Category Archives: Product review

Product review: Starry Night Interactive Animation

The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh is one of my favourite paintings. So I was thrilled when I found an app today that brought the painting to life!

Credit: Wikipedia

Credit: Wikipedia

Starry Night Interactive Animation by artof1 allows the user to interact with the animation, creating mesmerizing changes in the flow of the painting.

Actual app on my ipad

Actual app on my ipad

In the app, there is a menu that allows the user to pan in and out of the picture, a choice of 2D and 3D views, as well as 3 different soothing background music tracks. The flow of the painting changes with each choice of music, creating different effects. By touching the screen, the user is able to manipulate the colours and the brush strokes.

Mesmerizing swirls

Mesmerizing swirls

Changing the brush strokes and flow

Changing the brush strokes and flow

Here’s a video showing the app:

C and G’s review
Both kids loved it! They really enjoyed creating different patterns in the painting. C especially enjoyed the 3D view, panning in and changing the night sky. It was a great exercise on cause and effect.

My review
I enjoyed the soothing, hypnotic effect of the swirling patterns. I felt that the interactivity of the app brought the flow in the painting to life. It was also a great way to introduce the kids to another well-known Van Gogh. And the best part? It’s free!

Highly recommended! Do check it out 🙂

Which is your favourite painting?


Product review: Meet the Sight Words by Preschool Prep

Recently I’ve been working on introducing sight words to G.

Sight words, also known as high frequency words, are words that occur frequently in print material. Some examples are “the”, “of”, “she”. In order to be able to read effectively, it is recommended that children memorize a list of sight words, so they will be able to recognize them instantly without having to decode them. There are several compiled lists of sight words – the Dolch list being the most well-known among several others.

Some of the common methods used to teach sight words include using flashcards or simple readers. I’ve tried the above, but found that the simplest and most effective method was to use DVDs (yes, I’m a lazy busy mum who is not adverse to letting the kids watch a bit of tv).

The DVDs that I use are from the Meet the Sight Words series by Preschool Prep Company.


In this set of 3 DVDs, sight words are presented using colourful, animated characters. There is lots of repetition involved, and a short story at the end of each DVD where the sight words are used. When playing the DVD, we are able to choose between playing selective lessons or the whole DVD.

In total, 47 sight words are taught in the 3 DVDs, covering the top 30 words in the Dolch list. Here is the word list:

DVD 1: A, and, for, have, he, I, in, is, it, of, play, said, that, the, to, you
DVD 2: are, as, but, go, had, here, his, like, my, on, see, she, they, was, we & with
DVD 3: all, at, be, by, from, her, him, look, one, on, some, there, this, up & word

A screen shot

A screen shot

Previews of the videos are also available on the Preschool Prep website

G’s and C’s review
I’ve had this series since C was 2. Although she has outgrown it now, she still enjoys watching it with G. Meet the Sight Words is one of G’s favourites at the moment. G requests for specific discs by the sight word shown on the cover – “it”, “on” and “by”. He loves to act out the actions,  and can easily recognise about 90% of the sight words after watching the DVDs four to five times. He was so proud of himself when he pointed out the sight words in random posters and books.

My review
When I first bought the DVDs way back in 2008, I was doubtful of its claims that it could help the little ones master the sight words. In fact, the first time I watched it with C, I was literally bored to tears because there was so much repetition! But I was very pleasantly surprised at how well C and G took to the DVDs, and the speed at which they picked up the words (due to the repetition). And the best part? I could leave them to watch the DVDs for 20 minutes while I completed my chores. Meet the Sight Words really works!

I highly recommend getting this set of DVDs – it really does make teaching sight words so much easier!

Note: Knowing sight words is just a small part of the journey to literacy, as is letter recognition and phonemic awareness.  Reading is still very much a part of our daily routine 🙂

How do you introduce sight words?

