Mar 6, 2021

Favorite Family Media during a year of the pandemic


Image result for kipo and the age of wonderbeasts 

It's been about a year since our family started staying home full time to stay healthy and stop the spread of COVID-19 the best way we know how.  And in that year, we have consumed a LOT of media as a family -- TV shows, movies, podcasts, apps... I've talked a lot about apps elsewhere, but I don't think I've ever given TV show recommendations and I've only done a few podcast reviews, but those are TOTALLY media and as a librarian, media is my jam, so why not extend recommendations for those as well?  In that spirit, here are my family's favorites from the past year (or so) in the order in which we discovered them:

TV Shows (all animated)

Hilda -- based on a graphic novel series starring a blue haired girl tuned in to the supernatural creatures around her, this was a great adaptation for television. Some of the situations she encounters are genuinely creepy, so if you've got really young kids or kids who are prone to nightmares, pre-watch a few episodes in the middle to make sure your kid can handle them.

Avatar: the last Airbender -- the longest series we watched and probably my kids' favorite, this tells the epic tale of three kids (2 siblings and one friend) trying to save the realm. In this realm, there's a nation for each of the 4 elements -- air, water, earth, fire -- and when the story starts, the Fire Nation has conquered pretty much the entire realm, but then the last Airbender (a person who can wield Air Magic) returns.  This series has a lot of battle scenes and intense action (so again, consider pre-watching a few episodes to make sure your kids can handle it) but also a lot of humor and friendship and even some elements of light romance. This series also has some related graphic novels!

Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts --  This one is my personal favorite. Eternally optimistic, pink-haired Kipo explores her post-apocalyptic world, populated by sentient animals. I love how in this show even the most evil antagonists have fully developed storylines that make them into sympathetic characters by the end and while not all of them may change their behaviors at the end of the story, they are all given a chance to do so.  Plus, the illustrations are lush and imaginative and weird and delightful.


The Imagine Neighborhood -- I discovered this one after it won the Excellence in Early Learning Digital Media Award from ALA and my daughter and I both love it! While I normally wouldn't be excited to listen to a kids podcast about socio-emotional learning, these guys have spun together the PERFECT balance of silly characters, ridiculous storylines, music (not "kids" music--stuff you'd hear on the radio) and just enough talk about emotions that we keep wanting to come back and listen again.  We laugh out loud together AND STILL when asked to tell her grandparents what the show was about, she talked about the emotion content, not Princess Donnasaurus or Macho Supreme (two of my favorite characters). 

Discover the Forest -- My family had made big plans to travel to see some National Parks for Spring Break 2020 and although those plans were cancelled, we were able to enjoy "traveling" to some National Parks through this podcast.  I love that this podcast stars a Latino family, complete with Spanish phrases sprinkled throughout and their family dynamic is so joyful (ahhh... something to aspire to when we're all getting on each other's last nerve here at my house). This podcast is only available through a Pinna subscription.

Grimm, Grimmer, Grimmest -- Grimm Fairytales retold in podcast form by Adam Gidwitz, author of  A Tale Dark and Grimm and other Grimm retellings. Adam knows his way around 3rd graders and doesn't shy away from the gross, weird elements of the original Grimm fairytales. The podcast is even better than the books because he breaks off to have conversational asides with a class of 3rd graders and get their feedback about the story (which is sometimes the funniest part of the episode). I also appreciate that he ranks each story as "Grimm" "Grimmer" or "Grimmest" so that listeners can choose which stories are best for them to hear and he suggests that if a story starts feeling too intense that they skip ahead 30 seconds until the story is less intense.  These are GREAT self-regulatory suggestions for kids to try out! This podcast is most fully accessed through a Pinna subscription, but some episodes are also available for free on other podcast apps and websites -- search your favorite podcast source to see if you can access it there.

Feb 6, 2021

Top 5 Apps (and Podcasts!) video series

Throughout the pandemic, I've been creating a series of videos detailing my "Top 5" picks for kids' apps (and one for podcasts!).  I've been reviewing apps for SO long on the library's website that I thought it might be a little overwhelming to navigate even with the handy search tool that allows you to narrow your search.  Plus, there are some categories that are tricky to search for directly, so.... I created these little videos as shortcuts for families looking for my FAVORITE recommendations.  Here's a list of the videos I've created so far in this series:

Top 5 Free Apps for Big Kids

Top 5 Free Apps for Little Kids

Top 5 Apps for Off-Screen Play

Top 5 Spanish Apps for Kids

(also available IN (not-exactly perfect) Spanish here

Top 5 Video Apps for Kids (better than YouTube)

Top 5 Android Apps for Kids

Top Notch Podcasts for Kids and Families 


What other category of apps would you like to see a video about? 

