Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is a Clay-Ful Family Adventure

© Nintendo

© Nintendo

Animated. Clay-ful. Play-D’awwwww. There is no shortage of puns to describe Nintendo’s cute and whimsical release, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse. Another standout title for the Wii U, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse makes excellent use of the GamePad for a unique gaming experience in a colorful and memorable world—it’s just a shame that you spend so much time staring at the GamePad that you never really get to fully enjoy those colors in glorious HD.

A mysterious villain has stolen all of the colors from Dream Land, and with the help of Elline and Waddle Dee, Kirby must navigate through Pop Star and defeat monsters to save his home. With a swipe of the stylus on the GamePad screen, you can get Kirby started on his journey, drawing a rainbow path to scale tall walls, make a way through and around obstacles, and even attack (adorable) enemies.

© Nintendo

© Nintendo

It’s a unique way to play that was introduced in Kirby’s DS adventure, Canvas Curse, and drawing the rainbow rope adds a bit of a learning curve for players of all ages. Or, if you’ll forgive one more pun, it takes a while to learn the ropes. Kirby is controlled only with a tap or swipe of the stylus, not with the D-pad, so your brain may take a little bit of time to adjust. But it won’t take long, and you’ll appreciate the change of pace from your standard platformer.

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse

© Nintendo

Since you have to stare at the GamePad to plan the next move of the rainbow rope, the person controlling Kirby rarely looks at the big screen to appreciate the vibrant world of Dream Land. The clay effect is done so well that it’s a shame to see it only on the GamePad’s small screen.

Your partner, however, gets to enjoy it as they use the Wii controller to join in the fun. As Waddle Dee, the second player uses standard controls to help Kirby along the way. If your kids have trouble getting Kirby where he needs to go, controlling Waddle Dee instead can lead to much less irritation and a fun gaming experience for you and your kids together. (Up to three other players can join in.) There are no time limits, and Waddle Dee is instantly transported to Kirby’s side without penalty if he falls behind, making it ideal to play with younger kids.

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is a great break from the Skylanders and Lego games that you may typically play co-op as a family. It’s an adventure game that will get you thinking in new ways as you play with your kids, and it’s sure to provoke a few “awws!” along the way.

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is available now for the Wii U for a suggested retail price of $39.99.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Science Class Is in Session—On YouTube!

Crash Course Astronomy © PBS

© Crash Course Astronomy

Whether you’re looking for videos to catch your homeschooled teen’s interest, browsing for something to occupy yourself for a few minutes, or you’re a lifelong fan of learning, it’s always fun to tumble down the YouTube rabbit hole.

Thanks to some incredibly talented science communicators, you and your kids can dive into subjects like physics, astronomy, and more, and find experiments to take science off the screen and into their own hands. Here are four YouTube channels for those who wonder how the universe works—which is everyone!

Crash Course Astronomy

Crash Course Astronomy © PBS

© Crash Course Astronomy

Phil Plait, also known as the Bad Astronomer, is no stranger to the geek world. When he’s not busy with the Bad Astronomy blog on Slate, he’s often spotted at conventions like San Diego Comic-Con. Recently Plait teamed up with Crash Course and PBS Digital Studios for the new YouTube series Crash Course Astronomy.

Plait’s “f***ing majestic” voice (according to one impressed commenter) clearly and quickly leads you through topics like moon phases, eclipses, the basics of astronomy. Stylish graphics and high-res images make each video exciting and engaging for anyone who loves to gaze up at the stars.

Physics Girl

© Physics Girl

© Physics Girl

Dianna, an MIT physics grad, calls herself the Physics Girl. In her easy-to-follow videos, Dianna addresses everyday questions that you might otherwise not have spent much time thinking about, along with exploring the mysteries of the universe. Why is our image flipped in a mirror horizontally and not vertically? Why is the universe flat?

Physics Girl also shares her experiences with being a woman in physics, including her time at MIT, and chats with other interesting scientists in her field.

SciShow

© SciShow

© SciShow

Cathé named SciShow as one of her secret YouTube affairs a couple of years ago, and it’s easy to see why. Hank Green and other knowledgeable hosts share the answers to some of life’s burning questions in quick chunks, like why does mint taste cool and why we have baby teeth.

SciShow also dives deeper into current science topics, such as the recent measles outbreak, and host Hank Green even sat down to chat with President Obama at the beginning of the year. It’s easy to spend hours browsing the fascinating content of SciShow.

Sick Science

© Sick Science

© Sick Science

If you’re more hands-on than just eyes-on, or you’re looking for experiments to do together as a family, Sick Science from Steve Spangler Science is what you’re looking for. There’s no talking in these videos—just quick how-to’s for putting together eye-catching science demonstrations that are sure hook anyone with an interest in science. You can also find other science demonstrations by Steve Spangler on the channel, which is always entertaining.

Calling All Book Nerds! 7 Reasons You’d Love Volunteering at the School Library

Photo: Kelly Knox

Photo: Kelly Knox

Have you been looking for a way to help out at your kids’ school, but you’re not quite cut out to be a room mom? Or maybe you’re too introverted to be an active member of the PTA? Or perhaps you only have an hour to spare each week, but you’d love to help out somehow. Enter: the school library. Literally, I mean, go in the school library.

If you consider yourself a geek or nerd, libraries likely conjure many fond memories of your own days as a student. Finding new worlds to get lost in, hiding in the corner and reading during a free period, or even browsing through things that your own kids have never heard of, like “card catalogs” and “encyclopedias.” Having many such happy memories myself, and being too shy to be active in the PTA, I chose my daughter’s school library for my volunteering efforts.

And I love it so much that I just had to tell you all about it.

Here are 7 reasons why volunteering at the school library is a fun, fantastic way to give your time.

1. Learn about current books and authors and recommend them to your kids. After checking in the pile of books sitting on the counter every week, you start getting an idea of what titles are popular and what genres kids are getting into at their age. (Spoiler: Graphic novels.) If a picture book catches my eye that I know my kindergartener will enjoy, I write down the title to check it out for my daughter at the public library later.

My favorite section, though, is the chapter books/YA novels that I would have loved to read as a kid myself. Or, you know, now. So not only might you find your kid’s next book to love, you might find one for yourself, too.

Photo: Kelly Knox

Photo: Kelly Knox

2. Help a busy librarian. The school librarian has a lot more to do during the day than fiddle with the books on the shelves. He or she needs to write lesson plans, order books, coordinate school literacy initiatives, and find out just what the kids in the hallway are shrieking about. Your 30 minutes checking in books and shelving them helps them get it all done and actually take a lunch break.

3. Meet the kids in your child’s class. Some school libraries have weekly class times and allow a parent to volunteer during their child’s lesson. Checking out the books for your kid’s classmates lets you put faces to the names you hear about at the dinner table every night.

4. Shelving books is delightfully mind-numbing. I might have deadlines looming or a problem nagging me, but for one hour every week, all I worry about is finding 636.81. (Kindergarten girls really like books about cats.) Putting the books back on the shelves is a wonderful way to focus on something else for a little bit.

5. Help advocate for your school library by getting a firsthand look at where it might need some help. “They’re always under threat of budget cuts, and parents play a big part in saving libraries and librarians,” says Jackie Reeve, GeekMom’s resident school librarian. Spending time in there every week might highlight some problem areas (outdated books? in need of donations?) that can help you take your volunteer efforts further.

6. Get crafty. The school librarian once asked for my help with the books in the window display and you’d have thought I won the lottery I was so giddy. If you enjoy crafty stuff at all, helping with the bulletin boards and setting out books to display can help you get creative for a good cause.

7. Nerd alert: Learn the Dewey Decimal System. There’s something strangely satisfying about directing a curious kid to the Ancient Egypt section or a book about the Loch Ness monster without having to look it up on the computer. This probably doesn’t seem like a huge benefit or useful life skill—unless you’re a book nerd, which I personally am, and I have a feeling you might be, too.

Dawn of the First Day: Majora’s Mask 3D Out for the New Nintendo 3DS

© Nintendo

© Nintendo

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask has always been a unique game in the Zelda series. It’s a direct sequel to its predecessor, Ocarina of Time, and the game mechanic of getting tasks done in just three days is simultaneously compelling and maddening. The original release is the only Zelda game I gave up on midway through. So when The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3DS was announced for the New Nintendo 3DS with a remastered look and improved gameplay, I decided it was time to redeem myself.

Majora’s Mask 3D looks fantastic on the handheld system, and while the gameplay changes don’t make for an easy experience—it is a Zelda game, after all—the improvements all make this game more than worthy of a second chance.

