Books, STEM

Lessons from a 9 year old coder

I’m literally bursting with excitement at introducing my guest today. Yeva Patterson is an ultra cool 9 year old coder. She’s a big supporter of girls in tech and STEM, and I reckon she’s probably the youngest VR developer in the world! Today she’s sharing her tips to help get other kids into coding, and a special selection of book recommendations on coding for kids.

 

So over to Yeva …

 

How I Got Into Coding

My parents are developers and they started teaching me how to code when I was 5 years old.

They were developing a mobile educational math app and they let me help. I would build levels for it and they actually put them into the app! I was so excited that people would play what I built so I kept going, learning more about coding and finding out what else I could create.

I realized that learning to code allowed me to be creative in a whole new way. I learned that you can code computers to do just about anything.

I found code.org tutorials particularly fun and helpful and progressed through their curriculum. I enjoyed getting their certification achievements. After I learned some coding basics I got to start using Unity3D game engine and worked on creating some fun apps. Unity now has a free asset called Unity Playground that is a simplified version of the more complex game engine. I’ve been playing with it recently and it’s really good for early programmers to first learn on Unity.

Late in 2017 I got to try virtual reality for the first time. Once I put the headset on, I fell in love! It was so much fun! I could fly! I could ride in Santa’s Sleigh and deliver presents and I could float above earth at the space station. Around the same time I was asking my parents for a rock wall but we didn’t have any space for a real one. So I decided the next best thing would be to climb in virtual reality so I built a climbing experience in VR. I made it into the shape of Google’s logo for their Doodle for Google contest because the theme that year was to doodle what inspires you. I am inspired by VR and the limitless possibilities of what you can do with VR.

What I love about VR is that it is not only really fun, it is also really useful. You can learn things in VR in such a different way. You get to be inside an environment and experience it and interact with it in a whole new way. My parents said that they could see how enriching learning in VR was for us. That’s when they decided to make a VR app to teach computer programming in VR. It’s called vCoder and it is the first virtual reality app that teaches coding in VR. I am helping them build vCoder because it is really entertaining to code in VR and I want other kids to learn how fun programming can be. This is really exciting because kids can enjoy and immerse themselves in an engaging VR world. Along the way they learn a valuable skill and see that they can learn to code too.

There are some great resources for kids to start learning how to code. I recently had a great time presenting to a class of Kindergarteners and First graders and I recommended they can easily get started at Code.org. They have tutorials even for kids that don’t read yet. I also recommend Girls Who Code.

 

I really enjoy teaching other kids about coding and have a passion for supporting and encouraging more kids to learn how to code. So I made some video tutorials on my YouTube channel, Yeva Codes, that helps young kids get started with code.org. I love doing it! I’m making more coding tutorials and will be adding them to my channel.

I hope to inspire other kids, and especially young girls, ​to learn how to code so they can create their dreams too!

 

These are my top books for getting kids into coding:

 

Hello Ruby Adventures in Coding (Journey Inside the Computer and Expedition to the Internet) by Linda Liukas

Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World – by ​Reshma Saujani

Girls Who Code: The Friendship Code – by Stacia Deutsch How to Code a Sandcastle – by Joshua Funk

Secret Coders – by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes Dot – by Randi Zuckerberg

 

 

Wow! Thanks very much Yeva.

Readers, you can see why I was so excited! I can’t wait to show my family these books, plus the websites and apps, and see where this journey takes them. I hope this inspires them, and many other kids, to give coding a go.

If you’ve got any questions, I’m sure Yeva would be delighted to answer them! You can even follow her on Twitter on @yevacodes

Books, Family - Adventure, featured

How to boost your child’s emotional intelligence with journalling

Journalling can be an effective tool for exploring your emotions – it can help you put things in perspective, understand and process your feelings, and focus on positives. At this time of year, the stationery shops are overflowing with gorgeous diaries. I can’t resist a fresh notebook for a fresh new year, even if I mainly use it to make lists.

