Need to Know: Hunger Crunch Game

Hunger Crunch
Busy parents Need to Know. Every week we highlight one album, book, app, movie or show that’s about to blow up.

There are two things you need to know about Hunger Crunch. First, it’s an awesome, superfun iPhone game. Second, it’s part of a trend of mobile games that funnel proceeds from in-app purchases to a good cause.

First, the game. It’s a side-scroller set in a colorful, beautifully designed world. You play as a Beast, stomping and smashing minions and collecting candy coins and collectables as you go. There’s running, jumping and boss fights galore. It’s fun for both grownups and kids.

While it’s a winner on the merits of gameplay alone, it’s also designed to serve a cause – fighting hunger. All purchases made in the app (for example, to unlock new abilities) go to Rice Bowls, a nonprofit working to feed orphaned children where the need is greatest.

When you play, you can help provide much-needed food to these awesome kids.

I’ve helped design mobile games. I know that only about 1.5% of people who download a mobile game actually spend money in it. About 50% of total game revenue comes from just the top 10% of players. It all adds up, however – Gartner estimates that $22 billion will be spent this year on in-app purchases. The vast majority of that money is spent (thrown away?) in mobile games.

We’re going to see more games (like Hunger Crunch) that designed to generate revenue for a good cause. To work, these games need to be well designed and genuinely fun to play. Hunger Crunch succeeds on both counts.

The game itself is free. In-game purchases range from $.99 to $14.99. Get Hunger Crunch for iPhone here.

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Endless Learning with Endless Alphabet

Endless Alphabet is a fun, clever and well-designed literacy app suitable for kids ages 0-5. Kids learn alphabet letters, phonics and vocabulary alongside colorful critters. It’s highly interactive. Kids touch letters to hear the phonics sound, drag letters to form words and watch mini skits by characters who act out each vocabulary word.

I first introduced my daughter to the iPad when she was four after discovering the educational value that many iPad apps had to offer. One of the first apps we discovered was Endless Alphabet. It provided endless entertainment for her and soon she was using vocabulary words in the correct context, such as “cooperate” and “famished.”

I highly recommend this literacy app by Originator Kids for learning the alphabet, phonics sounds and vocabulary!

Apps for Kid Explorers

In the hands of a child, a smartphone with a few choice apps is a powerful tool for exploration, understanding and discovery.

Our 6-year old uses the following five apps dedicated to real-world exploration. Older kids should like them too. I have them installed on my iPhone; they’re also installed on an old iPhone we let our kid use around the house.

Beyond helping kids explore the world, apps like these can teach kids how to use technology appropriately for learning.

Star Walk Kids – The easiest way for anyone (child or adult) to learn the stars, planets and constellations. It’s fun to stand in the backyard in the early evening, exploring the night sky as a family.

The app matches the map on the iPhone’s screen with the actual stars in the sky in your location. It features an easy-to-understand interface and friendly narration. This app is a total winner.

Leaf Snap – Last summer we used a couple of field guides to identify trees in our region by  their leaves. We supplemented our field guides with this promising app that literally makes identifying leaves a snap. All you do is take a photo of the leaf and the app shows you what kind of tree it came from, along with information about the species. It’s not always accurate, but it generally works and it’s fun to use.

CuriousRuler – A fun app that uses the iPhone camera to teach kids how to measure objects around them while learning about sizes, units of measure, and proportions.

Merlin Bird ID  – One of the simplest yet most effective bird identification apps. It asks a few simple questions that include graphical guidance.  It then reveals a list of birds that best match the description.  Once you or your kid has found your bird, learn more with additional photos, sounds, and ID tips. It’s a little advanced for very young users, but older kids will quickly get the hang of it.

Kidcam – Taking photos is a key part of exploration. And all kids love snapping photos. In fact, they often get carried away with it, taking hundreds of photos that fill up their library (or your library) KidCam solves this by optionally putting a one to five second delay on the camera shutter, sorting your kids photos in their own library, and even setting a limit the number of photos and videos your kids can take. (When the limit is reached, the oldest photo or video gets deleted.) It also has kid-friendly controls and silly monster overlays.

Runner up: NatureTap. Swipe, flip and tap your way through hundreds of birds, bugs, frogs, flowers and now mammals. And challenge yourself with fun and exciting games.

There are also a couple of great apps for reporting your nature observations in the name of citizen science,  including Project Noah and iNaturalist. However, these require logging a location along with an observation. That’s something you likely want to do with your child.

If you’re looking for more recommendations for movies, books, apps and more, check out Commonsensemedia.org

Toca Nature App Review

Toca Boca released a new app called Toca Nature, and it’s delightful. Design your own world starting with a plot of land floating in space. Day turns to night as you construct hills, mountains, forests, and lakes.

