Build Your Own Ninja Turtle, or Not?

Build Bear Turtle
Image: Build-A-Bear Workshop

Last weekend, I took my boys, ages two and four, to our local Build-A-Bear Workshop. I was flying solo, but if you hit the store just as it opens, you’ve pretty much got the run of the place. My husband does not enjoy the same affection for an abundance of soft toys that my sons and I do, so I try and leave the voice of reason at home.

Build Bear Leo
Image: Build-A-Bear Workshop

This was to be a special event. Unbeknownst to my eldest son, the store had debuted a line of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I felt certain that he would “neeeeed one,” and had thought briefly about using their online reservation system. This enables you to pay ahead of time and have the store reserve the carcass of your choice for you. If I believed the promotional emails I was getting (and I did), the store would be inundated with Ninja Turtles fans and was going to sell out quickly. Therein lay my first dilemma. I was certainly not going to turn over $100 plus tax on all four Ninja Turtles, and his favorite Turtle changes as often as his underwear. Most of the time it is Leonardo, as we are daily informed that blue is his favorite color. He will occasionally give allegiance to Michelangelo, as he knows that this was my childhood favorite. Sometimes he will even give a nod to Raphael as “red’s okay.” Poor Donatello never gets a look in. I felt pretty certain Leonardo would be the chosen one, but I have been wrong before.

Boy was I wrong this time.

We are Build-A-Bear Workshop aficionados. We have a bear, a bunny, a puppy, and a Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer complete with roller skates and sound box. If I had my way, there would be an AppleJack in our house right now. My youngest son has yet to fully develop this inherited affection, but my eldest son at four (he would want me to add “almost five”) is a die-hard. It’s never, “We’re going to Build a Bear,” but always, “We’re going to Build-A-Bear Workshop.” Choosing the bear in question is a momentary thought for him; it is in the details that he thrives. He loves the construction, helping with the stuffing, and picking out a heart. He loves to watch the stitching and takes great pride in the bathing. He loves to name the bear and helps me fill in the birth certificate. He loves to pick out the accessories, which is usually a piece of equipment rather than an item of clothing.

On this particular visit, we came screeching to a halt after running the entire length of the concourse. We were faced with oh-so-many Ninja Turtles. The advertisement I had seen contained pretty decent pictures, and so they were of the quality I had expected—which incidentally, is greater than the quality I would expect of a cuddly Ninja Turtle. Having not read the details too deeply, they were bigger than I had expected them to be. They don’t come with their accessories; your base Ninja Turtle is $25 and if you want nun-chucks or swords, then you’re going to have to play the Grandma card.

Build Bear 2
Image: Sarah Pinault

Instantly, one of the lovely, calm, and patient, cast members started to engage my son in conversation. His side of the conversation went something like this: “Aha, aha, yup, erm, the blue one, yeah that one, aha, yup, okay bye.” All the while, his eyes darted around the store, and down the long row of empty bodies to the beloved “fluff machine.” He made a beeline for the bears, bypassing the buckets of Ninja Turtles. I asked if he wanted Leonardo. “Nope, this guy,” he proclaimed, holding up a generic black bear.

And so, I learned a classic lesson of geek parenting: You can lead your child to geek, but you cannot make them geek out.

Thus far, he has acquiesced in one form or another to anything we put in front of him. Darth Vader for Halloween? Sure. Rocket ship-themed birthday party? Let’s blast off! Frozen at the movies with mommy? Let’s go. Ninja Turtles cuddly toy, something that would have been cherished in my ’80s childhood? Nah!

So this is where it begins, where we start loosening up the steelton cables. We always knew this day would come.

Hero turtles
Image: Screenshot

I am kind of shocked that he wanted a black bear. The name is “Bathy” by the way, as in Kathy, but not. I had fully expected him to want Ninja Turtles, as he has been the one leading me back into my childhood memories. Although growing up in England, I watched the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles. My shock was therefore not his rejection of my own love, but more a reaction to his preference of something so simple, over something he loves. He is getting quite the diverse personality, my little man.

I love watching him explore the world around him and being privy as he develops his own style. Sure it’s great when we share something. One of my favorite things to do is sit and read with him, and I love it when he chooses Each Peach Pear Plum. I also love it when he asks me to read his Yogi Bear comic books, though I hate reading comic books aloud. I love it when he wants to go swimming with me, but I also love it when he wants to race our bikes across the lawn. Then, I collapse in a non-bike-riding puddle.

He starts kindergarten this year and is about to get bombarded with a wide range of new influences, and I get a front row seat to everything he discovers and loves, and learns to love. I get to watch as he dislikes things and help him deal with that. I couldn’t be more excited and more terrified.

Now I just need to get my own Ninja Turtle!

Summer Science Fun: Playing With Water Phases

Screen capture from google images

Phases of water are constantly changing in the summer: dew on grass in the morning that is gone by lunch, water droplets forming on the outside of a cup, “clouds” appearing in covered dishes left in the sun. We see these things all the time, and kids are always noticing as well. Here are some fun activities, and explanations, for your kids to learn the science behind what they are observing.

Water Evaporation and Condensation: Cloud in a Cup

Have your kids grab two clear plastic containers. Fill them about half way full, and mark the water level. Cover one container with a clear lid, or plastic wrap. Leave the other container open. Place both containers outside in a sunny spot. Leave for a few hours.

Go back and notice what is developing on the inside of the lid. Wait two days and look again. When you go back to observe the containers, the open container will have lost water. The water was heated by the sun, turned into water vapor and evaporated. The container with the lid will also have a lower water level, but there should also be visible water droplets on the lid, or plastic wrap. The air in the covered container can only hold so much water vapor, without a way for the vapor to escape, it condenses back to water and forms droplets. The droplets will fall off the lid and back into the container.

This is a great example of how water from the earth evaporates, cools, forms clouds, condenses, and falls back to earth as rain. Your kids can think of the open container as an ocean, river, or lake. Heat from the sun turns liquid water into its gas phase, water vapor. The water vapor then evaporates and is cools back into liquid water and eventually becomes part of a cloud. The plastic wrap of the covered cup acts like the atmosphere, and traps the water vapor. In a real cloud, the water vapor cools back into liquid water. In the covered cup, the air can only hold so much vapor, and the vapor condenses back to liquid water forming a “rain cloud” on the plastic wrap.

You can change this up by doing some variations. Put a set of covered and uncovered cups out in the sun, and another set in a shady spot. Also, put one set in the refrigerator. See the differences in evaporation, and condensation over time.

http://water.usgs.gov

Change the Phase of Water With a Cold Drink

All kids have held cups of ice water in the summer and felt, or even played with, the condensation that develops on the outside of the cup. We all do this, but we may not always think of the science that is behind the condensation. Telling your kids that the cool cup is changing the phase of water in the air, making it go from a gas to a liquid will get them thinking about the fun science that is happening right in their hands.

Grab a cup of water, add some ice cubes, and go outside on a warm sunny day. Within a minute or so, there will be drops of liquid water on the outside of the glass or cup. The temperature of the ice water in the cup is cooler than the temperature of the air. The cup cools the surrounding air, and the temperature change causes the water vapor surrounding the cup to turn back into liquid water. Now, make another drink with ice and put it into the refrigerator. Did the same thing happen?

This is a fun experiment, because let’s face it, we all love drawing things in water condensation. Grab a bunch of cups, add water and ice and have fun creating art with the beauty of science!

International Scratch Day: Saturday, May 17!

Do your kids Scratch? Nope, this isn’t a medical question.

Scratch is a free programming language developed for kids. From elementary school to college, kids use it to create interactive stories to building animations and games. In the meantime, they’re learning programming principles and collaboration skills—important stuff for the future. Scratch is available in over forty languages, and is in use in one hundred fifty countries.

This Saturday, May 17, is International Scratch Day—and events are popping up everywhere. See if there’s an event near you where you and your kids can learn more about programming!

The MIT Media Lab group Lifelong Kindergarten developed Scratch in 2003 and the project has received grants from the National Science Foundation as well as Intel Foundation, Microsoft, MacArthur Foundation, LEGO Foundation, Code-to-Learn Foundation, Google, Dell, and others.

Ford Combats Distracted Driving By Educating Teen Drivers

Ford Driving School For Life, Image: Ford
Ford Driving School For Life, Image: Ford

We all know what distracted driving means and we all know it’s dangerous, but that doesn’t mean we all avoid falling prey to the many distractions that assault us behind the wheel. Kids in the backseat, your phone buzzing, the music playing too loudly, and now there’s the #DrivingSelfie trend. It’s a scary thought, but even more so when it’s possibly your newly licensed teen who’s driving distracted.

April is Distracted Driving month which makes it a good time to remind ourselves, and especially our kids, of how dangerous it can be to not pay attention behind the wheel. There are so many distractions these days that it’s easy to forget that, when you’re driving, everything else can wait.

Auto companies are incorporating more and more technology in cars, but they’re also making it less distracting by disabling certain features when the car is in motion and adding voice-activated technology that lets you keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road. The Ford SYNC system has hands-free features that are voice activated, but they’ve gone one step further with their Ford Driving Skills For Life program.

Ford Driving School For Life, Image: Ford
Ford Driving School For Life, Image: Ford

This program, established in 2003, aims to give teen drivers the edge by teaching them more than what they learn in a typical driver’s education course. Much of the program is web-based but there is a hands-on component with instructors travelling the country to give teen drivers instruction behind the wheel in controlled environments. And, of course, there is plenty of discussion about distracted driving.

Selfies are nothing new, but the #DrivingSelfie trend is gaining a lot of momentum, particularly with younger drivers. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data shows that teens and 20-29 year old drivers are over-represented in fatal crashes. Holding up a phone in front of your face to snap a picture while cruising down the highway is not going to help.

You can’t force your kids to be safe, but you can educate them about the dangers of distracted driving. Talk to them about safety, encourage them not to use their phones in the car, and do something that will keep you and your family safe—teach by example. If you’re picking up your phone to send a quick text, you’re telling them it’s okay with your actions no matter what you say.

