Thursday, September 15, 2016

STEAM Kids Book is here!


STEAM Kids: 50+ Science / Technology / Engineering / Art / Math Hands-On Projects for Kids

Are you interested in creating fun and educational activities for your kids? Well there's an awesome book for that, and it's a boredom buster to boot! It would have been perfect over the summer, but it's even better now that the school year has begun! Inside you'll find 10 weeks worth of activities, 5 activities per week, and an 11th week full of field trips. The book also provides material lists for each week, field trip ideas, building challenges, and free printables for the activities that require them. An added bonus is the STEAM Journal for kids to keep track of their ideas and notes.

STEAM Kids is a book that will inspire children to:

question like a scientist
design like a technologist
build like an engineer
create like an artist
deduce like a mathematician

– and, most importantly –

play like a kid.


Want to get started on STEAM activities at home? Here are some helpful posts to get you started! 

Most of the activities use materials you already have at home. Whatever you don't have can easily be found at local craft, grocery, and hardware stores.


Inside STEAM Kids you'll find activities that focus on five themes: Build, Color, Play, Sense, and Grow. These activities can be done at home or in a classroom. Teachers, parents, child-care givers, and homeschoolers can benefit from introducing STEAM activities to children. Not only are the activities fun, but they are engaging and encourage children to create and explore! 


With your purchase, you'll also receive some extras! At the back of the book you will find pages for a STEAM Journal which can be used to Explore Ideas, Sketch Designs, Do Calculations, or Use the Scientific Method: Ask a question, document research, form a hypothesis, design an experiment, record and analyze data, draw a conclusion. The Steam Journal invites you to Invent! Create! Dream! 


Meet the fabulous creators behind STEAM Kids and visit their blogs!


Ana Dziengel (Babble Dabble Do)
Amber Scardino (Wee Warhols)
Chelsey Marashian (Buggy and Buddy)
Dayna Abraham (Lemon Lime Adventures)
Erica Clark (What Do We Do All Day?)
Jamie Hand (Handmade Kids Art)
Karyn Tripp (Teach Beside Me)
Leslie Manlapig (Pink Stripey Socks)
Malia Hallowell (Playdough to Plato)
Shelley Brewer (STEAM Powered Family)


STEAM Kids is available for purchase now!


Get it now while there is a special launch price of 50% off!


When you purchase the STEAM Kids book during the first week (9/14-9/21), you will also receive a FREE Ebook copy of STEAM Kids Halloween projects for kids which includes over 10 exclusive activities. If you purchase the physical copy, send an email with a screen shot of your receipt to steamkids@leftbraincraftbrain.com.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Family Game Night: Krosmaster Junior


We recently purchased Krosmaster Junior from Miniature Market's Back-to-School sale (and also picked up some Infinity miniatures for us parents). I have been eyeing Krosmaster Junior ever since I saw Krosmaster: Arena being played at PAX East. Krosmaster Junior is a simpler version of the game. I knew my kids would love it. Besides being incredibly cute, it's a great introductory game that has different levels of difficulty. There are seven different adventures, each one more difficult than the last. The game also includes two double-sided maps, lots of tokens, and four characters and their pets. Each character also has their own Adventure Guide, although the adventures are the same in each book. Since there are four of us (not including Baby O who won't be old enough to play this for at least 5 years), this game has the perfect number of characters. They have game names, but we each renamed ours.


Munchkin and Bean both helped to set up the game. They are able to construct the map, the totems, and the bushes. Meanwhile Daddy and I punched out all the pieces while he explained the rules to the kids. The first adventure does not use any of the tokens, but we wanted to be ready for adventure #2. Something to keep in mind is that you can do any of the adventures as often as you want. And once we are finished with all the adventures, I know the kids will have fun creating adventures of their own. Just like in Robot Turtle, I feel like this game can be more than advertised. We will of course play as intended first though!


The first adventure only took about 5-10 minutes to play. The first adventure is basically a game of tag and each player is trying to tag another player's pet. My older kids are 5 and 6 and while the game is advertised for 7 and older, I feel like they did extremely well keeping up with the rules. I love that this game will gradually introduce harder rules with each new adventure.


Miss Bean won the first game! We can't wait to play again!


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Cross Stitch Family Portrait

I have always loved cross stitching. In the past few years I have been able to work on some awesome projects. Such as the Avengers piece I made for my daughter and the Lavender Girl I made for my cousin's daughter (I need to remake that one for myself!). Some projects are quick, and some seem to take forever to finish. I have a Welcome to the Lake sign that I've literally been working on for 3 years. My goal is to have it finished by next summer. We'll see...



