I was contacted recently by the team at Knowledge Adventure, creators of the well-known JumpStart educational game software. They had released a virtual online world earlier this year; would I let my six-year old son test drive it and provide feedback? And would I share my perspective on using technology to help kids learn?
No one ever asks me to review anything, which is tragic considering how willing a consumer I am, also considering how eager I am as a PR person to be on the receiving end of a product pitch for once. So of course I said yes, also because everyone I interacted with at Knowledge Adventure was professional and friendly to a tee.
Back to my take on kids learning with technology: it’s awesome. I’m a member of the first generation to grow up with “Sesame Street,” “School House Rock” and “Zoom,” all of which used technology to educate, early-70s style. By which I mean TV. And you better believe that TV-learnin’ stuck. It’s been nearly four decades and I can still recite the Preamble to the Constitution, tell a conjunction from a preposition, and sing the Boston zip code. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you were probably born after 1975.
But don’t think we’re lax about computer use and gaming in the Smirnov household. DS, Wii and watching “Charlie the Unicorn” on YouTube for the 9000th time are strictly curtailed to weekends or an hour after school. That said, I always knew I’d be willing to bend the rules if there were an educational reason for my son to be on the computer.
Enter JumpStart.com. I had my doubts at first, just looking at the sweet, cartoony imagery on the home page. My kid is used to the 360-degree immersion of Wii Sports gaming and the non-stop kinetic blitz of Sonic and Mario, so I wondered how well JumpStart would hold his attention. Well, that was before we installed the required 3-D plug-in, registered and started exploring the AdventureLand portion of the JumpStart online world. The kid’s first comment?
“This. Is. Awesome.”
In a nutshell, JumpStart combines traditional video game elements with learning challenges and age-appropriate, secure social interaction in a series of shimmering, immersive worlds geared to kids ages 3-10. The company says the educational curriculum is “based on state standards from the top, most influential states: CA, FL, TX, IL and NY” and that they “combined all the standards from these states to create our proprietary scope and sequence which spirals through skills based on grade level.” That’s fancy teacher talk for they take their curriculum development very seriously, which is good enough for me.
You should note there is a $7.99 monthly subscription fee (per family, not child), though you can try the game out for free for a 10-day trial period. (Not bad when you compare it to the one-time game rental fees Blockbuster’s charging these days.) Here are some highlights from my little gamer’s test drive:
- One of the first things your kid will do is customize his or her avatar or “Jumpee.” I don’t know about yours, but my child spends hours hanging out in the Wii Plaza, messing with his own Mii and creating different ones for his friends. The JumpStart creators tap into that childish need to customize and control their game image out of the gate.
- I ask my kid what he thinks of the look of the game. “I love it. Write that down.”
- After swimming his Jumpee through the gorgeous underwater environment MarineLand, my son chooses his first game. He is initially non-plussed: “Dude. This is math.” But waiting at the end of the math challenge is part of a sand dollar. Earn enough sand dollars (or coins, depending on what Land you’re in) and you unlock awesome stuff like a shark tail for your Jumpee, or a cuddly friend at the Petz Shop. My son gets over himself and plunges in happily.
- Later. “This is like Club Penguin, except with stuff for big kids.”
- And still later. “They should call this 3-D World instead of JumpStart.”
- The ultimate accolade: “I think the guy who made Star Wars made this.”
My kid’s been hanging at JumpStart.com consistently for over a month with no sign of waning interest. He’s even put the new JumpStart Adventure Island Wii game on his Christmas wish list. Can learning and computer fun co-exist? Apparently yes, even to the most jaded of 6 year-old gaming sensibilities.
Final verdict: thumbs-up.
Love note to the FTC: I received no payment for reviewing this website, including neither sand dollars nor cuddly Petz. We were given access to the site for a limited time to try it out but ongoingly I would happily pay the monthly fee. It’s good stuff and worth the sand dollars.
Images via Knowledge Adventure.
I am dying to see “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Can you blame me? Any cartoon that includes George Clooney and Meryl Streep on its voice talent roster is okay in my book, PLUS you’ve got the awesomeness of stop-motion animation AND Wes Anderson at the helm. Oh, and a 91% on the Tomatometer at rottentomatoes.com. Done, done and done.
But wait, there’s more. Did you know chef extraordinaire Mario Batali voices one of the characters? Neither did I, at least not until the movie’s PR team at 42West brought it to my attention. Batali provides the voice for the Rabbit character and from the looks of things, footwear inspiration as well.
Now check out Rabbit. Look verrry closely.
Here’s the most adorable thing of all. The 42West PR gang have provided me with lovely Thanksgiving Day recipe cards created by none other than Rabbit…er…Mario Batali. Although I’m off the hook for kitchen duty this Thanksgiving, I know for sure I’ll be road-testing Rabbit’s pumpkin-sage-butter pasta dish sometime in the very near future (in which there is, by the way, an entire stick of butter. The pasta, not the near future.)
