Sunday, April 26, 2009

Chug-a-long With Thomas & Friends

Last week, my family had the chance to go see Thomas & Friends Live on Stage: A Circus Comes to Town. Both of my daughters love trains, and we have a small collection of Thomas trains that get a lot of attention in our house. I knew there was a strong chance that the girls would love seeing Thomas on stage - my only worry was that they wouldn't have the patience to sit through a full performance.

The queen of short-attention spans

The show started with some of the characters coming out into the audience and greeting the kids. Mira was interested, but Cordy was still fidgety in her seat. However, once the first train came onto the stage, both girls were mesmerized.

The premise of the show is a circus has come to the Island of Sodor, and they needed the engines to help pull the circus cars across the island so they can set up for their show. Thomas makes a big mistake, and it takes all of the engines working together (being really useful, of course) to guarantee a success for the circus. There are lessons in friendship, cooperation, and handling accidents, along with lots of upbeat music and exciting characters.

I remarked to my husband at intermission how amazed I was at the energy in this show. There wasn't a bad performance in the entire ensemble. Mira and Cordy loved the music, dancing and clapping along with each song.

The show ended with the circus performance, and while everyone loved the strong man, the acrobat, and the clown, it was the train engines who were still the stars of the show. Any time they came onto stage, Mira's face would light up and she would shout "woo-woo!" while pointing at Thomas, Percy and Gordon.

After an hour and a half of fun, the show was over, and Cordy's eyes filled with tears as she demanded more Thomas. We had to promise her that she would see Thomas at home to convince her to leave her seat. Half a week later, she's still asking when Thomas will bring the circus to her house.

We had so much fun watching Thomas & Friends Live on Stage: A Circus Comes to Town. Even Aaron and I enjoyed the show - it was funny, it was engaging, and I didn't feel silly dancing along. If Thomas & Friends comes to your town, I highly recommend checking out their show. You'll be chugga-chugga-chugging along for days to come!

Thanks to Mom Select for providing the tickets for our family to see this show!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Who Says Simple Ice Cream Has To Be Bland?

We've moved into an era where simplicity is coming back into style. We want our clothes made out of simple cotton or other natural fabrics. We want to see as few ingredients as possible in our shampoos and body products. And when it comes to food - we want ingredients we can pronounce.

Haagen-Dazs has listened to our desires, and created a new series of ice creams that appeal to our wishes for simplicity called Five. As you might guess from the name, these ice creams have only five ingredients each: milk, cream, sugar, eggs, and an all natural flavor. Surprisingly, you'd think this might be higher in fat or calories than your standard ice cream, but it's not - it's both lower in calories and fat per serving.

Mom Central sent me four pints of Haagen-Dazs Five to taste test: mint, brown sugar, ginger, and passion fruit. No worries about my credentials here, everyone. I can assure you that I'm an ice cream connoisseur, with a long resume of ice cream tasting from all brands. For references, see my bathroom scale.

Looking over the four flavors, I wasn't sure where to start. I've never cared for passion fruit, but I decided it was time to give it another try, since this was probably the only time I've ever had something flavored with real passion fruit. The flavor was intense, and the ice cream was wonderfully smooth and creamy. For only having five ingredients, I wasn't expecting the flavor wallop it gave me.

I still don't like passion fruit, however, so I swapped it for the pint of brown sugar and dug in. WOW. Again, such a simple yet strong flavor. I found the same to be true with ginger and mint as well. I really like that these are so simple - ingredients I can pronounce, real sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup, and no artificial flavors or colors.

The mint wasn't as strong as some of the other flavors, while the ginger was actually too strong for me. But my husband and I put our brains together, and came up with a great recipe: two scoops brown sugar ice cream, and one scoop ginger. Eat it together - the brown sugar mellows out the ginger, and together they taste exactly like a ginger snap cookie. Try it - you'll be amazed.

Overall I love the new Haagen-Dazs Five ice creams. There are seven total flavors: brown sugar, passion fruit, mint, ginger, coffee, vanilla bean, and milk chocolate. You can bet I'll be buying some of the milk chocolate soon for those days when I need a little splurge in my diet.

And you can win a pint for yourself! I've got four coupons for a free Haagen-Dazs ice cream to give to four lucky readers! To enter, leave a comment below sharing your favorite ice cream flavor, and be sure I have a way to contact you if you win.

One entry per household, US addresses only. I'll accept entries until 11:59pm EDT on Wednesday, April 22. Four winners will then be chosen at random using and contacted after that date.

Good luck!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Learning By Example With Social Skill Builders

As many of you know, Cordy was evaluated for developmental delays when she was three and I was informed that she was likely on the spectrum for autism disorders. Most likely PDD-NOS is what we were told by the school psychologist. She's had a year and a half of special needs preschool now, and thankfully she's made tremendous progress. Her sensory sensitivities are no longer debilitating and she is a little more aware of the social world around her. Instead of looking right through people, she recognizes them and even interacts with them.

