Friday, January 27, 2012

Why I am Reviewing Games: A Game is Not Just a Game

Games are fantastic for family bonding and child learning. Bonding through games is an excellent way to go and our family plays a ton of games. We have two children ages 2 and 5 (as of 1/27/12) so any recommendations should be viewed with that in mind. However I will probably do some reviews of adult games as well. Child development can be fostered through games in general by aiding in the ability to think ahead (strategy), organize objects (in the case of matching, sequencing, etc), become gracious winners and losers, bolster self-esteem, and much much more.

I hope that you will find my reviews to be useful in not only finding games but also in thinking of ways to use the games to help with child development. Some of the things that are done easily with most games include talking a lot while playing. This can be just about your day, or can have to do with different aspects of the game like who is winning and how everyone feels about that. For younger kids who are still learning about things like colors, shapes, sizes,  numbers, and sequencing talking about what you see and how it all relates is helpful.

For example, if you have a classic game like dominoes but that maybe has pictures of animals instead of dots it is very easy to talk about the animals and what colors, if they would be larger or smaller than another animal, what sound they make, etc.

I would also encourage you to look at a game and decide if it might be worth getting even though your child is outside the age group. A lot of times these games can be adjusted a bit so that the child has the ability to have fun with it. I do not mean that you should "let" your child win although that is a choice that is up to you to make. I mean that the rules are adjusted for everyone playing so that the kid can play and be able to understand what is going on. A lot of times we have found that if we do this for the first few times of playing a game our kids are able to pick more and more up as we go.

The most difficult thing to get past is when a game requires a lot of strategy just because adults have an huge advantage in this aspect. What I tend to do to get past this is try and teach pieces of the strategy as we are playing, explaining why I make the choice that I do. My husband tends to give a lot more as far as faking his ability and I find that I do not always make the optimal move especially if I can see that I am very far ahead.

I hope that in playing lots of games with my children I am not only creating a learning experience but a lot of fun family memories. I know that I can remember a lot of the games that I played with my family as a child and look back on them fondly. How about you? What is your favorite family game or game from when you were a child?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Science Museum Outing: OMSI

In Portland, Oregon finding a good indoor activity for the winter is essential. Our family has found that over almost all other places OMSI (the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) is the best place to go if we are spending our day inside. OMSI has something for every age group, and I do mean every age group, from infants to adults. 

OMSI has been around for as long as I can remember, in fact I can remember going there as a child with my Father. It used to be located by the zoo but moved years ago to increase the space inside. There are two stories of great educational but fun interactive science exhibits showcasing biology, engineering, chemistry, physics and more. We have two main places that we love to go and visit every time we are at OMSI. These are the Science Playground which is designed especially for kids ages 0 to 6 and Turbine Hall. 

Turbine Hall has water rockets, orbit tables, both a physics lab and chemistry lab, a room where you build ball launchers, a few water tables where to create and test out different types of boats (sail or paddle), and more. The Science Playground was recently given a makeover of sorts and now contains a brand new water play area and quite reading tent. It also has a forest discovery area where kids can pretend to be a chip monk dressing up and hiding acorns in a tree, play with puppets, and check out the inside of a cave. There is a sand play area, block building, a shopping and cooking area, and a craft area that also always features either play-doh or gak. There is so much more in this area, I really could go on for pages. 

There is one more permanent exhibit area full of things ranging from live animals like rats, turtles, and snakes, to information about nanotechnology. There is a lot of stuff in this room about the importance of staying healthy and it does a good job of giving hands on ways to help this message sink in while still being fun.

OMSI also has a Submarine tour (you have to be at least 3 to go on), a planetarium featuring a wide variety of shows, the OMNIMAX Theater, a special exhibit that changes every couple of months and a cafeteria that actually has pretty good food.

Our family highly recommends OMSI especially for these dreary winter months.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Winter Flowers

I don't know about you but I am ready for spring. I am ready to see the new leaves come out on the trees, have a sunny and slightly warm day, I am ready to plant some seeds with the kids and start watching them grow and I want to see plants sprouting and turning into flowers. Well I can't make any of those things happen, but I can get the kids to make me a bouquet of "flowers" for my table to add a little color and a big smile to my face every time I see them.

Today's craft is simple and yields very fun results. I encourage you to add or take away any elements from this that you would like.

What you need:
An empty egg carton with the individual egg places torn apart from each other (see the picture)
Paint brushes
Any odd and end craft decorations you have we used:
        Small pieces of tissue paper
        Glitter and glitter glue
        Little fuzzy colorful balls
        Small pieces of cut up yarn

What you do:
First you make a hole in the bottom of the egg carton cup
Second you put the pipecleaner through the hold about 1/4 of the way down the length of the pipecleaner leaving enough room to secure it.
Either fold the pipe-cleaner so that it will reach back around to the "stem" and twist to secure or fold it in the center of the flower to crimp it and secure it. We also tried making a spiral by wrapping it around a finger.

