The Importance of Being a Blockhead

dad kids and tower

dad kids and towerDear Mr. Dad: My husband and I are new parents and our baby is going to have his first birthday in a few weeks. We both work in tech and we’re really excited about getting a tablet for him. There seem to be so many options out there and we’re a little overwhelmed. Should we get an iPad or is there a better choice for toddlers?

 A: Yes, the Internet is full of videos of very young children happily swiping away on their tablets. But the best tablet for your baby is no tablet at all, at least not for a while. In fact, if I had to recommend one toy that’s an absolute must-have for every nursery, it would be a nice set of blocks.

But before I tell you why blocks are so great, let’s talk about why tablets are such a poor choice for babies.

  • The more time a baby spends interacting with a screen, the less time he’ll spend interacting with real, live humans—which is a lot more important. Tablets are great for a lot of things, but they can’t teach verbal- or social skills.
  • Although research on babies and tablets is in its infancy, early results aren’t very pretty. Researchers (and day care providers) are finding that toddlers who spend a lot of time playing with tablets are developmentally lagging in terms of muscle tone and hand-eye coordination (swiping takes a lot less dexterity and coordination than stacking blocks or picking up tiny objects). One app company, Tiggly, has taken some excellent steps to bridge the gap between swiping and developing actual fine motor skills. But the rest of the industry has a long, long way to go.
  • As kids get older, screen time is associated with weight gain, behavior problems, repetitive stress injuries, sleep problems, and low cognitive performance.

Okay, so what’s so great about blocks?

  • They help your baby develop hand-eye coordination as well as grasping and releasing skills.
  • They teach your baby all about patterns, sizes, categories (big ones with the big ones, little ones with the little ones), gravity, balance, and structure. These mini lessons in math and physics lay the foundation for your baby’s later understanding of how the world works.
  • They teach good thinking skills. “Taken from a psychological view-point,” wrote Albert Einstein, a guy who knew a thing or two about thinking, “this combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought—before there is any connection with logical construction in words or other kinds of signs which can be communicated to others.”
  • They can help your baby grasp the difference between things he has control over (such as which blocks he wants to use and how high he wants to go), and things he doesn’t (such as the law of gravity, which keeps pulling down his towers).
  • They teach perseverance. Building a tower—or anything else—out of blocks can be an excruciatingly frustrating experience for a baby. But along the way, he’ll learn that if he keeps working on something long enough, he’ll eventually succeed.
  • Research by Dimitri Christakis and his colleagues at the University of Washington has found that kids who play with blocks have better language skills and watch less TV than those who don’t.
  • The best thing about blocks is that they encourage parents to get down on their hands and knees and spend time with their children, playing, laughing, and learning.

Finding the right blocks can be just as overwhelming as finding the right tablet. For reviews and recommendations, do a search at http://parentsatplay.com/

Military Family Friday – Changing Roles after Deployment + Acing Your Performance Review

jacke with medals

Photo credit: Daniel Bendjy/Getty Images

Photo credit: Daniel Bendjy/Getty Images

When mom or dad comes home from a deployment, everything changes. In some cases, families adapt to their role reassignment relatively easily, while for others it can be a little—or a lot—more challenging. Depending on the couple and family dynamic when the soldier deployed, a number of issues may come up when you or a loved one returns. Striking a balance, avoiding power struggles, and learning how to relinquish some of the responsibility can be quite difficult on the military spouse, regardless of gender.
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jacke with medals

Photo credit: Brad Wilson/Getty Images

Each service has its own system for assessing which servicemembers deserve to be promoted and remain in the service. Those who score below average could potentially be involuntarily separated.
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Military Family Friday: Positive Relationships with Kids + Reserves is More Than One Weekend Per Month

Photo credit: Catherine Lechner/Getty Images

Photo credit: Catherine Lechner/Getty Images

Taking the time and effort to prepare yourself and your children for the upcoming separation will be a challenge; there’s no question that we’re talking about one of the most stressful times of your lives. But as hard as it is, it can help you grow as a family.
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Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Reserves and the National Guard are a great way for those who would like to serve in the military, but aren’t ready for full time enlistment. Some of your Reserve training will transfer directly to your civilian career and will make you a more valuable employee. The education benefits, which may include partial reimbursement for tuition and fees, can help you advance in your civilian career. And, of course, the extra pay helps with the household budget. Everything seems to make perfect sense. But, is there a catch?
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Water Safety:

water safety

water safetyDear Mr. Dad: My 4-year old twins are crazy about swimming or floating or doing pretty much anything in and around water. On one hand, I’m thrilled. I swam in high-school and college and I’m looking forward to having them follow in my footsteps. On the other, I’m scared. I’m a stay-at-home mom and there is no way I can keep an eye on them every second. How do we make our house water safe?

A: You’re absolutely right to be scared. Keeping an eye on one child is hard enough. The fact that they outnumber you and can head off in different directions makes your situation especially challenging.

Being in the water, whether we’re swimming, wading, or just splashing around can be wonderful fun, especially for little kids. But those same activities—and anything else you could possibly do around water—can be extremely dangerous. Every year, about 375 children under 15 drown each year, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). About 280 are under five, and 95 percent of those deaths happen in swimming pools. Another 4,100 children under five end up in hospital emergency rooms every year after what the CPSC euphemistically calls “non-fatal submersion incidents.”  Sometimes the result is permanent brain damage.

The only way to keep children from drowing or being injured around water is to keep them far, far away from it. But that’s just not practical. Nevertheless, there are a few things you can do to reduce the risks. Here are some general guidelines. We’ll get to specific pool-related steps after that.

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Military Family Friday: Audie Murphy on PTSD + College Savings Strategy

Medal of Honor and flag

Medal of Honor and flag

Photo credit: Stock Trek Images/Getty Images

Audie Murphy: Leading the Battle for PTSD Awareness
Audie Murphy, one of the most decorated soldiers of World War II, also experienced symptom of PTSD and was very open in talking about it. It’s been around for centuries, but under different names: During the Civil War, it was called “soldier’s heart.” During World War I, it was called “shell shock,” and in WWII, it was “combat fatigue” or the “thousand-yard stare.” But whatever it’s called, the most common symptoms of PTSD include mood disorders and frequent, dramatic—and sometimes debilitating—flashbacks. And it is by no means a sign of weakness.
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Photo credit: JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

Photo credit: JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

Whether you’re saving up for your children or your spouse, it’s imperative for military families to strategically plan their education funding, and to be knowledgeable about the resources that are available.
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Military Family Monday: Married to a Reservist + Basic Pay Is Just the Beginning

Photo credit: Daniel Bendjy/Getty Images
Photo credit: Dream Pictures/Getty Images

Photo credit: Dream Pictures/Getty Images

Being married to someone serving in National Guard or military Reserve makes you a soldier too, serving right along with your soldier, Marine, sailor, or airman, helping on base, keeping up friendships and households and managing the civilian side of their lives. In most cases, it works for everyone involved. But it’s not easy.

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box of cash

Photo credit: John Boyes/Getty Images

When it comes to what you can eern in the military, Your monthly basic pay is just the tip of the money iceberg. Not satisfied with what you’re making now? There are a lot of ways to increase your bottom line. There are pays that you earn, pays you deserve, pays you may never heard of, and pay you get while deployed or TDY (temporary duty assignment).

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