Archive for February, 2012

Catching up with Gamewright and Absolutely Mindy!

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

At Toy Fair in February, Parents’ Choice president Claire Green was joined by our favorite radio host, Mindy of Absolutely Mindy on SiriusXM’s Kids’ Place Live!

Rory's Story CubesMindy and her producer recorded super fun interviews with some of our favorite toy makers, designers, and inventors. We’ll be featuring our favorite clips from her show. First up, Mindy checks in with Jason at Gamewright. He tells her about an extension set for one of our favorites from 2010, Rory’s Story Cubes. Best of all, he spins a hilarious, zombie-filled story inspired by the new Story Cubes set!

Want more updates from Sirius XM’s KiDS Place Live? Join the fun on their Facebook page!

Time Shift Your TV – The Blues

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Does President Obama have moves like Mick Jagger?

We will all find out on Monday, Feb. 27 at 9 p.m. (check local listings) when PBS airs In Performance at the White House: Red, White and Blues. The show, celebrating the history and meaning of the blues as part of Black History Month, taped last week at the White House as part of the music series hosted by President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.

The event honors and explores the roots of the blues music that sprang from the Mississippi Delta and flourished in the Westside of Chicago. The show is sure to rock. To prepare for the performances, the East Room of the White House was transformed into an intimate blues club. Actress Taraji P. Henson hosts of the evening, and artists on hand include B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Keb Mo, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, Cary Clark Jr., Shemekia Copeland, Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks, Jeff Beck and, finally, Jagger.

Photo of B.B. King by Flickr user rehes

“This music speaks to something universal,” Obama said, according to an AP report of the night. “The blues reminds us that we’ve been through tougher times before.”

He added that the “music teaches us that when we find ourselves at a crossroads, we don’t shy away from our problems, we own them, we face up to them, we deal with them, we sing about them,” he said. “We turn them into art.”

King, 86, arrived in a wheelchair, kicked off the night with a rollicking rendition of Let the Good Times Roll. And the tunes got the president and first lady up and dancing. Mr. Obama even took the mic to croon a few bars.

Here’s the complete set list:

1. Let the Good Times Roll (Ensemble)
2. The Thrill Is Gone (B.B King)
3. St. James Infirmary (Trombone Shorty)
4. Let Me Love You Baby (Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck)
5. Brush With The Blues instrumental (Jeff Beck)
6. I Can’t Turn You Loose (Mick Jagger)
7. Commit A Crime (Mick Jagger, Jeff Beck)
8. Miss You (Mick Jagger, Shemekia Copeland, and Susan Tedeschi,)
9. Beat Up Guitar (Shemekia Copeland, Gary Clark Jr.)
10. Catfish Blues (Gary Clark Jr.)
11. In The Evening (When The Sun Goes Down) (Gary Clark Jr.)
12. Henry ( Keb’ Mo’)
13. I’d Rather Go Blind (Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes)
14. Five Long Years (Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck, Gary Clark, Mick Jagger)
15. Sweet Home Chicago (Ensemble)

We can’t wait to watch, rock and roll. How ’bout you?

Book Learning

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

A few years ago, I worked as a volunteer for an organization that promoted reading. Once a week, I would take my assigned struggling readers to the library, work on homework and encourage them to pick out books. The first time I read a book aloud to them, they just giggled. They kept giving each other looks and I thought perhaps I had food on my face.  When I asked what was wrong, I was shocked to learn the truth: No one had ever read a book out loud to them. No bedtime books, no adventure tales or laugh-out-loud silly stories. It wasn’t that they didn’t enjoy me reading to them—in fact they learned to love it—they just never experienced it before and thought it odd. It’s sad to imagine that there are kids who don’t get to regularly enjoy books, especially when studies show that reading out loud to children is a crucial step in their learning process. And as far as parenting tasks go, it’s easy and fun! You don’t have to have a voice like Orson Welles or the dramatic skill of Meryl Streep to keep them entertained. The personal time, the connection itself is invaluable. Still, if you want to make the time really count, check out this article that has great tips for making reading time even more rewarding educationally.

Making Science More Convenient

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

Science-related toys should accommodate the modern family lifestyle.   My family has five or six science kits – bought for a rainy Saturday or as a nifty birthday gift – that sit on the shelf unopened.  Manufacturers are missing an opportunity by not trying to create products that are easy for families to use in small spaces and for short, one-off activities.

Many families just do not have the space or large chunks of unscheduled time to get great value out of many of science related kits I saw at this year’s Toy Fair.  Many of them are huge – with vials of chemicals or lots of parts.

The toys I could see my family using and enjoying are kits that are more convenient in terms of size and breadth.  These “bite-size” kits might only contain materials to do a single experiment or undertake a single activity.   And – important for most families who see toys (even educational toys) as an “extra” — these keep science-related activities affordable.

But I did observe a wonderful trend:  travel-related science.   It makes sense!  Families have more unstructured time while on vacation.  Being away from regular routines is an opportunity for moments of curiosity and wonder.

My family would love to pack Educational Insights Geo Safari’s Plankton Net, which can turn a visit to the beach into biological exploration for elementary-aged students (advertised for grade 3+).  Thames and Kosmos’ “Experiments on the Go” will be released this coming summer, and they include neat projects like assembling a simple set of binoculars and a mini cable car that will run on an airplane tray table.  The manufacturer seems to have figured out that for many families, the best one-on-one  discovery time occurs when kids are not at home.

Science can be fun.   I am glad that manufacturers are focusing on making it more convenient as well.

Science Toys and Family Engagement

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

An article in Sunday’s Kids Post section of the Washington Post titled “Play with your parents” asked, “When was the last time you did something really fun with one of your parents?” This question expressed an observation I made at Toy Fair about the difference between games and science kits.

On the box of almost all games appears guidance for the appropriate age range (e.g. 8+ or 6-99) and the number of possible players (e.g. 2-4 players). Games actively market together time, as epitomized by the retro ad campaign aimed at promoting “Family Game Night”.

A boy plays alone with a science kit that looks perfect for sharing.

In contrast, science kits seem to provide guidance only on age appropriateness. Images and photography on many kits and science-related toys show a single child engaged in a solitary activity. Why is this? We know that in the real world exploration and invention are not usually a solo pursuit. We know that it is rare for an individual to make discoveries alone; he or she at least relies upon a community of support.

The boxes containing today’s science kits certainly do not support what many parent-purchasers are seeking—an activity with which they can have fun with their children while engaging in an educational activity.

Marketers and manufacturers are potentially removing science kits from being considered as an activity for the ever shrinking “family time.” Perhaps the kits need to be structured to specify more group or game-like activities. Perhaps they need to include more images of groups doing experiments together. I know that in my family, there is invariably a call for help from an adult in deciphering instructions, and—if the kit is good—a call for a sibling to “Check it out!”.

Positioning science kits and toys for the solo user is shortsighted and silly—both from a marketing perspective and from the larger goal of sparking interest in science as fun, not work.