Category Archives: commentary

Where’s Your Nose – Take 2

I love this Baby Play Face app today just as much as I did 4 years ago. The first time I showed Jude the app, he kept kissing the baby on the screen. The next time we played it, he started exploring his own face:

In the latter part of the video, we played iPad in the kitchen away from all of his other toys. Even so, he ditched us after a few short minutes. I’ve noticed that Jude loses interest in the iPad so much faster than Stella did at his age. Hmmm…to be continued.


Finger Dexterity – Take 2

Jude turned one last month, and we’re ready to start Take 2! Stella and I spent a few minutes last Saturday introducing Jude to some of her favorite baby apps. We started with Color Dots by Ellie’s Games, which is an easy game to show cause and effect while practicing finger dexterity.

This post is not geared toward an app review; it’s a no-brainer for a baby’s first iPad app. I was more interested in whether or not Jude would approach the iPad differently than Stella did at his age. He didn’t paw as much with his hand, but he did use both hands more frequently. Jude may have taken a little more time to process each time the dots multiplied, but he picked it up pretty quickly. The dots were actually set to a bigger size this time, but ultimately the experiences were similar.

I did, however, notice a difference in their environments. Jude had more distracting elements mixed into his space (including a big sister). When I reviewed apps with Stella, I made a point to clear away toys–and food!–to help her focus on the new task. Our session ended with Jude playing with the case/stand, which he promptly abandoned when he spotted some unattended Cheerios (see video).

Take #2!

It’s been almost 3 years since I first introduced Stella to the iPad. She will be 4 years old this month! We continue to have successes with many other early learning apps since I’ve last posted to this blog. Her current favorites include LetterSchool, and PBS Kids.

I’ll soon have the wonderful opportunity to take my son down the same path. Hold on to your little brothers because he’s going digital, baby!


Yesterday morning I discovered something that I felt brought closure to this experience and deserved a final post. Ready for this?

Stella knows her ABCs.

No, not just the song. She KNOWS her ABCs. This revelation came as a huge surprise to me. At breakfast she pointed to my Corn POPS cereal box and told me what the letters were without being asked. I was under the impression that this skill emerged much later (not under the age of 2). Here’s an excerpt from Judith Hudson (developmental psychologist):

“Most children begin recognizing some letters between the ages of 2 and 3 and can identify most letters between 4 and 5. This means that you can start teaching your child the alphabet when he’s around 2 — but don’t expect full mastery for some time.”

So I pulled out the iPad and started quizzing her. I went through every letter like this (below)—in order and randomly. The only letters she has missed were “N, V (thinks it’s Y), and Z.” No doubt a lot of this progress is from the Word Wagon app that we started playing a few weeks ago. This is not a “Look how smart my child is!” post, but rather a fitting end to an undeniable truth: The iPad is an effective learning tool for babies and toddlers. Digital pacifier it is not.

The app in the video is Alphabet Zoo (free).

A Year with the iPad 2

It has been ONE YEAR since I started this blog! I set out to document my daughter’s interactions with the iPad 2 from ages 12-24 months. Along the way, I casually reported on her emerging skills related to memory, problem-solving, fine-motor, and language. I have no scientific conclusion to report; we just had a lot of fun! It melts my heart to see the look of accomplishment on her sweet face when she masters a new task—sometimes it comes after pint-sized fits of frustration, but the hard is what makes it great. Am I right, Jimmy Dugan?

We discovered several well-made iPad apps that aided her skill development, and we also discovered a lot of duds. Aside from about $10 worth of regrettable purchases, I deem this journey a great success! We’ll continue to use the iPad 2 to discover new things beyond infancy and toddlerhood. Goodbye, Digital Baby.

Here’s to a great year with the iPad 2:

Apple Announces iBooks 2

THIS IS HUGE! Apple partnered with Pearson, McGraw Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to reinvent the textbook as we know it using iBooks 2. (Read more here.)

Engadget’s Daniel Cooper describes it as being “able to paw through content, stopping to flick through detailed 3D animated models of elements within, [and] access video and definitions without leaving the page.”

Apple claims that right now, 1.5 million iPads are in use in educational programs today with over 20,000 apps. In fact, the idea of eBooks aren’t new either—some educators have integrated eBooks into general curriculum, as this student satirically demonstrates by lamenting over his printed textbook from a video in 2009.

The reason today’s news is so exciting is because the publisher support opens so many more doors. Textbook content will be more accessible and affordable ($14.99 or less)! Engadget Editor Tim Stevens says, “I don’t think there’s ever been a textbook that made it this easy to be a good student.”