Vivid greens and purples seem to leap off the screen thanks to the improved 3D of the New 3DS. This isn’t Hyrule; this is the darker world of Termina, where disaster from the sky must be averted within three days to complete your quest. The three day gameplay mechanic adds a sense of urgency to every task you undertake, and in the Nintendo 64 iteration, the repetitive cycle and limited ability to save is what ultimately caused me to give up.

In Majora’s Mask 3D, you can now save the game in the middle of the cycle, and gain the ability to travel between save points much earlier. (You can also jump to a specific time rather than standing around waiting.) This eliminates most of the frustration I felt the first time around, and updates the game for today’s players.

Majora's Mask 3D

© Nintendo

 

Majora’s Mask 3D also includes an upgraded Bomber’s Notebook to help you keep track of tasks you need to complete and townspeople to assist during your three days. It will even alert you to important events during the cycle so you don’t miss a necessary task. Add to that a new map and inventory system thanks to the touch screen, and you’ve got game improvements all around.

With all these changes, will I finally finish the game? Time will tell. Becoming a parent changed my gaming habits: I’ve gotten used to games I can pick up and turn off at any time, because I never know when that little voice will call for me. Majora’s Mask 3D can now be one of those games, but with so much to wrangle, it’s better played in long bouts. The New 3DS game might not be one of my Four in February, but I’m definitely impressed enough to keep at it.

Majora’s Mask 3D is available today for a suggested retail price of $39.99.

GeekMom received a promotional copy for review purposes.

SciGirls: Real-Life STEM Role Models in Action

© PBS Kids

© PBS Kids

“Mom, this is interesting! Come and watch with me!”

The second my kindergartener started watching SciGirls, she was hooked. As she’s a big fan of FETCH! With Ruff Ruffman, I knew she enjoyed watching real kids take on challenges and learn real-life science, but SciGirls captured her attention in a different way. SciGirls features diverse groups of girls tackling problems and learning about the world around them.

The PBS Kids show, now available on Netflix and on a four-disc DVD set, gives kids real role models to inspire them and shows how fun STEM challenges can be.

© PBS Kids

© PBS Kids

SciGirls is a PBS Kids show that might have flown under your radar. It’s not aimed at the usual preschool crowd that tunes in every morning to see Daniel Tiger and Elmo; the target audience is tween girls. Thanks to the intriguing mix of real girls, fascinating STEM topics, and a little bit of reality show drama (will they finish the challenge in time?), the show can appeal to a wider age range. My six-year-old might not grasp all of the science and engineering concepts on the show, but she gets a basic understanding in every episode.

In fact, she’s most interested in the girls themselves, often asking me to repeat their names to make sure she gets them right. PBS Kids always does an admirable job of diversity in their shows (don’t get me started on how much I love what they’ve done on Odd Squad), and seeing girls just like her in SciGirls has had a noticeable impact.

One morning after finishing her breakfast, my daughter held up her empty yogurt cup. “Mom! We need to recycle this cup and turn it into a flower pot!” SciGirls had given her the idea, she proudly told me. The team in “Going Green,” who were concerned about how much trash wasn’t being recycled at school, worked hard to turn yogurt cups into seed starters—and inspired my daughter to do the same.

Recycling inspired by the SciGirls. Inset © PBS Kids

Our recycling project inspired by the SciGirls. Inset © PBS Kids

If you’re looking for a way to get your daughter (or son) excited about STEM, SciGirls is a perfect way to share the enthusiasm of curious kids who aren’t afraid to take on a challenge. The series is ramping up for its third season this spring.

6 Things You Should Know About the New Nintendo 3DS

© Nintendo

© Nintendo

On February 16, the New Nintendo 3DS XL hits store shelves for an updated take on the portable system. The New Nintendo 3DS XL (quite the mouthful) boasts improved processing power, better 3D than its predecessor, design improvements on the system itself, support for new technology like amiibo, and more.

With yet another take on the 3DS, you might be wondering to yourself if it’s worth it to pick up yet another portable gaming system from Nintendo. Whether you’re considering an upgrade to your existing DS or just curious about the features of the new one, here are 6 things you should know about the New Nintendo 3DS.

There are a lot of design improvements.

The buttons and more have been shifted around from the 3DS XL, but it’s a welcome change. With the volume up on the top screen, and the wireless slider moved entirely, you won’t find yourself fumbling and accidentally changing the volume on the system.

You also won’t accidentally remove the game cartridge when grabbing the DS, which I have done many times (when the game wasn’t saved, no less)—the game now slides in the front instead of on the hinge.

I’m also happy to see the start and select buttons back where I’d expect them to be, instead of in the middle, leaving the Home button much easier to find when your eyes are glued to the screen.

My only complaint? The stylus isn’t where I’m used to, either, so I find myself still fiddling with the right of the system to find it, only to remember it’s now moved to the front.

Overall, I’m a big fan of these changes. There are also new buttons with the system, the C stick (most likely used for camera control) and the ZL and ZR buttons.

And, in case you’re wondering, screen size and system size haven’t changed from the 3DS XL.

A power cord isn’t included in the box.

The New Nintendo 3DS does not come with a power charging cord (AC adapter). This was done as a cost-cutting strategy, as most gamers who buy the New 3DS already have a compatible 2DS/3DS adapter, but it leaves people who never owned a system in the lurch. Pick up the official AC adapter when you buy the system if you’re a newcomer to Nintendo.

It’s not a simple process to transfer games and data.

If you’re not new to the DS and you upgrade to the New 3DS, you’ll find that it’s not a simple process to transfer games you’ve purchased in the Nintendo eShop. It’s not like the iPhone App Store, for example; you can’t just re-download the games from the eShop. Follow the instructions on the Support site and on screen to make sure you don’t miss an important step when moving over your games and save data.

New 3DS and 3DS XL side by side during transfer. Photo: Kelly Knox

New 3DS and 3DS XL side by side during transfer. Photo: Kelly Knox

The 3D really does look better.

I was never a big fan of the 3D technology on the 3DS XL, but I have to admit that I’m impressed with the improvements on the New 3DS. “Face-tracking,” one of the touted new features, actually does a remarkable job of keeping the top screen in stable 3D. Majora’s Mask 3D looks gorgeous, and even older games like Animal Crossing: New Leaf look good. If 3D gaming is your thing, the New 3DS delivers.

Other notable new features include amiibo compatibility.

Along with the new controls and 3D face-tracking, the New Nintendo 3DS also includes new amiibo functionality for compatible games like Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. Improved processing and a better camera round out the list of notable new features for Nintendo’s latest handheld system.

It’s coming out this month.

The New Nintendo 3DS XL is available for $199.99. Launching in the U.S. on February 13 alongside The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D, there are enough improvements to make the upgrade a consideration for casual and serious gamers alike.

Stay tuned to GeekMom for a closer look at Majora’s Mask 3D!

GeekMom received a promotional item for review purposes.

Star Wars and the Power of Costume Kicks Off 12-City Tour in Seattle

Photo: Kelly Knox

The famous metal bikini. Photo: Kelly Knox.

Say what you will about the Star Wars prequels, but you can’t deny that Queen Amidala’s gowns are breathtaking. In fact, from Princess Leia’s white gown to a Jedi’s robes, the costumes of Star Wars are now ingrained in pop culture. They are instantly recognizable and unquestionably memorable. Star Wars and the Power of Costume, an exhibit presented by the Smithsonian, Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, and Lucasfilm, celebrates the amazing costume achievements of the Star Wars trilogies with almost 60 original, handcrafted costumes from every film.

This exhibit is making its way to 12 cities across the U.S., starting at the extraordinary EMP Museum in Seattle on January 31. This incredible exhibit cements the EMP’s status as a geek mecca. Star Wars and the Power of Costume covers two floors of the museum, with a few costumes displayed elsewhere in the museum.

Photo: Kelly Knox

Photo: Kelly Knox.

The moment you enter the exhibit and hear the familiar music play, it’s not hard to imagine you’ve just stepped into Star Wars. (I’m pretty sure my mouth was hanging open the entire time.) Each costume has been meticulously cared for and in practically perfect condition. It’s always amusing to see just how your favorite characters actually size up, from the small waist of Natalie Portman or how much Chewbacca would tower over you, but the exhibit goes into much, much more interesting detail about each piece.

Every costume has a story. Many are inspired by multiple cultures throughout history, like the headdresses of Mongolian royalty for Queen Amidala’s wide red headpiece and the samurai helmet resting on Darth Vader’s shoulders. Lucas drew from fascist regimes for the look of the Empire, the swagger of a gunslinger for Han Solo, and the humble simplicity of monk robes for Jedi. Each part of the exhibit includes fascinating details about the inspiration and creation of the piece, each a work of art in their own right.

