Family games night with XBox - Minecraft for families

Jun 2, 2017

While at 4 year-old kinder last year, my son went to two different Minecraft themed birthday parties. He'd never even heard of Minecraft but these other 4 year olds certainly had! By age four, he was apparently already out of the loop of the electronic game craze sweeping the nation.

This didn't phase me. I am very mindful when it comes to the amount and type of screen time that my children have and the idea of them sitting at a computer alone, staring at a screen, just didn't appeal to me. So, thoughts of my son also playing Minecraft were shelved.

That was until recently, when I was contacted to see if our family would like to experience the role that Xbox could play in our home - particularly for family bonding. This was an interesting concept as gaming consoles weren't really on my radar at that point, but family time and family bonding is always a big priority. With an enthusiastic thumbs-up from my husband and two children (aged 5 and 8), we agreed to give it a whirl.

Xbox One S system

As it turns out, some game consoles are not just game consoles these days. Where have I been? 

The Xbox One S system is a multi entertainment unit that you can use not only for your game playing, but for all your entertainment needs, including watching films, TV,  streaming Netflix, Stan, live TV, Foxtel Go, YouTube or Twitch. It's got it all, and better yet, with the Xbox One S, you can view a range of ultra-high definition 4K HDR content from specific BlueRay disks, a variety of content on Netflix and other apps, or select Xbox One games. What this means is that we are finally seeing the full capabilities of our television in 4K, and can I say, it is SO clear. 

I can't wait to get some new BlueRay movies and see the difference with ultra-high definition. Family movie nights just got a whole lot clearer!

Bring the family together for the ultimate family games night

We love family games night. We have a number of different card and board games that we rotate through regularly, and I love the different learning we can do together (often maths, problem-solving, reading, speaking and social skills), and most importantly, the family bonding that comes from spending time together. 

Of course, we all know that playing games can result in tears and tantrums (and not just always from the young kids), however, I think that working through conflict (sibling rivalry anyone?) and not always winning, are important parts of what children can experience and learn, from playing games together

Parents playing along with their children are at an advantage to be able to model and demonstrate how to deal with not coming first, things not going our way, being outwitted, outplayed and more. Social and Emotional skills are very important areas that children need to work on and develop over time.

Teachable moments while playing games together include:
  • how to lose gracefully 
  • how to be a respectful winner
  • how to work together 
  • how to solve problems
  • how to encourage others
  • how to play just for fun

With an Xbox One S in our house, one could be worried that this time and these teachable moments could be lost to the call of the screen, but quite to the contrary, we can still use it to bring everyone together. The difference is that instead of the children playing games alone, we all play together. We learn the games together, we come up with ways to include everyone, and we have a brilliant time together with all of the teachable moments of a traditional board game night.

When playing games together on the Xbox, there are 2 main formats that you could choose to play in:
  • Single player pass and play: Where one person plays at a time while the other family members watch and offer tips and encouragement.
  • Co-op mode: Where 2 or 4 players play together at the same time with their own controllers and characters.

Together as a family you can work out what sort of format is going to work best, depending on the game you've chosen to play. 

Minecraft Family Play

Our first foray into a family gaming night was with the ever popular, Minecraft. Finally I was going to get a bit more of an idea of what I've heard so much chatter about both online and at the school where I teach. I admit that I was curious to see the potential for learning and education within the Minecraft format.

Minecraft is an open-world game that promotes creativity, collaboration and problem-solving in an immersive environment where the only limit is your imagination. 

Using Minecraft from an education standpoint, could include anything from visiting an ancient civilisation and creating a setting for a story, to exploring math concepts using Minecraft blocks, practicing collaboration, problem solving, digital citizenship and leadership skills while designing experiments and demonstrating mastery. A platform like Minecraft can definitely inspire children and students to explore, create and learn.

