We received six K’nex sets for my kids to test and review. We have two girls, aged 9.5 and 8, and a 5-year-old son. My son immediately opened a treasure chest full of parts and a book of 70 model ideas and started building. He was beyond excited for a K’nexosaurus Rex set, a motorized dinosaur build. The four other sets were aimed specifically at girls, and after a few minutes of looking at everything we’d received, my son wanted to open them all ASAP.
The sets aimed at the girls are meant to encourage interest in STEM. The sets included activities such as framing a house, building simple machines, and building a car with a motor. We received a plane and hang glider set, a carnival set with manual carousel, a set with two different houses, and a clubhouse set with a simple elevator, zip line, and the aforementioned car.
As soon as the girls got home, we started the build on the houses. I never played with K’nex as a kid, and as a LEGO builder I was very impressed with the packaging. The sets are well packed, with both the rods and the connectors color coded by length and shape. The pieces are also well-bagged in intuitive ways; main connectors were in their own bag and the pieces were organized in the order they’re used.
We had two main issues with the sets. First, some of the diagrams were really hard to mimic. As a 36-year-old, I found myself studying the pictures, trying to figure out which way pieces went and how they connected. While I wanted the kids to build independently, there were times that they really needed help.
More frustrating, though, was that the figurines in the girls’ sets kept falling apart. Legs and arms were popping out. The dolls’ hands were also not able to grip the zipline, and when using the elevator, the side of the clubhouse hit the figurine’s head multiple times. The company assured me that the loose limb issue has been fixed in the new sets they’re releasing, and I look forward to testing them to verify.
Much to my son’s disappointment, all the figurines are girls. K’nex has no plans at this time to add boys to the line as the sets are specifically targeting girls. The kids had a great time building, and my 9.5-year-old daughter was ultimately able to do a few full builds by herself. Every kid who has walked into our house for the last week has salivated at these sets and sat down to play for hours. Having played with the review sets, the new K’nex are on my list of things to buy for our home.
Sets can be purchased at multiple retailers; prices range from $12-$40.
We are a gaming family. We love ’em, all four of us. Card, board, RPG, you name it, we have at least one example of the type; we’ve even played most of them at least once. Our six year old is patient enough for Doctor Who Risk, Gloom, and the Imperial Assault training missions (we haven’t tried the longer missions yet). Even our rightfully shorter-in-the-attention-span three year old will play Trouble, Surprise Slides, and King of Tokyo.
Finding time to game as a family can be challenging, however, with my weird and irregular nurse schedule, which includes a fair number of weekends and evenings, and the boy being in school full-time plus attending Hebrew School on Sunday mornings. In an effort to increase playing opportunity, nights we’re all here, we’ve been trying to take the half hour between dinner and bedtime once devoted to the day’s non-educational television (except on Dinner and Rebels night; nothing shall replace Dinner and Rebels night so long as there are episodes of Rebels to watch) to play a family game. Not that there’s anything wrong with TV. There isn’t. I love the stuff, probably too much, but it’s more fun for the four of us to spend that half-hour engaged with one another when we can, especially since we don’t have that time as regularly as many families.
When my daughter O was in preschool, we hosted an annual gingerbread house-making party for friends every December. We experimented with different pre-made kits, but the mini village with pieces that the kids could remix into freestyle builds was always the hands-down favorite. They worked for hours, swapping parts and suggestions. By late afternoon, everyone had created their own candy-plastered, gravity-defying structure cemented into place with royal icing.
As O moved through elementary school, her passion for building grew. Sticks, Lego bricks, wooden blocks, and random recyclables were commandeered for an endless series of fantastical projects. Meanwhile, though, most of her girlfriends discovered other interests. So, we decided to retool our gingerbread gathering and the “community build” was born.
The idea was to convene a small group of construction-minded kids to experiment, exchange ideas, and inspire each other a few times a year. The format was simple: theme, inspiration materials, supplies, and lots of creative freedom.
Our community builds weren’t fancy. They were just a way to support my daughter’s interest and help her connect with other kids. O dreamed up the themes, developed the supply lists, and chose most of the inspiration resources. We reached out to friends who were game and gave it a shot.