But when it comes to knowing the right way to behave in particular situations, she often has trouble understanding the rules of social behavior. Her social skills are still better than they were, but she has a long way to go before the risk of causing a disruption in a new environment is minimized.

Parent Bloggers invited me to try out a social skills software called My Community, made by Social Skill Builders. The software is aimed at children 5-15 years old, and although Cordy isn't five yet, she's only five months away from it. The goal of this software is to teach children about appropriate social behavior, interactions, expectations and safety precautions in several common areas of social interaction, like the doctor's office, the car, and a restaurant.

There are five levels in this software. The very basic level allows children to select an area of town and view videos modeling appropriate and inappropriate behaviors, with an explanation of what was correct and incorrect given at the end of each video. Level 2 asks the player to answer basic multiple choice questions about what they see. Level 3 asks them to look for visual cues to social behaviors. Level 4 involves matching thoughts or feelings to those they see in the photos or video. And Level 5 asks the player to anticpate and predict the correct responses to situations.

I showed the game to Cordy and we went through Level 1 and Level 2 together. She had trouble focusing on Level 1 because she wasn't asked to do anything, but on Level 2 she was willing to make an effort at answering questions. She loved that each correct answer gave her a little lit-up icon below the video player - she especially enjoyed "earning" ice cream cones in the restaurant section! After you answer a certain number of questions, you get to play a mini-game - in our case, Cordy insisted that I play the mini-game while she cheered me on.

Cordy has a very short attention span at this point, but she did focus on the videos for short periods. For her, it's easier to come back to it a few times a day for a few minutes each, which isn't a problem because each user creates their own profile and their progress is saved to that profile.

I played the other levels, and I like how all aspects of social skills are covered, from reading body langauge, understanding feelings, and predicting responses. I'll admit that even I didn't get every question correct.

I see a lot of future use for us with this software. As she gets older, she'll be able to tackle the higher levels and pick up on the finer points of social skills. And I don't think your child needs to have autism to use this video. Many of the scenes showed typical thoughtless kid behavior (taking things from others, bugging mom in the car, refusing to share, etc.) and then modeled proper behavior in each situation. I'd guess many children would learn something from this software. There's a free demo to view on the website if you're curious about if this would be a good product for your child.

Overall I really like My Community by Social Skill Builders. The videos provide excellent social behavior demonstrations without looking over-the-top, and the interactive features of the software keep a child engaged in learning proper social skills.

Stay tuned as I'll be reviewing Preschool Playtime Vol. 2, another product by Social Skill Builders, in a few weeks!

Friday, April 03, 2009

Monkeying Around With Curious George

Cordy watches Curious George on PBS Kids every day. It's on right when she gets home from school, and she's grown to love George's antics.

So when I received the Curious George Hide and Seek Zoo board game, I was hoping she'd be interested. It was out of the box for only a minute before she was pushing the red button on the walkie talkie that came with game.

The game is designed for ages 4-8, and combines a traditional board game with matching skills and a little bit of physical fun, too. Each turn, a player pushes the red button on the walkie talkie to get their instructions from the man in the yellow hat. If he tells them to go to a certain part of the zoo, they draw a card from that area and place it on the board in the spot that matches. Then the player spins a spinner and if there is a match, the player collects the matched card.

But the man in the yellow hat doesn't always give that instruction. Sometimes he says the bus of children are getting closer, and you then move the bus one space towards the zoo entrance.

The real fun, however, lies in a push of the red button and the man's voice saying "Oh, no, George, the animals have escaped!" At that point, all players except the one who pushed the button put on animal masks, run away and hide. The walkie talkie tells the active player when it's time to go look for them, and finds as many as possible before time runs out.

The player with the most task cards and hide and seek cards by the time the bus reaches the zoo is the winner.

Cordy loved playing this game. She loved putting on a mask and hiding from us. Mira loved it too, but she was too young to play along properly and sometimes got in the way. While the game is rated for 4-8, I think some 4 year old might need a little more prompting about the rules throughout the game. (And also walkie talkie supervision - she is notorious for pushing the red button more than once.)

This game is great for working on matching skills, and of course the hide and seek element adds a lot of silly fun to the experience as well. Just be sure to set your boundries for hide and seek at the beginning of the game or you'll be searching out in the garage for the missing panda bear...

Win One!

I've got an extra copy of the Curious George Hide and Seek Zoo board game to give to one lucky reader. To enter, leave a comment below before Friday, April 10 at 11:59 pm EDT. One winner will be selected by random drawing after that date. I can only ship to US addresses. Be sure to leave me a way to contact you in the comments.

Good luck!

Contest is now closed. Congrats to Carolyn!