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Thursday, December 4th, 2014
Disney knows you’re searching the App Store for educational games for your kids, and trying to tell the good-quality from the waste-of-time is rough to say the least. (We know, we looked at a ton for our 70 Best Apps for Families.) Today Disney unveiled ambitious plans to pair their stories and animation with strong learning content; the first of some 30 Imagicademy apps will launch on December 11.
The search for “joyful learning that kids don’t run away from,” as Andrew Sugarman, executive vice president of Disney Publishing Worldwide, puts it, is universal these days. This generation is screen-savvy and ready to learn as long as we capture and keep their attention. To that end, the math app, the first one out, features games like “put the sleepwalking alien to bed” that cleverly build in number order along the way. Another activity in the app has a baby robot building a sandcastle, working in number sense by first asking the child to draw a numeral on the touchscreen, then having that number of balls of sand appear, then counting them out and assembling a castle with that number of spires. (A mischievous child can then gleefully destroy the sandcastle. It’s all part of staying engaged!)
This first Imagicademy math app will hit the sweet spot of ages 3 to 5, children in Pre-K and Kindergarten. A creative arts app will roll out in January, followed by a Frozen-themed science app in March and reading with Doc McStuffins in April or May. By 2016, Imagicademy apps will stretch from ages 3 to 8.
One final note: Parents will be able to download our own app, and receive push notifications about what a child is doing in the Imagicademy world. You can then send your child a virtual high-five or at least be able to give them concrete feedback, such as “I like that rocketship you built,” rather than having to always ask, “What are you doing on there?”
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Thursday, November 6th, 2014
Here are some of our favorite new movies, games, and more!
Movies and Television
Get high-tech with Disney’s Big Hero 6. The film follows robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada and his gang of friends as they try to save San Fransokyo from catastrophe. PG; opens November 7
Everyone knows the Penguins of Madagascar are the real stars of the show. Join Skipper, Kowalski, Rico, and Private as they embark on another zany spy mission. PG; opens November 26
Disney’s Sleeping Beauty is getting the Diamond Edition treatment. The Blu-ray release features in-depth behind-the-scenes footage, a sing-along to “Once Upon a Dream,” and deleted scenes—including one with a dropped character called The Vulture. G, $37
It’s going to be even easier for your karaoke star to belt out her favorite Frozen tunes with the special Sing-Along Edition. A bouncing snowflake helps her follow the lyrics as Anna journeys to rescue her sister Elsa. The DVD release also features the original theatrical version. PG, $30
A variety of popular Nickelodeon characters—including Dora the Explorer and Team Umizoomi—make Let’s Learn: Patterns and Shapes both entertaining and educational for preschoolers. The DVD release features five episodes focused on circles, squares, triangles, and more. Plus, early releases of the DVD come with a shapes worksheet to continue the learning once screen-time is over. 3 years+, $15
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is turning 50! The beloved Christmas television special shows what happens when the adorable reindeer teams up with Hermey, an elf who wants to be a dentist. Now on Blu-ray, the anniversary edition offers behind-the-scenes features, sing-alongs, and more. 3 years+, $18
Make like George Lucas and create your own animated movie moments with Star Wars Scene Maker. Choreograph a fight between Darth Vader and an ewok, or introduce Han Solo to the infamous “I Am Your Father” scene. Then, add music, dialog, and more. And don’t forget to share with friends afterward! 6 years+, Free for iPad and iPhone
PBS Kids and Sesame Workshop have teamed up for Cookie Monster’s Challenge, an app that teaches self-control, focus, and following directions to prepare young children for school. Nine different levels of mini games keep your preschooler busy—and as he progresses, he’ll earn more pieces of a cookie-making machine. 3 years+, $3 for iPad and Android
Your little one can explore her imagination with Toca Town. The open-ended, interactive app lets kids make up their own stories with 21 characters and six different locations to play in, including a park, a store, and a house. Players can engage with almost anything on the screen—including the toilet! 3 years+, $3 for iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, and Android
Bedtime just got a lot less painful, thanks to Disney Story Central. The large selection of e-books starring Disney characters—such as Mickey Mouse, the princesses, and Doc McStuffins—offer read-along narration and personalized book recommendations. Plus, your bookworm will earn trophies and awards as she progresses. 2 years+, free for iPad for first 4 books, with additional purchase packages starting at $4
