Community Builds Support Construction-Minded Kids

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.

In elementary school, O loved to build, but few friends shared her interest. Photo copyright: Jen Citrolo
In elementary school, O spent most of her free time building. Photo: Jen Citrolo

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)

Our first-ever community build was all about homes for gnomes (and, in some cases, minifigs). Photo copyright: Jen Citrolo
Our first-ever community build was all about homes for gnomes (and, in some cases, minifigs). Photo: Jen Citrolo

A hike around the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone inspired the theme for O’s 7th birthday party and inaugural community build.

Inspiration Materials: Gnomes by Wil Huygen, Rien Poortvliet, and Brian Froud, and this news footage on Firefly Forest in Overland Park, KS

This was the Gnome Home setup for six kids. Everyone started off with a wooden base and a pre-painted, red wooden door. Photo copyright: Jen Citrolo
Everyone started off with a wood base and a pre-painted door. Photo: Jen Citrolo

Supplies:

  • Two hot glue guns
  • Ten glue sticks
  • Seven 6″ x 5″ wooden rectangles
  • Two bags of moss
  • Two bags of large stones
  • One bag of small stones
  • One bag of small pinecones
  • Two 3-packs of 1.5″ x 2.25″ wooden rectangles
  • One 5.5″-wide roll of burlap
  • One bundle of decorative twigs
  • One can red Krylon spray paint to pre-paint doors
  • Aluminum foil

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)

Building in micro-scale was new to all of the kids and kept them engaged for nearly two hours. Photo copyright: Jen Citrolo
Building in micro-scale was new to the kids and kept them engaged for nearly two hours. Photo: Jen Citrolo

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.

Inspiration Materials: Beautiful Lego by Mike Doyle, Lego Micro SquareTM tip clips, and a few sample micro-scale buildings

The ingredient list for the micro-scale community build: nine components and a streamlined palette. Photo copyright: Jen Citrolo
The ingredient list for the micro-scale build: nine components and a streamlined palette. Photo: Jen Citrolo

Supplies:

  • 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)

Goodbye, gingerbread! Our new holiday project by Bare Conductive. Photo copyright: Jen Citrolo
Goodbye, gingerbread! Our new holiday project by Bare Conductive. Photo: Jen Citrolo

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

Supplies:

Kids drew circuits with electric paint and LEDs to create their glowing houses. Photo copyright: Jen Citrolo
Kids drew circuits with electric paint and LEDs to create their glowing houses. Photo: Jen Citrolo

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.
Made for a cute presentation, but this project was not a fan favorite. Photo: Jen Citrolo
Made for a cute presentation, but this project was not a fan favorite. Photo: Jen Citrolo

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!

A Cosplay Primer for Parents

I tend to be a pretty involved parent when it comes to current trends, shows, music, and fads. So when my 9 year-old son came to me three years ago and asked to make a “Half-Life Costume”, I was surprised I had no idea what that was or how to do it.

A bit of research on the internet had me spiraling down the rabbit hole, into an entirely new world: The world of cosplay. Continue reading A Cosplay Primer for Parents

Honest Valentines from Mommy’s 15 Seconds

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…

Well, to be honest, Honest Valentines are kind of funny… Continue reading Honest Valentines from Mommy’s 15 Seconds

In Defense of Hypocrisy

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

“Comics” Doesn’t Always Equal Kid Friendly. And That’s Okay.

(Herein lies some disturbing imagery. It is intended to make a point. I tried to keep the grosser stuff to comic panels that aren’t terribly realistic and toward the bottom. You have been warned.)

Continue reading “Comics” Doesn’t Always Equal Kid Friendly. And That’s Okay.

Interview: PlayStation First and the Gaming Community

Hour of Code has come and gone; the reviews are jumping all around the interwebs (my own is coming shortly). But was it enough for your kids? Did your spawnlings savour the taste of coding … and then ask for more? And is coding really enough for them to start their career in-game development?

Continue reading Interview: PlayStation First and the Gaming Community

Is ‘The Force Awakens’ Okay for Younglings?

As the first of my Facebook friends to have seen The Force Awakens, I have gotten a lot of questions about whether it is little kid appropriate. My own L is 6-years-old, precocious cognitively, but very 6 emotionally. So, my answer is:

It is kid dependent. Multiple factors have to be considered before taking your youngling to go see this movie.

Continue reading Is ‘The Force Awakens’ Okay for Younglings?

I’m Doing it Wrong?: Star Wars & the Next Generation

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was introduced to the Star Wars Universe. My introduction was at the movie theater, during the original theatrical release of Empire Strikes Back.

The year was 1980 and, in retrospect, I was probably too young. As it was, my poor father had to watch the majority of the movie through a hole in the door. I was so terrified by the removal of Darth Vader’s helmet, I made him leave the theater and refused to go back inside.

That makes me feel somewhat less guilty about the odd way I’ve introduced my daughter to Star Wars.

Continue reading I’m Doing it Wrong?: Star Wars & the Next Generation

Ways to Encourage Your Space Geek Child

If you asked my daughter what she wanted to be when she grew up for the first few years of her life, she would have said she wanted to “sew the material,” which was her way of saying she wanted to make clothes and be a crafter like her mom.

Around the age of 4, that began to change. I don’t remember exactly what happened that got her interested in space, but it’s an obsession that started strong and continued to build as we bought her lots of books about space and, eventually, a small telescope.

Now if you ask her she’ll say she wants to be an astronomer during the day and a mom at night.

That sounds good to us, so we’re trying to do all we can to encourage her love of space, and these ideas might help anyone trying to encourage a geeky passion in their kids. Continue reading Ways to Encourage Your Space Geek Child

A New NEW Generation of ‘Care Bears & Cousins’ From Netflix

“I wanna watch cousins!”

That was the strain this week with my three-year-old daughter who, after contracting a nasty case of strep, has been absolutely smitten with the Care Bears and Cousins show on Netflix.