Ford Driving Skills For Life, Image: Ford
Ford Driving Skills For Life, Image: Ford

It’s also up to kids to help each other stay focused behind the wheel. Encourage your kids to speak up if they’re a passenger in a car with a distracted driver. It might be their friend texting behind the wheel, but that won’t make the passenger any better off in an accident.

You can find out more about the Ford Driving Skills for Life program at their website which has a list of all scheduled classes as well as downloadable materials to help coach your kids. #JustDrive

Kids Rule at Emerald City Comicon 2014 [Gallery]

Emerald City Comicon 2014 / Photo: Kelly Knox

Emerald City Comicon, held in Seattle this past weekend, was completely sold out for all three days and packed to the walls with families from across the country.

With a well-organized area for kids to complete superhero missions, a booth raising funds for charity from the 501st Legion, and even a kids’ costume contest where everyone takes home a medal, an argument can be made that ECCC is the most family-friendly comic convention out there.

Here is a photo gallery with some of the best family and kid cosplay from the weekend. Stay tuned to GeekMom for more coverage from the convention!

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Small Cons vs Big Cons

Rebecca in a blue wig playing Kung-Fu with Ceili Conway (home-made Jack Frost cosplay!) Image By Karen Conway
Rebecca playing Kung-Fu with Ceili Conway (home-made Jack Frost cosplay!). Image By Karen Conway.

I was introduced to geek conventions with a small con in my home city called Albacon. It hosted maybe one hundred people? I played some games, listened to fantasy authors, and watched anime with a friend for a day. As a parent with two early elementary aged children, it was a wonderful escape.

“That was fun!” I enthused. My friend shook his head.

“No. No. You have to come to ConnectiCon.”

So I accompanied my friend that summer to ConnectiCon. Ah. I understood why my friend had not been impressed with the other one. ConnectiCon, a fan-run convention, had a few thousand people (now they have close to 10,000), many dressed in elaborate cosplay, tons of panels on such a variety of topics, famous guests, soooo much anime, and way more than I could take in. As someone new to being a geek, and an older woman with kids, I felt somewhat out of place. But I was intrigued by this culture, started getting into it, and went back year after year. Eventually I brought my kids when they were teenagers. Love it.

I’ve also been to NY ComicCon, Arisia, and PAX East. Some big conventions around here.

And I’ve enjoyed myself at Pi-Con, “The Friendliest Little Convention in the New England,” as well as subsequent years at AlbaCon.

A couple of weeks ago, my kids and I tried out GeneriCon, another small geek convention close by. We played games with friends we knew (Kung-Fu!), watched some anime (Angel Beats), attended panels (Bad Anime by ConArtists was brilliant), admired artwork, participated in Iron Cosplay (10 minutes to put together a costume on a random theme with random materials), and generally had a good time.

I love the energy of big cons: famous names, rows and rows of cool art, crazy panels with loud crowds, big stage cosplay events, jammed-packed late-night dancing, test playing new games, and the incredible realization that THERE ARE SO MANY GEEKS OUT THERE! I remember describing NY ComiCon to someone, “If you took the entire population of Albany, turned them into geeks, and threw them together in one building—that’s what it’s like.”

At smaller cons: Cheap tickets. No lines for the bathrooms. No lines to get into anything! Plus, keeping track of my kids was darn easy in a small space. There’s also something else: getting to know the geeks in your community. At GeneriCon, I kept bumping into people I knew from other walks of life. They didn’t seem surprised to see me there (I do write for GeekMom) but I didn’t know THEY WERE GEEKS TOO!

I’m a fan of cons, and I’ve had good and bad experiences at large and small ones. What are your experiences? Do you like larger or smaller exclusively?

What Your RPG Character Says About You

Guy McNorm4 copy
A cute version of Guy by Purple Lantern Studios

Do I really want to be a large, bearded Scottish warrior with a quirk called, “Piss and Vinegar”? At the moment, that’s my role-playing character in a GURPS game. His name is Guy McNorm and his only goal is to live quietly as a blacksmith in a small town. Unfortunately, he’s a Weirdness Magnet, so that’s not possible. Which is why he’s really grumpy all the time. Yet when the crazy starts to happen, he’s the first one in the mess of things swingin’ his blacksmith hammer. Fun character to play. Totally unlike me…well…huh, come to think of it:

I fantasize about having quiet days, but they rarely happen. Honestly, when I have too many days in a row without kid interruptions or mad dashing around, I’m itchin’ for something. And when chaos strikes in my family or friends, I’m right in there.

Darn. Going into this post, I was going to say how I was the opposite of my character, how our fantasy life is a way to escape. And that’s true too.

I’m not physically strong—Guy is. I’m the least intimidating person I know in real life—Guy is a six foot four, large man with long white hair and a kilt; he has lots of points in “Intimidation.” So, perhaps there is some fantasy happening. Unlike in my real life, Guy punches people in the face when they annoy him. He doesn’t care if you’re crying or hurt; he’ll just tell you to keep moving. He doesn’t cuddle. He’s not romantic. Guy eats whatever he wants, whenever he wants. And very unlike me, Guy curses a lot.

However, Guy also writes bad limericks. We share that in common.

There is a survey that can tell you what you would be if you were a Dungeons and Dragons character. But that’s “what kind of dream will I have according to who I am?”, instead of “what do my dreams say about me?” If you are interested in taking it, or seeing results of over a thousand other people taking it, go here.

Each game system is different in character creation, whether it’s online or tabletop. GURPS has a wide range for types of characters, which makes it very revealing about what you choose. Some people take on similar guises from game to game, while others (like me) never have the same type twice. My theory is that my character creation is less about overall personality, and more about what’s happening in current situation.

What about your characters? Do you agree?

Let’s look at my characters over the years and what was going on at the time:

Kira: A beautiful, red-haired female mage, very nice and shy. I didn’t create this character. She was an NPC I took over as my first introduction into RPG gaming with friends in college. That sums up my life at the time since I didn’t feel much control of any part of it either. Yet I managed to be happy with what I had anyway.

Essie: A small, quiet female exotic dancer, deadly with knives, with a horrific past that gave her a death wish, and wore only black. This was my first original creation. My life at the time was homeschooling two small children in a parenting world where everyone was ten years older than me, while going back to college with students ten years younger. I didn’t fit in anywhere and was kinda angsty about it. That’s reflected in my character. Not sure about the exotic dancer part…

Takamina
By Lilianna Maxwell at 14

Lindor: A pre-gendered teen with awesome magical powers, dewy-eyed and ready to explore the world. I had graduated college and was amazed at how much time I suddenly had. I  was also teaching music to a great group of kids. So, I guess my character reflects my happiness? The pre-gendered thing was an odd, but interesting concept I made up with dangerous herbs Lindor’s people took to delay any knowledge of gender until firmly established as an adult. Maybe having two kids on the verge of puberty made me realize how much our culture pounds in gender-specific stuff?

Percy: A squeamish male vampire dandy who had sex with pretty much anything that moved. This is less about my life at the time, and more about acting as one of the callous jerks I have met too often in reality. He is probably one of my favorite characters ever, and you can read more about him here: How To Get Laid in Every RPG Session.

Takamina: Tak! Tak! She’s a pyromaniac! A short, young woman with two long braids, who made exploding potions that she wore in a bandolier. She was cute and dangerous. In the midst of playing this character there was a lot of stress financially and career-wise with my husband, and then my social network collapsed. Or exploded. Exploded is probably a better word since I felt like my life was daily picking up pieces.

Guy McNorm: See description from beginning.

So what’s next for me? In two years I will have both kids away from home, and I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up. I’m curious how that will manifest in a fantasy world. Maybe someone with wings…

 

 

 

 

 

Twitterpated Kids: Safe Twitter Feeds For Kids to Follow

A girl gets her first Twitter account. Image: Cathe Post
A girl gets her first Twitter account. Image: Cathe Post

On this #FollowFriday I am forced to ponder what Twitter accounts are appropriate for kids to read and follow.

Kids: They are too smart for their own good. Who am I to squelch curiosity and learning avenues, though? My daughter is always reading my Twitter and Pinterest feeds over my shoulder in the morning. She comments on most things that have to do with science, comics, or art—which is most of my feeds.

The problem is, not everything in my feeds are kid appropriate. Gasp.

My daughter will be getting a tablet for her birthday in a little over a month. In figuring out what she would be using the tablet for, my husband and I started wondering if she would enjoy and be safe with her own Twitter and Pinterest accounts. I went ahead and signed her up. There are so many great kid resources out there that aren’t necessarily just for kids. If your kiddos are anything like mine, my daughter is really good about ignoring the occasional potty language and is looking for fun things to do or learn. She is also a strong reader, which makes me want to share these things with her more. I feel fairly safe in giving her a personalized account. We will have rules (which she has been awesome about following since she got her own netbook almost three years ago). It also doesn’t hurt that there are many articles out there focused on the topic of kids internet safety, even specifically articles about kids using Twitter.

But who should she follow? She isn’t interested in Sesame Street anymore (though the Twitter feed is entertaining), but she does like PBS Kids on weekends. She loves science, music, math, art, museums, and comics, which is what I focused on. There are also some other suggestions peppered in from the other GeekMoms.

I started searching for streams that met several criteria:

    1. No/few curse words in their streams
    2. Tweets that had links to projects a kid could do with stuff in the home
    3. Links to kid safe”ish” sites
    4. A feed that didn’t just have “buy this” and “support that”
    5. A feed that didn’t just have notices about events on the other side of the country

After going through several hundred feeds I came up with a good list based on my daughter’s interests:

Fullscreen capture 272014 11238 PMSpace and Astronomy:

NASA tweets pictures and tidbits about the universe.

Mars Curiosity Rover mainly shares images it has captured.

Chris Hadfield always seems to have an inventive YouTube video to share when he’s on a mission. Wringing out washcloths was one of my favorites.

NASA_Astronauts tweets from various NASA astronauts. This can be a little dry, but still interesting.

 

 

 

Science and Math:

Henry Reich makes little minute long videos explaining physics principles in simple terms.Fullscreen capture 272014 11259 PM

MinuteEarth is facts about Earth in short tweets and quick animated videos.

