Boost Your Kid’s Programming Skills With Adventures in Minecraft

 Adventures in Minecraft

Adventures in Minecraft Cover. Photo: Wiley

I have a passion to share my love of coding with kids whether it be through Lego Mindstorms robotics, The Hour of Code, or Minecraft. “Wait, did you say Minecraft?”  Yep, you read that right. Minecraft! I stumbled upon the Adventures in Minecraft book and and was very excited when I realized that I could insert teachable moments into my boys’ Minecraft gaming experience.

Before I proceed with my review, I have a tiny, little confession to make. I had never played Minecraft before. Sure, I saw the Minecraft screen on my boys’ computers. I knew some of the Minecraft lingo like “spawning” and “Creeper,” but I had never actually logged into Minecraft and tried to play the game in Creative, let alone Survival, mode. So, I ordered the book and bought myself a copy of Minecraft. The things we GeekMoms do for our kids!

Adventures in Minecraft is designed for kids 11-15. Programming is done in Python using the IDLE editor. Students create a local Minecraft programming environment using a Bukkit server to test their programs on. The book walks the student through all the necessary set-up on either the PC, Mac, or Raspberry Pi and starts with programming basics so that even kids without prior programming experience can follow along with the exercises. It is helpful if the student is familiar with Minecraft, but I am proof that you can be successful with this book even if you are new to Minecraft. There are some great beginner tutorial videos out there if you need them. The book also brings some real world results into the exercises through the use of LEDs, push buttons, and a 7-segment LED display. Your program will interact with an electronic circuit! There is also a website that supplements the materials in the book. For example, if you get stuck with a syntax error that you can’t figure out, you can consult the official program listing online.

I decided to work through the chapters in the book slightly ahead of my boys so that I would be available to help them work through any issues they ran into. We started meeting once a week, on weekends, to have a family coding session. The chapters in the book have lots of subsections, and it is easy to find a good place in the book to conclude each session.  We code for about 90 minutes each time we get together. I’m honestly not sure who is enjoying these sessions more, me or my boys.

Family Programming Time

Family programming time. Photo: Maryann Goldman

Hello World

As with most programming languages, one of the first things you do is write a “hello world” program. We all had a great sense of accomplishment seeing the first results of our set-up and programming come alive on the screen. One of us apparently had Star Trek and Lost in Space on the brain too. Why code “hello world” when you can be much more creative!

Writing to the Minecraft chat. Photo: Joey Goldman

Writing to the Minecraft chat. Photo: Joey Goldman

Player Position

In Chapter 2, a lot of time is spent figuring out your player’s position in the game. That is, where is the player on the x, y, and z coordinate system? It might be useful to refresh your memory on Cartesian coordinates before proceeding.

Minecraft Wooden Fence

Minecraft wooden fence. Photo: Maryann Goldman

And, do make sure to graph out the coordinates of your fence to make sure you understand what coordinates to plug into your program. If your x or z coordinate happens to be a negative number, it will simplify the exercise if you move to a position where all the coordinates are positive, and redo your fence.

Minecraft fence coordinate map

Johnny’s fence coordinate map. Photo: Maryann Goldman

Challenge Sections

I just love the challenge sections in the book too. In Chapter 3, after we learned how to set blocks, it was suggested that we try setting some blocks to SAND or WATER, so I went up in the sky and set one of the AIR blocks to WATER and proceeded to flood my world. I had to call in reinforcements to use buckets to stop it!

Minecraft Water Block

Water, water, everywhere. Photo: Maryann Goldman

Then there was the dice face challenge. I had the hardest time trying to figure out how to add my blocks to the correct position. I just refused to quit, both wanting to set a good example to the boys and also just wanting very much to succeed. I finally did it…in the rain. I know, I  know, it’s a rectangle and not a cube, but I still felt pretty good about it!

Minecraft Dice Structure

Minecraft dice structure. Photo: Maryann Goldman

Minecraft dice program

Dice Python program snippet. Photo: Maryann Goldman

Useful Commands

I found that my Minecraft world was always getting dark or raining, and it impeded my ability to test my code, so I consulted my boys on how to get around that. The command:

/time set day

works great to get back to daytime, and the command:

/weather clear

works great to get rain to stop. You’ll want to keep these in your arsenal of commands as you work through the book.

Houses and More Houses

My boys were sold very quickly on the merits of learning to program in their Minecraft world. When they saw that they could built a huge house in the blink of an eye through a simple program, they were blown away and highly motivated to learn more.

Minecraft Houses

Street of houses in Minecraft. Photo: Maryann Goldman

Electronic Interaction

One of the concepts that really differentiates this book from other kids’ programming books is that it includes some electronic interaction with the programming starting in Chapter 5. I ran into a little trouble with the set-up, but it was my own fault for ordering the wrong part. If you are working on the PC or Mac, make sure to order your Arduino Pro Micro board from the correct place.

Soon, I was able to write programs so that when my player landed on a certain type of block in the Minecraft world, various color LEDs on my bread board would light up. How cool is that?!? You do need to consider the additional investment required for the electronic parts which is about $50 depending on whether or not you have some of the parts already on hand, but I think it’s totally worth it!

Minecraft electronic interaction

Electronic interaction. Photo: Maryann Goldman

 

Continuing Adventures

I’m halfway through Chapter 5, and my boys are halfway through Chapter 3. We are excited to have our next family programming session and to see what is in store for us next. There are nine adventures in the book plus a bonus adventure on the website. If you get stuck, have a cool tip to share, or want to check out the latest changes, like how the new Raspberry Pi 2 will work with Minecraft, you can also go to the Stuff About Code forum.

Interview With Author David Whale

I had a chance to interview one of the authors of Adventures in Minecraft, David Whale. He was kind enough to assist me through a set-up issue I had with my Arduino Pro Micro and then engage me in some additional conversation. I asked him if he had any quotes that he would like to share about why he feels teaching programming to kids is so important and why Minecraft is a great choice to accelerate their learning. He had several which I’ll share with you:

• Programming is important, because it allows you to influence and enhance what the computer does for you, and to break outside the bounds of what the designers of the programs expect you to do. Instead of being a consumer, you can be a creator, and make the computer do what you want it to do, not what the manufacturers decided to let you do with it.
• Even if you don’t want to be a computer programmer, the thought processes that you go through when coding really do exercise your brain and your logical thinking ability, and these are skills that can be used in any walk of life. When faced with any problem, using the skills you pick up from programming a computer, you can learn how to think a bit more abstractly about a problem, how to break it down into logical parts, how to split a big (complex) problem into many smaller (simpler) problems, and even how to split tasks up to run them in parallel effectively (e.g., delegating parts of a big task to a team of people).
• Minecraft is such a great way to learn programming—not only can you extend and enhance your favorite game and make it do things that you want it to do, you have a great excuse to play your favorite game while learning a new skill. Things that take a long time manually (e.g., building a 100x100x100 cube) take a fraction of a second with a small program, and you can be more expressive and creative as a result. Your Minecraft world will be different from any other world, and you can even program your own intelligence into it and write your own mini-games. It’s much more exciting than printing names and ages on a boring text screen (as many courses in programming will have you do).
• You will learn programming quicker using Minecraft, because you have a real purpose, a goal that you want to achieve, rather than working on some task that is only designed to test your understanding of a particular concept. When learning is fun, you want to do it, and you remember it much more if you are learning to build a huge ice cube that melts into an underwater pipe system, compared to printing names and addresses on the screen in alphabetical order.
• I’ve been writing computer software for over 30 years now, and I *still* get excited the first time I flash an LED on a new bit of hardware—it feels like I have “breathed life” into this lifeless object, and given it a piece of my soul that will live on forever.
Conclusion
I can’t say enough positive things about this book. I think it can add an additional level of learning to the time your child normally spends playing Minecraft. The book is written in such a way that it inspires the coder to push their limits and innovate beyond the suggested basic program. The electronic interaction adds an extra level of excitement to the learning process. Who wouldn’t be excited to see actions in Minecraft lighting LEDs!

