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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Educational Christmas Gifts for Kids

Here we are at that time of year again, when I am banging my head against the wall trying to figure out what gifts to give my kids for Christmas.  As if that weren’t enough, I have to figure out what to give all of the other dear wee-ones in our life.  Of course, it should be easy right.  After all, millions of dollars will be spent over the course of the coming month in an effort to convince us that our kids are going to grow up emotionally scarred if we don’t give them the latest flashing-buzzing-electronic-thingie-that-will-eat-through-$50-worth-of-batteries-every-month (assuming that my child actually plays with it after New Years Day).  Perhaps I am just not that gullible.  Perhaps I am just not that mainstream.  I like to think that my standards for gifts is higher than the spoon-fed masses – or so I tell myself in an attempt to combat the insecurities that have arisen since the Post-Thanksgiving Day advertising barrage.

Maybe its just me, but I want my gifts to be both fun and have some educational value.  And I don’t mean the kind of educational value that I found as a 6 year old boy playing with a Barbie doll.  You know, how to take off and put on (ok, mainly take-off) a four-snap blouse.  I mean the kind of age-appropriate educational value that helps develop special skills, memory or reasoning.  Maybe even something that reinforces phonics or sight-words.  Perhaps arithmetic.  Anything other than “B-Button” or Myspace etiquette. 

So here is a quick list of some of what I believe to be top educational gifts for children.  Many of them we have used with our own kids. 

1.     Signing Time Video Set:  These videos are great for helping to teach American Sign Language to kids and their parents.  Research has shown that children develop the mental ability to communicate long before they develop the required dexterity in their tongues.  If you would like to eliminate many of the frustrations that lead to the two’s and three’s being “terrible,” then this is the gift for you.  And unlike some of the other products on the market, these videos are teaching true ASL so the skills will be applicable beyond the childs infant years.   Http://www.singingtime.com
2.     LeapFrog Fridge Phonics and Fridge Words:  These magnets are wonderful for teaching and reinforcing the letters of the alphabet, their sounds, and how they form basic words.  And let’s face it, who doesn’t need more magnets for their refrigerator?  http://shop.leapfrog.com
3.     LeapFrog Learning DVD:  Let’s face it, active parents occasionally need to plop their little one in front of the digital baby sitter.  And if they have already mastered the Signing Time videos, then it’s time for Phonics or Math skills.  And what’s even better is how the videos work hand-in-hand with the LeapFrog Fridge Magnet sets.  Granted, this gift still requires them to be in front of a tv, but at least it’s better than “SpongeBob Squarepants.”
4.     Insect Lore Butterfly Garden:  This was given to us by a friend, and after our experience with it, we have given it to many of our friends children.  Children get to witness the four of the stages of butterflies’ growth cycle.  Once the butterflies emerge from the chrysalis, your child can set them free.  No worries though, the Painted Lady butterfly is found throughout the US, so no need to be concerned about introducing invasive species into your local environment.  The Garden comes with a poster that illustrates the various growth stages.  This project provided just the opportunity I was looking for to teach my four-year-old the word “metamorphosis.”  http://www.toysrus.com/product/index.jsp?productId=3979145
5.     Boost Your Brain-Power:  OK, I have to be upfront and cop-up to the fact that this is one of my products, but it truly is amazing!  This music CD is loaded with specific classical music that increases learning ability.  Due to the pacing of the songs, children (adults too) can learn up to 5x’s faster just by having the music playing while engaging in an educational activity.  While the songs may be ones you are familiar with, the particular renditions used are chosen for their specific tempos.  Artists include Bach, Beethoven, Vivaldi and more.  http://www.mindful-measures.com/brain.php

As with all great educational toys, there simply is no substitute for parental participation.  As much as we love to surround our little-ones with brainy toys, we know that they are only effective because of the time we spend down on the floor playing with them – yes, even the videos.  I can’t tell you how many hours have been spent quizzing, inquiring, exploring and reiterating skills during play.  And that Time, is the best – and most affordable – gift we have given our children.



Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Day Miracle

Growing up, I had always heard about the fabled, “Thanksgiving Day Miracle.”  For me it was like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.  While I could hear or see evidence of its existence, I never got to witness it directly. 

