Favorite new game: Prune. It’s on sale in the app store this week. Gorgeous graphics. You lop off branches to train your trees around obstacles and into rays of light, where they burst into bloom.
The soothing music and mellow gameplay were a peaceful way to pass the time during the boy’s MRI yesterday, after I’d gotten annoyed with my attempt to sketch the waiting room. (Scott can read during that kind of wait. Me…not so much. My attention goes sparking off in all directions.)
(The MRI is an annual event for our boy. Nothing to be alarmed about.) 🙂
Some quick notes on things we’re using a lot lately:
• Spellosaur app (Rilla and Huck). With the paid version, you can enter lists of spelling words for each kid. They both ask to play it daily, which is fine by me. 🙂 Huck’s favorite part is recording his own audio for the words, which he then laughs at on playback during the activities. I wouldn’t normally be working on spelling with a five-year-old but he enjoys the app so much, it isn’t work. For Rilla, I’ve been entering word lists from an old copy of Spelling Power. She also created a second user account to use for French words. Here, too, she loves recording the audio herself.
• I couldn’t find our Chronology game (I know it’s around here somewhere), but Rose and Beanie have been absorbing a lot of history this year, in a jumble of time periods. Science history in the Renaissance, American history between the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, medieval English literature (now heading into Renaissance there too), all sorts of non-coordinated reading going on. We took our old timeline down last year—it was up too high and we weren’t really adding to it anymore—and I wanted some way to make chronological sense of all these events they’re soaking up. So I had a brainstorm and made our own custom Chronology set, sort of. We got index cards and wrote various key events and people on them, with a little stripe of colored highlighter on one side to indicate science, literature, arts, or political history.* They put the dates on the back of each card. We play the game just like Chronology: I put down one starter card and then they take turns picking another card, taking a stab at the date, and putting it down in a row in chronological order. If we can keep it up, we’ll build a nice collection of the main points of our history/science/literary studies this year. They get pretty giggly and competitive in the game, so it’s been way fun so far.
*A fifth color denotes fictional works related to a period we’re studying. There are certain novels and films that will always represent a particular time and place—Betsy in Spite of Herself, for example, popped immediately into the girls’ minds when we read about German immigrants building a home away from home in Milwaukee.
• The other thing we do quite a lot in our history studies is link whatever we’re reading about to our own family history, as far as we’re able. This applies mostly the 18th century and on, of course (although we do have a couple branches on the family tree traced back to the 16oos). I like to pull up our tree on Ancestry.com and take a look at who among our ancestors was living in a particular area at a given point in time. The big waves of Irish and German immigration in the first half of the 19th century, for example, became much more vivid to the girls when they got a look at the names and disembarkation dates of their forebears who were among those masses.
I grew up in a house that wasn’t comfortable with RPG’s, but I think our boys would love it. Any other suggestions for the 8-12 crowd?
Yes! Do you know the Munchkin game? It’s a card game based on RPG mechanics—a great choice for when you want the fun and flavor of a role-playing game but don’t have time to embark on an elaborate campaign. This just may be my favorite non-electronic game because it doesn’t require elaborate setup and inevitably becomes a total laughter-fest. Like this moment last year:
Playing a lot of Munchkin and laughing our fool heads off. I will long savor that sweet, sweet moment when I demolished my dear daughters by whipping out a Doppelganger card I’d been secretly holding—and thereby destroying the Level 20 Dragon (+5 Intelligence) they teamed up to sic on me. Because nothing says “gentle motherhood” like wielding a Chainsaw of Bloody Dismemberment against the team effort of one’s children.
Okay, so…bloody dismemberment, yeah. The art on the cards is cartoonish, no gore. But the way you best your opponents is by playing weapon cards or casting spells against the monsters they send your way (or that you bump into on your imaginary dungeon crawl). So I know this one won’t be every parent’s cup of tea. But we really love it. Along the way you get cards that transform you into an elf, dwarf, halfling, etc; and there are “class” cards that give you special abilities: wizard, thief, cleric. Standard D&D categories. (Or you can go for the Space Munchkin deck that pits you against aliens, or the Pirate version, or a bunch of other variations. You can even mix and match decks.)
Turns consist of drawing cards, “kicking down the door” to encounter treasure or monsters, and generally trying to throw as many perils at your opponents as possible. 🙂
One big caveat for parents: a few of the cards are a bit on the bawdy side. I previewed the deck in advance and quietly disappeared five or six that I deemed inappropriate for my young girls. The game works fine without them.
I’ve also heard great things about rpgKids—a simplified-for-young-children version of a dungeons-and-monsters-based role-playing games. It’s been on my radar to take a closer look at, but I haven’t ordered it yet. Which is silly, because the rule system is only $3 to download. If any of you decide to give that one a try, I’d love to hear what you think.