Adventures in Minecraft currently retails on Amazon for $19.07 for the printed book or $13.99 for the Kindle version.

So Your Kids Want Their Own Minecraft Server

Creeper Costume. Photo: Maryann Goldman

Creeper Costume. Photo: Maryann Goldman

At our house, Minecraft is the most popular video game with my boys who are ages 10 and 12. Sure, they like Disney Infinity on the xBox 360 and various apps on the iPad, but Minecraft leads the pack. Dinner conversations often focus on “Minecraft this” and “Minecraft that.” I’m always trying to change the subject to something else. Although I admit that I’ve never played Minecraft, I am well versed on what a “Creeper” is and what “spawning” means. I even helped build a Creeper head as a Halloween costume. The game seems rather harmless if not graphically inferior; didn’t we do bitmaps back in the 70s? Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to survive my child’s Minecraft addiction.

It all seemed so innocent when my boys asked to buy Minecraft on the PC several years ago. I paid, and we downloaded, and then the work began.

“Mom, I need help installing a mod.”

“Everything you need to know is in this YouTube.”

Sure, installing some of those mods required every bit of computer programming skill I have. I was so frustrated. Then came the Minecraft Launcher along with the boys getting a bit older, and now they are more self sufficient installing mods and updates. I love that Launcher!

Over Christmas I got the latest request. I was innocently reading my book half paying attention to the football game that was on when they hit me. “Mom, can we have our own Minecraft servers?” Huh? They had asked me this before, and we even tried to configure our own server—another hair pulling intensive computer skill fiasco. I had tried to explain that servers were a lot of work and that their computers probably weren’t powerful enough to support a server with multiple users playing the game. I thought we had put the whole server issue to bed. Apparently not!

Introduce GForce Servers. The boys explained that you can now buy a server running on someone else’s computer but still manage it yourself. One of their Minecraft friends already had one running and configured, and he was volunteering to get them started. It sounded to good to be true.

GForce offers several Minecraft server options, and we chose the Iron option at $5 a month which comes with 1GB of memory, a dedicated IP, and all the options any Minecraft enthusiast could want. They used their allowance, I paid, and I hoped I wouldn’t regret it. Of course they each wanted their own server, and I couldn’t see a reason why not as I hoped this would be a good computer programming learning opportunity.

The boys have been up on their new servers for a couple of weeks now, and everything is running smoothly. They each have a log-on to a GForce control panel, the Force Panel, which allows them to manage and configure their servers.

GForce Servers. Photo: Maryann Goldman

GForce Servers. Photo: Maryann Goldman

They can manage mods and plugins for their server.

GForce Server Control Panel. Photo: Maryann Goldman

GForce Server Control Panel. Photo: Maryann Goldman

They can set-up their Minecraft world just how they like it.

GforceServers3

GForce Server Minecraft Settings. Photo: Maryann Goldman

They can even get the thrill of entering console style commands.

GForce Server Command Console. Photo: Maryann Goldman

GForce Server Command Dialogue. Photo: Maryann Goldman

I haven’t heard one complaint, and I haven’t been roped in to help. Happy kids and a happy mom.

I’d like to point out that one benefit of having a personal server is that you can control who your kids play with. With a dedicated IP, only kids that they share the IP with will be able to log onto their server. So, if you want to have more control over who your kid plays Minecraft with, this might be the right solution for you.

GForce has game servers for several other games including Grand Theft Auto and Garry’s Mod. They also offer a free trial.

There are other hosted Minecraft server options too. Do a Google search on hosted Minecraft server and review the links.

GeekMom’s 2014 Gift Guide of Books

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Collage: Cathe Post.

Today’s gift guide is full of books: Historical books, storybooks, reference books, baby books, comic books, and more. There is something for everyone on this list!

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Adventure Time: The Art of Ooo. Image: Abrams Books.

Adventure Time: The Art of Ooo. The ultimate gift for your favorite Adventure Time fan, this gorgeous full-color hardcover book will grace coffee tables with elegance. The Art of Ooo will put everything in perspective, presenting a behind-the-scenes look at the art and storyboards, the writers’ thoughts behind the characters, and interviews with those who voice the characters on the TV show. From concept art to the more sophisticated storylines, you will enjoy over 350 pages and 500 color images. $23.37

Basher science books. Image credit: Kingfisher

Basher science books. Image: Kingfisher.

Basher books. Author and illustrator Simon Basher has created a hit series of children’s books covering various subjects; it’s mostly science topics, but also history, math, English, and many more. They are absolutely fantastic! Each one is fun to read, educational, and cute. What more could you ask for? $7-$9

Cover copyright PotterCraft

Geek Mom: Projects, Tips, and Adventures for Moms and Their 21st-Century Families. Cover copyright PotterCraft.

Geek Mom: Projects, Tips, and Adventures for Moms and Their 21st-Century Families. Start the new year right, with plenty of project and activity ideas to do with your kids. Written by the founding editors of GeekMom, this book is also full of insightful essays on being a geek and a geeky parent, as well as as people and topics of interest to the geek world. $19.99

Image: Amazon.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles: Art & Design. Image: Amazon.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles: Art & Design. Perfect for your favorite Tolkien-fan-geek! Look no further than your favorite bookstore for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles: Art & Design by the Weta Workshop, the Wellington, New Zealand, special effects company behind the beauty of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. Enjoy the behind-the-scenes journeys through Lonely Mountain, Lake-town, Long Lake, the Woodland Realm, and Mirkwood as you learn about Weta’s motivations in design. $27.41

Image: Chronicle Books

Kids Are Weird. Image: Chronicle Books.

Kids Are Weird. Yup. Kids are weird. Some might say geeklings are stranger than most (though mightily interesting!). This book by Jeffrey Brown shows us a few examples, in case we’ve forgotten just how weirdly awesome kids can be. $10.10

Letters of Note

Letters of Note. Image: Chronicle Books.

Letters of Note. Filled with personal letters and other correspondence from throughout history, Letters of Note is a wonderful, stunning book. Because each letter is its own short section, this book can be picked up and put down at your leisure, so you can reflect upon its meaning. The book is brimming with history and gives perspective to us in the modern day. $25.30

Marvel-Comics-75-Years-of-Cover-Art-Hardcover-Book

Marvel 75 Years of Cover Art. Image: DK Publishing.

Marvel 75 Years of Cover Art. Glorious Marvel Comics cover art collected in a slip-cased edition. $50

download

Image: Scholastic.

Spirit Animals Series. This series of kids’ books, much in the same spirit as The Golden Compass and Narnia, weaves fantasy and creatures into an addictive storyline. This one is probably for older grade-schoolers. $7.50 and up

Tinkerlab. Image credit: Roost Books

TinkerLab. Image: Roost Books.

