Judge this book by its cover

They say, you can’t judge a book by its cover. Well, except perhaps in the case of this brand new, smartly jacketed first book of the Harry Potter series. Believe it or not, ‘The Boy Who Lived’ actually came into our lives a whopping twenty whole years ago (feel like a fossil, anyone? Because I definitely do)! And hence, to celebrate the never-ending success of Pottermania, Bloomsbury has decided to come out with four never seen before hardcover and paperback editions of the first book. Have a look.

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Image courtesy: Entertainment Weekly

Gryffindor signifying military strength, purity and courage in a vibrant red; Slytherin epitomizing glory, honor and endurance of sorts albeit in a slightly poisonous green hue; Ravenclaw all about brilliance in academics replete with owls, books and spheres in a brighter shade of azure; and the friendly, gentle Hufflepuffs in a soothing yellow.

Going by the news reports, the editions are slated to hit the shelves June 2017, to coincide with the completion of 20 years of Potter love in our lives. Why my immense love for the magical series? Well, because of thoughts like these, from the mighty Albus Dumbledore:

‘Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, when one only remembers to turn on the light.’

 

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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.

The Great Outdoors

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Boy” by tookapic is licensed under CC by 2.0

It won’t be wrong to call our kids ‘robo-babies’. Robo-babies as in not exactly robot babies; more like a ‘multimedia generation’ that would prefer spending hours curled up indoors in some remote recess, glued to their tablets, laptops or iPods. My kids are no exception – in fact, they are very fine examples of this new ‘multimedia generation’ of sorts.  I know for a fact that I can’t wean them off from the gadgets which form a part and parcel of their daily life and neither do I wish to do so. But what I do wish is that they venture outdoors, even if it is for as little as a couple of minutes a day, away from their screens and video games. Even if it entails playing something like Pokemon Go. It would do for a start at least.

So, in the season and month of New Year resolutions, my sole resolution is this: I’m going to show them and not tell them. Show them the joy and exhilaration of jogging along a grassy track, cycling on cobbled paths and sitting on grass damp with dew in the early morning sunshine. It is easier said than done. But then, children learn from what they see. The key here lies in introducing the outdoors as a fun activity – be it a beach picnic coupled with a barefoot run in the sand, skate-boarding with helmets on in the evenings or just a daily ritual of a ten minute jog in the park, with their favorite music plugged in. My resolution is that I’m going to lead by example, and run alongside them. What’s more, I am quite sure that once these young, digitally controlled minds start, they will never want to stop. And that’ll hopefully be one resolution I won’t have to give up on as the New Year sets in!

Thanksgiving Travel Tips: Fun Road Trip Games for Kids

Our family will be traveling for a major portion of Thanksgiving week this year. The annual vacation was long overdue and thus we decided to make the most of this holiday and hit the road this November, before the New Year set in.

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Childhood” by venturaartist is licensed under CC by 2.0

When it comes to the kids, going on a road trip is a pretty dicey business. They are all excited while planning for the journey in the days leading up to the trip, getting their satchels ready, deciding what snacks to carry along with them and the like. But once they are actually seated in the car for long hours at a stretch, more often than not they end up getting cranky. Hence, I decided to look up some fun game ideas – which are not board games, not virtual games and not card games or jigsaw puzzles – that could do their bit in keeping them gainfully and happily occupied on the back seat. Here are a couple of them which seemed interesting.

Create a story

Making up a story can be very enjoyable, especially in a group. This is something each member of the family can participate in. Ask one of the kids to come up with an interesting start to a story in a single sentence. It could be any random thing they can think of, or you could give the entire game an interesting twist by using sights and sounds on your journey to make up the story. For instance, ‘Once upon a time four people set out in a car’ followed by ‘It was early morning and they were very excited’ or something along similar lines. As each person in the car adds their own perspective to the tale, this could be an entertaining activity which could go on for quite some time and probable elicit a few laughs along the way too.

Karaoke away to glory!

This is something that can literally never go wrong. Before you set out on your trip, jot down and get together each family member’s favorite songs (my personal favorites are Mr. Blue Sky by Electric Light Orchestra and Fast Car by Tracy Chapman). If you don’t know where to begin, have a look at this official road trip playlist, it has some good numbers. Have a surprise gift ready – like a chocolate – for the best singer of the lot. Singing your way along while feeling the wind in your hair can be a great stress buster and gives you that feel-good factor; know what I mean?

