Every year at this time, I begin making plans for summer. We usually allow each boy to participate in one camp or class over the break. In the past, our sons have enjoyed Lego Robotics, Tennis, Science Camp, Soccer, and Crafts programs. Then last year, my oldest boy tried something totally new: An Online Class. Gamestar mechanic is an online community for video game builders and players. Designed for children ages 7 to 14, the online platform allows participants to work through a series of 'quests' to learn the principles of game design while also following a future-fiction story line and play related video games. As players progress through the various components, they earn the ability to incorporate new characters and features into their own game designs. This learning series focuses on deign principles - not computer coding. Therefore, a child with basic click-and-drag skills can make a computer game and share it with friends in just one session. As explained by Gamestar; "Registering an account at Gamestar Mechanic is free and includes access to your first game design Quest, the ability to make and publish your own games, and access to the Gamestar Mechanic community."
Access to the 'Complete Quest' (with 100 quests) is just $19.99, and additional specialty-theme access passes are available for $1.99 each (which makes this a great idea for birthday or Christmas presents). It doesn't wrap neatly or fit under the tree, but it certainly offers unique and fun learning.Here are few games created by my son:
The World of Elkton
The Museum Robbery
For those interested in taking the full on-line course this summer (which pairs young game designers with professionals)
, sign-up information is here. Geared specifically for 10 to 14 year-olds, the 6 week course provides access to the main-frame program as well as specific modules that provide more in-depth learning about game design. Our family was invited to preview the on-line class for free last summer when it was first launched. My son had a great experience, calling it: 'Awesome!' I was happy to see him try something new and participate in a new platform
. We give it 5 stars for summer fun!
I’ve blogged before about Freegal.Yep.That’s free music downloads from my favorite public library! Here’s a video tutorial so that you can hear the music today:
Click here for a full-screen version of this tutorial.
I consider so very few TV shows to be “little-boy-friendly”, but a BIG, HUGE thank you to Grammy who told us about “How the States Got Their Shapes.” When I first heard of this show, I was thinking it was about geography (and it is), but after watching a few episodes I’ve come to realize that this gem of entertainment is also about the people who make up our great nation. North vs. South; Democrats vs. Republicans; Sasquatch vs. Aliens: Host Brian Unger talks to folks across the nation about what we have in common and what divides us. Sometimes it is geography, but often it’s something else entirely. I know... it sounds a little odd (and by that I mean unusual). It is. It’s an unusually great mix of random facts, important understandings, geography, anthropology, history and sociology AND it’s funny. Hooray!
My boys and I have been watching and will continue watching. Will you?
Browsing the games available, I gasped when I saw Lemonade Stand. This old-time game was available on the chunky apple computer that sat in the corner of my fourth grade classroom. Now updated to fit the hand-held computer (but still similar in format) this game asks players to become the proud owners of their very own lemonade stand (rain or shine).
Check the weather; decide just how much sugar you want to use; set your price. Then sit back and hope sales cover all your costs. On a good day, they’ll be a parade and you’ll sell out of your refreshing drink. On a bad day, the feds may come and close you down for failure to have a business license.
I like the fact that the game relies on a bit of luck and a bit of strategy – and reading! Of course, at our house it also involved a bit of writing. See the review my boys wrote HERE.
For his 10th birthday, my son received his first “electronic” gadget. Grandpa gifted him a Kindle!
Watching my son learn how to operate this e-reader, I immediately saw that this device is a natural stepping-stone to a phone, which will certainly lead to a tablet, and then transition into a laptop that he will take to college – EKKKKK!!! (Sorry. Every day that my babies get older, I panic at the thought they’ll someday leave me. Of course, occasionally, I panic that they won’t.)
With this birthday gift, came money from my sister to purchase a Kindle cover. At first, I thought we’d just head to the nearest tech store to buy a cover. However, my son and I soon learned that local stores only carry the covers made for the latest-and-greatest Kindle Fire. That meant we had to turn to cyberspace for a bit of on-line shopping.