New figurines called amiibo
can now interact with compatible Nintendo games. Players touch the toy to the GamePad to release the character into the game. 6 years+, $13 for one figurine
Most motion-sensing, TV-based game systems are for older kids, but LeapTV is made for little ones who can, for instance, do karate moves that help them recognize shapes. 3 years+, $150
Let your aspiring artist develop his skills with Pokémon Art Academy. The game features unlockable lessons and teaches everything from the basics of coloring and shapes to the more complex shading and blending. Print out his masterpieces after! 6 years+, $30 for 3DS and 2DS
Music lovers can’t miss Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved. The motion-controlled game lets you remix and transform 30 different songs—by artists such as The Who, Lady Gaga, and Mozart—by conducting with your hands. Perfect for family game night! 10 years+, $60 for Xbox 360 and Xbox One
Gamers young and old will have a blast getting lost in the world of Hohokum. The artwork looks hand-drawn rather than pixelated, creating a vibrant and imaginative world to fly around in. There are goals to work towards, but ultimately, the game exists as a colorful playground to explore. 10 years+, $15 for PS3, PS4, and PS Vita
Image courtesy of Dreamworks Animation
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Tuesday, October 21st, 2014
In case you haven’t been counting down, there are officially 10 days until Halloween. Halloween was one of my favorite holidays as a child because I loved dressing up and the mild weather in California (usually) made for a nice night. However, my friends and I usually didn’t do the typical door-to-door trick-or-treating. We found we had better luck going to the stores at the mall instead, and our parents took us out to dinner afterwards, which was probably the highlight of the whole night. After all, it was kind of strange to be asking for candy at Banana Republic.
Even though our ‘hood wasn’t up to par, some, if not most, blocks are definitely worth taking a walk around for sweets. And Nextdoor is making the traditional trick-or-treating experience easier than ever with its new digital Treat Map, which we think is so cool that we featured it in our October issue. Here’s how it works: If your neighborhood is participating this year, your family will be able to see which neighbors are planning on giving out candy and map out your path accordingly. The screenshot on the right shows what it looks like on an iPhone. You can also send a private message to your block to organize other fun festivities such a a costume contest or a haunted house crawl. It’s networking just for your neighbors. I like how it fosters a sense of community and encourages people to stick around for Halloween instead of, say, venturing to the mall.
To celebrate this amazing feature, Nextdoor is giving away a $500 gift card towards a neighborhood party. To enter, leave a comment below, up to one a day between today and the end of the day October 27. View the official rules here. Be sure to check back on October 28 and scroll to the bottom of the post to see who won. We reach out to winners via Facebook message (it goes into your “other” message folder on Facebook), so if you win, look for us there as well. Goody luck and happy trick-or-treating to everyone!
Update: Congrats to our winner, Tina McGee. Please check your “other” message folder on Facebook to claim your prize!
Plus: Decorate your home with this cute Halloween spider craft.
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Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014
She’s sassy, savvy, and LOL-worthy. If you haven’t heard of Quinoa (no, not the food this time!), you’re missing out. Tiffany Beveridge turned her viral Pinterest board, “My Imaginary Well-Dressed Toddler Daughter”, starring a little girl with the same name as the trendy grain, into a clever book for fans to enjoy.
Quinoa is spirited and a hipster, but it would be a major faux paux to refer to herself as one, according to “The Rules of Being a Hipster” that appear at the beginning of Beveridge’s book. More specifically, as Beveridge writes, Quinoa is “the fearless and fashion-forward little girl who dresses to the ninety-nines, attends elaborately themed playdates with her cohort of posh friends” and “sets more trends in an hour that the number of times you check your email in Twitter feed.” Quinoa lives and breathes fashion, and even knows how to undergo a “textile cleanse” (wearing all white for a week) when necessary. If you’ve never found yourself jealous of a fictional character, you (or your child) will be now.
Of course, the book is also parody of our obsession with the latest must-have foods, styles, and technologies. Case in point: Quinoa’s friends are named Hashtag and Chevron, and a list of Quinoa-approved monikers includes gems such as Chia, Sephora, and Peplum. Likewise: The key to choosing worthwhile extracurricular activities, Quinoa says, is to follow three simple criteria: 1. Can it be posted on Pinterest? 2. Can it be posted in Instagram? 3. Can it be posted on YouTube?
