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?

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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.

meet_the_sightwords.jpg

Contents
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:

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

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Thumbnail with the name of the artwork and artist:

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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.

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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. 🙂

Contents:
54 cards (featuring 27 Dweebies)

Meet the Dweebies!

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

Number of players:
2-6

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

Instructions:
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!

EasterDweebie

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!

Contents
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

Intestines!

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

Pengoloo!

Pengoloo!

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.

Contents
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?