Archive for category: 15-min. ideas

Plangman = online game + literacy!

Kids often learn the most when they don’t even realize they’re learning.

Online games are great for that. But the game has to be (a) fun, (b) easy to play, and (c) smart.

Plangman ticks all those boxes.

Kids will not only enjoy Plangman, but they’ll be thinking ahead, reading a storyline, putting together letters and spelling out words that are sometimes quite challenging. In short, they’ll be reading and learning. And having fun.

The “angman” in the game’s name is from hangman–Plangman is a version of hangman in that the goal is to guess the missing letters and fill them in. Don’t ask me what the Pl is from. Play, maybe? Platform? (An online “platforming” game is one like Mario, where the character runs around and jumps onto platforms, etc.)

CapturePlangman 2 2016

The clue (so far) is _ovel_ … novels. So the little person has to run, jump and fly around to find the n and the s to complete the secret word. In the meantime, the letter boxes can be pushed (the r has fallen, for instance) and sometimes they fall into space, taking you with them. Fun!

In Plangman, you are a little person, running through space, leaping onto letter blocks. You want to leap on the right letters, and avoid the wrong ones.

Hanging in “space” are a series of blanks. In order to figure out what word you’re making, you need to run over to the star and grab it. That will cause a picture to appear. That image is your clue as to what the word is.

Capture Plangman 2 3 2016

Yeah… I had to Google Eowyn. But your kid won’t, guaranteed. (Lord of the Rings, btw.)

The other clue, just like hangman, is the number of blanks, or letters, that comprise the word.

Link to Plangman
To play Plangman, go to:
You will need to use the Firefox browser if you want to play Plangman online, because it supports “Unity.” It’s all very above-board, and those are both extremely popular programs so don’t worry about using them. And when you download Firefox, it just sits on your computer and you can use it later–it won’t take over your IE or Chrome browsing. If you don’t want to do all that, you can also download it*.

You jump on the letters, and if it’s in the secret word, it will show up in the appropriate blank. If it’s not in the word, your letter block will fall away into space, possibly taking you with it. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to stay alive–all you have to do is jump off the falling block before it gets too far down.

Also fortunately, you never really die. There are lots of lives, so you just start over.

This game looks simple–very retro, which is totally in right now, of course–but it’s engaging, challenging (but not too challenging) and it really makes you think.

Plangman has an interesting storyline. Each word you reveal is integral to the story. There was another game, also developed by Ehren von Lehe, called Langman. It’s great too, but Plangman’s storyline is a bit more literature-focussed. It harkens back to a number of great books like The Lord of the Rings and references literary characters as well.

Try Plangman, and even if it’s not for you, point your kid toward it. I’m pretty sure it will be a hit.

And do try LangmanCapture plangman (you can play it here, on the awesome online game review website Kongregate), as well. Fun! My 2011 review of Langman.

If you’d prefer to download Plangman and play it offline, on your computer, here’s how:
Download it from (Just click “Download Now” and then “No thanks, just take me to the downloads”.)

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Great online word game: Words Warrior

Words Warrior captureThis is a wonderful game that hits all the right notes: reading, strategic thinking and fun. Kids won’t even realize they’re learning–plus, it’s not lame (if you’ve ever played an online game that’s “good for you,” you’ll see how important that is, and how rare).

You use your computer’s arrow keys to move your knight across the sentences, reading as you go.

Each sentence contains clues as to what’s up ahead–for instance, a vampire–as well as tools to help you overcome the monsters and problems. For instance, pick up the bridge to span the gap before you fall into it.

Even better, your character can’t win right off the bat. He’ll have to discover and be defeated a few times, before you can figure out which words will help you succeed. So good.

Play Words Warrior here (via Bonte Games).


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Keep calm and read to your child

Keep calm and readEvery year, parents of children in Grade 1 start to freak out. My kid isn’t reading yet! He’s six and my son shows no interest in books. Is my daughter normal? She’s not reading!

The good news is: your kid is normal.

Do not panic. Do not stress. Don’t even worry, in fact. Your child can and will grow up to be a great reader, as long as you do a few simple but important things.

1)      Read to your child every day (or evening, say, before bed).

