Educational Archives

March 27, 2007

Brain Quest DVD Game: The Cat’s Newest Hobby

The Cat is competitive. He loves to test his knowledge, especially when he gets the answer correct.

When Brighter Mind Media's Brain Quest DVD game arrived free-for-review via the Parent Bloggers Network, the Cat was intrigued.

“500 questions? That is the best!” he exclaimed...

Read the original review, posted to Kari's Couch

April 13, 2007

Let's Get Ready for First Grade!

We’ve been attempting to get ready for first grade in a myriad of ways lately, but our emphasis has been primarily towards location rather than academics. The Cat definitely has academic strengths, but there are some topics that he needs to learn more about so that he is comfortable entering his new school...

Read the original review, posted to Kari's Couch

April 27, 2007

Go Potty Go!

Spliggle has two favorite DVDs right now. The first is “Happy Feet,” because the Cat has an obsession with penguins, and Splig likes to follow along.

But the second is “Go Potty Go!” which we received free-for-review via the Parent Bloggers Network...

Read the original review, posted to Kari's Couch

May 7, 2007

The Dangerous Book for Boys

When I think of “dangerous boys” I think of the thugs who stole Husband’s cell phone yesterday. But of course, "The Dangerous Book for Boys” that I received free-for-review from the Parent Bloggers Network is exactly the opposite: an opportunity to jump back into a time when the boys played stickball outside homes with stoops, or constructed batteries and go-carts with their own hands...

Read the original review, posted to Kari's Couch

July 20, 2007

Noah's Pals

I received tons of Noah-themed toys when the Cat was born. They ranged from the more subtle plush cuddly animals to the board books that used words like “evil,” “lazy,” and “kill.” I was frustrated by the latter of course, since although I want my kids to know the Noah parable, I don’t think scare-tactics at newborn-hood is a good route.

The Parent Bloggers Network allowed me to receive free-for-review several pairs of animals from Caboodle! Toys LLC’s “Noah’s Pals” collection. These are not hastily put-together figurines...

Read the original review, posted to Kari's Couch

August 24, 2007

The Bilingual Edge

Parent Bloggers NetworkWhen I was younger, I thought I’d grow up to speak many languages. The concept of communicating in different ways intrigued me. Unfortunately, my fear of making mistakes got in the way, plus I had some rather high-stress foreign-language teachers. Had I been involved in a comfortable situation with a trusted individual (or multiple people) teaching me a second (or third) language, perhaps I would have succeeded.

Indeed, The Bilingual Edge, which I acquired free-for-review via the Parent Bloggers Network, debunks several myths (what? I am not over-the-hill language-learning wise?), and reinforces some of my suspicions (high pressure is not a good situation in which to acquire a language.)

Certainly, I hope that my sons can be bilingual, or even trilingual, but the authors point out that it isn’t just “school language” that leads to the cognitive and career benefits of learning multiple languages; true fluency must be reached to really impact one’s life. (Of course, appreciation for another language, ethnicity, and culture is all wonderful for those who like to “dabble,” but the focus here is on actual comprehension of a new tongue.)

As I learned about the commitment and ways that subsequent languages (and even primary languages) are learned, I thought it akin to an exercise program. It isn’t as though you can strap on those little electrical sensors to “jolt” your abs into shape, or connect your stomach to a jiggle machine and expect the fat to melt away. Rather, you must begin an active program and stick with it. Likewise, the passive and sporadic learning from watching a DVD or occasionally using a series of flash cards isn’t going to create an environment in which a different way of communicating can be internalized.

Continue reading "The Bilingual Edge" »

September 13, 2007

It’s Fun to Learn With the Zula Patrol

zulapatrol.jpgThe Cat and Spliggle have been interested in space for a long time, and not just because of Buzz Lightyear. One of their favorite videos as young toddlers (and even older) was Baby Galileo. Even adult shows capture their attention.

In preschool, the Cat enjoyed the unit on planets and asked plenty of questions. In Kindergarten, the Cat brought a star chart to share with the class. His teacher taught the class fun songs about space, which he sang at home frequently. He owns a glow-in-the-dark constellation shirt which he loves.

The Parent Bloggers Network provided the opportunity for my family to review the Zula Patrol, a television show aimed at children to increase their curiosity for science.

I put the DVD in our van for the first time during a roadtrip. I don’t recall the kids asking, “Are we there yet?” but I do remember hearing, “Could you press play again, Mommy?” They loved going “way up where the planets do the hula - spin and shout, ‘til you find yourself on Zula”

Continue reading "It’s Fun to Learn With the Zula Patrol" »

September 17, 2007

We Love "Kids Love Spanish"

kidslovespanish.gifThe Cat came home one day last school year announcing, “I know how to count to three in Spanish! Pedro knows the rest!”

“What?” I hadn’t recalled any boys in his Kindergarten class named “Pedro,” but I did know that there were many Hispanic kids at the school.

“Pedro knows the rest.” He insisted.

I finally realized he was mispronouncing “Uno! Dos! Tres!” by creating an English sentence that made sense to him. After a lot of coaching, I was able to separate the words for him. Then he wanted to go up to ten. And then up to twenty. And then to one-hundred.

Later, he started running around announcing “Wii!” the way the Wii sounds when jumping over hurdles in the scarecrow-tipping game: high pitched and abrupt.

“It means ‘yes’ in French,” he explained to me.

I had to counter that “oui” is pronounced without the raised eyebrows, crazy eyes, and super-screechy register. Still, I was glad that he was learning little bits of another language.

And so, when the Parent Bloggers Network asked if I might be interested in receiving the Kids Love Spanish DVD set, I was thrilled! I knew the Cat would love to learn more Spanish than during his brief introduction in Kindergarten. Plus, I want to get Spliggle started on the concept of bilingualism.

Continue reading "We Love "Kids Love Spanish"" »

September 30, 2007

Win Me a Roomba: Free Things from VocalPoint!

noodlenet.gifThe familiar orange-pink swirled envelope came in the mail last week. This time, enclosed within was a DVD offering a free trial of NoodleNet, a safe way for kids to browse the internet. Sometimes it will be a fabric softener sample, or a DVD of a new television show, such as when "Meerkat Manor" came out.

I still have fond memories of the show "Cover Shot," for which I voted on a "final shot" as one of the original VocalPoint members. I was in "the Club" so early in the game that I actually voted on the design of the envelopes in which VocalPoint sends their product samples, coupons, and announcements!

Why did I become a member?

Continue reading "Win Me a Roomba: Free Things from VocalPoint!" »

October 23, 2007

Bill on Rights: “Kids are Americans Too!” Says Bill O’ Reilly

billoreillykidsamericanstoo.gifI didn’t take Con Law in high school. I didn’t really enjoy history, government, or current events discussions in high school, either. Con Law, though, was a tempting title. It implied a serious student, ready for some serious business. I was curious. (And serious.)

The glassy-eyed, robust, seemingly dazed teacher who oversaw the proceedings liked to talk a lot, I had been told, and yet I only heard him speak a few times, and couldn’t understand him. I was a bit nervous for what might happen behind his classroom’s closed door. A student-driven class can be brilliant, or it can be a let-down. Amongst lots of bright and socially-conscious, politically-minded students, I decided perhaps I wasn’t up for the challenge. I elected “Brain and Behavior” as my elective; but in hindsight, perhaps the subjects aren’t too far off!

Nonetheless, Bill O’Reilly would probably have classified me as a “moron,” since he explains in the introduction to his new book “Kids are Americans Too,” that “many American kids are complete morons.” He goes on to explain that these morons are “too lazy to figure out what their country is all about.”

Continue reading "Bill on Rights: “Kids are Americans Too!” Says Bill O’ Reilly" »

November 8, 2007

Look Me in the Eye: I finally read it, Mr. Robison!

I have also posted this review on the Karianna Spectrum; however, it seemed appropriate to stick it here as well.

Lookmeintheeyeaspergers Nearly two months ago I mentioned John Elder Robison's book, Look Me in the Eye. I then posted a clarification regarding my thoughts on the media portrayal of autism and/or spectrum disorders. Of course, since I hadn't yet read the book, I couldn't talk about it in specific.

Well, I've now read the book! (Funny how going away for a few days without kids suddenly opens up time for reading.)

It was a fairly quick read because it caught my attention. I couldn't put it down.

Yes, I saw parts of the Cat in it, but I also saw myself, and surprisingly, I saw my father. There were plenty of things in there that didn't resonate with my family, but that is true because we're all different people, regardless of what quirks we may possess.

My speech used to be more robotic than the Cat's is, for example. In fact, hearing the Cat read books aloud is adorable because he puts in beautiful inflection. Is that learned? Yes, but also no. When he speaks to us, I don't hear an "Aspergian" voice.

Continue reading "Look Me in the Eye: I finally read it, Mr. Robison!" »

November 12, 2007

Jump Start World

Playing Jump Start World: First GradeI left this morning at around 10:30am. The Cat was playing Jump Start World: First Grade.

I returned home around 3:15pm. The Cat was playing Jump Start World: First Grade.

Sure, I know there was some time in there where he and Husband ran a couple errands and got lunch, but the time he was home he was glued to the computer, earning "gems."

Reward for good work is a huge motivator for the Cat. Jump Start World's gem reward system has gotten the Cat very excited about mastering levels and clearing units. We received Jump Start World: First Grade through the Parent Bloggers Network.

The Cat has tried some educational video games before, but they haven't been nearly as sophisticated.

Continue reading "Jump Start World" »

November 27, 2007

The Daring Book for Girls

daringbookgirls.gifI loved the Dangerous Book for Boys. As such, while I was eager to review the The Daring Book for Girls, I was also a bit nervous that perhaps it wouldn’t live up to its inspiration. I knew it could either be a worthy match, or a weak attempt dressed in pink. While The Daring Book for Girls indeed has sparkles on its cover, they are welcome, for the content inside definitely sparkles. (And, the cover is not pink!)

Like The Dangerous Book for Boys, this “companion” is full of exciting facts, “how-to”s, and plenty of nostalgia.

I received The Daring Book for Girls free-for-review via the Parent Bloggers Network.

Continue reading "The Daring Book for Girls" »

December 10, 2007

Discovery Kids' Talking Telescope

TalkingTelescope.jpgThe Parent Bloggers Network is at it again, bringing me fun and educational toys that end up being life-savers!

This latest find is the Talking Telescope from Discovery Kids. The Cat adores astronomy, so this is perfect for him.

I still have a little "planets" song in my head from the Cat's Kindergarten class last year. They bopped up and down as they sang. And in preschool, the Cat made a beautiful large green planet. One of his favorite DVDs for quite awhile was "Baby Galileo." He has a glow-in-the-dark T-shirt of constellations and printed out a star chart for extra credit to bring to school. One of the books in his "store" at home (for reward for accumulating enough chore/behavior points) is a very, very heavy book on space.

Convinced that he'd love a telescope?

Continue reading "Discovery Kids' Talking Telescope" »

January 11, 2008

America's Giving Challenge

Parade Magazine is sponsoring "The America's Giving Challenge." The object of the challenge is to get as many people to donate to a specific cause as possible. It's not important how much is donated, just how many people actually donate. All donations are tax deductible.

The eight charities that receive the most donations (in number of contributions, not monetary amount) will receive a prize of $50,000 for their organization.

If you are interested in participating in this challenge, my cause of choice is The Find a Way/Habitot campaign to create an interactive museum for children of all abilities. I wrote about Find a Way when they were one of the top fifty finalists in the American Express Members' Project and when I created an iBakeSale for them.

In order for your donation to count towards the total, it must be through their Parade entry.

So why does the Find a Way / Habitot Campaign need money? Well, before they can proceed with further work on the museum itself, they need to pay $25,000 for a feasibility study as required by the city in which the museum is to be built.

When making a donation, it is important to specify it is for the "East County Museum Campaign" in the space provided. (This is because the organization sponsoring the entry is a broader one than just the museum for all-abilities as proposed by Find a Way.) The minimum donation is only $10, so even if Find a Way doesn't win the contest, if we can get 2500 people to donate just $10, we will have paid for the feasibility study!

January 13, 2008

The Ultimate TEA Diet is for ME!

ultimateteadiet.jpgWhen the Parent Bloggers Network offered me the opportunity to review The Ultimate TEA Diet, by Mark "Dr. Tea" Ukra, I thought it was going to be a "drink only tea, all the time" diet. Still, I was intrigued, so visited the website and discovered it is not a single-ingredient starvation diet. (Whew! - especially since I thought I didn't like tea. Turns out I just hadn't found one that I liked yet.)

I was eager to try out the book to learn more.

I had lost about 20 pounds in the early part of 2006 prompted by a "Biggest Loser" style challenge amongst the members of my mom's club. I came in second, winning some cash and some fuschia knock-off Prada sunglasses. But, as I noted later, the Cat's expulsion from Kindergarten and Spliggle becoming too active to sit patiently in the stroller (or be trusted as I exercised in the house) meant that my ability to carve out the time or method to exercise was stunted. I had plenty of excuses for why I wasn't cooking healthful meals, too.

I gained the weight back.

Fortunately, with both boys in school, my ability to exercise has picked up. I've gone "off and on" with walking or stationary biking. But my Coke Zero habit remained.

