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Mommy Monday


By: Kelly Allard, staff writer

Editor’s note: We’re trying something new this week with a bit of an audience participation! Kelly will be monitoring the comments and responding. I’ll update the original article over time to include all of your awesome suggestions! Lets create an awesome tool for parents everywhere! – Stephen

Normally, I like to spend Mommy Monday telling you about all the cool things you can teach your kids or cool games you can play with them.  This week, I have a different agenda; I am looking for some help.

You see, we’ve reached the age with our little gamer that it’s about time we start to implement a formalized chore for rewards program with her, and we thought we’d apply it to us all!  So far, all I have come up with is categories, point scoring, and some ideas of end of the month prizes – but I don’t like what I have so far!

This is where you come in. I’m looking for ideas on how to make a game of chores! Do we make a giant Candy Land board and move spaces based on our daily/weekly points?  Do we level up as we hit “chore experience” levels?  Do we make progress on intricate maps with small “battle goals”? Do we build a giant life size Cootie that gains body parts as she makes her points?

I have so many ideas and I have no idea how many are even remotely feasible or useful for a pre-schooler!  So, I ask you, parents of older children: how do you get your kids (and yourself) motivated to do the activities that no one wants to do?

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By: Jenna Duetzmann, staff writer

I mentioned a fun summer craft project designed to bring games to life in an earlier Mommy Monday article. Several people asked me about how I built a real life Angry birds game so I thought I would publish some instructions!

Note: If you somehow aren’t familiar with Angry Birds you should run to your nearest mobile device and download it. It is a great game!

Step 1: You are going to need boxes! Put out the call to friends and family that you are looking for unique cardboard boxes. We got TONS of fun stuff. Shoe boxes, wrapping paper tubes, light fixture boxes, Bumbo seat boxes and many more. We got so many, that we actually had to leave a bunch behind to complete our project in a timely manner.

Step 2: Search for your bird projectiles. We went a few different routes before finally settling on our final option. First we looked at plush Angry Birds from online retailers like Amazon. They had plenty of choices, but they were too pricey for our budget. Then we searched local big box retailers for toys and found some great Angry Birds branded balls. After purchasing those, we found what I think is the best option: rubber playground balls. You can draw and paint the bird faces on them, and the balls can be found in sets all over the Internet or in school supply catalogs or at party stores for a great price. You can add an extra level of fun by letting your kids paint in the lines that you have pre-drawn.

Step 3: Create your pigs. There are so many options here, and each one has advantages and disadvantages. We made paper mâché pigs (they crush just like the pigs in the game), balloon pigs (super easy, but they don’t stay well on the towers), coffee can pigs (a bit heavy) and foam ball pigs from the craft store. Let your imagination and creativity run wild and let the kids help.

Step 4: Turn your boxes into Angry Bird looking tower pieces. Again, there are many options. The first option we tried was wrapping the boxes with brown craft paper and letting the kids color and paint a wood grain pattern, stone pattern, and glass. While it looked really nice, unfortunately it wasn’t durable enough for the Fair we were going to be using it at. We ended up buying a few cans of gray, yellow, and blue spray paint (multi purpose, glossy) and quickly painting the boxes.

Step 5: Create your slingshot. You can buy a pre-made 3-man slingshot on Amazon; it’s the option we are using. But, you could build a slingshot instead. The general concept consists of PVC pipe made into a Y shape (tall enough to stick the base in the ground) with rubber tubing from an exercise band and a burlap cloth launching pad. There are very simple instructions for PVC slingshots. Please note: All of these slingshots can REALLY SHOOT, so make sure your kids are using them safely and supervised.

Step 6: Build your towers and launch away! This is the best part. Have fun. Play with your children and enjoy the laughter and smiles. (Make sure to take a turn yourself. It’s more fun than you think it is. Trust me!)

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By: Kelly Allard

I normally like to write about teaching through games, and the various lessons that can be found in the games you can play with your child.  There are times, however, when games aren’t handy and you find yourself with a very bored child who is less than enthused to be “wasting their summer” on the world’s longest car-ride.

