Sunday, February 18, 2018

THE STAR

My family missed seeing Sony Pictures Animation's THE STAR when it was playing in theaters over the Christmas holiday season so my kids were eager to watch the movie when we were sent a complimentary DVD to announce the film's home entertainment video release.  Available beginning February 20, 2018 on Blu-ray + DVD + Digital, THE STAR tells the story of the Nativity through the viewpoint of some animals who witnessed it.  We made some Christmas cookies, heated up some hot chocolate, and curled up under some blankets on the couch to enjoy watching this tale of faith and friendship on our television.

The star of THE STAR is a small but brave donkey named Bo (voiced by The Walking Dead's Steven Yeun) who yearns for a more fulfilling life than his daily grind working at the village mill.  One day he breaks free of his pen heading out to try and become a member of King Herod's royal transportation procession. On his endeavor, he teams up with Ruth (voiced by Saturday Night Live's Aidy Bryant) an adorable sheep who has lost her flock and Dave (voiced by Friends from College Keegan-Michael Key) a dove with lofty aspirations.  Along their journey, the trio also joins up with three wise-cracking camels voiced by Tracy Morgan, Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey.  Bo eventually realizes his dream of carrying a king on his back, just not the one he initially envisioned, as he becomes an accidental hero in the greatest story ever told.



THE STAR is filled with an all-star cast voicing its animated characters that also includes Grammy Award-Winner Kelly Clarkston, Emmy and Tony Award-Winner Kristin Chenoweth, Anthony Anderson (Black-ish), Christopher Plummer (All the Money in the World), Patricia Heaton (The Middle) Gabriel Iglesias (Coco, Ferdinand) and Zachary Levi (Chuck).  It also features a theme song performed by Mariah Carey which was nominated to receive a 2018 Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song.

Directed by Academy Award nominated writer/director Timothy Reckart, THE STAR is rated PG for some thematic elements by the Motion Picture Association of America. Aspects contributing to the rating include the topic of pregnancy being a key element of the story, King Herod sending a menacing soldier to kill Mary before she can give birth to Jesus, and a character dying during an action sequence.  THE STAR is meant to be a children's movie and in my opinion from seeing it the content is comparable to other recently released PG animated movies which are often viewed by kids of all ages so the rating by itself shouldn't raise a red flag about letting a child view it.  In fact, the film actually has been recommended for all ages by the Dove Foundation which provides family friendly movie reviews.




Of course home video versions of films have bonus segments included and THE STAR has some nice ones incorporated with the movie on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital:

Lyric Sing-Along Videos:  Enjoy the inspiring music of THE STAR through colorful videos that let you sing along with some great recording artists
  • "The Star" by Mariah Carey
  • "Can You See" by Fifth Harmony
  • "Children Go Where I Send You" by Kelsea Ballerini
  • "We Three Kings" by Kirk Franklin
  • "Life is Good" by A Great Big World
Sweet and Sparkly Stars:  Recipe for creating star-themed cookies that can be enjoyed all year long.

Star Mason Jar Votives:  directions for a simple yet stunning diy craft

Faith All Year Round:  Addressing the religious nature of the movie, DeVon Franklin provides a sermon for children discussing the themes of the film and how to keep the spirit of THE STAR's story alive every day of the year.

All-Star Cast Featurette:  Meet the cast of stars who bring the characters in THE STAR to life.

Released in time for Christian families to incorporate into their Lenten reflection and preparation for celebrating Easter it provides an entertaining way to lead into the upcoming holiday.  Also if you enjoy watching Christmas movies every year as that holiday approaches with your kids, THE STAR can be a nice addition to your home video library.  Sony Pictures is participating in Movies Anywhere so the digital version of this film can be easily accessed and stored through this online service in addition to being available on Blu-ray and DVD.  For more information, please visit thestarmovie.com 

Creature Files

Do you know a child that is fascinated by animals?  Then you should check out the Creature Files children's books by L.J. Tracosas.  Kids can learn about prehistoric dinosaurs, mythical dragons, and present day predators through this captivating book series.  Quarto Knows sent us a couple of these books, Creature Files: Dragons & Creature Files: Predators, to look over and they've been a real hit with my nine year old twins.  Both my son and daughter have been engrossed in reading them.