I took the opportunity to review The Ultimate TEA Diet as being a challenge: could I switch my Coke Zero for tea and lose weight?

Continue reading "The Ultimate TEA Diet is for ME!" »

January 17, 2008

Watching Wheels on the Bus as We Drive in Our Van

wheelsonthebus.jpgWhen we receive a new DVD, it usually ends up in the minivan's player first, rather than the DVD player in our family room. This is somewhat out of habit, as we used to commute quite a long while in the van, plus our "regular" DVD player was out of commission for awhile. Still, the kids usually spend "at home" time doing other activities while "van-time" is frequently "movie-time."

I received "The Wheels on the Bus: Mango's Big Dog Parade" free-for-review via the Parent Bloggers Network. I didn't notice the little subtitle "The Early Socialization Series: Taking Turns & Getting Along," so I didn't realize this would be an educational video. Honestly, I thought it would be just the song "The Wheels on the Bus," which would have kept me and my kids happy!

But, it turned out to be much, much more.

Continue reading "Watching Wheels on the Bus as We Drive in Our Van" »

February 15, 2008

Bob, We DIG You!

bobthebuilderdvd.jpgBob the Builder underwear in sizes 2T-6 sit in my boys' dressers. The Let's Count! with Bob the Builder board book has been lovingly read by both boys (and decorated by Mr. Splig.)

For awhile we had Bob the Builder in our Season Pass for the TiVo, but the Cat only watched one episode over and over and over again, which was the one in which Mrs Barbara Bentley creates a train room for her husband, the building inspector Mr. Bernard Bentley. The Cat loved the electric trains depicted (and of course Bob's cat Pilchard,) but I was a bit annoyed with Mrs. Bentley's submissive comments like, "Oh, I don't know, Bernard doesn't let me touch the trains..." But as Bob's business partner is Wendy, a woman, I guess I cannot delve into a whole gender-issue thing here. Besides, that isn't the point of this post...

Everyone seems to know about Bob. When the Cat was a toddler, my teenager cousins asked him if he was into Bob. "Can we fix it?" they asked, and answered with a smile, "Yes, we can!"

Spliggle may have watched a couple episodes, but he became addicted to other shows instead.

Both boys haven't been into Bob recently.

I wondered if that would change upon review of Bob the Builder: On-Site - Roads and Bridges, received via the Parent Bloggers Network.

Continue reading "Bob, We DIG You!" »

February 27, 2008

Gimme a "High Five!"

HighFivePremiere.jpgRelatives gave the Cat a subscription to "Highlights" a few months ago as a gift. I have fond memories of Highlights, and then those not-so-fond memories of association in that if I was reading a copy, I was probably about to get my teeth cleaned or have to endure an eye-exam or a shot. Still, it was a good way to pass the time, and so I chuckled when I saw the unexpected copy in our mailbox. "They still publish Highlights?" I thought. Indeed, it is their 60th year!

Along with the "Highlights" addressed to the Cat, there was another magazine in the mailbox, but this one was addressed to Spliggle. "High Five" read the cover. I was confused. I knew my parents had gotten both boys a subscription to a different magazine, but the "Highlights" and "High Five" were a surprise. It turns out that my brother-in-law and sister-in-law had sent the magazines to the boys.

The Parent Bloggers Network is reviewing "High Five," so I thought I'd jump in with my own experiences.

Continue reading "Gimme a "High Five!"" »

March 5, 2008

Passions Will Nourish Your Child

no, not the soap opera...

When my brother was in high school, he pretty much ignored math. His grades slipped. It wasn't that he wasn't intelligent; rather, he had better things to do than mathematics. He spent most of his time after school tinkering around on the family computer.

My parents could have taken the computer away as punishment for not doing his homework or for poor grades. Instead, they recognized that his passion would become his livelihood. Amazingly, they allowed him to switch from public high school to a more flexible private school that enabled him to develop his talents.

Eventually, he built his own computer in his room. He started an electronics consulting business. He then started an internet company. He attended high school in the morning and ran his company in the afternoon and into the night.

I bet you can guess the rest: he is a very successful businessman who owns two computer companies. He's taken some college courses, usually online, simply for his own edification, but his career is solid. He could probably retire and he isn't even 30. But he doesn't want to retire, because computer science is his life.

Meanwhile, as readers of the Karianna Spectrum know, I have a seven year old son who has plenty of quirks, but plenty of talents, too.

Throughout the years, I've been criticized on my parenting and he's been chastised doubly-so. While I love my son, I've seen teachers, medical professionals, and the public at large look down on his quirky and sometimes disruptive behavior. He was asked to leave a preschool and then expelled from his first kindergarten, a private school that I thought would be flexible in the same way that my brother's high school had been so many years ago.

We've had many ups and downs in his short educational career. I see qualities that will make him go far when he is older, but it is difficult for him to conform to societal expectations of who a first-grader should be. The exact qualities that make "spirited" children such a "burden" to their teachers are the same qualities that will help them think outside the box and be true innovators in adulthood.

Knowing that I must keep in mind my son's strengths as others are more concerned about his weaknesses I was eager to read Your Child's Strengths: Discover Them, Develop Them, Use Them by Jenifer Fox. I received this book free-for-review from the Parent Bloggers Network.

Continue reading "Passions Will Nourish Your Child" »

March 10, 2008

It is Going to Rain, Mom!

Because those are nimbus clouds

ZulaWeather.gifThe Cat has been educating me about clouds ever since the Parent Bloggers Network gave me The Zula Patrol Explore Weather. The DVD contains four episodes, but "Treasure in the Clouds," stuck as the Cat's favorite.

Every morning and afternoon, the Cat quizzes me about what is in the sky. He tells me what he thinks, and then asks if he is correct. Ummmmm. I am not sure. I trust that he is right, because he quotes what he has learned from those peppy Zula Patrol folk. Fortunately, we've had a myriad of weather the last few weeks, so we've had different types of clouds available for firsthand study.

The Explore Weather DVD was not the first my boys had seen of The Zula Patrol. I reviewed the Zula DVD about volcanoes and rocks back in September. The boys absolutely adored learning about science, and as I mentioned in my 2007 recap, they - particularly volcano-loving Spliggle - continue to ask for the Zula DVD.

Continue reading "It is Going to Rain, Mom!" »

April 21, 2008

Changing it Up Without the Whine: Skill Building Buddies

SkillBuildingBuddies.gifNearly two years ago, the Cat was asked to leave a private kindergarten. Among the unacceptable behaviors they cited, the most problematic was that he was pinching his classmates. When his teacher asked why, he couldn't answer. She asked me, but I didn't know either. The Cat hadn't pinched anyone before attending this school. I tried to get information about what was happing just prior to the pinch. Finally, we determined that the pinches occurred during times of transition.

One particularly problematic afternoon started because the other K-1 class came over to visit. When they left, the Cat pinched a classmate instead of saying "goodbye." This snowballed into a situation where the Cat couldn't explain his actions, so became more distraught when the teacher continually asked him "why." He didn't know why, and he was upset. The more upset he became, the more he acted-out, and the greater he was punished.

That day involved both a change in routine (that the other K-1 was invading "his" classroom) and then an unwanted transition (that his friend left the class to go back to his own.)

Although the Cat has matured a great deal since then, I was intrigued when the Parent Bloggers Network asked me to review Skill Building Buddies: Handling Transitions and Change.

Continue reading "Changing it Up Without the Whine: Skill Building Buddies" »

April 25, 2008

Rockin' with Kibbles While Rolling with the Punches

KibblesRockinClubhouse.gifThe Cat's very first preschool experience ended in tears.


I cried and cried the morning that the preschool director called to tell us not to come in. I was still crying when she came to pick up the fax machine she had lent me so that I could do the bookings for the preschool. (That's right, I lost my job in addition to losing a place for the Cat to go to school.) The Cat ran away, playing, oblivious at how deeply I was hurting - and completely clueless that the reason for my tears was directly connected to his behavior.

The Cat didn't know how to interact with his peers. He'd go up to a child, grin, and push them over. It wasn't meant to be malicious; it was his way of saying "Hey, let's play!" But he didn't know how to say "hello."

Kibbles Rockin' Clubhouse from Notabilities begins with a lesson and song about greeting words.

I wish I had that DVD when the Cat was going through his first attempts at socialization.

Continue reading "Rockin' with Kibbles While Rolling with the Punches" »

April 30, 2008

Rock Mama's Rules and Your Kids Will Be Fantastic

MamaRocksRules.jpgI was one of those first-time parents who stocked up on the parenting books and magazine subscriptions only to quickly become bitter. The preachy tone of the books and the unrealistic up-beat nature of the magazine articles soured my taste, especially when the advice didn't ring true to my particular situation.

But when the Parent Bloggers Network asked me if I wanted to read Mama Rock's Rules, I was game. Sure, Rose Rock happens to be the mother of comedian Chris Rock, but what intrigued me the most about this mother extraordinaire is that she has raised ten children, plus "more than" seventeen foster children have gone through her home. Her house was "the place" to gather and after reading her book, I can see why.

Rose Rock is an educator specializing in preschool and special education. With that kind of training, plus the real-life training of being the mother to so many types of kids, she surely knows what she is talking about. Her co-author Valerie Graham is part of the on-air and production team of The Mom Show with Rose Rock (at WWXM-FM.) She is a mother of three and a grandmother of four, so she's got experience, too!

Continue reading "Rock Mama's Rules and Your Kids Will Be Fantastic" »

May 6, 2008

Are Your Kids Safe?

safekids.jpgWhile I was at Camp Baby, I learned of two impressive programs that I would like to mention here.

Today I will profile Safe Kids USA. National "Safe Kids Week" was actually last week, so I missed the boat in announcing it week-of; however, the Safe Kids USA website has plenty of valuable material for parents.

Although some hospitals have carseat checks before the new parents are allowed out of the parking lot, and many police departments offer free carseat checks, many parents don't take them up on their offer. I remember traveling down the freeway when Splig's infant seat tipped over, despite being installed by several people who should have known what they were doing.

And then there is water-safety. (Pictured are Oscar winner actress Marcia Gay Harden and Charisse Nurnberg, mother of Matt, who drowned at the age of 3 - photo from Safe Kids USA) Unfortunately, I have a scary story to tell:

Continue reading "Are Your Kids Safe?" »

May 20, 2008

The Older Sister I Never Had

RaisedByWolves.jpgWhen I was younger, my mom taught me the "circle sweep" method of cleaning a room. From her older sister, she provided me a list of "how to be a good guest." It would seem then that I wouldn't need Were You Raised by Wolves by Christie Mellor, but when the Parent Bloggers Network asked if I'd be interested in perusing Ms. Mellor's advice, I was eager.

After all, while I understood the need to keep things clean and to be respectful, I didn't necessarily know the best methods to do so. Time spent perfecting a little whorl on an appetizer may not be the best spent. Also, advice that comes via parental lips isn't as revered as that which comes from your best friend, so I may not have listened to all of the wisdom my mom tried to impart. Thankfully, Mellor can be simultaneously a best friend and a mentor. She may be older than her target audience, but she is still hip enough to not create a stodgy new adult. Her tone is friendly and casual, but she is also direct. She can give advice, but she can also shrug and say, "more martini for me" which is something I would never expect to hear from my mother.

And about those martinis:

Continue reading "The Older Sister I Never Had" »

May 28, 2008

Observe Bugs or Capture Cardboard

netgungun.jpgI have two boys. It is therefore not surprising that the word "bug" has been part of their vocabulary since very early on.

While Husband is a self-proposed 'fraidy-cat when it comes to insects and spiders, my son the Cat is a bit more bold. Interestingly, it is only more recently that he has become more hesitant around bugs, although encourages "fairy flies" to stick around, even in odd places such as the car.

Spliggle has never been afraid. In his preschool class two years ago, he used to pull the bugs off the low windows. Last summer it was tough to get all the way around the lake because every few feet Splig had to pick up a ladybug. He adopts bugs and cries when they fly, scoot, or crawl away seconds later.

I knew the Discovery Channel Store's Bug Net Launcher would be for them. I figured the Cat could observe bugs from a safe distance and Splig could capture them without crushing them. I received this product free-for-review from the Parent Bloggers Network:

Continue reading "Observe Bugs or Capture Cardboard" »

July 1, 2008

Raggs Kids Club Band: Rocking in Your Area?

It has been awhile since we've sat down to watch a DVD. Sure, the kids have their old TiVo'ed favorites on the television, but I haven't introduced any new shows to them other than those they have found on their own (curses that the Cat discovered Sponge-Bob!) We've been busy with end-of-school things and grandparent-visits and other away-from-the-TV things.

raggs.JPGLast week when we drove to Santa Cruz I finally had the opportunity to stick in a new DVD. With the kids captive in the back seat, it was a perfect chance to introduce them to something new. In this case, it was the Raggs Kids' Club Band. Although Raggs has been a live-action show for awhile, it didn't launch as a TV show in the US until recently. (It is from Australia.) The distribution of the show increased in February 2008 and it is shown on PBS. The Raggs Live Dance Party is also on tour, a safe-bet for a fun afternoon, although unfortunately they aren't coming my way. Their 2001 Raggs Kids Club Band "Pawsuuup!" Tour DVD, apparently won several awards according to Wikipedia.

