Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Making a board game with kids (part 1)

Avril likes playing board games, so I thought that it would be fun to design a board game with her.  This post describes the process of the design up to the point of creating a pdf file that can be printed.  In the future we plan to have a follow-up project to actually build the board, board pieces and cards based on the design.  If you have any tips about actually making the game, please leave comments on a web page that tracks the progress of our game making.
Since recently Avril has been interested in cheese, our game is about making cheese.  Read my earlier post to learn how to actually make cheese at home with a child (the board game includes the recipe followed by us).
Avril has played a few board games (Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, The Ladybug Game and others), so she was quite familiar with the idea. We started with a simple sheet of paper to sketch the game.  After 15 minutes or so, we ended up with this sketch:

We simulated the play a few times (without using any actual board pieces or dice) and Avril laughed a lot as she recalled us making cheese.
Going from the sketch to a somewhat nicer version that can be downloaded here was somewhat tedious (it took me over 4 hours), so I did it myself but next time I will try to involve Avril in that part too. There are a lot of sources of public domain images online (for instance PDClipart and WPClipart). And you shouldn't have problems finding computer software for editing images (you should pick software you're already familiar with).

If your child likes board games, I recommend designing your own. This is a fun activity. We already enjoyed the design part but since Avril (like most kids at this age) loves crafts, we will surely love making the game based on the design.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

NASA Exploration Center is worth a visit but web site a little outdated

The activity with Mars-like surroundings was supposedly very nice but this was 6 years ago according the to the guide who works in the museum. Today the interactive learning area is rather uninteresting but the NASA Exploration Center is still worth a visit. We visited it with a group of families and even kids who haven't turned 4 yet had a great time there.

in reference to:

"Young people from ages 3 to 6 can 'explore' Mars and take part in Mars-related activities in an area with Mars-like surroundings and soil."
- NASA - INFORMATION (Please call to make reservations for large groups) (view on Google Sidewiki)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Making cheese at home

Avril (who will turn 4 later this year) has been recently very interested in cheese.  At home she tried different kinds of cheese.  Some of them she liked (Brie, Camembert, mozarella) and some she didn't (blue cheese, Swiss cheese) but she was definitely interested in it. And at school the kids have been recently playing the "cheese shop". All this led me to trying to make cheese at home. Avril loved the idea.
As expected there is a lot of online advice on making cheese. Most simple recipes have the same basic idea: heat up milk and add either lemon juice or vinegar and the only special equipment needed is cheese cloth.  Easy enough.  We settled down on the recipe from the Food Wishes blog because I liked the idea of adding buttermilk and seeing both the ingredients list written down and a how-to video was useful.
We bought the cheese cloth at a nearby Bed, Bath and Beyond but you can buy them easily online. This one got good reviews on Amazon.
We bought the three ingredients: whole milk, buttermilk and lemons in a grocery store and we were all set.  Making cheese turned out to be as easy as it sounded and the cheese was very tasty! A few days later, we made cheese following the same recipe at Avril's school.  The children took turns at various parts of the process and then they had cheese for lunch. Teachers and parents tried the cheese too.  I can recommend this as a great activity for children who are 3 and older.
Here's a picture of Avril scooping curds into the cheese cloth:

Friday, November 6, 2009

Bilirubin levels in infants

Even hospital staff may misinterpret bilirubin levels in the lab results, so it may be useful to you to read the recommendations in this articls. This article gives excellent graphs (see Figures 2 and Figure 3) for which levels are considered dangerous. Note that how bad the bilirubin level is depends on the age of the infant and on the presence of some risk factors explained next to the charts.
Of course these are only guidelines and your pediatrician should interpret lab results for you but reading this article will let you ask intelligent questions to nurses and doctors.

in reference to:

"All bilirubin levels should be interpreted according to the infant’s age in hours"
- Management of Hyperbilirubinemia in the Newborn Infant 35 or More Weeks of Gestation -- Subcommittee on Hyperbilirubinemia 114 (1): 297 -- AAP Policy (view on Google Sidewiki)

Preschool classes at Dance Connection

My daughter has been attending the "Preschool Combination" class for a few months and she really loves it. The teachers are great and the girls love being in the class.
The class is called "combination" because it part of it teaches tap dance and part of it teaches ballet.
The last class of each month is a "backwards class" that focuses on gymnastics.