I thought perhaps we could log-in to Amazon and make a one-click-purchase, but that idea didn’t work as well as I had planned. There are a zillion options on Amazon!
So... I took this opportunity to teach my son how to navigate through the Amazon "product reviews." It wasn't long before he was flexing his skills as a mindful consumer.
During the process, we had many-a-conversation about:
1) Free shipping (with purchase of $25 or more).
2) Reviews that offer only glowing reviews about every aspect of the product. (“Mom, do you think the seller posted this review themself?”)
3) Nasty reviews that can’t find a single redeeming quality with an item. (“Five people loved this cover, but this person absolutely hated it! Which is correct? Or are they all?”)
4) Confused reviews that go on and on about a product – although not the actual one detailed in the listing.
5) Seller ratings.
6) Return policies.
7) Price comparisons (considering individual delivery and included accessories).
Overall, the online shopping experience was a great lesson for my son. He used critical thinking and decision making skills AND in the end, purchased a durable, reasonably priced cover.
Of course, never one to miss additional opportunity for reading and writing – I then asked my son to post his own review. You can read it here (under SillyMom)!
As many of you have noticed, I don't post pictures on this website that show the faces of my boys. I figure, there is plenty of time for them to control (or ruin) their own online profile. No need to empower Google images to spread their darling smiles in cyberspace - I'll just wait until they are teens and they can do it themselves with their cell phones. (EK!) However...I did recently run across a silly website that allowed my sons to create their own cyberspace alter ego. Here are the results:
My nine year old...
My crazy nine year old...
Now, while I can't argue with the first image: brown eyes, pale skin, loves green, often in a hat (to protect the beforementioned pale skin). However, the second image gives me pause and inspires silent prayers of: "Please help me, Lord! Please."
And my seven year old...
Crazy version of this boy:
Again, I can live with the unibrow, but I'm going to need help (serious help) if his teenage years resemble this creative image. Easy to use and good for a giggle, the website that generated these "clay " images is free and needs no registration, no password, nor a download. It gives countless choices and countless ways to make your mother nervous. Also, once you've made a character you can use a silly Mad-libs-type script generator to type in nouns, verbs, and adjectives to come up with a nonsensical story. I saw this site used by an elementary teacher who allowed students to each "clay" themselves and then add audio for a school video. Very clever. Very fun!
Occasionally, I find a new word challenge to add a bit of language-play in our day. This one is addictive.
Someday.... when the kids are grown; when work slows down; when I'm less tired; and when I have less laundry; I want to write a book about libraries. They say you should live what you love and I just love books and LIBRARIES! In fact (to flip that sentiment upside down) while some folks would like their ashes scattered at sea, I'd like to request the large-print mystery-stacks of which I am so fond.
Libraries really are 'the best thing since sliced bread' and in support of that statement I submit the following evidence:
Through your friendly local library you can now use your library card to log-on and download free digital music. Wait! I'll say it again: FREE music! This new service is a godsend for our family. You see, just as my oldest is a complete book worm -- my youngest is a music maniac. Without the public library we'd go broke supplying my nine year-old with enough reading material or worse: he wouldn't be able to devour new titles every week. And sadly, in the past, I have not been able to supply enough music for my six year-old. Between the cost, the access, and my limited knowledge of who or what is even 'out there'
-- we've been music deprived in this house. Well... that's true no longer. With the help of Freegal and my beloved library card, I'm downloading a little jazz, a little country, a little this and a little that and watching my sweet-young-music-man tap his foot, nod his head, and soak in the rhythms. "What's the fine print?" you ask. Well, each library card is limited to three downloads each week; only songs from Sony are available; there is an ongoing debate about the program; and I'm pretty sure our City Library Administrator is never going to agree to my ashes scattered among the titles. That said... it's still music to my ears.
Here are links to a variety of online games
for beginning readers who are tackling rhyming words.
A great confidence builder, these games
help readers practice and strengthen their skills.
Here's another fun, easy web tool!
You can sign up for a free account
and make a groovy slideshow of your kids today.