Should Young Children See Star Wars: The Force Awakens?

It’s finally official in the UK – Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been rated 12A. While children under 12 are permitted, they have to be accompanied by an adult. More than that, it means as far as the BBFC examiners are concerned, the new Star Wars film is only suitable for children age 12 and over.

Continue reading Should Young Children See Star Wars: The Force Awakens?

Major Star Wars: The Force Awakens Spoiler

Here’s a very important Star Wars: The Force Awakens spoiler

 

…someone will say “I have a bad feeling about this.” Or if they don’t I will be very disappointed 😉

Here’s a supercut of every “I have a bad feeling about this…” in the Star Wars saga so far.

Who will utter this immortal line in Star Wars: The Force Awakens?

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(With thanks to Corey Vidal)

What’s Better: Star Wars or Star Trek? There’s an Infographic For That

What’s Better: Star Wars or Star Trek? Die hard fans of each may have a definitive answer. Others (like me) may err on the side of one or the other but still like both.

I haven’t introduced my daughter to Star Trek yet, but I keep thinking I should. I do love it too, and it does have a different offering than Star Wars.

Philosophy, humanism, exploration, and other concepts & topics I’d like my daughter to reflect upon usually take precedence over space opera – or at least they did pre JJ Abrams reboot!

If your criteria of which one might be better is based on who might like either one, this infographic maps out differences between Star Wars and Star Trek fans. It’s based on an analysis of the online behaviour of thousands of Britons.

Star Wars versus Star Trek

  • Star Wars fans are less gender and culturally diverse
  • Trekkies tend to be more practical and analytical
  • Star Wars fans into action and adrenaline
  • Trekkies are much more likely to be interested in astronomy (science) and astrology (not science)

What’s Better: Star Wars or Star Trek? Let the fans decide…

Star Wars versus Star Trek, whats better star wars or star trek, whats the difference between star wars and star trek

(Infographic courtesy of Exponential Interactive)

The Kano Computer Kit Makes Coding Cool

The Kano computer kit for kids offers much more than merely building your own computer. It’s a gateway for your child – and the whole family – into the mysterious world of coding and a key to unlock the creativity of computing.

It was my top pick in my recent gift guide for girls, and I repeat – if your family get only one present for your child, I urge you to make it this one.

Girls and STEM

Ever since having a daughter, I’ve been aware of the stats around girls and STEM subjects – that girls are far less likely to pursue further and higher education in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, or Manufacturing (STEM).

The reasons are far from clear but everyone has a theory – ranging from girls brains being unsuitable for these subjects, to a range of social and developmental factors driving them away from a very early age.

We have always been keenly aware of the need to inspire an interest and connection with STEM subjects and principles in our daughter. We don’t want to push her into a a life in any of these fields – I merely don’t want her to be put off anything simply because she is a girl.

This has taken many forms, from passing on my love of ‘geek culture’ (people in tech tend to also like sci-fi and superheroes), encouraging an interest in maths and problem solving (which can be as simple as playing with LEGO and jigsaw puzzles), and trying to highlight female role models where we spot them.

For instance, my daughter is keenly interested in Batgirl of Burnside. When I read it to her, I tend to emphasise the fact that Batgirl’s ‘powers’ include a keen scientific mind and incredible computer coding skills.

Batgirl is a programmer, girls in STEM
The latest version of Batgirl has a super-powered mind for coding. From ‘Batgirl of Burnside’ by Cameron Fletcher and Babs Tarr. © DC Comics.

 

Batgirl actually needs these special abilities to defeat that most modern of super villains – a computer algorithm.

‘Coding’, aka ‘programming’, is something we know our kids are supposed to be learning. It has been included in the national curriculum for a couple of years, part of a concerted effort to fill a perceived/projected skills gap in the UK tech sector.

The aim is that instead of simply teaching our children how to use programs, we need them to learn how to make programs. Software, apps, and algorithms govern our lives, and will likely continue to do so. It’s in everyone’s best interests that we understand how they are written.

The implication is clear – if you want to keep your kid’s options open for the future, coding is key.

The Kano computer is a brilliant way to bring a greater awareness of computer science into your home. My daughter is enthralled with hers…

Girl coding using a Kano computer for kids

Coding for kids – not such a new idea

When I was a child, there was the groundbreaking Computer Literacy Project (CLP), which led to the BBC micro computer being a fixture in schools and homes across the country.

While the programming language was it’s very own (BBC Basic), the principles were the same – lines of code that created a program, whether a game, application, or something else entirely. I once created a version of Hal 9000 (from the film 2001), my very own attempt at AI. I like to think he became self aware and still out there in the digital white noise somewhere.