Fun tips for playing together as a family in Minecraft:

Create family roles and responsibilities
– Have one person play the builder, one the miner and one the harvester. This helps to ensure everyone has a role to play and can teach important social skills around working together, collaboration and sharing. Mix it up regularly so everyone gets a chance to try something new.

Set a challenge – In creative mode (that's where we started), you have the freedom to do whatever you like. Having limitless opportunity can be overwhelming, especially at first so it's best to set a challenge of building something either separately or together, a train, a giant pumpkin or even a castle. Compare ideas and work together to find a solution to challenges. By working together kids can learn a range of problem solving skills.

Challenge idea: Work together to build the ultimate family home in just one hour. Have different people playing the roles of builders, miners and harvesters.

If you are all completely new to Minecraft (like we were), you will probably spend about an hour together just going through the tutorials, working out how everything works, what you have to do, how to control your characters, etc. There's plenty to read and to navigate so playing together as a family is great for assisting with all of this.

The next time you all play, then you can start with some family challenges like those suggested above.
Occasionally we let the children play together for a set time, under supervision and the agreement that cooperation is key and the game is over if they can't cooperate. The teamwork, encouragement and cooperation that's being displayed has been great and it's amazing how when children really want to do something, they are able to pull out all the stops!

Other family game ideas on Xbox One:

Lego Batman
With Lego Batman, you dive into the DC universe and experience the world in Lego. Here you need to work together to solve problems which require collaboration and talking, go on an adventure, fight evil characters and be the hero! Go family co-op with this game to solve the riddles of Gotham together and save the city of Gotham.

FIFA 2017
Set up the ultimate family tournament in FIFA 2017 by selecting teams, the stadium and favourite players and then battling it out to take the family crown!

Take it to the next level by connecting with friends and family around the world by setting up your own private club. With Clubs, you can create your own small gaming community of people you trust. This would really take a family game night up a notch (especially if you can convince your elderly overseas relatives to get on board too!).

Managing play time

And lastly, if I'm talking about screen time, then I have to also mention managing screen time. For me, it is important to be able to manage screen time for my children, so I am happy that this is nice and easy with Xbox. 

Through our Microsoft family account online, I am able to manage my children's account, including restrictions on games they'd be able to play (based on age, etc.), internet access and enforcing screen limits on both the hours and times of day that my children can play.

I can also get emails that update me on my children's use, allowing me to keep track of it. The picture above shows one of our Saturday night family game nights.. which I can see went over by 16 minutes, haha. Certainly makes it easy to monitor (and to prove to the children when they don't believe their time is up).

Do you play Xbox together as a family?

Happy playing,
Debs :)

{Disclosure: this post is brought to you by Xbox Australia. We were gifted an Xbox One S pack for our review. As always, opinions expressed in this post are my own and my families'.)

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Travel with Kids. What to Pack

Nov 23, 2016

I love travelling with my kids. Travelling with children can be an absolute blast, but the reality is that it's never going to be as easy or stress-free as if you were travelling without them. You have little humans to consider with everything you do, and being in foreign places will always mean you have a heightened sense of alert around you. Whilst I always return home exhausted and needing of another holiday to recover, the joy, learning, experiences and memories, make travelling with kids all worthwhile. 

Sitting with the local school children in Vanuatu at lunchtime.
Over the years, I've planned and packed many, many times for both short and long stays. We've done camping trips, (both on and off-grid), interstate holidays and overseas travel with our children from as young as 10 months old, so I've had the time to figure out which were the best things for us to pack for the kids, and what was not as necessary.

My son's first elephant safari in Bali at age 10 months. He slept through it. Can you spot him?

Other than the obvious things, like clothes, bathers, toiletries etc. here are my favourite items to pack, which should hopefully make travelling with children easier and more fun for everyone:

Travel with Kids. Top 10 things to Pack

  • Hotel Activity Pack

There are often times when travelling with kids that someone is going to need some down-time in your hotel. As hotel rooms aren't always the most interesting places for children to play, we always take this handy travel pack, kept in an A4 sized pencil case, full of open-ended creative materials that you can use for a range of different activities on the go. This has been pulled out and used in different ways on so many of our travels, even when I think we probably won't need it, so I'd always have it with me just in case. You can check out what we use all the materials for here.