Emily Graslie is probably best known for her work on the Sci Show Talk Show with Hank Green on YouTube. She is now in Chicago focusing on baking, art, animals, and her YouTube show, The Brain Scoop.

Dr. Kiki Sanfordor Kirsten Sanford, is into neurophysiology and getting out of the lab.

Vi Hart is a math genius. I have learned more from her YouTube channel videos about math than I did in middle school and high school combined. Her videos and tweets are interesting, fun, and sometimes involve experiments on food.

Numberphile is another Twitter user who knows how to make math fun.

 

Music:

Peter Hollens has an amazing voice. He does vocal scores of geeky instrumental music pieces and other bits. He also just seems to be a pretty nice guy.

Lindsey Stirling is a geeky violin player. She is known for doing her own instrumental covers to video game music and geeky movie songs.

 

Art Projects:

Kathy Barbro posts links and pictures to art projects for kids. She teaches art to a variety of ages and posts to all age groups as well.

Create Magazine has tweets about up-cycling leftover things from in your house, kids with food allergies, art projects, and so much more.

 

Fullscreen capture 272014 11351 PMReading:

Grammar Girl‘s feed is educational silliness regarding English grammar.

GeekMom Blog: These moms with super powers write articles about their geeky passions and share them on a website. They also delve into the social media and chat with readers.

Pottermore tweets about tiny tidbits in the Harry Potter universe and updates to the Pottermore website.

JK_Rowling, who is the author of the Harry Potter books. What other reason do you need to follow her?

Good Comics 4 Kids shares reviews and release dates for kid-appropriate comics.

Origami Yoda is a Twitter account for Origami Yoda author Tom Angleberger. He has the same sense of humor that he does in his books.

Sandy Boynton is one of those rare individuals who can entertain all age groups at the same time. If your toddlers were fans of her books Moo Baa La, La, La or Barnyard Dance, her twitter feed is equally entertaining.

Meg Cabot is the author of the Princess Diaries, a geek, and into girl empowerment.

Judy Blume, author of many books, mainly has conversations with her fans and shares moments from her life.

Officially Ally, author Ally Carter, shares tweets about her interests and books.

Camp Halfblood is the Twitter account of Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson books. His tweets are entertaining and sometimes in Spanish.

Random House Kids shares books, articles, and pictures regarding literature for children.

Penguin Kids is a publishing house that shares tweets about books for kids.

Scholastic Books has various feeds for parents and kids.

 

Other Fun stuff:Fullscreen capture 272014 11333 PM

Lego Group has a bunch of links to Lego brick related articles and products.

PBS Kids tweets up-to-date information about upcoming shows and events on PBS for kids.

My Little Pony is an unofficial Twitter feed for the famous ponies, but has many interesting and fun pictures and comments about recent episodes.

Cheecker the Chipmunk tweets for the U.S. Forrest Service. Yes, it is as cute as it sounds.

Kids.gov tweets about science projects, activities for kids, and tips for everyone who works with (or is) a kid.

Sesame Street: Even if your kids (or you!) are too old for it, it is still a fantastic and entertaining feed to follow.

Cookie Monster‘s feed makes me hungry for cookies.

Yoda tweets in Yoda speak, he does.

Evy Lynch, the popular actress who played Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter series, tweets about kittens and quirky life moments.

Family Fun tweets about activities and games for families.

Marvel tweets about comics, movies, and various art from the Marvel universe. Some art is a tad gory, but not horrible. Use discretion.

Hasbro Game Night encourages families to play more games together and gives ideas and recommendations for games to play.

 

There are a lot of monuments and museums that also have Twitter feeds. There are so many across the country though, I stuck to some local ones like Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum, The Evergreen MuseumThe Oregon Zoo, The Museum of Glass, and The Seattle Art Museum.

As you can tell from the images, there are even more accounts I let my daughter follow that aren’t in this list. If your children are on Twitter, what feeds do they enjoy? Share in the comments below.

Estranged: Navigating Difficult Family Members With Your Kids

cp48c
Illustration by Ray Mullan © UNICEF Turkey 2006

Another holiday season has rolled past, and along with it the complexity of family relationships that is inevitably intensified this time of year. I am or have been in fandom community in a variety of ways, and one thing I noticed is the abundance of family baggage. I don’t know if geeks have a higher rate of issues with their families or not. What I do know is that we create our own kinds of family through our common interests, and that the geeks I know who have become parents have used those passions to guide their family towards (hopefully) more healthy relationships. Maybe it’s the compassion and solidarity we feel with people who are as obsessed and weird about stuff as we are (and obviously I mean that in a good way), or maybe it’s that the stuff we geek out on have a better sense of loyalty, moral code, and guidance than we got. Regardless, we deal with our stuff and we make our own families.

This doesn’t mean, however, that we can move on. For those of us with estranged family members, the holidays (or other important days) can be difficult. At a time when we can sometimes revert into our childhood roles or feelings, those emotions can creep up on us. On top of that, our children get to an age where they start asking questions. So, how does one deal?

My children are old enough to make sense of our family tree. They know that even though they see my husband’s parents less frequently, video calls and letters keep them connected in some way to their grandparents. My mother and grandmother live nearby, and they have built a good relationship, the kind only Italian grandmothers with unlimited food and money tucked into little pockets after every visit can give.

Recently, however, they have started asking questions about my father. It started when they were young, with questions like, “Who is your dad? Where does he live?” I could easily answer them with a name and an, “I’m not sure,” and they would drop it.

Now, however, as they grow older and our own relationships become more complex, they are quite a bit more interested. This year in particular was hard. They wanted to know why they have never met my father, why we never see that side of my family, and didn’t he want to meet his grandchildren?

These questions punched me in the gut. It is not that I don’t have an answer, it’s that the answers are issues I don’t want my children to have to try to understand. The toxicity, alcoholism, and emotional instability that caused me to end my contact with him are not anything my children have any experience with, nor do I ever want them to be exposed to such grief. To them, it makes no sense that a father would not choose their child over anything else and I am so grateful for that. But I still had to answer the questions.

While I have my own ways of dealing with estranged family relationships, I wanted to get a professional perspective, so I spoke with Carrie Katz, MFT, who is a friend of mine and practices in the San Francisco Bay Area. She reminded me that children can bring us to levels of growing we were previously incapable or unwilling to do, and therefore the focus should be on what kind of message you want to pass on to your kids when talking about estranged or difficult relatives.

She recommends staying positive and keeping issues between adults, since our children are not responsible for healing our relationships, nor does it do children any good to internalize people as wholly good or evil.

It is a “sign of health and maturity to hold a person as not all good or not bad,” says Katz, and our energy is better spent modeling compassion and the way in which you want your children to process and talk about the behavior of others. This can be extremely difficult, regardless of how much work, processing, and/or healing someone has done. While it is human to be triggered by family dynamics, even as adults, we need to remember, for the sake of our kids, to act from our adult self, rather than acting from the activated child within us. There will always be a perceived imbalance of power. While this is really normal, Katz says, we must set boundaries and hold them. Not just for ourselves, but because our children are watching and learning from us on how to build healthy relationships.

Unfortunately, sometimes it is impossible to keep your children out of the conflict. Difficult relatives may try to exert their aggression through their interactions with your kids. In this case, boundaries are essential and immediate. If a relative is aggressive or hostile, or negative in any way to your child, you can talk to your him/her about the fact that that person has difficulty in their communication, for example, and that it is not a reflection of anything in the child. This is a concept that you can continue to talk to your kids more about as they get older, and it aligns with the idea above that people are not all good nor all bad, but that some people have something going on internally that makes them lash out or treat others inappropriately. This doesn’t condone the behavior, but it does offer some perspective and perhaps a sense of acceptance.

If you (and your kids) know you cannot change someone’s behavior, and it may be possible that they can’t change their own behavior either, then you can approach any interactions with this person as informed and ready to enforce the boundaries that are comfortable to you. Katz points out that you will be giving your children a blueprint for how they can deal with negativity in other people later on in their lives, which is bound to happen at some point. Setting firm boundaries from a clear place will be a skill they will inevitably be able to draw on in the future. If they can feel you backing them up, it is likely they will be able to borrow and internalize your strength as they grow.

In social occasions, it is important to establish what the child’s relationship to this relative is and differentiate your own issues. What would feel like success? Is either person actively open and trying for reconciliation? Children often give us opportunities to change relationships for the better. “Our most difficult moments have the potential to be moments of growth,” says Katz. “They allow us to stretch, not just for ourselves but for our kids. These moments can be the catalyst and result in relationships that change for the better.”

That sounds delightful, but what about in cases where there is no hope of reconciliation? There are times when it is appropriate to draw the line when the physical or emotional safety of you or your child is in question, as in some cases of abuse. In those situations, says Katz, there is no perfection, but there can be a personal shift of acceptance and peace around the death of a relationship. “It’s important for us adults to take a look at our grief around these kinds of relationships,” Katz gently reminds. “What is unresolved can inadvertently be passed on to the next generation.”

Here are some tips Katz and I came up with to keep in mind:

  • Wait for your children to ask questions, and keep your answers developmentally appropriate. In general, fewer details and more focus on what makes a healthy relationship and how to care for oneself.
  • Older children are able to understand the concepts of bullying and mental illness, but continue to use your own judgement on how many details you give, especially if the child has a good relationship with this person.
  • It is OK to feel sad or angry and to name those emotions to your kids. It is not OK to make them feel responsible for cheering you up or fixing your relationship issue.
  • If you (or your child) get too emotionally overwhelmed or triggered by someone, think carefully about any interactions with this person. If seeing them cannot be avoided, set a limit on time, setting, expectation, and whatever will help you make it through the occasion. Also, remember that kids pick up on our anxiety, so do whatever personal work is necessary to hold your patience and calm. It is like being in an airplane and needing to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you can help others.
  • You can only control yourself. I know I said this before but it is very important.
  • Set firm boundaries and keep them. Your children are your own. Any boundaries or rules you set around them are also to be respected and held.