Different animals inhabit your landscape. Learn what foods they like, and you may befriend them. Sneak up on them quietly, and you may get a snapshot of a sleeping doe or a swimming beaver.

Toca Nature

Continue reading “Toca Nature App Review”

Like a Girl

A maxi-pad commercial in the Super Bowl last night made me tear up.

You may have already seen the Always commercial from last summer called “Like a Girl” where men and women of all ages talk about what it means to “play like a girl.” It has over 54 million hits on YouTube. That one made me tear up too.

I teared up because it reminded me of my own frustrations playing and learning new sports as a girl. I was competitive. I wanted to do anything the boys could do, but better. I have been known to grab a boy by the hoodie and pull him to the ground after he beat me in a race. It was that bad.

I find my daughter shares the same frustrations. One day in the car she asked, “Mommy, how do you change the law? Because I want to change the law that only boys can play professional baseball.” She’s only six-years-old, yet she’s already frustrated by the limitations she feels as a young girl who loves sports.

It’s important to me that my daughter grows up with strong female role models. I never want her to think “playing like a girl” is a bad thing. I want it to make her proud to play like a girl, throw like a girl, and run like a girl.

This is why I get out on a snowboard or skateboard with her. It’s why I put her in skate clinics with other girls. It’s why I constantly look for videos or films with strong female athletes in them, so she will always know that playing like a girl is exactly what she wants to do. And every once in a while it’s nice to hear her say, “Look at my mom! She’s killing it!”

“You can’t do it yet. Let’s keep practicing. You will.”

 

There’s an epidemic in our country. Parents and teachers drop “S” bombs right and left in front of children. The time has come to put a stop to the “S” word – Smart.

Stanford psychology professor Carole Dweck has spent the last four decades studying motivation and learning in children and adults. She’s dedicated her life’s work to understanding how people cope with challenge and difficulty.

Dweck suggests telling kids they’re smart fosters a fixed mindset. Children and adults with a fixed mindset believe intelligence and talent is fixed rather than developed. They spend more time trying to prove over and over again how smart or talented they are, rather than putting in the effort to improve or grow their intelligence or talent.

People with a fixed mindset shut down in the face of challenges or blame other factors when they fail. In Mindsets: The Psychology of Success, Dweck says “praise should deal, not with the child’s personality attributes, but with his efforts and achievements.”

Parents and teachers should not tell children, “You’re so smart!” Instead they should focus on recognizing their effort. Don’t say, “You finished that puzzle! You’re so smart!” Do say, “You finished that puzzle! I’m proud of you for sticking with it until you finished!”

Focusing on effort rather than personality attributes creates a growth mindset. With a growth mindset, brains and ability are a starting point. Talent and intelligence can develop and improve with dedicated practice and effort. People with a growth mindset are more willing to take risks, persist, and develop grit.

A useful phrase I use with my six-year-old and students is “not yet.” I want my daughter and students to learn that failure doesn’t reflect intelligence. Failure is part of the process to learning more and improvement. It’s okay to fail. Everyone fails.

Our daughter couldn’t hit a baseball last spring. We said, “It’s okay. You can’t do it yet. Let’s keep practicing. You will.” Midway through the season she started smacking the ball with her bat. She went from wanting to quit and refusing to bat in her first game to running on the field with joy and not wanting the season to end.

We reference that experience every time she wants to shut down when a task gets difficult. It helps for kids to visualize times they’ve failed and improved. It also helps when parents and teachers tell stories of times when they used a growth mindset and persevered through a challenge.

My students earn a lot of “not yet’s” on quizzes, papers, and assignments. I’ve stopped putting the focus on letter grades and redirecting their attention to effort. An ‘A’ or an ‘F’ doesn’t tell a student about their ability. Students work for ‘A’s’ rather than self-improvement or shut down when they earn ‘F’s.

Now I say, “Your paper isn’t there – YET. Here is what you did well, and here is what you need to work on to get there.” It’s incredible how shifting the focus to effort has changed the attitudes in my classroom. Students understand the concept of growth mindset and know that not everyone will get to the finish line at the same time, but we’ll all get there. We’re all capable of achieving success.

When parents ask me for advice when their students suffer from anxiety or struggle in school, I talk to them about fixed vs. growth mindset. Parents appreciate having a strategy they can use with their kids that will help them in all aspects of their development: academics, sports, the arts, and personal development.

Let’s stop using the “S” word and start praising effort. Let’s stop raising kids to live for “now” instead of “yet.” Start using “not yet” and focus on developing a growth mindset in your kids and yourself. It’s the smart thing to do.

