Toilet Rolls, Easter Chicks & Bunnies

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Easter Nest” by suju is licensed under CC by 2.0

Weird-sounding title to my post, eh? Well, I’m into one of my ‘temporary phases’, as my wife likes to call it. This time it’s all to do with recycling. So in my daily reading time when I came across some ideas for crafts fashioned out of discarded toilet paper rolls, I jumped at the opportunity.

Here’s how it goes. You need pretty much the same supplies for both the chicks as well as the bunnies – toilet paper rolls (equal to the number of chicks/bunnies you want), buttons (if you can’t lay your hands on googly eyes), some paint or crayons, glue and orange/yellow colored cardboard along with a pair of scissors.

The first step is a messy one (and hence, your kids will love it). Ask them to paint the outer curved surface area of the rolls in the shade they want; yellow works for chicks but it is up to them. Once the paint is dry, stick on the buttons and an orange-colored triangular beak, stuff in some colored tissue/toilet paper haphazardly onto the open top of the roll as feathers and you’ll find your bright little cheerful chick staring back at you.

Easter bunnies are a bit more elaborate to work with. You need to cut out long, bunny rabbit ears to stick on to the top open end of the roll, black colored whiskers (three on either side should do) and a buttony nose, with eyes made of different colored buttons to differentiate. There’s your cuddly little bunny all done up!

Happy Easter, folks!

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3 Interesting Handwriting Activities for Kids

‘I don’t have a bad handwriting. I have my own font’.

I was thrilled when I came across this piece of writing the other day. This was so me! Now I have this really witty one-liner to say to any random soul who goes so far as to comment on my own ‘font’ of writing. Not that people get a fair chance to do that too much in present times, thanks to us typing away on a computer keyboard rather than weaving magic with pen and paper, like the yesteryears gone by.

For those of you not in the know (I was also a part of this group until today), January 23 is observed as National Handwriting Day. There is something known as the WIMA, short for the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association, that was set up back in the year 1943. Its mission: ‘To bring together the voices of the pen, marker and mechanical pencil industries’. It is this WIMA which came up with the idea of what we know today as the ‘National Handwriting Day’.

Why not use the occasion as an excuse to introduce our kids to some interesting handwriting activities? Here goes.

Handmade Cards

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Day” by DWilliams is licensed under CC by 2.0

A clever way to get kids to do a bit of writing, sans writing worksheets or actual cursive writing practice – handmade cards. Simply ask the kids to do a bit of art corresponding to their ages – multicolored thumbprints or handprints for younger kids, or a paper pumpkin craft for an occasion like Halloween (our kids’ grandparents are absolutely ecstatic when it comes to anything handmade they receive from their grandchildren) for older kids who are adept enough to handle a pair of scissors. Now where does the handwriting part come in? In the messages that accompany or form a part of the art/drawing! Kids who are still learning their words can copy out messages whereas older ones can get to work composing their own greetings and wishes, making sure they write it out in neat cursive handwriting. We made handmade New Year kids this year and sent them out to loved ones.

Typing and Copying

Most young kids love tapping around on the keyboard and watching the characters appear on the computer screen. Ask them to copy out a fun short story word by word on a Word document. Then, after checking for any spelling errors, get a printout of the same and ask the kids to draw pictures alongside and copy out the typed story on a lined sheet of paper. This way, the little ones will get all of the below – computer keyboard typing practice, reading and drawing practice, as well as handwriting practice too.

A New Way to Write

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Office” by stux is licensed under CC by 2.0

The key here is to do something different from what your child usually does. For instance, if he generally uses a pencil to write, hand him a bright colored sketch pen; if she usually writes sitting down at a table on a lined sheet of paper, try handing her some post-it notes to be put up on the refrigerator for the menu for each day of the coming week; if she has always written in notebooks, hand her a spiral bound diary with speech bubbles (see how you can make them in a Word document here) drawn on pages to pen down her thoughts at the end of a day (I did that at home and now it has become my daughter’s prized possession). Try your hand at coming up with a handmade calendar with your kids, with the days of the week and the months of the year listed down in neat cursive letters with markers or sketch pens on each page of the calendar. The ultimate aim should be to get the kids to pen down text neatly, copied or otherwise, and eventually they’ll learn to form their alphabets the correct way with constant practice.

Do share your handwriting activity ideas too, would love to try them out as well.

Virtual Reality versus Augmented Reality

Before we finish marveling at the newest innovation in the field of science and technology, yet another more fascinating element or feature comes up that we just cannot ignore. It is like this ever oncoming wave of e-transformations; no doubt we live in extremely exciting times! What is the latest innovation that is about to take the world by storm? AR, short for Augmented Reality.

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Virtual Reality” by ijmaki is licensed under CC by 2.0

What is Augmented Reality (AR)?

