Friday, July 31, 2009

Review: Web Design for Kids

Ever since I became part of the Homeschool Crew, simple trips to the mailbox have become an adventure.   A recent trip turned up a DVD  from Click Drag Solutions called Web Design for Kids.    Now my kid is only six years old and just learning to read and write-- a little too young for designing web pages (but not by much, the program's website recommends it for 8 year olds).  But I fit the second target audience--curious adults.  As a relatively new blogger, I had no idea what was going on behind the scenes of my own blog or how to alter the homeschoolblogger template.

   The video gives you step by step instructions on what to type so I think it would work best with a tv and computer in the same room,  or perhaps running the dvd on the computer and pausing it while you are performing the tasks.  The course is taught using Notepad and Internet Explorer--both standard on a Windows PC.   For most of the lessons it is not even necessary to be connected to the internet. 

There are seven lessons taught by author Brian Richardson: 10 Basic Lines of Code, Sandwiches and Colors, Make a Subject Stand Out, Stand Alone Tags, Designing Backgrounds, Fonts and Paragraphs, and Pictures.   You'll actually create a real web page in you first lesson and spend the next six lessons learning code to  tweak and personalize it.  Rather than use technical jargon, the lessons use terms like "sandwiches" and "stop signs" that make it easy to remember.

 One of the things I loved about Brian's teaching method were the deliberate mistakes.  On several occasions he instructs us to "mess up" our code by leaving out a symbol or misspelling a word.  I found this helpful in two ways:  first--nobody is going to type code correctly 100 percent of the time.  It's helpful to start learning what to look for when things obviously don't appear right.  Secondly, I think it's helpful for a lot of people intimidated by a computer to see that it's not going to blow up when a mistake occurs.  In most cases things can be fixed  and remaining level-headed will go a long way towards that end.  When I worked as an accountant I had to teach myself both  accounting and  payroll software and I often learned more from fixing mistakes than getting it right the first time. 

My  final web page was not very sophisticated and I'm sure your student will want to keep learning in order to spruce up their page as well.  A second DVD lesson should be coming out this fall covering the following topics:  Javascripts, embedding games and videos, sounds, linking web pages, and uploading web pages.  I will be saving this DVD for my Schnickelfritz and will be looking forward to future volumes to expand his learning.  And click here to see what my fellow crewmates think.

Head over to Click Drag Solutions' website and you can see a video clip of the DVD lesson, view real students' web pages, and take advantage of a sale going on right now ($19.99). 

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Stating the obvious

Fritz has a little friend over from next door.  They are playing "Cave Hunters"  under the trundle bed.  Della, our VERY patient dog, is playing the role of the dreaded cave beast--a single look from her can kill a man.  When explaining the rules of the game Fritz  said  "Remember, when you're dead you can't say very much."   

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Review: Hank the Cowdog

It seemed like an innocent enough package that I pulled out of the mailbox last Friday.  Out poured a CD, a book, and a box with a board game inside.   Fritz asked "Are those for me?"   And just like that, a weekend of wonderful summer fun began.  

First we listened to the CD, Tales and Tunes from Hank the Cowdog ($3.00).   This contains nine original songs composed and sung by Hank's author, John R. Erickson.  The tunes aren't what I would call "sing-alongs" and I doubt we would listen to them in the car.  But as a means of introducing the songs, there is a exerpt from the audiobook from which the song comes.  And these were hilarious!!!  The author makes up voices for each character.  We headed to the library that afternoon to see if we could get a full length audiobook.  Saturday evening was unseasonably cool and we had a marshmallow roast in our firepit. I brought out the portable tape deck and we listened and laughed to The Original  Adventures of Hank the Cowdog.  He'll be going on next month's car trip to the grandparents as well.  We also listen to books on tape at bedtime, but I'm not sure we'll use Hank for that--it seems to do more winding up  than calming down.

Next we began to read Hank's eighth book,  The Case of the One-Eyed Killer Stud Horse. ($4.24 paperback)   The chapter titles alone were making us laugh--like " Stricken with Sneezaroma Because She Whacked Me on the Nose with a Wooden Spoon."   The book is written in first person, or first dog as the case may be.  It's hilarious to see ordinary events like putting out scraps from a dog's point of view.  Hank reminds me of Maxwell Smart from the old Get Smart tv series--a little overconfident, unaware of his own bumblings, but manages to see things through to the end. 

I don't know if I did myself a disservice or not by listening to the audiobook before reading this out loud.  I couldn't begin to compete with the character voices we had heard the night before.  The audio books have become required media for all car trips and I can often hear Fritz singing along with the songs in his room.

Audio books might not be the best option for everyone.  Hank lives on a ranch with cowboys, and cowboys like sailors are known for their "colorful language."  The author certainly uses the mildest forms of these words--dadgum,  for example.  And there is a fair amount of namecalling: numbskull, moron, dummy, etc.   If you would prefer to edit these out for your child, then you'll have to read the books out loud yourself.

It was the game Tornado ($12.99) he wanted to open first.  I  was impressed with the quality of the painted characters and the board.  It makes an ideal travel game with indented spaces to hold the game pieces and it folds to store the pieces when not in use.  We used it in the car and were able to pass it between the front and back seat without any problem.   Two to four players try to  manuever their three cute characters: Hank, Drover, and Junior the Buzzard around the board.   The spinner, which looks like a whirling tornado,  is enclosed in a bubble that attaches to the board and gets twisted with a knob on the top.  This works much better than the flat arrow spinners from other games that get bent and stop working.   


There are "tornado spaces" around the board.  The player who lands on them must spin again and move forward the shown number of spaces if an even number appears, but must move backwards if an odd number comes up.  This was Fritz's favorite part of the game (even making me choose to land on tornadoes) UNTIL he learned about the other feature of the game.     If you land on another player's character, you send them back home to start over again.  And the closer I was to the finish, the funnier he found it to pounce on me.  Over the weekend Fritz asked to play the game seven times.  I'd call that a hit.

 There are over 60 books in the Hank the Cowdog series.  You can purchase them in paperback, hardback and audio formats, as well as the Tornado game at

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Happy Day of Deliverance

Most people will do their celebrating on Saturday, but as a firm believer that we should start listening to our Founding Fathers again I offer this quote by John Adams:

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by suceeding generations as the great anniversay Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever.


I have two recollections of visiting Independence Hall as a five year old.  First, was when the tour guide invited me to stand beside her inside the velvet ropes and touch the Liberty Bell.  I was so embarassed to be the focus of attention that I refused, but when the tour started to move on I snuck up and touched it privately.

Second memory was in the Assembly Room and people were shouting out states (I now know they were really colonies) and the guide would point out where that delegation sat.  My father asked about the Massachussetts' delegation and I knew it was his home state so I politely raised my hand and asked where Missouri sat since that's where I was born.  I was sad and a little bit angry to think my state hadn't been invited to the party.   I was only five so I couldn't even blame my error on my public education. 

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