Friday, April 8, 2016

Games for Brains: Flash Point

Flash Point
Playing Time: ~45 Minutes.
Players: 1-6
This game is definitely not marketed for children, nor would I buy it just for the kids.  It is one of the first cooperative board games I got.  My dad, brother and I played often, especially around holiday breaks.  The idea is that you're all firemen trying to save victims from a burning building.  You have to put out fires, prevent explosions and save the people, before too many of the die or the building falls down around you.  While it is slightly complicated at first, it was easy enough once we got going.  I also liked that the rules included quite a few variations to make it simpler or more difficult, including two different playing boards.  When Xander was about 4-4.5 he started joining in the play.  Since everyone playing either wins or loses together, it encourages cooperative play and strategy, which was perfect for bringing him in.  I'm a little bit selective about which character I give him, since some of them have complicated rules, but he's pretty good at knowing what he/should do on his turn.  It is a great way for him to be included in something we would want to be doing when we get together anyway.  I think this is a great introductory game as a bridge to the world of grown up games.  We've played with some non gaming friends (including a 10 & a 12 year old) and they seemed to pick it up just fine. There's really no reading required for this game (other than reading the rules).

Brain Value:
While it doesn't explicitly focus on any academic skills, I see a lot of logic development.  Since we plan strategy cooperatively, he can hear the adults' thought process and pick up our reasoning.  He's started being able to plan ahead a little bit and figuring out which is the best use of resources and number of moves.  These are skills he can carry over into other games and even other types of tasks.

Taking it Beyond the Game:
First of all, the game pieces are little fire fighers, so Xander usually has the extras to play with while we're playing the game.  He also likes to use the game to come up with his own imaginative games.  I believe when this picture was taken there were a couple of sibling firefighters with super powers that had to save the people.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Games for Brains: Sushi Go

Playing Time: ~15 Minutes
Players: 2-5

This game plays a little differently than all of our other card games.  Each player gets a hand of so many cards, looks at them all and selects one to keep.  Then everyone passes the hand of cards to the next player.  The cards keep rotating until they're all gone.  Each card has different types of sushi on them, and each type of sushi scares differently.  Some just give you points, some give you increasing numbers of points depending on how many you have, some you only score points on if you have more than everyone else.  Overall, I think it is a cute game that goes pretty quickly.  It's also nice for a variety of players.  That being said, I probably wouldn't play it with just adults.

Brain Value:
This game definitely has some memory and strategic thinking.  For example, the shashimi only score points if you have three of them.  Since you've seen all/both of the hands, you may realize that there are only two left, so it wouldn't make sense to take one (unless you see that the opponent has one and you want to block them from getting the points).  You have figure out what you're likely to get in upcoming hands and decide what would be most advantageous.  For added brain value, I make Xander figure his own score for each round (I add the totals for all three rounds to get the final).  He's getting pretty good at adding them in his head.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Games for Brains: Machi Koro

Playing Time: ~30 Minutes
Players: 2-4
This is a game that combines card collecting with dice rolling.  The idea that you're mayor of a city and you want to add cool new attractions to your city.  You do it by making money off of different types of public works projects you "build."  It is kind of nice because you can make or lose money on other players turns, so you have something to do regardless of whose turn it is.  Being able to read the cards is definitely helpful, but a non reader could probably still be able to figure it out with a little help.

Brain Value:
This game involves some strategy, such as figuring out how much to diversify your cards and when you should buy new cards and when you should develop attractions.  There's also a little bit of probably/math involved.  He has to know that no one is going to roll a 9, if we're still at the stage of the game where we only roll one die.  Also, it is less likely that someone will roll a really low number if they're using both dice.

Expansion Pack Note:
We had liked this game so much, that a friend of ours got us the Millionaire's Row expansion pack.  While having a bigger variety of cards was nice, it got to be a little much for Xander, especially when we played by the rules that came with it.  We ended up doing a combination of the original rules and the expansion pack rules to make it more fun for everyone.  However, we definitely don't play as much as we did when we only had the original game, mostly because the games end up taking a lot longer.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Starting Piano

Today I did our first official piano lesson with Xander!  Yes, I know, I'm a little behind, but better late than never, right?  Now of course, I'd set him up with some background since he was little.  Your Baby Can Discover went through some notes and timing, although I doubt he remembers them.  He also loves Trebellina and Suzie's Piano Primer.  Recently he's been playing Piano Maestro on the iPad and has really wanted to learn to play.  What better time than when he's seriously interested?