2)      Give your child books. From the library. From the bookstore. From Goodwill. From the neighbour. From the school. From you. From your parents. Anywhere—just as long as some of them are your child’s, to keep, to read, to mishandle, to chew, to do anything they want with.

3)      Let your kid see you reading.

For more information about why these are the top three, click here.

More good news: If you only ever do #1 on this list, you’ll probably end up with a reader on your hands. A great reader. Because, according to all the research and the literacy experts, #1 is by far the most important thing you can do to foster reading.

Are there other things you can do? You betchya! This blog has a zillion ideas to… well, to get kids reading. Ahem. Right now, for instance, you can enroll your child in a summer reading program at the library. It’s free and kids love it. If your library doesn’t have one, create your own. Seriously. Bonus side effect: 15 minutes of downtime every time you give your child a book. You’re welcome.

Here are some other fun and easy activities you can do with your child to foster reading.
Supermarket scavenger hunt; In-car literacy games; online game that promotes reading, typing; reading comprehension.


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In-car literacy activities

carHere are some good ideas to help boost your child’s literacy without leaving the back seat. (Them, not you. You’re driving. Hands on the wheel!)

The post also has ideas for apps and in-car activities for kids.

From Scholastic.

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beezi: the s-p-e-l-l-i-n-g game for ages 8 and up

beezi: the s-p-e-l-l-I-n-g game

beezi: the s-p-e-l-l-I-n-g game

If your kids could use a little brush-up on their spelling, beezi might be the game that does it.

My son and I took the game for a test drive. He figures he’s a better speller than his mother (who is a writer by trade, a-hem).

We really enjoyed beezi. For off, it was easy to figure out how to play it–a huge plus. I hate having to read through two pages of directions to figure out a game before you can even play it.

And it was fast-playing. Another plus.

Essentially, beezi takes you around a board; you select cards and spell words. The harder the word, the further you go on the board. Special spaces on the board let you roll again, skip a turn or advance.

The game includes spelling challenges at different levels. That’s good because it means that your eight-year-old can play with your 10-year-old at the same time. And it makes it extra flexible for playdates.

There’s also a Teens and Parents edition, which we will definitely have to get (we were given this one by beezi, for review). We did find that the younger game was a bit too easy for my 12-year-old. Although, he did not—I stress, did not—win against his mother.

Because kids write down their answer, rather than just spell it out loud, the game can definitely help kids improve their spelling. The game provides a real incentive to sound words out and try to get them right. It also gives adults a chance to explain why certain words are spelled the way they are.

Some kids are shy or embarrassed about not being able to spell very well. Even my son, who’s a pretty good speller, didn’t like to admit it when he couldn’t spell certain words, and I can see that. So you may want to keep that in mind when you’re playing. Usually, I was able to explain that “everyone gets that one wrong,” or “that spelling rule is tricky” and then roll the dice and keep the game moving.

The game is themed around bees, a riff on “spelling bees.” The bee theme continues with the die, which features six types of bees (from honey bee – the easiest words to spell, to killer bee – the most challenging). My son likes “Shaggy Fuzzyfoot” the best; Shaggy’s a wildcard. And the object of the game is to reach the “beehive” in the middle of the board.

The illustrations are quirky and modern, and the dice is one of those big, chunky ones that are such fun to roll.

Bonus: The next time I go to a restaurant or a long car ride with my son, I’m going to bring along the card deck. It will be a terrific quiz-me activity, even without the game board. beezi would also be a good game to take to the cottage, because everyone can play it, using different level card packs.

beezi: the s-p-e-l-l-i-n-g game sells for $29.99 and is available at toy stores and Chapters/Indigo. You can also purchase it from the beezi website ($10 to $15 shipping within Canada).

(If you’re in Toronto, buy it from my friend Sam at her Playful Minds toy store. Tell her I sent ya.)

On the beezi website, click on Take the Beezi challenge for a fun online spelling challenge.

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Strange word game – but fun!

monkey-go-happy-guess-starfishMonkey GO Happy, Guess? is an odd game, yes it is.

But it’s fun. Kids’ll like it.

And you can’t deny, it’s all about words.

The online game is one of a series of simple, quirky word games by PencilKids.

In Monkey GO Happy, Guess? (the spelling and punctuation of its name belie its oddness) you have to figure out what word is needed, based on a picture clue.

