Robot Turtles: Review & Giveaway!

This past summer, I took a look at introducing coding to children as young as three. Along with the numerous academic benefits, many social benefits were also highlighted. This month, we’re taking a look at a board game that introduces concepts of programming to preschoolers.

Robot Turtles started off as a Kickstarter campaign, and quickly made history as the most-backed board game in Kickstarter history with over $600K in pledges. While children don’t actually code, the game sneakily teaches children as young as three the fundamentals of programming.

Before the game even begins, parents and children can work together to put up barriers (ice walls and stone walls) to create the game board. The object of the game is simple: each player’s turtle must reach the jewels. The game board is customizable to make it as easy or as difficult as you would like, which prevents it from becoming boring for older children.

Robot Turtles can be played by up to four players. The players use the action cards to control the turtle’s movements in order to collect jewels. For advanced players, a function frog allows players to call a separate function within the program.

BoxShot

What makes Robot Turtles stand out from other board games?

Its simplicity.
For a game to work with preschoolers, the rules have to be simple. And, Robot Turtles is just that. Not only are preschoolers learning to think like a programmer, they’re understanding spatial concepts and learning new vocabulary. The turtles are fun characters to play with that will keep children engaged.

Its adaptability. 
Despite its simplicity, by setting up a complex board and through the use of the advanced functions, players can be continually challenged as they become more experienced. The game is designed for simultaneous solitary play which means each player’s path to the jewels can be constructed according to the player’s skill level. This means that 3 year-olds and 8 year-olds can sit together and enjoy a game of Robot Turtles, without either age group becoming bored.

It encourages parent-child interaction.
Dan Shapiro, the creator of Robot Turtles, had discussed the idea of Robot Turtles with people in the board game industry. He was told that the idea wasn’t marketable because parents weren’t interested in games they had to sit and play with their kids. Parents were far more interested in games that would engage their kids independently, freeing up their time to do something else. Shapiro could have just as easily created an app that operated in the same manner, but chose to stick with the board game idea.

It is apparent that children today could use a little less screen time and a little more time socializing with peers and adults. Robot Turtles encourages communication between players as well as parent-child interaction. With children playing the different cards and parents moving the turtles, there is plenty of fun and learning to be had with this board game.

Can’t wait to get your hands on this board game? You’re in luck! ThinkFun and Masalamommas are partnering this month to giveaway a Robot Turtles board game. All you have to do is leave your name in the comments section of the Masalamommas page, where this review originally appeared. Random draw will take place Nov 14 and winners announced week of Nov 17th!

Lessons from the Playground

Watching my son grow and learn has been the greatest joys of my life. It has also been the greatest learning experience; time and time again, I am reminded that adults are clearly the inferior beings. Children are far happier, healthier, and—as I recently realised—wiser than the adults responsible for them. We could learn a thing or two from the little munchkins.

They speak their minds
“Go away. I don’t like you.”
“I made a big fart-y!!!”
“I want to hug you!”
These are just a few of the phrases I hear almost daily when I take my son to the playground. Things we wouldn’t dare say in a million years for fear of being labelled brazen, or worse, ostracised from polite company are casually tossed around when the kids are talking. Kids aren’t afraid to say it like it is. They aren’t tainted by social convention, and they certainly aren’t worried about what other people will think of them. They are who they are. Take it or leave it.

The rest of the story can be found on Yowoto…

girltunnel Photo credit: phalinn / Foter / CC BY

The Kissing Bandit: Review & Giveaway

I remember the first time my son was placed in my arms. It was a surreal and intensely emotional experience; the culmination of months of patient waiting, wonderment, and anticipation finally materializing into a beautiful baby boy in my arms. It was a realization of motherhood and the unexplainable, overwhelming love that came with it. I will always remember that first kiss. That simple, gentle, affectionate kiss on my newborn’s forehead changed me forever.