At the moment, the Raggs website is going through a revision; I've found a few funny mistakes that will no doubt be corrected prior to the official re-launch this September. But the show itself is polished.

I recognize the characters and know I've seen pieces of the show here and there, but until recently it wasn't a show for which we've seen full episodes.

The kids enjoyed the stuffed animals that the Raggs-folks sent us along with the DVD and Dance Party CD. (Thanks Lindsey!) They played with the animals in the "way-back" of the van while they watched the DVD, occasionally telling their grandparents in the row ahead of them "Bend to the side, please!" At the next stop, the kids asked to switch places with their grandparents. Suddenly the appeal of the "way-back" was trumped by their desire to see Raggs clearly.

I ended up having to replay the DVD several times, and now What's The Dealio has been stuck in my head for days. The target-audience for the show is 3-6, but the Cat - who is 7 - really enjoyed it. Although he is called "the Cat," he has a real thing for dogs as well, so a troupe of singing dogs is right up his alley.

The show includes clubhouse-scenes (where a problem-solving topic is introduced) as well as concert scenes (in front of an actual audience) and clips of real kids: both q&a and action-shots set to music.

Initially I was a bit surprised by the format since the topic jumps around a bit. For example, in the episode "Who Am I?" Razzles' friends try to pick out an appropriate birthday present for her. The characters chose things that were special to them, but B. Maxx explained to each that while their selections were very nice, they weren't appropriate for who Razzles is. This is a very important social-skills lesson, one that the Cat still has to learn, so I smiled when I saw this topic unfold. But then after B. Maxx explains that they must discover who Razzles is, the show jumps to the live-action song (which has no direct connection to the problem that needs to be solved.) I understand the idea of keeping the youngsters' attention, but will they remember the first segment after the song?

Fortunately, the characters reiterate the problem, and do so again after a live-action-kids segment. As it turns out, the various segments end up being fun because there are so many things that will appeal to different kids. The real kids' answers are wacky and are bound to resonate with viewers. Spliggle, for example, is in agreement with one little boy "Sam," who declares that he is going to be a pirate when he grows up. "Aaaarrrr!" says Splig. Dumpster the cat, who provides questions to the real kids, is hilarious with his comments.

The varied interests and talents of each member of the Raggs Kids Club Band emphasizes that each kid is similarly free to have different interests than another kid, and that their talents will differ, too.

Raggs is definitely a fun show, and I imagine the in-person concert would be high-energy. If they will be in your area, check it out; otherwise, check your local PBS listings to see Raggs on television!

PS: Shortly after returning home, the boys caught an episode of Raggs on television. They have since asked to add it to their TiVoed shows.

July 3, 2008

Anamalz: Animalz: Animals

anamalzpolarregion.jpgAwhile back, I reviewed Noah's Pals. They have been a big hit in our household. The kids love them. Spliggle has become quite the zookeeper. In fact, he pulls up the couch cushions to create his "doctor house," which is really a veterinary clinic. The animals we received back then, as well as some additional figurines that Santa brought last Christmas, have stood up to my boys' rigorous play-acting.

Recently Spliggle acquired some other figurines for his collection. While on a trip to Target to purchase who-knows-what, Splig made a beeline for a display of Anamalz (such as this tiger and the polar region set pictured above) conveniently displaying Target's orange "clearance" stickers, boasting prices of around $2 per pack.


Anamalz are wooden animal figurines touted as being "environmentally friendly." They are made of organic maple wood and textile (ie, the legs are rope.) They are water-based (ie, no crazy lead or oil paints,) created in a sustainable environment, and are handmade. The felt of the crocodile's back or the lion's mane is created from recycled materials. These toys are safe for children to play with, and through discussion of how they are made and what they represent, quite educational as well.

The product and concept was created in Australia, a country for which I have a great deal of fond memories; in less than a month it will have been twenty years since I went there to perform at the World Expo in Brisbane. But I digress...

Like Noah's Pals, Anamalz also contributes a portion of its proceeds to environmentally-friendly groups in the hope of saving real-life animals through the purchase of their handmade ones. I hope that since Splig plays with so many animal figurines that he will be compassionate to real-life ones.

When I visited the Anamalz website, I was delighted to discover that they do music as well.

These are truly great toys, and the company seems to be doing much more than just "toying around." I am glad Splig happened upon these; they are frequent patients in his "doctor house," although they are in perfect condition!


Anamalz has not sent me any free samples, paid me to say anything nice about the product, or otherwise encouraged me to write about their product. We simply happened upon the product by complete luck. I was impressed enough with the product and the company to create this post.

July 21, 2008

Rock Your School!

rockyourschool.gifA long time ago, I used to help my mom collect little cardboard "points" off of cake mixes. That was decades ago. Of course these days, the carboard-collection has shifted to Box Tops.

At one of the Cat's old schools, the office had a little bank that looked like an old-fashioned schoolhouse. Coupons were stuffed there. An additional cardboard box they used to collect the box-tops was always overflowing: little ziploc bags filled with coupons ended up on the floor. At the Cat's new school, though, I know they have a collection-container, but I think most of the publicity for fund-raising has encouraged other avenues (eScrip, auctions, and so forth.)

But those other methods are not mutually exclusive: purchase a Box Tops participating product with a credit/debit card linked to eScrip, but cut off the box-top, too. You can cash-in both ways. It is easy, and yet I admit that I haven't done it... yet.

Honestly, I thought box tops were only on cake mixes and other more highly processed food. (I guess it was Betty Crocker points that are infringing upon my memory.) Since we follow Feingold, I didn't think I buy any products that qualify. Quite the contrary, Cheerios (which is Feingold-safe and a healthful cereal choice) and Ziploc bags (which we don't eat, of course, but we use to store our food) are both products with a Box Tops Coupon. I just checked out my box of Ziploc: the coupon is 10 cents. I've been throwing away 10 cents every time I recycle a box of plastic bags? Even better, brands such as Kotex, Huggies, Scott, Cottonelle, Viva, Kleenex, and Depends all include coupons.

Be ye not as foolish as I have been: check the boxes in your cupboard (or the participating product list) to find out what money for your school you might already have lying around the house.

As if the Box Tops Program itself wasn't exciting enough, Kimberly-Clark presents Rock Your School, a sweepstakes to win a concert with Jordan Pruitt and 100,000 bonus box tops. Plenty of other prizes will also be given out, so check out their website for details! You can enter daily until September 15th. The winner will be chosen on or around September 22nd.

Even if you don't win the bonus box tops, check your pantry and your bathroom closet to discover what box tops might be lurking inside. Many of our school districts are underfunded, and while it may seem that a single box top won't make a difference, a whole slew of them will.

(Check out other Box-Tops-related promotions on their website.)

July 22, 2008


lilscholars.jpgSplig (age 4) had a playdate recently. He took out a Kubit2Me cube and immediately his friend's eyes opened wide, "What is that?" He thew the cube at her and she stroked the fur on the side. They ended up playing the Lil Scholars ABC's game. While Splig is still learning his letters, his nearly-age-5 year old friend was able to identify nearly all of them. Meanwhile, the Cat (age 7) wanted to play, so I told him he had to give an example of a word that started with that letter, and it couldn't be the item pictured on the card, since that would be too easy. If they had done the 123's version, I would have had the Cat do a multiplication exercise, while Splig and his friend would have only had to identify the number and/or a simple addition problem. All three kids were essentially playing the same game, but it was adjustable to their particular academic levels.

The basic tools of Kubit2Me are a large fuzzy cube and a set of cards. The user places several cards in each of the cube's pockets. What happens next varies depending on the game played. Although the "official instructions" recommend the players choose to whom to throw the cube, I modified it: I had the kids throw the cube to specific people. The reason for this was two-fold: First, so nobody was left out; Second, so the kids were not confused or conflicted (ie, Will I hurt his feelings if I toss it to her?)

The person who catches the cube pulls out a card from the pocket that is facing upwards on the cube (or any other direction agreed upon by the group.) In our case, I had the kids yell out the color that it landed on so they could also practice their colors (of course all three kids found this easy.) The player then either identifies what is on the card (letter, number) gives an example of what is on the card (what is the letter's sound, what is that number multiplied by 3), or if the card contains a question, answers the question.

Some of the games for older kids include "Truth or Dare," and "Now You're Talkin'." A related exercise is the downloadable-for-free "Free to Be Me Icebreaker" All games use the same cube, so simply get a deck of the question-cards to play a new version of the game.

While the "Lil Scholars" games are more "basic preschool education" in focus, the question-related cards are more social-skills related. These cards contain basic questions like "If you could live under the ocean or on the moon, which would you choose?" A variation of the game ("How Well Do You Know Your Friend?") has the other players guess the cube-holding player's answer before he or she answers.

The variations of Kubit2Me are numerous, so it is definitely important to establish the ground rules before playing the game. The Cat likes to invent rules as he goes for any game, so while the game is flexible, it is important to stay consistent.

Lil Scholars was too easy for the Cat (unless I added more challenging requirements for him,) but was definitely a good exercise for Spliggle. The social-skills oriented aspects of the game are great for the Cat, though. In fact, it was through one of my posts about the Cat's social difficulties that Kubit2Me's creator decided to contact me about her game. She describes it as "a line of self expression games that are all about getting kids to open up." Indeed, Creative Child Magazine recently named the game its 2008 Creative Child “Game of the Year” Award - although this distinction does not appear to be on the website (which reads 2007) yet - From the press release:

"A unique interactive, relationship-building game called Kubit2me Lil’ Scholars Edition has earned the 2008 Creative Child “Game of the Year” award in the preschool educational games category. Two other Kubit2me games, Truth or Dare and Now You’re Talkin’ Editions, also received a 2008 Preferred Choice Award."

The game provides the questions which is half the struggle when making conversation. This way, kids can appreciate the opportunity to answer (it is their turn to talk!) and learn to listen (rules are rules, when another player has the cube, it is their turn!) In this way, kids like the Cat who have difficulty with social convention can learn these rules in a non-threatening way. Logical thinkers can literally "play by the rules" to practice listening to others and taking turns. One possible variation of the game is for the player holding the cube to select the question and ask it to the next player in the rotation. This way, the player gets the practice in asking questions as well as in answering questions.

According to its creator, Kubit2Me is regularly being used in therapeutic settings. I can definitely see how this social game can be used as a tool for conversation and taking turns. For kids who do not yet know their body parts, 123's, or ABC's, these quizzes can be useful as well. An "emotions" deck also presents a challenge to kids for whom reading emotions is difficult. For kids with sensory needs, the cube is soft and quite fun to touch. (I would like one in a pillow shape!) Likewise, it is large enough and soft enough so those kids with low muscle-tone (as some kids on the spectrum have) would be able to catch it without a problem.

My kids enjoy Kubit2Me. Splig's playdate was definitely intrigued, so perhaps her mother will go purchase it as well. I need to get some of the Cat's classmates over so they can play the Free to Be Me Icebreaker - that is, unless they go play soccer first.


My one concern about the game is that it does seem a bit "girly." The cube has cute denim pockets and comes with little stickers and glittery bracelets (which Splig loves.) I can see groups of young girls playing the game for fun, but my gut reaction is that boys would only play it if they were in an educational setting or in a mixed-gender gathering. Since Splig is rather "girly" for being a boy, and since the Cat doesn't seem to notice gender roles, the game is definitely fun for them, but there are certainly some of the Cat's classmates who I wouldn't want to suggest play the game. That said, there are a few young men who I think would enjoy the game.

All in all, this game can be used for many different reasons in many different settings. The kids love the cube and the questions provide fun icebreakers. Check out the Kubit2Me website to learn more

July 23, 2008

Paint a Picture or Read a Book: Savvy Source and LeapFrog TAG

savvysource.gifSee that large quiz-link in my sidebar? Take the quiz. Really.

Everyone knows I am not much for developmental-stages quizzes; after all, it is deviance from such things that ends up with those pesky labels and what-not about which I write on The Karianna Spectrum. Every kid develops at a different pace, and I dislike anything that causes panic about "delays." But this quiz isn't about trying to measure developmental stages; rather, it is designed to suggest activities based on the particular point your child happens to be. It isn't a "tsk tsk" task, but rather a suggestion, a personalization. If your child knows "a" but doesn't yet know "b," Savvy Source will suggest activities to build on "a" to help develop "b." No judgment on whether your child is "behind," just ideas about fun things that might be appropriate for your kid while trying to develop things he or she hasn't yet mastered.

The quiz is from The Savvy Source, sponsored by LeapFrog's TAG system. Of course it doesn't surprise you that this all comes via The Parent Bloggers Network.

I took the quiz using Spliggle's abilities and then created some activities based on their list, such as listening to a song while using makeshift "rhythm sticks" and playing a simple rhyming game. Although some activities may seem "obvious," I frequently can't think in creative ways when faced with the dreaded "Mommy! What can we do?" question, so suggestions are very welcome. The graphic above-left is a screen-shot of Splig's links. It shows the various categories for which Savvy Source will recommend activities. Inside each category, specific activities are tagged with your child's name as a particular interest.

