Monday, September 19, 2016

Bricks 4 Kidz

What if I told you there was a program starting up near you where kids can learn STEM concepts and skills year-round by constructing machines, buildings, vehicles and other projects with LEGO bricks?

You'd say you want to be a kid again? Me, too!

Big Bro and I were invited to a sneak peek of the Bricks 4 Kidz program, which will be part of the soon-to-open Club Square facility in Kanata. Club Square will feature zones for coding and online gaming, cooking, arts and crafts, and science activities.

Don't get your shoes on yet; it's not due to open until later this fall. But we got to try a sample workshop, and here's what it was like:

The instructor, with a strong background in programming and robotics, led a short interactive lesson on gears. Big Bro was anxious to get to the hands-on part ("I'm ready to build now!" he'd announce every so often).

Soon enough, the kids were handed a toolbox of parts and bricks, along with a tablet featuring step-by-step instructions much like the leaflets you get with Lego sets.
Yes. This is what I'm talkin' about. 

Using gears and a motor, the kids made a 'Paper Crinkler" and "Plate Spinner". These were two of the (over 300!)  proprietary projects designed by engineers, architects and teachers for Bricks 4 Kidz.

What was really cool to see (besides the machines put in motion, of course) was how the activity appealed to a wide age range. At 5-and-a-half, Big Bro was by far the youngest, so he needed some parental help, which I was happy to contribute, but he really enjoyed the project. Watching the plate spin, he was brainstorming all kinds of inventions that he could use it for (Dusting? Brushing teeth? Passing out snacks?). The older kids, aged 11 and 15, started modifying their machines, making all kinds of elaborate inventions, even disappearing into the hall at one point to test them out. How often do you find a workshop that appeals to a 5-year-old and a 15-year-old all at once?

Big Bro's only two beefs were that he couldn't take the machines home (though he did have a little project created with their help) and that he couldn't stay longer. Oh yes, I'm picturing this will be the kind of place parents will have to drag their kids from.

Although...FYI, there IS going to be a café and young kids' play area in Club Square, so maybe giving them "a few more minutes" wouldn't be out of the question.

Bricks 4 Kidz has programs for kids of all ages, from Duplos for the under-five builders to advanced robotics clubs for teens. They do after-school programs and birthday parties. They also have a homeschool program (woot!) and offer workshops for groups up to 20 people. I can hear the parents of little makers and LEGO fanatics lighting up now.

If all this wasn't appealing enough, I'm told there will be tool belts and badges kids can earn as they master different skills and techniques. I don't know about your kids, but mine would be all over these tangible milestones.

How many more kids will pursue engineering, architecture, robotics and coding because of engaging programs like these? Well, whether they do or not, they'll be learning STEM principles and skills in the only way that learning makes sense-- when they're engaged and interested, and that's what you'll see at Bricks 4 Kidz.

Monday, September 05, 2016

If You Give a Kid Some Tape...

Do you have a maker kid at your house?

I do! The good people at Dollarama probably recognize me as the one always buying armloads of masking tape. No toy can compare to the endless possibilities of tape. I recently had to take apart a pirate ship made of two dining room chairs held together by a pantload of tape (complete with flag), much to Big Bro's dismay. We did need them for sitting, eventually.

For all of you fellow parents with maker kids at home, I have written a story in the "If You Give..." style of Laura Numeroff.

And this is why it's a losing battle to try to clean up around here.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Listening Skills

Kids have selective hearing. I don't know how many times I've practically had a bullhorn in the kids' faces and can't get their attention... but boy, talk about bat-like hearing whenever I'm saying something that's not as kid-friendly.

Next time I need their attention, I'll just mutter a few swears. Or something about butts.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Good Times Near the Playground

This summer, we're making the rounds to check out all the "must-see" playgrounds in Ottawa. Parks with splash pads, parks with giant climbing structures, and parks with two-storey tube slides have made the list.

I don't know about yours, but my kids always seem to prefer playgrounds with a bike rack on site.

Sometimes they just prefer the bike rack, period. I can't get 'em to move on. Take that, really cool rock-climbing wall and spider-web rope thingy. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Notes from a Five-Year-Old

Five-year-old Big Bro is making great strides with reading and writing. He never ceases to find an opportunity to write these days, be it making a book or adding CHES!! to the grocery list ("cheese", FYI; exclamation marks to illustrate urgency).

Why, just the other Saturday morning, he he made a "Don't wake up Mama" sign to stick on the door (the kids fought loudly over who was going to hang it up. Note the irony).

I love kid writing. He writes notes to his friends, pen-pal style or via stealth doorstep delivery. To remedy the issue of squirrels eating from our berry plants, he wrote "NO SKROS" and stuck it on the planter pot. Those greedy so-and-sos can't read beginner writing, it seems, but I appreciated the effort.

He also writes notes for me, which is fun. Being a former Kindergarten teacher, I'm pretty good at deciphering five-year-olds' writing, but sometimes I'm caught off guard.

HEY! Who are you calling a-- oh. wait a minute.

Sometimes I can't figure it out, I admit. I try the "tell me about what you've written on the board!" bit.
"Well, read it, Mama."

OK. I can do this...


Don't. Don't something... iskem is ice cream? Ice cream sam... sam-wich. Don't FORGET ICE CREAM SANDWICHES! Yess! I feel like I've just won the round on Bumper Stumpers.

