Tuesday, October 25, 2011

LeapFrog: Making Learning Fun With Tag & The New LeapPad!

I recently had the chance to try out some new products from LeapFrog in anticipation of the holiday season. I hosted a gathering of friends so we could all try out the LeapFrog Tag reading system and the brand new, ultra-cool LeapPad. As you can imagine, these were big hits with all of the kids.

My family is no stranger to LeapFrog. Each of my daughters has a Leapster with several games, and we already had a Tag reader. I love the educational games they get to play, and it's a great feeling to see my kids learning while having fun at the same time. For the party, I received a Tag reading pen for the guests to use, but I brought out the pen we already owned as well to give everyone more of a chance to use them.

The Tag reading system is designed for pre-readers through beginning readers. The pen works with special Tag books to either read each page to the child, or help the child with individual words or sounding out a word. You only need to touch the pen to the word and it immediately speaks the word for you. (After using a USB cable to connect the pen to your computer and download the book's information to the pen.)

But there's actually so much more the Tag pen can do beyond reading the words. Touch the pictures and the characters talk or sound effects are given. And most books contain games near the end that work with the pen to reinforce reading skills.

Mira can read just like her big sister now - and she's starting to recognize words thanks to Tag!

The Tag pen can also be used to learn geography. The LeapFrog Interactive World Map teaches about the different countries of the world as well as directions and distance through exploration with the pen and games available to play with the map.

My seven year old wasn't very interested in this product because she's already an advanced reader, but my four year old is obsessed with Tag. She loves to read the books "all by herself" with the help of the Tag pen, and it's helping her learn to recognize sight words. One of her friends also loved the Tag system so much that we sent his parents home with our extra pen and a couple of the books to get them started.

The big hit of the party had to be the LeapPad learning tablet, however. Several of us commented on how often our kids want to play with our smartphones or iPads, but we worry about them being broken or cluttering up our screen with nothing but apps for the kids. (Personally, I have barely been able to use my iPad because my kids love it.) The LeapPad, however, is the solution to win back our smartphones and tablets!

Mira even relaxes with her LeapPad like I do when using my iPad
The LeapPad is a tablet computer designed for kids 4-9 years old. It's smaller than an iPad but larger than a smartphone. The touch screen responds to both a finger touch and the included stylus. Like the grown up versions, you can download different apps for the LeapPad, including games, ebooks, and videos. (Apps are downloaded by connecting it to your computer with the included USB cable. And also like the grown up version, apps aren't free.)

It features a camera on the backside that can take still photos or video, and an editing program to create silly faces or add digital scenery to your photos. It has a cartridge slot at the top to allow you to use Leapster Explorer cartridge games as well.

I like the versatility of the LeapPad. It's simple enough for a non-reader like my four year old to navigate and use with little to no help from me, yet there are plenty of challenging games and activities for my seven year old. My younger daughter already considers herself a photographer now thanks to the camera app, and is now starting to dabble in shooting video.

All of the kids at our house had no trouble working the LeapPad. The youngest of the group - three years old - quickly found the drawing app and in no time was creating a masterpiece using the different drawing tools provided on the screen. The older kids played games and loved the interactive Cars ebook.

Reading ability is optional with the LeapPad - every kid loved it!
As for the parents, we all agreed the thick plastic case looked sturdy enough to handle rough play from our kids - far better than a iPad would fare! And the $99 retail price is a fair price for an electronic device that can do so much.

The one downside we noticed is that the LeapPad is battery powered. With heavy use, it needed new batteries by the end of the day, which can really add up. A rechargable battery pack would have been a better choice - we can only hope that it might be an option in the future. But since the party, my daughters have only been using the LeapPad for an hour or less each day, resulting in a longer timespan between battery changes. (Note: an AC adapter is available, which is great but limits the portability of the device when plugged in.)

Overall, I'm really impressed with the new LeapPad learning tablet and I predict it'll be one of the hottest toys for the holidays. I also like how many books and interactive products are available for the Tag reader now - my younger daughter has already pointed out several new Tag books she'd like Santa to bring her.

Take my advice - shop early for these educational toys! My daughters can't get enough of their LeapPad and Tag books, and I like that they're learning new reading and math concepts while they play. 