If that part was the yummy cake, here is the incredibly delicious icing: Teachers can create their own books using a new OS X program called iBooks Author. Aside from requiring a mac to use it, the program itself is completely free! Educators can re-format and digitize their existing materials for any genre with easy-to-use templates.

The announcement of iBooks 2 also has implications for the future of iTunes U.

Although technology can’t solve the education problem, as Steve Jobs famously noted, this announcement implies a shake-up to the educational experience and puts more power back into the learner’s hands. As a mom of a young child, this news will generate a lot of excitement in our household for years to come!

Stella Counts to Ten

According to YouTube, an 18 month old counting to 10 is not that unusual. This study, reported by Fiona Macrae at Mail Online, explains that children recognize the routine of scoring off individual objects one-by-one before their second birthday—even if they don’t say it aloud.

Jesse and I learned yet another thing from this experience: Treating Stella like a show pony for even a few hours between the three of us was a bad idea. By the end of the night, she would simply shout a number—any number— clap her hands, say, “Yay,” and expect us to join in the praise. We created a Count Dracula Monster. Raaawwr!

It’s a good thing she’s cute… 🙂

Why an iPad is NOT a Digital Pacifier

This article from Bloomberg deserves a comment or two. Let me break it down for you:

  • iPads are a popular Christmas wish list item. Check!
  • Some households with one iPad are planning on getting a second just for the kids. I actually know a family who has already done that.
  • Tablets can help kids learn to write. Ok.
  • A pediatrician in Boston says children under 2 should only use the iPad to display books. Hold the phone…

I have two comments about this part. First, the paragraph starts out by calling adults with tablet-related concerns as “child advocates.” Hey, wait a minute! I’m an adult with no tablet-related concerns, can I also call myself a child advocate?

Second, the pediatrician who made that comment was Gwenn O’Keeffe, a CEO of a health and communications company, among many other credentials that you can read about on The Huffington Post. Her statement intrigued me more than it alarmed me, so I went hunting for more of her research. In this article from the Pittsburgh Tribune, she says, “Little kids’ brain development needs to evolve un-interfered with. The more technology that is introduced at a young age, it disrupts how their brains are wired and how kids think and learn. Kids under 2 don’t understand what they’re using.”

I am not a pediatrician—nor am I a CEO of a company with financial interests in making regular appearances in print, online, radio, and TV—but I still don’t buy it. I’m sorry! I could very well be wrong (and biased), but it’s just that since starting this blog I know Stella definitely understands what she’s using. I wouldn’t continue doing it if I didn’t see positive results.

Everyone seemed to get a kick out of the viral video of the toddler frustrated with a magazine because she couldn’t zoom in on one of the pictures. But I bet if that same parent recorded that little girl again, it wouldn’t be a big deal because she has since probably played with it enough to learn the difference. I make this assumption because Stella once did a similar thing with an animal book shortly after we got the iPad (she expected the book to make sounds like her animal app), but she has long since gotten over that novelty (see video below):

(Note in the video that she signs the word “spider” when we find it in the book, which is an action she learned from an iPad app, thank you very much.)

So here are my final thoughts:

1. The person who coined the phrase “digital pacifier” has obviously not had a baby or an iPad before because if you’ve ever tried to leave your child (0-2) alone with the iPad, you’ll know that it’s impossible! If she’s not looking for immediate praise from me, she’s looking for me to help her out of some inevitable jam with one of the apps. She’s pretty skilled at navigating by herself, but she’s certainly not able to do everything independently.

2. An iPad should not be argued as a potential replacement for parent-child interaction or human contact no more than a Barbie doll or a scooter. It’s one tool in a box of many. (I bet if you kept your daughter from her favorite doll, she’d go crazy, too.) The American Association of Pediatrics has recommended limiting screen time for kids (TV or otherwise) for some time now. Whether it “disrupts how their brains are wired” or not, that recommendation just seems obvious enough that it doesn’t really have to be said. Most kids get bored with playing the same toy after a while—even with the iPad. (Trust me.) If your child plays too long with any *one* thing, it’s probably time to mix it up.

3. We need to stop treating “the iPad” as if it means the same thing to everyone. It’s what you put IN your iPad that gives it its essence. Some people might use it mostly for a second TV device, while others might load it with these fun apps for babies and toddlers. One app might rot your brains, while another might stimulate it. I would love to have my girl Etel from SignShine visit us 3 days a week to sign songs with Stella. But in the mean time, the iPad is a wonderful tool to bring her into our home without requiring her physical presence or my husband to put on a shirt.

