PBS Kids Lab Brings Advanced Technology to Kids’ Learning Games

Love Bug, upon arrival at PBS Kids Headquarters, enthusiastically greets Big Bird.

There are a lot of free things out there that you can use to teach your kids stuff.  In fact, combing through them all just might qualify as a part time job.   A few are true gems.  The PBS Kids website, for our family and so many others, has always been one of those gems.

So imagine how excited the Creek kids were (and me, too) to spend part of the day at PBS Headquarters in Arlington, Virginia recently.  Along with some other awesome bloggers and their offspring, the talented folks at PBS showed us how PBS Kids is using new technology to enhance learning.

PBS Kids was celebrating.  And it was a big, darn deal.  They were launching a new site, PBS Kids Lab.  We are talking major, interactive stuff:  new games that work not only on PC’s and laptops, but on tablets, smart phones, and interactive whiteboards.  The games target kids ages three to eight and they can do things like  use a microphone to manipulate a Curious George counting game.  They can play another game with the famous monkey that utilizes a video camera. By jumping around, they are manipulating bouncing balls and counting them as they go.

The Queen Bee and Firefly try out the Cat in the Hat's Sketch-a-mite game on an interactive whiteboard

The list goes on with so many more games, to include all the favorite PBS characters, including Fizzy’s Lunch Lab, Sid the Science Kid, Dinosaur Train, Super Why, The Cat in the Hat and more.

The PBS folks reminded us that all of these new games are research based, as well as correlated with educational state standards.  Now I’m the type of homeschooler who doesn’t worry too much about state standards. They’re nice and all, but I don’t believe in one-size-fits-all education and that’s another post for another day.  What did impress me, is the amount of time and energy that PBS puts into research, into planning their shows around specific skill-based items for kids to learn.  Your child needs to learn to tell time, to count by tens, to create patterns, to add and subtract?  No problem, there’s a (PBS Kids Lab) ap for that.

Jeremy Roberts, Technology Consultant to PBS, demonstrates the Monkey Jump game, where the player, via web cam, controls Curious George's movements, thus producing objects to count.

Take a look at their page of games.  The tabs across the top allow you to filter it by skill, age, which device your child will play on and even which PBS show it will feature.  So if my 7 year old needs to work on addition and I want him to use my mobile phone so that, say, he can work on this while we are waiting for his sister at her ballet class, the PBS Kids Lab website will generate a list of games that fit those three criteria.

The PBS Kids Lab games are free, just like those on the original PBS Kids website.

Moms love PBS characters, too. JavaMom and I pose with Super Why and Curious George.

Disclaimer:  I was invited to a blogger preview at PBS Headquarters to learn more about PBS Kids Lab.  I was not required to write about this on my blog or compensated in any way for this review.  I did however, receive a very cool Cat in the Hat red and white striped hat.  It is mine and I do not have to share it with my children. They took all my stickers and Super Why tatoos. But the hat is mine. All mine. 

Announcing Next Year’s Curriculum

I just know you all have been on the edge of your seats waiting to hear what curriculum I’ve chosen for the Creekside Kids for next school year. So, without further ado, here it is.  Keep in mind, this is a work in progress:

Firefly, 2nd Grade

Math: Singapore 1A review, followed by 1B (Standards Edition).  While we probably covered much of what is in Singapore 1A with our RightStart curriculum in our first grade year, I’ve heard from several other families who’ve made the same switch that there are a few essential skills unique to Singapore that are taught in 1A that you will need for 1B. So we’ll start there.

Language Arts:  Growing with Grammar, All About Spelling, Explode the Code 3,  tons of read alouds, and Spelling City.

History:  Story of the World, Ancients (continued from summer study and then on to SOTW 2).  We plan to use the Activity Guide as well as lots of other supplemental books, activities, websites, museum exhibits and more.

Geography:  Complete Book of Maps and Geography.

Extras:  BrainPop Jr., CNN Student News, and Youngzine.

Art-Private art class.

Music-Piano Lessons.

Extra Curriculars-We are thinking of giving Fencing a try.  Our local community center has a kids’ class. And, if Firefly would like to continue with basketball for late fall and winter, we’ll do that again. He’ll also continue with his Lego Club. This year, they will introduce robotics.

The Queen Bee, Kindergarden

Math:  We’re not going to start with any formal curriculum.  We’ll continue practicing counting to 100, simple addition with manipulatives and everyday math like measurements with cooking, that type of thing.  After we get into a groove, I may add Singapore Earlybird.