Savvy Source is more than just the quiz: members can access preschool ratings and descriptions of camps and classes. The quiz data is stored along with the suggested activities, so it isn't necessary to complete the entire quiz in one sitting or to memorize all the suggested activities. The activities are free, by the way. Although there are recommended products to buy, the real benefit of the quiz is finding out what parents can do at home to enrich their child without joining the flashing-lights and loud-sounds bandwagon.

So what about the LeapFrog TAG? That is a plastic "gizmo," yes? Yes. But it is worth it.

I've got to admit that while I was a fan of LeapFrog's earlier reading systems in theory I was less a fan in practice because those plastic book-holder thingies were a bit heavy and the kids couldn't snap-in the books without assistance. Storage was an issue, too, since the rigid plastic thing was larger than what typically fits in a bookcase, and the book cartridges inevitably ended up lost. Still, I was impressed with the work that LeapFrog has been doing.

leapfrogTAG.gifBut the TAG is such a fabulous improvement. The "reader" is a single wand that serves as a "remote" for the books as well as a storage device (no lost cartridges!) The wand can read the entire book, specific words, or create a little quiz based on the book. There are many titles of popular books available in TAG format. Splig loved the "Ozzie & Mack" book that came with the TAG, but has been reading "Pirates! The Treasure of Turtle Island" over and over and over again. (See his selection of books in the graphic at right)

The Cat knows how to read, but he still appreciates having the TAG wand available to properly pronounce a word about which he may be uncertain. Both boys enjoy having the books and wand in the van, a place where Mommy certainly can't read a book but would like to encourage her kids to do so. The wand is so portable that it is easy to bring along in the "busy bag" with a few of the TAG books.

The TAG reader wand holds five books at a time. The child's library online holds all the books, so it is easy to upload whichever books desired into the wand. The wand also reports back via the child's "Learning Path" to show the parent what skills the child has worked on, what activities the child enjoys doing, and how their learning is progressing. (To use this properly, I should ban the Cat from picking up his brother's wand, since that would skew the data - Ooops!) Readers can collect rewards for finishing various activities.

The LeapFrog TAG is a truly interactive and personalized system. Both it and the Savvy Source quiz are good opportunities to learn more about our kids' interests, learning styles, and progress, all while having lots of fun.

August 13, 2008

Get the Penguins Out of the Ice-Cream Shop

Bob the Builder has been a staple of our household since the Cat was a toddler. One of his first toys was a counting hammer, and his first underwear had images from the series. His bath toys were Bob-themed (even a shampoo that had a Scoop toy as its lid.) Oddly, neither boy has watched the series itself with any regularity, although they very much enjoyed the DVD I reviewed for PBN earlier this year. Still, Bob the Builder is recognizable and comfortable to my kids, and so when I learned of Bob the Builder's Can-Do Zoo via the Parent Bloggers Network, I expected we'd have two very happy boys in our house.

Indeed, this educational computer game combines both the "tool and construction" fun that many young kids are apt to enjoy, plus the universally desirable animal theme. The story itself is fun: Bob must construct the Bobland Bay Zoo to house all the animals currently making their home in unexpected places. The monkeys are on the monkey-bars at school, of course, and the alligators are in the swimming pool. This topsy-turvy situation brought giggles to the boys.

bobzoo The player must escort Bob through the planning and construction process of the zoo by mastering several tasks. Each activity brings the zoo closer to completion and earns the player a sticker that can be used to construct scenes in a "sticker book" portion of the game. The activities involve memory, sequencing, matching, color and shape recognition, and pattern completion. Each activity can be done in "easy," "medium," or "hard" modes.

Splig started on the easy mode, but soon started trying the "medium." The Cat started on "hard" but decided to go to "easy" to get the hang of it before going back to "medium" and "hard." Can-Do Zoo is aimed at 3-6 year olds. Spliggle is four and definitely in that target ability level. The Cat is seven (and a half) and found most tasks pretty easy, although there are still some activities in the "hard" level that provide a challenge for him.

Both boys enjoyed the "free play" section of the game where they could skip over the story (along with its little video interludes) so they could play a particular game over and over again, both to become better at it and to earn lots of stickers. The boys spent an entire afternoon doing the exercises repeatedly so they could earn the stickers. This reward-based system works so well with the boys that they remembered another educational reward-based game I reviewed for PBN and have been playing that game religiously alongside Bob for the last couple weeks.

Since there are only five different games, the capacity to become bored is greater than with more complex computer games; however, this also means that younger players won't be overwhelmed with too much detail. Since there are only five habitats to complete, even the very beginning players can reach the game's completion, which isn't always the case with story-based games. I know the Cat wanted new challenges, but he's also a year and a half above the suggested age-range for the game. Spliggle seemed satisfied with the Can-Do Zoo's scope and definitely enjoyed giggling at the animals.


Download a free trial of Bob the Builder's Can-Do Zoo.

September 2, 2008

Noodleboro Fun Park Game

Noodleboro Fun ParkI'm always on the lookout for fun games that can double as a conversation starter or other sneaky educational thing. Via Mom Central, I had the opportunity to receive the Noodleboro Fun Park Sharing Game. This game is appropriate for the whole family, although older kids may find it simple. The focus is on turn-taking and collaboration. While each individual competes in theme park activities, the resulting prizes and stars are shared amongst all players. The ultimate object of the game is a group effort, trying to obtain as many sharing stars as possible before the theme park "closes."

The initial set-up of the game took awhile: each theme park ride must be constructed and the cards must be placed by the appropriate activity. I think my kids punched out the cards all in one big lump, so that created some extra effort to sort them, but this could be a game in itself for preschool kids eager to show off their matching skills. I ended up putting each type of prize (and the sharing stars) in individual small bowls, the plastic type traditionally used for toddler food. Spliggle the eating-machine never needed such a small portion dish, so I was glad to discover a new use for these.

Noodleboro Fun ParkOnce I figured out what went where and how the game was supposed to be played, the kids enjoyed playing. There are four stations: their favorite was the "log flume," probably because in real life this is a favorite activity. In this case, the player balances a little boulder on a log, carefully maneuvering it through the vertical course. The "roller coaster" involves trying to catch a disk that goes through the coaster course. The "ferris wheel" is a game of luck: pick a color and hope the wheel lands on your color. "Tent show" is a shell game; no cheating! Success at these stations produces prizes; if a player already has that prize, he or she shares with another player, thus earning a "sharing star" for the group.

The die determines the activity: one of the four stations, player's choice, or to advance the "sun" closer to "park closing time" on the game board. Once the sun gaming piece reaches the end, the park closes. The players count up the number of sharing stars accumulated, and try to beat it the next round! In other words, you "win" every time.

For super-competitive kids such as mine, keep in mind that the goal of the game won't just be sharing stars in their eyes. It is hard to encourage a collaborative effort for kids who absolutely need to know who is "in front." (I earned five sharing stars for the pool! Well I earned seven!) Of course, it is the sharing that this game is meant to teach. I hope that with repeated playing I can emphasize that this isn't about accumulating all the prizes, because the ultimate result is that everyone in the game will have all four prizes, and then everyone will be working together to accumulate "sharing stars."

Noodleboro Fun ParkMy boys created new scenarios for the Noodleboro Fun Park Game: they added a hockey scrimmage to the activities, for example, since I had set up the game close to our rod hockey game. The puck took a trip down the roller coaster and the log flume, too. Soon the theme park had visitors in the form of plastic pirates, little koosh balls, and pulled-off-the-game hockey players. While I can't say for certain that the boys got the intended "sharing message" of the game, they certainly had fun, and the game provided a great launch pad for their creativity.


* Hasbro's Noodleboro Page

* Buy the Fun Park Sharing Game at! (Check out Pizza Palace Listening Game and Picnic Basket Manners Game, too)

October 10, 2008

Blue Hair, Zebras, and Giraffes

BillyBlueHair.jpgThe Cat loves animals. After all, his nickname is from how he decided to become a cat as a toddler. His actual name is rather unusual in its spelling, and so much like me - it is rare to find something personalized.

Take his love of animals plus his desire to have something personalized, and you've got Billy Blue Hair. Their "Billy and Me" category contains a personalized educational DVD entitled "Why Do Giraffes Have Long Necks?" Through The Parent Bloggers Network, the Cat received his own personalized DVD.

The cover of the DVD has his name, spelled properly. Then within the video, his name crops up as Billy addresses him throughout the adventure.

Initially, the Cat was a bit skeptical. He loved the DVD cover since it has his name on it, but when he read the title, he remarked, "Well giraffes have long necks because they need to be able to reach the leaves on the trees." I nodded, but told him the DVD would be more than just that.

Indeed, the Cat was captivated by the show. He giggled at Billy and was clearly excited that Billy spoke directly at him. The show itself begins in a cartoon universe, but then switches to a live-action nature filmy-type thing. While the footage is what you might expect on the Nature Channel: beautiful and high-quality, but usually accompanied by either a too-sophisticated scientist's analysis or that preachy drone of those old school filmstrips, Billy's narration is upbeat and fun. He appears as his cartooned-self at the bottom of the live action. He talks about what the viewer is seeing. He poses questions to the viewer to keep them engaged. And of course, when he uses the child's name, they'll no doubt pay attention. Billy also adds some little cartoon elements to the show, like putting a hat on a lion.

The Cat's attention didn't waver. He was fascinated by the animals and definitely glad that Billy kept saying his name. He watched the whole thing several times over before moving to a new activity. My guess is that younger kids would be similarly captivated because Billy makes the education fun. The nature tidbits are broken up by Billy's storyline, which helps maintain interest. Billy talks to the kids, so keeps them involved in the learning process. I certainly learned new things about some of the animals, too. It is a nice painless way of learning something.

Spliggle wishes he could have a personalized DVD. Ironically enough, Splig's name is more common than the Cat's, and yet it is not part of Billy Blue Hair's database of over 400 names. Fortunately, the Cat's name sounds like a more common name, so it was included. Billy Blue Hair can customize the spelling of the name: the DVD comes with a personalized cover and a personalized title screen on the actual program. As long as a name in the database sounds like your child's name, you can purchase the personalized DVD with any spelling.

In that regard, some of the "over 400" names in the database are actually alternative spellings. (But even if your particular alternative spelling isn't listed, you can order it.) Honestly, some of the names in the database seemed very unusual, while some of the more "common" names I would have thought would be included, aren't. Thankfully there is a "request form" on their website so perhaps they will add more names to the possibilities.

Billy Blue Hair also has a "standard edition" which is non-personalized. As much fun as the personalization is for the packaging and the seven times Billy pronounces the child's name throughout the show, it isn't vital. When Billy poses questions to the audience without using a name, the interaction is still there.

Check out the Billy Blue Hair website to see if your child's name is listed. If not, request it - or get the standard version.

October 16, 2008

Leapster2: Leap into Educational Fun

Typically people don't think of video games as being educational, but there are plenty on the market these days. The quality and method differs, but the idea is the same: get the kids involved in fun and they will forget they are learning. Jump Start World is one example of a game that is incredibly educational while still fun. (The Cat kept playing it long after I reviewed it; and continues to play from time to time.)

Leapfrog has been a real leader in the field of educational-yet-fun products. Not long ago, I reviewed the Leapfrog TAG system for reading. Splig loved it, and so did I. As I explained in my review: "The wand also reports back via the child's "Learning Path" to show the parent what skills the child has worked on, what activities the child enjoys doing, and how their learning is progressing... Readers can collect rewards for finishing various activities."

leapster.jpgWell, the Leapster2 hand-held educational video game has that same ability: report back to the parents on progression of skills and earn "rewards."

The Cat was instantly smitten. After all, his favorite color is green and the system happens to be green (and blue.) Both kids loved the games "Dragon Kingdom" (the default on the system) and "Outwit!" (another cartridge included in my review package.) Spliggle's favorite television show is "Dragon Tales," so of course he liked "Dragon Kingdom." He enjoyed doing activities in the "creativity castle" whereas the Cat was interested in "Dragons to the Rescue," which tests math and reading skills

Although my boys are 3.5 years apart, they both found something to love about the Leapster2. The activities are varied enough and there are enough "levels" of play that activities are not too simple for the Cat or too challenging for Spliggle. Both boys have their own profile on the Leapster2. That way, their particular rewards and progression down their "Learning Path" is kept separate. Plus, it is fun for them to click on their name when they begin: even though they share the game, it is "theirs" for the duration of their session.

One feature I didn't initially notice is that there is a little headphone jack in the console. This will be very useful the next time we take a road trip. Although the games are cute, the repetitive sounds get a little distracting to parents in the front seat trying to listen to news or music.

There are plenty of different game cartridges available for the Leapster2; it also plays all Leapster cartridges. The themes are such that my boys think they are just playing "video games," but they are also reinforcing important skills.

I've been impressed with Leapfrog educational toys since their inception (and even participated in a focus group about five years ago,) but have been particularly enthusiastic with the invention of the interactive Learning Path system and the portable devices that all merge into this system. Thank you to Leapfrog for generously providing me with a Leapster2!


Up next: I report on a similar system from a competitor! Oooooooohhhhh!