Each of the books is 48 pages filled with interesting facts, impressive illustrations and wonderful photographs showcasing 20 creatures.  Plus replica teeth and claws representing a creature(s) that can be strung on an included necklace come along with each book in the Creature Files series.  My kids thought these were really neat! I give kudos to the author for incorporating this fun idea into her books.

The author does a nice job of using these claw/teeth replicas to draw kids into learning while they read the books. Each creature profile has a special fact section related to the type of necklace included with a book. Dragons has a tooth to be hung upon the necklace so every creature profile includes a DRAGON BITE NOTE discussing different types of teeth and how they would benefit a creature. Predators included several different types of claws to hang on the necklace so each creature profile has a CLAW FILE that explains how animals' claws are unique and used by the creatures. 



Having a physical component that children can touch and feel provides a great way for them to associate with the content within the books.  My children really got into looking through the pictures and illustrations in each book trying to match up the teeth and claws on their necklaces with the creatures they belonged to.  As a parent, I appreciate how the author utilized these necklaces to get kids enthused about reading through the books.

CREATURE FILES: DRAGONS

Ok maybe dragons are fictitious but this book delves into the real life cultures from places around the globe including Africa, China, Europe, India and South America that created these creatures.  Each dragon profile includes information about the region that created the mythology and points the area out on a map as well as provides a description about the creature's appearance and behaviors taken from examples of local folklore.  The book also has a section that describes real life creatures that may have inspired dragon myths and comes with a realistic looking dragon-tooth necklace.


Additionally the dragon illustrations within  the book are stunning!  My kids have been flipping through the book over and over again just to check out the dragon images.  I've even perused through the book a few times because it is full of some incredible artwork.  Thumbs up for a job very well done!



CREATURE FILES: PREDATORS

Learn about some of the most vicious predators on the planet ranging from alligators to wolverines.  This book contains great stats about these creatures including their average height and weight along with a map in each profile that show where on the globe these featured animals live.  Kids will learn that while a lot of big cats live in Africa you'll only find wild Tigers living in the Asian jungles of India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.  Plus the book comes with three realistic replica claws.  Have fun searching through the book to see if you can identify which creature each claw belongs to.

Each profile also showcases some juice facts about the highlighted creature to chew on.  Did you know that while Lions are called "the king of the jungle" they actually prefer living in grasslands?  Komodo Dragons poison their prey through biting them allowing these lizards to hunt pigs, deer and water buffalo that may be much larger than them.  Polar Bears are the largest land predators in the world ... I would have thought it was Grizzly Bears myself before my daughter shared this fact from the book with me.  Lots of educational information packed in this book that is also very interesting for inquiring minds to learn about.




The book is also filled with amazing photographs of the twenty creatures highlighted within it.  You won't want to get too near these animals if you ever encountered one in person but Creature Files: Predators provides excellent up close views of them.  Both of my kids have been enjoying themselves flipping through these pictures.  They were particularly impressed with the Fossa pictures which is an animal from Madagascar they'd never seen or heard of before.  Always great to find out they've learned something brand new from reading a book!

L.J. Tracosas' Creature Files books have earned A Geek Daddy nod of approval for providing an immersive educational experience that is also very entertaining for kids.  Filled with informative facts, interesting physical props and top notch pictures these books have been a joy for our family to read.  I especially appreciate how the remarkable photographs and illustrations in Creature Files, as well as the included necklaces, compliment the layout of the text so as to encourage kids to actually read the books instead of just looking at the pictures.  My nine year old twins have been reading these books over and over again.