Reading:  Again, we won’t start with formal curriculum. I really want to wait until she is ready, otherwise I know I will encounter resistance, and I want her to see that Kindergarden at home is fun. We will continue doing tons of read-alouds, Five in a Row, and when she shows interest, we’ll do Progressive Phonics  books, Bob Books, or any of the other many beginning reading resources we already own.  We might try  Ordinary Parents’ Guide to Teaching Reading and I also have Peggy Kaye’s Games for Reading.  I’m seriously considering doing reading lessons with her at bedtime. She’s a total night owl and would welcome some extra time with Mom at the end of the day. Even though that’s my low energy time, it may be an experiment I’m willing to try, reminiscent of Jessie Wise’s technique with her four year old:  “Bob, would you rather take a nap, or would you like to learn how to read?” [from The Well Trained Mind, 2009.]

Extras:  Starfall, PBS Kids websites.

If she wants more, we’ll do it, but I think we’re gonna do some old school style kindergarden with lots of crafts and lots of playing, playing, playing.


Science-This is one thing I have to really look into more, but I have it narrowed down to continuing with R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey-Life and then on to R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey-Earth and Space. Or Intelligo Astronomy.  Firefly also tremendously enjoyed Science in the Kitchen this year and is hungry for more experiments, so I purchased Janice VanCleave’s 200 Gooey, Slippery, Slimy, Weird and Fun Experiments, which includes activities for biology, astronomy, earth science, chemistry and physics.

Spanish-Firefly has requested to learn Spanish. We love Muzzy Spanish Time, BBC but I don’t think our library is going to let us have it checked out indefinitely and used copies start at $100!  Too pricey. For now, we are enjoying our library copy for as long as they’ll let us. All three kids adore this program. Even my 2 year old is toddling around saying, “Buenos tardes.  Soy Love Bug.”  We’re currently looking into other options for Spanish. I’m considering the one that comes with Discovery Streaming. While pricey ($200 on Homeschool Buyer’s Co-op), there  appears to be a lot of valuable content on Discovery Streaming and I’ve read nothing but wonderful reviews on various homeschooling message boards.  Another Spanish program we’ll be looking into is  Speakee.

Occasional Five in a Row for Firefly, more often for The Queen Bee.  We may do some of our book selections and treat them like Five in a Row.  I’m keeping my eyes open for what books really appeal to the kids and will build around those.

Love Bug, age 2.5

Continuing on his destructive yet adorable path through toddlerhood, Love Bug will play, play, play. Maybe we’ll begin to introduce the Letter Factory videos. We’ll definitely read to him frequently and make available to him a variety of toys to play with and engage his imagination.  And if we’re lucky, he’ll play for longer periods of time in a somewhat quiet way.

Other thoughts…

As I read what I’ve written, it seems like too much.  I wonder how in the world we will get to all of that. We probably won’t. Although I’ve chosen some of our curriculum to increase Firefly’s independent work, it is still a lot to accomplish.  I did the same thing last year and thus, history sat on our shelf all year.

Maybe we will do more this summer than I’d planned, like adding a little Spanish and starting piano lessons.  We already plan to continue daily reading and start weekly history. But, I really can’t say for certain at this point.

Our priority this summer is to go to the pool, take weekly trips to the farm where we have a share of produce to pick and animals to visit, go on trips to museums in the city and hang out with our friends.

So we will have our break and relax and then see what the summer brings. And come fall, we’ll see what works in our schedule. If it’s too much, we’ll shelve something again.  I get really excited about all of the curriculum I’ve chosen. Somewhat carried away, really.  Note to self: remain flexible and very much in tune with how it is all working for the children.


Secular Advent Calendar Ideas

The Creek Kids love our Advent calendar, almost as much as I enjoy filling it’s little doors.  Sometimes we do very elaborate activities, but mostly it is one simple, but fun, thing each day.    I fill only a few days of the calendar at a time, and put easy things on the days our schedule is busier, more complicated activities on the days we have more time at home.

Each morning, after everyone is dressed, breakfasted and ready for the day, the kids open that day’s door and see what our Advent activity is for the day.

In our family, Christmas is a time to focus on family, helping others and the fun traditions that we do year after year.  Our Advent activities are designed with those three things in mind.  Here are some examples of things we’ve filled our Advent calendar with over the past several years.

