How Does Candy Crush Work? 4 Ways to Explain Coding to Kids.

Now that the seasons are changing and kids everywhere are coming back inside, they will likely gravitate towards computer and video games. Whether you think this is a good thing or not, it happens anyways. In order to arm our kids with an understanding of how these games were built or how they work, it is important, then, to talk to them about coding:

Code is the language of the future.

Give your child a coding head start, inspire creativity, and have fun together all at the same time! There are so many coding resources available. Here are four ways to get your kids excited about coding.

1. Talk to Them About Creativity

As with anything involving kids, the first step is communication. Introduce coding vocabulary into your day to day conversation and equate it to any creative pursuit. How does a drawing become an animated movie? What’s the difference between their toy robot and the NASA Rover? How does Candy Crush work? Coding is a way to bring things to life and we see it all around us every day.

2. There’s an App for That

Hopscotch is an award winning Apple app that teaches the basic of coding to kids aged 9-11. It’s fun and super creative. Apple is set to launch a new platform called Swift Playground later this year. It’s played with an iPad and teaches serious code in a seriously fun way! These are just two of the many app options out there.

3. Keep it Social

Kids coding camps, workshops, events, and classes are popping up all over the place. Look for (usually free) activities with your local libraries, clubs, schools, and colleges. Even Apple has started hosting Coding Camps in their retail stores.

4. Build a Website Together

Are your kids passionate about cooking or dinosaurs, playing soccer or a particular TV show? Build a simple website together using a free platform like WIX, Weebly, or Squarespace that celebrates that passion. Post music, book, or movie reviews, scan and upload drawings, make gifs on simple sites like Imgur. As the website grows so will the need to research ways to accomplish her vision. This is also a great time to discuss privacy and rules about what to post on the internet.

We hope these ideas have inspired you to take advantage of all the amazing kids’ coding resources out there. Now get out there and code!

3 tips to get your kids learning in the kitchen.

I think we can all agree that STEM education is very important for the success of future generations. However, it’s hard to always find ways to give kids hands-on STEM experiences in order to help them apply their lessons to the real world. Enter: the kitchen.

If you are looking for some ideas for creative parenting that will help introduce your young child to the real-world application of their STEM skills (and get dinner on the table faster!), you need only to step into your kitchen.

The kitchen is a great place to give children the opportunity to explore science and math in a fun, exciting way.

Technology can be used in the searching for recipes, and opportunities for discussing engineering can happen every time you pull out a new appliance in the kitchen.

Here are 3 ways you can expand upon your child’s education in the kitchen:

  1. Measuring:

    From finding the correct measuring cup to weighing items on a food scale, there are so many opportunities to get measuring done in a kitchen. To grow this skill further, have older children convert measurements or double a recipe.

  2. Stirring:

    Stirring ingredients together and watching what happens is like a big science experiment.

    This is especially true if you are cooking from a recipe you have never used or if you are creating a new recipe of your own. Try adding ingredients one at a time to see what they do to the mixture individually. Try melting the butter before adding it. Does that do anything different? Encourage your child to experiment and make new discoveries!

  3. Chemistry:

    All cooking involves chemistry. While your soup is simmering or your cake is baking, discuss the ingredients you put in and throw around ideas to get kids talking about what they believe will happen based on their knowledge of the ingredients. Discuss the chemical reactions between certain ingredients in order to help your child come to their own conclusions.

    Of course, the kitchen is just one of the places you can help your child apply STEM education in their daily lives. By keeping them engaged and excited about learning, you can help improve the lives of the next generation of cooks!

5 ways to bring STEM to family game night.

Ah, game night. Setting aside some time one night a week (or month, or year – whatever works) to play games with the family. Putting the phones down, computers away and having some face-to-face interaction. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t involve STEM somehow, does it?

Bringing game night into the 21st century, without involving an app or a screen of some sort is a challenge all on it’s own.

If you don’t already know, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) or STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) is a hands on learning approach to these concepts that essentially used to just be called science or math class.

So here are some ideas on how to bring STEM concepts into your game night; low on screen-time, high on good-times.