Just as Bevridge’s Pinterest board is full of witty captions next to perfectly styled images, the book contains similar musings. A picture of two children sitting on a staircase is accompanied with the caption, “While playing brownstone, Quinoa and Bodoni got into an argument over who got to be the liberal arts professor and who got to be the work-from-home dad.” An image of an energetic young child dressed in camo, flannel, and some bling reads, “Quinoa’s friend Ellipses has the moves like Jagger, the smarts like Zuckerberg, and the curfew of a 12-year-old.” Laughing yet?
While some of the cultural references may go over children’s heads, the book is a fun read for teens, young adults, and parents who will appreciate Beveridge’s insight and humor.
Are you raising a little fashionista? These looks will inspire her as back-to-school time approaches:
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Wednesday, June 25th, 2014
Set your DVRs, ladies, because tonight is a 90210 reunion! Well, kind of. Jennie Garth and her longtime gal pal Tori Spelling are teaming up again in the new ABC Family series Mystery Girls, premiering tonight. Parents caught up with Jennie a few weeks ago and then met her at a special Mamarazzi screening event, hosted by The MOMS of SiriusXM fame. The actress and mother of three daughters, Luca, 17, Lola, 12, and Fiona, 8, opened up to us about raising her girls to be confident women, recovering from divorce, working her latest volunteer project, and filming her hilarious new sitcom.
P: Your girls are growing up so quickly. Is it tougher to be a parent to toddlers and preschoolers or tweens and teens?
JG: Oh my god I would have to say younger is tougher because they cannot articulate what they’re thinking or what they want or need so well. The language barrier is definitely a problem.
P: What traits of yours do you see in each of your daughters?
JG: All of my best ones [laugh]. I can definitely see qualities from myself as well as qualities of their dad. Good and bad from both of us. Luca today was listening to the same exact music that I was listening to at her age, which was The Cure. She didn’t listen to it today because of me, she listened to it totally on her own. So we have similar musical taste. She’s also beautiful. She has very similar body, dance, movement style. My middle one, Lola, is very organized and very much an organized thinker, a list-maker and she likes to have tasks and complete them—that’s how my brain works. My little Fiona, she’s very competitive. So when we play board games she likes to win, and she’s very quick-witted and those are definitely both qualities of mine. You definitely see yourself in them for good and for bad sometimes.
P: Is there a childlike thing that you get excited to relive through Fiona, since she’s your youngest?
JG: All of it. Easter egg coloring, and you know, she loves to play board games. Coloring. Coloring book coloring. I love just sitting and coloring. She loves any kind of game. Puzzles. We do all that. And reading with her. We still snuggle in bed together, where the other girls do their own thing at bedtime, you know. The book-reading at that time is one of my favorite times of the day.
P: Having three girls is no easy task, and you’re a single mom. Do you have any best piece of advice for women dealing with the same situation and transition?
JG: I have so much encouragement and wisdom to pass along to people. When I first was on my own, everything was so challenging. Everything was stressful. Everything was more than I could handle and I didn’t know if I was gonna be able to get through it on my own. I felt like I was swimming upstream all the time. And at some point it just changed. And all of a sudden, mornings are pleasant again. The morning rush isn’t stressful. It isn’t like “I can’t do this,” it’s like “Yeah, we got this guys.” Me and my girls will handle it and it will all be great. It rounded a corner for me and I think that that happens when it happens for everyone and nobody can force that, and it’s really hard to believe when you’re in it. Hold on to that faith and knowledge that it will get better.
From a kid’s perspective, it’s an ongoing condition. My kids are never going to not be sad that their parents aren’t together. And me acknowledging that and holding that really gently and tenderly is the best thing that I can do. I can’t change the situation unfortunately, but I can hold the fact that their feelings about it are always gonna be right there at the surface no matter how old they are.
P: It sounds like you are all so close. With such a busy career it can be tough to keep that “family unit” feeling going. Are there any routines to carve out family time?
JG: We do dinner every night together. It’s tough because my teenager’s got a full schedule. But it’s always family before friends and the girls respect that and they take that seriously, which is cool. I just keep it really tight. Family first.
Spice up your family dinner night:
P: You’re involved in a new campaign that starts July 24 “Get an A+ in Eye Care” to help other families. Tell me about your work with this cause.