We spent most of yesterday morning laughing our fool heads off over my pathetic drawings in round after round of Draw Something. It’s like Pictionary on your phone or iPad. Years ago, gosh, maybe as long as TEN years ago, I used to play a lot of iSketch with a group of friends—that too was like Pictionary, but you drew with your mouse. Very tricky. Drawing with my finger in Draw Something is only marginally easier. But oh such fun.
One of the friends I’m playing with happens to be a professional comic book artist. His pictures are, as you can imagine, quite wonderful: comical works of art. I draw stick figures; he produces fully colored masterpieces. One of the game’s best features is that you watch your opponent’s (partner’s? it’s not a competitive game) drawing in real time. I’m sure this becomes tedious for my partners, as they watch me begin and delete attempt after attempt to produce a recognizable “butcher” or “runway” or “Angelina Jolie.” For my kids and me, watching the replay on our end, this game provides a spectacular peek into the mind of an artist.
Speaking of: here’s a clip Scott shared on Facebook today. Delightful and rather dazzling: Chuck Jones demonstrates how to draw Bugs Bunny. “If you’re going to draw Bugs, the best way is to learn how to draw a carrot, and then you can just hook a rabbit onto it. Simplicity itself.” Oh, so THAT’S how you do it.
My sewing machine. It was in the shop for weeks, and now it’s back. I am happy. We had it whirring all afternoon: I am months behind in our online quilting bee.
Apples to Apples. The Shakespeare Club kids always pull this out after we’re done Barding for the day. It’s a hoot. Scott’s not big on board games but the girls and I talked him into a round of Apples on Thanksgiving Day, and he had a great time. (It’s a word game, really, not a board game.)
Music Ace Deluxe. This music theory computer game was sent to me for review, and I have to say my middle kids (especially Rose, the eleven-year-old) have really enjoyed it. It hones sight-reading skills and packages some solid music theory instruction in fun, cartoony games. Rose and Bean are tremendously fond of the grinning musical notes that frequent many of the activities. But the $80 price tag is rather daunting, and even the $58 Amazon price is hefty.
Our family watched Harvey last week and it was every bit as delightful as I remembered.
Scott read it and passed it to Jane. I’m up next, I suppose. I don’t know anything about it except that it’s a mystery, which is always promising. UPDATED LATER: Loved, loved, loved this book—the precocious young narrator, unabashedly impish, far too smart for her own good, obsessed with poisons, left alone with a chemistry lab, meddling, spying, getting herself into terrible danger as she unravels a local mystery. Highly recommended.
What a ride this tome was! A couple of my comic book writer friends recommended it to me—both are big Stephenson fans, and both thought I’d enjoy this novel in particular because of its focus on the education of young girls. (Its subtitle is A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer.) It’s a postcyberpunk novel, set about a hundred years in the future, in a time when nanotechnology is commonplace and national boundaries have given way to cultural allegiances and global economic protocols. Most people belong to a tribe or “phyle,” adhering to a certain set of cultural mores and traditions. Among the most powerful and populated phyles is the Neo-Victorian culture, which thrives in wealthy, protected communities all over the world; the Vickys have chosen to adopt certain attributes of the original English Victorians, including dress, manners, and a moral code. Other influential phyles include the Han Chinese, the Nippon, and the Hindustan.
So, yeah, Neo-Victorians, nanotech, and education: this novel had me at hello. Top-notch world-building; there’s a little dose of cyberpunk in the opening, with a ruffian named Bud getting himself fitted up with a skull gun that fires explosive bullets upon his mental command; and then we’re whisked off to New Atlantis/Shanghai, the home base of a thriving Neo-Victorian community, where the upper crust are Equity Lords (aristocrats by dint of their corporate ties) and the birthday entertainments involve creating fairylands that rise out of the sea for a day, thanks to the limitless possibilities of molecular manipulation. There is something delightful about this melding of Dickensian characters and futuristic tech.
One of the upper-crustiest of the Equity Lords is an elderly gent who, for all he esteems his phyle and works to protect and promote it, rues the loss of opportunity for young Neo-Victorians to experience character-building adversity. His adult children missed out on something important, he believes—after all, he himself grew up on an Idaho farm, was homeschooled until age fourteen, pulled himself up by his bootstraps and all that. He determines to offer his granddaughter an alternative to the soft Vicky upbringing, in which status and comforts are often taken for granted by those born and raised in the phyle. To this end, he hires a gifted techno-engineer, one John Hackworth, to create a sophisticated, interactive book-slash-computer, the Primer, which will provide his granddaughter with personalized instruction in academic subjects, ethics and morals, handcrafts, self-defense, computer programming—pretty much everything under the sun.