Especially in the summer, there are two things that come up a lot – car trips, and convincing your kids to go outside and play when they’re determined to stay inside.  So, how do you motivate a mini-gamer to do something other than game inside?


I’m sure we all remember the monotony of the dreaded car-trip when we were kids.  Long lengths of time in a car were spent looking for out of state plates and playing amazing games of “Road Bingo”.  These early attempts at mobile gaming were usually fun for a little while, but very quickly lost their novelty (unless you were a “plate collector” like me; I still get excited when I see a plate I don’t recognize!).

Later, we had the little travel games with the tiny pieces that we’d lose in the car seats. Nowadays, it probably seems silly to even think like this because of the WIDE array of mobile technology to save us from these situations.

But, what do you do when the LeapPad’s batteries die or you tire of the 5th run of the only Sponge Bob DVD you remembered to bring?  How can you make a game of it?

One of the things we like to do in our family is turn our trip into a racing game – we turn highway signs into “check points” and we count the distance to the next one (making the tell-tale “you have more time!” sound as we cross each threshold.)

Now, this works really well with a pre-schooler, but your older kids might not be as amused – especially if they really get into it and want you to actually start racing your fellow drivers.  So, in respect to traffic laws, you should probably not try this in your car.

Are your kids working on fractions in school, or percentages? Keep a notebook in your car (or at least some scrap-paper) and play the license plate game, but make them calculate the percentage (or fraction) of license plates for the current state you’re in, or even your home state.  It gets them thinking, and it will keep them quiet for a while – ESPECIALLY if they are competing with mom or dad in the passenger seat.

Another way to make the racing game work for older kids is to have them time the travel between each check point. As they get older, they can use your speed to calculate how far apart they are. For multiple kids, have them start at alternating “check points” and compete at timing between them.

Backyard games

I don’t know about you, but there are some days we can’t keep our kid inside, and others that we can’t seem to force her into the sunlight!  Getting kids the exercise they need can be a challenge when there are so many cool electronic distractions.  On the days that we struggle with, we have to come up with creative ways to get her away from Diego’s Dinosaur Adventure and into an adventure of her own.

On cooler days, we usually head in the direction of dress-up and an RPG style adventure in our backyard.  She’ll dress in her favorite costume of the day & pull out her NERF sword or her plastic bow or even a long length of ribbon and a plastic shield emblazoned with Captain America’s logo.  We start with some silly story about an ogre, or a pirate, or a super-villain, and send her off to fight one of us (the NPC, or Non-Player Character, basically the instrument of the plot) equipped with some other foam coated weapon or satin ribbon of magical energy and tell her the story.  She comes back to the “quest giver” and relays her adventure and we send her on another, keeping her, and even her older friends, busy for hours (or as long as the poor NPC parent can keep up!).

On hotter days, we go a very different route.  In our garage we have a collection of cheap water guns of all sizes – mini-pistols, long range single-shot “cannons”, even small super-soakers.  We have someone who isn’t interested in getting wet hide the guns (all only partially filled) and water balloons around the yard.  In the area near the hose there is a “Refilling station” set up, but it is in the easiest “Strike zone”.

The object of the game is really to cool off & have fun, but younger kids don’t seem to need that objective.  Basically, when your gun runs out of liquid ammo, you can either hit the refill station, and get soaked, or drop it in search of a new weapon around the yard.  Adults can play, kids can play – it’s like a free-for-all multi-player first-person-shooter for about $15 (and the cost of sunscreen).

As they get older, consider adding objectives like “flags” or hidden items.  You can even add in time-stops where everyone must freeze, and a special item (or items) that allows the bearer to move around freely (and shoot everyone else). Or, add in a “5 shots & you’re out” rule.  Young kids tend to enjoy the fun of the free-for-all and the lack of rules to remember, but older kids (and adults) tend to like more rule-based fun & the ability to win!

Simple things can become games – all it takes is imagination and a little of your time to keep them engaged!

So, how do you get your kids to stay entertained in the car or get them to play outside with you?