TinkerLab. In addition to being mom to two little kids, author Rachelle Doorley has a master’s degree in arts education from Harvard and works as an art and museum educator. Doorley’s extensive background as an artist, docent, and educator shine through her children’s activity blog, TinkerLab, and her book of the same name. $21.95

WW-NewspaperStrip

Image: IDW Publishing.

Wonder Woman: The Complete Newspaper Comics. This coffee table book features the origin of the world’s first and most kick-ass female superhero. It has 196 pages, with all of the black-and-white comics that ran in newspapers from May 1, 1943, until December 1, 1944. These haven’t been printed since the series’ original run, making it even more of a must-have. There are tons of characters and stories to comb through, which includes appearances by Steve Trevor, Etta Candy, Cheetah, the Lasso of Truth, the Invisible Plane, the bracelets, and so much more. Speaking of which, the opening essay also has promotional materials, original sketches, and other tidbits. This is the gift for your favorite Wonder Woman fan. $35.25 

You Are Here by Chris Hadfield. Image credit: Little, Brown and Company.

You Are Here by Chris Hadfield. Image: Little, Brown and Company.

You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes. Chris Hadfield is an astronaut, but his claim to fame with the population at large is probably through the countless viral photographs and videos he’s shared from his multiple trips to the International Space Station. Now Hadfield has a brand-new photography book out, You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes. $23.40

The Elements. Image credit: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers

The Elements. Image credit: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers.

The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe. If your child has graduated from “why?” to “what is {…} made of?” then this is the book you need. While it’s not a children’s book per se, the stunning photographs and high contrast graphics are sure to capture their attention long enough to learn a thing or two about what our world is made of. The science-loving geeks on your list will surely appreciate the author’s mad geek cred—an element collection! Note that the author also has another book, Molecules, which just came out last month, as well as a matching Molecules app. $11.27

Photo: Laurence King Publishing

Photo: Laurence King Publishing.

Secret Garden Coloring Book. Adults and kids alike can color their way into peace and/or fun. This beautiful coloring book by Johanna Basford will have you searching for butterflies, tinting flowers, and planning your own secret garden in which to hide from the world. $9.54

shake

Image: Clarkson Potter.

Shake: A New Perspective on Cocktails. The entrepreneurs who created The Mason Shaker, a now-iconic invention that transformed a Mason jar into a cocktail shaker, have authored this lavishly illustrated book of recipes for cocktail crafting at home. It’s a gift with tasty promise! $19.08

cool tools

Image: KK.org.

Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities. This is a giant book that shares user-generated reviews of gadgets, hardware, materials, videos, podcasts, books, maps, and other goodies out there identified as the best, the cheapest, or the only gizmos available to do the job. These reviews are curated from the last decade of content from the Cool Tools website, which is itself an online where-did-the-time-go vacuum. The book’s 1,500+ mini-reviews are accompanied by QR codes for everything from the best baby bib to the best satellite phone. It’s a sure bet for the hard-to-please guy. $25.29

playful path

Image: aplayfulpath.com.

A Playful Path. This is a 304-page book jam-packed with awesomeness. It’s made up of tools and ideas to inspire the possibility-building, wide-open glory of playfulness. Written in short one-to-two-page segments, it’s perfect to read on an as-needed basis, sort of an antidote to all the not-fun that drags us down. A Playful Path is an entertaining book. It’s also wise, true, and entirely useful. It’s the perfect gift for the most fun-loving friend as well as the family curmudgeon. $21.95

amazing baby

Image: Kids Preferred.

Amazing Baby Feel and Learn. This soft book is based on research into early development. The wipe-off pages offer textures and crinkle sounds, plus there’s an attached teething toy. $12.99

let's count

Image: Kids Preferred.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Let’s Count. This clip-on book is inspired by Eric Carle’s classic book. It offers bold pages illustrating numbers, plus crinkle textures, a squeaker, a teether, and a clip for the car seat or stroller. It’s perfect for very young babies up to toddlers. $5.59

PANTONE

Image: Chronicle Books.

PANTONE: 35 Inspirational Color Palettes. If you’re a huge fan of color and design or a bit challenged when picking out paint chips or color schemes, this book will be an invaluable help. Filled with almost three dozen quite varied color combinations, there will be something to please everyone. $13.45

youngph

Image: Triangle Square.

A Young People’s History of the United States. Learn about American history from the point of view of someone other than the victors. This magnificent book by Howard Zinn adapted for younger readers and listeners will get kids analyzing what they think they already know. $14.36

CW3DBoxFront_5_18

Image: The Smithsonian.

Civil War in 3D. Look at the American Civil War through the eyes of a soldier. See the images of battlefields, life in camp, and scenery—all in 3D stereoscopic delight. Read the included detailed book telling of soldier life, about their uniforms, food, fear, camps, and letters home. $23.89

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Image: Scholastic.

Minecraft: The Complete Handbook Collection. Do you have a Minecraft fan in your house? Maybe someone who wants some ideas on how to fight monsters, how to use red dust, or how to make more pixelated-awesomeness? This set is for them! $19.18

download

Image: Amazon.

Hello Kitty Crochet: Supercute Amigurumi Patterns for Sanrio Friends. Hello Kitty crochet is not for the faint of heart. The patterns inside make for some really cute animals, but we would suggest getting this for someone with a background in crochet and not a beginner. $14.95

Pride and Prejudice Manga

Image: Amazon.

Manga Classics Pride and Prejudice. Of all the versions of Pride and Prejudice, this is a GeekMom favorite. Marvel’s variation is okay, but this version does the original story far more justice. $15

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Image: Ava’s Demon.

Ava’s Demon. This dark yet beautiful collection puts the online story of Ava’s Demon into print form.  $5.99 for the digital

ms marvel #1

Image: Marvel Comics.

Ms. Marvel: No Normal (Volume 1). Featuring the first female Muslim superhero, Ms. Marvel has been getting rave reviews since its debut earlier this year. This first collection showcases the title’s rare ability to speak to every reader regardless of their age, gender, background, or beliefs, thanks to writer G. Willow Wilson’s portrayal of Kamala as relatable and full of personality. $15.99

© DC Comics

© DC Comics.

Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell. This is a fun, easy read that any fan of either character should immediately add to their library. For anyone who might be a jaded reader of the New 52, this is just the book to remind them that comic books can still be fun. $22.99

Smallville Season 11 © DC Comics

Smallville Season 11 © DC Comics.

Smallville Season 11 Vol. 5: Olympus. Wonder Woman arrives in the Smallville universe in this phenomenal collection of the Smallville digital comics. Gorgeous art and a fast-paced story make this the perfect present for any fan of Smallville or Wonder Woman. $14.99

YFEB_coverEbook-500x501

Image: Little Pickle Press.

Your Fantastic Elastic Brain. This is a cute picture book for young elementary-aged children. It teaches them how their brain is a muscle, how to exercise it, and other fun facts. $12.45

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Image: Amazon.

Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims: Time-Travel Adventures with Exceptional Americans. Join Rush Revere and his time-traveling horse Liberty on historical adventures. This historical science-fiction series also includes a book on the American Revolution and the first patriots. It’s great historical fun for older grade-school readers who need a little science fiction in their historical reading. $12.98

ShowCover

Image: Que Publishing.

Build and Program Your Own Lego Mindstorms EV3 Robots. Do you know a Lego brick advanced builder? This book will be out just in time for Christmas by our very own Marziah Karch. Plus, you know, robots and Lego programing. $21.77

9780375870644

Image: Random House Books.

