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Doing the school run… by bike

Doing the school run… by bike

ebiking

This is not our route to school. I wish it was.

I’m in training.

Not a charity marathon, or half marathon, or triathlon, or any of that stuff. Oh no. I’m training so I can bike up the big hill to my son’s school.

He’s off to elementary school in the autumn, and through the unfortunate nature of school zone boundaries, we are at the bottom of the catchment area and the school is at the other end. Points A and B also manage to span a large hill.

In a perfect world, we would have an e-bike, or a cargo bike, or a cute bakfiet, or something along those lines. We would also live on the same level as the school with nothing but separated bike lanes on tree-lined streets, if we’re going to go all imaginary perfect world here. But nope, it’s 15 blocks of up hill, albeit on low traffic bike route streets.

My plan, right now, is to get to the point where I can cycle up this hill myself, on my own, by the beginning of the summer. I can just about do it now, but it feels like my heart is exiting my chest through my ribcage when I get to the top, and my quads are quivering like coatless chihuahuas in an air conditioned Starbucks. I’d like to do better than that.

The second step is getting my son up the hill with me. He weighs about 40 lbs now, and that’s without any contraption to attach him to my bike. We have a single MEC trailer, but it weighs a metric ton. The plus side with the trailer is there’s space for his bag, and it’s dry when it rains. Down sides are weight, plus the annoyance of having to head home to drop it off before I do anything else.

It would be great if he was comfortable with a trail-a-bike by the time we roll around to school time. I think it will be lighter, and I’ve heard there are ones where they can help with the pedalling. And not with the braking, which would be very, very bad. My favourite right now is this Weehoo I-Go, through the completely unrealistic method of reading reviews on the internet.

Why am I doing this? Well, several reasons. I want my son to think of cycling as a viable way to get places and do things. I don’t want us to become isolated in our car all the time, going from place to place in our little bubble. I don’t want to waste fuel going up and down this hill four times a day. I think cycling is such an important part of the transport mix, and I need to put my two wheels where my ideological principles are, as it were.

So, my friends who cycle places with the 5 year olds and older, what are your secrets? Am I crazy for trying this? Actually don’t tell me that. Only tell me good things.

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Why we love board games

Why we love board games

elliot game

You must have figured out by now that I’m a nerd.

I mean, look at my Instagram feed (craft beer, board games), my reading habits, my Pebble watch, and the fact that I buy my son David Tennant-era Doctor Who trousers whenever possible.

It was with some excitement that I realized our son was old enough to play board games with us. Through the generosity of some equally nerdy friends, we’ve borrowed and bought several games lately that have become part of our daily routine.

Some kids love to cut paper, colour, or make crafts. My son will sit and play four rounds of games every morning. This amazed me initially, as he is so physical; previously, unless an activity involved running or wrestling, he was not interested. I also love that playing games works on math, word recognition, motor skills, and social interactions – I mostly wanted to do something with him that didn’t involve me getting any more bruises!

As we head in to this last, seemingly unending stretch of winter, I’m going to be posting a series of reviews of the board games we’ve been playing. My husband and I have gotten back in to playing games in the evening as well. It’s definitely helped clear some brain fog and reassured me that three years of sleep deprivation did not actually turn my mind into oatmeal.

I’m talking about German-style board games mainly, which are along the lines of Settlers of Catan, Civilization, Axis and Allies, Carcassone, Smallworld, and others. You’re building out worlds, developing civilizations, trading resources, playing out wars – that kind of thing. Not Sorry! or Trivial Pursuit or something like that. Often one adult game will run for an hour, or more, depending how long you take to think through your turn. There are small person versions of many of these games, and I’m going to be talking through the ones we’ve been trying, and which ones we’ve loved.

But first, some great resources for finding out about good board games.

Board Game Geek, is, as you can imagine, a deeply overgrown thicket of information. However, one of my favourite elements of this site is their user-generated GeekLists of Netflix genre-type specificity. I found She’s Asleep! Games for Time Poor Adults with Infant(s) an excellent list of quick games for adults. Digging through the forum archives, we also found good advice on new games to try with our 4 year old.

Tabletop is a YouTube show about games produced by Wil Wheaton. I was resistant to sitting through half an hour of watching people play a game, but it’s actually quite good. If you’re not sure how a game works, watching the related episode of Tabletop will give you the best overview possible.

Research is key, because these are not 99¢ apps we’re talking about here, but shelf-space cluttering $40-$80 purchases. We often play at least two or three different games a day, however, both with our son and without. Non-screen time for all of us is a good thing.

