Friday, November 16, 2007

Parent Bloggers Network: Jumpstart World

As a homeschooling mom I am always on the hunt for new educational ways for my children to learn. So when Parent Bloggers Network offered us a chance at Jumpstart World 1st Grade, I leapt right on it and now we are quite completely hooked!

Brought to you by Knowledge Adventure, Jumpstart World is a series of 12 adventure packs that teach your child critical thinking skills, reading, math, art, music, and much more. Of course, any of that you can read for yourself from their website if you'd like and don't need me to tell you. What you do need me to tell you is what it's really like to try and enjoy the game up close and personal right? For this I asked my 5 year old to help me test out the game and I figured I would see what both of our views on it were. His answer was (and I quote), "Bubby...Sissy... I get to help mommy review this game. I DO. ME. I get to do a review. Not YOU! ME! Okay Mommy let's go start"! No, he's not the least bit competitive at all.

The very first thing MonkeyBoy made mention of was how much he liked being able to pick which character he wanted to be. As soon as he chose his player (he started with the boy robot) he commented on how much he liked the 3d graphics of the game or as he put it, "Wow, this looks just like Bubby's video games"! I took notice of the fact that it had obviously been quite awhile since I had bought a Jumpstart game because the graphics were much cooler than I remembered them being years ago. It's amazing how much these things change!

As MonkeyBoy explored the Jumpstart World he enjoyed finding new areas to "spring" from, new characters to talk to, and earning gems for games he completed made this "the coolest game ever"! He literally had to be peeled away from the computer to eat meals and go use the bathroom! I liked that it was easy for him to navigate his way through each of the arcades and areas without needing to ask one of us a million times to get him through a certain part. This was a game that he could play on his own and that gave him so much pride in what he was doing. I also liked that this program didn't have that head spinning effect that so many games these days give me as a character walks around their little world. This meant I could actually sit with him and watch him play, enjoying the game with him instead of by him for once.

Once MB realized that the gems he earned could be used to purchase rewards, he was an absolute madman! Whereas before the discovery he just wondered around and played a game here or there, he suddenly had to try out ALL of the games and missions giving him a chance for better rewards each time. Now he would try a game a second and even third time trying to beat it instead of just going off and trying something else. I think all little kids this age love the challenge of not only finishing a game but getting a reward for it and Jumpstart World does not disappoint them one bit.

Needless to say, my son begged to play this game everyday for a week and I think we both learned alot from it. I learned that he knew far more than I gave him credit for which helps me to plan future lessons for him and he learned many new subjects and ideas in the form of a fun and interesting game that held his attention for once.

Last but not least, I like how I can get on the Jumpstart website and check his progress reports, search hundreds of parent tips, personalize his game with holidays and events, and even make special rewards for him to earn from me as he accomplishes each goal. Having the website and program work together made things even more enjoyable and easier for me to figure out what we needed more work on and what things he already has aced.

The things I wasn't too crazy about on this game are the fact that not only do you have to have the CD in to play the game (which is normal) but it must also be connected to the internet in order for your child to play. I'm not big on having to have my 5 year old connected to the internet just to play a game that should be mostly on a disc and this means I can't let him play Jumpstart World on trips and that part is very discouraging.

I'm also not crazy about the fact that every few minutes a "Loading" screen will pop up cutting into the game and making you wait while the game uploads information to the website. I like that Jumpstart wants to help you stay updated and keep track your child's progress but it would do better to have it at the end of a set of games or an area instead of during the game like it does now.

All in all I'm very happy with our experience with Jumpstart World 1st Grade and I'm very glad my little guy has had the chance to discover something new that he likes so much. Would I buy the disc myself? I'm honestly not sure. I suppose I would since I know beforehand that it can only be used at home on our internet connected computer but if I were someone that didn't know that and bought this game, I would be very upset and would probably return it. I love the game and what it does for my son but there is just so much more benefit to something I can take with me for long car trips or airplane rides.

I definately recommend the free trial that the website offers people for download though. It's a game that you should try and decide for yourself whether or not to purchase it plus it's fun and learning that I'm glad my 5 year old had a chance to experience.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Parent Bloggers Network: Beauty Confidential

When Parent Bloggers Network said they needed bloggers to review the book Beauty Confidential by Nadine Haobsh, you better believe I jumped at the chance! Usually I join in on book reviews because I’m a total bibliophile but this book I knew I really needed to read.