The Fourteenth Goldfish. For older elementary-school fans who need more challenge than Jennifer L. Holm’s Baby Mouse series, Holms now has a chapter book out. A girl goes on an adventure to help her grandfather who has figured out a way to reverse aging (and is now younger than his granddaughter). This is a far more serious story than Baby Mouse, but a great read! $10.74

detail

Image: Marvel Comics.

Rocket Raccoon. Previously mentioned by GeekMom Kelly, the new comic book adventures of Rocket Raccoon are a hilariously drawn series well worth the subscription. $9.99

GeekMom’s 2014 Gift Guide of Clothes and Household Stuff

HousenWear

Collage: Cathe Post.

It’s Black Friday! Today, we have a hodgepodge of items to recommend for the geek on your holiday shopping list. Anything from something to use in the home to wearables are included in this list. (Oh, there’s even a tasty drink, too.)

Since it is Black Friday and there are internet deals to be had, you may want to check out our other gift guides…

Gift Guide of Movies
Gift Guide of STEM Toys and More!
Gift Guide of Geeky Gadgets
Gift Guide of Video Games and Apps
Gift Guide of Table Top and Board Games
Gift Guide of Lego Bricks
Geeky DIY Gift Ideas

And now for today’s guide…

Things to Wear and Bags:

Dakine

Image: Dakine Dakine.

Dakine Grom 13L 14S. Dakine Grom is a great backpack for your day-to-day needs. One GeekMom uses hers to carry daily essentials including Pride and Prejudice, an iPad mini and keyboard case, a journal, a wallet, and backup drives for work. Each bag is made 100 percent from recycled plastic bottles and comes with a lifetime warranty. $35

Hiss2

Image: Cathe Post.

Minecraft Creeper Backpack. Would you like to adopt a Creeper to be part of your family? A character who is known for blowing up may not sound appealing, but this backpack holds about as much as you might think a bag of holding can handle. It’s also super-cute, too. GeekMom Cathe adopted one! $39.99

ScotteVest Travel Vest

Image: Scottevest.

Scottevest Multi-pocketed Clothing. Free up room in your carry-on or even leave the extra bag at home. Scottevest’s products have almost endless, specially-designed pockets to hold all of your gadgets, activities, and reading material. Varies

Image: Her Universe

Image: Her Universe.

Dalek A-line Dress. It’s too late for Halloween, but this Dalek dress is still fun to wear at holiday parties and family gatherings. Pair it with a long-sleeved shirt and leggings for the cold and you’ll be ready to “exterminate” some homemade pumpkin pie. $39.45

Image: Isotoner

Image: Isotoner.

Isotoner Gloves. Isotoner’s SmarTouch gloves, for both men and women, come in a variety of styles and prices for tech-savvy folks who don’t want to remove their gloves to interact with their touch devices, including phones. Keeping you warm and comfortable while you stay connected, Isotoner gloves have been popular for decades, with good reason. Varies

1e69_backpack_of_holding

Image: ThinkGeek.

ThinkGeek Backpack of Holding. If ThinkGeek’s traditional Bag of Holding isn’t right for you, if you need more of a rucksack-type of bag but still want to carry a laptop, then the new Backpack of Holding has got you covered. With a few handy-to-access exterior pouches and some internal pockets, most of this bag is one big space to hold your overnight clothes, shoes, and toiletries, or perhaps your hearty food and supplies for a day hike. And there’s a padded sleeve, of course, for the ubiquitous laptop. $49.99

Misfit Flash

Image: Amazon.

Misfit Flash. Misit Flash is a Bluetooth activity tracker that doesn’t require any charging. It’s the sister product to the Misfit Shine and is made for the sports enthusiast. $75

holiday-2010-chicobag

Image: ChicoBag.

Chico Reusable Bags. Practical gifts can be pretty and fun, too! Now is the time to stock up on the sturdy reusable bags that wad up into tiny pouches and are easy to take with you anywhere. Some varieties come with a carabiner clip that is easy to snap onto the outside of a purse or diaper bag. ChicoBags make it easy to say “no” to plastic bags and are a handy way to always have a bag nearby when you need one—for groceries to library books to kid gear. The holidays are the perfect time to gift this practical item to a favorite friend, teacher, or family member. 4/$20

Edible:

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Image: Friday Afternoon.

Friday Afternoon Tea. Do you know a tea geek? Even if you aren’t geeky about tea, Friday Afternoon offers many geek-themed flavors of tea that are sure to please any pallet. With Harry Potter, Pirate, and even Cylon-themed teas, these sweet and savory flavors are a wonderful addition to any gift. $12 and up

For the Home:

WeMo LED Starter Kit

Image: Belkin.

WeMo LED Light Bulb Starter Set. Connected home light timers begone! The WeMo LED Lighting system will allow you to program lighting in your house while you’re there or away. Have lights turn on when the sun goes down or at certain times. You can even change your mind with a tap of a finger. $99.99

Image: Fitbit

Image: Fitbit.

FitBit Flex and Aria Scale. Combine a FitBit Aria Scale and a Flex (or any of FitBit’s other pedometer-type products) to keep track of your fitness and weight. Completely integrated together, these products help you reach your goals in a way that any data lover will adore. $99.95 and $129.95

Polaroid Cube

Image: PolaroidCube.

Polaroid Cube. For the action-cam enthusiast without the cash for a GoPro, the PolaroidCube is a great option. What we love about this camera is how tiny it is without sacrificing quality in terms of video and picture. $99

Piper

Image: Amazon.

Piper Home Security and Smart Switches. Piper is a home security solution for those who like to keep an eye on things when they are out and about. With an Android or iOS device, you can check in on your home and even yell into the device to get a pet’s attention. Piper also makes a selection of smart switches that let you program them to turn on or off while you’re away. Staying out late, but forgot to leave the light on? Use the free Piper app to turn a light on remotely. $199

3D Deco Light

Image: Amazon.

3D Déco Lights. 3D Deco Lights make for fun and geeky nightlights. One GeekMom has a Raphael up in her office at work, while her husband and son enjoy the Transformers line at home. They are battery-operated and give just enough light be a proper nightlight. $49

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Image: Patricia Vollmer.

WeatherFlow Wind Meter. The WeatherFlow Wind Meter is not just for weather enthusiasts, but also for any hobbyists who depend on accurate wind data, from R/C craft operators to windsurfers. Simply plug it into your favorite iOS or Android device, download the WeatherFlow app, and you’re on your way. At only $34.95, this wind meter is not only affordable, but rugged for many outdoor activities. $34.95

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Image: Oregon Scientific.

Oregon Scientific Weather@Home Bluetooth Weather Station. Oregon Scientific has been making affordable, user-friendly home weather stations for decades; it’s a trusted name in the industry. The Weather@Home series of products allows users to easily access their weather station information using a smart device’s Bluetooth Low Energy connection along with the Weather@Home app. This weather station has an outdoor transmitter so you can access outdoor and indoor temperatures in one convenient location. It’s a great gift! $60.21

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Image: Goal Zero.

Goal Zero Solar Chargers. This is one of the very best items on the market for solar charging. It’s a great beginner kit that pulls power from the sun to be used to charge phones, cameras, and other electronic devices, as well as store energy in a small (included) power tube that fits into a pocket. The flat charging panels are lightweight and easy to attach to a campsite tree or hang off the back of a hiker’s backpack. One GeekMom writer charges hers on the back porch and always has “power to go.” $120

Photo: Goal Zero

Photo: Goal Zero.