  • Snap-Lock Bags
Seriously, I wouldn't travel without a stash of these plastic snap/zip-lock style bags. We use them when travelling all the time for things like separating outfits (if you're feeling super organised!), keeping wet or dirty items in (like bathers or socks etc.), storing and packing snacks for the day (often a banana or croissant from breakfast make their way in), keeping items like your phone etc. dry when by the pool/ocean, storing the sunscreen tube that just got a big split in it (yep, it happens) and so much more! I take both the sandwich size and the large bags with us.

  • Home Comforts (Favourite soft toy/night light/pillowcase)

We've slept in many different room configurations when travelling as a family. From two double beds in a single room, to separate rooms, to kids sleeping in a lounge room on a fold-out sofa bed and even once in a porta-cot in a bathroom. When it comes to getting (often over-tired and stimulated) kids to sleep in foreign places, having a few home comforts can make a big difference. Their favourite toy tends to go without saying. Other items that can be very small to pack but can really help, include a little night light and one of your child's pillowcases. Their pillowcase over a hotel pillow gives them somewhere familiar to lay their head, and can double at the end of your trip as a way to transport all your dirty clothes home.

  • Drink Bottle

It seems so obvious and yet I've often forgotten to pack one with us. Having your own drink bottle, in most circumstances, will help you save money instead of constantly buying drinks out for thirsty kids, and of course helps ensure everyone is kept well hydrated while travelling. I've found that even in the countries where we could only drink bottled water, it was still cheaper to buy large bottles of water and pour them into the kids' individual drink bottles that they could keep with them.

  • Snacks
Yes, there is food available pretty much anywhere you travel to, however, I've still found that having a bunch of pre-packaged snacks that my children are familiar with (eg. rice crackers, pretzels, nuts, dried fruit, muesli bars, etc.) thrown in the suitcase can be an absolute sanity saver! Hungry kids can make for grumpy, whingy kids, and telling them that they can have something at the next rest stop or the next shop you pass etc. doesn't always cut it. It'll also save you money not having to buy food every time they get hungry. I've also found that in some foreign countries, my children may be feeling adventurous with food one minute, and another minute they just want to eat something familiar. Having those snacks with you will help you out with that, and as they're consumable, it means you don't have to take them back home with you.

  • Swim shirts/Rash Vests

If you're going to have kids in the water a lot, (which tends to be how many of our holidays play out), the best way to protect them is with a long sleeve swim shirt. It will also save you from reapplying sunscreen constantly to so much of their body. We always take a couple with us for each child to rotate daily as we've found that often things can take longer to dry than you imagine, particularly in really humid areas.
Other sun smart items that you should consider packing are sun and swim hats and sunglasses and goggles.
A couple of small pool toys/inflatables, if you can fit them in, we've found also great for keeping kids entertained in the water and for making new friends on your travels.

  • Baby Wipes

I don't have babies any more but baby wipes are still an essential when we travel. They are great at spot cleaning any messes on hotel fabrics, kids clothing and of course all those sticky hands and faces.

  • Scooters

Scooters? Really? Yes, I too would have questioned that at some point, but let me tell you, after travelling with them on our recent interstate trip to Sydney, they are definitely something that will be coming with us on most travel in the future (both interstate and overseas).

We first saw scooters on our travels, on a small island off the coast off Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu, about a year and a half ago. Another family with two children similar in age to our kids, had brought them with them, and the four children enjoyed taking turns around the boardwalks of the resort. What a novel idea, I though.

One of the main things that we love to do when we travel is to explore. To get out there and really see the sights. Often this means lots of walking, which can end in a lot of complaining from children.
Bringing our scooters with us, means that we can explore further and wider than we normally would, whilst still burning energy for minimal effort. Plus, it's just really fun!