Check out the Pumpkin Lune with Butter and Sage and the rest of the recipes here: Thanksgiving Recipes from Mario “Rabbit” Batali
Love letter to the FTC: I received nothing in exchange for this post, not even a pair of orange crocs. Or a stick of butter.
Batali croc image via.
Rabbit image via 42West.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m part of a group of NYC-area mom bloggers working with the team promoting Motherhood, a movie coming out in a week or so made by a mom, starring a mom, about a mom. No money exchanging hands (that’s for you, FTC), just access to the cast and director for interviews and some nice link love on the movie Facebook page.
So I’m waiting for the call to start this morning, making chit chat with the dozen or so bloggers on the line and enjoying the not-yet muted sounds of their home lives in the background. I hear cooing babies, barking dogs, toddlers clamoring for “Sesame Street.” My background noises, meanwhile, are those of the work-at-office mom: tooth-rattling jackhammers and sirens shrieking their way down Lexington Avenue.
Uma joins the call. Mute button on. Suddenly I’m having a moment. I AM ON THE PHONE WITH BEATRIX THE BRIDE. Holy Tarantino. The warrior mother, the assassin goddess, the woman who dispatches legions and murmurs, “Those of you lucky enough to still have your lives — take them with you. But leave the limbs you’ve lost. They belong to me now.”
Ooops, I’m first up! I get to read my question myself. In my mind I’m saying, “Beatrix the Bride I love you and want to braid your hair and can I try on your yellow jumpsuit” but here’s what I actually say: “Uma! Hi!” She answers my question and the dozen that follow but Blessed Virgin Mary, this call is a hot mess. It’s all dropped connections, background noise, overlapping conversation…in other words, the absolute personification of motherhood itself. I don’t think a single one of us is sweating this fact because we’re used to chaos. It is our currency, whether we work for a paycheck or not. Moms all do a variation of the same juggling act, after all. Which sometimes sucks and sometimes is beautiful and joyful.
So here are some of my favorite bits from the interview:
Uma was asked where she feels the movie’s authenticity comes from. She said she loves that Eliza’s character is not there to cast the viewer’s attention on someone else – a man or a child. She is the heart of the movie, depicted honestly – with flaws and anger issues, but very much in love with her family.
She’s surprised when other mothers dismiss the topic of motherhood in film (as in “Why watch a movie about my own boring life?”) Uma wonders why we discredit ourselves so much that we’d think raising another human being isn’t worthy of pop culture attention.
My question was about a scene described by director Katherine Dieckmann as her favorite in the film. Eliza and her husband are sitting in a car. Emotional words are exchanged. I asked Uma to describe it and here’s what she said:
Eliza is digging into the source of her unhappiness, the fact that she’s lost herself in the minutiae of domestic life. She’s worn down by the tiny, grinding repetitive acts that make up her day. She no longer recognizes herself.
I want to see this movie for that scene alone. I predict I’ll hear myself in Eliza’s words, see myself in her frustration. I wonder what will happen for her and if she’ll find peace with the choices she’s made. I wonder too about the women in my life who don’t have creative or professional outlets, who lose a bit of themselves every day. The moms who – like Eliza – pour all their talent and energy into their families at the expense of their own aspirations. They’re the ones who deserve happy endings.
Motherhood is in theaters October 23rd.
Check out Eliza’s blog here.
I’ve always liked Uma Thurman, but when she emerged as the central muse in the twisted world of Quentin Tarantino she stole my heart once and for all. Mrs. Marsellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction? Swoon.
When I heard Uma was starring as a mom blogger in her next film, it was hard to shake the image of her as The Bride in the Kill Bill flicks — kick ass yellow jumpsuit, bloody sword, fiercely beautiful and totally lethal. Then I remembered that it was the ferocious drive to reclaim her lost daughter that drove her through the second film — so in addition to being a real-life mother, Uma knows how to play motherhood and then some.
Motherhood was written and directed by Katherine Dieckmann, who I got to spend some time with this afternoon on a conference call with a handful of other NYC-area bloggers. Couple of things you might want to know about Katherine and Motherhood:
The movie was made almost entirely by women. That rocks.
Katherine drew from her own life in creating it; in fact, the film was shot in the building where she lives. She said she awoke each morning to the sound of the crew setting up, got her kids fed and off to school, and went to work. Downstairs. Which also rocks.
Katherine’s kids loved the craft services. Anyone who’s been on a TV or film set knows what this is. It’s food, and lots of it. The kids called it “crafty” and apparently got obsessed with it because Katherine is not a “big snack giver.”
