Blog Archives

Count to Ten – Take 2

We introduced Jude to Oscar’s 1-10 Balloons app. He learned to count to ten and read from left to right! Just kidding. He learned that learning can be frustrating. He did not want to play that one more than once, unlike his sister.

He did, however, enjoy showing off his eyeballs. He seriously can’t get enough of the Baby Play Face app. The app comes with different baby face characters; I wonder if he would still be into it if I picked an avatar that didn’t look so much like him. Hmmm…

Lastly, we introduced him to Sign Shine. This was one of Stella’s absolute favorites starting at 18 months. Jude was equally enthralled. I could tell he wanted to do so much more with his hands other than clap but just didn’t know how…YET! He already loves to sign baby basics (more, all done, eat, etc.), so it will be really fun to teach him some of these over the next few weeks. Sign Shine makes an easy case for using digital media together to enhance its educational value.

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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.

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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!”

Diaper Bag or iPad Tote?

Going out to eat with a 17 month old is not fun. She usually wants to eat right away, so somewhere between placing our order and receiving adult food, she has already finished her meal and wants out of her high chair…immediately. One of us winds up walking her around, outside the restaurant while the other one eats alone. It’s a pretty sad scene.

To keep Stella better entertained, the other night I decided to bring along iPad 2 to the restaurant. It worked like a charm! We played until the food came, and then we all ate together. It was also interesting to see the iPad juxtaposed with diapers and wet naps in her diaper bag. I call it the “diapad,” as in, “Don’t forget to grab the diapad.”

I’ll Take it from Here, Mom

I first discovered the Choo Choo Time app from Jason Huber, who runs KidsiPhoneAppReview.com. (See his Choo Choo Time app review here.)

When Stella was 6-12 months old, I would often launch this app on my iPhone to entertain her in the waiting rooms of doctor’s offices and such. She liked to watch the scenery go by, and she got a kick out of the sounds whenever I’d tap the various creatures for her. Now that she’s more independent, she has learned to interact with the app on her own! It has been so fun to witness her transition from passive observer to active participant. Yes, she even makes a barking noise when she taps the dog, although with her pacifier it comes out more like a whimper. 🙂

(The neon glow that appears in the video happens sometimes when I record from the iPad 2. Anyone know why? I’m guessing it’s time for an iOS update.)

Where’s Your Nose?

Stella and I explored the BabyPlayFace iPad app, which features the cutest [literal] digital baby I’ve ever seen:

All you have to do is point anywhere on the baby’s head to learn the parts of the face. Stella had a difficult time with this, though, because she tended to “paw” at the image, which kept making the “BUZZ” sound (invalid selection).

I’ve noticed that she does this motion with certain apps, but not with others. I can’t figure out the variable. For example, when using the Color Dots app, she pointed with her index finger more frequently than she pawed. Perhaps low detail and high contrast are factors?

Maybe there isn’t a pattern at all. Lately when using the Monkey Preschool Lunchbox app (a game with high detail and high contrast), she paws when matching cards, but uses her index finger to drag-and-drop puzzle pieces to the correct location. I have yet to catch the puzzle part on video, which is probably for the best because I squeal in the highest pitch known to man every time she does it. But you can get the idea of the motion required from the screen shot of the strawberry.

Either way, Stella loves learning and loves the iPad 2!

Animal Sounds

Animal Sounds by Alligator Apps is such a fun game for Stella’s age (13 months). The game functions in “play” or “auto” modes; Stella seems to like picking her own animals, so I leave it in play mode. (And by picking, I mean attacking the screen with her whole hand.) As with other flash-card apps, you can also customize categories and sounds. It was fun to see which animals elicited a response from her, and which ones were duds. I found out that bison are not that funny, but horses and frogs are hilarious. She is definitely becoming more vocal, which makes this process even more interactive for the two of us.

Baby-Silencer

Not necessarily related to language development, Stella took a break from flash cards to explore the Baby-Silencer app by jolly1312. (Hey jolly, the link to your web site is broken.) This app is designed for younger babies with less mobility than Stella (3-6 months), who like to focus on and track small objects. Although the visuals are great, the app does not include sound. (At one point, Stella actually leaned in to listen for something! That is, until she became more interested in the case than the device.) You can upgrade sound effects by navigating through some strange point system—one that involves installing other apps to earn credits—but it looked painful. I would’ve rather paid the customary $.99 for the upgrade had that been an option. Considering the target audience for this app is a presumably a busy parent with an infant, the scavenger-hunt-upgrade-path seems to miss the mark.

Customized Flash Cards

Customizing the “My First Words” app for Stella so easy! I took pictures of familiar objects around the house, added photos of friends and family, and recorded my voice next to each entry. For 40 new words, the whole process took me under an hour.

custom words

Although *I* was wildly impressed with the custom category of words, Stella didn’t seem to notice a difference from the generic photos. Her response to hearing “mom’s” voice was also the same as hearing the perky lady voice that came with the app. I imagine that this customization feature hits home with older children who already have an active vocabulary (toddlers and above). Customized categories or not, thank goodness the app finishes the audio track for each word before advancing—despite a preemptive touch— because Stella’s paw was on rapid fire mode:

I can’t give enough positive feedback for the “My First Words” iPad app, but unfortunately it was removed from the iTunes store shortly after I posted my first review. When I e-mailed the SmartBabyApps support team for more information, they gave me this response:

Thank you so much for your help and support. Unfortunately, we had some problems with the latest update of the app and will bring it back again in the near future.

I hope they work out their issues soon because this really is a fantastic app!

Special Delivery

Our very own iPad 2 is arriving today! I feel like we’re adopting a new member of the family, tracking its arrival with nervous excitement:


iPad Tracking Map
iPad Tracking Chart