Indoor Play Centre Hell

I have been bribed into Indoor Play Centre Hell.

Nefarious was invited to a classmate’s birthday party at an indoor play centre: multi-level playground with soft-fall mats, trampolines, rock climbing walls… A kid’s dream!


And a parent’s nightmare!! So noisy! So crowded!!

I am down with the Mother of All Headcolds. Instead of staying here, I had planned to disappear and go shopping for a present for another party tomorrow, but the hosts showed Zaltu the play area for her age, and bribed me with free wifi and an open tab at the cafe. That’s right minions: FREE COFFEE!!

Clearly, I am very very cheap.

Seriously though, this is a great party they have put on for a bunch of 3rd-graders (around 8/9yo). Entertainment is included, along with food and drinks. And most parents will appreciate tiring the kids out just before bed.

Only glitch for our EG Family is the 1/2 hour drive home. I will have to feed Zaltu a chocolate bar to keep her awake, because if she naps even 10mins on the way home… Well, there goes any productivity tonight!

Damn you, EG Dad. My Mother’s Day present tomorrow better be awesome!!

Have you ever been to a kids’ indoor play centre? Share your survival tips!! I’m going to need alllllllll of them!! 

Do Your Spawnlings Wear Sunglasses?

sunglasses-featureI wear sunglasses all the time. Seriously, every day. Take a look at my profile picture. The spawnlings each have their own pair as well. However, shopping for sunglasses is a tiring exercise.

I recently did a review on some sunglasses over on GeekMom. Yes, I scored some freebies for it (perks of blogging). To be completely honest, I was really wary about any sunglasses purchased online. Remember, I am of the bespectacled species; pretty much useless if my prescripted lenses are even slightly out.

I also grew up in Northern Australia. Sunglasses are part of the uniform when you cross the border. And if the sunglasses aren’t meeting the grade, it will cost you big time in headaches, eyestrain, and a bunch of other health factors.

The idea of buying sunglasses online was as appealing as shopping in person–which I hate.

The thing is, how do you know you’re buying quality before you hand over your cash? You look for reviews of people who truly put something to the same testing you would.

And yes. My spawnlings like to destroy things.

So here’s the review for you again, in a more “Evil Genius Mum” standard. Again, you can read the full review over at GeekMom, with full costs and links; I’m just expanding upon the testing and suitability for each spawnling.

For the energetic 3-year-old honey badger

Zaltu is three years of pure energy (like a lot of three-year-olds), inspired and motivated by her older brothers. She’ll give anything a go, because “she don’t care!” Zaltu is not a stereotype; she likes all bold colours, surfing the waves with her dad, racing in Mario Kart with her mum, pulling out the DC Superhero Girls dolls, and dreams of being an astronaut. Generally, she likes the idea of sunglasses, but they never stay long on her face because they tend to interfere with whatever chaos ensues.

These Julbo Booba sunglasses have been an absolute hit. Zaltu loves wearing them everywhere. And yes, I do mean everywhere.zaltus-sunglasses

The sunglasses look good. They have bright bold colours with soft enough arms to rest easily on her head. Zaltu has a big head like her mother. We recently learnt Zaltu’s glasses fit an 8-year-old friend. True fact. I was a tad nervous about stretching them, but the sunglasses flexed really well.

The quality of the lenses is fantastic: plastic category-3 lenses, designed for full UV protection. These sunglasses are the genuine product, cutting out the glare so prevalent on both the beach and the ski slopes. And the added wrap-around feature is a boon to both light-leak and fitting on the head.zaltu-julbo-sunglasses

They are also fairly scratch-resistant. Zaltu throws these things everywhere. Yet they come up a lot better than the scratch-resistance I paid for with my sunglasses. They have survived the sandy beach and easily cleaned up afterwards. I’m not sure exactly what they have done, but these sunglasses have completely survived the Summer Holidays of a three-year-old. They are good.

For the experimenting 7-year-old scientist

Nefarious is the scientist, with the curiosity for why things happen (and how to make it go “BOOM!” again). He is the one to think outside the box and push things to the limits.nefarious-sunglasses-polaroid

Aesthetically, the style is a little more “classic cool” with bolder colours to choose from. They are the perfect transition point between the high-energy fun of the Julbos and the more conservative frames for the older kids. These frames are a harder plastic but not so hard as to stick into a kid’s head.

The good thing about the harder plastic frames: they have survived tree climbing, being sat on by Sinister, and a short but effective game of tug-o-war with Zaltu. The frames have a small amount of flex to the structure, but not so much to bounce out a lens.