When it comes to fashion and makeup I’m about as low maintenance as a person could get. I hardly ever wear makeup because to be honest, I’m not very good at choosing colors or putting it on. My sister works in hair and makeup but me? Yeah, so not happening! While I might be low maintenance it’s only because I’ve never been very good at doing my makeup. I even had a makeup artiste try to teach me about 5 years ago and I’m afraid none of that knowledge stuck.

Up until three years ago I was able to pride myself on “natural beauty”. If I didn’t wear makeup it was no big deal but when a sudden hit by cancer came all that went down the drain. After my second surgery I was left with a very big and very ugly U-shaped scar taking up most of my neck and leaving me feeling immensely ugly. So ugly that I felt makeup was no longer needed because even it couldn’t help stop the stares I get and make people focus on my face again.

Recently though I’ve come to terms with my scar and while I can’t hide it I can do something about the rest of me. I’m 32 years old and have no wrinkles or gray hairs so I’m already better off than many of my compadres (even my sister has a few wrinkles and gray hairs at 30. Is it evil that I laugh every time I think about that?). All I have to do is feel better about my appearance and that is all that matters- feeling good for me.

So the offer to review Beauty Confidential came along at a perfect time and the moment I got it I started to read it from cover to cover. I’ll be honest and say that usually I would lose interest in a beauty book before even getting halfway because they are most times pretty boring but not this one Nadine Haobsh has written. Nadine (or “Jolie in NYC" as she is known the internet over) has something the other books don’t and that’s a very witty and funny sense of humor. She jokes throughout the whole book and really tries to let you know that she’s just as human as the rest of us. Heck, she even reveals her own flaws in the book and makes sure you can relate to her as a person first and beauty expert second.

When the book says “The no preaching, no lies, advice-you’ll-actually-use guide to looking your best”, well it’s truly how Nadine tries to come across. She doesn’t pull any punches yet she doesn’t make herself sound better than anyone else like in most beauty books I’ve read. This is a gal I could sit down for lunch with and probably end up laughing hysterically at her stories. She’s one funny chic!

Ms. Haobsh was a beauty editor for Ladie’s Home Journal until they found out that as “Jolie In NYC” she was exposing secrets of the beauty industry to everyday women just like you and me on her blog. The horror of it all right? Well this led to her being “let go” by said magazine as well as having Seventeen rescind an offer they had on the table. Ouch.

While at the time I’m sure it sucked, she can sure thumb her nose now can’t she? With a successful blog and what I see as a successful book as well added to her resume, those same magazines may soon be banging on her door again. Hopefully she’ll tell them to "bite her" though. Why? It’s the sassy thing to do and she hits me as a sassy kinda gal.

In Nadine’s book she talks about beauty blunders we all make, how to fix several of them, step-by-step instructions on many things like home waxing and make-up selection, and even a product price guide at the end of every chapter so you know the price range you’re looking at if YOU want to have the products. While some of the products she lists are expensive to your average stay at home mom (like moi), she does also list several that are more in our price range as well thus proving that you don’t have to be a beauty editor to look good. We ALL can do it.

Reading this book gave me something that all the beauty magazines I’ve tried reading couldn’t- a guide essentially for dummies also known as the "beauty product challenged" like myself. With her straight foreword advice and tips I found it much easier to get the look I want without all the tears and cringing. Who knew beauty was such a pain in the ass! Thanks to Nadine though it’s only a mild irritation in my life now and I’m actually wearing makeup again.

Since my friends are very much like me (stay at home moms, no time for beauty, feeling frumpy), I will definitely recommend this book to them and even tell my sister to read it and see what she thinks. Heck, after seeing some of the orange eyeshadow sister dear has worn maybe it will help even her! So I will recommend it to them but bitches better not even ask to borrow it! It’s mine and Beauty Confidential is staying close to mama for a long while to come!

ESRB Blog Tour

Okay first of all, send the kids out of the room because you do not want them to see this! They will seriously cut off your computer time if they know you are learning things like this.