Star Wars and the Power of Costume

The evolution of an emperor. Photo: Kelly Knox.

Costumes inspired the actors and vice-versa; both Ewan McGregor and Samuel Jackson were giddy at the prospect of wearing Jedi robes, while Harrison Ford insisted his shirt look a certain way. Be sure to spend some time listening to the interviews with the actors, designers, and concept artists peppered throughout the exhibit for a truly inside look behind Star Wars.

Young kids may not get much out of Star Wars and the Power of Costume, although seeing Darth Vader, Jedi, Chewbacca, and the droids “in person” should hold their interests. This is a rare opportunity to see the incredible detail of Amidala’s lavish gowns, the worn robes of Obi-Wan Kenobi, or the famous metal bikini from Return of the Jedi. In short, if you’re a Star Wars fan, you need to see this exhibit, with or without the kids in tow.

Luminara Undili and Mace Windu take on the Emperor. Photo: Kelly Knox

I was certain the Emperor was going to move. Photo: Kelly Knox.

Star Wars and the Power of Costume is at the EMP Museum in Seattle from January 31 to October 4, 2015. Tickets are timed for entry, so plan ahead by choosing the best time for you and your family online. Tickets to Star Wars and the Power of Costume include access to all other EMP Museum galleries. (General admission gives access to all of the galleries except Star Wars, so double-check that you’re buying the correct one.) Don’t miss Icons of Science Fiction on the bottom floor!

GeekMom attended a promotional press preview.

Get Even More Hands-On With the iPad With Osmo! (Giveaway!)

Photo: Kelly Knox

Photo: Kelly Knox

Have you ever wished your kids would use the iPad camera for something other than selfies? Osmo might be just what you’re looking for. With three educational apps designed with both style and substance, Osmo is an accessory for the iPad that will transform your kids’ usual screen time into a play experience that’s actually engaging.

Osmo comes with a camera attachment, a stand for the iPad, and accessories for playing the free apps aimed at ages 6 and up. There is very little initial setup; with an iPad Mini, we did have to make a quick adjustment to the stand to hold it properly. A reflector slides on top of the iPad camera and then you’re all ready to get playing.

Tangram for Osmo is a fun twist on the tangram puzzle. The seven pieces are manipulated in front of the iPad, and reflected on the screen as pieces are moved into place. The app, like the other two Osmo apps, doesn’t come with irritating music or blaring cartoon characters, but with a simple interface and soothing sounds as pieces make the shape on the screen. With a great selection of puzzles and varying degrees of difficulty, this game isn’t just for kids—I enjoyed grabbing the pieces and taking on a puzzle myself.

My daughter is a new reader, so I was most excited for her to get her hands on Words for Osmo.

Photo: Kelly Knox

Photo: Kelly Knox

Clear, colorful photos give my daughter a hint for the word she needs to spell, and she uses the letter tiles that come with Osmo to complete the word. The “Junior Reader” setting helps her, as she is just getting started with reading and spelling, which frees her up from any frustration she might have felt trying to put the more advanced words together.

For even more bang for your buck, you can upload your own photos and words for unending play possibilities. Words for Osmo can also be played against a friend, adding a social dimension to the game.

Newton for Osmo is a one-of-a-kind game that takes your drawing and puts it on screen as soon as you put it on paper. The goal is to draw a shape that bounces a ball into the targets. You can draw any shape or thing you can think of, adding a fun, creative element to the app—and kids love seeing what they draw appear instantly on screen.

Normally I would balk at the price ($79.99) for an iPad accessory, but the Osmo is such an interactive and fresh play experience that it doesn’t feel overpriced. New apps are already in development, giving the Osmo a long shelf life with many intriguing possibilities for play.

Win your own Osmo!

This is your chance to win your own Osmo! To enter our giveaway, just log in to the Rafflecopter widget below with your Facebook account or email address (use a valid email so we can let you know if you win). You can then like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for up to two entries! If you already like/follow us, it will still enter you in the giveaway.

A winner will be chosen at random at the end of the contest and displayed below. You must reply to the email notification within two days in order to be considered a winner.

U.S. entries only. Contest ends January 31, 2015.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

GeekMom received a promotional item for review purposes.

How to Throw a Harry Potter Party Without Spending 1000 Galleons

All Photos: Kelly Knox

Photo: Kelly Knox

My daughter’s favorite film (for the moment) is Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. When she suggested a Harry Potter-themed birthday party this year, I jumped at the chance. After seeing the phenomenal Hogwarts hootenanny Jenn shared last summer, I knew there were a lot of great ideas out there to be found for the big day.

Last year we chose a party at a local venue, and not only did it feel like it lacked my daughter’s personality, the cost was sky high. Determined to make this party one to remember without breaking the Gringotts bank, I handmade almost all of the decorations and activities. Here are a few ideas for your next Harry Potter-themed party, inspired by Pinterest and my own love of all things Hogwarts.

Costumes for Guests

You can’t have Hogwarts students without proper robes, but at $30-$40 a pop for the licensed costumes, there was no way we could afford to get one for every guest. Pinterest to the rescue! Pieces by Polly has the genius idea of turning adult XL black T-shirts into robes with very little sewing. I don’t own a sewing machine, so I sewed nine robes by hand, but I got started early so it wasn’t an overwhelming amount of work. You can find black T-shirts at a craft store like Michael’s for $3-$4 each.

After the kids were sorted, we pinned a paper house crest to each robe. Take a look at the party activities below to see what we did for the ties!

Wands can also be expensive if you look for official merchandise, or you can make your own for practically free that can withstand a lot of dueling during the party.

Harry Potter Party

Photo: Kelly Knox

All it takes is chopsticks, hot glue, and paint to craft a wand. There are quite a few tutorials out there, but one of the best can be found at Give Peas a Chance.

Decorations

Guests were greeted by Platform 9 3/4 on the front door, which they had to pass through to get to Hogwarts.

Harry Potter Party

Photo: Kelly Knox

Again, there are many instructions for how to make a brick wall, but it simply takes an inexpensive white twin sheet, sponge, and red paint.

Inside the house, we wanted to re-create the look of the Great Hall, so we hung paper towel tube candles with fishing line.

Harry Potter Party

Photo: Kelly Knox

This also called for the hot glue gun, along with white paint, cardboard, and battery-powered tea lights. (I found a set of 12 on Amazon for around $6.) Harry Potter Wish List has all the details for creating this magical effect.

By this point, I was having so much fun making Hogwarts-related items that I even carried the theme over to the water bottles for the party.

Harry Potter Party

Photo: Kelly Knox

Or, as I like to call them, Potter Water!

Activities

With a birthday in January in Seattle, my kindergartener is destined for indoor parties for the foreseeable future. (So much rain!) That meant instead of playing Quidditch in the park, which would have been highly entertaining for all, we had to be a little creative for our party activities.

After sitting under the Sorting Hat (a witch’s Halloween hat in our version of Hogwarts), kids worked on their first activity for the party, coloring paper ties for the House they were sorted in.

Harry Potter Party

Photo: Kelly Knox

Use this fantastic template to print a tie on cardstock, punch two holes, and tie an elastic cord.

Once the students were in proper attire, it was time to play!

I drew a Pin the Glasses on Harry Potter poster with markers, along with cardstock glasses for each guest.

Harry Potter Party

Photo: Kelly Knox

Partygoers also played Freeze Dance to the wizarding-world hit “Do the Hippogriff” by The Weird Sisters, which you can find easily on iTunes on the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire soundtrack. If dancing isn’t your kid’s style, you can play Freeze Duel instead, where kids pretend to have a wizard’s duel but must freeze when the music is paused to win the duel.

Like Skylar’s birthday party that Jenn attended, we had a “Have You Seen This Wizard?” photo booth made of poster board.

Our one big splurge was the Harry Potter-themed candy we handed out to guests. I ordered Jelly Slugs from Candy Crate for each guest as their “goodie bag” (and they took home their robes and wands as well). I also happened to find Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans in a candy store for less than offered online, so I just had to pick them up. This turned into a hilarious activity at the party, as kids spent time studying the box and daring each other to taste test a flavor.

All in all, our little wizard had a blast, and her guests enjoyed their time at Hogwarts. I hope yours do, too!

