Art Technology and Software: A Review of 5 Programs for Students

Technology, Art and Kids

Students use KidPix to create diagrams of their studies of volcanos.

Students use KidPix to create diagrams for their study unit on volcanoes.

I sometimes hear concerns from parents about technology and their children.  Are they too young to use computers?  Are they using technology too much?  What I have found, in my experience using technology with students for over 20 years, is that it is not so much “how much” and “when” but “what.”  In our work at the Williamsburg Schools, we aim to enable kids to use technology constructively and creatively while also helping teachers meet state standards.  Today, I’ll go over some commercial and free programs and give some ideas of how they can be used at home and in educational settings.   We will look at animation and comic book software in a future column. Read the rest of this entry »

Review & Giveaway: Eco-Friendly Cottage Playhouse

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Review & Giveaway: Kidscraft Cottage Playhouse

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Enter to win your very own Kidscraft Cottage or Shuttle Playhouse. Details below. Deadline is June 14th. - The cottage pictured here, painted by Ashfield Community Preschool Alumna, will be donated to the school. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

How many creations can your child come up with for a large empty cardboard box? A go-cart? Pirate ship? Doll house? Rocket to the moon? The ideas are endless! The National Toy Hall of Fame recognizes the imagination that an unassuming cardboard box can stir in our children, inducting it into the Toy Hall of Fame along with 44 other toys, including the bicycle, jump rope, baby doll, jigsaw puzzle, roller skates, Slinky, Lego and Frisbee.

Kidscraft Playhouses has tapped into the cardboard box’s ability to captivate a child’s imagination with two playhouse designs made from 100% recycled materials in the USA. They sent us their Cottage Playhouse design to review, one of two designs they offer. The Cottage Playhouse has five windows, a door, a mail slot and a sunburst skylight. It measures 42”L x 39”W x 54”H. The other design they make is a cool space Shuttle Design for kids with their sites on the stars.

Arriving in a large flat box, the white exterior surfaces of the Cottage Playhouse were blank canvases for my daughter and her friend to decorate.  A perfect rainy day activity! Inspired by the smooth blank spaces, the girls used non-toxic acrylic paint to create an outdoor scene of flowers, ladybugs, and butterflies; the moon, sun and clouds. They stenciled the word “Welcome” to the front door and “Mail” to the mail-flap, added colored stones to the chimney, and filled in the empty spaces with their little hand-prints. Crayons and colored markers could easily have been used too – less messy and no wait time to dry.  The girls loved it!

After a night to dry, we assembled the Cottage Playhouse outdoors. The pre-cut flaps and slots require no cutting or taping. The sturdy design and photo instructions made the assembly process a breeze, and we had the cottage up and in the yard for imagination play in no time!

The best part about this playhouse, other than the creative and imaginative opportunities it provides, when your kids are done with it, you can recycle it.   Something I wish I could say for the plastic dollhouse taking up space in our garage!


KidsCraft is not just your average toy manufacturer, the company carries a strong message for kids and parents for how to become charitably responsible and environmentally friendly. They are setting an example by donating 100 of their structures to local charities, along with a percentage of every sale. They have also partnered with Trees for the Future Foundation in an effort to support sustainability by planting one tree for every product sold.


Your chance to win a free Kidscraft Playhouse is as easy as 1-2-3 (4-5)! To win simply

  1. VISIT and find out one interesting thing about the company
  2. SHARE WHAT YOU FIND OUT HERE and be sure to include your
  3. FULL NAME and where you
  4. LIVE (TOWN/STATE) Must include your town and state to be eligible. We’ll randomly draw a winner from those who share an interesting fact about Kidscraft (along with their full name and town/state) and contact the winner via email.  So be sure to leave an
  5. ACCURATE EMAIL in the email field of the comment box (we never share your email address).

IT’S THAT SIMPLE! — Winner will be able to select the Cottage or space Shuttle design and it will be shipped to your home for free!

Deadline is Monday, June 14th, 2010 @ 7pm (EST).

Review: Henri the Blabla Doll

Breaking Gender Stereotypes with Toys

Henri the Blabla doll breaks through toy gender stereotype. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

This spring I became a Great Aunt … twice!  That’s twice the fun of discovering and giving gifts to new mothers that I would have loved to receive when my daughter was little.  Over the next several weeks we will be reviewing several products for families with little ones made by local mamapreneurs from Western Massachusetts.  Our reviews will showcase local toys, clothes and practical products made here in the Hilltowns.

Along with locally made toys, there are companies making great toys outside of the area too. One such company is, owned by 70-year-old German toy company, HABA.  With a slogan, Buy once. Play forever., offers many high-quality European and American wooden and PVC-free plastic toys and games. This is one store I might have registered with had it been around when we were expecting!

I discovered recently when they sent us a sample of their BLABLA baby doll, Henri. What a sweet doll it is. Designed by Florence Wetterwald, Henri is hand-knitted from natural fibers by Peruvian artisans. Being soft and snuggly, little ones will love them, and their heirloom quality will make friends and family feel good about giving them.

What I appreciate most about this doll is that it’s a boy, breaking away from gender stereotypes often found in toys. Learn some tips that are helpful in avoiding gender stereotypes over at  And find out more about Henri at

Kids Reviewed, Parents Approved – The Results are IN!


Collage of all shirt submitted to the HFVS 1st Annual T-shirt ReviewThe results are in! Several weeks ago, Hilltown Families sponsored the Hilltown Family Variety Show’s 1st Annual T-Shirt Review Mini-Fest and Ice Cream Social in West Chesterfield, MA, cosponsored by Silver Screen Design and Grendel Books.

  • Click here to go straight to the tallied results, or just scroll down.
  • Click here for some background on the review, including several posts leading up to and covering the event.
  • Click here to listen to two-hours radio program of music by all the bands who submitted to the reviewed, hosted by Sienna Wildfield from the HFVS and aired on Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child.

T-Shirt Review T-Shirts are available.

The event was not a contest, but rather a review. Not to say that there wasn’t a lot of “buzz” around a few designs. The kids (our “Official Reviewers”) were very attracted to stars, guitars and vivid colors, especially Ben Rudnick & Friends tie-dyed guitar playing alien design, along with the Sippy Cups‘ robot design. And the parents were keen on logos, with Rebecca Frezza‘s Big Truck logo being a top favorite along with Recess Monkey. Parents overwhelmingly found the humor in Milkshake‘s cow illustration, but it seemed to go over the heads of the kids.


AudraRox | Bari Koral Band | Baze and His Silly Friends | Beethoven’s Wig | Ben Rudnick & Friends | Biscuit Brothers | The Bottle Let Me Down (Compilation) | Brady Rymer | Charity and the JAMband | Elizabeth Street | Ellen & Matt | Gustafer Yellowgold | Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang | The Hipwaders | Imagination Movers | Milkshake | Mr. Richard | Music for Aardvarks & Other Mammals | Play! (Compilation) | Pop Rockets | Princess Katie & Racer Steve | Ralph’s World | Rebecca Frezza | Recess Monkey | ScribbleMonster | The Sippy Cups | Soundzania | Steve Weeks | Sugar Free Allstars | Suzi Shelton | Toxic Muffin | Trout Fishing in America | Uncle Moon Dog | Uncle Rock

Read the rest of this entry »

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