Parenting, Writing

When Curious Kids Get Sick

Sick boy

Well, we’re all still in our pajamas. Nobody’s going to school or “Mommy and Me” today. We had a sleepless night marked by raging fevers and barking coughs. So now I’m contemplating how best to keep two housebound, curious kids entertained until nap time.

Right now the kids are playing Starfall on the computer. Normally, I’m pretty strict about how much “screen time” they get, but these are extenuating circumstances. We’ve snuggled up with several favorite picture books and magazines, like Wild Animal Baby. (Note: We also love Highlights High Five, Big Backyard, LEGO Club Jr., and National Geographic Little Kids, which have lots of activities and puzzles.)

After a couple of PBS Kids shows, we have a science experiment to finish up. Yesterday we grew red and blue polyacrylamide crystals. We stacked them in a test tube and are awaiting the “sunset” it should produce. Sometimes being sick slows the boys down just enough that they are game for coloring, activity books or craft activities. When they are healthy, these things don’t keep them occupied for long. And there’s always our mountains of LEGOs to build and board games to play.

As for me, I will try to take advantage of this “slow” day to get some extra writing in. Since there’s been a marked downturn in wrestling and fighting, I’m revising my January manuscript so I can share it with my newly formed critique group. I’m hoping to finish a critique of another member’s draft today. I plan to go through and “Like” or “Follow” all my 12 x 12 in 2012 pals. Oh, and I need to get together a submission for Query Tracker’s logline contest. I better get moving before Mr. Rogers is over!


Education, Homeschool, Science/Math

PBS KIDS launches 40 new math games

I’ve been reading Lisa Guernsey’s book, Into the Minds of Babes: How Screen Time Affects Children from Birth to Age Five (Basic Books, 2007). Her key TV and game usage advice is that parents must be aware of the content (what you let them watch/play), context (how and how much you use media) and your child.

The boys don’t typically play a lot of computer games, but I’m a huge fan of Starfall. I swear Starfall is how Cooper taught himself to read. With that in mind, I read with delight the news that  PBS KIDS now boasts more than 40 new math games on its PBS KIDS Lab site ( These games are absolutely free and challenge preschool and early elementary children to learn math concepts with their favorite characters. Many of the games are designed for children as young as age three, so I thought I’d let Cooper and Finley try them out today.

You can help Dinosaur Train’s Buddy find and sort gemstones of different shapes and sizes. Go apple picking with Curious George to learn number recognition. Or help George count backwards to make his rocket blast off. Most games eliminate the need to click and drag, relying on clicking only, which makes the games easier for little hands.

The PBS KIDS Lab is not limited to math games. Children can help Gerald from Sid the Science Kid match objects to the climate in which they belong. Or, they can bake a cake for a celebration with Super Why?, forcing them to sound out and spell words along the way.

The boys were delighted with the new games. The 3 to 5-year-old games were a little too easy for Cooper, but he enjoyed them nonetheless. Finley enjoyed the games targeted to the preschool age group as well. Both boys were thrilled when their efforts resulted in a print-out prize (a coloring and cutting sheet), which they eagerly cut and decorated.

The site also includes a number of ideas for activities you can do at home to reinforce concepts. For example, have your child help you set the table and count out the napkins or forks. Or build a house for a favorite toy character to learn concepts like bigger and smaller. Home-based activities include supplies lists, complete instructions, as well as suggestions for books appropriate to the theme.

One final note: If you have a child in middle school through the college years, PBS KIDS is participating in the 2012 STEM Video Game Challenge. The challenge provides cash prizes to kids who can develop new math-based games for children ages four through eight. Here’s the link:

Education, Homeschool, Reading

5 Stars for Starfall

When it comes to kids and technology, I’m a Luddite. My Wii is gathering dust. We don’t have a DS or an iPad, and I certainly can’t tell you what Angry Birds is. Typically, I limit the boys to a couple of PBSKids shows per day, but they can only watch when I’m getting ready for the day or cooking dinner at night. Still, I give the Starfall computer program 100% of the credit for teaching my son how to read at age 4.

My mom, an elementary school computer teacher, bookmarked the program on our computer a couple of years ago, and she’s played it with my son from time to time. I upgraded to the subscription version of the Starfall program last year ($35 per year).

My son became obsessed with “Word Machine,” an animated game that helps children learn short vowel sounds. The word machine starts with a word, for example, mat. Pull the lever, and a boot squashes the “m” and replaces it with an “r.” The game then has the child sound out “rat.” The colors are bright, the characters are silly, and I think my son enjoyed pushing buttons, pulling levers and watching what happened.

Before I knew it, he was sounding out words left and right, and I was struggling with how to teach him long vowel sounds. I even bought a set of Starfall early reader books. We had been using Bob books, but the black and white pencil drawings were no match for Zac the Rat and his jam or Peg the Hen (who flies a jet, by the way).

My son is now showing his little brother how to play Word Machine. It’s pretty funny to watch him coach. Pretty soon my husband and I won’t be able to spell words in front of them, when we don’t want them to know what we’re saying.