in reference to: Dance Connection Palo Alto (view on Google Sidewiki)

"Parent and Tot" classes at the Winter Lodge

"Serious" classes at the Winter Lodge in Palo Alto are for kids who are 4 and older but even younger kids will have fun at the Friday "Parent and Tot" class (provided that the parent can skate well enough to help the child in the class). My daughter took this class with me when she just turned 3 and she had a lot of fun even though at this age she couldn't learn anything too complicated. Both her happiness about ice skating and the fact that she became somewhat confident skating with my support made this class very worthwhile for us.

in reference to: Winter Lodge (view on Google Sidewiki)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Amazing Family Game Board Book

The Amazing Family Game Board Book is one of the best purchases we made. This box full of games was inexpensive, it doesn't take much space and we already played with Avril many games: checkers, backgammon, Chinese checkers, nine men's morris, A-to-Z eye spy, trick track, reversi, mancala, war, go fish, crazy 8s and dominoes. And there are still many games left.
Some of the rules are too hard for a 3 year-old, so I had to simplify them a little and it is very hard at this age to lose but otherwise the games are a lot of fun both for my daughter and for me.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Olema Ranch Campground

We spent the July 4 weekend at the Olema Campground near Point Reyes. We usually camp in somewhat primitive condition and this was the most upscale experience we have had so far.  I really recommend it for families especially for families without much camping experience.  The tent sites are pleasant and the resort has many conveniences: hot showers, a little store, laundry. There's even a playground for children. The campground is very close to Point Reyes National Seashore, so many activities are possible there.

Here's a picture of the playground:

Friday, May 1, 2009

Goats and May Fête Parade

Bay Area weather doesn't look promising this weekend but there are some interesting events going on this weekend.

  • May Fête Parade on Saturday (May 2, 2009) in Palo Alto should be a lot of fun. This year’s theme is "Dream Green".
  • Fantasy Faire on Saturday in the Los Gatos Parent Nursery School is a smaller event but if you live close to Los Gatos and don't feel like driving to Palo Alto, it's good option too.
  • Last but not least: goats! This is not really an event but I saw them today and it's an amazing that one can see so many goats in Mountain View. Read more about it in the Google blog post.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Children movies, TiVo, Netflix and more

In addition to using our computers to access youtube, we sometimes want to watch children programming on TV.  We, the parents, occasionally watch some TV but not much (we watch Lost; rarely also late night shows; news etc).  Given this and the the fact that our house had no antenna to receive over the air programming, we had been trying cable (Comcast and U-verse) and satellite (DISH) over the last few years.  We wanted a DVR, preferred to have some HD content and not pay too much given that we don't watch too much TV.

Last week, we decided to try a new way.  We canceled cable, installed over the air (OTA) antenna and bought TiVo HD.  We also connected our TiVo to the Internet.  We were lucky to have an Internet connection next to our TV.  If you don't have a wired Internet connection next to your TV, you may have to spend a little more money on a wireless network adapter (you can use the TiVo AG0100, or another wireless USB adapter but if you buy a non-TiVo one, make sure that you check the compatibility list).

Since we have a network connection, we connected our Netflix account to the TiVo.  Now we can still record and watch Lost, late night shows, children shows on public TV.  But in addition, we can now watch instantly an unlimited number of any of the 12,000 Netflix offerings.  All this for $12.95 for TiVo and $8.99 for Netflix (so, the total is less than $22 a month).  This is not free but much cheaper than cable or satellite and we get many extras included: we can watch youtube videos on our TV; we could order one of Amazon Video On Demand titles; or use any of the other services I haven't tried yet (CinemaNow, or Jaman).

My experience so far has been great: the quality of OTA TV and Netflix movies is great.  The convenience is great and I can expect that as more ways to stream video content become available, TiVo may add them to our DVR.  We are saving a lot of money every month, so our investment in the TiVo and antenna will repay soon.  And the quality of TiVo experience is higher than what experienced from cable and satellite.

Last but not least, I should add that we actually get most of the children movies from our local public library and that in general, we read more than watch which is what we recommend to all parents.