Full disclosure: I was provided with the above LeapFrog educational electronics and accessories to facilitate this review and demonstrate to guests at a play party. My party guests were also provided with coupons for discounts on LeapFrog products. All opinions stated here are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of LeapFrog. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Slim-Fast Sheds The Can And Pumps Up The Flavor

As many know, I've been on a quest to get to a healthy weight for several years now. It's taken a lot of effort, but I've managed to lose over 80 pounds, with about 10 pounds left to go until I reach my goal weight. Those last 10 pounds, of course, are holding on like there's no tomorrow.

I've used a variety of methods to help me lose the weight, with most being some combination of eat less and move more. But if I stay in a certain eating or fitness pattern for too long, my body adapts and I have to do something different to shake things up. I've seen many a plateau, and know that each one forces to me to adapt and alter my routine.

Many years ago, I tried Slim-Fast shakes as one of my weight loss methods. If you're one of the few people who have never heard of Slim-Fast, they're a line of vitamin-fortified milkshakes (and now nutritional bars, too) that help provide calorie control to aid in losing weight. The plan is to have a shake or bar for 2 meals a day, along with two healthy snacks and a nutritious dinner. (AKA, the 3-2-1 plan.)

The first time I tried Slim-Fast, it did work. But back then (we're taking over 10 years ago), the shakes were only so-so for flavor, and you had to drink them out of a metal can, which gave them a metallic taste. I never used the Slim-Fast shakes for long back then (even though they did result in weight loss) because I would eventually long for something with more flavor.

I recently was asked if I wanted to try the new, improved Slim-Fast shakes, and I decided to give them another try. Slim-Fast has worked to improve the flavor to make their shakes the best tasting ever, and they're now moving away from the cans in favor of re-closable plastic bottles.

First, I love the new bottle design and I'm thrilled that cans will soon be a thing of the past. The bottles are tall and contoured and easy to slip into your purse or lunch bag to take wherever you go. With the cans, once you opened them you couldn't close them again. The new bottles with their twist off top make it easy to recap if needed without any worries of a spill.

As for the taste? So far I love it! I received the Slim-Fast Creamy Milk Chocolate bottles, and the taste is completely different from the chocolate flavor I remember from years ago. There's no metallic or chalky flavor - instead it reminds me of chocolate milk, although a little thicker in consistency. It's sweet without being too sweet and has a rich chocolate flavor. Other flavors include French Vanilla, Cappuccino Delight, Rich Chocolate Royale, and Strawberries N' Cream.

Since I've been stuck at yet another plateau, I'm using Slim-Fast for two weeks to see if it can provide me the jump start I need. My schedule forces me to eat quickly or eat on the run often, so Slim-Fast's shakes and bars make a nice alternative to grabbing fast food. I'm using one or two shakes or bars a day and then having portion controlled servings of food for the other meals and snacks. Check back with me in two weeks for a full report on how I did with the new Slim-Fast shakes.

The Slim-Fast shakes in the new re-closable bottles will be on the shelf soon, so be sure to look for them!

Want to try the new Slim-Fast?

The only thing better than reading about something new is trying it out for yourself, right? Well, I've got coupons for a free pack of Slim Fast shakes or bars to give away to 3 lucky readers!

To enter, leave a comment below telling me which flavor you'd most like to try. Be sure to leave an email address so I can contact you if you're the winner! One entry per person, US addresses only.

Entries will be accepted until October 14, 2011 at 11:59pm ET. Three winners will be randomly selected from the valid entries and will have two days to respond to my email or replacement winners will be chosen.

Good luck, and check back in two weeks for an update on my progress. (And maybe another surprise giveaway, too!)

Full disclosure: I was provided with Slim-Fast products and coupons to facilitate my review. All opinions expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of Slim-Fast or anyone else.

Also, I'm a nurse, so listen closely: do not begin any weight loss program without first consulting your health care provider. Remember that weight loss is highly individual and what works for one person may not work for another. There's no magic pill for losing weight - you still have to put in the effort. Products such as Slim-Fast are designed to aid you in your efforts through portion an calorie control, but do not replace the effort itself.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Disney's Jake & the Never Land Pirates Now On DVD!

