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

Would You KINDly Exercise with Me?

I partnered with Life of Dad and KIND for this promotion, but all the opinions are mine.

I’ve been an exercise addict for as long as I can remember. I played little league baseball, then lettered in baseball and swimming in high school. Later, I competed in martial arts, worked out at the gym, and ran, and I still play in the “old Jewish guy” adult softball league, and do some rather brutal at-home workouts like “Insanity.”

Over the years, I’ve tried to pass on my love of sports to my daughters but haven’t been entirely successful. It took me a while to figure out that perhaps seeing me completely drenched in sweat or watching me heal from martial-arts inflicted bumps, bruises, cuts, broken bones, ACL tears, and reconstructive surgery didn’t convey the message that being athletic is fun.

But I never gave up. My oldest two, now living on their own in New York have discovered the joys of spin classes and yoga, and the youngest has played softball, basketball, soccer, volleyball, and is a competitive swimmer. Sometimes we’ve worked out together, but most of the time not (the exception being walking and biking).

So when I heard about the #KINDMilesMatter challenge, I jumped at the chance to participate. The challenge gave us the perfect excuse to do physical things together, plus we’d be helping out a favorite local charity (KIND Snacks will donate a bunch of its healthy, delicious bars and other snacks to the Alameda County Food Bank).
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Motherhood, Fatherhood, and the Changing Landscape of Parenthood

Heather Flett, coauthor of The Rookie Mom’s Handbook.
Motherhood, fatherhood, the changing landscape of parenthood.
Issues: How motherhood has changed over the last 10 years; the mom blogging community; resources for new moms; the importance of letting the dad do things his way; the role of social media in creating communities of moms.

Top Five Newborn Tests and Procedures That Are Overused

Overuse and waste are a persistent and significant problem in the United States health care system, accounting for roughly a third of all health care spending. In fact, the cost of overtreatments, or treatments that don’t help the patient, were estimated at between $158 billion and $226 billion in 2011. In a special report in the August 2015 Pediatrics, “Choosing Wisely in Newborn Medicine: Five Opportunities to Increase Value,” published online July 20, an expert panel analyzed a national survey of over 1,000 newborn medicine providers to identify five areas of overuse. These included routine uses of anti-reflux medications, antibiotic therapy beyond 48 hours, pneumograms (breathing studies), daily chest radiographs and term-equivalent brain MRIs. A review of research found that two of the five items may cause harm—anti-reflux medications and antibiotics beyond 48 hours. Report authors conclude that this top five list will apply variably to different hospitals and physicians, but they are hopeful that the health care community will increasingly focus on identifying and eliminating their own low value practices.

When Kids Call the Shots + Rookie Moms

Sean Grover, author of When Kids Call the Shots.
How to seize control from your darling bully and enjoy being a parent again.
Issues: Understanding the root causes of your child’s bossy behavior; how your own insecurities and history have shaped your parenting choices; types of parents who are more susceptible to being bullied by their kids; three most common bullying styles that kids use–and strategies you can use to restore your leadership.

Heather Flett, coauthor of The Rookie Mom’s Handbook.
Motherhood, fatherhood, the changing landscape of parenthood.
Issues: How motherhood has changed over the last 10 years; the mom blogging community; resources for new moms; the importance of letting the dad do things his way; the role of social media in creating communities of moms.