Friday, September 12, 2008

V-Motion Potion

A month or so ago we had the occasion to play around with a Wii at a friend's house. Truth be told, I thought the whole Wii thing seemed ridiculous, but after giving it a go I realized that it was pretty fun. More fun with beer, but still, I now understood the appeal. So when my favorite ParentBlogger women asked if my daughter and I would like to review The V-Motion Active Learning System I immediately thought of that night (minus the beer) and happily agreed.

The V-Motion is geared for ages 3-7 and has some similarities to the Wii in the sense there is a motion controller and interaction with the screen. The games are simple yet challenging, one game involves playing tennis and using the controller to "swing" the racket, while another involves driving a car and the other, a bobsled race. Each of the games includes a learning element, whether it's number sequences or spelling letters, both of which my child is tackling now so the game was a fun way to engage her, especially when she could tell me what to do. But then again telling me what to do always seems to go over pretty well.

She found the driving game to be the easiest and the bobsled game to be the trickiest (I happen to agree with her) but I think some of that was a function of age and learning how to use the controller. Each of the games gives good instructions prior and makes it easy for little ones to understand and some of the technical motions will advance as she gets older. She picked up on it quickly and knew what to do and it was precious watching her bounce around the room throwing her full body into motion. She also bossed me around a lot and didn't like it when I missed the letters and that made her pretty happy too.

It's obviously not a substitute for traditional exercise and full contact playtime but V-Motion offers a sweet combination of learning and coordination activities that makes this an easy choice when we are looking for something fun to do. I like how companies are getting smarter and incorporating multiple learning options in games that are also fun to play and I like how the games we tried were devoid of specific character themes so we weren't having to wrestle with our own personal distaste for all things Dora. Most of the additional games you can purchase do seem to be character specific, which is good or bad depending on your tastes, I think having non-branded characters are important even if they don't sell as well as the others.

All in all we were very happy to get to review this product - it's educational and fun at the same time and M's wanted to play with it multiple times this week.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Savvy Source and Leapfrog Tag

I've recently had the opportunity to learn about the Savvy Source's Preschool Quiz and Leapfrog Tag courtesy of Parentbloggers. Savvy Source is a preschool learning consortium with tons of great recommendations for helping your child develop age appropriate skills. I took their quiz (if you look on my sidebar you'll see the link for the quiz and can also take it yourself!) and was intrigued by the results. It's very comprehensive, looking at all areas of development including language, music, art, math, science and movement. I answered questions in each of the modules and was able to get some recommendations (many of them are free) of games or activities I can do with my daughter to further enhance her development.

This was really good for me to do. Like many women, I work full time and I sometimes rely on her preschool more than I should for skills development. I realized while taking the quiz that there are some areas that neither we or her school are addressing and there are really simple ways to encourage different ways to learn those skills. I was particularly intrigued by the suggestions for math and music, two concepts I'd thought we were focusing on but after looking at the recommendations realize I'm not doing as well as I could be. So I've already been able to come up with some new activities that we can do together. It's interesting, because having a happy and secure child has always and will always be my highest priority, but if I'm honest, there are bits I am lazy about and this quiz helped me understand simple ways to harness my child's rampant curiousity and zeal for life. One free activity focused on fine motor skills, so I downloaded Three Beetles and we sat together and worked on drawing skills and we loved it. To M it was just another game but to me, it felt like teaching. Score one for mom.

We were also able to play with the Leapfrog Tag, an innovative reading device that I found quite brilliant. The Tag is an electronic "pen" that you connect to your computer and it easily downloads books you choose. Then you take the pen and use it with in partnership with the books. We were able to test Kung Fu Panda and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom but there are many others. It's so easy, all you do is turn on the pen and touch the book and it automatically reads the pages. M was thrilled, she sat next to me and listened to the books being read aloud and used the pen to start or stop or to play games on any given page. This is a terrific game for road trips, she can do it herself and was completely entertained. I liked it enough to order another book.

