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.
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