Parents were thrilled to have messes made in someone else’s house and the kids had a blast together. O said that sharing ideas with friends who were into building pushed her to think differently and be more creative. And, they laughed at each other’s crazy jokes.
Here are a few of our favorite community builds:
GNOME HOMES (Ages 6-9)
A hike around the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone inspired the theme for O’s 7th birthday party and inaugural community build.
Lessons learned: Yes, it is ridiculous to purchase stones, pine cones, and twigs. (Our supplies came from the floral and woodworking departments at Michael’s.) This is how I rationalized it:
1) Clean, smooth surfaces adhere more easily than gritty, jagged ones, thereby reducing the potential for frustrated freak-outs.
2) Eliminates the need to risk prosecution for illegal removal of natural resources from local parkland.
3) Parents are more likely to allow a clean-looking work product in the house.
MICRO-SCALE (Ages 8-12)
O wanted a Lego open build. I wanted to keep the budget reasonable. So, she proposed that we go micro-scale: “In Lego, there is this idea of ‘micro-building.’ Sometimes, you don’t have enough of the bricks you need to build a full-scale model. But with micro-scale, you can make an entire city with fewer bricks.” Done.
Disposable mini loaf aluminum tins to hold each builder’s supply allotment
One per child: 6×8 plate, White
One per child: 6×8 plate, Dark Green
Twenty-five per child: 1×2 plate, Transparent
Twenty-five per child: 1×1 plate, Transparent
Twenty per child: 1×2 brick, White
Twenty per child: 1×1 tile, White
Twenty per child: 1×2 tile, White
Ten per child: 1x1x2/3 roof tile, White
Twenty-five per child: 1×1 stud, Lime
Lessons Learned: To amass supplies, we hit up the Pick a Brick wall at our local Lego store and ordered the rest online. Once all the bricks had arrived, O and I divvied them up so that each builder would have her own materials to start with and trade.
Buying by the container from the Lego Store Pick A Brick wall is most cost-effective for small pieces: Go there first.
You’re able to fit the most 1×2 bricks in a large container if you stack them (14-16 bricks per stack) and then fill in the empty spaces with loose bricks.
To maximize value and creative flexibility, buy large quantities of just a few brick types and colors.
Plan ahead: Online Pick a Brick orders ship from Denmark and can take up to three weeks for delivery to the US.
VOLTAGE VILLAGE (Ages 9-12)
Once they had a few community builds under their belts, the crew lost their taste for gingerbread. So, we switched to an amped-up holiday activity: circuits!
Inspiration materials: Holiday music, candy canes, and string lights
Lessons Learned: O got a kick out of seeing how the kit had been improved from the original, which we’d purchased a year or two before. Upgrades included perforated forms (no mat knife needed!) and a reconfigured circuit map, making the project easier for kids to tackle on their own.
Based on prior experience, we purchased one kit (two houses) per child in case of faulty components or the need for a do-over, which made for a particularly pricey community build.
Purchasing a pot of conductive paint wasn’t necessary; the kits came with conductive paint pens which contained an ample supply and were easier to use.
Kids used the mini tree holiday ornaments to create a wintry setting for their homes.
A little adult help was needed for wire stripping, but the crew built, “wired,” and decorated one house each in about an hour.
Were all the builds a success? Absolutely not. The 3D LED Christmas Tree stands out as a particularly unfortunate choice. We had one soldering iron to share and there were too many components to be soldered into place to hold the kids’ attention. Instead, they raided the playroom shelves and got to work with littleBits and Snap Circuits. It all worked out.
The best builds were open-ended. However, we did go with a kit for the LED houses because it made sourcing materials easier for a rookie like me. In most cases, adult supervision was minimal. Occasionally, we’d help the youngest kids with the soldering iron or hot glue gun, but the older kids would usually help out instead.
If you’ve got a kid who likes to invent or build cool stuff, consider the community build. If you don’t want to wing it, there are a number of helpful resources online to get you started. Two to check out: Google Maker Camp and the Fundamentals of Tinkering List from the tinkering studioTM Coursera course, “Tinkering Fundamentals: A Constructivist Approach to STEM Learning.” Good luck!
From becoming more responsible to reliving my favorite stories with my children, being a parent has been a blast! While it has helped me “grow up” I have most certainly grown down. I am still new to the extremely rewarding field of being a mother. My oldest child is three years old and I have a set of twins that just turned one. I know the years ahead will bring much more adventure, but I’ve learned so much in my three years of motherhood.