October 17, 2008

Keep 'em Smiling (and Learning) with the VSmile Cyber Pocket

PlayingVSmile.jpgAlright, so I had already received a competitor's product for review, but when the Parent Bloggers Network asked if I'd be interested in reviewing the V. Smile Cyber Pocket from VTech, I instantly said "Yes!" After all, both my boys have non-educational "just for fun" handheld video game consoles, but until the V.Smile showed up on our doorstep, we only had one educational hand-held video game.

Yes, boo-hoo!, but don't you want both kids learning in the backseat of the van?

Yup, I thought so. Two educational handheld games it is!

The Cyber Pocket has a different "look" than what the kids are used to: this looks like a mini-laptop computer, with a little flip-up screen. Of course both boys were very interested, especially when they saw the game that came with it is called "Zayzoo: An Earth Adventure" and sports a photo of a cute alien.

Zayzoo includes several different components including singing songs (great for the preschool set) or practicing filling in missing letters of common words (excellent to reinforce those early reading skills.) The Cyber Pocket system itself is recommended for kids age five and older. It is therefore not a surprise that four-year-old Splig found some of the games too challenging; however, he still loved them. The Cat is seven, and enjoyed playing "Math Mining," "Alien Beat," and "Language Learner" the most, but has yet to explore several of the games available.

When we first turned on the system, it took some time to figure out what to do. The stylus on the lower screen corresponds to the cursor on the LCD upper screen. This is rather tricky to co-ordinate, so I was relieved that finger-joystick controls were available instead. There are both right-joystick and left-joystick positions for the console. This is the first time in a video-game situation where I've seen particular attention to whether a person might favor right or left hand.

Still, I wish the stylus were easier to use. Although the "write on one surface, see the result on another" might help hand-eye coordination in the youngsters, for this nearly-35-year old it was too tricky. I like to write directly on the screen. One advantage of not writing directly on the LCD screen, though, is that the screen life will be much longer. Many of these "write on the media" products have the potential of getting scratched and worn over time.

When the Cat tried out the system, he was frustrated by trying to use the stylus to play the game. He didn't have any trouble working the navigational screens, but when he had to actually control the character, the finger joystick made much more sense. Still, the game prompts, "Use the pen to move Zayzoo!"

I don't know whether the stylus is used exclusively in some games. If so, this would require an initial adjustment period.

What I was most intrigued by, though, was how many skills this single game covers: spelling, synonyms, antonyms, 3D puzzle building, logic, arithmetic, vocabulary, sentence structure, reading comprehension, beat and rhythm, and more. With such a wide variety of skills emphasized, kids can be both confident in the skills they've already mastered (earning lots of coins!) and challenged by those things that they are still working on, but having fun in the process.

One especially fun feature of the Cyber Pocket is that it can be plugged into the television screen via the included cable. Sure, there are plenty of TV screen video-game consoles out there, but none that you can then take with you in the van on a road trip. While at home, the kids can choose to play the Cyber Pocket with a large screen; but then on the road, in a comfy arm chair, or in their rooms, they can relish in the portability of the system. I like that there is a headphone jack so I don't necessarily have to listen to their games. I must listen to their laughter and squeals of delight, though.

The Cyber Pocket comes with a "V.Link," a little device that is a USB-port on one end and a connector to the VTech on the other end. A smiling glittery piece of toast serves as the slider between the "connect to VTech" and "expose USB port" configurations. Okay, he isn't a piece of toast, but the smiling computer screen logo looks very much like that tasty breakfast staple.

Kids can connect the V.Link to their console to download their scores; they then connect to the computer to record those scores. In the case of "Zayzoo: An Earth Adventure," kids can earn gold coins during console play that can be used on the V.Smile website to unlock special bonus games. The Cat hasn't earned enough coins to unlock anything yet, but I am certain he'll enthusiastically try, then reveal in the accomplishment.

Both boys love this system. Although we are just getting to know it, I have a feeling it will be used quite frequently at our house.


Up Tuesday: A side-by-side comparison of Leapfrog's Leapster2 and VTech's VSmile Cyber Pocket, a Smackdown! if you will. Stay tuned...

October 21, 2008

Smackdown! VTech CyberPocket versus Leapster2

We have had the good fortune of receiving both a Leapster2 from LeapFrog (check out their new Leapfrog online community!) and a V.Smile CyberPocket from VTech, via the Parent Bloggers Network. I've written reviews on both, but below is a summary of some of the features both unique to each and shared between these two educational hand-held learning systems. Some of the information in the below table is objective, while other information is our impression of the systems.

Leap Frog: Leapster2VTechKids: V.Smile Cyber Pocket
Manufacturer's Suggested Age 4 to 8 5yrs +, but there are "smartridges" with games aimed at kids as young as 3
Our Experience with Age Both 4 year old and 7 year old give thumbs up Both give thumbs up, but 4 year old was frustrated at times. (We should try the "smartridges" aimed at his age.)
Price $69.99 $69.99
Extra Games $19.99-24.99 $19.99
Game Selection within Product Family Compatable with (original) Leapster games Compatible with VSmile games
Pen Stylus YES - connected and tucks into game YES - connected and snaps in the back
Navigation with pen stylus EXCELLENT NOT GOOD - a real learning curve required
Finger Joystick joystick on left joystick can switch from right to left
Navigation with joystick GOOD (fluid right off the bat.) GOOD (a bit "stiff" initially, but kids warm it up quickly.)
Screen Single screen LCD: high resolution: stylus writes directly on the screen (easier navigation) Flip Up screen (protects high resolution screen) Separate area for stylus/navigation prevents writing on (damaging) LCD
Brightness Control Buttons (up/down) Dial (possibly more precise control, though hard to tell)
Volume Control Buttons (up/down) Dial (possibly more precise control, though hard to tell)
Headphone jack (peace for parents) YES! (headphones not included) YES! (headphones not included)
Weight Medium Heavy
Play on TV no YES!
Plug in computer to report back to personalized online profile YES - via USB cable - shows "Learning Path" to parents, earn rewards for progress YES - via "V.Link" - can unlock many online games for earning coins during handheld play
Online Profiles Can create different users; thus different reports, rewards, etc. for individual players (Kids can share handheld, but have distinct accounts.) One account is linked to the machine. (Would need multiple machines to have children maintain separate profiles.)
Online Games YES YES

Who wins the Smackdown? Well that depends on your needs. My kids love both gaming systems and both make learning FUN! Since they both cost the same, emphasize similar skills, report on those skills online, and have a variety of different games available, there is no clear winner. It is up to YOU to decide which features you prefer. For example, the Leapster2 is lighter with better stylus control than the CyberPocket, whereas the CyberPocket has the the ability to plug into the T.V. for big screen play, but the Leapster cannot. Of course my chart above is not comprehensive; there may be a feature I didn't cover that is particularly poignant for you - but the above is what my kids and I discovered as we tried out these cool gadgets.

For more information:
- VTechKids: V.Smile Cyber Pocket
- Leap Frog: Leapster2

November 24, 2008

We Have Over Twenty Pets.

I'm going to outright say it:
1) I didn't think I'd be the kind of mom to give her kids video games
2) I've been very, very lucky in the "free video games" department

What I'm going to talk about today is not in that shoot-'em-up, let's totally zombie-out-your-kids category. (Most of the games we have are exceptionally tame and have changed my mind about "video games.") Thanks to the Parent Bloggers Network, the Littlest Pet Shop : Jungle game for Nintendo DS made its way to our home, and thank goodness it did.

LittlestPetShop.jpgBefore Littlest Pet Shop arrived, my boys were fighting over Mario Kart. Sure, we have Mario Kart for the Wii and Mario Kart for the DS, but in the car, only the DS will do. "I need it for my tiny 'puter!" one boy would exclaim as the other gleefully drove his kart around. (Yes, there is somehow a way for them both to play at once using a single cartridge, but I haven't figured it out yet.)

I knew Littlest Pet Shop would appeal to my youngest (age 4) because he loves our cat, our fish, and recently raised some little caterpillars to become butterflies. I knew Littlest Pet Shop would appeal to my oldest (age 7) because he desperately wants a dog, used to pretend to be a cat, and likes snuggly things. Both are boys, but I wasn't concerned with the stereotype that Littlest Pet Shop is only for girls because it isn't. Deer and zebras are manly, yes? (Okay, they have wide adorable eyes, but my boys love 'em all the same.)

I figured my oldest would keep playing Mario Kart, and then my youngest would be happy to take on Littlest Pet Shop. What I didn't anticipate was that Littlest Pet Shop would end up being the preferred game, so much so that the Mario Kart cartridge is actually lost somewhere because one boy took it out of his "tiny 'puter" to put in Littlest Pet Shop instead.

They love this game.

I am happy because the "Hey, let's go buy a dog" talk has diminished considerably. Although, my youngest thinks it would be cool to go get a zebra, because apparently he owns one on his game.

I am happier, though, that the games contained within Littlest Pet Shop have translated to real life. Sure, many people would find this unlikely, but take a look at the evidence. One of the games to earn coins (for care of the pet and purchase of new pets) is a color-in-the-lines game.

Well, Splig has brought home lots of drawings like the below-left from preschool recently:

ColoringIndian.jpgHonestly, I wouldn't have thought a four year old could color in the lines so well, but he's done it at home, too. Littlest Pet Shop requires precision to earn coins. My son has thus learned to be precise (losing a couple styluses in the process) generalizing this to "real life."

If your kids like the idea of a pet, but might not be ready for the real-life responsibility of taking care of one, Littlest Pet Shop might be a good option. It combines the pride of ownership (and ability to name each pet) with things - like dressing up your pet - that probably wouldn't occur in real life, unless you're a Paris Hilton type with doggie sweaters. Add to it some skill games and you've got a well-rounded, entertaining, non-violent game that is worth the "screen time."

Don't tell the kids, but Santa might bring Littlest Pet Shop: Winter Edition to our house this Christmas. (There is also a Garden version.)


Check out what other PBN bloggers think about Littlest Pet Shop!

December 7, 2008

Turner Classic Movies Presents: The Family Classics

Over the summer, Turner Classic Movies aired fabulous family-friendly movies every Sunday night, such as Meet Me in St. Louis, The Music Box, and National Velvet. I was lucky enough to receive - from TCM - The Best Old Movies for Families: A Guide to Watching Together , a wonderful book filled with suggestions for those great movies that many of us have forgotten, but that are still relevant and appropriate for kids. The book gives age recommendations, plot summary, modern-day tie-in, and a discussion of why it is a great choice for family fun.

Well, the fun didn't end in the summer, that is for sure. Today, December 7th, TCM Presents The Family Classics. The festivities will include Sunday movie showcases featuring more than 25 Disney live-action classics, plus an all-new original documentary entitled The Age of Beliving: The Disney Live-Action Classics, narrated by Tony® winner and three-time Oscar® nominee Angela Lansbury.

Today's line-up includes some of my favorites like Swiss Family Robinson and the original Parent Trap - show your kids the original so they aren't thinking about Lindsey Lohan's drinking and other current behaviors while they watch what is supposed to be a wholesome show. I remember fondly filling up my parents' VCR with all the Hayley Mills movies I could. Now I can fill up my TiVo with the same!

Tonight at 10:15pm Eastern (7:15pm Pacific) is Pollyanna. You know I'm going to watch that one. After all, I can't sing America the Beautiful without hearing Mills' cherubic warble and picturing her hot-dog-style in that fabric as a piece of the American flag. (But hey, isn't Mills British?)

Every Sunday starting today through December 28th, TCM will air Disney live-action classics from noon until after midnight. Please visit for the complete schedule, as well as for their gift-giving guide for movie buffs of all ages. I won't blame you if you shed a nostalgic tear as I did reading through the list of my past-favorites like Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Escape to Witch Mountain, and Freaky Friday [the original, of course.]

The Age of Beliving: The Disney Live-Action Classics, narrated by Tony® winner and three-time Oscar® nominee Angela Lansbury will premiere next Sunday, on December 14th at 7pm Eastern (4pm Pacific.) This special will follow the studio's history as it ventured beyond its animation legacy to develop non-animated family fare. I am eager to see it!

If you fear that your kids are bored with the recent releases, perhaps it is time to take a look backward to remember all those fabulous movies that we loved as kids. Check out and your local listings. Or just set your TiVo to record from noon 'til a little past midnight on every Sunday in December.

Pass the popcorn!

December 9, 2008

Poingo: Point, and Go! You Can Read!

Poingo Starter SetThe upside of having an older brother is that things like homework suddenly seem very "cool," because it is something new! exciting! and most of all, something your older brother does. I certainly appreciate my youngest's desire to have homework and hopes he keeps that positive spirit into next year when he actually does have homework. The downside of having an older brother is that many of those "cool" things are still out of reach.

My youngest doesn't know how to read yet. He's four, and definitely Kindergarten-ready. He can identify all his letters, knows most letter sounds, and will be pleased to tell you that he can spell "cat," as well as his name and the names of his family members and friends. But no, he doesn't have the word-skills to play "Word Mole" on my phone like his older brother does. And he definitely can't do the same reading comprehension homework that his older brother does.

But thanks to Poingo, he can pretend pretty well. While my eldest son reads a book and answers questions using his pencil and paper, my younger son can "read" using the Poingo wand, and play comprehension games right on the page, using the same wand.