This 1980’s explosion of kids (and adults) learning how to code has been credited in part with the success and depth of knowledge within the UK tech sector. Only, it didn’t last.

The BBC Micro found no place out of UK homes and schools, and the advent of Macs, PCs, and gaming consoles saw home computing move in a different direction.

Since then, computers have rarely invited home users peek behind the curtain in the same way. User interfaces have become increasingly sophisticated to make home computing so infantilised that babies can literally do it. Gone is the exploration and creativity that learning to code inspired.

Computers have become passive tools. We are more likely to use them to consume rather than create. We rely on software and algorithms to navigate our digital landscape.

Our experience with the Kano so far reminded of my wonderful childhood days of learning and exploring via programming.

Building your own computer

Kano Computer kit boxed

The Kano is attractively packaged. A bright orange slipcase reveals a sturdy board case with all the component parts. The case has a magnetic clasp, so it is designed to store and/or transport the Kano as required.

My wife and I were as excited as our daughter was about putting this together. Out of the box, you construct it in almost LEGO fashion – following instructions to slot and snap bits together. This underlines the most appealing aspect of the concept behind Kano, to shed light on the mysteries of the digital devices that are integral to our lives.

The enclosed booklet takes you step by easy step through the construction and initial set up of the computer. When assembled, the ‘computer’ bit of Kano is the renowned Rasperry Pi B+ – themselves doing great work in trying to engage children in programming – in a Kano housing, with a speaker, memory card, and wifi dongle. There are also stickers for your child to customise their Kano.

When fired up, it looks like something you’d find in classic Doctor Who or Blake’s 7, which is a wonderful change from the slick looking tech we surround ourselves with.

kano computer, kano computer review, building your own computer, computer kits, girls in STEM
The Kano all fired up and ready to go (Totoro not to scale)

You will need a compatible screen with an HDMI input, and we used our wall mounted TV. This works ok, but if you have one that’s lower or desktop that would be best. At a later stage you will be able to connect it wirelessly to a tablet or phone screen. The keyboard with mousepad is also wireless – which is great to help fidgety children remain engaged.

Using your Kano computer

In a fashion not dissimilar to my aforementioned 1980’s HAL 9000 program, the Kano screen starts with:

“Hello! I’m KANO. Thanks for bringing me to life.”
(Image from the Kano instruction booklet)

I’m assuming it’s not self aware just yet.

What follows are various set up aspects, such as username, connecting wifi, software updates and the like. The first really fun bit that my daughter enjoyed was creating her Kano avatar character, with different face, colour, and costume options.

This all takes you to the end of the Kano book 1 (make a computer). We’re now ready for book 2 – code powers. Here you will learn about programming languages, binary code, open source, and more.

Now, I don’t know if the following statement is true, but it feels like it is – I learned more about contemporary coding from reading a few pages of this Kano booklet than I had since I left school. So while Kano may be intended for kids age 6-12, it’s perfect for anyone that wants to learn more about computers, which frankly should be all of us.

This also harks back to the CLP of my youth – it was intended for adults as much as children.

Creativity through coding

The Kano computer comes loaded with programmes such as Snake, Pong, and even Minecraft – but with the ability to manipulate the code in all of them. There is also a music generator and apps. You can go online and download more. While coding is at the heart of activities, the theme remains that coding is a skill to unlock creativity.

Kano is a wonderful example of going forward by looking backwards. It embraces the great aims and principles of the CLP, but using tech that deserves as much of a place in your home as a console, laptop, or tablet. Perhaps even more.

This is socially conscious technology that is also a great product. There are plenty of so called computers on the market for children, but for the same price as a potentially crappy kiddy tablet you can get yourselves one of these far more useful and versatile devices.

The Kano offers a way for relative luddites like my wife and I to engage in coding and bring this open source tech into our family home. We can introduce the principles of coding to our daughter while learning about them ourselves. As our knowledge increases, we are better placed to support her in her learning journey whether at school or home.

Despite my early amateur experience with programming, I never pursed it into adulthood. I studied Information Technology at school, and signed up for a Computer Science A level. But I ditched it after a term – because the class had a crappy teacher and no girls. I hope for my daughter’s sake that neither of those things will happen now.

My daughter is 3-years-old, has helped build a computer, and is already engaging in simple coding tasks. She calls her Kano ‘Orange Progress’. That’s as good a nickname as any for this marvellous machine.