Top 5 Apps for multiple players to play simultaneously?  

Top 5 subscription apps?  

Top 5 educational apps (as if your kid isn't getting enough screen instruction right now...)?

Top 5 paid apps for big / little kids? 

Top 5 Apps you've probably never heard of (but which you would love)? 

These are all themes I've got lists built for already, but what category can you think of that I'm missing? Which of the themes above are YOU most curious about?

Jun 23, 2020

More True Play during isolation: recognizing play

 We've been safer at home for about 3 months now, so I thought I'd share a few more examples of things that have happened when I let my kids take the lead.

A few days ago, my daughter was having a really tough day.  She was whiny and restless and demanding screen time which I wasn't allowing that day since we'd had a lot the previous few days. Suddenly, in the midst of the moaning and groaning, she picked up our little pocket edition copy of Birds of Wisconsin -- a bird identification book that we've marked over the years whenever we spot a new variety of bird. My daughter went into the living room where we had colored pencils and a drawing pad on the coffee table, opened this book to the page with the cardinal and began to draw.
 Within just a few minutes, she had created this drawing of a cardinal. I noticed the details in my head -- she got the color right (including orange for the beak and red for the body and the little strip of black between the beak and the body), she got the little peak on the top of the head (I'd watched her draw this, so I also know that she made the pencil marks go up into the peak, not across, making the texture even more like the feathers on the cardinal.  I just realized that I forgot to ask her about that detail to see if it was intentional.)
 Next, she drew this oriole. Again, the beak is white and the belly and underside of the tail are a bright contrast.

All of this drawing took probably less than 15 minutes and honestly, she went back to being whiny (but maybe slightly less so) afterwards, but it was such a bright spot in our day.  If I had tried to hand her the bird book and asked her to draw some of the birds, this would NEVER have happened. I am curious to see if it will go anywhere further. We filled the bird feeders to see if maybe some of these birds would come to visit us.

A few days later, she saw me using my sewing machine to sew face masks for our family.  She wanted to use the machine, so I said we'd try sewing together the next morning (our schedule didn't suit to do it right then). The next morning, she played first with the magnetic pin cushion.  She noticed that the strip of metal also stuck to the magnet and interestingly, the pins could also magnetically stick to the strip of metal (even if neither were touching the magnet!). She told me her theory for why that was. Then, she arranged the pins so they would stand up like a tent:
 I was tempted to brush past this pincushion play to get to the sewing parts, but I realized that this play with the pincushion had some great lessons about metals and magnetism, so I waited until she was done exploring those properties.

I started the sewing project with a vague idea that maybe she'd like to sew a face mask to, but instead she wanted to sew a dress for her doll. Although I gave a few pieces of instruction about how to use the sewing machine (and talked about how the fabric needed to be big enough to go all the way around her if she wanted to wear it like a shirt which I probably should have just let her figure out on her own), she pretty much made this shirt all by herself:
And then she had a great time, cutting small scraps of fabric and running them through the machine, figuring out how the backstitch button worked, learning when to stop and start and how to clip the threads afterwards.  The only instruction I gave during that time was that with my machine you have to hold the loose ends of your thread for your first few stitches or it will get all balled up on the backside of your fabric and make a giant tangled mess, so I helped her learn how to make sure the threads were long enough and how to hold them.  She also experimented (under my close supervision!) with the iron to learn how it works.

And yet, these are only the play elements that I've taken photos of.  They're the types of play that excite me, but there are SO many other ways that my kids play that I don't photograph.  Endless role-playing with dolls and stuffed animals and "and then YOU say..." types of instructions that flow easily from one kid to the other, sharing the lead in creating the stories. There's the play that happens in Minecraft, exploring and creating worlds, connected together despite being on two screens. There's even a type of play that centers around seeing what they can get away with before mom or dad notices.  I'm trying to remember to recognize all of the different kinds of play and find value in all of it. Even the kinds that make an enormous mess or sound like fighting.

What sorts of play are happening at your house?

May 9, 2020

True Play during quarantine?

What does True Play look like at home, during a quarantine?  This is a question I've been asking myself a LOT recently. At the beginning of this new era, I found myself wishing that my children would be the kinds of kids that would quietly entertain themselves all day long with paper and crayons and be neat and tidy and maybe even take a nap every once in awhile. (note: I'm pretty sure these fictional children do not exist and if your children are like this, I don't want to hear about it.). Instead, my kids are loud, messy, argue a LOT and seemed to want to spend all of their time looking at a screen of one kind or another. They could be convinced to try a puzzle for 3 minutes or cajoled into building a fort for about 5 minutes but none of the wonderful activities distractions I came up with seemed to have any sticking power. 