Poingo is an easy plug-and-play: just turn on the wand and go! In fact, my four year old was so excited he just started without any instruction from me. The actions are intuitive and are easy to figure out simply by exploring. This fosters independence in kids - they figure it out themselves and are happy to have done it "all by myself."

My youngest can choose to just "read" the book by letting the wand read the book aloud or he can touch characters or illustrations on the page to hear sound effects or learn more information. Playing games is intuitive, too.

Red-highlighted words can be defined by clicking on them. Touching little photos within the text will replay the sound effect. It is great to have this additional definition, but the downside is that the entire text starts from the beginning, rather than enabling the child to continue where he or she left off.

Poingo Starter SetFor example, in the book Cars, one sentence reads "In the lead is The King, followed by top competitor Chick Hicks." The word "competitor" is red-highlighted, so my son tapped it to learn the definition. But instead of returning to the sentence where it was defined, the wand began at the beginning of the page. This can be disorienting for kids, since they want to continue the story after the word definition, not listen to the entire page over again. The sound effect boxes should be used only after the entire text on the page has been read, for the same reason.

The technology behind Poingo is amazing. In similar systems, the user must touch the wand to each page to start. (Upon examination of these books, it is apparent that a different location of each "dot" signals a different page. Not so with this product.) For Poingo, once the wand knows which book is being used, it automatically senses the page or activity. For example, I touched the title page of Finding Nemo to orient the wand, but then jumped to page 22 and clicked on "Whale Tales," a box with four different whale graphics. The wand immediately defined whichever whale I touched. Other pages have illustrations, words, or graphics in that exact same location on the page, so it is amazing that the wand is able to distinguish between page 22 and any other page.

Given this amazing technology, there has got to be a way for the wand to resume the storytelling after a red-highlighted word if the user clicks the word immediately after. It is so important given kids' attention-spans to have the ability to pick up the story mid-sentence, or at least to the nearest sentence, without having to go back to the beginning of the page.

When the wand reads the book, the words are clear and spoken slowly. It is easy to understand, and thus easy for the child to follow along, viewing the written word as it is spoken aloud. This is so important so that the child can match what he is seeing with what he is hearing. Of course, this also means the child can read a book independently, just like his big brother.

Poingo can be connected to the computer to unlock additional content, such as music. There is no CD to lose; the device driver is embedded in the wand. Unfortunately, my particular wand was broken in this capacity. After I plugged it in, my computer declared that it was corrupted.

Fortunately, I was able to download the content management system at after registering my device. Unfortunately, the download takes awhile, and the digital signature cannot be verified. Once I received the content management system, I attempted to log on using the credentials for which I registered, but it failed. The Poingo User Guide is a great step-by-step process for loading the content manager, but alas it doesn't mention the need to "log in" to the manager, so clearly something is wrong with my particular wand.

If everything had worked properly, it is the content management system that I would use to load new books onto my wand after purchase of those books.

Aside from this glitch, and my concern about the need to read the entire page's text all at once, Poingo is on its way to being a good product. It is still new, having come out just this autumn, so perhaps some kinks will be ironed out and some renovations made for further upgrades.

No mention of Poingo would be complete without acknowledging its similarity to LeapFrog's TAG system, which I reviewed this summer. TAG has more books, plus the "Learning Path," in which parents see what skills a child is working on, but Poingo will likely add more titles to their library as time continues. And let's be honest, as cool as "the Learning Path" sounds, I haven't been interested in analyzing my children's skills since I trust that they are developing at the right pace. And so, this particular feature is definitely optional, depending on your preference.

Both systems are educational. Both systems are fun. I urge you to take a look at both websites ( and TAG headquarters) to see what product might be right for your family. TAG's product is $49.99, whereas Poingo's is $34.99. Additional books for both systems are $9.99 apiece.

It is a fun concept, and definitely a great idea for young kids who are on the verge of reading. The independence and extra emphasis on matching sight to sound are really wonderful.

Thank you to Poingo for giving my son such a fun toy!

December 23, 2008

Last Minute Gifts

bigpresent.gifHusband and I typically end up with multiples of the same gift, like the year we both got each other America. Typically the duplicates end up because Husband will talk about how much he wants something, so I'll buy it for him. But days before Christmas, he'll go out and purchase whatever is already wrapped under the tree.

So I stopped listening to his first choice, figuring he'd get it for himself. I focused more on the "lower down" priority items.

Last year he kept talking about a slingbox. But I thought I knew better. I wasn't going to purchase something he'd no doubt buy on his own during Thanksgiving sales or Pre-Christmas sales or Friday Fry's sales.

The day before Christmas, Husband mentioned how excited he was that he'd be getting a slingbox for Christmas. He assumed that is what I had already bought. He was ecstatic.

Except I hadn't bought one, of course.

Not wanting to disappoint him, I quickly went online to Best Buy and did an in-store pickup order. While the store itself had long lines and packed aisles, the in-store pickup line was small. We were out of the store - coveted present in hand - in less time that it took us to find parking.

And so, my first tip to those of you who have waited too long to shop for Christmas (or the latter half of Hanukkah) is to see which big stores have in-store pickup. It is easy to browse online for that perfect gift, and typically is pretty easy to pick it up since most stores have separate lines for their online sales.

(The one exception I found to this was when I bought a camera at Circuit City - the closest store was sold out, so I purchased it at a store a half hour away. Guess what happened? That store didn't have it when I arrived, but discovered that my local store did! In the end I got my camera, but that particular excursion took a lot of driving and involved confusion.)

Another idea is the dreaded overnight shipping - yet for stores like that already ship overnight, you're golden. Still, most overnight shipping options are pretty pricey, so you might want to brave the malls.

Or, you could buy something that is electronically fulfilled, such as an iTunes gift certificate or an gift certificate delivered via email.

Plenty of websites offer extended content for a fee. No, I am not suggesting purchasing "adult materials" for your preteen cousin. Rather, for kids there are sites like Club Penguin, a favorite of my boys. While the basic experience is plenty of fun, being a member allows the little penguins to accumulate coins to purchase pet puffles, buy snazzy new outfits, and deck out their igloo like budding interior designers would. In the Cat's case, that means purchasing as many toy trains as possible to create a "rug."

For older folks, there is Happy Neuron. I learned about this brain fitness website shortly after I had realized that I wasn't very good at the Brain Age DS game. (And don't even talk to me about Big Brain Academy.) "Mommy brain" is no myth: my brain is so filled with details of appointments, tasks, and managing other folks' lives that I don't have time to read or do puzzles to expand the other parts of my brain.

As we age, our brain "sags" just like our bodies do. Those who keep mentally fit by exercising their brain end up faring much better than those who don't. Plus, it is fun (until the computer tells you that you are mentally weak, that is!)

Happy Neuron is offering a 20%-off holiday special on a year's membership to the website. Members have access to 35 games (plus 5 beta Wii games.) The games fit in five categories: visual-spacial, attention, executive function, memory, and language. Each game has several difficulty levels, plus the program itself will recommend games based on the user's weaknesses.

I tried using the "coach" function whereby the computer is supposed to take me through an optimum combination of games based on my preferences, time available to "work out," and my past performance. Unfortunately, this feature didn't work for me (I was given a login free for the purposes of review, but perhaps this is a feature only available to full members, not reviewers.) And so, I tried out the five free games.

Does it surprise you that on the "split words" game that I was able to do the one about football but did horrifically on the "agriculture" one? (I can still hear my grandmother's tsk-tsk from many years ago when she learned I couldn't tell the difference between different types of cows. Sorry, I don't know anything about farming.) I thought I would do fantastically on "Catch the Ladybug" because after college I was a research assistant in a visual psychophysics lab. We did lots of "search" experiments, and since I had to program and test such things, I became very good at visual search. But my downfall in this Happy Neuron game was my trackball skills. I saw the ladybug immediately, but had a hard time rolling my way over. Perhaps a traditional mouse would be better in this instance.

There are other games that rely on time where an individual's ability to move the mouse becomes a limiting factor. This concerns me for the grandparent-set who might otherwise benefit from these mind-enhancing games. For these folks, those games without a time limit (but which will still record time) would be more accurate: as their time decreases with practice, the improvement can be attributed more to mental performance and less to mousing-ability. But for games that stop if the user fails to provide the answer, the individual wouldn't be able to practice the actual task unless the time required could be increased.

I love that there are a variety of games to "train" the user so the "workouts" are not boring. The site has a section on brain fitness science, plus has recommendations for other (sometimes offline) products. In addition to the aforementioned Wii games in beta, there is also a "Happy Neuron Junior" program in development. The Cat loves various games, particularly online. Although some of the games I've played through Happy Neuron are perfectly appropriate for him, I imagine the "junior" version will have aspects (such as in the "language" category) that will better fit his grade level.

Consider Happy Neuron for that otherwise difficult-to-buy-for adult. Grandmothers have enough perfume, bath oil, and lotion. And does Granddad really need another tie? Young(er) adults would like these games, too, so don't think your recipient needs to have grey hair. (I think my parents are sharper than I am at this point, anyway.)

Or maybe spend some time on the site yourself; it certainly wouldn't hurt! After all, the present I am getting for Husband is one that I hope to get myself at some point. This is one year where I'm actually hoping for a duplicate (but not expecting it.)

January 13, 2009

Reading with Superheroes.

MoJo.gifEvery week, the Cat has to list four books that he's read, or break down chapter books into the four "chunks" he's read. Technically, he's supposed to read Monday-Thursday, but all too often it is in separate little chunks, and usually involve the weekend. He reads National Geographic Kids, Highlights magazine, picture books that are way too easy for him but he loves 'em, and a variety of chapter books (like Flat Stanley and Nate the Great.) He's particularly a fan of Captain Underpants, although I admit being a little nervous that I'm encouraging the grossness. But, as I told to his teacher (and she enthusiastically agreed) anything that encourages reading and isn't horrifically lewd is fine. The Underpants books have some great vocabulary, believe it or not.

The one book that the Cat reads all the time, but can't put on his list every single time (because I have this fear that if he repeats books it his homework won't be considered "valid") is the Toon Book "Mo and Jo: Fighting Together Forever." When I learned about Toon Books I thought the book "Stinky" would be the one that spoke to the Cat the most, but surprisingly, he was more interested in the red and green-clad brother-and-sister team Mo-Jo. He giggles as he proclaims, "I'll turn you into spaghetti!" like the character Joey does on the cover. The book itself is about sharing, but it is also about crime-fighting, always a revered theme in the lives of little boys. I've never been a comics fan, but the Cat loves this style. After he enjoyed Mo and Jo, he ate up Stinky and Jack in the Box.

He then went back to Mo and Jo, and keeps it by his bed so he can read it nearly every day.

Continue reading "Reading with Superheroes." »

February 12, 2009

Dreambox: Computer-Use You Can Admit to Your Doctor

UPDATE: I reviewed Dreambox's K-3 content April 2010. The below review is from February 2009 when Dreambox was K-2 - Please read ahead to learn more about the program, and then check out my K-3 post!


dreambox_logo_dl.gifI took my eldest son for his eight-year-old checkup today. On the standard questionnaire about whether he lives with someone who smokes, or if we have guns in the house, there was a question about screen-time. I had to check a box if my child spends more than an hour per day watching television, playing video games, or engaging in activities on the computer. I'm an honest gal, so I checked the box, even though I knew the underlying question.

As expected, the doctor asked me about my admission. I explained that yes, he spends quite a lot of time on his computer, but for mathematics enrichment.

The doctor beamed, "Well, of course, any educational content is absolutely fine."

We then got into a discussion about how plenty of homework assignments need the resources on the internet, and how differentiated education is important.

Every parent thinks his or her child is brilliant, but let me tell you about my second-grader: he loves math. He thinks math is fun, and yet I know he is bored during regular class instruction time. I therefore jumped at the chance to review Dreambox via the Parent Bloggers Network. I want to capture and preserve his love for math, build on it, and prevent him from lagging behind later because he isn't stimulated enough now. Combining his love for computer games with mathematical instruction is a perfect marriage of interests.

Continue reading "Dreambox: Computer-Use You Can Admit to Your Doctor" »

March 16, 2009

Read Across America and WIN with Leapfrog TAG.

I admit my kids aren't the readers that I was when I was a child. No, Wii and DS weren't around back then. Although my grandparents had an Atari that I enjoyed playing when I was at their house, my parents' house didn't have games. Eventually we had some for our computer, and we got a PlayStation at some point, but really, all that happened way past elementary school: my grammar-school education was through books.

My favorites included the Betsy-Tacy series, and B is for Betsy. (Okay, I guess it is a miracle I don't have a child named Betsy - although I have two friends who have daughters named "Tacy.") I wasn't a big Nancy Drew fan, although I read a couple Hardy Boys and Bobbsey Twins. I was huge into Encyclopedia Brown and of course all the Judy Blume books (mainly Ramona ones.) I also liked the "A Very Young..." series (A Very Young Dancer was my favorite, followed close behind was A Very Young Gymnast) Then it is with a nostalgic tear in my eye that I recall how I loved Maggie Adams, Dancer, and struck up a pen-pal relationship with the now-late author Karen Strickler Dean.