I found both the Savvy Source Quiz and the Tag to be a lot of fun and educational for me as a parent, but what I was most impressed with was the comprehensive understanding of preschool development and how simple it really is to foster a child's love for learning, whether music or math, in ways that I can embrace and M will love. It seems like this stuff should come naturally to me but it doesn't and so I found their ideas to be immensely useful, not only in practical terms of activities but in expanding my brain about the things I want to be mindful of and how easy it can be to learn together. The quiz is free, if you want to learn more you should click on it and give it a whirl, it takes about 15 minutes or so and is well worth the time, both in reflecting on where your child is at developmentally as well as ideas for new activities based on the results.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Clean your teeth consciously

I've recently had the chance to review the new Recycline toothbrush from Mom Central. The Preserve toothbrush is made 100% from recycled plastic, including yogurt cups, which as a mom I've recycled way more than my fair share. The toothbrushes are available at Target for only $2.04, which is less than other toothbrushes I used to purchase in the past. My child and I each had the chance to use one and I had no complaints, it's a perfect toothbrush but what makes it truly outstanding is the efforts Recycline has made to use recycled products in manufacturing it.
The other terrific news is when it’s time to replace your the Preserve toothbrush, you can print a mailing label from the Recycline website and mail it back (for free!) to be recycled into plastic decking, picnic tables and boardwalks!
We are all committed to doing our part, large and small for the environment so it's nice when some folks make it easier by allowing us to use recycled materials the first time around and offer to reuse them again and again. Great idea and a great toothbrush!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Maiden America

DING DING DING updated to add that I tossed your names in a cup and pulled out PM and Tabba. Email me your addy's and i'll send them off!

I had the opportunity to review Maiden America barrettes courtesy of the fine women at Parent Blogger Network recently. I wanted to review them for 2 reasons: 1. M's hair is so thick and curly I have a hard time getting barrettes to actually hold onto her hair and 2. because they are handmade by moms for moms without the use of toxic glue.

I ordered several barrettes but my favorites were the Ladybug and the Rosette because they happened to be M's favorite ones, she's worn each of them all week long (now if I could only get her to understand that they don't really match when worn at the same time). They are made very well and didn't slip out of her hair. They also have great clasps so M was unable to take them out herself, which meant I could send her to school and she'd actually come home with it still in her hair.

These barrettes are much fancier than anything else we've ever had. I pride us girls on being tomboys and normally these aren't something we'd choose because of all the flowers and jewels but M's been in a serious princess phase for the past several months, she insists on only wearing dresses and spends a long time picking out the "jewelry" that matches each outfit out of a pile of old beads and hand me downs, something I will continue to shake my head at every single day and yet force myself to allow, her first self expressions while different from my own are hers just the same.

I think these would make lovely gifts for girls in a wedding or for you upscale mamas who dress your kids to the nines. In fact, I'd like to show you what I'm talking about so I'm raffling off two of the smaller ones so if you are interested in checking them out leave me a comment and I'll throw your names in a hat tomorrow and let you know who won.

Monday, May 5, 2008

bamboo, who knew?

I had the opportunity to review the Bamboo Collection Rapelli Game from Discovery Channel Store courtesy of ParentBloggers recently. I'd originally jumped at the chance to review this game because it's made of all natural eco-friendly materials (100% bamboo) and I was happy to see the wooden pieces and dice and the bamboo stand.
The Rapelli game is cute, a bamboo "tree" with holes in it that you fill with little colored wooden caterpillars which are then pulled out of the holes depending on the roll of the dice. The game says it's for kids ages 4 and up and M is only 3.5, so some of the concepts were a bit hard for her to understand which was our issue and not the product, but as an adult I felt the directions could have been clearer too. A couple of things were confusing: 1. how many times could each player roll the dice on his/her turn and 2. the symbols on the dice.

I think the first point could have been easily resolved with a bit more clarity in the directions and the second point was more conceptual, perhaps there would have been a different way to direct the caterpillars back and forth in the holes than needing to decipher multiple arrows going in two different directions. It wasn't a big deal but I do think M would need to be quite a bit older before she could understand the dice by herself.

Overall the concept was terrific and it was a fun game for the three of us to play together. All I suggest is that the directions could use some fine tuning in order to make the game a bit clearer to the adults so the adults can more clearly explain the game before the little people get too impatient and start throwing the little caterpillars around the room.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Clean Well

I had the chance to review something pretty cool recently for ParentBloggers. The makers of Clean Well offered some of us the chance to try out their new All Natural Anti-Bacterial Foaming Hand Washes. They use essential plant oils to make an anti-microbial compound that kills 99.9% of germs.