While many parents might not find this exclamation to be anything other than another chime in the background, it’s meant a lot to me. As a child of the ’80s, the Care Bears—that greeting-card-turned-TV-series—was a huge part of my childhood. I watched all the movies, had my own Funshine and Brave Heart Lion, and stopped everything when my favorite, The Care Bears Movie II, came on TV.

Why The Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation? Well, it was full of something that, even at a tender age (perhaps a tender-hearted age, too), I absolutely adored: mythology. It was the origin story, not only of the Care Bears, but the cousins, too. I could even argue it was the Empire Strike Back of the franchise. Yes, marketing ploy aside, I was hopelessly in love with the Care Bear cousins, and getting to see them grow up as babies and sing my favorite Care Bears song, “Growing Up.”

And that’s not to mention the seriously dark backstory with Dark Heart, the evil spirit who helps camper Christy make a pack to become “camp champ” and resulting in an honestly tear-jerking final, where friendship and caring triumphs over evil.

Remember it now? I thought so.

No, I wasn’t expecting the new Netflix series Care Bears & Cousins—which is a branch from the Care Bears 3-D animated series rebootto be so hard-hitting. Something about ’80s kids shows had a certain dark tinge to them in ways that we just don’t see these days, save maybe occasionally in shows like the My Little Pony reboot. (Remember the My Little Pony: the Movie and the unstoppable purple ooze? Talk about nightmare material.)

But I was pleasantly surprised that, while the origin story is firmly tossed to the reboot rubbish heap and the cousins are much fewer in number (so far, we’ve got just four: Brave Heart Lion, Bright Heart Raccoon (my favorite!), Lotsa Heart Elephant, and Cozy Heart Penguin), their personalities and voices are done really well. Especially Braeden Fox’s Brave Heart who sounds so very much like Dan Hennessey’s original. Once I got over their new look and the fact that Funshine was now a dude, I really enjoyed time cuddling up with my daughter and just enjoying the little stories. A cool ship for the Cousins and Bright Heart’s steampunk inventions didn’t hurt, either.

For my three-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son (who pretends not to like it, but really loves it) the series is a great homage to the original. There are only six episodes so far, but it’s full of adventure, nostalgia, and positivity. Hoping they order more episodes soon and build up to a big, epic movie.

Natania is a member of the Netflix Stream Team.

Top image via Netflix.

Lessons From a First-Time Mini Maker Faire Exhibitor

The excitement in our household was barely containable. Anticipation, joy, and dreams of what could be all radiated from the two geeks who live with me.

What caused such enthusiasm, you ask? Was it Christmas? Someone’s birthday? An anniversary, perhaps? The new Star Wars movie?

No, my friends. It was the announcement that Barnes & Noble, in partnership with Make Magazine, was going to be hosting a Mini Maker Faire at every single store location in the U.S. Continue reading Lessons From a First-Time Mini Maker Faire Exhibitor

Why I Gave My Nephew Spider-Man

In our house, we limit screen time, maybe an hour a day. For the first two years, we capped TV watching at an hour a week.

We also tend away from the licensed products.

You know the ones I am talking about, the Elsa socks, Batman toothbrushes, or Elmo dolls. So imagine my husband’s surprise when I announced we were giving our two-year-old nephew Spider-Man for Christmas.

It all started with a sentence:

“I’m going to lose!”

Continue reading Why I Gave My Nephew Spider-Man

Combating Geek Prejudice… But Not the Way You Think

“Mom, I know I need to wait for Dad to help me with my math homework.”

“Mom, you’d never be able to build this Lego set.”

“Mom, you’ve never coded anything?!”

All of these are things my amazing 10-year-old future engineer has said to me.

She really doesn’t mean to hurt my feelings. She’s just calling it like she sees it. Her dad, her idol, is an engineer. They design stuff, build stuff, talk deeply about science-y stuff, and code stuff. My day job is in marketing and I don’t do any of that stuff. 

And frankly, I haven’t done myself any favors, talking about how confusing her math algorithms are to me (this is not a Common Core post, but it’s true fact that I do not recognize how to do long division anymore), how I’m “not into” building things, how I’ve never been interested in coding.

But it does hurt my feelings when she writes me off because the things I know are different from the things she and her dad know.

And most of the time, they’re not as relevant or valuable to her, because the things that are relevant and valuable to her fall very reliably into STEM and sometimes STEAM. There’s no “H” in there for humanities, which is where my particular strengths lie (I tried, but SHTEAM just didn’t work).
Continue reading Combating Geek Prejudice… But Not the Way You Think

PAX Australia 2015 (Part 1): The Geek Social Hub

If the “geek shall inherit the Earth” then PAX is where they divvy up the loot.

As an expo, it is a huge opportunity to try new games, find new talent, and “mingle with your people.” Trust me—I have plenty of new finds to +1 your geek status.

But as a social hub? It’s a whole other level.

Continue reading PAX Australia 2015 (Part 1): The Geek Social Hub

How to Introduce Your Kids to Things You Love

I didn’t read to my daughter when she was in the womb, but it wasn’t long after she was born that I started reading to her.

Some of the first books she heard were The Catcher in the Rye, and A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, because they’re some of my favorites. Plus, it’s never too early to know about phonies, and the fact that sometimes the smallest, strangest person can make the biggest difference in your life.

a prayer for owen meany
This is one of the first books I read to my daughter. Really. Image via HarperCollins.

The girl is six now, and reading is still a major pastime of ours. Through the years we’ve been able to introduce a few classics—Charlotte’s Web, The Wizard of Oz—and while it’s hard to wait on some of our favorites, we know it’s important to.

She’s afraid of people in masks, for instance, so the Star Wars movies are flat out. I’m ready to read her Harry Potter but I don’t want to ruin it for her if she thinks it’s scary.

Continue reading How to Introduce Your Kids to Things You Love

How I Became A Cool Geek Mom

Like most supermoms, I wear many capes. I’m a drama teacher by day, an actress by night, as well as a geeky mom, hot wife, and writer.

