Welcome to my adventure. This blog started out focused on parenting and school but now that Katie's nearly baked, it's way more about me these days. My experiences, more likely my point of view and good times to share.
Welcome! I'm glad to have you aboard.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Am I Stretching Things too Far? Home School Lessons from Farmville!?!

If you haven’t played Farmville yet, you've been warned! Don’t start! It’s totally addicting. 

I initially started playing to learn more about how the folks at Zynga (the company behind the franchise) were so good at being “sticky.” That’s what we call it when an online application does a good job of bringing people back over and over again. Farmville is very sticky – from handing out Valentines to gold for St Patrick’s Day to the promise of dogs – they keep users coming back.

And now, they have sucked in the fifth graders in Santa Cruz County.

Since there’s money involved, I am thinking is a great home school opportunity to talk economics. In Farmville, you earn coins based on behaviors and  the choices you make. In fact, it costs money to make money. This was a hard concept for Katie to grasp.

Katie figured planting crops should be free, but that's not the case. It cost money to till the soil and buy the seeds. You earn money if you let your crops grow and you can also earn money by helping your neighbors farm (like fertilizing their crops). And different crops earn more or less money based on the amount of time it takes for them to grow (thereby rewarding a little delayed gratification. Watermelons take forever in kid hours – four days – but boy do they pay!).

Experience points are coveted; they ultimately get you ahead.

You earn experience points by doing things like buying animals, building houses, and decorating your farm (all of which cost coins). Katie is all over this. In fact, she’s a very good shopper but was a little slow to learn the overall strategic value to keeping the farm planted, visiting her friend’s farms to work, or building up her bank account.

There is one kind of "money" available in Farmville it is based on cold hard cash. Farmville Cash is purchased with a parent’s credit card and therefore is VERY hard to get in our household. Sure, the people a Zynga games aren’t stupid; the best stuff needs FV Cash.

This makes my daughter crazy.

I agreed to give her a small allowance. I spent $20 on FV Cash and told her that was it. It had to last. Thankfully she understood the limit but I am still paying for the decision because every time she thinks she wants to spend the FV Cash, I have to listen to her weight the pros and cons, vacillating back and forth as she decides if it’s really, really worth it.

The best thing she’s purchased so far was a limited edition (yeah, another way to be sticky), a limited edition geyser that is actually quite impressive. It’s been a month and she still squeals with delight every time the darn thing erupts.

Unfortunately, she still hasn’t really grasped the idea of saving for the really big things. To expand her farm, which would ultimately make more money for her, she has to save a fairly sizeable amount of money. But so far, she just can’t do it. There are too many new things she has to have and so, her farm stays small. Her earning is limited. And I am left of wonder if she’ll ever get tired of Farmville.

Yet I hold out hope she's learning some lessons...

When I get the chance, we talk about saving. We'll also review the concept of delayed gratification - I can compare it to our saving for Hawaii slated for 2012. In the meantime, it's fun to watch her budget, plant, think, and hopefully...strategize!

Now the Fun Part: Haven’t played yet? It’s easy, just a click away on Facebook.
You really, truly don’t have to spend a dime of real money to play. Also, beware the many Farmville offers that come through promising free stuff. They are all bogus aimed at getting your information to sell to marketers.
Important Tip: when you first start playing, post a Status Update warning your friends who don’t want to see Lonely Bulls posted to their FB wall. Anyone can block FV posts with a simple “Hide Farmville” on a FV post. It’s on the upper right of the post and they don’t have to hide you – just the application.

When you play, you  might gain some insight into your friends! Here are a few classic Farmville Archetypes...

The Grouser: They are playing often and tend to post requests for more stuff on their wall (as opposed to sharing things you might want).

The Socialite: Focused on rapid growth, this player will friend anyone to gain critical mass. One of the ways you get ahead is having a lot of friends and socialites are masters. They move up fast because they access to so many farms and so many posts for free things from those friends.

The Collector: There are a lot of transactions in Farmville and almost all of them revolve around "stuff." Most game players keep some and sell the rest. But there are a few who keep every trinket. Having more stuff requires a large farm and can help you earn money faster.

The Control Freak: This seems to be a trend among the moms who feel relatively unable to control their "real" world so Farmville gives them a chance to act out their hidden desire to have everything in its place. You’ll notice tidy fences around their similarly grouped animals and structure, structure, structure among their crops. Did I mention I have one foot in this camp?

The Designer: The designer is focused on creating an “experience”. This is a farm you would actually want to visit in the real world. My girlfriend has done this so well I think she should charge money to visit her farm. It is a thing of pure beauty. I aspire to design as well as she does!

The Player: Bored quickly with the pace of Farmville, this gamer moves on to other Zynga games (like Yoville!, PetVille and Cafe World) – keeping as many irons in the fire as possible.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Undercover Boss as Home School Curriculum - This is good stuff! (Worksheet Included!)