One of the reasons Katherine was inspired to make the movie is that she couldn’t find any authentic representations of motherhood on the big screen. She cites Baby Boom (Diane Keaton as J.C. Wiatt, amazing) as one of the last movies to treat motherhood as the complex juggling act it really is. (That was 22 years ago, by the way.)
I can’t wait to see this movie. I love Uma playing disheveled. She’s incredibly endearing, and with Minnie Driver as her BFF and Anthony Edwards as her hub, what’s not to love. I also love movies shot on location in this city. I can’t help but wonder if Motherhood won’t be just a little bit of a love letter to the West Village, since it’s where Katherine makes her home.
Finally, I love that blogging — mom blogging, specifically — is in the spotlight with nary a mention of FTC guidlines or brand shilling controversies. Maybe this film will put the focus back on what’s been true about mom bloggers from the beginning: they tell it like it is about motherhood. Authentically, unfiltered, with some of the most beautiful writing on the internet. They are raw, passionate, angry, joyful, supportive, frantic, serene, hilarious, loving. Some times all at once. I am not surprised — and eternally grateful — that it’s a woman bringing this glorious cacaphony to the silver screen.
Motherhood opens in select markets October 23rd. Get more info here.
[Disclosure: There are no material connections between the makers of Motherhood and me. All they did was invite me to participate in a conference call. I realize I’ve just set a dangerous precedent as a cheap date. What I really want but am too shy to request is to go on a playdate with Uma, Katherine and their kids. I might even remember to bring my kid. Katherine says it’s okay to drink wine during playdates, provided the children are not put in harm’s way. So clearly we were meant to be best friends.]
The seventies: the popcorn was hot, the channels were few, and the network promos were things of wonder.
I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately. I’ll be going about my day, dealing with some everyday object when WHOOSH, I get a sudden flash of recall of its ghostly late 20th century antecedent. With it comes a fierce rush of memories of people and places and experiences long gone. It happened today. I’m eating leftover microwave popcorn (a little squishy but it was sitting there, why not) and flashed back to the basement of our house on Maple Avenue in Hershey, PA, let’s say 1974. Finished basement — a rumpus room, if you will — concrete floor painted a muddy brown by my mom in an effort to suggest, er, hardwood flooring? Classic ’70s wood panelling made of cardboard and spit, dropped ceiling with those nasty foam tiles, a shag throw rug in some kind of orange-y tones to “make things cozy”…and the family gathered around the tube in eager anticipation of the CBS Saturday night line-up.
If you are of a certain age, you will know exactly what I’m talking about. Long before NBC invented “must see TV” on Thursday nights, there were CBS Saturdays. It started at 8 PM with “All in the Family” and continued through the 10 o’clock hour with some of the greatest TV shows ever made: “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Bob Newhart Show” and “The Carol Burnett Show.” A few years earlier, but this promo brings it back:
Back to the microwave popcorn? Well, if you’re a child of the ’70s, you know that before there were microwaves and air poppers, there was the electric popcorn popper. And nothing — NOTHING — makes better popcorn. You’d pour oil and popcorn kernels (or “gourmet popping corn” if you were swank and could afford Orville Redenbacher) in a well, cover it with a bulbous plastic dome, slap some butter (“We call it maize…”) in the perforated well on top of the dome, plug it in, and watch the popcorn pop.
Snack prep as spectacle — the sound of the sizzling oil, the smell of the corn cooking, the sight of that big plastic dome filling with fluffy popcorn — and the anticipation of that butter as it melted and dripped down through the perforations to the popcorn below…once it was done, you just unplugged it, flipped the whole contraption over, and your dome/lid now served as a bowl — full of steaming hot, buttery popcorn. Nirvana. My mom would bring the whole set up — hot oil and all — down into the TV room because remember — no DVR pause buttons. We didn’t want to miss a second of all that great TV, so easier to just whip up the popcorn right on the spot.
Ours was a West Bend popper, and guess what — they still exist. They’re sleeker and more streamlined now, but the one I remember looked just like this, down to the golden see-through plastic dome and the bright yellow plastic lid that pushed down the butter on top.
TV watching is a splintered, silo’d, highly individual experience chez Smirnov. We are a household with nine screens, of every size and persuasion. Each one of us has an electronic appendage — the Russian and his iPhone, the kid and his DS, me and my blackberry. Very often we’re multi-taking as we keep one eye on whatever the channel surfing dredges up on the HDTV in the front of the room. Don’t get me wrong, we have our communal TV-watching moments, and the older our son gets, the more we can share our TV preferences with him to make for a true family viewing outing.
It’s not the same, of course. Down to the way the popcorn tastes. Who sits around watching popcorn pop, for god’s sake? Well, 30-some years ago we did, and I cherish those memories. There’s such a thing as Slow Food and Slow Parenting…maybe it’s time to trade in the microwave popcorn for a West Bend and try out some Slow Family TV Time.
(Logo montage via James White. Popcorn popper via ebay.com)