I was born with an extra dose of confidence and have never been one to worry about what other people think of me. I handle rejection like a seasoned pro and because of this, I have always felt free to dress the way I want to and express my various fandoms out loud for other people to see.

For example, when I drop my kids off at school, I might wear some Hello Kitty shoes with bright pink pants, a Doctor Who belt, and a Harry Potter jacket. Or I may wear my R2-D2 dress or Cinderella costume to promote my drama classes. I am no stranger to a raised eyebrow or sly smiles from onlookers. All of this was “normal” for my two kids until my daughter, the oldest, turned 11. Continue reading How I Became A Cool Geek Mom

Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge: And Back to School We Go

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Image: Scholastic

It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. Summer is waning. Even here in North Carolina, where the hot season tends to linger a little longer than I’d like, we’ve had hints of autumn. My daughter just started preschool, and my son is back to school next week. But they had some great times this summer—we traveled, we relaxed (well, at least they did), and we immersed ourselves in some great books.

5 Word Book Reviews (or less)

Here are the books that rocked my kids’ summer.

Get in on the Instant Win Action

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Image: Energizer

Energizer® and Scholastic are partnering to create the “Power the Possibilities” campaign which gives moms the tools they need to unlock their child’s talents, fuel their ambitions, and set them up for future success. Parents can buy any specially marked pack of Energizer® brand batteries to scratch for a chance to win one of thousands of prizes that will power discovery and learning.

Prizes include a family trip to New York City, a Scholastic Study Corner Makeover, a tablet with Scholastic apps, a library of Scholastic books and more! Everyone who plays can also download free digital stories for their family.

Refrain from Brain Drain

The summer is almost over, but thankfully the Power Up and Read Summer Reading Challenge has you covered. Scholastic’s Maggie McGuire has 5 easy tips for making reading a priority for your child, like setting a weekly minutes goal, reserving special time to read together as a family, and celebrating reading accomplishments. It’s not too late to get your kids reading.

More Reading Resources

Scholastic has joined together with ENERGIZER® to power the 2015 Summer Reading Challenge and encourage families to find innovative ways to discover the power and joy of reading. It’s not too late to take part! Now through September 4th, visit Scholastic.com/Summer. Click the links below for a sampling of the fun resources you’ll find with Scholastic:

#SummerReading

Scholastic is a GeekMom sponsor.

Skip the Summer Slide with Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge Powered by Energizer

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Image: Scholastic

The summer slide is real. And no, I don’t mean the kind that includes water and a slippery surface. I mean learning lag, which happens during the summertime when kids are out of school. Thankfully, our sponsor Scholastic and the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge is here to help. They’re challenging families like ours to “Power Up & Read”—powered by Energizer.

Teachers report that they end up re-teaching materials to kids during the fall because so much is lost over the summer. And with camps and family vacations—and the sometimes unbearably hot weather like here in North Carolina—it’s not surprising. After a demanding school year, the first thing my son Liam wants to do is not to read.

But we’re finding ways to help him, and you can, too. Picking books for him is the first big challenge. Thankfully, with the help of his teacher last year, we discovered a Minecraft series of novels. While they might not be my first choice of literature, they get his attention. He gets so invested in these books, you can hardly pry him away. Couple that with the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge, and he’s got real motivation to continue reading—and to get rewarded all along the way. Bonus: There’s games he can play, and any time “screen time” is part of the deal, you know his attention is piqued.

Image: Energizer
Image: Energizer

What’s particularly nice is that we can let Liam choose his own books during the summer. With his ASD, the pressure to perform can be really overwhelming. But he doesn’t let it get to him this way. He can read whatever he wants, whenever he wants.

The free program runs from May 4 to September 4, 2015, and like I mentioned before, you can sign up for free on their website.

Even better is the new addition of short stories by some of the biggest names in kids’ writing. Kids can unlock stories by Blue Balliett, Patrik Henry Bass, Varian Johnson, Gordon Korman, Michael Northrop, Maggie Stiefvater and Jackson Pearce, Roland Smith, R.L. Stine, Tui T. Sutherland, Lauren Tarshis, Wendy Wan-Long Shang, and Jude Watson. For a fiction writer as I am, that’s a truly exciting reward! Not to mention, they’ve got a host of exclusive videos featuring kids’ authors, monthly Klutz books sweepstakes, and lots more.

The site is chock-full of great resources, including printouts, guides, and book lists for kids of all ages. And you can get Daily Digest tips and hey, even enter a prize packet for you that includes Scholastic tote bag, water bottle, a copy of Reading Unbound by Jeffrey Wilhelm and Michael Smith, a $10 gift certificate to Scholastic Store Online, Energizer® brand batteries, Scholastic books, and more.

Want more? We’ve got more! Check the links below.

Scholastic is a GeekMom sponsor.

The Unexpected Way ‘Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood’ is Helping My 8 Year Old Autistic Son

Image: PBS Kids
Image: PBS Kids

In our house, viewing Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood usually starts something like this. The show clicks on, the music starts. My daughter, 3, starts dancing in anticipation. My son, 8, with high-functioning autism, starts whining and complaining that it’s the most terrible show in the world. Then it starts, and they’re both silent and rapt for the duration.

When I first saw ads for the show, I was a little reluctant. Riffing on Mister Rogers? With cartoons? It felt a little sacrilegious. Then I learned that the show was not just a rehash of Mister Rogers, my most favorite kid’s show, but a collaboration with people like Angela Santomero from Blue’s Clues. For our son Liam, Blue’s Clues was pretty much his favorite show in the world during his toddler years, in spite of being a very picky TV watchers (the show didn’t often feature his favorite thing in the world: cars). What I’ve always loved about Blue’s Clues is that it’s rooted in psychology, treating kids not as dumb little monkeys in need of entertainment, but as growing human beings in need of education and direction. It’s a lot to ask for a TV show, but it’s worked.

There’s a great NPR piece about the show that I caught when it aired, and this quote sums up what makes the approach so special:

“They developed a whole curriculum based on Fred’s research and teaching,” says Linda Simensky, vice president of children’s programming at PBS. “It’s very carefully designed for a certain age group to get the rules of how the world works—to see what happens when things go right and when things go wrong.”

