicktime, or download it at our free iTunes store!

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology (the science of birds) wants help tracking winter birds in North America.  You and your kids can join Project Feeder Watch and become citizen scientists!

Your observations of backyard birds will help the lab understand what is happening to populations of birds – whether their habitats and migrations are changing, and whether their numbers are declining.  According to the lab, this is information about bird population “that cannot be detected by any other available method.”

All you have to do is order a kit, put up a feeder, count the birds who visit it, and report your observations to the project.  They do request a $15 donation to offset the cost of the kit, which includes a bird identification poster, instructions, and a newsletter.

And your kids’ observations are used for real world purposes.  For example, data from this project, which showed a steady decline in the population of Painted Buntings in Florida.  This information helped lead the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission to begin systematic monitoring of this species to see how they could be protected.

And the Cornell Lab wants you to have a free 2012 “Bird-Watching Days” calendar, (while supplies last) whether or not you participate!

If you’re thinking about year-end charitable giving this week, we hope you’ll consider donating to some wonderful organizations we support.

1% for the Planet.  1% for the Planet is helping to tilt the scales of giving toward the thousands of under-funded nonprofits dedicated to the pursuit of sustainability, to preserving and restoring our natural environment. We are proud members of 1% for the Planet. As a member, we are contributing one percent of revenues directly to some of the approved non-profit environmental organizations in the 1%’s network.  Over 1,600 non-profits worldwide are included in the 1% program.

Ocean Conservancy.  One of the organizations we are supporting through 1% for the Planet is the Ocean Conservancy.  The Ocean Conservancy promotes healthy and diverse ocean ecosystems and opposes practices that threaten ocean life and human life. Through research, education, and science-based advocacy, Ocean Conservancy informs, inspires, and empowers people to speak and act on behalf of the ocean. In all its work, Ocean Conservancy strives to be the world’s foremost advocate for the ocean.

Nature Conservancy.  One of the organizations we  support through 1% for the Planet is the Nature Conservancy. The mission of The Nature Conservancy is to preserve the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive. The Nature Conservancy uses a science-based approach aided by more than 700 staff scientists. Furthermore, The Nature Conservancy pursues non-confrontational, prgamatic solutions to conservation challenges and partners with indigenous communities, businesses, governments, multilateral institutions, and other non-profits.

Feeding America.  As the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief charity, Feeding America provides food to more than 37 million people facing hunger in the United States.  Food is distributed to individuals and families in need through a network of more than 200 food banks in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, which distributes more than 2.5 billion pounds of food and grocery products annually.  Member food banks support approximately 61,000 local charitable agencies and 70,000 programs which provide food directly to people in need.

Carbon Fund.  Carbon Fund is the leading nonprofit carbon reduction and climate solutions organization, making it easy and affordable for individuals, businesses and organizations to reduce their climate impact by supporting third-party validated renewable energy, energy efficiency and reforestation projects. Carbonfund.org has over 450,000 individual supporters and works with over 1,400 business and nonprofit partners.  By becoming a partner in Carbonfund.org’s CarbonFree® Partner program, Dandelion has joined a national movement of businesses and organizations that are leading the fight against global warming. Programs like the Million Tree Challenge are great opportunities to be a part of this large global movement.