2 New Apps From PBS Kids Add Up to Arithmetic Adventure

All images © PBS Kids

All images © PBS Kids

PBS Kids has been on a roll with phenomenal new kids programming, including two favorites in our house, Peg Plus Cat and Odd Squad. The two shows, which focus on early math and problem-solving skills with a cast of memorable characters, recently released companion apps to get young kids practicing those skills while having fun. (Gasp! Math can be fun!)

Peg Plus Cat: The Tree Problem

Oh that Cat, always getting stuck in a tree! The Tree Problem feels just like a Peg Plus Cat episode, starring your child as Cat’s only hope to get down from the tree. With the voices of Peg and Cat guiding kids along the way, the playful pairs’ lovable personalities jump seamlessly from the show to the iPad to keep kids grinning and playing.

30 levels across 6 familiar settings from Peg Plus Cat put kids’ spatial skills to the test as they make just the right path to navigate Cat to Peg. While slightly repetitive, each level adds a little more to the challenge to keep kids ages 3-6 motivated to solve the problem. If Cat’s antics always makes your kid giggle, this app will easily do the same.

$2.99, iPad.

GeekMom received a promotional copy for review purposes.

Odd Squad: Blob Chase

Blob Chase

All images © PBS Kids

 

Something very odd has happened! A blob has escaped from Agent Oscar’s lab and broken into pieces, and kids have to use all the math tools at their disposal to capture each one. Your little agent will use addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division across 60 levels to solve puzzles and get the blobs back to the lab.

Kids ages 5-8 who love games like Where’s My Water? will get a kick out of flexing their mental muscles to solve the problems and get those blue blobs moving in the right direction. My six-year-old needed a little help to get the hang of the game, but then she was off and blobbing on her own.

The app even comes with videos starring your favorite Odd Squad characters and music from the show, making your kid feel like they’re part of the team.

$0.99 (launch price), iPad, Android, and Amazon Fire.

New Nintendo 3DS XL in Stores on February 13

All images courtesy © Nintendo

All images courtesy © Nintendo

Today’s Nintendo Direct released a slew of information about upcoming games and the New Nintendo 3DS XL coming to stores this spring. The new system, available in U.S. stores February 13 at a retail price of $199.99, comes in red, black, and two designs based on The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D and Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (GameStop exclusive).

What sets the New 3DS above the rest? From a press release from Nintendo this morning, features include:

New Nintendo 3DS XL offers a number of new enhancements designed to offer the smoothest and most engrossing portable gaming possible. New Nintendo 3DS XL features a wider range of controls with the addition of a C Stick and ZL/ZR buttons, super-stable 3D via face-tracking technology and built-in NFC functionality that allows for communication with amiibo figures.

Also on February 13, the remastered The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D hits U.S. store shelves.

amiibo_supermario

Today’s Nintendo Direct also included tidbits about anticipated new releases like:

  • A new game in the Fire Emblem series
  • A line of amiibo featuring classic characters from the Super Mario series
  • The arrival of amiibo compatibility in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS
  • Upcoming games for the DS and Wii U like Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. (March 13, 2015), Splatoon (May 2015), Kirby and the Rainbow Curse (February 20, 2015), Mario Party 10 (March 20, 2015), and more

Check out the full video for all the details, and stay tuned to GeekMom for info and reviews for these family-friendly titles!

Hello, What Have We Here? Lando Calrissian Comes to Star Wars Rebels

© Disney / Lucasfilm

© Disney / Lucasfilm

Star Wars Rebels continue to impress diehard Star Wars fans (as in, myself) week after week. The recent episode “Path of the Jedi” brought back Frank Oz as Yoda, lending more Star Wars cred to the rookie entry into the universe, and sending shivers down the spines of fans tuning in.

Rebels isn’t stopping there with the amazing guest stars, though. This week Disney announced that Billy Dee Williams is returning as Lando Calrissian, smooth-talking his way through an adventure with the crew of The Ghost.

Visit the Star Wars web site for a behind-the-scenes look at Lando’s return, and watch “Idiot’s Array” on Monday, January 19, on Disney XD to see the scoundrel in action.

Experiment With Fun With the Spangler Science Club

All Photos: Kelly Knox

All Photos: Kelly Knox

If there’s anyone who knows how to make science exciting, it’s Steve Spangler. Have you seen this guy launch hundreds of film canisters on Ellen? Steve brings that same enthusiasm and love of science to the new Spangler Science Club subscription kits, which deliver kid-friendly experiments to your doorstep every month. While the kits aren’t inexpensive, the high-quality tools, detailed instructions, and overall sense of science-y fun are well worth it if you’re looking to foster a love of science.

The monthly subscription kit is packed with just about everything kids in grades K-6 need to run a series of experiments. And I mean just about everything—we only had to supply the water for the experiments in the first kit. I was particularly impressed with the test tubes in the box, which aren’t your run-of-the-mill science equipment, but instead come from a surprising source. I won’t spoil it for you, but I will say the tubes are sturdy and perfectly suited for kids’ hands.

Spangler Science Club

All Photos: Kelly Knox

The box includes two sets of instructions for running the experiments. One set, the “Top Secret” info for parents, includes the how and the why behind the science experiments. When we do experiments as a family, I always appreciate having info handy so I don’t have to go scrambling to Google to find the details behind what we’re observing. The text also puts the science in terms that kids (and grownups) can understand, so parents can explain concepts like osmosis and chemical reactions and sound like we actually know what we’re talking about.

The kids’ step-by-step walkthroughs not only include clear color photos and concise instructions, but also writing prompts to get kids thinking like scientists. Questions ask kids to predict what might happen and form their own hypothesis.

Spangler Science Club

All Photos: Kelly Knox

All instructions are laced with a sense of humor and enthusiasm, which shows kids that science isn’t all serious business—it’s actually fun to explore the world around us.

Experiments are designed to be done together with parents, along with some activities for the kids to spend some time on their own exploring the concepts. In the first kit, that meant my kindergartener had some hands-on time with color mixing by herself, taking the time to really make the experiment her own.

Spangler Science Club

All Photos: Kelly Knox

Every parent wants to share discoveries and encourage a love of science in their kids, but it requires a bit of an investment for a high-quality educational kit like the Spangler Science Club. Subscription costs range from $24.99-$29.99 a month, depending on the subscription plan. While you may balk at the price, it seems to be a fair cost for everything you receive each month, which includes the equipment, instructions, and shipping. There are also enough components in the box to run the experiments more than once or let siblings get in on the science action together.

If you have room in your budget and it’s important to you to encourage a love of science in your kids, Spangler Science Club is an incredible opportunity to turn science into fun family time every month.

GeekMom received a promotional kit for review purposes.

Make Reading Magical With Harry Potter Book Night

© Bloomsbury

© Bloomsbury

Wizards and Muggles around the world are invited by UK publisher Bloomsbury to join in the first ever Harry Potter Book Night on February 5, 2015. With a goal of “passing on the magic of J.K. Rowling’s amazing books to the next generation of readers,” teachers, bookshop owners, and other event organizers can download a free event kit to make the evening extraordinary.

Harry Potter enthusiasts and educators are invited to sign up to receive the event kit download. (You won’t receive it right away, so keep an eye out for an email within a few days.)

Grab the kit if there’s even a slight chance that a Harry Potter party might be in your future! The robust 41-page guide is packed with ideas, recommended book excerpts for the book night party, activities, printables, and more for large groups of kids ages 8-10, but can easily be adapted to a small storytime with the neighbors or a mini-party with your own little wizards. Even just the quick facts about Hogwarts and Harry Potter’s magical world make the kit worth the download.

Harry Potter Book Night is a great opportunity to introduce your community, kids, and their friends to the spellbinding story of Harry Potter—not to mention the perfect excuse to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone again!

 

The Best Kids’ Music of 2014

Image Courtesy © The Okee Dokee Brothers

Image Courtesy © The Okee Dokee Brothers

Looking for kids’ music that won’t make you throw the CD out the window after you listen to it on repeat? We’ve got you covered with some of the best releases in 2014! With albums ranging from kids’ bouncy hip hop to foot-tapping tunes inspired by the Appalachian Trail, there’s something on this list that should perk up the ears of any young listener.

okee-dokee-woodsThe Okee Dokee Brothers: Through the Woods. Even if you’ve never heard music inspired by Applachian culture, the energy and charm of the The Okee Dokee Brothers’ songs will quickly win you and your kids over. Songs are lively, unique, and paint pictures of simple days spent in the sunshine.

 

 

Caspar Babypants: caspar-riseRise and Shine! Chris Ballew continues his streak of amazing kids’ albums with Rise and Shine! After last year’s Beatles tribute album, Caspar Babypants’ latest CD is a return to his fun new takes on old classics and upbeat original songs. Where else can you find an ode to a baby barnacle?