But that said, I’m going to admit, after viewing a few of the episodes I wasn’t a huge fan and didn’t quite get the hype. The show is cute and simplistic, employing many of the “play along” techniques Blue’s Clues became so famous for. Every lesson is a song, teaching kids ways to remember common solutions for every day problems.

That changed very quickly.

Learning Through Songs and Repetition

What started happening with those lessons, though, rather stopped my husband and me in our tracks. Many of Liam’s most common challenges come from tantrums. Autistic tantrums. That’s when, no matter what happens, the tantrum continues and continues—I think his record is three hours—regardless of the outcome. In these moments he’s in a red zone, and there’s very little we can do to get him back to the present outside of just waiting for it to be over.

One day, he had a particularly bad red zone tantrum, and he hurt a lot of feelings—including his sister’s. I found myself giving him advice from Daniel Tiger’s neighborhood: “It’s important that you don’t just say you’re sorry—say sorry, and ask how you can make it better. Being sorry is about more than words, it’s actions, too.”

He did. Even if a little grudgingly.

Then a few days later, Michael and I were having a disagreement. Not a full blown argument, but it was clear that we were both very frustrated. Our daughter Elodie came up to us, put her little hand in mine, and sang, “When you’re feeling frustrated, take a step back and ask for help.”

Michael and I goggled at each other. Did she just use Daniel magic on us? She did.

Parenting a kid who doesn’t listen and spirals out of control is hard on any day. And finding way to remain calm as a parent, let alone as the kid going through it, is perilous. We forget (and many other adults do, too) that while he looks and speaks like a big kid, when it comes to reasoning and social skills, especially in times of stress, he’s like a toddler. As I once read in a book about kids with these kind of challenges, being a parent to an exceptional kid means sometimes being their frontal lobe. Now, I don’t have time to be my own frontal lobe let alone his some days. But Daniel Tiger helps.

“Wow,” said to Michael one afternoon. “I think Daniel Tiger is helping us with Liam.”

He Likes It, He Really Likes It

Image: PBS Kids; Katerina and Daniel
Image: PBS Kids; Katerina and Daniel

Then, one day, Liam turned to us and said, apropos of nothing. “I think Katerina is autistic; she’s my favorite. She has a hard time with things sometimes, and she likes ballet more than anything.” Well, that’s interesting.

Our daughter Elodie loves Daniel, and she sings the potty song (“When you’ve got to go potty, stop and go right away. Flush and wash and be on your way!”) every time she goes to the bathroom. Liam’s aware of what we’re doing on some level, but we’ve found that the sound, short advice can really cut through some of the worst of his behaviors.

Short, helpful strategies, based in real research and proven techniques. For days I’m too tired to remember what to do when Liam is going off the rails because the cream cheese was spread wrong on his bagel (true story) I can take a deep breath (take my own step back) and calmly translate the words of Daniel Tiger: “Take a step back, Liam. I can help. What do you want me to do?” He might roll his eyes at me, but it often stops him in his tracks and in this instance he doesn’t hit me or shout or stomp away. He says, “Can you get me a knife? That way I can fix it. Or maybe you can if I can’t.”

Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is streaming on Netflix right now.

Natania is a member of the Netflix Stream team.

Power Up and Read with he Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge Powered by Energizer

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Image: Scholastic

When I was a kid, my favorite part about summer was the fact that I could read as much as I wanted, for however long I wanted. There wasn’t homework, or assigned reading. I could go into the library, grab as many titles as I could carry, and read from dusk until dawn. I’m pretty sure that some days I did. Our sponsors at Scholastic certainly get that kind of kid—but they get other kids, too.

Now I’ve got kids, two of them. One is almost nine, and he’s reading at a near college level. But reading isn’t his thing. He can do it, and do it fast, but unless he sees the benefit, he’s not about to give in to his fiction-obsessed mother. The other one is quickly learning the magic of libraries and stories, but has yet to do any reading on her own. She just turned three, she’s got time.

Image: Energizer
Image: Energizer

Anyway, I’ve been thrilled with the Scholastic and Energizer “Power Up and Read” program for the summer, running from May 4th – September 4th, 2015. With their approach, both kids are reading toward their goals—for our son, a good mix of nonfiction and fiction, and for our daughter books with lots of pictures and easy words. The best part of the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge is that I can download sheets (and certificates) all along the way. And as they log hours, they can earn virtual rewards, enter sweepstakes, and even play games. That’s definitely up their alley.

What’s particularly nice, too, is that you can match your kid with book suggestions. And, there’s a fun component with the INSTANT WIN Games—you and your kids could win a trip to NYC, or lots of lovely books.

Our goals are simple: Make reading fun. Some days that’s harder than others. But with all the tools from Scholastic, I’m convinced it will be a blast for all involved.

Check out their tips and resources below, including a great Harry Potter book party!

Resources from Scholastic Parents:

More about the program:

Scholastic is a GeekMom sponsor.

Shadows and BURPS: RPGs With Kids!

shadow pic small
Image By Lilianna Maxwell

Gather your family at the table with paper, pencils, and dice.

First tell them to draw a quick picture of themselves—stick figures are fine. On the same paper, they should draw their shadow: the person, monster, or alter-ego that is longing to get them in trouble, to do whatever they want regardless of the consequences. Then assign one die (different colors) to each of these drawings. Finally, say to your family, “You are asleep in the house. Suddenly you wake up to a strange sound.” And so the Shadows game begins.

This is one of the simplest role-playing games around, which makes it great for kids. And perfect for adults who are interested in RPGs, but don’t know where to begin. Shadows, by Zak Arntson, is a group storytelling game with a fun twist. Whenever the leader of the group asks about a move, the player has to answer twice—what they want to do in a situation, and what their shadow wants to do. The decision is made by dice.