  1. Make a boat.

    The only requirements are that it actually needs to float for a reasonable amount of time and that it has to be made from things you can find around the house. The best part of this game is the big bathtub test, of course! (main STEM concepts: Engineering and Art)

  2. Survivor! 

    Challenge your family to cooperate to make a structure you can all fit inside using only newspapers and masking tape (or whatever other miscellaneous materials you have lying around). Pretend you need it to survive. Make it even more challenging (for them, maybe not for you, ha!) by doing it without talking. Complete instructions can be found here(main STEM concepts: Engineering and Science)

  3. Invent your own game

    Create a whole new game or make up new rules for an existing game. This can be a board game, a card game or an active outdoor game. Some ideas for games and supplies you might need to make new games can be found here. (main STEM concepts: depends on what you choose, but either way you’re using your Imagination, so bonus *I!)

  4. Put a twist on games you already have.

    Play Candyland backwards. Or monopoly. Or Snakes and Ladders. Just start at the end and go to the beginning. Once you start doing this, you will be amazed at what kids can make up themselves. It also gets them thinking outside the box. (main STEM concepts: Math)

  5. Obstacle Course: 

    Create an outdoor obstacle course using pool noodles! They are wonderful to make all kinds of outdoor games. They can be cut and shaped and secured with tape to make all kinds of things. Your family will invent things, get exercise, and have a lot of laughs. Here are some more ideas for that. (main STEM concepts: Technology, Math and Art)

Game night is on!

3 tips for how to watch the Olympics with your kids

The Olympics provide an incredible opportunity for kids to not only cheer on the athletes who have mastered their favourite sports, but also to learn about the world.

Since the opening ceremonies in Rio are just two days away, here are a few activities that are designed to help your kids appreciate not only the competitive excitement of the Games but also to provide them with a cultural and geographical context for what they are watching

1.Mapping the Athletes: 

Find a world map from the local discount store and display it for the duration of the Olympics. Consider having it out during the opening and closing ceremonies, and play a family game; who will be first to find the location of each country as the teams enter the stadium (place a pin or Lego brick on each country that enters)?!

2.Mapping the Medal Count: 

For each medal awarded, have your kids place a coin on the country’s location. You can colour code for Gold (i.e., loonie), Silver (i.e., quarter) and Bronze (i.e., penny).

Your kids will essentially be creating a 3D bar graph that can be updated daily.

As the Olympics progress, this map will serve as a great discussion piece (e.g., Do larger countries earn more medals than smaller countries? Do some continents have a greater medal count than others? Does the southern or northern hemisphere have more medals won? What might this map look like during the Winter Olympics?).

3.One Country Per Day: 

For each day of the Olympics, have your kids select a country that you will “explore” together. Maybe they’ll choose a country that they are already familiar with, or maybe they’ll go for one that they know absolutely nothing about.

Let them locate the country on the map (try to place a thumbtack on all of the countries you research), draw their flag or attempt to create it in Minecraft (see below for my 7-year-old’s example of the English flag during the Euro Cup!)

Olympic Minecrafting

Other activities they can do? The list goes on: listen to the national anthem, learn about the culture of each country they are interested in, determine the population and distance from Rio (Google maps!) and maybe even eat some traditional meals (Chinese takeout, anyone?). Imagine how many interesting facts about countries your kids will learn by the end of the Olympics, giving them a whole new appreciation of the cultural contexts of each athlete.

 

What are some of your family’s favourite Olympic Games Activities?

 

MakerBloks Starter Kit

4 ways of getting the most out of screen time

Parents and teachers and everyone in between have witnessed what a “good” educational app can do for our children. Kids are not only engaged, but are often developing valuable skills like problem solving, cause-effect relationship recognition, hand-eye coordination, creativity and collaboration.

They key is, getting the most out of screen time for your kids.

Inevitably, there are also a slew of apps that are simply mindless, one finger, repetitive exercises in clicking (and let’s face it, some of us adults may have succumbed to the mindless allure of these apps… Candy Crush anyone?). So what’s the basic message?

Not all apps are created equally…

Here’s a rundown of what to consider when you’re working on getting the most out of screen time for kids:

1. Create a safe and productive online environment

“Sandbox Apps”, such as ScratchJr.  allow children some freedom to be creative and to play with tools rather than restricting them to simply right or wrong answers.  By fostering creativity and encouraging planning, building, and making, these apps align with the current “maker” movement that so many educators are embracing.

 

Scratch Jr.

