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…
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 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…
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
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.
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:
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.
The Kano computer has a RRP of £119.99 ($149.99 USD) – but you can get it for a special holiday price of £89.99 ($99.99) until 31 December 2015.
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:
A 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”
More 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.
For 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.
The 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
Choosing great gifts for girls shouldn’t be that difficult.
But it seems that it is. While you may know what your child likes, others may not and often they will revert to the same tired stereotypes of “what girls like”.
One of the things I want to achieve with my blog is broadening the spectrum of what people think will appeal to girls. So I thought it might be handy to detail some of the great things my daughter has enjoyed over the past year, as potential new ideas for gifts for girls.
These suggestions are of course fine for boys too, but I just wanted to counterbalance some of the traditional gift guides I see aimed at girls. However, as a former boy – and I love all the things on this list too, so I have no doubt they will appeal to them too.
I’ve mostly used Amazon affiliate links, but all these items are available from a variety of other retailers too.
1. Kano – the DIY Computer Kit for Kids
If you and your family purchase only one present for your child, I would strongly urge it to be this one.
Kano is a fantastic build-it-yourself computer and coding kit. While intended for kids age 6-12, younger (like my daughter) and older (like her parents!) will love this too.
This is a wonderfully simple yet complex product. As opposed to the pretend computers that kids often have, this is an actual bona-fide computer for kids.
With this, your child will have a wonderful journey of discovery, and will also be engaged in the fundamentals of our increasingly digital culture.
The kit contains:
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)
Custom case, stencils and stickers!
Mini-USB power supply (UK plug)
You put the computer together in LEGO-like fashion (no soldering required), connect it to a screen (via HDMI), fire it up, and you’re ready to go.
It is also a great family activity – my wife and I are as excited about using it as our daughter.
If there was any justice in this world, the Kano would be the number one toy this christmas.
The RRP is £119.99 – but you can get it for a holiday price of £89.99 until 31 December 2015.
Everyone loves LEGO, right? It’s probably one of the greatest toys ever invented, LEGO is certainly a perennial plaything at our house. When considering LEGO gifts for girls, please don’t assume you have to limit yourself to LEGO Friends.
We’ve had some exciting new sets this year, but our highlights were these ones that also featured some great female characters.
We loved Rey’s Speeder from The Force Awakens. It’s a simple set with a really funky looking vehicle.
Other LEGO Star Wars sets we had included the Imperial Shuttle and Imperial Assault Carrier. Both were wonderful sets that each featured important female characters – Sabine Wren from Star Wars Rebels, and Leia in her non-slave Return of the Jedi look.
With a little LEGO invention, you can also make this Leia look a bit like General Leia from The Force Awakens. (Han looks pretty good with a beard too.)
But our top set is Jokerland. It gets played with the most and also has the most female minifigs.
Jokerland is a wonderfully loopy LEGO Batman set that features a theme park taken over by the Joker and his criminal pals. The set features 8 minifigures, and the female ones are Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, and Starfire. As well as Joker, you also get Batman, Robin, The Penguin, and Beast Boy.
Having female figures in these sets is important. For my daughter, it helps hook her into playing with these sets. But once she does, she enjoys both male and female characters alike. She’s a big fan of Batman and Robin at the moment.
3. Lottie Dolls
We love Lottie Dolls. From their childlike appearance to the range of outfits and accessories , my daughter is constantly playing with them. The other day she professed that they were her favourite toy!
Choosing a favourite Lottie Doll is like choosing your favourite child (though I only have one of those to choose from), but my top ones would be Pirate Queen and Rockabilly.
To be honest they’re all great, and the key for us is the range of outfits and accessories you can get. They lead to great imaginative play, and show that girls can be dancers, engineers, athletes, or whoever they want to be.
Lottie is a doll that isn’t defined by being one thing. That is a great message for children to learn.
If you haven’t seen them, I cannot stress enough how utterly magical and glorious these films are. I am immeasurably grateful that they exist, and that my daughter gets to experience them in her childhood.
Some are more age appropriate than others, but bear in mind I will happily watch any of these with my 3-year-old daughter (who adores them).
We also have story books of Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbour Totoro, which have been excellent ways for my daughter to engage with these stories without constantly watching the movies (it would be every day if I’d allow it).