My children and I have played the Shadows game many times, and this was the game I chose when I did an “Intro to RPG” event at my local homeschooling group. I wanted a game with a short prep time, so we could jump right into the action. Experienced gamers really, really enjoy character creation, spending weeks on stats and backstories. But with kids, they just want to play.

There are many systems out there (feel free to comment below with your favorite) that are quick on the start-up. Risus by S. John Ross is one I like. It has enough structure to satisfy kids who want more than Shadows, but with a twenty second character creation, there’s no waiting. My favorite part of Risus is how characters are defined by cliches. You can make up your own or be inspired by their example list:
Gambler: Betting, cheating, winning, running very fast.
Computer Geek: Hacking, programming, fumbling over introductions.

My kids enjoyed the Percy Jackson series, so one afternoon I took out Risus, a list of Greek gods, and a list of Greek monsters. I told the kids they were demi-gods, and monsters were ravaging our downtown. They grabbed their dice, picked whom their powerful parent was, wrote down a cliché or two, and we were off on an exciting adventure.

Now perhaps you are an experienced gamer and want to bring your geeklings into the fold of serious RPGs. There are also many systems that allow for expansive character creation and detailed worlds (again, list your favorites below.) Anything with the PDQ# system by Chad Underkoffler is creative and easy to run. I once ran a long campaign with my kids and their friends in the Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies world with great success.

My husband did a few one-shot Dungeons and Dragons games with the kids when they were younger. But he made their simple character stats for them, “I want to be a really cool warrior with a big sword!” I had asked if he ever wanted to run a family game, but he remembers the amount of time it took to create a satisfying game week after week for his friends way back when. So that was a “no.”

My personal introduction into RPGs is a system called GURPS (generic universal role playing system). However, I will never read all those books for the GM (game master). Luckily, there’s this handy-dandy version called GURPS LITE. It’s perfect for playing with kids, and I used it for a short series with my own kids a few years back. The character sheets were still too unwieldy, so I wrote up my own called BURPS (beginner universal role playing system). Please feel free to grab it for your own game.

Not enough suggestions? Go here. Spend an afternoon on an adventure with your children using your collective imagination and the clattering of dice.

Ski Joring – The Perfect Winter Family Adventure!

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

My family loves to attend somewhat nontraditional festivals and celebrations. When we lived near Washington, D.C., I’d scour the Thursday edition of the Washington Post, looking for the most unique thing we could do with our four kiddos that weekend. Among other things, we saw Native American Pow Wows and attended the National Kite Festival.

When we moved to Utah, then Upstate New York, the kids continued to grow, as did the crazy weekend adventures. Now we live in Colorado. Almost all of my kids are grown. But I keep dragging the youngest ones to crazy events. We’ve been to the Bacon Festival, Winter X Games, and Frozen Dead Guy Days. I thought we’d rounded up some of the best. Then child number three called home from college and said, “Are you guys coming up this weekend for Ski Joring?”

Okay. Hadn’t heard of that one. I started throwing the term around at work. Several of my co-workers had heard of it. I was astonished that this event had never been on my radar.

If you, like me, have never heard of ski joring, let me educate you. Ski Joring is a sport where skiers are pulled by horses, at high rates of speed. It’s a timed event. Skiers must navigate a course, involving several large jumps, as well as spear rings with their arms. It’s as crazy as it sounds.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

Last weekend we headed off to Leadville, Colorado, about an hour from our house. Fun fact: Leadville has the distinction of being the highest (altitude) incorporated city in the United States, at over ten thousand feet. These facts I learned from my college son, whose tiny college campus is at the far end of town.

The main street of downtown had been shut down and truck loads of snow had been brought in. A course was carved out that included periodic jumps of impressive height. Even my ski loving kids couldn’t believe that skiers would be clearing the jumps, then continue on to capture rings with outstretched arms.

Here is a video of one skier, mid-course. It was fascinating to me that a horse could pull a person at a high rate of speed, without dangerously jolting the skier as they began their run. See how fluidly these professional athletes managed this feat at this link.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

If you are looking for some pretty crazy, awe-inspiring entertainment, there is a national body called the North American Ski Joring Association. Here is the schedule of events across the country. You can find competitions in five of the United States and in several countries across the world. In some parts of the world, skiers are pulled behind dogs, mules, and snowmobiles. At the event we attended there were opportunities for children to try an abbreviated course, pulled behind a snowmobile.

Most of the ski joring events in the United States have wrapped up for this year. The courses are melting away and spring is just around the corner. But don’t forget this sport. When the snow starts to fly next year, this is one event that’s worth seeing. As plans are made for vacations, keep in mind the opportunity to catch a glimpse of this crazy new/old sport called ski joring. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

Added note: Want to see what it looks like from the skier’s perspective? Catch this father (rider – Greg Dahl) son (skier – Jeff Dahl) team’s experience, from the GoPro, mounted on the skier’s helmet. Crazy fun!

Happy World Read Aloud Day!

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Photograph: Talento Tec – Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, Mexico City (Creative Commons License)

My son and I have fought beside Peter in the Battle of Narnia. We’ve experienced the wonder of walking through the wall of Platform 9 3/4 on our way to Hogwarts. We’ve saved Prydain multiple times, and melted the Wicked Witch of the West. And we did it all from the comfort of our own couch.

My son is almost 13 years old, and every single night since he was old enough to focus his eyes, we’ve read out loud together. Every night, without fail, whether we are traveling or sick, or it’s late. It’s our time to regroup from the day, to escape for a while, to snuggle on the couch, and just share a bit of time with one another.

I have to admit, I was a little surprised to find out, when he was about 10 or so, that we were one of the only families who did this with a kid over about 7. It had never even occurred to us to stop (I think my son would cry mutiny if we did).

Today is World Read Aloud Day. If you click on the link, you’ll find a lot of information about reading to your kids and a link to a free story book.  Reading to your kids, whether young or older, is simple and doesn’t take a lot of time. Plus, according to Scholastic’s Kids and Family Reading Report: 5th Edition, 8 out of every 10 kids from ages 6-17 say that they love being read aloud to and want their parents to do it more.