Of course, Nefarious loved the reflective lenses because they hide his eyes. Yes, I did explain to him about the practicality of the lenses, but he didn’t care. He is seven. He just loves rolling his eyes at me behind those shades.nefarious-polaroid-sunglasses

Only downside: they don’t wrap around and stop the light leak on the side. However, Nefarious says he hates that style. So clearly this is my issue, and I should be grateful he has sunnies he is willing to wear.

For the smooth 10-year-old chilling out

Sinister is the more subtle of the three spawnlings. While he loves to be the class clown, he only likes the attention if he is in control of it. At heart, he is quite conservative and deep-in-thought. Sinister is the one to sit back and watch you from behind his sunglasses, playing out a million and one scenarios in his head.sinisters-sunglasses

Again, smooth, classic style but in a colour variant he likes. These are the hardest plastic of all the frames. There is no flex in the arms whatsoever. The true test of comfort: Sinister is still wearing these on top of his sunburnt nose and there is no pain.

Like his brother, Sinister also likes the mirrored lenses. He also appreciates the single colour scheme, as he feels a little more ‘grown-up’. What I did notice with this pair is that the frames are ever so slightly curved to the face. Even though they are not fitted, they do provide a bit more protection to the eyes on the sides.sinister-sunglasses

See those water droplets in the photo above? No watermark. Not sure exactly what special feature that is, but from a prescripted lens point of view (who hates any smudge or scratch on her glasses) this is AMAZING. What kind of dark magic is this?!? And how do I score some!!

Each of these sunglasses survived the Spawnling Test Zone; buried at the beach, thrown across the room, sat on by older brothers, running through water features, spinning around and around on a spinning teacup. The worst they seem to have is a slightly loose screw in one arm on Zaltu’s sunglasses, which is easily fixed at any glasses shop or with your own tiny screwdriver at home. I wear glasses all the time and a loose screw is nothing new in this family… or in our glasses.

I’m still stunned by how easy it was. Vision Direct is an Australian website, and they deliver anywhere in the world. They provided me with the kids’ sunglasses for reviews, and now I am so impressed I am going back to them for my own prescripted sunglasses (at my own expense).

The hardest part of the whole process was probably measuring Zaltu’s face for her glasses—have you recently asked a three-year-old to stand still for 10 seconds?

Run Mario Run!

Anyone here who has NOT played a Super Mario game of some sort? Anyone?

I still remember playing Super Mario on our Nintendo in the 1990s and constantly hating on the water levels. Any water level. Hated them.

And I’ll be totally honest with you. I haven’t bought any Mario games for our Wii U, besides Mario Kart 8; which should be a staple in any family. I’m not sure why we haven’t bought others. Possibly because we spend all our money on Lego Dimensions.

But it looks like we have another option coming up next month. I just received the press release from my Nintendo minion and it shows a new Mario game for iPhone and iPad: Super Mario Run.

super-mario-run-banner
Images provided by Nintendo Australia PR

 

For the first time ever, Mario can jump over those pesky turtles, dive down pipes, and keep searching in another castle–all on your iPhone, iPod, or iPad. I think this is going to open up a huge revival in the Super Mario fandom. Watch a whole bunch of geeky parents find an even easier way to bring their spawnlings into the fold.

Well played, Nintendo. This is will definitely continue to bolster your ‘best family gaming company’ rep.

And I don’t care. I’ll still buy the game! The game starts off free to download, with some content available for free. However, if you want to play everything, you need to hand over some gold coins. For the geographically taxed, that’s going to be AUD$14.99.

super-mario-run-screenshot-2
Image provided by Nintendo Australia PR

 

Yes, American Minions. You are once again better off with your USD$9.99. And don’t even start, Brits. You only pay GBP7.99. I know it’s only a couple of dollars in the conversion, but it is still a benefit to the company. I’m not surprised (it IS business). I’m just tired of it happening AGAIN.

So what are the mechanics of this game? Well, Mario is always running (just like most parents, amirite?) and you just have to keep the screen moving. Tap to jump, double tap to jump higher, that kind of thing.

super-mario-run-screenshot-1
Image provided by Nintendo Australia PR

 

In the design, they really have taken the best bits of almost all the games. Three different modes allow you to play in a more nostalgic/standard setting; compete against others in Toad Rally; or build your own kingdom (which is just cutesy enough to become really competitive amongst the parents spawnlings).

Super Mario Run will be available in the App Store from 15 Dec 2016. Just in time for the Summer Holidays in Australia, and all the crazy travelling families who just happen to have an iPad for the kids. Yeah, you’ll thank me.

No word yet on Android or Google phones as yet. Not my fault (read: not my problem). Take it up with management.

super-mario-run-screenshot-4
Image provided by Nintendo Australia PR

 

Too Many Monkeys in the Political Circus

It is going to be a long day, while the world waits for the outcome of the US election. 