Product review: Louvre HD

This is a quick review for Louvre HD, an app which I chanced upon today:


This app introduces the artwork in the Louvre museum. You can choose to view by artist or century:


Thumbnail with the name of the artwork and artist:


There is a choice of background music – there are 20 famous compositions to choose from. I liked that they included a picture of the composer.



I found this to be a good app to introduce famous artwork and classical music to my kids.

It’s free for a limited time, do go download it quickly 🙂

Download it here: Louvre HD

Product review: Dweebies

Here’s a review of a fun card game that I’ve purchased a while back, and have received frequent requests for play – Dweebies!

Dweebies - the card game with character

Dweebies – the card game with character

According to Gamewright, the creators of the game , each Dweebie has its own character: 1. Dweebies have a profession or hobby that they’re wildly passionate about. 2. All have names related to that passion (ie, Super Dweebie, Dr. Dweebie, Fix-it Dweebie). 3. Dweebies have no more than three (natural) hairs on top of their heads. 🙂

54 cards (featuring 27 Dweebies)

Meet the Dweebies!

To collect the most cards by matching Dweebies on both ends of any line in play.

Number of players:

Targeted age:
8 & up (but C can manage comfortably at 5)

1. Shuffle the deck and deal each player a hand of five face down cards. Look at your cards but keep them secret from your opponents.

The dot at the upper left and bottom right shows the number of times the card appears in the deck

The dot at the upper left and bottom right shows the number of times the card appears in the deck- Robin Hood Dweebie only appears once!

2. Stack the rest of the cards in a face down draw pile within easy reach of all players.

3. The person with the least amount of hair goes first and play continues to the left. LOL!

Each turn, do the following three steps in order:
1. Place a card. Take any one card from your hand and place it face up on the playing surface. Dweebies can be placed on the left, right, top or bottom of any card.

In play

In play

2. Collect Dweebies. If you match the Dweebie on the other end of any line, you get to collect all of the cards in that line. In the example above, the player who places the second Doctor Dweebie at the end of the line gets to collect the other 5 Dweebies in that line.

3. Draw a card. Finish your turn by taking the top card from the draw pile into your hand.

The winner is the one who has collected the most cards at the end of the round.

C’s review
C really likes the colourful illustrations in Dweebies! At the beginning, she only placed cards down randomly in a single row. After a few rounds of playing with explanations, she got the hang of it and started to play more strategically, taking into account the cards she has on hand, and the dots indicating the number of Dweebies in the deck.

My review
Actually, the quirky name was what got my attention. Just listening to the name made me laugh! It’s a fun and cute game designed to be played by the whole family. Besides encouraging turn-taking, C learns about probability and strategy at the same time! Since it’s a card game, it’s easily portable, but downside is that the cards do go missing (I’m now left with 52 instead of 54 cards :/). There have also been discussions on the different types of occupations/hobbies inspired by the cards and C even attempted to create her own Dweebies 😉 This game is definitely a keeper!

And before I end this post, here’s Easter Dweebie to wish all a happy Easter!


Do you play card games with your family?

Product review: Kumon Let’s Sticker and Paste!

I’m a fan of activity books for the kids, especially those with stickers. They are fun and portable, and I also use them as a filler for the days when I’m too busy to plan learning activities.

I’ve recently bought a copy of Kumon Let’s Sticker & Paste. In the description on the cover page, it states “Your child will develop fine motor control skills while having fun with stickers and learning to paste with glue.” Sounds just right for G!

Kumon Let's Sticker & Paste!

Kumon Let’s Sticker & Paste!

The first few pages of the activity book consist of stickers and some empty scenes. Instructions are simple and are clearly stated at the top of the page. Here, the objective is simply to paste the stickers freely.

Farm animal stickers

Farm animal stickers

Farm scene

Farm scene

The activities are structured so that they get progressively more challenging (but never overly so). The child starts by pasting stickers freely, then proceeds to guided pasting in specific areas, to fill-in-the-blank pages. Stickers are replaced with paper cutouts to be pasted using glue (cutting is recommended to be done by the parent).