On this trip we brought two Micro adult scooters (black and white), two Micro Sprite scooters and four helmets (along with a weekend's worth of clothes and essentials for four people) in just two standard/large sized suitcases. (If we were travelling for a couple of weeks, we'd probably take one extra suitcase for extra clothes between our family of four or hand-luggage, which was unnecessary for this trip.) The larger adults scooters (with the bigger wheels) each weigh 5.3 kilograms and the more compact Micro Sprite weighs just 2.7 kilos. With a luggage weight allowance of 30 kilos per person, we easily come in under weight (in fact, both suitcases were under 20 kilos).

The fact that we were so easily able to pack all these extra scooters actually surprised us a little. At first I'd planned on only taking the kids' scooters with us but when we gave it a try, we found that we could pack them all! With the distance we ended up covering, boy am I glad that we did. I could never have kept up with the kids and travelled the distance we covered, on foot. We saw so much more than we would have if we were either walking or driving. It was great!

My kids adore their scooters and their lightweight and foldable design make them an easy wheeler for kids as young as five years old to use, store and carry. I love that they'll grow with them throughout all the primary years. My husband and I are rather fond of ours too. You can tell that they are top quality.

We can't wait to travel with them again!

  • Electronic Tablets with Books and Movies

Home routines, like reading a book before bed, can help children get to sleep in unfamiliar places. Bringing a lot of books with us can take up a lot of room and add a fair amount of weight to your suitcase, so having a tablet loaded up with books is a great alternative.
Kid's movies and educational games can also be great to have on your electronic tablet as well, as they can be a life saver in the hotel room, waiting around airports and for plane travel etc. Don't forget to also pack headphones so they can be used in busy places and if you're clever and bring the right cable and have the right know-how, you could hook your tablet up to your hotel room television (if there is one) and let the kids have a movie before bed.

  • First Aid Kit

Probably another obvious item to pack, but a first aid kit is something we've always had to use in some way or other with our kids and we'd never travel without it. In our first aid kit (for the kids) we have: band aids/surgical tape, antiseptic wipes, a bandage, antiseptic cream, insect bite cream, insect repellent, sunscreen, Aloe Vera after-sun cream, children's paracetamol, electrolyte icy poles (can be drunk or frozen for kids to suck on if dehydrated), jelly beans and throat lozenges (dry sore throats are common when in recycled and air-conditioned air). We usually have two first aid kits. One bigger one that stays in the luggage (kept in a large zip-lock bag is fine) and a smaller kit with the more basic items (eg. sunscreen, wipes, band aids) that is always in our day pack.

What other items have you found essential for making travel with children as fun and easy as can be?

Happy travels,
Debs :)

{Disclosure: this post is brought to you by Micro Scooters. We were gifted the scooters for our review. As always, opinions expressed in this post are my own and my families'.)

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Up! eBook. 30+ creative, maths, science and literacy construction and art based activities.

Sep 16, 2016

Here is our latest kids educational activity ebook and it's my favourite yet!

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One of the great things about the activities presented in this eBook is that every activity has been tried, tested and approved by real children. The activities have been carefully chosen to offer a wide range of explorations, working across the curriculum to incorporate play, imagination, math, literacy, science, sensory and art and are written by an experienced collection of teacher and parenting bloggers.

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Living Life Happy

Aug 22, 2016

I've been thinking a lot about life recently. About how I used to look at life, about how I look at life now, and about how I want to look at and live life. I think having kids can do that to you. I began to not only see life through my children's eyes, but also consider how my views on life could have a direct impact on their lives.

Living with this awareness made me start to question my attitude and to look at life a little differently than I had in the past. Life is inevitable. Life has good times and life has bad times. There are also millions of ok times. And there's lots of amazing times, awe inspiring times, beautiful times, peaceful times, contented times and hilarious times. In the mix unfortunately there will also be terrible times. Heart wrenching times, gut aching times, physically painful times, stressful times, sad times and so much more.

