More On Tablets And Electronics For Toddlers

First, let me be clear that I’m no expert on this topic. This is just based on what I’ve seen at home.

Kids are quick to adopt. No kidding right? We have a number of tablets and phones in our home and in very short order one of those quickly became “his tablet.” Now, this was entirely my fault as I loaded some flashcards and other games on that tablet specifically, making it the one he used regularly. Interestingly he didn’t use it obsessively as I’ve heard from other parents, perhaps due to the fact that we limited the apps installed, and kept them to learning (vs gaming) apps.

Regardless, it became his tablet… and it wasn’t designed for toddlers. It was an Asus Transformer Prime TF201 which isn’t made to bounce or have drinks spilled on it.

Solution? The Asus mysteriously disappeared and I picked up a LeapFrog Ultra Ultra. Here again we’ve limited our installed apps to those that include some manner of quiz even if paired with a game or two. My observations thus far:

  • The hardware isn’t super cheap. Now, you may say that it doesn’t seem too expensive relative to buying say a Nexus 7 or other similar low-priced tablet… but I say it’s not cheap based on the speed of the device. Build quality seems fine. Ours has been dropped several times and seems to shrug it off.
  • These devices are slow. The pricepoint isn’t rock bottom, so why they can’t build with better processors and more RAM I have no idea, but they are slow. That said, while my son sometimes gets frustrated, he seems willing to bear with it for now.
  • Games are much better than the free, and even paid games we tried on our Android devices. They’re not nearly as cheap mind you, but they seem appropriately priced. Note as well that if you start your app search by visiting sites like RetailMeNot you can usually find some pretty decent discount coupons to make them even more reasonable.
  • Games that we’ve tested for encourage learning, but don’t go far enough in my opinion. For example, we have a racing game that requires our son to answer simple math questions between rounds. Unfortunately, he is able to guess his way through as the questions get harder rather than having to stop and think in order to proceed. My expectation was that there would be some minimum accuracy threshold for answers in order to move forward, else you would have to start again. This approach has held true across a couple other games suggesting that either its just easier, someone has decided that it is effective despite appearances, or they would rather trade engagement for learning.

All this said, please don’t take the comments above to mean I wouldn’t recommend the device. It definitely serves a purpose. It is easy to use. It appears to be well built and forgiving. The games are entertaining. There is an element of learning built into even racing games and the like. The price-point isn’t terrible. That said, I anticipate the request for something faster, sleeker and with better games in a couple years (and would be somewhat disappointed if it didn’t come).

LeapFrog LeapPad on Amazon.com

Who Would Buy Nikes For Toddlers?

Who would buy Nikes for a toddler? I would.

For a while I was of the mindset that spending money on brands like Nike, Adidas, etc for a toddler was foolishness. We bought our little guy (now not so little) whatever was well priced when he needed a pair, and fit his feet. What made me change my mind? Well, we noticed that at around age 3 he started to complain about going for walks that were more than a couple blocks long. It didn’t matter which shoes he wore, he would ask to be picked up after a couple blocks. We tried several pairs, thinking that it could be the shoes didn’t fit well, but it didn’t seem to matter. On a whim when we were searching for new shoes we tried on a pair of Nikes and as soon as they were laced up he started to hop in place smiling. Crazy. To be honest I still figured it was a fluke, but we went ahead and bought them as they were on sale.

Fast forward to that weekend and we asked him if he wanted to go for a walk. His response was much as before but we went ahead and got him dressed and went outside. Put simply it was the longest walk we had in months and not a single complaint. He walked (often ran) the entire way and from that point forward was excited to get outside.

So, I take back everything I said / believed about higher end athletic shoes not being worthwhile for toddlers. Since then we’ve stuck with it and wouldn’t change it for anything. Don’t believe me, give it a shot. Buy a pair that fit and take them home. Let your toddler wear them around inside the house (you can always take them back if they’ve not been worn outside) and see how they react.

Making Tooth Brushing Fun (AKA Getting Them To Brush For Themselves)

We’re lucky in that our little guy never really had an aversion to having his teeth brushed. I can’t say that he enjoyed it, but once it was established that we brushed teeth after meals he would consistently endure the process. That said, he would NOT take the initiative and work the brush on his own. It was definitely a task for Mom or Dad to initiate and perform.

How did we get past this? We bought him an electric toothbrush.

Actually, we bought ourselves electric toothbrushes first so he could see that it was the way we brushed our teeth and established it as something adults do, whereas the non-electric brushing was something for kids. Next we bought him his own and just set it down in front of him. He’d already seen how ours worked, so he was interested to see if this new brush would work the same way. Note as well that the brush we chose prominently featured characters from the movie Cars.