We started watching Undercover Boss with the very first episode. I was intrigued that the CEO of Waste Management was willing to do a "reality' show and I was interested in learning more about their business. I mean we see their trucks all around us - what made it tick?

Katie went along with me and we watched as he tried on different roles within his company and found both the achievers and the losers (don't we all know who those people are) and had a chance to get back in touch with the many folks that help drive his stock price and generate all that revenue. I found it fascinating.

As usual, I paused the show frequently (to this day I don't think Katie has EVER watched a whole show without me pausing it to add comment - poor kid) and pointed out things Katie might not notice - like salary, time clocks, working conditions, attitude, teamwork, etc. Things a young kid wouldn't know to notice or appreciate. At the end of the damn show, I am in tears (it was so inspiring) and we could hardly wait for the next episode.*

So. How could I make this more of a "learning" opportunity?

And then it hit me. I have a friend who's father stopped her brilliant plan to drop out of school and wait tables by making her do a spreadsheet. One of those "budgets" to see exactly what it takes to live on a waitress' salary. She had been up in a comfortable home - didn't really want for anything - so his plan worked. After learning it wasn't so comfy living on the edge, she backed down and got focused (she's eventually got to work with Clinton and Gore so that tells you his efforts weren't misplaced!).

Let's do a spreadsheet.

So I built an Excel file and we created five "profiles" that were single, 30 year olds who: had not finished high school; had a high school diploma; some college; graduated college;  and completed grad school.
Based on those profiles, Katie got to pick her job, her housing and what she wanted to spend money on. Some expenses were mandatory - groceries, utilities, rent, taxes and a car - but some were choices and we talked those through. Everything from choosing to buy health insurance to getting a pet to contributing to savings and retirement to donating to a charity. I have loaded a copy of the spreadsheet here if you want to play with it.

It was an eye-opening experience. The immediate effect was she no longer leaves the lights on. All my years of telling her to "get PG&E out of my pocket" never made sense until now. She didn't realize we paid for a landline phone (in addition to a cell phone) or that the Internet cost money or that she had to pay for health insurance. She didn't know pets were expensive, that you had to save for a rainy day, that apartment renting required deposits that you might not get back and that taxes were on income, not just sales. Holy cow.

So now, when we watch Undercover Boss, the show takes on an additional meaning. She really understands the opportunities and limitations of jobs. And while she's always been sure she was going to college, now she really understands why. And the opportunity it creates.

Home School POV: to use the spreadsheet, download it and then clear out the cells starting with housing. Then put your kid to work. Katie used Craigslist to shop for a place to live. We used our existing bills to estimate utilities. We also used the web for car payments. A few I helped her guess. We had a good discussion about charity and when it's appropriate to take care of yourself first and when to start sharing. Have fun! Tell us how it goes! (Want more? There's even a blog about the MBA lessons learned from the show.)

Note to TV Producers: Don't be afraid to create curriculum to go with your television shows! There's so much more that could be attached to programs like this that would help kids understand more about working, rules, unions, management, education, etc.

*The next episode was on Hooters and I began to get worried. I don't have a lot of respect for the chain based on their marketing angle. But low and behold, the show actually embraced the controversy and dealt with it. Fascinating and right on!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Henry Cowell State Park: Home School Scavenger Hunt

One year, I took Katie to Henry Cowell the first Sunday of every month and had her take pictures so she could see the seaons change month to month. It was a great exercise and helped her actually see how forests change based on daylight, rain, fog, and more.

This year, since we are officially “home schoolers”, I thought a romp through the park with some friends might be a good time for a nature-based scavenger hunt. I thought it would be easy – surely someone must have created a park-based scavenger hunt before and posted it somewhere. But darn if I could find one! So I had to do it myself.

Using pictures we had from past park visits, I can up with a set of items the kids had to find while we were on our nature walk. It’s funny, Katie is so used to me calling mushrooms fungus, but her friends weren’t used to the term. And I had no idea that finding a tree stump with 100 rings (minimum) would be so hard to find. We found stumps, but they wear in weather and the ability to see the actual rings is lost!

During our walk, we came up on a set of “burns” where inmates from not-sure-where were clearing brush and burning down the debris. It made the forest kind of mystical as the smoke lingered under the cloud cover. It also kind of warmed things up a bit.

The Visitor Center at the park is pretty good considering all the parks in California are completely broke (financially). We ended the hunt there where the kids could see examples of the flora and fauna found in the park and make “passports” with footprints of the local varmints.

We highly recommend Henry Cowell. It’s a great place to swim when it’s hot and explore when it’s cold and rainy. And if you are lucky, you’ll get to see some of their famous Banana Slugs during your visit!

You should be able to download our Scavenger Hunt form here if you want to have a place to start!

Home School POV: bring a camera. I made the kids take pictures of the items so they could look at them some more when we got home. They took all these except the one at the top. You know kids – they LOVE taking pictures!