Goal Zero Rechargable Flashlight. If you’re tired of never having a flashlight that actually works and buying expensive batteries that you can never find when you need them, pick up a few of these rechargeable flashlights. Lay them in a sunny window during the day and get hours of useful light at night. It’s a great gift for kids (bedside table for nighttime power outages) and teens. A few in your glove box wouldn’t be a bad idea, either. The price is right to stock up, especially when you subtract the cost and hassle of buying batteries. $14.99

Photo: Goal Zero

Photo: Goal Zero.

Goal Zero Lighthouse Lantern. Meet the lantern that can do it all. Charge it with a Goal Zero solar panel, USB, or hand crank, and get hours of light, using no batteries. The lantern can be set on a dimmer light to extend lighting time, as well as charge cell phones and other small electronic devices. This will prove to be the most useful device you own, in a home power outage or family camping trip. Kids might even love “camping” with it while playing in their bedrooms after daylight hours. $79.95

logitech-harmony-ultimate-home

Image: Logitech.

Logitech Harmony Ultimate Home Touch Screen Remote. Logitech’s latest incarnation of its awesome multi-device remote can be programmed to control your lights, door locks, thermostats, and more. They’re really going for a home automation system here, not just a universal remote (which will program up to 15 separate home entertainment devices). You can also use your smartphone as a control. What’s a better gift than the ability to turn on whatever you’d like from the comfort of your couch? it’s available in black or white. $349.99

GeekMom’s 2014 Gift Guide of Video Games and Apps

Video games

Collage: Cathe Post

In this age of screen time and games coming on all shapes and sizes of screens, it is difficult to keep up with all of the hottest apps and games for all of the different devices. GeekMom is here to help!

Some of the most popular apps this year are free to download, but have in-game purchases. Other games cost money to purchase up front. Either way, my favorite stocking stuffer for the kids is to purchase apps for their devices, print a picture of the app logo or icon, and stick it in their stocking. Taking it a step further, since most apps can’t be purchased as gifts, I purchase a gift card for the appropriate app store so they can get in-game purchases or new apps.

Apps:

CLZ Comics

Image: CLZ Comics

CLZ Comics App For a comic book collector, CLZ Comics is a must have app for your iPhone or iPad. With a quick scan of the barcode or search of the database, you can archive your entire comic book collection. The process is quick and painless. Even though it’s the most expensive app I’ve ever purchased ($14.99), I’ve happily found that it’s worth every penny, especially after it saved me from buying a book I already had on my shelf. $14.99

Image credit: pearsports.com

Image: pearsports.com

Pear Sports Smart Training System for Android and iOS The Pear Mobile Training Intelligence System is the first app/accessory system I’ve tried that does more than simply regurgitate a heart rate, location, or pace when you tap your device for feedback: It will collect, record, and customize workout data for you based on your heart rate. This is the most interactive fitness app I’ve ever experienced, and their unique headphone design is outstanding. $87.49

Rovio

Image: Rovio

Angry Birds The popular physics based franchise continues to gain popularity with new versions like Angry Birds Stella, Angry Birds Epic, and Angry Birds Transformers. All have in game purchase options that are not necessary to fully enjoy the game, but can be fun. Free 

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Image: Toca Boca

Toca Boca Games Toca games are more for the pre-school age range. Fun for grade school age too, the educational adventure games allow kids to tap their way into learning and surprises. $2.99

Games:

TMNT Ooze

TMNT Danger of the Ooze. Image: Amazon.com

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Danger of the Ooze (360, PS3, 3DS) TMNT: Danger of the Oooze takes the turtles back to their 80’s roots in terms of feel and play. The storyline takes place after the first season, but even if you haven’t seen any of the episodes, you won’t be lost. The graphics have the look of today’s technology, but the game plays and feels like something I would have played as a kid.  $37.85

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Image: Disney

Disney Infinity 2.0 Disney’s updated answer to Disney Infinity corrects many of the problems from the first game, and introduces a large number of Marvel characters the entire family can enjoy. $75

Image Gearbox

Image: Gearbox

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel This flash-back first-person-shooter is full of humorous writing, blood, violence, smart and sexy characters, and so much more. Play as a gladiator, a gunslinger, a cyborg, or everyone’s favorite annoying one-wheeled robot. $59.96

Hearthstone

Image: Battle.net

Hearth Stone  Previously played on GeekMom, this free-to-play online trading-card-ish game has in-game purchases if you so desire. This online game comes recommended for even the younger players because there are only five phrases you can say to your opponent—no bullying, no online stalking. There is some cartoon blood and violence, but is still a good play. Price Varies

Mario Kart 8

Mario Kart 8. Image: Nintendo

Mario Kart 8 Mario Kart 8 is a must-have for the Wii U. It’s a high-energy, vivid, fast-paced racing game that players of all ages will love to play! $59.99

© Nintendo / Level 5

© Nintendo / Level 5

Fantasy Life Fantasy Life is a quiet, colorful 3DS game that fans of RPGs or Animal Crossing will enjoy for hours and hours. Choose your own adventure by picking the Life that sounds the most fun for you!  $39.99

 

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Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. Image: Nintendo

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U The crazy, frenetic, fighting game action of Super Smash Bros. comes to the Wii U! Up to eight players can join in the fun, pitting some of their favorite Nintendo characters past and present against each other in wonderfully chaotic battles. $59.99

amiibo

amiibo. Image: Nintendo

amiibo Nintendo’s answer to Skylanders and Disney Infinity is amiibo. These collectible figures come to life within the game—starting with Super Smash Bros.—and can fight for you or against you. Each figure can learn new stats and tactics the more you play! $12.99

 

© Nintendo

© Nintendo

Pokémon Art Academy If you have a Pokémon fan in the house, picking up this game is a no-brainer. Pokémon Art Academy walks players through step-by-step lessons, from novice to expert, to teach them how to draw some of their favorite pocket monsters. $29.99

TMNT game

Image: Amazon.com

Hero Portal by Jakks Pacific Portal runs off the same concept as Skylanders with an 80’s themed twist. The graphics and fighting style are very much like the games I would play in the arcade as a child. My son seems to enjoy it, but I think his favorite part is that it plugs right into his TV in his room without a bulky console to set up first. The game comes with Leonardo and Raphael. You can purchase other characters separately, starting at $20 for a pack of two. $39.99 (Boosters $7.99 each)

Don't Starve Game

Image: Don’t Starve Game

Don’t Starve This is a survival game in much the same vein as Minecraft where the player collects stuff to make other stuff while exploring, building, and avoiding (or fighting) monsters. The goal in this game though is to last as many days as possible without dying. The longer you make it, the more experience you gain and the more characters (with fun talents) can be unlocked. Plus, the art style is great! $14.99

Minecraft-logo

Image: Minecraft

Minecraft This game has done nothing but gain popularity since it hit the market. I still talk to parents who don’t want their kids playing it. This is a family game. If you want to, monsters can be turned off and you can turn off internet access to avoid playing with other people. It is a great spacial recognition and building game for anyone. It’s an adventure game. It’s a survival game. It’s a logic game. It’s a creative game. It is available for tablets and pretty much every platform. My favorite thing is that it is a lot less messy to have Minecraft on a tablet on long car trips than a bucket of Lego bricks in the back seat of the car. $7 for the tablet version/$17.99 for other platforms

GOG

Image: Good Old Games

Fez This platformer puzzle game has gained popularity this year and is on the wish-lists of many late elementary school kids. You play as Gomez, a strange pixelly humanoid, solving puzzles through 2D and 3D maps. $9.99

The Story of How the Creeper Backpack Joined Our Family

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One day, while taking a trip through the woods, I heard a hissing sound. (All images by: Post Family)

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I stopped and listened. “What could that be?” I pondered.