Most parents read aloud to their kids before the age of 6, mostly to develop literacy and a love of reading. After that though, the percentage tapers off dramatically, even though the benefits are the same. I would argue, in fact, that reading together becomes even more important as kids get older. There are so many other things competing for their attention. What better way to show them both the importance of reading and spending time together as a family than having some story time together. In fact, the top reason cited in Scholastic’s study for kids wanting to read together with their parents is because it gives them a special time together.

So, what if you stopped reading to your child, but now want to start back up? What if you want some more bonding time with your moody teen? Well, it’s not always easy to start new habits. Start off by letting your kid choose what he or she wants to read. It can be anything. A novel, a comic book, a book about science. Most of the kids surveyed said they would like to read something of their choice or something funny. Don’t get frustrated if your kid doesn’t join you right away. Read to your partner, or your pet. But encourage your child to stay in the same room. For example, after dinner, set a family time where no one is allowed to hide out in their room. Everyone can do something in the living room as long as it doesn’t disrupt the reading (like, no television). Again, this might not be easy with some kids. Teens are mysterious and complicated creatures. They want to spend time with their families but they want to do it on their terms and they can feel embarrassed about taking the first steps to getting closer to their families. The want independence, but don’t want to break too far away. Give them lots of space and choice in the matter. Let them pick the book out, and don’t make them read to you unless they want to. Just read out loud to them so they feel welcome and comfortable, and eventually they might want to read to you.

What if you feel like you aren’t good at reading out loud? Just do it. You’ll get better the more you practice, and no one is grading you on your performance. It’s a fun bonding time for everyone. You’ll make mistakes. Your kids will let you know when you missed a word. It’s OK. Just laugh at the mistakes, compliment your kid on being such a good reader that he caught a missing word, and enjoy your family time together.

Happy reading, everyone!

Ever After High – Destiny and Fairytales on Netflix Streaming

Image: Mattel, Netflix
Image: Mattel, Netflix

If you have a young daughter who likes princesses, as I do, it’s likely that you’ve heard of Ever After High. Like Monster High before it, these dolls have a unique look that’s somewhere between Victorian princess and 80s punk rock. Now, aside from the book series and dolls, there’s a new show streaming on Netflix that follows the story of the girls in high school.

What’s particularly impressive about the show is that it’s not your garden variety fairytale show. No doubt spurred on by other popular shows like My Little Pony and even the Tinkerbell franchise, the storylines are complex and the central challenges are far more than makeup and crushes. In fact, the central factions in the show — the Rebels and the Royals — fall on two sides of an age-old question: do you follow your destiny, or do you challenge it? If you’re born to an evil queen, does that mean you have to be the same when you grow up?

Sure, it’s a show that the ten-and-under crowd will enjoy. But at the heart it’s a show that makes you think beyond fairytale endings. If you’re anything like me, you were probably the kind of kid who questioned all the fairytales I read, and wanted more satisfying endings. I far prefer my daughter, who’s absolutely besotted with her princesses, to be given a more complicated view. I love fairytales as much as she does, but there’s a real power in changing those expectations and asking the hard questions. Maybe that’s one of the reasons they’re so enduring.

And that’s to say nothing of the fashion on the show. As in their doll form, the characters on the show have a really amazing sense of fashion — and it varies greatly from character to character. I’d personally love to see someone chasing their own destiny in some of these gorgeous outfits.

You can catch both seasons of Ever After High streaming on Netflix.

Natania is part of the Netflix Stream Team.

 

Quick & Geeky Valentine Paper Clip Greetings

Julie Tiu DIY Planner Clips Paper Clips for Valentine Card
Quick DIY Valentine greetings to make with things you have at home. Image by Julie Tiu.

It’s easy to go to your local store and buy a box of Valentine’s Day cards for your kid’s class, but maybe you can make a couple of special Valentine cards for a teacher, older kids, or even your favorite planner geek. These are easy and inexpensive greetings that you can make with supplies you may have at home.

Julie Tiu DIY Paper Clip Planner Clip for Valentine Card
Puffy stickers make easy embellishments for paper clips! (Note: The large paper clips shown are upside down.) Image by Julie Tiu.

I found some Hello Kitty puffy stickers, along with superhero and Despicable Me minion stickers—because they’re just the type of GeekMom supplies I have lying around my house. You’ll also want to scrounge up the following items:

  • Paper clips (any size, test to see what is appropriate)
  • Sharp scissors (smaller works better for details)
  • Index cards or heavy cardstock
  • Glue gun (optional)

The larger paper clips work better for most applications.

Julie Tiu DIY paper clip planner clip greetings for Valentine Card
Use easy-to-find materials in your home like index cards and paper clips to make these easy paper clip greetings. Image by Julie Tiu.

Take your puffy stickers of choice and sandwich a paper clip between the sticker and your index card. Apply a good amount of pressure all over the sticker. Be careful how you position the paper clip; you’ll want to make sure that you can slide the paper clip onto the edge of a piece of paper (or whatever you’re clipping together).

Julie Tiu DIY paper clip planner clip for Valentine Card
Puffy sticker adhesive is usually strong enough to hold onto the paper clip and cardstock backing. Image by Julie Tiu.

After the stickers are adhered to the index card for backing, cut around the sticker shape. (Yes, this can be a little tedious. I had a better time with the square-shaped lenticular superhero stickers.)

For stickers that are not puffy (typical stickers), you can still make paper clip embellishments by adhering the sticker to cardstock first, cutting the shape, and then using a glue gun to apply the paper clip. I would not recommend sandwiching the clip between the sticker and cardstock because the sticker will likely rip.

DIY paper clip planner clip for Valentine card
Use regular stickers to make cool clips. Image by Julie Tiu
DIY paper clip planner clip for Valentine card
Hot glue thin stickers or decals that are adhered onto cardstock first. Image by Julie Tiu

If you’re lucky, you may find an exact double of a puffy sticker, so you can just sandwich the clip in between the two stickers.