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By: Jenna Duetzmann, staff writer

According to mainstream media, screen time and video games are the root of all evil. Computer and video games turn average children into monsters. Computer and video games are as addicting as drugs and alcohol. Computer and video games will rot your child’s brain. And of course, these media outlets can pull out reams of anecdotal evidence to support their claims.

We here at Engaged Family Gaming disagree with these claims wholeheartedly. Not only do we know plenty of upstanding citizens who have been gamers all their lives, but we have also spent hours and hours searching for and analyzing research that disproves all of these claims.

Last summer, The New America Foundation hosted a panel discussion about technology and games in early education with the following featured speakers:

Joel Levin– “The Minecraft Teacher,” Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School, Co-owner of TeacherGaming, makers of MinecraftEdu

Annie Murphy Paul– Bernard L. Schwartz Fellow, New America Foundation, Author of Brilliant: The New Science of Smart

Scott Traylor– Founder of 360KID

Alice Wilder– Co-Creator and Head of Research and Education for “Super Why!” on PBS

Lisa Guernsey– Director, Early Education Initiative, New America Foundation, Author of Screen Time: How Electronic Media—From Baby Videos to Educational Software—Affects Your Young Child 

You can watch the entire 90 minute panel here:


But, if you’re as busy as we are, you might not have that kind of time. Here are some of our brief take-aways from the event that really highlight our perspective. This topic is one of the critical reasons that this site exists. We hope to dispel the myth of computer and video games as evil with real and timely facts! The people in this panel are experts in the educational field. There is no political agenda behind the panel. That’s why we are choosing to share it with you. (Additionally, if you’re looking for educational websites, apps, and games for your kids, the first montage in the video has DOZENS)

Take-away #1- Minecraft is a phenomenal educational tool!

Many parents already knew that, but here is a brief overview. Minecraft is a game that allows players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D world. The game includes activities like exploration, gathering resources, crafting, and combat. You can play in survival mode, which requires you to gather resources to maintain health and prevent hunger. You can also play in creative mode, where players have an unlimited supply of resources, the ability to fly, and no health or hunger at all. Many schools have integrated Minecraft into the curriculum to help teach collaboration, planning, building, and digital citizenship (tune in next week for a more detailed discussion on digital citizenship).

Take-away #2- Be vigilant with your digital media choices. As a parent, you still need to be involved in your child’s decisions. Some games are better than others. Some can be learning tools that both you and your children can utilize together. Some are just ‘chocolate covered broccoli’ and not very valuable at all. Nothing is as boring as a cheesy skin over the same old educational drilling. As a parent, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the myriad choices. Be informed, test the games yourself, and stay engaged.

Take-away #3- The gamification of learning and new educational technology tools work very well to provide challenges to your child as well as inspire an intrinsic motivation to learn. Playing games with appropriate level challenges that react to your child’s specific skills can raise the learning bar far better than traditional rewards and punishment. Anne Murphy Paul expanded her thoughts from the event on her blog. You can read it here:


Take Away #4- Bringing games into the field of learning can help re-spark a child’s intrinsic love of learning that has been lost in today’s test score centric educational environment. Games are often a large part of a child’s home life. Many aspects of their imaginative play is based on something seen in a game. If we acknowledge and support those experiences and turn them into learning opportunities, we are actively engaging the child. We are using something fun and familiar to the child to educate them.

Take Away #5- There is a reason virtual world games and MMO’s (Massively Multiplayer Online games) are increasingly popular. They provide a relatively safe place for parents and children to play together, as well as a place where your child needs to read and write in chat to socialize with other players. Games like Wizard101, Poptropica, and Herotopia are booming right now, and kids bring their discussions about them to school. Are they the most educational games out there? Academically, no. But, they teach your child quite a bit about socialization and are an ideal place for children and adults to play together.

This panel was only a small drop in the ocean of information that supports computer and video games as a learning tool. We think it’s a great first resource for parents looking for facts about the virtues of gaming. There is quite a bit more information out there, and as we see interesting stuff, we will share it with you. Keep your eye on Engaged Family Gaming on Mommy Mondays for more articles like this!