As parents, we shower our children with hugs and kisses. Physical affection comes so naturally and intuitively to us that it needs no scientific backing. Of course, there is plenty of scientific research to support parental warmth and affection as a critical component of child development. Many studies show warmth in a parent-child relationship is positively correlated to higher self-esteem, better parent-child communication, and fewer psychological and behavioral problems. Parents’ hugs and kisses linger much past the early years. Further longitudinal analysis has shown warmth and affection from parents to be related to academic competence, fewer teen pregnancies and associations with deviant peers. In addition, children who are raised in affectionate homes are found to effectively use proactive, problem-focused coping strategies. However, lack of warmth of affection can foster feelings of alienation, expressions of hostility and aggression, low self-esteem, and anti-social behaviors.*

With findings like these, it’s no wonder that evolution has hardwired parents to shower our little ones with plenty of hugs and kisses. That’s why The Kissing Bandit, a children’s book that celebrates the importance of positive affection between parents and children, caught my eye. In their Kickstarter video, authors and dads Jason and Aaron tell their heartwarming story of how the children’s book came to be. Their goal is simple: to spread the glorious sound of a child’s laughter in every home through affectionate play. Their interactive book is narrated by Professor Roade, the first of two puppet characters in the story. Midway through the story, the Professor transforms into the playful and colorful bandit Edora, who loves to kiss children until they giggle uncontrollably.

kissingbandit

Taken by the idea, I backed the Kickstarter campaign and received an advance copy of The Kissing Bandit last week. The book and puppet are packaged in a beautiful storage box, with stunning graphics and a magnetic closure. Everything about the book, from the front to the back cover, is stunning. The cover art captures the delight of a child’s laughter wonderfully with adorable characters playing peek-a-boo behind shimmering, rainbow lips. Each page turn is a feast for the eyes – with high-quality photographs interlaced with vibrant hued graphics. The puppet is a simple design that is perfect for coordination-lacking parents like myself as well as toddlers still grasping gross motor skills.

pages

When my son and I read the book for the first time, the magical transformation was a pleasant surprise that resulted in shrieks of excitement and laughter. Now, every time we read the book, he is giggling the whole way through in anticipation of Edora’s appearance. Within a few hours, it became a favorite. He not only loves to be the recipient of gazillions of kisses, but also likes to play Edora showering mommy with kisses everywhere.

The simple story, the beautiful images, the interactive puppet with a twist — all make for a great time to be had by adults and children alike. The Kissing Bandit is more than just a children’s book; it is an opportunity to engage in meaningful, loving, affectionate play with your child. It’s an opportunity to create precious memories.

Jason and Aaron have generously offered to giveaway two boxed sets complete with hardcover book and reversible puppet to TWO lucky readers. All you have to do is leave your first name and email (will not be displayed) below for a chance to win this awesome prize! The last day to enter is Sunday September 7, 2014 at 11:59PM. Two random winners will be selected using random.org. Good luck! 

edora-smooches
* Research References cited above:
Cox, M. (forthcoming). Parent-child relationships. In M. Bornstein, L. Davidson, C. Keyes, and K. Moore (Eds.), Well-being: positive development across the lifespan. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Scaramella, L.V., Conger, R.D., Simons, R.L., & Whitbeck, L.B. (1998). Predicting risk for pregnancy by late adolescence: A social contextual perspective. Developmental Psychology, 34(6), pp. 1233-1245.
McIntyre, J.G. & Dusek, J.B. (1995). Perceived parental rearing practices and styles of coping. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 24(4), pp. 499-509.
Young, M.H., Miller, B.C., Norton, M.C., & Hill, E.J. (1995). The effect of parental supportive behaviors on life satisfaction of adolescent offspring. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 57, 813-822.

DIY 5-minute Ice Cream!

Leave your fancy ice cream makers at home for this kid-friendly DIY. Last week, we had a chance to try out this fun activity. Days later, my toddler is still emphatically telling every stranger on the street how he made his own ice cream. Of course, the delicious end product is the ice cream on the cake!

5-minute Ziploc Ice Cream

You will need: 

  • A large (gallon) size Ziploc
  • A small (pint) size Ziploc
  • 1/2 gallon of ice (about enough to half fill the large Ziploc)
  • 6 tablespoons rock salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract


Instructions: 

1. Place the ice and salt in the large Ziploc bag.

2. Place heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla extract in a small bowl and mix.

3. Pour liquid mixture into small Ziploc and seal it tightly, making sure there is little air in the ziploc.

4. Put the small Ziploc in the larger one, burying it in the ice.

9.ice_.cream_

5. Shake vigorously for 5 minutes. It gets cold! Use oven mitts to make the experience even more hilarious!

6. Ice cream is ready to serve! Yum! icecream

Variations: Try adding chocolate or strawberry syrup, Oreos, or chocolate chips for new ice cream flavors.

