Thursday, November 29, 2007

Discovering space with Discovery Channel Toys

We've had quite the frenzy of gift-receiving here in the Builder Mama household, what with Monkey Man celebrating the big "6" birthday recently. He got some really cool toys, things that make a boy's heart sing - monster trucks, Transformers, football gear just to name a small portion of the loot. Seriously, it looks like Toys R Us vomited in my house.

But even with all this wondrous splendor, what toy does he keep coming back to over and over? A brand new offering from Discovery Channel Toys called the Spark Talking Telescope.

Pretty snazzy looking, isn't it? Monkey Man was seriously foaming at the mouth as I was taking it out of the box. He could hardly wait to get started looking through it.

So what do you get with this Talking Telescope? Well, it starts with a series of flash cards that talk about space exploration. Then there are 20 slides with images provided by NASA that feature different elements of our solar system. And a parent-friendly "Lab Assistant" guide. And of course, this cool looking telescope. Oh, and did I mention that the slides can be stored in a tray in the base of the telescope, thus almost eliminating the possibility of lost slides? Ooooh yeah, that almost made me giddy with excitement.

But you know, you always think that things look cool straight out of the box. And haven't we all bought toys that we thought would be fantastic and educational, only to be sadly disappointed?

Well, this certainly is not the case with the Spark Talking Telescope. I was pleasantly surprised at how user-friendly it is, how packed with information it is, and how fun it is. The three of us - Monkey Man, the husband and I all played with it for a good hour the first night, taking turns changing out the slides and listening to the facts.

How it works is that each slide can be inserted into the telescope. Then you have a series of facts that you can scroll through as you look at the slide. The information is in snippets that can be replayed as many times as you want. What I liked is that it's all simple, concise information that is presented - not too much to be overwhelming to a child, but not dumbed down either. The focus is also adjustable so a child can see the slides well. And if your kid is really into it, there are quizzes available for them to try their skills with.

So Monkey Man and I have thought this was one of the coolest toys we've seen in a while. And even the husband, who knew I was working on this review, said he thought it was one of the best things that Monkey Man has. And considering the husband is a serious geek, that is high praise indeed.

Priced at $34.95, I think this would make a most excellent holiday gift or birthday present for the future scientist in your life. I'm planning on checking out some of the other products that Discovery Store offers, like the Spark Talking Microscope. It looks way cool, as did many of the other products that I saw in the complimentary catalog that was included in our telescope.

If you're interested in reviews of the microscope or to see what the other reviewers thought of the Spark Talking Telescope, stop on over at Parent Bloggers Network where the campaign is getting off to a great start!

Parent Bloggers Network

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Get a jump on things with JumpStart World

We are serious computer junkies in our house. Three of us, five computers. You do the math. When your six-year-old has his own laptop, that is serious business.

Monkey Man has so many more opportunities to learn about computers. From the time he was old enough to push a mouse around, The World's Most Expensive Preschool gave him "computer lab" time and he has really flourished. Heck, he can do stuff that even I can't do, and I'm not exactly a slouch in the computer department.

What's difficult is finding children's software that isn't just fun, but educational and also good quality. Enter JumpStart World and their great programs for Kindergarten, First Grade, and Second Grade.

We tried out the Kindergarten program. What you get is an "Adventure Pack" that has dozens of learning games and missions for kids to use. They work their way through the game - there are so many cool games to play with 3-D characters. Personally, I loved the characters - just cartoonish enough without being cheesy, no high-pitched annoying voices, and the encouragement that they offer (even when you're not doing so hot) is really important in getting kids hooked into staying with the game versus throwing their hands up in frustration. Kids work through the mission earning "prizes" and earning pieces to their "Friendship Badge". Pretty cool stuff.

As a parent, I also liked that I can stay in tune with exactly how Monkey Man is progressing by checking his progress that is automatically updated into the parental section. I can personalize it with his name, his birthday, photos, and the little avatar that represents him throughout the units. I was also able to go unit by unit and see exactly what was being covered - a little math, a little reading, and a little bit of brain-stretching critical thinking. That got big thumbs-up from me, because the kid gets seriously bored if it's "just" one thing that the program focuses on. Mix it up, and he's hooked.

So after I got to play with it a little bit (and realize that I am pathetic at computer games), I turned him loose with it.

He loved it. Even more than his beloved Kid Pix software which we've probably almost worn out. It wasn't so easy that he got bored, but not so hard that he got frustrated. And the true test? He is able to sit there for at least 30 minutes easily without me hearing a peep from him. And I know he's not just having a good time, but he's learning and reinforcing what he has learned all at the same time. Priceless.

The best part? The Kindergarten, First Grade, and Second Grade programs cost $19.99 each. Great stocking stuffers for the little brainiacs on your holiday shopping list. Not to mention you can also subscribe to their website to get new Adventure Packs. How cool is that? And if you want to give it a whirl, they offer a free trial.

Seriously, go give this a try because I think you and your kids will love it. Not to mention, how much will you love 30 minutes of peace and quiet knowing they're doing something good versus shaving the cat again? Exactly.

Read what other bloggers have to say about this and other exciting products over at Parent Bloggers Network!

Parent Bloggers Network