Like I said before, my unscientific observations have led me to notice that many others in geekdom have similar experiences to my own, and we tend to choose our family in fandom, especially as we grow our own. We choose people like us, who understand us, who share our passions. This is a wonderful opportunity to explore without children what family means and what are your family values. Just like in families of blood, we have to be able to recognize patterns of unhealthy behavior and accept that all families of all kinds have disagreements. But the act of choosing your family and your community is empowering and can be the kind of example of healthy relationships that will benefit your children their whole lives. The act of choosing to moderate or end a relationship can also be empowering and healthy, and how we approach talking about any of these choices will become their inner voice. While it’s difficult, it’s necessary, and out of all this complexity and struggle, we emerge stronger and changed for the better.

So in the end, I told my older kids what they wanted to know in the simplest way I could. I told them it had nothing to do with them, that the estrangement we have in our family is my way of protecting them, and that I do not regret any decision I have made thus far in the matter. And what I got back was love. They appreciated my candor, they were sad about my experience, and they expressed gratitude for my boundaries. It is my hope that they will remember those things as they grow older and are navigating relationships on their own as adults. I have put on my oxygen mask so I can put on theirs.

GeekMom Holiday Traditions!

The cousins house Photo: Judy Berna
The cousins house Photo: Judy Berna

Welcome to the GeekMom Holiday Countdown! The GeekMom writers have decided that since we all have our own unique family traditions in the month of December, it might be fun to share them with each other, and with you. Feel free to add your own in the comments section or borrow some new ideas from us. Our goal is to keep December a month full of making memories with our kids, not stressing about to-do lists a mile long.

Let me start off the countdown with one of our favorite traditions.

Because I’m not a baker, the idea of making gingerbread houses didn’t appeal to me. Then I saw a magazine article showing how graham crackers can work just as well. After all, the fun in building a gingerbread house is sticking on the candy, not practicing architecture 101.

We learned early on that having a solid base is critical to keeping houses upright and keeping disappointment tears at bay. In the weeks before we do our big build, I collect boxes of all shapes and sizes. Oatmeal packet boxes are a great fit. Circular oatmeal boxes can also stir some creative ideas. Take a peek in your pantry and look at each item as a shape, not a potential menu item. I’ve been known to dump out the contents of a box just to have a great base for a gingerbread house.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

In a perfect world I’d stir up some frosting with extra tartar in it, because that’s what makes frosting turn into cement by the end of the day. But after ruining a few mixers with the hard work that requires, we found that plain frosting from the grocery store can work just as well, especially if you are using it just to stick on candy, not for sturdy house construction.

Of course the table is lined with bowls, filled with every kind of colorful candy we can find. The dollar store is a good place to look for creative, cheap ideas. Don’t forget to think outside the box. Shredded wheat cereal makes great textured roof shingles. Teddy Grahams and Gummy characters make fun people to live in your houses. Stick pretzels make fun fences and thicker rods of pretzels make an awesome log cabin.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

The beauty of this project is that ‘kids’ of all ages will enjoy it. We’ve done building parties at grandma’s house, with the adults working alongside the preschoolers. Everyone has their own flair and their own ideas. It’s a great project for teenagers and their friends. I’ve been surprised by how long my teens will spend working on making their houses just right.

While you’re thinking outside the box, don’t limit yourself to squares and rectangles. A cut down Pringles can makes a great silo. Through the years we’ve seen sheds, garages, pools, streams, tropical huts, and unique cars

made from candy and graham crackers. Here are some samples of the fun we’ve had through the years (and yes, this activity is ripe for great photos!) Check in with us again tomorrow, for another great activity or tradition that comes to you from one of our awesome GeekMom writers.

 

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Dress Your Little Ones In Geeky Style From We Love Fine

Image: We Love Fine
Image: We Love Fine

We Love Fine has long had a fantastic product line of geeky clothes and accessories for adults and now they’ve got a kids’ shop, just in time for the holidays!

They’ve been introducing kids’ items into their line a little bit at a time, but now they’ve got a dedicated kids’ shop that features all the delightfully geeky kids’ apparel that you, and your kids, are going to love. The sizes range from infant onesies all the way up to youth sizes and feature many of their most popular adult styles so there’s something for every child.

Image: We Love Fine
Image: We Love Fine

The onesies are 100% cotton with snap closures and they are adorable. They gave me a few to check out when I was at New York Comic Con, and I’ve washed them dozens of times and they still look good as new. They’re even a little softer than when they were right out of the package.

Styles range from the classic red, blue, and gold uniforms of Star Trek to My Little Pony, Doctor Who, and Star Wars. Yes, you can turn your child into R2-D2 or even the TARDIS.

Bigger kids have a range of girl and boy toddler’s shirts with all the characters they love. There are costume-style shirts that can turn them into one of the Power Rangers or Chewbacca and even a few with capes to make them feel like superheroes.

Image: We Love Fine
Image: We Love Fine

Your tween can get in on the fun, too. There are plenty of choices for fans of The Avengers along with Hello Kitty and Adventure Time. You’re not limited to t-shirts for older kids either since they’ve even added a few hoodies to the mix.

I spoke with the folks at We Love Fine and they’re really looking forward to giving geek kids, and geek parents, quality shirts with the characters they adore. To that end, they want to hear from you about what kinds of shirts you and your kids want to see.

Image: We Love Fine
Image: We Love Fine

It doesn’t matter if it’s a character, a style, or an age group, tell them! Send their customer service department an email at wlfcs@mightyfineinc.com and you just may see the design you’re looking for show up in the We Love Fine kids shop.

GeekMom received some of these products for review purposes.

A Children’s Music Garden in an Industrial Land

MusicGarden01
Photo: Karen Burnham

The Gulf Coast of Texas is a blend of beautiful bayou and birding country and industrial wasteland. That was brought home to me as I visited the Baytown Nature Center not too far from my home near Houston. To get there from Highway 146, I drove over the Houston Ship channel (which goes to one of the busier ports in the world) and through a ginormous ExxonMobile chemical refinery (according to Wiki, one of the largest in the United States).

Baytown’s official motto is: “Where Oil and Water Really Do Mix.” It didn’t seem like a promising place to find a children’s playground, frankly.

MapBaytown
Image: Google Maps w/ additions by Karen Burnham

But once you enter the nature preserve, all of that changes. Through a trick of geography, the children’s area looks bucolic, not industrial at all. There are tons of birds soaring around and it gets a lovely breeze. You can see the impressive San Jacinto Monument from several vantage points. There’s a lot to love about this park, but I’m going to focus on the Music Garden, and specifically how it captures the spirit of Baytown by using recycled industrial welding canisters for many of its instruments.

MusicGarden03
Photo: Karen Burnham

The Bayer Music Garden (almost every part of the park is sponsored by businesses or local families) has eight different stations, all of them fundamentally percussive. Four of them use brightly painted welding canisters, cut down to different sizes, to provide an array of drums, bells, or chimes. One series is stuck in the ground and topped with durable, flexible plastic, making a set of bongo drums just at kid height. Another four are strung up with the bottoms cut off and wooden clappers added to make bells.

MusicGarden02
Photo: Karen Burnham

One of my favorites is two rounded domes set low, each with different patterns cut into them. One looks like whale tails, the other has a star. The way the patterns are cut, the different sections make different tones when struck with the attached rubber mallet. Other stations include welding canisters set on posts that can be spun or whacked, two sets of steel chimes, a large wooden xylophone, and a hollow wooden bench with carved out tonal areas. It’s such a creative idea and use of local material! I’m also impressed with the park’s upkeep and maintenance: when I had been there before, many of the rubber mallets and clappers had gone missing. This time they had all been freshly replaced.

Two caveats: one, the reason the park maintenance can be so good is that the park is fee-based. Unlike most of the free parks in the area, this one has a $3 per person charge, although kids under 12 get in free. We loved the center so much we decided to spring for a $40 family membership, and there’s also a $20 individual annual pass available. Another thing to remember is that Houston has the nickname “The Bayou City,” and bayou is just the fancy French word for swamp. So mosquitoes can be a problem. We went on a rare warm day after a string of cold days, and the little buggers were out for blood. Usually the breeze kept them away, but any instant it died down I was brushing them off my son and he still got bitten several times on his legs and neck. Given that mosquito-borne illnesses like dengue are making a resurgence, it’s probably best to consider bug spray.

Those concerns aside, I haven’t even mentioned the built-up hill and tunnel, the kid-sized animal statues for climbing on, the pirate ship, or the rope spider web. This is a park that offers a lot to explore, but I continue to be especially impressed with the way the Music Garden creatively blends the industrial and scenic characteristics of the area using recycled materials. Something that perhaps other parks can emulate!

The Kid Who Named Pluto & the Stories of Other Extraordinary Young People in Science

Photo courtesy of www.NASA.gov
Photo courtesy of www.NASA.gov

A few weeks back I was scanning the shelves of the juvenile non-fiction section at the local library when a book caught my eye: The Kid Who Named Pluto, and the Stories of Other Extraordinary Young People in Science. I had never heard that a kid named Pluto, could that be true? I tossed the book in my bag.

Our son picked the book up a few days later and then asked me to read him one of the chapters titled, “The Curious Girl Who Discovered Sea-Monster Skeletons.” The chapter told the story of Mary Anning, a young girl who grew up in Lyme Regis, England, in the early 1800s. The cliffs of Lyme Regis were filled with fossils. At the time of her childhood, scientists were just figuring out that fossils were the remains of prehistoric animals, and not left behind by supernatural creatures such as dragons.

431px-Mary_Anning_Plaque
At age twelve Mary Anning discovered the first ichthyosaur skeleton. Photo by Gaius Cornelius.

When Mary was eleven, her father died and she started to fossil hunt as a way to help the family make ends meet. She was a skilled excavator, and at twelve years old she and her brother discovered the world’s first ichthyosaur skeleton. A few years later she discovered the first skeletal remains of a strange creature that scientists named “plesiosaur.” She went on to discover the remains of a flying reptile, the pterodactyl.

I was blown away. We have no fewer than ten dinosaur encyclopedias in our house, have been to many dinosaur exhibits at well known natural history museums, and we have never stumbled across Mary’s story. I was fascinated and hooked.