Are they gone? Well okay, the baby can stay but that's it.

Thanks to the release of game systems such as Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, and PSP3 most of our kids are putting video games at the top of their wish lists this holiday season right? Once upon a time you could pop just about any game into the console and not worry about whether or not your 5 year old should play it or if it was too violent even for your 15 year old son. The only violence you saw back then was Donkey Kong tossing barrels at Mario and Pitfall Harry falling in a pit. Even then though there was none of the realistic graphics, blood, foul language, or violence that video games today have.

How does a parent keep up with it all though? I mean, it’s not like we as parents have all day to sit around reading reviews on games and making sure that only the suitable ones make it into our house and even if we did, there is always that one neighbor who lets all the kids play the harsher games there. So what can we do?

The answer is so easy that if you’re like me you’re going to feel more embarrassed than the time your 5 year old kicked your butt at Finding Nemo. Seriously. All we have to do is know what tools there are out there to help us do a good job.

ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) ratings are those little boxes you see on the front of every game box. You know the ones- EC (Early Childhood 3+), T (Teen), 

Another big help is that newer video game consoles (Wii, PSP3, and Xbox 360) are beginning to have Parental Control features that will let us configure the system and decide what our kids can and can’t access on video games based on the ESRB ratings. Personally I like this because we can’t always be right there when our children are playing a video game so these Parental Controls are a little piece of mind when we’re not around. You’ll know your 5 year old isn’t playing Halo3 instead of Spiderman and no more of your teen’s ears being filled with cursing, shooting, and carjacking. Of course, if your kids are anything like mine it wouldn’t take them long to figure out how to change the settings. Haha.

As parents it is first and foremost up to us to actually sit down with our kids and explain what we feel is and isn’t appropriate. It also wouldn’t hurt us to play the games with them sometimes so that we can see for ourselves what they are really like. I know I’m not much into video games but if playing one with my children helps make sure they aren’t exposed to excessive shooting, blood, and gore then I have no problem giving it a go.

Check out ESRB's website which is seriously filled with lots of great ideas, advice, and resources. I thought I was pretty up to date on ratings and descriptions until I checked them out and now I see that I only knew about half of what there is. Okay, you can let the kids back in now but let's keep this just in the "Parent Circle" okay? *wink wink*

*This compensated review brought to you by ESRB ratings*

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Game Review: How Tall Am I?

The game "How Tall Am I?" by Jax Games is a great way to teach children both measuring and counting skills. Recommended for ages 3 through 8, the game consists of thirty character parts (HAT, HEAD, ARMS, BODY, and FEET), a special measuring ruler, and one die which has a picture of each part on it. The concept is to collect one of each part to try to build the tallest fun character. A cool twist is that you can choose any character part you want (meaning you can mix Fireman parts with Ballerina parts and so on) in order to achieve your winning character.

To play you mix up all of the character parts and then spread them out in the middle of your playing surface. The player who is the youngest begins the game and rolls the die first. Whatever character part the player rolls (say a BODY or HAT) is the part they get to choose. All other players do the same thing at each turn. If you roll a part that you already have then your turn is over and it moves on to the next player. If you roll "WILD" then you can select any character part you want which can be alot of help if you're missing only a few more parts and trying to get ahead. After each player has collected one head, one hat, one arms, one body, and one feet then it is time to measure your character. The player with the tallest character is then ruled the winner! What if there is a tie? Well then the player who completed their character first is the winner.

It might sound like a long process but the game goes really quickly and will have your kids giggling at some of the characters they make. You also have to watch out for the kiddos because they will catch on quite quickly and learn what parts will make their character the tallest. My youngest son was amazingly quick to figure this out and would grab the neccessary pieces every chance he had. It was alot of fun and laughter for the rest of us as well.

The best part besides playing the game itself? My youngest son now goes around the house announcing to us all, "Two? Two is not very tall. Where is something I can measure to 11?".
How Tall Am I? would make a great gift for the holiday season for the whole family to have fun with. It's a great addition to Family Game Night and gives the younger kids the chance to feel smarter than the grown-ups which once you see their eyes light up with that knowledge is totally worth it!