 

 

Recess-WiredRecess Monkey: Wired. Inspired by makers, dreamers, and inventors, there might not be a more perfect CD for a geek kid than Recess Monkey’s Wired. Rachel Cericola reviewed the album earlier this year, saying, “[It] should keep the entire family bopping, bouncing, moving, and grooving for most of the album’s 43-minute runtime.”

 

berkner

The Laurie Berkner Band: The Ultimate Laurie Berkner Band Collection. If a queen of kids’ music was ever to be crowned, it would be Laurie Berkner. The band’s sweet, silly songs are perfect for babies and toddlers, and this latest greatest hits collection gathers some of the best in one place. With 22 songs collected from six of the band’s CDs, this is great starter collection of music for a new baby in your life.

 

perfect-quirkSecret Agent 23 Skidoo: The Perfect Quirk. Skidoo mixes beats and rhymes to bring hop hop songs to kids that will truly get them hopping. The Perfect Quirk celebrates individuality and the fun spirit of childhood, including a one-of-a-kind take on imaginary friends and an ode to epic pillow fights.

 

 

123conandresAndrés: 1 2 3 Con Andrés. With bilingual songs the entire family can enjoy, 1 2 3 Con Andrés is a fantastic introduction to Spanish music and culture. “If I Had A Mariachi” is a delightful song that joyfully teaches kids about the instruments used in mariachi music.

 

 

shy-kid-bluesHullabaloo: Shy Kid Blues. Part story and part catchy folk music, Shy Kid Blues tells a tale that many geeky kids can identify with: A painfully shy kid named Steve works to overcome his timidness with the help of his outgoing best friend. The story is so fun to listen to that you might find yourself listening to the entire album from start to finish each time you press play.

 

bari-koralBari Koral and the Family Band: Apple Tree & The Honey Bee. Up-tempo songs, many with a country feel, covering favorite toddler and preschooler topics from apple trees to big trucks make Apple Tree & The Honey Bee an ideal CD for a long car ride over the holidays.

 

 

raise-your-handThe Not-Its!: Raise Your Hand. Elementary-age kids will dig the songs on the fifth album from The Not-Its!, with topics including cat videos, scabs, bees, and more. The punk-inspired songs feel less like kids’ music and more like a rock album for the entire family to enjoy. (Parents might especially get a kick out of “Hey 80s,” a tribute to the most gnarly decade.)

 

rainbow-rocks-soundtrackMy Little Pony Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks Official Soundtrack. The pop songs sung by the Rainbow Rocks cast are just right for singing along at the top of your lungs. Not that I’ve, er, done that. Daniel Ingram continues the great songwriting work he’s done on the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic series with songs worthy of a battle of the bands.

 

 

GeekMom received promotional copies for review purposes. All album covers copyright of their respective holders.

Into the Woods‘ All-Star Cast Makes It Worth the Journey

"You wish to have the curse reversed?" © Disney

“Go to the wood and bring me back…”All images courtesy © Disney

Once upon a time…

Into the Woods, a beloved show for many Broadway enthusiasts, makes the move from stage to screen this Christmas. But does the musical translate well to the big screen? With a talented all-star cast, lush scenery and stunning costumes, and a humorous look at what happens after the ever after, Into the Woods is worth the trip to the movie theater this holiday season.

Into the Woods re-tells classic fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Jack and the Beanstalk in one sweeping story that ties them all together. At the heart of the story are a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt), who wish for a baby. A witch (Meryl Streep) has placed a curse on their family, and to reverse the hex they must journey into the woods to find four unique items in three days’ time.

Notable names like Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Anna Kendrick, and Chris Pine are enough to get you into the theater, and they all deliver on their roles. Meryl Streep is probably already picking out her gown for the Oscars. She makes the Witch all her own, even for audience members who can only think of Bernadette Peters in the role, and doesn’t shy away from the big moments in “Last Midnight.” Johnny Depp sings the part of the Big Bad Wolf with a silky voice, and Anna Kendrick is the perfect Cinderella.

Chris Pine practically steals the show and audience hearts as Cinderella’s Prince. “Agony,” the princes’ duet, had everyone in the audience howling in laughter. Pine hams it up as the overly charming prince; in fact, he reminded me of William Shatner for the first time ever, something he never accomplished in the Star Trek films.

INTO THE WOODS

The real standout in the cast, though, is Emily Blunt. It’s almost hard to believe the same actress who played the incredibly tough and stoic action lead in Edge of Tomorrow is now the gentle (but also tough in her own way) Baker’s Wife. Her singing voice is beautiful, and she plays her part with humor and tenderness.

So, how does the movie adaptation compare to the stage production? Minor spoilers follow!

If you’ve ever caught the musical on Netflix or on PBS long ago, it’s impossible to not compare the film to the original cast and recording. Several songs are missing, including the transitional songs between midnights, the opening of the second act, and reprise of “Agony.” I can understand the need to remove the transitional songs as there’s no scenery to change, but I felt the lack of “So Happy” made the change of tone in the second half of the movie feel much more abrupt.

Removing “Agony (Reprise)” spares both princes from most of their less desirable qualities, but would have given the audience more of a feel for why Cinderella’s Happy Ever After isn’t quite so happy. It could be argued that Disney wants to keep their images of princes and princesses mostly intact, so Chris Pine’s Prince safely remains a likable character.

If you and your kids are fans of musicals, Into the Woods should go on your must-see list. It’s a family-appropriate film that elementary age kids can see with parents, but not all characters meet a happy end. Although there are dark corners and shadows in the woods, there’s nothing scary, and seeing a new take on familiar characters should hold kids’ interests from start to finish.

Into the Woods opens December 25, 2014, and is rated PG.

GeekMom attended a promotional screening for review purposes.

Geek Parenting: You’re Doing It Right (Yes, YOU!)

Doing It Right. Photo: Cathé Post

Doing It Right. Photo: Cathé Post

Each time I have the privilege to sit on a “raising geek kids” panel at a convention, I look out at the attendees and I wonder what brought them into the conference room. It’s certainly not to be regaled with tales of the latest cute thing my five-year-old said, and it’s not just to win a door prize. (Well, okay, maybe it’s the door prize.)

But I’m pretty sure they’re there for the same reason I also attend panels about parenting, that lingering question in my head, “Am I doing this right?”

I want to assure each of them, yes, you are. You gave up your time at a convention—often precious alone time, if you’re lucky enough to have found a sitter—to listen to other parents share their tales from the trenches and offer up advice about raising the next generation of geeks. Usually anyone willing to give their time to thinking about being a better parent is already a good parent.

We all need some reassurance once in a while, especially in those moments where we stare at our kids and wonder if we’re doing this whole parenting thing right. So here’s a handy list to remind yourself once in a while that yes, you’ve got this.

Geek Parenting: 14 Signs You’re Doing It Right

• You read GeekMom. (Bonus points if you also read GeekDad.) You could be trolling Pinterest for Chris Hemsworth photos, but instead you’re reading blog posts about doing stuff with your kids.

• You work just as hard on your kids’ cosplay as you do your own. You know that amazing feeling when you adore what you’re wearing, and you want your kids to feel that, too.

• You share your favorite things from your childhood (She-Ra marathon, anyone?) but you also give your kids the freedom have their own childhoods—not relive yours.

• You don’t hold yourself to perfect Pinterest Parenting standards and embrace the lovely chaos of childhood.

One small section of the game room. Image: Nicole Wakelin

One small section of the game room. Image: Nicole Wakelin

• The family that games together… (Video games count, too!)

• You let them break apart that 665-piece LEGO Guardians of the Galaxy set you just spent two hours building together.

• You consider GeekDad’s classic 67 Books Every Geek Should Read to Their Kids Before Age 10 a challenge to accept.

• You encourage your kids to explore the world (and moon) around them.

• You know how to build a decent blanket fort.

• You know when it’s time to put away the screen. That means the times you switch off your iPhone to play LEGO or My Little Pony (or both) with your kids.

• You cried during The Force Awakens trailer because, not only is it all the nostalgia feels for you, you know your kids will also get to marvel at new Star Wars movies at the theater during their childhoods.

• You laugh at your kids’ corny jokes.

• When your kids geek-out about something, you don’t mock or laugh—you know the feeling.

• You’ve stood in line for more than 30 minutes for an Iron Man made out of balloons or Frozen face painting that your kid just has to have.

Basically, if you give your time, attention, and love to your kids, you’re doing it right.

What would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments below!

 

The Flash vs. Arrow: “Who Would Win?”