Recommended for ages 8 and up by the publisher. Additional books also focus on dinosaurs, reptiles and sharks. In my opinion probably best suited for boys and girls between third and fifth grade based upon the book's reading level. A nice middle grade book. For more information about Creature Files and other great books for kids, please visit quartoknows.com.


FLUSH FORCE


If your kids like potty humor as much as mine they are sure to appreciate these new FLUSH FORCE collectible toy mini-figures from Spin Master.  The theme of these toys revolve around the scenario that a toxic sludge spill has contaminated the city's sewers mutating things that have been flushed away by people.  Now these odd creations are making a splash returning to the surface world through toilets.  While they may look creepy all these Flushies really want to do is have fun playing with children.

There are a 150 figures to discover in the first wave of the FLUSH FORCE that range from common to ultra-rare to find.  Creatures like alligators, dogs, insects, and fish living in the sewers have been transformed into new odd forms and the garbage washed down there has turned into bizarre  lifeforms.  Croco Bile, Crabby Apple, Dank Dentures, Dope Soap,  Eew Eel, Rubber Chucky, and Sour Suds are some of mutated creations being brought to life by FLUSH FORCE.

A big part of the enjoyment of these type of blind pack toys for children is the mystery of discovering what figure is awaiting kids hidden inside. Spin Master is enhancing this fun factor with its new flush-to-reveal packaging format.  Kids flush out mini-figures by adding water to a mock toilet and shaking it to reveal characters floating in its bowl.



In addition to making the activity of opening a toy package extra fun by adding water into the mix, the water color plays a part in giving kids a hint of what type of characters they may find inside the toilet bowl.  If the water is clear than there is a commonly found figure inside.  But if it is green there is a rare Clogger lurking in there.  If it turns purple that is even better yet with a super rare Unflushable emerging from it.



We received a couple of FLUSH FORCE Filthy 5-Packs to try out from Spin Master.  These each included one toilet and five Flushies characters along with a collector guide and instruction sheet.  Two of the Flushies were hidden inside the toilet and three were wrapped up outside of it within each of the packs.  FLUSH FORCE characters are also available in an 8-pack and 2-pack.  Plus there is a Collect-A-Bowl Stash 'N Store Case that has flushing sound effects and comes with four exclusive figures.



Recommended for ages 4 and up, FLUSH FORCE can be purchased at Amazon, Target, and Toys R Us.  For more information, visit theflushforce.com


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Tech Deck

When it is too cold or wet to skateboard outside take the fun inside by building a miniature Tech Deck skateboard from SpinMaster.  These 96 millimeter (3.7 inch) fingerboards feature actual deck graphics used by some of the most popular skate gear brands in the world, including Blind, Baker, Darkstar, Flip, Primitive, Sk8mafia and Toy Machine.  Available in single, double, four and six packs collect your favorite designs, put your decks together and recreate favorite skateboard tricks using your finger to control the toy.

No batteries required to play with these toys ... just need to use some muscle and dexterity for assembling your Tech Deck fingerboards as well as for pushing and flipping them around while playing.  Which skating board tricks do you want to try out with a Tech Deck fingerboard?  An Ollie, a Nollie 360 or Backside Flip or a Varial Heelflip? Head over to the Tech Deck website for video tutorials on how to do some amazing tricks with your fingerboards.



Of course before doing tricks you need to put your fingerboard together. SpinMaster provided us with a Toy Machine 4-pack and Darkstar 4-pack to play with.  Each Tech Deck pack included four boards featuring licensed artwork from each of those brands within it.  Also included are grip pads, trucks, multiple colored wheels, screws and lug nuts along with a small screwdriver/wrench combo.

With multi-packs like these you can mix and match the wheels with the different decks to provide for some customization for your fingerboard.  Choose a deck and some wheels.  Then attach two trucks to your deck with the included screws.  On each axle for both trucks secure a wheel with a lug nut.  The grip pad has an adhesive sticker on its bottom.  Place the sticky surface of the grip pad on the top of your deck (opposite side from its artwork, trucks and wheels) and rub it down to secure into place.  There you go! You're all done and it is time to have some fun!