Wikipedia defines AR thus:

‘Augmented Reality (AR) is a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented} by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data.’

 Picture this: You are sitting in your favorite Italian restaurant. You take your phone out of your pocket and scan the yellow mustard sauce bottle placed beside the pizza in front of you on the table. Voila! No sooner did you click the picture that an entire elaborate recipe book shows up on your phone screen, replete with suggestions for dinner using the particular mustard sauce in question as an ingredient. Sounds too good to be true? Well, with augmented reality apps like Blippar in the market, this is but the reality.

As things are going, it won’t be long before almost everyone you see walking around the streets going about their daily lives will be perpetually plugged in to their Virtual Reality (VR) headsets. In addition to other virtual games in the market, take the instance of the immense popularity of a game like Pokemon Go, which has brought together virtual reality as well as brick and mortar businesses on the same page.

The Difference between AR and VR

Talk about virtual reality and you envision a world that is virtual in effect, a world that users can interact with. Effective virtual worlds are designed in such a way that users would find it difficult to distinguish between real world and virtual world objects.

On the other hand, augmented reality goes a step further – it blends together real life and virtual reality, thus having the upper hand over VR. Apps in AR are set with the real world as a backdrop, and virtual contents are blended in within that. Hence, the difference between real and virtual is pretty clear in AR, unlike VR.

Toys and Games go Hi-Tech

Online game and app designers for kids are trying their best to cash in on the growing popularity of AR. Here are three examples:

  1. QR Code Storybooks: This is all about fairy tales coming alive and talking to kids. Hidden videos in the form of Quick Response (QR) codes are activated by kids while reading – this is akin to using a touchscreen device.
  2. AR Jigsaw Puzzles: Move over the board game type jigsaw puzzles we pieced together in our own childhood; they are passé now. New AR jigsaw puzzles are all set to enthrall the kids. Say your child has just put together a jungle safari jigsaw puzzle; with AR, you could actually make your way virtually through the said safari riding on the back of an elephant!
  3. AR Coloring Apps: No points for guessing how this works… The page one colors virtually comes alive! The perfect mix of a physical coloring experience with the latest augmented reality technology.

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Image courtesy: An Eccentric Life

Coming from a person like Mark Zuckerberg, the day being talked about sure isn’t too far. What do you think?

‘Welcome to Jupiter!’

This is what flashed on screens at mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in California two days ago when the Juno spacecraft successfully started orbiting the largest planet of our solar system, Jupiter.

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Juno” by WikiImages is licensed under CC by 2.0

Juno was launched from the earth on August 5, 2011 and has traveled 2.8 billion kilometers since then to complete its almost 5-year-long journey. It carries nine scientific instruments on board which will automatically switch on as programmed earlier by the end of this week, in order to start sending back scientific observations by and by. What’s more, once it is done with its work by early 2018, scientists have its end all planned out too – like its predecessor Galileo, it will be reduced to ashes in the highly radiative atmosphere of the planet generally referred to as the ‘gas giant’.

Wondering why I’m suddenly spouting so much info about Juno and Jupiter? Well, back in my childhood days, I remember having a big hard-covered picture and fact book (like an encyclopedia) that talked about space, galaxies and solar systems. Each time the book was opened, I would be fascinated – the unknown wonders of space, the possibility of life out there and my imagination would wander far and wide. News about space travel or anything to do with it transfixed me back then, and it transfixes me now. So when my daughter caught the news about Juno on TV, I decided to bring out the same ‘space book’ and pore over it, like we did in the olden days. And we spent a successful ninety minutes or so learning about the same, almost akin to a science lesson.

By the way, did you know that the name ‘Juno’ has its roots in Greek and Roman mythology? Legend has it that the mythical God Jupiter drew a veil of clouds around himself in order to hide his mischievousness,  and his wife – the Goddess Juno – had the power to peer through the clouds and unveil his true nature.

I heard my wife give a chuckle from the next room when I read this out. But obviously.

How April Fools’ Day Came into Being

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What is known about April Fools’ Day is this: It falls every year on April 1. It is officially a day to play pranks. What is not known about the day is: How it came into being; meaning thereby that there are several tales about the origin of the day, and yet we don’t know which of those (if any) are true.

Here are some of the probable origins of the history of April Fools’ Day.

  • Hilaria, a Greco-Roman festival celebrated every year on March 25, was known for its parades, jokes and masquerades. It was thought of as the beginning of the year of the Julian calendar. The term ‘hilaria’ reminds one of the word ‘hilarity’ in the English language, which means boisterous merriment or extreme amusement.
  • Back in the year 1582, France decided to move from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. In the former, April 1 was New Year’s Day while in the latter, it was January 1. Those folks who didn’t realize this change soon enough continued to celebrate New Year’s Day on April 1 and became the butt of all jokes.
  • Geoffrey Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales in 1392. In the story, a fox tricks a rooster into becoming his meal, but then the rooster in turn tricks him back into letting him go. ‘Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two’ were the opening words of the story, which was considered to be a joke because there was no March 32, and hence misunderstood to mean April 1.