Fill the blank

Fill the blank

Here is G trying to complete a picture of a lemon by pasting a yellow circle.

G pasting

Next come puzzles, where there are 2 or more pieces to be placed correctly.

Complete the puzzle

Complete the puzzle

Near the end of the booklet, there are activities where the child gets to do simple cutting (and pasting of course). They’ve also included a certificate of achievement!

Certificate of achievement

Certificate of achievement

G’s review
Kumon Let’s Sticker & Paste definitely provides good fine-motor skill practice for G – he loved peeling and pasting stickers, and applying glue!. He enjoyed doing the activities and asked for more (I usually do one or two pages at a time).

My review
As with all Kumon products, paper quality is good and thick, and graphics are brightly-coloured and attractive to kids. I liked that the activities are arranged so that the difficulty level is gradually increased and the child is not overwhelmed. There are also helpful suggestions included for parents to enhance each activity.

This is definitely a good buy for busy parents looking for fine motor activities to do with a toddler. 🙂

Do you like activity books? Or do you prefer to DIY?

Product review: Smart Lab Squishy Human Body

C is learning about the human body this term. She came back from school one day and asked me: “Mummy, did you know that there are 300 bones in an infant’s skeleton, but only 200 in an adult’s body?” ” I heard my heart beating using a stethoscope! How does the heart work? How many times does it beat in a minute?” Thank goodness I had google to help with the answers!

While looking for material to supplement the learning on this topic, I came across the Squishy Human Body by Smart Lab. Here’s the description on the website:

With this hands-on kit and tour guide, kids enter the twisted world of the human body! Complete with removable squishy organs as well as representative skeletal, vascular, and muscular systems, kids explore the complex inner workings of the human body and literally see how it all works!

It sounded like a perfect addition to the books and material I had prepared on this topic. I ordered it from Amazon, and it arrived today!

Smart Lab Squishy Human Body

Smart Lab Squishy Human Body

With this hands-on kit and tour guide, kids enter the twisted world of the human body! Complete with removable squishy organs as well as representative skeletal, vascular, and muscular systems, kids explore the complex inner workings of the human body and literally see how it all works!

Inside the kit

I loved that it came with plastic tweezers and forceps, to make the experience more realistic. C was really excited, and told me that she had learnt about the human body in school – “both inside and outside”.

There was a guide book included with the kit, which explained how the organs worked.

Guide book

Guide book

Of course, C did not stop to read the book but skipped directly to examine the human body. Instead of skin, the body was of transparent hard plastic. Once it was opened, we were allowed access to the skeleton and the internal organs. C was fascinated, and double checked “this is not a real human, right?”

The human body!

The human body!

Guess which part of the body she wanted to examine first? The head! She wanted to open up the skull to see the brain – to check if it was really fragile like what her teacher told her. 😉 This was followed by a rapid removal of the internal organs.

Internal organs


The kit came with a organ-ization chart, which allowed C to sort out each body part neatly. The speed at which she removed and placed each piece in the corresponding space was amazing. She knew exactly where each piece was supposed to go.

Sorting the body parts on the organ-izer

Sorting the body parts on the organ-izer

We had fun taking it apart. The hardest part was fitting all the parts back into the body neatly again (I’m an engineer, not a surgeon!). Luckily there were instructions at the back of the book!

C’s review
She loved it! It was fun to take the human body apart, with “real” tools like the tweezers and forceps “so that I don’t break the fragile organs”. She was also able to name the parts of the body associated with the digestive system (I’m surprised what they learn in school now!)

My review
Although Squishy Human Body was not a medical human model, it was detailed enough as a homeschooling supplement. It was interesting to note that they used very soft, slimy-feeling plastic for the internal organs and the brain, which gave a certain realistic feel (have you touched raw liver? It feels just the same!) Care must be taken when opening the transparent case, as the plastic is not very thick, but otherwise I’m extremely happy with the purchase. This can definitely be used till she is much older. I foresee lots of interesting conversations with C! 🙂

Definitely a good buy for homeschoolers or as an interesting toy for aspiring little surgeons-to-be!