I realize there are people on both sides of the antibacterial fence. I happen to fall on the side that likes to kill the bastards, with a kid who seems to always get sick and who possesses a lack of thorough cleaning in general it grants me further peace of mind. So eager to try it, I signed up and was quickly sent all three scents, Lavender Absolute, Ginger Bergamot and Orange Vanilla. We put one in the bathroom and one in the kitchen and let it ride.

The hand pumps are easy for kids to use and the foam seems less wasteful for kids to use than pumping liquid soap, where less is more and more is easy to come by. The scents are pleasing, the essential oils come through nicely and each of the bottles are made from the most recyclable plastics possible. And the best part is the soaps are all natural and don't contain any Triclosan, something causing problems for frogs in our streams and rivers and that potentially causes problems for humans.

The compound in CleanWell is called Ingenium. It's the only all natural antimicrobial that meets both EPA and FDA standards for germ killing efficacy. It's made from plants, so it's a renewable resource and uses no pesticides in it's production which means less toxic chemicals are produced as a result, not only protecting us by the planet as well.

We love this soap. The prices are reasonable and comparable to what we'd pay for hand soap off the shelf. The only recommendation we have for CleanWell is that they make big refill containers so you don't need to replace the bottles as often. Ours lasted in the bathroom for about a month and it's close to empty. Purchasing a large refill bottle would mean less waste over all, perhaps one bottle in exchange for twelve small ones.

I am very happy to have been able to check this out. J felt the same way, it's rare for him to get involved with my reviews but he thought this was terrific and specifically asked that we buy it again. That alone is saying a lot.

Monday, December 17, 2007

printing made easy

I know a lot of people say this, but I really mean it when I am a technological infant. So when Parent Bloggers offered me a chance to review the HP Photosmart A626 Compact Color Printer I approached it with equal measures of excitement and trepidation.

So no one was more surprised than I was when I had this printer up and running in less than 10 minutes. You have no idea how spectacular that made me feel and we can all be assured it was due to HP and not to me. This was the easiest installation of technology that I have ever done in my life.

The step by step directions were easy, both on paper and on the screen itself. And I couldn't believe how responsive the touch screen was. Touch screens in the past have left me wanting to hit something but this actually responded to my prompt every single time.

Once your memory card is in the printer you can view your pictures in a variety of ways, manually, slideshow, various groupings as well as perform all the editing. Luckily we've recently gone on vacation and so I had a host of tropical pictures on my memory card and I was able to edit them easily - cropping, removing the red eye, adding frames to pictures and actually writing captions directly into the picture by hand. Erasing your mistakes is an easy thing too. And the quality was superb. As I printed out pictures of the coke bottle Caribbean it looked exactly as I remembered it. J has been working with two different photo printers at his work recently without decent results and as such was feeling skeptical but when I showed him these pictures he said it was much better color quality than anything he'd been able to achieve recently.

One of the things I haven't been able to try yet is printing pictures that are already stored on our computer. My laptop is mainly for work and I am not able to install new software onto it and our laptop with our pictures on it is temporarily out of commission. But as soon as it's fixed I plan on creating a photobook using one of the books HP sent with the printer. I am going to make a smaller photobook for my daughter with pictures of all of her friends and use the larger photobook to chronicle our recent trip.

The coolest thing about the HP printer is how small and portable it is. It only weighs a little over 3 lbs and is about 10" wide. Perfect for mobility and small spaces, something I put to terrific use last night. I took it over to one of our shelters and offered to take pictures for folks who wanted them and was able to print them right then and there for some people, many of whom hadn't had a photo taken of themselves in years. Several folks wanted pictures to send to distant relatives and some wanted group pictures of their friends, folks who live in such transition means friendships are real but fleeting, and the fact that I could take their picture and immediately turn around and hand them a print was really cool and the red eye function was especially useful given the poor lighting and the tiredness of the folks we help.

I'd imagine this same portability would be terrific for birthday and holiday parties as well as day care and school events. When you can frame and/or write on the pics it makes for a nice personal token that folks can take away immediately.

The only drawback is that you can't save the edited pictures directly onto the printer. So if you want to preserve them you'd need a bit more equipment if you were trying to do it at a function which might not be the easiest depending on where you are.

If you are interested HP is running a special promotion offering 20% off of their Photobooks. I noticed an instant rebate on the printer as well. Just in time for Christmas!