  • Call a relative we haven’t spoken with in a while and sing We Wish You a Merry Christmas.
  • Call or visit a grandparent or similarly-aged relative or family friend and ask them how they celebrated Christmas when they were growing up.
  • Call grandparents and ask them how Mommy and Daddy spent their Christmases as children.
  • Make a card, or choose one of the many already-made holiday crafts we always seem to have about the house, and send it to a relative we don’t usually buy a Christmas present for. Include a note that we are thinking of them and wishing them a Merry Christmas.
  • Bake cookies or other treats.  We’ve even taken a day to make dog biscuits to give to our canine friends.
  • Go to get our Christmas tree.  In our family, we go to a tree farm and choose and cut our tree.
  • Go to a holiday show.  Every year, we go to a high school production designed especially for kids. It’s inexpensive and it truly is a great show with music, acting and fun costumes.
  • Go visit Santa at the mall.
  • Each child invite one friend over for hot cocoa and an afternoon play date.
  • Listen to Christmas music all day. Have the kids pick one or two favorites and help them learn the words.
  • Elf Yourself!    Put your face on an elf that dances. Such silly fun. You can then email it or post it on your facebook.  We love to add other family members too, like grandparents, aunts and uncles, and even the family dog.
  • Read a book out of our Christmas book basket.  I go around collecting all the books we have in the house with a Christmas theme and put them in a basket for the kids to choose when this comes up on the Advent calendar.  And I use this one more than once throughout the month.
  • Play with red and green play dough.  Get out the cookie cutters and make Christmas  themed play dough cut outs.  For older kids, make some clay Christmas-themed items.
  • Watch a special Christmas movie.  ABC Family network has a different Christmas movie each night.  DVR the ones you like and play them when you want to.
  • Help each child fill a bag from your pantry or from the grocery store and drop it off at a local charity collecting food donations in your area.
  • Adopt a family through a local helping agency.  We couldn’t afford to buy all the things on a family’s wish list but we emailed a few friends and before we knew it, we had lots of people wanting to help!  We request a family with kids close in ages to our own so it has extra meaning. The kids are very involved in selecting what our family donates and since we coordinate it, they are there when we pick up donations from others and deliver them to the agency.
  • Take each child shopping separately for their siblings. You can do this at the dollar store or limit the gifts to $5 or whatever, but this has been a wonderful thing for my two older kids who fight a lot. My oldest especially gets invested in picking out a gift for his sister, wrapping it and giving it to her.
  • Decorate holiday cut-outs and hang them up in a window.  Make an easy template of a tree and a star, give the kids markers or paint. Hang the finished product in a window to decorate any room of the house.
  • Make smaller sized cut-outs and let the kids color/paint them. Use as gift tags for family.
  • Make wrapping paper.  Cut open brown paper grocery bags. Coat each child’s hands with red and/or green paint and make prints on the paper.  We’ve also done this with feet when they were toddlers. Spread the grocery bag out on the floor, put a chair at either end. Paint bottoms of pudgy toddler feet and have them walk from one chair to the other across the paper. Use washable paint in case they veer off course. :-)
  • My kids each have a “First Christmas” ornament that has a photo of them and the details written on a little fold-up card about how they spent their first Christmas: where they were, who was there, what gifts they were given, what they wore.  Maybe you’ve written this is a baby book.  Or maybe you can tell them the story of how they spent their first Christmas.
  • Get into pajamas one evening and drive around the neighborhood looking at Christmas lights.
  • Make paper chains and let them decorate with them. So easy. Cut strips of red and green paper. Let them tape them together or older kids can staple.  Let them decorate their rooms, the bathroom, the back seat of the car.
  • Make a card for Daddy and put it in his stocking.
  • Make reindeer food to sprinkle on the lawn on Christmas eve.  Mix dry oatmeal and colored sprinkles together, put into zip lock bags. Make a few extra and share with some neighbors.
  • Deliver some Christmas cards by hand. The kids love being the one who gets to ring the doorbell of a local friend whose card we might otherwise mail.
  • Help Daddy put up the Christmas lights outside.
  • December 24th has multiple activities:  We have a special Christmas dinner with extended family, leave cookies out for Santa, sprinkle reindeer food on the lawn and read Twas the Night Before Christmas.
  • Christmas Day is usually a clue to find a special gift hidden somewhere in the house.  They work together to figure out the clue.

We are also trying something new, a second Advent Calendar for positive character traits that we are focusing on in our family.  You can see those calendar ideas here.  

Hope everyone is enjoying their own holiday traditions!