Parent’s Choice Gold – Part 2

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Award Review:

Based on the Parents’ Choice Foundation and Emmy-Award winning PBS Kids TV program, Design Squad Global is a hands-on engineering website created for innovative middle-school students who are fascinated by solving real-world problems.

The Design Squad Global homepage offers easy-click links to categories such as Wow, Watch, Enter and Play, plus a top-of-page menu that includes Games, Build and Design. So, from the start, the direction is clear: Young, creative, problem-solving future engineers will eagerly dive in.

How can you not start with the Wow category? On this particular day, the “wow” is definitely there in a compelling feature about “plant cocooning,” a low-tech invention created by a Dutch engineer that enables trees to grow in the dessert. You’ll be impressed.

Then, go ahead and click on More Wow, and you can access stories about How a Slinky Works; a student who designed a barrier that collects the ocean’s plastic trash without harming sea life; robotic chefs; and more.

The Watch links lead to videos about everything from inflatable sculptures and kayak construction to making compost tumblers and solar backpacks. The Play category provides step-by-step moves with voice-over instructions to handling engineering challenges. In Games, the challenges are demanding and still fun to figure out—from solving real-life problems during natural disasters to learning how picking different string tensions produce different sounds.

The Enter link leads upstart engineers to project challenges in which they can submit their own designs, from rubber-band tools and balloon cars to toothpick bridges and coins sorters. The Design function lets kids create their own contraptions; the Build link leads kids to instruction on how to make all sorts of things.

One of the extraordinary aspects of this website is the Global Kids connection where users can discover what engineering-inclined students worldwide are up to or about what ideas they want to hear from other reader/users.

This is a fun, hands-on site where designing and building is the bottom line, its contagious activities giving kids insight into engineering’s impact on real-world problems. Kids can create a free account; and the Parents and Techers section allows adults to monitor and lend a hand when needed.

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Parent’s Choice Gold – Part 1

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Award review:

It’s about half-way through summer as I write this review and that’s just long enough for the “I’m bored!” and “What are we doing today?” to start. And, there’s only so much time the kids should be spending playing Minecraft and Terraria or watching seemingly infinite amounts of YouTube videos, no matter how educational they may be. Our family likes to spend time outdoors, but sometimes, it’s hard to come up with ideas for what to do, especially with children of various ages. Enter PBS Kids’ new app, Outdoor Family Fun with Plum. The app features over 150 missions that can be viewed all at once or as daily offerings. All the missions are designed to get families out and about exploring the environment around them. There are counting activities (e.g., counting squirrels, flowers, clouds, etc.) as well as Scavenger Hunts (e.g., cloud shapes, colors at the park, leaves, etc.). Some of the missions even entail snapping pics of animals and environments (e.g., leaves, sunny spots, etc.). No worries if your family starts a mission and can’t complete it, you can easily stop and pick it right back up another day, because the app tracks progress against any and all missions— even multiple missions going at the same time.

And the Plum Landing website also snagged a Silver:

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Huzzah for the Aardvark!

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Fresh from his time in the Internet’s headlights as a meme, Arthur has been recognized by Parents’ Choice for his website which this year went through an awesome redesign and added some great new games.

The award review:

Everyone’s favorite aardvark, Arthur, has a website that is just as fun and quirky as he is! The PBS Kids Arthur website is filled to the brim with entertaining and educational games, activities, and printables designed for preschoolers. And, because the material changes periodically, users could, literally, spend hours on the website and always find things to do.

During our review period, my son became a Treehouse Designer as he helped various characters design the inside and outside of their treehouse based on key adjectives; for example, Binky wanted an “artsy” treehouse, so my son got to pick and choose the furniture and accessories that he believed met that description. This gave us an opportunity to discuss adjectives and how they are used. He also used the Lunch-o-Matic with the Brain as he selected items to complete healthy lunches for his friends. This was a great way to talk about not just which foods are good choices, but why. The game taught him about vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and more – much more than the standard “What are the food groups?”

Beyond the game-style activities, children can also create comic strips, write poems, and send letters to Arthur and his friends. All of these activities offer opportunities to practice early reading and writing skills in a fun and safe venue. Another activity, which we particularly enjoyed was Family History Fun in which he created and conducted an interview about how I grew up, what my family was like, what my favorite items were, and so forth. He then added a picture, designed the layout and printed his work.

In addition to the website’s long-term play and learning values, we greatly appreciate that the instructions for nearly all the games and activities on the website are narrated and/or illustrated. This allows children to navigate the site with minimal parental assistance (not minimal parental involvement, mind you). This, in turn, increases a child’s sense of independence, self-efficacy, and self-confidence, all of which are critical developmental skills for social and academic success.

The website also features several types of printables including coloring pages, trading cards, and bookmarks, extending the many screen-based activities to plenty of screen-free fun.

Congrats to the site’s longtime senior producer, Gentry and his terrific team.

WGBH Kids Digital: Triple Threat

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The kids team picked up three Kidscreen Awards at the 2016 annual event in Miami.

Congratulations go to the digital team responsible for these fine works:

and to Exec Producer Marisa Wolsky who oversees these important science projects.

Congrats also go to our pals at PBS KIDS for yet another channel-of-the-year win and to Chris Bishop and his team at PBS KIDS for best design.