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But keeping a diary doesn’t appeal to every child, so prompts are a really useful tool. I was shown The Happy Self Journal at an event and totally fell in love with it. It’s beautifully packaged, comes with some free stickers (who doesn’t love a sticker!), and it’s a fab bright yellow colour with a good strong cover. Those aren’t the important points though …

  • Firstly, it’s gender neutral. If we’re avoiding stereotyping girls and boys emotions, thats obviously important.
  • Secondly, you don’t have to work through it chronologically like a diary. It’s like a colouring book – flick through and the child can pick whatever activity that appeals. I guess if you wanted them to explore a particular theme, you could point out a few pages.
  • Thirdly, of course, it’s not overwhelming in quantity – just a few sentences is all that it takes so its also good for reluctant writers.

 

It says its aimed at 6-12 year olds, but I’d probably narrow that to a core of 7-10 year olds. If you’d like to check it out, here’s the link https://happyselfjournal.com

I’m thrilled to have a copy to giveaway – just comment and share this post on Twitter tagging @lexi_rees and @HappySelf_. Competition is only open in the UK. Closing date 30 November 2018.

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Books, Family - Adventure

The most helpful guide to an amazingly tidy kids room

If you’re like me, half term is over and the house is in utter chaos.

Not that long ago, everyone was Kon-Mari-ing their houses and folding socks into sushi rolls and checking if their frying pans sparked joy. I had to try it. My review of Marie Kondo’s book is below, and I gave it five stars, but that was before I tried it with the kids ….

Me: Can we throw out this broken Kinder egg toy?

Teenage DS (with just a hint of sarcasm): No. It sparks joy.

Me: What about this puzzle with a missing piece?

DS: No. I once did that puzzle when I was three. It brings back happy memories.

Me: What can I throw out?

DS: I don’t like this sock. (Waggles foot). It feels crunchy.

Me: Have you tried washing it?

For this type of challenge, you need a no-nonsense system. Less zen maybe, but something that works. I’m a big fan of Jules and her approach to decluttering. So I’ll hand over to her …

It’s Child’s Play:  A Nervous Parent’s Ten-Point Guide to Decluttering Kids Bedrooms

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Can’t put off decluttering your child’s bedroom any longer?

Daunted by the inevitable crying, door slamming and shrieks of “That’s so unfair!”   – and that’s just from your partner?

Take heart!  My ten-point guide takes you from start to finish – without breaking up your happy home or losing your mind in the process.

Point One: Kids Stuff Gets Old Quickly

Children outgrown stuff at warp speed.

Clothes they wore last year are now only fit for Teddy, while the toy they couldn’t live without six months ago lies forgotten under the bed.

It quickly adds up.  So, you need to get clear of what is and isn’t relevant to their lives now.

Anything that isn’t is out of the door.

Point Two: One Room/Many functions

Children bedrooms are often mini “homes within a home”.

One, possibly small or shared, space may need to offer a sleeping area, a quiet place to study, room to play, storage for clothes, toys and books, and somewhere to entertain their friends.

It’s a big ask. Make it easier by checking if anything – sports equipment for example – be stored elsewhere.

Point Three:  Involve Your Child

It may seem easier to “just do it yourself” – a bit like cleaning out the hamster cage.

But get your child onboard and you are more likely to see lasting results.

Older children especially won’t appreciate you sending their stuff to the charity shop.

Plus, you’ll be teaching them an important life skill.

Point Four:  What’s Your Problem?

Understanding the problem is halfway to finding a solution. So get clear from the start.

Had your child moved on from their Barbie phase – but their room is still full of tiny pink outfits?

Is their bookshelf filled with books they’ve outgrown, while the latest Harry Potter sits on the floor?

Do school days get off to a grumpy start with a game of Hunt the Homework?

Point Five:  What Are (Your Childs) Goals?

Emphasising what they will gain, rather than what you lose, can make a massive difference to attitude. What do they really want?

A peaceful place to curl up and read?

Hosting sleepovers without having to lie their brother trashed their room?

Or having the floor space to set up their Scalextric?

The aim is for a room filled with stuff that is in current use, that allows them to use the room how they wish.

Point Six: Pre-sort.  Do This On Your Own!

Start by sorting all their stuff into “like-with-like” – books, clothes, Barbies, cars, lego, whatever.  Don’t squander precious time or good humour doing this with your child.

If you and your child have already decided they have outgrown Stickle Bricks, My Little Pony or pony books (See Point Four) put these to one side to take to the charity shop.  No need for further discussion!