Tech Deck 96MM Fingerboards are recommended for ages 6 and up.  Note that the screws and lug nuts are very small making them easy to lose if dropped on the ground plus take some patience to properly screw into place.  So make sure to be careful with them!  Once everything is screwed into place we've found everything really stays together great.



These Tech Decks look sharp once you've got them assembled.  Having actual deck graphics used on real skateboards make Tech Decks great for collecting and displaying.  Plus mastering using your fingers to do some incredible tricks with Tech Decks is challenging and fun.  Once you've got some tricks down make a video doing them, upload it to Instagram or YouTube, and tag it with #TechDeckTrick.  Tech Deck will share some of their favorite #TechDeckTrick videos on their website and social media channels.  That could be your child ... or you!  Hey these are fun toys for moms and dads to play around with too!

For more information, head over to techdeck.com. These toys really are rad so they get A Geek Daddy nod of approval. You can find Tech Deck toys at Target, Toys R Us and Walmart.


Friday, February 16, 2018

Aeromax Get Real Gear

Playing dress up is a great way for children to have fun while learning about the world around them.  What kid wouldn't love suiting up as an astronaut, firefighter or race car driver?!  This type of play is wonderful for increasing a child's interest in learning about the role different jobs play in society, promoting a can do work attitude, and sparking a desire to learn more about skills necessary to one day be employed in various career fields.  Of course kids don't realize they are learning while playing, they're just having fun in the moment pretending to arrest a bad guy, put out a fire, or give a patient a shot; but these playtime experiences really do make a positive contribution towards their personal development.

Aeromax Toys' GET REAL GEAR gets children into the spirit of role playing with realistic outfits representing a variety of career fields.  My daughter loves to put on Get Real Gear scrubs and pretend to be a vet while playing with her stuffed animals.  Their astronaut flight suit has launched numerous out of this world pretend adventures for my son.  Choose from a number of selections in Aeromax Toys Get Real Gear collection ranging from a firefighter suit with helmet to a chef's smock with a baker's hat.



Get Real Gear is available in sizes that will fit ages from toddlers to tweens.  Hey they even have some stuff sized to fit moms and dads too!  Choo Choo ... dad can dress in a Get Real Gear outfit as a train engineer.  Mom can show off her love of STEM with a scientist lab coat from Aeromax Toys.  They have a number of selections to get parents involved with their kids in dress up fun.

A really nice aspect of Aeromax Toys Get Real Gear is that many of the outfits can be personalized.  Add a city identification and person's name to the back of a firefighter's jacket.  Place a logo or name on the front of a lab coat.  Add lettering to the front pockets of fatigues.  Even logos can be added to some of these costumes to make them extra special or for use at a special event.  Just imagine how excited a child would be to get a customized outfit to play in.

In addition to being awesome to play in, Aeromax Toys Get Real Gear is also great to use for school projects, making family movie or game nights extra fun, getting into the spirit of a themed party, and for Halloween costumes as well.  The Get Real Gear that my kids have worn has all been very durable and well made in addition to being impressive to look at.  We've gotten a lot of use and fun out of the Get Real Gear that we have.  For more information about Get Real Gear, head over to aeromaxtoys.com.


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

FIVE REASONS MY FAMILY LOVES GOLDFISH SWIM SCHOOL

Show some love for a child in your life by providing them with swimming lessons at Goldfish Swim School.  They have programs for children ranging from 4 month old babies to twelve year old tweens that develop swimming abilities and water safety skills in facilities that are specifically designed to be kid-friendly.  My son and daughter have been taking lessons at Goldfish Swim School and I can personally attest that we've had an exceptional experience there. 

