Bloxels: Make your own video games with your kids
I'm kind of a walking conundrum when it comes to screens and screen time. I personally love video games. I grew up at exactly the perfect time to enjoy the rise of Nintendo from the beginning of the NES, and they're still cranking out the absolute best video games for families to this day. We still have every console I've ever owned plugged into an old CRT TV with a multi-switch so they're all ready to go. But, at the same time, I have deliberately chosen not to own a cellphone for many years now. Weird, right?
I definitely believe that kids don't read enough, don't get outside enough, and spend too much time with their face in a screen these days. I see it as a teacher all the time. I sincerely wish kids would play with each other on the playground or talk to each other in the cafeteria, as opposed to watching videos on their phone. I wouldn't doubt it's a contributing cause to more instances of A.D.D. and decreased social skills. But I also love movies and video games. It's a tricky balance limiting screen time in your kids while also wanting to share the things you love to do. I do know one thing for sure though, and that's that I don't want to be the dad looking at his phone while out to dinner with his family. Ultimately, I think the big secret is the "sharing" something together, as opposed to using a screen to ignore others, or as a babysitter.
Coding has become a pretty hot topic in both the world of toys and education. There are lots and lots of programs now that are designed to teach kids how to code, and many toys designed to make it accessible to very young children. It makes a lot of sense. Not only is it fun, but there are just way too many jobs in the world of computers these days. And one of my favorite trends in coding is toys that not only teach coding concepts, but also get kids' noses out of screens.
When Toys R' Us was having their going-out-of-business sale, we found a game called Bloxels. "Build your own video games" the box art said. "Build on the board!" and "Play in the App!!". We hadn't heard of the game before, but the concept had me sold me instantly. There are 320 little colorful cubes that you use to physically build your own pixel art on a board. You can build new characters or enemies, or you can design what the level looks like. Different color blocks correspond to different in-game objects: purple blocks are enemies, yellow blocks are coins, pink blocks are treasure chests, etc.
"After you build something with the blocks, you can take a picture of it with your phone or tablet and actually play your game."
But here's the really cool thing about this game. After you build something with the blocks, you can take a picture of it with your phone or tablet and actually play your game. After you take a picture of your creation, there are simple tools available for decorating (like turning a purple block into an enemy you built) and for animating (so your creations do things like blink or move their legs). You can also play with characters and levels created by others, and you can upload your own creations to the cloud for others to enjoy.
My son and I have made very large levels together with Bloxels, with custom-made enemies and even a story told by the signs that you read as you go along. He's very proud of the characters he designs, and he really loves it when other people, like Mom or Uncle, play our game - even if he stands over their shoulder the whole time saying "read that sign!" It's a pretty cool feeling for a kid to see their imagination becoming tangible in that way. From my point of view I love the creativity it inspires, and I love the balance of screen and hands-on design. I've also been known to get a little carried away trying to design a few stages by myself.
"It's a pretty cool feeling for a kid to see their imagination becoming tangible in that way."
You can even try Bloxels for free. The app is free to download on both iOS and android stores. Technically you can play without ever buying the physical game and the board to build on, but many of the design features remain locked until you purchase the physical starter kit. Of course you'd miss out on the biggest selling point, which is magically transporting your physical creations into a video game, but it's really nice to be able to see what you think first.
Do your kids like to code? What are your thoughts about screen time? Let us know in the comments.