Point Seven:  It’s Decision Time!  Do This With Your Child

Deciding what makes the “keep” pile can be an emotional minefield.  Dodge meltdowns over whether Mr Potato Head stays or goes with a pre-agreed set of criteria.

Working one pre-sorted category (ie board games) at a time, ask:

  • Have you played with/read/used it in the last six months?
  • Does it fit?
  • Is it in usable condition?
  • Does it have sentimental value? (Panda, I’m looking at you)
  • How much can you fit in the cupboard/on the shelf? Choose your favourites. (And no, they can’t all be your favourite.)

Point Eight:  A Place For Everything…

You will now be left with things that your child plays with, wears or read, and it’s time to put it all away.

A place for everything and everything in its place might be Old Skool, but it’s got a lot of wear in it yet. So find a home for each category of stuff that you sorted and decluttered

Stuff should be stored at a child height.  If they need a pogo stick to reach it, it will end up on the floor.

Point Nine: Containers And Labels

By now you are probably sick of the whole project.  But if you can muster strength to store stuff in tubs or use dividers in drawers, this will really pay off.

It also creates a natural limit to how many little plastic gifts from Birthday Bags your child can keep without making you the bad guy.

For maximum benefit, stick on some big clear labels. Picture labels are good for young children, maybe they could draw their own?

Point Ten:  Keep It Going!

Result! You and your offspring are beaming with pride at the state of the room, with your child convinced it was their idea all along.

But if you don’t want to be back to square one by Bonfire Night try these tips

Implement a daily “pick up”.  Ten minutes with a timer – race each other – will keep things from unravelling 

Put regular mini “declutter dates” in the diary, three or four times a year.  If you do it regularly, it won’t be a massive chore.

And finally, parents – lead by example!  It’s the only way.    

 

Thanks Jules! I told you she’s good. I’ve recommended her Facebook group before but here it is again make me clutter free

So here’s my review of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A simple, effective way to banish clutter forever by Marie Kondo.

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Japanese decluttering expert Marie Kondo challenges everything we have been taught since childhood about tidying. She believes that “little and often” doesn’t work. Her method is simple: a thorough discarding must be done first, in a very particular order. Only then can you look at storage solutions.

Although she admits to be obsessive about tidying, her self-depreciating style and quirky anecdotes make this an easy and enjoyable read.

There are very few references to feng shui in the book, but an underlying influence is visible. Once finished, your wardrobe will have the dark colours on the left, and the lighter fabrics on the right. This is not negotiable under her method. She can even make your socks happy – apparently they don’t like being rolled up into balls – they like to relax in sushi style rolls.

Particularly helpful are her techniques for discarding items that we would normally struggle to part with – gifts for example. If you accept that the purpose of a gift was to be given, then under her approach it has fulfilled its purpose, so you can let it go without guilt.

Similarly, an unworn but beautiful pink sweater has served its purpose of teaching me that pink is not my colour, so I can let it go.

One criticism is that everything discarded is thrown out – an acknowledgement of recycling options would be more environmentally friendly.

This is the decluttering equivalent of a diet plan book. With over three million copies sold, and huge facebook fan groups, for many people (including me, apart from the rolled up socks) it clearly works.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Family - Adventure, featured

Five reasons snakes make the best pets

I love animals. I grew up on a farm with Clydesdale horses in the garden (their grandparents used to be working horses, but these were just “field ornaments”), sheep,  Collies (best sheepdogs, of course), and cattle. My best ever party was when my entire class of 5 year olds tried to milk Daisy, the worlds most patient cow! Then when I got older, the cows became cats. This is my cheeky pony – he keeps me on my toes, and makes the worst days all better.
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So now we have a collection of animals.
But last week DS went for a sleepover at a friends house. Turns out he has a python in his bedroom. I thought this was a computer coding language. Nope. A snake. Not what you want to find out via whatsapp!
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I used to have nightmares about giant snakes attacking the house. I’m pretty sure that scene in Harry Potter with Nagini is based on my dream.
Rest of conversation went like this …
Me: “I’m coming to rescue you!”
DS: “Don’t worry mum, it’s quite safe. It’s only little.”
Me: “30cm?”
DS: “About a metre.”
I asked his friend what having a pet snake was like, and he said it was mostly boring as it slept all day. Well in that case, surely it can party with the hamster in the kitchen at night then?
When DS got home, safely, the next day, we made a list of reasons why a snake is a great pet …
  1. You won’t have to look after the class hamster in the holidays, in case it gets eaten
  2. No barking, caterwauling or hamster wheel squeaking at 2am
  3. Cheaper than a horse. Trust me on this one!
  4. You can pretend you’re in Slytherin even if you got another house in Pottermore. You never know, parseltongue might be a GCSE in the future.
  5. Your mother will never come into your room.
Seriously, if you are considering a snake as a pet, please do lots of research. The RSPCA is a good starting point https://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/pets/other
But when I am getting rid of the hamster, dog and horse and setting up a reptile house?
No way. Never. No matter how convincing DS is, I know it’s still me who will need to clean the cage. See reason 5.
End of.
Books, Family - Adventure, STEM

