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/

Watch Out, Baby!

Dear Mr. Dad: My husband and I both work and we have our 2-year old daughter in a lovely home daycare. We really like the provider—she makes organic food for all the kids she takes care of, and does a lot of fun activities with them. But we recently found out that she also has the kids in front of the TV or playing video games for several hours every day. It’s so hard to find good-quality, affordable childcare these days, plus our baby really loves her caregiver. How bad is it for toddlers to watch a little TV?

A: Unfortunately, the whole issue of babies and TV is far from being black and white. The official position of the American Academy of Pediatrics is that kids under two should have as close to zero time in front of screens as possible, and kids older than two should limit screen entertainment to an hour or two per day (not including time on computers that are being used for homework, of course). The point is that children should spend a lot more of their time interacting with other people than with electronics.

In an ideal world—where most of us don’t happen to live—that’s definitely the right approach. But we all have situations that call for a little rule bending, and an hour of TV while you’re taking a shower or making a phone call probably won’t cause any long-term damage. And neither will the parental magic trick most of us perform when trying to tame loud or restless kids: pulling out the tablet or smartphone and putting it gently into those little hands.
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Toddlers on Technology + Raise the Child You’ve Got


Patti Wollman Summers, co-author of Toddlers on Technology.
Topic:
Helping parents grab the reins of their digitod’s digital technology.
Issues: Secrets to managing touchscreens in a toddler’s life; choosing apps in tandem with your child’s learning style; creating balance between screen time and real-life activities; the latest research on the effects of screen time on young children’s brains.


Nancy Rose, author of Raise the Child You’ve Got, Not the One You Want.
Topic:
Why everyone thrives when parents lead with acceptance
Issues: Understanding and accepting your child’s core traits; What you can and can’t change about your child; the power of acceptance; building a healthy parent-child connection; raising your children to be the best, happiest selves.

Learning with Your Kids? There’s an App for That

As fun—and educational—as iPads can be, when it comes to parents playing learning games with their children (as opposed to kids playing by themselves and turning into zombies), there really isn’t an app for that. Until now. TigerFace Games has developed a number of learning apps that allow parents and children to either compete or […]

The ONLY Pregnancy App for Dads–“Mr. Dad on Pregnancy”

mrdad on pregnancy -- the ONLY app for expectant fathers

mrdad on pregnancy -- the ONLY app for expectant fathersWell, after a few delays and tech hiccups, my new app, “Mr. Dad on Pregnancy” (based on my bestselling book, The Expectant Father), is out. It’s engaging, informative, and a lot of fun. Plus, it’s the only app out there specifically aimed at dads (and those who love them).

I’d love to get feedback from all you dads and moms. Your reviews and recommendations would mean a lot too.

You can download Mr. Dad on Pregnancy here. goo.gl/bBR6v   If you’re interested in reviewing the advanced versions, I’ll be delighted to reimburse the full purchase price.

Finally, we’d like to do a Spanish language version of the app. If you know of a good translator, please let me know.

Parental responsibility? Apparently there isn’t an app for that either.

I guess it had to happen sooner or later. A group of parents who can’t seem to take responsibility for their own behavior is suing Apple, alleging that iPhone and iPad apps are too addictive. According to court documents, Apples games are: “Highly addictive, designed deliberately to be so, and tend to compel children playing them to purchase large quantities of game currency, amounting to as much as $100 per purchase or more.”

Excuse me? Highly addictive? Compel children to purchase? Who owns the iPhone or iPad? Actually, a better question is who’s paying the bill? I hate to sound harsh, but if you authorize your child to make charges to your iTunes account–which is the way the vast majority of apps and their associated charges get billed–you’re on your own. What ever happened to just saying, “No”?

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