Learning the alphabet from youtube

Avril learned her alphabet when she was very young.  We were reading books to her often but I think another big factor that helped was youtube.  There were quite a few youtube videos about letters there that Avril watched over and over.  Here are a few of them:

(and a few other ThatsMEonTV.com videos.)

Avril's iPhone favorites for March

I wrote a month ago about Avril's favorite games for iPhone.  She added two new games to her top 5 list.  She still likes Rolando, Cute Math, and the built-in Weather app but now there are two new games she really likes:

  • PopGeo USA Geography.  Avril likes to find countries of the world and US states on the map, so she really enjoys find the states in this game even though she can't read all the names of the states and usually asks for help reading the names.
  • Shape Builder.  Avril plays this game all by herself and really usually can complete 5 or so shapes before switching to another game.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Advent calendars and the Children's Theatre

Last December we bought for Avril a chocolate advent calendar at Trader Joe's.  In case you've never had one, an advent calendar has a small window for each day in December until Christmas and under each door there may be something hidden – in our case a small chocolate.  The calendar was a big hit.  Avril loved counting the days and to our surprise she showed a big discipline, never wanting to eat more than one chocolate a day and remembering which day would come next.

The second part to background of yesterday's story is that we live close to the Palo Alto Children’s Theatre and that theatre has a series of shows called Second Saturday Participation Plays.  As you can guess from the name, on the second Saturday of every month, there's a children's play in which audience participates in the story with the actors.  The idea is great even if, as in our case, your child is a bit shy and usually opts for sitting next to the parent rather than participating.

So, now the story that is the reason for this post:  Yesterday, Avril and I went for a stroll and we were walking at some point from the big tree that a few days ago fell down in the storm to the zoo.  As we were walking past the Children's Theatre, I asked Avril: "We came here to watch some plays.  Do you remember what story we watched?"  Avril's response was "No.  You tell me!"  For a while I tried to get her to tell me the name of the story but eventually I gave up knowing that she either really forgot or had her own reasons for not wanting to tell me the name of the story.  So, I said "we watched Jack and the Beanstalk".  Avril's response blew me away.  She said: "Yes, and on that day I opened the chocolate number 13".  As she said this, I didn't remember when exactly we went to see the play but after I got home I checked and Avril's recollection was perfect: we watched Jack and the Beanstalk on December 13.  I am still impressed with this.  I mean... Avril wasn't even three on December 13 and that performance was over two months ago!

I guess that the moral of the story (other than the fact that people can remember random things) is that tying in new skills like counting days into every day activities that children enjoy can be very effective.  So, all those things like counting how many Toyotas there are in the preschool's parking lot may have many unpredictable benefits.

I would like to end with a longer plug for children theatres in general and the Palo Alto Children’s Theatre with its many programs including Second Saturday Participation Plays.  You have to make sure that you go the plays appropriate for the age because sitting through a long performance is hard for toddlers but if everything works out, they are great fun.  Here's the list of Second Saturday Participation Plays this season:
  • Cinderella, November 8 – 10:30am and 12:30pm
  • Jack and the Beanstalk, December 13 – 10:30am and 12:30pm
  • Beauty and the Beast, January 10 – 10:30am and 12:30pm
  • Little Red Riding Hood, March 14 – 10:30am and 12:30pm
  • The Tortoise and the Hare, April 11 – 10:30am and 12:30pm
  • Snow White, May 9 – 10:30am and; 12:30pm
There's only one downside of the Palo Alto Children’s Theatre I can think of: it is very popular and the shows tend to be sold out weeks in advance.  We haven't yet planned any trip there long enough in advance, so we have to show up early to be near the top of the waiting list for returned tickets.

Friday, February 20, 2009

iPhone games for toddlers

There was recent news about how video games are good for kids.  This reminded me that I wanted to write how Avril enjoy playing games on the iPhone.  She started playing them before she turned three and by now she has tried a few.  Here are a few of those games and the experience of one three year-old girl:

Cute Math
This game is designed for small children and Avril really likes it.  Counting and addition of small numbers are easy for her and the cute animation and sounds are a lot of fun.  She also likes the game of shaking apples from a tree even though she doesn't really know subtraction yet.  Cute Math is better than PopMath for children who are beginning to count since it uses animation to show the result of addition and subtraction.