Now you get to start the fun part of decorating the flower. There is no right or wrong to this part just let the kids go for it. This is a great activity to help with fine motor skills and to discuss colors, shapes, sizes, and textures. You could check out a book about plants and flowers and talk about the parts of a flower and compare it to the flowers that your child makes learning science. All of these things will help to increase vocabulary as well as increasing awareness about many concepts. I love how a simple activity can be so developmentally rich.

This craft would be perfect for the upcoming Valentine's Day working as a very cute Valentine to someone who lives near. It also would be good for engaging in a discussion about Earth day and recycling (reusing the egg carton). Mayday would be another great day to give these out, hanging them from the doors of loved ones.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

What to do With Left Over Smoothie: Zoku Pops Maker Reviewed

After making the smoothie recipe in my last blog you may have been left wondering what you could do with left over smoothie. Well the answer that we have come up with in our household is to make popsicles. We started using the Zoku Pop maker about a year ago when my son got it for his birthday.

Here is what you do. Make  sure you keep the Zoku in your freeze all the time that way it is completely ready to use when you want to make a popsicle.  Once the Zoku has been frozen you take it out and add the popsicle sticks. Then you pour any juice or mix to create your very own version of a popsicle. They even have extra tools so that you can make fun designs or do things like make vanilla cream filled orange pops. So to make a smoothie pop just add in enough smoothie to fill to the stop line and allow to sit for about 7 minutes.

At this point you will want to check to see if it is done by looking at it.
If it is solid at the center towards the white stick you can take it out.
Now you get to enjoy it! It is that quick and easy.
Assuming you make three pops in a batch you can start right over and make another batch and then store them in a Zoku pop container.

When you are done you can pop the maker back into the freezer again or let it thaw out completely before washing with warm soapy water.

What my kids love about the Zoku maker: it is fast and easy to use so they can easily help and have very quick pops to eat without having to wait over night or all day. They can use their imagination to create designs using different color juice and experiment with what it might look like if they change how they are positioning the pop maker.

What I love about the Zoku maker: it is fast and easy. My kids get to be independent and make decisions about how they each want their pops to look and taste. They get to measure learning math and science. They develop independence and motor skills. When designing their pops they have to use planning and experimentation, we can discuss how an action will cause a reaction and make hypothesis about what those will be. This is a perfect time to talk about liquids and solids and how when something gets really cold it turns from a liquid into a solid. They get to see it happen right before their eyes! It allows for vocabulary building when discussing what they want to put in the pop, how they want it to look, and how they will achieve that. All while making a popsicle. Although this thing is a bit pricy for a pop maker it has been put to good use in our house and I recommend it.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Smoothie Recipe: Calories Count Continued

Last week I let you in on a fun and simple recipe for a high calorie snack for toddlers and young children who really still need to be getting good healthy high calorie foods. My children did not like protein at all and although avocado is great for children neither of mine have ever liked it. One thing both of them have always loved though is a good smoothie and berries.

Smoothies in general are a great snack or even a meal. They can be made to order so easily at home using almost whatever fruits and vegetables juice and milk you can find around the house.When you make them at home you get total control to limit the sugar by using 100% juice and if you need a little added sweetening using honey or agave in small amounts to get the right taste. In our house we need a particularly high calorie count which is what most toddlers need as long as they are nutritious as well.

I figured out that a wonderful way to boost the calorie content of a smoothie is with avocado, the taste blends right in and makes the smoothie very creamy. For added protein I can not adore Greek yogurt enough. In particular the brand Fage has an amazingly high protein content with 7 ounces containing 18 grams! There are a few other things I add to get more protein and calories packed into these smoothies so check out the recipe. I would also like to note that smoothies in general are very forgiving and can be added to or have ingredients changed according to your likes.

You can involve your little ones by allowing them to measure, add ingredients, and if you use a normal blender pressing the buttons on the machine. We use an immersion blender which I love for making smoothies it works so much better than any blender I have ever had but my kids do not get to help so much with the mixing process.

Here is the recipe:

1 1/2 cups frozen mixed berries
1/2 an avacado
7 oz whole milk plain yogurt (I use Greek)
1/4 cup whole milk (or if you really want to add calories 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream)
1 tablespoon ground Flax seed
1 tablespoon wheat germ
2/3 cup 100% juice (we use cran/rasp)
1 tablespoon honey (optonal)

Makes 2 12oz cups

Check back soon for a hint on what to do with left over smoothie.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Product Review: Lego Pirate Plank

For my first product review I decided to choose a game that my son got for Christmas, Lego Pirate Plank. This is a game that is marked as ages 7 and up but my son (5 years old) has been able to do games for older kids in the past and has recently really gotten into legos in general so I decided that we would give this one a try because it combines two things he really enjoys, legos and games. This game is a hit!


The first time that you play this game you get to put the pirate ship together with legos (when you put it away you can just take the sails off and easily put them back on the next time) which my son was able to do almost completely on his own. My husband worked closely with him in doing it but mostly just because it was a good way for them to spend quality time together. After the ship is built each player chooses which little lego person they want to be and place their person on a plank. During your turn you roll a dice which is "built" during the game. On each turn you have to decide if you are going to add another person's color to the dice, use one of the colors already on the dice to move a person forward on their plank, or do nothing at all. If you roll a skull and bones you decide if you are going to move your person back two or another person forward one. Once you hit the "water" you are eaten by sharks and therefore out of the game. One cool feature actually written into the game book is that you are allowed to change/make-up your own rules which my son did with lots of joy during our last game.