 

2. Combine the virtual and real worlds

For younger children, look for apps that focus on spatial reasoning. Research shows that focusing on the development of spatial reasoning can have a huge impact on children’s success in math and other subjects later in life.  For example, try selecting apps that encourage counting objects, building puzzles, mapping, or virtual building blocks.

3. Free does not always mean good.

Consider purchasing, rather than opting for the “free” apps.  By purchasing apps, we avoid the annoying and sometimes inappropriate ads that come up on games.   Some of the best apps, like Minecraft may seem expensive relatively speaking, but after hours of problem solving, creating and some serious thinking, it will end up costing only pennies per day.

4. Encourage interaction.

Try to take some time to interact with your kids as they are on the device.  Of course, you might want to take advantage to get in a little “you” time while they’re busy, but the best way to get the most out of screen time is to take a few minutes to get them to show you what they’re up to.  Interaction has shown to improve the “learning” that takes place. Talk to them about what is happening, get them to consider “what if” scenarios.

 

Interaction

 

If you have more than one child, encourage them to play together on one device.  They will naturally take turns, discuss strategies and be forced to come to a consensus on game play decisions.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what you think is best for your own kids. Each child is different, with their own set of interests and preferences when it comes to play. For so many of them, no matter what their interests, part of their playtime exists inside the digital world, so let’s join them there and give them the right tools to benefit from it!

Top 3 holiday activity guides for you and your kids

If the music on the radio or the lights on the trees haven’t already told you, then you heard it here first:

the holiday season is officially here.

This means your family and friends (and anyone your family or friends have decided to bring along) will all be under one roof for a much longer period of time than usual. This is great! A chance to catch up with one another and spend some quality time. To gear up for this busy period, most of our time gets taken up with ideas of the food we’ll make or how to decorate the house.

But then what?

Ideally, you play and laugh and spend little time in front of your screens. The more we can take advantage of this down time, the better. So, I’ve decided to put together a little list of some of the best resources I’ve found to help you feel more prepared – whether it’s for your holiday break or just any ol’ “surprise there’s a snow storm and the kids were all supposed to be outside making forts, what do I do now” kind of day.

Check out our list of the top 3 holiday activity guides we found for you to do with your kids (or nieces or nephews or god-kids or the neighbour’s kids who got dropped off for “an hour”).

  1. Hands-on: This one is great because it’s all hands-on, DIY type of activities. I’m talking family handprint trees, cotton-ball Santa and toilet roll reindeers.
  2. Get some stretching in: The 12 yoga poses of Christmas! I love this one because it focuses on getting kids to be active in a different way than they may be used to. It also comes with adorable illustrated versions of all the poses!
  3. The pretzel pose as seen in the parenting.com article “12 Yoga poses for Christmas”

    STEM-themed activities:  And finally, we have games and ideas to keep the curious Makers in the group occupied. These are especially fun because they centre around the winter season.

Be active, make stuff, ask questions, HAVE FUN and happy holidays from all of us at MakerBloks!

An Ode To The Block.

An Ode To The Block

For many of us, blocks were amongst the first toys we were introduced to. The original building piece. The tool that helped us to bring our ideas to life. The survivor of our unsteady designs and our frustrated attempts to create something from nothing.

 

Bing Nursery school
At Stanford University’s Bing Nursery School in Palo Alto, Calif., blocks play a significant role in helping children to think creatively, solve problems and think like young mathematicians. Eric Westervelt/NPR

 

The negotiation of different types of spaces, sizes and dimensions, which taught us how to be logical in our decisions and precise in our measurements. The thrill of knocking down our creations, and starting again with something completely new.

Back to the basics

Of course, we all know that advances in technology have brought us some of the best toys and games to ever exist (ahem, including a toy you might have heard of, called MakerBloks). Kids are learning about electricity, how to code, and the future of robotics. They’re learning how to design for the future. But when we strip away the power and connections, the IoT, the robots, the magnets and the batteries, we are brought back to the basics.

And sometimes it’s the simplest things that teach us the most important concepts.

Blocks teach the big concepts

In a recent NPR series, they explored iconic childhood toys and what they mean to us. They noted that while kids were having fun in free, unstructured playtime with tactile toys like blocks, they were also finding ways to make sense of the world around them. This is the beginning of learning the key elements of mathematics:

“kids working with blocks are really starting algebra – essentially they’re solving for X. They’ve got one piece on one side and one piece on the other and a distance to fill. So what is that amount going to be, what does the length of that block have to be to bridge, to sit at both edges of the block? It’s the beginning of mathematics, really.”