It has been amazing watching my twins' progress in mastering swimming strokes and seeing them develop an increased self-confidence in the pool.  Numerous happy families like my own caught the attention of the DETROIT FREE PRESS  which published a feature story highlighting how Goldfish Swim School has grown over the last ten years to become one of the largest children's swimming lesson providers within the United States.  So what is it that sets this swim school apart from others?

Here are five reasons why my family loves Goldfish Swim School:

  • INDOOR POOLS:  Children can swim anytime of the year no matter what the weather is like outside in Goldfish Swim School's indoor pools that are always shiver-free heated to a comfy 90 degrees. 
  • EASY TO SCHEDULE CLASSES:  Many swim schools offer one specific time take it or leave it for their classes; but that isn't the case with Goldfish Swim School.  They offer a number of options for each of their class levels to choose from throughout the week providing flexibility to help parents find a day and time for their children's lessons that best fits into their family's schedule.  
  • MAKE UP CLASSES:  Scheduling conflicts arise that is just a fact of life.  A child may be sick, have a grade school function to be at or a sports game scheduled for the same time as a swim lesson.  With many swim schools you just miss the class and wasted the money you spent on it.  Goldfish Swim School takes a different approach providing no fuss / no hassle make up classes.  Just inform them a child won't be at his or her normal class in advance and the staff will arrange for a make up session on another date.  This can be done twelve times per year without  losing out on lessons or incurring additional charges.
  • SMALL CLASS SIZES:  Ensuring each student gets plenty of attention from their instructor and swimming time in the pool during a lesson is a priority at Goldfish Swim School.  Therefore swim lessons are limited to four students per class with the exception of parent-tot programs and the Swim Force swim team which differentiate a bit in their ratios.  
  • PROGRESS REPORTS:  After EVERY class, instructors provide parents with individual poolside progress reports for their children. Personalized details for each student are conveyed informing a parent about what was worked on during the lesson, noting positive accomplishments  by the child and highlighting areas where there is need for improvement.  
These are just a few examples of why Goldfish Swim School has earned A Geek Daddy nod of approval.  Stay tuned to ageekdaddy.com as I continue to share my family's experiences at Goldfish Swim School throughout the year.  Plus if you are interested in signing a child up for some swim lessons head over to goldfishswimschool.com.  There are currently more than 60 locations in the country spread across 23 states plus one near Toronto in Canada with another 20 locations planning to open in North America by the end of the year. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

THE WOW SCOPE

It is "Science Week" at my kids elementary school and in addition to the special themed activities they are doing at school we are having some extracurricular fun at home as well using THE WOW SCOPE.  This microscope from My First Lab takes medical-grade scientific equipment and makes these tools kid-friendly.  It is a great device for getting kids interested in STEM learning.

What is really nice about this microscope is that there is no squinting through one eye piece to look at things.  THE WOW SCOPE has an easily adjustable binocular system so both eyes can be used at once to view objects.  Kids can really get great close up views with this microscope that provides up to 50x magnification. 

Use slides like the two that come along with THE WOW SCOPE that provide incredibly detailed glimpses of a fly's wing, insect's leg, bird's feather and sand.  Create your own slides or purchase additional prepared ones from My First Lab.  You can also just place objects on the viewing platform to take a look at them as well.  My kids have been having a great time putting things like leaves, rocks and potato chips under the lens of the microscope to see how they look magnified.



THE WOW SCOPE has two battery powered lights to ensure the microscope has just the right illumination for its lenses to provide a good view.  It has a LED light placed above the viewing area to assist with looking at objects placed under the lens.  There is also a LED light incorporated within the platform of the microscope to shine underneath slides placed upon it.

Meant to be used by children, the microscope has a durable frame; but is also very lightweight designed to be portable so kids can take it along with them on adventures to use as they explore places.  My son and daughter for example took it outside with them to look at snowflakes.  The amazement of kids looking at the world from a different perspective through a microscope is a wonderful thing.



For a more detailed look at this great gadget, please head over to myfirstlab.com