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Improved communication goal of Play Smart Literacy

Michelle Dinneen-White is seated in a circle with several women, each of them with infants or toddlers in their laps. They sing songs, play with toys and enjoy fun activities. It’s a day in the life for Dinneen-White, a Beverly resident who founded Play Smart Literacy three years ago.

Play Smart, a non-profit organization, regularly visits various daycare centers and fellow non-profit organizations around the city, bringing toys, activities and ideas for parents to use with their children to improve their communication skills. Dinneen-White does her work for free, although she pays three staff members. Her organization started, she said, when she noticed a lack of daycare centers and preschools around the South Side.

And it’s a perfect fit for her. “It’s everything I love,” Dinneen-White said. “I love the parents; I love working with the children.” On Oct.

26, Dinneen-White visited HelloBaby, a non-profit drop-in space in Woodlawn for newborns to 3-year-olds. Parents and caregivers can bring children to HelloBaby for an hour or two of free play, and Dinneen-White brought small toy ducks to play with during a sing-a-long. The interaction lasts beyond a short play session.

Dinneen-White texts parents offering ideas, and parents are encouraged to send photos of their children utilizing skills they learned after a play session. Play Smart also maintains a page on Pinterest, a social-networking site where people share ideas and activities, and Dinneen-White utilizes ReadyRosie, an online program focused on communication and language development for children, to help families and teachers work together. Each week, Dinneen-White visits locations, many of which are utilized by families in need, and she’ll bring an array of toys that she keeps at home.

Her stops include Trumbull Park Homes, a Chicago Housing Authority site in South Deering; Tolton Family Literacy, a program in Little Village in which caregivers primarily speak Spanish; and Creative Little Ones learning centers at 59th Street and California Avenue and 95th Street and Halsted Avenue. She has also worked with Beacon Therapeutic Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Beverly, and she hopes to work in the future in nearby suburban Robbins. Dinneen-White met the founder of HelloBaby, Debbie Frisch, after reading a media report about the non-profit, which Frisch opened July 10.

Frisch transformed her facility from a daycare center into a bright, open space. Toys are scattered throughout the room, and there’s a cushioned space near the front window where babies can enjoy “tummy time.” Her facility welcomes caregivers ranging from parents to grandparents to Department of Children and Family Services employees.

And Frisch is enjoying Dinneen-White’s weekly visits. “The kids love it,” Frisch said. “She’s so gentle and sweet.” Patricia McMillan brought two children–her 2-year-old son and 3-month-old daughter–for the recent play session.

After the sing-a-long, her son played with a toy thermometer. McMillan is a stay-at-home mom, and she utilizes HelloBaby as a social activity for her son–she also enjoys Dinneen-White’s visits. “We love it,” she said. “It’s an added bonus with Michelle’s play dates.”

Dinneen-White has an extensive background in education. She taught at Bowen High School in South Chicago, as well as south suburban Homewood-Flossmoor High School. She raised five daughters who all attended the Beverly Castle preschool and St.

John Fisher Elementary School, and she said they enjoyed “such a great experience.” So, she “always wanted the same for everyone,” and she started Play Smart, which has been funded through grants. One focus of her organization, she said, is to follow the work of Dr. Dana Suskind, a cochlear-implant surgeon at University of Chicago Hospital who founded the “30 Million Words” initiative.

That campaign focuses on children’s communications skills, noting a 1995 study that reported that children who hear 30 million words by their fourth birthday are better prepared to enter school. Supporters encourage parent-child interactions, including at daycare centers. Dinneen-White fully backs Suskind’s efforts.

“She wants it to be a movement and really spread throughout the nation,” Dinneen-White said, “so that’s what I’m trying to do. … I almost see myself as a foot soldier for her.” Dinneen-White was joined by staff member Stacey Grieff during the visit to HelloBaby, and her other employees have a background in education.

She also hopes new teachers, such as college students studying education, will seek to work for Play Smart. Her fear, she said, is that high-achieving students, once they graduate, will work for high-achieving schools, instead of those that need more stability and support. “We want the best and the brightest,” Dinneen-White said, adding, “This is where we want the ‘A’ team.”