 

MakerBloks

 

It’s easy to forget where or when we learned how to reason through a problem when there was no clear answer, or how to incorporate logic to get the results we wanted. The block acts as a reminder that kids are still so new! They need the time and space to figure things out for themselves, and it’s our job to help them find the right tools and resources, and let them do just that.

Starting with something as simple as a block.

Minecraft

Minecraft is serious business

Minecraft is one of those games you can’t really get tired of. A game where you build your own world and your tools, gather ressources, hunt and explore lands. Minecraft is only propelled by your grand imagination and creativity. Originally created by Swedish programmer Markus “Notch” Persson and published by Mojang, it later got acquired by Microsoft in November 2014. Today Minecraft expands in a wide range of products from stuffed animals to Lego sets, and played by the very young to infinity years old.

=This is how Minecraft is serious business…=

1. Minecraft has its own convention

Minecon 2015 happened July 17th in London and gathered everything and anything related to Minecraft. Monsters walking around, a pool of blocks, and pyrotechnics shows involving acrobats were there during this two day event.

2. Minecraft art

This image made by Thorlar Thorlarian took 1.1 million blocks to make and more than 1000 hours to create. The artist showed the project on a Twitch stream and raised some money for charity. It may be the world’s biggest piece of pixel art ever made on Minecraft.

MinecraftStyle, a parody of PSY’s Gangnam Style…we’ll just let the video speak for itself.

4. Minecraft in education

In September 2012, Minecraft partnered with the U.N to develop Block by Block, an initiative to encourage children to rebuild their neighbourhood in countries like Kenya and plan to redesign 300 places by 2016.

Bringing Minecraft to classrooms, MinecraftEdu enables children to discover ancient civilisation and geography, learn about chemistry, without worrying about being blown up by monsters.

With help from the community, the British Museum plans to build a version of the museum in Minecraft. Many notorious places (imaginary and real) have been created as a Minecraft version such as Games of Thrones, a replica of New York during the 1940’s and Minas Tirith from The Lord of the Rings.

Anything we forgot from the world of Minecraft? Tell us in the comments below!

Fun Games That Won’t Give Your Kid Zombie Gaze

These brand new fun games combine the virtual and physical worlds to keep your child’s mind sharp and their eyes sparkling. We all know the look. It’s the slack-faced, glazed-over expression on a child’s face when they’ve been absorbed by an iPad for too long. To be fair, zombie gaze can be a gift and a curse.  The silence that couples a kid hooked on iPad games is never unwelcome, but the glassy-eyed stare devoid of youthful exuberance eventually leaves a parent wondering: how much is too much? Luckily, a trend is emerging among some very innovative toy and game companies who are fighting the good fight against the zombie gaze.  Two brand new games combine the virtual and physical worlds and offer great solutions for parents wanting to help their kids spend less time glued to a screen.

HACKABALL

Hackaball is a brand new toy that encourages kids to get physically active with a programmable…ball?  Yep, it’s as simple as that.  A “smart-ball” that kids can configure on their tablets to change colour, make sounds, and respond in different ways when thrown, dropped or shaken.  What we love about Hackaball is that it connects kids’ inherent tech-savvy with running around, throwing, catching, and being a crazy active kid.  Hackaball just launched their crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter and is already halfway to their goal of $100,000.  Good luck Hackaball!

PIPER

Piper is another innovative toy company that recently launched on Kickstarter. The game is a toolbox with a Minecraft adventure world that helps kids build and learn electronics. Besides building the box itself, children actually assemble components on a real breadboard to create gadgets that help them advance through Minecraft. Kids remain stationary while they play, but the game helps build dexterity and encourages hands-on construction. Piper launched their game on Kickstarter and were already 100% funded in the span of three days! Congrats Piper!

We at MakerBloks love these games because they give kids options. By combining the virtual and physical worlds, innovative games allow children to learn the tools of the 21st Century, while still being kids.

We want to know your tips and tools for preventing Zombie Gaze!  Tell us what cool games you’ve come across that combine the virtual and physical worlds…we know they’re out there!

Love,

The MakerBloks Builders

Want more of these articles straight to your inbox? Sign up here to our newsletter and stay tuned for our upcoming Kickstarter campaign!