With that said, I’m signing off with Stella’s favorite book:
Good night, Minnesota.

Get in the Game

Stella’s dad is a true gamer. To give you an example, he was one of those dorky fanboys who picked up his copy at midnight when Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 was released Nov 8—contributing to the new entertainment record of $400 million in the first 24 hours, making it the biggest entertainment launch property of all time (source). (It’s not the first time he’s done that either.) So whenever there are interesting studies about gamification of learning, he and I both tend to perk up.

Gabe Zichermann recently gave a talk at TEDxKids@Brussels on “How games make kids smarter:”

Some of the highlights in his talk:

  • Is it that our children have ADHD, or is our world just too freaking slow for our children to appreciate?
  • Today’s kids play games and they are expected to chat, text, and voice; operate a character; follow long- and short-term objectives […]. Kids have to have extraordinary multi-tasking skills to be able to achieve things today.
  • The act of learning produces increased gray matter [in the brain], not performing the activity itself.
  • There are five things you can do to increase fluid intelligence [to help build problem-solving skills]: 1. Seek novelty, 2. Challenge yourself, 3. Think creatively, 4. Do things the hard way, 5. Network. (Does this resemble the pattern of a video game?)
  • Video games present a constant and exponentially increase in learning, which may help us explain the Flynn effect, which is that the pattern that human intelligence is actually rising over time. The rate of fluid intelligence increase has risen starting in the 1990s…[hmmm…coincidence?]
  • Games are wired to elicit a particular kind of dopamine loop in the brain, which produces an intrinsic reinforcement to keep seeking that activity.

Related to problem-solving skills, I recently recorded Stella playing the matching activity in the Monkey Preschool Lunchbox app. It’s so cute to see her discover a pattern (dopamine rush!), although she doesn’t yet use a very effective strategy. It appears that she can only hold up to one card in memory at a time.

Gabe’s TED talk ends by telling parents to “get into the game” with their kids. One way to do this is to ask your kids to explain the strategy of the game back to you. It reinforces their ability to synthesize and verbalize complex material. Most importantly, it communicates to them that you’re interested in what they love to do. I’m sure Jesse will have no problem with this advice! I can already imagine Stella a few years from now playing Xbox with her dad. (Do they make pink headsets?) As for me, I will sit happily on the sidelines for that one. Maybe then I can finally use the iPad for myself for a while!

Repeat After Me: ABC

Stella’s 18 month appointment with her pediatrician is coming up, so I decided to quickly jot down all of the words that she says so that I’d have a ballpark figure. Once I started writing, I almost couldn’t stop. I easily filled up a page worth 65 80+ (see update below) words—words that she regularly says on her own without any prompting from me. (A widely-known benchmark at this age is 20, but it’s common for kids to have much fewer or much more without any indication for concern or pretense.) She also strings a few of them together; her favorite phrases are, “Kick it,” “Where-da-go?”, and “Hi, baby!

Obviously I can’t credit the iPad for everything Stella does. After all, she does get to spend a lot of one-on-one time with me, and she has a phenomenal daycare provider, where she is also surrounded by a 4-year-old boy, from whom she learns a lot.

However, I can’t diminish the iPad’s role in her learning environment either. Not only have I seen some amazing apps with excellent educational value, but I also think the iPad itself has given us a reason to sit down and interact with each other more than we might have without it. We take walks, read physical books, and build blocks together, but what I mean is that the iPad removes the burden of creating both educational content and context, which makes the learning process so much more accessible. For example, I don’t think I would have taken the time to create physical flash cards, let alone keep her interested enough to practice them daily. The iPad just works.

Now that she has started repeating EVERYTHING anyone says, the ABC app has been really fun for me to watch. Most of the time she repeats the letters without my prompting. How cool is this?

Remember, the purpose of my blog is not to make claims one way or another, although I have an obvious bias toward both my daughter and my iPad! I’m simply exploring a new technology that hasn’t been available to us before, so I’m not judging against an alternate approach. What parents do with their children’s educational experience is their own business—I’ve just chosen to share mine along the way.

UPDATE: We were way off with our estimate. As the week went on—and now conscious of counting her words—there were easily 30-40 more that we missed. I’d estimate that she is well over 100 and into the 120s. According to BabyCenter, this is very common for 19-24 months: “[Your child’s] pace will pick up as he acquires ten or more new words each day. If he’s especially focused on learning to talk, he can add a new word to his vocabulary every 90 minutes — so watch your language!”