I know it’s not a verb, the word “fun,” but maybe it should be. Forcing me to use the word “have” before it, making it something I must acquire, adds that much more distance to the goal, an extra obstacle I must overcome before reaching my desired level of happiness. Continue reading I Need to Fun More
Recently, I documented that pain that I feel at being unable to help my son when kids are mean. It’s so hard to watch our children be hurt while we feel powerless to help them. As our school year has continued, my son’s feelings have intensified, culminating with him expressing the ideation that death means no one can tease him anymore.
Those kinds of intense feelings sent me into Mommy Fix-It Mode. Fixing bullying is difficult. In these kinds of situations, we feel powerless as parents because we recognize we cannot control the behaviors of others. However, we can work to create an open culture within our schools.
All I need to know in life I learned from Star Wars…
Okay, not strictly speaking true, although the various Star Wars properties are serving to remind me of many important lessons I’ve picked up along the way many of which, to my mind, are those most important to pass along to my children.
I’ve tried to delve into different parts of the universe, the illustrative characters ranging from Ezra Bridger to Vader, the books from Obi-Wan & Anakin to those featuring the original trinity.
I find myself returning for the third time (and no walking carpets have torn my arms from my sockets to make it happen), however, to Kanan Jarrus (featured, for those following or catching up, in both part two and part six).
I guess Kanan has a lot to say, as do the writers responsible for bringing him to both screen and comic.
As a reader, I’m bummed that there’s only one issue left in Kanan: The Last Padawan (though I’m grateful it was extended to twelve from the originally intended five). Good news: Rebels has already been renewed for a third season, and I don’t see the journey ending anytime soon, so there are many more journeys on which we’ll be accompanying the Ghost and her crew.
I think anyone who’s been following Kanan in print will agree, however, there’s something very special about this glimpse into the past of one of the few Jedi to survive the execution of Order 66 and about the character himself who, by all rights, should have ended up a depressed hermit on some crappy border world or in thrall to the Sith.
Before my family visited Walt Disney World in spring 2013, I went a little crazy.
I poured over hotel room plans on Disney planning websites before we even selected a site. I studied restaurant menus and booked all our major meals at 180 days out. I joined multiple Disney forums, talked to countless helpful people, and actually made friends that I retain to this day.
As a family, we watched every Disney movie I could get my hands on. I haunted the Disney Store website for sales. I made tie-dyed T-shirts with Mickey heads on them. I made Mickey-shaped cookies. I made Mickey-shaped pancakes.
Yes. Just a little crazy.
This spring, we’re going to visit Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure in Orlando, spurred on by a pair of little boys who love Harry Potter, Spider-Man, and the Jurassic Park movies. (OK, I just might be a little excited about the Wizarding World myself.) After we made the decision, I immediately jumped online and started to look into all the wonderful possibilities for researching and obsessing and planning and counting down the days. Did I have enough time to make dining reservations? How many hotels were there, again? What sort of touring plan would we want?
I was, perhaps, a tiny bit dismayed to find that obsession and long-range planning isn’t quite as necessary with the Universal parks. Dining reservations might not even be necessary with the dates we had planned, let alone reservations made 180 days ahead. Touring plans were much looser, if they were needed at all. And there didn’t seem to be many ideas for the build-the-excitement type activities I love so much. I saw a few tales of parents surprising their children with letters from Hogwarts. That was about it.
She was born with some of them, which your kid might have, too: an innate understanding of and ability to play music; the power to make a “cute face” that gets me to give in to most requests for candy or more screen time; an uncanny knack for remembering every single thing that has ever happened or been said to her, ever.
Others, she’s developed over time: empathy, kindness, the ability to bend machines to her will (read: programming).
Some, I fear she will never have: swimming, legible handwriting, the ability to eat a meal in less than 45 minutes.
For 20 years, Pokémon has been taking my money. 20 YEARS!! Holy crispy Charmander! The calculations are sound: My younger brothers were in the first wave of fans; the Spawnlings are in the current wave. Still, that’s a lot of money to pay out over such a sustained period of time. What could possibly appeal to two separate generations and maintain such high levels of fandom?
