A Post for Parents: Your Kids and Video Games

Recently we had a member of our district’s Safe Schools department visit our school to present to our parents about online safety and digital media. In particular, I was surprised at how many parents did not know about ESRB ratings and the content of video games and YouTube videos related to game play that their children were being exposed to. Some of this content was very inappropriate for our K-7 students.

I have written the following post for the parents who were not able to attend the presentation. Feel free share the link below with the parents at your school.

Your Kids and Video Games


Your Kids and Video Games

We all have busy lives, sometimes it is a relief to have our kids occupied with video games, apps and YouTube. Now, more than ever, though, it is very important that we check in to see what digital content our children are consuming, as well as how they are using their devices and who they are connecting with.

(Pixabay CC0 1.0)

First off, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is an excellent resource for you to refer to when deciding whether or not a video game is appropriate for your child. The following chart that they provide is an easy reference.

If you have trouble finding a rating, an easy Google search with the name of the game and “rating” will help you find one.

At our school, we are very concerned about our students playing games that are rated M and above. These games should never be played by our students or around our students.

Now, you may not buy games that are rated M or above but your children may be watching inappropriate videos on YouTube related to games rated M or above. Or the game may be rated for your child to play, but the language used by the host of the video may be inappropriate. To find appropriate videos for your children to watch, just do a search of “family friendly” with the name of the game you are interested in. In particular, here are some family friendly YouTube channels on Minecraft. I personally love watching Stampy and Paul Soares Jr. with my family.

Another area to be concerned about are mods. Mods are apps or software that, when uploaded, modify the game in various ways. For example, a great game like Minecraft can be turned into a violent game through mods that add guns, blood, zombies, etc. Monitor the mods that your children are downloading onto your devices.

Online gaming opens a whole world of exciting and concerning possibilities. There are some games that allow for connecting with others through online chatting and game play. It is fun to play with friends and distant family members online, but it is easy to connect with strangers who aren’t who they say they are. If you allow online game play, limit the options of players only to who all of you know and preferably have met in person.

Finally, the amount of screen time our children are exposed to can drastically  impact their sleep patterns, behaviour and relationships. Set limits to how much time your children are playing video games and do not allow any screen time for at least an hour before bed time.

Thanks to My Dad, I am a Maker

My dad built the house I grew up in, and while this house was being built, I spent many hours on the worksite trying to stay out of trouble and helping as much as I could. I remember my brother and I spending hours looking for scrap materials like nails, wire and pieces of wood and creating new projects like cars, boxes, and mini-houses. He tolerated all this because it kept the worksite clean and it kept us busy.

My dad is  also really good at fixing things. Any toy, appliance, car that was “broken” magically came to life again with him tinkering. I learned quickly that he is good at fixing things not necessarily because he knows how to fix anything, but because he is good at tinkering and isn’t afraid at trying different approaches. He also perseveres because he can’t stand having to spend more money on buying things to replace the broken items! Having five children would do that to you!

22 years after my dad built our family home, my husband and I embarked on an epic project that put our perseverance, tinkering abilities, and emotional and physical strength to the test. We bought our first home, gutted it and renovated it… mostly all on our own. We learned how to frame, drywall, paint, install windows, stucco, build stairs… the list goes on and on. I have to say, though, without my experience of being around my dad while he built a house I don’t think I could have done it… I don’t think I would have even attempted it.

I am grateful for the experiences I had with my dad because , even though the project brought us to the edge in many areas at many different levels, we did it and we are now living in something we worked on together. More importantly, my children are growing up in a house that we built and will be continuing to build as they grow up. I am glad that they get to experience what I experienced with my dad. Oh, and today, my 69 year old dad is in the middle of building another home!

Yes, You Can Teach Coding With No Tech or Low Tech

Image from Pixabay

Last week our Premier announced that all students from kindergarten to Grade 12 in British Columbia will have the opportunity to learn the basics of coding.

The education community and concerned citizens responded with many questions and frustrations, mostly about the lack of funding attached to this announcement.

Coding is just another skill that is needed to understand how our modern world works, like learning about electricity and structures. I don’t think there is an expectation for everyone to become master coders after they graduate from our school system. Coding can be complicated. Kids aren’t going to be developing apps overnight nor is there an expectations that they do so. Some will take to it and eventually may have a career that heavily involves it; some will just grasp a beginners knowledge of it. Both results are fine. I think it’s great that what many teachers in the province are already exposing their students to is officially being put into our curriculum.

With that said, ideally it would have been nice for some sort of plan and funding to be released. Despite this, we need not panic. Here are some coding resources that do not require any tech hardware, internet connection, or a computer science degree to implement. They also won’t break the bank.