It’s easy enough if you’re outside the US to claim “not my circus, not my monkeys”, but let’s be honest. The President of the United States is pretty influential over the rest of the planet. Whatever the outcome, those monkeys are flinging poo at all of us. 

And while I’m eagerly listening out for updates, I am SAHP with EG Zaltu as well. I need a distraction from checking the interwebs every 5min.

So, Zaltu pulled out Too Many Monkeys, a kids tabletop game that seems highly relevant to today. 


Too Many Monkeys is a card game from Game Wright, for 2-6 players. The box says for ages 6yo+, but Zaltu hands me my butt regularly in this game. If they can count, they’ll pick up all the other cards fairly quick. 

Each player starts with six cards face down. They take it in turns drawing cards, looking for the monkeys. When you find a numbered monkey, you substitute it for the face-down card in the equivalent position in front of you. 


There are other cards to help or hinder; Wild Orang Utans are the wild cards and can move around your cards as required, giraffes and elephants are trying to join the party, raccoons raid the trash for any monkeys you need, Skip cards are the bane of my gameplay, and Do Not Disturb can turn any card face down again. 


At the beginning of each round, the winner of the last round removes one card from their face-down collection. Eventually players work their way down to one card, and the Monkey Champion!

It’s a great game for spawnlings, from 3yo Zaltu up to 10yo Sinister and even grumpy Ol’ EG Mum.

And if nothing else, it gives me a happier distraction while I wait for the other monkeys to sort their s….tuff out.


Have a close look at the box and you’ll see the wear-and-tear that comes from years of love and use. This was a gift from friends almost 5 years ago. It has travelled to Borneo, Queensland, and New Zealand. No payment or sponsorship for this one!!

If you like the game reviews, stay tuned–I have just returned from PAX Aust and have some awesome games to share very soon!

Improv is Resilient

We all want the best for our kids. To be happy; To be smart; To be healthy; To be educated. The latest buzzword in parenting is “resilient”: we all want our kids to survive. Because in life, when you get knocked down, you need to get up again – swinging.

But how do we instill resilience? What’s the magic potion that raises your survival stats +10? The answer may lie in improvisation.

Improv is Resilient.jpg

Image by EG Mum

About a week ago, Professor Johannes Haushofer published online his “CV of Failures”. Essentially, it was a list of all the programs he didn’t get into, the Papers not published, research funding he did not receive. The CV was accepted by most with a sense of relief that hey! Here’s a professor that isn’t perfect and he’s doing okay!

Why was this a big deal? Because he was showing how he had been knocked down – and then got back up again. This is resilience. The ability to see any rejection or failure as a life-lesson, and improve upon it.

And this is where improvisation exercises can really help out.

Improvisation usually comes in two different streams – drama and music. Sometimes they overlap; sometimes they go their own merry way. They both take different approaches in how they are applied, yet still end up at the same destination: Resilience.

To find out the direct influence of improvisation on our brains, researchers Charles Limb and Allen Braun were shoving jazz pianists into an fMRI scanner, measuring the changes in blood flow to different parts of the brain during improvisation.

They learnt that when improvising, the conscious monitoring part of the brain (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) is ‘sshhhh-ed‘ while the area for self-expression (medial prefrontal cortex) is woken up. In short, that little voice in your head that criticises you, and tells you to quit, and tells you how everyone is waiting for you to make a mistake: Improvisation tells that voice to shut up.

It happens in athletes too. Research there has shown how constantly working on “muscle memory” often results in choking under pressure.

So I ran this past a friend who is a performing artist AND a music teacher with kids, Helen Perris. Helen had her own anecdotal evidence about improv students showing greater resilience in other aspects of their lives. And while she wasn’t exactly sure whether this was cause or correlation, it was common enough for her to start all the younger students with improv and encourage the creativity with the skill.

brian cox

One more example of how good improvisation is: The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University offers a graduate course on improv to help fresh scientists express their ideas without sounding like a textbook, or essentially a big nerd. I kid you not. The aim is to teach scientists how to open up with their communication and have more confidence in their visions and questions. They are teaching science bros to be even more awesome science bros! Soon the world will be taken over by nerds like Brian Cox… and I am okay with that.

So have I convinced you to jump on my improv train? Well, the first rule of improv is to say yes. And teach your kids to say yes.

Now don’t go crazy on this one. I know we still need to teach them self-awareness and protecting their own interests. I’m talking about saying yes to their own imagination. Saying yes to the creative impulse of their peers.