How to make every day an exciting STEM adventure

I was lucky to go to a senior school which focussed heavily on the sciences with more science than arts classes at A level, so I’m thrilled that the importance of STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) is getting more profile generally, particularly for girls. Thanks to our school, many of my female school friends are very successful doctors.

So I’m thrilled to have the amazing Suzie Olsen on my blog today. Suzie is a systems engineer in Phoenix, Arizona. She currently works on the search and rescue system for the US Coast Guard. She is also the author of Annie Aardvark, Mathematician and creator of the blog STEM Spark. Suzie’s spark is to encourage students, especially girls and minorities, to consider careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). She lives with her husband and child, performing STEM experiment after STEM experiment with her own kid. Please do check out her website – it’s fantastic.

I asked Suzie to pull together three easy STEM activities we can all try with our kids. Enjoy!

 

STEM Adventures are Everywhere

In my book, Annie Aardvark, Mathematician, the main character Annie loves math so much that she decides she’s going to have a math adventure while she forages!  She finds different things to count as she hunts for her daily meal, ending with ten ants.  Annie exclaims, “What a fun math adventure!  I can’t wait until my next one!”  And just like Annie, you and your children can have a fun STEM (science, tech, engineering and math) adventure anywhere you go! Below are a couple of different ideas for your STEM adventure.

Engineering Adventure

Whether in the city or nature, there’s a couple of different ways to have an engineering adventure.  The first is look for a problem to solve: is there an area in your neighborhood that needs improving or fixing? Is there an animal having an issue with collecting food?  Is there human or animal congestion where you are at? Is trash gathering in one place on the ground?  Try engaging your kids in an impromptu brainstorm on different ideas on how to fix the problem, and then decide which idea is the best one for fixing the issue.  Give it a twist by qualifying during the brainstorm how the best idea will be judged (such as “What’s the most fun way to fix this problem?”) If possible, try building the solution, put it in the problem area and test it.  Did it work? Did it reduce or eliminate the problem?  (This process is called the engineering design process.) Another fun engineering adventure is to collect different materials from where you and your kids are, like trash, sticks, stones, forks, plates, and so on and try building a mini-house out of these materials.  Can you get the house to stand alone?  And if so, how long does the house stand?

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Science Collection Adventure

A flower or leaf collection is a fun way to have a science adventure when you and your children are out and about.  Your child could carry around a reusable bag and every time they see a leaf or flower they don’t have, they can gather it up and put it in their bag.  Then once home, you and your child can dry the leaf and flower and glue it into a scrapbook.  You can research online together the name of the flower or tree that the leaf came from and then label it in the scrapbook.  Of course, be wary of poison leaves (like Poison Ivy) or flowers (like Oleanders) and make sure you have permission before plucking a flower or leaf off a tree (anything found on the ground is probably okay).

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Math Counting Adventure

Whether taking a walk around your neighborhood or hiking a trail in the mountains, children can count the objects they come across, just like Annie did in her first math adventure.  If it’s a familiar or frequent route, try creating a pre-made checklist going from 1 specific item up to 10 specific items they must count (or just impromptu count whatever they see).  Items you can have your kids count while they’re on their walk include rocks, flowers, weeds, birds, lizards, other types of animals, insects, leaves, clouds, people, airplanes/vehicles, buildings, trees, and so on.  There’s no limit of what kind of item they count, so as long as they’re having fun hunting for that item and counting it!

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Wherever you and your children may be, I hope you have a fun time on your STEM adventure!  Happy STEM’ing!