You can learn more about the power of “not yet” in Dweck’s Ted Talk. You can download a free educator’s mindset tool kit here

6 Tips for Capturing Childhood With Your iPhone

At last count, my iPhone contained 8,755 photos. If I ever used Siri, I assume she’d insist, speech slurred, that I whittle that down to give her room to breathe before she could provide me with any assistance whatsoever. Sometimes I think the whole thing just might spontaneously burst into flames.

I am not a photographer. I am a mom with an iPhone. Obviously, the main subjects of my thousands of photos are my kids. A lot of them are total crap. Kids move fast, refuse to cooperate, and sometimes I just miss. But over the last several years I’ve honed my skills and the misses are fewer and far between. I’ve amassed a serious collection of images that I’m truly proud of using only my iPhone and this set of guidelines:

Be Quick!

Full disclosure: I am that mom who (provided the risk level is relatively low) snaps a photo before rescuing precariously perched toddlers. Many photo worthy moments happen in the blink of an eye. For that reason, I often open my camera from the lock screen, swiping up from the bottom right corner. Ain’t nobody got time for passcodes when babies start hugging each other and butterflies land on sticks and stuff.

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Light! Make it natural.

Good lighting is the difference between a photo that’s meh and totally stunning. The morning as light streams through windows and the last hour or so before the sun goes down are my favorite times of day to capture. Experiment with sun rays and silhouettes. Set the flash to off and keep it natural.

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Don’t zoom. Move closer.

Like with your actual body. The iphone is powerful, but not enough to take photos without degrading them when using the zoom feature.  Get in close and take shots that isolate something you want to remember; a grubby little hand full of freshly picked berries, baby toes peeking out under covers, portraits of sleeping faces.

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Speaking of moving, get low.

Kids are short. Generally, anyway. Get down on their level. Capturing them while in the space they occupy strengthens the image.

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Make it interesting. 

Sure, centered photos of your child smiling at the camera are great, but can become tiresome. I use the grid feature (you can enable it on the native camera by going into settings–>photos and camera then scrolling down and toggling it on) to follow the rule of thirds. Placing points of interest in the areas where the lines intersect draw the eye into the photo and make for an overall more appealing result. Shooting from unexpected angles is another way to enhance visual interest. Explore top down shots of lego building and lounging in the grass, or focus on wrinkly toes perched on the edge of the tub as the smiles blur in the background.

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Don’t over filter.

Filters are like the Jnco jeans of the photo world. They seemed fashionable enough then, but eventually become a foolish representation of their moment in time. Honestly, how you can hold in your hand this incredible tool that your ancestors could not even fathom, yet choose to manipulate an image until it looks like something your backed over with your car is baffling to me. I am in no way ANTI filter, but I know the photos which most closely resemble what the eye sees are the ones that will stand the test of time. When I first became an iphone owner, I was very heavy handed with the editing. Looking back, those photos haven’t kept my interest. Go easy. Stay authentic as a rule and break it occasionally.

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This post originally appeared on the blog at NotabliParent Company’s first product. 

The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, Week 2: Books

Less Clutter, More Joy

We’re a family of book lovers and book hoarders. My daughter never wanted a blanket or stuffed animal in her crib as a baby. She wanted me to line the inside of her crib with board books. I’m an English teacher and writer. My partner is a writer and editor. We eat, sleep, and breathe books.

We dreaded week two of our family project inspired by home organization consultant Marie Kondo’s The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up. Kondo suggests stripping your book collection down to 30 books. That wasn’t going to happen in our home.

My partner and I both dream of a home library with books stacked from floor to ceiling, complete with a sliding ladder. The reality is we live in a small home and don’t have the room right now. We reasoned for the amount of money we pay for storage, we could buy books when we have the space down the road.

Kondo recommends taking every book in the home and placing them in a large pile on the floor. It’s an arduous task hauling heavy books to one spot, but it’s part of the process. Sort books into four categories: general (books read for pleasure), practical (reference, cookbooks), visual (photography, art), and magazines.

Pick up one book at a time. If you get a thrill of joy just by touching the book, keep it. If you don’t, donate it.

It’s difficult for Kondo’s clients to get rid of books they think they might read one day or books that once gave them great joy. “Sometime” means “never”, says Kondo. If you want to read a book in the future, you will go through the effort to borrow or buy it.

She argues we rarely read old books that once brought us joy again. “Books you have read have already been experienced and their content inside you, even if you don’t remember.” Only keep books that move you or bring you joy.

Not every book in our home brings us joy. There are some books we have to keep for work. We removed them from our home and brought them to work.

We all flat out refused to whittle our book collection down to 30 books, and here are three reasons why:

  1. There’s a direct correlation between books in the home and childhood literacy.
  2. Seeing a wall full of books brings us immense joy.

  3. We all use books for inspiration on multiple creative projects on a regular basis.

We did manage to remove 50% of the books from our home for other readers to discover and enjoy. Our daughter has a small bookshelf in her bedroom, and my partner and I placed our books on one wall of shelves in the living room.