JG: Well with the three girls, two of them are now in glasses. I wear glasses. Eye care is something that’s a part of our family. I see when we provide vision care for the kids that don’t have access to it what a difference it makes in their lives. It’s pretty profound. I love being a part of it and this campaign is a very simple one. For every “like” on the Eye Solutions Facebook page Alcon is donating a dollar and that money goes directly to free exams and eyeglasses to children in need. I’ve been there and I’ve helped kids get fitted for their very first glasses.
P: Is activism and volunteerism something you hope to cultivate in your girls?
JG: Absolutely. It’s something that’s been instilled in me since I was a little girl. It’s something I’m just naturally handing down to my girls. It’s not something I really thought about. You pay it forward, that’s just what you do in this lifetime.
P: Mystery Girls with your longtime friend and co-star Tori Spelling premieres tonight. Tell me about the show and how you help your girls create solid healthy friendships like the one you have with Tori.
JG: Tori’s and my friendship is a pretty unique situation because we were on  for ten years together. Not a lot of people get to experience what we did. So we have this crazy bond together and we are so blessed by that and able to carry that into our next job together. This is very a special love for each other. For my girls it’s just about teaching them their self-worth, first and foremost. Teaching them to love themselves and respect themselves and to gravitate toward other people who do the same and also to give them that same respect.
P: How did being a mom affect your decision to go back into the studio full time with Mystery Girls?
JG: For me it was location. It’s very close to my kids’ school and our house, where we shoot it. The hours of the day that we work, sitcom hours, are much less than any other show you can shoot, and we work three weeks on, one week off. So I can have a solid week with my kids. And also, our kids come to the set and it’s so close to their school that they just come right after school. If this was a show that shot in West Los Angeles or something, it would be a totally different decision to look at. When you have kids, for me, they come first and my job comes second. So I have to look at all those factors, location and traffic and drive time all that stuff.
P: Your character, Charlie, is a bit concerned about being perceived as a cool mom by her daughter. How concerned are you with being a cool mom?
JG: I try to be not cool. I’m the mom with the tattoos. My kids admire the fact that I am kind of edgy personally, and they actually try to keep me in line. But I try to be not cool because I don’t want to be their friend. I want to be their mother.
P: Your book Deep Thoughts From a Hollywood Blonde puts it right out there: don’t stereotype me. How do you help your girls be confident young women and defy stereotypes?
JG: I think just in my actions and them seeing me function, you know. I’m so independent and capable that they have no other way of seeing a woman. I set an example not by choice but because that’s how I have to live. It’s so easy to stereotype women. Even my 16-year-old daughter is cast in plays as the “pretty girl,” the cheerleader, and she does it beautifully and she does it with depth and a certain depth I wouldn’t think they were expecting, but I’m already cognizant of what’s happening with her. It’s something that we’ll be facing and working on and discussing I’m sure for the rest of all of their lives.
Mystery Girls premieres Wednesday, June 25 8:30/7:30c on ABC Family. Check your local listings.
Photograph: Courtesy of Jennie Garth
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Saturday, June 14th, 2014
By Caitlin Ultimo
Any first-time parent surely can identify with the urge to snap dozens upon dozens of photos throughout their child’s early years. “Oh, look he’s smiling,” turns into: “Oh, look he’s smiling holding a cracker/a cell-phone/the cat (Sorry, kitty, for his awkward grip — we have to get this shot!).”
Well, Dave Engledow took his new-dad camera readiness even further. While Mom was on deployment in the Army, Engeldow and their new daughter, Alice Bee, staged (with the help of Photoshop) hilarious photo shoots. He began by sharing the photos on Facebook, accompanied with comedic essays, as a way to alleviate his fears as a new dad and poke fun at them. Starting at Day 3 and concluding with Day 918, his outlandish photos (some featured below) included scenes of Alice Bee helping him shave and the two of them breaking a sweat while lifting dumbbells together. Eventually, his photos were combined into one hilarious book, “Confessions of the World’s Best Father.”
Engledow is just one of a few parents who have opted for creative scenes in place of stiff photos. Jason Lee, a wedding photographer, started taking one-of-a-kind portraits of his two girls back in 2006. Because his mother was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and his daughters caught colds too frequently to be around her, he began a blog for the grandmother to see the humorous and whimsical pictures. Heather Sphor, who also had two kids, decided to document her infant’s, Jamesie’s, days because his older sister, Annie, had just entered preschool. Annie wanted to know what Mom and Jamesie did while she was in class, so Sphor decided to document Jamesie’s daily adventures, from searching for Cinderella to exploring the Wild West.