Kids naturally have this, and yet sometimes it feels like only the people who keep it into adulthood are actors and musicians; The Performers.

So I asked an improv actor about it. I had the opportunity to ask improv extraordinaire Jon Favreau on how he includes improv exercises with his own kids:

Improv is great for kids! It is so natural! In fact, I’m doing exercises with them all the time; the best way is when they don’t realise it’s an ‘exercise’ at all. It’s just a game or a bit of fun you’re having anywhere. Like playing games in the pool.

Jon Favreau 01

Of course, the first games that come to mind are the basic RPG – Jon is a huge D&D fan, and known for bringing a bit of RPG to his productions. Other alternatives are games like Munchkin Quest or Tavern Fame (both are huge favourites in our house).  But if that’s not your thing, there are plenty of other options.

Lisa (a fellow GeekMom) recently wrote about the importance of “worldplay” for kids; allowing kids the freedom to create their own world and roles, with no limit to their imagination. This is great, but you can make it even better. Get down with them and say “YES” to them. Let them make the rules and keep saying “YES” (so long as they aren’t showing complete psychopathic tendencies).

And it’s not just games. If your kid is feeling a little anxious about something coming up, have them pretend-play to work out their best/worst case scenarios. Help them ‘hear’ their own reactions and plan out subsequent reactions. I know adults who are prepping conversations like this all the time.

Each of these ideas is bringing out the kids’ creativity. It is telling that inner critic to shut up and give them a chance to grow outside the usual social boundaries. This is a good thing. This teaches them there is a world beyond this one event. That the world does not crash and burn if they make a mistake. That if something knocks them down, they will be okay. They will recover. They will get up swinging, and start creating a new world.

They will be resilient. And they will be marvellous.
This was originally posted over at GeekDad/GeekMom 

 

International Tabletop Day 2016

I like it when ‘big dates’ fall on the weekends – means less time explaining to disinterested teachers and more time focused on another level of education for the Spawnlings.

Seriously, who can’t see the benefits of Tabletop?

30 April is now THE day for some gameplay. So bring out your tablecloth, set up some tunes, and get ready for some sneaky cheeky fun! Here’s our Top 7 planned for the day:

1. Munchkin Quest

This ALWAYS top of the list for spawnlings. It has storytelling; it has weaponry; it has the opportunity to gang up on parents and make their life really difficult. What more could you want?


2. Zeus on the Loose

We bought this almost two years ago but never came around to play it yet. However, recent school holidays gave us the opportunity and we love it! I’ll be putting up a review after the weekend, but short version: you take it in turn adding numbers to the pile to reach 100. There are Greek Gods who will help you along the way because who ever hits 100 scores the point. Mathematics and strategy in a card game = more fun than you’d think!

3. Settlers of Catan

I grew up thinking Monopoly was the game to teach you how to negotiate. I was wrong. So very very wrong.

Catan is probably the most famous geeky tabletop game, known in almost any geeky circle. It is about bartering your resources well enough so you don’t have to rely on the fate of the dice.

Needless to say, I suck at it. But I love it!


4. Pandemic
Not the ideal game for germ-a-phobes. I like this game because it is a team game; everyone works together to defeat the icky diseases breaking out across the world. There is some serious strategy building required, and a great opportunity to work on communication. 

What really makes the game work is the collection of individual roles for each player. Everyone has their own skill/profession to be in the game and EVERYONE has a skill that gives you a good chance of winning.


5. Tavern Fame

Minus the drinking in the bar, this is easily the favourite warm up game in the Lair. It is brilliant as an introduction to RPG and storytelling, giving spawnlings a chance to build some serious Tall Tale talents. Hardest part is allowing each kid to tell their story without the inevitable challengers interrupting.


6. Qwirkle 

Even the 2yo can play this one (with a little help). Great strategy and pattern recognition. It starts friendly, with the shared intent of keeping the game ‘neat’ – but there is always some mongrel who has to mess the neat pattern, and then it descends into a table full of jibes and defensive moves.


7. Too Many Monkeys

Another one 2yo Zaltu loves to play. Simple card strategy, collecting all the numbered monkeys from 1 to 6, avoiding raccoons, elephants, and giraffes. All three Spawnlings were happily playing this for 20mins at the hospital while the doc took my cast off. I keep this one on the side between Zaltu and I, while also playing one of the ‘older’ games with the others. It’s not a ‘baby game’ – I’d peg it around 3-8 years old. 

Plenty of games to fill your day! Remember: the primary objective is to have fun! Put the World Domination on hold for one day, and spend the time getting to know how your fellow gamers think. Show the spawnlings life is not just shoot’em up and count the credits. 

Well, unless your bartering those credits for a cup of tea…