Do you have a model of the human body at home?

Product review: Pengaloo



For those of you who think board games are dry and boring, let me introduce you to the game “Pengoloo”.

Recommended age
This is a game designed to be played by children ages 4 and upwards. Yes… you read it correctly. 4 years old and above.

First, the contents:
12 incredibly cute penguins
12 coloured eggs
2 coloured dice
4 iceberg scoring boards

Penguins, eggs, dice and scoring board

Penguins, eggs, dice and scoring board

How to play
Game play is simple. Hide the coloured eggs under the penguins (the bottom of the penguin is hollowed out for this purpose).
The youngest player rolls the two coloured dice first and gets two chances to find matching colored eggs under the penguins.
If the player finds a matching egg, he or she gets to place the penguin on their iceberg. The first player to collect six penguins wins.

For more complicated play, the players get to “steal” the other player’s penguins if they are able to find matching coloured eggs under the penguins on the iceberg scoreboard.

C’s review
I bought this to play with C (then 4+) and my nephew (3+) beginning of last year, and they both enjoyed the game tremendously. Rules were simple, and it was a test of their memories. She still enjoys playing it now.

G’s review
I brought it out to try with G today. Of course he is still young to understand how to take turns, so I modified the game slightly – first I showed him 3 different coloured eggs before I covered them with the penguins.

A closer look at the penguins and eggs

A closer look at the penguins and eggs

I then asked him to look for the correct coloured egg 🙂 He loved it! I’ll add more penguins to increase the complexity. It’s a fun method of photographic memory training too.

Where is the blue egg?

Where is the blue egg?

My review
First and foremost: Incredibly cute penguins!
Second: the game pieces (penguins, eggs, dice, scoreboards) are all made of solid wood, so it’s definitely sturdy.
Third: Fun, fun, fun for the entire family! Everyone gets to work on improving their memory too 🙂

Highly recommended! I’m considering getting a second set so that it’ll be more challenging with more penguins and eggs to uncover.

Which board games do you and your family play?

Product review: Sorting box

Sorting box

Sorting box

Sorting activities help the child develop reasoning and recognition skills, which will translate to organisational and classification ability later. Such activities can be started once the toddler turns 1 year old.

Sorting can be done in various forms, using different manipulatives. I’m usually looking for ready-made alternatives to complement those that I’ve made myself, and have recently bought a sorting box for G, seeing that it was highly recommended by other mums.

Available online for about $20 – $30

Recommended age
1 year and above

The contents of the sorting box include a wooden box with a removable slotted cover (red). There are a total of 10 slots. In the box, the sections are divided with wooden partitions.

Red sorting box

Red sorting box

The interior of the box is partitioned

The interior of the box is partitioned

There are a total of 8 panels in different categories: animals, fruits, things we wear, modes of transportation, vegetables, shapes, things found at home and numbers. There are also 80 wooden tiles (4cm x 4cm) with corresponding pictures.

Wooden panels with pictures in 8 different categories

Wooden panels with pictures in 8 different categories

Behind each panel, the english names are indicated.

Tiles and panel

Tiles and panel

The back of each tile is similarly labelled.

Back of tiles

Back of tiles

How to use
It was really easy to setup – simply slot the panel into the groove, and the child is to match and insert the corresponding tiles into the correct slot.

G doing sorting of numbers

G doing sorting of numbers

Some of my suggestions
Besides the simple sorting activity, the tiles can be used in multiple ways to maximise the usage. Here are some of my suggestions:

Match words to pictures
Set up the panel so that instead of pictures, the side with words are shown. The child needs to match the pictures to the words.

Or use it without the box!
Linking memory
Use the tiles in linking memory exercises.

Match shapes to colours
Using the shapes and colours tiles, get child to match the colours.

Grouping by category
Use it without the box. Get the child to do classification by category (e.g, sort fruits vs numbers)

Sorting by size/speed/quantity
Using the transportation tiles, get the child to sort the speed from slowest to fastest. Or sort the types of fruit by size. Similarly, can sort the number from smallest to the biggest or vice versa.