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The Kano computer has a RRP of £119.99 ($149.99 USD) – but you can get it for a special holiday price of ÂŁ89.99 ($99.99) until 31 December 2015. 

It’s available from the Kano website.

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The Kano computer kit:

Kano computer kit, Coding for kids, coding for girls, girls in stem,

 

  • Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, ARM 900MHz Quad-Core CPU and 1GB RAM
  • 8GB micro-SD Card preloaded with the latest Kano OS full of projects and games
  • Kano books, illustrated and intuitive
  • Wireless Kano Keyboard and mouse (USB RF & Bluetooth)
  • DIY speaker
  • Custom case, stencils and stickers!
  • HDMI cable
  • Wifi dongle
  • Mini-USB power supply (UK plug)

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Disclosure: We received the Kano computer free of charge for the purposes of this review.

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Our 5 Best Kids Christmas Books to Read Aloud

There is clearly no definitive list of the best kids Christmas books. However, one story tends to dominate this time of year. Despite those who claim that Jesus is “the reason for the season”, and the tale of the birth of Jesus is a great one, there are plenty of other wonderful yuletide stories to expose our children to at this time of year.

Some of the other best kids Christmas books also involve magic, mystery, the promise of a better world, and the power of love & family.

We read a lot to our daughter, and at this time of year we bring out our yuletide big guns to add to our arsenal of great Christmas books to read aloud.

So, in no particular order, this is our selection:

Our 5 Best Kids Christmas Books to read aloud

1. How the Grinch Stole Christmas

How the Grinch Stole ChristmasThere are few children’s books I enjoy reading more than the best of Dr Suess, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas is certainly one of those.

If your only experience of this story is from the ridiculous Jim Carrey movie, please do your best to remove that from your consciousness.

Then sit back and revel in reading this splendidly Seussian tale of the disgruntled Grinch who attempts to steal Christmas from the citizens of Who-ville.

At nearly sixty years old, the distinctive illustrations lend a nicely nostalgic element that helps make this an endearing Christmas tale.

 

2. Stick Man

Stick ManA writer whose children’s books I enjoy reading aloud as much as any Dr. Seuss is anything by Julia Donaldson. Famed for the Gruffalo, her rhyming prose is once again teamed with Axel Scheffler’s delightful illustrations for Stick Man – about a father who longs for nothing more than to be reunited with his stick family at Christmas.

This is an easy one to read again and again, but I warn you that before too long you’ll be able to recite off by heart.

“Stick man is lonely, stick man is lost, stick man is frozen and covered in frost”

Will he ever get home?

 

3. Madeline’s Christmas

Madeline’s ChristmasMore lovely rhymes and illustrations are abundant in Madeline’s Christmas, set in the charming Parisian life enjoyed by the young girl. It is one of the much-loved series written and illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans.

Despite being set in a Catholic boarding school, this adventure take inspiration from the likes of Arabia and Persia.

In this story, Madeline is the only one in her exclusive girls school to not be bedridden with a nasty Christmas eve cold – yet somehow she manages to engineer a magic carpet ride adventure.

 

4. Mog’s Christmas 

Mog’s ChristmasFor some, Mog’s Christmas may bring to mind this already classic christmas commercial, marking Judith Kerr’s wonderfully endearing feline’s screen debut.

However, the original book of Mog’s Christmas is a nicely realised tale that explores the disruption that Christmas can bring.

Mog – being  a simple cat – has trouble understanding why all the extra family are staying, why there’s a talking tree walking into the house, and why everyone is too busy to play with her. Basically, it reflects what a lot of young children may be experiencing at this time of year too. It all comes right in the end though.

A delightful read, with great illustrations as always from the author.

 

5. The Nightmare Before Christmas

The Nightmare Before ChristmasThe story is more well-known as the 1993 animated movie, but this book is not an adaptation. It is in fact director Tim Burton’s original poem, with illustrations by him, that he put together in the 1980’s (before he hit the big time) as a potential TV project.

The plot is broadly similar, but very streamlined, focussing on the main story of Halloween Town’s Jack Skellington who – bored of scaring people – opens a portal to ‘Christmas town’ and is inspired to celebrate the season – only he doesn’t quite know how to, and things go a bit awry.

While revelling in the ghoulish trappings of Halloween, this is an ultimately heartwarming tale of Christmas redemption. It is a really fun way to introduce the story and concepts to little children.

Do be warned – this is an American book, so there’s the occasional rhyme that makes no sense, e.g. rhyming ‘job’ with ‘macabre’ :s

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Purchase these books from Amazon UK:

Purchase these books from Amazon US:

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What are your best Kids Christmas Books?