Science connections: Heat Transfer

Why do we add salt?

Salt makes ice melt (that’s why it is used on icy roads). But, ice can only melt if it absorbs heat from somewhere. The heat in the cream mixture quickly transfers to the ice when we shake it. When the heat is gone from the cream, it freezes to make delicious ice cream!

2890957767_0912269570 Photo credit: Rae / Foter / Creative Commons 

What I Want to Say to Mothers Who Breastfeed in Public

I’ve done it in some unusual locations — the backseat of my car, public restrooms, even a department store fitting room. I’m not proud of it, of course. But, at the time, it seemed like I had little choice. I could either choose a somewhat private, secluded spot in public to do the deed or be forced to face the looks. 

The looks of disgust. Those ogling eyes. Those under-the-breath comments. Those shifty, uneasy looks that made me want to stand up and yell, My son is having lunch. Is that really so repulsive?!

But, I never did muster up the courage to stand up. 

Instead, I struggled to keep a blanket over his head. Each time, he would pull it down, eyes wide with excitement as if to say, “Are we playing peek-a-boo, Mommy?”

Instead, I would turn around with my back to the world. Except that there wasn’t always a wall to turn to. 

Instead, I took my son to have his breakfast in a 3’x3′ airplane bathroom because my economy seat neighbour was already quite annoyed by my child’s presence. 

Instead, I always stayed within a stone’s throw away from home. So, when his eyes searched for his next meal, I would hold my hungry baby close to my chest whispering in his tiny ear, Mommy will feed you in a minute sweetheart. We’re almost here. But, sometimes, ‘here’ wasn’t close enough. Which is how we ended up in restrooms, fitting rooms, and the like. 

The informative prenatal classes, the beautiful mother-baby posters adorning delivery ward walls, and the slew of pregnancy books all seemed to paint a perfect picture of nursing. One that was void of ignorant remarks and disgusted looks. 

I never thought breastfeeding would be so difficult. But, it really was. The fact that my baby wanted nothing to do with a bottle until he was nearly a year old certainly made things that much more challenging. In reality, the struggle had nothing to do with him. It was all me; it was my inability to pay no regard to the looks. It was my inability to put my son’s needs over strangers’ preferences. It was my inability to put my responsibility as a mother over society’s foolish notions. 

And, for that, I am ashamed. 

Nursing was one of the most beautiful bonding mothering moments I have had the joy of experiencing. It is a shame we live in a world where society does not acknowledge breasts for their real beauty — providing immunity-boosting, nutrition-rich milk for babies. Breasts are sexualized as infamous objects of desire, while their real purpose is seen as shameful. Showing cleavage in a bikini won’t command looks of repulsion. Latch a baby on that boob, and all of a sudden it is an obscene image, seemingly unfit for a public venue. 

What is even more saddening is confident, assertive women like myself are finding themselves in similar situations — holding their hungry babies in search for a secluded spot to nurse. The ludicrosity of society’s misguided notions are graphically depicted in North Texas’ recent ad campaign. 

The ad reads: “Would you eat here? By law, breastfeeding mothers are not protected from harassment and refusal of service in public, often forcing them to feed in secluded spaces such as public bathrooms. To help take a stand, visit whennurturecalls.com, because a baby should never be nurtured where nature calls.” While campaigns like this are a reassuring step forward, we are still far from a world where breastfeeding mothers are supported, not shamed. 

There was so much I was unsure of as a first-time mother, and public breastfeeding was one of my many uncertainties. If I could go back to the first year with my baby, I would do things much differently. Now, when I walk by a mother breastfeeding in public, I almost always give her a look. It’s a look of support, encouragement, and admiration. I want to say to her, I wish I had been as brave as you. I want to tell her she is an amazing mother for putting her child’s needs above everything else. But, most importantly, I want to tell her that her seemingly simple act is the fuel for change; a source of inspiration and courage for those less brave, and a valiant voice in the face of ignorance. 

I want to tell her, that given another chance, I want to be just like her.

breastfeeding

When Grief Crosses Seven Seas

I woke up this morning to the words “rape” and “six year-old” being used in the same sentence. It was an unbridled assault to my senses that has left me shaken.

This week, tensions are running high as news spreads about parents protesting in the streets in Bangalore after a 6-year-old girl was raped in her school. Reports say that the young girl was allegedly assaulted when she left her classroom to go to the bathroom. The rape is now raising questions about the safety of India’s schoolchildren and started yet another nationwide outrage over rampant sexual violence against girls and women.