Learning how to spell the names of the objects on the tiles

Guess my tile
Place a group of tiles in a bag, and take turns to draw them out. The child needs to guess the animal based on clues given by the parent

G’s review
Besides working on his sorting skills, the sorting box also tested his fine-motor skills (slotting in) and hand-eye coordination (getting the tiles in the corresponding slots). Initially when G tried it he was only interested in getting the tiles into the slots (any random slots). When I showed him that the purpose was also to match the pictures, he understood, and soon got the hang of sorting into the correct slots. He enjoyed doing it and managed to complete 3 categories (not too bad in my opinion!) before we switched to another activity.

My review
I liked that the box is well-made and sturdy (there is zero risk of breaking it – the risk of damaging the floor is higher). Compartments in the box made it easy to check the answers since the tiles remained in place instead of getting mixed up. The wood finishing was also good, with no splinters or rough edges (which was my initial concern). The tiles are thick enough not to break and will be able to withstand handling by little children.

A worthwhile buy! Good for children from 1 year old onwards, and can even be used till 5 years old (for spelling and linking memory) The range of use depends on your creativity 🙂

Do you have any recommendations for sorting toys?

Product review: Mandala app for iphone

Colour mandalas are used in right brain schools like Heguru and Shichida to train photographic memory and visualisation ability.

Usually the mandalas are flashed on a screen for one to five seconds during which the child is to input an image of the mandala in the brain. Three aspects are recorded in the memory: the colours, the positions of the colours, and the shape of the mandala. The child has to reproduce an exact image of the mandala by drawing it on a blank piece of paper (for younger children, they start by filling in the colours of a blank mandala)

For home practice, I have purchased mandala cards and printed worksheets for colouring. However, this is mostly limited to home use since I didn’t want to lug flashcards, paper and crayons along when I’m out.

So when I found this free app I was really excited. I happened to find this by chance while surfing for apps for right-brain activities. It’s called “Mandalas – memory trainer


Mandala app for iphone

Modes of play
In the app, there are two modes of play – colouring or matching. There are also four levels of difficulty.


Game modes and difficulty levels

It even allows you to customise the duration that the image is shown! For younger children, start with 5s display.


Timeout customisation

Colouring mode
In the colouring mode, there is a colour palette that allows the user to fill in the colour of a blank mandala.


Sample of mandala

Just tap the colour, followed by the appropriate area to fill it in. Easy-peasy.


Blank mandala to be coloured

Matching mode
In the match mandala mode, there are 4 mandalas to choose from.


Sample of mandala

4 different mandalas are then shown at the bottom of the screen – one of which is the correct answer.


Pick from 4 mandalas for the correct answer

My suggestions
For ages 0-2: the matching mode would be appropriate since the child only has to select the correct mandala.
For ages 3 and above: the coloring mode can be selected.
To increase the challenge, the timing can be gradually reduced from 5seconds to 1second.

This is definitely a must-download app for those who want to work on their photographic memories on the go 🙂 My only gripe is that the colours have already been pre-selected instead of choosing from a palette, and also that we cannot create our own mandalas. But hey, it’s free!

This app is useful for the adults too. I tried a few exercises – it’s not as easy as I thought it would be. I could definitely use some help to improve my memory 😉

Do you have any apps to recommend?

Product review: Magnetic Instant Memory Board

Instant memory board (purple)

Instant memory board (purple)

An aspect of right brain training involves the development of photographic memory (also known as instant memory). Thus, my stash of right brain home practice materials includes the magnetic instant memory board.  As the name suggests, it’s essentially a board with magnetic pieces.

Selling price ranges around $20-$30 online.

Recommended age
Recommended age as stated on the box is 2-6 years old. A 1 year old can also use it under supervision.