The thing is, we've only got one life, here and now, on this earth, as it is, with this particular group of humans around us. We don't know how many days we've got, just that we're here and that we feel.

If I live every day for the weekend, I miss five out of seven days of my life, just being ok, or just surviving. If I live worrying about what might come, I miss enjoying what I have right now. And what am I showing my children? How does my attitude towards life effect their attitudes and in turn, their lives?

Looking at the lives of others, in lands far removed has also changed how I see life. In India, on my recent trip with World Vision, I got to meet children, young adults and adults who, given some of their circumstances, in comparison to my circumstances, should, (by my original ideals of life), be wallowing in self pity for the unfair dealing of life they've been given. Except, that they weren't.

They were living life. They were living life, making the most of what they had and they were doing it with a smile at the ready.

Happiness that with the installation of these bio toilets by World Vision, in an urban slum in Chennai, they now have access to be able to perform normal human bodily functions in safety, privacy and with dignity. Sixty families who are so happy that they now have something I've always taken for granted. (And grumbled about should I have to wait a minute.)
Happiness that they may go to school, in an environment that thanks to the people who sponsor a child through World Vision, is covered in bright, inspiring and educational paintings, as well as having availability to fresh, clean drinking water.
Happiness that thanks to iron boxes and education provided by World Vision, they may run businesses that allow them to feed and clothe and educate their children.
Happiness that thanks to education and support by World Vision, these women no longer need to borrow money from high interest money lenders, keeping them in a cycle of debt, as they now have their own support groups in one another where they can invest and borrow from the group safely and learn to save for the future.

Witnessing so much joy for just the most basic things in life definitely made me reconsider how I find my joy. Happiness is infectious and more than living a "good" life, filled only with "good" moments, I want to live a happy life, filled with as much joy as I can cram in. Not only do I want happiness, but I want to be able to find it wherever possible. I want to find it in the boring times and to try to look for it when things are bad. I want to lead by example for my children, and help them to find happiness in the little things. To appreciate what they have. To love and be loved. To help others. To live the best lives that they can, and I think so much of that has to do with how we choose to look at life.
So, what makes me happy? There are so many things we can do! Some of my favourites, as cliche as they may be are.

Happy Things
  • reading with your kids
  • sponsoring a child and providing a better life and happiness for others 
  • going to the beach and feeling the sand on your toes as you watch the waves rolling in and out
  • telling someone you love them 
  • feeling the wind on your face 
  • sipping a hot cup of coffee 
  • listening to music and singing along at the top of your voice
  • getting into bed with fresh sheets 
  • catching up with a friend you've not seen in ages 
  • standing barefoot on freshly mowed grass 
  • cuddling
  • doing a favour for someone
  • the smell of the earth after the rain
  • starting a brand new notebook
  • walking a dog
  • going to the zoo
  • anything to do with animals actually
  • feeling weightless in a pool
  • having a big drink of water when you're really thirsty
  • loving someone
  • being loved
  • so many foods, I can't help it, some foods are just happiness and if I break it down the list will be too long
  • secretly watching your kids playing make believe
  • drawing with a brand new set of markers
  • watching tv you love
  • hearing the rain on your roof while tucked up in bed
  • going through a car wash
  • realising it's only Saturday when you think it's Sunday
  • collecting pebbles and building them as tall as you can
  • sitting outside late at night in complete silence with no sounds around
  • reorganising something
  • reading a book
  • thinking about everything you have
  • thinking about the people you love
  • writing a proper letter and mailing it, with a stamp and everything
  • helping out others
  • smiling
  • calling your mum or best friend
  • exercising
  • camping
  • having a break from technology
  • getting outside
  • trying something new
  • learning a new skill
  • swinging on a swing
  • being kind 

Ok, this could go on forever. I really could just keep writing but I think that's enough for now. What have I missed? What makes you happy?

Happy happiness,
Debs :)

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