And now I'd better not forget ice cream sandwiches on the next grocery trip. It's in writing.

And lest I get too sentimental about his adorable hug notes, I'll tell you about the time he couldn't contain his mirth when he passed me a note that said "STIK" on the outside (with a drawing of a skunk), and giant letters saying "POP" on the inside. THAT one I deciphered right away. Call it a gift. I'm sure you can figure it out, too.

Kids will learn to write when it's meaningful and relevant to them... and it doesn't get more relevant and meaningful than that.


I've been asked to mention an event coming up to raise money for Fort McMurray. I'm happy to oblige, especially where Fort Mac is sometimes known as "The Maritimes of the North". A lot of my fellow East-Coasters are/were up there.

Here's a description of the family event being held here in Ottawa, called Fort Pizza (just the name makes me want to check it out!). Kind of short notice, but if Thursday's  your family's pizza night like it is ours, this might be where you want to go!

"Enjoy a family friendly evening including princesses, magicians, a silent auction, karaoke and more. Each ticket comes with a salad and pizza meal. Tickets are $20 and $10 from each tickets goes to the Red Cross for Fort McMurray. Families may arrive to each anytime from 5pm-9pm with a DJ appearing at 8pm. Tickets can be purchased in advance by calling (613) 226-3374 or emailing

Friday, June 10, 2016

Wakey, Wakey

I do  love seeing my kids' shining little faces each morning. But sometimes, particularly lately where the early June sunrise means "it's daytime, Mama" as of 5 a.m., it's also nice to dream of a bit of time to come to terms with reality first.

Every so often, I get a teaser.

Nice try, Mama. Oh well, I probably would've spent the whole time trying to decide how best to savour it anyway.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Eric Litwin Live! at the OICF

Polka-dot doo doo doooo... Polka-dot pants, polka-dot pants...

Sorry. Just saw Eric Litwin live at the Ottawa International Children's Festival, and I'm still dancing around to that number.

I think most people with little kids know who Eric Litwin is. His best-selling Pete the Cat books (the first four in the series) sit on most Kindergarten shelves, and they were most definitely in our must-have-in-family-library list. Homemade felt Petes are found at every playgroup and library storytime. We just became familiar with the Nut Family stories, which are just as much fun. As with the reading of any Litwin books, you must play the accompanying audio (CD or link) to hear him read and sing for for the full experience. They aren't just books, but interactive performances.

So when the Ottawa International Children's Festival invited me to take the family to a show in exchange for a review, we had to go with Eric Litwin Live. It was a tough decision; The festival features many award-winning acts from around the world, some that have appeared at Just For Laughs or even Broadway. The Box Brothers and Raw Metal looked pretty great too, but Litwin's books are such a staple in our kids' lives, and we were sure he'd put on a fun show.

From the moment we arrived, I knew it would be a good time because he asked the families to sit together. We've been to shows where the kids sit up front and parents hover in the back like Junior High Dance chaperones, but this was going to be a family affair. The kids liked that as much as we did. So we all piled on one blanket in the front row that cold Sunday morning, the kids in their polka-dot pants. Though it was chilly in the tent, we warmed up fast when Mr. Eric had us seat a kid on our lap ("preferably one you know", he advised) and chuck them in the air as he sang and played guitar. Big Bro was especially enticed by the offer of bonus points for hitting the tent ceiling.

Mr. Eric sat down with a few families before the show and showed us his some of his upcoming book, Groovy Joe, which he narrated later in the show with the usual audience participation. As always, it's easy to join in even if it's the first time hearing the story. Note to self: Add Groovy Joe to the must-read list this September.

We were also treated to an old favourite, Pete the Cat and his Four Groovy Buttons, only with some artistic license. I've never considered channeling Metallica while singing "still have my bellybutton".

Litwin often got the kids in on teasing their parents, which the kids enjoyed. This included having them lecture us on how children learn to read best through more than just sight words and phonetics (!).

What's this, now? You see, Mr. Litwin is a "recovering teacher", as he put it, who noticed that his Grade 3 students didn't love to read like young kids do, and believes it's largely due to the way reading is taught. Eventually he left teaching and began working on kids' books that incorporate multisensory techniques such as movement, music, repetition, call-and-response and rhymes-- all stuff that keeps kids interested when they might otherwise lose their attention and start pouncing on their older brother (not that I have experience with that).

If I may be serious for a moment: Also being a former teacher who saw the difference between the enthusiastic Kindergartners I taught and the disillusioned ten-year-olds, I know exactly what he's talking about and find this whole background story really interesting. I'm also the parent of two boys, so I know well how kids need to move, as I've written about before.  

And move they did! Big Bro even got to join Mr. Eric and a few other kids on stage to dance in his Polka-dot pants.

Eric Litwin knows what makes the kids light up. Anytime I glanced over my shoulder, every kid on his or her parents' lap was singing along or roaring with laughter, and usually the parents were, too (we got our fair share of wink-wink jokes). My kids said their favourite part was the nutty song where words were replaced by blowing giant raspberries. You had to be there, but it was hilarious. 

I imagine every performance leaves parents and teachers noting down the next books to get when they see how much the kids love them. 

What a treat it is to have the Children's Festival in our own backyard (Ottawa, I mean), to get to see live performances like these made for kids and their families. We'll be singing nutty songs and doing the Polka-Dot Pants Dance for weeks to come.