Hackworth rises to the challenge…Hackworth, who, as it happens, has a young daughter of his own. He attempts to procure a bootleg copy for four-year-old Fiona, and therein lies the tale. The illicit copy of the Primer goes astray and winds up in the hands of a young thete child—thetes belong to no phyle at all—named Nell. As in “little Nell”—a Dickensian waif full of pluck, growing up in dreadful circumstances in a cold, cruel world. If ever a child needed a Magic Book, it’s Nell. Well, and Pip, and David Copperfield, and Oliver Twist…but no, really, Nell’s in worse straits than all those lads (her mother, Tequila, has worse taste in men than David Copperfield’s mum), and we’re thrilled to see the Primer offer her some tools for digging her way out of the squalor.
Hmm, it seems The Diamond Age is taking over this post. This is appropriate, considering it took over the entire month of November. Actually, that’s not accurate: I began this book in October and was glued to the first 300 pages. In the last quarter I thought it bogged a bit and I wound up setting it aside for a while. I finished it over Thanksgiving weekend, and though I have quibbles, I am thoroughly glad I read it. As bildungsromans go, this was a doozy.
I’ll try to revisit it in a proper review later on. Right now there’s a sweaty infant head cutting off the circulation in my left arm and the laptop battery is burning my leg. Time to tuck this computer in for the night.
Originally published in November, 2005 as “The Purple Cow Hula-Hooped Boisterously.”
This is a game we played in the car yesterday, all the way to town and back. I assigned each of the girls a part of speech: noun, verb, adjective, adverb (one girl had to take two parts in each round). From there it went something like this:
Me: Miss Noun, what is it?
Beanie: A giraffe!
Me: Miss Adjective, what kind of giraffe?
Jane: A hungry giraffe.
Me: Miss Verb, what did the hungry giraffe do?
Rose: It bounced!
Me: Miss Adverb, how did the hungry giraffe bounce?
All together: THE HUNGRY GIRAFFE BOUNCED ENTHUSIASTICALLY!
Particularly Cool Stuff My Kids and I Have Learned a Ton From or Just Plain Had a Good Time With:
Settlers of Catan, the board game. Jane got this for Christmas last year. We’ve been obsessed ever since. Except when our friends hijack it and keep it for weeks because it is that great a game.
Signing Time DVDs. Catchy songs, immensely useful vocabulary in American Sign Language. I trumpet these wherever I go. We talk about Rachel like she’s one of the family.
Prismacolor colored pencils. Indispensable. I was amused to see that Jane mentioned them in the first line of her “I Am From” poem. She’s right; they have helped color the picture of her life.
Uncle Josh’s Outline Map CD-Rom. Because maps are cool, and maps you can color (with Prismacolor pencils, hey!) are even cooler. The kids are constantly asking me to print out a map of somewhere or other. You can find other outline maps available online (for free), but I like Josh’s for clarity. And once when I had a problem opening a particular map (it’s a PDF file), I called the help number and it was Uncle Josh himself, a most amiable gentleman, who quickly solved my problem.
The Global Puzzle. Big! Very big! Will take over your dinner table! (So clear off that laundry.)
Set. It may annoy you that your eight-year-old will be quicker at spotting the patterns in this card game than you will. There’s a free daily online version as well.
Quiddler. Like Scrabble, only with cards. This, too, can be played online.
Wild Goose Science Kits. Fun experiments with a low mess factor. Note to self: remember the Wild Goose Crime Kit come Christmastime. (Sadly, these are no longer available. Wild Science offers similar kits.)
If the scope sparks an interest in dissection, there’s a way to do it online with no actual innards involved: Froguts! The site has a couple of free demos to occupy you while you save up for the full version. (Which I haven’t seen yet, but it does look cool.) HT: Karen Edmisten.
Klutz Books. Over the years, we’ve explored: knitting, embroidery, origami, magic, Sculpey, paper collage, paper dolls, beadlings, and foam shapes. Look under any piece of furniture in my house and you will find remnants of all of the above.
Which reminds me: Sculpey polymer clay. Is it possible to get through a day without some? My children think not.
Refrigerator poetry magnets. I gave Scott the Shakespearean set a couple of Christmases ago. Note to self: You are not as brilliant as you think! You were an English major, for Pete’s sake, with a minor in drama. Thou knowest full well old William was a bawdy fellow. If you don’t want your little ones writing poems about codpieces, stick to the basic version. But oh how I enjoy the messages Scott leaves for me to find and then pretends he doesn’t know who wrote them:
I am so in love with my delicate wench.
And of course of course of course, Jim Weiss story CDs. I rave about these every chance I get because they have added such riches to my children’s imaginations. For years, they have listened to Jim’s stories after lights-out. Greek myths, Sherlock Holmes, Shakespeare, folk and fairy tales, the Arabian Nights, the Jungle Book: of such stuff are dreams woven.
DadHacker » Blog Archive » Donkey Kong and Me – Fascinating account by a game programmer at Atari in the 80s. He writes of blowing off a semester of college to code his own game, which eventually leads to his job at Atari. I was especially interested in the part about programmers putting helpful explanatory comments into the code.