While I considered doing formal lessons, it just isn't in the budget at the moment, so I will start teaching him myself.  I decided to start with John Thompson's Easiest Piano Course Part 1.  It starts incredibly basically, but I'm hoping it will provide a good foundation.  We might just go through the first book quickly.  I have a couple of Teaching Little Fingers to Play books ready to go for when he's ready!  Tonight we went through the first several pages, and he didn't want to stop.  I figure that's a good sign.

I'm interested to learn what other parents have done to teach their children piano.  Are there apps, movies or books you recommend?

Monday, March 21, 2016

Graduating AAS Level 1!

A while back, I posted about how we adapted All About Spelling for a Toddler.  We didn't do all of the writing, because he wasn't ready and he hated it.  We also only did a couple of lessons a week.  Since that time we slowly started in some writing, although usually only a couple of phrases, not all of the words.  I'm excited to say we are now done with Level 1!  He was so incredibly proud of himself.  I think he called his grandma, grandpa, uncle and former babysitter to tell them he had finished.  

I wouldn't say he's at 100% mastery of every word.  The double "S" at the ends of words are still a little problematic, but he has mastered enough that it would be silly not to move on!
On to Level 2!
I have ordered and sorted All About Spelling Level 2.  (Kind of a bittersweet moment for me, I must admit.  My baby is getting so big, so fast!).  This time through I do plan on using the red dictation cards, since they should be easy enough for him to write.  We'll still have him write some, but not all of the phrases and sentences.  He likes the spelling and hate writing, so I don't want that dislike to transfer over to spelling.  We'll still only probably do 2-3 lessons a week, but I'll keep you updated!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Games for Brains - Sleeping Queens

As you know, I'm always looking for fun ways to bring education into daily life (I've been pretty open about my preference for educational and open ended toys).  One way we've started bringing more fun education in is through games.  Many of them teach strategy, logic, memory, deductive reasoning and even visual/spacial skills.

I have always loved board games and card games.  Of course, I was excited to play with Xander.  However, I found that not all kids games were all the much fun, or all that educational.  For example, I bought him Monopoly Junior, thinking it would be great for strategy and math skills.  Then I found out they changed the rules from when I was a kid (or at least what I remember the rules were) and now it is all luck and almost no math.  We had other games like Trouble and Hungry Hungry Hippos, that he really liked, but got really boring for me after a while.  So I went on a hunt to find games he could play and learn from, but that he wouldn't outgrow in a year; in other words, fun for me too.  As an added bonus, playing games together is much better quality after dinner time than watching tv together.  (To be honest, I was also looking for games that didn't feel "solely educational."  While we have a lot of those and they are ok, they are usually as much fun as regular games).

A Post Series is Born

Since I'm probably not the only geek board game lover who wants to play with their kids, I thought it would make a good post series.  I'll post about what games we play together and if/how we adapt them.  I figured I'd throw in both games aimed at kids and adults.

First Up: Sleeping Queens
Playing Time: About 10 min
Players: 2-5

This is a somewhat silly card game indented for kids.  There are a bunch of sleeping queens and you need to use your cards to try to wake them up and collect them.  You can also steal opponents queens or put them to sleep.  The characters are adorable and work well for kids.  I enjoy it well enough, but would not be breaking it out in a group of adults.  I got this for Xander for Christmas and he really liked it, in fact, a little too much.  Since we were still building our stash of games we could play together, he wanted to play it ALL the time.  Now that we have more games, it definitely stays in rotation, but we can have more variety.

While this game is marketed at ages 8 and up, I found it was pretty easy for Xander (5).  We've even taught one of his friends (also 5), who had no trouble picking it up either.  It doesn't require any reading, so that wouldn't be a barrier to young players.

Brain Value:
The play of the game is pretty easy.  You have to play cards to collect queens.  There is a little bit of math involved, in that if you can make an addition problem out of your number cards, you get to draw more cards.  Also, since you win by either collecting a minimum number of queens or a minimum point value, being able to add the value of your and your opponent's queens is helpful.  All in all, not the most educational game in the world, but not bad either.  It is a great starter game!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Book Series for Boys

Since Xander has been reading since before he was 2 (you can see my post on how we did that here), he now reads insanely fast.  For a while I thought there was no way he was actually reading as fast as he was turning the pages, but he can answer questions about what he reads.  I've also watched his eyes, and yes, they really do go back and forth crazy fast!  