There is the chapter about young Robert Goddard. Too sick with tuberculosis to go to school, he stays home for months at a time devouring science books. One day he reads From Earth to Mars by Jules Verne, and dreams of creating a rocket. His father is impressed with his son’s ambition and gets him more books, a microscope, a telescope, and subscriptions to science magazines. Despite being more than two years behind in school, he manages to eventually get his Ph.D. in physics and is now know as the “father of space flight.”

Dr. Robert Goddard, seen here lecturing at Clark University, was a sickly child. He spent months at home teaching himself physics and dreaming of space flight. Photo courtesy of www.nasa.gov
Dr. Robert Goddard, seen here lecturing at Clark University, was a sickly child. He spent months at home teaching himself physics and dreaming of space flight. Photo courtesy of www.nasa.gov

The chapter that lends the book its title is full of great astronomy history. In 1929 a ninth planet was discovered in our solar system. The official announcement of “Planet X” to the public was made in 1930, and a wave of global excitement to find a proper name for the planet immediately followed. An eleven-year-old English girl delved into her knowledge of Greek Mythology and decided on Pluto. She told her father her reasons, and he thought they were brilliant. He telegraphed the observatory, and the rest is history.

Each chapter is filled with history and fascinating science facts. Ever hear about the twelve-year-old Midwestern farm boy that found a stack of books about electricity in the attic of the new family home? He became obsessed on the topic of electric currents, and one day while plowing his father’s fields he devised the electrical configuration that eventually led to the invention of television. There is also the story of a twelve-year-old girl’s science fair project that led to her creating a new encrypting code that rivaled the existing system for encoding data. The nine chapters that round out the book include one on Isaac Asimov, and another about Louis Braille.

Image:Amazon.com
Image:Amazon.com

I was inspired by this children’s book for many reasons. I am a science geek, and I just loved reading about the kids that delved head first into their passions and changed the world. The book is also a great reminder for us as parents to encourage our kids to follow their passions, and the book can inspire kids to follow their dreams. The book is great for kids and adults interested in the history of science. My kids really enjoyed hearing the stories of Louis Braille and Isaac Asimov. They also loved the story of Mary Anning.

In the book’s introduction, the author says that the kids featured in the book, “…had two things in common. They believed in themselves and they worked hard.” I definitely agree. However, there seems to be one additional commonality. The kids featured in the book were encouraged to follow their passions by the adults around them. Isaac Asimov’s parents were poor, but encouraged him to read everything and anything that he wanted to from the library. Many of the kids were also self-taught. Philo Taylor Farnsworth’s family allowed him to tinker and motorize every farm tool. They even lined up, held hands, and let him shock them to demonstrate how a circuit works. While home sick from school for months, Robert Goddard’s parents allowed him to build a lab in the house.

Many of the kids featured in the book worked mostly on their own, guided and encouraged from a distance by the adults around them. They learned complex science and math because they wanted to. They delved deep because their parents and teachers gave them the time, space, and encouragement that the they needed and wanted. They weren’t led to believe that they were “just a kid.” Working hard and believing in yourself is vital, but sometimes for kids to reach their full potential, they need us adults to encourage them, and then just get out of their way.

Easy, Fun, Science Experiments for Kids

Fun with density. Photo by Cristen Pantano
Fun with density. Photo by Cristen Pantano

As we all know, kids are natural scientists. They are constantly observing and asking questions about the world around them. It truly is never too early to get kids exploring with hands-on science activities. Here are some fun, easy, and interesting experiments that I recently found online and tried out at home.

Water Splashes

Kids love throwing rocks in water, looking at the splash, listening to the plop as the rock hits, and staring at the ripples. This is a fun experiment that demonstrates that any object, regardless of the shape, will produce a circular pattern of ripples when thrown into water.

A good exercise to give gives a mental image of what will happen when an object hits water. Photo by Cristen Pantano
A good exercise to give a mental image of what will happen when an object hits water. Photo by Cristen Pantano

The experiment calls for wooden objects of various shape, such as a circle, a square and a triangle. The premise is to throw the different shaped objects in the water, and observe that regardless of the object’s shape, a circular patter of water is displaced.  This happens because as the object hits the water, energy is released from the center of the object, equally in every direction. When a square block hits water, an infinite amount of straight lines of energy are released from the center. A circle is the only shape that has an equal distance from the center to any other place on the circle. This is why regardless of shape when a rock or block hits water, the water is displaced in a circular pattern.

To give the kids a visual of this before we went throwing and splashing, we traced blocks of various shapes, made a dot in the center and drew lines going out of the shape in every direction. If you do this step, make sure that the kids make lines bisecting all the angles. While doing this, a circular pattern of lines will appear.

When we tried observing splashes and ripples with our wooden blocks, they just were not heavy enough to produce a good splash. I opened the bathroom cabinet and we starting throwing random items in the tub. A rectangular bar of soap in its cardboard container made a large circular splash, as did a bottle of rubbing alcohol. The kids had the best time repeatedly throwing in a heavy ring box. This box provided a great circular splash and ripples despite it’s cubic shape.

You can ditch the tub and discuss this idea the next time your kids are throwing rocks in water. Simply collect a pile of different shaped rocks, talk about whether they think the splashes and ripples will be similar or different and let them have at it! It’s a great way to get the kids thinking about how the beautiful and amazing things that they observe on a daily basis can be explained by science.

Floating Egg

This is a really easy experiment with fantastic visuals. It will introduce kids to density and mixtures in a very fun way.

Simply fill two glasses with water, grab two eggs, and some salt. Make sure that both glasses have the same amount of water. Leave one glass of water alone and then make salt water in the second glass.  After the kids make the salt water mixture, have them carefully add a raw egg to the glass with just water. The egg will sink to the bottom. Then add the egg to the saltwater.  The salt water is more dense than the egg, so the egg will now float!

An egg added to salt water will float. Photo by Cristen Pantano.
An egg added to salt water will float. Photo by Cristen Pantano.

The next day, we took the egg out of the glass with salt water and carefully added a few inches of tap water on top of the salt water. Do this step and then have the kids slowly add the egg back. Watch what happens now! (Hint, see top photo)

Kids are innately curious and will probably ask, “Why does the egg float?”  When salt is added to water, the salt dissolves and you now have a mixture. When salt is added to water, it dissolves and sodium and chloride bond with the water’s hydrogen and oxygen. There is now more matter in the same amount of volume, therefore the water is more dense.

With young kids, it’s more about getting them to have fun while making cool observations rather than nailing down the concepts. My kids are young, so I kept the explanation a bit simpler. I told them that once we added the salt to water, we made a mixture. The mixture has more molecules in the same amount of space, and is therefore more crowded, stronger, and dense than water.  Not exactly a perfect definition of density, but enough to get young kids understanding what they see.

If your kids want to play more with density, a great way to visualize density is to layer different liquids on top of each other. Take a glass and pour in the same volume of corn syrup, oil, and water. The heavier (more molecules per volume), more dense, liquids will sink to the bottom, and layers will form. If you have food coloring on hand, let the kids color the water first. It creates a fantastic visual.

Have fun! After all, that’s what learning about science should be about!

Scientists When They Were Little Girls

LaurieK
This post (from October 11; I’m so behind on my NetVibes reader!) over at Double X Science made me so very happy today. They have collected a series of images of scientists when they were little girls, all looking very much like everyday little girls. I think the one that put the biggest smile on my face is the picture shown here, with the simple caption: “Laurie Kauffman, PhD, Assistant Professor of Biology, Oklahoma City University.”

Today, the International Day of the Girl Child, seems like the perfect day to show you what girls who will grow up to be scientists can look like. Our completely unscientific collection suggests that there might be a slight correlation between making goofy faces and growing up to be a scientist.

The Geek Kids Of New York Comic Con

Image: Nicole Wakelin
Image: Nicole Wakelin

This is the fourth New York Comic Con that I’ve had the joy of attending and this year, more than others, the number of kids and parents enjoying the convention created some of my favorite moments of the weekend.

There were so many adorable cosplaying kids! Sometimes it was just one little kid in a costume with her parents, but there were also groups of kids who had clearly worked together and a few parent-kid cooperative outfits. The one thing they had in common was that they were all having fun.

Who doesn't like a good Cheese Doodle? Image: Nicole Wakelin
Who doesn’t like a good Cheese Doodle? Image: Nicole Wakelin

It’s as difficult to go to a big convention like NYCC with kids as it is to go to an amusement park. There are lots of people and lots of things to see and it’s loud and crazy and in your face. It’s easy for parents to forget that everyone is supposed to be having fun. Fun. Not stressing out because everything isn’t perfect, because the fact that you’re sharing this time with your kid means that it is perfect.

Image: Nicole Wakelin
Image: Nicole Wakelin

Let them wander and see what they want to see. Don’t worry if they miss Stan Lee walking two feet away from them because they are completely immersed in the booth with those little electric cat ears that move. The ears are cool.

Image: Nicole Wakelin
Image: Nicole Wakelin

Take joy in the things they find and love, even if this means they discover they cannot get enough of the wonder of Batman and you hate Batman. I don’t know why anyone would hate Batman, but if you do, and your kid loves the guy, get over it and go along for the ride.

He Found Carl! Image: Nicole Wakelin
He Found Carl! Image: Nicole Wakelin

That’s really the key to taking your kids anywhere. Relax. Let them go. Find joy in their discoveries. Oh, and teach them how to cosplay because parent-kid cosplay done right is the most adorable thing on Earth and you’ll have the most embarrassing pictures ever to show their prom dates some day. No. I’d never do that. Just sayin’ it’s an option.

Check out all of my photos of New York Comic Con 2013 on my Total Fan Girl Facebook page.

Extrageektacular Activities: Rolling Robots

extraGEEKtacular activities - Rolling Robots
image by: justjenn

Extrageektacular Activities are geeky field trips that encourage your child’s creativity and are a fun time for the whole family!

If dogs are man’s best friend then surely robots are a close second. Hm, what about robot dogs? The possibilities are endless with robotics. If your child has a love for technology, they don’t have to go all of the way to the Toshi Station to pick up power converters…they can simply head over to Rolling Robots!