Julie Tiu DIY paper clips planner clips for Valentine Card
Stickers may be adhered back-to-back for these embellished paper clips. Image by Julie Tiu.

Lastly, take another (plain) index card (or cardstock) and hand-write a greeting to go with your embellished paper clip. I used washi tape to hold the clip in place.

**UPDATE** A friend commented about handwriting. What if you don’t like yours? I say it’s all about the homemade feel… use what you have: a print-out, rubber stamps, labels, stickers, etc.

DIY paper clip planner clip
Give your little Valentine to a favorite geeky loved one. Image by Julie Tiu.

I know some teachers who will totally enjoy this little treat… and as for the rest of my stickers, I may need to buy some more large paper clips so I can use them in my own planner or as bookmarks! Enjoy!

This Saturday Is Ice Cream For Breakfast Day!

Ice Cream Cutie By Lilianna Maxwell

Celebrate Ice-Cream For Breakfast Day this Saturday, February 7th. What? You’ve never heard of this splendid holiday? Gasp! Well, now you do and there’s no excuse. And your kids will love you for it. Here are some resources.

For recipes and random love of the creamy stuff, The Ice Cream Geek has great ideas.

You know you tried this as a kid yourself. Astronaut ice-cream.

Did you know the ice-cream scoop was reinvented?

Go all out and get some Superhero Ice Cream Treat Tubs to make it even more fun.

The Hulk ice-cream sandwiches are cool. They use matcha (green tea) powder, so this tea geek gives them a big thumbs up!

Several ice-cream parlors around the country use this day to raise money for children’s charities. Check if there’s one near you: Make your kids happy and do good in your community. What’s not to like?

Enjoy your sweet holiday :)

Little Boy Sees Star Wars for the First Time, Completely Loses It

Star Wars came out a decade long, long ago when the only way to see the movie was in a theater. I was seven, so my Dad took me to see it and the movie completely and utterly blew my little mind. According to him, I watched half the film with my jaw dropped down to the floor. Now kids see it for the first time in the comfort of their own homes. This 3-year-old boy is one of those kids and his reaction is brilliant.

It appears that he’s already familiar with the characters as he calls out Darth Vader and “Storm Woopers.” Storm Woopers? I will now think of them this way forever and until the end of time. It makes them much less scary and makes this kid unbearably cute. He’s adorable and the way he keeps adjusting his glasses to be sure he doesn’t miss anything is just killing me.

His dialogue is great, but his physical reactions will have you giggle-snorting your coffee onto your monitor, so be warned. He shushes Dad with a finger held up as the movie starts and then he has the most incredible freak out. There is jumping up and down. There is flailing. There is dancing and there is a huge smile.

Since I saw the movie for the first time in a theater, I could not jump up and down, but if I could have, I’d have done exactly what this kid did, right until they kicked me out. If we’re being totally honest, and we are, that’s exactly what all Star Wars fans do inside every single time that music starts to play.

The completely rapt look on his face is how we’re all going to look when Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits theaters in December. You guys, that’s this year! Yup, absolutely flailed my arms at that thought and barely refrained from jumping up and down at my desk.

(via NerdApproved)

Give the Gift of YES!

Coupon Book Cover

With my son’s room overflowing with toys and gadgets he’s accumulated over his short lifetime, we decided this year would be a “no toys” Christmas. Instead of toys, we wanted our friends and family to give him theme park tickets, cash, gift cards to his favorite restaurants, or subscriptions to comic books he enjoys. However, this put us in a bind for figuring out what to put under the tree for him.

One day while brainstorming how we could give him gifts without contributing to the mess that is his room, I remembered the coupon books I gave my parents as a kid. We made them in school and they were for things like vacuuming the living room, putting up the dishes, doing the laundry, and other household chores. My mom would then “redeem” her coupons for us to take over chores for the day.

Then I had a brilliant upon brilliant idea: What could be a better gift for a child than saying “yes” to something they want to do?

After completing my happy dance and patting myself on the back for my genius idea, I sat down to figure out what kinds of things my son would love to hear me say “yes” to.

A few ideas I came up with were:

  • 1 additional hour on Minecraft.
  • Get out of cleaning your room.
  • Pizza and a movie night.
  • Bedtime extension (valid for 1 hour on a weekend or 30 minutes on school night).
  • New game on the iPad (value not to exceed $______).
  • One additional hour on a game of your choice.
  • Family game night (you pick the game).
  • One family video game competition.
  • A trip to the comic book store for a book of your choice.
  • An extra dessert with dinner.
  • Dessert first at dinner.
  • Grocery store snack and drink of your choice.
  • Lunch with Mommy/Daddy at school.
  • Trip to restaurant of your choice.

Once I had my list, I remembered that my son has a very scheming mind (I wonder where he got that from…<looks away>) and realized that a set of rules would also be a good idea.

I looked back over my list and came up with a disclaimer for any of them that I thought he might try to be evil with. For instance, “pizza and movie night” has a disclaimer that it’s only valid on weekends (no staying up late on a school night in this house). I also threw in a stipulation that if a coupon required us to spend money, we have the right to refuse it on grounds of financial stability (but we also have to give him a new date that will fit our budget better). Another stipulation I threw in there was that he can’t use the coupon book when grounded. This prevents him from getting out of his punishment with a coupon.

While this list will make my son very happy, my fellow GeekMoms came up with a few additions that suit their own families.

Lisa gave a couple of suggestions based on what her girls enjoy:

  • New book…for no reason at all.
  • One day of getting to choose the station/CD we play in the car or at home.

Sarah’s suggestions suited her family and what they like:

  • Hot cocoa and extra stories in mom’s bed at bedtime. Toby loves when we do that—so much so that he asks to go to bed half an hour early so we can get more stories in.
  • A trip to the mall without siblings.
  • Pancakes without siblings (we usually do IHOP).
  • 10 extra minutes of video games.
  • An impromptu trip to the library.