But in the weeks leading up to my 3rd child's birth, I had some free time and decided to make a cross stitched family portrait. I'm technically not even done it, as it's still missing the family name and date. In the weeks since baby O's birth, I just have had my hands full. But once it's finished, it will be framed and look adorable on our wall! 


I really love how simple the portrait looks, and yet it captures us really well. I used patterns found in and inspired by the Stitch People book. I let the kids decide what they wanted their figures to wear. And we went to the craft store to pick out DMC embroidery floss. 


I drew Bean's figure and then she wanted to try making one on her own. Her's is on the left. We ended up changing it again in the final stages of stitching. 


Baby O wasn't born yet when I started my figure, so I saved some of the details for after he was born. Once he had arrived and I knew what color to make his hair, I stitched it in. Originally I had used everyone's eye color, but ultimately I decided I preferred the way simple black eyes look. 


I could not find the pattern for Munchkin's figure. I am pretty sure he ran off with it... It had an Autobot stitched onto the shirt and since he hid the paper somewhere, I haven't been able to complete his figure. Someday... :) 

Every year for Christmas I try to make everyone handmade gifts. One year I made felt play mats and gave them away with Safari Ltd. TOOBS, so our little cousins could create small worlds. Another year I made homemade watercolors and playdough. We also gift books for each of the kids. This year it will be cross stitch family portraits. 

I bought a computation notebook, because the grids are perfect for making your own cross stitch patterns. I really wish the grids had been smaller, but this was the only size available. I just used a pencil and colored pencils to color in the patterns and give myself and idea of the colors I wanted to use. The Stitch People book gives you a lot of ideas of how to design people, from tons of hair options, to different styles of colors. There are even cat and dog designs. I also have the Farm Animals book, but I haven't created any of those patterns yet. 

Here are a few examples of patterns I made. I love that you can stitch babies at various ages and in different positions. 




I don't have the pattern finished yet, but I am also working on one for my father, which will feature himself, his four children, and six grandchildren. 

Disclosure: This is not a review of Stitch People. I paid for my Stitch People and Farm Animals book and was not encouraged to write this post. I just loved the book so much I wanted to share what I made with others!


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Cubetto Review


I received Cubetto to review for Academics' Choice Awards. Cubetto is made by Primo Toys and was originally a Kickstarter project. Cubetto is a Montessori approved, hands-on coding toy for children ages 3 to 6. It comes with a Cubetto wooden robot, a board, 16 blocks (four of each: left, right, straight, and function), a map, and a storybook.



My 5 and 6 year old LOVE Cubetto! They even had to bring it to grandma's house to teach her how to use it. They have also enjoyed teaching their younger cousins how to use it too. It's simple to use and easy to set up, even for a 3 year old. 

All you have to do is spread out the map, pour out the blocks from their fabric bag, turn on Cubetto and the board, and you're good to go! When we first began using Cubetto, I read the instructions out loud, and explained what each block did when it was placed in the board. We turned on Cubetto and I pointed out each of the little robots movements and how they mirrored the blocks on the board. After a few test runs, I opened up the storybook and showed them how you can take Cubetto on a fun trip around his map. The kids were thrilled with the storytelling aspect of it. 

Now when the kids are playing together, they will take turns, one filling the queue and the other telling a story as Cubetto moves from square to square on his map. They call him "Cubie" and take him on lots of silly adventures. Whenever he wanders off the map, the kids laugh and say he can't help exploring the unknown. 


One thing I would love to become available for Cubetto owners who weren't part of the Kickstarter or who did not order Cubetto with the Adventure Pack, is to sell the maps separately. In addition to the basic map, which is the one we have, there is also an aquatic/pirate, Ancient Egypt, space, and city map. They could line up the maps and take Cubetto on one huge, epic adventure, or they could use them on their own and use them for storytelling activities.

I love that in addition to teaching coding, Cubetto also encourages kids to be creative storytellers. And when played with more than one child, Cubetto can let kids practice patience and sharing. Children will love playing with Cubetto. It's a cute little wooden robot that rolls around on little wheels. My son, who is fascinated with electronics, and was 4 when he began playing with Cubetto, really took an interest in figuring out how Cubetto worked. We haven't used Cubetto for any homeschool STEM lessons, but he plays with it daily and that's a lesson in itself.

So how does Cubetto teach children beginner coding? It uses the blocks and interface board. There are four simple commands, which tells Cubetto where to go. There are three lines in the queue (main sequence) and a line for the function command. There can be a maximum of 12 commands in the queue and 4 commands in the function square (which is a subroutine). My son discovered on his own that he could create a loop of actions by adding a function block to the function queue, which would reset and start over again. The blue button at the top is the Go button, that tells Cubetto when to start his adventure. The blocks are color coded and shaped, so children can easily tell them apart. Green for forward, yellow is left at 90 degrees, red is right at 90 degrees, and blue is the function block.