Pirates have been all the rage ever since Pirates of the Caribbean. But they generally don't come off as approachable and friendly to the average preschooler. At least not until Disney Junior developed Jake and the Never Land Pirates, where the pirates went from being just the villains to being the actual heroes as well.

Jake and the Never Land Pirates introduces a crew of kid pirates – leader Jake and pals Izzy and Cubby – and follows their Never Land adventures as they work to outwit two infamous characters, the one and only Captain Hook and Smee, from Disney's classic "Peter Pan."  Every episode features the animated Sharky and Bones characters as they pop up throughout to perform original pirate ditties, and each episode concludes with a live action music video featuring The Never Land Pirate Band.

You may think pirates are more of a genre for boys, but my two girls LOVE this show. Thankfully, one of the kid characters on the show is a girl, so they have a character to relate to when watching. The show is actually gender neutral, with adventures, songs and characters that entertain both boys and girls. My daughters love to sing along and help the crew, and my older daughter has already decided she will be a pirate for Halloween, just like Izzy.

And now you can now find seven episodes available on their first DVD, Jake and the Never Land Pirates: Yo Ho, Matey Away! which appeared in stores last week. The DVD also has two bonus features including "Yo Ho, You Want To Be A Pirate?" where Jake teaches viewers how to talk like a pirate, and "Pirate Party With Pirate-oke," a collection of music videos performed by The Never Land Pirate Band that allow viewers to enjoy with or without the sing-along/karaoke-like feature.

The DVD also comes with a bonus 7-track CD sampler and a pirate eye patch. (But only one eye patch - be ready for this if you have more than one child, or fights might break out over who gets to wear the eye patch.)

The show's first soundtrack was also recently released, featuring songs like the kooky, comical "Hot Lava," “Aw Coconuts,” "Pirate Password,” and the arrrghhh-rated “Talk Like a Pirate.” Hot Lava has now spurred many a game of "oh no, the floor is hot lava! Jump from pillow to pillow or you'll be burned!" in our house.

So if your kids love pirates, but you're not quite ready to expose them to Johnny Depp's version of the scurvy sea-captains, check out the DVD of Jake and the Never Land Pirates: Yo Ho, Matey Away! or the daily episodes on Disney Junior. It's the perfect non-scary introduction to pirates that will have kids eager to start their own adventures and search for treasure in their own backyards.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

October 7: Will You Be Wearing Denim?

Many of you already know of my love for Lee Jeans. They fit perfectly, the price is right, and they hold up through a lot of wear.

But I also admire Lee for their support in breast cancer research. Each year they sponsor the Lee National Denim Day, one of the country’s largest single-day fundraisers for breast cancer. I'm thankful that so far my direct family has been spared from breast cancer, but I have several friends and more distant family who haven't been as lucky. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in her life, but thankfully the survival rate is climbing higher every day.

This year, October 7 is Lee National Denim Day - a day when supporters nationwide come together to put on their jeans in exchange for contribution to the fight against breast cancer with the goal of raising millions of dollars in a single day.

Lee has raised over $83 million since the first Denim Day in 1996. The money raised benefits the Women’s Cancer Programs of the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF) which include Lee Laboratories, the EIF Breast Cancer Biomarker Discovery Project and Cancer Support Communities.

Many companies participate by allowing employees to wear jeans that day in exchange for a minimum donation towards the cause. But even if you don't work in one of the participating companies (or work at home), you can still be a part of this one day fundraiser. How? Well, there's a few ways:

Join or start a team to raise money at the Denim Day website. Get your coworkers or local mom group to pledge to wear their jeans on October 7 and make a donation in the amount they would normally spend on a pair of jeans.

Make your own pledge on the Denim Day website. Estimate what you'd spend on a pair of jeans and then donate that amount towards finding a cure for breast cancer.

Visit the Lee National Denim Day store and purchase promotional items, with proceeds going to breast cancer research.

Or, visit the Lee Facebook page and click on the You Click, Lee Donates link. For every click of the big pink button, Lee donates twenty-five cents up to a total of $10,000.

It's that easy to be a part of the cure for breast cancer. Help Lee fight breast cancer this Friday - who knew a comfy pair of jeans could do so much?