Websites We Love: myHistro

Logo for myHistro website“Tell me a story.” This is a frequent request in my house. And of course, we have teetering piles and overflowing baskets shelves of neatly alphabetized picture and chapter books from which to choose. Snuggling up on the couch and sharing the latest adventure of Bink and Gollie or young wizard Harry Potter is one of my favorite ways to spend an evening. But sometimes I encourage my kids to tell me a story. Being able to describe events and settings in narrative form is an important skill, and websites like myHistro add a visual and interactive element to storytelling.

myHistro lets you create stories displayed on maps. Kids in grades 4 and older can use text, video and pictures to create a dynamic timeline, practicing telling when, why and where events happened. Embed each piece of a story in the location where it took place. I can imagine a fourth grader, working on a famous Missourian presentation, showing the various states in which Daniel Boone lived, explored, worked and finally settled, from his birth place in Pennsylvania to his final resting place in Missouri. You could create an “all about me” project, with various parts of your kid’s story attached to the places she lived or was visiting when they happened. Browse on over to myHistro to check out the timelines others have made, describing everything from the history of libraries to the landmark cases of the Supreme Court, and get your kiddos inspired to create place-based stories of their own!

Websites We Love: Age of the Dinosaurs and Dino Dictionary

Dinosaur Dictionary logoDinosaur A-Z” is a favorite bedtime read in my house, and by the time I get to Zephyrosaurus, I’m totally winging the pronunciation. That’s one reason why I appreciate the Dino Dictionary website: when you click on a dino’s name, it plays an audio file of the correct pronunciation. For the budding paleontologist in your family, there are descriptions of the more than 300 known dinosaurs, discussion of the latest theories in dinosaur research, dinosaur clip art and links to other resources for learning more facts and finding out where you can visit dinosaur bones in person! (Missourians can head to the St. Louis Science Center, where admission is free and prehistoric exhibits are always on display.)

And because we can’t recommend just one online home for dinosaur facts, we also suggest Age of the Dinosaurs from the BBC. This comprehensive site covers the rise and fall of dinosaurs and sea monsters and includes simple games for young fossil hunters and science buffs.

This season of Summer Reading is a perfect time to “dig into reading” about dinosaurs online!

Websites We Love: ChessKid.com

chesskidI learned to play chess as an adult. Really. Last year. I am still a work in progress. Before I knew how to play chess, I didn’t think it would be a fun game to play, but I should have known better. I am a very analytic thinker. I like solving puzzles and looking ahead to see where things will end up, and this is why I think chess is a fun game. I wish that I had learned to play chess a LONG time ago! I now look at everything through a strategic lens, as if I am playing chess all of the time. Developing these analytic thinking skills is just one benefit of playing chess. Some studies* suggest that kids who play chess have better problem-solving abilities and higher reading and math scores.

ChessKid.com provides a fun way for you to learn or help your child to learn chess. The website has you choose a playful username, such as “AlabasterWolf,” “FlatCobra” or “SlimyWing.” If these aren’t to your liking, you can create your own. You also get to choose from a variety of avatars. Here is the cool part: as a parent, you create your own username and password to link to your child’s account so that you can monitor his or her online activity, friendships and more. You can even play against your kid!  You can play fast chess, slow chess or tournaments. There are tools that your child can use to learn how to play. One drawback: there are a limited number of features available with a “basic” free membership. The website gives you the option to “upgrade” (as a parent) for a fee. It gives your kid the option to “tell your parent you want to upgrade,” which can be kind of annoying.

Want real-life practice playing chess? Join us in Ashland on March 26 from 1-3 p.m. for Checkmate.  All skill levels and ages welcome.

*Mitchell, Deborah. 2006. “CHESS Is Child’s Play.” Mothering no. 139: 68. MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed March 7, 2013)

Websites We Love: Bedtime Math

bedtime_mathYou may read to your child before bed every night, but have you ever thought about playing with math problems before bed? Laura Bilodeau Overdeck has created Bedtime Math, which uses current events and everyday occurrences to make math fun and relevant to your life. “Our mission is simple: to make math a fun, natural part of kids’ everyday lives, just like the bedtime story,” writes Overdeck. The questions are not a “test.” The goal is to have an entertaining conversation as your child comes up with an answer. Each day’s entry includes a paragraph of information followed by math exercises for three different age groups: preschool, K-2nd grade and 2nd grade and up. The February 3 entry offers math problems based on the Super Bowl. The February 4 entry explains why a skunk smells bad and presents a recipe for creating a mixture that smells like a skunk’s spray. The website includes a parents’ guide and links to news articles on the importance of math in our lives.

Now, I should probably state here that I personally enjoyed math as a kid. I think of math problems as fun puzzles, but it never occurred to me to work math puzzles with my kids. I like the idea of playing with numbers before bed. Why not visit Bedtime Math and discover how much fun math can be? And of course, for more fun with numbers, you can check out some math-themed books for kids from your friendly neighborhood library!

Websites We Love: The Lorax Project

The Lorax Project logoDo you want to save the trees? Help them, help them–won’t you please?

Okay, I’m no Dr. Seuss, but I am quite a bit like the Lorax. I worry about the loss of wild spaces, endangered species and kids becoming disconnected from nature. The Lorax Project is an initiative launched by Conservation International, Seuss Enterprises and Random House to raise awareness of environmental issues and the everyday actions people of all ages can take to help conserve the places and species that are critical to the future of the planet.

The Lorax Project website, with its appealing and familiar whimsical Seuss illustrations, provides many tools and resources to keep the budding environmentalist in your life busy. Continue reading