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

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

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

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.

Toddler Birthday Grab Bag Irritation

So we have a toddler birthday coming up in a few days and while we’re in pretty good shape at this point I’m trying to steel myself against the irritation that’s starting to creep up on me.

Why?

No good reason probably, but I’ve always thought that the huge theme birthdays or massive bouncy castle rentals are overkill for very young kids. I’d rather put the money towards an education fund or daycare or something than toward trying to out do the last birthday. So far so good. No toddler birthday themes for us this time around. No bouncy castles or ball pits scheduled to arrive hours before. In fact I think we’re doing pretty well.

– Renting a local ‘neighbourhood house’ to host the event. The cost is extremely reasonable and the place is fully equipped with a kitchen for food prep, downstairs full of toys and a gated, fenced yard with climbers, sand box and various other toys.
– Providing food ourselves. From drinks to fruit, to finger foods to cupcakes etc it looks like we’ll be able to do this on our own, though we haven’t settled on the cake.
– Toys and entertainment – see above as the location we’ve rented is stocked with a massive number of toys for boys and girls of various ages.
– Schedule. Keeping it brief. Two hours with an expectation that folks will trickle in and out over time. No expectations.
– Grab bags. Gah! This is where I get irritated.

When I was a kid you could go into a convenience store and they would sell ‘grab bags’ or ‘loot bags’ or whatever you choose to call them. Now I couldn’t even find the bags for sale at the local toy stores. I went into a drug store across the road and they’re charging $4 for the bags alone… EACH! As for the contents, dinosaur or smurf action figures apparently cost $9.99 each!?!? A single Thomas train costs $18.99?!?! A small book of stickers costs $5.99!??! Across 16-20 kids I’m now expecting it to be $100-$150 for grab bags full of crap. Tiny Play-Doh containers, cheap sheets of stickers, tiny containers of bubble soap, rubber bouncy balls etc. Few items that will be used, most will end up polluting landfills.

It would be awesome if someone would revisit the ‘grab bag’ idea and provide recyclable, compostable, safe, useful, enjoyable items at a reasonable price. Even if that last requirement couldn’t be met I’d much rather spend MORE for something that wouldn’t go to waste and not have to hunt and search myself. Colour me lazy. Meh. Irritated by toddler birthday grab bags.

Toddlers and Balance Bikes. Here We Go.

Various balance bikes we considered.
Red Strider ST-2 Balance Bike
Various Strider Balance Bikes
Wooden Balance Bikes

Earlier this year Grandma bought our little one a shiny red balance bike, specifically a Strider ST-2. Note that they’ve since released the Strider ST-3 (don’t ask me how they differ) which appears to be very similar.

Strider balance bikes come in pieces but are very easy to assemble, so don’t let that put you off.

Anyway, this past weekend was the first time taking the bike out to the park and allowing our little guy to give it a shot (he’d tried his new balance bike a couple times in the living room wiht limited success). I was a bit concerned that since he’s not yet 2 years old the bike might be a bit much, but after seeing kids in the neighbourhood who are if not younger, are at least smaller manage them pretty well I figured, why not. Interestingly I’ve seen these referenced as for 5 years and older which strikes me as a bit too conservative.

Initially there were some issues with actually balancing the balance bike. It took a few attempts to successfully catch himself when he leaned to far to one side or the other, but once he got the hang of that it was off to the (slow) races.

I will note that we started with the seat almost as low as is possible (almost touching the back wheel). As such he was walking while straddling the seat rather than sitting and pushing himself so he glides on the Strider. I figure that’s ok as he can first learn how to steer and generally work the bike and then we can raise the seat so he can focus on gliding rather than walking. Time will tell if this works.

There are numerous balance bike brands out there and we opted for the Strider in part for the bright colors as well as the solid metal construction. The various wooden balance bikes certainly have an edge in the style department, but come at a much dearer cost for the solid ones and in some cases looked a bit too fragile.

Finally, helmets. We picked up helmet from day 1 and have established that he won’t be riding the bike unless the helmet is on. The one we chose is the Bell Tater Kids Bike Helmet, specifically the blue dragon version. It’s pretty funny, but he loves the helmet almost more than the bike itself. In fact, he’s taken to asking to wear the helmet when he’s hanging around the house. Last night almost as soon as we started our Skype call with his grandparents he ran to his room, grabbed his new helmet and insisted he be allowed to wear it until the call was over. For those interested we opted against the round ‘bucket-style’ helmets which, while they look cooler lack the ‘overhang’ front and back that I’ve convinced myself will provide more face and head protection should he fall directly forward or back. Does this make sense? Who knows.

Various balance bikes we considered.
Red Strider ST-2 Balance Bike
Various Strider Balance Bikes
Wooden Balance Bikes

Our Experience with Sophie the Giraffe

I’m sure you’re all familiar with Sophie the Giraffe. She’s everywhere. Why a giraffe? I have no idea and no one’s been able to answer the question for me. Over the course of year 1 we received no fewer than 3 Sophie’s and guess what? Our little guy showed little to know interest. We tried desperately as given the popularity we were sure that at some point he must grab hold and come to love it, but no.

Two of the Sophies were regifted to folks we knew were giraffe lovers, and the other sits at the bottom of one of our toy boxes waiting for an opportunity to help with teething.

Anyway, I guess my takeaway is that if you’re looking for a gift for a new baby a Sophie the Giraffe will be looked upon well, though will almost certainly be one of many that the little on receives. Second, it may or may not get used, but hey, that’s true for any toy gift. Babies are individuals, and they all won’t like Giraffes named Sophie!

For those interested you can get your own Sophie the Giraffe here.