Are you raising a gifted child? Starting to worry that as she gets older, you won’t have as much in common, or that he’s paying way more attention to video games than to you?
It’s time to lock yourselves in a room together.
Across the country, a fascinating new adventure game is popping up in larger cities and college towns. Known variously as “Escape Rooms” or “Locked Rooms,” these modest establishments are attracting competitive intellectuals in droves.
In the name of entertainment, eager teams of five to ten people pay good money to enter a small room crammed with highly-themed props, puzzles, and clues. The room is then locked, and the team is given one hour to “escape” by unearthing hints, uncovering evidence, and solving all manner of codes and puzzles to locate the key that will allow them to leave.
To the average layman, this kind of cerebral entertainment may sound a bit dry, but to a gifted geek, the thought is completely exhilarating. The riddles are tough, the academic references are obscure, and there is a solid thread of nerdy pop culture running throughout. What could be more fun?!
As a parent, your opportunities for earning huge bonus points with your child are two-fold. First, you win superstar status for bringing this mind-blowingly geeky activity to their attention, and second, they need YOU to complete the escape!
These challenging rooms are set up to require a solid team of intellectuals with a wide variety of skills. Clues and puzzles are designed to access all sorts of knowledge, from all types of subjects and many different decades. Are you a font of 1980s trivia? Did you complete honors chemistry way back when? Do you remember the first Doctor Who? Dust off your pencils—your child needs you!
Escape rooms vary in their level of atmospheric detail and the theme of their backstory. You may find yourself searching for the antidote to a deadly poison in a chemistry lab, hunting in a dark library for Grandfather’s missing “Last Will & Testament” before it self-destructs, or rifling through an ordinary office to find mysterious foreign money, an oddly-marked globe, and a peculiar grid of laser lights. Whatever your goal, be assured that the clues will be intricate, which makes the thrill of solving each puzzle simply electrifying.
What better way to bond with your gifted child than to face the challenges together? Very bright children tend to gravitate toward the kind of solitary intellectual pursuits that are difficult to share. Many are quiet or sensitive, and appear to prefer to be alone. In fact, this is rarely the case. The introverted child does not dislike social interaction; she simply needs to regulate it so as not to drain all of her energy.
As a parent, making yourself available and accessible is both necessary and problematic, especially as your child grows older. “Playing” together narrows the gap between you and your child, and sets up the kind of empathetic relationship that is necessary for your child to feel understood and supported.
If you’re lucky, you can find an escape room near you. Not only will you telegraph to your child that you understand and share their attraction to brainy and clever entertainment, but you’ll grow in their eyes as you solve wickedly complex brainteasers by plumbing depths of knowledge they didn’t know you possessed!
The LEGO video games have always been a bit of a gateway in our household. I’ve always found them to be an excellent way for Younger Son to get interested in properties that have played a big role in our geeky lives: from Marvel to DC, and from Harry Potter to The Lord of the Rings. We play our way through them, pure mother and son bonding time, and then emerge to immerse ourselves in the source worlds from whence they came.
So when, flush with Christmas money, he chose to purchase LEGO Dimensions, I wasn’t surprised.
My husband always stumbles into these conversations, innocent in his observations. Surely he meant no harm. One comment that, for the first time in a long time, had me questioning myself, my history, and my own reality.
He made just one comment that, for the first time in a long time, had me questioning myself, my history, and my own reality.
Comics Club-4-Kids is a monthly club exploring comic books for a variety of age ranges. Since some families have multiple age ranges, Comics Club-4-Kidz helps parents by finding similar themes across varying content so that families can have conversations together. Our intent is to approach literary analysis and information literacy through the use of comics. Character, narrative structure, problem solving/plot development, and visual text were chosen as the focus discussion points to help mirror what our kids are learning in school. Our goal is to help kids in schools or kids homeschooling find new ways to approach literacy.
This month’s theme: gender.
This month’s comics: Power UP, Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur, and Superman/Wonder Woman.
The name underneath the picture was “Harley Quinn.” How could a GeekMom resist that?
I couldn’t. The problem was, my heart was still in a thousand million shattered little pieces. It was only two weeks since the day I had to watch Max fall asleep, never to wake up. Max had been my baby. My little BB-8 dog. He was small, flurfy, and had the most expressive eyebrows.