Another game specifically designed for small children and we had it before Cute Math.  PopMath is for kids who already know how to count because it doesn't help you visualize the operations.  But once the child doesn't need visualization anymore, PopMath is better than Cute Math because it progresses from simpler math to more complex math and eventually lets you deal with slightly larger numbers and more operations (it lets you use the four basic operations) and it is more addictive because of its competitive aspect.

Drawing applications
There are many of those available on the iPhone and we tried quite a few.  Kids love them.  My recommendation is to try the free ones first before (if at all) paying for drawing apps.  Of the free ones, we liked Colors! Lite and DrawR.  You can see a longer list here.  We also ended up buying Y.Painter+ which Avril liked most of all the drawing programs.

This game is great for small children because it starts with very simple mazes and it has appealing graphics.  I usually turn off the music though.

This is an excellent game for grown-ups too.  I am really impressed with how well designed it is.  The full game is $9.99 but so far we just got the free Rolando Lite.  Avril can only complete the first two levels anyway.

This is a built-in application on the iPhone and Avril loves to check what the weather will be on the phone.

Also a built-in application.  I have set up a few cities in Asia, Europe and the US.  The app shows time for each of those cities and make the city dark or not depending whether it is night or day in that city.  Avril often checks this app and says that it is night now in Shenzhen or that it is day now in Poland.

If you know any other games that are good for young children, please let me know.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

books we read in Feb

rating 4

Angelina Ballerina

Avril is a big fan of Angelina Ballerina. She likes all of her books and DVDs.so no surprise,she loves this book.

Arabella Miller's Tiny Caterpillar

3.5 star

It is overall a book, but for some reason, 3-year-old Avril can never concentrate on finishing the book.Maybe to her, that is a little too educational and she could not quite understand yet.

5  star
Avril likes this book, it is a simple read.On each page, there is only one line, after reading a few times, Avril can read this book by herself.

3 star!

Bringing in the New Year

To Introduce Chinese New year to Avril,I read her this book about Chinese new year.It is OK to read.

4 star

The text is rhythmic--quite challenging for my foreigh tongue to read,the illustration is beautiful and jazzy. very unique book.

Dog and Bear (Neal Porter Books) (Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Winner-Best Picture Book) (Awards))
5 star!

After the two's company, I tried to find more Dog and Bear series to read.It is perfect for toddlers to read. Simple, loving.After a few readings, Avril can read most of the pages by herself.

We like all Fancy Nancy books:)

It was enjoyable, the illustration was great.The text was rhythmic and cute.

On Meadowview Street 5 star!

I love this book a lot. This is my second time checking it out.I can not say Avril likes as much as I do,but she certainly enjoys it too. It is a book about nature,garden,grass,birds...very cute.

Valentine Hearts: Holiday Poetry (I Can Read Book 2)

4 star
I picked up this book for Valentine's day was getting closer.I usually do not expect books of this kind to be any interesting.I was surprised by how good,cute and emotional those simple poetries are.I have been thinking to introduce Avril literature and poems,but most of them I found are either too difficult and advanced for a 3 year old, or too silly to call them poems:) This book is perfect, the collections are perfect for this age.Avril likes it a lot for she could understand them very well.

Hug Time
5 star!
I saw this book in Urban Outfitters.I liked it very much.It is a very cute,loving book, the drawings are simple,abstract,smart.The story is simple and touching. I will remember to check out more books by the same writer. It is also a beautiful gift book to give to someone with a warmhearted message.

How I Learned Geography

5 star
This book might be  a little  advanced for 3-year-old, hopefully one day she will understand to feel same kind sympathy to others and the world
A very unique children book.

10 Minutes to Bedtime

5 star

Avril really liked this book, requested us to read to her over and over.

The Busy Body Book: A Kid's Guide to Fitness (Booklist Editor's Choice. Books for Youth (Awards))
4 star
This is really good book about human body-- a little bit too advanced for 3 year old, but Avril learned a lot about her body from this book. I am considering buying this book, for this one we can read for many years.

There Are Monsters Everywhere (There's Aà)
4 star

Not sure why kids like monsters:) 

A Visitor for Bear
4 star
A cute story about friendship and sharing. It is perfect for a 3 year old