My son loves this game because it is a little different every time, he always has about as much chance of winning as anyone else playing, he gets to contribute to creating the dice each time we play, and lets face it there is a boat and pirates that are involved.

Why I love it: it is different and helps him to learn basic strategy, planning, and decision making (which piece to place on the dice or if he should make a player move with a color already on the dice). It teaches creativity and ownership over the rules of the game. Developmentally this game is good for encouraging positive social interactions such as turn taking, working together (while building the game "board"), good game manners (being a good winner/loser). Although this is a relatively simple game I enjoy it much more than many of the board games that use spinners or cards to show you where to move and don't really require much more thinking than counting or color knowledge (although those games do help with turn taking, counting, and colors).

Over-all I give this game a thumbs up and would recommend it to my friends. Again the box says ages 7 and up but my son is 5 and gets it. I think just evaluate how well the child in your life understands turn taking, counting, and cause and effect and decide on your own what level they are at and if this game would work for them. Do you have a favorite game for kids? We are always on the look out for new and interesting game and I plan on reviewing more in the future. Is there a game you have heard of for ages 0 to 7 that you would like to hear about. If we have it I will make that a priority for my next game in review.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Calories Count

I have never been a calorie counter until my son at 18 months old dropped to the bottom of the growth chart in weight. My daughter did the same thing at the same age. Needless to say I began watching calories a lot but in the opposite direction than most might be. I knew that a lot of their stature was attributed to genetics  and when we went to the Nutritionist and they did a calorie count they were actually taking in more then they should have needed to grow correctly. So we worked and worked on adding as much good fat to the diet as possible and making meal time as much fun as we can.

One thing that shocked me a bit during this process is that it is actually some what difficult to find high calorie foods that do not have a ton of bad fats or sugar in them. For example most yogurt aimed towards children is low-fat and has tons of sugar in it. Children actually really need good healthly fat, it is very important to their proper growth (actually all of us do it helps brain functioning, skin health, and mood). Luckily I tend to make most of my own food anyway so I usually would just buy a whole fat item and do the rest myself. Whole fat plain yogurt with honey and frozen berries works like a charm.

Another way that I went about getting my little ones to eat more calories was to try and find new ways to eat the same old foods. Eating time is also great because there are many other developmental tasks that take place during this time. This particular recipe uses fine motor skills, gross motor skills, social interaction, imaginative play, learning about the five senses, and confidence building because this is something they can create and eat on their own (with the exception of cutting the apple).

The Apple Pizza Snack

One apple sliced into thin rounds (see picture below)
Nut butter or nut butter substitute (yogurt, sunflower seed butter)
Shredded coconut (we like unsweetened)
Dried cranberries
Any other "toppings"

Set up for you kid to spread the sauce (nut butter) and add the toppings (shredded coconut & dried fruit)

My kids LOVE this but they usually eat the dried fruit separately. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Winter Fun, Illuminating the River

Every year my family has been involved in a very unique event called the Illuminata Regatta. This special family event is for non-motorized paddle boats such as canoes, kayaks, and in recent years dragon boats. The boats are decorated with lots of battery powered Christmas lights and then launched just as it starts to get dark. Spectators line the dock and shore as well as watching from a dinner cruise paddle boat.

This is such a fun event, it is fun to decorate the boats and see how others have decorated their own. My kids love putting the lights on and seeing how the lights reflect on the water. I fully recommend this event.

Here are a couple of photos taken before our launch this year. These photos were all taken with my Canon PowerShot A590. I did not take any while I was on the water this year because I had my little one in the boat too.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Starting the New Year Without Fear

Starting this year off right brought me here. I have been trying for the past year to start a blog in order to join the blogging boom that I am found myself intrigued with for the last couple years. What has been holding me back? Well first it was time and the thought that nags at me, what do I have to say that people would have any interest in? I finally decided about six months ago that I was going to take the plunge even if I only post things that provide me with an account of my story as it is now. That seems completely inadequate to me when I think of the wonderful blogs that I read daily.

When I finally started to dive in I learned something about myself. When I do not get it right the first time I feel like I have failed. I am the worst kind of perfectionist because my perfectionism leads me to feeling like a failure if I make a mistake even if it is the first time I try. I found this out while trying to come up with a blog title. Everything is lacking. Nothing is right. These things lead me to this: don't try and you can't mess it up. Why do I do this? I think that it has to do with fear. The underlying fear that I am going to fail even if I try, I mean really really try.

It did not really click in me what I should do about this problem until just after the new year when I heard a radio talk show host saying that one of the most important things we can do is live without fear. I decided that my New Year's resolution is to try and embody that. Live Without Fear. So here I am and here I go.

Of course I am not really sitting here writing this without fear but I am doing it despite the fear.