Dinneen-White is grateful for the impact her program has after the play sessions finish. Recently, she said, a father texted her about a Play-Doh activity, saying he was headed out to purchase some for his child. On another occasion, after Dinneen-White sent children home with bubbles and told caregivers to text a photo of the child playing with the bubbles, a parent did just that.

“We just really know,” Dinneen-White said, “we are making that connection.” Giving Tuesday, in which people donate to various causes and charities, will be Nov.

28, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, and Dinneen-White hopes people will donate to Play Smart. Money aside, Dinneen-White has the energy needed to continue her campaign.

She feels she has found her calling.

“It is my passion,” Dinneen-White said. “I am crazy about it.”

Rush: A Disney-Pixar Adventure Review: Delightfully Disney

As an adult, I may not be the intended audience for Rush, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it any less.

Rush: A Disney-Pixar Adventure is, as the name suggests, an adventure through Disney-Pixar franchises. The game is split up into six worlds, each a separate Pixar film. It’s a short game – you can complete all the levels in a couple of hours, with another couple required to replay in order to complete all objectives.

But for the few hours that I played it, I was thoroughly entranced. Okay, I may be nearly thirty, but that doesn’t mean I don’t revel in a good Disney-Pixar film. Rush features a themed set of levels from Toy Story, Cars, Up, The Incredibles, Ratatouille and Finding Dory – and each world is a fantastic and faithful recreation of the film it’s taken from. It’s bright, bold and colourful – and if you’re a Disney-Pixar fan, it’s impossible not to love.

Each world has three levels (with the exception of Finding Dory, which has two) that tell a short story. As you’d expect, they’re packed with familiar characters, locations and situations from the Pixar films they’re based on. Characters might not have their original voice actors, but the cast of the game is good enough that most of the time, you’ll barely notice.

Besides, you’ll be too busy running around each level, picking up collectibles and having too much fun to notice. Rush is so-called because, technically, the aim of the game is to get through each level as fast as you can while collecting as many points as you can. You’ll rack up points for gathering coins and collectibles along the way, and the faster you complete the level, the more points you score.

At the end of each level, you’re awarded a bronze, silver, gold or platinum medal depending on your score. Really though, the time element of the game is more or less an illusion – you unlock new skills and goals as you play, meaning you’ll need to play each level at least three times in order to gather everything.

The first time you play, the highest medals are practically impossible to attain; you’ll need to unlock new skills in order to reach new areas of the game and amass a higher score. And once you’ve got those new skills, it doesn’t really matter how long you take to complete the game; the time bonus helps a little, but your success rests entirely on the amount of collectibles and goals you achieve. So Rush: A Disney-Pixar Adventure isn’t particularly challenging – but it is a game aimed at fairly young children, so what did you expect?

If you’re not satisfied by a game unless it’s taking you to your very limits, then perhaps this game isn’t for you. But if you enjoy a colourful, light-hearted romp through some familiar franchises, then Rush is absolutely delightful. Its appeal to kids is instantly obvious.

Even if it wasn’t for the popular film series that its based upon, its simple pick-up-and-play platforming means that absolutely anyone can jump in regardless of their age or skill level. Local co-op play is a big plus too; two people can take part in each adventure together, and with each level having branching paths, it means you can gather coins more effectively and gain those high scores easier with a buddy in tow.

Even if you’re not a kid, though, don’t write Rush: A Disney-Pixar Adventure off right away. It’s come a long way from its roots as an Xbox 360 Kinect Game. You can still play with Kinect (if you’re weird) but the game has been completely redesigned with a controller in mind, and its gameplay is solid enough to rival any of the recent 3D platformers to surface this year.

Sure, it gets a little repetitive, having to play each level a few times if you want to fully ‘complete’ the game, but it doesn’t get any less enjoyable. The fact that each level can be completed in a matter of minutes means it’s a great game to jump into for short bursts at a time… perhaps while you wait for something a little more ‘meaty’ to finish installing. I’d go as far to say that Rush: A Disney-Pixar Adventure is one of the better Disney games of recent years – Infinity aside.

The recreations of the Pixar franchises are just beautiful, and although each level may be short, they’re all certainly sweet.