We smile every time we look up at our bookshelves. Every book brings us joy. Books now have breathing room, and our library has room to grow.

We’ve rediscovered and revisited past loves and said goodbye to others. As designer Nicholas Burroughs says, “Minimalism is not a lack of something. It’s simply the perfect amount of something.”

You can read about week one (clothes) here.

Kids, Money and Allowance

The importance of teaching financial literacy to children cannot be overstated. Over at Good Men ProjectZechariah Newman wrote a revealing, useful post about kids and money. I agree with each of the seven money topics he thinks parents should discuss with their children: abundance, give, invest, debt, save, spend, perseverance.

I believe that the best way to teach financial literacy is through experience. That means giving kids an allowance. Vicki Hoefle [stag_icon icon=”twitter” url=”https://twitter.com/vickihoefle” size=”16px” new_window=”yes”] of Duct Tape Parenting has been my guide on this topic.

Vicki believes that there’s one goal behind an allowance: teaching children about money management. That includes saving, spending, and donating.

She doesn’t recommend using allowance as a reward, or to pay for chores. Giving money out for those reasons won’t necessarily teach kids how to manage it. And kids should be contributing around the house anyway.

Letting your kids choose how they spend or save their money is a key part of this approach. If they want to spend all their allowance on junk food and crummy toys, week after week, fine. It’s their money, their choice and eventually their lesson.

Over on PBS Newshour, Vicki writes:

“It’s also important to remember that you become a smart consumer by actually being a consumer. Initially, five-year-olds are not what anyone would call savvy. They get $5, they spend $5 — almost immediately. But by the time they are 10 and have practiced basic money management, they are much more thoughtful and educated consumers.”

A genius element of this approach comes into play when your kids nag you to buy stuff for them when you’re out shopping. All you do is repeat variations of “Did you bring your allowance?”  If they brought it and have enough money, then they can buy whatever they’re begging for. If not, sorry kid. I feel your pain, but already gave you the allowance.

In my house, we started following this practice two years ago. At first our four-year-old spent her allowance on small items like Pokemon cards and Legos. Now, two years later, our six-year old has learned to mostly save. (She currently has over $100.)

Even better, she almost never pleads for us to buy stuff when we’re grocery shopping or at a store.  It took some time, but this approach is now a family habit.

I will admit that this approach has backfired on me. Now that she has her own money, bribing her has become a lot harder. Can’t bribe her with Pokemon cards, for example, because she can buy her own.

A couple other tips from Vicki Hoefle:

  • The child should have a wallet for their allowance.
  • When they’re old enough, help them open a bank account.
  • Never, ever front them money if they forget their allowance when you’re out at a store.

There’s a lot more on Vicki’s blog, including how much to give your child every week.

Allowance: Don’t Wing It  (“In order for you to implement a successful system, you must first ask YOURSELF key questions about your family’s relationship with money.”)

Allowance: 15 Ways Kids Can Rock a Healthy Relationship with Money 

Here’s a podcast from Vicki on the subject.

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Girls Play Baseball: Lessons From Youtube

Girls can't play baseball? Hold it right there, grasshopper.
Girls can’t play baseball? Hold it right there, grasshopper.

 

A few days after Christmas, we slowly started relocating the gifts that remained under the tree to their proper resting places. Among the clothes, forsaken for noisier more exciting things, lay the baseball and glove given to my three year old daughter by her uncle. She had unwrapped it and accepted it graciously, if not enthusiastically, yet hadn’t touched it since.

“I don’t want this, Mama.”, she declared as she plopped it into my hands.

“Why not? Uncle Paul gave it to you. He’s the best.”

“I don’t want to play baseball. Girls don’t play baseball.”, she offered, matter-of-factly.

Here’s the thing. I don’t care how my kids suss out gender “norms”. It seems perfectly natural that there comes a point in each child’s life, when they begin to make delineations between themselves and the rest of the world. Having just started to wrap a rapidly developing brain around the fact that they are an individual, a being completely separate of their parents, there’s comfort in compartmentalizing what they observe. I just don’t want them to get lost in absolutes.

Without even bothering to argue, I ushered her over to the kitchen table.

“Come with me. Sit on my lap.”

As I sat the glove down alongside my computer, I pulled her up and typed “Mo’ne Davis” into youtube.

She watched quietly as the powerhouse of a teenage girl disproved that theory faster than the ball could fly.

After watching a few more, per her request, I asked, “So, do you still think girls don’t play baseball?”

“No. But I still don’t want to play it.”

That’s fine, little girl. So long as you know you can. I can live with that. And may your stubbornness serve you well.

Have you ever used Youtube to teach your kid a lesson? Any favorites that lay down the law?