Computer Science Unplugged
This website is filled with no tech options to teach students computational thinking through games and puzzles that use materials you can easily find.

The no tech board and card game industry is growing every month, with new great titles added. Here are some suggestions.

Robot Turtles 2-4 players, Ages 4+
In Robot Turtles, players decide how their Robot Turtle moves on a game board with the goal to reach a jewel to win. There are different variations that can be played depending on players’ experience.

Code Monkey Island 3-4 Players, Ages 8+
Players are leaders of tribes of monkeys. The goal is to take your tribe around the board avoiding quick sand traps to a banana grove and score some fruit along the way.

The Code Master Programming1 player, Ages 8+
In Code Master, your Avatar will travel to an exotic world in search of power Crystals, but only one specific sequence of actions will lead to success.

Bits and Bytes 2-4 Players Ages 4+
Bits & Bytes is a card game. The goal is for each player to guide their character by giving them directions. At the same time they have to avoid obstacles like walls, bugs and the Seepeeu (CPU).

Robo Rally 2-8 Players, Ages 12+
Robo Rally is a board game where you control a robot to meet goals in a race across a factory floor. The factory is filled with obstacles like pits, lasers conveyor belts and other robots to slow you down or destruct you. The first robot to claim all the goals in the correct order wins.

Another area of great development are gadgets that don’t need any devices, hardware, or a WiFi connection. Here are some that are perfect for early learners.

Bee Bot
Throught the buttons on top of Bee Bot, children are able to enter a sequence of directions for Bee Bot to follow. Bee Bot blinks and beeps at the end of each command and allows children to follow the sequence. It is very easy to use and there are many games and projects teaches have created to challenge Bee Bot and students.

Pro Bot is a robot in the form of a race car. Just like Bee Bot, children can enter a sequence of directions for Pro-Bot to follow using the directional arrows on top. It also has a mode that allows users to add numbers for distances and degrees for movement.

Cubetto is a wooden block robot that is paired with a board that sends programs to it. Children use blocks and place them on the board. These blocks give Cubetto instructions on where to move.

Yes! You can teach coding with no tech or low tech!

If anyone has more resources that can be added to this list, please add it in the comments section below.

Thanks to My Mummy, I am a Maker


Making is fundamental to what it means to be human. We must make, create and express ourselves to feel whole. There is something unique about making physical things. Things we make are like little pieces of us and seem to embody portions of our soul.

-Mark Hatch, The Maker Movement Manifesto

When I was growing up, Mummy (and yes, I still call her Mummy) sewed a lot. I remember our dining room constantly being used as the spot to place projects all in various states of completion. Her sewing machine, a Kenmore that my father proudly purchased for her from the Sears catalogue lived on our kitchen counter. That Kenmore is still being used 35 years later.

I often wondered why Mummy sewed. What did she get out of it, what drove her to taking on more projects? Was it because it was a cost effective way to decorate a house and clothe five children? Was it because she enjoyed the compliments she received when people saw her work? Was it a time where she could escape from the busy life of a homemaker?

I guess it was all of the above in some way.

I have spent most of my life envying Mummy’s capabilities. I spent many hours on end watching closely and waiting while she worked. Off to the side I would collect scraps and hand sew clothes for my Barbie dolls, imitating the techniques my mother used. Sometimes I would fall asleep close by as she continued to work on through the night fuelled by the excitement of finishing a project before dawn.

I will never come close to Mummy’s dedication and proficiency at sewing. I still do like the process, though. I love picking a pattern, looking for fabrics, gathering all the notions and getting to work. Being in a fabric store gives me a warm feeling and gets me excited about the many possibilities. I also love the end product, even with all the mistakes hidden behind the seams and under the fabric. It feels incredible to produce something, especially something that is useful and creative at the same time.

As my 5 yr. old daughter sits the same way I did by my mother watching closely while I sew her “the most beautiful dress in the world” (her words!), I realize that when Mummy sewed she felt the same way I do now. It makes me feel human and whole again… simple happiness.

Everyone should have the chance to feel this way. I often think about our students who do not get to watch and learn from their parents making and don’t have the opportunities to make things on their own at home. The process of “making” is taking a back seat to activities like homework, studying, video games, working long hours at a job, watching Netfilx, etc.. We are living in a world where the craft fairs and farmers’ markets are more popular than they ever have been, but how many of us are actually creating rather than consuming?

We owe it to our children and students. They need to “make”. They need to see the adults in their lives make and make with them side by side… watch and go through the successes and failures together. Ultimately, as Mark Hatch states in the quote above, “Making is fundamental to what it means to be human. We must make, create and express ourselves to feel whole.”