For instance, a picture of a STAR plus a picture of a FISH would equal STARFISH.
The clues get progressively stranger, albeit not necessarily much more difficult, as you proceed.

Every time you get one right you earn coins.

Underlying all of the oddness is oddly catchy music, bonus games in which you have to figure out roman numerals based on clues, the occasional brainteaser plus the chance to use your accumulated coins to buy mini-prizes (a trampoline, a car) for the little monkeys at the bottom of the page.

It’s all very odd, but fun. And word-oriented.

The link for this game is via Bart Bonte‘s excellent online casual games page.
You can search his site for the other Monkey GO Happy games.


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Must Pop Words – great game for literacy, typing skills

must pop words enterHere’s a smart, fun game that’s great for literacy and for improving typing skills.

In Must Pop Words, letters – inside bouncy balls – fall down and accumulate at the bottom of the page.

You have to type words using the letters. Every word you type erases those letters. If the letters pile up to the top of the page (which they will inevitably do) you lose.

Little tasks like, “create a word ending with e” or “create a six-letter word” let you earn extra points.

The balls bouncing around and the cute penguin who sticks his head in every once in awhile make this a signature Bart Bonte game – one of a series of elegant, fun games you can find on his website. (In my opinion, Bonte is the best casual game designer on the Internet.) Enjoy!

Play Must Pop Words here.

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Fun, active (and profitable!) literacy game

Dollar_sign_(reflective_metallic); from Wikimedia CommonsMy niece told me about a game that her friend’s mom used to set up to get her kids more interested in reading.

She would scatter letters around the room. Each letter had a price on it.

“Easier” letters like E might be worth a penny or five cents, whereas “harder” letters like Q or Z might be worth a quarter.

(Are you seeing where this is going?)

The kids would run around the room, collecting the letters; they would then put them together into words or phrases.

Then they’d add up the “money” they’d earned and… cash them in, using their parents as the bankers.

My niece said the game succeeded in making her friend much more interested in words and in reading.

And, presumably, in banking.

Here’s another case in which a mom successfully bribed her daughter into reading.

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Stuffed letters are great for literacy

Letters for GabbyMy picture book, Gabby, is coming out this September.

I’m excited! The illustrations are by Jan Dolby and it’s published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside.

I’ll be doing some readings in schools, book stores and at Word On The Street to publicize the book.

I sewed and stuffed some fabric letters to use during the readings. It occurred to me that letters like this are also great for new readers, since they can hold them and make words out of them. Making letters and words tactile for kids is a terrific way to get them reading.

There are lots of ways you can do this without making your own fabric letters (trust me, it’s a lot of work). You can use Scrabble tiles, foam letters from the dollar store, letter dice from a game like Jr. Boggle or Alphabet Scoop, or you can cut out letters or words from magazines.

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Keeping kids reading all summer

dock sepia; Image: kiwiowner, Wikimedia Commons

Image: kiwiowner, Wikimedia Commons

Studies show that kids who read during the summer jump back into school with a head-start.

Kids who take the summer off (reading, that is), often tend to find September a bit of a struggle.

So for all kinds of reasons, it’s good to keep your kid reading during the summer.

Some of my best memories are of going to the tiny library near our cottage and loading up with a week’s worth of books.

But what if your kid isn’t a super-voracious reader?

Here are some tips:

* See if your library has a summer reading program. Here’s an example. They typically bundle reading incentives into the program – it works! And if you live in Canada, here’s a link to TD’s summer reading club.

* Plan on a quick trip to the library at least once a week. Even if your kid takes out one book, it’s worth it.

* Use books on CD (or MP3) to replace TV time.

* An ebook by the dock? Why not? (Just don’t drop the Kindle in the water…)

* Outdoor time can be reading time. Check out this outdoor literacy suggestion for active kids.

* Alternative reading material counts! Comic books, magazines, ebooks, books on CD… all better than mind-numbing video games.

* Buy your child a book, wrap it up, and hide in in their bed as a bedtime surprise. It’s not a school night, so sure you can stay up and read for a while longer!

* If you’re really serious about breaking some rules for a good cause, include a flashlight with the book you give your child. They’ll figure out pretty quickly that it’s fun to “fool your parents” into thinking you’re sleeping, when you’re really reading in bed with a flashlight. (Of course, you’re one step ahead of them.)



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