It’s interesting, considering the medium of choice, that all the Gather ‘Round Padawans have, thus far, dealt with human characters. Superhumans (Spider-Woman), Inhumans (Ms. Marvel), and formerly human (The Spectre) perhaps but all, at their core, humans.
Time to remedy that.
This time, I’m delving into the world of synthezoids or, rather, one synthezoid in particular. One who wants nothing more than to be human. To be one of us. To feel what we feel, to form the bonds we form, to connect to that greater thing we apes have by privilege rather than by right (and which a good many of the ants in the colony really don’t deserve): the human race.
One of the first articles I pitched to GeekMom, in the application to be a writer here, was a piece on the incentive program we’d set up in our house, so our children would earn their screentime through chores and good behavior.
But by the time I actually started here, our program required a complete overhaul, on account of it no longer working.
Maybe I’d wait until the new plan took hold and write about the evolution of the process. But other topics distracted me before I got around to it, and now the new improved program has tapered off, too.
Well. I could hardly be the one to plug a successful incentive program now. Not that that’s the program’s fault. It’s all on me. You see, you need a grown-up to administer an incentive program.
“Mawwiage. Mawwiage is what bwings us togevvew today.”
OK, maybe not marriage per se, but if I’m thinking of all the adorkable ways my husband of 14 years and I keep the romance alive? Quoting The Princess Bride comes to mind. Besides, who doesn’t hear that quote in his/her head at every.wedding.ever?
Given the time of year, a lot of recent conversations lately revolve about the irrational desire to force romance for a fake holiday. In all this conversation, however, one topic seems to get lost. Love and romance, at least the ones that endure for the long haul, consist of small gestures as opposed to big ones.
If my entire relationship with my husband was based on those moments of grand overture? We’d either be poor or divorced by now.
The real romance in our home lives in the small, daily gestures. However, those gestures look different in a geek home than in a non-geek home. As a nontraditionalist, I openly admit that I’m the person who finds flowers a bit depressing. After all, it’s basically taking a beautiful living thing, killing it, giving it to someone in its rigor mortis, and watching it slowly decompose. I feel like everything says romance EXCEPT that. But hey, I’m a little weird.
All I need to know in life I learned from Star Wars.
Well, okay. Not all. If you’re still following the Gather ‘Round Padawansseries (and if you have, or are, thank you), I’m hoping I’ve convinced you to, at the very least, consider the idea of comics as medium rather than as superhero sub-genre and that comics across age and subject spectrums have a lot to teach us about life, parenting, and everything.
If you’re new to the series, welcome. Warm up your brain salmons because this time, I’m taking a look at the Marvel’s new Obi-Wan & Anakin title and one honking, important parenting lesson to be found therein.
Take a close look at the text in the panels above. Then take a look at what Obi-Wan is doing. Whose lightsaber he has.
You’re never prepared for the hard conversations. You’re never prepared for the conversations that you needed someone to have with you when you were young, back when we didn’t really have the words we have today. You’re never really prepared for that anti-bullying tattoo to be something you use to remind your child that he is loved instead of something you use to teach him to love.
And you’re sure as -insertinapprorpriateR-ratedwordhere- not prepared to do it at 7:10am on a school morning.
My four-year-old is really interested in sea creatures and in zombies. One of her very favorite water dwellers is the mysterious and lovely Sea Star (or the star formally known as fish).
In our morning search on Youtube we came across a true-to-life ‘Zombie Starfish’ mash up that peaked Ella’s curiosity. The video is from a BBC-two popular show called Nature’s Weirdest Events.
Just what is happening here? The images shows what looks to be Sea Stars actually ripping off their own limbs. If that wasn’t alarming enough, those limbs then look to crawl away, zombie like on their own. Could this be a real life undeadliest catch happening on the West Coast from Alaska to Mexico? My daughter wanted to know more. Continue reading Zombie Starfish: Nature’s Undeadliest Catch
Meet Mommy. She only has 15 seconds to record her thoughts while hiding from her children in the closet or bathroom. No one knows how many kids she has or what her real first name is, but one thing is certain, whether she is inventing things to make life easier or sharing poopie stories, she sure is funny!