What was wrong with me?  Why had I been cheated out of the “Thanksgiving Day Miracle?”  Wasn’t I good enough?  I had gotten decent grades in school.  I had listened to my parents – as good as any child could be expected to.  I had kept my room clean – well perhaps I could have done a better job on that one.  I had spent the past year standing up to bullies in my attempt to somehow assuage the afflictions of the weak and powerless.  Santa and the Easter Bunny thought I had done a sufficient job to warrant their holiday gifts.  Heck, even the Tooth Fairy seemed to appreciate the way I was popping teeth out of my skull.  But still, I never got to witness the glory of the “Thanksgiving Day Miracle.” 

In hindsight, it’s not so difficult to see the follies of my youth.  How often do we attach ourselves to some unrealistic expectation of what “ought-to-be?”  With my newfound maturity (ok, maturity may be a bit of a stretch), I can clearly see that I was living the “Thanksgiving Day Miracle.”  For me, the “Thanksgiving Day Miracle” was that I did not need one.  After all, even though my family bounced around the poverty level, we still had a home.  I had a room that was my responsibility to keep clean.  I had two loving parents.  And I had been blessed with the ability to stand up for those who were unable to do so themselves.  My “Thanksgiving Day Miracle” came to me every day of the year.  I am grateful to have been blessed with an “Every Day Miracle.”

How are we each blessed?  There are so many things in our lives that are worthy of our gratitude, that they often go unnoticed.  For many of us, our “Thanksgiving Day Miracle” is that we take time to acknowledge some small fraction of them.  Gratitude is perhaps the most critical ingredient for happiness.  Let us – at least for this one day – take time to share with ourselves, and those we love, what we are thankful for.  

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bejeweled: 12 Essential Life Lessons of an iPhone MMO Game:

After many nights of me lying in bed trying to go to sleep, while my wife endlessly swiped away on her iPhone, she has finally convinced me to try her favorite addiction: Bejeweled 2 Blitz.  For those of you who have already tried your hand (or fingers) at this narcotic, you know just how addicting the game can be.  For those of you who have not yet tried it, I am not sure if I recommend it or not.  I have only been playing it for one night see, and I am not sure what the long-term effects may be.  However, if you would like to try it, I will give you a free sample, but you must pay me $1 each time you play thereafter.  See, I did learn something from New Jack City

If you have never played the game, it really isn’t much different from many of the other casual games out there; save that in this version, each game is only one minute, and your score will be compared with the scores of all of your Facebook friends.  After one night of playing, here are some of the Life Lessons that I have picked up:
  1.  I am not nearly as brilliant as I seem to think I am.  Perhaps I should not put myself up on a pedestal.
  2. My friends are far smarter than I give them credit for.  Perhaps I should tell them sometime.  Unless of course, they already know, and have put themselves up on the pedestal I just vacated.
  3. Never look at flashy lights; they are only there to distract you.
  4. Sometimes things line up perfectly, but we just don’t see it; damn those flashy lights!
  5. When stuck, sometimes it helps to change our depth of focus from short to long, or long to short. 
  6.  Don’t fixate on color; we must be open to the full spectrum, else we miss rewarding opportunities.
  7. While we may not be able to get a lot done in a minute, we can waste a lot of time in 60 second intervals.  Be mindful of every moment.
  8. While some playing fields may be easier to navigate than others, we must do the best with what we've been given.
  9. Sometime it’s ok to ask for help.
  10. Sometimes help that is offered is not the best solution.
  11. Sometimes, we just need to put the game on hold so that we can sleep.  Recovery is essential to performance.
  12. In the end, it doesn’t matter what your score was; it’s just a game.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Cast of CBS's "The Big Bang Theory" "Exudes Confidence"


It has always been a dream of mine to have something I created referenced on a major network program.  I am here to tell you that Dreams Do Come True!  I know you have heard me say this before, and it may have always just seemed like “positive thinking.”  But last night, on my favorite tv program, The Big Bang Theory one of my goals came to fruition.

During the “Apology Insufficiency” episode of The Big Bang Theory, one of the main characters, Leonard,  mentions Exude Confidence.  And just as our most popular Mindful Measures program would suggest, he instantly is able to shift states and carry himself with a new Swag!  It was really a great moment for me.  Then later in the same episode Sheldon goes on to use Neuro Linguistic Programming to program into Howard forgiveness.  Well, the NLP technique was a bit lacking, but the allusion was blatant. 

It appears as though our work has caught the eye of Chuck Lorre.  Frankly, I would have expected them to give the nod to “Boost Your Brain-Power,” but what they did was very fitting as well.