Rolling Robotos Technology Workshop
Rolling Robotos Technology Workshop

Rolling Robots was started by George Kirkman (who was recently a competitor on Robot Combat League) and Bin Jiang, both former aerospace engineers who are also parents. Having children of their own, they saw the need to tap into kids’ spirit of wonder and unlock future potential through robotics.

Set up like a workshop environment, kids use creative thinking to solve design-build problems. Working in groups with peers their own age allows kids to feel comfortable in tackling challenges and find success as a team.

Robotics programming
image by: justjenn

The Kid’s Technology Workshops allow kids to progress from basic skills to robotics competition. Once they’ve completed a level, they move on to the next one. Rolling Robots offers classes for every level; circuits, basic programming, even Minecraft hacks, all with hands on learning which reinforces the idea of being comfortable and having fun.

Students with no previous robotics experience can go from learning basic keyboard skills all the way up to Java programming. They are guided every step of the way by knowledgeable staff and can learn from older kids in higher levels. From after-school classes to home schooling lessons, there is even a 3D printing class where kids can experiment and see their designs come to life.

Rolling Robots is a fantastic place for parties because your guests get the unique experience of battling bots in the Robot Battle Arena. They get a lesson in design build as well, where every party guest gets to build and take home a real motorized robot! Best party favors ever!

Rolling Robots takes kids’ interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and gives them the freedom to grow that passion through creative thinking and building. It’s a unique place where kids can find the support they need to nurture their interests in technology and have fun!

Rolling Robots – Glendale
1800 South Brand Blvd. #101
Glendale, CA 91204
(818) 241-2308

Rolling Robots – Palos Verdes
700 Silver Spur Drive, #101
Rolling Hills Estates, CA 90274

(424) 206-9466

Star Wars Reads Day Kids Cosplay

star-wars-reads-day[1]Judge me by my size, do you? October 5th was Star Wars Reads Day, when authors, artists, and fans come together to celebrate literacy and all things Star Wars! There were lots of official events held around the country and I stopped by Mysterious Galaxy in Redondo Beach to check out the party!

Mysterious Galaxy was in full Star Wars fan effect with Stormtroopers that mingled with the crowd, a Death Star backdrop for photo ops and lots of books for sale. In the front lobby they had free giveaways, book readings, and Star Wars origami demos for the kids.

Star Wars shirts
Skywalker Ranch shirts
image by Jenn F.

Since it was 90 degrees in October (what can I say, it’s Southern California) my kids passed on getting dressed up and put on their favorite Star Wars shirts instead. We got these when we visited Skywalker Ranch a few years ago. One of the stormtroopers turned on his voice amp just to tell us that he wished he had one of those shirts.

It looked like we weren’t the only ones with a summer mindset. Most kids followed suit wearing vintage Star Wars shirts or modern Angry Birds mashups. Despite the heat, some amazing geek parents went the extra mile and outdid themselves with fantastic kids cosplay. There were Darth Vaders, Jedi, and Fetts a plenty and the kids showed off their best moves for the costume contest.

leia and jango
Princess Leia and Jango Fett
image by Jenn F.

Bella Risbeck made the most adorable Princess Leia and even had a special stance that she busted out during the costume contest.

baby yoda
Baby Yoda
image by Jenn F.

This little Yoda didn’t have much to say but don’t judge him by his size, he was still adorable!

kid luke
Luke Skywalker
image by Jenn F.

The winner of the costume contest was young padawan Lucas Kicks Moras (that’s his real name) who even brought along with own astromech droid! His mom made the entire costume herself, down to Luke Skywalker’s identical leather belt and pouches! Impressive, most impressive.

The event was a huge success and it was great to see so many little ones reading books and carrying on their parents love of the Star Wars universe!

GeekMom Plays: Mech Mice Episode 2

Welcome back to another episode of GeekMom Plays: Mech Mice. My daughter, codename Jaguar Girl, had so much fun trying out Mech Mice in beta that she asked if she could play through the entire first chapter. If you want to see how the first couple of levels went, check out GeekMom Plays: Mech Mice Episode 1.

My daughter really liked the game. During this episode, we talk about what different things can be done during a turn, and the variety of objects—both good and bad—that can pop-up (literally) during a level. She is 7, and played through the available levels in chapter one with little help from me. The game will still be available in beta for a couple more days. The game will be released on October 8, so time is running out if you want to try it.

Stay tuned for another episode of GeekMom Plays. Next time, my husband and I will be playing Borderlands 2.

Extrageektacular Activities: Duff’s Cake Mix

extraGEEKtacular activities - Duffs Cake Mix
images by: www.foodlibrarian.com

Extrageektacular Activities are geeky field trips that encourage your child’s creativity and are a fun time for the whole family!

When you have a kid who loves art and drawing there are a lot of ways to encourage their hobby. Art classes and museums are good options, but a unique way that might not readily come to mind is one of my favorites: food! Cake decorating is a great exercise in creativity, especially when you add elements from comics, video games, and books. I took some kids to Duff’s Cake Mix in West Hollywood to put their art skills to the test.

Duffs bakery
image by: www.foodlibrarian.com

Duff’s Cake Mix is a part of the West Coast operation of Charm City Cakes, a custom bakery made famous by Duff Goldman and his show Ace of Cakes. Here they have a walk-in bakery filled with baked goods like brownies, cupcakes, and some unique items like Peanut Butter and Jelly Cake and their popular Cake in a Jar.

Duffs interior
images by: www.foodlibrarian.com

The real fun is the attached Decorating Studio. Parties can come and decorate their very own cakes using a Decorating Kit. When we got there we were assigned a decorator helper who told us about the process and how all the stations worked. With the help of an easy-to-use form, you pick your cake and filling flavors, the canvas (base) color type, and medium: frosting or fondant.

fondant on cake
image by: www.foodlibrarian.com

Watching a professional put fondant on a cake was a sight to behold, they make it look so easy! Once the cake was covered it was off to choose tools and equipment then to the “Goodie Bar” to choose frosting piping bag colors and candy decor.

I took a 9-year-old, a 7-year-old, and a 4-year-old. Normally the bakery doesn’t advise having children under seven participate but they do allow it. The older kids were given cake and the youngest was given cupcakes which proved to be the perfect match for his attention span.

A good idea is to discuss ideas with kids beforehand, figure out what they want to make, and visualize how they were going to make it work. This helps a lot in getting the process going. Sketching out ideas is a good way to understand how they plan to execute it.

Minecraft Cake decorating
images by: www.foodlibrarian.com

The 9-year-old went with a Minecraft theme; of course he did! He started with a canvas of blue fondant then chose to mold a Creeper head out of green fondant, using the same color as accents. Then he frosted a Minecraft pig in the front and added “gunpowder” (silver sprinkles) around the top. A true Minecraft masterpiece!

Batman Cake
images by: www.foodlibrarian.com

The 7-year-old loves Batman so that cake got the yellow fondant treatment for the canvas. He used the black fondant for cookie cutter letters and the Batman head he cut by hand. The kids really got into the details like the candy pearls to make the cakes look finished.

Duffs Cake Mix - cupcakes decorating
images by: www.foodlibrarian.com

The 4-year-old (in his own chef’s coat, no less), with a little help from his mom, really enjoyed rolling and cutting the fondant, and using the candies to decorate. Moving from one small cupcake to another was just what he needed to keep his interest. Even though he was young, he worked right alongside the big boys and had a lot of fun. He said the best thing about it was that “I got to do it all by myself!”

The entire staff at Duff’s Cake Mix was so helpful, they happily answered questions and gave tips on easier ways to get things done. Everything at the studio was extremely organized, you never had to look too far for anything. I do a lot of baking and decorating, but I can’t imagine doing this at home. Here the space, the details, and having all the equipment and supplies at your disposal definitely made it worthwhile.

Duffs Cake Mix - cake slice
image by: www.foodlibrarian.com

Cake decorating was a great exercise in getting kids to think creatively and use the right tools to solve design problems. Using sculpture, drawing, and mosaic they got to have a lot of fun and see their creations come to life. The best part of creating art out of food? Eating it!

Duff’s Cake Mix
8302 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90069
(323) 650-5555
http://www.duffscakemix.com

Mon-Thu 11 am – 6:30 pm
Fri 11 am – 10 pm
Sat 10 am – 10 pm
Sun 10 am – 6:30 p.m.

Dine and Draw: Teen Titans Go

Dine and DrawEvery night my kids and I sit and draw/craft/create our favorite things. While I’ve lost the older kid to Minecraft, the 7-year-old and I both like to be creative through drawing. Our art sessions are always inspired by our favorite comic books or animated shows. He likes to draw while I come up with corresponding ideas for geeky recipes.

Currently, DC’s Teen Titans Go on Cartoon Network reigns supreme in our house. The witty humor and adorable characters make this show a hit for both of us. My son decided to draw me the characters while I set to work on creating a recipe inspired by the show.

I always suggest getting ready to draw just as you would in an art class:

1Dine and Draw-Set Up
image: justJENN

1. Set Up:

  • Find a clean, flat place to draw.
  • Google Teen Titans Go (parents, screen the images carefully!) and find the characters and poses that you want.
  • Gather your tools: pencil, eraser, black pen, crayons/colored pencils/colored markers
2Dine and Draw-sketch
image: justJENN

2. Sketch:

  • Start with basic shapes and forms.
  • Then sketch out features.
  • Check back and forth with the image for character attributes.
  • Fill in character details.
3Dine and Draw-ink
image: justJENN

3. Ink:

  • Outline the pencil sketch with a black pen.
  • Lightly erase leftover pencil lines.

Note:  Sharpies are great because of their smoothness and varying points but Sign Pens are also good for smaller hands.

4Dine and Draw-color
image: justJENN

 4. Color:

  • Fill in the lines with colored pencils, crayons or pens.

Note: Even though I’ve provided the kids with my top of the line artist tools they still always go back to good ol’ Crayola Crayons. I don’t blame them; they’re comfortable to use and come in a dizzying array of colors now. (Yes, Macaroni and Cheese is a real color.)

Dine and Draw-Teen Titans
image: justJENN

There you have it – all the Titans in a row! Little ones can sometimes get frustrated when it comes to drawing but mistakes happen. You can always start over and try again. That’s why this pencil to ink to color process is a good method to follow. Sketching before the drawing becomes permanent makes life a lot easier.