 Looking for more games and math and education? Check out more articles here!

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By: Kelly Allard

Way back when I was young and sans kids, my friends and I would stay up until the wee hours of the night doing nothing but table-top gaming.  Dungeons & Dragons, Call of Cthulhu, Vampire the Masquerade… basically whatever we could get our hands on that went well with a 10-pack of tacos from Taco Bell and 64oz of Mountain Dew.

Now that we’re parents, our nigh-continuous gaming has mellowed to a semi-monthly laid-back game of Pathfinder that ends shortly after our children’s bed time.  Early on, we thought we could let the kids have a movie and we’d play while they were off relaxing in their own world.  We were quite mistaken!

While normally Simba’s harrowing tale of triumph in the face of danger would hold kids enthralled for its entire action-packed 90 minute run, it is apparently FAR less interesting than what the grown-ups are doing.  To save on frustration, we let our little ones join our table.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m excited for the day that my daughter gets the idea of playing a character in more than the “put on a costume and preface my name with princess” kind of way that pre-schoolers have.  However, we aren’t there yet.  We needed a way to make the game fun for her while letting us still play the game.

So, as any table-topping gamer parent knows, there are two incredibly interesting things about gaming for kids (and cats): dice and minis!  We would let her roll for us.  At first we’d call out the numbers, but as time went on, she’d tell US what she rolled.   It was a great way to help her recognize numbers to 20.  Also, as time went on, we could tell her which dice to roll instead of giving her a specific die.

Giving them their real names (in addition to what we call them) is helping her understanding and relation of 3 dimensional objects.  Having one person call it a tetrahedron, while someone else calls it a 4-sider helps her relate the shapes to their make-up.  You can also point out the shapes that make up the flat side, like the pentagons on a dodecahedron (d12).
Now, where things get dicey is modifiers.  My daughter LOVES to be right and isn’t really a fan of being corrected.
Here is an excerpt from a recent gaming session:
Her – “19!”
Me – “Ok, That’s a 24 for me!”

Her – “It’s a 19.”
Me – “Yes, that is a 19, but then I get to add this 5 to it, and it makes it 24.”
Her – “This ‘dice’ says 1 next to 9, that’s 19 not 24, mommy.”

To aid in her understanding of the additive nature of our rolls, we now have a small white board to write the result AND the modifier on.  So, 19 + 5 = 24, for this specific roll.  This gives her an opportunity to see how numbers operate together in simple addition.  Also, it gives her a familiarity with addition notation and an early recognition of symbols associated with it.
Another fun thing to let your little “knowledge sponge” do is count movement squares.  Explain that every square is 5 feet and tell them how many to go – as they count by 1s, you count by 5s.  This will start to give them a basis for “skip counting” and an early foundation for multiplication.  They can move the mini to the final destination but they have to count the path (save double diagonals for a different day, once they’ve got general movement down) and see if it takes more than the number the character CAN move to get to the end.
This teaches them varying quantities and allows them the ability to find their own ways to the answer.  Also, it teaches the basics of the concepts of more than (greater than) and less than.  If you are feeling particularly adventurous, you could even write their movement total on a white board, comparing the movement total to the character’s allowed movement (e.g. 20 < 30), laying the groundwork for eventually solidifying their understanding of the concept.

The thing to keep in mind is that whenever you add a child to your game, no matter the age, it is going to take longer.  The amount of time it takes to do something simple seems to be inversely proportional to their age (provided that they are over 6 months or so.)  Or to put it in simple terms: For n>0.5, t=1/n.  Just be patient with them, answer their questions and teach them what’s happening.  Table-top roleplaying games have some amazingly simple math and fantastic gaming concepts.

The math learning is great, but you will also be helping your child learn the skills of playing an open-ended game, with variable results. They will also become familiar with turn-based strategy, roleplaying and working as a team in a (mostly) cooperative environment.


Looking for more games and math? Check out more articles here!

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Mommy Monday!

By: Jenna Duetzmann

“Summer is here. Yay! No school, no homework, no sports! We can do anything we want!”