Fortunately, even in the electronic age, there are ways to promote reading. I reviewed the LeapFrog TAG, and am a big fan of game-based educational products in general; they appeal to my boys, are "with the times" and do teach plenty of important skills.

Leapfrog is sponsoring a One Million Reading Hours Pledge in support of the National Education Association's Read Across America for "National Reading Month." By pledging to set aside at least 10 minutes a day, parents can contribute to the national goal of 1 million reading hours committed. Plus, Leapfrog is offering special offers; for example, check out the coupon on the upper righthand side of the reading pledge sign-up: $10 off a TAG LeapFrog system or $4 off any book in the TAG library. Plus, they are offering prizes, such as the one they are offering to my readers!

What Can You Win?

* One (green) Tag reader + 5 books (chosen by LeapFrog) for personal use

* An expanded-memory LeapFrog School Tag reader + 10 books (chosen by LeapFrog) to donate to the winner's local library.

HOW Can You Win?

FIRST, Make a Pledge. THEN:

* Leave a comment here telling me how much time you have pledged in the LeapFrog 1 Million Reading Hours Campaign

* Earn an extra entry by tweeting this contest (send me the link to your tweet so I know you did it!)

A winner will be randomly selected at the end of the month.

Get Reading!


Comments are now closed -- thank you all for your reading pledges and tweets about Read Across America! The winner will be announced shortly...

April 1, 2009

Social Skills Help Via Virtual Community

The Cat is quite intelligent, at least in academic matters. He's creative, curious, and can make connections very well. But somehow, if the intended connections, schemas, rules, and intuition is in regards social skills, he stumbles. He's one of those "quirky kids" who was diagnosed with pdd-nos, a "catch-all" diagnosis on the autistic spectrum.

autismsocialskills.gifAs part of his IEP, he receives pragmatic speech and social skills group pull-outs at school. Truthfully, I haven't seen results. He's laughed at social skills DVDs and seems to enjoy them (particularly when the kids act goofy as part of the "how not to behave") but hasn't really put the information to use. One year we sent him to a social-skills camp, but while that may have helped him pay attention to his behavior, I actually wonder if being so analytical about it actually created an artificial situation: he ended up being hyper-sensitive to each mistake, which then created panic and an inability to remember the "correct" response. And then there is the matter of positive role models: he was with some kids who really had some odd social behaviors.

It is embarrassing to admit, but there are certainly times when I want to just throw my arms up because he's done something inappropriate, seemingly without "common sense." And then there are those days that he seems totally "normal" waving good-bye as he says brightly, "Bye Katie! See you tomorrow!"

Continue reading "Social Skills Help Via Virtual Community" »

May 31, 2009

New York Times: Obama - The Historic Journey

I wouldn't call myself a "scrapbooker" although I do have several albums of collages, photographs, playbills, and ticket stubs from my pre-parent days. After that, the collages became computerized, and then they just became a Flickr link.

ObamaHistoricJourneyNewYorkTimes.jpgBut I still save a bunch of my boys' work, plus little things here and there that might mean something to me later. After 9/11, I saved a lot of newspaper articles and other freebies. I reasoned that it was an important enough event that having "original" articles and documentation would be wise. (And then there is that "what if someday my kid needs to write an article about it?" rationale, although these days I guess folks pull the facts online. Still, having a copy taken directly from the original newspaper would be nice.)

It is no surprise, then, that with the campaign and eventual election of our nation's first African-American President, that I would be a pack-rat about the memorabilia. I have newspaper articles, buttons, bumper stickers, and the faded lawn-signs we displayed at our house. I may even have my ballot stub - or at the least my sample ballot.

I was therefore thrilled that Mom Central gave me the opportunity to receive The New York Times' "Obama: The Historic Journey." I received the young reader's edition to share with my boys.

Frankly, I like the "young reader's edition" because it is easy-to-understand and highlights the most pertinent points. I'm honestly not a history or politics buff (although my husband is) so I'd rather get the "gist" of something than a drawn-out explanation. That said, the "young reader's edition" is definitely not dumbed-down. It gives lots of detail, presented in an interesting way.

The book has gorgeous pictures. Being a visual person, I appreciate the vibrancy and the symbolism. I love looking at pictures from the past, like Barack playing baseball as a child, or his Senior school picture. From the same visual orientation, I appreciate seeing President Obama's family tree, especially as it is superimposed over a world map to show his origins.

Definitions for common terms appear in colored boxes above and to the side of the main text during the sections on the campaign and election. These "extras" help kids unfamiliar with the vocabulary of politics and government to understand better the story depicted in the main text. Quotes from President Obama also fill colored boxes.

These side-boxes also break down the issues for both Obama and McCain. Although the positions are greatly simplified, this side-by-side glance is useful for kids just learning about the candidates. Other information at-a-glance includes a double-page statistics page listing information on Obama such as shoe size (11) and favorite food (chili.)

Sections on Obama's past, the campaign, the election, the victory, Michelle Obama, and his daughters are all very well-done. Something unique about this particular compilation of history is a section entitled "Inside the Times" that talks about planning the election issue of the New York Times. This behind-the-scenes glance is fun. A "Presidential Advice" section shows school children's letters to President Obama, along with some very cute hand drawings of the President from thirteen kids.

While some of the book is light-hearted and celebratory, there are also sections on the financial crisis and on the Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. controversy, plus a section on Barack, Sr. as an "absent" father. And so, this book is not intended to shy away from the negative.

"Obama: The Historic Journey" is a beautiful and comprehensive book. It isn't too heavy, nor is it too simplistic. I am pleased to add it to my collection about this historic election, and glad to share it with my boys to introduce them to our President.

Thank you Mom Central and the New York Times!


Purchase The New York Times' "Obama: The Historic Journey." on Amazon:

- Young Readers Edition
- Adult Edition

July 6, 2009

A-flutter for the Butterflies

Last week, Splig celebrated his fifth birthday (has it really been five years?) Today, he's having his party. So, his birthday has been drawn out a bit, only bisected by the Fourth of July holiday. He wishes his birthday could go on and on and on...

Butterfly_Garden.jpgLast year, his birthday actually did go on, in that a relative sent him a present in the autumn. In many ways, I'm glad for the delay - because of course it gave him something to open up several months after the fact. But then on the flip side, I guess he thinks he can have "birthday presents" anytime during the year.

But I digress.

The present he received last autumn was an Insect Lore Live-Butterfly Garden. Ironically enough, he received a Live-Butterfly Treehouse as a prize during our Activeion meeting with Bill Nye the Science Guy - so next go around we'll double our fun! There are also Butterfly Pavillions available if you want larger numbers of butterflies at one time.

I'll admit I was skeptical at first. My first and only experience of "send away for live animals" was with one of those traditional green plastic sand Ant Farms.

Continue reading "A-flutter for the Butterflies" »

April 14, 2010

Dreambox Math is now for Kindergarten through 3rd Grade!

dreambox_logo_dl.gifLast year my boys were very excited when I introduced them to Dreambox as part of a review of their excellent online K-2 math program.

I was impressed with how the program evaluated both boys such that their adventures were tailored to their ability level. At the time, my youngest son was still in preschool, so having him do a Kindergarten math program had the potential to be a stretch, but Dreambox accurately assessed his knowledge and instructed him accordingly.

Meanwhile, my then-second-grader was assessed at a higher level. He is gifted in math, so immediately went to some of the more advanced concepts. Although both boys were playing the same game, Dreambox individualized the lessons so they were at the appropriate level for each.

My boys loved Dreambox, so I paid for a subscription for several months after my free-for-review trial had ended.

Although my oldest son enjoyed the game, I could tell that towards the end of his second-grade year he wasn't really challenged by it. Since I wanted to give him access to more advanced concepts, I enrolled him in a free trial of another online math program that went into more challenging material.

Continue reading "Dreambox Math is now for Kindergarten through 3rd Grade!" »

April 20, 2010

Wubbzy Goes Green!

Wubbzy_Goes_Green.jpgDuring "Earth Hour" we were at a hockey game, but they weren't going to turn out the lights on men with sticks, sharp blades, and hair-trigger tempers. But hopefully my family and I will do something meaningful for Earth Day - two days from now. (Today is apparently some sort of pro-marijuana holiday, which I guess is "green" in its own way. Our old phone number - with a different area code easily confused with ours - was the number for a medical marijuana dispensary. That was an interesting thing.)

At church Sunday, I was thrilled to find a green-centered sermon accompanied by some unconventional and exciting "hymns." One such hymn included a coyote, and was truly gorgeous. I don't talk about religion much because I know it is quite polarizing, and I'm of the belief that people can find meaning and spirituality a variety of different ways, so I don't want to give the impression that I'm attempting to preach a specific faith here. But let's just say that I was pleased that Sunday's sermon was about positive impact and respect. It was about being good stewards of the Earth. It was not about politics - as environmental issues frequently can be - it was about a way of life that honors what we've been given.

One of my old pals, Wubbzy, has already been educating kids about the need to be sensitive and respectful to our environment. On a regular basis, Wubbzy and his pals teach kids about positive social interaction, and about respecting each others' differences.

Continue reading "Wubbzy Goes Green!" »

April 30, 2010

Autism and Animals: Stories Exploring the Bond

theCatintro.GIFToday is the last day of April, and thus the last day of "Autism Awareness Month." Honestly, I don't know what to think of autism "awareness" since it doesn't really make people "aware" so much as it frequently spreads unhelpful stereotypes.

Each child is different, regardless of whether he or she has a "diagnosis" and as such, their strengths and weaknesses differ.

I'm tired of the tragic stories of autism: those that focus on hardship, despair, and lost dreams. Although there are definitely aspects of a spectrum diagnosis that fall into those categories, it is much more useful to acknowledge these children's (and adult's) strengths.

Fortunately, I've had the opportunity to review two different stories about children on the spectrum, both of which acknowledge challenges, but also celebrate their subjects for who they are as people beyond the diagnosis. Both the book Cowboy and Wills and the independent lens film The Horse Boy have animals in their title. ("Cowboy" is the name of Wills' golden retriever.) This is no coincidence.

Continue reading "Autism and Animals: Stories Exploring the Bond" »

June 23, 2010

My Tiny Planets is More than "Tiny" Fun

My_Tiny_Planets_Ship.gifThe Cat tells me that he loves being in his tiny ship. He also says that it rains on his planet, and that he loves it when the volcanoes erupt. He talks to me about "getting stars" and wonders how much water he collected from the rain. He tells his younger brother, Splig, how to "fix" his planet. Splig is all about the volcanoes, especially since he saw The Bachelorette on Monday, and was slack-jawed as Ali and her suitors got superclose to an Icelandic eruption. (No, he didn't catch any double entendre involving that whole experience, and yes, I let him watch shows like that only because he thinks the roses are pretty.)

Both of my boys are guarding and nurturing their planets. And thankfully, these planets have nothing to do with spray paint, a hot glue gun, or styrofoam circles (that are harder to cut than one would think, and make quite a mess on the floor!) No, their planets are thankfully virtual, found via My Tiny Planets, a space exploration universe set up for kids to enjoy. My "space cadets" can simply explore their planets, or take on missions. These missions can unlock various rewards, some free, and some requiring real dollars. True to the notion of "unlocking" things, the currency on Tiny Planets is KEYs. Kids can save their KEYs from month to month, so they can save up for a really snazzy new rocket ship or other coveted reward.

Continue reading "My Tiny Planets is More than "Tiny" Fun" »

August 31, 2010

Hexbug Nanos

hexbug_nano.gifWe've got bugs. Thankfully (hopefully? knock on wood) not the bed-bugs everyone's been talking about. (Yes, I've already purchased some diatomaceous earth and various sprays just in case. )

No, I'm talking about a different kind of bug I brought home from New York City - the Hexbug Nano. I was fortunate to grab the last "Hexbug Nano Starter Pack" from the MomCentral suite. My boys loved the tiny set so much that we soon got a full "Hexbug Nano Habitat Set", plus of course another couple Hexbug Nanos. (In fact, my youngest son was thrilled to find some pink and aqua ones while we were purchasing a birthday present for his friend a couple days ago. Of course I gave in, because I think the little bugs are pretty cute, too.)

Essentially, the hard plastic bugs run around, jittering on their soft plastic fringed legs the way a real bug would. It almost appears that they "sniff out" where to turn in their little environment. This effect is a result of their vibrating motion. The Hexbug Nano website has more information about what makes this particular toy realistic, but my kids just love it because it is fun.

Continue reading "Hexbug Nanos" »

September 14, 2010

Animal Mastermind Towers

Pressman_Animal_Mastermind_Towers.jpgBack in the old days, my brother and I had plenty of fun board games. (Well, okay, once we learned of Atari, and later Nintendo, we had our share of screen time as well.) We enjoyed the traditional favorites, including classic Mastermind. When my kids were old enough, I giddily bought both the full-size and travel-size versions. I think I even got a "challenge" version that includes some additional colors and/or extra pegs for an even more difficult code to crack.

When I saw a representative advertising Mastermind at BlogHer, I saddled right on up with a smile. Since I already had the regular game, I was interested in what else was on the horizon. Her answer: Animal Mastermind Towers.

She and I played a portion of a trial game right there on the Expo floor, but I was most excited when she said she'd send me one for my family to review.