Beast Boy Veggie Burrito 2
image: justJENN recipes

With inspiration from his drawings, my edible work of art became dinner: Beast Boy Veggie Burritos!

Drawing is an entertaining, creative exercise and your favorite geeky characters make it a fun way to spend time together!

On Breaking, or Not Breaking, the Harry Potter Spell

One of the many dog eared copies of Harry Potter strewn about our home. Photo: Cristen Pantano

“Oh Potter, you rotter, what have you done?”

Last November my husband began reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to our son. After a few chapters, they were both hooked.  Within a few weeks, they were on to book two.

One weekend our son told us that he had been thinking about some things from the first book and wanted to know if he could reread it to himself. This is where it all began.

He reread the first two books, and was then frustrated with the pace at which my husband was reading book three aloud to him. We told him that he could go on and read it to himself.  He was enchanted by Harry and Hogwarts, and there was no stopping him.

When it was time for book seven he dove right in, but,  he put the book down after about three chapters. He has been elusive in his reasons for not finishing, so we haven’t pressed. I’m thinking he was scared; others have suggested that he probably doesn’t want it to end.

When he put book seven down, we thought that after almost eight months of nonstop Harry Potter, he would read something else. We couldn’t have been more wrong.

Each day he picked one of the Harry Potter books and carried it around all day long. He would read various chapters and passages at random, then decided to start at book one again. The books have become an additional appendage on his body. They are dog-eared, stained, tattered, and strewn about the house.

At first I thought this was great, he was reading and loving what he was reading. But then, as the calendar moved toward September it hit me that he hasn’t read much other than Harry Potter for almost a year. I asked friends for suggestions: What did their kids read after Harry Potter?

Percy Jackson was a fail, but children’s Greek mythology books were a hit. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, score! Meanwhile, Encyclopedia Brown and The Hardy Boys are collecting dust as Harry Potter continues to log many miles.

I decided to ask my fellow GeekMoms if their children had done this with Harry Potter, and whether I should just let it go, or encourage other books. Many responded that their kids had a similar experience with Harry Potter. Some let it go, and some encouraged one other book in between each Harry Potter book. Many also shared with me their own book obsessions. There were also a few responses that stopped me in my tracks.

GeekMom Samantha had this to say, “…there is clearly something he is working out, something he is grappling with that the books are providing for him. Something that only reading them over and over will give him. Eventually, he will move on when he comes to his moment of clarity or closure.”

GeekMom Ariane posed this succinct question, “What’s your concern with this behavior?”

What was my concern?  Honestly, I still can’t  completely answer that question. I guess I would prefer that he read a variety of books.  Maybe I feel that that is what he is “supposed” to do? Maybe I fear an unhealthy obsession? I seriously don’t know. I don’t even know if I am that concerned, or if it’s just that I think that maybe I should be. Ariane stumped me.

With all of the GeekMom responses in mind, and my inability to pinpoint what my concerns were, we decided to let it go but keep other new books available to him.

Last weekend we visited our favorite local bookstore. The owners chatted with our son and helped him pick out some great new books for us to read to him, and for him to read on his own. He has read one and the others are sitting on the coffee table, waiting…

I have asked him many times why he keeps reading the books. He usually just shrugs and keeps on reading. Today I told him that I was going to write about his love for Harry Potter. This time he looked up and said, “I just don’t want it to end.”  With GeekMom Sam’s words in my head, I told him that as long as he keeps reading them, the adventure will continue.

10 Ways to Survive Your Three-Year-Old Son

MVP has crazy eyes. You don't know what this almost 4-year-old will do next!
MVP has crazy eyes. You don’t know what this almost 4-year-old will do next! images: Cathe Post

Hello, I’m Cathé, and I have a three-and-a-half-year-old son (Hi, Cathé!). I love him. But recently, we have had to come home from errand runs early simply because he will stop holding my hand in the parking lot and run off, not keep his hands to himself (in an aisle of glass at a store), scream and hit when he doesn’t get something he wants, or other embarrassing behaviors that I never thought my children would exhibit in a million years. Also, if I hear the word “no” in a whiny tone one more time!

I know I am not alone. I recently attended a BBQ where the parents of a handful of boys (between the ages of 3-and-a-half and 4-and-a-quarter) handed each other another beer and talked about the embarrassing similarities in our boys’ behavior. I came home that evening to an email from a co-worker asking for help with her little boy who was acting in the same manner.

How are we to survive this?! Well, it isn’t easy. But, here are some tips that might help you feel better in the short and long term:

1. Take pictures. Laugh. Delete the pictures…or make a blog: We’ve talked about Why My Son Is Crying. Love it or hate it, the idea of taking pictures during the not-so-happy times can serve a humorous purpose at a later time. For instance, on your son’s wedding day, bring out the bath pictures and the tantrum photos. Okay, maybe that is cruel. But, if you ever have grand-kids who are in trouble with mom and dad, you can show them that dad had hard days too.

Put a geeky drink in a geeky glass.
Put a geeky drink in a geeky glass. All images: Cathe Post

2. Drink: I have heard several parents recently say they never imbibed in booze until they had a three-year-old son. If you like wine, there are geeky varieties for almost any fan. If it is a mixed drink you are looking for, I have a board on Pinterest and there are books available.

3. A Fence: This can be a very geeky way to survive your energetic child. If you have a chain-link fence, you can use Fence Weave to create any 8bit design for a colorful enclosure. Otherwise it is still nice to know that if you let your child loose so you can regain your sanity they will at least be contained.

MVP is more than happy to mail himself somewhere.
MVP is more than happy to mail himself somewhere.

4. Boxes: Put your kid in them, tape them up, and address them to Abu Dhabi like Garfield used to, or let your kid go crazy with the green finger paint so he can pretend he’s the Hulk and smash the box to bits.

It's amazing how fifteen minutes with an educational app can slow down a little body.
It’s amazing how fifteen minutes with an educational app can slow down a little body.

5.Tablet devices: Screen time is a big deal to many parents. But that screen time can also make the difference between meltdowns and angelic behavior on a shopping trip. One GeekMom spied triplets who each had their own iPad Mini on a shopping trip. I even turn to technology like my Kindle to give to my three-year-old in a pinch; this includes keeping him from taking a nap so he sleeps at night, and keeping him from touching all of the trophies at the Taekwondo studio his sister attends.

6. Snacks: If your kids are anything like mine, they graze all day. Enough kids out there graze that there is now a service for it. Yes, Graze is a service where a box of healthy snacks shows up at your house for as little as $5. Other geeky snacks can be found out there. There are Pinterest boards, so they must be real.

7. A garden hose (and other cheap water play): Getting into geekery of the maker variety, you don’t have to have a real Slip N Slide or kiddie pool to have the geekiest and wettest yard in the neighborhood. You can make a splash pad, a kid wash, or even throw in a bit of science with the color spectrum.

8. Broken gadgets: One GeekMom keeps broken gadgets so her kids can go to town with that screwdriver without caring if the device is put back together. There are also books available with ideas on what to do with your broken computer and other gadgets.

Ready! Set! Jump! The kids love jumping on this "crash" cube chair.
Ready! Set! Jump! The kids love jumping on this “crash” cube chair.

9. Save the furniture!: Autism furniture is a great way for kids who have to spend a lot of time indoors from destroying your furniture. One GeekMom recommended a swing that hangs from the ceiling. We have ceiling heat so we have pillows instead. The rule in our house is you sit correctly on the couch, and the coffee table is for eating at. If you want to jump on the furniture, you go to the crash pillow (we purchased from a local company) and get the jumping out of your system. It has worked so well that we asked Santa for a cube last year that has been very popular. We love the autism furniture because it is extremely durable. You don’t need to have an autistic child to appreciate the furniture.

Decorate a kitchen timer with geeky stickers. Set it for a reasonable amount of quiet time.
Decorate a kitchen timer with geeky stickers. Set it for a reasonable amount of quiet time.

10. A kitchen timer: Yes, a simple and loud kitchen timer can save you for up to an hour! My husband received a bell timer for his birthday a few years back. We slapped some Mario stickers on it and mounted it between the kids’rooms. When quiet time is needed, we set the timer for anywhere from five to thirty minutes. When the bell rings, the kids can come out of their rooms. Oh yea—we make them try to go potty before we stick them in their rooms so there are no excuses for coming out early!

Do you have (or have you had) a 3-year-old that’s driving you crazy? Have you tried any of these methods or have any of your own? Let us know in the comments!

ConnectiCon: Gamin’ and Art

Image By Lilianna Angel
Image By Lilianna Angel

ConnectiCon is such a visual treat. As Corrina mentioned in her post, the cosplay is fantastic, usually homemade, and enough to keep you entertained if you just sit and watch the crowd. I kept my giggles in check on the elevators in the hotel because they were always filled with random cosplayers having banal conversations.

Zombie: Have you tried any of the hotel restaurants?
Power Ranger: Not yet.
Wonder Woman: The one near the front desk is pretty good.
Zombie: Thanks.

Image By Rebecca Angel (permission given for photo)
Image By Rebecca Angel (permission given for photo)

Here is a family from The Legend of Korra.

But there’s so much to do! I’ve written about this con in the past, but this year I did something I’ve always wanted to do: play a long RPG. In previous years, I did performances and panels, which made it hard to commit to anything that took up a huge chunk of the day. But this time, I was there to help my daughter at artist alley, make sure my son was busy, and enjoy myself. Part of the fun was getting to talk with some of the guests. I kept exclaiming in delight while reading Jim Cummings’s bio. I had no idea he was the voice of so many characters! And a delight in person. I did not have a chance to see Marina Sirtis, but several friends did and filled me in with how cool she is.

I played Caravan on Friday and after four hours the group was in a walled, rat plague infested desert city surrounded by a tribe of gnolls, and huddled in a ziggurat where we just found a giant spider. Of course I had to go back on Saturday and figure out how to get out of that mess! Lots o’ fun.