While it’s simple, it’s a high quality outfit (unlike most kids fancy dress outfits).
The dress is nicely tailored in cotton, and the bow is delightful.
My daughter always gets smiles whenever she’s out wearing this – mostly from people who have no idea who she’s dressed as.
You can top the outfit off with a Jiji cat toy too.
5. Katie Morag – books and TV show
My daughter was actually the one who introduced us to the wonderful Katie Morag books, stumbling upon one at a charity shop.
These delightful picture books, written and illustrated by Mairi Hedderwick, are all set on the Isle of Struay, off the coast of Scotland, and center around the independent minded Katie, and her family and friends.
So far there are three books in the series, and in them the hero of the title explores the likes of being a pilot, and engineer, and a doctor.
They are fun to read and have already sewn the seeds of big ideas in our little girl.
7. Star Wars – Little Golden Books
Like many parents of a certain age, Star Wars has been something I have introduced my daughter to from an early age.
However, I know some parents – while wanting to introduce their child to Star Wars – feel that the films are inappropriate in terms of action and violence for very young children.
These Star Wars Little Golden Books are a perfect solution. With pared down narratives, simple prose, and cute illustrations, this series of Star Wars books for kids is a wonderful way to introduce a small child to the galaxy far, far away…
These Star Wars books for kids are available individually or as a boxset.
8. LittleLife Gruffalo and Spider-Man Backpacks
A cut above the usual cheaply made kids backpack, the LittleLife collection are well made, with thoughtful designs that look great and are comfortable for your child to wear.
The Spider-Man Kids Daysack is a great looking bag, that has enough room for the essentials a 3+ yr old would need to carry.
We also had a Gruffalo Toddler Daysack, for kids age 1-3, with a rein that some parents may find useful, plus there is a Gruffalo Kids Daysack for children age 3+. Both are wonderfully designed bags that will please any tiny Gruffalo fan.
9. Clothes from Sewing Circus
We are big fans of Sewing Circus, who have a great range of skirts, dresses, tops, and accesories. The themes include dinosaurs, science, space, superheroes, and much more.
Founded by Francesca Cambridge, as a campaigner for unisex clothing (Let Clothes be Clothes) she would likely balk at being included on a gifts for girls list. Just to be clear – boys can wear her clothes too.
My daughter is the proud owner of the Star Wars skirt pictured above, that was the basis for a ‘How to make a Star Wars skirt‘ tutorial Francesca guest blogged here. I think it must be the most worn item of clothing in her wardrobe this year.
Captain America: Civil War features the first appearance of a much-anticipated icon of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). No not Black Panther, but Black Widow’s new hairstyle.
Black Widow made her first MCU appearance in Iron Man 2 (2010), and that was followed by The Avengers (2012),Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014), The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), and now the Captain America: Civil War (2016). She has sported a different hairstyle in each movie.
I don’t recall any such attention to detail being paid to the locks of Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, or even Thor.
This scenario of constantly updating the hairstyle of Scarlett Johansson’s female hero, reminds me of Star Trek: Voyager. The show aired between 1995-2001, and starred Kate Mulgrew (now more famed for playing Red in Orange is the New Black) as Katherine Janeway – the first ever female captain lead in a Star Trek show.
Kate has frequently lamented that ‘the suits’ spent more time worrying about her hair than they did about her character development. She grew increasingly frustrated at the constant messing with it. For those not familiar with the show, this video sums up pretty well how it was.
Is messing with Black Widow’s hairstyle sexist?
Kate Mulgrew reflects that this is a scenario that a male actor is unlikely to face, but female actors constantly do – especially in films and tv shows that have a large male fanbase.
The tinkering of Black Widow’s hairstyle – compared with her fellow Avengers – appears to be further evidence of this. It implies that – as far as the creatives and ‘suits’ are concerned – appearance is more important factor for a female character than a male one. And by extension, a female actor has to be more concerned about her appearance than a male one does.
I also wonder, like Captain Janeway before her, if Marvel Studio execs spend as much time talking about Natasha’s character development as they do about her hair?
F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote that “Action is character.” Perhaps, for female characters, we need to amend that to “Hair is character.”
What do you think Black Widow’s changing hairstyles tell us about her?