I’d highly recommend it for younger players, and if you’re a Pixar fan, regardless of your age, it’s a no-brainer.

Rush: A Disney-Pixar Adventure is available on Xbox One.

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Rush: A Disney-Pixar Adventure Review

The official death knell of Microsoft’s Kinect 2.0 sensor last week marks Disney-Pixar Rush out as an undoubted outlier of the remastered 4K content that will appear in the Xbox One X’s wake. Originally an Xbox 360 Kinect exclusive some five years ago, the game has been given a new generation scrub, landed some traditional controls, and been pushed back out the door. With sections from Cars, Up, Toy Story, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and a brand new area from Finding Dory, these are some of the most beloved films of the last twenty years, but even with all of those modern niceties, this isn’t likely to be an essential addition to anyone but the youngest members of a household’s collection.

The character creation screen that allows you to fashion your image as a boy or girl immediately marks out the game’s intended audience, just in case you weren’t sure, while the Pixar Park hub area sees you off to play with a bunch of creative kids who each take you through an episode of your chosen film property. If you’ve still got a Kinect hooked up, the game will allow you to scan your face to give you a hand, but I’m sure you can come up with a somewhat close approximation of yourself as a child without it. Those six films all have their own hub areas, and successfully completing a level unlocks the next in line.

Cars is perhaps a little uninspired as a racing section, though it’s more about collecting gold tokens and not crashing into obstacles than it is about actually getting ahead of the other racers. It is fairly smart looking, though you can see that the last generation assets such as the racers are relatively simplistic by today’s standards. There are some good lighting and depth of field effects and they do a lot to bring it up to date, while kids will simply love being brought into the different worlds.

That goes for each of the different film licenses really, with some simplistic textures or stilted animation giving away the game’s slightly elderly underpinnings, though there’s been some good work done to cover them up. It’s no surprise that Finding Dory, the sole new section, is the most immediately impressive, though repeated areas and textures soon take the shine off it.

Whether canoeing down a glistening river with Russell from Up or riding atop a remote control car alongside Toy Story’s Woody, I don’t think there’ll be any complaints over the visuals as the overarching repetitive nature of the gameplay is more likely to be its undoing. As a former Kinect title, Rush has a consistent forward motion to each section that drives you ever onwards. Alongside Cars’ racing sections and Finding Nemo’s swimming zones, all the levels almost feel as though they’re endless runners despite the addition of traditional controls.

That’s not wholly true, as various sections, whether in Toy Story, The Incredibles, Ratatouille or Up, task you with some gentle platforming challenges, but really you’re racing to get through in the quickest time and with the most coins in hand as possible. Each film hosts three episodes, and successfully completing them while picking up coins will unlock extra abilities that enable you to reach different areas or grab hard to reach pick-ups. As an adult with some vague semblance of gaming skill, I didn’t have too much trouble achieving gold ratings in each episode, and once you’ve unlocked everything you’re rewarded with some nice concept art from each of the films.

My son loved the different worlds, and the tasks were much tougher for a six year old, though whether concept art is a suitable reward for a younger player is an interesting question. Each of the film areas certainly sound the part at least, with strains of recognisable themes marrying well to the fairly close voice work. It’s just a shame that there aren’t many phrases, leading to the same ones being said over and over again.

You can probably work your way through each of the episodes in three or four hours, though you’ll still likely have scores to beat or gradings to improve, which should prompt some replay value that makes the game’s budget pricing seems just right. It feels as though the traditional controls will make it more likely that you’ll play, though losing the novelty, and fuzziness, of Kinect overall simplifies what wasn’t a particuarly challenging game to begin with.

Of course, you can still play with Microsoft’s improved sensor, if you happen to be one of the few still hanging onto it.

  • HDR visuals bring the films to life
  • Addition of traditional controls improves score attack gameplay
  • Repetitive gameplay
  • Short run time
  • Few technical hiccups

Rush: A Disney-Pixar Adventure is a gentle set of challenges set in six of the most beloved animated movies of recent times.

For the younger members of your household it’ll likely hit the mark, with attractive graphics and welcoming gameplay, but don’t expect it to offer much, if any, replay value if you’re past puberty.

Score: 6/10

Version Tested: Xbox One S