And hence, April Fools’ Day came into being.

Fun Ways to Learn Coding

Literacy is no longer confined to reading and writing; joining this duo is coding. In a world driven by technology where channels of engagement have changed, to learn or to at least understand coding and how it works is necessary. It will help children navigate different digital channels and even create new ones!

Coding drives most digital creations and the way they function, from games to websites. So where do children learn about coding? Naturally, the place where it all happens. This is what makes learning how to code fun. Imagine playing pet games and then the next thing you know you are learning to code as you go about creating pages for your virtual pets!

Fall 2011 Student Hackathon CodingFall 2011 Student Hackathon Coding” by hackNY.org is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Benefits of Coding

Children with an interest in technology-oriented careers are not the only ones who need to learn coding. There are several ways in which coding benefits kids. Here are a few –

  • Coding encourages logical thinking.
  • Children can work on problem solving by simplifying a complex issue into smaller steps.
  • There are opportunities aplenty for creative thinking as kids try to come up with solutions to get past hurdles.
  • It allows kids to create apps, games, websites and more on the digital platform, and turn ideas into reality.

Sublime WowSublime WoW: Website Code over 1000!” by Lord James… is licensed under CC BY 2.0

 

Learning to Code

Children can learn to code via games, online tutorials and courses. Here’s a list of resources that teach basic concepts.

  • Lightbot Jr. – Ideal for kids between 4-8 years. Teaches concepts like writing instructions, debugging and loops.
  • Code Monkey Island – This is a popular board game that teaches kids concepts in computer science.
  • Kodable – Through mazes and Fuzzes, this app teaches kids between five and seven the basics of programming.
  • Code Combat – It is a multiplayer fantasy game that teaches programming languages like Python and JavaScript for beginners.

 App Kodable

app – Kodable” by auladetecnologia is licensed under CC BY 2.0

  • Machineers – This is a puzzle game that is said to help users learn the way a programmer thinks as they solve the puzzles.
  • Bee-Bot – Based on the Bee-Bot floor robot, this app teaches directional language and programming.
  • Scratch – Created by MIT, Scratch is a platform where kids can learn to program stories, games and animations.
  • Hour of Code – An initiative by Codeacademy, this is an iPhone app that teaches kids to create and run a program within an hour.

Smart Game CodingSmart Game Coding” by Harris County Public Library is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Coding is a behind-the-scenes task master who drives the way we engage digitally. With a growing reliance and demand for digital products, knowing even the basics of coding can help kids grow more comfortable with the digital medium as consumers or creators.

Choosing Online Virtual Games to Educate Children

Online virtual games have redefined games as technology continues to reduce the gap between the real and virtual world. With growing awareness of the benefits of online virtual games for learning, educators are trying to adapt to this trend. Virtual games cannot replace some of the established learning methods completely. However, they gain value for being a good educational supplement.

Identifying the right virtual game for the right age is crucial to its success as a learning tool. By outlining the learning objectives, educators can measure the effectiveness of using game-based learning in classrooms. Understanding the ways in which these games benefit children can help you maximize its advantages.

LegoLego.com…” by IvanWalsh.com is licensed under CC BY 2.0

  • Context – Virtual games are unique because they promote learning within a well-defined context. Children can learn through simulated experiences. This can be very useful in areas where safety is a concern like driving. Students can safely try out many choices before they master a skill thereby reducing the error rate in real life.


Learning through context also increases the level of engagement. Apart from the focus subject, children also learn to navigate through the virtual world while constantly making sharp observations. This can indirectly train them to respond to situations in real life quickly and accurately.

MabinogiMabinogi G9…” by Shadoe Landman is licensed under CC BY 2.0

  • Practice – Children don’t mind repetitive steps within the virtual world. They learn by doing things and experimenting with the different ways in which things can be done. They also have to participate actively by making choices based on their own judgment and interacting with the game as it is played out. If one choice fails, they have to try another one. This helps them retain the information they learn for longer.
  • Achievement – Educators don’t have to worry about preparing a separate round of assessment to measure a student’s success. Online virtual games are designed with different levels that move from simple to complex. At each level the progress made by kids is captured and rewarded. The rewards give kids a sense of achievement and can be encouraging.

On the LooseOn The Loose!” by Joonie.. is licensed under CC BY 2.0

  • Social – Virtual worlds are also popular because they offer a social environment and multi-player game options. This can lead to collaboration. Children also learn to communicate and share information online.

Yet another reason for you to explore online virtual games as an education tool is the learning styles they cater to like auditory, visual, or kinesthetic. By setting objectives and choosing the right games, virtual games can be used effectively in education.