For Valentine’s Day, Mommy got a great idea that backfired horribly…
“No, I prefer Quarterest. I don’t gallonterest because they charge.” – my witty fourteen-year-old.
I could browse through Pinterest for hours, and have. It’s a great place to waste time, to find oodles of inspiration. As a mom and writer, I love Pinterest. And now that I can keep some boards secret, I love it even more. In addition to being the keeper of the family schedule, I also coordinate our teacher gifts, Halloween costumes, and meals. As a writer, I could use a little inspiration to get me back on task, while keeping track of all the ideas that gradually coalesce into a writing project.
I am by no means a Pinterest pro. But other than the usual Food, Fashion, and Fun Boards, here are a few ideas on how to use Pinterest to organize our crazy lives: Continue reading Do You Pinterest?
I’m a hypocrite. There, I said it. I’ve heard it from my kids before (they’re 14, 11, and 9, and quick to point out the unfairness of different rules for different kids, and I too am included in this), and as I strive to be the perfect parent, always practicing what I preach, it’s a tough criticism to encounter.
But frankly, my kids and I are not equals, our lives are not to be viewed as being on a level playing field, and I refuse to feel guilty for it. In fact, I would argue that being a hypocrite makes me a better parent. Continue reading In Defense of Hypocrisy
I am lazy. Like, Capital L Capital A Capital Z Capital Y Lazy. All my hobbies involve sitting. I read. I knit. Here I am writing while sitting.
The last time I did something physical? I took my kid’s pink daisy Razor scooter down the ramp at the skate park and broke my leg THROUGH my leg. Let me tell you, three months of recovery on the couch reaffirmed my Philosophy of Lazy Parenting.
The Lazy Parenting Method (patent pending) is a method in which you do very little work for your child while they do a lot of work for themselves. See all those moms out there lugging their children’s things? Ohhhh no. That is Too Much Work for Me. The Lazy Parenting Method requires that you look at all the things you do and triage which ones don’t really need to be done by you. This way you save energy because that little succubus that you birthed is just waiting to steal all of it.
I still remember the moment. I remember the moment when the ultrasound tech told me that I was having a son. I remember fist punching the air. I specifically remember the tech telling me she’d never seen someone bounce up off the table so high.
I’ve always been a tomboy, the “guy’s girl” who has a lot of male friends. I grew up in the 1980s with a wide array of light pink and lavender, elastic waist-banded wide wale Healthtex corduroys. At some point, I turned into the Girl Who Hated Pink.
Hearing that I was giving birth to a son solidified my excitement about not being inundated with the two most traumatizing colors in my life. The fist bump and bouncing were less about sex or gender role and much more about my excitement over not having to see all. that. pink. and. lavender.
Disney has decided to withhold Rey toys, because, you know, no boy would want to play with a girl doll, and girls don’t want to play Star Wars. The magic marketers know it all.
Left unchecked, you will crush my daughter, who plays house with boys and superheroes with girls, loves her ballet, and has a huge stack of unused princess toys because many of her relatives and friends won’t shop for her outside of the girl section.
Don’t worry, I will not let you pull the joy from my four-year-old’s play, no matter how she doesn’t fit the segmentation you believe she is in. I will help her find the toys she likes best.
You will, however, lose any revenue you might get by properly conducting your market research and your segmentation, and actually create toys my daughter would like, then market them to her. That choice and loss is yours.
After writing about Target’s failure to invite my daughter into their children’s section, many questioned, among other things, how a store could sort toys in the traditional manner, limited by the toy manufacturers. Several called for a look at the manufacturers, not the toy stores. They failed to grasp the most important part of the article:
My little princess has a very different feel for Target than she does for another toy section, one in our local Fred Meyer. So today, I am looking at why Fred Meyer invites my daughter deep into its “boy” section. So I walked through the toy section, with one rule, I could not touch anything. I had to see the invite where my daughter did, with my eyes.
There are two differences I saw between the stores. The obvious one, the size of the toy section, ended up taking a back seat to the very subtle one, inclusiveness. Further, the lack of a third, different section breakout, is equally interesting. Which brings up the key question:
If Fred Meyer and Target have the same section break out, one probably required by the toy manufacturers, how does Fred Meyer bring inclusiveness into its toy section?
A close look at the toys showed a possible answer to this question.