Archive for February, 2014

Announcing the Spring 2014 Mobile App Awards!

Friday, February 28th, 2014

Has all the memory on your favorite device been eaten up by gobs of games that turn out to be one-hit wonders? Wish you could find a list of apps that help your children learn in a playful and age appropriate manner? The Spring 2014 list of Parents’ Choice Awards for Mobile Apps is here to help.

 

From music and math lessons, and puzzles to laugh out loud stories, there’s an app for that. Sesame Street teaches preschoolers, and reminds their parents to Breathe, Think, Do – an app designed to help calm down, think through problems and calmly resolve them. (Yes, we do think Congress needs this!)

 

 ArtRage for iPad offers sophisticated mess-free artist’s tools, Petting Zoo puts a charming, delightfully simple, animated zoo at your fingertips, and Disney Animated delivers an enormous (literally) digital library of the history and techniques of Disney animators, their tools, and the films they made.

 

 

Storytelling is here to help – Little Monster At School – Wanderful children’s interactive storybook in English and Spanish, offers wit and wisdom in two languages. And Rom and the Whale of Dreams is magical in three – Chinese, English and Spanish.

 

 

To whet your appetite, we invite you to tour the Spring 2014 Parents’ Choice Awards for Mobile Apps. 

Playful learning is only a few clicks/swipes/taps away.

Time Shift Your TV: White House Student Film Festival

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Get your popcorn ready!  The President is hosting a film festival.

It’s the first White House Student Film Festival, and on Friday, Feb. 28, more than 100 students, teachers and parents have been invited to the East Room to view more than a dozen young filmmakers’ works and to preview the first episode of a new Fox and National Geographic series, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.

The 13-episode series is a sequel to Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, a 1980 series that featured scientist Carol Sagan’s exploration of the universe. Now, Seth MacFarlane (who is known for his Fox series, Family Guy, and the movie Ted), has teamed with Sagan’s original creative collaborators – Sagan’s widow, Ann Druyan, and astronomer Steven Soter – to create the new series.

As with the legendary original series, the new Cosmos also explores the universe, delving into how we discovered the laws of nature and how we found our coordinates in space and time.

The festival, which kicks off  at 3:30 p.m. ET on Friday, also serves to  highlight the use of technology in the classroom. President Obama will make remarks detailing progress toward his goal of connecting 99% of students to broadband and wireless technology within five years. Druyan, who is the writer, executive producer and director of the Cosmos series, will introduce the first episode.

The film festival also includes the results of a video competition that was launched in November for K-12 students.  The task: Create short films on how technology is used in the classroom or the role technology will play in education in the future. More than 2,000 videos were submitted. The finalists have been invited to the festival, during which their films will screen. Astrophysicist and Cosmos host Neil deGrasse Tyson will introduce one of the student short films.

To join the Friday fun and watch the live-stream of the White House Student Film Festival, click here or please visit: www.whitehouse.gov/filmfestival.

And you can watch Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey when it debuts on many channels and platforms, including Fox, National Geographic Channel, FX, FXX, FXM, FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports 2, Nat Geo Wild, Nat Geo Mundo and Fox Life on Sunday, March 9 at 9 p.m. After the premiere, the series will continue its 13-episode run, airing Sundays on Fox and on Mondays on the National Geographic Channel.

Time Shift Your TV – Two New NBC Comedies

Monday, February 24th, 2014

About a Boy (Photo by: Jordin Althaus/NBC)

 

NBC is unveiling two new parent-focused comedies, About a Boy and Growing Up Fisher.  They got sneak peeks over the weekend before they settle into their regular timeslots on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.

Are they worth watching?

They’re not exactly Modern Family. But they have real moments of charm and, at times, offer solid messages about parenting and childhood.

First, let’s tackle About A Boy.

The story, adapted from the Nick Hornby book that was already adapted into a 2002 movie, focuses on Will Freeman, (played by actor David Walton), a carefree single guy in San Francisco who befriends new kid Marcus, 11, (Benjamin Stockham) when he moves in next door. Marcus’ single mom, Fiona (Minnie Driver) is a wacky, vegan, gluten-free, yoga-loving mom who is very close to her son.

Leave it to Will to almost instantly introduce young Marcus to spare ribs and adult pool parties in the first two episodes, much to his mother’s unhappiness. But leave it to Marcus to help man-boy Will learn to grow up a little. They bond over BBQ, bullies and babes, and they learn a lot about life in the process.

The show is sweet and amusing and offers the right messages about lying, respect and friendship.

Note: Parents should know that in the first episode, the word “orgasm” is tossed off lightly. Also, it may seem cliché bordering on insulting to make the vegan mom the wacko, but by the second episode, she’s schooling Will in the ways of life, too. She plays nicely off of Will, who helps her to see other points of view, too. The characters prove they’re nicely not one-dimensional, even if the writing veers off the rails just a bit at times.

Next, Growing Up Fisher.

This show looked awful in the promos. The ad featuring longtime actor J.K. Simmons as a blind dad cutting down a tree with a chainsaw, seemed particularly bad. Was that supposed to be funny?

What wasn’t coming through was the charm of his son, Henry, (played by Eli Baker, 12), who is also the narrator.  Henry has grown up feeling useful to his lawyer father named Mel Fisher, but as his parents split he worries he’s being  replaced by a guide dog. “My job has been outsourced to a dog,” he says glumly.