Did you hear something similar from your kids a few weeks ago? Did they have EPIC plans like Phineas & Ferb at the beginning of the summer? Did all of those epic plans get foiled by the recent monstrous, oppressive, humid heat wave? If your kids are like mine, I’m pretty sure they begged to stay inside all day with your iPad, their Nintendo DS, their PS Vita or whatever electronic game system they could get their hands on.

I’m not going to deny it, I was tempted to give in and let them play games all day. And why not? The games are fun and fast paced with exciting challenges. And it would have kept them still and relatively quiet. But then my rational brain kicked in. We all know that when children and teens spend an excessive amount of time in front of the TV, computer, or hand-held games, it takes away from the time they could spend playing, exercising, and learning.

This is not to say that electronic gaming is all bad. We should not completely cut off a child’s access to these activities, but help our children find the balance between playing games and spending time in independent activity, outside time, and exercise.

So, what should we do?

Simply pulling the plug and banning games is silly. It leads to anger, frustration, and endless confrontations. I know I don’t look forward to seeing my own stubbornness reflected back at me from my child’s face.

Here are a few of my favorite tricks to bring balance back during the summer. Each and every tip helps you engage with your child so that real life outside of the game becomes as much fun as the game itself.

Play a video game with your child:

Have your child pick their favorite video game and give it a try with them. You may find the game fun, or challenging, or completely inane. But, you are playing with your child and building a relationship with them and acknowledging that their interests are important to you. You are engaging them. You are spending time with them. Remember, building trust encourages their willingness to respect you and listen to you.

Create a long term project/activity for your child (even better if it’s based on their favorite game):

My two older children LOVE the Angry Birds franchise. We’ve come up with a summer project that involves arts and crafts, building, and physical activity. We are currently building an Angry Bird course in real life. The project involves painting shoe boxes and cardboard boards and foam pieces to represent the bricks, boards, and other obstacles. Next we are going to create a sling shot and some paper mâché pigs. We’re going to use stuffed birds in the sling shot, and…you get the idea. My kids are super excited to work on this project!

Bring out the old fashioned board games & card games:

Sometimes it is just too hot or rainy to play outside. If I don’t want to be outside, I can’t blame them for wanting to stay in the house, right? This is the perfect time to pull out family favorite games like Monopoly and Clue. Or, you can find modern favorites like Hide and Eek and Headbandz. Or, you can even teach your children Rummy and Poker. There are many educational lessons to be learned in these types of games. They include Interaction, Cooperation, Numeracy Skills, Literacy Skills, Patience and Gamesmanship. There is a reason you loved these games as a child. Introduce them to your child and watch them fall in love too. It’s amazing how much fun stimulating your mind can be.

Play outside:

Please don’t simply tell your child to “Go outside and play!” While the imagination of a child is wonderful and amazing, it needs to be stimulated. Make sure you provide something for your child to do outside, or they’ll be bored and resentful. Have plenty of sports equipment available like a football, whiffle ball and bat, basketball and soccer ball. A used sports equipment store or children’s consignment store can be a great resource. Teach your child to play badminton, volleyball, horse, or around the world. Draw a four square court or hopscotch game with chalk on your driveway. Have plenty of sidewalk chalk available. Make up a simple scavenger hunt. Create a beanbag toss out of cardboard. Fill up water balloons. The options are as endless as your own creativity or Pinterest will let you be. And, most importantly, join in whenever you can. This will show your children that you value outdoor play as well

Go to the library:

Most libraries have a summer reading program complete with contests, games, special events and prizes. If that’s not fun enough, search for books to read to/with your kids about their favorite games or cartoon characters. You would be surprised to see how many early readers their are about Super Mario, Pikachu, Marvel Heroes, Lego Heroes, Sonic, and Spyro. A good Children’s Librarian can point you in the right direction.