TeaPunk. Image By Rebecca Angel
Guy McNorm by Purple Lantern Studios

I spent time with my daughter selling her art and eye swirls, chatting with our neighbors: False Mind, Purple Lantern, and Grinning Narwhal. Rayna of Purple Lantern did a great commission of my current RPG character from a home game: Guy McNorm of the Clan McMahan.

I also met up with friends I only see at this convention, juggled, danced, danced, and danced some more (with glow sticks!) A nod to the first DJ of Friday night who really kicked off the party. ‘Til next year!

GeekMom Counterpoint: Why I Love Why

Why I Love Why
Image source: Melissa Wiley

One of the most delightful things about being part of the community of GeekMom writers is that we’re all over the map—philosophically as well as geographically. I read my fellow GeekMom Ariane’s post, “Why I Hate Why,” with interest, and my reply grew so long it turned into a post.

Here’s why I actually love the why stage:

Because at that age—two, three, four, five years old—language is a magical thing. It’s slippery and malleable and full of possibility, and meanings are hard to pin down. And “why” is the most magical word of them all. It means, “I’m baffled/delighted/scared/excited/an infinity of adjectives but I can’t figure out how to frame this experience in words.” It means, “Do the rules of the world stay the same, or do they shift around as much as it seems like they do?” A chair stays a chair, but water can be ice, water can be the steam floating up from Mommy’s mug of tea. The people who get made to take naps don’t want them, and the people who don’t take naps want nothing more. Uncle Jay is Daddy’s brother and Grandma’s son and THIS IS ALL VERY CONFUSING.

But there’s this powerful talisman, this incredible word that takes all the millions of questions flooding into those tiny, giant-brained heads, and distills them into a form that people understand. Why.

Why is the word that signals: “I need clarity. I need to make sense of this. I need to know what this feeling is called. I need to know if I’m going to feel it forever.”

Why is a chameleon-word that shapeshifts into all the questions put together. Who, how, when, what, where, will. Why is the wonder-word. It collects the flurry of bewildering input that swirls around a small child like leaves in a tornado—and in a single syllable, it tames the wind. It puts form to the formless: When other words are leaping all over the place with their jittery meanings (leaves fall in the fall but snow doesn’t winter in the winter), why stays put. Why is reliable. When grownups all around you are failing to comprehend the very clear statement you’re making about eating opiemeal in the hoffabul, why is a word they understand. Sometimes it’s the only word they seem to understand, so you use it in place of all the other words they can’t quite grasp.

Can being on the receiving end of endless whys grow exhausting? Sure—I’m in the thick of my sixth child’s why stage right now, and that means I’ve been answering this question almost without pause since 1997, when my oldest daughter was two. What delights me is that she is still asking it. At 18, she’s a young woman of insight and curiosity; she probes and counters and debates. She argues with things she reads. She wonders.

At its heart, that’s where the incessant why comes from: a sense of wonder, a sense that the world is a mysterious place but—and this is huge—where there are questions, there are answers. So I respectfully disagree with the notion that some questions—sincere ones, I mean, the kind a child asks—are stupid. The question itself is a sign of that spark that makes us human, our insatiable thirst for knowledge and understanding. We don’t take the world for granted. We want to know what makes it tick, what makes the sky blue, what makes freckles and spaghetti and smoke. As we grow, we learn to add more words to the question—but with luck we never lose that sense of the magic of it all, the endless scope for possibility. My kids’ whys have kept me asking questions; they’ve shown me a thousand different ways of looking at things so seemingly ordinary I might have forgotten to notice. Somewhere along the line, I came to realize that their whys weren’t just helping them make sense of an astonishing world; they were making it continually astonishing for me too.

Indiegogo Campaign: TinySuperheroes

 

I have to thank my mom for pointing this one out to me. Last summer Robyn Rosenberger made a cape for her two-year-old nephew’s birthday. She was also following the story of a little girl named Brenna, who was fighting a serious skin disease. The idea of the cape met the reality of children battling incredible obstacles, and her organization TinySuperheroes was born.

Since making their first cape in January of 2013, they have made 500 capes for sick and disabled children. This Indiegogo campaign (which ends on June 18th!) will help raise money to make and distribute 1,500 more capes in the next year. Their motto is “Empowering Extraordinary Kids – One Cape at a Time!”

Marvelous.

A Quick and Dirty Visit to the Phoenix Comicon

Steampunk dude. Photo: Jenny Williams
Steampunk dude. Photo: Jenny Williams

My family and I went to the Phoenix Comicon last Friday. It was an interesting visit because we went without a plan, and it was Rory‘s first time at this kind of con. The kids and I had been to this one twice before. But we purposely went for only a short visit this time, and didn’t even crack open the program.

Bad form, I know. But we only really had an afternoon, and I find I get my hopes up to see too many things if I over plan. So I let Rory run the show. Taking kids to panels is sometimes unpredictable, and usually boring for the kids, so our entire experience was the dealer room and people watching. Because it was Friday, the crowds were quite manageable, and we were able to get to all the tables we wanted to see.

Continue reading A Quick and Dirty Visit to the Phoenix Comicon

SuperMe Kids Bags Uncover the Hero Within

SuperME kids backpack complete with mask to keep their secret identities safe.
SuperME kids backpack complete with mask to keep their secret identities safe. Image: SuperME used with permission.

Just in time for National Superhero Day on April 28, SuperMe backpacks and messenger bags are here! It might seem like a really simple idea to put a cape on a backpack, and to make a functional bag with the entire superhero package and make a quality product for a reasonable price is a lot to ask, but SuperMe has done it. Continue reading SuperMe Kids Bags Uncover the Hero Within

Review: Python for Kids

Python for Kids - No Starch Press
Image courtesy No Starch Press

Python for Kids is a book from No Starch Press that aims to teach kids ages 10 and up and their parents about the Python programming language. Python is a good candidate for kids and other programming newbies because it mostly uses natural language and avoids the more annoying things you can find in some programming language. There’s no need to end every line with a semicolon. Variables don’t need to be declared, nor do they need to stick with the same data type. And if I stopped speaking English about two sentences ago, there’s good news. Python for Kids can still help you learn.

I happen to have an 11 year old daughter for convenient review purposes, so we’ve been working through the book together. I’m bribing her with a Raspberry Pi and pink flexible keyboard, because the Raspberry Pi can be programmed with Python. Might as well use what you learn.

First off, the tone of this book is just about right. We tried Super Scratch Programming Adventure, and while the Scratch book is aimed at a slightly younger audience, it really feels like it’s aimed at a much younger audience. Nobody likes a book that talks down to them. Python for Kids author Jason Briggs manages to successfully describe programming to kids without sounding like he’s dumbing down the content. My one critique as an adult reading this is that the whole book had enlarged print, but if it actually helps struggling learners read, I suppose I can overlook it.

My daughter was able to work through most chapters on her own, but she did sometimes ask for help with global concepts, such as why you’d want to “recycle code” or what an if statement was meant to do. Once she understood the concept she was going to learn in the chapter, she was able to go through the exercises and excitedly brag about what she’d learned. “Mom,  I made a tuple! Mom, there’s a turtle in Python!”

She’s still only halfway through the book, but I’ve read ahead. By the time you finish Python for Kids, you’ll have completed two games and learned the foundations for programming with Python. The lessons are well-constructed and leave the reader with a feeling of accomplishment in each chapter.

If you’re looking for a book to teach your fifth grade or older child how to program, and you’re willing to provide a little guidance here and there, this book (and maybe a Raspberry Pi with pink flexible keyboard) makes a good investment.

 

Glitch Gone Wild?

I never thought this would be the way I’d have the “Don’t Do Drugs” talk with my kids!

After signing myself up for Glitch, I decided to let my kids develop characters of their own (under my e-mail addresses and with my close supervision). Over the weekend my oldest son took a trip to the dark side of Glitch: “Glitch Hell“.

Simply put, you visit Hell by dying. You can visit Hell several times, and there is even a separate set of achievements you can earn from multiple trips to Hell. Those who are experienced in the game might think that my son simply walked away from the computer, forgetting to “Exit the World.” But in my son’s case, he was mining rocks with another character who offered him a substance called “No-No Powder“.

No-No Powder is Glitch cocaine, my friends. You sniff it, get high, and then encounter this horrible crash that can only be saved from death by another “hit” of the No-No Powder. I have some in my backpack, picked up from someone who left it on the ground. I haven’t used it, but instead was planning to sell it for money.

His avatar sniffed the stuff, experienced the 6 minutes of maximum mood and energy, and then crashed HARD. The avatar died, went to Hell, then resurrected upon completing a task (my son crushed grapes).  Upon resurrection, you have zero mood and near-zero energy and are very close to dying again. My son had very little food, very little currants (money) and no skills to make anything.

Sounds like a textbook drug addict…rehabilitation time!

This was not something I expected to have to do so soon, but I grabbed my arsenal of inspirational, lesson-teaching messages and quickly took over the computer control of my son’s Glitch character. We got Mace Windu fed, educated and built up his account a little under my direction. Then we had to discuss drug use, Internet chatting, the existence of hell and responsible gaming all at once on Saturday night.

“What did we learn?”

“Don’t sniff the no-no powder….”

“When is it a good time to use drugs?”

“When a doctor says so….”

“Will we ever sniff no-no powder again?”

“No…..”

“Do we take stuff from strangers?”

“No….”

This whole experience — which took about an hour of our Saturday night, also got me thinking about how family-friendly this game might actually be. There’s a lot of…um, sophomoric humor scattered throughout the game that my sons probably won’t understand, but I feel nervous just the same about exposing them to it.

My feelings about my kids seeing Glitch are becoming similar to my concerns about my sons watching The Simpsons, by the way. They really enjoy the humor, but (a) Mom and Dad have to be nearby when they’ve watched it and (b) it has to be a rerun that Mom and Dad are already familiar with so they know what adult themes to expect.

I had written on my personal blog about what fun the family was having developing our respective avatars, but with the Global Chat and IM-ing looming out there, we’ve decided to change things up a bit.  Whereas before I’d let my sons control my avatar with me in the room, I think I need to keep the controls and just keep the kids to the decision making. In other words, if Mace Windu wants to go harvest some allspice, he’ll tell me where to go and I’ll sure he gets there.