Continue reading "Animal Mastermind Towers" »

September 29, 2010

Mad Science KNOW Magazine

know_magazine_curious_kids.gifI used to be a scientist. Sometimes I say I stopped once I had children because of the whole work-family balance. Other times I simply say I "retired" since that sounds fancy coming from the mouth of someone who people sometimes ask "how old are you?" because they think I'm fresh out of high school. (Okay, this phenomena is dropping off rather quickly. Stay tuned because I'm going to review a wrinkle cream soon. Seriously.)

But all jokes aside, science is still a part of my life. I'm Co-chair of the Science Fair at my children's elementary school, and I sent them to Science Camp this past summer. I definitely want to pique their interest in "how things work" and to foster critical and curious minds.

With that in mind, when Mom Central asked for interested bloggers to learn more about Mad Science's KNOW: The Science Magazine for Curious Kids, I jumped in line. KNOW is intended for kids aged 6-9, and mine are exactly 6 and 9 - perfect!

Continue reading "Mad Science KNOW Magazine" »

November 11, 2010

zeum: The Creative Children's Museum for the Tech-Age

Outside zeumA few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending an event at zeum, an interactive computer, television, and animation space for children. (It is actually the San Francisco Children's Museum, morphed to keep up with technology.) I was there to learn about a computer game for preschoolers, but remained in only one room of the actual zeum facility. My boys were in school during that time, so didn't get a chance to see the space. Thankfully, we were invited back to actually delve into the zeum experience itself, so my boys and I spent the afternoon today on our zeum adventure.

At first my oldest was hesitant. He wanted to stay home on his vacation day to play video games. But, I explained that he'd be producing things on his own at zeum. He loves creating his own video game levels, so it made sense that he'd enjoy creating his own animation. Once he saw zeum, he agreed that the excursion was worth it. (He's even considering holding his birthday party there.)

My youngest was game from the beginning. I had told him about zeum right after I saw it in October, so he's been eager to go ever since. He's quite the "ham" so I knew he'd be interested in putting on a show.

Continue reading "zeum: The Creative Children's Museum for the Tech-Age" »

April 30, 2011

April Shout-Outs

Now that the advertising rules have changed for my main blog, The Karianna Spectrum, I've started posting some brand-specific shout-outs on there. This blog will still be in use from time to time depending on the nature of the announcement or review. But, in case you missed it over on The Spectrum:

- I was excited about the launch of Jesse Garza and Joe Lupo's VT Luxe Collection for QVC. Affordable style is always in fashion!

- My youngest son loved Design Squad Nation's Ingenuity Day, plus he really loves the Super WHY! app (there is also a Super Why PAINT! app out now, too!)

- I learned that one of my college Christian Fellowship leaders has a new venture, The Providence Granola Project. In addition to creating yummy granola, the organization is providing valuable job skills training for refugees.

- With Mother's Day fast approaching, I recommended that readers consider sending a free e-card to their mom (or other mom-like individual) to honor them through Macy's "Thank a Mom" Movement benefiting 5 different charities (you choose which one you wish to support!)

Disclaimers are posted on the original entries explaining when and what type of compensation was given for some of these promotions.

July 31, 2011

TV Without Commercials with Ameba

No, I don't mean your DVR.

Sometimes it is tricky to find kid-friendly shows without the non-kid-friendly intrusions. Even kids' movies these days have previews that aren't exactly compatible with the movie's target audience. Plenty of public television stations and cable channels aimed at families and kids still have advertisements, many of which aren't age-appropriate.

ameba_logo_words.gifRecently my family has done a lot of Netflix streaming, but with their new price plans, many families have decided to back away. Plus, families with young children don't particularly want their kids to accidentally browse over to adult fare.

One possible alternative for kid-friendly, educational television is Ameba commercial-free children's media.

Continue reading "TV Without Commercials with Ameba" »

November 16, 2011

Holiday Games from Wonderforge

wonder_forge_logo.jpgLet's face it, the rest of 2011 is going to be one huge landslide from turkey talk to opening presents. Although I started my holiday shopping early, I'm realizing that my headstart wasn't as great as I thought it was now that the calendar says it is mid-November. It is definitely exciting to see what some of my favorite manufacturers are rolling out in time for December.

I've been a Wonder Forge fan for awhile (check out my Family Game Night post for a few older kids' games or Chugginton's Traintastic Cargo Game for the younger set.) Well, it is no surprise that they are back this autumn with some new offerings that no doubt will end up in Santa's Sleigh.

First up is another Chugginton offering: Chuggington: Let's Ride the Rails game. This is a board game, but it comes with three train figurines that could be used for fun off-board, too. The object of the game is to figure out the "mystery animal" that stays behind at Safari Park when the rest of the animals escape. Our hero trains Wilson, Brewster, and Koko pick up the escaped animals en route to discovering the identity of the "mystery animal." This is a guessing game, but for older players can be modified to be both a guessing game and a memory game to keep it challenging. Let's Ride the Rails Game earned the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio "Best Toy Award" gold seal.

Continue reading "Holiday Games from Wonderforge" »

September 26, 2012

Free Entrance to National Parks

This Saturday, September 29th, all 397 national parks will offer free entrance for National Public Lands Day.

More than 170,000 volunteers are expected at more than 2,100 sites across the country on Saturday, September 29 to take part in the largest single-day volunteer effort for public lands in the United States, National Public Lands Day (NPLD).


Other Federal agencies offering free admittance on September 29 include the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, and the U.S. Forest Service.

Normally, 133 national parks charge entrance fees ranging from $3 to $25. The other 264 parks do not charge for admission. The National Park Service will also waive entrance fees from November 10-12 in commemoration of Veterans Day.

It is a great time to enjoy the outdoors before winter arrives. Fresh air, exercise, and community service: excellent!

Disclaimer: I was not compensated for this post; it is just something I wished to share since all too often we forget about our wonderful public parks.

September 21, 2012

Math Midway

math_midway_exhibit_lawrence_hall_of_science.jpgMy sons are both talented and interested in mathematics and science. But, not all kids are inclined to excel in these subjects. Of course everyone remembers the whole "Math is hard!" Barbie doll. It is a common refrain from boys and girls alike that mathematics is difficult, or that science is dry.

Our local school recently made some changes that continue to "dumb-down" mathematics, effectively ignoring those who are high-achievers in the hopes of bringing the students who are more challenged by math up to speed. Of course we have "No Child Left Behind" to "thank" for some of these policy changes, because after all, the goal these days is to be average.

Thankfully, there are other ways that kids can be encouraged in math and science. I'm a big fan of the Lawrence Hall of Science. I went many times as a kid, and my own kids have gone to camp there. Tomorrow, "Math Midway," a special mathematics exhibit opens.

Continue reading "Math Midway" »

August 23, 2013

Bandworks After-School Programs

It is hard to believe that my boys start school next week, but that's how it goes! (And the fun isn't over: Bandworks has after-school workshops!)

bandworks-school-of-rock.jpgLooking back on the activities we did this summer, they were primarily in line with "the usual." We had gymnastics, we had various educational experiences, we had time in the swimming pool, and then the fabulous "just hanging around" time. Of course, these were all fantastic things, but an unexpected highlight of the summer for my youngest was his experience at Bandworks School of Rock.

As I mentioned before, my son has an interest in musical instruments, but until this summer, no practical experience, other than the general music education received a couple times a week in school. Many "music camps" assume a level of proficiency before admission, and so I was thrilled to learn about Bandworks, where the aspiring rock musician can have absolutely no prior knowledge.

Interestingly enough, as I sat chatting with some other parents while our children jammed in the rehearsal space, I discovered that the parents of advanced musicians had the exact opposite worry I did: They reported that many "band camps" gear too young and too inexperienced. For them, they felt that many camps were fine for musicians who had a little bit of experience, but not "too much." But, they reported that Bandworks was different.

Two separate families explained that Bandworks came highly recommended by their teens' musical mentors. The certification process that Bandworks instructors go through is extensive and thorough. These families told me that Bandworks was really the only place that they trusted to continue their children's music education through the summer. The advanced options for musicians are pretty amazing, and if my son gets to that level, I'll know he's in good hands. (I heard the sound coming from the classrooms of the advanced musicians, and was very impressed!)

Indeed, I could tell that my son's instructor was top-notch. During the "end of camp performance," he was able to successfully provide vocals for these budding musicians. I know it is tough to follow along when there are unintended key modifications and an uneven tempo from inexperienced performers. But, the instructor is absolutely a pro, so was able to sing along, seamlessly putting together all the instruments into a beautiful performance. For other songs, the kids --including my son-- provided vocals, and they rotated on the various instruments so that everyone could get a chance to play a different instrument. 

Bandworks Music Camp

Honestly, my son was petrified the first day. He was excited, because he really wanted to be in a rock band, but he was very worried that he wouldn't know enough to succeed. But, at the end of that first day, he was beaming. He was eager to go back to camp, and gushed about how wonderful a time he had learning various songs. He snuck into his brother's room to use his keyboard to show me what he had learned. He hummed the tune of the songs he'd perform at the end of the week. He told me about the other kids in his band, and which instruments were their favorites. (While we originally thought each child would learn a single instrument, it turns out that the band members rotated through various instruments and vocals to get a feel for everything!)

He awakened every day early in the morning to make sure we wouldn't be late. And he kept telling me that we had to do this again next year. He was sad every afternoon when he had to go home, but excited about the next day and the upcoming performance.

Indeed, Performance Day was magical. He played keyboard for two songs, drums for one song, and vocals for one song. He was so proud of his accomplishments, and really enjoyed how playing music made him feel. I was pleased and surprised that so much happened in just a week.

Bandworks Music Camp

Well, it turns out that Bandworks School of Rock has eight-week workshops during the school year, as well as some special-event clinics. The first workshop begins just in a couple weeks on the week starting September 9th (with an early registration deadline -earning a $20 discount- of September 2nd) but there are sessions that begin in November, February, and April as well.

So, if you are in the Bay Area, your child can rock out anytime throughout the year - not just summer break! I know my son is already begging me to sign him up for another Bandworks experience.

Disclaimer: My son received a week of Bandworks camp in exchange for my review. (I will not receive further compensation or commission should any of you fabulous readers decide to rock.)

August 27, 2013

Another Year of Camp Galileo Over?

Galileo_Logo.jpg Today the boys begin yet another year of academics. But, of course they weren't without education these last few months.

You regular readers know by now that I'm a huge fan of Galileo Innovation Camps, so it is no surprise that my kids returned for a fabulous week of camp this summer.

I've always been impressed with the staff's enthusiasm, and how welcoming they are of the kids. I'm thrilled with the creativity in the activities and the thoroughness of every single aspect of camp life, from basic logistics to the actual nature of the camp experience.

But, this year presented an interesting challenge because the location's parking lot and adjacent streets were undergoing repaving. Ordinarily, this sort of situation would cause chaos and delays, but the Camp Galileo staff handled the unexpected change in construction schedule with fantastic communication and impressive organization. Both drop-off and pick-up went surprisingly smoothly. The staff had bright smiles on their faces, and so did the parents who were relieved to not be stuck in a massive traffic jam!

(And, bonus points to the camp counselor who sprinted across the street as I was driving away so he could return my son's iPod to me. The drop-off was so unexpectedly organized and quick that my son was still holding his iPod when he exited the van!)

This year's themes and majors didn't disappoint:

My youngest studied "amusement parks," so created a spinning contraption that treated a LEGO guy to quite a thrilling ride, as indicated below:

He also adored water day, the various team-building activities, and plenty of art. He was glad to have the same counselor as last year, a young man that shares his name! 

My oldest selected "digital photography" for his third year of Galileo Summer Quest. He was a bit nervous, since in years' past he's focused on video game design, advanced video game design, and comic book art, all subject with which he's very familiar. But, although he's enjoyed taking photos on his small camera in the past, actually learning about photography was something he was nervous to do. 

But, he had a fabulous time! One of his photos was selected by his instructor on the first day as being a great example of one of the lessons they were learning. He put together an impressive portfolio, and learned some Photoshop skills that I know will be useful in his designing life as well as any photography he does in the future.

Galileo Summer Quest Digital Photography

My fingers are crossed that Galileo Summer Quest will have an app development course next year. They were polling the parents, and I gave two thumbs up! My oldest would definitely be game for that major.

My youngest will actually be eligible for Summer Quest next year, so is already excited about selecting his major. I anticipate that we'll be back for more than just a single week in 2014, since my [at that point] rising-5th-grader will want to attend both Camp Galileo as a graduating member, and Summer Quest to take on a specific major! 

But - I don't want to think about 2014 just quite yet! In the meantime, I'll hang on to the 2013 memories and be thankful that my sons had a fabulous experience.

- keep your eye on Galileo's Facebook page for registration discount promotions when 2014 hits us (it will be sooner than you think!) and for photos of this past year of camp

Disclaimer: Galileo provided my sons one week of summer camp in exchange for my promotion of their program. (I will receive no further compensation or commission should any of my readers sign up.) Back in 2011 I had already paid for Camp G before they approached me, so it was a natural fit. Since then, I've paid for additional weeks of camp on my own dime, since I'm such a fan of the program!

About Educational

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to A Spectrum of Reviews in the Educational category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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