Sunday, January 30, 2011

Learning Spanish with Speekee TV

In this week’s baby bargainista column, Jenny shares her daughters’ experience with Speekee TV, an online Spanish-language learning program. Bargainista was approached by Speekee founder, Jim Porter, who offered us a free two-month trial.

Young kids are hungry for language acquisition. My 2-year-old is constantly pointing at objects and asking “what’s that?” and my 6-year-old has been asking for the French and Spanish words for things since she found out that I studied both languages in high school (more years ago than I care to count, but I still retain some key nouns and verbs).

Learning Spanish with Speekee TV, a series of online webisodes with optional accompanying worksheets and parent study guides, seemed like a great opportunity for me to give both girls some extra language exposure. It’s a deceptively simple setup: you log onto their website with a username and password, then view each webisode as often as you like. They’re short – about 10 minutes – and feature Speekee, a friendly purple puppet host, as well as a number of children engaged in interacting with their environment. Each webisode centers on one activity – a trip to the park, a visit to a cafĂ© – and the accompanying vocabulary. The webisode dialogue is entirely in Spanish, with English and Spanish subtitles.

After a few days of watching one Speekee webisode a day, I asked my 6-year-old what she thought of the program.

“Really cool,” was the verdict, “but a little confusing. I think they should say the word in English, too.” She’s not the fastest reader, and she often found it hard to keep up with reading the subtitles to connect the Spanish words she heard spoken with the corresponding words in English.

That said, through repetition (several of the webisodes repeat key phrases such as “hello”, “how are you,” “my name is”), she has picked up some vocabulary already, and is keen to learn more!

An unexpected result was how engaged my 2-year-old was in the webisodes. She doesn’t usually sit still long enough to watch TV or online shows, but she was rapt whenever Speekee or his puppet friends were on the screen, and after one webisode she took to shouting “Hola!” (Hello!) at anyone who comes to the door!

If you’re looking for something akin to an educational TV show to teach your kids Spanish, I would recommend Speekee – with the caveat that older kids or faster readers will get the most from it. However, even youngsters as little as my toddler can absorb the simple language lessons Speekee offers!

Speekee TV offers a free two-week trial. You can also connect with Speekee on Twitter and Facebook.

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Sunday, January 09, 2011

Turning green waste into vegetable stock

It’s a new year and time to add some new perspectives to Bargainista. Welcome Kathryn Lagden, a regular contributor from Cooking with Kathryn, who’s focus will be primarily but not exclusively on food and cooking, you may remember her from our holiday wish list.

For many people, the New Year is a time for resolutions, new goals, or perhaps renewing commitment to previous goals. I’m not good at hard and fast rules (yep, I’m an Aquarius!) but I do use the changing of the year to think about where I want to focus my attention.

I’ve been thinking a lot about garbage so far this year. My new found interest in trash is probably a subconscious reaction to receiving two tags from the City of Toronto, each good for one extra bag of garbage above and beyond our allotment in 2011. And like many families at this time of year, we’ve made many trips to the bins with the cellophane, twist ties, and plastic wrap that keep all new toys impossibly difficult to access.

And then I read about how I can boil my garbage and create yummy goodness. Yep, you heard me right, I’m going to boil my garbage! I’ve often wondered why most recipes call for a few veggies like celery, onion, carrots etc. when we boil chicken bones to create stock but all the peelings and ends from these same veggies are tossed out. The folks at The Sweet Beet make it sound perfectly natural to boil up a whole bunch of food scraps into a delicious stock so I’m jumping in and giving it a try.

First step was getting my hubby on board. After all, collecting a bag of garbage in the freezer takes some commitment from everyone who is diving in looking for frozen treats and ice cubes for beverages. His only stipulation was that we don’t refer to it as “garbage”, we need a friendlier name. I’m thinking something along the lines of “Scrappy”, it would let me say things like, “please feed Scrappy those egg shells when you’re done cooking breakfast”.

I received a big soup pot from my sister for Christmas. I doubt that boiling garbage is what she had in mind when she gave it to me but with a bit of luck I’ll be serving up a delicious soup made with my own Scrappy Stock next time she visits.

I’ll be sure to report back and let you know if boiling garbage is a tasty way to reduce food waste! (And would love to hear suggestions and tips from anyone who has tried this.)

Note: Originally published as How I’m going to turn green waste into vegetable stock at Cooking with Kathryn.

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