Play a game with their favorite video game as the subject:

We all remember playing ‘avoid the lava pit’ games with sofa cushions, milk crates, cardboard, or whatever else was handy. Why not turn this kind of play into your child’s favorite platform game? Make a Super Mario, Donkey Kong, Mega Man, Ratchet and Clank, or Little Big Planet theme. Just do some quick Wikipedia or Google research about the main characters and obstacles and you’ll have the knowledge to use the appropriate lingo to make these simple games way more exciting and relatable to your child. Now, another BIG option under this subject is to find a game that has toys built in. There are 2 relatively new and major games that have this feature. The first is Activision’s Skylanders franchise, and the second is Disney’s INfinity franchise. Both games are video games that include action figures for your child to play with. The action figures interact with the games and can be used as stand alone toys. We’ve had many adventures with block forts and Skylanders in our household. These games allow your child to bring their imagination to life.

 Actively helping your child to spend less time playing video games requires more engaged and hands-on time from parents. This isn’t is easy with today’s time commitments and schedules. But, the best way to bond with our children and get them the balance they need is to spend more time with them and play with them.

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Editor’s note: Mondays from here on out are going to be “Gamer Mom Mondays.” Check back every week for some fresh perspective and advice from moms who love to play games with their kids. First up: Kelly Allard. 

By: Kelly Allard, Staff Writer

Being a gamer mom of a preschooler, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find the value in the games we play together and to figure out just what I am teaching my child.

According to popular media, anything outside of Monopoly or a friendly game of Scrabble is detrimental to your child’s ability to grow into a well-adjusted adult.  While the common thought is that adults don’t play games, the latest generation of adults has begun to prove this wrong.  So, we move forward: gaming in front of our infants, rocking them to sleep while one-handedly playing WOW and attempting to entertain them with our fabulous Rock Band antics.  But what happens when they are old enough to WANT to play with us?  What can they learn from these games wrought with so little value, according to our parents?

The first games we started playing in our house were board games: Candy Land, Cootie and the like.  While these games really have very little parental value, they give a great basis for the future of your little gamer.

What value does the monotonous quest to liberate King Kandy from the sticky denizens of Lord Licorice have for you and your child?  Candy Land is a game we probably all played as kids, and its staying power is a testament to its skill-less play and endless fun for little ones.  Candy Land is a level playing field; there is no strategy, no thought-provoking turns, and no need to read, add or do anything else that a small child can’t yet do.  Perhaps mommy might make her way to the Candy Castle first only to be thwarted by the fate of drawing Plumpy (who now has been replaced by The Duke of Swirl or some-such character, depending on your edition), or maybe not.

It teaches them the basic dynamics of taking turns and identifying where to go next.  There is a simple objective and drawing cards and moving allows that to happen.  It gives future gamers a concept of losing turns and being set back, and gives the idea that progress isn’t always linear.  Color identification, counting and even pattern recognition are all strengthened by this simple game.

Cootie, another game cherished by my daughter, is another simple turn-based game. Roll the single die and try to build your silly bug faster than everyone else.  The catch with Cootie, as my husband is well aware, is that you can’t start to build until you’ve rolled a 1. Rounds can get extra, extra long when one person has a multicolored crazy roller-skating cowboy Cootie and the others are still striving for that elusive single pip.

This game teaches kids to recognize number groupings on a die, which lends some more concrete skill to the abstract numbers they are asked to recite when counting.  They learn the important gamer skills of rolling dice, turns that lack results and variable endings.  Cootie gives kids some time to be creative, allowing for over 4 million permutations of bizarre bugs – they can be different every time!

Each game is varied in what it teaches, but there is one thing they all have in common: they teach your kids how to win proudly and how to lose graciously.  It’s a difficult lesson to teach a competitive child, but by playing games with them you show them how not to be a sore loser and how to just pick up and try again when you fail.  If you want your kids to be the kind of gamer you’d want to play with, you have to start early and start simply.  Of course, this is just the beginning of the games kids can learn from, and ways they can be taught.  If you’re creative you can do all sorts of things – play “dress up Candy Land” and give your characters back-stories and names and purpose.  Set your Cooties on adventures when they’re complete, ask your kids what they enjoyed about the game.  There are so many places to start and so many ways they can be engaged.

Looking for more games and math? Check out more articles here!

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