There are a total of 60 magnetic pieces (2 sets of 30) and 2 identical magnetic boards. The magnetic pieces measure 1.5″ x 1.5″ and each board consists of a 3 x 4 grid.
Contents of the magnetic pieces include 6 pieces from 5 different categories: numbers, animals, modes of transportation, fruits and colours.

Contents of memory board set

Contents of memory board set

The set also includes a set of cards suggesting how the pieces can be placed.

Memory board game cards

Memory board game cards

How to use the boards
There are 2 identical boards in the set. One board is meant for the parent, and the other for the child. The board can be used in multiple ways for right brain training: for photographic memory, spatial memory and linking memory.

Instant /Photographic memory
Objective: The child needs to recall the pictures flashed on the board
For young toddlers (1 year old), the parent can start with 2 pieces placed on the magnetic board in a straight line. The board with the pieces is shown to the child for 3seconds. The child is then handed 2 pieces of his own, and he is supposed to replicate what  he saw on his board. As the child gets more proficient, the duration for which the board is flashed, and the number of pieces shown can be varied.

Spatial memory
Objective: The child needs to recall the arrangement of pictures placed in a matrix
For older children (3 and above), the parent can start by placing pictures in a 2×2 array. The child is to replicate the pattern. The array can be increased (2×3, 3×3…) according to the child’s progress.

Linking memory (also known as story memory)
Objective: To recall the sequence of a set of unrelated pictures using a story-telling technique
This technique is taught in right brain training schools such as Shichida. Starting with a set of 4 pieces (e.g. PINEAPPLE-CAR-BLUE-PIG), the parent tells a funny story to link the pictures in sequence (e.g. One day, a PINEAPPLE driving a CAR bumped into a BLUE PIG). The story is repeated. Then the parent identifies the pictures (PINEAPPLE-CAR-BLUE-PIG) and the child is then given a set of pictures to be placed in the correct sequence.

As the child progresses, the number of pieces is increased (typically 10 pieces for a 3 year old).
After the correct sequence is achieved, the pieces can also be placed faced down in order, and the child is to flip open the corresponding picture, e.g. when the parent calls out the name “BLUE”.

Some other games that I play using the board (both right and left brain activities) with 18 month old G and 5 year old C:
Sorting (with G)
Using the 2 boards, I place a picture of an animal (e.g.PIG) on one board, and a vehicle (e.g. CAR) on the other. I then hand him the other pieces of belonging to the 2 categories, and ask him to place it on the corresponding boards.

Colour matching (with G)
Some of the cards can be used for colour sorting, for example, the car, the number 4, the apple can be grouped under the colour red.

Spot the difference (with C)
I place a random array of 10 pieces on one board, and flash it to C. I then change one of the pieces and ask her to identify the piece that was changed. A variation is to remove or add a piece and identify the missing/additional piece that was placed.

I spy (with C)
When C gets bored doing linking memory, I sometimes play “I spy” with C. For example on a board with the giraffe, lion and cat, I will say “I spy with my little eye, an animal that is herbivorous” (she has learnt about them as part of our homeschool activities)

What I don’t like
The magnetic pieces are actually laminated cards on foam, mounted on a magnetic sheet. If G is left alone with it, I think it would not stand up to a lot of abuse. There is also a limited number of magnetic pieces in this set. In addition, instructions are in chinese, so for non-chinese speaking users this could pose a problem (but you can refer to the explanations above :))

What I like
The magnetic set is light and easy to transport. Being magnetic, it means that the pieces will not slide off the board, which makes it ideal for road trips too. The price is also reasonable, and I like the versatility of usage.

This versatile board is worth the price, and the quality is reasonable (of course younger children should not be left alone with it). With the number of pieces, it is possible to come up with more than 1000 combinations (mathematical permutation) so it would last for quite a while. Of course, when the child progresses to doing 50 cards in linking memory, the board would no longer be useful, but the pieces can still be used. I would recommend this to anyone who is looking to add on to their right brain home practice materials 🙂

p/s there is a new version with a bigger board and more pieces available, but it comes at a slightly higher price.