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When I turned around, I saw a little green creature staring at me.

Hiss2

“Hiss?” it asked.

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As I looked at the little creature I wondered what all he could do. He seemed like such a talented little guy!

 

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My daydreaming was cut short when a black creature I hadn’t seen at first made eye contact with me and started hitting me.

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“Ouch!” I said, and quickly grabbed my new green friend and hurried home.

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Once I got home, I realized that my new green friend wasn’t alive, but was in fact, a backpack named Creeper. “Silly me,” I said as I tried to figure out what uses the little guy could have.

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The backpack seemed to be sturdy. It would take a spontaneous combustion to damage the bag.

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The seams are sturdy and reinforced with additional fabric over the top.

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Creeper is also very well padded. The back has multiple layers of padding (I’m guessing around a half inch), and the layer in between the back and middle portions is padded, too. Plus, the “feet” add some cushion on the bottom (at first I thought all of those animals in the forest were feeding him too much, but no).

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As it turns out, all of that padding does a pretty darn good job of protecting school books. Also, with more schools assigning tablet devices to students, this backpack does a great job of protecting the devices from breaking quite so easily if the bag is dropped instead of being set down. Though my 17″ laptop didn’t fit in the bag, a 10″ device and a 7″ device both fit as seen in the image.

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It has three zipper compartments.

Foam Feet

The middle one holds a covered foam-ish block that holds the form of the Creeper’s feet.

Full backpack

The bag holds a lot. As you can see, several games could fit in the backpack. I was able to fit: Get Bit, Dixit Jinx, Happy Birthday, 2 Story Cubes sets, 2 Munchkin sets, Zombie Dice, Family Flux, and my favorite Geek Mom and Geek Dad project books all in this bag. There was still room for more!

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The kids were going to fight over him.

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But eventually, my son ended up earning his companionship.

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If you want to adopt a Creeper backpack for the coming school year, visit ThinkGeek.

(Adoption cost through ThinkGeek is $39.99)

GeekMom received a review sample for the purpose of this review.

Making a Reader Out of My Son With The Minecraft Essential Handbook and The Redstone Handbook

Minecraft Essentials and Redstone Handbook \ Image: Dakster Sullivan

Minecraft Essentials and Redstone Handbook \ Image: Dakster Sullivan

Like many kids these days, my eight-year-old son is obsessed with Minecraft. He has it on the computer and his iPad so he can play it anywhere. We used to have restrictions on his play time, but now that he’s reading because of the game, the gloves are, for the most part, off.

Scholastic has done what I thought couldn’t be done—they got my son excited about reading by making not one, but two books that make him want to read and teach him at the same time.

The Minecraft Essential Handbook has a lot of basic information on the game. Some of the topics include:

  • Short history of Minecraft
  • Controls
  • Inventory
  • Torches
  • Shelter
  • Food and Heath
  • Table of Elements

There are several other “must know” topics.

Even though my son has two years of Minecraft skills under his belt, he still learned something from this book:

“I learned that sheep and other animals can breed. I also learned what all the animals eat.”

He also said that the pictures are easy to follow, and I agree with him on that one.

The Redstone Handbook is my son’s favorite because,

“It has electricity and a lot more stuff, like automatic doors, electrical lights, and canons. The canon didn’t go very well. It only blasted about a block and a half away. So, I built a new canon and it worked.”

A few of the things Minecraft lovers can learn in this title include:

  • Redstone Essentials
  • Power Sources
  • Clock Circuits
  • Laur Pit Trap
  • Deluxe Lighting Systems

And several community creations.

In the back of The Redstone Handbook, it says that there are two more books coming for the Minecraft world: The Combat Handbook (August 26, 2014) and The Construction Handbook (September 30, 2014). To say that my son is excited to add these books to his Minecraft shelf would be an understatement. I’m equally excited to buy them for him because of how much fun he’s had with the first two books in the series.

The Minecraft Essential Handbook and The Redstone Handbook are must haves for any family with Minecraft-obsessed kids. With the exception of The Fanastic Mr. Fox, my son has never picked up and read a book so fast in his life. And in the words of my son,

“The book belongs to people who play Minecraft, because if they don’t read it, they won’t learn more about Minecraft. If they do pick it up, they will learn more.”

GeekMom received these items for review purposes. 

Youth Digital’s Minecraft Mod Design 1 Class: Final Assessment

Image: Youth Digital

Image: Youth Digital

If your kids have an interest in computers and you’re looking for a way for them to spend their time in front of the screen productively, I recommend some instruction in programming.

Whether or not your kids want to become coders for a living, learning about and understanding the structure that goes into computer code is extremely helpful in navigating our Information Age and in developing logical mental pathways. The company Youth Digital offers a variety of classes for kids aged 8 to 14 to teach different computer-related topics, such as mod design for Minecraft, app design, 3D printing, and 3D animation.

A few weeks ago, my 10-year-old son finished the lessons in his Minecraft Mod Design 1 class from Youth Digital. (Read our first impressions of the class after the first few lessons here.) He turned in his work for evaluation and got a thorough response. Though he’s completed all of the lessons, he still has the rest of the original 12-month period to access all of the instructional videos, as well as be able to upload his own mods or download those created by others. There are also some advanced topics to learn about designing mods in more depth.

Now that he’s done with the meat of the class, what do we think? Are we still happy with the experience? The answer is a resounding “yes!”

Image: Youth Digital

Image: Youth Digital

Inevitably, whenever my son was watching the video lessons, I would hear unbridled cackling laughter coming from the other room. I watched a few of the videos myself, and I will admit to many a chuckle out loud as well. Justin, the Youth Digital employee in the videos (and founder and CEO), packed the lessons with clear information, but delivered it in a very entertaining way, perfect for the intended age range. He’s both knowledgeable and charismatic, and obviously knew what he was doing when he made the videos. It’s not easy to create hilarious videos that are chock full of information and instruction that will keep students entertained while they are learning real skills, such as programming in Java and using Gimp for graphics creation.

The course starts out with some introductions and an easy walkthrough of how to install the Java software, as well as Gimp, the freely available Photoshop-esque program, which is needed to make Minecraft skins. It’s a very good idea to be at least familiar with computers to take these classes, but if you are already into Minecraft, that shouldn’t be a problem.

My son was so excited to just keep going and going in the class. He kept wanting to do just one more lesson. Just one more, Mom. One more. Though it is billed as a year-long class, my son got through it in a few months, which is probably a good pace. I hope he takes the rest of the year to interact with the other students and share mods. Students can also upload their own tutorials to share ideas. There is a great supportive community in which to participate, for those who prefer a more social way of learning.

Inevitably though, kids who take the class will make mistakes or get stuck. But never fear, the built-in help option is fantastic. It does necessitate the student’s ability to convey their challenge in words, though. Because of this, for the younger students taking the class, a parent’s help is sometimes needed—and certainly helpful. Also, parents who having a programming background or are just really good at following directions and solving problems, can help their kids on their own before contacting Youth Digital for help. If that doesn’t work, it is very easy to write for help, and the knowledgeable people on the other end will guide you through solving the problem. My son made a variety of mistakes along the way, some very basic, but two or three of them involved some serious help by the support staff. The issues were all solved quickly and efficiently.