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Playdough impressions game

Playdough impressions game

playdough titles

We stumbled on this game by mistake, but it occupied my 4 year old for an hour – I don’t think he’s wanted to play any game for an hour before! Make your own play dough or use store-bought, it doesn’t matter. I also love that this game just uses things you have lying around, there’s no fancy equipment. In fact, all you need is play dough and some things to press into it, like chopsticks, utensils, lego, small figures, toy cars – that kind of thing.

playdough3

Directions
Shape the play dough into a large pancake, about an inch thick.

All other players close their eyes, while the first player picks two objects and makes impressions of them in the play dough.

When they’re finished, they ask everyone to guess which objects made the shapes – players are encouraged to try making impressions with objects to see what looks like the original.

You can either leave all the possible objects on the table, or for older children, put away the objects and have them guess with no help.

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App review: Endless Reader

App review: Endless Reader

endless reader

One of our favourite apps last year was Endless Alphabet, a well-made game that managed to make spelling both funny and interesting. Good quality animation and silly sounds together with creative word choices (‘humungous’, ‘bellow’) kept my son coming back to play.

We were thrilled to find a new app from Originator, Endless Reader.

Using a similar format, Endless Reader gets children to pull the letters into order, each one making its phonetic sound, as in Endless Alphabet. This app goes one further, however, and offers a sentence to assemble as well. The word the child has just spelled is waiting to be put in the right place, as is two or three other words. These ones are ‘sight words’ – like the, and, is and to – that are hard to sound out phonetically, don’t have meanings that are easy to illustrate in picture form, and come up often. The goal is for the child to recognize these words by their shape, and learn how they work in context.

Once the sentence is complete, the narrator reads the sentence and the monsters act it out. There is a repeat button, and my son often watches the animations two or three times after completing a sentence.

endless reader 2

This all sounds quite simple, but what sets it apart is the quality of both the narration and animation. The whimsical monsters are perfect – funny, a bit weird, and incredibly flexible. The voice acting is professional and clear. I’m disappointed so many app developers are unwilling to pay for proper voice overs; it is so frustrating to listen to badly read stories or even mispronounced words in what is ostensibly an education app. That’s one of the reasons the Endless apps are such a joy – the narrator sounds like she would be great fun to play with.

The initial app is free, with packs of additional new words costing $2.99. Download Endless Reader from the App Store.

 

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The Day the Crayons Quit

The Day the Crayons Quit

crayonsquit2

The day my son had his first ear infection, I found a new book on our doorstep.

After the screaming, the run down the road to the walk-in clinic a block away, the half hour in the waiting room with a wailing preschooler that felt like a year, the dash home again, the medicine and everything, I opened my apartment door to find a big envelope there from Penguin. It could not have arrived on a better day.

The Day the Crayons Quit is a beautiful book illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (Lost and Found, Stuck, The Incredible Book Eating Boy, and This Moose Belongs to Me) and written by Drew Daywalt. If you’ve never heard of Daywalt, as I hadn’t, it’s probably because you’re thinking of children’s books. He’s an accomplished writer for TV and film, and currently ruling YouTube in the creepy horror genre with his short films according to Salon.

This book, however, is funny not scary.

crayonsquit1

Crayons have opinions, you see, about how they are used. Beige is feeling slighted by Brown (all those puppies and horses Brown gets to do), and Red and Orange aren’t even speaking to each other over who is the appropriate hue for the sun. Blue is overworked, and Pink is irritated at being left out. The crayons have written their grievances to their owner, Duncan, in a series of letters they left in his desk. I think my favourite is the crayon whose wrapper has been peeled off, and is now naked! My son thought this was absolutely hilarious, of course.

Duncan does his best to appease the crayons, and draws the most colourful picture he can.

It’s a lovely book, and a patient three year old would enjoy it. My four year old liked it. Each letter is written out on a different kind of paper, together with a drawing in the requisite colour.

My only issue is the end – Duncan is praised by his teacher by being given an ‘A’ in colouring and an A+ for creativity. I get the intent, but kids doing colouring in school are not being graded like that so it won’t mean anything to them. Aside from whether the child understands, the concept of being graded on colouring and creativity didn’t sit well with me. They spend so much of their school lives trying to measure up, do we really have to drag it into preschool as well? And for such subjective things? Maybe this is my French Canadian Catholic preschool and kindergarten experience rearing its ugly head (getting told off for colouring outside the lines, only colouring in pre-drawn sheets, etc) but it just struck me as an odd way of ending such a lighthearted book. I get it was well-meant, but we just changed it to ‘and his teacher was so impressed with his colouring and creativity’ and left it at that.

It’s a beautiful book, and fun to read. A little tweak to the ending and it will be a regular at storytime.

[amazon_link id=”0399255370″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Day the Crayons Quit / Drew Daywalt, Oliver Jeffers[/amazon_link]

Review

 

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