The map is designed so each square is a single movement for Cubetto. Children can plan his adventure starting on any square on the map. They can let his destination be random or they can plan out a specific journey. If Cubetto can't make it there in one go, he'll stop at the end of his set and wait for new instructions. My daughter likes to tell stories as he moves around. I write it down for her in her journal and she draws pictures later, illustrating Cubetto's adventure.

I would highly recommend Cubetto for parents and teachers of preschoolers and kindergartners. It works well with one child, or a small group of children. Children in a classroom could take turns using Cubetto in small groups. At home, older children can help their younger siblings learn how to use Cubetto. It's a fun toy to learn coding skills at a young age. All children can benefit from STEM skills. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Dragonistics Data Cards Review


We received a copy of Dragonistics Data Cards to review for Academics' Choice Awards. It is a card game made by Statistics Learning Centre of New Zealand that teachers and parents can use to teach statistics and play mathematical games. They can be used in a school setting or at home. We are homeschoolers and used it for categorical and numerical math lessons.

Dragonistics Data Cards comes with 240 cards and 56 Attribute cards, enough for a whole classroom. Students learn statistical concepts by sorting and organizing the cards. Each card has a unique dragon on it, with a name, age, gender, strength, height, type of breath, color, behavior, and number of horns. The cards are beautifully illustrated. Not all 240 cards have different dragon images, there are a couple different images for the dragons, but they all have different statistics. We added an extra group by saying the dragons who look the same come from the same family.



The cards come in a small box with a magnetic closure. The one main flaw I see with this box is that the cards are small and glossy and can very easily slide out of the box if it's held on its side or upside down. Providing small plastic card bags or a tuck box would have prevented this. Luckily we own many games and had bags to spare. Otherwise, the box is sturdy and easy for the kids to access on their own. 


We were provided with a few printed copies of their educational materials. No set of rules were included in the game box, but their teaching resources are free on the website. You can simply download and print them as they are needed.

The set of Attribute cards can be used by students to sort their cards. There are 4 of each card, and they include: All Different, Gender, Gender and Color, Color, Breath, Breath and Behavior, Behavior, Height, Age, Age (Century), Strength, Horns, Name Order, Name Length. 


You can use whichever Attribute card you want for lessons or games. We shuffled them up, chose one at random, and gave each child six Dragon cards. They had to sort the cards into appropriate piles. We did this for practice, before starting to use the cards for lessons. When we use them for lessons, I choose which Attribute and Dragon cards we use. My children occasionally work together, but more often they work separately. These cards work equally well in both cases. In a classroom setting, a group of children could play games to see who can sort their cards the fastest or make the most sets of pairs. Below are a few examples of how the cards can be grouped.

Grouped by Gender.

Grouped by type of Breath.

Grouped by Age.

Grouped by Height.

Two of the games that can be played with Dragonistics Data Cards are called Dragon Twins and Speed Sorting. The directions are in the free resources section. The rules are pretty straight forward and can be played with children as young as four.

In Dragon Twins you can play with 2 to 4 players and the object of the game is to find things that are the same. You use both the Attribute cards and the Dragon cards. Set up the Attribute cards and place them face up in front of the players. Then place the Dragon cards face down in a pile in the middle. Your aim is to collect the most Attribute cards. The first player draws two Dragon cards and finds an attribute that they have in common. When the Attribute is found, that player can pick up the matching Attribute card from the pile or from another player. If no match can be found, the player can choose the All Different Attribute card. The Dragon cards are then placed in the discard pile. The game ends when there are no Attribute cards left in the pool and the player with the most Attribute cards wins.

Speed Sorting can be played with 2 to 4 or more players. With up to 4 players, you can use the Attribute cards and 40 Dragon cards. With a larger group, you can use up to 240 Dragon cards. You'll use the Dragon cards for ordering or sorting. Choose which Attributes you want to use, shuffle and place them face-down in a pile. For sorting you can use: color, gender, behavior, or breath. And for ordering, you can use height, age, strength, name order (alphabetically), or number of horns. Shuffle the Dragon cards and each player will choose three cards, placed face-up in front of them. The object of the game is to be the first to collect 10 Dragon cards. The first player turns over the top Attribute card and reads it out loud, then the players try to sort or order their cards as quickly as possible. When the cards are checked, the player who completed their set the fastest is given a new Dragon card from the pile. If they are incorrect, they lose a Dragon card, to a minimum of three. The next player then takes their turn turning over the top Attribute card and reading it. When the pile of Attribute cards are used up, shuffle them and place them face-down and draw from the top. The winner is the first player to 10 Dragon cards. Younger players can play to a smaller number of cards.