Kay has some teenagers in her household and came up with a few things they would find worthy of excitement:

  • Choosing the audio book on a long car ride.
  • Getting the choice of being first for anything in a sibling situation.
  • Choosing desserts.
  • Extra time in the shower or bathroom, especially for a teen.
  • Extra time to sleep in, for a teen.
  • Chore trading or chore randomizing.
  • Picking the bedtime story.
  • DQ. DQ. DQ. (It’s an obsession at our house.)

Thanks to Rebecca Moore, we have some template coupons for you to use for your own kids’ coupon book. Just click on the image you want to use, save it to your computer, and add some text to it by hand or with your preferred program. Remember to come up with a set of rules that suit your family so that this is fun and not frustrating. I laminated my coupons and used a couple of binder rings to hold it together and keep them neat.

But wait! There’s more. Once they give you a coupon, keep it. The next time your child does something worthy of a treat, give them a coupon back to reuse. See? It goes from a Christmas gift to a reward system instantly. Cool huh?

coupon_template_kids coupon_template_time
coupon_template_toys coupon_template_food
coupon_template_minecraft coupon_template_vgame

Planner Geeks Unite for an Organized 2015

Image source: Julie Tiu
Mom’s Weekly Planner or Day Planner, what do you use? Image by Julie Tiu

Did you have an assignment notebook when you were younger? I loved mine. It was a beautiful example of collage and an altered book before I even knew what that was. I would doll up my August-to-August Chandler’s Assignment Notebook (Chicago-based company in the 1940s and closed in 1995) with stickers, drawings, and cut-outs from magazines stating my teenage pride and angst. Clear packing tape was my adhesive of choice. I color coded everything with my Stabilo Boss highlighters. Of all the journals I ever owned, I wish I kept those.

Image Source: www.jasco.com.au
These were my favorite highlighters back in the 1980s | Image Source: www.jasco.com.au

I gave up the Chandler’s Notebook, and graduated to a university-sanctioned notebook (AKA free). Then Day Timers and Franklin Planners came along in the workplace. I was a young professional and I didn’t think to accessorize my planner, to make it fun and colorful, except for the occasional highlighter and red pen for deadlines.

Fast forward to today. We’re all familiar with using regular calendars to plot our busy days as parents, and I’m not knocking online or electronic calendars. I just love paper! I’ve used a Mom’s Planner for the last three or four years. Mom’s calendars or planners have space for listing all family members activities. Next year I’m going back to my Franklin Planner (picture above)… and going back to making it my own. I’m so excited that I already started decorating. Lately I’ve been using washi tape and stickers to make the pages pop. Three inch by four inch cardstock (i.e., Project Life scrapbook cards) are used as weekly reminders or just inspiration. I was inspired by a pen friend who shared some of her paper goods. (A scrapbooker, I am not—but I will paper craft!)

Washi tape, plannerjunkie, plannergeek
Washi tape (paper tape) can be used to embellish your planner. Image by Julie Tiu
Image source: Julie Tiu
Geek out and pull your crafty tools to decorate your planner. Image by Julie Tiu
Julie-Tiu-planner2
Christmas- and holiday-themed tape for a December week. Image by Julie Tiu
Planner embellishments, Julie Tiu
A planner is a great place to use up stickers and supplies you may be hoarding. Image by Julie Tiu

Now there are companies like:

  • Filofax (origin: loose-leaf system to hold engineering data in a small portable binder, file-of-facts);
  • kikki.K;
  • Blue Sky (check out Sugar Paper); and
  • Erin Condren Design (maker of Life Planner).

These have exploded in popularity among planner geeks. You can also find upscale planners by Kate Spade, Louis Vuitton, and Tory Burch. So why are agendas and planners so popular? They’re just calendars in journal form, right? In the end what it holds is our life in progress, so why not make it personal and fun.

You’d be amazed at the variety and enthusiasm people have for their planners! Just try searching these keywords on Instagram or Pinterest: #plannergeek, #plannernerd, #planneraddict, #plannerlove, #plannerjunkie. You can also try looking up #filofax, #filofaxlove, #kikik, #erincondren, and #simplifiedplanner.

Are you a planner geek? How do you organize your calendar? We’d love to know!

Tiny Hands Apps Puts the Joy of Learning in Toddlers’ Hands

Image: Tiny HandsAs the mother of two kids in a very tech-connected geek household, apps are often on our minds. Which is why I’m so excited to share Tiny Hands Apps, our sponsor, with you.

Our daughter, the youngest, is only two. And while she’s fascinated with the iPad and certainly wants to use it like her brother does, there’s not much out there that caters to her. Generally speaking, it’s too complicated for her—and to be honest, I don’t just want to throw her the iPad to keep her busy when it’s not something that’s helpful for her.

That’s where Tiny Hands Apps comes in. Tiny Hands Apps are designed with toddlers in mind, from top to bottom. They’re educational and fun, and go beyond being just apps—really, they’re developmental apps. Everything is designed with a great deal of thought, not just a bunch of bright colors and sounds. In fact, Tiny Hands Apps are put together with certified child psychologists and produced in such a way to be exciting and interesting but never compromising on the content.

Even better? There’s no ads. No pop ups. No network access. Your littlest curious kiddos are free from the advertising crush that we so often see in games. It’s a gateway to learning without interruption.

Image: Tiny HandsA great example is Tiny Hands Raccoon Tree House. Your toddler sees a friendly raccoon character, and a story to go along. But you’ll know that it’s far beyond that. Tiny Hands Raccoon Tree House includes sorting, classifying, hand-eye coordination, concentration, vocabulary… and so on.Image: Tiny Hands

But that’s just the beginning. The world of Tiny Hands Apps is full of bright and colorful fun, learning about the world and all that’s in it.

We all know that it’s almost impossible to avoid technology—and we certainly never would want to. But we always want to make sure that we’re delivering the best quality to our children, both appropriate and exceptional. If you have a toddler who’s ready, we can’t think of a better place to start than Tiny Hands Apps

You can see the full lineup of Tiny Hands apps at the iTunes store, and follow them on Facebook, too.

This post is sponsored by Tiny Hands Apps.

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