Then one morning, my son brought a cardboard box up from our increasingly large pile of boxes in the basement and asked if he could use it.  I happily granted permission and he gathered a few other supplies and disappeared for awhile, then emerged with this:
 It's a mask based on the Minecraft version of a Five Night's at Freddy's character named Springtrap.  I'm not crazy about the whole FNAF thing and Springtrap is a really creepy looking character, but my kid spent a really long time on this project and he was so proud of it and I was deeply impressed by the level of detail he'd included.  Those teeth! The little scrappy bits coming off of the ear!  The fact that he'd made the mouth able to open and close! Wow!

 A week or so later, my son again came to me and asked if he could use the hot glue gun.  I had a moment of hesitation (hot glue burns are so familiar to me) but then I remembered all of the kids in Anji who use hot glue guns all the time and I took a deep breath and said, "sure!  Let me dig out my old glue gun if I can find it...." Again, after an entire morning of both kids being deeply engaged in hot glue creations, this is what came out:
 An improved mask design (now with a more 3D nose!) plus a new mask for his sister based on the FNAF character of Foxy:
 The strap to keep Foxy's mask on was an interesting feat of engineering.  I REALLY wanted to suggest elastic or punching holes in the mask and tying knots, but I kept my mouth closed because I could see the wheels turning in my son's head as he came up with idea on his own (an old shoelace in his room!), tried his idea (hot gluing the shoelace onto the mask), realized his first attempt wouldn't work (it was too small and popped off as soon as she tried to put it on) and adjusted his design (hot gluing another piece of shoelace onto the original shoelace to lengthen it) in a way that I was SURE wouldn't work ... but guess what? It DID work and he was thrilled to have solved it by himself and I was thrilled to discover a new solution to a problem that I'd thought only had one solution. These thrilling moments can only happen when we as adults have "eyes open, ears open, hands down, mouth closed, heart open."
 And the little sister?  oh boy.  Nothing was safe from the hot glue gun.  Everything within reach was glued together by the end of the morning.  And only one hot glue burn on a fingertip and a lesson learned about how heat can transfer through metal when you're trying to put hot glue on something metal.  And they'd burned through my entire stash of hot glue sticks.

 Honestly, I was so excited about how engaged they'd been with the hot glue that I ordered a second hot glue gun (with a low-temp option) and two more packages of hot glue sticks. The day after new supplies arrived, my daughter created this sculpture below (I love how she's used the actual hot glue sticks AS structural pieces!).
 My son kept asking me for some yellow fabric so that he could cover his mask, but I didn't have any, so when I finally had built up enough courage, I brought out the set of tempera paints (not just the watercolor pans) that I'd bought. This is challenging for me.  As much as I love painting and seeing kids paint, I still have a sense of anxiety about kids "wasting" paint or making giant messes.  So I set it up in a way to try to alleviate some of my own anxiousness (kids can pick up on adult anxiety and it makes the play much less fun) by covering the picnic table with some packing paper and asking the kids to change into "messy clothes."  I gotta say that this palette pictured below still sort of stressed me out, but you know what?  There was still plenty of paint left at the end of this project and it's all washable, so maybe we just need to bring it out more often so I can get over it?  And, as one of my Anji Play friends pointed out, if they DO use up all of the paint or mix two whole jars together and it turns into a big muddy colored mess, those are all great life lessons to learn as well.
 By the end of the day, this is how the mask (and my happy son) looked:

So... is the answer to how to do True Play at home -- go get hot glue and tempera paint?  NO!  The answer is to listen to your kids -- what are they interested in?  What do they want to do?  What materials or conditions or space do they need in order to do the things they want to do? Are you able to provide those? If not, ask your child to brainstorm with you about what you could use that you already have to reach the same end goal. Our children are not empty vessels waiting to be filled with information that we dump into them.  Our children are sources of new ideas just waiting for the right conditions to blossom.  How can we help to create those conditions?  Sometimes with simple questions: "What would you like to do today? What do you need in order to do that?" And if your kids are like mine and their first response would something like be "Minecraft all day" you can either choose to embrace the creativity that Minecraft allows OR you can set a limit within your question like "What would you like to do today off-screen?" If your child has been getting a lot more screentime than usual (like mine have), the transition off the screens might be really difficult (mine threw a 45 minute rant yesterday), but maybe, just maybe, once you've given them a chance to work through that transition they'll be able to rediscover true play in whatever way works best for them.

How have you been playing lately?  Have you been able to step back, pay attention with curiosity, keep your suggestions to yourself and have an open heart?  I'd love to hear about the adventures in play that are happening at your house!
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