Anyway, that means he plows through books!  Because he's graduated to chapter books, we're always on the hunt for new series he likes and I thought I'd share some of his favorites.  Before writing this I, we sat down and organized some of his books and he told me about the ones he would recommend to other kids. This list was the result!  (I should note that he generally reads books between a 1st and 4th grade reading level).

# 1. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle

by Betty MacDonald

Grade Level: 2-5
Xander received three of these for his birthday and has read through them all more than once.  As one of the first chapter series he read, they were a nice transition into chapter books.  Each chapter is its own story, so reading them in order or straight through is not all that important.  It's about a weird lady in town that "cures" children of naughty behaviors.

# 2. Wayside Stories

by Louis Sachar

Grade Level: 3-7
Goodness, it made me feel old when Xander started reading these.  I remember reading these in elementary school (Xander started at 4...).  They were another great transition into chapter books since each chapter is a self-contained story.  They're all of these silly, impossible stories about a school that was accidentally build sideways.

#3. Dragon Masters

by Tracey West

Grade Level: 1-3
There are currently only 4 books in this series, but Xander used his own money to have me reserve the 5th.  He LOVES these books and has read each several times.  They're about these kids that train their own dragons and go on adventures.  Xander is pretty fond of the wizard that helps the kids.


#4. The Secrets of Droon

by Tony Abbott

Grade Level: 2-5
We picked up the first one of these at a consignment the other day, he sat down and read the whole thing in one sitting.  He then immediately asked for the second.  Since then I think he's read four or five of them from the library (he would have read more if he didn't want to read them in order).  They're fantasy books about kids who discover a portal to a magical world called Droon.


#5. The Magic School Bus Chapter Books

by Multiple Authors

Grade Level: 2-5
We both love and still read most of the regular Magic School Bus books we have, so trying out the chapter books seemed like a natural progression.  Xander enjoys learning about science, so he said he really likes these books.  He also likes that he learns facts that I don't know and can show off to me.  These books follow the class on various educational adventures with the help of Ms. Frizzle and the Magic School Bus.

#6. The Magic Tree House

by Mary Pope Osborne

Grade Level: 1-4
Holy cow!  There are a ton of these books, but Xander eats them up, so I guess that's a great thing!  These are about two kids who have a magic tree-house that transports them through time.  They go on many historical adventures.

#6. Flat Stanley Worldwide Adventures

by Jeff Brown

Grade Level: 2-5
Xander has several of these and has expressed the desire to mail himself like Stanley.  They're about a kid who gets flattened, so then goes around the world on various adventures.

#7. A to Z Mysteries

by Ron Roy

Grade Level: 1-4
This is a pretty large series of mystery books for kids.  Each one starts with a certain letter, but the stories don't seem to carry that letter.


#8. Adventures of the Bailey School Kids

by Marcia Thornton Jones and Debbie Dadey

Grade Level: 2-5
 In each of these books the kids suspect someone of being some sort of monster.  Xander's always had a thing for "bad guys" and monsters, so it works out well.

#9. Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew

by Carolyn Keene

Grade Level: 1-4
Ok, so these books are probably more aimed at girls, but Xander enjoys them anyway.  They're Nancy Drew books for kids.  Nancy and her friends investigate mysteries and look for monsters.

#10. DC Comics Backstories

by Multiple

Grade Level: 3-7
Just like they sound, these are the backstories of different super heroes.  Xander eats anything up that's about super heroes, so he's already asking for the next one.

#11. Secret Hero Society

by Derek Fridolfs

Grade Level: 3-7
Sadly, there's only one book in this series so far, but Xander is a fan and excited for the next one.  It's about Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman as kids going to a prep school.  They end up banding together and solving mysteries.

#12. Eerie Elementary

by Jeff Chabert

Grade Level: 1-3
Xander thinks it is cool because it is silly and a little spooky.  This series is aimed at readers new to chapter books.  It's about a school that is actually alive and the main character has to save the students from it.

#13.  Goosebumps

by R.L. Stine

Grade Level: 1-3
Xander has always enjoyed spooky things so we rented the Goosebumps movie last month.  He really liked it and wanted to read some of the books afterwards.  We found one at Goodwill and he read it a few times, so we also got some from the library.  I was worried they might be too scary for him, but he hasn't had a problem.  He seems to particularly like the creepy dummy... maybe because I find it so creepy.
Up Next?
I have a couple of series I'm thinking we'll check out next (Field Trip Mysteries, Beasts of Olympus), but I'd love to hear what your kids are reading!  Leave a comment here or on Facebook.

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