Henry’s view of life gives the series, which creator D.J. Nash based on his own life, its heart.  Henry and Mel laugh and bond in scenes that seem preposterous but somehow manage to work out ok.

One downside: Jenna Elfman’s mom character is trying to find herself and that’s partly why they are splitting. She wants to get out of the “shade” being cast by Mel in their marriage. She asks Henry about buying a water bra, she smokes e-cigarettes before moving on to a pipe, and she buys the same jeans as her exasperated teen daughter Katie (played by Ava Deluca-Verley).  Looking in a mirror as they’re shopping, Elfman proudly says, “That is not the tush of a mom. Pow!”

We might add to that: “Ugh!”

The best parts of both shows revolve round the young boys. They have feelings and they are struggling as much with their parents and they are with their peers. They want to be loved and accepted as they stumble along the path to teenager land.

The biggest problem with both shows happens to be with the female characters. They are mostly nutty, troubled, whiny or angry.  Hopefully, they’ll wind up being more well-rounded, smarter and savvier as the weeks go on, because otherwise, the comedies have potential.

Olympic Mettle

Friday, February 21st, 2014

Medalists in the Ladies’ Ski Halfpipe event celebrate the late, beloved champion of the sport, Sarah Burke. (Photo by Chris Detrick/The Salt Lake Tribune)

Viewers can find plenty of stories within medal counts and gold-winning performances, but this Olympics has produced several golden stories that didn’t make the television coverage. It’s great to celebrate Olympic wins and events with your kids, but don’t forget to point out that Olympics are as much about character as performance.

 

Drive, ambition, determination—these are all great qualities, but throw in character and heart and you have a true champion. Among some of the more inspiring stories from the Winter Olympics:

Canadian coach Justin Wadsworth fastens a ski to the foot of Russian athlete Anton Gafarov (Photo: RIA Novosti / Konstantin Chalabov)

*Russian cross country skier Anton Gafarov was determined to finish his race despite a broken ski. He wouldn’t have made it on his own, but Justin Wadsworth, a Canadian Team Coach, helped him out, bringing him an extra ski. It just goes to show that good sportsmanship knows no national boundaries.

 

Sarah Burke Heart Tribute Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

*Canadian Skier Sarah Burke was instrumental in petitioning the Olympic Committee to add halfpipe skiing to the Winter Olympics. A champion for the sport, she died in a training accident in 2012. Before the Olympic halfpipe event, athletes and coaches performed a touching tribute to Burke, with her mother, Jan Phelan, watching in the audience. Remembering the people who help to get you to your dream is as sweet as fulfilling that dream.

 

(Photo: YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images)

*Japan’s Mao Asada was a medal favorite going into the Winter Olympics, but her disastrous short program placed her too far back in a pack of very talented skaters for even a shot at a medal. That kind of fear and embarrassment can debilitate the best, but Asada delivered an amazing free skate performance, garnering one of the highest scores in the Olympics, despite being out of medal contention. Performing your best isn’t always about proving it to the world as much as it is about proving it to yourself.

(Photo: Getty Images)

*Swiss cross-country skier Dario Cologna won a gold medal in Men’s Cross Country Skiing in a close finish. Cross country skiing is an exhausting sport that requires a great deal of recuperation. Still, Cologna waited for nearly a half hour for the last two athletes to cross the finish line so he could shake their hands. It’s nice to see Little League traditions can carry over to the Olympics.

AP Photo: Mark Humphrey.

*The Sochi Winter Olympics are the first for 21-year-old Heidi Kloser, a world class skier. Her Olympic dreams were cut short during practice on the mogul course in Sochi; she fractured her femur, tore her ACL and MCL, and was out of competition. Heartbroken to get so close and not be able to compete, she asked her parents as they rode in the ambulance with her if she was still an Olympian. Her thought was that if she wasn’t competing, she was no longer qualified to use the title; her parents however, immediately assured her that she was and is an Olympian. In a mere matter of hours, she was excitedly tweeting pictures of her ice-encased leg as she headed to the Opening Ceremonies. By making the team, she is an Olympian—plain and simple, but her positive and persistent attitude shows she also has the heart of a true Olympic champion.

 

What have been your favorite non-medal moments?

Home Movies

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

 


Our home movies, grainy, color faded reels of kids scrambling over each other for camera time, are definitely a thing of the past. With so many apps and new kinds of technology, taping recitals, birthdays and holidays is hardly novel. In fact, if we record nearly every facet of our kids’ lives, how do we make it special? How can it be entertaining to anyone other than grandparents?

One dad has a fabulous (if not exactly practical) answer. Matthew Clarke started a web series called Convos With My 2 Year Old.  Sounds kind of cute, right? The caveat is that his real daughter Coco is portrayed by actor David Milchard, grown man. The result is hilarious and brings into clear focus just how entertaining kids can be—especially if you can look at them from a different angle! In the segments, we first see the real Coco and then Milchard, often adorned with Coco’s accessories. From trying to teach a youngster how to make a bed, or conquer her fears of going down a big slide, it is a slice of life like no other. Have you watched Convos? Have you created any fun movies with your family?

 

My personal favorite: Episode 1 Season 2: Dinner Time

 

To see more about Matthew and the behind-the-scenes story of his family, see this article as well.