Even when he didn’t feel like doing parts of the class, my son would still enjoy himself, learn, and giggle at the videos. He would find them so funny that he’d call everyone over to watch parts with him. By the end of the course though, he got mentally tired and was ready to be done, but it was the end of the school year and he just wanted summer break to start. Still, he got his mod finished, packaged up, and submitted to Youth Digital for assessment.

Within a couple of weeks, we had the results, a final assessment of his submitted mod. He was given a score (26 out of 30, not bad!), which was based on a number of factors, each of which were given a score out of 5. Each factor was accompanied by a lengthy comment by the assessor, praising all the things he did right.

With no hesitation or qualification, I recommend this class to any kid or adult, who has patience, a sense of humor, and an interest in Minecraft, and wants to make their own mods. Youth Digital also offers many other classes that would be good for kids interested in other related fields. Check out their website for the latest offerings. These classes are wonderful to sneak some education into your kids’ summer break, are useful for homeschooling, or are a great supplement to conventional schooling.

Youth Digital classes cost $249.99. This may seem like a steep price, but there is plenty of value included, and access to the class material is good for one year. This is plenty of time to go the slow route, or you can enjoy the fast route and take advantage of other class features. Youth Digital also periodically has sales on their class tuition.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

GeekMom Video Playlist

Image By Mojang

You knew there was going to be a “Let it Go” parody video, so let’s get right to it. This one stars a mom who gives up trying to be perfect—something we all could learn from!

What would you do if your spouse unplugs your gaming console to clean up cat poop because “it’s real.” Maybe make a video about it?

My daughter and I laughed till we snorted. Someone overdubbed horrrrrible singing to One Direction. Be sure to watch to the very end where they “harmonize.”‘

Oh, The Onion. Teens get on the latest social media site: the comments section of a deer video.

And here’s a great video series (similar to Written By A Kid, sadly gone) called Kid Snippets:

LUKE’S PICKS!

My son’s recommendation for Minecraft fans. Very silly.

So…I don’t get this, but my son insists it’s great if you are a League of Legends fan. I’ll trust him on this one:

This next one is long,”What? A YouTube video more than 10 minutes?!” It’s a Lego stop-motion movie done very well, with an amusing plot of someone being hunted down for an illegal song download. The plot twist at the end is perfect. Oh, it’s in French with subtitles. You can tell your friends you spent your lunch hour watching a foreign film.

‘Til next month!

More Geek Loom Bands

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An Evil Minion my daughter and I made for Gramp’s birthday. Image: Cathe Post

Loom band projects are still all the rage. With the Rainbow Loom just being named Toy of the Year (for both Specialty Toy of the Year and Girl Toy of the Year) at the 2014 Toy Fair, it’s no wonder that kids (and adults) love doing projects, and teachers and occupational therapists have yet another tool in their arsenal. Geeks have found a niche in the loom band craft, too. Jenn previously shared some of her favorite geeky loom patterns. I have a few more to add to your list to check out.

My attempt at a Spiderman charm. He doesn't have a face or webs, and too many of the bands broke in the neck area to keep him, but it wasn't a bad attempt. Image: Cathe Post

My attempt at a Spider-Man charm. He doesn’t have a face or webs, and too many of the bands broke in the neck area to keep him, but it wasn’t a bad attempt. Image: Cathe Post

Spider-Man (and the Avengers): The site PG’s Loomacy is one of my favorites for these characters. There is even a PDF pattern available for making your own Spider-Man. From this pattern, you can also fill in the correct color schemes for the other members of the mighty Avengers team.

Minecraft is still extremely popular (and is yet another award winner for Toy of the Year). What better way to make pixellated jewelry than with bands? You can make a chainmail-type Steve face or Creeper face cuff, or make your own charms in the same style as the Avengers I mentioned earlier.

Rainbow and chainmail make a wonderful combination. Image: Cathe Post

Rainbow and chainmail make a wonderful combination. Image: Cathe Post

Chainmail bracelets without the pixel-art are pretty nifty by themselves. Following one these patterns gives you all of the chainmail pattern without the weight of using metal. We just did one that was narrow, but you can do them much wider if desired. This pattern I found is by SoCraftastic.

One last design we have made quite a few of for birthday presents is the minions. These are very easy to make either evil or normal based on the color of band used. (Helpful hint: If you can’t find googly eyes with a slit in the back, hot glue works well to hold on the band.

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A Good Minion my daughter and I made for a friend’s birthday. Image: Cathe Post

One last one I want to try and haven’t had time for are the horse patterns. I figure it would be really easy to change the colors to match any of the My Little Pony cast.

On a less geeky note: There are patterns for every season. There are patterns for St. Patrick’s Day, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Valentine’s Day—the possibilities are endless. If you want to take a look at some of the patterns and ideas I have been stockpiling for my daughter and myself, take a look at my Pinterest board.

In our house, we have had a similar experience as Jenn when it comes to the little colorful rubber bands. They seem to be distant relatives of Tribbles. When they aren’t lost in the carpet or part of a geeky work-of-art, our supply tends to run a little low. I have found a couple of things as this hobby has taken over our house: First, since coupons can’t be used to buy the name-brand bands most of the time, I have found a company through Amazon that sells a good quality band for a really good price. My test for a good quality band includes being able to stretch over five pegs in length, and being able to “cap” (the term used when twisting and folding a band so that it is two bands thick instead of one—but only using one band) a band over three pegs without the band breaking.

The other thing is that the real Rainbow Loom is truly the way to go. My daughter received Crazy Looms for Christmas which are just okay and only work for some projects. We found the Rainbow Loom is far superior and well worth the extra few dollars. The pegs were easier to dig in to get the bottom loops up, the bands didn’t fall off the pegs as easily since they are more straight up and down than slanted, and the ability to move the pegged strips into different configurations gives it a bigger array of uses than the standard solid-piece knock-offs.

What have been some of your favorite loom projects? Have you made larger projects like purses or phone cases? Do share!

Youth Digital’s Minecraft Mod Design 1 Class: First Impressions

Image: Youth Digital

Image: Youth Digital

My son is nine years old. He’ll be ten soon. He became obsessed with Minecraft about halfway through last year. In his spare time, he watches YouTube videos about Minecraft mods and walkthroughs. When I learned that there was a class, specifically designed for kids in Grades 3-7 to teach how to write Minecraft mods in Java, I knew it would be a perfect fit.

Image: Youth Digital

Image: Youth Digital

Youth Digital provides this class, along with other such classes on making 3D games, apps, and video games, and they have two new classes coming out in May on animation and 3D modeling. Their whole company is set up to provide a valuable service to kids like my son who are really into various computer activities. The classes will get them well on their way to developing job skills in computer fields.

My son is only a few sections into the Mod Design 1 class, but it is proving to be quite entertaining and educational. The instruction is clear, step by step, and entertaining. There is enough help for the students, and they enjoy it because they get to change things in Minecraft that they’ve never gotten to change before. Obviously, a hearty interest in Minecraft is useful for this class, but it’s also a great way to begin learning Java.

Image: Youth Digital

Image: Youth Digital

Our initial impressions are that the class is most excellent. My son is truly enjoying himself, and learning a brand new skill. We will report back in a couple of months for a full review. But in the meantime, check out Youth Digital and their classes. The fact that they offer such computer science classes for kids so young is impressive, and they do a stellar job of not talking over kids’ heads, or down at them, at any time. It’s also taught at a very appropriate speed. I recommend these classes to any kids interested in the topics.