© The CW

© The CW

This week the crossover DC Comics fans have been waiting for airs on The CW on Tuesday and Wednesday. In the official start of DC Comics’ shared TV universe, The Flash and Arrow team up to take on a threat that menaces both Central City and Starling City in an exciting two-night crossover.

When it comes to The Flash as a show vs. Arrow, however, it’s almost no contest.

The Flash has been a bright spot for me this TV season. While I agree with Corrina that changing Barry Allen and Iris West into practically siblings leaves me with the heebie jeebies, I have a more positive outlook about the show overall—because the show itself has a positive outlook. It’s not the grim world of Gotham, nor does it share the bleak tones of Man of Steel and Arrow. The Flash shows Barry’s joy at being a superhero and his belief that he can genuinely make a difference. It makes the show simply fun to watch.

Arrow is one of those shows that, while I will watch it to see its many nods to the DC universe, I almost have to force myself to fire it up on the DVR. Felicity Smoak is still a bright spot on the show, and Brandon Routh as Ray Palmer has added some much-needed charm. Here’s hoping crossing over with The Flash will add even more. But I admit, without Arrow and the charisma of its star Stephen Amell, The Flash and the start of a shared universe wouldn’t exist—so I’m happy to see the success the show has had.

The Flash vs. Arrow airs this Tuesday and Wednesday on The CW. If you’re a comic fan who hasn’t tuned into either show yet, this is a great opportunity to see DC’s new TV universe in action.

Tiggly Counts Adds a New Dimension to iPad Apps

© Tiggly

All images © Tiggly

Tiggly gives a whole new meaning to “hands-on learning” with their new Tiggly Counts toys, designed to interact with their three educational math-based apps for the iPhone and iPad. The Tiggly Counts counting toys get kids aged 3 and up engaged in a unique way with the screen by counting, adding, and playing with friendly characters.

Tiggly Counts comes with five colorful counting toys that are placed on the iPad screen to supplement learning math and number concepts. The toys, inspired by Cuisenaire rods used in Montessori, encourage hand-eye coordination and quick thinking. Three free companion apps, Tiggly Cardtoons, Tiggly Chef, and Tiggly Addventure, use fun characters and bright colors to get kids interested and engaged.

Tiggly ChefWe had a lot of trouble with using the toys with the iPad Mini, resulting in some frustration from my five-year-old, but when we switched to the full-sized iPad, things went much more smoothly. The toys must be pressed on the screen firmly to get it to work consistently with the app. My daughter enjoyed the apps so much, though, that she often plays both modes, with and without the counting toys.

Tiggly Chef is her clear favorite of the three games. With a title character full of personality and wacky concoctions in the kitchen, my five-year-old giggles every time a new creation is unveiled. The math concepts are age-appropriate, and she even learned to recognize a new food or two. (Apparently she never knew what garlic looked like unpeeled.) It’s the finished meals that keep her playing, though. “I wonder what he’s making!” she exclaims every time she starts cooking.

Tiggly Cardtoons, while adorably creative, seems better suited to younger kids who are practicing their early counting skills. Tiggly Addventure is probably best for kids 4 and up, with the challenge of completing number lines in the correct sequence. Both apps are fun, but Tiggly Chef keeps my five-year-old going back for seconds.

Tiggly Counts are a great set of toys for adding a new dimension to your typical iPad educational games. Priced at $29.95, it’s not a cheap stocking stuffer, but is a unique option this holiday season for young kids who would enjoy a new way to play with the iPad.

GeekMom received a promotional item for review purposes.

Boost Your Kids’ Brainpower With Brainzy [Giveaway!]

Brainzy

All images © Education.com

Brainzy is a new subscription-based educational web site packed with games, videos, and activities for kids in pre-kindergarten through 1st grade. What makes Brainzy stand out from the online educational games crowd? A cast of unique characters plays happy host to kids ages 3-7 as they supplement their learning with engaging reading and math games in an easy-to-use interface.

My daughter is in half-day kindergarten, so we are always on the lookout for more ways to reinforce what she’s learning during her shorter time in school. Usually the overwhelming clutter of other educational web sites makes worthwhile activities hard to find. But once we signed up for Brainzy, she was immediately able to jump in and get started.

Brainzy

My five-year-old was immediately drawn to the one-of-a-kind characters. Not only are they creative—a police officer ice cream cone, for one—they are bright, colorful, and cheerful helpers in the site’s math and reading games.

The kindergarten games are just the right level of difficulty, although if we wanted to up the challenge, it would be simple to start on the first grade activities instead. The kindergarten read-alouds are narrated at a brisk pace that holds my daughter’s interest, followed up by helpful reading comprehension quizzes that show me if she really did pay attention to the video rather than zone out while it plays.

All in all, this is an excellent supplement to early elementary education, and at $3.99/month with unlimited play, it’s reasonably priced. With new activities added at no additional cost, and a large number of math and reading activities that keep her interested, Brainzy is a site we’ll be returning to regularly.

10 lucky GeekMom readers can win a year subscription thanks to Education.com! To enter our giveaway, just log in to the Rafflecopter widget below with your Facebook account or email address (use a valid email so we can let you know if you win). You can then like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for up to two entries! If you already like/follow us it will still enter you in the giveaway.

Winners will be chosen at random at the end of the contest and notified by email. You must reply to our winner notification within two days, or the prize will be offered to another entrant. U.S. entries only. Contest ends November 30, 2014.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

GeekMom received a one-month promotional code to Brainzy.com for review purposes.

Teaching Patience to the On-Demand Generation

Photo: Kelly Knox

Photo: Kelly Knox

My five-year-old is part of what I like to think of as the on-demand generation. Thanks to the wealth of truly amazing technology and innovations like Amazon, Netflix, and even YouTube, if there’s something she wants to watch, play, or buy, she can do so almost instantly—or have it delivered two days later.

Most TV shows can be blown through in a matter of days rather than waiting a week between episodes; if she has a question about life, the universe, and everything, she can grab my iPhone and ask Siri for an immediate answer.

We are lucky enough to be able to afford those services for her, and it is admittedly a “first world problem” that I’ve had a hand in creating. I’m the one who signed up for Netflix streaming, after all. But I can’t help but wonder if such easy access will make it difficult later in life when she does have to wait to get what she wants. Will patience be a lost skill in our on-demand lives? To make sure it isn’t, we practice a few simple ways to learn that not all gratification has to be instant.

Save Up

Ah, the allowance, a time-honored tradition of telling kids, “If you want something, save up and pay for it yourself.”

This is a pretty standard answer to forcing kids to be patient until they have enough money to buy something themselves. This doesn’t have to just apply to a toy they spotted in the store, but can also extend to that movie on iTunes or game in the App Store that they really want.

Spend Time on Activities That Take Time

Putting down the screens to do activities together is always a good idea, but picking things to do that require some patience is another practical way to practice. Baking together, putting together puzzles, or even playing a game like chess are all fun things to do together. If you live in the right area for it, planting a garden or even just a potted plant is a perfect way to learn that not all gratification has to be instant as well.

What I love to do most, though, are science experiments that take some time to see the results. Here are a few phenomenal suggestions for experiments that will hold even young kids’ interest while they take time to run:

Overnight Crystal Garden from BabbleDabbleDo

Color Changing Carnations from Steve Spangler Science

Walking Water (Capillary Action) from Coffee Cups and Crayons

Take a Look, It’s in a Book

The next time your young child has a question about the world around us, don’t just turn to Siri or Google for the answer! While it’s easy to use the Internet and simply search for the answer, taking the time to find a book and flip through it for the right information is another good way to learn patience. Not only is it an excuse to spend time in the library or read the book together (for younger kids), kids are likely to find even more fascinating facts just by flipping through the pages.

I highly recommend keeping some reference books on the bookshelf for just such occasions. DK Publishing offers some great books like First Animal Encyclopedia, which I reached for the other day when my daughter asked me what a shrew is.

Write a Pen Pal

Penning a handwritten letter to faraway friends and family is on its way to being another lost art. Taking the time to mail a letter and wait for a reply can be even more gratifying than sending a text or email. What kid doesn’t love getting mail?

Your child can pick their cousin or relative in another city or state to write to, or you could reach out to your friends on Facebook to ask if any of their kids are interested in exchanging letters. You can also use a pen pal matching web site to sign up your child and find a friend, but remember to exercise caution on these sites before handing out personal information. (A P.O. box is one way to safeguard your address.) Kids 13 years and up can sign up at the wonderfully active and helpful International Geek Girl Pen Pal Club.