I have lived a sheltered life for the most part. My parents migrated to the North America before I even began school and, for a good portion of my life, my knowledge of my birthplace was limited to the country portrayed by Bollywood. Ignorance is bliss, they say. And, I can vouch for the statement: it was bliss.

But, my bliss was at the expense of so many others. There is something deeply unethical and inhumane about choosing to be ignorant and looking in the other direction while our fellow human beings grieve losses that are indescribable…

Read the rest of this story here .

Source: TheHindu.com
Source: TheHindu.com

Freelance Writing

When I’m not digging in a nearby sandbox, chasing my son through the park, or experimenting in the kitchen, you’ll find me busily typing away in a feeble attempt to capture the simple yet extraordinary joys of motherhood. From tales of terror to lessons of love, motherhood’s stories are worth telling. In addition to this blog, a few spots where you’ll find my writing include:

huffington_post the-new-york-times logo
MasalaMommas ivillage
Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 10.39.01 PM bayareaparent

In A Moment of Weakness

We all have that moment of weakness. When bedtime rolls around, I slowly survey my surroundings. I have nothing to show for the last 15 hours. I have no visible proof that would explain my exhaustion. No financial restitution for my aching limbs. In fact, instead of warm cuddle and hug of gratitude from my child, I was rewarded for my relentless efforts with kicks and screams.

In that dark moment, I feel like the weaker sex. I am not the breadwinner in my home. My ambitious to-do list boxes remain unchecked yet again. I did not clean out the cupboards like I had planned to do. I did not scrub the bathroom tiles. I did not cook a 3-course meal. With food bits littered around the high chair, milk spills on the counter top, and goldfish crackers and cheerios wedged in between couch cushions, the home is in worse condition than it was 15 hours ago.

But, then I come across an article like this, where a man describes his day as a stay-at-home dad. It’s slightly reassuring; I am not the weaker sex. It is not me, it is the job. A million recounts of what goes into a day’s work with small children can be written; and, it will still do no justice to the utterly chaotic ongoings. Every brain cell, muscle cell, and blood cell in my body is taxed to a point I never knew possible.

And, I have nothing to show for it.

At the end of a particularly bad day, when the nursery rhymes, shrieks, and cacophony of musical instruments are finally replaced with the lonely sound of my fork and knife scraping my dinner plate, the dreaded what if seeps into my thoughts.

What if I went back to work? Then, I would have something to show for a day’s work.

A career.

A pay cheque.

Appreciation.

A tempting thought, yes. I visualize myself getting ready in the morning like I once did — dressing in decent clothes, wearing makeup, doing my hair, wearing heels. I grab my keys, and turn around to say goodbye.

Those eyes.

Those big, beautiful, brown eyes.

I sit in silence for that moment and am very aware of my body’s physical response to that what if question. A single tear makes its way slowly down my cheek to my chin. It drips on to the corner of my dinner plate. With that single tear every brain, muscle, and blood cell, and every exhausted bone in my body miraculously heals; but, my exhaustion is replaced with an ache in my heart so deep I am clutching my chest to keep my body from collapsing.

I choose exhaustion. I happily choose exhaustion. Today, tomorrow, and as long as I possibly can.

tear

Photo credit: César Augusto Serna Sz / Foter / Creative Commons 

From a Boy to his Baba

This poem was first published on the blog last winter. With Father’s Day this weekend, I think it serves as a gentle reminder for both children and their fathers to enjoy and embrace their special bond. Happy Father’s Day!

Shortly after I was born,
You held me so close and dear,
Whispering soft sweet ‘angai’*
Into my little ear.

Then a few months passed
And I learned to sit and crawl,
You showed me how
To put on my hat and throw my ball.

When mummy’s birthday came,
You picked out a perfect little gift from me.
With so much love and care
To show just how much she means to me.

Now I’m walking with my little feet
Up and down the hall.
You watch me run and play, Baba,
Ready to catch me when I fall.

You will blink and before your eyes
You will see that I’m turning two;
Beaming proudly, standing tall
Saying, “Look, Baba, I tied my shoe!”

Another blink and I’m sixteen
In the drivers seat of a car.
Don’t worry, Baba, I’ll be safe,
But, I won’t be home by dark.

