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 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

books we read this month

I decide to keep a journal of the books I read to Avril.

Tonight on the way home from daycare, we stopped by the library picking up some books. After dinner, we finished reading the following books. Avril and I enjoyed all of them.

I will give a rating 3.5 out of 5

What Happens on Wednesdays is a good book for preschool kids, we can really relate to the daily routines in the book, as we were reading this line" mommy read me a book, we were laughing to see Michal was unloading the dishwasher.

It might be a little too long for 3-year-old Avril? I will read to her a few more times. I personally like the drawing texture.There are lots of details,Avril and I spend time on each page looking at the shops,dogs on the street ..

5 star !!!

Dog and Bear: Two's Company is consist of 3 short stories. I liked it immediately. It is really appropriate for 2-3 year old. Avril can quickly recognize words she knows. I plan to read this book a few more times this week.
I requested a few more books by the same author.

rating 3

The Chicken of the Family
A cute stories about siblings.The younger one was teased by the old sisters.It is a little complicated for a 3-year-old, maybe when Avril is 4 or 5 year old, we can read it again?

The Day the Babies Crawled Away
4 star
This distinctive feature is its silhouette illustration with a lot of detail.Avril and I enjoyed it.I am not sure how much she really appreciate the drawing.Maybe as she gets older,she will appreciate the artistic aspect of this book.

We read this book twice tonight. once by me, once by Avril with my help. After this book,she remembered 4 to 5 Chinese characters.I shall remember to have her read the same book for the rest of week a few more times.