One of Engledow’s many unforgettable photos appears on Day 66, which shows him holding Alice Bee in one arm like a football while his other arm squirts bottled breast milk into his coffee cup that proudly displays the label, “World’s Best Father.” He noted, “Apparently, fathering is not going to be quite as easy or glamorous as it looks on TV.” With Father’s Day right around the corner, plenty of new dads will agree that even though fatherhood isn’t always glamorous, it sure can be fun!
What are some of the creative ways you make parenthood interesting?
Photos: Originally appeared in “Confessions of the World’s Best Father” by David Engledow. Used with permission of Gotham Books, an imprint of Penguin Books USA.
What’s your parenting style? Take our quiz to find out what type of parenting you are!
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Friday, June 13th, 2014
Last year, Parents rated Philadelphia as one of the 10 best cities for families to visit. If it’s in your summer plans, be sure to check out the massive new exhibit, Your Brain, that opens at The Franklin Institute tomorrow. Almost 10 years in the making, the exhibit has dozens of interactive features. When my daughter and a few friends (ages 9 to 12) visited during a sneak peek event earlier this week, they were blown away, and you know that tweens are not easily impressed. Some highlights:
The exhibit starts out with a large screen that lets you see your own skelten. Jump, bend your leg, raise your hand, and the skelton on the screen will move too.
The visuals in all the displays were bold and fun, like this one that demos what a brain scan is like.
The kids spent a half-hour on two-story climbing structure, complete with lighting and sound effects, that represents brain pathways. They would have stayed in there all day if we let them.
Many of the activities in the exhibit are geared to kids ages 8 to 13. But if younger sibs are exploring too, making a face on this magnetic board will be fun for them (and so will that climbing structure!).
Another section of the exhibit focuses on illusions. I won’t give away all the surprises, but be sure to go in the bedroom. I took this pic of the kids in an area designated for photo ops.
Bonus! A traveling exhibit, Circus Science Under the Big Top, is at the Franklin Instutute through September 1. Check out the dress-up area with amazing costumes (of all sizes), a tight rope that kids who weigh 50 pounds or more can walk on, and circus games.
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Friday, June 13th, 2014
A few weeks ago, I took my 11-year-old daughter, Katie, to BookExpo America in New York City, where many adult and children’s publishers have their latest titles plus sneak peeks of upcoming ones for fall and winter. Our fave finds:
Frozen Hide-And-Hug Olaf
It’s Disney’s version of Elf on the Shelf. The box contains a new Frozen story with a hide-and-seek theme, and a plush Olaf that parents are supposed to hide for kids to find (and hug). It will be available at the end of October; here’s a link for pre-order.
A World Without Princes
This is the second part of a chapter-book triology called the School for Good and Evil. It’s perfect for 8- to 12-year-olds, especially those who are fans of fantasy fiction. The kids who reviewed the first book in the series for Parents Best Books story last year loved it, and it was a close runner-up for the Best Chapter Book. (In fact, it was Katie’s top choice.) We had a chance to meet the author, Harvard-educated, Soman Chainani, who says he wrote the series because “growing up he watched a lot of Disney movies and felt that the good characters weren’t always the most interesting ones.” Both books are available now; my daughter says the second one is even better than the first.
Over at the Scholastic booth, Katie was drawn to advance copies of this graphic novel paperback. She recognized the name of the author (Raina Telgemeier) because she had read Smile, a story that Raina wrote in 2010. Katie finished the book before we left New York City: Sisters is a breezy (yet satisfying) read about siblings who patch up their relationship. It’s coming out at the end of August; pre-order here.
JoJo’s First Word Book
Once we got past the crowds waiting to see Grumpy Cat in the Chronicle Books book, we were struck by the adorableness of this title. It features more than 200 objects and a carrying handle. You can watch a video about it here or buy it here.
We’re fans of non-fiction, and this chapter book for kids 8 to 12 is so clever, delivering quirky childhood stories from 16 presidents. (For instance, kids will learn that FDR’s mom followed him everywhere and that Harry Truman broke a collarbone while combing his hair.) It will be available in October; pre-order here.
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