Just yesterday, with a single arm,
You held me with so much ease.
Now look at me, Baba,
I’m almost six foot three.

Today you lead the way
And I try to keep up with you,
But, Baba, there will come a time
When the opposite will be true.

But no matter how big I may be,
Always catch me when I fall,
Never stop leading me,
And teaching me right from wrong.

I may not always listen, Baba,
I may not be the perfect son,
But, you will always be my hero
When all is said and done.

Whenever I say “That’s my Baba!”
My heart fills with pride.
Forever, I will love you.
Forever, you will be mine.

baba

Photo credit: dMadPhoto / Foter / Creative Commons 

*angai is the Marathi word for lullabies 

Babe in the City

I am what they call a ‘go-getter’ — the kind of Type-A girl who has a timeline in her head of what her life will look like in the next five years. Four years of high school, four years of undergrad, one year of teacher’s college, and I should be teaching. And, that’s exactly how things panned out. In a room full of 18-year-old, Grade 12 Biology students, I was their 22-year-old teacher.

By 23, I had paid off my student debt. By 24, I was married and bought a house in the suburbs. In a rare moment, I would look over my shoulder and find my colleagues and friends bar-hopping, club-hopping, or country-hopping in attempts to find themselves. I didn’t quite understand the notion; what was there to find?

At almost-29, I finally get it.

My years in the suburban home taught me a few lessons. One Saturday evening, as I finally sipped my chai on the deck after spending the afternoon tirelessly cleaning 2500 square feet of meticulously decorated and carefully furnished living space, the dim light bulb above my head began to glow. I was going to be doing this every weekend for the next 40 years. With the Canadian healthcare system, probably even longer.

In a desperate attempt to put together the pieces after hitting the metaphorical brick wall, my mind began to take a second look at that carefully laid out timeline. Where did I go wrong? Everything was so diligently thought out and planned — why wasn’t I happy here?

Time and time again, my thoughts would return to my undergrad days. Amidst the horrors of midterms and exams, I was happy. My favorite pastime was walking the streets of downtown, turning strangers into friends, enjoying the sights and sounds of the morning hustle and bustle, and enjoying the culture I was immersed in. Everything about the city life made me smile.

And, here I was sitting alone in the dream house — literally hearing crickets. This is not me, I think to myself.

Somewhere, somehow, I messed up.

My doubts are drowned in joy when I find out I am pregnant. I tell myself that my suburban home will make sense when it is filled with baby toys in the backyard, a nursery, and playroom. As excited first time parents, we renovate, we decorate, and we strip our home of sharp corners and glass tops.

Then comes baby. I am told to take it easy — no stairs, my midwife says. I feel isolated in my bedroom, but oblige. Healthy mommy means happy baby. My body is en route to recovery, but the gray skies and frigid weather keep my mind isolated. As I peer out of my bedroom window, I see into the neighbor’s living room. She sits alone watching television. Again, my mind returns to memories of the city streets.

Icy December days go by at a snail’s pace. It is March. My husband receives a job offer from a company in San Francisco. In a whirlwind, the house is on the market, our flight is booked, a deposit for a 700 square foot apartment has been made. We are moving next month. My friends and colleagues struggle with the news.

“You just had a baby, and you’re trading your suburban home for a city apartment?!” They are in disbelief. I laugh in response because I know it’s the unconventional route. I laugh because this sequence of events is nowhere to be found on my timeline.

I look back at the way things have unfolded over the course of the last year. I could never have foreseen this life-changing move. I think back to the last year of motherhood, and laugh at my timeline. I am reminded that there is no better teacher than life itself. Sometimes our plans guide us, and sometimes we guide our plans. We learn about ourselves each step of the way. Our mistakes are what teach us about who we are and what makes us happy. We may stumble, but quickly get back up, and stand a little taller.

I no longer walk alone. Now, I walk the city streets accompanied by a little man. He, like his mama, loves the sights and sounds of the city. He greets strangers, and befriends them instantly eager to tell tales of his adventures. He enjoys watching the streetcars roll by, and counting the helicopters in the sky. He leads the way to the local cafe where we watch butterflies flutter through the garden and toddlers play in the dirt.

His smiles and giggles are all the proof I need to reassure myself that I haven’t done my son a disservice by moving to the city. I’m not raising my son in the suburbs. And, as it turns out, that’s quite alright.

babeinthecity

Photo credit: loquevenm / Foter / Creative Commons