We really enjoyed using the Dragonistics Data Cards. We mainly used them to play the games at the end of math lessons, but we also used them for fun. The cards are small enough that they store easily for take-and-go lessons at the park or on the road. My kids really like the dragon illustrations and have fun sorting the cards. The dragon theme really drew them in. As a parent and teacher, I love that the cards can be used for educational purposes while still being an enjoyable game.

I would recommend Dragonistics Data Cards to families that want to improve math skills at home and teachers who want to use them for math lessons. Even if you are using them just to play the games, children are learning math while they play. While there were only rules to use them for two games, I know we will find other ways to play and learn with them. We look forward to printing new material from the website to see what other activities we can use them with.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Baby #3

You may have noticed that Munchkin and Bean hasn't been active over the past few months. That's because I'm pregnant with baby #3 (a boy!) and I wanted to take a break from blogging to focus on home life and homeschooling. Baby O will be arriving mid-May and shortly after I'll begin blogging again, provided life allows the time for it. :)

In the meantime, our Etsy store is still open and we have some new items available, such as frosted felt cookies! I'm currently running a deal on felt boards - buy one, get one felt board set free (such as the solar system, moon phases, or weather set). I'm also creating custom cross stitch family portraits! They are unique and make great gifts to celebrate special occasions, such as weddings, graduations, family gatherings, etc.

I look forward to returning to blogging after Baby O arrives!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Fun-Time Phonics! Review



We received Fun-Time Phonics! from The Critical Thinking Co. to review. It's a 300+ page curriculum to help children ages 4 (Pre-K) to Grade 2 learn to read. It focuses on phonics and because it's targeted to younger children, it uses colorful images on every page to help children connect pictures to letters, sounds, and words.

$39.99 book / $19.99 download
One of the great features of Fun-Time Phonics! is that classroom copying is allowed, which also applies to homeschool families. So you can use one book for multiple students. We actually didn't end up making copies, mainly due to the fact that we don't have a color printer, but we used clear dry-erase sheets to put over the page when it prompted the student to circle, color, or write on something. But most of the earlier activities simply ask you to point to the correct answer. For the most part I worked on Fun-Time Phonics! one-on-one with my kids. Bean whizzed through a quarter of the book in the first two weeks that we had it, but after that she reached the point where she was learning something new and began to pace herself to one lesson per day. Munchkin has stuck to one lesson per day, but this is the first reading curriculum we have used that he has shown positive interest in, so we are very happy with his progress! 

There are many different types of lessons that can be found in Fun-Time Phonics! The first few activities focus on Phoenemic Awareness (beginning and ending sounds, rhyming, putting sounds together, short vowel sounds), then Alphabetics (short vowel letters, consonants and co-articulation), Beginning To Read, and at the end, Words I Can Read.

In all, there are 100 activities. However, 100 activities doesn't necessarily mean that this curriculum only covers 100 days of lessons, because in order to move on to the next lesson, each student should first master the current activity they are on, because each lesson builds on the previous activities. So while some activities may only require a day to master, others might take two or more days to work through. We have always preferred child-paced learning and loved that this curriculum allowed them to set their own pace.

We really liked that the beginning sounds activities used pictures and words to match the sound. The kids primarily focused on the pictures at first, but after choosing their answer, we would go through each word and point to the first letter, make its sound and then say the word.


The vowels seem to be the hardest part for Munchkin to master. He knows all the vowels, but he has difficulty with their sounds, like short and long A. So we have spent a lot of time going over these lessons with him.


We aren't this far into the book yet, but Bean has flipped through to look at future lessons. She tries to name what the pictures are, and sometimes finds it difficult to figure out what the word is meant to be, despite the red arrows pointing at the image. Generally I try to have her figure out the image first and if she can't, I'll tell her what it is.


We took the first words list and made a set of flash cards out of them. The front of the flash card, the blank side, shows the word in big letters, while the lined back side of the card has the word written at the top. Bean practices to write these words on the lines, but only after she has mastered reading the word.


Bean prefers the lessons where she can circle or write on the answers, while Munchkin prefers to point out his answer. This curriculum has worked out for both of them and they are always eager to work on their "fun phonics." I love that it appeals to both of them, and they can work independently or with help.  


I would absolutely suggest using Fun-Time Phonics! for beginner readers, for both homeschoolers and public school students. We loved having the book form, because it was easier for the kids to use on their own, and it made it easier for me, not having to find a color printer to make copies. But for a classroom setting, I would suggest using the digital version to make your copies, since the pages in the physical copy do not come out, so it may be difficult to make perfect copies of them. But as the teacher, I'd always want a physical copy on hand to refer to and use to plan future lessons.

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