Youth Digital provided access to the Minecraft Mod Design 1 class for the purposes of these reviews.

Toon Academy: Minecraft

Toontastic, a creative animation tool for kids, has partnered with MinecraftEDU in a contest called Toon Academy: Minecraft. Using Toontastic, kids create animated “How Toons” explaining to other kids how to play Minecraft, focusing on their favorite things to do in the game and why other kids might enjoy them, too. The contest excites me not just because it brings together two tools that can really spark kids’ creative abilities, but because it’s about kids teaching other kids, a marvelous way to learn. We are not yet a Minecraft household, but my daughter has shown an interest in it. When I showed her the videos kids have uploaded so far, she sat and watched a dozen of them. I think she might be ready.

MinecraftContest

The contest runs through October 17th, and winners will receive a prize package from Launchpad Toys and MinecraftEDU. Teachers can also get a lesson plan to do this in the classroom. Check out details on the Launchpad Toys blog.

How To Be A Super Minecraft Mom

Super Minecraft Mom

Welcome to How To Be A Super____Mom! From crafts and recipes to fun toys and adventures, here are ways to take your child’s fandom and make it even more fun!

This has been the summer of Minecraft. It started with the other nine year old boys at school; I overheard whispers of pickaxes, Steves and creepers and suddenly before I knew it, every child I knew was obsessed with the game, my kids included. I’m pretty sure they’ll now see the entire world in pixels.

The creativity, building, and engineering of the game makes it a lot of fun and a great way to stretch creative muscles.

Here are a few ways to encourage your child’s Minecraft fandom!

minecraft food2

image: Made By A Princess Parties in Style

minecraft food

image: Made By A Princess Parties in Style

1. Minecraft snacks

Whether it’s for a party or a play-date, there are so many ways to make Minecraft edible! Check out these brilliant ideas for coal, gold, and diamond and even more amazing Minecraft treats!

f26a_minecraft_pickaxe_touchscreen_stylus

image: ThinkGeek

2. Minecraft Pickaxe Stylus

While your kids spend time whittling away at all those pixels, why not do it in style with an actual mini pickaxe stylus!

minecraft bag

image: pinterest

3.  Minecraft bags

Just a few simple strips of black tape or construction paper on a green sack and you have your very own custom Creeper bag. Easy to make for party favor bags or even sack lunches for school.

minecraft avengers

image: Welovefine.com

4. Minecraft inspired tee

Who doesn’t love Minecraft and comics? This pixelated Avengers tee is reminiscent of Minecraft and no doubt it will be inspiration to create your own Avengers skins. Can’t you just see a Minecraft Hulk running around smashing everything in sight?!

lego minecraft

image: Lego

5. Minecraft Lego

Yep, your mind is blown. Two great things that go great together. When I was at Comic Con in July I got to preview these amazing new toys and you can bet every kid and their parent went wild for them. The perfect gift for your little Minecraft and Lego fan!

What activities and crafts have you and your kids come up with to support your Minecraft fandom? We would love to hear!

Weekly GeekMom Video Playlist

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Summer vacation is here! Or, it is looming in the not-so-distant future. Either way, kids are getting edgy and are requesting video suggestions to keep them entertained for a few minutes. So, this week’s video playlist features videos the GeekMom writers’ kids enjoy.

GeekMom Video Playlist for the week of June 6. Videos include a singing bird, Lego cartoons, music, NASA engineering, how to make a rocket, and Pokémon Minecraft. All of these videos are for the kids.

GeekMom Video Playlist for the week of June 6. Videos include a singing bird, Lego cartoons, music, NASA engineering, how to make a rocket, and Pokémon Minecraft. All of these videos are for the kids.

This week’s playlist and all of the previous weeks can be found on our YouTube channel. You can also find an up-to-date playlist of all of the GeekMom’s Game of Thrones Season 3 Recap Tea Party episodes.

Balancing Board Games and Babies Part II

My Pokemon mentor once said to me, “The family that games together, stays together.” He couldn’t be more correct.

A few weeks ago I shared with you how my husband and I balance being parents and gamers. My husband and I encourage our kids to play games as well. It doesn’t matter if it’s a game we made up with balls, an educational game, a board game, or a video game. Don’t get me wrong, video game play is earned and the time spent playing them is monitored.

Educational games for kids are fairly easy to find. Several companies focus on educational games for kids. Kid appropriate games that are just like mom and dad’s are a little harder to come by.

Our kids often are more interested in the games we play instead of their own. So, here are some kid friendly ideas that are related to the adult versions our little geek 2.0’s might not be ready for.

Pokémon instead of Magic the Gathering

Try Pokémon instead of Magic the Gathering: The mechanics are very similar. The artwork is amazing without being as graphic as Magic. I know some parents cringe at the thought of letting the cute little animé creatures into their homes. The truth is, I used to be one of those parents. Then Call of Legends was released and my then 4-year-old daughter fell in love and was inspired to read. She can now read the cards and count by 10’s and she isn’t even in Kindergarten yet. I think these skills were greatly helped by playing Pokémon. Strategy skills and other math skills are also exercised by playing. Card packs run $4-$15. Most leagues are free and some even offer decks to check out and play.

 

RPG Kids instead of Dungeons and Dragons

 

Try RPG Kids instead of Dungeons and Dragons: RPG Kids is a simpler version of Dungeons and Dragons for kids age 4-7. It only uses two dice and the characters can be as simple as attacking only, all the way to having feats and resistances (if you want them). This game also offers an opportunity for parents who have never been a DM before to do so. The game is very easy to run and set up. It comes with pieces that you can cut out, or you can make your own. It can be purchases for $2.99 from RPGNow.com. RPG Kids uses math, reading, and strategy skills.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Try Hero Quest instead of Warhammer or other war games.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Try Hero Scape or Hero Quest instead of miniature war games like Warhammer: Over a year ago, my husband and I were both very much into playing Warhammer. Since we spent a decent ammount of time painting our miniatures and playing the game, our daughter also became interested. We found a copy of Heroscape at our local second hand store. We took all of the miniatures out and let her play with them while we were playing Warhammer. Now she’s ready for Hero Quest which has a similar turn style to RPG Kids. If you have crafty kids, why not let them paint a spare miniature?

 

Computer games aren’t evil, but computers might be (the cake is a LIE)!: We used to be into playing World of Warcraft and other MMO’s. Now, if we actually have the time to play on the computer, we tend to play games like Minecraft, Spore, and Portal 2. The skills used in these games have a huge range but include building and following directions in Minecraft, budgetting money and strategy in Spore, and strategy in Portal. These games are fun for the entire family. It has been debated how much time kids should be spending playing video games, and how young is too young, but computer games have been an asset in our house when played in moderation. There are also some great websites that offer educational and fun games such as Starfall, PBS Kids, and a favorite at our house – Pokémon.

Do you have a Leapster or DS?: The games offered for the LeapFrog Leapster system are themed after popular characters our kids like (such as Star Wars and Pixar characters). The games are FAR more educational than games played on the DS systems, but the characters and desirableness are comparable. We have used Leapster gaming time as a reward for helping with chores without being asked or, as a quiet gaming activity while mom and dad are playing with other adults.

I hope the ideas shared here inspire you to share a gaming experience with your kids. They don’t even have to be old enough to read in most cases, all you both need is some imagination and patience. What games have you found recently to play with your kids?