And finally, limiting screen time is an obvious solution to leaving my five-year-old to her own devices (no pun intended, wait, yes it was) to entertain herself without instant gratification. It’s okay to be bored!

Do you have any ways you help your kids learn to be patient? Let us know in the comments below!

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U Is Frenetic Family Fighting Fun

Super Smash Bros.

All images courtesy © Nintendo

Fan of Nintendo since childhood? Expert button masher when it comes to fighting games? Stop reading now and go get Super Smash Bros. for Wii U! But if you’re not a lifelong Nintendo fan or fighting game aficionado, keep reading to learn all about the frenzied fun in the latest installment in the Smash Bros. franchise.

Characters

Super Smash Bros.Super Smash Bros. pits over 40 of Nintendo’s famous (and some not-quite-famous) characters against each other in one epic fighting game. Mario, Luigi, Link, Pikachu, and even Sonic the Hedgehog join Little Mac (Punch Out!), Shulk (Xenoblade Chronicles), Captain Falcon (F-Zero), and more. Chances are if you have a beloved Nintendo character from years gone by, they’re in Super Smash Bros.

There are also characters to unlock, and you can even use your Mii to create a custom character with your preferred fighting style.

Controllers

Up to 8 players can join in the fun thanks to the variety of compatible game controllers available. Not only do the standard GamePad and your old Wiimotes work, you can even drag your vintage GameCube controllers out of the closet and hook them up with the new GameCube Controller Adapter for Wii U.  You can even use your Nintendo 3DS if you have Super Smash Bros. for that system.

We have been using a mix of our vintage GameCube controllers and the new Super Smash Bros. Edition GameCube controllers along with the GamePad and Pro Controller. No single controller has the advantage, but the GameCube controllers do make it easier to remember which buttons are the attack and Smash buttons.

Start Smashing!

I haven’t cracked an instruction book open in years, but after trying to jump in to a three-player melee with no clue of how to play for the first time, we ended up flipping through it for the basic character moves. (The official web site also offers a robust How to Play section.) Once you get the hang of the controls, the fun really begins. Use your character’s unique moves to jump, punch, kick, and yes, smash your opponents off the stage to win.

supersmashbros2

You can also grab special items for big damage or to summon even more allies to join in the fray.

The game also includes a variety of challenges and mini-games to keep the fun going even if you don’t have anyone to play against. But if it’s a worthy opponent you’re looking for, you can always take on a new foe (or friend): the amiibo!

amiibo

amiibo

At launch, you can use 12 amiibo figures to fight with you or against you in Super Smash Bros. Once you tap the amiibo on the GamePad, the figure appears in game. Amiibo characters level up the more they battle and can be customized to your preferred fighting style.

Bottom Line

So what’s the verdict? “Intensely amazing!” declares my 10-year-old neighbor. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is chaotic, frenetic, button mashing, super smashing fun. There’s something for any level of fighting game mastery, from just button mashing to get through a round with friends to fighting for trophies, completing challenges, creating your own stages and Mii characters, and going online to battle.

That’s a lot to pack into one game. It’s so much that Nintendo released a thirty-minute video telling you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Super Smash Bros. for Wii U.

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is available November 21, 2014, for a suggested retail price of $59.99. Various amiibo figures are also available for a suggested retail price of $12.99 each.

GeekMom received a promotional copy of the game, a Mario amiibo, GameCube controllers, and the adapter for review purposes.

Marvel Comics Debuts Cooking Show (No, Seriously!)

You had me at Spider-Man okonomiyaki.

You had me at Spider-Man okonomiyaki. © Marvel Comics

You might have thought that the new Captain Marvel movie was the most surprising announcement from Marvel Comics lately, but Marvel recently debuted something even more unexpected: a new cooking show!

Marvel Talent Scout C.B. Cebulski hosts the new online series 3 Course Comics. Not only does he share some comics-inspired dishes, he also invites notable figures from the real life comic book universe to share a meal with him. In the first episode, you’ll learn how to make Aunt May’s Wheat Cakes, AKA Spider-Man okonomiyaki. At the table you’ll hear from Dan Slott, writer of Amazing Spider-Man, and editors Nick Lowe and Sana Amanat.

I never knew I wanted a Marvel-themed cooking show until I watched this one. Tune in for a delicious-looking recipe and learn a little about the Spider-Verse event currently taking over the Spider-Man books.

GoldieBlox and the Movie Machine Puts a Playful Spin on Movie-Making

© GoldieBlox

© GoldieBlox

GoldieBlox and the Movie Machine is one of the latest GoldieBlox construction kits to hit toy store shelves, and the only one that makes great use of a free companion app. Wary of criticism that GoldieBox toys don’t offer much incentive to play more than once, I’ve never picked up one of the kits before, but my five-year-old got a kick out of the app—and it piqued her curiosity to explore the concept of movie-making. I was happy to see the construction kit have the same effect. GoldieBlox and the Movie Machine is a fun kit for girls (and boys) that encourages the development of building skills and inspires creativity for unending play.

© GoldieBlox

© GoldieBlox

If your little builder is reluctant to give the kit a try, I highly recommend starting with the opening cinematic in the GoldieBlox and the Movie Machine app. Not only did my daughter watch it three times in a row before we even got the kit, she insisted on watching it again before we got started building for “ideas.” The high-quality animation, full of personality and energy, gets kids genuinely excited to start building.

The kit’s storybook and colorful pieces caught my five-year-old’s interest immediately. Instructions for building are clear and concise, with diagrams she could easily follow as a pre-reader. The kit is aimed at kids ages 6 and up, but preschoolers can have just as much fun with a parent’s help and supervision. I only had to step in with the building when she wasn’t able to push in an axle or other piece hard enough to get it to stay in place.

Once the zoetrope is constructed, the fun doesn’t end there, to my relief. The kit comes with several different card sets for different movies, and the booklet includes quite a few “DIY” how-tos for even more ways to make one-of-a-kind movies with paper and pencils. And you can make even more with the companion app.

The GoldieBlox and the Movie Machine app walks kids through making an animated 12 frame movie, with tutorials voiced by GeekMom/Mythbusters alum Kari Byron. The app offers the option to AirPrint any movie your child creates, which can then be placed into the zoetrope for more movie fun without a screen. Unfortunately, it took some jerry-rigging to get this to work with our printer; an option to save and email a PDF version of the cards would be a lot more convenient.

GoldieBlox and the Movie Machine is a fantastic starter kit for giving a little girl the confidence to build something all by herself.

Photo: Kelly Knox

Photo: Kelly Knox

The zoetrope (my daughter’s favorite new word) inspires creativity with one-second movies that can be played without end. While the kit pieces can’t be used to build much of anything else than the zoetrope, they can be combined with parts from other kits to build original creations or those found on the new BloxTown.com web site. All in all, the kit comes with enough pieces and ideas that it put my fears about a one-time toy to rest.

GoldieBlox and the Movie Machine is now available on Amazon.com and Toys R Us for a suggested retail price of $29.99.

GeekMom received a promotional copy for review purposes.

DC Comics’ LEGO Variant Covers for November

© DC Comics

© DC Comics

If you and your kids love comic books and LEGO, have I got some news for you! Not only will this November bring LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham to video game stores everywhere, you can also find your favorite DC Comics characters in their LEGO form gracing their respective comic book covers throughout the month.

Stop by your local comic book store to find LEGO variants for November titles including Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Catwoman, Justice League, and more.

Check out the covers in the gallery below. Isn’t Sinestro the cutest? There’s a sentence I’d never imagined I would type…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Get a Sneak Peek at PBS Kids’ Wacky New Show Odd Squad

Credit: Courtesy of ODD SQUAD © 2014 The Fred Rogers Company

Courtesy of Odd Squad © 2014 The Fred Rogers Company

PBS Kids has a new show this fall for kids 5-8 who love the weird, wacky world of math! Well, they might not love math yet, but that’s because they haven’t seen Odd Squad. Odd Squad premieres on PBS Kids on November 26, but if you have the PBS Kids app or visit the official web site now, your kids can get a first glimpse into the extraordinary world of these math whiz kids.

Odd Squad is like Warehouse 13 for the smaller crowd. Agents Otto and Olive—who very much remind me of Warehouse 13‘s Pete and Myka—investigate the weird goings-on reported to the Squad by flummoxed grownups and kids.

Olive, who never seems to be flustered no matter what the team encounters, works with her donut-loving partner Otto to solve the problem with math skills and a good gadget or two. Their boss, Ms. O, is simultaneously hilarious, adorable, and terrifying, which isn’t easy for an actor of any age to pull off. But all of these kids make these first few mini-episodes a lot of fun and engaging for their young target audience.