Make an ice-cream sundae

This one is simple – think up of all the colors that go in your favorite ice-cream sundae. For example, yellow for mango, pink for strawberry, white for vanilla, brown for chocolate and so on. Don’t forget to add the red cherry on the top! Now begin by looking out of the car window and trying to spot passing objects in the colors you’ve decided on. A white car for vanilla, the trunk of a tree for chocolate and red apples for cherries… this is how it goes. Whoever completes their sundae first wins. And of course, the perfect end to this game would be to stop and have an ice-cream on the way!

Here’s to happy memories, happy times and happy moments on your road trip… and Happy Thanksgiving too!

Pumpkin Carving Halloween Activity

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Pumpkin” by laurenhudgins is licensed under CC by 2.0

Carving pumpkins with my dad for Halloween and laying them out proudly on the front porch is one of the earliest memories of my childhood. This year, I’ve decided to do the same with my little ones. Our pumpkin would probably not be a very finely crafted one, but then, we could always do up the ‘scary’ quotient!

Here goes.

Step 1: Setting up a work area of old newspapers

This is the first step. The process is bound to be messy and the better half should find no reason to point fingers at dad and daughter.

Step 2: Removing the top of the pumpkin

I prefer spooning out a roughly square-shaped lid from the top of the pumpkin. Simply draw a square at the top and try scooping it out with your knife angled inwards.

Step 3: Scooping out the filling

A large plastic spoon should do the trick. The more you scrape the pumpkin clean from the inside, the brighter you jack-o’-lantern will turn out to be.

Step 4: Carving the design

Your little one will love drawing a hideous looking grin and big eyes on the pumpkin. Slow and steady here, one cut too deep and your carving will go kaput.

Step 5: Lighting up your jack-o’-lantern

Back then, we used lighted candles inside our pumpkins. Now, we have the option of using equally good (if not better) flickering LEDs. Choose one and you’re done!

Spooks galore,

Scary witches at your door,

Jack-o’-lanterns smiling bright,

Wishing you a haunting night!

3 Video Games Parents & Kids Should Play Together

“Every time you play a video game with someone in the same room, your breathing rates will start to sync up, your heart rates will start beating at the same pulse and your facial expressions and body language will mirror each other. It means your brains are working in exactly the same way.”

So claims Jane McGonigal, the author of the book called Superbetter which tries to explore the science behind gaming. And what can be better when the other ‘someone in the same room’ is your own child, who would generally turn up his or her nose at you in normal circumstances whenever you suggest something (or anything) new?

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Joystick” by paulinapratko is licensed under CC by 2.0

I am one of those parents who is a staunch supporter of the belief that parents and kids playing video games together brings them closer to each other, in the process doing a world of good to both parties. Hence, here are three video games which are my personal favorites when it comes to gaming time together as a family.

Mario Kart

This one tops our list of video games at home for one simple reason – it is a whole lot of fun! This gravity-defying go-kart style racing video game appeals to both the young generations as well as the older ones. Be it shells being thrown on opponents, driving into and through power-up item boxes along the racing course or a fellow player slipping on a banana peel strategically placed on the way by one of his opponents, each aspect of Mario Kart is engaging and enjoyable.

School of Dragons

This is an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) which is a big hit with my kids. They adore both the How to Train Your Dragon movies and are eagerly awaiting the third film in the series. The dragon games in question involve choosing and hatching your own dragon from more than 50 different species available, exploring the exciting Viking world Cressida Cowell’s books and the subsequent movies are set in and (best of all, according to me) the science experiments and educational quests they get to participate in within the School of Dragons.

Wii Sports

I can vouch for the fact that dads – irrespective of whether they are avid gamers or not – are going to absolutely love this one. Right from swinging a tennis racket to putting on your boxing gloves and delivering one punch at a time, Wii Sports is almost as good as the real tennis, baseball, bowling, golf and boxing; minus the actual physical exercise of course. Which is why dads like me are not really complaining, eh? 🙂

Which video games do you enjoy playing with your kids, if yours too is a gamer-friendly household like ours?

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?