Surprise, surprise, by that evening he was turning it on and off and actually doing a pretty good job of brushing his teeth. At this point he takes the first stab after each meal and either Mom or Dad will bat clean-up and make sure that all areas are scrubbed. Best of all, if WE forget to get his toothbrush he’s sure to remind us!

We ended up getting him an Oral B Stages toothbrush for those interested.

Good luck all :)

Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Were They Appropriate Then? Are they Appropriate Now?

My wife and I would never allow our son to watch the new Grimm tv show that kicked off last year, yet the basis of that show is Grimm’s Fairy Tales, stories that I can remember hearing/reading when I was young. Granted, the versions my mother told me weren’t as grisly as some of the originals, but still, they weren’t the pleasant, sugary stories that we tend to read our little one.

I would be really interested to know how many people do read Grimm’s Fairy Tales to their children, and at what age. Further, I’d like to know what the concensus is regarding the impact of these types of stories on a child’s development. Are such Fairy Tales appropriate? Were they ever?

Are Grimm’s Fairy Tales too twisted for children?

Just to refresh your memories, there are the Disney versions… and then there are the originals. Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Snow White and the like have various versions and the originals certainly aren’t child-worthy. In fact, today most of them wouldn’t garner anything close to a PG rating.

The following article documents some of the original storylines: Top 10 Gruesome Fairy Tale Origins

Bereavement Rates on Westjet

I posted quite a while back on the strategy we used to ensure our pre-2 year old was left with a full seat during those two years when he was able to travel as a lap infant.

This post is one for those unforunate times when you might have to travel due to the loss of a family member. We recently found ourselves flying across Canada more than once in a short period of time due to illness, and unfortunately, ultimately the death of a close family member. Under the stress of the time we didn’t think to look into the options available to reduce the cost of this travel under such a circumstance. Westjet does offer bereavement fares and I wanted to call out a couple notes to share our experience.

1. Westjet bereavement fares don’t necessarily translate to a reduced fare price. If you have enough advanced notice to benefit from the lowest, or middle fare tranche you’re unlikely to get a discount on the price of the ticket. That said, by contacting Westjet and arranging for a bereavement ticket you will be provided with additional flexibility than you would have with a standard ticket. It was my experience that the bereavement fare ticket was priced at the same pricepoint as the middle tier tickets.

2. If you’re booking last minute and find yourself with only the most costly fare option available to you then calling Westjet for a bereavement fare ticket is definitely worthwhile. Not only will you gain the flexibility that goes along with the bereavement ticket, but you’ll find that Westjet will provide a discount on the ticket price itself.

3. If you forget to book a bereavement ticket, or weren’t aware at the time of booking you can contact Westjet and they will apply the benefit after the fact. For example, my wife and son joined me as I’d flown earlier to our destination. They booked day before and so paid the full fare price. We called Westjet several hours later and explained that our travel was due to a death in the family and they graciously revised their ticket to a bereavement fare, with the only cost being that they were reseated from their priority seats to positions further back in the plane. Definitely worth it so save almost $500 across two tickets.

I hope someone out there finds this helpful, because worrying about cost is the last thing you need when dealing with the death of a loved one.

Christmas 2012. The Haul.

So, we’ve failed. Clearly. We’ve failed in our promise to ourselves that we wouldn’t allow the toy situation get out of control. I clearly remember visiting friends’ homes and cringing at the piles of toy cars and sports equipment that just seemed to occupy every nook and cranny of their previously tidy homes.

We promised ourselves that wouldn’t be us.
We failed in that promise.

As a result of Christmas 2012 I now have a new project on my hands. Identify, review and select Vancouver-based services that accept used toys, kids books and children’s clothing and put them, or their proceeds to good use.

While our situation may not be as bad as most, our little guy certainly has more toys right now than he needs, or frankly than he can manage. More concerning, where prior to Christmas he showed little interest in either presents or the idea of new toys, he now considers anything loosely resembling a present as being something that should be his, and to my dismay he’s asked me if he can have “new cars.”

I figure there’s no time like the present to try and change that attitude and to reduce both the clutter and amount of distraction for him in and around our home.

I’m open to any suggestions for worthy recipients of toys, clothes and books in good to excellent condition. Currently I’m thinking of:
Vancouver Public Library for the books.
Big Brothers for toys and clothes that our friends’ kids won’t be able to use.

The Growing Toddler Book List. Old Favorites And New Additions

The Little Blue Truck series continues to be a favorite with our little guy, with specifically Little Blue Truck and Little Blue Truck Leads the Way factoring into each evening’s bedtime reading on any given day.

