Blog Archives

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!

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Top Baby Apps on Our iPad 2

It’s been about six nine months since Stella has been using the iPad actively, so I compiled a list of our favorite apps so far. Also, check out Kids iPhone App Review for more ideas on iPad and iPhone apps for a broader age range.

Itsy Bitsy Spider – $1.99
This one is worth the money. She plays this for a very long time. The graphics are very good, and there’s always something new for her to discover. You can record yourself singing the song, too! (Many other apps are available by Duck Duck Moose. We also have Old MacDonald.)
See my video review…


Monkey Preschool Lunchbox – $.99
This is her all-time favorite app. She’s not very good at it because it is designed for older kids, but it doesn’t stop her from trying. (Monkey Math School Sunshine is now available, too!)
See my video review…


Oscar’s 1-10 Balloons – $.99
This is also a really good one. She gets very proud of herself when she finishes each set. Plus, I think this one helped her learn how to count to 10 by 18 months. (Also check out Oscar’s Alphabet Song.)
See my video review…


My First Words – FREE (limited categories)
We like this one a lot for vocabulary flash cards, but I’m not sure if it’s still available.
See my video review…




Animal Sounds – $.99
She likes to hear all of the animal sounds. She tries to repeat them in her own voice, which is very cute.
See my video review…


Color Dots – FREE
She gets bored with this now, but when she first discovered it, she was very into this game. When she’d pop all of the bubbles, she’d look at me for approval and then keep going with the next set. It has since been updated so you can change the speed and size of the dots as your child develops more dexterity. The developer also offers a Color Square game, which wasn’t as appealing to Stella entering toddler stage, but it could be good for infants.
See my video review…

PlayBabyFace – FREE
This is a cute one for learning the parts of the face in multiple languages.
See my video review…



Baby-Silencer – FREE
This is really fun for a baby 6-12 months. There isn’t a lot to it; colors and lights respond to touch. There is no audio in the free version, but Stella still liked this one a lot at that age.
See my video review…


Baby ASL HD – $1.99
This app is good if you are serious about signing with your baby. The flow isn’t that great when you use it, but the videos of the people signing are great.
See my video review…


SignShine – Free (limited songs)
Stella LOVES singing the songs included in this app because she gets so entranced by the woman signing. You get “Itsy Bitsy Spider” for free, and you can get 10 more songs for $2.99.
See my video review…


Tappie Colorit – $.99
As Stella has transitioned into toddler-hood, she has gravitated more toward this app for learning shapes and colors.
See my video review…


ABC Preschool Alphabet – $.99
This app was hit or miss—some days she LOVED it, and other days she wanted nothing to do with it. It’s probably a good one to have and keep trying as your child grows through different stages.
See my video review…

Others that we use a lot but haven’t specifically posted a review include:

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!

Adopting the Digital A/V Adapter

The A/V Adapter allows us to output the iPad display onto our TV. It was expensive ($40 + HDMI cable), but it’s great for parents because it gives us the option to keep our child’s paws off the control and still share the output with her for movies, flashcard apps, and more:

  1. Netflix: We are able to stream Neflix through our Blue-ray Player or XBox (wow, are we spoiled), but there is something especially enchanting about resuming content in our queue at the exact spot where we left it.
  2. Videos: I feel like I got a 2-for-1 on my Yo Gabba Gabba downloads. And, no more storing DVDs!
  3. Kids App (Monkey Preschool Lunchbox): This is one of Stella’s favorite games, so it was fun to watch her use both the iPad and TV screen. The game incorporates colors, shapes, fruit, counting, puzzles, and matching—worth every 99 pennies. Bonus: Stella signs the word “more!”
  4. FaceTime: Grandpa is finally life-size!
  5. Web Browsing: Browsing the web as a family affair? Hello, Google DNS and parental controls.

And for those of you who are concerned about the amount of her daily screen time (more on this later), she also played with non-digital toys—and boys!—all day long.