The diverse and talented cast, the unique concept, and obvious educational value (my daughter explained symmetry to me after watching just one 15-minute episode) make Odd Squad another fantastic addition to the PBS Kids lineup. Check out the first few mini-episodes now and play Odd Squad games at the PBS Kids web site.

Choose Your Own Adventure in Fantasy Life

© Nintendo / Level 5

All images © Nintendo / Level-5

Fantasy Life, out October 24 for the Nintendo 3DS, can perhaps best be described as a cross between Final Fantasy and Animal Crossing. The game is a blend of RPG and life simulation, giving you the opportunity to choose a Life (or class) that best suits your play style. If you prefer fighting, magic using, crafting, or gathering, there’s a Life for you.

With a title illustration by Amano Yoshitaka and music by Nobuo Uematsu, Final Fantasy fanatics might be tempted to pick the game up on that pedigree alone. While there is an overall quest with a standard RPG story line, you’re not in any rush to complete it, so the similarity to Final Fantasy pretty much ends there (give or take an airship). If you would like to merely stand in the blacksmith shop and work for two hours, there’s nothing wrong with that. You’ll level and complete tasks for your Life master all the same.

fl-screen2

12 classes, or Lifes, are available in Fantasy Life. I chose Angler for my first Life, as I often enjoy gathering and crafting classes in games. After working my way through the first two chapters of the main quest by mostly dodging enemies, though, I decided to try a new Life. My days of being an Angler weren’t all that terribly exciting as they were, although Applefish did tremble at my expert prowess with a fishing pole. Okay, not really. Once I switched to Magician, though, I started progressing through the main storyline at a more enjoyable pace. But I keep eyeing the cooking Life…

If you switch your Life at any point in the game, you keep the skills you’ve already learned, so you have the opportunity to master all 12 Life classes in Fantasy Life. Sorry, Applefish, but you shall keep trembling. This gives the game a large amount of playability and bang for your buck, always a welcome feature when buying any video game.

fl-screen1The localization team deserves a special shout-out for the clever wordplay and jokes in the character dialogue, which couldn’t have been an easy task when translating the original Japanese release. More than once I’ve caught myself grinning at the in-game text, which is well-polished and flows well.

If you’re a lifelong JRPG fan, or the type of gamer who fishes and tailors more in games like EverQuest than you do hunt, Fantasy Life might be right up your alley. It’s a quiet, colorful game that even kids 10 and up can play, making it a great diversion on those long road trips you have coming up for the holidays.

Fantasy Life is available October 24, 2014, for the Nintendo 3Ds at a suggested retail price of $39.99.

GeekMom received a promotional copy for review purposes.

A Chewbacca Paper Portrait for Pint-Sized Padawans

All images: Kelly Knox

All images: Kelly Knox

Thanks to Phineas and Ferb and Star Wars Rebels, my five-year-old daughter is finally embracing her own love of Star Wars. Together we came up with a paper portrait of Chewbacca that not only gives her fine motor skills and creativity a little workout, it’s also pretty dang cute.

You’ll need:

  • White cardstock
  • A sheet of white paper
  • A sheet of black paper
  • Two sheets of brown paper (different shades)
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Black marker

To begin, rip up the brown paper into small squares. Next, draw a stick figure with long arms and legs on the cardstock—Wookiees are tall and lanky, after all! This will serve as a guide for Chewbacca’s basic shape.

Next, spread the glue liberally around the arms, legs, and head to stick the shredded paper pieces and turn them into Chewie’s fur.

Chewbacca Paper Portrait

You can stick each ripped piece on individually to craft your Chewbacca, or try my daughter’s favorite method of grabbing a handful and sprinkling it on like confetti. Pat, shake the paper, and then fill in the missing spots with individual shredded pieces.

Once all the spots are filled in and pressed onto the cardstock, cut a small rectangle out of the black paper for Chewie’s bandolier.

Chewbacca Paper Portrait

Glue it on top of the brown pieces. Next, use the sheet or a scrap of white paper to cut out small rectangles to complete the details of the bandolier. Draw lines on each rectangle to finish the bandolier look.

Next, use the black marker to draw eyes, nose, and a mouth for Chewie’s face. You may want to wait for the glue to dry, but my five-year-old was too excited and drew the facial features as soon as the fur was complete. (She opted not to add a mouth for her design.) She also drew toes on Chewbacca’s feet, as they occasionally stick out in various images of him.

Chewbacca Paper Portrait

And your Wookiee is complete!

Gotta Draw ‘Em All! Hands On With Pokémon Art Academy

© Nintendo

All images © Nintendo

Aspiring artists of all ages will love getting their hands on Pokémon Art Academy, out on October 24 for the Nintendo 3DS/2DS. If you have a Pokémon fan in the house, picking up this game is a no-brainer. Pokémon Art Academy walks players through step-by-step lessons, from novice to expert, to teach them how to draw some of their favorite pocket monsters.

The lessons, led by Professor Andy, introduce new drawing tools and art concepts for each level of expertise. You’ll learn about concepts like symmetry, perspective, and construction shapes, all while using the stylus to trace (and eventually draw freehand) some of Pokémon’s biggest stars.

Kids as young as preschool and kindergarten can even grab the stylus and play. You’ll need to do a lot of reading out loud to walk them through the lessons, but that can make for some entertaining family game time together. It’s also a perfect opportunity to work on fine motor skills like tracing and holding the stylus the correct way. (We are still working on that in my house.) While they will probably only be able to complete the Novice Course exercises, there are plenty of Pokémon for them to draw in the extra lessons and free draw.

Art by my five-year-old.

Art by my five-year-old.

My five-year-old is a big fan of the game. In fact, she wanted to tell you all about Pokémon Art Academy herself! Here she is demonstrating one of the novice lessons: drawing Oshawott.

Pokémon Art Academy is part game, part art lesson, and an altogether fun way to spend a fall afternoon. I even go through a lesson now and then when I’m looking for some quiet time for myself. It’s a great addition to your DS library, one of those rare games that you can pick it up for five minutes and still feel like you’ve accomplished something.

Pokémon Art Academy is available on October 24 for a suggested retail price of $29.99.

GeekMom received a promotional copy for review purposes.

5 Marvelous Merchants at GeekGirlCon 2014

The Friday Afternoon Booth at GGC 2014. All photos: Kelly Knox

The Friday Afternoon Tea Booth at GGC 2014. All photos: Kelly Knox

GeekGirlCon 2014 sold out both days of the show, and the exhibition hall was bustling with geeks of all ages. The show floor was filled with dozens of unique vendors, and here are just some of the few that really stood out for their wonderful wares.

Friday Afternoon Teas

GeekMoms Cathé and Corrina both raved about Friday Afternoon Teas when I chatted with them at the convention, so of course I had to make the booth my first stop.

Friday Afternoon

Friday Afternoon Tea Blends

The one-of-a-kind loose leaf tea blends are inspired by a variety of fandoms, including Firefly, Dungeons and Dragons, Harry Potter (the Slytherin blend sold out quickly both days), and more. Keep an eye on GeekMom for a full review soon!

AstroNails

The striking designs at the DeadPastel booth were hard to resist, especially the dazzling display of AstroNails nail polish bottles.

AstroNails

AstroNails

The nail polish is formaldehyde-free, which makes me feel good about putting it on my 5-year-old’s nails. I picked up a glow-in-the-dark polish (in the middle of the photo above) that I absolutely adore.

Lucky 13 Lacquer

There were more dazzling, glittery nail polishes to be found at the Lucky 13 Lacquer booth on the GeekGirlCon show floor.

Lucky 13 Lacquer

Lucky 13 Lacquer

Lucky 13 Lacquer isn’t shy with the glitter, which my daughter and I are fond of, so I had to pick up their special GeekGirlCon glitter polish. Not only are the red, gold, and blue flecks a great reminder of a fun-filled weekend, they also go great with my Carol Corps T-shirt.

Digital Soaps

Digital Soaps are so darn cute and eerily accurate—I actually had to look twice at the SNES cartridge soaps to make sure they weren’t real games.

Digital Soap

Digital Soap

My 5-year-old and I have had a longstanding battle about washing her hands, but now that she has a Pokéball soap with a Pokémon hiding inside, she can’t wait to run to the sink. (And they assured me that the soap is gentle for her skin.) Thank you, Cleangeeks.

Dorklandia

Seriously. Cute.

Dorklandia

Dorklandia

The incredibly cuddly creations from Dorklandia are just begging to be snuggled. If you can’t get a real kitten, these fuzzy toys might just be the next best thing.