We figured it was time to throw some new material into the mix and after reviewing a number of different sites got the sense that Mo Willems’ Knuffle Bunny series was worth a shot. Note that we didn’t start with the original Knuffle Bunny book, which might have been a mistake assuming that it served to introduce characters. Instead we started with Knuffle Bunny Free (An unexpected diversion) and Knuffle Bunny Too (A case of mistaken identity). The books are short, funny and interesting in that they overlay the cartooned story characters on photographs of real places and things. While the first read wasn’t particularly well received, we’ve found that Knuffle Bunny Free is now a bedtime favorite and Knuffle Bunny Too has a place in the rotation as well.

I should also mention that Knuffle Bunny books are available in Kindle format on Amazon, as are the Little Blue Truck books which will make them the obvious choice for any coming flights or extended travel.

Best of all we get a bit of a breather from what had become a nightly sequence of two Little Blue Truck books (not that there’s anything wrong with Little Blue Truck books, but daddy needs a breather every so often).

So, what are the top 5 books on our toddler’s reading list in order?
1. Little Blue Truck
2. Knuffle Bunny Free
3. Little Blue Truck Leads the Way
4. Super Duck
5. Knuffle Bunny Too

Halloween 2013. Halloweenier.

Right, so its the end of September and we’re already starting to think about what the little guy will be on October 25th. Last year we got lucky (aka got lazy) and found a pretty funny dragon costume for a very reasonable price from Old Navy. While I admit I considered jamming him in that same costume again this year I suspect that would meet with disapproval from the grandparents who are already getting their cameras ready for something new and fantastic.

Speaking of new and fantastic, check out this Master Chief costume featured over at Fashionably Geek. I will state it for the record, that is one bar that I will not meet this year.

From Fashionably Geek

Kid in a Master Chief costume. Perfect for halloween.
Kid in a Master Chief costume. Perfect for halloween.

A New Addition To Our Son’s Favorite Book List. The Little Blue Truck Series

So Baby Beluga and Super Duck have fallen out of favor of late, with a new champion taking the forefront. This new champion is Little Blue Truck.

What made him change his obsession? Who knows, but frankly I hope it changes again soon because reading the same book every night is driving me crazy… Did I mention he has it 80% memorized?

Favorite Book Picks For Our 2 Year Old

So we just hit the big two years and man, as we looked back through some of our old photos and video it’s remarkable what has transpired in 24 short months. The size of our toddler’s vocabulary, range of interests and general behavior is mind blowing.

We chalk much of the advancement to his daycare provider and her approach to childcare, as well as the fact that he’s in a daycare environment that consists of only 5 children and so brings consistency and the ability for her to provide close attention to the children. Additionally, there is a range of ages so the younger ones have opportunity to learn from the older ones.

Despite the amount of change, there are also many themes, or areas of consistency. Some, such as our toddler’s infatuation with vehicles, in particular emergency vehicles and garbage trucks persist and are unlikely to disappear from what I see of other children. In the case of books he seems to churn through some, but maintain a love for others. Those children’s that have shown particular staying power are:

Baby Beluga (Raffi Songs to Read) by Raffi.
For a long time this book was a mandatory read, or rather ‘sing’ before bed. Even today if our toddler’s not quite ready for sleep we can hear him singing his version of Raffi’s Baby Beluga over the monitor from his crib. A classic.

Super Duck by Jez Alborough.
This one was new to me, and was given to us by my mother-in-law. Initially skeptical, I soon started to recommend it to friends given how quickly our little one took to it, starting to memorize the lines. This was made easier by the consistent cadence and rhyming used by the author, Jez Alborough. While a short book, this is a fun read and definitely a favorite.

Duck in the Truck by Jez Alborough.
The second book we have from author Jez Alborough is also a hit. Like Super Duck this one makes use of rhyming and fun pictures to bring your child along on the ride. Good fun. There appear to be numerous other Jez Alborough books available, and while I think we’ll buy a few of them, I will have to update this list if they prove as popular as these first two.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.
This book has been much-copied with variants like Good Night Canada, Good Night World
and other books in the Good Night Our World Series series. Very simple, easy to follow and easy to participate this one was a particular favorite in the 1 year through about 18 month period. It’s since been displaced a bit by some of the books above, but still features periodically in our night time routine.

The Going-To-Bed Book by Sandra Boynton.
Another one that’s slowly falling off in favor of the Super Duck and Tuck in the Truck books, The Going to Bed Book featured prominently until recently. There wasn’t as much memorization that flowed here relative to say, Good Night Moon, but our toddler found humor in the illustrations, as well as the bedtime theme of the volume.

That’s it for now. I’ll aim to provide some additional top picks in the future as our library shifts with our little one’s development. Would love to hear if folks have other books their children particularly liked at this, or any age.